Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A president is not a member of my family 

I expect Russ Roberts to make a comment like this, since I found this link off his Twitter stream, but I'm going to venture a comment first. David Harsanyi notices the sharp increase in regulation under the Obama Administration (which is saying a fair deal, because President Bush was not exactly reticent in regulation himself). Bill O'Reilly had a segment last night in which both he and a liberal talk show host agreed that there is regulatory overreach.

Russ will, no doubt, bring up the two worlds, the micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos, that Hayek said we live in simultaneously. See Steven Horwitz, for example. In my home I do try to control everything. Last night our very old cat, who is dying of kidney failure, appeared to my wife to be dead. She woke me, I checked: not dead yet, fooled her. (Insert Python joke here.) Now awake, I lay in bed, and every sound in my house is subject to my inspection. Where's Pepper (the cat) going? My daughter is coughing, should I get her something? That doesnI believe myself in control of every act in that house. The order of my home is intentional, it is the subject of my imagination, my design, and I believe it's in my control (as long as my wife agrees :)

But the world outside is not. It continues to function without my design and control. To borrow the quote of Hayek that begins Horwitz's article:
Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of worlds at once.
Remember when we thought of the liberals as the Mommy Party? The Mommy Party can be seen that tries to apply the microcosmos to the macro-environment. As I heard Dennis Miller say on his radio program yesterday (or maybe it was his guest), the Republican Party is the one that wants to regulate your bedroom and the Democratic Party wants the rest of the house. Maybe so.

"Our world is interconnected": it's a phrase we often hear and it sometimes is used as a reason for us to "work together". But that's not the extended order Hayek defines. It's the world of the famous I, Pencil story; it's the world that appreciates the division of labor being limited by the extent of the market, as Adam Smith observed. Read that link and you'll see that those who became more advanced had the ability to deal with others they did not know thanks to geographical advantages (particularly by being on or near waterways.) They were interconnected only in certain areas, and not others.

I'm fine when my wife tells me I'm being silly thinking Cheerios will reduce my cholesterol and that she will no longer buy them when shopping for groceries, putting Special K in the cupboard instead because it's good for me. I'm unhappy because I like Cheerios, but I recognize that my wife has made a commitment to me and me to her, and that we make investments in our home and family because of that commitment. In Ephesians 5:28-29 the apostle Paul wrote "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it."

But at no point does that extend to the state. And it is from this that our distrust of government instruction of the right cereals or drains, etc. A president is not a member of my family, no matter who the president is.

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