On a flight the other day, I noticed that a third of the passengers were reading a certain best-selling book. It got me thinking.
Every politically active group wants something from government, and government is happy to oblige. It’s even more obvious in the election season, and it’s only going to get worse as we approach November.
Another way to put it: Government has lots to give in the way of laws, loot, privileges, protections and punishments. Every pressure group and political party has an idea about how its power over us needs to be used.
Does it make any difference who gets the loot, really? Not really, not to you and me. Whether you are taxed to make bike paths in Palo Alto or to fund reconnaissance missions in Kabul, you are still denied use of your money so that politicians and bureaucrats can realize their dreams. Whether the regulations say that you can’t work for less than $10 per hour or that you can’t buy raw milk at any price, your freedom to make contracts is still being compromised.
We can and will argue interminably about how government ought to be used. Should government prevent gay people from contracting unions or stop private companies from discriminating against people who chose gay unions? Either way, the state is being brought in to tell people what they can and can’t do. In this sense, the left and the right have more in common than either side cares to admit: Both have a plan for how the state can better manage the social order.
Should tobacco be banned or bailed out? Should banks be made too big to fail or badgered with regulatory restrictions so they can’t do real business? Should corporations be protected and subsidized, or should they be taxed within an inch of their lives? Should fatty foods be mandated as part of a national diet or kept off the menu as a health hazard?
These are the great debates of our time. But these are actually not fundamental debates at all. Either way, the only real winner here is government, its agents, its public spokesmen, its powers and its place in our lives and the culture. This is what remains unquestioned.
Should seniors be able to rob young people of their earnings in order to enjoy a luxurious retirement, or should seniors be especially taxed and punished for using more than their fair share of society’s health care resources? Whichever way that debate ends up, liberty itself suffers, and the property rights of everybody are less secure.
Should religious people be able to control what we watch, read and smoke, or should secular people be able to impose laws that keep religious people from having too much influence over our culture? Either way, government is being granted more control over the social order than it should have.
This is the great tragedy of living under leviathan. People have different ideas about how it ought to conduct its affairs. Who should be rewarded? Who should be punished? Who gets the privileges? Who must bear the cost? It becomes a war of pressure groups, everyone seeking to live at the expense of everyone else.
What is this thing we call government? It consists of the gang with an institutional structure that makes the rules, enforces the rules, and lives by rules that are different from those it imposes on the rest of the population. We can’t steal, but government can. We can’t kill, but government can. We can’t counterfeit, kidnap, and engage in fraud, but government can. This thing called government, obviously, has a strong interest in maintaining its power, prestige, and funding.
This is true no matter what the structure of the government happens to be. Oligarchy, absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, presidential republic, parliamentary republic, democracy — all of them have one thing in common: They create a special caste of citizens that live at the expense of everyone else.
In a democracy especially, government enlists us all in its cause. So long as people are arguing about how to use the government, and not whether it should be used to achieve social and economic goals at all, the government comes out the winner. All the pressure groups are really just rewarding the political class, transferring power and money from us to them. Precisely what the excuse is — and it changes all the time, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically — doesn’t matter to government.
Government is a chameleon, pleased to wear any cultural or ideological cloak to blend in with its social and cultural surroundings. In a wrangling, struggling, grasping, dog-eat-dog democracy like ours, there are fifty shades of government, each suitable for a particular time and place, each adapted to purposes of the moment, all with the interest of firming up control by the ruling class.
This is what the “political spectrum” is all about. Government dominates and we submit. It puts us in bondage and we obey its discipline. There’s also got to be a good excuse or else we would never put up with this. We have to believe that the government is, in some way, at some level, doing something that pleases us. Maybe even the government is us!
People say that in the “age of faith” of the Middle Ages, religious differences led to wars. Historians who have looked carefully have noticed something different. Governments that want wars are happy to use religion as the excuse.
And so it is today. In the “age of science,” we get scientific social planning in which experts are supposed tell the people with their hands on the controls how to use them. But whether the excuse is religion or science, security or the environment, nationalism or internationalism, it doesn’t matter to the rest of us. The rights and liberties of the people paying the bill are forever being sacrificed to someone else’s political agenda.
So come November, we will drag ourselves to the voting booth and look at the names and try to remember what these various people promise to do for us and to us if we ratify their right to rule. Having done so, we are told that we’ve made our choice and now we must live with it.
But maybe it is not really a choice at all. Maybe it is time to let go of our dependency and reject the entire master-slave relationship that is the whole basis of the system itself. Fifty Shades of Government has been the best-seller for hundreds of years. It’s time that the governed write an entirely new book.
Jeffrey Tucker,for The Daily Reckoning
I'm executive editor of Laissez Faire Books and the proprietor of the Laissez Faire Club. I'm the author of two books in the field of economics and one on early music. My main professional work between 1985 and 2011 was with the MIses Institute but I've also worked with the Acton Institute and Mackinac Institute, as well as written thousands of published articles. My personal twitter account @jeffreyatucker FB is @jeffrey.albert.tucker Plain old email is firstname.lastname@example.org
“This is the great tragedy of living under leviathan.”
it sure is a tragedy. and you want to replace it with a worse one – a leviathian without citizenship, a leviathan without franchise, a leviathan without appeal. a leviathan of private property, where a pharoah or a handful of elite own everything from horizon to horizon and from generation to generation, where serfs exist only if they contribute to the owners’ bottom line and who suffer The Clearings the instant they do not so contribute. been there, done that, got the dead bodies. I’m sure it’s attractive to those who think they’re independent and wise and the source of life for everyone else but if it ever happens again then the turn-around time will be much shorter than before.
“Should seniors be able to rob young people of their earnings in order to enjoy a luxurious retirement…”
I stopped reading at that point…
This soon to be senior has been forced to pay into a system for 45 years and is now considered a robber?
And it has just been revealed that new boomer retirees will receive less from government than paid in.
Your accusing the wrong group and you have no basis for your accusations.
“This soon to be senior has been forced to pay into a system for 45 years and is now considered a robber?”
absolutely! there’s less and less money to be had, and you’re in someone’s way of getting what’s left!
“Your accusing the wrong group and you have no basis for your accusations.”
divide and conquer, man. it’s all just divide and conquer. but be that as it may, the money is going away, and likely the retirees will be the first to lose. makes sense if you think about it. and frankly everyone should have seen it coming. I’ve known since the 80′s that I’d never get a retirement, the demographics were obvious even that early.
gman you’re on form! But wouldn’t a little bit of anarchy go somewhere towards a better system away from oppressive laws?
I would like free choice in a group which recognises my values and culture and not have to be oppressed by those things which I absolutely abhor.
Ok, I’m with you on this and this and other blogs have gotten me riled up to do something. Then I noticed… all of these fist-shaking “the state is the problem and we must act” posts conspicuously lack any semblance of a suggestion of how anything can be fixed.
It’s often said here on DR that we must let “Mr. Market” work unobstructed or, as in this post, “It’s time that the governed write an entirely new book.” But what does that mean in real, actionable terms for the individual? And why is it all of this publication’s calls to action are of this vague sort delivered in the tones of soundbites?
Its all very well and good to point out the flaws in the system, but without any offering of real, actionable suggestions of change, it’s nothing more than well-written whining. I don’t care how much I agree with a perspective or how much I enjoy reading it, if it’s just pointless whining it has very little value.
“wouldn’t a little bit of anarchy go somewhere towards a better system”
in my opinion, yes. there is a balance. but most people don’t want a balance, rather they want everything they want. they usually dont’ stop at a little bit, they push for all they can get, and then push harder for more, and then push for absolutely everything …
“away from oppressive laws?”
… because they experience any restraint at all on themselves as being oppressive. this goes for communists, capitalists, anarchists, and libertarians.
“all of these fist-shaking “the state is the problem and we must act” posts conspicuously lack any semblance of a suggestion of how anything can be fixed.”
sure they do. ‘least, most of them. to them, the solution is to destroy the state, often accompanied by killing every government employee. to them, this will solve every problem – and for them, it will. you see, they want to do whatever they want to do, any time they want to do it, and they reserve the right to push aside or if necessary destroy anything that interferes with them in any way. now they think they’re superior to most people in every way, and in some ways they often are, so they have no regard except contempt for everyone around them. but government – ah, that’s a different story. they can ignore or push aside lone individuals, but they can’t ignore the cop who pulls them over for speeding or drunk driving (ever notice how angry libertarians are that drunk driving laws exist?). they can’t ignore the irs. so, they hate these organs of the state. that the police and irs may be unreasonable or reasonable is nothing to them. they do not wish to correct or restrain or limit them, they want them gone. they hate the fact that they exist at all. in our present circumstances they see an opportunity to stir things up against the state, and they are playing that opportunity for all it’s worth. if the state is overthrown then they see themselves as finally being the king of the mountain, the new manor lord who employs only those that recognize the manor lord’s value. they see themselves as the new state, the proper state, the moral state, the state of the self. then they’ll be able to do whatever they want to do, any time they want to do it, with no interference from anyone.
Referring more to laws which take away one’s own ability to be responsible.
“Referring more to laws which take away one’s own ability to be responsible.”
if a law takes away a man’s ability to be responsible – just how many men does that affect negatively? take for example seat belt laws. say, for every ten angry men who get a ticket for not wearing one, one is saved because he reluctantly or even resentfully followed the law and put it on. is this a net loss?
if I understand you correctly.
gman confuses Law with Governance. Anarchy disposes only of the second. Law survives because Justice is a good in high demand, and once the government’s monopoly justice is breached, the supply will grow to meet the demand. Your Highland Cearances example (thanks, BTW, very good citation!) might equally be a story of justice being rationed unequally by judges captive to the English merchantilists who no longer respected the common laws of Trial by Jury.
Yes, seat belts are an example: a way of dreaming up something and selling the idea to the lawmakers to make drivers have to comply with – no doubt a return for donations made to them by those who manufacture the belts – something that should be a choice.
Other examples are guns: make everyone hand them in – the responsible will but the criminals won’t.
Then in some places you can’t go out and have a drink. If you’re over the alcohol limit, it could cost you a couple of grand for being over an driving. Again the responsible have to pay, the irresponsible will carry on doing what they are always doing (they have the freedom!), usually by stealing someone else’s car, followed by a police chase sometimes which if it is sufficiently dangerous, the police may call off.
Advertisements to propagate the legislation always compare driving “under the influence” in a scenario when a driver is hopelessly over and going a hundred miles an hour and someone walks out in front of him and he can’t stop.
A responsible person first decides whether he is fit to drive; he thinks “I’ve been drinking and if I do drive, how slow shall I drive to ensure nothing untoward happens and he listens to others.
By all means advertise a thing such as a seat a belt, but don’t make it a law with a fine attaching if you don’t have one.
I want control over how I live my life and it is not for others to tell me how I should as long as I don’t endanger their lives and property or seen to be doing that!
The principle that should be a tenet of everyone particularly in these times when government is short of revenue:
YOU CANNOT LEGISLATE PEOPLE TO BE GOOD
The values of a few should remain with the few and not imposed on others.
The challenge for all is what Yrrek has inferred above, if I understand correctly: we all know what is wrong with the system but what is to be done about it: what is the strategy?
Short term for an election that lies ahead, medium term and then long term?
It may not be good enough just to vent your spleen about probelms, but it is probably all that can be done.
“A responsible person first decides whether he is fit to drive ….”
how many people are responsible? and what happens if they’re not? if someone drives irresponsibly, who suffers any consequences, you or him?
it’s “we don’t need any law” until a responsible person gets hurt by an irresponsible person. then it’s “there oughta be a law.” and this is the basis for most laws that “take away one’s own ability to be responsible”. most such laws don’t take anything away, they are a response to 1) someone’s inability or refusal to act responsibly, whatever the cause or reason, and 2) the effects of that inability or refusal on others. and this drives libertarians nuts, because 1) they’re so very responsible that they don’t need any laws, but 2) they have to live under the same laws, and police, and enforcement, and courts, and lawsuits, and fines, as all the irresponsible people.
the solution for them is of course to live alone.
“YOU CANNOT LEGISLATE PEOPLE TO BE GOOD.”
ok. can you legislate them to behave?
“once the government’s monopoly justice is breached, the supply will grow to meet the demand.”
yeah, we used to have such a free-market-competition justice system, where justice goes to the highest bidder with the biggest guns. majorities around the world discard it the first chance they get in favor of government monopoly.
The law is only for those who obey it. Do we kill other people just because there is no statute or law to prevent it? We have laws, lots and lots. Those who would kill, will kill regardless of law. Those who won’t, don’t need anyone to tell them not to.
Thanks Phelps, you couldn’t have said it better and hold the meaning.
My view is that decline and the plethora of laws began with
1 the “good”(?) lady who helped establish human rights in Europe after WW2: the concept is entirely unbalanced and mathematically “impure”. If anything, a right is a reward of responsibility.
2 we now have rights against rights and further laws trying to clarify and define more and more acts: man is born free but everywhere he is chains to summarise the meaning of Jean-Jacque Rousseau.
But these are all causes within effects, as I see it. The real cause (and strategy) was for example, the American Civil War and consolidation into an identity of a “nation” with a central government and constitution that is difficult to change followed by the most remarkable event ever in history: the establishment of the entity in 1913 while everyone was celebrating the festive season, that could effectively give power to the foreigners to control the entity over all the wealth of the people in US.
This same strategy executed and was almost achieved to the same extent elsewhere in Europe and Africa: the same blueprint.
There’s a wonderful African tale which I thought was an Aesop Fable called the Clever Monkey which was part of my English literature at school. The meaning perhaps?
The monkey who came down from high in the tree to settle the dispute in sharing the bit of cheese, is the government and the instrument of international capitalism.
The scrawny cats are the electorate.
The bit of cheese that is being fought over, is what is left of the cake that has been plundered.
The international capitalist who made the cheese is nowhere to be found.
Each bite that the the monkey takes to share the bit of cheese is the tax from government!
The arguments for drunk driving laws are
1. Drinking impairs your judgement, including judgement of whether you are too impaired to drive.
2. Many of us have heard of an accident where a drunk driver rammed into a car, killing several members of a family, including children, then is wandering around asking, “What happened?”.
Seat belt laws, like helmet laws for bikers, are based on someone getting into an accident, then the rest of us having to pay in to cover their immense medical bills.
Your freedom, of course, ends at my nose, as does mine at yours.
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