Monday, July 8, 2013

Those temporary government programs have a way of becoming permanent

The title of this post is a paraphrase of Milton Friedman's famous observation that government programs designed to temporarily, and narrowly, address a specific situation almost always end up being the opposite: permanent and broadened.  In his most recent article at Capitalism Magazine, Walter Williams shows how this is actually the goal of most government initiatives, but that often the goals are not publically popular.  So, the strategy is to go about it "bit by bit", in Williams's words, slowly but relentlessly expanding and increasing the scope of the project at hand.  Here, he highlights the processes in the context of tobacco regulation:
Another example of the strategy of starting out small is that of the tobacco zealots. In 1965, in the name of health, tobacco zealots successfully got Congress to enact the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. A few years later, they were successful in getting a complete smoking ban on planes, and that success emboldened them to seek many other bans. The issue here is not smoking but tyrant strategy. Suppose that in 1965, the tobacco tyrants demanded that Congress enact a law banning smoking in bars, in workplaces, in restaurants, in apartments, within 25 feet of entrances, in ballparks, on beaches, on sidewalks and in other places. Had they revealed and demanded their full agenda back in 1965, there would have been so much resistance that they wouldn’t have gotten anything. By the way, much of their later success was a result of a bogus Environmental Protection Agency study on secondhand smoke. I’d like to hear whether EPA scientists are willing to declare that people can die from secondhand smoke at a beach, on a sidewalk, in a park or within 25 feet of a building. [Emphasis Marc Street]
The article is typical Williams, thus, it's typically great.  Read it here.