Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thoughts on Government and Its Nature

The typical view of society and government puts forth the notion that government is the source of all order and efficiency in society, that government creates society. Well, I'm sorry to break this to those who think that government creates society, but society preceded and created government.

Civilization arose spontaneously before governments, through the division of labor, through private property. Private property is the fundamental basis of civilization. Voluntary trade, commerce, is the fundament of civilization. Not governments. Governments did not come into the picture until long after social cooperation had already been going on through commerce and association.

One reoccuring theme is the notion that it is impossible to do X (to use an example: healthcare) without government. This rests on the absurd assumption that there is no other way to produce a road, a water system or such a thing through non-governmental means. Of course, we can see all around us how the vast majority of such things already are provided privately.

The belief that you cannot produce the same thing without taxes is illogical. For the same reason that you can buy food without the government supplying the food, you can buy waterworks without government supplying it. To assume that just because I oppose government providing something, I oppose that thing in itself, that it is impossible to do the thing in question non-governmentally, is nonsensical.

Frederic Bastiat pointed this reoccuring error out: "Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain."—from The Law

Government places barriers that stand in the way of voluntary success. Whenever private and voluntary ways of doing things prove to be sucessful, governments have a tendency to illegalize them, and agrigate a monopoly to themselves over that particular area, and then try to convince the multitude that it and only it is capable of providing that particular thing. That doesn't mean that voluntarism cannot lead to more peace and prosperity.

It means that there is a gun in the room stopping it from happeing. The gun in the room is not in the hands of the people. It is the hands of a relatively small band of individuals who constitute what we call governments. When people are simply born into such systems, they are generally taught that there is no possible way to achieve the same ends without the way it currently is done by their government.

The improvement of technology and the expansion of economies makes government less and less necessary. To use an obvious example, the existance of the private food industries makes communist ownership of agriculture unecessary, unmanagable and counterproductive. It makes central control harder and harder to succeed. The more complex an economy becomes, the more complex information becomes, the harder it is for central control to really exercise itself, and the harder it is to manage anything in such a manner. So in this sense, I see the fall of the state as inevitable in the future.

People often put forth the notion that we need government to do X or Y because people are fallable, because people have the capacity for violence and greed. This is the old double standard of government. Government is made up of people too. The idea that people are greedy and evil, therefore we should give all our guns and money over to a particular small band of individuals, to stop us from being greedy and evil, is an oxymoron. Those individuals are not less prone to the fallability of humanity then anyone else.

The only way for us to take this theory seriously is to place those in government on a moral high-ground, a status of superiority. In reality, they are equally flawed, but now they are more dangerous because these equally flawed people have been given monopolistic decision-making power over all the other equally flawed people. Their flawed decisions carry more weight and have more wide-spread effects.

Bastiat pointed out this problem long ago: "If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?"—from The Law

Theories such as divine right, democracy and the hobbesian state of nature are all propaganda to make people accept a double-standard of morality with respect to their governments. The hobbesian state of nature, of war of all against all, is not the "natural state" of a free society. It does not stand to reason that if you put two people who don't know eachother in a room, they will always inherently get into a fight. It simply is not true.

Rather, as we can see all around us in this world, it is precisely what happens with democracy, when government offers everyone a means to gain at the expense of others through the misuse of law. Without government, no such means exists. The institutional and legal means of plunder can only be provided through the means of government. Yes, private plunder will always exist, but government simply creates an institutional channel of plunder.

Bastiat, once again, provides us with insight: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."—from Government

He was also aware of the double-standard of morality by which this is perpetrated: "But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime."—from The Law

I feel sorry for people who refuse to see any capacity for cooperation outside of government. We see cooperation go on without any government influence all the time. We go to the grocery store without shooting anyone or stealing, not because the government is looming over us telling us not to, but because we instinctively know that we undermine our own self-interest to the extent that we destroy social cooperation. We know that if we refuse to engage in any social cooperation at all, we are left as miserable, poor and unhealthy isolated individuals; in short, man, isolated on his own, pretty much dies.

This is because social cooperation is something that stems from the laws of economics and nature, not government. Social cooperation is a natural phenomenon that arises out of the comparative morality and efficiency of exchange over isolated pure self-reliance. This alone is what has created anything remotely resembling "progress" in human relations: the increased complex network of social cooperation that occurs naturally.

Without this social cooperation, which occurs despite any governmental activity, there would be no such thing as human progress. Technology and methods of production would have never improved. Any sense of reasonable "tolerance" for others that we have would be stymied. Hunter-gathering would have never given way to agriculture, and agriculture would have never given way to industry.

The fact that we can sit here with computers and houses and television sets is purely the result of private property and social cooperation. The people that we call "poor" today in places like America live lifestyles that would be considered lavish and rich by the kings of anchient times. No matter how much of a pessemist about human nature we try to be, it stands as true that man is capable of good, man is capable of cooperation, man is capable of peace and man is capable of reason. Fallability does not mean impossibility.

The existance of all the ignorance and stupidity in the world does nothing to negate the capacity for reason. The existance of all of the violence in the world does nothing to negate the capacity for peaceful cooperation. The existance of all of the evil in the world does not negate the capacity for good.

The philosopher is left with two choices: they can improve conditions by spreading ideas among their fellow men that show them their own capacity for reason and cooperation, encouraging those people to act with reason and cooperation, or they can incessantly tell everyone that they are inherently evil and doomed to utter misery, and should expect no less for people to live their lives as such because they chose to believe as such.

Those who have convinced themselves that peace is impossible will have no objection to violence, even done by themselves. Those who have convinced themselves that cooperation is impossible will have no objection to isolation. Such people are the creators of their own misery.

Aside from private crime, which is minimal in comparison to institutional or state crime, the only thing that has ever stood in the way of cooperation and progress have been governments. Sure, they provide us with police to be protected from the criminals, but those police are also used to turn innocent people into criminals, and to establish a precedent opposed to the original purpose of protection. Defense becomes offense. Over time, the government cops are not enforcing the law's proper function (justice), but rather become an instrument of injustice.

And so too with the military. Initially, we establish ourselves with government militaries for the sole purpose of defense. But that military is also used for offense, wether pre-emptive or simply invasive. Again, defense becomes offense. As we can see, these government institutions that are established for good reasons end up enforcing the opposite of their original purposes.

And so it is even with written constitutions. Written constitutions are typically established with the purpose of restricting the powers of the state. Yet these exact same documents are interpreted by the state itself! Over time, they are reinterpreted to imply their opposite, to give sanction to new powers of the state. And so it is with the most mistaken and part of America's constitution: the general welfare clause. This clause creates a potential caviat that a truck could be driven through.

And so to it was with the divine-right theory. Originally, it was intended to bind the king to the authority of a religion. However, predictably, it was quickly turned around to provide sanction to whatever the king does by implying that the diety or religious authority always backed it up. These examples are only the beginning as to why I don't believe government can be reformed or sucessfully kept "limited".

The greatest myth of our times, or all of time, is the blurring of the distinction between society and government, and the double-standard of morality that is held between those in the general populace as compared to those in their governments. On one hand, people are led to believe in extremely pessemistic views of human nature, as to convince them that people are incapable of cooperation and prosperity spontaneously or on their own. On the other hand, people are led to be extremely optimistic that a small band of specially endowed individuals can create cooperation and prosperity for them.

It takes a strong will to, first, realize that this is cognitively dissonant, and secondly, to resolve it. Either humanity is capable of cooperation and prosperity through voluntary means, or it is not. Advocates of totalitarianism of all sorts have always put forth the oxymoronical notion, in varying ways, that humanity does not possess such capacity, and therefore we need a dictator or council of a few hundred men to set us on the right path. Those who believe that man does possess such capacity have reason to be extremely skeptical of any governmental system, if not the idea of having one at all.

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