Although generally harmful, self-doubt is a fabulous remedy against an excessive faith in mere liberty.
Sometimes I run my mind through all of my activities and challenges — at work, in my community, in my family, around my house, and for my own wellbeing — and I have to admit that there must be somebody else better suited to fill the roles I’m filling. A better writer, for example, would be able to come up with a character in literature or pop-cultural fare who really had no business doing what he or she was doing, but did it faithfully because there was nobody else.
Churchill said “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.” Some have adapted that dictum to capitalism. Well, somebody who suffers from self-doubt almost always feels like the worst person to be doing a particular task, except everybody who isn’t doing it. And that can be a lot of people.
Surely, in carpentry, somebody must know how to frame this roofing system by the book, so I wouldn’t have to figure it out on the fly and maybe get it wrong. In editing, somebody must have a better mastery of the subject matter and formatting who wouldn’t miss so much. In politics, somebody must have the temperament not to drive people away. If only that person would step forward, I’d step aside.
I look at certain challenges in my life — whether having to do with making something work around the house or steering a child away from an unhealthy decision or persuading an apathetic electorate to force change in some policy — and I just don’t see the solution. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Somebody else would, probably, but he or she isn’t here, and I don’t even know how to find that person to ask advice. (That’s how ill-suited I am to the challenge.)
Still, I was raised with the belief that one simply can’t walk away from problems that can harm others if left unsolved. So, I’ll come up with some sort of plan to try, but I don’t know if it’ll work. Not really. And not knowing whether I’m making progress or running in circles, it’s so easy to turn to completely inconsequential distractions, like a movie I’ve seen before, or to trick myself into drinking enough that I have no choice but to put the problem down for a while. Boy, the shade under that tree outside looks inviting. It’s been too long since I sat with my back against a tree and played around with a guitar. If this problem is important, somebody else will come along and solve it, and I’ve had one strong ale too many to be of much help, anyway.
It’s all well and good to acknowledge that the free market helps people to put the right price on the value of a thing. It’s absolutely true that established interests can capture government and use its power to inhibit competition, even under the guise of giving people opportunity. Yes, rather than making it illegal to pay people what their work might be worth if that value falls under an arbitrary minimum wage, we should address income problems by expanding opportunity. In that way, employers really will have to pay people what they’re worth — whether the amount is lower than what a union-backed progressive politician might want or whether it’s higher than what the employer might prefer.
All of this is true. No government program can have a greater influence on a carpenter’s salary, for example, than his ability to strike out on his own and compete with his boss. Even if only one out of every 50 employees is interested in running a business, that still leaves two businesses competing for those 50 employees’ time.
But if the one doesn’t step forward despite the opportunity, the theory falls apart… at least for that group of 50. Liberty as an economic strategy requires so many rolls of the dice. Therefore, a healthy, humane philosophy has to have something for those who just don’t see the solution to their problems and aren’t the sorts of people to keep charging at a wall. The fact that their barriers might be psychological hangups like self-doubt or a lazy upbringing doesn’t make those barriers less real than a lack of capital to invest or a regulation to overcome.
On the other hand, one major difference between psychological barriers and financial ones is that they can’t be overcome for us. Create a program that gives out money, and the capital and regulatory hurdles will be overcome, but the self-doubt and laziness will only be reinforced.
In other words, the free market is the worst economic approach, except for all of the others. What we too often don’t see is that it isn’t the solution. The solution is people helping people through their ordinary relationships and by taking an interest in folks because nobody else has. (Taking an interest and actually helping, not trying to get government to force other people to help.)
Me, I’m the last person anybody should want doing that, so please… after you.