Resist Evil – Tu Ne Cede Malis (Ludwig von Mises’ Motto)
I have written elsewhere that “While in classic magic tricks the magician ensures that the spectators are distracted from the real action, the magic of the crisis could ensure that what is otherwise hidden or not obvious becomes visible and tangible for many people.”
As a result of the increasingly planned economy of the European energy supply, such magic moments are occurring more frequently at present. A notable example is the statement of a district administrator from North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany who remarked in an interview with the German newspaper Welt: “It’s quite noticeable that a not insignificant part of the population apparently assumes that the state takes care of everything and solves all problems.” What is remarkable is that this statement comes from someone who belongs to the secondary class whose income as a civil servant comes from compulsory levies.
Etatism is the belief that the state is an all-knowing and powerful enough problem solver. However, it is accompanied by an expansion of political power, which ends up being used for their own self-interest by the people in charge. Thus, how can it be explained that numerous people call for state intervention instead of resisting it? Why are centralized, top-down political actions, power, and coercion, preferred to decentralized individual actions, the market, and freedom? Under what circumstances is etatism deplored, even by civil servants and politicians? And are there ways to contribute to curbing etatism and interventionism?
Fact and fiction
The linchpin of Austrian Economics and the indispensable basis for freedom and prosperity is decentralized voluntary human action. To illustrate this point, imagine that you are a right-handed person sitting at a table with a glass to the left of you. So, how do you solve your problem? You take the glass and put it on your right side. Your action successfully changed the situation you found yourself in. You got the benefit and bore the cost (the energy and time required to move the glass). But, what would be the policy solution to the same problem? You demand that the state enact a regulation forcing all diners to place glasses exclusively on the right side in the future.
Admittedly, this is a simplified example. But, the principle applies just as well in a more complex real-world event such as when you call for the state to subsidize renewable energy or to create kindergarten places.
For example, between 2009 and 2019 spending on child and youth welfare in Germany doubled. Nevertheless, in many regions of the country, especially those with high population density, the need for daycare is not met. While it remains possible to demand a kindergarten place through the courts, this does not create real care as not every toddler gets a place in a daycare center.
The call “politics must …” and the demand for compulsion led to a fake solution, namely a “legal entitlement,” which in many cases remains an illusion. However, the additional costs caused by government intervention are real – both you and I pay extra, even if no service was provided.
Frédéric Bastiat put this brilliantly when he said, “Everyone likes to live at the expense of the state, but almost no one thinks of the state living at everyone’s expense.”
Those who demand political coercion are subject to an illusion that harms themselves and others. The fact that many people call for state intervention and that centralized political measures, power, and coercion, are preferred to decentralized individual action, the market, and freedom, is due to this self-deception.
In other words, the lack of understanding that “politics,” “the government” or “the state” does not have money, but only redistributes it, while keeping a considerable part for themselves, is not sufficiently widespread.
Camouflage and deception
Although it becomes apparent that political interventions and government redistribution create numerous problems and unintended consequences, sometimes even with opposite effects of the desired ones, oftentimes we realize this only too late. The currently hotly debated (in reality it’s been an issue for years) weakening of supply security in Germany due to increasingly planned energy policies is a case in point.
Politicians find it difficult to admit that the vehemently promoted developments were wrong, that the desired effects did not materialize, and that unintended adverse effects have unimagined consequences. So, what to do?
On the one hand, denial and intensification of previously unsuccessful measures in accordance with the motto, “if little did not help, only more will suffice.” On the other hand, the search for culprits and accusations of people outside the secondary class. Think for example of the entrepreneurs berated who “think only of profit” or professionals who “do not save enough gas.”
Now that it is becoming clear that politics is not able to guarantee the security of supply and that drastic consequences are becoming more likely, the attitude of the citizenry who assumed until recently that the state will take care of everything and solve all the problems is to put blame on the state. Even the secondary class whose incomes are financed by compulsory contributions (such as taxes, social security, and broadcasting), start to complain about etatism and interventionism. The problem is, they only do so when the failure of the state becomes obvious.
Shame – a shield and a sword
While the defense mechanisms are no surprise for people who influence, create, or implement policy decisions, a different reaction would be conceivable for those people who have called for politics as problem solvers.
If one recognizes that one’s own behavior was self-defeating and also harmful to others, a sense of embarrassment, discomfort, or shame could arise. Although one cannot turn back time, it may be perceived as embarrassing to recognize one’s own part in unwanted developments.
In addition to the corresponding (self-) realization, people in the environment judge damaging behavior as unacceptable and reprehensible. If the weakening of supply security, the loss of freedom, or the destruction of prosperity is accepted or even positively evaluated by people in the environment, it is hardly to be expected that shame will arise.
The situation is different when it becomes apparent that many people do not like it when politics is called upon to impose its will on other people. But this is precisely what it means to call upon the state – a demand to replace freedom and voluntariness with unfreedom and coercion.
This shame can be a shield and sword to resist evil. Shield, by helping one to resist temptation. Sword, when it can be placed on something as simple as a T-shirt or a bumper sticker to help other people think when an interlocutor wants to call on politics for “help”.
Being loud and clear with a “shame on you” shibboleth shows that there are people who resist evil, just as Mises’ heraldic motto puts it. It shows that people do not accept, but find it reprehensible when freedom, prosperity, or security of supply are lost, and more and more political coercion is used.