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The Dictator Fallacy
From the Golden Vault of Hon. Harry Browne
By Jim Babka

The Downsize DC Foundation's Website... continues to grow. Today, we bring you one of those articles, from the Our Lexicon category:


  • a misleading or unsound argument.
  • any of various types of erroneous reasoning that render arguments logically unsound.

Do you...

  • believe in our Constitution with its different branches and its separation of powers?
  • support the idea that The State should be managed by elected representatives?
  • oppose monarchies, dictatorships, and other authoritarian forms of The State?

I bet you'd answer "Yes" to all of these questions.

Despite answering yes, nearly everyone pretends, at some point, that they can design laws and programs that manage human behavior, leading to an ideal social result.

  • Maybe even you believe you know the best way to solve a particular societal problem with a better organizational solution.
  • Perhaps you admire and support a particular candidate who claims he has just the right incentive, program, or regulation that will do the trick.

Well, if you ever catch yourself (or another person), making such a pronouncement, then you can KNOW that either you (or they) are wrong. You see... when you have "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," YOUR "grand design" won't work. Why?

Unfortunately, other people will also be involved. This is, after all, a representative government with separation of powers. Your scheme will be touched and affected by lobbyists, legislators, bureaucrats, and judges. Then it will be imposed on a group of people, many of whom will NOT cheerfully cooperate because they do NOT appreciate your brilliance.

By failing to appreciate these events, you have fallen victim to the Dictator Fallacy.

The Dictator Fallacy is the belief that any law or program will be implemented in just the way you intended—as if you were the king. Your more perfect vision could only be actualized if you were the czar. Yet to want that power would be to denounce the Constitutional principles and representative democracy that you claim to adore.

There are at least six major ways your plan will go awry.

First, the legislative branch will have its say. They'll wheel and deal. They'll modify your perfect design. Senator Foghorn will secure a new federal building in return for his vote, while hordes of lobbyists will secure exemptions, loopholes, or extra benefits for their clients.

Second, the executive branch will then interpret the law. They will mangle your plan to fit their political goals. In accordance with The Slippery Slope Law of The State, bureaucrats and prosecutors will work diligently to stretch the limited power you intended to convey so that your focused plan will become swollen, unfocused, and perhaps, even abusive.

Third, the Courts will get in on the act too, forbidding some aspects of your design, while permitting other things you never intended. By this point, you might not even recognize your plan.

Fourth, the People will then react to the law. Some will comply; others will resist. Nearly everyone will look for loopholes. Attorneys, accountants, and consultants of all stripes will have a new industry, vested in navigating around your law to the greatest degree possible.

Fifth, the real "unintended consequences" of your plan will begin to manifest themselves. You may even discover what most policymakers experience; your proposal will boomerang, worsening the very problem you presumed to fix. Consider these examples . . .

  • laws to curb narcotic use will entangle children in the violent, black-market drug trade
  • fancy plans to restrict gun ownership will coincide with an increase in burglaries in your own neighborhood

Reality will laugh at your good intentions.

And here, we must go down an important rabbit trail. When our program fails, it is easy to be blind to the obvious. The very normal human reaction is to assume that things would've worked better if only our intelligent design had been followed -- that our uniquely brilliant scheme could've made The State more efficient and effective. We...

  • bemoan the fact that legislators, bureaucrats, and judges mutilated our plans.
  • complain that the people weren't made to see how this was for their own good.

Now, hopefully, it's evident. We'll NEVER witness your wonderful, pet plans, materialize. The only way that your more perfect vision could possibly have been implemented, was if YOU were the king.

Sixth, comes the most brutal blow of all. The power you give a politician you love to do something you favor, is... the same power that people you abhor will use to do things you oppose.

Since you aren't a dictator you simply have to accept that officeholders change. Partisan majorities switch hands. The power you wanted to give to good people will always end up in the hands of bad people.

But for too many would-be dictators, "unintended consequences" simply means that they never intended for their opposition to acquire power again. This is the trap that snares naive, do-gooders who...

  • fantasize about what they would do if they were the boss, while forgetting that they supposedly despise dictators.
  • fail to take into account that the people who really run things aren't as brilliant or purely motivated as they are.

Do you ever support expanding The State because you imagine that a larger State would do things the way you would do them if you were in charge? If so, then you have made yourself (and others) a victim of the Dictator Fallacy.

The Dictator Fallacy means that no matter how well-intentioned you are, no matter how good you think your idea is, your new regulation or initiative to solve a problem won't...

  • be passed by you,
  • administered by you, or
  • adjudicated by you.

Nor will...

  • everyone cooperate with your scheme.
  • the new powers you create always be controlled by people you like.

You must choose...

  • A limited constitutional republic, or...
  • The horrifying Frankenstein creations that result from The Dictator Fallacy.

Note: The concept of the "Dictator Syndrome" was created by Downsize DC co-founder, Harry Browne, in chapter five of his 1995 book, "Why Government Doesn't Work." That chapter was titled, "If You Were King (The Dictator Syndrome)."

2011 January 17
Posted by The Coffee Coaster™ w/approval of DDC
Dictator Syndrome | Harry Browne | If You Were King | Dictator Fallacy

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