The Obese Lie

You know perhaps about the theory of the “Big Lie,” where the basic idea is that if you tell a big whopper and repeat it often enough, everyone will believe you because they cannot comprehend anyone being so audacious as to offer such a story in the first place if it weren’t true.

Adolf Hitler has been credited as an originator of this theory, using it effectively in propaganda efforts for the Third Reich. It was apparently discussed in Mein Kampf, but that title is not high on my reading list. George Orwell was clearly acquainted with the concept as well as it figures in his novel, 1984. The association with “Newspeak” is quite clear.

Regardless of origin, the popular culture has incorporated it into everything from tales of UFO sightings to the existence of leprechauns. In fact, lies are such a mainstay of modern culture that it is difficult to find a television situation comedy these days where lying is not a crucial element of the theme.

One of the greatest lies that has ever been put over on the majority of individuals in societies, is that government is a source of productivity, that it actually can create wealth and thus looms as some paternalistic entity; a provider.

Government in advanced societies is an institution created by individuals in society. In primitive societies consisting of tribes or other collectives, rule is established from the top down by brute force. Modern examples include Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and many Third World countries. Such wealth as is created by individuals under these conditions is seized from them by the brute leadership or controlled by a politically connected elite.

Western democracies are very mixed, but some give lip service to the idea of government as an institution that serves the members of society. Rule is seen as coming from the grassroots, from the bottom to the top. Witness the common expression of the frustrated taxpayer to the “public servant”: “I pay your salary”!

The worldwide trend in the last century or more has been for any outbursts of political liberty to eventually yield to tyranny. It is a curious problem and one that has been abandoned by modern intellectuals. Unfortunately, most intellectuals, particularly among the tenured radical professors and mainstream media elite actually help to promulgate the fiction that through government everyone can live off of everyone else.

It is easy to forget under such propaganda that government is an expense of a civilized society and not a creator. Individuals are creators to the extent they use their abilities for productive purposes. Governments may attempt that role as a result of the plans of politicians and bureaucrats, but they must use the threat of physical force to put their schemes into action. The unintended consequence is destruction of society over time, with the length of time being unpredictable because of the unpredictability of human action.

So when a story comes out about a government “creating or saving” jobs through the actions of its spending by going into debt with a claim on future wealth-creators, you ought to be more than a little sceptical. There is no way for the pencil pushers in the United States government bureaucracy to provide proof of such a claim. Even if you relax your scepticism for a moment you have to marvel at the cost of the jobs allegedly created by the “stimulus” spending. One such calculation estimates that each new job “created” by government spending cost $230,000. That represents some very highly paid government workers, government contractors and schoolteachers, which are the categories said to have benefited most by the government favors this time.

The stereotype of the slightly overweight “Joe Six-pack” sitting in front of his television set drinking the beer paid for out of his measly unemployment insurance cheque is probably thinking, “That’s a big fat lie!”

©Copyright 2009 Edward Podritske

6 thoughts on “The Obese Lie

  1. Wait, you’re asserting that the government can not possibly be a source of productivity? That, essentially, the government can not employ people, or that those people must by definition do no work?

    Productivity is a function of value generation versus resources used. It’s basically impossible for someone to work and have zero productivity.

    Perhaps you mean to say that you think government is inherently _less_ productive, as a result of lack of competitive forces?

    1. Yes, I am saying that in essential terms government is not a source of productivity. Of course, government may attempt to perform work or provide services that would be better performed or provided in the voluntary sector of the economy. It must fail since there is no profit motive.

      As for the possibility of zero productivity, consider the Tea Tasting Board and the Internal Revenue Service. In essential terms such institutions offer perhaps less than zero productivity. Consider also the role of public accountants specializing in tax accounting, which in essential terms is completely unproductive. If not for the legalized theft of wealth for government’s non-essential services such a profession would not exist. Thus, it is indeed possible for someone to work and create nothing.

        1. Dear Indon:

          I know of the fable to which you refer. It is a perfect illustration of a world without property rights, the protection of which is one of the few proper roles of a government instituted on moral principles.

          For better sources than Wikipedia you might consider “The Foundation for Economic Education” where you will find articles on the subjects of both “The Tragedy of the Commons” and “Externalities”. Property rights offers solutions to both of these scenarios so often used to argue in favor of goverment intervention in the marketplace.

          1. So, looked through your website.

            Saw absolutely no viable suggestions on how to deal with the externality problem. In fact, I read one particularly amusing article which tried to argue that externalities didn’t even represent an economic problem to begin with.

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