Psychologists and psychiatrists, over the recent years, have uncovered a phenomenon they call, “pathological altruism”. They describe how someone may have such an insatiable desire to help someone else, that they may actually be doing the recipient of that help more harm than good, without realizing it.
Free marketeers have witnessed and described this very same behavior in the economic sphere, albeit without the label. Austrian economists and their fellow travelers have explained, over and over again, how dangerous it is to have the market disrupted by government intervention. No matter how well-meaning the intent may be. Well trained economists must contemplate the long term consequences of decisions that policy wonks in government and the vast array of regulatory bureaus propose, almost daily. These apparatchiks often fail to understand just how detrimental such incursions into the lives and decision-making processes of individuals may actually be.
Ignoring the Basics
One prime example of such pathological altruism is minimum wage laws. When the government declares a bottom for wage rates, they are actually outlawing the employment of low-skilled workers. Those prospective workers who cannot produce at the statutory minimum level are unhireable. Any employer who hires such a person at the actual wage rate which reflects their skill level would be considered a criminal. Heaven forbid, an employer was to give someone a chance at learning a skill! Although such laws might be well meaning, intervening in the voluntary interaction between two agreeing parties can only lead to problems. Thus we have an ever growing amount of unemployable young people. Many of whom find themselves on the wrong end of the law.
Another glaring example is “price gouging” regulations. When disaster strikes a region or locale, it is proper for retailers and vendors to raise the prices of goods in order to ration such highly demanded commodities. This is basic supply and demand. When the price of a good goes up, the demand for that good goes down. When gas stations raise the price of fuel, fewer consumers tend to fill up. They usually buy just enough to get them out of harm’s way. Once they’re safe, they can fill up at a more affordable price where supply isn’t limited or hampered. But when “lawmakers” intervene in this very simple economic principle by outlawing “price gouging”, they cause shortages of basic necessities in times of crisis. Moreover, they are disrupting the market incentives for profit-seeking entrepreneurs to risk traveling into these dangerous areas with new supplies of goods. Again, well-meaning policies that do more harm than good.
Advocates for a free market have debated, argued and discussed policies as these with politicians, academics, and talking heads for generations. The entire field of political economics was an attempt to convince monarchs, members of parliaments and other heads of state how dangerous it can be to intervene in the economic decision-making of individuals. Volumes of work have been published and studied over the span of centuries which discuss this very fact. But it seems to have been all for naught. Policymakers today are still making the same blunders that past politicians had made. Unfortunately, with similar negative outcomes.
The focus behind pathological altruism and altruism, in general, is an acceptance of the good intentions of those who practice such things. But do we really know the intention of a policy wonk? Is it not presumptuous to assume these power elites have our best interest at heart? Maybe there are a few who assume, out of ignorance, that what they are doing is good for the public at large. But, one has to take into account the immense amount of money and effort it takes to achieve such levels of power as a US senator or chairperson of an important congressional committee. Consider also the prodigious amount of debate these hacks have had to go through to raise to such levels. These issues and their negative consequences have been bantered about ad nauseaum.
Also, it cannot be ignored that politics is a study of bribery. Lobbying and campaign contributions certainly play their respective roles when a politician or bureaucrat considers a new ordinance or regulation. It is highly dubious to believe that regulations which hinder access to markets for the nonconnected entrepreneur are focused on the public good. Moreover, where is the good intention of ensnaring generations of people into a cycle of dependence through an ever growing welfare state?
Pathological behavior describes the actions people take who cannot help themselves. Whether it’s pathological lying, theft or altruism, pathological behavior is considered a mental disorder. Many talking heads have joked about American liberalism as being a mental disorder as well. The correlation is similar. Certainly, some economic or fiscal actions can be chocked up to ignorance with a hint of good intentions. But, with centuries of such bad behavior from the state, one would have to come to the realization that what we have experienced cannot be described as altruistic. Our current economic dilemma can only be attributed to libido dominandi, or the desire to dominate. Altruism may be the mask that such deviant behavior hides behind, but boiled down, governments act out of the desire to dominate a group of people who are not part of the power clique.
Pathological altruism can be acceptable among the truly ignorant advocate for the desire to “do something about it”, but not when it comes to the deep state and those connected to it. There is no excuse for these people who have repeatedly passed bad laws and regulations with the intent of prospering one group at the expense of another. It is reprehensible to declare such machinations as being in the public good or even altruistic. Mental health experts define pathological altruism as being disease related, their science being a pathology, yet economics describes the purposeful choices people make in how to employ their scarce means. Pathological altruism then in the economic world is purposeful. Webster’s dictionary describes pathological as being ” extreme in a way that is not normal…” and when it comes to the state, this seems very fitting.
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