With the continued concern over the seemingly never-ending BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, many in the media are criticizing President Obama for anything from his lack of empathy to his lack of leadership. In short, they are mad that the government isn’t more involved and actually fixing the problem.
But if this incident tells us anything, it is that government, despite its massive size and pervasive influence in our lives, isn’t some magical entity that can solve all of our problems, small or great. President John F. Kennedy once famously said when referring to the possibility of ending war, “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man.” But, despite what some progressives may hope, human government still has its natural limits.
There are two main reasons for these limits. The first is that government is not some omniscient force; it’s nothing more than a group of fallible human beings. As such, it, too, is fallible. The second point is that, in several instances, government has limitations that the private sector does not. Since government is essentially a monopoly and not beholden to the type of competition and market forces which act to improve the performance and efficiency of firms in the private sector, there are tasks that the private sector is simply better at performing.
A pertinent example of these tasks is the ability to drill in deep areas of the ocean. However, while oil companies have the ability to drill deep, it is clear they do not have the same ability to correct mishaps that may occur. And, with all of BP’s evident limitations in its attempts to stop the leak, the government’s limitations are clearly even greater.
One of the many negative side effects of the ever-increasing role of government in our daily lives is that we are all-too-often guilty of expecting it to do too much. Despite this faith many may have in an all-powerful and unlimited government, the reality is, like all other human enterprises, human governments have their limits.
That’s not a comforting thought to many voters or a president whose own seemingly unbendable faith in the power of political rhetoric and big government programs tends to blind him to inconvenient realities. At one point, Obama and other leaders in the G-8 even had the audacity to believe they could control global temperatures.
But despite the collective arrogance of many world leaders, the inescapable reality is that humans, and especially their governments, have limitations. In the end, neither we nor our governments are God.