Issues & Insights

Unintelligent Government Design: Why Washington Can’t Solve America’s Problems

U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: David Maiolo, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).

Remember when intelligent design was a red-hot controversy? A centerpiece of criticism was that it was not provable. In the recent supercharged expansion of government spending and control over its citizens, I have been struck by the fact that government design frequently fails the same intelligence test, yet such unproven faith — or more accurately, such provably false faith — in government as the go-to problem solver seems impervious to that reality.

Evidence can be found in the overwhelming extent to which government assails us rather than alleviates what ails us, despite constant reassurances that we should follow their directions because they follow “science” that isn’t there, in policies that illustrate the law of unintended consequences rather than achieving stated goals, in spending trillions lavishly as if they were free rather than forcibly extracted from future generations, and in distorting language beyond recognition in order to justify the unjustified, as when everything is redefined as “infrastructure.”

So why don’t we more aggressively question whether government is an intelligent-enough designer to reduce rather than exacerbate our problems?

Is it proven that government, whose only superior ability over its citizens is in coercing others, advances Americans’ life, liberty, or happiness by its ubiquitous intrusion our lives? Our founders certainly did not believe so.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution clearly reflect the opposite conclusion. None of the principles they articulated would lead us to believe that government over-riding of ever-more of our choices will give us better results. Yet our deviations from those principles only increase with government’s size.

Can the constant promisers of utopian results produce any credible evidence that government policies and programs work so well, with each intricate part fitting together so seamlessly, that we should credit their designers with sufficient intelligence to trust still more decisions to them?  And if not, why should we believe in government “doing something” about every perceived problem, real or imaginary?

Why would we think that moving decisions to government reflects anything other than unintelligent design? A government plan cannot replicate the market system’s integration and productive use of the vastly different and overlapping knowledge of each of its participants, coordinated without central planners.

And government planners do not know us as well or care as much about us than we do. Through markets, people can make use of the highly varied, dispersed information each has, without needing to precisely understand and communicate all the important “who, what, when, where, why and how” information to government bureaucrats, trusting them to use it to advance our well-being. Consequently, moving more decisions to government throws away reams of valuable, detailed information that millions of individuals know, leading to less-intelligent results.

This is illustrated at innumerable regulatory hearings demonstrating that regulators don’t know enough about what they are regulating for their proposals to work as planned. And the “successes” government advocates point to that are really the result of involuntary “contributions” coerced from others, especially later generations (such as Social Security and Medicare, which are far from sustainable anyway) offer no honest support, either.

In contrast to government decision-making, where all the knowledge must first be centralized, unavoidably destroying a great deal of valuable intelligence (sources of wealth creation) in the process, all those in markets need in order to better perform the tasks that overwhelm governments is for people’s rights to be defended, including their freedom to offer to buy or sell in their varying circumstances. The results exceed those of government dictation premised on unavoidably inadequate and often incorrect information.

When you spend your own money, you do not delegate crucial decisions to designers with extensive, consistent records of failure. They are not intelligent enough in the relevant ways to let them decide for you.

Saying we need the government to do more, despite just such a record, which gets repeated every day, is no more sensible. Not only is intelligent government design not established, unintelligent government design is frequently demonstrated, making faith in those designers’ coercive solutions unjustified.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.

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2 comments

  • Of course DC can’t solve our problems. There is no money in solving our nation’s problems. They can’t get re-elected if they actually solve the problems. You can’t write to your Representative or Senator and expect results. You aren’t a big donor nor do you have any kind of influence. And there is no way out.

  • The real problem is not government, it’s the political parties. All either party is really interested in is power. The GOP has become the right wing of the Democratic Party. Under the Constitution, Congress is supposed to represent “the people” but it’s become the two parties method of controlling the population. Get rid of political parties and things will improve. Trouble is, they have too much power and won’t allow it.

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