Learned Helplessness

A week ago I saw this post on the Cato blog and its been nagging at me ever since:

So it goes with economic and social policies. A few years ago when Social Security reform was a hot topic, my father (who still wants to be a trucker when he grows up) observed casually that the truckers he talks to wouldn’t know what to do if they were responsible for their own retirement. The complexities of investing are too much for them.

I believe the contrary, that given responsibility for their retirement security, truckers would swarm over the problem and figure it out. The CB radios of the nation would crackle with investment advice. Like most cohorts, this group is fully capable of handling savings and investment. And just as able-bodied Senate staff can get through doorways more quickly on their own, truckers in aggregate would have more retirement security and more comfortable retirements. But they’ve been offered enough help (indeed – mandated to accept it) that they’ve ceded the field.

To me, this makes no sense any way I look at it.

First, there is nothing preventing “CB radios of the nation” from crackling “with investment advice” now. Think of it this way… if SS can guarantee you a grand or two a month in your retirement, but you can bring in $15,000 a month through your other retirement benefits, are you going to pass that opportunity up? Or are the truckers of the world so weary of traveling they have no interest in seeing Paris and Rome when they retire? Besides, my bet is that ten years ago, “CB radios of the nation” were crackling “with investment advice.” The difference… the market was running at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if three years ago, you could learn something about buying homes from listening to the CB radio.

Besides, the question arises… does this learned helplessness apply to other government endeavors? Truckers have been mandated to accept the government’s involvement, if not near monopoly in road construction and maintenance. If the government wasn’t a part of that market, would truckers swarm over the problem and figure it out?

And is the government the only crutch? Consider – would the CB radios of the nation crackle with medical advice if only them uppity doctors hadn’t stepped in pretty much pushed everyone without an MD out of the healthcare industry?