Culture of Government Debt

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Typically the
phrase “government debt” is met with glazed looks or derision. Most
people know that governments are perpetually in debt. Most have
no interest in discussing the matter, because they have no control
over it. That which makes them disinterested should be of the most
interest to them. If you have no control over the debt, how can
you possibly be obligated to pay it?

Law obligates
you without your choice

It should be
clear to those who are paying attention that all laws are obligations
placed upon humanity. Laws demand obedience. Some laws state that
you are to pay a tax; that is, to labor for support of the state.
Other laws simply demand that you behave in particular fashions.
Whether we are speaking of taxes, fees, paperwork, jury duty, drug
laws, or speeding tickets, all laws are obligations placed upon
human beings without their consent. If they had consented, it would
not be a law, it would just be something people do.

Clearly, laws
are simply ideas created by one person to get something from another.
Maybe they sound nice, like a law that says the streets need to
be clean. Maybe they sound valiant, like a law that says everyone
must pay for a school.

The problem
with all laws is that they are created not to help you, but to hurt
you. You may be offended and say, "Nonsense! Clearly a law
against murder is designed to help me!" Oh? I am no murderer,
and will not kill innocent people whether the law says I should
not, or if it says I should (as history clearly shows it often does).
Furthermore, a man who is willing to murder innocent people
surely won’t care what your law says. If he doesn’t respect your
life, why would he respect your ideas?

Laws are obligations
created to command your obedience, not to give you freedom. Freedom
is something you were born with. It is not something that can be
created, it is only something that can be taken away. Obligations
which other people place upon you without your consent are obviously
not at all concerned with what you think or how you would like to

Laws are ideas.
An idea, by itself, can be a good idea or a bad idea. But laws are
special, because they are enforced. Enforcement is violence used
against you to force laws upon you. Sometimes only intimidation
is necessary. Other times, in order for laws to enforced, people
must be chained up and put in cages. All too frequently, however,
people must simply be killed because they refuse to obey. (This
is the meaning of war.) There is no happiness to be found in law.

Why debt
is special

enter into debt not because they have immediate needs, or because
they are investing for the future. Government debt is a con, a trick
on the mind.

use law to make people believe that money that rulers spend should
be paid back by its subjects. Whether the ruler is a single king,
or a multi-million-person voting block makes little difference.
Someone is using law to get someone else to labor on their behalf.

Forcing people
into direct and immediate labor is too obviously tyranny. The United
States of America profited from this treatment of African natives.
It was legal to own human beings. Its brutality was unsustainable;
revolt was the inevitable result. All nations have likewise used
taxation to profit from others’ labor without their consent. Taxation
is easier to swallow than outright slavery, so there is less chance
of revolt; but revolts do happen.

What tyrants
need is a system of extraction that allows them to increase their
demands upon people, but without the fear of being overthrown. This
is why government debt has nothing to do with budgeting. It is simply
a deception designed to maximize the extraction of labor.

People who
believe that a nation belongs to "us" and that "we"
pass laws will easily swallow the idea that a debt incurred by the
leader of a nation should be paid back by you and me. After all,
if it is "our" nation, then anything the nation does,
"we" did. The deception is obvious: you never agreed to
the debt. If you had, the law wouldn’t need tax collectors, you
would pay voluntarily.

Debt is special
because it lingers in the mind. It saddles the spirit with a gnawing
remembrance that you owe someone else. When you ask to borrow money
from someone, it is only right that you pay it back. Even the smallest
child knows this. Rulers of nations use this human desire to do
what is right to pervert right thinking. People want to pay back
money they owe. Governments readily step in to remind them of this
obligation, but do everything in their power to hide the fact that
you don’t actually owe anything, because you never agreed to the

is really happening

debt is an interesting concept. It differs from true debt in another
simple form.

When you take
on debt, you agree to pay it back later. When you loan money to
someone, you do so with the understanding that they might not be
willing or able to return the money; you take on risk.

debt, however, is not backed by trust, collateral, or future reputation.
It is backed by violence. If you loan money to a friend, and they
stiff you, chances are you would never think to knock down their
door in the middle of the night, place them in chains, and toss
them in a dark cage for years on end. And yet, this is exactly what
governments do when you do not pay the taxes the law demands.

God help you
if you decide you don’t want to pay or be put in chains.
The law will never yield. To do so would mean the power of law has
ended. Law’s implementation is always the same: obey or die.

and selling human lives

If we were
to cut through the clutter of culture, the clutter of nonsensical
ideas and the trappings of legitimacy that governments paint their
laws with, we would arrive at a simple and obvious fact: governments
use debt to buy and sell human lives.

Yes, you read
that right. Government debt is the buying and selling of human lives.

issue paper notes that are obligations to pay, backed by the violence
of their police forces. When a government issues a bond, they are
purchased because people know that they are backed by the ability
to tax.

You are welcome
to believe that laws are not enforced. You are welcome to believe
that you pay taxes because you are a "good citizen." You
are welcome to believe anything you like. But I highly recommend
that you do not deceive yourself into believing that the enforcement
of law is anything but the use of violence against human beings.

debt creates obligations upon people that they did not choose, and
backs those obligations up with violence. We say that governments
sell bonds, that they trade paper notes. In truth, governments buy
and sell human lives.

3, 2007

Locke [send him mail]
is the author of The
End of All Evil

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