There are three ways for a person to obtain something of value from another person: receive it as a donation, steal it by force or fraud, or exchange for it. It’s not much of an oversimplification to say that the advance of civilization has hinged on its movement from the first two methods to the third. The right to exchange, and the right to promise as part of a future exchange—the right to contract—are now taken for granted, but those rights are delicate and a whole complex of rights, assumptions, and obligations are subsumed by them. Their intellectual foundations are being undermined as the equality of rights implicit in contract and exchange gives way to a regressive inequality of rights: servitude.
The essence of exchange is choice; it’s voluntary. Both parties have the choice of whether or not to transact, and neither will do so unless they subjectively value what they receive more than what they give up. That is not to say that there will be equality of resources, bargaining power, or negotiating skill between the parties, or that they will be equally happy with their bargain, only that both parties have the same choice to accept or reject the proposed transaction. Exchange embodies that equality of rights between parties, but not an equality of outcomes.
The right to exchange implicitly assumes that parties are the best judges of their own interests, and that such determinations will be respected by both the parties and those outside the transaction. The rights to exchange and contract are individual rights, and the obligation to fulfill one’s side of the bargain an individual obligation. A collective entity such as a business can contract and exchange, but either the members of that entity have agreed that they will, collectively, do so, or have, by their membership in that entity, recognized implicitly or explicitly the right of those directing the entity to do so.
The concept of a social contract is a contradiction in terms. With whom does a society contract? An entity cannot contract with itself. The notion has come to mean acceptance by the governed of the government, whatever its form. However, individuals have no choice to opt out of the collective entity known as society, as they would any other voluntarily chosen entity they joined, and the social contract supposedly binds not just those who were part of the society when the contract was made, but future generations. Thus, the term social contract wrongly connotes voluntary choice of an institution whose establishment has always been the product of chance and force, and has no meaning at all for the unborn who will nevertheless be compelled to live under the government so established.
Exchange evokes hostility because it is a private decision in which the resulting agreement excludes everyone but the two parties, and it increases, by their own evaluations, their wellbeing. As it increases wellbeing, a rational government will do all it can to protect the rights of its citizens to contract and exchange for any licit purpose. However, a government relegated to protecting private contracts and exchange is a government subjugated; there is no opportunity for the exercise of coercive power. When contracts are breached, the government’s role is adjudication and remedy, not coercion. Even that role is unessential; parties can agree beforehand to nongovernmental dispute resolution.
Nobody goes into government to refrain from exercising power. Governments ban certain contracts and exchanges, or dictate their terms in the name of regulation. They are humanity’s most rapacious and regressive institution; they arrogate to themselves the right to legally engage in theft. Outlawing or regulating certain exchanges furthers larceny as well; enforcement offers opportunities for extortion and accepting bribes.
Historically, there has been a virtually straight line relationship between the share of activity within a society demarcated by voluntary contract and exchange and the progress made by that society. Voluntary exchanges and the private choices they incorporate are, by definition, made only when they enhance wellbeing. Once a government “escapes” the subjugation of enforcing private agreements and choices, they constrict the scope of such agreements and choices and extract value by force, that is, involuntarily, from the citizenry. Notwithstanding the delusions and lies of their many proponents, constricting choices and theft cannot further progress, they only retard, stop, or reverse it.
Neither the relationship between donor and recipient nor between thief and victim is that of equals. The proper characterization for both is servility: recipients begging donors for donations and victims implicitly or explicitly begging thieves to spare some of their property or their lives. If a truth serum could be administered to ensure an honest answer, perhaps no single question would be more psychologically revealing than whether a person prefers relationships of servility or equality. A preference for the former is the most accurate marker for sociopathy available, and is not a bad one for psychopathy, either.
So runs the sociopathic, psychopathic scam known as government. The productive are robbed and just enough is doled out to the beggars to keep them quiescent and voting correctly. The rest lines the pockets of the sociopaths and psychopaths, the “served.” This can be the only result when exchange is replaced with theft and begging as the basis of social and commercial interaction. Collectivist hostility to exchange stems not from its misattributed flaws, but from deep-rooted psychological hostility to a process that involves free choice and confers equally to both parties the option not to engage in it. Exchange presumes that individuals are capable of directing their own lives, and protecting the freedom to contract and exchange enshrines that autonomy. Freedom, exchange, and equality of rights under the law are inseparable.
As exchange dies, the nation founded in revolution and independence descends into docile servility. Equality of rights under the law, a difficult but not impossible goal, gives way to a deluded and malignant drive for equality of outcomes. Exchange, contract, and freedom are inconsistent with equality of outcome. In order for voluntary exchange to occur, both parties must have something to exchange, which implies both parties have produced something and either retained it or exchanged it for something else of value. Productive ability is not equally distributed. Nor is the ability to benefit from exchange; some are better at it than others.
Spurious promises of equal outcomes implicitly rely on begging, theft, and the coercive power of the sociopathic, psychopathic scam. There has never yet been a government in which the government, especially ones devoted to “equality,” did not become, in Orwell’s words, “more equal” than its begging and enslaved citizenry. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a blowhard bastard bloviating bromides about the beauty and nobility of “service.” You’re to be served…as the next course.
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