The president of a Dallas-based righty think tank put out a reaction statement to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union message that captured the ideological divide nicely. To Institute for Policy Innovation president Tom Giovanetti, the whole speech, the whole tax code really, as well as most things the government does amount to an arrogant assertion that government has widsdom greater than the collective wisdom of a society as represented by the free market.
It’s easy enough to poke holes in this approach. How could a properly humble government collect any taxes at all or spend anything on anything or — just to be snarky for a sec — be certain enough that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear/chemical/biological program of sufficient menace to the United States to justify hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives? And that’s actually a fair question to put back to Giovanetti. If you follow his logic far enough down the path, pretty soon Social Security and Medicare are gone too, which might be fine with him for all I know, but which I doubt he is willing to acknowledge.
Still, when I read his statement about the SOTU speech and about the need for humility in government, it struck me as a fairly pure statement of an argument that liberals should face squarely. So here it is:
The policy agenda laid out by President Obama in last night’s State of the Union speech implies a breadth and depth of knowledge so far encompassing and in excess of human capacity that it demonstrates the hubris of Big Government solutions better than anything any conservative could ever say or do.
Imagine the level of knowledge and wisdom the Obama administration implies that it possesses in order to advocate last night’s agenda. According to his speech, the president fully understands:
- Who needs tax breaks and who does not;
- What’s wrong with primary and secondary education and how to fix it, as well as how much the federal government should be spending on education and how much each state should spend;
- How much college should cost, who should attend, and how colleges should be run;
- What the mix of manufacturing industries should be in our economy, how to stimulate such industries and make them more competitive;
- What the right mix of energy should be in our economy—how much it should cost, where should come from, and how it should be extracted;
- What skills workers will need in the future, and how to develop these skills;
- What interest rates should be on education and home loans;
- Which homeowners should be able to refinance their homes;
- What future technologies we should now be investing in, and how to transform our electrical infrastructure with smart grids;
- Where broadband networks are needed, and how they will transform rural America;
- How much energy is being wasted in commercial buildings all over the country;
- The intricacies of the financial world, how it should work and how it should be regulated, knows how to prevent financial speculation and bubbles—esoteric knowledge that has eluded economists and social scientists for hundreds of years;
- How to strengthen Medicare and Social Security while also bending the entitlement cost curve;
- And the piece de resistance: He knows how to pay for education, high tech research, military modernization, green technology and veterans benefits by raising taxes on the relative handful of very wealthy income earners.
Can any person, or any group of persons, possess the knowledge and wisdom necessary to advocate such an agenda? Of course not.
This is why conservatives trust markets rather than government. There is far more knowledge and wisdom in the collective, real-time decisions being made at any given moment by 300 million Americans in the economy than there is in any collection of government bureaucrats gathered in Washington.
And it’s why the right solution for our country is for the government to largely get out of the way and let the American economy run managed by the collective wisdom of the American people making decisions in a free economy, rather than being dictated to by a relative handful of government know-it-alls who assume a level of knowledge we all know is impossible. Conservatives trust the American people; liberals trust arrogant and dishonest government bureaucrats.
The Institute for Policy Innovation was founded by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey in 1987.