29. Change
From 'The Australian Achievement' by M Cooray (1996)

The history of the last one hundred years and more demonstrates the changes and reforms that relative freedom has brought about. It bears repetition (because it is so often overlooked) that in a little less than one hundred years mankind has moved from the age of the horse and buggy to travelling in space. There has been more change, more development and more reform in the last one hundred years than perhaps in the entire period of man's inhabitance of this planet, as a consequence of the existence of a greater degree of freedom, coupled with individual responsibility.

It is significant that as government regulation has grown, the long period of rising living standards, development and reduction of inequality has tapered off. The 1970s saw a period of decline, reversing the trend of the previous two centuries.

Modern reformers purport to effect changes through legislation and bureaucratic action. However, the effects of these changes through government regulation are invariably counter productive. Government regulations purporting to effect reform and change often have the opposite effect, inhibiting change. The free action and interaction of individuals and institutions, subject to limited government intervention, provides more scope for change and reform than does government action.

The practical aspect of modern reformism is bureaucratic central planning. This involves individuals dreaming visions of the future. On the other hand, freedom and liberalism rely upon the interaction of individuals and institutions to lead mankind forward into the uncertain future. Galileo and Newton, those responsible for the industrial revolution, Locke and other philosophers and politicians who fought for limited government against the power of autocratic kings and feudalism, inventors and innovators, entrepreneurs and Adam Smith had no conception of where they were leading mankind. The changes beginning with the industrial revolution, leading to voyages into space, were essentially an unplanned movement based on freedom, limited government and human interaction. This unplanned movement is now susceptible to being over-directed and channelled by regulationists who call themselves reformers. Freedom leads to change. Regulation leads to stagnation, corruption and authoritarianism.

The social democrats and single issue crusaders, in alliance with more extreme elements, carry through piecemeal reforms. Thus, each piece of legislation is examined by itself. No cost-benefit analysis is made of legislation. The proponents analyse with exaggeration the weaknesses and injustices in the existing system.

Since each piece of legislation is considered separately there is no appreciation of the cumulative effects of legislation inter alia on freedom and the government budget. Thus, the task for the opponent of legislation is difficult. Proponents of legislation invariably argue that effects of limitations on freedom in relation to particular legislation are insignificant (underplaying the limitations) and justified in the public interest (a vague and ill-defined concept which lends itself to subjective definitions). The extent of freedom has been, is being and will be undermined by Acts of Parliament and regulations made under them, which, separately examined, do not seem over burdensome but in their totality have major consequences.

Reforms are often formulated and enacted into law without consideration of all or even some of the relevant factors detailed above (see sections 5.3, 5.4, 26 and 27). Reformists generally focus on genuine problems — but not infrequently they tend to distort and exaggerate the nature of the problem. The words "counter productive" are used to emphasise that while the reform may yield certain benefits, they are counter balanced and outweighed by the disadvantages which are not foreseen, or if foreseen, are brushed aside when the reforms are drafted. Reformists, by trying to achieve too much through over regulation and over taxation, miss out on the practical and constructive reforms which can be effected. The effects are counter productive whether they are inspired by violent revolutionaries or by impractical social democrats with unrealistic ideals.