The inmates are running the asylum . . . and it’s driving business abroad
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
According to Wikipedia, the former aphorism may have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, circa 1150, “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (“Hell is full of good wishes and desires.”). And Wiki-answers offers that while the source of the latter quote isn’t known for sure, it is believed to have first appeared on page 68 of Rita Mae Brown’s 1983 book “Sudden Death.”
Whatever their origins, there is a reason why the former quote has stuck around for nine centuries, and why the latter has become so widely used in such a short time. Aphorisms become aphorisms because people sense the inherent truth of them.
But why then do people on the political left—who, one presumes, are as likely to use these aphorisms as anyone else—not recognize the truth of them when it comes to their own policies and principles?
In China, customers don’t order french fries—they’re shu tiao. In Turkey, they’re called patates and in Russia, you would ask for kartofel’ Fri.
Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., should know. His company is expanding rapidly abroad due to higher potential outside the U.S., which is hampered by what he sees as too much government regulation.
“It’s difficult to open in the U.S., but we love the U.S. and continue to fight the good fight to open restaurants and create jobs,” Puzder said. “It’s just that the government is making it hard for us to build those restaurants.”
A person might be tempted to ask, “Oh, how bad could it be?” How about . . . this bad:
“Under the current U.S. business climate, regulatory and tax restrictions tend to curb otherwise dynamic entrepreneurial energy,” Puzder said. “We’d love to see more growth in domestic markets. Unfortunately, it’s easier for our franchisees to open a restaurant in Siberia than in California.”
Government regulations do not happen in a vacuum. People alter their behavior because of them. A minor regulation, even a small number of minor regulations, may not have an effect that is widely noticed. But if the regulations are substantive enough, or if there is a large number of them, the effect will become more pronounced. Regulations can eliminate jobs, increase costs for both businesses and consumers, and drive investment abroad. The damage to the economy can be extensive.
For example, let’s just do some rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations. McDonalds has more than 34,000 locations and employs more than 1.7 million people. That means that each restaurant creates around 50 jobs. More to the point, each restaurant that does not get opened means that Americans are deprived of 50 job opportunties. With employment recovery still sluggish and labor force participation rates at historic lows, is that something we can really afford? Unfortunately, the forces that favor heavy government regulations aren’t thinking along those lines. They are too enamored with their good intentions to concern themselves with such trivialities.
Puzder cites ethanol rules, minimum wage laws, and Obamacare as among the government actions forcing business owners to look abroad for new opportunities. Each of these policies, and so many others like them, are ostensibly “well intentioned.” But each has negative consequences:
Ethanol rules are purportedly designed to improve the environment by requiring that a certain percentage of cleaner-burning fuels are used. In reality, ethanol production takes up land formerly being used for food production, thus raising food prices. There are also indications from several studies that the fuel consumed in raising, transporting, and refining the crops used to produce ethanol raises the fuel-use associated with ethanol to the point where it is a net loss. Literally, ethanol use is counterproductive to its stated intent.
Never mind that, though—the politicians get to say they’re helping the environment (and they get the votes and support of highly motivated farming interests as an added bonus).
Minimum wage laws are supposed to give those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder a leg up. In fact, the primary consequence of such laws is to increase unemployment among the very cohort they are supposedly designed to help. Yes, some people have their wages increased. Unfortunately, others see their jobs cut as employers are forced to let their less effective workers go and try to get more work out of their more productive employees.
That these laws hurt the people they’re supposed to help does not matter. The politicians get to say they’re helping, and to accuse anyone who disagrees of not being caring and compassionate.
Obamacare is the classic example of a government program that is sold on good intentions but goes on to wreak havoc in the real world. Millions are losing their insurance. Doctors are retiring, cutting back on hours, or choosing new careers, creating shortages in care. Costs are rising. As costs rise, efforts will be made to control them, which—following one of the most basic laws of economics—will cause even greater shortages in care. We are only at the beginning of this slow motion train-wreck, with lots of cars still waiting to derail . . .
The solution, as always, will be (to try) to fix the damage done by one government program, or regulation, with another. Never will the forces favoring these regulations stop and think. Like Narcissus so ardently taken with his own beauty, they have become rooted to the glory of their own good intentions.
And that, of course, is where the definition of insanity comes in. They keep doing this, again and again. There are mountains of evidence showing that it does not work. Internationally and historically, there is a list of countries who have tried to follow this course and failed miserably. And study after study show that the more economic freedom a country enjoys, the better off human life is in that country—and conversely, the less economic freedom in a country, the worse life is for the people of that country.
And yet, undaunted, the forces of big government and big regulation march merrily on. Even more repellently, they continually sell their own ideas by ascribing the worst motivations to everyone else:
The CEO of a fast-food chain doesn’t go abroad because government regulations have increased the cost of doing business at home . . . no, he does it because he is greedy.
The owner of a fast-food franchise doesn’t respond to minimum wage laws by trimming his work force down to only his most productive employees (because his profit margins are narrow enough that he cannot afford to keep all his employees on at the higher wage) . . . no, he does it because he wants to buy a new boat.
And anyone who sides with them is obviously in the thrall of big business or simply hates the poor.
This sort of calumniation is the left’s stock and trade. Their good intentions make them divine. Our opposition to their agenda makes us demonic. Never does it occur to them that actual reality may paint a different picture than the one they see through their psychedelic rose-colored glasses.
But heck, let us, just for the sake of argument, stipulate to their ascription of terrible motivations on the part of business owners (and those of us grateful to them for creating the jobs, goods, and services that human beings want and need). Let us say that they are simply greedy—that they are trying to squeeze workers to the greatest degree possible, just to satisfy their gross appetites. Even then, is the end result not the same? The jobs go abroad. The jobs go away. The reality of it all does not change. The regulation may or may not have managed to accomplish the goal its supporters set out to accomplish, but the jobs are gone either way. And not a single business owner has had his heart transformed by a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past.
We are all victims of the tyranny of good intentions—of the endless, repeated attempts to follow a course of more government and more regulation, with the expectation that something good will come out of it. It never does. In the end, human lives are made worse, not better.
The narcissus smells to them far different than it doth to me.
Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including AnyStreet.org (now a part of Western Free Press) and Liberatchik.com. He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to WesternFreePress.com.
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