Monday, November 12, 2007

Magic Doesn't Make Things Happen

This will be my last post that falls off topic from medicine and economics. It is highly relevant to both topics, but it is really more directly political. I think that it is an important thing to say though, and may clear up some misunderstandings as to where I am coming from. The following are some general rules that seem to be forgotten in the modern political debate.

#1: You cannot make things happen with a philosophy of government. If I have a philosophy that says that the government should take care of the poor, and I vote for people who espouse that philosophy, it doesn't make the government take care of the poor. What it does is generally give more power to the people in government to take money under the auspices of giving it to the poor. Whether this actually happens or not can be a matter of great debate. In other words, I cannot vote to make something happen, I can only vote to give the government the power to do something. This is a VERY IMPORTANT distinction.

#2: Getting things done is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. No matter how high and mighty my cause, somebody has to actually do the work to get it done. I usually fail to understand why we are progressively giving more functions of everyday life over to the same organization that we berate constantly for inefficiency. Around election time, everyone screams and moans about the lack of good choices and votes for "the lesser of two evils." They then proceed to turn progressively greater amounts of function over to "the lesser evil," who they all believe isn't actually that good. Considering that the work on the part of this individual is what gets things done, this is a recipe for progressively diminished efficiency.

#3: Giving the government power makes it more powerful. When it becomes more powerful, it is less likely to listen to you. As our good friend DeCartes said, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." No matter how much you believe in the redistribution of wealth within society, you cannot do it yourself. You are actually voting for the government to do it. You are thus giving a central source of power a progressively greater say in the overall wealth in the nation. There is absolutely nothing that I have seen in my life that leads me to believe that anyone within this institution possesses some sort of superior moral or market insight.
Just remember, when you vote for a bill to save hurricane victims or provide healthcare to children, you are actually voting to give the government the power to take money from someone and use it to provide these services. This makes the government more powerful. It also means that any mistakes by the middle man prevent the actual implementation of the lofty goal (Katrina *cough* *cough*). It also makes it less likely that a progressively more powerful government will actually be held accountable for its failures. We might ask whether using the government to implement our desires is necessarily the best thing.

#4: The government is only force. The origins of government lie in defense. The only difference between the government and a private organization is that we let the government use force to accomplish its goals. What's the difference between the government providing health insurance to children and a private charity doing so? The government can use force to fund its program. Without the force, the government would be nothing more than an EXTREMELY inefficient form of charity in this instance. Voting for a bill to provide health insurance to children (as an example) DOES NOT provide health insurance to children. It gives the government the power to use force to take money from the taxpayers with orders to provide health insurance to children. This is an EXTREMELY important distinction.

Remember, magic doesn't make it happen. It's all about implementation. No matter how many warm fuzzies you get thinking about some political agenda, it doesn't change what the agenda actually means. We can want something until we are blue in the face, but nothing will actually happen unless we do it. Likewise, you cannot vote to make things magically happen in society. You can only vote to give power to the government to do things and hope for the best. Next time you hit the polling station for a proposition, ask yourselves whether whatever you are voting for is worth the cost of implementation. Ask yourself whether whatever you are voting for has any practical chance of happening at all. We could all vote by consensus that everyone gets a Mazzerati and a trip to Mars. Magic doesn't make it happen.


Anonymous Mr. Hat said...

Thanks for another insightful post. I'm a big fan of the blog.

You make great points about government and power.... points which too few people understand. I think it's Ron Paul who points out that one of the big difference between government and private enterprise is that government can change the rules any time it wants and there's nothing you can do about it. If your PPO changes the rules you can tell them to sod off and that's that, but if government changes the rules and you tell them to sod off, you will go to jail.

Point being, voting to give government more power not only endangers public freedom in obvious ways (ie as stated by the bill or program) but in the fact that government can change the rules mid-stream to grant itself FAR MORE power than the public even approved in the first place.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Petri said...

I wish more people understood the significance of this post. We live in a Representative Democracy, not a true democracy. It's no secret that the founders of this country thought that the common man was far to ignorant to directly decide and implement policy. Thus we vote for people to go and decide what is best for us. I don't want to sound too revolutionary here but governments are about power and control, not charity and idealism. People these days give the government more power because it's easier and more convenient than thinking up and implementing other ideas.

A lot of people seem to be stuck these days between "evil" government and "evil" corporations, and more willing to put their faith in government because it's "of the people." If we could just get back to the days of good old social responsibility it might not even be an issue.

7:40 AM  
Blogger MiamiMed said...

I completely agree

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Ornot the Majestic said...


I just found your blog as a link from SDN. Glad to see not everyone in medicine has left their brains at the door both economically and politically. I too am in medical school (a third year, currently on Internal Med) and I write for a blog community. It is a collective bunch of philosophers, theologians, libertarians, etc. We call it "zeal for truth", and if technorati is correct, we seem to be gaining popularity (we've recently switched from message board to blogsite three months ago, so it's new). We are ALWAYS looking for more writers to contribute. I know, between school and your family, you don't have a lot of time...but at this site, we don't have deadlines. I think your thinking and writing style would be a great mix at our community. If you are worried about time, as I said, I'm pretty sure what you write on here can also be posted there. I would encourage you to go to, read around a bit, and if you like it, contact Colin Elliot on there, and tell him I sent you there.

Hope you join our community! If nothing else, your blog is on my read-list, and I look forward to your future posts! :)

12:40 PM  
Blogger Zagreus Ammon said...

You're wrong, about a lot of things:

1. Descartes is spelled with one more 's' than you gave him.
2. The quotations is from Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, not Descartes.

I won't comment on the politics. It's just sad to see education go to waste.

7:36 PM  
Blogger MiamiMed said...

Thank you for the correction on the quote. As far as the spelling is concerned, I am aware, and it must have gotten chopped off.

You're also right about the education. The state spent quite a bit of money trying to educate me to think differently, and it just didn't take.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it unspeakably sad to see how far to the right the USA has moved in the last decade.

On every side we see betrayal of enlightenment values. The country seems to be riddled with quackery and religion (not to mention homicide and a leader who advocates torture).

By the way I write from the UK where we have a system of medical care that puts the US to shame, and where religion is all but dead.

12:27 PM  
Blogger ObGynThoughts said...

Good post! Smart thinking!
have you considered taking a look at, a physician only online community, where you will find more people that think like you and you get a lot more answers and responses to your opinions. I love it

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... what private organization would pay for the health insurance of all the children born to delinquent parents?

Is it fair to make them suffer the consequences of their parent's idiotic behavior?

Have you ever asked yourself why the government has to 'force' people so much in the first place?

Yes, we have an imperfect system, but sitting around whining about it isn't going to fix anything. This is precisely why the government has to step in; 80% of the people who hate it aren't doing anything to fix it, and the 20% who are doing something can't make a great enough impact.

You're right; magic doesn't make things happen, people do...but in this country - they don't. As a result, the government is 'forced' to step in.

11:57 AM  

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