Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Free to Fail

Of all the freedoms we enjoy the one most overlooked is freedom to fail. Fail?! That's not, really a freedom is it? We don’t like to talk about it and, truth be known, we really wish it wasn’t there.

Still, this little backwater freedom is under major attack by government officials with encouragement from every side: liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, economists, journalists, businesspeople and citizens at large. Heck, we’d give away the freedom to fail in a heartbeat—if anyone would take it. Who wants to fail? Not me!

What we learn from our failures though—our mistakes—is often more meaningful than what we learn from our successes. Part of human nature is making mistakes. Humanity is full of emotions. We push things to extremes: up and down. Small failures help us learn to avoid big failures. We become more cautious, more observant. We back away from ideas that don’t work and pursue ideas that do work.

When government steps in and saves us from economic turmoil it adds to a feeling of euphoria, a feeling that government really can control things and make life better through economic planning and social programs. However, even when done with the best of intentions, government programs such as loosening financial standards, creating too much money, and acting quickly to keep the economy from experiencing its normal ups and downs delay, but do not eliminate economic corrections.

My biggest fear is that those who want to run the government are too willing to take control and solve our problems. Just sit back and relax. They won't let anything bad happen to us. Poof, our freedoms are squandered along the road to a better society.

You say I'm paranoid and overreacting to the situation? In the last year, we have witnessed many government seizures of control I never dreamed could happen in my lifetime. In some cases the profligate business people begged for government help.

Free markets are made up of millions of people acting on their own behalf; economic engineering and social programs deny us of lessons we as individuals must learn to ensure sound economic growth and development. If we don't learn from our small mistakes as we go, then the let down when it comes is worse, sometimes catastrophic.

Our current situation has grown out of many years of government engineering of the economy and the money supply. The lessons we haven’t learned put us further out on the limb than is reasonable or prudent. We will never know what our economy might have been like if we had grown stronger by learning from our mistakes.

Billion dollar bailouts are a last ditch effort to save us from the harmful and often wrong decisions of economic planners over the past 30 years. Lessons we should have learned in those years have been postponed, but not avoided.

Unfortunately, the price we pay to avoid the pain is more than monetary. We give up the chance to take care of ourselves and do things in better ways, in ways that are more personal. We give up the freedom to choose.

Solving our problems won't be easy. A space ship off course by only half a degree will miss its target by thousands of miles. Because of government meddling our economy has been moving off course for many years. Then when government officials decide to embark on a plan to save us, and throw billions of dollars at it in the process who can stop them?

To be sure, there are other factors contributing to our being off course: greed and big business seeking and receiving favors from government are two, but the lessons we haven’t learned apply here also. And the culprit is also the same: Government granting favors to select groups and encouraging reckless actions on the part of individuals in the name of accomplishing some social program.

Those who would run the government believe we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. They don't have faith in us. They earnestly believe only they can provide the solutions to our misery and woe.

However, people like to do things for themselves. We are capable of figuring out solutions to challenging situations; even situations that are unpleasant and thrust upon us. We have the energy and enthusiasm to meet challenging tasks and overcome them. Our history is full of examples. Our energy and enthusiasm grow when we take care of ourselves.

Relying on government to solve our problems—or worse, wanting government to do so is a recipe for loss of freedom, and I believe for failure on a large scale. We may be learning that unnecessary lesson right now.

There is no substitute to taking responsibility for our own well-being.

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