Friday, October 18, 2019

The future is yours, if you want it

Mises Institute President Jeff Deist has written an outstanding article that questions whether politics — elections, in this case — can fix what ails American society.  Can it clear up structural problems such as central banking and foreign policy?  Can it solve the intractable differences between Right and Left?  Can the forthcoming national election amount to something other than “throwing gasoline on the fire”?

On rare occasions political solutions do sometimes fix problems that earlier political decisions created, such as the repeal of Prohibition in late 1933.  But killing the Eighteenth Amendment didn’t threaten the governing elite; if anything, it helped their image by making them seem like regular guys.   The Federal Reserve, however, is a different creature altogether.  As a pillar of big government and fountain of Wall Street largess, it is hands-off, always.   

But why should today’s candidates even discuss complex matters such as central banking?  It’s too confusing and boring to most people.  Besides, most politicians don’t understand it themselves.  This is why they avoid being too specific about their promises: They don’t have to go much deeper than “Change we can believe in” or “Drain the swamp.”  A much safer and more popular approach is to stir up the animosity each side already feels for the other. 

Are Americans trapped in their own system?  Not necessarily.  The way out is to see what’s trapping them, which means understanding the difference between government and state.

Not the same

But right away there’s a problem: the two words are used almost interchangeably.  Further, in today’s world all governments are states.  And any society in a condition of widespread chaos is considered to be in urgent need of a strong state, Somalia notwithstanding.  

But let this be step one in understanding: government can and should exist without being a state.  

A state is a clique holding a monopoly of force over a delineated territory.  As it happens, states have sectioned off all the land of planet Earth, including Antartica.  If you’re on, over, or under land you’re subject to some state’s rule.  From a state’s perspective we are like corralled animals that can leave only with its permissionAs Lincoln made abundantly clear, with the right crisis a state can always step outside its legal limits.  And the state itself is a good bet to be the author of that crisis

By contrast, government in the sense proposed excludes monopoly and force; there are no state elections because there is no state — no president, no legislature, no IRS or any other tax collection agency because there are no taxes.  Lawfulness and security are established and funded through the free market, relying on market institutions and incentives for our well-being.

Another crucial difference

Long ago Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded a computer company and called it Apple.  Its computers appealed to others so much they ponied up money to buy them.  As we know Apple has become a market giant in this manner.  At varying scales this sort of thing happens often.  It’s how free markets work. 

But the free market has the dark shadow of the state hovering over it. 

With Apple you’re a customer it tries to please.  With the state you’re a subject it deals with at its pleasure.  

The state is the chief criminal element in society.  The words parasite, bully, and monopoly apply to it, among others.  This certainly can’t be the foundation of a sustainable civilization.

In every interaction with the state it is in charge, not you.  Curiously, none of us, not even those the state employs, explicitly agreed to this arrangement.  Why would people who consider themselves free, as Americans do on Independence Day, participate in a system that authorizes their permanent subservience to a coercive organization?  Why do we go about our lives dealing with others on a consensual basis but snap to attention when dealing with the State?

Seriously, why?

Thomas Paine, the most influential founder of American independence, observed in Rights of Man Part II that
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together.
We’re really not a state

Most Americans think of their country as their beloved republic for which many have sacrificed in its defense, on those occasions when it was believed to be under attack.  The USA a state?  Only among ivory-tower eggheads.  We have holidays, parades, heroes, military graveyards that stretch endlessly here and overseas, special and often grandiose ceremonies to remind us of our good fortune in living under its rule.  Yet isn’t it odd that the leaders getting us into wars are never the ones who do the actual fighting, who never pay the “ultimate sacrifice,” but instead, if they occupy the White House, are often sanctified as “great”?  Isn’t it stranger still that people put up with this?

In honoring the state we presume innocence on its part.  We believe state personnel would never intentionally act in such a way that might endanger us.  If it goes to war it’s to stop a belligerent that threatens us, not to spur the profits of the war industries or to distract attention from embarrassing domestic problems.  If it criminalizes the sale or use of certain drugs, it does so to protect us, not as “a political contrivance to criminalize and oppress the anti-war left and black people in post-Vietnam America.”  When it declares it’s going to eradicate poverty and finds after 50 years that it’s a monumental failure, it carries on in the name of the poor, even at the cost of destroying families and discouraging self-sufficiency.  When it bails out big banks in this country and overseas, it’s to “save” the heavily-regulated free market, regardless of the moral hazard it creates or the costs to everyday Americans.  

The stratospheric national debt?  A wash, we owe it to ourselves, they tell us.  When Saudis attacked the country with hijacked jets, the government bombed the hell out of two countries that had no connection to the attack, and Americans cheered. And amidst the cheering they submitted quietly to further incursions on their freedom.

There is widespread belief that without the state we would live in constant danger, because only an organization with a monopoly on violence can protect us from violence.  Under a stateless existence — anarchy — we would be vulnerable to perpetual gang warfare, we’re told.  Life would be nasty, brutal, and short.  

But what has life under state rule brought to the world? Economic historian Robert Higgs, who describes himself as a libertarian anarchist, gives us some idea:
Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a ‘Great Leap Forward’ that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children.
Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.

There is much to be thankful for in our world, but it’s not the state.  The exponential growth of technology is launching ordinary people into the surreal realm of science fiction, while on the other side the state confiscates our wealth to weaponize technology.  Every lame excuse to expand the state makes the headlines, often by entrepreneurs and others who should know better, as well as political hacks fishing for votes. 

Voting has always been a prerogative of the state.  It doesn’t have to be.  With the internet and widespread adoption of technology that can access it, we have the technology to vote outside the voting booth.  We don’t have to vote to sustain the state’s rule and our subjection. We can call for a different form of government, one that’s market-driven, on Election Day or any other day.  Let’s throw the rascals out by throwing the state out and begin to take control of our future.

George Ford Smith is the author of eight books, including The Flight of the Barbarous RelicEyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker whose latest work is a whimsical tale about the threat of nuclear annihilation, Last Day.

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