Ignore Human Nature At Your Own Peril

I have to say that I have been a student of human nature since I was twelve. Not that I knew I was studying human nature at that tender age, but looking back from 44 years later I see that even then I wondered what made people tick, what made them do what they do. Not that I was delving into individual behavior so much as human behavior in general.

Over the years I've realized that much of human nature cuts across all cultural and racial lines. There are cultural differences, but for the most part the variations are minor compared to baseline human nature.

I'm not going to get deeply into this subject as it could easily exceed 100,000 words. Besides, I know you do not have either the patience or the time to red something that long. I won't be dealing with psychology as I have no expertise in that area.

Before I continue let me state that I am in no way professionally trained. All of my 'expertise' is derived from over 4 decades of observation, personal experience, and deductions derived from that. Please keep that in mind as you read my non-scholarly scribblings.

First and foremost, people will act in their self-interest or the interests of their family and friends above all else. Altruism, as nice as it sounds, is something that we humans will express now and then, and then only under certain conditions or circumstances. No one can be altruistic 24/7. It isn't possible as it makes them either doormats or slaves to others wants and needs to the detriment of themselves or their families. Yet this little bit of human nature is something oft ignored. Over centuries there have been many attempts to create altruistic societies, some by mutual agreement and others by force of arms and 're-education'. Every single attempt has failed.

One of the better documented attempts at all-altruism-all-the-time took place in the American Colonies, specifically in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the early 1620's. They predated Marx's axiom “From each according to his ability. To each according to his need” by 350 years. All colonists would supply the common larder and all colonists would draw from that larder as needed. The problem this created was that more people were willing to draw from the larder than to fill it. It lead to famine and the colony almost died out. Only help from the local Indian tribe prevented them from starving to death. Once they abandoned that philosophy and went back to doing things on an individual basis did the colony flourish.

Over the centuries other countries and cultures have tried the same thing and all their 'experiments' have ended the same way – utter failure, economic collapse, and many times, armed revolution. We've seen it again and again just in the 20th century: the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Cuba (falling apart), and Venezuela (also falling apart). The People's Republic of China, while still a Marxist state, has abandoned most of the Marxist economic policies because they knew they didn't work and saw the results of not making a change. And while their economy is now more capitalist and the economic riches they have brought has made China an economic powerhouse, they still cling to some of the Marxist economic oversight/planning and much of the political baggage that goes with it. In the end it is still likely to come apart as world economics change around them.

And now we get to the crux of the matter – politics. It is here where politicians of all stripes get it wrong in regards to human nature. (Well, not all politicians. Just most of them.) And because of this lack of understanding, much of what they do at the local, state, and federal level falls prey to the Law of Unintended Consequences. This in turn tends to create more problems that what they thought they were fixing (if indeed anything really needed to be fixed in the first place).

During the 20th century a number of attempts have been made to improve the conditions within our society. Some have worked. Many have not. Those that succeeded tended to work with human nature. Those that failed chose to ignore it, or worse, those supporting them believed that human nature could be changed.

Many of the welfare programs that existed prior to 1965 worked, for the most part. Both control and funding were provided locally and the welfare officials knew their clients. Except for those truly incapable of supporting themselves, most folks weren't on welfare long. In fact, the welfare rolls had been decreasing starting just before the Korean War. The welfare system as it was was working. True, there were more than a few that weren't very good, but they were the exception, not the rule. Then came along Lyndon Baines Johnson's Great Society, a massive takeover of welfare by the federal government. It's theme was “The War on Poverty.” It looked good on paper, but it overlooked human nature in regards to how the programs were regulated and structured. While the new welfare system was supposed to help those in need, it ended up trapping many of them in poverty, providing too much in the way of help and making remaining one welfare preferable to working. The laws and regulations also had the effect of breaking up many families as too often the only way a family with children could receive assistance was if the father was absent. Other 'incentives' such as increasing benefits with each additional child perversely created more single parent homes with each child fathered by a different man. This was not the original intent of the Great Society (at least I'd like to think it wasn't), but that's what we ended up with. The people 'stuck' in the welfare system decided it was in their best interest to stay within the system rather than taking jobs that provided far less than their welfare benefits.

And so it is with many other 'gifts' bestowed upon the populace by the government. Things that were supposed to help end up making the problem worse as more people come under the sway of things that appeal to their self-interest, not realizing that by taking advantage of these gifts they are giving up some things even more important, namely their independence and self-respect. How often has it happened that the very folks who are 'helped' come to resent those who have provided the help in the first place? How often do they come to feel perpetually entitled to that help? Call those but two of the many unintended consequences of political action taken to fix a problem that didn't need to be fixed.

Then there are policies, laws, regulations, and taxes that move business owners to do just the opposite of what was intended by those same policies, laws, regulations, and taxes. As we have heard over the past four years all of the government's efforts (or should we say the President's efforts) have had just the opposite effect of what was intended. Call this another example of what happens when you don't understand human nature.

When success is punished by heavier taxation, when laws are passed that make it more attractive to do business elsewhere, when regulations make it difficult if not impossible to do business, one of two things will happen – businesses will move elsewhere or businesses that might have thrived will close. Yet those who figured these laws, regulations, and taxes that burden businesses would be gladly shouldered by them are surprised when they find it isn't so. But anyone who understands human nature knows they won't. We've certainly seen that in a number of places over the past few years. All we need to do to see examples of businesses giving up is to look to California, the EU, Argentina, Venezuela, and a host of other countries and states. If government goes against human nature when dealing with business, everyone loses as businesses flee or pull the plug and close their doors. It's happened again and again, yet the Powers-That-Be fail to learn the lesson: punish people enough for being successful and they'll stop being successful or move someplace else and be successful there.

Ayn Rand outlined that issue in Atlas Shrugged, where government took all kinds of actions “for the good of the people”, yet every action they took made things worse. All those efforts by the government had exactly the opposite effect, and businesses and business owners “went Galt”, meaning they refused to support the government and went on strike, denying the government the fruits of their labors. The business owners acted in their own self-interest – as is human nature – and told the government to go screw itself. The result – the economy, and with it the government, headed for collapse. (Rand certainly seemed to understand human nature as evidenced by Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.)

OK, enough said. I haven't covered anything I haven't covered before. But with the upcoming elections I have to remind everyone that the one thing we have to keep in mind is that one party has a somewhat better understanding of human nature than the other, and it's not the party that presently holds the US Senate or the White House. If nothing else they have ignored human nature and taken a course of action that has deepened the recession, driven prices up across the board (except for housing prices, which have collapsed), and made it very unattractive to do business here.