The Government Knows Best

On Friday, I noted Charles Koch’s simple but powerful response to Warren Buffett’s “tax the rich even more” op-ed:

Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.

Koch made a point that lies at the heart of modern conservatism: the individual will generally spend his own money more carefully and more wisely than the government would spend it. Therefore, once we have provided as efficiently as possible for the basic services that governments are instituted to provide, the less money we turn over to the government the better.

I was surprised at the reaction to Koch’s statement by some liberals. They actually embraced the idea that the government can spend your money better than you can. The Daily Kos headlined: “Charles Koch Lashes Out at Warren Buffett, Absurdly Claims He Contributes More to Society Than Government.” Who could possibly contribute more than government? The Kossite writes:

This is a particularly fascinating mini-statement, because while the duty of government is, at heart, “societal well-being”, Mr. Koch seems preferential to the conservative/libertarian theory that he, rather than government, should decide which members of society are worth saving, and which should go homeless, or hungry or sick.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of federal spending could colorably be alleged to “save members of society,” but, be that as it may, it is certainly true that if you are homeless, hungry or sick, you almost certainly will be better served by a private charity than a government bureaucracy. And it is also obvious that companies like Koch Industries are infinitely better at creating jobs than any government program or “stimulus” could possibly be.

ThinkProgress weighed in with a similar rant. After repeating some of the falsehoods that site has published about the Koch brothers and their company, TP writes:

These “investments” at best advance Koch’s political ideology and at worst misinform American voters. Either way, they are hardly a replacement for “government spend[ing]” on things like food assistance and basic medical service.

TP, of course, never mentions the Kochs’ charitable contributions, like donations to cancer research amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, that dwarf their political activities. But here is the fundamental point: the idea that the government can spend your money better than you can, so the more money the government takes from you the better, is the essence of liberalism. Yet we rarely see it expressed so openly. Charles Koch has provided us with a clarifying moment. It would be a great thing if every election were perceived as a referendum on the question, who can best decide how to spend your money? You, or the government?