Sunday, November 23, 2008

Countervailing Impulses

As Bruce Schneier, Steven Pinker, and Mark Perry remind us, we're living in the most propsperous and secure cultures in the history of the world. In modern democracies, tens of millions are not starving to death, people generally have lots of freedom of speech, and standards of living are skyrocketing. All kinds of things seem messed up about our system, but if we mess with it too much we could be flirting with catastrophe.

On the other hand, there's a lot of mindless depravation going on. There are over two million prisoners in the US, giving it the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One big reason for this is the War on Drugs. The more things you make illegal, the more criminals you will get. Shouldn't we take a closer look at what's against the law, and why? Seems pretty fundamental.

Governments are messing up bigger and bigger chunks of society. They've been messing up the mortgage market for a while, and they're messing up a whole lot more trying to fix it. Nobody knows how many people die because of the FDA outlawing life-saving drugs, and delaying the ones that make it through. I'm pretty sure health care would be vastly superior if the government stopped protecting the doctors' guild from competition, and stopped distorting the health care market in the myriad ways all modern democracies do. Education is in shambles, because it's public.

The TSA has managed to take all the fun out of flying; countries like Australia and Israel are working on Internet censorship; businesses of all sizes, but especially tiny ones, are getting bullied over frivolous regulation of every detail of their operations.

All of this adds up to a massive impoverishment of mankind. We can't see the impoverishment, because there is no richer, freer society to contrast ourselves with. But this waste of human resourcefulness is real and it's infuriating.

The more control governments take over our life, the poorer the world will become. And by poorer, I mean relative to what could have been. I think it's a good idea to push in the opposite direction.

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