Notice: This section is under constant revision!
"To be governed is to be watched,inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed;then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. THAT is government;that is its justice;that is it's morality."P.J. Proudhon
In this essay I would like to discuss government and politics in a straightforward manner. I suspect that what I have to say will not be what you are used to hearing whether you be conservative, liberal, libertarian or whatever. There are some basic fundamentals about politics that can be discussed with little emphasis on any particular party. In other words, as we can discuss religion without getting into any particular religion, hopefully we can discuss politics without promoting any particular flavor of politics.
The following paragraphs attempt to describe the concept of politically based government. The assessment is based on observation more than ideological theory. I do not see the evils of government as being a result of the people that are in it as much as the system itself. While I realize that government no doubt attracts a certain type of person, in my opinion, the main problem is not the people in the government. It is the nature of the system. If you replaced all those "bloodsuckers" that reside there now with honest people like you and me, not much would change. I will try to explain why.
How a particular individual comes to be a member of one class or another is determined by luck, circumstance and in some situations, the individual's personal skill, depending on the type of government. In a monarchy, what class you happen to be in is determined almost entirely by luck and circumstance. In a democracy, your skill and your preferences will have much to do with what class you belong to.
The July, 1996 issue of The Ethical Spectacle is dedicated to the subject "What is Government For?". For a wide range of opinions, you might want to read several of the essays there. Another essay on the subject, more in line with my beliefs, is the essay by Harry Browne, "The Breakdown of Government" [apparently no longer online].
Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the ease with which the many are governed by the few. (DAVID HUME)There are many myths surrounding governments and their positions of "honor". The first thing to take note of is that those belonging to the governing group realize that it is in their best interests to establish memes to the effect that government is to be respected and honored. In some cases, the government may in fact earn this respect and honor. But that should be the criteria -- have they earned it? Otherwise, it is healthier to regard the governors as just a bunch of people who by hook or crook have somehow gained control of everyone else.
Regardless of how they got in power, not that much would change for your particular situation. Whether they are honorable or not and no matter how they gained control, there usually is not much the typical citizen can do about it. Practically speaking, we are helpless! That suggests the following important fact:
In any modern state there will be two groups -- the governors and the citizens. The governors can be harsh or they can be kind, they can be a heavy financial burden or they can be frugal -- but in any case, there is little that the typical citizen can do about it.
Another important fact that you need to accept -- for your own mental health and well being is the following:
The existence of government and all the actions it takes are for it's own selfish purposes (actually, the selfish purposes of the individuals that make up the government): that its actions may occasionally be beneficial to the citizens is secondary to its purposes.Some elaboration is in order. Of course, government sometimes acts to provide beneficial programs to the citizens. But its purpose is to obtain public approval or to avoid harassment. Government didn't initiate the environmental programs: they responded to public pressure (actually, political activists). Government owned sites, such as military bases, are notoriously environmentally disastrous. We are spending billions to clean up government pollution!
What about all the good technology that we now enjoy that was developed under government programs? Sure, we have gained much but that was not the original purpose. And the cost was incredibly high. For every program that has turned out something useful for the citizens (like computers) there are hundreds that are useful only to the government (like the billion dollar Stealth Bombers).
Government employees and those receiving government grants do not sit around wondering what can we do next for the public. They instead concentrate on what will further their own personal careers. The billions we have spent on NASA programs to explore the edges of the universe were not for you and me! No, they do it because it is fun and furthers their own careers. What they really get a kick out of is having these unlimited funds (your taxes) to support their fascinating and fun projects!
Another practice of government employees is to create a problem where none exists or to enhance a relatively small problem, so as to increase their own importance and employment security. This practice results in an enormous cost in money and freedom to the citizens. For example the claim is made that the "Child Abuse" related agencies actually create cases for their own personal gain at the cost of great suffering of both parents and children. Another excellent example is the so-called "War on Drugs". A paper by Bruce L. Benson and David W. Rasmussen, "Predatory Public Finance and the Origins of the War on Drugs 19841989" provides considerable material on this disturbing subject.
While the public is generally quite cooperatively passive about having half their income diverted to the government for the use and pleasure of the occupants thereof, they do sometimes get riled over really stinky pork-barrel projects, especially if they are agitated by the news media. In view of this, the politicians are delighted when there are natural disasters, third-world uprisings and coups, and other critical disturbances. Whether the disaster is real or imagined, there is always money to be made! You do not have to be a genius level investigative reporter to find out for yourself that there is always money involved in the "solution" to all our major ills. Private companies seek and get lucrative government contracts for activities resulting from Environmental Problems, the Welfare mess, the Drug War, Storms, Earthquakes and Floods, Transportation Needs, and the various conflicts and disasters of the other countries of the world. You might want to check out the government business publications -- such as The Commerce Business Daily, Washington Technology, and other similar magazines and newspapers to learn more about the opportunities for making big bucks from natural and man-made disasters.
Citizens passively submit their lives to government control in exchange for the benefits they are receiving or expect to receive. The expectation brings to mind another serious flaw with government, particularly the more democratic government and that is the problem of unenforceable contracts. One of the primary purposes that all political theories generally agree on is that the government should enforce contracts between citizens. But what about contracts with the government? The problem of "who guards the guardian" raises its ugly head again. I quote from "INTERESTS, INCENTIVES & INSTITUTIONS" by Joseph Stiglitz:
The problem of commitment stems from the inherent nature of government itself. Government is the primary enforcer of contracts. It uses its monopoly on the legal use of force to create the possibility of private commitment. There is no one, however, whose job it is to guard the guardian. The government cannot make commitments because it always has the possibility of changing its mind, and earlier ‘agreements’ cannot be enforced.
No matter what promises the government makes one year, all bets are off for the following years. For example, it can promise to, in exchange for imposing a costly program on the public, cut back on other programs on a gradual basis for the next 10 years. But that is just legislation. Legislation can be changed by the politicians that come to power at the next election -- and usually is. The fact is no long-range promise can be counted on. This is not just a problem with the representatives, but arises also from the fact that the citizens themselves may change their mind.
Other examples of the uncertainty of government commitments is the attack on the tobacco industry (it is subsidized by the government and otherwise promoted in the past), retirement programs (military retirees have had their promised benefits cut back), and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution (some of the Bill of Rights are effectively ignored, especially number ten).You can learn more about the activities of politicians to profit from public problems and the activities of private industry to insure that they are cut in on the deal from my short essay on rent-seeking.
If you would like to learn more about the behavior of governments and the individuals within the governments, you should search for material on Public Choice Theory. I have a short discussion here. There are several books by James Buchanan, (an interview is here) who won the Nobel prize for his efforts in this area, that are highly recommended. His classic book, The Calculus of Consent (co-authored with G. Tullock), 1962, University of Michigan Press, was a major inspiration for the development of the current Public Choice Theory. To give you a hint as to how realistic Buchanan is in his assessment of government I offer the following quote from his essay, "Politics without Romance: A Sketch of Positive Public Choice Theory and Its Normative Implications", IHS Journal 3 (1979): "Governments are viewed [by public choice scholars] as exploiters of the citizenry, rather than the means through which the citizenry secures for itself goods and services that can best be provided jointly or collectively". Great! Too bad the citizenry is a bit slow on picking up on this!
My list of references in the Social Dilemmas section identifies other books by other major contributors to this field of study such as Hardin and Olson.
An excellent summary article by Harry Browne, "THE BREAKDOWN OF GOVERNMENT", explains how government always evolves into the corrupt and heavy handed operation that we see in the USA today.
"No government is ever in favor of freedom of the individual. It invariably seeks to limit that freedom, if not by overt denial, then by seeking to constantly widen its own functions...All governments, of course, are against liberty..."--H.L. MenckenDo we have a democracy? Do we want a democracy? The answer to the first question and for many of us, the second, is "no, we do not". First off, Americans seem to be confused as to whether this government is supposed to be a republic or a democracy. We seem to want it both ways and will alternately complain if our representatives simply vote based on public opinion samples or when they ignore public opinion!
Americans are pathetically brainwashed into believing that we have a democracy when, of course, we don't, never have, and, further, we don't want one. A true democracy can be a very dangerous form of government, even worse than your average totalitarian government. When mobs riot and kill, there is little that can be done about it. But if the head of a totalitarian government considers getting mean, he is likely to think about the possibility that he may be severely punished. An excellent paper on the shortcomings of democracies is Donald J. Boudreaux's "NOT ALL WANTS ARE EQUAL", which I strongly recommend that you take a look at.But there is yet another serious problem with our system: while we go through the ritual of election process, at great expense to the country, the fact is that the process has a minor influence on the way the government is run. Voters are manipulated and deceived into thinking that they control the government or that "the citizens are the government" as some would naively say. There are several good books on this subject but one that is very enlightening is Who will tell the People by William Greider, 1992, Simon & Schuster.
Voting itself is a questionable process for the individual citizen to effect any change in government, as discussed extensively elsewhere on these pages. You might also want to take a look at the chapter on Social Dilemma Examples.
If you would like to know how our Congress really works, you can learn much by watching CSPAN and boring yourself silly -- OR -- you can get a copy of the book, Hill Rat, by John L. Jackley. I strongly recommend it. The realities of "representative government" portrayed in this book are absolutely fascinating and quite astounding! The author has generously granted permission to me to publish a sample chapter, Chapter 6, "The Favor Factory". You may obtain this book and others written by Mr. Jackley at Amazon.com.
Peter Landry has several illuminating essays on the subject of politics at his "Blupete" site. One that summarizes the issues of representative government very well is his essay, "Politics and The Lie of Legitimacy". Check out this wonderful piece by Mencken that defines his view of democracy, "Last Words".
What would such a contract contain? Well, I have a copy of a preliminary version of the Social Contract that is floating around on the net that you take a look at. Do you agree with this contract that we apparently have with our government? Would you make changes?
"The government has no source of revenue, except the taxes paid by the producers. To free itself - for a while - from the limits set by reality, the government initiates a credit con game on a scale which the private manipulator could not dream of. It borrows money from you today, which is to be repaid with money it will borrow from you tomorrow, which is to be repaid with money it will borrow from you day after tomorrow, and so on. This is known as 'deficit financing.'"The irresponsible management of public funds by the politicians in government is probably the most serious of all the faults in the concept of a government controlled society. While it is extremely exasperating to the citizens who are essentially helpless to do anything about it, the activities of the politicians in this endeavor are quite understandable and predictable. The science of Public Choice has essentially covered these aspects of governing quite clearly and without controversy. Basically all can be explained by the concept of self-interest.
- Ayn Rand (1905-1982) Philosophy: Who Needs It - "Egalitarianism and Inflation"
As we show in the simple example of the Prisoner's Dilemma, self-interest can actually lead to an inferior result to that which could be achieved if somehow we could have the interests of society as our driving force. The politicians do not have a monopoly on self-interest and its destructive conclusion. No, the citizens, even if they had a rigidly representative government that followed their interests and demands exactly, would fall into the same black hole of individual self-interest over society's interests.
Given that, however, let us concentrate on the politicians. For they are the ones who in fact control the purse strings and therefore are the ones to be held accountable for the ultimate situation we find ourselves in. If the citizens themselves may be to some extent guilty of the societal failures brought on by self-interest, it is the politicians who ultimately implement the program and who have to bear the accusation of fraud against the public that they most certainly are guilty of.
Consider this: it is said that our average tax rates from all government levels, now approaches 50 percent. Most young couples with children, trying to make ends meet, find it necessary for both the father and the mother to work. Social scientists say that the fact that the mother works is a major source of stress on the marriage, often resulting in a break up, and is a major source of trouble with the children. I don't think anyone would argue that the family life could be greatly improved if the wife didn't have to work.
Now if she is working because she wants to, we have no issue. But what if she is working because she has to because of the excessive tax burden. Taxes that are going to line the pockets of fat politicians, greedy military contractors, massive numbers of fat bureaucrats and military officers sitting on their asses in thousands of plush government offices, playing costly procurement games. Surely this is immoral by any standard.
Well, those days are gone. Now they do require restraint as the moral imperative has slipped away. A constitutional amendment that would force them to be responsible is the only chance we have short of a revolution. And that may not work. They are extremely cleaver and audacious about ignoring the rules. The ignored the Gramm-Rudman act of the Reagan years and they are likely to figure a way to ignore a constitutional amendment. Have you heard the term, "off-budget"? A disgustingly dishonest concept if there ever was one (Warning: do not try this with your own finances at home!). With every term of congress more and more items are being moved "off-budget". In view of the possibility of more laws being passed to restrain "taxing and spending", lobbyists are working feverishly to try to get their particular economic sector declared as off-limits.
The Federal Budget process has become a complete sham. The politicians have become polished experts at convincing the public that they "really are trying" to balance the budget when they have absolutely no intentions of doing so. For details, see this write-up by W.A. Carto, "8 Reasons Why the Budget Is A Fraud".
And, before you ask, you cannot count on the Conservatives/Republicans to get us out of this mess. They like big government too!
"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." - Cornelius Tacitus
"Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -C.S. LewisThe government has managed to establish the powerful meme that says that all social problems must be solved by the government. There are no other options, they would have you believe. Nothing is left to civic groups, individuals, religious groups, industry or charitable organizations. We now go to the government with the most trivial problems and they always welcome the opportunity to help.
Unfortunately, they nearly always fail.
For one major reason, they are strongly committed to the stupid idea that if there is a problem, new legislation can cure it. The logic is that the existing legislation must be faulty else the problem would have never come up. The fact is, legislation is not the appropriate tool for many or most problems. For one thing, many problems have no known solution (such as the Social Dilemmas discussed here). Further, some problems may have a solution but legislation may not be it.
Legislative solutions should be the last resort. One very serious problem with legislation is that the many innocent pay the price for the small numbers of abusers. The infamous "War on Drugs" is a good example. To punish the relatively small number of abusers, all of society must sacrifice freedom and submit to a police state. The cost is way too high for the benefit received.
Another serious problem with legislation is that it often creates many "unintended results". We just don't know what will happen when something is tried to solve a problem. For most solutions tried, we can simply back off and try something else if serious problems develop. That is not easily done when it involves the government and legislation. The government has always operated under the principle that just because the effort is a failure is no reason to abandon it!
It is very difficult to kill a government program once it is in place. The "War on Poverty" has destroyed thousands of lives while leaving more people on poverty than there was before the "War" was started. Whether a program is successful or not seems to be of no concern to the government. The only way a disastrous program is ever stopped is from massive pressure from outside the government.
Another aspect that results in disastrous consequences for the citizens is the simple minded planning that goes into these social programs. Anytime an effort is applied to solve a problem, you will get "unintended consequences" or "secondary effects". These unintended consequences may be worse than the original problem. To anticipate these secondary effects requires careful analysis and thinking -- which seems to be in short supply with politicians and social engineers. "If people are poor, just give them money. Keep doing this until they are satisfied" is a simple minded idea with huge and disastrous consequences. Anyone with any common sense at all could anticipate the problems that will develop using this concept.
Another example is the law passed a few years ago that bans freon in Air Conditioners and Refrigerators. This should give you some idea of the level of intelligence we are dealing with in the Senate when I tell you that the vote was unanimous for passage of this law! Yet, there is not general agreement among scientists that freon is causing any significant problems at all! The citizens will pay the bill for this little act of stupidity to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. (Note that some large corporations are also making huge profits over this activity, also, by "gaming the system". You have to wonder if they had something to do with the law being passed.)
But let us get back to basics: while it may appear illogical for the government to continue a failing and disastrous effort to "solve a social problem" (such as the War on Drugs), it does not appear so from the government's point of view. Whether the program is a success or failure (from the citizen's view), from their view it provides employment, personal promotions, disbursement of funds, and other pleasant activities. If the government takes notice of a failed program and actually does something about it, it will only be because they fear major trouble from the citizens and the press. It's that straightforward!
While these observations seem incredibly simple and obvious, apparently it is worthwhile to repeat them, as the daily press and normal conversation are filled with apparent astonishment at the many examples of how the government tends to take advantage of and to abuse the rest of us.
Let us look at some examples:
Here is the crux of the matter with regard to spending:
The level of spending for every entity in the government is primarily determined by last years spending level for that entity.
Note that how much we need that agency does not come into play!
That this is so follows from the principles I have suggested here. A government agency struggles for its own survival. Politicians and citizens in the affected community push for its continuation. On the other hand citizens are raising hell wanting the overall budget cut. So the politicians are forced into the position of leaving the agency at approximately last year's level.
Government will use its power of taxing to obtain the funds to keep you and me under control. Imagine a robber who robs you for the money to buy a gun with which to rob you and you will have the picture!
Open agencies have to be a bit more careful.
All government operations grow on the basis of vague requirements.
In fact, the problem is so serious that the amount of annual funding
of government agencies is primarily determined by the amount they
had the previous year. Every level of government bases its size
and needs on purely arbitrary values -- not any kind of absolute
values. For the most part, they actually assemble their list of requirements based on their budget, rather than their needs. Did you think it was the other way around?
Now, surely, you say, there must be justification for some agencies. Well, let us look at some of them.
The basic question is, "How much defense is enough?" Of course, nobody knows. In fact the interpretation is wide open. But "what we need" just doesn't matter. That argument is given just to help justify their expenditures which are actually based on other reasons. These reasons include job security, profit making, and, in general, selfishness of the individuals involved.
Another question is, How good does the equipment have to be?
Better than any potential enemy's? Of course, the answer is again wide open. You and I don't know too much about what the enemy has -- only our government has any real idea (from the spy organizations). So, how do they really determine how good our equipment must be? It is determined by the current technology and the marketing capabilities of our government contractors! We can spend billions for a few missiles and find ourselves buying a new batch if the contractor claims that major technological improvements have been made. That is the way it works.
I have another essay that attempts to, at least, partially explain the growth of government, called "The Invasion of the Giant Blob: Government as a SuperOrganism, Consuming all in its Path". In that essay, I take the approach that for all practical purposes the state acts as a "superorganism" which has certain influences and pressures to cause it to continuously grow and increase control. The idea of "superorganism" is discussed extensively in the literature.
Here are a few essays on this issue:
"I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights."
This is quoted from Federalist Paper #84.
As an example, here is a quote by President Bill Clinton on freedom of the individual:
Bill Clinton on freedom and security as spoken to MTV viewers:
"My own view is that you can go to the extreme in either direction. And when we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the Americans who had that freedom would use it responsibly. That is, when we set up this country, abuse of people by government was a big problem. So if you read the Constitution, it's rooted in the desire to limit the ability of government's ability to mess with you, because that was a huge problem. It can still be a huge problem. But it assumed that people would basically be raised in coherent families, in coherent communities, and they would work for the common good, as well as for the individual welfare.
What's happened in America today is, too many people live in areas where there's no family structure, no community structure, and no work structure. And so there's a lot of irresponsibility. And so a lot of people say there's too much personal freedom. When personal freedom's being abused, you have to move to limit it. That's what we did in the announcement I made last weekend on the public housing projects, about how we're going to have weapon sweeps and more things like that to try to make people safer in their communities. So that's my answer to you. We can have --the more personal freedom a society has, the more personal responsibility a society needs, and the more strength you need out of your institutions -- family, community and work."
2. The March 12, 1997 issue of The Hill, a Washington newspaper, carries a full page advertisement encouraging congress to vote for H.R. 4, a bill that would move transportation spending "off-budget". Who do you think paid for the ad? In the same issue, Representative Robert L. Livingston exposes the concept that the ad promotes for the fraud that it is. You need to write to him and express your appreciation.
3. "Unintended Consequences" are a major problem with controlling organizations, particularly the government. An excellent book on the subject is Edward Tenner's Why Things Bite Back, 1996, Knopf. A related issue and a primary cause is called "Gaming the System", wherein the people subject to the rules look for ways to take advantage of the rules -- in their own favor. An example that immediately comes to mind is the bidding procedure of ebay.com. While ebay allows for a week or so of bidding on an item up for bids, with open display of the current bids, by "gaming the system", bidders can do better by bidding in the last 10 to 30 seconds or so. For all practical purposes this converts the ebay system from an open bidding system to a "sealed bid system". Two other notorious examples are how farmers "game" the government and how tax avoiders "game" the IRS rules (e.g., deducting costs of items intended for personal pleasure, creating a nice discount on the purchase price).
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