The Sliding Scale

“In all that people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

If I ever do run for office, I’m sure my posts will be mined as my opponents do opposition research. Since going online in around 2006 or so, there are about 10,000 unique posts to choose from – but that is nothing I fear, because they are my honest take about current events, some wrong, some right, but whatever it was, it was my considered opinion at the time.

Many show evolution of an intellectual sort on some subjects – one of the most significant evolutions has been the loss of my faith in businesses to embrace the free market and to support conservative ideals, ideals I believe to this day are necessary for a free market to function. I was wrong to expect businesses would not ally with government – as much as the free press abandoned objectivity to become a partisan “fifth column”, the mega-corporations have become a wing of that column in the march against individual liberty and our Constitutional republic.

Another evolution is regarding the spectrum of governance.

I have always looked upon governance as a linear continuum, ranging from total authoritarianism on the left endpoint to complete anarchy on the right endpoint. Truthfully, this is a gross simplification of reality because the concepts of communism and capitalism, as they are transitioned from the theoretical into the practical, warp, blur, thicken, thin, twist, distort and shift the dimensions of that line until it is no longer straight.

Governance is and always will be something of a relative proposition, a slider on the scale between authoritarianism and anarchy, between communism and capitalism.

I think the greatest mistakes humans make is to assume either of two things: 1) that the free market can solve every problem and 2) that a collectivist government can solve every problem.

What got me thinking about these issues was the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death from an extremely rare form of colon cancer. She passed twenty-two years ago today on October 25, 1999. Her cancer was so rare that the only potential treatment was an experimental drug being studied at Vanderbilt, hers was an “orphan” disease – one that occurred in such a low frequency, there was little motivation for the pharma companies to spend resources to develop. There was no market for it and what little market existed could not afford to pay hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars for the treatment protocol.

So, the free market did not favor a drug that might have prolonged or saved her life.

Should society care? Should a society based on the sanctity of the individual care about one life?

Answering that question from an ethical standpoint, I think the answer is clearly “yes”. If there is a chance to save even one person, Americans historically have been hardwired to put themselves in harm’s way to do that very thing.

I think the same case can be made for the crisis of homelessness. Homelessness has always been a third rail issue, leveraged to the benefit of the political left, who always use it as a club against the right – casting themselves as the loving and caring ones and the right as hateful and uncaring. But the homeless always do worse under leftist governance, essentially becoming excuses for open-air drug markets, dens of concentrated criminal activity and convenient repositories for the mentally unstable that leftists can throw taxpayer money at.

So how do situations like those get addressed?

The solution is something I have never supported but am beginning to recognize as a necessary.

If we truly value the sanctity of life, our society has an ethical responsibility to provide help for people like my mother-in-law and we have a responsibility to prevent the homeless from destroying themselves.

Some limited collective action by government is necessary in both situations. Government does have a role.

As noted, government is always a matter of degree, always a sliding scale between extremes. The key is how close it is allowed to go to one extreme or the other. As a basis for interventionist, collectivist, and socialist actions by the central planners in our federal government, this 1854 quote of Abraham Lincoln is often used:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves in their separate, individual capacities.”

On Sunday, September 30th, 1934, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used it in one of his fireside chats, his Depression era radio communiqué to the American people, the subject of which were the steps taken by the government during the Great Depression and the proposals that would eventually become the Social Security Act of 1935.

The Lincoln quote is accurate – but incomplete. What followed those 38 words were 16 more that completely change the context and meaning of the quote. Those are:

“In all that people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

Lincoln’s words seem so alien to our contemporary approach to government. With the growth of “progressive” thought in the late 1880’s, the social programs of the Great Depression and the modern incarnations – Johnson’s “Great Society/War on Poverty”, Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and now the radical leftism of the Biden agenda, a large segment of America has shifted from trust in the individual to a near total faith in government.

History proves that such faith is misplaced because no more than the free market can solve every issue, government also fails in that quest. The difference is where the free market is often callous, government is always coercive.

The answer is in Lincoln’s words that what individuals can do for themselves, the government needs to stay the Hell out of it – and we must recognize and resist every effort of people wo are simply too lazy to do it themselves to use government to live at others expense.