This article is #18 of a weekly series highlighting the former memes of Bureaucrash, an organization once headed by my friends Pete Eyre and Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries. The memes were originally authored by Pete Eyre and Anja Hartleb-Parson, and were intended as means of communicating ideas about liberty in catchy and succinct ways.
Statists are anti-progress. Statists claim their policies are for the common good. For some this claim is just a front to get more power, but for others it is a genuine goal. Nevertheless, even the most well-intentioned statists, who believe that granting government the power to control individual actions will result in a better outcome, violate rights and cause harm. One need only consider historical fact to disprove this statist belief. For most of history, people were not free to decide how to live their lives because they lived in servitude to a noble or king. The vast majority of people were wretchedly poor, worked from dusk until dawn six or seven days a week, were prone to encounter devastating diseases, and died in their twenties or thirties. Even the privileged few — the kings, nobles and clergy — had nowhere near the standard of living that the ordinary worker in western countries enjoys today. It was classical liberalism — the ideas of British Enlightenment philosophers, Adam Smith, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and the American “founding fathers” — that unlocked the true human potential. Classical liberalism set man free from servitude to another and gave him the right and the responsibility to care for his own life. As a result of the emergence and subsequent dominance of liberal democracy and capitalism in the last two hundred years, the world has seen progress unparalleled in human history: according to renowned economist Angus Maddison, “[w]orld per capita real income has risen twenty times as fast since 1820, than it did in the eight centuries from 1000 to 1820.”
Statism is anti-growth. Statists often justify their policies claiming that they want to reduce inequality and poverty. In reality though, statists achieve neither and often exacerbate both because their policies discourage economic growth, which is particularly detrimental to low income and poor people. For one, politicians and bureaucrats are limited in their knowledge, as is any individual. No matter how smart an elected official, bureaucrat, or committee is, there’s no way they could adequately plan and control the actions of millions of individuals to achieve maximal economic growth. Moreover, statism encourages rentseeking and protectionism, the activity of groups seeking government enforced advantages and insulation from the outcomes of free trade. This harms the consumer, who is forced to pay higher prices due to lack of competition and fund the rent through higher taxes. This statist action disincentivizes increases in production and job creation, thus depriving low income and poor people of better opportunities to make a living.
Statism causes conflict. Though statists claim to work for the common good, their actions benefit one group at the expense of another. Nazis favored the “Aryan” at the expense of all other nationalities and ethnicities; affirmative action proponents favor blacks, Hispanics and women at the expense of whites and males; socialists and unions favor workers at the expense of business owners; protectionists favor their native industry at the expense of that in other countries; rent-seekers favor their business, organization, or cause at the expense of other businesses, organizations, and causes at the expense of consumers; many religious people, but especially fundamentalists, favor their followers at the expense of those of another religion and at the expense of atheists; and earth liberation environmentalists favor nature at the expense of humans.
Hence, statists create friction and conflict among individuals, groups, and nations. The long stretch of peace during the mid-19th century was at least in part the result of limited government and laissez-faire economics in places like Britain and the United States. The free movement of people was widespread; Russia, the only country that required a passport, was considered backwards. The bloody wars and atrocities committed by governments during the 20th century were the consequence of a move toward state intervention to control people’s lives, ultimately leading to the emergence of ultra-statist regimes such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist Russia and Maoist China, and many other totalitarian experiments including a United States that interned over 110,000 individuals of Japanese descent, drafted many more individuals, and implemented wage and price controls.