“As government increases in quantity, our lives decrease in quality.” That is the thesis of Joel Miller’s Size Matters, a book which received too little attention at its release earlier this year and which is perfect reading at a time when our nation’s legislators are off Capitol Hill. Size Matters is the most compact and elegant case for libertarian deregulation in the past decade. Regulators and bureaucrats should do everything they can to keep this intellectual product out of the hands of impressionable children — otherwise they may face unemployment.
Miller premises his book on the idea that the vast bulk of federal and even state regulatory policies hamper the pursuit of happiness by denying us consumer choice, stifling innovation, erecting hurdles to entrepreneurs, and raising the costs of the products and services we buy — often for no discernable purpose. But instead of resorting to graphs and charts Miller presents us with anecdotes and reported vignettes about the things we care about most in life: our homes (and their mortgages), our small businesses, or our beer of choice, and how government regulations get in the way of enjoying these things. If you can’t get worked up about oppressive regulation in the abstract, you’ll at least be scandalized by the government telling a small brewer he can’t sell his tasty hop-filled beer because he made it with borrowed equipment.
Between the anecdotes about small business owners and regular guys, Miller inserts quick lessons in basic libertarianism with a dash of history. Chapter 11 is particularly refreshing account of the rapid expansion in regulatory agencies under the successive administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Following Milton Friedman, Miller looks to the phenomenal growth of the Federal Register (where all the newly proposed federal regulations and rules are published) as a leading indicator measuring the size and scope of the rules that regulate our lives. “In 1936 . . . the Federal Register ran 2,400 pages. By 1970, it was up to 20,000. And in the next six years it got three times bigger, up to 60,000 pages in 1976.”
Miller profiles those champions of the liberal order he wishes to see restored. “The earliest settlers in America were free thinkers, adventurers, some criminals, and people who wanted to experiment with religious, economic, and social modes of life that couldn’t be easily tried in Europe,” he writes. “They were averse to neither risk, nor hardship and were extremely flexible, able to adapt to wildly different circumstances than they were used to at home.” After a brief description of their triumphs with their “inventions, innovations and improvements,” he concludes, “All of this was possible because people were free to try, free to experiment. But what happens when the people are not free?”
There may be a chicken and egg debate here. Were the people adventurers and innovators because they were free? Or were they free because adventurers and innovators assert and maintain their own freedom? The question for today may not be “What happens when the people are not free?” but, “What happens when the people do not want freedom?”
America’s current citizenry does not primarily consist of pioneers and adventurers, yeoman farmers and religious dissidents — the type of people who jealously guard their freedoms. Most Americans are wage-earners dependent on large bureaucratized corporations in which they own little stock. They are risk-averse, preferring many of the forms of ‘security’ provided by managerial institutions. They put up with bizarre regulations in private corporations. It’s not surprising that many put up with petty and senseless regulation from government or even leave private business for jobs in the ever expanding executive branch. The government isn’t growing employees out of the soil, is it?
There are exceptions to the preceding generalizations I’ve made about Americans. As Miller points out, younger people are more likely to support privatizing Social Security than their parents — though they are more likely to think that they’ll receive none of the money they’ve paid in if it is not privatized. Trends in business indicate a preference in consumers for customization, modification and personalization. Miller takes this as evidence of a youth accustomed to independence. No generation is left without hope, I suppose.
While it may be out of the scope of his book, it would be interesting to see Miller interact with those who say that the government can provide a type of happiness. “National Greatness” conservatives like David Brooks promote imbuing our wage-slave citizenry with historical purpose by using a strong, energetic central government — mandating compulsory national service, promoting certain industries’ growth through public investment, and fulfilling an “American destiny” on the world stage. In a nation so large and diverse, with so many ethnic, and religious communities that exercise little authority over their members, giving them little in the way of a common identity — “National Greatness” may be a contrived but necessary evil. In the absence of common religious myths and eschatology, what argument is there against the state providing some teleological creed to its citizens? We want to be more than individual deracinated consumers, don’t we?
Size Matters is the best and most accessible libertarian primer I’ve read. But libertarians who sigh wistfully as they contemplate the liberties of the founding generation of Americans need to do hard work to win any victories. Persuading politicians to decrease the size and the scope of their powers has not worked and will never work. You cannot persuade the managerial elite to act in a way contrary to their own interests. To be successful, libertarians, wherever they can, need to promote policies that not only decrease onerous regulation, but also revive the American passions for freedom and full independence from the managerial elite — in politics, education and media. Displacing the managerial elite and dismantling their institutional power is the great political challenge of our time. Libertarians have tried and failed to permanently attach their political philosophy to the interests of an astonishingly array of groups: agrarians and technophiles, small business owners and corporate CEOs. Though all the giant institutions of government, media, business and finance seek to marginalize or co-opt them for the sake of managed democracy and managed capitalism, libertarians should not be discouraged. Unlike those that acquiesce to big government, the best libertarians are far more creative, work harder and enjoy a long, pitched battle.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles