My Debate with Ian Fletcher, Part Trois
By David Henderson
Ian Fletcher responded to my last post as follows:
You accuse me of wanting “the government to interfere in people’s lives.”
I’d like to plead cheerfully 100% guilty as charged to that.
Although a government that doesn’t “interfere in people’s lives” certainly sounds good, and would make a superb subject for an after-dinner speech, the reality is that all governments, of any ideological stripe, exist precisely and solely to “interfere in people’s lives.” Governments are coercive; they exist precisely because a functioning society sometimes requires people to do things they won’t do voluntarily. Things people will do without being told don’t require government.
The fact that you can’t drive 150 MPH on the freeway is government “interfering in your life.”
So is the fact that you can’t walk into a liquor store with a gun and take the owner’s money.
So is the fact that you must (on pain of going to jail) hand over part of your income to fund everything from the Navy to the National Science Foundation.
A government that never interferes with anybody’s life is a teenage anarchist fantasy with no basis in America’s political heritage. (Among other things, it is not what the Founders intended by the remotest stretch of the imagination.)
Therefore, if you’re going to argue against my proposal for an import tariff, you’re going to need to find a better argument than that it causes “the government to interfere in people’s lives.”
I said in my first post that our debate was “pretty civil.” I think it got slightly less so with his comment about a non-interfering government being “a teenage anarchist fantasy.” I’m guessing Mr. Fletcher is aware–maybe he’s not–that there are some pretty serious post-teen anarchists out there–I’m not one–who could give him a run for his money.
Nevertheless, I think we’re getting somewhere. Like Mr. Fletcher, I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk argument to say “Government interferes in our lives and that is wrong.” You’ve got to say why it’s wrong. I think my previous argument was a slam-dunk argument on narrower grounds. Recall that Fletcher had claimed that he didn’t want to have the government “intervene in specific individual choices.” He has now pled “cheerfully 100% guilty.” That’s progress.
I’m guessing Fletcher would dispute that, saying that somehow his systemic solution of tariffs does not intervene in specific individual choices. But it does, as commenter Curtis pointed out when he said:
Systematic tariffs do intervene in individual choices: Slapping everybody in the face means I get slapped in the face individually.
So what is my argument against tariffs? It’s that tariffs are a coercive measure initiated against peaceful people doing peaceful things. That distinguishes them from his case of a government stopping someone from robbing a liquor store. I’m guessing that he can appreciate that distinction. Can he?