By Robert Gore
The history of government is a history of violence. The first caveman “leader” was the most skilled practitioner of violence; he provided security for his tribe and subjugated other tribes. His power meant that he was the dispenser of justice, resolving disputes and punishing those who broke the tribe’s taboos. His services were never free; tribute was exacted from those he led. Usually a theology was created that ascribed mystical powers to the leader—good PR.
As the millennia unrolled, tribes became city-states, nations, and empires; leaders became pharaohs, kings, czars, and emperors, and government remained a protection racket and dispenser of justice, often retaining the religious gloss. The only check on governments’ power was when they encountered overwhelming violence—invasion or revolution or some combination of the two. Every government failed eventually; the unfettered ability to employ violence against other people destroys human psyches, judgment, and morals. Governments compiled an unmatched record of war, genocide, and destruction of lives, property, commerce, and peaceful cooperation among people.
However, they are a necessary evil. For centuries political philosophers have grappled with how to preserve the necessary while eliminating the evil. The Founding Fathers tried to limit our government: designing a republic; delineating an agency role for government, to which the people delegated enumerated powers; separating those powers among three branches; creating checks and balances. Constitutional amendment, judicial interpretation, and executive, legislative, and bureaucratic accretions of power have destroyed that design. With only a few shrinking exceptions, our government can use its coercive power for any purpose it sees fit. That puts it in the illustrious company of every other government in the world, and all the failed governments since the cavemen.
Violence is not a viable or moral organizing principle for human affairs; it destroys rather than builds. “Command and control” describes a society directed from the top down. The dominant institution is the government and the dominant form of interaction is coercion. This model has been embedded in the human psyche for so long that it is the basis of most religions: a deity or deities telling humans what to do while punishing—in this life or the hereafter—those who disobey.
An indirect intellectual challenge to command and control came from Galileo and Copernicus, who posited a non-earth-centered universe. Diminishing man’s place in the universe, by implication they diminished his gods. A more direct challenge came from Adam Smith. The justification for command and control is that resting coercive power in the state is preferable to anarchy and chaos. Smith’s seminal insight was that under the right conditions, order and progress could emerge from seeming chaos. Markets are an institution almost as old as governments, but Smith popularized the notion that the invisible fingers—self-interest, production, voluntary exchange, and the price mechanism—of the market’s invisible hand could lead to socially beneficial results.
Charles Darwin in a sense took Smith’s model and applied it to nature. Just as nobody directs markets, Darwin theorized that nobody directs nature. Species are continuously adapting to their environment, increasing their chances of survival. This elicited condemnations from command-and-control-based religions that continue to this day. In markets and evolution, progress comes from organic adaptation emanating from autonomous entities—bottom up as opposed to top down. These processes can’t be planned and their outcomes can’t be predicted, but they can be hindered or stopped by exogenous forces. The organic adaptation model is the opposite of command and control. Curiously, environmentalism has evolved into a contradictory combination of the two. While singing the praises of evolution and the unfettered operation of the balance of nature, most environmentalists distrust markets and champion coercive, government-mandated remedies to perceived environmental ills. Flora and fauna are to be free, but not humans.
Anglo-American law uneasily embodies the dichotomy between the approaches. Statutory law—static commands issued by the state—run counter to the common law, a dynamic trial-and-error legal evolution. The common law groped to the discovery that to realize the benefits of markets, promises have to be enforced and people’s right to produce and exchange protected—essential roles of government. America’s founding fathers, steeped in the common law tradition and influenced by Smith and other Enlightenment political philosophers, incorporated these functions into their design for the new government.
The brief periods when command and control has given way to relative freedom and organic adaptation have been fruitful. We know them as the Golden Ages of Greece, China, and Islam, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the industrial and technological revolutions. When government protects its citizens from violence and secures their contract and property rights, leaving them in control of their own lives, the results have been astonishing, accounting for most of our progress. Unfortunately, the success of organic adaptation carries the seeds of its own destruction. Command and control appeals to those pathological personalities who like to order others around, usually employing self-serving rationales of superiority, but sometimes nakedly justifying their rule as might makes right. The fecundity of organic adaptation gives them the wherewithal to enforce a parasitic, destructive role for the state—until the parasite kills the host.
Command and control ran amuck in the twentieth century, giving us communism, fascism, Nazism, and the horrors of genocide, two world wars, and countless smaller ones. While the failures of these systems are well-recognized, what is not conceded is that coercion is not a viable organizing principle for human affairs. Today, every government in the world rests on a foundation of coercion—redistributing wealth, extensively regulating the lives of their citizens, and recognizing few if any limits on their powers. The power to tax supports their power to borrow and they mandate acceptance of paper currencies backed by worthless promises not to depreciate. Intellectually, command and control predominates, holding Silicon Valley and the Internet, et. al.—wonders of organic adaptation—hostage to a failed Stone Age philosophy.
The components of economic organic adaptation—production, voluntary exchange, contract and property rights—are the essentials of human survival. When an individual initiates force against another to take legitimately acquired property, it is a violation of the victim’s most basic human right: to his or her own survival. Nothing changes if it is a group taking from the victim, if the victim has more property than the taker, or if the taker “needs” the victim’s property; theft is still theft. Nothing changes if the people’s agent, the government, does the taking, although a majority of citizens may approve. People cannot delegate a right to their collective agent that they do not have as individuals. Theft is still theft.
Protection of the right to property―to keep what one has earned and acquired―and the rights to contract and voluntary exchange are not quaint Constitutional anachronisms, but rather essential functions of government. It has the duty to use force to protect its citizens’ physical safety and their ability to pursue their livelihoods. When government violates rather than protects rights, it is no longer legitimate; it is organized crime, a kleptocracy (government by theft), destined for the same historical dustbin as all the other kleptocracies.
Every welfare state government has made commitments it can’t keep. They are already taking huge chunks of their GDPs, while economic stagnation, taxpayer resistance, and demographics limit further expropriation. So they borrow more and print money. Demonstrating the intellectual bankruptcy of command and control thought, China, which manipulates its interest and exchange rates, compels its banks to lend money to capital projects for which there is no demand, stifles dissent, and controls food and energy prices so that its population won’t revolt, is held up as the savior of world economy. Systems based on coercion have collapsed in the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and northern Africa. There are more to come.
Two phenomena stand out: moral posturing by the criminal class and its beneficiaries, and widespread docility and acquiescence among the victims. Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, President Clinton said: “There is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.” If you are a productive individual who supports yourself in the private economy, half of your country believes it’s your obligation to support them and offers no gratitude when you do so. You work, on average, until April 17 to pay your taxes. (That doesn’t include an implied governmental debt service obligation or the burden of regulatory compliance. By some estimates that puts your overall “government freedom day” in July or August.) You will be thrown in jail if you refuse to pay, even if you avail yourself of no government services and find your productivity hindered at every turn by it. Why would you not despise your government? What is most worthy of love about the United States is the ideal upon which it was founded: a government subservient to its citizens with the duty to protect their individual rights. Let’s not pretend that ideal is even within field goal range of our current government.
Moral posturing reached a new low with the following:
…if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something —there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. (President Obama, July 13, 2012, at a campaign appearance in Virginia)
Yes, government builds schools, bridges, and roads, funds research, provides medical care, disaster relief, and many other goods and services. However, mixed economies are so named because they are a mixture of coercion and residual, fast-fading freedoms, and anything that is a product of coercion can be done, and done better, by free people. The only services the government legitimately provides, which logically flow from its role as the sole initiator of legitimate force, are the military, the police, and the courts. To say that we are supposed to be grateful for the things upon which the government improperly spends our money is akin to the parasite scolding its host for ingratitude.
President Obama unwittingly described the future he is trying to impose by downplaying intelligence and hard work as factors in success. A free economy is a competitive economy and in such an economy, to suggest that those who struggle to the top have not been smarter or worked harder than their competition is simply fatuous. Mr. Obama sets up a straw man when he says that successful people did not get that way by themselves. What successful person claims that he or she did? We all stand on the shoulders of the great thinkers and doers. If we are lucky, we also stand on the shoulders of great parents, teachers, employees, coworkers, bosses, and friends, too. Who denies that success in our complex society is a product of cooperation among many people? However, cooperation is the antithesis of coercion. Free people cooperate because it is in their interest to do so; coerced people unwillingly comply with the dictates of those holding the guns.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” In Mr. Obama’s “better” world, that somebody will be the government, and anyone who wants money and power will have to seek such “help.” Intelligence and effort will be replaced by pull and subservience to those holding the guns.
What has been remarkable, so far, is the tractability of victims in the land of the American Revolution. In any given year, the sum of publicly expressed outrage generated by bad referee calls in the NFL outweighs that provoked by the coerced exaction known as the income tax. Judging by the intensity of court battles over winning lottery tickets and inheritances, people are far more passionate about purely fortuitous wealth transfers than they are about the annual transfer of their own hard-earned wealth to the government. It can’t all be resignation about the inevitability of taxes. The counterfeit morality of those screaming for “benevolence” at the point of a gun has cowed many of the honestly productive. Our moral decadence is such that those of us who dare to admit that we want to keep what we have earned are impugned as greedy and can be justifiably robbed, while those doing the robbing are humanitarians as long as they claim to be doing it for someone else. How long can a society last when it condemns production, voluntary exchange, and rational self-interest while endorsing theft as a governing principle?
This article originally appeared on thesavvystreet.com
I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!
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