Blind Faith

By Adam Magoon

On November, 26th Eric Liu, founder of “Citizen University”, a pro-government think-tank, wrote a telling article about having faith in government on the CNN opinion page. He begins the piece with a story about leaving his suitcase in a New York City cab saying:

“I had an experience recently that reinvigorated my faith in humanity — and bureaucracy.”

Keep that equivalency in your mind for a few minutes. Humanity and bureaucracy.

He goes on to explain that he did not even realize he left the suitcase in the cab for twenty minutes and only then began calling people for help. He explains this process in detail, emphasis mine:

“For almost three hours, various people tried to help me — two folks at my bank, whose credit card held the only record of the cab ride; three people at two yellow cab companies based in Long Island City; a service rep at the New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission; people in my office back in Seattle.”

So Eric was helped by no less than eight individuals (counting the cab driver) in his successful search for his luggage. Eight people helped improve Eric’s business trip. He then claims this experience taught him three lessons.


“Always, always get a receipt.”

This, as he says, is obvious.


“Another is that New Yorkers, contrary to popular belief and their own callous pose, are essentially nice.”

As someone born in New York I would like to think this is true, but I adhere to the maxim that terms such as “New Yorker” can only describe places where someone lives or is born. Saying “all New Yorkers are nice” is equivalent to saying “all Scots are drunks” or “all Scandinavians are attractive”. Essentially it is a non-statement that is easily refuted. There are just as many people who would have taken anything of value from his case and threw it into the nearest dumpster.

That is just the appetizer though, here is the main course.

His final lesson, and where the train totally leaves the rails, is this:

“But the third, even more deeply contrary to popular belief, is that government is not the enemy.”

Wait, what?! What kind of logic is Mr. Liu using? Of the eight people who helped him only one (the service representative at the New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission named Valerie) even worked for a governmental organization and “she insisted she was just doing her job”. How did Mr. Liu get to “government is not the enemy” from that series of events? He goes on to claim that:

“Government is not inherently inept. It’s simply us — and as defective or capable of goodness as we are”.

Mr. Liu tries to rationalize his faith in government with a single good experience with a few select people. What he ignores though, is that many people are not “essentially nice”. If that were the case crime, corruption, and violence simply wouldn’t exist. There are people in the world who only seek to exploit and profit from the work of others and to quote the great classical liberal theorist Frédéric Bastiat:

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose — that it may violate property instead of protecting it — then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder”

Even if we were to assume that most people in the world are “essentially nice” the very nature of government attracts precisely the opposite type; the corrupt, the malevolent and the lazy. His agenda finally becomes clear nearly two-thirds of the way through the article when Mr. Liu unabashedly asks us to not wonder what our country can do for us, but rather what we can do for our country in response to the failed Obamacare launch.

Individuals are expected to bail the government out when it fails at intruding into our lives? How can we expect the government to run healthcare without kickbacks and corruption when they cannot even get someone to build the website without it being a disaster?

Mr. Liu fails to offer any helpful advice on how to improve things but he does offer one revealing suggestion. He says that citizens should not expect the “state…to serve us perfectly” and that individuals should not “forget how to serve”.

The argument often goes that taxes pay for services provided by the government but Mr. Liu suggests we shouldn’t expect too much from those services. That we shouldn’t get upset when we pay a third of our labor to the government and it spends that money on things we do not want; in fact he implies we should fix for free the broken things they have already spent our money on.

If Mr. Liu goes out to dinner and his silverware is dirty when he sits at the table does he go back to the sink and wash them? Or does he expect more from the things he spends his money on? At least in that situation Mr. Liu could choose to spend his money elsewhere. With the government spending our money for us we aren’t even afforded that meager victory.

8 thoughts on “Blind Faith

  1. Adam, I’ll add my welcome to the others, but alas, I fear you are as guilty of generalizations as you accuse Mr. Liu of being. To wit:
    “Even if we were to assume that most people in the world are ‘essentially nice’ the very nature of government attracts precisely the opposite type; the corrupt, the malevolent and the lazy.”

    I concur with Mr. Liu that the government we select reflects ourselves. As long as people/voters remain ignorant, greedy, and self-serving, that’s the style of government we’re likely to get.

    I confess to being a bit Pollyanna-ish about people (but not naïve), tending to expect something good from most. It probably comes from living in a very remote place, where neighbors understand how much they might one day need each other, even if they don’t like each other. So somehow, we manage to get along.

    • The thing is though that most people are greedy and self-serving and there is nothing wrong with that. Murray Rothbard can explain it far better than I:

      “It’s true: greed has had a very bad press. I frankly don’t see anything wrong with greed. I think that the people who are always attacking greed would be more consistent with their position if they refused their next salary increase. I don’t see even the most Left-Wing scholar in this country scornfully burning his salary check. In other words, “greed” simply means that you are trying to relieve the nature given scarcity that man was born with. Greed will continue until the Garden of Eden arrives, when everything is superabundant, and we don’t have to worry about economics at all. We haven’t of course reached that point yet; we haven’t reached the point where everybody is burning his salary increases, or salary checks in general.”

      We must build our systems around the fact that people are greedy and not have faith that the fraction of a percentage of completely benevolent people in the world are elected to office.

    • Well, to paraphrase one of the great experts in double-speak of all time, it depends on what greed is. We are all greedy. We want something better. But when greed becomes the overarching motivation, things tend to get a bit out of whack. In its extreme, it becomes sociopathy. IMNHO

  2. ““I had an experience recently that reinvigorated my faith in humanity — and bureaucracy.”

    Keep that equivalency in your mind for a few minutes. Humanity and bureaucracy.”

    In what way does the use of the word ‘and’ imply equivalency? If I say ‘this morning I had ham – and eggs’ am I making a claim of equivalency?

    • He is linking a rise in his faith in both humanity and bureaucracy to this event.

      It is more akin to you saying “this morning I cooked my eggs well therefore my ham was better too”.when in reality it was the same old ham.

    • “He is linking a rise in his faith in both humanity and bureaucracy to this event.”

      Yes but this does not make them either equivalent or causally related as in your example. In my opinion this equivalency is in your eyes only. But it’s your prerogative to see equivalencies where ever you like.

    • The entire point of the opinion piece is to link these two events. I merely pointed out the false equivalency which you seem to agree is, in fact false. It is not “in my eyes only” but rather in the eye of the author.

    • No the equivalency is in the eye of a reader [you] not the author. Nothing you quoted equates humanity with bureaucracy. It’s your assertion not his. Now it may be that something you didn’t quote makes that claim but nothing you did quote does so. What you provide is the equivalent of A [losing suitcase] produces a change in B [increased faith in humanity] and a change in C [increased faith in bureaucracy].

      Having a common cause does not make 2 different things equivalent or causally related.

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