Friday, November 14, 2014

Unicorn governance, or reality versus the idealist dream

I wrote a column a while back about how difficult it is to argue against liberalism, mainly because liberalism is based on the idealist dream that a perfect --,Utopia -- world is obtainable.  When you're comparing an idealist dream verses the ugly reality, the dream will win every time, and hence the liberal agenda moves forward even when it fails.

Michael Munger calls this type of governance, one that is based on a dream, as unicorn governance. With Obama being the most liberal president in a generation, we see unicorn governance at its height right now.

Conservatives have been saying for years that the best way to succeed is through hard work. They contend the best thing for the government to do is to create a stable economic environment and then to stand on the sidelines while the people create all the wealth.  It is in this environment that established American exceptionalism, whereby every person has an opportunity to succeed in life.

Yet this argument, even though it has succeeded every time it's been tried, has a hard time matching up against the liberal argument.  The liberal argument is that by creating a large government that controls the flow of wealth, this will provide the poor with the greatest opportunity.  The problem with this, is though it sounds good, it doesn't work.  Under this type of economic system, often called Keynesian Economics, FDR prolonged the Great Depression, and now Obama is prolonging the Great Recession.  Keynesian economics has failed every time it's been tried, and yet it is tried over and over and over again.

Conservatives often wonder why it is so hard to defeat liberalism, especially when it continues to fail. Lyndon Johnson started the war on poverty back in the 1960s, and yet there are more people in poverty today than ever before.  For the past 40 years 90 percent of African Americans have voted for democrats, and yet the plight of blacks has not improved.

Considering it keeps failing, why do people continue to support liberalism?  Why do conservatives continue to have a hard time defeating liberalism?

The reason is because of unicorn governance.  The reason is because when you fall asleep and dream of the unicorn, an animal whose farts smell like sweet cinnamon, and then you wake up, you want the unicorn.  The problem with unicorns is they are not real.  The problem with dreams is they are not real.

Conservatives have trouble making any headway against liberalism. The reason is that it's hard for them to convince people that the unicorn does not exist in the real world.  The reason is because it's almost impossible to realist policies that will work with idealist policies that are like dreams.  As I wrote before, when you compare reality with a dream, the dream will win every time.

Economist Michael Munger explains this a little better in his August 12, 2014, column in the Freeman.  I will publish a portion of it here.

Unicorn governance, by Michael Munger

Our problem is that we have to fight unicorns.

Unicorns, of course, are fabulous horse-like creatures with a large spiraling horn on their forehead. They eat rainbows, but can go without eating for years if necessary. They can carry enormous amounts of cargo without tiring. And their flatulence smells like pure, fresh strawberries, which makes riding behind them in a wagon a pleasure.

For all these reasons, unicorns are essentially the ideal pack animal, the key to improving human society and sharing prosperity.

Now, you want to object that there is a flaw in the above argument, because unicorns do not actually exist. This would clearly be a fatal flaw for the claim that unicorns are useful, if it were true. Is it?

Of course not. The existence of unicorns is easily proven. Close your eyes. Now envision a unicorn. The one I see is white, with an orange-colored horn. The unicorn is surrounded by rainbows. Your vision may look slightly different, but there is no question that when I say "unicorn," the picture in your mind corresponds fairly closely to the picture in my mind. So, unicorns do exist and we have a shared conception of what they are.

Problem: "the State" is a unicornWhen I am discussing the State with my colleagues at Duke, it's not long before I realize that, for them, almost without exception, the State is a unicorn. I come from the Public Choice tradition, which tends to emphasize consequentialist arguments more than natural rights, and so the distinction is particularly important for me. My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it. When I finally realized that we were talking past each other, I felt kind of dumb. Because essentially this very realization—that people who favor expansion of government imagine a State different from the one possible in the physical world—has been a core part of the argument made by classical liberals for at least 300 years.

You can read the rest of the column by clicking on the link above.  For the purpose of this post, I just wanted to show why it is that people keep yearning for socialism, liberalism, progressivism, or any other 'ism that you can think of.  They do it because idealists (socialists, liberals, and progressives) believe the dream is achievable.  They believe there really could be a an ideal utopian world some day, so long as they keep realists (conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals) on the sidelines.