Human beings are irrational. As Sarah Conly writes, “The truth is that we don’t reason very well, and in many cases there is no justification for leaving us to struggle with our own inabilities and to suffer the consequences” (pg. 1).
Fortunately, however, while human beings don’t reason well, government officials do. This is because they are able to be more objective than we are. Again, Conly explains this very well: “Since we do better at estimating efficacy when we are in a relatively objective position, government, insofar as those in it are not the ones who are at present tempted by the rewards of the poor decision, can help us do better to reach our own, individual goals better than we would do if left to our own devices” (pg. 10).
And indeed, our history proves Conly’s claim, as objective government officials have acted with the reason and balance of experts who are not tempted by direct involvement in the questions being decided: the Sedition Act of 1798, which led to the imprisonment of newspaper editors who criticized government. Indian removal. The Fugitive Slave Act. The Dred Scott decision. The Wounded Knee massacre. Plessy v. Ferguson. Jim Crow laws. The firebombing of Tokyo. The mass internment of Japanese-Americans. The secret bombing of Cambodia. Drone attacks on Pakistani wedding parties. Indefinite military detention. The wisdom of government is virtually infinite, and has created a world of steady progress. When we act individually, we are irrational and reckless. When government officials act upon the human society from which they ascended, they do better to help us all reach our proper goals.
Indeed, this is but a partial list, as it omits the deep wisdom of, say, the European state. In Europe, too, government officials acting from relatively objective positions have been able to create clear examples of rational progress. Like miles of trenches cloaked in poison gas, say, or a uniquely efficient rail system in Poland.
For some final, powerful examples of Conly’s argument at work in the real world, just read the very first sentence of her book, which explains the problems a paternalistic government could help us to solve: “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future.”
See? Too much debt! No savings for the future!
We individuals and societies are reckless, but government would never behave like that.