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April 29, 2010

We Just Have Different Ideas About Why Government Exists

It's often the little things that illuminate big differences on important topics. This post by Joshua Green of The Atlantic nicely illustrates the extent to which some people want government in our lives.

When Government Works

I closed on a house this morning--a process that was markedly different than when I last bought a house in 2003. One of the most pleasant ways in which it was different was the ease of shopping for a loan. This was the result of new HUD rules standardizing what lenders must disclose to buyers in their Good Faith Estimate to make it easier for buyers to compare offers, which it certainly was for me. In 2003, I remember poring over lenders' estimates for hours trying to spot the junk fees and figure out which deal was best. This time the key factors--interested rate, lender fees, etc.--were easy to spot because the forms were identical. It took all of three minutes to figure out which was the best deal and then to call the other lenders to ask if they could do better.

Look, congrats on the new home and all but the government doesn't exist to make it easier for people to understand what they are getting themselves in to when they are buying a house.

A home is one of the biggest purchases and important undertakings most people will ever be involved in. It can be complicated and you certainly want to make sure you don't get taken to the cleaners. Still, all of that is on you. If you aren't ready to put the effort into making sure all the paperwork is in order, that you've cut the best deal possible and aren't getting ripped off, then maybe you aren't ready for the responsibility of owning a home.

I bet there are banks or lenders out there that would provide this kind of service if requested or because that kind of customer service is a selling point for them. Why should the government take away their competitive advantage by mandating everyone provide the same information? How do we know the bureaucrats mandated the right information be shared? There's no feedback like in a market place, simply commands.

Keep in mind, HUD had plenty of regulations and programs in place for the last 20+ years designed to help people buy homes. Government doesn't always know better.

And don't forget the monetary costs. Sure when you amortize it across a big department like HUD and a whole nation of taxpayers this kind of program costs very little per person. The thing is behind that regulation is vast bureaucracy that studied the issue, promulgate the regulations and eventually enforce compliance.

Eventually, like a horde of locusts they will move onto the next subject. Their hunger to regulate never satiated.

But all this guy knows is he was relieved of responsibility and it didn't cost him anything. What's not to love?

You know what else is confusing and potentially expensive? Home repairs. What exactly is the proper role for government in ensuring this guy gets the best deal from a plumber, electrician or carpenter?

There are a lot of things that are important we get right on a daily basis. Expecting the government to help us navigate the complex choices of life infantilizes the very citizens who are supposed to be the ones in charge.

I don't want to rain of Green's parade but being relived of individual adult responsibilities is not a triumph.

As I said, it's a little example but they add up. Pretty soon you have a government involved in 'helping' with everything and a people incapable of functioning without it.

What could go wrong?

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posted by DrewM. at 08:06 PM

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