Government versus Anarchy and Production versus Plunder
Most people accept government as if it were a normal part of their lives and the economy. They know no better and have no sense of history.
Government is a trade-off between production and plunder. The more government, the greater the strain on the productive sector of society. At some point, government actually threatens continuance of society and civilization itself.
A sophisticated case can be made that government is unnecessary. An easier case can be made that it is always and everywhere unproductive.
Regarding the necessity of government, reasonable people disagree. Even classical liberals who believed strongly in free markets and free men took different positions. Ludwig von Mises, dean of the modern Austrian School of Economics and a great thinker beyond his specialty in economics, was of the opinion that some government was necessary. His star American pupil, Murray Rothbard, disagreed. Rothbard advocated anarchy (not to be confused with chaos) because he believed that the camel's nose could not be contained at the entrance of the tent. Both Mises and Rothbard are considered extremists or Neanderthals by today's statists.
The political spectrum can be defined as extreme communism on the far left to extreme anarchy on the far right. Most of us fall between these extremes or tend to tilt toward one of the poles. Government has grown wildly over time and moved mass thought toward the left pole. A dramatic example of this change can be provided by examining the political positions of John F. Kennedy, Democrat elected president in 1960. His positions today have no place in the modern Democratic Party. Indeed, many would be considered too far right for the Republican Party.
The masses sense that things are not working properly in the economy and in society. Most don't know why, but they realize that life has become harder for them. Conceptual and theoretical arguments may be beyond many of these people, but experience is a teacher that is not ignored without consequence.
Some of the issues troubling people are the following:
- Has government become too big and too powerful?
- Is it doing things that could be done better in the private sector?
- How much freedom can we relinquish and still function as a free society?
- Is government involvement (taxes, interventions, etc.) adversely affecting my ability to provide for my family?
- Are there any limits to what government can take away from us or do to us?
- If government goes too far, can it be reined in?
The necessity of government may be an "unthinkable" for many, however few still believe in the nobility of government. Why and how public servants become millionaires without producing anything does not go unnoticed. When Harry Truman left the White House, he was broke. There was no pension, Secret Service, or even an escort home. He drove himself back to Missouri to the home he had inherited from his mother-in-law.
History is revealing regarding government and how it came into being. There is nothing noble about its formation. It began by force, not agreement. Will and Ariel Durant stated:
No student takes seriously the seventeenth-century notion that states arose out of a "social contract" among individuals or between the people and the ruler.
Franz Oppenheimer, in his analysis of the origin of the state, was more blunt. He argued that every instance of government came about as a result of force. He differentiated between two different ways of surviving – production and plunder.
There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others[.] … I propose in the following discussion to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others, the "economic means" for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the "political means."
For many, the thoughts of the Durants and Oppenheimer are heresy. They learned nothing of this sort in the propaganda that passes for "state education." Nor do they hear anything like this from the formal media, which is a public relations arm of the state and provides only statist propaganda.
The two sources quoted above are hardly outliers. Historical literature is filled with similar observations.
Production versus Plunder
The Daily Bell is running installments of a series entitled "Production versus Plunder." It is written by Paul Rosenberg and, from what I have read thus far, I highly recommend it. (It may already be out on Kindle and Amazon.) Here is an outtake from his work that describes the first instance of government. It occurred prior to 6000 B.C.:
An annotated timeline of human life in Sumers shows this process:
Prior to 6000 B.C.
Gardeners travel down the Tigris River from Armenia into the land that will eventually be called Sumer. Stumbling upon the fact that they could create permanent settlements in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, they remain and create stationary agriculture. In effect, they create civilization. They become, as Samuel Kramer says, the "first farmers, cattle-raisers, fishermen, weavers, leather workers, woodworkers, smiths, potters and masons." Nonetheless, we have no written record of these people, few artifacts and only traces of their language. We don't even have a name for them. Shortly after the Tigris-Euphrates Valley was settled, Semitic nomads from what are now Arabia and Syria begin to raid the agriculturalists. At some point thereafter, they invade and remain, setting themselves up as a dominant political group. In other words, they make themselves the first stationary rulers, collect a portion of the harvest every year and claim a monopoly on the right to dispense justice to the agriculturalists, all by force of arms.
Mr. Rosenberg traces the development of government from its beginnings. He provides the conditions that enabled government to thrive. His most recent offer goes up only to 1750 B.C. I look forward to future installments.
I don't know where Rosenberg ends up in his series, but I do know that the necessity of and proper role for government are not decided yet.
There is a strong argument for what many believe unthinkable (especially those in the public sector) – that is, abandoning government completely or reducing it to such a role that it would have limited effect on society.
Robert Higgs argues against government:
In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy's mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state's mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.
Few people put matters more clearly than Lysander Spooner did more than a century ago:
The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life[.] ... The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber[.] ... Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful 'sovereign,' on account of the 'protection' he affords you.
Almost as far back, Albert J. Nock opined:
Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class
These gentlemen were hardly alone in their assessments. Further, their comments were not directed at the U.S. government per se. The comments were generic, applying to the very institution of government anywhere and any place. Power, as Lord Acton reminded, always corrupts. Acton's observation was not limited by time or geography.
The Next Century
For the sake of mankind, I hope the 21st century will be known as the Failure of Government. Governments everywhere must be downsized if not completely dismantled and eliminated.
Whether government is eliminated completely or put back into a box (and a very small one at that) is not worth speculating on. The point is that the fate of civilization requires the rethinking and resizing of government. The mafia types who now rule will fight such attempts with all their might. Preservation of their fiefdoms ensures their wealth, which is possible only by taking it from the rest of society.
Al Capone had no conscience. Nor do those inhabiting the parasite class we euphemistically refer to as the "political class" or "our leaders." Most of us will not be around to see how this battle for civilization ends. However, if I could cast a vote, it would be the following: I don't want to be led; I want to be left alone!
History reveals that the quality of our political class deteriorates over time. Anyone who enters politics does so as a despicable person or a naive one. Regardless, all who spend any time in politics become corrupted and despicable.