No They Can’t: Why Government Fails But Individuals Succeed


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He reserves most of his attacks for the big-government left (“Progressives always fear the ‘power’ of business, rather than the power of government”). He won’t endear himself to environmentalists, for example, with this take on the government stepping in to protect endangered species: “How do we save them? Here’s an idea: Sell them. And eat them.”

But he doesn’t believe Republicans have all the answers either:

Both parties share the fatal conceit of believing that their grandiose plan will solve America’s problems. Neither plan will… It doesn’t matter which party is in power. No one spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

Stossel’s solutions to the country’s problems lie in the free market. “Government is like someone who gets in front of a parade and pretends to lead it,” he writes, whereas “creative minds of the private sector invent solutions that never occur to government bureaucrats.” While the free market isn’t perfect, Stossel says, bad things happen when government interferes – primarily, infringements on our liberty.

Take what Stossel calls the Food Police, for example. Do we really need the government to save us from our own poor food choices? “Government goes astray when it tries to protect us from ourselves,” he says. Free competition protects consumers best. In any case, whether or not government makes us safer, its rules always leave us less free:

The Food Police claim that they just want to help us make informed choices. But that’s not all they want to do. They want government to force us to make healthy choices.

The powerful assumption behind so much of government’s policy regarding food (and everything else) is that everything good should be encouraged by law and everything bad should be discouraged. Stated that way, it sounds like common sense. But… this is a formula for totalitarianism.

That totalitarianism extends to, as he puts it in one chapter title, making sure no one gets offended. About the government curtailing free speech in order to spare people’s feelings: “When getting offended gives people more power, people get offended more easily… We should never let government decide which ideas are worthy of protection and which are not.” As for being offended by Stossel himself, he’s fine with that: “If you disagree with me, argue with me. Shun me. And yes, even boycott me. Just don’t bring in government to settle the issue.”

When it comes to military spending in money pits like Afghanistan and Iraq, Stossel believes that “nation building is the worst form of planning,” and that rather than increasing or even maintaining a bloated military budget, “our soldiers are better served if we narrow their mission.”

Despite the range of issues covered in this book, and the wealth of examples, Stossel’s main point is very basic and simple. In his conclusion, aptly entitled “There Ought Not to Be a Law,” he sums up:

There is nothing that government can do that we cannot do better as free individuals –  and as groups of individuals, working together voluntarily, not at the point of a gun or under threat of a fine.

Without big government, our possibilities are endless.

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  • Alex Kovnat

    We note that at the very end of the above article, John Stossel sounds a little like Ron Paul. Perhaps Ron Paul and John Stossel are correct in that we should limit our involvement in the Middle East and all their tribal warfare. But — as I see it, we should NEVER abandon our committment to South Korea or Israel.

  • davarino

    Ever read the tax code? Ever have to deal with the EPA regs? Ever have to work with the EEOC? Its sad when you have to hire some expert to decipher the tax code for you, and even then your left wondering if you did it correctly. Try pissing off the EPA, there is a never ending hell. Yaaah government………blaah

    Oh and dont look at an employee cross eyed, cause here come the EEOC to the rescue.

    • Babs

      My only contact with the EEOC came in 2003 when I lived in south Texas. I called to lodge a complaint about discrimination in the work place. I would be sent to a job and then would be told that they were just taking applications, even though the temp agency had told me it would be a job for me there. The office I was sent to to start work was all Hispanics and when they saw me, all of a sudden the job was not available. I could not even get a job bagging groceries because I could not speak Spanish, due to the large volume of Mexicans that came to the US for groceries. When I finally called the EEOC to lodge a complaint, I was told that if I didn't like it, that I should move…and that's what I did. So much for the EEOC. As far as I'm concerned, just another useless government agency.

  • Schlomotion

    John Stossel is fast becoming the gatekeeper of pseudo-libertarianism on Faux News. If Ann Coulter and Geraldo Rivera had a baby who lived to become a late-stage Freddie Mercury and decided at the last minute to "expose fraud" in government by vilifying fresh produce, attacking AIDS research, misquoting priests, encouraging global warming, and making fun of wrestlers, the pundit and his books would look like this.

    • kongMing

      $15 trillion poured down the drain in the Great Society over the past 50 years and and we are worse off. Tammany Hall branded themselves as the new global environmentalist movement.

      Criticizing Stossel like that is like saying Patrick Henry amounts to just hunting and fishing.

      But you’re right. We need more Barney Frank’s to put their lovers on GSO’s they’re suppose to regulate. We need more Eleanor Roosevelts, whose hair-brained rash social schemes led to cesspools with corrupt politicians grafting the profit and in many cases selling the whiskey (JFK) and crack cocaine (Sharpton).

      PBS, NBC, CBS and ABC are horribly biased and corrupt.

      • Schlomotion

        I figure them to be all part of the same group, including Stossel.

        • Stephen_Brady

          Actually, I suspect that you feel betrayed by Stossel because he left the MSM. This, in spite of the fact that Stossel goes after Left and Right in equal measure, when he sees the hypocrisy flying.

          • Schlomotion

            You suspect some really weird things. I barely even watch the television.

  • StephenD

    There is a reason why the Libertarian point of view has such a large following. They have many legitimate points that many of us share. I just don't agree with abandoning our friends or that there is no need for a functioning national government. THAT is certainly not in our long term best interest no matter how you paint it.

  • Supreme_Galooty

    John Stossel, in this yeoman's effort, does the tedious but necessary work of pointing out the gross failures of The State – either through corruption or mere ineptitude. Such failures have been on parade for all with eyes to see since the very birth of politics. What fools many people is a failure to understand, to properly define the terms. Government, Society, and The State are distinct, separate elements. There is no blurring (except in many people's minds) between their roles. Herbert Spencer's Man versus The State is somewhat dated, but most informative in this regard. Albert Jay Nock's delightful little pamphlet, Our Enemy The State, properly delineates the terms, providing an excellent basis for the work of Stossel and others.

    There are only two ways a person can make a living – either through Work or Conquest. Politics is the organization of Conquest.

  • malcolmkyle

    Prohibition is one of the most evil government policies ever!

    If you support prohibition then you're either a black market profiteer, a terrorist, a corrupt politician, a sadomoralist, a socialist or a fake-conservative.

    If you support prohibition you've a helped create a black market with massive incentives to hook both adults and children alike.

    If you support prohibition you've helped to make these dangerous substances available in schools and prisons.

    If you support prohibition you've helped put previously unknown and contaminated drugs on the streets.

    If you support prohibition you've helped to divert scarce law-enforcement resources away from protecting your fellow citizens from the ever escalating violence against their person or property.

    If you support prohibition you've helped remove many important civil liberties from those citizens you falsely claim to represent.

    If you support prohibition you've helped create the prison-for-profit synergy with drug lords.

    If you support prohibition you've helped escalate the number of Americans on welfare who can't find employment due to their felony status.

    If you support prohibition you're responsible for the horrific racial disparities which have breed generations of incarcerated and disenfranchised Afro Americans.

    If you support prohibition you've helped evolve local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, controlling vast swaths of territory with significant social and military resources at their disposal.

    Neurotics build castles in the sky, psychotics live in them; the concept of a "Drug-Free Society" is a neurotic fantasy and Prohibition's ills are a product of this psychotic delusion.

    Prohibition is nothing less than a grotesque dystopian nightmare; if you support it you must be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, corrupt or criminally insane.

  • wctaqiyya

    First, the author seems to impute a friendly, helpful demeanor to the government. The government as a well intentioned but bumbling teddy bear. How nice. Except that I never met that government once in my entire life. The only government I ever met was one which demanded that I do what it wanted or it would get me. This imperative is true even if you are part of the government. Force does not function in good mode or bad mode. It is force, it is compulsion and what some may call good force is just as painful as the bad. Now imagine a long middle part that is not worth writing being here. Skipping ahead to the conclusion; try digging massive tank traps in sub zero temperature with poor clothing, no food and nothing to motivate workers but the certain knowledge that it was all voluntary. Or, you could try it with guns and get it dug. No teddy bears for you. Government is the evil force we need to accomplish organized society. Sorry extreme libertarians, anarchists, commies and OWS campers. Our actual, not imaginary, human nature leaves us no choice in this. The only thing we need to figure out is how to balance the productive benefits of liberty with the least amount of force required for order. The structural details of this equation may differ as do cultures. The dynamic, change and stuff, balance we seek was blueprinted by the founding fathers. Now, we need to stop feeding the enormously out of control central government somehow, then let the local governments collect garbage, schedule parades and repaint the gazebo. And yes, hire one or two constables, for the hippies shall always be with us.

    • wctaqiyya

      This is horrifying. I forgot to tell you guys that any smoothly functioning form of self government has limitations. I don't really know this, it's more like a guess. Pure speculation actually. You see, the ideal size for countries is about the size of New Jersey, give or take. The ideal population is less than 20,000,000. Now, if you have a smaller population you can have a bigger country, that's no problem. But if you have a smaller country you can't have a bigger population. People, it seems, are a lot like cattle. To learn more about this important theory, watch at least half of the episodes of Rawhide, Big Valley and Bonanza. Don't be shocked, we have to relearn old truths constantly. The effect of these limitations on war is pretty interesting too. Suffice to say that wars will be closer to home and there's a good chance you will be killing people you know and love. Not bad, considering what a hassle it is killing those annoying Muslims.