What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else.
– Tom Clancy
…than modern politicians in at least one respect: these ancient tyrants made no pretense of being the agents of those over whom they ruled. They established their vicious authority in the same way all political systems of power are created: by violent conquest. Men and women obeyed these thugs for one reason: the fear that their defiance would result in instant death. Despots gradually realized that their power over others could be made more secure by convincing the ruled that their authority was sanctioned by God, with whom they shared a pipeline. By the time of the Enlightenment, the “divine right” rationale was replaced by the principle of an imaginary “social contract” between rulers and the ruled.
In my reading of history, I have yet to find any political system that arose by voluntary agreement amongst members of a given population. Even the history of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution demonstrates the fallacy of such a “contract.” After New Hampshire’s approval satisfied the minimal number of states that would have to have ratified the document, the state of Rhode Island refused to do so. Some 92% of Rhode Islanders voted to reject the document. Rhode Island was home to many independent-minded persons, including Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and Quakers. Such people distrusted power – particularly as many of them had been driven out of Massachusetts by those in power. As such, Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. With the U.S. government now in business, one of its first acts was to threaten Rhode Island with military invasion, the cutting off of trade, and the blockading of its ports. Rhode Island was forced to concede obedience to a system that 92% of its residents didn’t want, leading to the conclusion that it was the first victim of American imperialism!
Nor did the other twelve states exhibit the universality of approval of the new Constitution that would have been necessary to satisfy its “contract-based” origins. While it would be difficult, in hindsight, to assess the willingness of the “American people” to be bound by this new government, the historians I have read suggest that about one-third of the residents strongly favored ratification, one-third strongly opposed it, and one-third had little interest in the question at all. Whatever degree of support the proposed Constitution enjoyed, it is evident that it was not approved by many – perhaps even most – Americans. As John Locke and others have shown, a contract theory of any system – particularly the state – requires the voluntary choice of all who are to be bound by its creation. An arrangement imposed upon a person who does not freely choose to be bound is no contract at all. The 92% of Rhode Islanders who were threatened with violence despite their rejection of the Constitution, confirms the real-world definition of “democracy” as four wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner! A Libertarian Critique... Buy New $5.50 (as of 03:05 UTC - Details)
Nor was Rhode Island the only state in which the so-called “social contract” principle was forcefully suppressed. On the eve of the Constitution’s ratification, a well-organized tax protest in rural Massachusetts (Shays’ Rebellion) was put down by the state government. Likewise, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, provided President George Washington the opportunity to send some 13,000 troops into that region to violently enforce a federal liquor tax that the locals refused to pay. (Do you remember an earlier British tax on tea?) The tax had been proposed by then Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton – and was enacted by Congress in 1791 – to help pay for the national debt, obligations held by Hamilton and others from which he profited greatly.
The American Civil War was an effort by Southern states to secede from a Union whose tariff policies benefitted Northern industrial interests at the expense of Southern agricultural concerns. So, too, are the current interests of the institutionally-established political order expected to prevail over those of the “deplorables” in such secession efforts as Brexit or, in the case of Spain, efforts by 90% majorities in Catalonia to separate from what they see as the more grasping central government. In gurglings that sound more like what one would hear on CNN, MSNBC, or from Hillary, the Spanish Prime Minister has openly defended the state police bludgeoning Catalans as they attempted to vote in the separatist referendum; the jailing of independence leaders pending trials for sedition; as well as threatening to take control of the Catalan government, its local police, and television station. Just how fictitious the “social contract” is to the maintenance of state power interests was made evident in his later statement that “Catalan must be protected from an intolerant minority.” Had the Catalan electorate voted 100% in favor of separation, I suspect the Prime Minister would have interpreted such an outcome as a need to send more troops to the region!
After 450,000 Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona on behalf of independence from Spain, central government officials could, with a straight face, defend crushing Catalonian efforts for secession as a means of protecting the principle of “self-rule!” The Spanish Foreign Minister added that Spain’s constitution permitted such central authority, adding that it was “a carbon copy of the German constitution,” words that should be reassuring, given the German government’s history of safeguarding the liberty of individuals! The Foreign Minister went on to state that the “rest of democracies . . . in the EU . . .wouldn’t accept a decision” such as the Catalonians are attempting. Of course they wouldn’t: parasites who live by violently exploiting others will never tolerate the emancipation of their hosts.
The Spanish Foreign Minister’s sense of recent history betrays his words. We live in an era of decentralization, even within the political arena. Secession movements are present in many parts of the world, and it may be noticed that the Soviet Union is no longer around. Its erstwhile constituent nations now function independently of Moscow, a troublesome consequence not only to members of the Kremlin hierarchy, but to the warriors of the American nation-state who have since had to find a substitute “threat” to hold up to Boobus Americanus. In the past 50 years, 100 new countries have been created, with 34 of them arising just since 1990. In matters political as well as elsewhere, change is a constant of which intelligent minds must remain aware.
The religion of statism has, at its core, the unwavering belief that organized society cannot function well without the omniscient and omnipresent hand of “philosopher kings” – whether ancient or modern – to plan for and to regularize human affairs. After undergraduate instruction in the faith of Keynesianism – an experience that led me to suspect that the study of economics could not be this dreary – I was able to begin a more spirited inquiry into the humanistic nature of economics. At the University of Chicago Law School, I was introduced to the Law and Economics program created by Aaron Director. I began to see how an understanding of economics was, indeed, the study of how individuals could peacefully pursue their varied self-interests with one another. Politically-driven concerns about what factors were to be included in “Gross National Product,” or the “multiplier effect,” or “macroeconomics” generally, held little interest for me. I shall never forget the day in Director’s Economic Analysis and Public Policy class when he declared: “any government service that has ever been provided, or could be provided, has been done – or can be done – in the marketplace.” Most of my classmates went into orbit over Aaron’s words, and began reciting examples from the Articles of Faith of their collectivist religion: “how could streets,” “how could schools,” and how could a seemingly endless number of other services be provided, they asked. Employing economic reasoning, Director demonstrated – in both this course, and three others I had with him – that anything that was physically possible to be done, could be accomplished if individuals were prepared to devote their resources to it.
I began playing with Director’s challenge, focusing on specific programs that have long been thought to be primarily in the political realm. In lieu of the state’s police role in preventing criminal acts, private security firms and technologies give homeowners more direct control in protecting their property. Non-governmental fire protection is found in private fire companies (the word “company” is still used in identifying government fire-stations) and in volunteer fire departments. Private schools and homeschooling; private hospitals and health insurance; private waste disposal systems (e.g., septic tanks); private libraries (many funded by Andrew Carnegie); and private sources of electric power (e.g., generators, and solar panels), are marketplace alternatives to political services.
Food and product testing labs (e.g., Underwriters Lab, Consumer Reports); private airports and air traffic control systems (such as in Canada); private parks (often included in residential developments, Disneyland); private environmental protection methods (e.g., conservation easements, purchasing stands of timber); as well as private money systems, have long been with us. Private real estate developers have discovered that they can overcome customer sales resistance by incorporating residential streets, as well as restrictive covenants (rather than having government zoning restrictions) in their projects. Roads and highways are often built by private parties, while a number of European cities have discovered that more orderly automobile traffic and fewer accidents have occurred following the repeal of traffic laws.
One function of the state that is not performed in the marketplace is the conducting of wars. The marketplace is the practice of men and women contractually exchanging claims to the ownership of property with one another. An underlying premise of such a system is that the contracting parties commit their own resources to a given end; imposing costs upon non-contracting parties is an externality not protected by marketplace principles. Because the costs of warfare in the form of the deaths and destruction visited upon the residents of the warring nations have not been voluntarily agreed upon by the victims, war cannot be considered a contractually-based activity as to them.
The absence of coercive state machinery has nothing to do with creating or maintaining the conditions that foster the creative and pragmatic functioning of societies. The self-interests of men and women freely exchanging with one another is sufficient to allow them to peacefully cooperate one with another for their mutual benefit. That mankind will always be plagued by those who are attracted to plunder as their least-costly means of acquiring wealth, as well as by misanthropes who enjoy the exercise of power over others, should dissuade the rest of us from setting up the machinery for the accomplishment of such ends.
“Social contracts” are as dishonest an explanation for the creation of the state as “employment contracts” could be used to rationalize slavery. In a society in which individual liberty, freedom of contract, and the inviolability of property, are but three ways of talking about the same conditions, people will be free to pursue what each regards as their self-interest. Aaron Director got it right: anything people want to accomplish can be pursued in the marketplace, as long as they are willing to incur the costs and contract with one another to do so!