This article was originally published by Per Bylund at The Mises Institute.
It is no surprise to libertarians that what is in the interest of the government might not be in the interest of people in general. More often than not, the government’s interest is directly at odds with the interests of people in general. The countless wars waged by governments throughout history, for which common people paid ultimately with their lives, bear witness to this fact.
Wars are also waged on the domestic populations that the government supposedly serves and protects. Under the guise of the greater or public good, which always require some sacrifice yet curiously dovetail with the government’s interests, individuals are the means if not the problem. In the words of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, they’re “watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about” – and taxed to finance the whole apparatus.
That it is the government vs. the people rather than the government for, by, and of the people is clear in the former’s policies in practice as well as in the statements from its leaders. Very recently, Vice President Kamala Harris noted that “When we invest in clean energy and electric vehicles and reduce population, more of our children can breathe clean air and drink clean water.” Yes, she said “reduce population.”
The White House quickly posted an updated speech suggesting the VP had merely misread. She meant to say pollution, not population.
It is certainly possible, if not probably, that the VP misspoke/misread the prompt. But this too is highly problematic. If you read something and misread, it is because you skip too fast through the text and your mind therefore adds the most likely combination of words. Hence the well-known concept “Freudian slip”—in uncontrolled moments we sometimes say what we mean, or what is in recent memory, rather than what we “should” say.
The VP misspoke, but what she said is indicative of what she has been thinking, what discussions have been going on around her, what is on the agenda at the White House, or in some other way present in her mind. She could have said that we must reduce protrusion, pollination, perversion, petroleum, or some other word that at a quick glance might look something like pollution. She didn’t. She said, “reduce population.” Why was “reduce population” top of mind?
The obvious reason is that this is something that is often discussed in politics and most likely also within the White House. Neo-Malthusianism, the idea that all problems in the present are due to “too many people,” and the seemingly obvious policy implication that we must “reduce” the number of people living on this earth, is alive and well. It’s a hydra that by now has plenty of heads, simply because we’ve already chopped off so many (and, as for the mythological creature, two grow up to replace each head chopped off).
The fact is, of course, that whatever problems we have are much more easily solved if there are more people – more minds to figure out solutions and more people to specialize under the division of labor. This is an unintuitive answer to the question of what must be done to the problems, which requires (minimal) economic literacy to figure out. Unfortunately, people rarely have such basic understanding – and among politicians it is an even rarer quality, simply because in policy there are strong incentives to disregard economic reality.
As Thomas Sowell famously is quoted saying:
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
This is indeed so, and it makes clear the high cost of allowing government to infringe on the free economy and voluntary society. However, this particular parasite fails to understand the use it has for its host. Instead, she deems it a problem that should be made to disappear.