We the Ruled

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A government's laws direct all those within its jurisdiction. They go further. They presume to "speak" for those under control: to say what is right and wrong, to say that this is what you shall do and shall not do, and to say what you may do and what you may not do. Still more, they say that this is what will be taken from you and what will be given to you.

Law-making is a great power, and we can expect that those in government are going to use it to advance their own interests. To some extent, law-makers attend to some complex mixture of our individual interests, but the reflection of what each of us wants as mirrored in the laws they produce is a highly distorted, usually unrecognizable, image. For all practical purposes, their interests are not "our" interests.

Therefore, let's distinguish them the lawmakers from us the law-takers.

Economists speak of "price-takers". This is a person or company that, in making an exchange, is not influential enough to affect prices. I propose a similar concept in political matters. A "law-taker" is a person or company not influential enough to affect laws.

Most of us ordinary Americans are law-takers. Those who are not I call lawmakers. Thus, companies and persons that influence laws, influential campaign contributors, lobbyists, rule-making bureaucrats, influential Congressmen, presidents, and judges are examples of lawmakers. You and I who are ordinary persons uninvolved in these political processes or are mere tokens in such processes and who basically are told what to do — we are law-takers. We are at the receiving end of the laws that they make.

The fact that some law-takers like (and others dislike) certain laws is beside the point of this distinction. I dislike being forced to pay a property tax that finances the public school in my district. Others who are also politically powerless like it or at least have no objection to it. The fact remains that we are both law-takers.

Going deeper, we in fact are more than law-takers. We are also "government-takers". We didn't create our school districts or the governments at several levels that enable them and interact with them financially and legally. Our influence over these governments — their very form and existence — is nil too.

Even if we government-takers and law-takers are not harming others through criminal activities or torts, we are forced to accept numerous laws that we dislike and that decrease our happiness and welfare. The public discussion shows that. Demonstrations show that. The large share of votes that goes to the losing sides shows that.

It's obvious that people are in constant disagreement over various issues and that the government and its laws do not satisfy everyone. They are constantly displeasing numerous of us government-takers and law-takers. The government and laws also displease many lawmakers, for they do not all get their way on every issue either. Their positions as lawmakers and wielders of power are fluid. There is an enormous amount of infighting among those in government.

As a law-taker, I vouch for the fact that the government is doing things that I personally would never dream of doing. The discrepancy between the directions of government and my own directions is impossible to bridge. I would never pick up a gun, travel to South Vietnam, and start shooting at Viet Cong. I wouldn't build an airplane and drop bombs on Laos or Cambodia. I wouldn't build rockets and shoot them at Baghdad and other targets in Iraq. I wouldn't send someone to prison for selling cocaine. I wouldn't build a $750 million "embassy" in Iraq. I wouldn't force certain of my fellow Americans to fork over wealth so that I could then give it to others of my fellow Americans. I wouldn't dream of borrowing $1 for every $2 that I spend, or of piling up $300,000 worth of personal debt.

As a government-taker, I can assure you that I would consider it crazy to sign off on a document like the U.S. Constitution — even if I had the chance. I would not sign off on a document that gives me one lousy vote that cannot possibly control numerous unnamed persons who would have the power to tax me over any number of projects of their choosing. I would not sign off on a document rife with loopholes that could only be used to imperil my freedom. I would not throw myself into a collective of other voters who are casting secret ballots for representatives who are on a ballot through processes well beyond my control.

These brief comments are not a thorough critique. They only underscore that I for one, as law-taker and government-taker, am being forced to accept laws and governments. Based on observation of our contentious political processes and disagreements, the same is true of numerous other law-takers and government-takers. This is an empirical fact that exists independent of the morality of the matter. It is another fact that you and I have moral disagreements with these laws and governments.

What is more, the conflicts between rulers and ruled necessarily accompany the presence of government. Lawmakers and government-makers must, in the nature of their relations with those whom they rule, necessarily take directions that clash with nearly all the law-takers and government-takers in their jurisdiction. The exercise of power by the rulers necessarily clashes with the wishes of those ruled. If it did not, violence and force would not be the (current) defining characteristic of government.

At the heart of the conflicts between rulers and ruled is the fact that the lawmakers and government-makers (the rulers) are different persons than the law-takers and government-takers (the ruled). Different persons have different values, knowledge, information, tastes, wills, drives, motivations, habits, customs, beliefs, intelligence, personalities, bodies, genes, etc. When a law or directive is put in or passed or a government system or subsystem instituted, it embodies a single direction. It may clash with other laws and subsystems of that same government, but it itself is unitary. The motivations behind this law or system are not at issue. The point is that this law is bound to face a multiplicity of views held by the numerous law-takers within its jurisdiction. Whatever direction this law takes, it is bound to be a different direction than what many law-takers would personally take.

The number of opinions held by law-takers on directions for governmentally-provided defense is enormous. The same goes for the health care sector or any other realm of government action. Government decisions are bound to clash with what most people would do if they had freedom and were not under government control.

In our era, voting occurs. One can vote and yet still be among the ruled. The capacity to cast a ballot every so often doesn't mean that a person is influential.

Voting is categorically different than exchanges in a free market. In the free market, a buyer directly controls an exchange. You can buy an Apple computer at a given price or not. This is entirely up to you. Further, there is a one-to-one relation between your buying an Apple computer and the revenue of the retailer. If 40 percent of existing Apple buyers stop buying them, the manufacturer gets a direct signal.

In the case of politics, one votes for a person, not an issue. A vote conveys no direct signal on an issue. Further, the person who becomes a representative makes hundreds of decisions on hundreds of issues, thereby diluting any possible direct influence one's vote may have. The representative's vote in a legislature is combined with votes of other representatives, causing more dilution of the voters' influence. At many points, judicial, executive, and bureaucratic processes intervene, and they cause more dilution. Each voter for a representative may be deciding to vote because of a different issue upon which the representative has taken a stance. This is vastly different from the signals given to Apple if all these people decided to buy or not buy an Apple. What is more, there are lawmakers behind the scenes that use money and power to shape the laws against the interests of the law-takers. Every one of these realities dilutes the influence of a given election vote of a law-taker and ruptures the relation between that person's vote and his influence on a given issue.

Suppose that a voter organizes other voters in order to gain influence over the political outcomes. Then he faces a new set of obstacles in that persons are selected by parties and the parties have their own processes of influence. Furthermore the lawmakers control election districts and ballot access. They even control how much money one can donate to campaigns, when one can donate it, what can be said in a campaign and when it can be said.

Voting is a con game designed to softsoap the ruled and disguise the force exercised on them by the rulers. Patriotism toward government is another such ruse. We the People is a fiction. We the Ruled is a fact.

I am saying little that is new, although it bears repetition until it motivates action. I echo and strongly endorse Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience (1849):

"I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — u2018That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — u2018That government is best which governs not at all'; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure."

Thoreau is relevant today and always:

"How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also."

The Mexican-American War to which Thoreau refers is more than matched by today's wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen:

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of ’75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army."

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.

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