Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An outrageous proposal — or not

A cry could be heard from somewhere in the room.

No one was surprised.  This had been an unthinkable outcome for those in attendance, and a sense of quiet shock had overtaken everyone.  This was not a G7 or a G20 summit.  It was a meeting deliberately without a label.  It would never again happen.  It couldn’t.

The leaders of the world’s states had gathered to find solutions to the problems they feared were threatening human life on earth.  They were reminded of the incessant wars, the likelihood of a recession far worse than the last, the enormous levels of family, student, and government debt, the increasing deterioration of the world’s currencies, the immigration problems, the reciprocal relationship between money spent on eradicating problems and the results obtained, the vast, increasing corruption of government officials and the mainstream media, the failure of the public schools, the various racial, ideological, and religious hostilities, the increasing vulnerability to the planet from end-of-days scenarios, and so many more a sudden outbreak of headaches postponed further discussion.

Later, when the subject of solutions came up, they were reminded that without solutions that worked governments would eventually have no one to govern.  With no one to govern their laws and decrees would be meaningless.  With no one to govern governments would have no source of revenue.  With no one to govern it would be pointless to debauch the currency.  With no one to govern the vast bureaucratic arrangement of government would churn to a halt.  

“With no one to govern our problems would be solved,” added one, to the amusement of the others.

Immediately another replied, “Could it work the other way?”  All heads turned to him.  “What if we removed our institutions from society?  What if we closed shop, as the Soviet Union did in 1991?  What if we eliminate government from the face of the earth and leave people free to deal with the mess we’ve made?  It’s their future that’s at stake.  I think they’ll find ways to fix things peacefully.”

And after debate that raged for six hours, this is what they — incredibly —agreed to do.  Some no doubt had visions of instituting even stronger governments after the peons grew tired of robbing and killing one another.

The preceding was a fantasy intended to raise a critical issue.  We do need government.  But do we need what we've known as government, i.e., government as a coercive monopoly? 


The long history of slavery — and government

Robert Higgs opened his scholarly Crisis and Leviathan with these words: “We must have government.”  Higgs, a libertarian, went on to document how crises, especially war, excused the rapid expansion of the federal government — never mind that the crises developed because of government meddling.  When the crises ended the government retained some of the new powers it grabbed during the emergency.  Next time you look at your pay stub and see the taxes withheld remember that withholding was passed as a “temporary measure” as well as an alleged benefit to taxpayers to fund US involvement in WW II.  (See Rothbard’s comments here.)

Later in life Higgs moved ideologically from a minarchist libertarian to an anarchist libertarian, explaining that 

"I believe it is wrong for anyone – including those designated the rulers and their functionaries – to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me – or you or anyone – to do as a private person."

He also brought attention to the long history of slavery and the even longer history of government “as we know it,” meaning “the monopolistic, individually nonconsensual form of government that now exists virtually everywhere on earth.”  Proponents of slavery once had a list of arguments that went virtually unchallenged.  Today almost no one respects those arguments.  Yet they would be offered any day of the week in defense of government “as we know it.” Higgs:

Slavery is natural.
Government (as we know it) is natural.

Slavery has always existed.
Government (as we know it) has always existed.

Every society on earth has slavery.
Every society on earth has government (as we know it)

The slaves are not capable of taking care of themselves.
The people are not capable of taking care of themselves.
etc.

Jim Powell in Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery offers these comments on slavery:

"It had been around for thousands of years, hardly anybody had opposed it in all that time, and powerful interest groups—including established churches—supported it. . .  The very idea of emancipation was widely viewed as a threat to the social order."

Substituting “coercive government” for “slavery” fits perfectly.  Almost no one opposes it, it's supported by powerful interests, it's been around for thousands of years, and its abandonment would be viewed as a threat to the social order.

Chattel slavery and coercive government have much in common.  There were brutal slaveowners.  There were also slaveowners who treated their slaves decently, almost as if they were family members.  Today's coercive governments vary in their treatment of citizens as well.  Some tolerate conditions of relative freedom, while others will murder or imprison anyone or any group perceived as a threat.  Still, “kinder, gentler”coercive governments have sent millions of young men to their deaths after conscripting them into the military.  And they stand ready to do it again.  Those same governments lose little sleep imposing on other states sanctions that cause civilian deaths, including the slow death of children.

Political scientist R. J. Rummel has estimated that governments in the 20th century killed 262,000,000 people under their rule, with most of those occurring in Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nationalist China, and Nazi Germany.  So-called democracies, where citizens exert a degree of control on government policies, are far less likely to murder its citizens.  Democracies commit most of their murders against foreigners.

Whether democratic or otherwise, government as we've known it has two defining traits: It claims a monopoly of rule over a defined geographic area, and it secures this monopoly with the threat of violence.  Within its domain it allows no competitors.   

With a superiority of force, governments as we’ve known them have secured their revenue through extortion, though under different names.  When obedient citizens pay their taxes, it's not an exchange for services in a market sense.  Governments may say they will do certain things with the revenue collected but that’s as far as it goes.  There is no contract with the taxpayers.  They are not customers government works hard to satisfy.  There is no need to. 

Throughout history coercive governments have always supplemented their tax revenue by debasing or counterfeiting the currency.  In modern times government central banks have made this process almost impenetrable, while the Keynesian-dominated economics profession has deluded the public into believing it’s in their interest.

So, at base we have an institution that is violent, a monopoly, an extortionist, and a counterfeiter.  It’s also a murderer, kidnapper, and a liar.  And it’s running our lives. 

We ought to be able to do better.

The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.” 
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part Second





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Were Americans ever fit for stateless government?

Jacob Hornberger recently posted an article discussing his reasons why he considers the advent of the US national security state to be the worst thing the government has ever done.  Bad as they are, the income tax, the federal reserve act, and government schooling don’t come close.  His reason: The US national security state has “the power to kill Americans (and others) without risk of any criminal or civil liability. . . . All that US officials have to do is relate the killing to ‘national security’ and that’s the end of the matter.”

He’s correct.  According to a Department of Justice white paper, any “informed, high government official,” not necessarily the president, can kill anyone, without any due process.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote in 2013, during the Obama administration, 
The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
According to the New York Times the government asserts that the “Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process [is] satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.” 

Do you suppose that’s a little-known footnote in the Constitution?  Possibly it’s an outgrowth of the unratified Living Constitution, possessing “properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes.”  Somehow it always changes in favor of the state.

As a restraining power on government, the Constitution began to buckle as soon as Alexander Hamilton took office as Treasury Secretary under Washington.   Lincoln outlawed it during the “Civil War,” and Wilson, FDR, and Truman put the finishing touches on it during their administrations.  Bush and Obama have expanded government power under cover of 9/11, the “new Pearl Harbor” longed for by globalists.  As John Pilger wrote in December, 2002:
One of George W Bush’s “thinkers” is Richard Perle. I interviewed Perle when he was advising Reagan; and when he spoke about “total war”, I mistakenly dismissed him as mad. He recently used the term again in describing America’s “war on terror”. “No stages,” he said. “This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war... our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
But our children have been singing about the likes of Perle for many years.  Perhaps he’s not listening.

The American public, outraged over 9/11, has since turned indifferent to the never-ending slaughter and mayhem in the Middle East.  They don’t care what the troops do “over there.”  To care and speak openly about it runs risks, as we’ve seen with certain whistleblowers.  Chelsea Manning served seven years in a military prison and admitted recently that “things have gotten worse” since she released classified documents.  

If her intention was to tap the brakes on government criminality it didn’t work.  Manning is widely regarded as a pariah, if not a traitor.  Even to innocently question the legality of government actions is to invite Nancy Pelosi's response when asked if ObamaCare squared with the law of the land: “Are you serious? Are you serious?” 

How did the government get so bad?

When an institution assumes a legal monopoly on violence, it can only go one way — and it’s not good.  Government as it exists is the original Bad Seed — a smiling psychopath.  And its citizens are trained from childhood to revere this psychopath.

Most libertarians correctly see the Fed as the enemy of peace and prosperity.  They see the income tax as a combination of legal plunder and government violations of privacy.  They know how government schools indoctrinate the public, with the mainstream media re-enforcing the indoctrination in their everyday lives.  Libertarians are well aware they hold a minority viewpoint, in spite of mountains of material produced in support of their position.

But few of them would do without government — the state — altogether.  Somehow, there must be a way to make it work.   

In a letter to Henry Lee dated October 31, 1786, George Washington, upset over what he had been told about the protest movement known as Shays’s Rebellion, concluded “that mankind when left to themselves are unfit for their own Government.”

Without taking Washington’s statement too literally — if mankind is unfit, who’s left to govern? — there is ample American history to believe otherwise.

Daniel Shays and the Regulators

As historian Leonard Richards makes clear in his Pulitzer-Prize-deserving Shay’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle, people when left to themselves find ways to get along.  As Richards tells us, backcountry Massachusetts “formed town governments that were essentially their own masters. Indeed, ignoring orders from Boston was commonplace.”

As he explains,
In small towns, nearly everyone was in debt to someone who lived nearby. Often, these debts were circular. That is, one farmer owed two days of labor to his neighbor, who in turn owed three cords of wood to the minister, who in turn owed the wife of the first farmer for her services as a midwife. Eventually, all these debts were expected to be settled, but not by insistent dunning of the midwife’s husband or taking the neighbor to court. The whole local economy relied on a chain of trust, and creditors were expected to go to great lengths to settle neighborly problems out of court.
The elitist government that sat in Boston had turned to plundering these people, and they rebelled against it.  Farmers were expected to pay debts and taxes in hard money when no hard money was available.  They issued polite grievances to the state that were ignored year after year.  Finally, to get a response, they took to shutting down the courts.

It wasn’t debt that triggered Shays’s Rebellion, Richards argues, but the new state government and “its attempt to enrich the few at the expense of the many.”

The most glaring instance of this abuse was the decision of Massachusetts to consolidate its war notes at face value. Even when issued, the notes traded at about one-fourth par and later declined to about one-fortieth face value.

Many soldiers were paid in these notes and out of desperation sold them at about one-tenth their value. Boston speculators swooped up eighty percent of the notes, and forty percent of them were owned by just 35 men. Every one of those 35 men had either served in the state house during the 1780s or had a close relative who did. 

Legislators praised the speculators as “worthy patriots” who had come to the state’s aid in its time of need. But these men did not buy the notes directly from the government; they bought them from farmers and soldiers at greatly depreciated prices, who were now being taxed to redeem them at full value. The speculators, most of whom had stayed home during the war, would now benefit at the expense of veterans. 

As Richards observes, “Taxes levied by the state were now much more oppressive – indeed, many times more oppressive – than those that had been levied by the British on the eve of the American Revolution.”

George Washington, retired at Mt. Vernon, was given a different story.  Former aide David Humphreys living in Connecticut told him there was “a licentious spirit prevailing among the people: a levelling principle; a desire of change; & a wish to annihilate all debts public & private.”

The western protestors never referred to themselves as dissent debtors, rebels, insurgents, or Shaysites.  “Those were words pinned on them by their enemies. They saw themselves instead as ‘Regulators’ and made that explicit to all recruits.” As Regulators, they stood for the “Suppressing of tyrannical government in the Massachusetts State.”*

Shutting down the courts in Massachusetts had been a form of protest at least since 1774.  That summer in the western town of Great Barrington, 1,500 men shut down the Berkshire County Court in response to British oppression.  Patriot leaders applauded it. 

Why didn’t the rebellion succeed?  One reason: The clergy denounced the Regulation as the work of the devil, keeping thousands from joining with Shays.  But these same pastors also censured the state for its injustices.  They didn’t want to lose the support of their communities.

The rebellion, as we know, became a propaganda tool for stronger government.  

Conclusion

As Shays illustrates, there was a time when significant numbers of peaceful people who, when oppressed by state coercion, voluntarily came together and fought it.  In their everyday lives they had been getting along well without government dictates.  They showed us — but unfortunately not General Washington — they could provide for their defense when necessary, albeit in a losing effort, making them superbly fit for their own government.  

* For a detailed discussion of the Carolina Regulators, in whose name the Massachusetts protest was organized, see Murray Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, Volume III.  









Living with the Exponential - I

Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology— which will be indistinguishable from ourselves— will be so steep as t...