Politics & Media
Apr 17, 2024, 06:27AM

Destroyers from DC

If you condone government, here’s what you get for your money.

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Rejoice, taxpayers, your money is in good hands! Or at least, a study declares Washington, DC, is the hardest-working city in America. Sluggish New York City barely made the top 100.

This sort of result should make you question not only the study’s methodology—given Washington’s capacity to define the nature of proof, the metrics of success, and the parameters of acceptable work—but the whole idea of letting “the authorities,” whether in the legal or intellectual sense, be the referees on life’s big questions.

Even if by some implausible metric Washington is working hard—sweating a lot or putting in long hours—keep in mind that city is a big dominating beast of the sort I wrote about last week (and dreamed of starving). That is, its “work” is really a continual effort to undo your work. You built something? They’ll tax it. You devised a worthwhile activity? They’ll regulate it. You create, Washington destroys. Most of the intellectuals cheer for it as it does so, and then they turn around and devise things like surveys of “hardest-working cities.”

If Washington is so productive, let’s just try an obvious experiment: end all taxpayer money flowing to that town and see how long it lasts. Some parts of it might well endure in the marketplace. Trump wasn’t being purely destructive when he suggested defunding NPR recently. People have proven their willingness to donate to NPR voluntarily and so needn’t be threatened with jail terms to do so. If they stop donating, presumably they found something they’d rather do with their money (perhaps funding the work of Stormy Daniels, whose oeuvre is under discussion in a courtroom here in NYC this week.)

It’s not purely a matter of economic efficiency, either. If government institutions are allowed to steer the public’s resources, they will inevitably do so in ways politically biased in favor of the establishment that holds the purse strings and wields political clout. As the wise Daniel McCarthy recently wrote, it appears you can’t trust PBS to make an accurate documentary about a critic of big government such as William F. Buckley, and that should come as no surprise. If Buckley’s National Review can survive on purchases and voluntary contributions, surely PBS can as well. No need for the government trough filled with the taxpayers’ involuntary tributes.

I don’t mean, by the way, to suggest that Trump is a reliable guide to economic wisdom. Like more conventional conservatives, he’s only selectively market-savvy.

He’s correct to suggest leaving the issue of abortion to the individual states, for example, precisely because the issue is divisive. But he—and even more so big-government liberals—should recognize that Americans’ preferences vary on virtually every issue, and we’d be better off if they were all left to the states. The federal government is over $35 trillion in debt, which means it’s best equipped to do exactly nothing while the rest of the nation carries on without that sucking black hole’s perturbing effects.

Let a third of a billion Americans make their billions of divergent purchases without being corralled by the clumsy, one-size-fits-all planners of Washington. Americans don’t plan to band together and buy One Lunch tomorrow, and there’s nothing sane about having them all steer the economy via One Government. End it. (And its myriad non-economic intrusions like a new round of surveillance programs to boot.)

I don’t merely say that government is lazy and unproductive by contrast with world-altering captains of industry. I think government’s put to shame even by, say, movie buff Josh Lucas at the Den of Nerds channel on YouTube. Here he courageously admits he is significantly cutting back on the sorts of review and analysis he does because he’s exhausted trying to make money amidst changes in YouTube’s remuneration algorithm—but he also admits the algorithm is “just” and that you have to chase after it and clicks constantly, in ever-evolving ways, if you want to make it in the odd videocasting business. He’s not so sure he does.

But it’s not just minor commenters-upon-media who’ve got it rough: Francis Ford Coppola is reportedly having difficulty getting a distributor for his self-financed, epic-sounding, Ayn Rand-influenced utopian sci-fi film. Guillermo del Toro couldn’t interest Hollywood backers in his planned H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. And not so long ago Warren Beatty failed to sell a movie idea. Success is rare. (You’re not alone.)

I’m not saying pity participants in markets—and certainly not suggesting these people would be better off if we destroyed the markets in which they function—but given how they scramble and continually rethink things in order to please their customers, I am saying you should question claims that government is where you find hustle and energy.

But even if you’re stunned by the strenuous efforts of so-called “public servants” in government, avoid using the labor theory of value—or perhaps in this context we should call it “the Labor Department theory of value.” That is, don’t make the mistake of thinking that because something is hard to do, it must be worth doing. On the contrary, civilization is mainly century after century of improved living through the creation of labor-saving devices.

It might take decades of late nights for some low-level intern in the Department of Transportation to catalogue every known component of road-building concrete used throughout history, but there’s a reason people would rather, say, fork over big bucks to hear Steve Martin tell a joke he came up with in five seconds without half trying. It’s value to the user that matters, not how much grunting created the product. Karl Marx was an imbecile.

And that pompous cretin Robert Reich probably has a video or cartoon diagram explaining not only that labor is what matters but that he’s the only person doing truly hard work in this world. I don’t want him locked up or anything—but he too should always remain in the private sector, where at least his customers have the power to say no.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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