Seeing is believing.
Scenes of polar bears on melting ice floes. Beggars on the street—a church’s soup kitchen closed because of government regulations. An interior designer is put out of business for lack of a state-issued license. She has few options left to her.
For most people these slice-of-life vignettes are more persuasive than mounds of data. Image and story are more likely to change beliefs and prompt individuals to act.
And when you get down to it, it’s the individual who acts: Why do we think as we do? Why do we do what we do?
Notice I did not ask about our education, our genetic makeup, our social environment, our ethnic or religious affiliations, our psychological makeup, or our philosophical starting points. Doing so may advance scholarship, but asking these questions will not directly engage the millions of citizens whose votes shape our collective destiny, for better or worse.
That is not to say only a few of us are smart enough to understand why limiting government is desirable. It’s just too few citizens think it’s worth the effort.
Give people the freedom—to make their own decisions, to decide what makes them happy and to take action toward that goal and they don’t much care whether Caesar Augustus or Cicero and the Senate rule the land. But whoever rules, there will be only a smidgen of difference in outcome unless a majority of citizens keep the autocrat or the legislature in check by somehow limiting the size and scope of government as necessary for human freedom to prevail.
Why we do what we do—is to improve our well-being and achieve the satisfaction of taking care of ourselves.
We want to be happy. Charles Murray and Arthur Brooks have been prominent among those testing the thesis of what Arthur describes as “earned success.” Both are contributing to one our upcoming video projects, Work and Happiness: The Human Cost of Welfare, which parallels a soon-to-be released book by Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers. A public TV program and teaching units will be available in the Spring of 2016.
Our instincts and observations of others lead to the conclusion people would rather work for a living, but if things go bad, the majority expect Augustus or Cicero and the Senate to bail them out. And once bailed out, they want the government to get out of the way so they can give it another try own their own. And we should all accept the sincerity of that notion.
Cicero and the Senate and Augustus were practitioners of public choice theory, give the folks what they want and we can continue to enjoy the trappings of power. But failure to support Senators who resisted the centralization of power led to Augustus’ empire and centuries of worsening imperial repression of personal and economic freedom.
Sound familiar? The burden is on those of us who do think it is worth the effort, to understand the acceptable limits of government and to communicate the winning ideas of freedom in the manner the average person can easily grasp and remember when making a decision regarding the extend of Caesar’s role in their lives.