Two Cheers for the Gridlock
By Tibor Machan - November 04, 2010

On one of those few occasions that I have managed to rub elbows with a hero of mine, I caught Milton Friedman on a TV program endorsing the gridlock in Washington during a recent administration – I believe it was President Bill Clinton's second term. One point he made was that any gridlock in Washington or elsewhere is a good thing, given that the belief that government can solve all kinds of problems if the politicians only cooperate is poppycock.

I have been writing in favor of gridlocks for some time, at least as a second best option to the one wherein the government is in the hands of an administration that is fully committed to limited powers. So I went to my computer and send Dr. Friedman a message thanking him for promoting the second best alternative of the gridlock in Washington. I was very pleased when he jokingly replied, saying "Great minds run in the same gutter."

Although I wasn't thrilled with the outcome on November 2, 2010, that Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer, among others, would be headed back to the nation's capitol to try to continue to shore up the government's powers, at least the election had the favorable result of producing a gridlocked regime for a while. I say, let them be bogged down in their partisan bickering. This may have the unintended consequence of making life less regimented for most Americans, even free up our productive energies somewhat.

Yes, a free society is probably too much to hope for as the outcome of a democratic election, especially when all around the globe – Venezuela, Brazil, and other places – people keep investing government with powers, guided by a blind faith in statism. Even in the countries that have experienced the most clear cut implications of empowering government to run people's lives, those formerly ruled by the Soviet Union, a great many citizens keep clamoring for entitlements, security, and benefits for which other people must be forced to work and pay. The governmental habit is far from extinguished even for those who have been victimized by it. And even if some of the victims came away with the lesson well learned, their offspring are by no means the wiser – hope for the impossible tends to reside in the hearts of too many everywhere and prudence is not an inherited virtue. So they give power to monsters like Hugo Chavez and even worse people, some of them, like Chavez, outright madmen. And even in the country at times – thought less so than before – labeled "leader of the free world," committed statists such as Nancy Pelosy, Harry Reid, Jerry Brown, et al., are entrusted with powers no sane person should bestow on anyone apart from one's physician, perhaps, and only for a little while if at all.

So then it is perhaps understandable that some of us follow the lead of the likes of the late Dr. Friedman and support a gridlock which, maybe unintentionally but nonetheless consequentially, promises to tie the politicians into knots of disputation, maneuvering, dealings, and so forth that may make it possible for the rest of us to go about our business. Even those who are in the grips of the governmental habit might benefit from this, indirectly, when they discover that government inaction is actually quite a good thing.

Some years back the police went on strike in San Francisco and, lo and behold, despite the prediction of alarmists that crime would run rampant throughout the city, very little increase in crime actually occurred. Maybe even the one proper role of government, keeping at bay violent criminals, doesn't require huge force and expenditure.

But it is always important to remember in these kinds of discussions that over most of human history the state was revered, especially by the elite, meaning of course that the elite felt that their power is needed to run things properly. This despite the fact that from time immemorial it has also been widely known that this attitude mostly promotes despotism and no good government at all.

So, then, I say: bring on gridlock. Therein lies our salvation for the time being.

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