CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

“We’re From the Government…”

Jan 28, 2008

It has been rightly said that perhaps the scariest phrase one can hear is this: “Hi, we’re from the Government and we’re here to help you.” Whenever you hear those words, you should either turn and run as fast as you can, or at least ask some very hard questions.

Mind you, some of these politicians and bureaucrats may have the best of intentions. But good intentions, especially those coming from Big Government, can be a very real worry indeed. Politicians may claim to have your interests at heart, but often it is their own interests that are being pandered to.

Conservatism is rightly suspicious of Big Government, while the Liberal Left can’t seem to get enough of it. This is not the place to rehearse the reasons why limited government should be the preferred option, but suffice it to say that any number of excuses crop up as to why government must become ever more extensive and encroaching.

Lately, talk of saving the planet has become a good ploy to expand the reach of government. In the interests of saving the environment, governments are becoming more draconian and invasive in their control over everyday life. Columnist Kevin James begins a recent column by looking at one such bizarre proposal:

“Democrats say they want government to stay out of your bedroom. Actually, they want government in every room of your house and in the ventilation system as well. By now, you’ve probably heard about the proposal of the California Energy Commission to require that all new homes in the state be outfitted with a ‘programmable communicating thermostat,’ an Orwellian device which would allow the government to control the temperature inside your house. Imagine: a government bureaucracy along the lines of the Department of Motor Vehicles or the U.S. Postal Service controlling the comfort level you are allowed to maintain inside your own home!”

Fortunately, after a tidal wave of protest, the Commission backed down and dropped this Big Brother idea. But the ideas keep coming. A good way for governments to gain more control over ordinary citizens is to latch on to a legitimate concern and turn it into a gloom and doom scenario which only governments can save us from. The global warming panic is a good case in point. James continues:

“Environmental doomsaying is one of the most powerful tactics that liberals use to obtain and wield power. At its heart, the Democrat Party is a coalition of interest groups that feed at the trough of the government. The more power the politicians and bureaucrats have, the more contracts and benefits the groups can gobble up. Notice how the rhetoric of environmental protection has changed over the last decade to justify the expansion of governmental power and rapid erosion of personal freedom.”

Not too long ago it was the issue of acid rain. “Liberals used the fact that clouds crossed state lines to propose onerous federal regulation of the energy industry. The first President Bush outsmarted them in 1990 by implementing a free-market program that monetized a limited right to pollute, and acid rain became an issue of the past.”

Today of course it is global warming. “By the mid-1990s, the liberals had turned their attention to ‘global warming.’ Problem: the theory of human-caused global warming is challenged by the fact, among others, that average temperatures were higher during the Medieval Warm Period a thousand years ago. Never ones to let facts stand in their way, the liberals changed their slogan a few years ago to ‘climate change,’ which had the advantage of being impossible to disprove. Hotter or colder today than yesterday? We are destroying the planet! Our kids will have no air to breathe, no water to drink! Call out the National Guard!”

Indeed, more government interference is needed to save the day. “People quickly caught on to the slickness of ‘climate change,’ and the left changed its spots again, now demanding an armada of new rules and regulations to control the size of each person’s ‘carbon footprint.’ (Of course, wealthy liberals like Al Gore and John Edwards purchase questionable carbon offsets so as not to impinge upon their lavish lifestyles. Sacrifice is for the little people).”

But a few inconvenient truths need to be mentioned here: “Everything you do has a carbon footprint and could be regulated by the government. If the Democrats have their way, you could face new limits on what you eat for breakfast, the way you travel to work, the computer on which you read Townhall.com, the medicines you take, the clothes you wear, the DVDs you watch, everything – everything!”

Concludes James, “‘Carbon footprint’ is code for limitless government intrusion into every detail of your life. Nothing is beyond the reach of a government determined to reduce your carbon footprint in the name of the environment. To these people, nothing is sacred, nothing is private, nothing is truly yours. Not even your thermostat.”

History is replete with examples of government bureaucrats using legitimate concerns to grab more power for themselves. We certainly want to look after the environment and take care of planet earth. But we need to be aware of the fact that many shouting with the loudest voices about the environment are the ones most intent on taking away more of our liberties so that they can further consolidate their own power and control.

Life is always about trade-offs. There are costs and benefits to most worthwhile things in life. We are all willing to give up some freedoms to an extent in order to procure certain goods. Thus we need to be cautious and wise here. Having a healthy environment is a good end which we should be willing to make some sacrifices for. But just who has to make the sacrifices, and to what extent, needs to be carefully considered.

www.townhall.com/columnists/KevinJames/2008/01/21/global_warming_the_all-purpose_farce_to_control_your_life

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23 Responses to “We’re From the Government…”

  • How about this for government brainwashing:

    CHILDREN as young as three are being taught anti-racism lessons as part of the first NSW Government-funded program designed to stamp out bigotry from a young age.

    The program will be rolled out at a preschool in western NSW and youngsters will be given regular lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism.

    The move comes as NSW councils investigate implementing a similar program across all council-funded daycare centres across the state.

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23112053-421,00.html

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks for this Ewan. In my opinion legitimate concerns about race are so easily confused with culture. In parts of Britain, west indian communities are suffering from drug related murders amongst teenagers; but as soon as someone points that the black community is responsible for a huge rise in gun crime, everyone shouts ” racism”. It is their culture that needs looking at – not the race.
    Let us define what we mean by race, culture and maybe other factors like environment which may well have had a less than positive influence on the behaviour of peoples.
    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill,

    You miss something about the Labor Party and the Left in general.

    The Labor Party has never like big government. The reason I say that is that it always has left control of worker’s protection to self funding community organisations called trade unions. Even when it set up compulsory superannuation, it opted for samll independant funds, not one central fund.

    The left has favor more more government control to correct what it sees a the inablitiy of the market to provide just outcomes. Just outcomes have to be imposed by regulation. Ken Andrews, the last Howard Government Minister for Industrial Relations, admitted such when he siad that pursuing justice in IR lead to regulatory excess. To make capitalism just, it need to be regulated to the eyeballs.

    Michael Boswell

  • Dear Bill,

    Firstly, I think you are spoiling some of your very fine articles by following the academic practice of describing the political spectrum in terms of “left” and “right”. That spectrum was invented to convince us that we all fit somewhere between two socialist dictators – Hitler, the National Socialist on the “right” and Stalin, the Soviet Socialist on the “left”.

    Very few people fit between those two brutal monsters. A more valid political spectrum would put all dictators at one end and anarchy at the other end, leaving the middle ground for those of us who believe in freedom under law.

    There are of course many reasons why people and political parties favour less freedom. However, the main thrust for “climate change” action that limits freedom comes from those with a worldview that lacks faith in God and is therefore gripped by fear.

    As the bible says: “fear has torment, but perfect love casts out all fear.” It also says of the last days “men’s hearts failing them for fear of the things that are coming on the earth … Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

    Faithless people are so tormented by fear that they are willing to give up even freedom to find peace and various illusory forms of security. They watched in terror as Bush, Blair and Howard marginalised the United Nations in search of a more effective world order. Their response is to use “Climate change” based on flawed science to scare national governments into surrendering more sovereignty to the UN – despite the fact that UN voting is dominated by regimes that oppress their own people.

    Such wreckless cringing fear could quickly demolish the justice, freedom and prosperity that took Christians 2,000 pain-filled years to build and is still only fully available in half a dozen common-law countries.

    By the way, anyone who doubts that “global warming” is based on flawed science should visit the website of one of Australia’s leading climatologists, Prof Bob Carter at http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc/new_page_1.htm and Prof Duncan Wingham at http://www.cpom.org/people/djw/index.htm and see Melanie Phillips’ articles itemising prejudiced reporting on the issue.

    Richard Eason, Canberra

  • Michael Boswell,

    Are you for real? ALL ALP govts have been huge bureacratic monolyths. For example, Mike Rann premier of SA, has over 100 staff in his premiers department. The opposition leader has half a dozen. The SA govt has also admitted they have employed several thousand more public servants than they budgeted for.

    The ALP is also dead against privatisation

    Self funding? Who are you trying to kid! They are funded by compulsory dues from members who often have no choice but to be members, and they hand over large slabs of these funds ($20 million at the last fed election) to the ALP even though many of the members do not vote for the ALP!

    Community organisations? Come off it. They couldn’t give a stuff about the wider community, only about their members.

    And it was the Howard govt that deregulated the Super industry so that employees could choose their own fund. I was forced to go with AMP who excelled in losing my money. I now manage my own fund and made 50% return last year.

    You are correct in identifying the left (socialism) as being concerned with (what they perceive as) just outcomes. ie. everyone ends up with the same regardless of how much effort they put in.

    Capitalism, OTOH, is conerned with just processes. ie. people are rewarding according to merit–the more effort you put in, the more you get.

    Socialism, in its attempt to obtain “just outcomes” (read economic equality), is forced to resort to totally unjust processes.

    Capitalism is just. It just doesn’t guarantee economic equality.

    The problem is that you (and all socialists) assume that economic inequality is somehow inherently unjuist, yet you give no reason why this is so.

    In fact, I dare say you are being a bit hypocritical. I bet you have much more and paid much better than many people in this society, yet you are no hurry to give it all away to others who earn less. In earning more than others, in owning more than others, are you not acting unjustly in light of your own view?

    Andrew Kulikovsky, South Australia

  • Andrew,

    Yes I am real but I could be a figment of my own imagination.

    As for size of governments, both the Labor and Liberal parties take govenment promising to reduce the size of the public service. After initial cuts, the public service grows again to the size it was before the cuts. Some like the Howard Government the public service grows even larger. (That could be as a result of the pervious Labor government’s new round of public service cuts though).

    As for Captialism prividing just outcomeas, when? It does not provide reward for effort. Due to inheritance, we do not all get the same start. Besides, have you read Eccesiates 9:11 where time and chance govern it all. Or Matthew 5:45 when Christ says that God allows the sun to shine on the good and bad alike. these seem to match my experience.

    It not economic equality I am concern about but political equality. Political equality requires the same access to all resources in the society. Economic parity (not necessary equality) is essential to that. Unfortuately, access to those resourse in our society is controlled by access to liquid assests (ie money).

    Is political inequality unjust? Yes! Yes! And just in case you did not get that, Yes! I feel you disagree. We could debate this, however, I feel this is not the forum.

    Michael Boswell

  • Andrew

    I largely agree with your comments about the ALP, but weren’t the Hawke/Keating gov’t an exception to the big gov’t rule? Didn’t they trim some of the fat so to speak?

    Damien Spillane

  • Michael,

    Do you think inheritance is unjust? Why is it unjust, for example, for me to give all I have earned and saved to my son?

    Yes, he will start off/end up with more than many others but that is not his fault or mine.

    Re Ecc 9:11: this verse teaches that wealth, education and brains are no guarantee of success. Luck and hard work also play a big role. Lot’s of well educated wealthy individuals have lost everything, and lots of people who started with very little have made billions.

    Re Matt 5:45 – yep the sun shines on me too. Your point is?

    Political equality? We all have the vote and our vote carries the same weight. We all have the opportunity to join of form a political party and stand for election or run as an independent. Where is the inequality?

    Why does political equality require “the same access to all resources in the society”? You seem to be confusing it with economic equality since resources fall in the economic, not the political domain.

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Andrew,

    I will repy to you via a private email. Why? In my original posting I said that I felt this is not the proper place for a debate between me and you.

    If you are to debate thishere, we would need bill’s permission.

    Michael Boswell

  • Andrew,

    I find it somewhat ironic that you so heartily endorse the survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog mentality of capitalism. It is the mechanism by which our species evolved, and is therefore an inherited trait, but surely we are able to use our powers of reason to conclude that it is not always best for society as a whole.

    I don’t consider myself either a capitalist or a socialist. There are faults with both systems. Perhaps that is why there are no good examples of successful economies that exploit a pure form of either philosophy.

    The United States probably comes closest to the pure capitalist model, and while it has certainly been an economic success in the past, it is hardly a great example today of a contended society. The divide between rich and poor is extremely wide, and there are many measures of societal dysfunction in which the US fares poorly compared with other Western nations.

    Capitalism obviously fails totally in responding to humanitarian disaster situations like Katrina, and the laissez-faire approach of the Bush administration looks like dragging the US into recession. Isn’t rampant capitalism at the heart of the sub-prime crisis? Are the millions who are losing their homes and jobs thanking their God that they live in the “land of opportunity”?

    Clearly, economic equality for all is also an undesirable system since it provides little incentive, but a system where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor is not desirable either. Some redistribution of wealth is necessary, both for the health of society and for compassionate reasons. And it is simply idealistic to suggest that such a redistribution would happen voluntarily without government intervention.

    Given the many warnings in scripture about the evils of serving both God and Mammon, I find it quite extraordinary that many evangelicals so heartily endorse capitalism.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  • Thanks Michael
    Although somewhat off the original issue of global warming, it is an important debate so permission granted.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good article Bill. The government controlled thermostats would be amusing if they weren’t seriously being advocated.

    Steve says:
    “Given the many warnings in scripture about the evils of serving both God and Mammon, I find it quite extraordinary that many evangelicals so heartily endorse capitalism.”

    I think what you’re missing here is that they think it is the individual’s task to help the poor, feed the hungry, re-distribute wealth etc, not the government’s. In fact, there’s some good evidence* that conservative Christians in America give more to charity (on average) than their non-religious, liberal counterparts. So they are perfectly willing to give their time or money, but they feel that privately run charity is more desirable than government enforced charity, for reasons including efficiency, effectiveness, and freedom of choice. I certainly feel this way, although I don’t pretend to be an expert on economics or sociology. However I do hear there is some good evidence for greater efficiency and effectiveness for private welfare relating to the state takeover of welfare in the USA (sadly can’t remember the source). And I certainly would prefer to choose where my money goes, especially since the govt might fund something I consider unethical.

    I suppose the counter would be that, in a democracy, the majority can decide where money should be spent. But it’s just as valid for evangelical capitalists to use their vote against government-run welfare.

    *Brooks, A.C., [i]Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism[/i], Basic Books, New York, USA, 2006

    Samuel Sparks

  • Bill,

    Thanks, I will continue here. Though sine I run a business, my reply will not be that well researched.

    You said your posting was about climate control but I was responding to your side swipes at what appears as “left liberal”, radical or socialist in the post.

    The Greens in Western Australia (of which I am a member) are taling about the advent of smart meters for charging electricity. These meters whould record usage at ppeck time and allow the electricity company to charge more for it. The main victim these meters are aimed at is the air conditioner. It is another application of market mechanisms. If one puts aside the issues of civil liberties, the termastat idea economically cheaper.

    Something to consider!

    Michael Boswell

  • Smart electricity meters are a good idea, and as Michael says operate on free market principles (e.g. supply & demand) and not on any form of socialism. Government controlled thermostats wouldn’t work because people would just run their air-conditioners for longer or find other electricity consuming ways to compensate like electric fans.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Steve Angelino,

    Hear hear! Well said.

    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  • Actually Steve Angelino is talking rubbish. To suggest that capitalism is “an inherited trait” because it can be equated with evolution is just too crazy for words.

    Also he says that capitalism is a “system where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor…..” A common misconception of critics of capitalism. In a capitalist economy when did the poor ever get poorer? Capitalism in fact increases total wealth from which everyone benefits including the ‘poor’. It is socialism that impoverishes a nation.

    And why should not evangelicals endorse capitalism since it is the system presupposed by much of the Bible?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Steve Angelo,

    Nothing you have said is remotely true.

    Firstly, let’s define what we mean by capitalism:
    “Capitalism is the FREE and PEACEFUL exchange of goods and services without fraud, theft or coercion.”

    Dog-eat-dog is not capitalism. You are describing anarchy not capitalism.

    The US is barely capitalist. On the contrary, it is heavily regulated and is therefore interventionist rather than capitalist. The problems you describe are the result of interventionist policies not capitalism. Singapore is probably the most pure capitalist economy, and if you’ve ever been there, everyone lives pretty well!

    The problems of the Katrina response have nothing at all to do with capitalism. That was a purely administrave and organisational failure. If you recall the response to the Tsunami in Dec 2004, it was all the CAPITALIST countries that provided virtually all the aid and did so very quickly.

    ABS stats show that rich have indeed got richer, but so have the poor–just not at the same rate. History shows that in capitalist societies, everyone’s standard of living improves.

    Where is your scriptural basis for arguing that capitalism amounts to serving money ahead of God?

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • As Churchill said, the great fault of capitalism is unequal sharing of wealth; the great merit of socialism is equal sharing of poverty (except for the party leaders).

    If a genie were to magically double everyone’s real wealth, lefties like Steve Angelino and Simon Kennedy would hate it because it would double the gap between rich and poor.

    In a voluntary exchange, both parties must think that they benefit, or else the exchange would not be made. Hence capitalism can increase wealth. Lefties think exchange is a zero-sum game, where what one person wins, another person loses. So they are interested only in “just” slicing of the pie, but not in how the pie is made or grown. (What “just” is supposed to mean if we are rearranged poind scum as Angelino believes is something for him to justify).

    The only way we can have equalization of property is by gross inequality of power to enforce this equality. It is thus no accident that socialist countries have led the world in ‘Death by government‘ stats, despite apologists for socialism claiming that they were distortions.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Andrew,

    To suggest that Singapore is a “pure capitalist economy” is ridiculous. It operates under an authoritarian form of capitalism that is little different from a socialist state. The government is massively interventionist, with fingers in much of commerce there, and in Australia. Guess who ultimately controls Optus?

    80% of the population live in public housing, and the government rules by fear and favour, with no effective opposition, and a justice system that is heavily politicised.

    Yes, I’ve been there, but I wouldn’t want to live under such an authoritarian regime. As for your assertion that “everyone lives pretty well”, by what measure? There have been studies that attempt to measure satisfaction with life, and Singapore ranks fairly low amongst developed economies.

    You jest, surely?

    Steve Angelino, WA

  • “I’m sure everyone feels sorry for the individual who has fallen by the wayside or who can’t keep up in our competitive society, but my own compassion goes beyond that to the millions of unsung men and women who get up every morning, send the kids to school, go to work, try and keep up the payments on their house, pay exorbitant taxes to make possible compassion for the less fortunate, and as a result have to sacrifice many of their own desires and dreams and hopes. Government owes them something better than always finding a new way to make them share the fruit of their toils with others.”—Ronald Reagan

    “The fact that the market is not doing what we wish it would do is no reason to automatically assume that the government would do better. There are too many examples of government interventions that made things worse, the Great Depression of the 1930s being the most tragic. Those on the left love to believe that the stock market crash of 1929 showed the failure of the free market and that the New Deal interventions in the 1930s saved the day. But the stock market crash of 1987 was just as big and Ronald Reagan resisted loud calls for him to intervene. The result was not another Great Depression but the beginning of a decades-long period of prosperity. Before Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt came along, there was no expectation that the federal government would intervene when the stock market crashed or when there was a downturn in the economy. Previous stock market crashes and previous downturns in the economy worked themselves out faster and less painfully than the Great Depression of the 1930s, just as the 1987 crisis did. The track record of government intervention is far less impressive than its rhetoric.”—Thomas Sowell

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Steve,

    I never said Singapore was a “pure capitalist economy”. I said it was the most pure economy–emphasis on “economy”.

    In other words, I was referring to Singapore’s economy not its political system and social arrangements.

    Andrew Kulikovsky

  • Andrew,

    Your comments make no sense. Capitalism by definition means private enterprise. An economy where an authoritarian and interventionist government is a major player in the market can hardly be described as the “most pure” capitalist economy. Singapore is a socialist state, albeit a more successful one than most.

    Steve Angelino, WA

  • The CIA’s World Factbook has this to say about Singapore’s economy:

    Singapore has a highly developed and successful free-market economy. It enjoys a remarkably open and corruption-free environment, stable prices, and a per capita GDP equal to that of the four largest West European countries.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

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