Despite the fact that school classrooms never make you question whether government, taxation, and the State are actually necessary or morally justifiable, most people proclaim that their own political views are truly free from bias and reached by rational consideration of all possible alternatives. They will insist that, despite the fact that the majority of them hold views that are extremely similar to those of their family and friends, they just happened to find themselves in an environment in which everyone is right, and that the rest of the world must be wrong. Yet it is not very difficult to find inconsistencies in behavior that clearly demonstrate just how clouded by bias most people’s judgment really is: simply compare their level of patience when confronting private businesses to the governments they elect.
In most Western, developed economies, the smallest mistake made by a business – from small to Multinational Corporation – is immediately, and often viciously, pounced on. Consider how polite waiters need to be even facing disgustingly rude customers, offering them free desserts when, more often than not, the rude customer has suffered no injustice whatsoever.
Consider how easy it is to ask for a refund from almost any corporation for pretty much any product and for pretty much any reason. Ordered the wrong size by mistake? Accidentally paid for the more expensive version of the product? Gave the wrong postal address? No problem. All you have to do is call customer service with an angry voice, demand a refund, and presto! Your wish is their command; your mistake will have been (almost always) quickly rectified and at no cost to you. And yet the free market is generally depicted as dog-eat-dog, law of the jungle, survival of the fittest.
The same impatience holds true for much bigger issues. Consider the moral outrage and outright disgust that many people experience when they think about the latest sweatshop scandal by a large multinational corporation. Despite these issues almost always originating much farther up the supply chain, with many suppliers located in third world countries that are often difficult to individually account for, the corporations back home are blasted for failure to fix a problem that is generally not their problem to begin with (the problem is usually poverty, largely caused by the corruption and inefficiency of the governments of those countries – in fact, even the worst sweatshops operated for foreign MNCs usually provide significantly better wages than their local counterparts).
When corporations are perceived as not doing enough – immediately – to right their wrongs, they are further bombarded with negative propaganda until they are forced to, at a minimum, spend huge sums on a PR campaign to at least make it look like they care.
Try to compare this to most people’s attitude towards government. It would be impossible, because governments are afforded endless patience. Obama can personally sign executive orders to murder thousands of innocent civilians in illegal drone strikes and no one bats an eye. Regardless of citizens’ constant disappointment at the last candidate’s performance, people are always ready to give politics another chance. “This time. This time things will be different”, they say.
Try calling the government. This isn’t a joke, go ahead and try. People complain about having to be on hold for 5 minutes every now and when calling to get a refund from a corporation, but try to call almost any government agency – who’s salaries are paid by your taxes – and you’ll generally end up waiting 30 minutes just to talk to a robotic voice that sends you around endless loops until you throw your phone to the ground and your arms to the sky in desperation. Yet the desperation doesn’t last very long – because it’s exactly what you expect. You know when you pick up the phone that that’s exactly what’s going to happen, and while it annoys you, it’s just how life is. Your favorite clothing shop, however, better have answered, apologized, and issued a refund to you within 5 minutes of calling – or else.
When government is involved, we’re happy to be ordered to do almost anything. We walk into airports and fully accept as normal and proper that some stranger has the right to grope us, stick his hand down our pants, go through our private belongings, even put us in a machine that literally shows them what we look like naked – and when it turns out that it’s all totally useless (the TSA has a 5% success rate at finding bombs sent into the apparatus intentionally to test it), no one seems to care that we’ve been harassed for a decade for no good reason. Why? Because it’s the government, and we all expect constant failure! Can you imagine if Tesco tried to implement similar measures, citing security concerns? They’d be out of business within a week!
Another thing no one ever seems to talk about: the US government has spent $15 trillion fighting poverty since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. And yet the poverty rate, which had been steadily decreasing until then, has remained almost completely stable after the first few years of that war. And yet the less impressive the results, the more people say we need to provide more funding – it just wasn’t enough the first time around! In private business, when something doesn’t work the funding stops. In government exactly the opposite happens – the worse the results, the more money people want to give it! (This is also due to another important problem: people’s almost total ignorance of economics makes them unable to realize that spending more money on something in no way guarantees that it will produce better results).
This massive difference in attitude towards private businesses and governments persists despite the fact that governments in the last century killed upwards of 300 million of their own citizens, despite that the US government in the last two decades has killed millions of innocent civilians, despite the fact that, regardless, of who’s in charge, the same policies are enacted, despite the fact that government officials are routinely involved in corruption scandals, despite the fact that thousands of people (mostly minorities) are imprisoned for victimless crimes for simply trying a drug. Despite the fact that every politician routinely makes promises that they don’t keep, despite the fact that this is accepted as completely normal and, if not desirable, still acceptable, despite the fact that year after year, nothing ever changes – people will still loyally wave their latest politicians’ flags in the air, proclaim their allegiance to an ideology that is almost certainly not represented by the politician they support, go to the poll booths, and vote.
And continue to condemn businesses as evil for “putting profit before people”, despite the fact that businesses depend on their customers’ voluntary support for every penny of their profit (except for what they can get out of shady deals with governments, where, of course, those most held in contempt aren’t the public officials who have sworn statements to serve the people, but the businessmen who’s purpose is to run a business). Despite the fact that, if everyone really hated a specific corporation so much, they could put it out of business tomorrow by simply ceasing to purchase their products.
The bias I’m talking about isn’t a left or right bias, liberal or conservative – it’s about government vs. freedom. Barely anyone has ever given any serious thought to the possibility that perhaps you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do: that perhaps we can govern ourselves.