Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why government?

Adam is someone who cares deeply about his country, so much so he weighs carefully the statements of the presidential candidates, selects one who seems most favorable to his views, and casts a vote for him or her on Election Day.  

Even if Adam is a small-government libertarian he will vote.  He will vote because he believes government has a legitimate role in our lives.  In that respect he's in the mainstream of political opinion.      

Would you consider Adam a responsible American?  Most people would. 

Most people have the impression that government exists to protect and further our well-being.  This is a democracy, the argument goes, and voters have the ultimate say in how it is run. Therefore it is their responsibility to do their part and vote for the captain who will steer the ship of state in the right direction.  

If Adam's candidate doesn't win, he lives with the consequences until the next election and tries again.  

And that's how this great country of ours evolves.  

Any questions?  I see you have a few.  
Well, look, even if we've abandoned our founding principles we can still try to nudge the government back to its original purpose which as Jefferson wrote was to secure our inalienable and often-trampled rights.  

What's that?  You say you don't hear any of the current candidates talking about founding principles?  Except the LP candidate?  Who won't win.  So you vote for him, or perhaps you decide to risk a vote on a mainstream candidate who once dropped a hint or two about reigning in government.  Either way, government continues its inexorable growth.  

It's not a warm feeling, is it -- voting.  But the good news is, in spite of things such as the income tax, the perpetual shooting wars, the various social wars -- drugs and poverty in particular, the Fed-induced booms and busts, Obamacare, the spy agencies, the TSA, low or negative interest rates, the student loan disaster, bad public education, and other such horrors -- we get by.  "Getting by" here means staying alive.  

Of course it's more than that.  We have endless entertainment, highlighted this year by the presidential campaigns.   We have smartphones.  We have the Internet.  We can play the lottery.   We can heap insults on politicians and not be arrested.  If we're innovative and ambitious we can start a company and possibly get rich.  Maybe very rich.  We can fall in love, get married, raise families, get a job, get a better job, write a novel, grow old and die with negligible government involvement.  

We have our lives and hanging over our heads we have the government, like storm clouds intruding on a weekend outing.  Yet the clouds stay and grow darker year-round. 

If we can do so much in our private lives without government involvement, what is the argument for having any government at all?

Why have we not adopted anarchy?

Stefan Molyneux explores these and other questions in his book, Everyday Anarchy: The Freedom of Now.  The statist, he says, 
looks at a problem and always sees a gun as the only solution – the force of the state, the brutality of law, violence and punishment.  
The anarchist – the endless entrepreneur of social organization – always looks at a problem and sees an opportunity for peaceful, innovative, charitable or profitable problem-solving. . . . 
if human beings are in general too irrational and selfish to work out the challenges of social organization in a productive and positive manner, then they are far too irrational and selfish to be given the monopolistic violence of state power, or vote for their leaders.
There is a contradiction in the foundation of our social order, he asserts.  Through the vote we assign to some people the authority to do what we have no moral right to do as individuals.  Neither you nor I can delegate to another the authority to shoot a man in cold blood, unless we have a government badge.  If I approach you with a gun and demand your money, I'm acting in a criminal manner.  But if I work for the IRS I'm cleared. 
To the statist there is no contradiction.  It's a matter of facing facts:  
Without a government, everyone would be at each other’s throats, there would be no roads, the poor would be uneducated, the old and sick would die in the streets etc. etc. etc.
If democracy represents the will of the people, and the people don't care about the poor, then democracy is a lie.  But people generally do care about helping the poor.  Why did we let government take this away from us and make a mess of it?

Then there's war, which for the U. S. government brings countless benefits.  War is expensive -- that's why we have the income tax.  It's also one reason we have a government-blessed counterfeiter manufacturing dollars.  Isn't it a coincidence both the 16th Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act became law just prior to war in Europe.  
Without the money to fund a war – and pay the soldiers, whether they are drafted or not – war is impossible. The actual violence of the battlefield is a mere effect of the threatened violence at home. 
I have read many books and articles on the root of war – whether it is nationalism, economic forces, faulty philosophical premises, class conflict and so on – none of which addressed the central issue, which is how war is paid for.
If we have success in so many areas of our life where anarchy rules -- anarchy in the sense he refers to -- why are we so afraid of it in political matters?  
In the category of “causing deaths,” a single government leader outranks all anarchists tens of thousands of times. . . . 
Even outside war, in the 20th century alone, more than 270 million people* were murdered by their governments. Compared to the few dozen murders committed by anarchists, it is hard to see how the fantasy of the “evil anarchist” could possibly be sustained when we compare the tiny pile of anarchist bodies to the virtual Everest of the dead heaped by governments in one century alone.
Molyneux notes the consistent failure of political "solutions."  Long ago American consumers were told "bigness" in business was a threat to their welfare, even as prices steadily declined.  (To this day, of course, the Fed insists a little inflation -- rising prices -- is healthy and strives to create it.)  A little later the U. S. president announced he was drafting the youth of the nation to fight a "war to end all wars."  And the IRS and Fed were right there to help.  A decade later came the Fed-created Crash, which the Hoover administration took as an invitation to meddle. Then we got New Deal meddling when FDR took over.  Americans loved him.  He threatened them with fines and imprisonment if they continued to use gold coins for money, which the intellectual high priests said was delaying recovery, but they still loved him.  The "surprise" of Pearl Harbor gave him the excuse to draft men into the military, which solved his unemployment problem.  Then we had the Cold War, Korea, the assassinations, Vietnam, Nixon's killing the last trace of the gold standard, the inflation of the 1970s, etc. 

Hence the reason governments insist on educating children.  They want people saluting, not rebelling.  Freedom without government is anarchy, and anarchy is bad, bad, bad.  

Molyneux offers a different perspective:
The government does not expand its control because freedom does not work; freedom does not work because the government expands its control.
Government -- the popular institution serving those it exploits, asking for your vote to keep it legitimate.   

* Molyneux's figure of 270 million is high. See Death by Government, Chapter 1, 20th Century Democide by R. J. Rummel, 

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