The Liberal Blind Spot
by Jacob G. Hornberger
One of the distinguishing characteristics of liberals is their inability to focus on the unseen consequences of statist policies. They’re able to see the direct, immediate consequences of such policies but they have a blind spot when it comes to the adverse consequences that cannot be seen.
A good example of this phenomenon occurred recently in a book review published in the Washington Post. The review was of a book entitled The Last Line of Defense written by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The author of the review was the Washington Post’s national political editor, Steven Ginsberg. He quotes Cuccinelli:
Every single thing government does to increase its own power increases the size of its slice of the liberty pie. Since there are only two slices, every time the government’s slice of the liberty pie grows, the citizen’s slice is reduced.
And then Ginsberg reveals his liberal bias as well as his liberal blind spot. He writes in the succeeding paragraph:
It does not take an overly active imagination, however, to think of instances — from funding the interstate highway system to passing civil rights legislation — when government has used its power precisely to increase the liberty of citizens.
How exactly did the interstate highway system increase the liberty of the citizenry? Alas, Ginsberg doesn’t explain. But like so many other liberals, he simply sees the interstate highway system and exclaims, “Look at all the people using the interstate highway system in their travels across the United States. Look at how much freedom they have been given.” Undoubtedly, Ginsberg would also point to all the jobs that this government project produced.
Those, of course, are the things that are seen. But then comes the blind spot, the one that afflicts liberals in general.
Let’s consider, first, the hundreds of thousands of small business owners all across America who had built up an extensive series of restaurants, motels, tourist attractions, and other retail establishments to cater to people who were traveling across America on the extensive series of state highways before the interstate highway system was constructed. Many of them had their life savings in those businesses.
What happened to them when the interstate highway system got built? They got destroyed. The construction of the interstate highway system diverted traffic away from the state highways and onto the new federal highway. Practically overnight, those small business owners lost their customer base. Many, if not most, of them went broke, thanks to the interstate highway system.
How was the freedom of those people expanded? Alas, Ginsberg doesn’t explain. His blind spot precludes him from considering those people within the context of the increased liberty he says the interstate highway system brought the citizenry.
Let’s consider, second, how the interstate highway system was paid for. After all, it wasn’t free. The federal government taxed people to pay for it.
How was the freedom of the people who had their money taken away from them increased with the interstate highway system? They had less money to spend than they did before. That’s money that they would have used to help pay for a new house or car, take a vacation, pay for their children’s college education, or some other thing they valued. They were never able to do those things with that money because the feds took the money away from them to fund the interstate highway system.
Third, consider all the things that didn’t come into existence because people couldn’t do those things with the money that was taken from them. The housing and automobile markets would have expanded, owing to increased car and house sales. Or the vacation industry would have boomed, hiring new people to handle the influx of people taking vacations with the money that was taken from them. Colleges would have hired new professors to teach new classes to students.
Those are the things that are never considered by liberals because they never came into existence since people had their money taken from them to pay for the interstate highway system. They constitute the unseen consequences of statist programs.
Let’s consider, fourth, all the people whose homes, neighborhoods, and properties were destroyed by the interstate highway system. They were forced to sell their properties under threat of eminent domain and move away. Neighborhoods that had been existence for decades were razed to make room for the interstate highways. How was the freedom of those people increased? Alas, Ginsberg doesn’t say, owing to the blind spot that afflicts liberals.
What about the tremendous increase in the number of cars spewing pollution into the air as a result of the interstate highway system? The interstate highway system was a giant subsidy to the automobile industry. If it had never been built, interstate transportation would undoubtedly have developed in more positive ways given that that’s what generally happens in a free-market, private-property system. For example, today we might well have a highly sophisticated train service or airplane service or even some means of better transportation that we can’t even imagine. What we know is that those things were never able to come into existence by virtue of the interstate highway system. That’s one of the unseen consequences of statist policies that liberals just don’t see.
The fact is that the interstate highway system was just one great big socialist boondoggle, one that was inspired by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist government’s construction of the autobahn system in Germany. There was absolutely no constitutional authority for the federal government to construct such a socialist project. The constitutional provision that federal officials cited to justify their interstate socialist project — national defense — was a total sham.
You would think that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic disasters in places like Cuba and North Korea that people would no longer be defending socialism. Unfortunately, such is not the case, as we see with Steven Ginsberg and the Washington Post. That’s because liberals, like their counterparts in socialist countries, are able to see the immediate consequences of socialist projects but unable to see the unseen consequences of them.