The bias for statism

If I joined Rotary International, I bet that my friends and family would be proud of me. If I joined the Ku Klux Klan, they probably wouldn’t be. The reason we commend a person for joining Rotary but not the KKK is that the two groups do radically different things. Rotary International is a humanitarian club that has spent millions of dollars on polio eradication. The KKK, on the other hand, is a racist organization that has a long history of murder and violence.

Interestingly, there is one entity that people are always praised for joining, and that is the military. This is not because everyone agrees that the military is a force for good. There are plenty of opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even most of these people do not discourage young men and women from joining the armed forces.

What explains the difference? I think it is a simple case of statist bias. We think of the government we belong to as representing “us”, so when it acts, “we” act (and it goes without saying that “we” are good). We do not extend this “we” attitude to non-governmental groups. We reserve it for the state.

A case in point is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has co-authored a bill with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to phase out private contractors from war zones. Pay attention to his use of pronouns in describing the bill:

Bernie Sanders: The American people have always prided themselves on the strength, conduct, and honor of our United States military. I therefore find it very disturbing that now, in the midst of two wars and a global struggle against terrorism, we are relying more and more on private security contractors – rather than our own service members – to provide for our national defense.

For a good column on the travesty of using “we” to mean “government”, see David Henderson’s piece on antiwar.com.

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