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What happens when the Central Planners fail?

by Glen Morgan
Property Rights Director for
Freedom Foundation

Posted 3/26/2013

When I was in college, my peers and I would have our makeshift debates in the dorm hallways, arguing about the fundamental problems with Marx and other prophets of the left.  We usually came to the conclusion that Marx just didn’t understand the nature of man.  Columbia University still required all undergrad students to read a core curriculum of largely western thought at the time.  So we studied Marx, John Stuart Mill, The Federalists Papers, Plato, Hobbs, etc.  These debates were not unusual then (I hope they still happen today).  The influence of the Socialist Utopian view of the world is still with us today, of course, under a variety of different titles and schemes, and they all share the same fatal flaw that dooms Marxism every time:  that some “educated elite” or, to quote Plato, mythical “Philosopher Kings” could lead the masses to utopia .  Like a chronic disease, we can’t seem to shake these failed concepts regardless of how many times they end in disaster. 

The term “utopia” is usually used to reference communities or a society that has achieved perfect or at least optimal conditions.  It was originally coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book titled Utopia about an island society.  The first utopian proposal can arguably be Plato’s Republic.  The modern view of utopia is a perfect world where everything is in harmony, people are perfect, society is perfect, and the environment is in some type of perfect stasis and all is well.  Frequently there is a religious fervor behind the vision of a utopian nirvana, and all who stand in the way are evil. 

In modern times, the Central Planners who work in our counties and cities take the same basic failed philosophy and apply it to everything they do.  Their efforts are just as doomed and unlikely to result in the mythical utopia.  But  Plato is rarely read today, and Marx is usually stuffed on the bookshelf, referenced by today’s “Progressives” only when they think they are out of the general public’s earshot.  Given that reality, I’d like to translate their writings to the common experiences we have today.

The primary assumption which drives Central Planning today is that we, the people, are “stupid” (to quote Secretary of State Kerry)and must be protected from our inevitable mistakes.  Since we lowly citizens are, from a Central Planner’s perspective, ignorant peasants  who are barely able to think for ourselves, let alone function in society, the Central Planners must make all our decisions for us.  Don’t get me wrong – they will “allow” us to vote every now and again for some politician who gives us happy talk (but also thinks we are stupid).  However, outside of voting, abortions, gambling, smoking pot, marriage, birth control, movies, and clothing – they believe choices should be limited.  Very limited indeed.  Since they view themselves as the smartest people on the planet, they also feel entitled to tell everyone else what they can or cannot do.  This is power, and Central Planners are always greedy for more.

When faced with our state’s Central Planning schemes, justified under the Growth Management Act or other legislation, the question that should naturally come to mind is “Who makes the decisions?”  If people are stupid and prone to making mistakes, what makes the Central Planners so different?  Obviously, they are as human as the rest of us peasants, and they are just as likely – if not more so – to make mistakes as anyone else.

There is one big difference between the mistakes made by average folk and the Central Planners.  When you or I or the rest of us in the peasant class make a mistake, we might hurt ourselves and maybe people close to us. An individual might go bankrupt, have an accident, get arrested, get drunk, lose a job, etc. It isn’t fun to make these mistakes, and many of us learn from them, and we learn from the mistakes of others.  Most of us do adjust our behavior so we don’t keep making these mistakes.  When the Central Planners make mistakes, they hurt everyone, and all of those people are  innocent.    A Central Planner costs the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars as they make a bridge too short like the Columbia River Crossing project.  A central planner destroys an effective ferry system by botching the ferry designSinking bridges, devastating businesses, destroying industries, causing chaos in communities, and other community-wide destruction is ONLY done by our fearless Central Planners.  These mistakes are as common as rain in Washington State where state officials  are inevitably moving forward with the Central-Planner mindset.

Just like an individual wants to hide his own mistakes from friends or family members, the central-planning and big government crew want to hide their community disasters from oversight or questioning.  They claim they need more taxes, more power, and more time.  They blame the stupid peasants because “the plan” is never at fault.  They assure us that next time they will get it right.  Utopia is just one more plan, ordinance, law, or tax away.  Of course, it never comes, and it never will.

Central Planners have no concern about destroying your home, closing down your business, or wreaking havoc with your farm.  Your family’s future is of no concern to them.  They know best and do everything for the “collective good.”  Fortunately for them, a Central Planner can justify any individual harm and any sacrifice required from you and me  by invoking the collective good.  I have witnessed this in most counties and cities in Washington State.  A Central Planner will sacrifice you and your family on the altar of the latest plan without a thought to the human tragedy or consequences of their actions.  They destroy dreams for a living,  and their individual dream is to keep doing their job over and over until they can collect their government-guaranteed pension.

Planning alone, of course, is not the problem.  We all agree to plan our budget, , our trips, our work, our education, our home projects, and so on. These plans are modified all the time.  We adjust them based on changes in our income, family fortunes, setbacks, and opportunities.  In a community, it makes sense to plan for growth,  roads, power, playgrounds, and many other aspects of modern living.  However, the difference between normal planning and central planning is that the latter aims   for utopia.  They are picking winners and losers today in an attempt to  influence human behavior and build their utopian scheme for tomorrow.  The modern Central Planner is attempting to control, dictate, monitor, and manage nearly every aspect of human behavior. This ridiculous overreach only increases the size and certainty of the inevitable disaster.  The people who suffer the most from their actions are us – the peasants, the citizens, the voters, the taxpayers who bear the brunt of the all-too-human Central Planner and their insatiable greed for power.

Our belief is that Marx’s fatal flaw only proves the wisdom of our Founding Fathers reflected by James Madison’s Federalist Paper 51:

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

As humans, we do make mistakes.  Our Central Planners and political leaders are only human – subject to the same foibles and failings as those of us who pay their inflated salaries.  Their effort to control every aspect of our lives, dictate where and how we can live, and how much of our hard-earned money they will squander guarantees disaster.  Concentrating too much power in government only ensures that, when Central Planners make their mistakes, the swath of harm and destruction is wider, more impactful, and leaves behind more victims.  We believe their power should be reduced to protect us from their mistakes.

Curtailing the power, scope, and reach of the modern government is really a critical function of freedom activists today.  If we fail to check and shrink the Central Planner’s effort to expand their power, then the failure and collapse of our society is certain – and it will be epic.  Their quest for utopia will result in a dysfunctional, disastrous society where power, resources, and opportunities are freely available to very few, but for the “greater good,” of course.  This  could all be avoided if we would recognize what is happening in our communities, and take active steps to stop it.  Do not assume someone else will do it for us. We must not assume it can’t happen here.  Closing our eyes and hoping it all goes away by itself is not a solution.  This is happening right now, and all of us need to become engaged to change the future.  It doesn’t take an army to stop it, just dedicated individuals from our communities who are willing to stand up for freedom and who will not cower in silence.  Please join us at the Freedom Foundation if you want to be counted with those who will stand up for our freedom today and tomorrow.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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