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An outrageous proposal — or not

 -- Published: Wednesday, 25 October 2017 | Print  | Disqus 

By George Smith

A cry could be heard from somewhere in the room.

No one was surprised.  This had been an unthinkable outcome for those in attendance, and a sense of quiet shock had overtaken everyone.  This was not a G7 or a G20 summit.  It was a meeting deliberately without a label.  It would never again happen.  It couldn’t.

The leaders of the world’s states had gathered to find solutions to the problems they feared were threatening human life on earth.  They were reminded of the incessant wars, the likelihood of a recession far worse than the last, the enormous levels of family, student, and government debt, the increasing deterioration of the world’s currencies, the immigration problems, the reciprocal relationship between money spent on eradicating problems and the results obtained, the vast, increasing corruption of government officials and the mainstream media, the failure of the public schools, the various racial, ideological, and religious hostilities, the increasing vulnerability to the planet from end-of-days scenarios, and so many more a sudden outbreak of headaches postponed further discussion.

Later, when the subject of solutions came up, they were reminded that without solutions that worked governments would eventually have no one to govern.  With no one to govern their laws and decrees would be meaningless.  With no one to govern governments would have no source of revenue.  With no one to govern it would be pointless to debauch the currency.  With no one to govern the vast bureaucratic arrangement of government would churn to a halt.  

“With no one to govern our problems would be solved,” added one, to the amusement of the others.

Immediately another replied, “Could it work the other way?”  All heads turned to him.  “What if we removed our institutions from society?  What if we closed shop, as the Soviet Union did in 1991?  What if we eliminate government from the face of the earth and leave people free to deal with the mess we’ve made?  It’s their future that’s at stake.  I think they’ll find ways to fix things peacefully.”

And after debate that raged for six hours, this is what they — incredibly —agreed to do.  Some no doubt had visions of instituting even stronger governments after the peons grew tired of robbing and killing one another.

The long history of slavery — and government

Robert Higgs opened his scholarly Crisis and Leviathan with these words: “We must have government.”  Higgs, a libertarian, went on to document how crises, especially war, excused the rapid expansion of the federal government — never mind that the crises developed because of government meddling.  When the crises ended the government retained some of the new powers it grabbed during the emergency.  Next time you look at your pay stub and see the taxes withheld remember that withholding was passed as a “temporary measure” as well as an alleged benefit to taxpayers to fund US involvement in WW II.  (See Rothbard’s comments here.)

Later in life Higgs repudiated his opening statement about the necessity of government as he moved ideologically from a minarchist libertarian to an anarchist libertarian, explaining that 

"I believe it is wrong for anyone – including those designated the rulers and their functionaries – to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me – or you or anyone – to do as a private person."

He also brought attention to the long history of slavery and the even longer history of government “as we know it,” meaning “the monopolistic, individually nonconsensual form of government that now exists virtually everywhere on earth.”  Proponents of slavery once had a list of arguments that went virtually unchallenged.  Today almost no one respects those arguments.  Yet they would be offered any day of the week in defense of government “as we know it.” Higgs:

Slavery is natural.
Government (as we know it) is natural.

Slavery has always existed.
Government (as we know it) has always existed. 

Every society on earth has slavery.
Every society on earth has government (as we know it)

The slaves are not capable of taking care of themselves.
The people are not capable of taking care of themselves.

Jim Powell in Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery offers these comments on slavery:

"it had been around for thousands of years, hardly anybody had opposed it in all that time, and powerful interest groups—including established churches—supported it. . .  The very idea of emancipation was widely viewed as a threat to the social order."

Substituting “government” for “slavery” fits perfectly.  Almost no one opposes it, it's supported by powerful interests, it's been around for thousands of years, and its abandonment would be viewed as a threat to the social order.

Chattel slavery and government have much in common.  There were brutal slaveowners.  There were also slaveowners who treated their slaves decently, almost as if they were family members.  Governments vary in their treatment of citizens as well.  Some tolerate conditions of relative freedom, while others will murder or imprison anyone or any group perceived as a threat.  Still, “kinder, gentler” governments have sent millions of young men to their deaths after conscripting them into the military.  And they stand ready to do it again.  Those same governments lose little sleep imposing on other states sanctions that cause civilian deaths, including the slow death of children.

Political scientist R. J. Rummel has estimated that governments in the 20th century killed 262,000,000 people under their rule, with most of those occurring in Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nationalist China, and Nazi Germany.  So-called democracies, where citizens exert a degree of control on government policies, are far less likely to murder its citizens.  Democracies commit most of their murders against foreigners.

Whether democratic or otherwise, government as an institution has two defining traits: It claims a monopoly of rule over a defined geographic area, and it secures this monopoly with the threat of violence.  Within its domain it allows no competitors.   

With a superiority of force, governments as we’ve known them have secured their revenue through extortion, though under different names.  It is not an exchange for services in a market sense.  Governments may say they will do certain things with the revenue collected but that’s as far as it goes.  There is no contract with the taxpayers.  They are not customers government works hard to satisfy.  There is no need to. 

Throughout history governments have always supplemented their tax revenue by debasing or counterfeiting the currency.  In modern times the government’s central bank has made this process almost impenetrable, while the Keynesian-dominated economics profession has deluded the public into believing it’s in their interest.

So, at base we have an institution that is violent, a monopoly, an extortionist, and a counterfeiter.  It’s also a murderer, kidnapper, and a liar.  And it’s running our lives. 

We ought to be able to do better.

The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.” 
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part Second

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