I really liked the Gene Healy (author of The Cult of the Presidency, check out a shorter Reason/Cato article here) op-ed BP oil spill: Who’s your daddy?. In it, Healy returns to that theme: criticizing the public for their “Juvenile expectation that there’s a presidential solution to everything from natural disasters to spiritual malaise.”
He characterizes the ridiculous cries for presidential trips to the area and shows of concern as:
If only Obama would manifest himself at the afflicted area, shed his aura of cool reserve, and exercise the magical powers of presidential concern, perhaps the slick would recede.
He’s right. This reaction is silly, and the tendency to grant the president more and more power in the belief that with it he can fix any problem is dangerous.
But, I think the problem is deeper than just president-worship. I think that is just an instance of a wider tendency to have faith in the power of coercive leadership to solve any problem.
Primitive people, when faced with a phenomenon that they couldn’t control or understand, concluded that it must be under the control of a more powerful entity that could control the phenomenon at its whim. It must be somebody’s intention, and somebody must be to blame. They had trouble accepting that it was just a natural effect of mindless forces that they didn’t presently understand.
Similarly, many people today assume that if there’s a problem in people’s lives, it must be under the control of the rich and powerful and it can and should be solved by political leaders. Economic problems: More government action and better regulation. Energy problems: More government action and better regulation. Environmental threats? Poverty? Health care? Education? Retirement security? Addiction? Dirty words?… The same prescription.
Many people who scoff at organized religion, have merely shifted their faith to the state (or, at least they faithfully blame the rich and powerful for most problems). They’re true believers, and every incident will only serve to strengthen that belief.
If there’s an economic panic in an area where there was lots of government involvement and heavy regulation, it’s seen as evidence that rich private people are to blame and what we need is more government involvement and more regulation. If there’s an oil spill, and there’s evidence of incompetent regulation, it means that rich people caused it because they don’t really care about safety or the environment and we need more regulation.
I understand that it isn’t satisfying to accept that the government can’t fix the economy, or oil spills, or nature, if only we’d give them more money and power…
But, it’s true anyway.
And, if you really want to improve the world, you’ll be more likely to make progress if you work from the truth than from satisfying myths.