George Bush and his supporters like to point to the absence of major terrorist attacks since 9-11 as a vindication: “His policies kept us safe.”
Lisa Simpson once parodied such arguments: “By your logic, I could say this rock keeps tigers away.” Homer: “Oh, how does it work.” Lisa: “It doesn’t work. It’s just a stupid rock… But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?” Homer: “Lisa, I want to buy your rock.”
And even if there were another major terrorist attack on the scale of 9-11, they wouldn’t take it as falsifying their position. Can you imagine an apologist for USA PATRIOT or the TSA saying: “Well, I guess draconian security clampdowns and police statism aren’t any good for preventing terrorism after all”? No, they’d use it as a pretext for doubling down on their authoritarianism yet again.
Libertarians frequently argue that government entities are recompensed for failure, not by going out of business, but by having their budgets increased. A bloated educational bureaucracy churns out illiterates despite spending thousands of dollars per pupil every year, and “public education” advocates call for more education spending. The U.S. government acts as policeman for global corporate capitalism and churns up the resentment of people all over the world, and when the resulting blowback causes thousands of American deaths the national security state’s amen choir immediately demands more foreign interventionism and more “defense” [sic] spending.
As Ivan Illich put it, bureaucracies solve problems by escalation. For example, government builds subsidized freeways and provides subsidized water and sewer infrastructure to outlying developments — and then deals with the increased sprawl by proposing new subsidized roads to “relieve congestion,” or a sales tax on the public at large to pay for expanding sewer capacity. Before long, the local Growth Machine wonders why the new roads are filling up with new congestion from the strip malls and subdivisions that sprang up at every single exit.
By the same token, statists will make any superficially plausible-sounding argument to justify our need for the state, without regard for how it contradicts their other arguments.
Market failures are taken as evidence that we need a regulatory state, but regulatory failures are used as a pretext for even more government. We need government to restrain human nature, because human beings are ignorant and corrupt, and tend to feather their own nests. But government, apparently, is constructed from a less crooked timber — perhaps the angels that Madison wrote about in The Federalist. People ask, “How would voluntary institutions in a stateless society prevent something like the BP oil spill?” I don’t know — how did government prevent it?