Why does the Statist State?

published Mar 24, 2024

A short explanation by Devon Eriksen.

So, after a bit of discussion of the CAFE standards, and the chicken tax, and whatnot, we come around to the real issue... Trying to fix problems with policy.

Specifically, a lot of folks in the comments arguing about whether it's a good idea or not.

Statists, like Stancil, want to use the power of government to solve everything they see as a problem, while individualists see state power as the source of problems, not the solution.

Clearly, in the case of the [problems allegedly created by owners of] big trucks Stancil is complaining about, we're dealing with a second-order consequence of intersecting statist policies. But the real question here, is "why does Stancil not see that?"

Well, the question carries its own answer. The Stancils of this world are defined by their inability to see that. They are, in the words of William Gibson, "he who knoweth not the name". If statists could understand how policies create unintended high-order consequences, they would not be statists.  Therefore the statists, as a group, are composed of people who don't get that.

The core delusion here is that statists believe that problems exist because of a lack of the political will to solve them. They seriously think that, for every political problem, there is a simple policy action that will make it go away forever, a big red FIXIT button we could push.  And they think that these buttons have gone unpushed because people don't care, or actively don't want the problem solved.

  • Some people are drugged-out, schizophrenic hobos? Housing subsidies.
  • Medical care is labor-intensive and scarce? Nationalize all the hospitals.
  • We don't like big trucks? Ban them.

Blah blah blah.

Every software engineer ever has dealt with this sort of person in a different, non-political, context. People who think that the computer has a little person in it, fully sentient, who just needs to have your wants explained to him. Easy, right? Just pass a law. Just ban guns, or cannabis. Just teach the bible in schools. Just open the borders and let everyone in. It'll be fine.

The rest of us, however, understand that problems exist because the world is complicated. We don't know why to fix a problem, until the moment we figure it out, and then we cease to think of it as a problem.

That's why no one dies of scurvy anymore. It's not because we banned scurvy, or created the Department of Scurvy prevention. It's because we figured out what ascorbic acid is.  And suddenly, scurvy vanished from our universe of problems.

Politicians don't fix problems. Engineers, and to a lesser extent scientists, do. What politicians do is create thousands upon thousands of pages of untested software code for society, with all sorts of bugs in it.

Ask Will Stancil how to improve pedestrian safety, and scream on Twitter about how much he hates white people their trucks.

Ask a politician, and he'll create a bill banning trucks, stick on a rider that sends 50 billion dollars each to Israel and Ukraine, then another one specifying that large-sized condoms are banned in the continental United States.

Ask an engineer, and he'll stick cheap solid-state cameras on the outside of the truck, maybe write some software, make blind spots obsolete, and then USDOT will bury his design forever because some law written in 1947 says you have to use mirrors.

The real problem with human societies, that technology has yet to solve, is that some people simply aren't born with the necessary IQ score to understand emergent properties, high order consequences, feedback loops, statistics, concepts like "average" and "per capita", and so on. They have no idea how to deal with or even think about, complex systems, and they vote.

Spot on as per usual.

And by the way, when you see through this particular veil, the world becomes a hell of a lot clearer.

Any time I see a big social problem now - inflation, economic scarcity in specific industries, prices that seem to have inverted the relationship between supply and demand, even crime etc. - the first thing I do is ask what policy is creating the incentives underlying the problem. Because there is very nearly always a dumb policy supported by people like Stancil that created it.

Devon mentions CAFE standards and the Chicken Tax, both of which play an incredibly, obviously direct role in why we now live in a world split between compact cars and giant trucks/SUVs. Everything else has been legally disincentivized or outright banned.

That is the literal answer to many questions people often care about.

Why is it so hard to build affordable housing?

Because for decades, state after state mandated more and more building requirements and show no sign of stopping.

Why are so many cities filled with strip malls and big box stores?

Because regulations require enormous parking lots, long setbacks from the road, and zone commercial activity out of areas that would otherwise be mixed between residential and shops.

Why is health care in the US so expensive when prices for most other consumer goods and services have gone down while quality has improved?

Because a century of regulations and subsidies has completely divorced the end-consumer from the price of care, there are significant restrictions on the number of doctors entering med school each year, CON laws ensure a limited number of hospitals and clinics restricting supply increases... While simultaneously, the state has aggressively incentivized more people to use those resources. Turns out subsidizing demand and restricting supply inside a market that is heavily restricted and controlled by the government isn't a great way to lower prices.

I could go on all day with examples, but again and again, people like Stancil observe serious social problems and foolishly imagine that the reason they exist is because there just haven't been enough laws passed to "do something" yet.

The opposite is overwhelmingly true, though.

The problem likely only exists as a completely unintended (but hardly unpredictable) consequence of pre-existing laws which were ostensibly designed to solve something else entirely.

But Stancils can't see it because they don't want to.