A WebMD Page for Government

Most people consider government as a normal part of the everyday social order but what if it’s actually a deeply pathological order of social rleations? Below, you can see how an article for government could look like if there existed a version of WebMD for social ills.

What is government?

Government is a major, systemic social pathology in which a significant part of relations in a society (regardless of whether they are voluntary or not or whether they cause objective harm to third parties) are subject to interference from an at least nominally coherent group of people claiming monopoly on such interference. The interference is ultimately grounded in a credible threat of using physical force and is legitimized via claims of acting in the general interest of society. The interference is both mostly profoundly immoral (because it ultimately relies on the mass implied or overt use of violence against non-violent people) and dangerously harmful.

The age of unset and incidence

Government normally appears when a society becomes productive enough to allow some members to not engage into providing for basic consumption needs and engage in ruling others instead. If (as) productivity increases further despite of the detrimental effects of government, and the technologies of communication, transportation and information storage improve, government tends to enlarge, unless it completely cripples the society on which it preys.

What causes government?

The causes of government are many and complex but some of the major ones include:

1) The political irrationality of the governed. Regardless of the form of government, in order to be sustainable, it must rely on at least a very weak form of passive majority consent. The probability for almost any single one of the governed to have a material influence on the policies of government (be it through voting, protests, petitions, etc.) is indistinguishable from zero. This disincentivizes people who are not political geeks from thinking deeply about the justification and practice of government and studying the details and results of governance.

2) Imagination failure. For everyone in the modern society, government is an important part of their reality from the moment they became relatively cognizant of it. In most cases, it is very difficult for them to imagine that in certain contexts, people in society could well do without it. Sometimes, even if the privatization of a government function improves things (as in the case with public transport in the UK), people delude themselves into thinking that the situation has deteriorated.

3) Magical thinking. The social world is imperfect, meaning that people will never be completely satisfied with the way things are. For instance, there will always be people receiving much less in return for their work than some other people or even the average. One of the basic human intellectual impulses is to militate against such imperfections, deny that they are inevitable and embrace utopian schemes to make them go away. Minimum wage laws are a very illustrative example.

4) The longing for preserving supposedly inherently valuable features of reality. Many people value certain features of reality for their own sake. For social conservatives, it is usually the traditional family. For lovers of ancient architecture and cuisine, these must be preserved even if people are largely forced to live in a museum. Many environmentalists believe that natural objects like polar bears, coral reefs and atolls, etc. must be preserved regardless of the costs. The desire to impose these ultimately aesthetic preferences no matter what leads their adherents to support often heavy-handed government actions.

5) The need to mitigate the consequences of previous government interventions. Previous government interventions often create significant negative consequences, especially through distorting the functioning of the relevant social domains. Instead of rightly laying the blame on the preceding interventions, though, it is tempting to conclude that there was not enough intervention in the first place.

6) The short-term concentrated benefits for some people and groups. In the short run, many government policies favor privileged individuals and certain group of people who may value their status or not be prescient enough to see that abandoning the on-net harmful policies will benefit even them in the longer run. The taxi drivers trying to get governments to ban or cripple Uber and Lyft are a textbook example of this phenomenon.

What are the symptoms?

Modern societies that suffer from government face a wide range of debilitating symptoms, including:

1) Reduced economic growth through the crowding-out of private investment, over-regulation, under-saving because of PAYGO pension and healthcare systems, high taxes, etc.

2) High levels of restriction of individual choices that in themselves objectively harm no one, including immigration, working beyond a certain hour limit, smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, drones, owning guns, etc.

3) Artificially restricted supply and high cost of certain goods like housing, higher education, healthcare, etc., artificially restricted access to certain services at certain times.

4) Greatly reduced innovation in many vital areas like development of new drugs, medical treatments and schooling.

5) Artificially elevated unemployment and withdrawal of individuals from the labor force and employment in the shadow economy.

How is government diagnosed?

The most general way to diagnose government is to see if there are rules that are at least attempted to be physically enforced by an organization that claims that within a particular society (whether geographically or otherwise defined) only it has the right to enforce them.

Is it treatable?

In principle, government is treatable. But in practice, the causes of its preservation are very powerful and a massive persuasion effort, as well as very favorable circumstances, are needed to attempt to rid a society from it.

What are the complications?

Many less-developed societies are unable to bridge the development gap with the wealthiest societies (that first broke out of poverty when their governments were very small) because their level of wealth and level of institutional and cultural development cannot support the weight of the modern government. This is the probable cause for the well-known phenomena of convergence failure and the middle-income trap.

Autocractic governments may engage in a wide range of arbitrary abuses of power that are not even misguidedly aimed at objective improvement, including silencing dissent, confiscating private property, imposing religious beliefs and practices

In some cases, when governments rely on and try to implement totalitarian ideologies, societies may enter into the terminal phase in which government infiltrates all the spheres of life and may launch massive violence against internal and external enemies.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis depends on the level of cultural and institutional development as well as many unpredictable contingencies. Many modern governments based on what is called liberal democratic order leave a certain sphere of free choice and initiative to people and result in slower progress rather than violence and misery. But even such governments, if untreated, pose a major threat because they are ultimately unsustainable. The high expectations that they create may, when crushed, result in utopian populist schemes with dire consequences.