Well, since it appears that the U.S. stock market isn’t going to crash — yet — this morning — okay, for the next couple of hours, at least — I’m going to sit down and take up a much more serious, but slower-paced, problem that’s been on my mind. I’m talking about the national, even global plague of “do somethingness.”
You know how people are always trying to find solutions to gigantic problems, and (because their only tool is government), making a worse mess of everything? Blame “do somethingness.” If we could only end the “do something” plague, clever, independent people might actually set about coming up with real solutions to real-world messes.
My mother was a fan of government — the bigger the better. The daughter of a man who ran for office as a Socialist, she was also a worshipper at the shrine of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She praised his New Deal to the skies and honestly believed, despite all evidence, that this conniving aristocrat “cared about the little people.”
I may have inherited Mom’s political gene, but by age 10 or so, I began seeing the world differently. By my teens, when mothers and daughters are often at big-time odds, we butted heads over politics, both contemporary and historic. One question I asked, “If Roosevelt’s economic policies were so effective, how come the Depression just got worse for years and didn’t end until World War II?”
Mom would argue and temporize, but ultimately, she didn’t have a persuasive response to that question. Tempers would rise until she would finally burst out with her end-all-arguments answer: “Well, at least he DID SOMETHING!”
And that’s the problem. And not just with Roosevelt — and Bush II — and Obama — whose meddling prolongs and distorts what would otherwise be a painful, but brief, economic self-correction. It’s a problem with virtually every serious hot-button issue in the political world, right, left, and otherwise. The plague of “do somethingness” enables bigger and more tyrannical government at every level.
1. Whipped up by the media, by “leaders,” or sometimes just by their own passions, millions cry for government to “do something!” about a situation.
2. Government responds by concocting thousands of pages of arcane, opaque legislation and regulation, whose long-term implications are unknown but which, you can be sure, give power to those who already have power and give riches to those with powerful friends.
3. The original “do something!” group uncritically supports the proposed law or regulation. They urge it forward. They cheer it on. They vote for those who propagate it.
4. To anyone who argues against the proposal, the “do somethings” respond with endless, passionate discourses — not about the specific effects of the oncoming new rules — whether they’ll work as advertised, whether they’ll destroy freedom — but only about the problem they perceive. “We need regulation because Wall Street is out of control!” “We have to have health-care reform because costs are soaring!” “Something has to be done because illegal immigration is destroying the country!”
5. Any attempt to get the “do somethings” to focus on the actual content and potential pitfalls of the new rules will be met with a wall of resistance. They simply don’t care. All that matters is “doing something.” Worse yet, if you continue to argue against the government’s new plan, then you must be “a pawn of Wall Street” or “in favor of uncontrolled costs” or “a fuzzy-headed liberal” or “a cold-hearted right-winger.” Or whatever. Everything is white (them) or black (you).
6. The law or regulation will be adopted. Things will get worse. There will be calls to “do something!” Rinse and repeat.
The fact that “do somethingness” never, ever solves problems and always creates worse ones is lost on the “do something” crowd.
Did Prohibition turn the nation sober? No, it didn’t. But it did give unprecedented opportunity to organized crime.
Did the New Deal end the Depression? Nope. But it did create vast, permanent new bureaucracies.
Have decades of financial regulation prevented Wall Street shenanigans and crashes? You tell me. But those regs have created sinecures for thousands of parasites. Yeah, it must be nice to be paid $200,000 per year to download porn while the guys you’re supposed to regulate rape the land.
Did Cold War hysteria make us safer? Or freer? No, but it sure did give a boost to the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned about — and set the stage for a permanent, and profitable, state of war. Halliburton and the company formerly known as Blackwater can thank the “better dead than red” knee-jerkers and their “they hate us for our freedom” descendants for their billions.
Did the War on Poverty end poverty? Au contraire. Poverty, which had been dropping at a dramatic rate before Johnson’s Great Society, suddenly stabilized. It has remained at a near-constant rate since the late 1960s. But now we have even more gigantic bureaucracies and a permanent, government-subsidized underclass petulantly demanding — and voting for politicians who’ll deliver — its “entitlements.”
Did the drug war curb recreational drug use? Don’t be silly. But it stole our rights, turned police into ruthless military forces, and set a deadly crime war on our borders and in our cities.
Will Obamacare reduce costs and improve health care in the U.S.? Ha ha ha. But oooooh, the joys of centralized power!
Did the border wall, or the “virtual border wall” halt the passage of illegals? What a joke. But every, single failed measure against those funny-talking brown people moves us closer to national ID — which is the ultimate point.
Will national ID ensure us a peaceful life, free from terrorists, identity fraud, and those pesky brown folk? Ha ha ha. But thanks to the “do something!” crowd, national ID is what we’ll eventually get.
But in each case, these disastrous historic measures were (and are) supported by a loud, passionate group of “do something!” advocates who didn’t think out the consequences, but only cried for action at any cost.
Part of me wonders why I’m writing this. Those who’ll get it … well, already do get it without being nudged along by the likes of me.
Those who don’t get it — the “do something!” crowd — will never get it. Because they don’t want to get it. Left, right, or otherwise, they’re so fixated on whatever problem they perceive that they’ll refuse forever to look at the consequences of government “solutions.” Details be damned: As long as somebody in government promises to “do something,” that’s good enough for them.
Then, when that fails … when government gets bigger and freedom shrinks … they’ll be right in there crying for yet another government fix.
The sad, sad irony of all this is that, as often as not, the “do somethings” claim to be in favor of greater freedom and smaller government. Sure … just as soon as big government has stopped the illegals or bombed Iran into the stone age or whatever. Then we’ll have limited constitutional government and the blessings of freedom.
But left or right, it really doesn’t matter. It’s the same mentality.
I swear, if we could solve one problem to really change the world in a positive way, it would be the problem of “do somethingness.” If people would stop thinking that way — stop accepting any damn thing government does, as long as its done under a pretense that they like — the world would be a different, saner, freer place.
And some problems might actually get solved.
If it still ‘too soon to shoot the bastards’, perhaps the appropriate action is to shun the bastards and all their supporters?
Very powerful observation.
I agree, those that get it already do.
Those that don’t get it never will.
The ubiquitous they won’t give up their “idea” of “fixing” on their personal “it” until their “it” and lots more is good an broken.
Keep on bloggin!
I do enjoy your thoughts.
Get out of mg head!
Just joking, but seriously, thanks for so eloquently writing down thoughts and feelings I could not. Everytime I hear someone say “there ought to be a law…” I cringe because I know that is the neginning of a do something campagn. Lets ignore the fact that a law probably already exists, no, the do somethings decide on creating new legislation. And whats worse is that its opaque. Did anyone actually even know what the health reform bill contained? I think not. And of course if you go against it you are deemed heartless even cruel. Apparently argument now only means disagreement without intelligent discourse, just insult. I say we adopt Hardyville law! What is scary is that even libertarian “nutters” catch “do somethingitis”. I wonder how many Tea Party members have actually seen a copy of the US Constitution or did they just like the cool t-shirts and wild after parties 🙂
Call me paranoid but sometimes I think there is some seriously scary dude manipulating all this do something. Luckily I know such a sinister plot is not really needed. We generally do it to ourselves.
Very eloquently put. Those who aspire to power have been conditioning the “sheeple” for a long time. Being a “baby-boomer” I remember very well back in the 50’s being “Daddy’s good little soldier” and “There oughtta be a law”–in other words, obey what you’re told just like millions had been taught during WWII. The state school systems, classical religions, the “news” and just about every written editorial since then has lauded government because they will “do something”. 65+ years of hammering this home from every corner of our lives has left an indelible impression on the vast majority. Too bad it even affected the free thinking of the 60’s changing it into entitlement thinking because they “did something”.
What is it with people who are perfectly happy for the government to just do any old thing that sounds good out of the mouth of a news anchor?
We really need to do soemthing about people like that!
Don’t be so discouraged. Those who don’t get it sometimes can be convinced. When I started medical school, I supported nationalized health care. I voted for Bill Clinton twice! (I have voted non-Demopublican since then in presidential elections). When I started my training, I wanted to go to work for a state-subsidized indigent care clinic. Enough people like Claire pointed out reality to me, combined with my observations of the results of our socialism, that I changed my mind completely. Now my medical practice is as far as you can get from government control. I am the one who wrote in response to Salvadoran medicine a month or two ago. I got it. Keep working at it. You will get through to other people that have not yet become fixed in their ways.
Dr. J, I remember your comment here and your article at LewRockwell.com. Thank you. If you can come that far, then maybe there is hope. I’ll bet, though, that you had an open mind to begin with, even if you had filled your mind (or had it filled) with some “interesting” notions. I fear that most of the “do something” folks will never see beyond their perceptions because they don’t want to look in any other direction. Still, with people like you out there, I’ll opt for optimism. 🙂
Eloquent and interesting post. The problem is that legislators seldom get elected/reelceted for doing nothing, or rolling back bad laws/programs. We are the problem. All of us generally want something done about something, it just varies person to person. Corporate charities also need to have problems to do something about, it’s how they generate income from the government and the gullible.
So is the best answer to really do nothing?
Maybe the best answer is for governments to do nothing — like maybe stay in session only a few weeks of the year — or maybe be limited to passing laws whose topics match their titles — or maybe even dissolve themselves in good anarchist fashion? Or how about one house that passes bills (on a 2/3 vote) and another whose only mission is to repeal (via majority vote)?
Just some random thoughts, there. But really … I don’t think it’s a choice between doing nothing and doing something. I think the reality is that when governments get out of the way, people can solve the problems more creatively and without holding guns to people’s heads.
Sorry this is quick. Hope it isn’t abrupt. Got somebody waiting for me. But you give good comment, Matt. 🙂
Re #5: You will also be accused of actually being in favor of the “problem”.
Not naming names, but one example would be if you tried to point out flaws in a particular immigration law, those who support that law because it “does something” will claim you are in favor of illegal immigrants flooding the country committing murders.
There are times when something does need to be done, but not the wrong thing.
It is amazing that the government, generally at any level, manages to almost always get it wrong when it decides to “do something.”
A very in-sightful article, I enjoyed reading. Political government thrives on two things, dependency upon it and opposition to it. It requires the energy of the people feeding into the system doing one or both of those two things.
I read your article after Kent Mcmanigal, made reference to it.
Yes, and once again, proof that most here are simply fans of the status quo. Funny, how easy it is to claim that someone “just doesn’t get it” as long as that person is not yourself.
But then, how dare I, a simple minded hick from the hills, challenge such towering intellects that dwell here?
“Funny, how easy it is to claim that someone “just doesn’t get it” as long as that person is not yourself.”
Yes, that must be why you keep doing it.