Monday, July 18, 2011

Government is Not Society

A recent Courier-Journal editorial, lamenting University of Louisville Hospital’s financial inability to provide indigent-care for all non-Jefferson County residents, demonstrates a logical fallacy that so many mainstream political pundits commit – equating government with society.

Those committing this all-too-common flaw in reasoning imply that if there’s something wrong in society then government intervention is the only possible solution. The heroic leap in logic is obvious when isolated, but still smuggled into all manner of political debate.

No one understood the difference between the coercion of government intervention and voluntary social cooperation better than Milton Friedman:

The fundamental principal of the free society is voluntary cooperation. The economic market, buying and selling, is one example. But it's only one example. Voluntary cooperation is far broader than that. To take an example that at first sight seems about as far away as you can get -- the language we speak; the words we use; the complex structure of our grammar; no government bureau designed that. It arose out of the voluntary interactions of people seeking to communicate with one another. (Free to Choose, Part 1)

Why must the lack of healthcare for the indigent necessitate government intervention? What about market solutions, like easing AMA-enforced restrictions on the entry of new physicians into the healthcare profession? What about other purely voluntary solutions, like through the charitable giving of religious or ethnic institutions? Sadly, after decades of the Great Society crowding out this sort of voluntary cooperation, the common view prevails that it’s not my responsibility to look out for my neighbor -- it’s the government’s!

To find sustainable solutions to these genuine societal ills, we must learn from great thinkers like Milton Friedman -- we must take more individual responsibility for ourselves and our neighbors, and remember that there’s a whole lot more to society than the government.

Milton Friedman’s message will be heeded loud and clear at Freidman Day, July 29th, at the University of Louisville. Click here to RSVP.


Hempy said...

Obviously neither you nor Milton Friedman have bothered to read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.

Smith wrote:

"What are the different methods in which the whole society may be made to contribute towards defraying the expenses incumbent on the whole society…?"

The obvious question is, who's going to make the whole society pay towards defraying the expenses of the whole society? That answer would be government.

Smith further wrote:

"A more equal land tax, a more equal tax upon the rent of houses, and such alterations in the present system…might, perhaps, without increasing the burden of the greater part of the people, but only distributing the weight of it more equally upon the whole, produce a considerable augmentation of revenue." Now who's going to collect that tax if not government?

It's your atheistic ideology of Ayn Rand who propounded "the common view…that it's not my responsibility to look out for my neighbor -- it's the government's." Rand's atheistic ideology would reject the idea that it's even government's responsibility.

Rand's ideology even reject the notion that an individual has any such responsibility. For Rand, greed is good and selfishness is a virtue. That's a total rejection of the love your neighbor as yourself principle.

However, under the Abrahamic covenant, which Rand also rejects, it's not only individuals, but also community organizations and government that has a responsibility to the whole society. Hence, government is an integral part of the whole society as are all the others. In the Good Samaritan parable, the Samaritan represents all these entities.

Jim Waters said...

Hempy, the Good Samaritan acted out of the goodness of his heart, not as the result of government coercion.

Government did not decide to take the Good Samaritan's wealth and redistribute it to the man who had been attacked by robbers. He did it willingly.

In fact, if government would get out of the way, individuals and charitable organizations would have more of their own money to work with.

Anonymous said...

Back in the early days of this country's forming, people used to work to provide for themselves and their family. Others gave people a helping hand, not a handout, when necessary. The founders did not sit around and try to see how many incentives they could provide people before the people decided to do nothing and live off handouts. Many things have changed since
Adam Smith's time but the government enslaving and corrupting its people is the biggest change of all.

Phil Impellizzeri said...


Milton Friedman was never a vocal atheist, nor was he a Randian Objectivist.

As he stated in an interview near the end of his life:

"Ayn Rand had no use for the past. She was going to invent the world anew. She was an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good. But I could never feel comfortable with her. I don't mean with her personally -- I never met her personally. I'm only talking about her writings...As I always have said, she had an extremely good influence on all those who did not become Randians. But if they became Randians, they were hopeless."

If you'd like more information on Adam Smith and his surprising propensity for statism, please see:

I hope this clears up your confusion. Be careful not to conflate voluntary social cooperation and coercive government intervention.

Hempy said...


Charitable organizations and individuals do not have the means to provide for the needs of all. As I pointed out, the Good Samaritan is symbolic of individual, community as well as government assistance.

The basic premise of the Abrahamic covenant is that it's to our mutual benefit to work for the good of all, sometimes called the common good, in the Constitution, the general welfare.

A single payer healthcare system would more nearly match the illustration provided by the Samaritan.

Hempy said...


Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

Voluntary social cooperation is an illusion. The marketeers of the OTC derivatives market still show no sign of making any kind of voluntary social cooperation. That's why they need to have government regulation and taxation. That's not coercive government intervention. Hitler's Nazi Germany is more an example of coercive government intervention.

That's why as Adam Smith observed, all members of society must be made to contribute to defraying the expenses of the whole society.

Or as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper 51, if men were angels there would be no need of government

Hempy said...


Rockwell seemed to have overlooked what is a recurring theme in Wealth of Nations and that is Smith's inclusion of the Abrahamic covenant throughout the work. Smith wove ethics throughout his work.

In Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments he wrote:

"And hence it is, that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety. As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is capable of loving us."

Loving one's neighbor is a succinct statement of the Abrahamic covenant.

Rockwell's comments dwell more on whether Smith was a hypocritical plagiarist or not.

Phil Impellizzeri said...

"As I pointed out, the Good Samaritan is symbolic of individual, community as well as government assistance."

I think this is a great example of the logical fallacy I talked about in my original point. Making vague analogies between individuals, groups of individuals, and institutions created by individuals all too often leads to conflating the three. This in turn leads to dangerous confusion in political discourse and disasters in public policy.

Unless we're speaking in some sort of mystical sense, the individual, the community, and the government are clearly three very different things. Only individuals have beliefs, preferences, intentions, and souls. Communities, governments, and "the people" do not.

Arguing that government intervention is necessary or useful in a prosperous society is one thing. To claim that government intervention doesn't necessitate the use or threat of violence and coercion against peaceful people is another. Try not giving the government a cut of your earnings for a year and see how long before men with guns show up at your home. You may want to make the claim that this sort of violence promotes “the common good,” but without coercion the government would be merely a bloated business offering a myriad of services which people would most likely turn down for more efficient competitors.

If big-government proponents would stop attempting to veil the patent fact that government necessitates violence against peaceful people, we could more effectively address less obvious and more pressing social issues. Until then, we’ll probably have to settle for the status quo.