Editor's Note

In a free society, it’s better when we the people — not the government — make the decisions

By MIKE NICHOLS | April 2019

Who decides?

If there is a common thread in our stories in this edition, it’s that question.

Who decides whether a property owner gets to raze or move a privately owned house and build something more useful? Who decides whether a nonprofit arts organization gets to take down a few old trees?

Who decides how a whole race of people who don’t have political power should be treated? Who decides whether Milwaukee should have a streetcar? Who decides?

This has always been an essential question for a free society. F.A. Hayek wrote brilliantly about it in the chapter of “The Road to Serfdom” titled “Who, Whom?”

“Who, Whom?” was the question the Russian people used to sum up the universal problem of a socialist society, wrote Hayek. “Who plans whom, who directs and dominates whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”

It is impossible for government leaders to ever determine a just and equitable allotment of money or jobs even if they are somehow completely free of prejudice or favoritism or self-interest or friends or relatives. And they never are. That is not the nature of most men — let alone abject racists like the one Mark Lisheron profiles in our revealing cover story about socialist icon and onetime Wisconsin Congressman Victor Berger.   

It was Hayek, by the way, who also wrote of the supreme importance of private property to a free people. Sure, a successful capitalist can have influence over how we live our lives. But who can seriously deny that the power a millionaire employer “has over me is very much less than that which the smallest fonctionnaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state … ?”

Julie Grace’s excellent analysis on historic preservation commissions demonstrates perfectly how people with a little government-sanctioned authority use their power to decide everything from who can cut down a few trees to who can tear down a privately owned building.

Even when there is a public interest, unfortunately, the wrong politicians and bureaucrats often are making the decisions. Witness Ken Wysocky’s irrefutable piece about the propaganda used to hype The Hop with bogus insinuations about economic development downtown. The only reason the streetcar was built in the first place is that somebody out in Washington, D.C., decided to throw some federal money at Milwaukee.

Thankfully, we still have writers who have the courage to speak up about such things.  Ryan Berg’s take on this ancient virtue — “a type of quotidian courage for the daily grind of political discussions, allowing us to operate and flourish within diverse political communities” — is inspiring.

I hope you’ll decide to read it. 




Read the entire issue of Diggings Spring 2019 here.