Predatory Governance

There is a telling passage in the Biblical book of Nehemiah. Its author, the man whose name the book bears, served as governor of Judea in the 5th century BC. In the fifth chapter of the book, Nehemiah speaks of the rule of governors who served before him. This is how he puts it:
But the earlier governors -- those preceding me -- placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people.

In this short statement, Nehemiah inadvertently captures the nature and essence of the state: It lords it over the people. This is its universal characteristic. Be it the pharaoh in ancient Egypt or the caesar at Rome or a medieval king or the modern managerial bureaucracy -- they all run roughshod over the citizenry. They all extract money from the people and destroy or kill anyone who dares to oppose them. This is as true in contemporary America as it was in the days of the Roman tax-collectors. The state oppresses and plunders regardless of its geographical location or time in history. The loot is then used to enhance the well-being, prestige, and power of those who hold its reins.

Today, this dynamic is playing out before our eyes in a truly striking way. Even as the economic situation keeps deteriorating and many Americans face joblessness and hardships of various kinds, our "governor" -- the president -- and his "assistants" surely live it up.

According to recent analysis by USA Today, government employees earn twice the compensation of their counterparts in the private sector. To work for the state is profitable indeed:

Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade... Federal compensation has grown 36.9% since 2000 after adjusting for inflation, compared with 8.8% for private workers.

Many elected politicians and their families lead extravagant lives. It seems there is some party in the White House every other day. The president's wife travels to foreign luxury resorts, where she books sixty rooms in a trip that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. She does this while ordinary Americans -- whose taxes underwrote the trip -- struggle to make ends meet.

Economist Murray Rothbard called the State "a gang of thieves writ large." Rothbard's observation is no hyperbole. That is exactly what the state is. When stripped of the phony aura of statesmanship, Charles Rangel, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Christopher Dodd, and their compadres are that gang of which Rothbard spoke. They scheme and plot and extract money from the productive and then give it to themselves and their armies of minions, who keep them in power with their votes. The American federal government increasingly resembles a redistribution racket that is run by operatives who call themselves public servants.

Many of us have been blind to this because we have been brainwashed by the decades of government propaganda dispensed through the public school system, universities, and the media. But the behavior of the political class has recently become so brazen and outrageous that scales are falling from people's eyes everywhere.

There can be an illusion that government is good while it is still small. This is because many people fall victim to its propaganda while not yet having personally experienced the reality of its conduct. The gravest error people can commit in their dimension as civic beings is to think that their government will do good to them. Sadly, many of us have fallen for this delusion. It made us forget that the moment government becomes big and powerful, it invariably turns into a cruel master. Once that happens, it is very difficult to shake off its grip.

This is the situation we find ourselves in today. Getting government off our backs and regaining our freedoms may prove to be a most trying task. The gang will not go quietly into the night.
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