One of my favorite political insights is that of Étienne de La Boétie who, almost five centuries ago, wrote that all political states, benign or tyrannical, exist on a foundation of popular consent.
Why do my neighbors seem to go along with whatever idiotic dictate comes from these clowns running the political system?
Even grossly unpopular political edicts remain because legislators cleverly enlist private intermediaries on whom nearly all people depend, the main one being your employer. We pay extortionate income and payroll tax rates, for instance, only because the employers on whom we depend are surrogate tax collectors (thank you Milton Friedman et al.) via the withholding system.
Employers and employees alike submit because not doing so would drive them into legal limbo where the huge benefits of openness, visibility, and trust must be abandoned lest the IRS and other alphabet soup agencies use them as a means to find and crucify those agencies’ victims.
If Pelosi and Obama succeed in spreading the disease of Medicare/Medicaid to all medical service provision, how many physicians will quit their jobs at Kaiser or Mayo, stop accepting any third-party payment whatsoever, and take their services private? Chances are that doing so under this new federal edict would place them outside of the law, meaning their state license to practice medicine would be revoked.
Physicians have to live, too. They have families, mortgages, and children to feed.
If Pelosi’s and Obama’s program results in a vast new tax bite, how many people will resign from their jobs in order to avoid such additional extortion? Most people will stay with this system as long as the cost of doing so does not exceed the cost of abandoning it and paying the price for duplicating it in whatever market (black, gray, or otherwise) exists.
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Political parasites know that people will not choose to abandon this system until they have nothing left to lose by doing so. Ironically, those parasites’ competing ambitions and greed create a classic "tragedy of the commons" in their own system, a system that benefits them as a group if they preserve it unchanged, but whose demise they individually guarantee.
Each political parasite’s power rests on the wealth extracted from citizens and showered on campaign contributors, with a little bread and circuses tossed to the constituents to secure their belief that they benefit from the system.
The problem is that each election cycle requires new political promises of government loot to the jostling factions of campaign contributors, industry segments, the permanent bureaucracy, and constituents, so every year those political parasites each come up with new needs to extract more wealth from members of society at large.
It really doesn’t matter if these extractions take the form of higher taxes, higher borrowing, or monetary debasement, all extract additional wealth, lose a ton of it through waste, and reward political-favor-seeking and redistribution instead of wealth generation. This teaches a subtle but unmistakable lesson that people who produce wealth are chumps, and that real power goes to those who pick producers’ pockets.
Each parasite maximizes his or her power to control the lives of others by channeling the largest amount of wealth extraction through his or her office to campaign contributors and constituents, but when all the parasites do this together, they strip-mine the capital, the price signals, and the self-improvement motivation on which the entire wealth-generating system rests.
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No wonder Western Civilization appears to be intellectually bankrupt.
The state is a coercive monopoly managed by a huge committee (of parasites) and populated by those who consume looted wealth and produce bads (e.g. murder, disorder, war, victimless criminal statutes) instead of goods.
Inevitably this monopoly grows, consuming and blocking available production until no production is left to deliver on the promises its managers make. As we approach that point, first a trickle, then a deluge of people recognize this truth; that they’re better off paying to duplicate those promises privately because the alternative is an even lower standard of living.
This is the insight that animates home-schooling and other voluntarily-funded educational alternatives, private security contracting, the alternative health fields, and all other duplicate costs of doing properly what our political masters promise to provide and already fail to deliver. It is the insight that compels prudent people to gut their current standard of living in order to save for their future again, on top of the extortionate taxes paid to doomed old-age welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security, knowing that their colossal political failure looms just over the horizon.
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This duplication costs us dearly. It costs ingenuity, time, effort, all things that in the absence of this burden would contribute to rising standards of living.
This doesn’t even take into account how political manipulations artificially raise the cost of everything they touch from higher education to hospital care. This tragedy of the commons is everywhere we look, yet few will see it until not a shred of value remains visible to steal.
Why is this so? It appears so preventable.
All we have to do is collectively set aside the willingness to be bled by these parasites. This begins by seeing "the government" as an unacceptable customer or employer. Stop selling to Uncle Sam and its many vassals. Stop accepting jobs with them. Stop accepting money from them.
That’s unlikely to happen. Paraphrasing MacKay, men go mad in groups but recover their senses only as individuals. This assures our slide toward a standard of living where even brainwashed believers in political systems will have nothing left to lose by abandoning their faith.
To me, hope lies on the path where individuals accept the cost of duplicating what the state’s managers promise but can’t deliver. By traveling this path, we may preserve a remnant of civil society while the rest of the herd and its elected parasites bleed themselves dry.
My thanks to Robert Klassen for his editorial assistance with this article.
David Calderwood [send him mail] a businessman, artist, and author of the novel Revolutionary Language, selected January 2000 Freedom Book of the Month at Free-market.net.