Many people were rightly incensed when president Obama fired GM’s CEO and then appointed a car “czar” to force government decisions on the industry. Never mind that the president isn’t qualified to run a business or that his team can’t even navigate simple tax forms. The real moral here is that our unquestioning acceptance of the regulatory state makes such outrages possible.
Observe that for decades now, the FCC decides what material is appropriate for us to see and hear; the FDA decides which food and drugs we can ingest; the FDIC and SEC decide which banks and investment firms we can trust. Social Security is mandatory because we can’t be counted on to save for retirement. At every turn, government claims that we’re incapable of looking after ourselves, so it must do it for us — by controlling and regulating our thoughts and actions.
But do we need the government to think for us? To the contrary!
When people are free to think for themselves, they do — and the results are some of the most creative and prosperous societies in history. Consider cultures in freer times: the types of discourse and inquiry in Ancient Greece; the advances in the arts during the Renaissance; the level of debate during the nation’s founding; and the outpouring of innovation and wealth following the Industrial Revolution.
Even today, in the few sectors where the government has not imposed heavy regulation, people actively pursue knowledge and develop new ideas. In the field of computers and technology, for example, many people, despite having no formal technical training, are incredibly knowledgeable about the newest phones, cameras, networking sites, software tools, and much more. And because there is no regulation, innovation comes from all quarters. Two 23-year-olds invented the search algorithm that revolutionized the Internet. A teenager created Linux. We could expect similar feats in fields like medicine or aviation, if only we dismantled the onerous control of the FDA and FAA.
For at its root, all knowledge and value-creation comes from the independent mind. Progress isn’t the result of government agencies issuing directives and decrees, but of individuals who are free to follow their own lines of inquiry, to pursue facts they deem relevant. Aristotle, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein all advanced our knowledge because they were free to exercise their judgment regardless of anyone else’s wishes or dogma. And the same is true of most achievements, on whatever scale.
So to benefit man, one must defend his freedom to think; not usurp it.
But if ceding our minds to the government isn’t the way to protect ourselves against ignorance, what is? The free market. For here, knowledge is efficiently shared, and authorities and standards naturally emerge. Yet everyone retains the freedom to follow their own ideas if they so choose. Looking once more to the computer industry, we see that there are computer magazines (PC Mag, Macworld), computer rating and standards groups (CNET, IEEE), and countless online message boards and forums where experts, aficionados, and neophytes alike congregate and share information. Knowledge is valued, but it’s not forced on anyone. This makes disagreement, dissension, and often breakthrough innovations possible.
Regulation reverses all of this. By barring action or by creating a false sense of security, regulation breeds the very ignorance and apathy it claims to shield us from. A sick person can’t choose which experimental drugs he wants to try, so there’s no point learning about them. Savers and investors see no need to evaluate banks and investment firms because supposedly the FDIC and SEC are doing their thinking for them (a notion many Madoff investors now rue).
These results aren’t accidental. Fundamentally, the regulatory approach is focused on the lowest common denominator: the person who needs a warning sign to ensure that he doesn’t spill hot coffee on himself or who shuns any responsibility for his own decisions. Acting in his name, regulators restrict everyone’s choices and freedoms. Conversely, the free market fosters the best within us. It rewards knowledge and innovation while continually raising the bar and inspiring achievement.
The choice then is stark but simple: the freedom to think and choose, or regulation. Which will you demand?