by Gary North
The first lesson we learn in a course in economics is that there is scarcity. Technically, the definition of scarcity — or maybe merely its description — is this: "At zero price, there is greater demand than supply."
The second lesson we learn is that men deal with scarcity through the division of labor. They specialize in production, which enables them to increase their output and therefore their wealth.
In politics, these two principles are inescapable. Seldom are we taught how to apply these analytical principles in politics. For today's lesson, I consider the problem of resistance.
I begin with the application of the principle of scarcity. "There are more groups trying to use the State to get into my wallet and control my behavior than I have resources to fight." Then there is the application of the principle of the division of labor: "We must specialize in our efforts to resist."
The One and the Many
There is also a political application of the philosophical dichotomy between the one and the many. The collective — the one — seeks to extend its power over an ever-larger area. In politics, the final goal of this impulse is empire. At the same time, in the language of a representative of Boston's Democrat machine (Tip O'Neill), all politics is local. So, the empire has many parts that must be coordinated. There is always tension between the center and its extremities. Here is where Leviathan is weak. Leviathan's right hand not only knoweth not what its left hand doeth, the right hand wants at least 30% of whatever the left hand hath grabbed.
As political symbols of these two extremes, consider the United Nations and a local zoning commission. The United Nations has officially gargantuan appetites, but not much power. It also lacks the necessary funding. The zoning commission seems more restrained in its grab for power, but it is far more of a threat to your wealth than the United Nations is or is likely to become. It has legitimacy, and it also has immediate power.
In between the UN and your zoning commission are the United States government, your state government, and the regional Council of Governments (COG). All of them are a threat us. All of them want their fair share of our wealth. All of them, if left to their own devices, would gladly take away whatever liberty we have left.
This being the case, we must fight. But it's expensive to mobilize resistance politically against seemingly benign political or even bi-partisan power grabs by local authorities. If the target of your resistance has not committed some atrocity — that is, a presently unpopular extension of its inherent power, which, if not reversed within two years, will come to be regarded as essential to public order — you will have trouble mobilizing your troops.
To raise money, you must appeal to basic political instincts: the desire for power, the sense of moral outrage, or envy, or fear. Whenever local political despots reign through institutions that are regarded as legitimate and necessary to the public good, writing an effective fund-raising letter will not be easy.
The hottest buttons will be local, but only if there is an immediate threat to life, liberty, or property. Otherwise, the recipients will not send in much money. If a threat is not immediate, then a fund-raiser who is sounding the alarm against a distant monstrosity has the advantage. When all else fails, you must find something dastardly that is being planned either by the United Nations or Teddy Kennedy.
Recently, I attended a meeting of conservative political activists. They did not have either influence or money, which was probably why I received an invitation.
One of the participants runs a small organization that offers resistance to land use planning. He told us that the election of President Bush caused an immediate fall-off in donations. He was able to get back into the mails only by writing a direct-mail package that warned against new land-use plans by some United Nations agency to confiscate American land.
The likelihood of the UN's being able to pull this off is low. Compared to the power of some local zoning commission or regional Council of Governments to affect your net worth, the UN is hardly worth considering. But as a symbol of where the war on property rights is headed, long-term, the UN is an appropriate target. Its symbolic importance is far greater than its actual authority, both for the power-grabbers and the resistance movement.
What Should I Hate Most?
Conservatives who are on the fringes of the conservative movement, which means the fringes of the political fringe, are too often beguiled by the fund-raising letters that warn of some imminent awfulness that the UN or Teddy Kennedy is planning. Now, that awfulness is very real, I have no doubt. It is the imminence that I question.
A person cannot afford to fight every battle (scarcity). Each of us gains the greatest results from his efforts by fighting the monsters that he best understands (division of labor). The problem comes when a highly motivated specialist in some area of resistance identifies the monster that he best understands as the greatest threat to everyone's liberty. It isn't.
The greatest political threat to everyone's liberty is the original principle that sustains the State's interventionist system: "Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote." All the rest follows from it. But it is too broad and too amorphous to mobilize against. We can only mobilize individuals by calling on them to fight specific evils.
Conservatives rarely spend much time thinking about either political philosophy or economic theory. They are too busy being up in arms over this or that threat that has pressed their individual hot buttons. With free mailing on the Internet, they see their opportunity to flood their mailing lists — maybe 25 people per list — with Web links to horror stories relating to their target's latest pronouncement or conference. They cannot understand why most of their recipients do not get excited.
Today, some UN committee or subcommittee is formulating a blueprint for taking away my liberty. Of this, I have no doubt. But that same UN committee was doing the much the same in 1956, when I got into the conservative movement. At some point in my odyssey, I figured out that I had better conserve my energy and donations in order to allocate both more rationally.
But political revulsion combined with hate . . . that's a free resource. At zero price, I can always obtain all I want. So, I always keep plenty of hate in reserve for whatever project the UN is promoting. But I don't have enough time or money to do anything concrete about it.
So, whenever I receive an e-mail link about the UN, I curse that ancient monster as part of my liturgy of revulsion, and then I go on to something else.
I hate the UN. That's free of charge. But just because I hate it does not mean that I worry very much about it. It has long been a toothless bureaucracy that is basically a sinecure for senior politicians from third-world countries who want to extract career-long wealth from the folks back home. These days, even the U.S. government has ceased to pony up the funds that the UN says Washington owes. I feel confident that nobody in Congress is going to lose the next election based on his rival's campaign if it focuses on the incumbent's vote against funding the UN.
The UN has never taken away any of my property. Recently, a state regulatory agency took away a very valuable resource from the non-profit organization that I manage. It did so on the basis that the resource was a threat to my health. I was using officially approved safety devices to reduce that health threat effectively to zero. No matter. "Shut it down." I had to shut it down.
Hate is free. There's plenty of it to go around. I suggest that you keep it in reserve for all of the distant bureaucracies that are planning world conquest, but which have not secured the necessary funding.
In contrast, political mobilization is costly. Its assets must be allocated rationally. Assets should be concentrated on local and regional agencies that are an immediate threat to your liberty and your net worth.
Thus, my slogan: "Hate Globally, Fight Locally."
I don't know if there is a political movement here, but there may be a bumper sticker.
July 31, 2001
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