Friday, June 08, 2007

The Robber Barons: A Political Fable

Once upon a time there was a relatively peaceful society. It was not perfect, but it was generally peaceful and prosperous. Association and exchange was voluntary. While occasionally a band of robbers from foreign lands would attempt to pillage them, the people had a decent means to defend themselves and fend them off.

One day, a band of robbers formed a large gang within this society. They tooking to the task of robbing the people and plundering the neighboorhood. At first, it was quite obvious to the people what was going on, and they resisted as best as they could. For the meantime, they minimized the degree to which the robbers effected them.

But the robbers were not satisified. They wanted their coffers to be even bigger and bigger. The gang started a recruitment campaign to increase their numbers. With this increase in man-power, the gang kept robbing the people for decades on end. While the people resisted to a limited extent, they did not manage to eliminate the gang itself.

One day, the gang was quareling over the question of how to continue and sustain their plunder. In resolution to the quarrel, the gang leader declared that his son would be the next leader. And so the gang formed a pact by which gang leadership continued dynastically from the seed of the original gang leader. Soon after, the leader died and his son took over the gang.

In frustration, some of the people tried to take up a new tactic against the gang. They declared, "We can eliminate the gang by joining it, and infiltrating it from the inside". And so, some of the people joined the gang via the recruiting campaign that had been established. They figured that they could avoid the temptations toward corruption and eventually overthrow the gang.

Those who joined the gang found that they had to abide by the dictates of the gang's goals. The price of attempted infiltration was the cooperation with and enforcement of the gang's activities. Furthermore, if they actively tried to leave the gang, they faced a high risk of being killed. Those few who had the courage to do so were indeed killed. The rest became assimilated into the gang.

As the decades continued, and as the dynasty of the gang progressed, the people started becoming desensitized to the robbing. The robbers established their robbery on a more repeated basis. As the people became more desensitized, the gang became an official institution that perpetually collected its dues. Over time, the people were simply born into the situation, and thus concluded that this is how it always was and has to be.

The people were further lulled into complaince with the institution by offers of bread and circuses. Sure, occasionally the gang members would hand out food, a trinket here, a festivity there. Eventually, the people started taking the view that "we need the gang, they promise us goods and services". And so the people started accepting small chump change of bread and circuses as bait for continued complaince to the gang. They cheered "long live the gang" when it handed them a miniscule portion of what had originally been stolen from them and their ancestors.

But some people took a different route. They declared, "I know! We can form our own gang, that way we can compete with their gang and eventually overthrow it". While the people were initially skeptical of this, they eventually put their support behind it full throttle. One well-read gentleman was chosen as gang leader and a new gang was established. Most of the people were still not in the gang themselves, of course, as membership was restricted to those few who had the prestige and alleged know-how.

The gang got bigger and bigger, to the point where it was a potential competitor of the original gang. They attempted an overthrow numerous times without success. But one day, they succeeded, assassinating the old gang leader and winning a battle over its territory. Their leader overtook the old gang and assimilated the two into one, larger gang. The people were left with a larger gang then before, with a new person at the top of executive power.

This new, larger gang further institutionalized the robbery and plunder of the people, and the new leader established his own dynastic line. But most of the people were fully supportive of it, partially because they looked more favorably upon the new gang leader, and partially because they were just born into it, and believed that it was inevitable if not necessary. As the centuries passed, the people became more and more desensitized to the grandios gang.

But not all of the people reached this conclusion. Some declared, "I know! We can still keep the gang, but make it better by reforming it and putting the right people in charge through this new idea called democracy". While all where convinced that the gang was inevitable, if not necessary, they started gaining faith in the idea that they could reform the gang through elections. So the gang was reformed so that the leader was no longer chosen dynastically, but through popular vote, and a multitude of sub-leaders were also chosen through popular vote.

As the decades of democracy moved onwards, the plunder of the gang grew and grew, and one corrupt gang leader kept being replaced with another corrupt gang leader. Diverse factions developed within the society, each seeking to elect a leader that catored to their special interest. Each gang member up for election would promise the people favors for their particular groups. The bread and circuses of gladiator arenas and jesters was replaced with the bread and circuses of social programs and public schools. The plunder was spread about and redistributed to a web of interest groups.

Despite having access to detailed accounts of eons of the history of the gang, the people still accepted the premise that the gang was not only inevitable, but necessary. They believed that the gang can be used for "good". While they may not ever be fully satisified with the gang, they accepted the premise that they can improve the gang and that the gang is good because it provides us with services such as welfare and national security. They declared, "Surely, without the gang, society would descend into utter chaos, poverty and misery". Little did the people realize that the world was already chaotic, impoverished and miserable precisely because of the gang activity.

But a handful of people were well aware of this. The strongest of them proposed that we abolish the gang. While they were well out of the mainstream, they were well informed. But the multitude's reaction to them was filled with horror: "Those people are kooks!", they declared. Those who opposed the gang wondered, "How can most of the people around us continue to support the gang, when the evils of the gang are so obvious?". The ghost of √Čtienne de La Bo√©tie replied, with words that shook the earth, "That is the mystery of voluntary servitude".

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