Friday, March 18, 2005

Laziness as a virtue

I'm not lazy in general. The reason for my dearth of blog posts is due to the fact that I'm working some serious hours on a big project. However, I do believe in the maxim "never do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow." I learned this in high school where the requirements of long-term assignments would get changed due to the pathetic pleadings of other students, in the process, nullifying my head start.

I've been thinking lately about the psychology of the debate over the role of government. Emotionally, I think that laziness and boredom might have a lot to do with my positions. There are lots of things that just don't interest me. Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to work on something I'm totally apathetic about.

Take retirement plans. Please. Boring, tedious and dull. Filling in forms and reading fund prospectuses are like watching paint dry. I might even prefer watching paint dry. Anyway, there are many chores in society that I would really rather avoid. That's where government comes in. Highway planning, agricultural subsidies, retirement plans, tax collection, zoning, vaccinations, etc. All necessary, all worthwhile, but really, all I want to know is that they're getting done.

For me, government is something that should just work in the background. I pay taxes so that all the things society needs to keep running just happen without me really having to think about it. If I pay a bit more so I can do a bit less, I'm okay with that. Every year or two or four, we audit government performance and elect the officials who will do the best job. I can handle that much.

Not only is this emotionally satisfying, it also makes a lot of sense. If I wanted to take personal responsibility for the traditional role of government, I'd have to spend 20% of my time working as a bureaucrat, hiring private sector firms to do what government does today. Like most people, I don't want to be a bureaucrat. Not that there's anything wrong with being one. It's just that I would rather have that 20% of my life back so I can have a social life, take vacations or work at my real job. It's simply inefficient to have every adult in the country duplicate the same tasks of governance.

Besides, when people aren't interested in the work, they do a bad job. The private sector firms that would replace the government would not be more cost effective. In fact their role would be that of extracting money (for profit) from the public. Private companies are also not transparent like the government.

So why do libertarians and right-wingers want to get rid of the government? I don't think they have a compelling case intellectually, though I'm certain I would agree with them that certain things should be returned to the private sector. But psychologically, what's the appeal?

Are libertarians fastidious when it comes to chores and housework? Are they control freaks who want to do everything for themselves? Do they want to know where every penny goes? Are they more likely than average to return an item to the store, despite the hassle involved? None of these qualities are bad, but I wonder if there's a correlation between these qualities and where one falls on the political spectrum.


Peg said...

And it's nice that you didn't spend all your time on a post about the govenment/workings/relations/and the proper place and antidotes for choosing between and above! I mean I would have really been disappointed had you done that! ;- Have a nice week-end.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Libertarian and am extremely lazy (i.e. underachiever). I don't clean house much and little matters to me except having less bureaucracy (i.e. less taxes) and MORE time to do what I want.

My Libertarian stance addresses both of those.

IOW, if we had the gov't only do what it "should" do (i.e. manage resources like an Operating System), we'd pay so few taxes that we would only work for the gov't in January. This would increase the funds for small businesses to start (a backbone fo the U.S. economy) and we wouldn't spend all the $ and time on arguing about Roe v. Wade, et. al. Additionally, since I would have Feb-Apr "free" of gov't taxes from me, I WOULD be able to spend more time helping those around me.

People would make their OWN choices on social issues by putting their now NEWfound money where they want.


Peg said...

Found this link...thought you might enjoy it.

thepoemster said...

Myself, I bounce between lazy and productive. Interested and disinterested.

Government should run in the background and not use up too much in the way of system resources. I expect it will get better in the information age as we can expose corruption and worse still the complacency at the various levels of government. Actually, it's kind of exiting really as it gets harder for them to keep their lies straight.

Doctor Logic said...

Peg: Sorry to disappoint you! BTW, thanks for the link. It's a nice article, if melodramatic. Remember, the proposition that "we will never know how X works" is not a scientific theory, it's just reverse cheerleading.

JL: Okay, so another one of my psycho-political theories bites the dust.

Poemster: I don't think that more information about the internal workings of the government will solve very much of anything. We already have all the information we need. What we lack is engagement. We don't care enough to fix bad government, we only care enough to complain about it.