As I may have mentioned before, I hail from the far away land of Romania, a country with a history of communism which basically wrecked the country and without a particularly strong tradition of limited government, where most peasants were still serfs almost up to the 19th century. I was asked before on various positions on limited government Romanians hold, and thought I’d write a quick post on it, mainly an anecdote, really.
Are notions of limited government increasing? Not really. You would think after a history of bad government and massive abuses of power, many would think to give the other side a shot. But sadly, this does not happen. We just need the right top men, you see. One problem is that people want things and rarely thing of the implications, the ramifications, and both the expected and unexpected consequences. They have the view of government which does everything they want and nothing they do not. And I am talking here about the upper echelon in terms of intelligence, education, and professional success. As such, I have little hope of clear improvements in the future.
As an anecdote, I will talk of someone I know who is, let’s say, someone I had high hopes of when I thought of a move towards freedom in Romania. He grew up in communism, finished Polytechnic university in Bucharest, got his PhD in France, and was a very successful semiconductor engineer. Of course, for most of his life, he was the kind that didn’t pay much interest to things outside his field, and only recently did he read some books on economics and political philosophy. But this makes him more knowledgeable than most in my company who did not read anything on these topics, although they have really strong opinions on politics and economics. He is what, for Europe, would be vaguely classical liberal / libertarian on economic issues, although quite vaguely. When he reads a libertarian book, he often agrees with what it says, but he simply cannot get past his many years of thinking that government must do way too many things in society. So this generally causes a few days of thinking a bit differently, followed by a comeback to the old ways. So he would not be a reliable voter for strictly limited government, and if he is not, I have little hope for most other Romanians.
As a Romanian, he hates guns. He thinks they are dangerous and wants them banned. The government’s job is to disarm the population, he states. In this he is joined by his brother, also an engineer by trade in semiconductors, who immigrated to the States and now lives in a leafy and quite lefty suburb of Boston. His brother also hates guns and republicans in general, and thinks America is too right wing.
The man I speak of trusts his brother’s judgment, and I had several debates with him on US politics which ended because his brother is his ultimate argument and tells me he is more informed than me because of what the brother tells him. I, frankly, find this rather annoying because his knowledge of US culture, economy and its politics is probably 10% of mine. And his brother’s does not seem much better, as he forwarded to me some emails that could have been taken directly out of the New York Times. I remember speaking about certificate of need legislation in US and he outright said that is not true, such things do not exist; it is not possible in a capitalist country like America for the government to prevent a hospital from expanding, let’s say. He did not really care to read about it because he had his sources. This is his answer. It is obviously impossible to argue with someone whose main argument is “my brother told me this so it must be true.” I have asked countless times for data for his claims, but he literally said, “I do not have data but it is true. I have my sources,” – his main source being his brother. This is quite dispiriting. Someone who is more politically knowledgeable than most people I know, one of the few to have actually read some economics. If he can’t argue properly and form a more informed opinion, who can? Most Romanians still tell me that the US is the land of no government and unrestrained free market capitalism, and they believe that. Especially when it comes to the completely private and completely unregulated healthcare systems you Americans seem to have.
Recently I hear the complaint – coming from the brother originally, of course – that the problem with US in that the constitution is too difficult to change as to disarm the population. A smart, accomplished engineer with some knowledge of economics does not give a jot of thought to the ramifications of what he claims if it will lead to his preferred outcome. He would be so willing to see all guns banned for civilians, that he would tear the constitution apart for this. Of course, he does not claim that. He says only the second amendment, not others. But if you give the power to easily change the second, how would you prevent that power being used to change the others? How can you create a system where just one article of the constitution is easily changed? The ridiculous view of government doing everything I like and nothing I don’t.
What is the point of the constitution is it is easily changed? Majorities are fickle. One may have the 51% now, the others the next time. Laws change with majorities. The whole point of the constitution is that it is not as easily changed and it needs broad consensus. And if you look at US history, many bad things came exactly when the constitution was not respected. How can we get a more libertarian view in Romania when people lose their reason when it comes to topics they feel strongly about? How can we argue when people say, ‘I don’t have any data but my brother told me”? I do not know, but I do not have my hopes up, lest I be too often disappointed.