The failure & harm of interventionism is not opinion

Harry Fairhead, policy analyst at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, recently wrote a piece for the London-based newspaper City A.M., which briefly discusses what the negative consequences of the UK’s imminent plastic bag tax will be, and what they have been as a result of similar government action elsewhere.

The article does a good job of pointing out the inefficacy and harm of this particular instance of government interventionism, and it’s great that a relatively mainstream media outlet is writing such. But it’s a real shame that the editor categorised it under ‘opinion’ because that implies that the reason and evidence against government interventions like this one can be disagreed with in the same way one can disagree with an opinion on a film or a song. It really can’t.

‘Disagreeing’ with the reason and evidence against government interventionism or soft-socialism is simply to deny or ignore the truth. And it’s never been more important than it is right now for us, the people of modern capitalistic societies, to make the effort to align our convictions with the truth – at a time when much of the western world is having a crisis of confidence in capitalism and individual liberty, and the power of governments to control people continues to almost silently grow in the background.

It’s not a matter of opinion whether such government interventions will and do fail to reach their goals (in this case to reduce household waste) and have unintended consequences, it’s a logical truth supported by an ever-increasing amount of empirical evidence; albeit one which, still, relatively few people are aware of.

This isn’t something we know only from experience, i.e. empirical evidence. Through sound economic reasoning we can know in advance, i.e. we can deduce, that government action to solve (what is perceived to be) a social problem will fail to achieve its aims.

Given what politicians say and do it is easy to believe otherwise, but we do have the ability to predict and avoid undesirable economic outcomes through utilising the aprioristic science of economics (the logic of how humans respond to scarcity). Having this ability means it’s not necessary to go to all the effort of enacting very costly government schemes, which redistribute vast swaths of wealth towards uses we value less and away from uses we value more, only to eventually realise that it didn’t achieve what we thought it would.

It is futile for lawmakers to ‘experiment’ with government interventions such as the plastic carrier bag tax in order to attempt to achieve some social good. They may as well spend their lives trying to make 1+1=3 (at least that wouldn’t impose costs on anyone else which leave them worse off).

Highly motivated people who lack ability are more likely to do stupid and potentially harmful things. That’s why an electrician wouldn’t let his ten-year old son help him rewire a house. As highly motivated and enthusiastic as the electrician’s son would no doubt be to help his daddy, his lack of knowledge and ability would make him a danger to himself – and others.

Today’s politicians are highly motivated people who lack the knowledge and reasoning ability to understand that government action (i.e. coercion) cannot solve the social problems they or the public believe it can, and furthermore that government action often exacerbates the problem or creates new problems. This makes them a perpetual threat to everyone’s standard of living, especially the poorest, because time and again they ‘experiment’ and we all suffer the economic consequences.

How many politicians know they lack the ability to solve the problems they attempt to solve, but don’t care and simply implement their schemes in order to win public favour or to fulfil promises made to special interest groups who funded their campaign for office, and how many are genuinely ignorant of their own ignorance is difficult to know. Given that the majority of people are nearly always trying to do what they believe is good I suspect that the latter outnumbers the former, but this matters little given that the harmful outcome is still the same.

Politicians make careers out of denying the truth, but are either skilled at making it appear as if they are disagreeing with an opinion or actually believe they are. The very people they want to or claim to be passionate about helping – the poor, the young, and minority groups – are the ones who pay the highest price for their repeated and inevitable failures.

Arguing against government action aimed at solving social problems is not a political ideology, opinion or perspective; it is an acceptance of the truth that governmental action in the form of interventionism not only must fail to produce the desired effects on society, but invariably produces undesired effects.


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