Government Meddling and The Mind Your Own Business Principle
‘I’m a believer in the mind-your-own-business principle.’Dr Tom E Woods
I heard it on Dr Tom E Woods’ podcast as I was driving home yesterday. He said it during a presentation about the rise of the police state.
More on that in a moment.
The fact is there are too many know-it-alls and bossy-boots in the world…people who have this odd ambition to be a leader or to promote leadership.
Then there is the even worse species of animal. Those who want others to lead, who can’t quite fathom that maybe there are people who don’t want or need to be led.
That’s why I like Dr Woods’ mind-your-own-business principle. It would be great if more people abided by that principle. Take the issue of drugs…
The drug issue is perhaps one of the biggest examples of the government meddling in the free choice of individuals and creating a much bigger problem than if they stayed out of it.
In recent weeks you’ve seen two big stories.
The first was the death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman due to a heroin overdose.
Naturally, that’s a pretty rough way for anyone to die. But ultimately it was Hoffman’s choice (through addiction) to take heroin.
Apparently he had tried rehab and even quit for a time, but his addiction returned. It’s sad to see him lose that struggle, but it’s worth noting one detail: like so many addicts all over the world, rich or poor, he found a way to get what he wanted despite the government’s violent, invasive ‘war on drugs’.
As far as I’m aware, Hoffman didn’t harm anyone else with his addiction. That falls under John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’, which states that in general terms people should be free to do as they wish as long as their actions don’t harm anyone else.
The other big drugs story was the release of Schapelle Corby from prison in Bali. Corby was convicted of trying to traffic drugs between Australia and Bali.
But is it really so bad to sell a product to a willing buyer? If you choose to smoke marijuana, what business is that of mine? It’s none.
Repeating the Same Old Mistakes
You’d have thought that after the failure of Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s that governments would realise that banning things doesn’t make them go away.
As much as governments may try, it’s actually not possible to legislate against the will of individuals.
They can perhaps make things harder, but passing a law to stop something won’t actually stop it.
If that was possible, all the government would have to do is make crime illegal and it would stop. Oh, that’s right, it is against the law to commit a crime and yet crime still exists.
But just as a law won’t stop someone committing a crime or exercising their free will, it seems that successive governments always think they’re smarter than anyone who has gone before them…that they will solve the unsolvable problem.
So it was with some laughter that I saw the Liberal government had put an internet filter back on the agenda.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reported over the weekend:
‘The Abbott government is considering a major crackdown on online piracy, including forcing internet service providers to block websites that allow users to illegally stream or download movies, music and television shows.
‘The federal government is also considering implementing a “graduated response scheme” that could lead to consumers’ internet accounts being temporarily suspended if they ignore notifications to stop downloading illegal content.’
One again it’s time to roll out Richard Maybury’s comment about ‘the cult of the mastermind’.
I’ve used this phrase before. You could also call it the ‘mad scientist syndrome’.
It’s that idea of someone thinking they have the power to fix everything that they perceive to be wrong with the world. These people cause a lot of damage to the economy by creating silly laws that forces businesses to hire expensive lawyers to get around them.
Consumers usually aren’t so lucky. Most people can’t afford to pay fancy lawyers, but eventually they’ll find some way to combat government meddling.
Government 1, Drug Dealers 2
That brings us back to the issue of drugs. In his podcast Dr Woods tells the story of a US city that rounded up all the drug dealers on the streets.
Apparently it had taken them quite some time through intelligence gathering to identify and find them.
It was a success. Instantly the drug market had dried up. Government 1, Drug Dealers 0.
Except, the victory didn’t last long. By the end of the week, new drug dealers had moved in. After all, despite the lack of supply, arresting a bunch of drug dealers didn’t impact the demand.
Government 1, Drug Dealers 2.
That’s how markets work.
Governments (and businesses) think that if they put restrictions on an industry that consumers will just lose interest. In reality, if consumers have an ingrained demand for something they’ll just look for other options.
Look at the example of Aussie retailers. They didn’t bother developing an online strategy or competing with international prices because they figured it was too expensive for people to buy stuff online from overseas.
Then when they realised that it was still cheaper to buy things from overseas and have them shipped here, they decided to lobby the government to impose taxes on imports.
So far the government has resisted the temptation to lower the import threshold. But one day it will. And it still won’t save the local retailers.
Odds are they’ve already missed the opportunity. In the US online retailing now makes up around 10% of retail sales. In Australia it’s less than 1%.
The local firms thought they could strangle the market, forcing consumers to buy their goods. The plan didn’t work and now they’re paying for it.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that people and governments especially should mind their own business. If someone wants to buy drugs, watch a live stream of a foreign sporting event, or buy something cheaper from overseas then it’s absolutely nobody else’s business.
Unfortunately, meddling is in the blood of the politician. It’s why they become politicians. All you can do is your best to minimise or avoid the government’s meddling.
If only the government would adopt a mind-your-own-business principle, everything would be fine.