Edward P. Stringham and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel write,

According to the Mises-Bastiat view, governments are able to get away with as much as they do only because they have the support of enough people. Bad policies persist only because the median voter prefers them (Caplan and Stringham, 2005)

But the current demand for bad policies does not imply their inevitability any more than the current demand for Ford automobiles implies that Ford will forever retain its current market share. If people’s preferences can be changed, then big government is not necessarily something people will always demand. This is important because if enough people withdraw their support for various big government policies, then the state will have a difficult time imposing its policies on the unwilling masses. As Hummel (1990, 2001) and others have argued, government officials get away with as much as people let them.

Herein lies the key to changing society: changing public opinion or people’s preferences toward government. And the only way people are likely to change their preferences is through education and persuasion; force is ineffective. This is why libertarian economists of different stripes believe that economic education plays such a crucial role.

Some questions to consider:

1. What are examples of successful ideological movements? The authors list the anti-slavery movement as an example.

2. What factors lead people to convert to an ideology?

3. Does an ideology need a story? What are the common elements in successful ideology-stories? (I’m thinking that personal sacrifice may be one element–consider Christianity, for example. Or think about Valley Forge.)