Thursday, April 9, 2009

Somewhere, Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank Die a Little Inside

Will Wilkinson has a column in which he basically states that societies that rely heavily on government are screwed. The argument, which intuitively sounds pitch-perfect, is that in a society where people trust each other and are willing to set aside (if only briefly) their own immediate-term wants to focus (if only briefly) on the common good, government, for those reasons, is likely to function efficiently. Of course, in such a society government is likely to be less needed, since people are solving common-good problems on their own (Wilkinson: "Voluntary civil society associations will thrive"). By contrast, in a place where people do not trust each other and societal needs are abandoned while each chases his or her own at the expense of others, strong government agencies and programs are needed to keep things from devolving into chaos. But those are exactly the type of societies in which government is most likely to be inefficient at best, corrupt and focused on advancing its own interests at worst.

The way around this is not focusing on better government programs, but on increasing the level of trust people have to the other people and institutions within the society. This both improves the quality of and lessens the need for activist government. The Burning Man culture is a good example of this in action.

I'm not really aware of empirical evidence backing this claim (though BM does make a good datum for the argument), but, again, it's one that I find intuitively senseful.

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