Now Available at Amazon!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Proving Too Much?

  • “The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves.” –Barack Obama, quoting Abraham Lincoln
  • “[N]ot a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make [a pencil].” –Leonard Read, “I, Pencil”
  • Therefore, making pencils — and, by implication, everything else — is a legitimate object of government.

What’s wrong with this argument?

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.


AzraelsJudgement said...

Um first thing that popped into my mind is not the government made up of individuals?

Sheldon Richman said...

Good question. No individual can make a government. So how did we get a government? (The answer is: conquest. But Obama would not accept that.)

Anonymous said...

Government objectives are achieved through coercion. Making pencils is a result of voluntary interaction between individuals.

Bob Murphy said...

You're right Sheldon. I've never seen that Lincoln quote before. It is pretty ridiculous because of COURSE if the government says it's going to do something, the ostensible purpose will be to improve upon the outcome if it remained passive.

In other words, with that "...or do so well, by themselves" Lincoln is really saying, "So long as it's HELPING THINGS, the government has a legitimate interest in intervening. Well duh, thanks Mr. President. So politicians are limited in only implementing those programs that they can verbally justify to the people.

But if some politician gets up on the podium and says, "Folks, I want to start a new program that will make things worse than if we feds did nothing at all," then someone in the crowd will yell, "Hey! Honest Abe says no can do! Go back to the drawing board, buddy."

Bob Murphy said...

Shoot I forgot to close the quotation in the above; it should be:

"So long as it's HELPING THINGS, the government has a legitimate interest in intervening." Well duh, thanks Mr. President.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with the first premise. The assumption is that things get done by individuals working alone, i.e. self-sufficientyly. This ignores the fact that most of the free market is the result of cooperative effort among individuals. If you accept the original premise, then you would logically have to accept the conclusion because no one individual makes a pencil