Piggy Banking and Unlimited Government Church
By Arnold Kling
A reader asks what I mean by “piggy bank” in reference to a central bank. What I mean is that the central bank, instead of buying safe securities in order to expand the money supply, buys risky securities in order to improve the health of particular financial institutions. For the favored private-sector banks, the central bank is being used as a piggy bank. [UPDATE: John Taylor makes the piggy-bank accusation, but without using that term.]
Another Kling-ism which I can explain more clearly is the Church of Unlimited Government. The central issue is what you do when you notice many other people doing something that bothers you. If you believe that government should address the issue, then you belong to the Church of Unlimited Government.
An example of something that people do that bothers me for which I want government involvement would be murder. Pollution is another example, although I recognize that there are sometimes private-sector solutions.
An example of something that people do that bothers me for which I do not want government involvement is driving on congested roads. I would rather that roads be privatized, with electronic toll collection.
An example of something other people do that bothers me a lot is taking bulky carry-on luggage on planes. I think that a private-sector solution of charging for carry-ons is wonderful. The irony is that some people belonging to the Church of Unlimited Government are so disturbed by the private-sector solution that they want to outlaw it.
Because there are many examples of things that people do that bother me for which I do not want government involvement, I am in the Church of Limited Government. My claim is that most people are not in that church. For most people, not wanting government involvement usually comes from not minding the behavior.
Thus, if you do not want government jailing people for smoking marijuana because you do not mind other people smoking marijuana, that does not put you in the Church of Limited Government. You can be in the Church of Limited Government on principled grounds (the right of individuals to do what they want with their own bodies) or on pragmatic grounds (you don’t necessarily respect the right of individuals to do what they want with their own bodies, but you think that the cost-benefit calculation of enforcing marijuana laws is adverse). But I think that very few people actually belong to the Church of Limited Government nowadays. We live in crowded communities, near lots of people who we can observe or imagine doing things that disturb us, and we derive a lot of comfort from our faith in government to control those behaviors.
Suppose that every time the behavior of others really disturbs you, a government solution seems appropriate. Implicitly, you are fairly confident in the moral right of the state to “correct” individual choices and market outcomes and in the ability of the state to do so wisely. In that case, I would argue that there are no limits to the powers that you want government to exercise over others. You are in the Church of Unlimited Government. I think that most Americans are in that Church, and that it is the established Church in our schools and universities.