Those passionate about improving things but without the wit to do it are the most dangerous humans on the planet. One sees this everywhere. Its most virulent form is the complex system. Solitary pursuits are the least affected.

Those most committed to improving whatever slice of life has seized their attention invariably turn to the government to force the public to alter their behavior, for their own good of course, such that the passion for betterment is satisfied. That these life-improvers think the government has this capability is a tribute to faith. Observation fails to find support for such governmental capacity.

Ask what services and functions the government does well and you’re likely to come up empty. There are few things that only the government should do even if they do so poorly. When you think carefully about what they are the list is likely to be short or the essential service is apt to be so badly mangled as to be worse than its absence.

Fighting wars with other countries should be the exclusive prerogative of the government. I won’t touch on the necessity of fighting a war. Regardless of the justification for battle, only the government should do the fighting. This monopoly on firepower is required even though the government is terrible at it. Wars are often started for bad reasons and end when one side loses. Military spending has so many ancillary benefits unrelated to combat that most of the funds spent on what’s laughably called defense is directed to corporate enrichment and employment for its workers and those who wear a uniform. The USA spends more on its military than the next eight of nine countries combined and all agree that it’s underfunded.

The above doesn’t include the myriad regulations that grow on any government enterprise like mold on outdated bread. Overregulation, however, is not limited to the military and those who feed off of it. It is an inevitable consequence of government no matter how organized or dedicated to liberty or authority.

That’s why another essential government service – protecting its citizens or anyone else within its borders from crime – is grounded in soft sand. I won’t bite at the poisoned apple that is borders. Governments cannot resist the impulse to write innumerable laws and rules that become so vast that no one can know what’s in them or even that they exist. Many, if not most, of these are rewards to donors or voters who will enrich or re-elect those who promulgated the rules. The Federal Register alone has more than 90,000 pages. The US Code has approximately 60,000 pages encompassing 54 volumes. I cannot tally how many state laws and local ordinances there are. We are engulfed in a universe of laws, rules, regulations, acts, proclamations, orders, and other ukases. No one is above the law and Ignorance of the law is no excuse are two trite vapidities that are meaningless when nobody knows what the law is or even if it exists. This legal excess gives prosecutors more power than is healthy in a ‘free’ society as they must select what offenses they will prosecute and those they will ignore.

Two realities must be confronted when trying to make things better. First, the government is rarely able to do so. The safest course is for it to do only those things that are absolutely essential for the well-being of the people and which they cannot be reasonably expected to do for themselves. And even here disagreements as to what these actions are will be frequent and fierce.

And second, making things better is really hard and results only when people are left alone as long as they don’t impinge on someone else’s liberty, well-being, and ideas. Throwing red sauce on paintings, blocking traffic, and generally making yourself a pain in the ass is guaranteed not to generate improvements of any kind. Also, the more convinced you are of the correctness of your thinking and the rectitude of your actions the more uncertain about their validity you should be. It’s far easier to be wrong than it is to be right. Anyone can be an idiot, wisdom is both elusive and rare.

So besides leaving people alone and not looking to the government to intervene in all of life’s vicissitudes, how can an individual contribute to the betterment of mankind? If all one does is avoid making things worse one will have accomplished a lot. Mischief abounds and propagates with the rapidity of slime mold – anyone can do it. A measurable decline in badness would make the world far better than all the government entitlements combined. Even harder is constant good behavior. Almost everyone knows its constitution, but its execution is really hard.

People are not saints, much less angels. Thus just a little less bad and a little more good would both make the world a lot better and balance the budgets that threaten to bring down most of the world’s governments.

More than two millennia ago Scipio Amellianus who had defeated Carthage in the Third Punic War looked upon the city as it was in its death throes and wept. Polypius who was with him at the time records in his History that he feared for his own country when he reflected on all things human. A more modern observer made a similar more succint observation that anything that can end will end.

It is the maniac pursuit of something for nothing that those who live by the government promise to deliver to those who desire its largess or those who wish to control the flow of ruinous expenditures. It has always been thus and always has the same end – the one that brought Scipio to tears.

Do I think any of the above modifications in the patterns that have defined human behavior since the end of the hunter-gatherer period will happen? Of course not. Most people want quick solutions to problems that require patience and diligence. Obviously, life has improved for many. But so has our ability to extinguish it on a mass scale. Wisdom is in the same short supply that it has always been in. In its dearth, anything that can end will.