There’s a great article by James Taranton in the Wall Street Journal today about how Obama and the left in America skew the debate on government size. I think the same can be applied here.
The concept is simple: people who believe in big government deliberately blur the distinction between the uncontroversial proposition that government is necessary, with the highly disputable claim that government of its current size and scope is necessary (and often that even more of it is necessary!)
So when Obama tells people ‘you didn’t build that’, or left-wing panellists on Question Time claim that there is no real self-made man or woman who hasn’t relied on the state, they are largely attacking a straw man. We all agree on the need for a state to do certain things, we just don’t think it should do as much as it does now.
Milton Friedman recognised the role of the state in enforcing the rule of law, upholding property rights, maintain order, providing public goods and intervening in markets with large externality effects. In other words, the necessary role of government in a free society is much more limited than we currently face, but there is a bare minimum of government intervention accepted across the political spectrum.
Taranto makes another important point:
“A self-made man is a successful man who succeeded by dint of his own effort. When he [Obama] says there's "no such thing," he's engaging in the sophistry of strained literalism, pretending that a man can be self-made only if his own effort is a sufficient condition for success. One might as well say there's no such thing as a self-made man because we all have parents, or because God created us, or because we are the product of millions of years of evolution, or because today's innovators stand on the shoulders of giants in the private economy.
That last point is crucial. No one denies that people alive today owe a debt to the past, but Lakoff and his fellow progressives seem to be under the misimpression that government is the only means by which we receive that sort of inheritance. The great industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries might have paid a lot of taxes, but that wasn't their primary contribution to the world of today.”
Quite. The left speak as if the provision of public goods and services is the most important component which provides the platform for individuals and entrepreneurs to achieve success. In reality, we owe so much more to the innovation and knowledge accumulation of our forefathers and, dare I say it, the economic freedoms which we do enjoy.