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Three Stories About Government


“What if we were to judge people, and ideologies, by their results, rather than by their intentions?”

– Jonathan Haidt, Three Stories About Capitalism; a blog post on the web site for The Righteous Mind 

In his upcoming book Jonathan Haidt will explore the two predominant perspectives, or stories, about capitalism.  Story One is Capitalism is Exploitation.  Story two is Capitalism is Liberation.  Based on empirical evidence – the real world results of the many different economic schemes that have been attempted through the centuries all over the world – he’ll find that neither story is 100% right or wrong, but that Story One is more wrong than right, and Story Two is more right than wrong.  Ironically, he’ll find that  the best way to achieve the sort of equality, fairness, and social justice that’s desired by the believers of Story One, has been to implement Story Two, provided we remain mindful and vigilant of its possible dangers (that’s Story Three).  I’m not giving away any secrets by writing these things here. I’m merely summarizing what Haidt has already written and said. All of the links in this post take you straight to the horse’s mouth. Especially helpful is a twenty four minute lecture Haidt gave, entitled Three Stories About Capitalism at Zurich Minds, a non profit foundation created to “bridge between the science, business and cultural communities.”     

I suggest that an examination of the two predominant perspectives on government – 1) Government power is a force for good that should be used to advance human progress and social justice, and 2) Government power is a necessary evil that exists to protect rights – would yield the same result. Based on empirical evidence of the real world results of the many government schemes that have been attempted through the centuries, Story One does more harm than good, Story Two does more good than harm, and the best way to actually achieve the goals of Story One is to implement Story Two.

Story One about government, in a nutshell, rests in outcome-based principles of positive liberty.

Story Two about government, rests in process-based principles of negative liberty.

Story One is exemplified in every government scheme that’s ever been attempted in which the goal is to use the power of government to create the “new man” or the “good society.”  This, practically by definition and certainly in actual practice, requires the concentration, consolidation, and centralization of government power. Examples include the French Revolution, all forms of Communism from Russia to China to Cambodia to Cuba, and all forms of Fascism from Mussolini’s Italy to Hitler’s Germany.  

Story Two about government is exemplified in every government scheme in which it is recognized that the enemy of liberty and autonomy is concentrated, consolidated, government power, which therefore must be separated into different functions which then must be set in opposition to one another, and which must be limited in scope to those functions necessary to protect liberty, and sovereignty, and no more. Examples include the American Constitution, which is the intellectual inheritor of the long and costly evolution of the principles of freedom in the mother country of Great Britain.

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