Recently by Michael S. Rozeff: Observations and Opinions on the LibyanWar
A chorus of U.S. and international officials keeps chanting that "Gaddafi must go" because, they keep repeating, he has lost legitimacy.
Let's turn the tables. How legitimate is the U.S. government? I'm not talking about the popularity of particular persons like Obama, Bush I, Bush II, or Clinton. Changing faces, political parties, and administrations in Washington is a lost cause. I'm talking about national government itself. Should Washington be dismantled? Has Washington lost legitimacy as a government? If so, as a remedy, as a guide to action, as an objective to work toward, the U.S. government must go!
There are many valid ways to criticize the U.S. government. Any small government or anarchist perspective gives rise to a critique. Any adherent of constitutionality has another critique. For example, Lysander Spooner's critique is devastating. Anyone who looks to the government's effectiveness in serving the public will have yet another perspective. Anyone who restricts attention to economic and monetary matters will find plenty to criticize. Anyone who focuses on rights and liberties will be able to make important criticisms.
Here my perspective is to question the legitimacy of the U.S. government. Legitimacy is the perspective being used loudly by many world leaders against Gaddafi. I wonder, can we camp on their grounds and turn their own ideas against them?
World heads of state do not usually shine the light of legitimacy on one another, much less on themselves. Oh no, they are very quiet and reserved in that area. They don't want people questioning their legitimacy, so they don't raise the idea. Libya is atypical. Some leaders are using the rhetoric of legitimacy against Gaddafi. They believe that they can confine its use to him. They believe that they can restrict illegitimacy to instances of outright violence and ignore hidden violence. This serves their purposes.
In the post-Soviet era, criticisms by world leaders of the U.S. tend to be restrained, muted and timid. The world's states are essentially in cahoots with one another. Many are beholden to the U.S. or tied in via relations of one kind and another. They cannot be too critical. Many have their own domestic problems and don't want to stir up nests of hornets.
We are not so confined. If we use Obama's criterion that violence against one's people is a sign of government illegitimacy, then how many world governments are themselves legitimate? They all use violence and the threat of violence to maintain themselves. The fact that the threats of violence are effective and prevent outright blood on the streets doesn't remove the presence of violence as the government's means of controlling its citizens. Once we look under the hood at the motor of government, we find violence. At what point does such violence mean that the government's leaders or the government itself — its very form — have lost legitimacy?
We Americans have a strong basis for questioning the legitimacy of the U.S. government. It is our right. We live here. It is de facto our government. We have to bear the consequences of what it does to us. We are the ones who, in many theories of government, supposedly give our consent. We experience the threat of violence if we disobey the government's laws. We have a tradition of freedom and self-government that supports questioning our government's legitimacy. Most of this applies to other peoples throughout the world.
So, to begin with, what do Americans think of their national government? Let's look at those polls that ask Americans whether or not the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction. I am assuming that Americans make a connection between their government and the country's direction. This assumption is warranted because the national government is the largest single factor in the economy and on the economy. The most important media focus is Washington and politics. We constantly hear about the economic and other policies coming out of Washington.
Let's look first at the polls with the longest histories. The Pew Research Center poll dates from January 1997. The very first poll found that 58% of the people were dissatisfied with the way things were going. Today, that reads 73%. The average over all of its 85 polls for the percent satisfied is 34.35%, for those dissatisfied is 59.12%, and for those unsure is 6.49%. (These do not add to 100% precisely due to rounding error.) This high level of dissatisfaction is not due to a few outliers. Americans are consistently dissatisfied in poll after poll.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll goes back to early December of 1995. This has four possible answers: satisfied, dissatisfied, mixed, and unsure. Over its 122 polls, the averages are 37.06%, 48.98%, 10.86%, and 3.09%. These results are like those in the Pew poll. The satisfied contingent is in the 34-37% range.
The Gallup Poll goes back to 1994. There are 179 polls. Those satisfied with the way things are going average 39.78%. The dissatisfied average 57.70%.
There are numerous other polls with shorter track records. They show the same thing. For example, in the Time Poll of August, 2010, 57% said the country was on the wrong track and 34% said it was on the right track. From 2004 to the present, the satisfied number got to 51% once. That was its maximum. The rest of the time it stayed between 28% and 46%. The CBS News Poll is another example of a poll that shows the same thing. Those who think the country is seriously off on the wrong track have ranged from 48% to 89% since 2006. The average is 66.4%.
In a macro sense, these polls tell much of the story. We have a period of almost 20 years in which things are not going right and a large majority says they are not going right. This does not by itself prove that the national government is illegitimate or should be scrapped, but it is a building block in my argument. Why? The government uses violence to collect revenues and spend. It uses violence to control the economy. People are unhappy, generally speaking, with the results.
Let's look more deeply into a few specific areas that illustrate the lack of legitimacy of the U.S. government.
One of the criteria of an illegitimate government is that it acts violently against its own people. Obama used this criterion against Gaddafi. One measure of this is the number of people or the percentage of the population in prison. The statistics on this from 2006 show that the U.S. has imprisoned over 1 percent of its adult population. It has the largest number of inmates (2.5 million) in the world. Although the U.S. has only 5% of the world's population, it has 25% of the world's prisoners in its jails and penitentiaries. The U.S. has 739 people per 100,000 of population "serving time, awaiting trial or otherwise detained."
Jailing Americans is a high growth industry. In the year 1880 in America, there were about 61 persons in jail per 100,000 (see Table 3-3 here). This had grown to 133 as of 1980, and then it shot up sharply when the War on Drugs and fixed prison terms for drug offenses were instituted. The incarceration rate and the number of persons incarcerated has grown very steeply since 1980:
It is implausible that Americans commit more violent crimes than any other people. It is implausible that American policing is that much more efficient at catching criminals and convicting them. It's far more plausible that the War on Drugs and sentencing play a huge role in creating crimes and criminals that then fill the jails.
This is evidence that U.S. government violence against Americans is a real phenomenon of large and extremely serious scope. It is doubtful that Gaddafi's violence has been more serious or pervasive.
Another criterion of an illegitimate government is that it debauches the currency. There is absolutely no question that the U.S. government has instituted an unconstitutional currency of fiat dollars in place of gold and silver money. There is no question that it has done this through an unconstitutional central bank, and there is no question that this central bank has debauched the currency. There is also no question that the government has violently seized a monopoly on currency issue and prevented its own citizens from using monetary alternatives. The seizure by the U.S. government of the people's gold in 1933 exemplifies this violence.
For much of its history, 1,000 U.S. dollars were convertible into just over 48 ounces of gold (at a rate of $20.67 per ounce). Today, 1,000 U.S. dollars can buy about 0.71 ounces of gold (at $1,400 per ounce.) This is not because anything special has happened to gold to make its price rise as compared with other goods and services. It is because the government has printed paper dollars in tremendous amounts, creating an excess supply that has driven the value of each paper unit down from 48 ounces of gold to 0.71 ounces of gold.
World leaders challenged Robert Mugabe's legitimacy in 2008 due to election thuggery. They did not link his legitimacy to his hyperinflation, despite the fact that it impoverished the nation. That is because they too use inflation and think of it as a legitimate tool of government. But Mugabe does lack legitimacy for having wrecked Zimbabwe's economy with inflation, and, by the same token, the U.S. government should be held to like account for creating Great Depressions, for stealing the savings of those on fixed incomes, and for expropriating and redistributing wealth through the insidious but nonetheless violent means of inflation.
I am aware that a few low-level ignorant economists in the Federal Reserve have taken to sniping at Ron Paul. One of them argued that inflation is neutral, or that it raises all prices, including wages and rents. This argument is shallow and false. It misses the Austrian point entirely. But if inflation is neutral, why then does hyperinflation ruin an economy? And if inflation is neutral, why does anyone, including the Federal Reserve, even pay attention to inflation or to money supplies? Why would some of the Fed's governors be worried about reversing its latest inflation (quantitative easing)? Why would Bernanke be crowing over the success of this round of inflation?
Accompanying inflation has been another sign of government illegitimacy, namely, a monstrously excessive government debt. This signifies both a tremendous amount of past wasted expenditures and future hardship. Every issue of government debt signifies that taxes in the future must be raised to service that debt. This increases the hidden economic violence imposed on the population. There is no good reason to distinguish between the outright clubbing of people physically and the ill effects on people's lives of taxation.
Another source of illegitimacy of the U.S. government is its vast expansion of power. This has simultaneously violated the Constitution and extinguished the rights of Americans. It has got to the point where a President who is sworn to uphold the Constitution refers to it as a scrap of paper.
Another President, Barack Obama, has enunciated his right to assassinate American citizens without due process of law. Furthermore, a federal judge dismissed a case brought by the ACLU to prevent such assassinations. At present, we have a situation in which due processes of law that go back to the time of Jesus and before cannot be maintained by legal means in the courts of the United States! A government that claims the right to assassinate has, by Obama's own criterion of legitimacy, relinquished its own claim to legitimacy.
U.S. government acts that have undermined its claim to legitimacy are particularly prominent in military forays and in going to war. There is no good reason having anything to do with the public safety, security, or welfare of Americans why the U.S. government invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, why it bombed Yugoslavia, why it is now bombing Libya, why it went to war over Kuwait, why it sends bombs into Pakistan, and why it sent military forces into Haiti for years on end during the Clinton administration. None of these countries threatened America or attacked it.
The U.S. government has repeatedly betrayed the public trust. Candidates have repeatedly made promises that they dramatically reversed once in office. They have lied and covered up. They have fabricated international incidents. They have used the fog of the U.N. and NATO to cover their actions. Presidents have gone to war without obtaining Congressional declarations. Of course, Congress has participated by funding these wars. One administration after another has honed the fine art of propaganda and misinformation.
The U.S. government is acting in numerous other ways to curtail domestic freedoms, and these actions can only be construed as violence of the U.S. government against its own people. Travel within the U.S. and across its borders has become an exercise in assault, delay, intimidation, and stupidity, with wholesale use of unreasonable searches and seizures. The invasions of privacy, financial and other, are worthy of any police state. The U.S. has resorted to renditions, kidnappings, torture, and indefinite detentions. The FBI has resorted to creating conspiracies and crimes.
My point is not to document all the ways in which the U.S. government uses violence against Americans. It is not to document all the sources of illegitimacy. It is to point out that every libertarian critique of the U.S. government, that may have been couched in terms of its going against the Constitution or suppressing freedoms or employing aggression, is also a critique of the legitimacy of the U.S. government. We can use the same grounds of illegitimacy that world leaders occasionally use to criticize certain behaviors of other world leaders like Gaddafi and Mugabe. We can use those grounds to criticize governments like the U.S. government that portray themselves as legitimate. They portray themselves as paragons of democracy or freedom, but beneath this surface, the signs of their illegitimacy are everywhere.
Why has a largely dissatisfied public not changed the government's policies in 20 years? Why, in fact, have things gone even more wrong and led to even more dissatisfaction? There are many reasons and they go back many years. What's important for our purpose is not these reasons, which have to do with the institutionalized structures that are set firmly in place, but the fact that the people at large no longer control the government, even when they vote.
The fact is that the government is now a corporativist institution that is largely unaccountable and that has insulated itself from accountability by means of payoffs, wealth transfers, political party duopoly, redistricting, the income tax, lobbies, and by control of education, media, science, and intellectuals. The very fact that government lies beyond popular control and reform explains why people have become cynical about reform or have given up hope of reform. But what is far more important is that it shows once again that the government lacks legitimacy. A legitimate government should depend on consent. It should be under control by the public. It should be responsive to them, not in the hands of special interests. And the fact that the government cannot be reformed without an almost unimaginable degree of change in American thought and society is the reason why this illegitimacy means that the entire government structure must go. Changing faces and parties in Washington is ineffective.
The U.S. government must go. We the People have a genuine right to say this and make it happen. In my opinion, the U.S. government is so profusely and deeply illegitimate in so many institutionalized ways and the people are so tied up with it that meaningful reform of a gradual nature is impossible. I think we need to make serious and deep change happen. It is my very firm belief that it must be done non-violently if it is to produce a long-lasting free country. We should not spurn or discourage important actions that genuinely reduce the size and scope of the national government, both now and in the future, and do not plant the seeds of its future expansion. Actions that significantly reduce government violence against its citizens are worthy. But if the goal of serious, broad, and deep change is kept in mind, then success at one or more of such actions should stimulate even further efforts, not cause them to abate.
One change that needs to occur is in the hearts and minds of Americans. From that will flow peaceful changes in government. At present, most Americans are wedded to conflict, violence, and political means. They are wedded to power struggles and to wealth appropriations and transfers via government. However, the use of violent means to achieve a reduction in government violence is not going to succeed. It perpetuates the game of violence.
We know that about 60 percent of Americans are dissatisfied and think that the country is going in the wrong direction. They are not anti-state, they are not anti-war, and they are not pro-market. That is, they don't yet see what the solutions are. They do not see that the militarism must be brought to a close, that the Empire must be terminated, that State powers must be drastically shrunk, that the State is the problem, not the answer. They do not appreciate the virtues of liberty. The anti-federalist and libertarian heritage is unknown to them and buried under centuries of mis-education in the "virtues" of government and big government. They are bombarded with violent solutions from Left and Right.
The amount of re-education and awakening that must be done is very large. We need free speech to accomplish it. No one should fear using free speech to the maximum. Fear no evil. Fear no Goliath. Do not fear telling others openly "The U.S. government must go!" It must go using peaceful means, not the bombs and rockets that the U.S., Britain, and France are using in Libya, but it must go. It must go because it is doing violence to the American people at an increasing rate, with prospects for enhancing such violence. It must go because this violence de-legitimizes the government. The government's violence is a major source of the dissatisfaction in the country, since people cannot get ahead in such an environment. The national government must be taken apart and dismantled because this is what is right. Anything less than this as a goal will not succeed. Anything less will saddle the U.S. indefinitely with a government like some of those in Europe. Worse, it poses a substantial threat of turning into a totalitarian nightmare. We will simply drag on at far less than our potential as human beings. Many of us will leave. Anything less will relegate the American dream of self-governing peoples living in liberty to a quaint fairy tale.
The new frontier and the great society were not bad slogans as such slogans go, but in the hands of the government they were dreams made reality by government service, taxation, wars, and government solutions to social problems. These involve violence and slavery in disguised and not-so-disguised forms. They involve illegitimate government, using the very criteria of those in government who are its strongest advocates. If we are to have big social dreams, let these dreams be made reality by and in freedom and peace, not in slavery and violence.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.