In Defense of Inaction

by | Mar 27, 2024

In Defense of Inaction

by | Mar 27, 2024

the same old thinking the same old results concept

On March 17, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by a woman named Mary Anastasia O’Grady titled, “Giving up on Haiti Isn’t a U.S. Option.” She argues, in short, that Americans don’t have a choice but to continue doing all the things that have failed in the past while being aware that these strategies have been a failure.

This type of thinking is common among America’s ruling class, where there is an enormous “bias for action,” often with disastrous consequences. Though the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is well known, our ruling class behaves as if surface-level good intentions are all that matter, much moreso than the actual impact of their policies. It is long past time that Americans learn the value of only acting when it is appropriate to do so and prioritize making a wise decision over being compelled to “do something.” Given the fact that all government action has other consequences, it’s often that a policy of non-intervention is the wisest choice of all.

The examples of a bias for action leading to bad policy decisions are endless. This is a broader symptom of the problem of having no frame of reference but bad World War II comparisons; everything is “letting” Hitler take Czechoslovakia. The Rwandan Genocide is also seen as an example of shameful inaction. In neither instance is it clear that the United States had any capacity to deal with those problems or that it would not have made things worse.

In fact, it further infuriates perpetrators of violence against their victims if they feel their victims have caused outside forces to get involved. Injecting another violent force just increases the amount of violence. It isn’t just foreign policy though; for example, the federal government paid for wolf bounties for decades, then drastically reversed course and banned killing wolves for decades. Now this program is mostly managed more rationally at a state level. This country also went directly from state-enforced segregation to state-enforced integration, but never actually tried promoting freedom of association and letting people integrate to the extent they wished. It is notable that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, as churches could not be forced to integrate due to freedom of religion. This very rarely upsets anyone, whereas we fight about affirmative action and similiar public policies all the time. These are just two random examples from a control-obsessed ruling class who can never leave anything alone.

In the modern era, the most egregious example of “do-somethingism” leading to drastic harm was COVID mania. You may remember that for decades they had tried to whip us up into a virus panic, but little attention was paid, even less was done, and things were completely fine. For example, I was a college student during H1NI, “Swine Flu.” My rural university even made The New York Times for the severity of the outbreak on campus. We were told to not get tested and to avoid going to the doctor unless we were severely ill to save medical resources; the only policy change was to stop requiring doctor’s notes to miss class.

For one reason or another, with COVID the “public health” panickers who are always wrong finally got the society consuming panic they long wanted. An ethos of “if it saves one life” took off, ignoring the fact that every policy has other harms, and in this case often egregious harms with no meaningful benefits. Some governors reversed course “early,” while Kristi Noem was blocked from implementing many statewide policies by South Dakota’s legislature. In all those places things were fine despite intense doomsaying from the media and “experts.”

However, politicians clearly saw that since everyone was doing this, there would be few consequences for going along. Whereas, if they did nothing and things did turn out badly, they would be left without cover. In a strange turn of events, Belarus, which is practically still a Soviet country, was for a time one of the freest countries on earth after its leader Alexander Lukashenko mocked the virus and recommended drinking vodka at hockey games. His approach of doing nothing showed that nothing needed to be done while the rest of the world suffered.

Machiavelli wrote in Discourses on Livy that when a problem arises in a state, internal or external, it is safer to delay dealing with it than to attack it. His justification is that, “almost always those who eliminate it only increase its strength and hasten the harm that is expected from it.”1[I.33] Admittedly, at other points in the text he does contradict this, and speak of the harms from delayed decisions and ambiguity. Still, he recognizes that when a problem is terrifying the public, ruinous decisions are made because “fear caused them to seek remedies, and the remedies they adopted hastened the downfall of their republic.”

There aren’t many notable examples of the good impact of delaying dealing with problems because they so commonly fade away and turn out to have been not so notable. One strong example from U.S. history is the Panic of 1819, which was the subject of libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard’s doctoral dissertation. In that instance, no one could agree on what to do, no major policies were passed, and without intervention, the economy recovered on its own and it’s now a mostly forgotten episode.

The world has been harmed countless times by the extraordinary bias for action that consumes the American public and government. Swarms of over-educated people in the scribbling class want to show that their specialties are useful, and this involves convincing the government to take strong action in the way they recommend. Unfortunately, our media class also loves active government and hates freedom. Combined, this creates a situation where politicians fear criticism for inaction and find it safer to cause harm by being wrong than to do nothing. Thus, they try to make hasty decisions and justify the inevitable negative consequences by citing their alleged good intentions and lack of knowledge when they were “forced” to decide. In reality, in any logical decision making process inaction needs to be seriously considered as an option and not just a way to invent theoretical horror stories of what could happen without a strong government response. The worst blunders of our government have all been related to the need to “do something.” It is long past time that more of our politicians have the courage to look at a difficult problem with no good solutions, sit down, and do nothing.

About Brad Pearce

Brad Pearce writes The Wayward Rabbler on Substack. He lives in eastern Washington with his wife and daughter. Brad's main interest is the way government and media narratives shape the public's understanding of the world and generate support for insane and destructive policies.

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