July 25, 2023

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  • How'd We Manage?

    Walter Williams most recent column inspires a big "indeed."

    Whenever someone says that this or that government program is absolutely necessary, I always wonder, "What did people do and how did they survive before the program?"

    If someone says food stamps are absolutely necessary for poor people's survival, I wonder how America's millions of poor immigrants made it. Unless I missed something, mass starvation is not a part of our history. Was there a stealth food stamp program during the 1700s and 1800s?

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted by Steven Taylor at July 25, 2023 02:52 PM | TrackBack

    Walter Williams sounds like he's advocating social darwinism. The fact that "these laws saved some lives" does not make them worthwhile? The fact that seatbeat laws have reduced dramatically the rates of deaths in automobile accidents does not make it worthwhile?

    Williams adds: "In a free society, government has the responsibility of protecting us from others, but not from ourselves. Before government got into the business of protecting us from ourselves, we did have a greater measure of protection from others."

    But that is a dissembling argument, for laws that protect us from, say, our parents and their bonehead mistakes, are surely protecting us from others.

    Finally, Williams paints with too broad a brush. He wonders how we grew from 4 million to 280 million without all these government laws. We didn't, Walter.

    Part of the reason we are at 280 million is precisely because of government regulations (what, specifically, was the population when the government began to regulate child labor? Or require child immunizations? Or mandate seat belt laws?)

    Finally, it is a huge mistake to compare today's complex, information-laden culture, society and economy with the agricultural and nascent industrial society of earlier eras and ask the question he poses.

    Now, all of the above does not mean that I agree with every idiotic bit of government micromanagement, but somewhere there's a balance to be had in the phrase "promote the general welfare."

    Posted by: bryan at July 27, 2023 03:16 PM

    Of course the idea tha a given law would "save a few lives" is not necessarily a good argument for that law. For example: we would save a lot of lives if we lowered the speed limit to 35 on all streets and highways, but I don't think that would be good public policy.

    Posted by: Steven at July 27, 2023 04:20 PM

    The argument that any law would save "a few" lives *alone* is not necessarily a good argument in and of itself. After all, how many lives should count? But that's not what Williams seems to be saying. Rather, he seems to be saying that *all* such laws are bad.

    I beg to differ with him on that point.

    Even his characterization of the "safety" of cars is suspect. After all, there were far fewer cars on the road in the 1950s and 60s, and traffic patterns were different as well.

    It would be interesting to see how a nation of 1956 cadillacs or chevrolets would fare in today's transit system on a death-per-accident basis (especially with those lap belts and iron steering wheels.

    Posted by: bryan at July 27, 2023 09:33 PM

    I will agree that Williams has a style that tends to the overstatement.

    Posted by: Steven at July 28, 2023 08:56 AM
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