What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The following is an op-ed I wrote, published in today’s Salt Lake Tribune.
I’m a frequent patron of Amazon.com. As I browse their wide selection in search of a product, one of the first criteria I apply to determine if a given product is worth what’s in my wallet is the customer reviews. At a quick glance, I can see the community’s rating of the product as well as the total number of reviews that calculated the overall rating. It’s extremely rare that I purchase anything with three or less stars (out of five total).
This is the market at work. Competition yields a better product, and increased selection offers a consumer such as myself the opportunity to rate the different products based on criteria I deem important, such as price, durability, brand recognition, and the reviews of individuals who have previously purchased the item in question.
With that context, consider the question: why should government be any different?
In a recent Rasmussen poll, just 6% of those surveyed thought that Congress was doing a “good” or “excellent” job. 68% viewed Congress’ job performance as “poor.” In Amazon.com-speak, this is like a product having a rating of a fraction of one star, with the vast majority of reviewers commenting to emphasize the product’s poor performance. No doubt these individuals would recommend that the potential purchaser of that item steer clear and find something better.
As one example, Crayola sells “washable colored bubbles,” and as the Amazon.com reviews from furious parents will indicate, it turns out that the bubbles aren’t that washable at all. Dozens of negative reviews report stained clothing, concrete, and children, and the product has one star out of five — the lowest possible rating. Hundreds, if not thousands, of similarly-catastrophic products are accompanied by reviews which immediately warn would-be buyers to reconsider.
Imagine ten parents wanting to buy these bubbles, reading through the near-universally negative reviews, and then nine of them deciding to go ahead with the purchase. Any bystander with a brain would be quite perplexed, wondering why such an awful product could command such strong sales figures.
We witness a similar pattern every election cycle. Despite abysmal, single-digit approval ratings, Congress will be little affected at the ballot box; if past elections are any indication, more than 90% of incumbents seeking re-election will defeat their opponents and retain their position. As the Proverb says, “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”
Americans know that their government is a poor product, and they’re openly disgusted with its quality and performance. But the nature of the state, with its monopoly on force and geography-based jurisdiction, prevents market forces from having any influence on improving the product. Competition in the marketplace yields products which are higher in quality and increasingly affordable. The state’s product of government decreases in quality and becomes more costly over time.
Innovative and radical ideas are needed in order to expose the underbelly of the state to competitive attacks from individuals and institutions which can perform traditional government functions better, faster, and cheaper. Any wise manufacturer seeing their product ripped to shreds by reviewers will halt production, invest in research and development, publicly commit to quickly fix the problems, and rapidly respond to the market’s collective input to create a product better suited to its liking. We, the people, must likewise put the brakes on the government while alternative solutions are proposed, considered, and finally implemented.
With a 6% approval rating and a 90% election rate, it’s clear that something is broken. The defective product that is our government might at this point be simply accompanied by a single, one-star review which reads: “buyer beware.”