The Quest for the Philosopher King

Philosopher King or Authoritarian State are one and the same thing

Philosopher King or Authoritarian State both end up reducing our liberties

Pakistanis have this belief that finding the finest political leader is the solution to their problems, or at the least a move in the right direction. The issues from Kashmir to corruption, from electricity to water shortages, from security and terrorism to transportation and food can all be resolved when that super leader ascends the throne. They are always on a quest to discuss the merits of finding that incorruptible, intelligent, organized, foresightful, arduous, infallible, and indefatigably charming leader – their Philosopher King.

Nations that rely on leaders to right the ship end up giving the leader the power to maneuver that ship. Later when the leader is no more, this same power ends up enslaving the very people living on that ship. The solution then isn’t in finding the finest leader, or the greatest captain. The solution lies in reducing the power of the biggest threat that controls the lives of all on that ship – the ship itself – and in case of nations the state itself.

When the word freedom is used, for me it only means one thing, and that is the freedom of choice. It is this freedom to choice that makes economies grow, empowers the entrepreneurs to take risks, and gives people some space to have dreams. It’s not a leader sitting there and deciding what’s good for all others and doing the choosing. That is despotic, authoritarian and a recipe for violence and stagnation, and something Pakistanis have been experiencing for decades.

Soviets, Cubans, North Koreans, Venezuelans and countless more such experiments have all shown what happens when too much power is given in the hands of those in charge. All this of course in the name of helping the poor and doing some good. From price controls, to rationing, to welfare programs, to taxation, to forming cartels, all have ended up harming the people these actions are supposed to help.

The state is an institution that becomes worse the larger it gets in size. With larger size comes more power, and with more power the ability to direct things to benefit those in power. This leads to a conundrum where the best decision isn’t always the best decision for the people but might be for a select group. Who wants to give up that power? Which department wants to cut it’s size and budget in half? Which group asks to be fired from their jobs because their services are no longer needed? We all know the answer to that. We all know once the poison has spread there’s no going back.

This whole talk doesn’t even address the scenario where even the best decision turns out to be faulty, or the leader becomes corrupt, and now the entire public is engaged in that faulty undertaking. This where the real danger of top down control lies. The entire population being thrust into something chaotic and people not having the choice to do something different, something not so disastrous.

This top down control can be in the form of one supreme leader, or a committee of leaders. The precise mechanics makes no difference. The end result is still a greater control of the state over the lives of the people. In other words a philosopher king or an authoritarian state both end up reducing our liberties.

The way out of this quandary is to have a minimal sized government. This returns the power to the people to do as they please as long as they don’t harm others. It also takes the incentives away from people to form groups to influence public policy, at the expense of those who are not in larger numbers or are disorganized. Yes, it is not an easy solution. It’s not easy to rely on one’s own self instead of the crumbs provided by the state. But, it leads to a better and prosperous future in time, a future in which people are free to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and the resultant rise in the standard of living.

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