Default Settings to Big Government

Where do you go when you want to fix a broken social program? Unfortunately, most people have been trained to go straight to government. But can they be broken of this habit?

Default Setting (computer science): A particular setting or value for a variable that is assigned automatically by an operating system and remains in effect unless canceled or overridden by the operator:

(Example: Susan changed the default for the font in the word processing program.)

Our electronic gadgets all come out of the factory with default settings. But people have default settings, too; their natural responses to certain stimuli.

For example, as it becomes increasingly clear that Social Security is a government-induced scam that hurts everyone, the immediate response of many people is: Government is the solution.

As people watch our previously excellent market-based health care system decline in service and increase in price as government involvement escalates, the immediate response of many is: government is the solution.

As the funding of our government-run schools skyrockets while standards and literacy decline, the response of many is: government is the solution.

Is it as interesting to you as it is to me that, the more government does to mess up people’s lives, the more that people ask them to fix those problems?

This, of course, contradicts a basic principle attributed to Albert Einstein. His idea was that a problem can not be solved on the same level of consciousness on which it was created.

Or, to quote the late Harry Browne, “Government breaks our legs, then hands us a pair of crutches and says, ‘You see? If it wasn’t for us you wouldn’t be able to walk.’”

Default setting responses are generally learned by observation. If one sees one’s parents respond to pressure situations by yelling and screaming, that’ll most likely be one’s default setting response, as well.

If one sees one’s parents respond to pressure situations by taking a moment to think and come up with a solution-oriented plan, that’ll most likely be one’s default key setting response, as well.

The problem is that, as in the example in the paragraph above, where we know that 99 percent of the people learn the counterproductive first default setting response in confronting pressure situations, they also learn that the default setting response to any government-created problem is to call for and demand more government.


Of course, as Ms. Rand would say, these people should check their premises. And, of course, she’d be correct.

Their false premise is not only that government should do something about it, but that government can do something about it (other than make the problem they created in the first place even bigger).

As advocates for a much smaller government (as Michael Cloud says, “one that can actually fit inside the Constitution), it’s up to us to help people to understand that if a particular default key has not worked thus far, then the most productive thing is to switch default keys. How do we do that?

How do we persuade others to take action and look at other possible options instead of being stuck in their current model or belief system regarding the role of government? The following are just some thoughts based on my own experiences and that of others:

1. Keep rational expectations in mind. Realize that, while we know what we know, others don’t; nor should we expect them to. In other words, calling someone a fool or imbecile because they believe a certain way (based on information they’ve been taught and exposed to all of their lives) will generally not cause them to be excited about other, never-previously-considered possibilities.

Very rarely will they respond by saying, “Gee, you’re right. Why didn’t I think of that? Thank you so much for coming along, turning my entire life paradigm upside down and insulting me. Now I’m ready to change.”

2. Show others respect as the human beings they are. While we don’t agree with their views, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re bad people. Nor that they are politically hopeless.

For example, when they express a view that more government is needed for whatever the situation now being discussed (yes, I’m also gagging) let them know that you appreciate the fact that they care to have an opinion that is intended to help. (That was another gag you just heard. It’s okay to think it; just don’t show it).

3. Point out similar desires. Verbalize that, while your ideas about how to reach the intended goal might be different, your end goal is very much the same. This is where the excellent “Ransberger Pivot” (developed by Ray Ransberger and Marshall Fritz), is very helpful.

Begin by using a statement that demonstrates that your goal is the same as theirs. For example, “Like you, I want to live in a society where not one elderly person has to fear not having enough to live comfortably in what should be their golden years.”

Here you have let this person know that the two of you each have a similar and very worthy goal. Now the person will be more open (and, perhaps, even downright curious) as to how this could happen in a way that doesn’t involve more government. But, you most likely would never have even gotten to that step without utilizing the first three principles, including this last one.

4. Be prepared. Have the most important and persuasive facts at “top of mind” so that you’re able to communicate them with “humble confidence” (this is not an oxymoron!). Part of this is being able to communicate your point in the fewest words possible, not boring your listeners but being able to paint an exciting picture of the benefits they want.

5. Understand your short-term goal. Realize that your immediate goal is not to “change their mind” (though, it will sometimes happen, which is a wonderful feeling) but to simply plant the seeds that start them thinking. If you’ll be having future conversations with that person, you’ll have an opportunity to once again bring up the topic; already having reached “first base.”

If this was a one-time conversation, then you’ve at least planted the seed in their mind which, depending on many variables in life, might or might not ever cause a future change. But, you never know — it very well could.

6. Be aware that most people may not have fully developed their ideas. In other words, understand that while they might care a little, they don’t care that much. . .at least not enough to think things through to their logical conclusions.

Thus, by and large, as the late Milton Friedman said, “The only time there will be a dramatic change is when something dramatic (real or imagined) happens. So, the key is to have the ideas in place when it does.”

This is why letters to the editor, and one-on-one conversations are so important for us to continue to pursue, even when we feel frustrated that we don’t see the immediate results we desire.

All we can do is our best to plant the idea in such an effective way that when the time is right and change is ready to occur, that it is our change that occurs; the move to a small, tiny government where the Constitution and Bill of Rights are the respected and followed law of the land; where prosperity abounds and the government is the servant of the people, rather than vice-versa.

Because, like you, I want a society where {fill in the blank with “whatever you want”}.

Bob Burg speaks on the topics of positive persuasion and business networking. His books, Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts Into Sales and Winning Without Intimidation: How to Master the Art of Positive Persuasion have each sold well over 150,000 copies. For more information, visit his web site.

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To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.