If there were government rules restricting what things artists could paint or sculpt or what topics musicians could write songs about or what subjects authors could write books about, we would recognise this as deeply tragic and disturbing. Or if artists, musicians or authors needed to pay to get permission from the government to create art, music and literature, then, again, surely we would be outraged and would lament the regressive impact this was having on our society.
But here’s the thing. All the material goods that make up our standard of living, all those mass-produced things churned out by factories all over the world, are also the result of the creative use of human energy. And so we should be equally disturbed by government action that restricts creative human action motivated by profit-seeking. Commercial creativity is just as precious as artistic creativity.
The ability to use the resources in our natural environment to create new things that didn’t previously exist, to constantly redesign and improve our own world, is what separates humans from animals. This unique ability of the human mind is the lifeblood of civilisation and all human progress.
The staggering progress of humanity over the last two hundred years has shown us that the more freely it flows, the more wealth we create and the more rapidly we progress. The more we restrict its flow with misguided government action aimed at controlling the ‘anarchy’ of free market capitalism, the less wealth we create and the more slowly we progress.
The danger we’re facing is that we’re only increasing our use of government force and thus ever further restricting the flow of society’s lifeblood. If we keep expanding state power over society, if the boot of government keeps pressing down harder, then there will come a time when the flow will become so low that it will be insufficient to sustain society as we know it.
And we don’t need to use our imagination to understand what this would be like. We need only look to Venezuela today where, as the result of only a few years of radical socialist government action aimed at helping poor people, once middle-class people are now starving and where from a million people have already fled; seeking refuge from a few egotists in government power, whose hubris made them believe they could do a better job of feeding people with legal edicts than society itself could with free markets, only made the lives of the poorest people even worse.
That’s what expanding state power does in society. In restricting the creative and productive use of human energy it dehumanises humanity. It stops us from doing the one thing that separates us from the animals. By paralysing capitalism suddenly, it reduces people to living like animals, to fighting and foraging for suddenly scarce resources. By paralysing it slowly over a long period of time, as we are doing in the western world, it gradually drags down the general standard of living.
Humanity escaped animal-like existence first through trade and then by tapping into the enormous creative and productive potential of the masses, by accidentally discovering the solution: freedom. Free people, free markets.
What the western world is slipping towards now is the terrible prospect of accidentally and absent-mindedly crushing freedom under the boot of big government built on big but false beliefs and bad ideas. The ideal government is small and local. The ideal state, for the artistic world and the commercial world, is one that doesn’t exist.