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No Task too Large or Small

Recently I offered this little gem of wisdom from Richard Epstein:

Political power is a scarce resource that must be husbanded for the few ends that it can serve best, for otherwise the level of care and attention that hard matters receive is diluted by the ever-expanding role of government authority.

Of course, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and his hyperactive, know-it-all colleagues on Capitol Hill – like the great majority of people with political power – are the last people in the world to admit, or even to understand, that they are merely human. They are the last to admit that government cannot achieve perfect justice and an ideal, problem-free society. They are the last to admit that attempts by government to deal with every imperfection – with every problem, big and small, real and imaginary – will make government efforts to deal with any problem less effective. They are the last to admit, sincerely, that unconstrained government power only creates and never solves problems.

My sour inspiration for the above paragraph is this story in the sports section of today’s Washington Post – a story announcing that Congress will follow-up on its recent investigation of steroid use in Major League baseball by investigating steroid use in the National Football League.

Just yesterday I was watching television with my son, Thomas, and he I laughed at a commercial poking fun at businesses that don’t stick to their knitting. One scene showed a grungy fishing boat sporting a sign "Fish and Fine Lingerie." Another showed a billboard advertising "Joe’s Auto Repair and Marriage Counseling." Several similar scenes followed, each depicting fictional business firms that undertake multiple tasks that every sensible person understands are unlikely to be done well by any single entity.

Even my seven-year-old son laughed at the intended humor in the commercial. Even this child understands that a fisherman who tries also to sell lingerie – or a lingerie retailer who attempts to expand into commercial fishing – will fail. It’s a hoot just to see such things depicted for a few seconds on a television screen.

So why don’t we all laugh when Congress and its employees actually do conduct wars abroad, try to protect Americans from crime, try to protect the natural environment, investigate airplane crashes, regulate prices of agricultural commodities, supply money, fund scientific research, fund artistic endeavors, operate a massive pension fund, regulate the content of programming broadcast over the electromagnetic spectrum, and on and on and on and on…….?

If it’s comical that a fisherman would also try to sell lingerie, surely governments’ attempts to undertake countless more tasks of infinite variety should be the ultimate source of side-splitting laughter.

Of course, fishermen are less arrogant than politicians; no fisherman ever thinks to expand into lingerie retailing. Unfortunately, politicians are singularly arrogant in estimating their own wisdom, benevolence, and abilities.

Regrettable, to say the least.


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