Government is a necessary evil, but individuals make best choices

Some people seem to feel that any concern about the extent of government authority can be marginalized and dismissed as part of a paranoid conspiracy. I doubt there are many people who feel that government cannot become corrupted. And to assume that if government is evil, then “people are evil” is a puerile analysis.

Government exists to restrain the vices that occur in any humans’ nature. It regulates the imperfections of a society that allows us to attain the many wants that outweigh our individual ability. And while it benefits our existence, it must be limited to its most essential role of protecting our rights and liberty, otherwise boiling us like frogs in a slowly heated stew of tyranny. As David Hume wryly stated, “it is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once,” but, rather, gradually by relinquishing individual ability to political authority when it seems righteous or practical.

Furthermore, heavy government intervention in a free market economy would never be publicly defended by any serious economist. Government planning is about as discredited as the Flat Earth Society. Government should maintain a competitive economy, but should not influence business practices. That is the responsibility of the consumer, because the consumer votes with the dollar.

As business owner Yvon Chouinard has written, “if you want to change government, change the corporations, and government will follow. If you want to change corporations, change the consumers…as we deny that as individuals we are the cause of our problems, we also deny that we are the solution.” This was the American spirit of individuality and self-reliance that I wrote of in the April 11 issue of the Record, which was so admired by Alexis de Tocqueville: “In America the people do not wait for the nobility or the government to do something for them; they do it themselves.”

The government did not mandate the opening of a market for organic food or clothing in the United States. It was individuals who desired an alternative to chemicals and pollution. The government did not even mandate Chouinard to reassess his basic operations. It was he who realized that “all of Patagonia’s facilities should be involved in recycling and composting and have edible landscaping, low-energy-use power, and insulation; we should use recycled paper everywhere, even in our catalogs, encourage ride sharing, eliminate paper cups, and so forth.”

Do not mistake it, Patagonia, like Ben & Jerry’s, or Tom’s of Maine, is not necessarily an example of the accomplishment of a company, but that of the consumer, that of the citizen. No amount of collectivism or government planning can accomplish what individuals can aided solely by liberty.

As Frederick Hayek stated, “if left free, men will often achieve more than individual reason could ever design or foresee.”