Everything the Government Touches

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Google turns up only 657 hits for "Everything the government touches turns to." It seems to be an unfamiliar statement. I first heard it in the 1970s from a Chicago economist named Karl Brunner. It is attributed to Ringo Starr, of Beatles fame. The whole statement is "Everything the government touches turns to s**t."

Ringo’s aphorism is true. As long as a country like ours is under The One and Single government, this will be so. No isolated person and no isolated private sector institution, be it church, company, institute, or university, is a match for the size and power of a national government like that of America. Any industry that the government touches is no match for the government’s power. That industry will deteriorate, fade, kowtow to government, lose its innovative powers, misdirect its investment, seek subsidies, pay tribute to politicians, try to become a cartel, and eventually lose any semblance of operating in a truly free market. The government has the power to kill any free market. It has done this to industry after industry and market after market. Worse still, since everything the government touches turns to s**t, and since the government’s powers allow it to touch more and more things, we have a situation of deterioration. I could say the same thing about individual freedoms.

At the moment, the national government imposes its paralyzing vision on everything in its territorial domain of power. State, city, town, and village governments are often as much ordered about and forced into measures as any of us. They do not currently give us the degree of competition in governance that would free up the system.

But as much as I believe all the above is true, I am vastly outnumbered by those Americans who disagree with me. This article is about how most of us, I would hope, can become better off, despite our differences, by having the government of our choice all the time.

Americans are divided politically. That is natural. There is no way that we will ever be united on political matters, any more than we are united on religion. And being united on political matters is neither necessary to improve the situation we are in nor a good idea. Libertarians cannot convert large numbers of Democrats to libertarianism. Democrats cannot convert large numbers of Republicans. Anarchists cannot convert large numbers of libertarians to anarchism. Anyway, most of us are interested first and foremost in improving our own situation, not that of everyone else in general.

To move forward, we do need some area of agreement. Otherwise, if and when our national government fails, we will end up dividing into clans and sects and fighting one another to see who will impose his vision on the rest. Or else, we will fail to take full advantage of the opportunity that such a breakup and failure would provide us. The Soviet Union broke up, and the peoples immediately placed themselves into and under States again. They did not learn from experience. They were not ready to advance the nature of their governance.

The attitudes of people to the situation of deterioration that I see vary all over the map. I may see deterioration, but many others see no problem at all. Some think doomsday lies directly ahead. Some don’t care. Some have given up hope. It is an important political fact that attitudes vary. This matters a great deal because a person’s happiness depends on such attitudes, and each of us has a right to pursue happiness as we see fit (within the normal boundaries of natural law.)

Attitudes are also held firmly. No number of articles by me and no number of letters and e-mails between me and people who disagree with me are likely to convert them to my way of thinking. If someone likes the Social Security program and likes subsidized housing, I cannot convert them. And if I try, they will feel threatened by my message and dig in their heels. Pointing out truths in articles is one thing. Pushing for conversions is another. You are the best judge of your own welfare. You do not want to be ruled by me any more than I want to be ruled by you. That mutual attitude gives us the common ground we need to forge a new way of living together.

I therefore do not ask for anyone to convert to my way of thinking. I ask only for one thing: Give me my freedom from your government. Correspondingly, I give you the freedom to have your government — with one important stipulation. It is that neither of us demand that the other remove himself from the country (this land, this place, and this people) that we both cherish. If you want social insurance programs delivered by your government, then, by all means, have them. I will not stop you. Will you then allow me to live my life without being forced into your programs? Will you allow me to have the governance of my choice if you have yours, both of us living in this land we now call America? Will you allow each of us to have the non-territorial government of our choice? Will you allow alternative governments operating over the same territory but on different self-chosen constituencies? Will you endorse that as an ideal?

This ideal, freedom of choice in governance, is eminently just. It is a natural right that flows directly from our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is why we have a multitude of native nations within the boundaries of the U.S. "Under this policy, the U.S. recognizes 550 native nations within its borders. These are not state or federal agencies. This policy was established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon and reaffirmed on June 14, 1991 by President George Bush."

Cannot non-native Americans gain the same rights as native Americans and have their own governance?

Governance involves various goods that we perceive governance brings us. Each person has different views of what those goods are, what they are worth, and how to attain them. If I argue for individual liberty, as I do, then I logically must argue for your freedom to choose those goods that you wish to consume in non-free markets. Freedom of choice in government encompasses your freedom to trade off some of that freedom for the sake of being ruled by others, if that is what makes you happy. If I believe in freedom, I cannot force other people to run their lives with the freedoms that I may value and think good and proper. But neither may they justly force me into their views of government and into the government that they choose.

The situation we are in today is a situation of force, for both statists and non-statists, for both anarchists and minarchists, for Democrats, Republicans, and those who prefer third parties. Many of us are seeking the power to control everyone else and remake society in our vision. We need to agree to call a halt to that process if we are ever to move forward.

I am proposing non-territorial self-determination (panarchy). The notion of self-determination needs to be thoroughly revamped in order to remove its territorial context. Otherwise, it is contradictory and leads into conflicts and civil wars. Georgians leave the Soviet Union, for example, but then a portion of them are not allowed to secede. The colonies gain independence from England, but then when the South secedes from the North, a terrible war follows as the North tries to prevent it.

In Wikipedia, we find "Self-determination is defined as free choice of one’s own acts without external compulsion, and especially as the freedom of the people of a given territory to determine their own political status or independence from their current state." This definition is flawed, because it restricts self-determination to a people of a given territory. In practice, however, any existing government demands allegiance of everyone in a given territory, so that self-determination as thus defined is internally contradictory.

Non-territorial self-determination means that each person has a right to determine (or choose) the government or governing institutions that he or she wants, on a voluntary and non-compelled basis. This means that in a given region, there may co-exist a number of governments. And persons choose the one or perhaps ones they wish to join. These governments may retain the sovereignty and legitimacy that the subject peoples grant them, but they will differ drastically from existing governments in one respect: they will not necessarily be territorial. They will not force everyone in a given region to be under their rule. (They can be territorial to the extent that people willingly aggregate land and separate themselves.)

We can move forward. But to do so we need the liberty to have competing governments on the soil we now call America in the same way that we have competing churches, supermarkets, towns, states, and universities. We can open up the immense possibilities of handling our governance in more effective ways. They will be ways of self-government that involve freely-chosen governance, in which it will be possible to opt out easily from badly-functioning governance.

It should be as easy to stop feeding a government we dislike with our hard-earned resources as it is to change gas stations. It should be as easy to change schools as it is to change the supermarkets we patronize.

We take government for granted because we each have so little influence on it. We take the short view. In doing that, we shortchange ourselves and our progeny. If we think about changing the basic structure of government, then we will start doing some important homework that we tend to neglect. If we had a choice of governance institutions, not just candidates for a given form of government, we’d pay far more attention to governance.

There are clues to progress that we need to investigate. Some governments are better than others. We should ask why. Governments sometimes do some things better than other things. We should ask why. Government frequently does far worse than no government at all. We should ask why. Governments frequently start out in hope and end in despair. We should ask why.

We cannot move ahead unless we are willing to abandon the erroneous beliefs we take for granted and do not question. Chief among these is that government must be territorial and control vast amounts of territory and the people who live in them. In Erie County alone, there are 3 cities and 25 towns in an area covering roughly 30 miles by 35 miles. Erie is one of 62 counties in New York State.

A town is a semi-territorial form of government. No town claims to cover the entire county, but each town governs a given area. Within my town, there is already divided jurisdiction over roads. A county road can join a town road which joins a state road. There are already divided police forces. There is already an array of different park systems, school systems, and sewer systems.

No one of us has a roadmap to non-territorial self-determination or can even define it fully. The argument that it is the right course and a right goal is strong. The argument that it will improve over our current situation is strong.

This is a goal that can find agreement from groups that are otherwise highly antagonistic in their political views. Home-grown Nazis can sit down with anarchists and agree that each has a right to its own non-territorial self-determination. Can Democrats and Republicans learn to tolerate each other if each has its own institutions? A degree of self-segregation may follow. No one knows, but it is likely. A Buddhist may not wish to have Nazis marching down his street every night or burning books.

I assume in all of this a basic framework of right action. That goes without saying. Tolerance of a government does not mean approval of anything anyone does under that government or anything that government does. For an exposition of what tolerance means in the context of panarchy, see here.

Everything the government does turns to s**t, in my view. Some agree. Many do not. In any event, all of us are stuck with one national government for the time being. Many of us are unhappy with this. The losers in each election are invariably unhappy. They do not have to suffer, however. There is a way out. They can have their own government all the time. You can have yours. I can have mine. But only if each government is non-territorial or ex-territorial. This way is called panarchy.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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