Some people oppose the state because of the evil intentions of the people with power. I’m worried about something far worse and far more common. I’m worried about the unintended consequences of those with good intentions.
In the ’70s, pretty much everyone agreed that overpopulation was one of the top problems in the world, especially for fast-growing poor nations such as China. Trendy U.S. environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich were saying alarming things about the inevitable mass starvation coming just any day now. In his book, “The Population Bomb,” Ehrlich made predictions which were staggeringly wrong, including this:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate….
Although Ehrlich and his apologists remain unrepentant about his repeated wrong predictions, one group of people who listened to the same argument and decided to act. The communist government of mainland China enacted a draconian law to slow down population growth — complete with propaganda posters such as the one above, exhorting the people to “implement the basic national policy.” (If you’d like to know more about “experts” such as Ehrlich and why their predictions, I recommend Dan Gardner’s book, “Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail — and Why We Believe Them Anyway.”)
China’s leaders weren’t worried about the environmental effects of having more children. They were simply worried that their socialist economy wouldn’t be able to keep feeding more people. It’s interesting to note that the slow turn toward some forms of a market economy started at the same time the one-child policy did. The market reforms weren’t because the benevolent communist government wanted to give the people more economic freedom. Instead, they worried that a continuation of their socialist economic system would bring starvation and drive them from power. (You can read much more about the history and effects of China’s child policy here.)
So if you don’t allow people choice in family size — taking babies from mothers and forcing sterilizations for those who resisted — you’re going to cut the number of children being born. But what China’s dictators didn’t take into account was that this shrinking young population was going to become a nightmare as the existing population started aging. All over the developing world today — whether in China or in places that didn’t enact its draconian policies — we’re seeing a graying population and declining birthrate.
There was a massive human rights cost to the policy, but we’re now starting to see the unintended economic consequences. China is facing a worsening labor shortage, which is ironic since the government went to such great lengths 20 to 30 years ago to make sure the workers needed today were not born.
So does this just say we need better and smarter planners? No. It says that we have to fear the good intentions of central planners. The central fallacy of the state is the notion that someone at the top can control things better than the aggregate result of people making decisions for themselves. My favorite quote from F.A. Hayek sums up what he had learned of what planning was capable of achieving for societies:
“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Some people are terrified of the alleged secret plots of the “Bilderbergers” and others who have a conspiracy for a “new world order” where the little people are rounded up into FEMA camps and foreign troops roam the United States and black helicopters from the UN patrol our skies. I don’t believe in any of that. I think it’s completely without foundation.
But whether you believe in conspiracies from wealthy European families or little green men coming down from the Mothership to enslave us, all you have to know is that top-down planning is doomed to fail. In a contest between a controlled system and a free system — in which people are allowed to make their own decisions and benefit from those decisions — the free system is going to win in the long run.
I don’t think we have much to fear from people with truly evil motives. I fear the people with good intentions who believe that if we will simply hand power to them — through a majoritarian process — they will “fix everything.” It can’t work. It’s never going to work.
We need an alternative. The state is going to collapse. It’s time to prepare for a post-statist world. It’s coming.