Every ideologically driven citizen has one law that he would like to see enacted. The trouble is, there is no agreement about which law it should be.
We all have our favorite hobby horse, our recommended silver bullet.
I suggested two laws on Lew Rockwell’s site back in May 2000. It was the first article by me that he posted. Since then, he has posted about 1,700 more. The site no longer numbers them, so I am not sure how many. The article was titled, “Two Teensy-Weensy Legal Reforms.”
Every American visitor to this website probably has a cabinet-level agency that he thinks should be abolished first. I dream such dreams, too. But as I grow older, I become less utopian. So, I’m going to recommend two minor technical revisions of the tax code.
Repeal withholding on all federal income taxes.
Move the date that federal taxes are due to the first Monday of November.
Federal elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
You can read my arguments here.
As I wrote then, I regarded these as non-utopian. What reform would I pursue if I wanted to go full utopian?
In deciding what reform it should be, I have in mind a practice of the U.S. government that is inherently messianic. It is a widely accepted practice that identifies the U.S. government as semi-divine. If it were prohibited, it would shrink the federal government to its authority of 1860.
The key phrase is “widely accepted.” This identifies the surrender of liberty on a widespread basis. It marks a practice that is not controversial, but is in fact the crucial lever of power of the federal government over the voters. It has to be a practice that, in colloquial American English, no one thinks twice about.
Finally, it has this unique two-fold characteristic. Murray Rothbard identified it as the Achilles’ heel of the state, and the Bible identifies it as Satanic.
Most people know what an Achilles’ heel is. It comes from Greek mythology. Here is a summary from Wikipedia.
In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother Thetis took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, and dipped his body into the water; however, as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river. Achilles grew up to be a man of war who survived many great battles. One day, a poisonous arrow shot at him was lodged in his heel, killing him shortly afterwards.
Have you figured out what the practice is?
The Government’s collection of statistics.
ROTHBARD ON GOVERNMENT STATISTICS
In 1961, Rothbard wrote an article for the Foundation for Economic Education. Its title: “Statistics: Achilles’ Heel of Government.” He made a cogent argument about the nature of government planning. In order to justify government planning of any kind, the bureaucrats have to have access to statistics. If it were not for statistics, nobody would believe that bureaucrats in a government agency have the ability to plan much of anything.
He argued that there is no justification for government-collected statistics. Citizens have to pay for this: taxation. Also, they are coerced into providing the data. Here are some of the article’s highlights.
While private agencies and trade associations do gather and issue some statistics, they are limited to specific wants of specific industries. The vast bulk of statistics is gathered and disseminated by government. The overall statistics of the economy, the popular “gross national product” data that permits every economist to be a soothsayer of business conditions, come from government.Furthermore, many statistics are by-products of other governmental activities: from the Internal Revenue bureau come tax data, from unemployment insurance departments come estimates of the unemployed, from customs offices come data on foreign trade, from the Federal Reserve flow statistics on banking, and so on. And as new statistical techniques are developed, new divisions of government departments are created to refine and use them.
The burgeoning of government statistics offers several obvious evils to the libertarian. In the first place, it is clear that too many resources are being channeled into statistics-gathering and statistics-production. . . .
Hidden Costs of Reporting
Secondly, the great bulk of statistics is gathered by government coercion. This not only means that they are products of unwelcome activities; it also means that the true cost of these statistics to the American public is much greater than the mere amount of tax money spent by the government agencies. Private industry, and the private consumer, must bear the burdensome costs of record keeping, filing, and the like, that these statistics demand. Not only that; these fixed costs impose a relatively great burden on small business firms, which are ill equipped to handle the mountains of red tape. Hence, these seemingly innocent statistics cripple small business enterprise and help to rigidify the American business system.
But aren’t these statistics useful to the public? Don’t they provide information that we can use to make our own decision-making more efficient? No.
The individual consumer, in his daily rounds, has little need of statistics; through advertising, through the information of friends, and through his own experience, he finds out what is going on in the markets around him. The same is true of the business firm. The businessman must also size up his particular market, determine the prices he has to pay for what he buys and charge for what he sells, engage in cost accounting to estimate his costs, and so on. But none of this activity is really dependent upon the omnium gatherum of statistical facts about the economy ingested by the federal government. The businessman, like the consumer, knows and learns about his particular market through his daily experience.
Then he got to the heart of the matter.
Statistics are the eyes and ears of the bureaucrat, the politician, the socialistic reformer. Only by statistics can they know, or at least have any idea about, what is going on in the economy. . . .The Master Plan
Certainly, only by statistics, can the federal government make even a fitful attempt to plan, regulate, control, or reform various industries — or impose central planning and socialization on the entire economic system. If the government received no railroad statistics, for example, how in the world could it even start to regulate railroad rates, finances, and other affairs? How could the government impose price controls if it didn’t even know what goods have been sold on the market, and what prices were prevailing? Statistics, to repeat, are the eyes and ears of the interventionists: of the intellectual reformer, the politician, and the government bureaucrat. Cut off those eyes and ears, destroy those crucial guidelines to knowledge, and the whole threat of government intervention is almost completely eliminated. . . .
Surely, the absence of statistics would absolutely and immediately wreck any attempt at socialistic planning. It is difficult to see what, for example, the central planners at the Kremlin could do to plan the lives of Soviet citizens if the planners were deprived of all information, of all statistical data, about these citizens. The government would not even know to whom to give orders, much less how to try to plan an intricate economy.
Thus, in all the host of measures that have been proposed over the years to check and limit government or to repeal its interventions, the simple and unspectacular abolition of government statistics would probably be the most thorough and most effective. Statistics, so vital to statism, its namesake, is also the State’s Achilles’ heel.
This is good stuff. But he missed a crucial point about Achilles’ heels. They are inescapable concepts. It is never a question of Achilles’ heel vs. no Achilles’ heel. It is always a question of whose Achilles’ heel.
Voters around the world have surrendered their liberty to statist central planning. Their willingness to allow civil governments at all levels to collect statistics has led to their silent, unthinking surrender to the messianic state. If they had organized to stop the collection of statistics, the modern Keynesian state could not exist.
The defenders of the messianic state shot a poisoned arrow into the liberty of the citizenry. Citizens should return the favor.