"I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time." - H L Mencken
What I would like to say about politics does not fit the mold of common discourse and most political essays. Frankly, I have a rather negative and skeptical view of the concept that a group of people somehow has the knowledge to know what is best and the right to impose their will on the rest of the population. In fact, I think it is mankind's greatest folly to think that we can pick out a group of people from the population at large -- known to be selfish, brutish and not necessarily very honest -- and to believe that these selected individuals will some how rise above the level from which they came, and to believe in these selected individuals so strongly that we will even give them guns and a monopoly over force!
What I have to say here is of a basic nature about politics and governing, with little promotion of any particular political view. While what I say here comes from my on experience and reflection, most of it is consistent with the Theory of Public Choice, a respected discipline offered at several universities. Further, I have been told that my views tend to be somewhat libertarian with a tinge of conservatism. That comes with age, it is said. :-)
In any case, here is some stuff of my own and a few links to other sources that I have compiled so far -- which is rather sparse. Good, general, rational views on politics and governing are actually hard to find. When I find something good, I will add it. Suggestions are welcome.
Governments use the power of political memes -- "pemes" -- to make it easier to control us. We meekly accept a horrendous tax burden that primarily supports the selfish wants of those in the government with hardly a complaint. We accept daily interference in our personal lives and constitutional abuses as calmly as we accept the weather. 'Memes' are the tools that make this so easy for the government. My essay on memes and genes discusses this in a bit more detail and is called "Strolling Through The Memetic Mine Field".
Government sometimes provides somewhat useful services to its citizens. However, it would be in your best interests to realize that when that happens, it is secondary to its own selfish purposes. Whenever there is a social problem, or a natural catastrophe, the government quite enthusiastically steps in to "solve" it or provide assistance. But that is not because they love you. No, the reason is that these problems afford opportunity for more government growth, more spending, increased size of government organizations and more control. The government is not beyond creating a problem or making a problem much worse (e.g., the Drug War) in order to justify their own ambitions. Growth is the natural desire of governments; if it can be couched in terms of solving some societal problem, it will go down much easier with the citizens.
Yes, Virginia, the government -- particularly the federal government -- does abuse its citizens and in many ways. I will list a few in the following subsections.
"The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents." -- Thomas Jefferson: Letter to C. Yancey, 1816There are a few sites on the internet -- particular the organization called F.E.A.R. -- that have material on this disgusting government activity. The government came up with this strategy a few years ago -- in the name of fighting the "Drug War" -- to seize your property without ever taking you to court. When it happens to you, in spite of the constitutional guarantees that you thought would protect you, you will find that instead of them having to prove that you're guilty, it will be your job to prove you're not. It may amaze you to find out that many people don't bother. But it shouldn't -- when you are fighting the government it will likely cost you more than it is worth to retrieve your property. To see more on this subject, see my essay on Forfeiture: The Shameful Abuse of the Constitution by our Trusted Government.
The "War on Drugs" (WOD) provides the best proof of the destructiveness of a selfish and insincere government. The WOD has caused unbelievable harm and destruction to the lives of many citizens and to the country in general. A huge amount of money has been wasted on this scam. The following links by some of our more sensible and honest citizens will provide some really sickening details on this awful "war".
You may think that the bureaucrats occupying the offices of the many government 'charitable' agencies are there to correct some of the awful evils of our society. That may be your view, but from their point of view it is a JOB. And jobs must be protected first and foremost. Sadly, little children suffer greatly from the selfish games that these people play with peoples lives. The TV show, "60 minutes" has had several segments that have exposed these activities. To get more information from the internet, subscribe to the newsgroup, "alt.government.abuse".
I have prepared a summary of the disastrous and very abusive "welfare system" as provided by the government, along with a history of similar efforts, and placed it on line as "Poverty's Paradoxes and Intractable Dilemmas". The essay is an attempt to show that the poor problem is an extremely difficult problem but is being made even worse by the government.
The United State now has the highest incarceration rate -- by far -- of any Western nation in the world. Our percentage of population behind bars is over 6 times as much as England, France or Germany!
Are the citizens waking up to the realities of government? It is hard to tell. The news media and the politicians would have us believe that the people want more government rather than less and that they trust the government. But there are indications that may not be so. There is an excellent site on the Internet that present statistics on this very subject, the National Election Studies. To give you a sample of the fascinating stuff they have there, here is a chart showing the Trust in the Federal Government (1958-1998). The poll asked, "How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right -- just about always, most of the time or only some of the time?" The graph is a plot of "Most of the time/Just about always" response, which varied from 73% in 1958 to 22% in 1994! Other similar charts and graphs are at the site.
I discuss this issue a bit more in my "Simple Theory of Politics" essay and also touch on it a bit in my "Helplessness" essay. There are several of the classic philosophical essays on the subject now available on the internet. You might want to start with Hobbes' Leviathan.
A series of lectures on the subject is available on line here.
In any case, almost all governments have chosen taxation as the easiest method to extract money from the citizens. When the country is small and/or there is close communications between the citizens and the government, the money obtained through taxation may be mostly returned to the citizens as public goods. It could even be said, in that situation, that the purpose of the taxes was to provide those public goods. This can be seen in the early history of the USA and even in some small school districts today.
But today, the purpose of taxing and spending by the national and state governments is to buy votes, or more precisely, maintain or increase the benefits of the government office holders.
To buy votes, the politicians, at election time, will offer reduced taxes or increased benefits to groups selected on the basis of their voting power. Since, in most countries, every person has one vote, the most efficient way that politicians can buy votes is to provide more benefits to the poor. While many of you may want to believe that the welfare programs exist because of the caring and humane feelings of the politicians and the special interest groups, the reality is that they are simply buying votes.
Funding of these benefits to groups that have a lot of voting power (the poor and the workers) presents a problem. Who can they tax? This is a very delicate and complicated matter and must be handled with much finesse. The rich are an obvious source as they have few votes but lots of money. But one must be careful, as another source of income for the politicians -- particularly funds they need to finance their election campaigns -- often come from the rich. So, the best bet is to just make it look like the rich are being taxed but to avoid hitting them too hard.
So this leaves the middle class which end up carrying the major burden of the taxation. While they have substantial voting power, many of them can be fooled, which with the votes from the poor and labor, can result in a winning election.
Further subterfuge is necessary, however. If the government were direct and honest about its purchases and the necessary funding, most citizens would balk. For example, let us say that the government wants to spend a billion dollars on an new housing project for the poor to replace the one they built only 20 years ago. The reasons they need to replace it are that it was poorly built (sleazy contractors working with sleazy politicians), poorly maintained (neither the residents or the managers have any interest in keeping them up -- a social dilemma), and they want to buy some votes. Now if they went to the taxpayers and directly requested the funds to do this project they would be turned down. Instead, they do two things: 1) they borrow against future generations and 2) they blur the connections between the taxes and the spending.
Blurring the link between the taxes and the spending is an extremely effective way of relieving the taxpayers of their funds. Many government projects are really a local matter and would make more sense to fund it locally. For example, improved equipment for a local police force. But it would go down easier with the taxpayers to pay the money out of some remote general fund (the state is good, but the federal government is far better!) and then to tax everyone, everywhere for the cost. That is, every police department throughout the land could be buying new equipment and each could use local funds to do it. Instead, what we do is all communities contribute to a common fund at the state and/or federal government and then the money is sent back to each community. This is very inefficient of course -- more than likely, the communities get back less than half what they contributed -- but the benefits to the politician are enormous.
Not only is the transaction obfuscated, but the politician in Washington or the state capital can then get the credit for the new equipment, rather than the citizens of the local community.
Another great opportunity for buying votes is the occurrence of a natural or man-made disaster (such as terrorism). When a hurricane hits Florida, the politician sees this as one great vote-buying opportunity. This situation is ideal, in that the taxpayers that fund this vote-buying are not likely to complain (to do so would cause them to be labeled hard-hearted and selfish). Now, rationally, it would make sense for the people who live in a community to pay for such disasters through appropriate insurance protection and/or through local government operations. That is, a free market approach should be taken and people should chose where they want to live based on the benefits and the costs. But if the costs are distorted due to remote funding, this puts the kabosh on that common sense approach.
Terrorism is a particularly useful happening to the politician because it not only offers the opportunity to spend vast quantities of taxpayer money without opposition, but it also allows the further elimination of personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The constitution can be difficult to get around sometimes but when there is a disaster caused by terrorists, most of the citizens will go along with a few more police powers -- particularly when the press tells them that they should.
As I find interesting and useful links on this subject I will post them here. Here is what I have discovered so far.
(For an excellent essay on why the government shouldn't be forcibly exacting funds from one group to give to another, see Colonel David Crockett's famous essay, "NOT YOURS TO GIVE").
Here are some other examples of how the taxpayers are fleeced to support the high life of those in power.
"A wise man's heart inclines him toward the right, but a fool's heart toward the left." Ecclesiastes 10.2
"3. a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society."There is an excellent essay and "FAQ" on anarchy called "What is Anarchy?" you may want to check out.
1. ".. early rational choice findings about the logic of majority rule have prompted new types of reflection on the normative foundations of democracy. If apparent majorities are often chimerical, if minorities can manipulate democratic decision rules to generate the results they desire, and if there is no way to amalgamate individual desires into a 'general will,' as Rousseau had claimed in The Social Contract, then the nature and desirability of democracy require reevaluation."
Donald P. Green and Ian Shapiro, Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, Yale University Press, 1994.