Bryan Griffin: The Perils Of Betting On Benevolence

Apr 3, 2019

If the Democrats get their way, and nearly every aspect of life in America is controlled or appropriated in one form or another by the federal government, how can they be so sure the person or people in charge of that appropriation is someone they will like?

The left is betting on what is called a “benevolent dictator” in political science, and it’s a terrible bet to make.

In political science, a benevolent dictator is an authoritarian decisionmaker or group of decisionmakers who make largely good or positive decisions for their subjects given the power they have.

In human history, no such “benevolent dictator” has ever existed.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

See, if Democrats get their way, the government becomes so big and so completely invasive in our lives that it provides nearly every basic need for us. It necessarily becomes the end all be all with no recourse. And this government will have to be led by someone. Or, some group of decisionmakers.

So are we just supposed to trust that they always act benevolently with all that power?

To me the disconnect is ironic, given the current political context. The left despises the current President yet pushes to continue to consolidate more and more power over the lives of everyday Americans into the hands of the federal government.

Just listen to the proposals that the Democratic presidential candidates are making should they win. Read the legislation coming from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Today, one of the most defining differences between American conservatives and liberals is where they look to find solutions for the issues they want to solve.

The differences are not whether one side wants to help the poor or ensure people have access to high quality medical treatment. Both sides do.

Principled conservatives have a toolbox of options they resort to when writing policy: the free market, states or local governments, individual capacity and earnings, good will, and sometimes when absolutely necessary, federal government safety nets of last resort.

Yes, this means everyone doesn’t have access to the exact same items, services, or goods, but in practice it means that people have access to higher quality services and products at prices that meet demand and affordability. Those who don’t are cared for using one of several other options in the toolbox.

Liberal Democrats point to expanding the role of the federal government as the consistent solution for providing for the poor or sick – or accomplishing anything else they identify as a problem. This does mean everyone gets exactly same good or service -- low quality goods and services with little to no innovation in the industry. And, for those countries that have tried socializing basic provisions, it inevitably eventually means an unsustainable pricetag that leads to even worse outcomes for those who become dependent on the handout.

Turning to government as the sole provider of the basic needs of society is never sustainable.

Yet, remarkably, the Democratic platform continues to insist on the government being grown and expanded to provide basic needs to people, like welfare, healthcare, and even universal basic income.

So what then, if Democrats get their way? What if our healthcare, like our mail and railway systems, is regulated fully and provided for by a slow moving, long lined, uninnovative government office? What if large masses of people become entirely dependent on unending welfare or basic incomes that don’t incentivize people to search for jobs?

What if Democrats get their way and everyone truly becomes completely dependent on the government for basic needs?

How do they ensure whoever is in charge or becomes in charge of the government acts in a fair way?

How do they ensure whoever is in charge or becomes in charge doesn’t fundamentally disagree with the basic fundamentals of their philosophy and seek to dismantle the system from within?

How do they ensure whoever has all this power, being at the head of this government that provides everything to people with no alternative, doesn’t take advantage of this consolidation of power and enslave the masses?

It’s not preposterous.

It happened in Russia. And Cuba. And it’s happening now in China and Venezuela.

How can one truly give themselves and their society no other recourse but to hope that their fully actualized government-dependent society is led by a benevolent dictator?

And even if there is some guarantee that the hypothetical current government leader acts with all good intentions, what about our kids? And their kids? Do we leave them to the whim of whomever or whatever political party wins the day?

Conservatives believe the danger is too great and the risk too high. America, built on the broad base of free markets, federalism, and a complementary federal government has flourished because of an intentional bridling of government’s role and influence over our lives. For the sake of even the most progressive of visions for the citizens of this country, defend that system. Don’t set the stage for the worst-case scenario willingly. Limit the size and scope of the role of the federal government so that the highest authorities over our own lives remains ourselves.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

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