Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Parental government

Main text

Many seem to believe that governments are in the same position relative the governed as competent and benevolent parents are relative their young children—young children should heed their parents in their own best interest, because the parents know so much better; the governed should heed their governments, because the governments know so much better. (This, of course, especially among politicians and the like, but the attitude is very common among the naive.)

This is a horribly misguided and destructive attitude:

Even at best, it stretches an “applies to some” into an “applies to all”, which leads to unjustifiable constraints on those not among the “some”. For instance, based on what I have seen until now, the current (2024) German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is less intelligent, worse educated, understands topics like economics worse, whatnot, than I am/do. Why, then, should he tell me what to do? (If anything, I would be more justified in telling him what to do.)

This “at best” is largely an illusion, however. We also have to consider issues like politicians often:

  1. Favoring one group over another for ideological reasons, making their actions a negative for those disfavored. (This especially on the Left.)

  2. Making objectively poor decisions in order to buy votes.

  3. Making objectively poor decisions to please and/or under the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups with a partisan agenda.

  4. Giving undue weight to some own pet issue at the cost of the overall good.

  5. Prioritizing their own well-being over that of the people.

  6. Prioritizing the well-being of the state/government/whatnot over that of the people.

  7. Entering poor compromises through political bartering.

(List is far from complete.)

With the prevalence of such issues, the situation is much worse than mere competence levels would suggest—and, all other factors equal, would be bad even with much more competent politicians.

However, even if we make extremely optimistic assumptions and ignore all of the above, the idea fails:

The people consists of individuals with their own priorities, strengths and weaknesses, different life situations, whatnot. Politicians, on the other hand, are strangers with no knowledge of these individuals qua individuals and impose a one-size-for-all system that, as usual with such systems, fits far too many far too poorly. (The use of “one-size-for-all” over “one-size-fits-all” is deliberate.) How, e.g., should Olaf Scholz be able to make better decisions for me than I, myself, would make? He does not know me. He does not know my situation. He does not know my priorities. He has not lived my life. Etc.

No, the highly educated and intelligent adult who protests against governmental control, undue restrictions, and outright meddling, is not comparable to a child who throws a fit because he, on parental orders, has to turn off the TV to do his homework or must finish his broccoli before he gets dessert. A better analogy, if we insist on demeaning this adult by a comparison with someone underage, would be a mature high-school senior and top student saddled with a train-wreck of a teacher, one who barely graduated high school, who only became a teacher because no serious college program would accept her, and who is brain-washed with all the latest far-Left ideologies.

And all this if we look at reasonably high-level politicians. Consider instead lower levels of politicians, civil servants wielding power awarded by politicians, and other points of contact between the people and the government. Now we are often at the level of that mature high-school senior and top student trying to become emancipated from a crack-whore mother.

Excursion on competence and politicians in general

That I am ahead of a politician is the norm and exceptions to that norm are very rare these days. Olaf Scholz is just a specific example. (Picked for being the head of government of the country that I live in at the time of writing.)


Why “these days”?

While I, as an adult, have always topped the vast majority of politicians in terms of I.Q., matters like education take time. A claim like “I am better educated than X” is very likely to hold today, but might have been outright silly at 19, 30 years ago.

The same, true, does not necessarily apply to someone more average—I might well be even further ahead of the population average than I am ahead of the average politician. However, the bar set by politicians in most countries is sufficiently low that very many others are in a similar situation. In some comparisons, e.g. with the Swedish almost-became-premier Mona Sahlin, it might well be that an outright majority of the people can make claims like “more intelligent” and “better educated”.

Politicians collectively are no better, and the observation that the Bundestag (German parliament) collectively makes laws, not Olaf Scholz individually, does not lessen the problem. If anything, politicians collectively are a great illustration of the dangers of collective decision making, with problems like reduced individual responsibility and the risk that a dumb and ignorant majority overrules an intelligent and informed minority. Moreover, while there is no guarantee that any given Chancellor is brighter than any randomly picked member of the Bundestag, a downwards tendency in intelligence, education, experience, whatnot, is to be expected as we move down the hierarchy of politicians. Then there is the common issue of parliamentarians being forced to vote along the “party line”, which often makes the collective aspect illusory.

Excursion on politicians and knowledge of the people

Above, I make claims like “[Olaf Scholz] does not know me.”. Theoretically, he might be familiar with my writings, which could partially invalidate such claims. However, even in that highly unlikely event:

Firstly, I am just one of more than 83-or-so million living in Germany, most of the others do not have anything even remotely resembling my collection of writings, and he could not conceivably be familiar with more than a minuscule fraction of us by any means. (Such means are, of course, not limited to writings on the Internet. For instance, he will know some even more minuscule fraction in person.) Such minuscule knowledge is a poor justification for blanket policies.

Secondly, even someone with a truly detailed knowledge of my writings would have only an incomplete and simplistic view of me. (With similar remarks applying to the above other means. For instance, among friendships, a considerable depth of friendship is needed before someone can claim true knowledge of someone else—and the claim might still turn out to be faulty.) Such incomplete and simplistic views are a poor justification even for more individual decisions.

Thirdly, even if he had somehow managed to gather enough information and understanding to at least see the population as belonging to some few dozen specific types of persons, and enough to, in theory, give them a semi-individual treatment based on their respective type, the provisions for such semi-individual treatment are almost non-existent—one-size-for-all. The true solution is, of course, to minimize government meddling and allow the individual to make his own decisions in the first place.

Excursion on children and parents

Parental control of children is often beneficial or an outright necessity, and the more so, the younger the children. However, even here, some caution is needed. For instance, forcing a child to eat something unwanted can do more harm than good, e.g. through increasing the aversion to that particular food stuff and/or prolonging the aversion beyond its natural expiration. For instance, too limited own choice and responsibility can be a hindrance to a smooth teen-to-adult transition.

That I begin by speaking of “competent and benevolent parents” is a matter of illustrating the apparent self-image of many politicians and whatnots relative the people. Whether any given parent is competent and benevolent, I leave unstated.