June 15, 2004

The Little Dutch Boy

I've been looking for a story, a simple story, that would help explain my attitude towards government v. private effort in solving problems. I think I've come up with something.

The story of the little dutch boy is pretty well known by everybody. Boy walks around, sees water coming through dike, sticks his finger in dike and saves town from flood. Townspeople eventually come to his rescue and replace him with a permanent fix.

This is a very heroic story of courage and doing what it takes in an emergency when nobody else is around to fix things, even if your solution is not the best for the long haul. If water coming through the dike is a generic problem, the little dutch boy's brave solution is government action. It works but it's a patch. Even he knows that he can't stay there forever but he'll bravely stick it out until help arrives with a better solution.

Big government types see the little dutch boy and says "hey, good solution. Let's stick with that". Instead of fixing the dike with a better fix (private action) they stick with the patch because it's less effort than shifting to a permanent one. They institute a line of little dutch boys so they can swap off, sticking their finger in the dike.

It's a really stupid idea, no? But that's the entire point. Problems have to get solved. Government solutions, when they're the only game in town, are preferable to disaster. But the spirit of adopting them should always be the little dutch boy's heartfelt happiness when he no longer has to do it anymore. In the real world, the townspeople have to fight him, kicking and screaming, to get his damn finger out of the dike so the permanent fix can go in.

Posted by TMLutas at June 15, 2004 10:21 AM