No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails – but Individuals Succeed

John Stossel is an uncommonly compelling, refreshing—even likeable—journalist. Why? Because compared to many in a field overgrown with loudmouthed, colossally biased pundits, Stossel may be the fairest one of all.

Remember: fair (i.e., not necessarily “nice”).

First off, this veteran consumer advocate and Fox News host makes no bones about his Libertarian leanings—and in the end his clear-eyed viewpoints distilled through experience and healthy skepticism serve to point out foibles dominating Democrats and Republicans: “Both parties share the fatal conceit of believing that their grandiose plan will solve America’s problems,” he writes. “Neither one will.”



Here’s Stossel on the air with Glenn Beck discussing No, They Can’t:

Indeed, at the heart of the salient, common-sense arguments in his latest book, No, They Can’t, is that the freest country on the face of the earth has no business relying on its federal government to solve its problems. Stossel’s sober, superbly researched investigations have led him to insist that:

  • the free market should let capitalism naturally heal itself (rather than regulate businesses and tax citizens into oblivion);
  • the economy isn’t a machine you “jump start” with stimulus money; the economy is “people who have objectives they want to achieve”;
  • corporations aren’t sitting on billions of bailout cash for no reason—they rightly are wary of what obstacles await them under any administration that may want to pilfer their pockets;
  • universal health care is no road to good health, physically or fiscally;
  • and government should never take the reins in regard to speech or expression, moral behavior (i.e., drug and alcohol use, gambling, pornography), labor practices, or gun control.

And possibly to his peril, Stossel even calls out federal mandates that a majority of Americans likely agree with, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and laws dictating seat belt use, protection of natural resources, and food production. Except for a tiny handful of services (e.g., the military), federal control of our lives should be nonexistent, he frankly states.

Check out Stossel on the air with Glenn earlier this year dismantling government’s tendency to create too many rules:

Rife with his trademark simmering outrage, Stossel sprinkles a multitude of telling two-line sidebars throughout the chapters (“What Intuition Tempts Us to Believe” and “What Reality Taught Me”) that underscore his points and illustrate the simplicity and coherence of his arguments. His chapter on the economy and the housing bubble includes this summation: “What Intuition Tempts Us to Believe”—Some institutions are too big to fail…and “What Reality Taught Me”—Failure makes markets work.

The “Life Isn’t Fair” chapter, for instance, brims with keen philosophical insight and practical application, as Stossel employs an eye-opening historical illustration regarding how the Plymouth colony almost starved due to a (what else?) socialist premise that led to lazy workers and poor production—but when the pilgrims shifted gears and placed the burden on each family to care for and grow its own crops, there was a much better outcome.

If you happen to be on the other side of Stossel’s ideology—i.e., far right or far left—No, They Can’t won’t leave you feeling pummeled or savaged. Stossel knows how to make an argument without stooping to ad hominem.

In fact, amid being the bearer of really bad news regarding how poorly Washington, D.C., performs as our “caretakers”—even in a (for now, at least) limited sense—Stossel is ever hopeful: “There is nothing that government can do that we cannot do better as free individuals—and as groups of individuals, working together voluntarily, not at the point of a gun or under threat of a fine,” he concludes. “Without big government, our possibilities are endless.”