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IS "GOVERNMENT" A SOLUTION TO ANYTHING?

Posted on: June 7, 2011

Here is a quotation from one of our most influential Founding Fathers. In the first two paragraphs of Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote:

“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities are heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

Paine clearly says that even at its best, government is still evil – though “a necessary evil”. Consider the possibility that he was only partly right and that government is an unnecessary evil. Accepting that there is a “necessary evil” could be nothing more than a substitute for thought. Instead of creatively working on alternatives, and improving on what is good and eliminating what is bad, things tend to stagnate or worsen. If you accept that an evil is “necessary”, then you also provide the means for evil people to exploit you!

THE MOST BASIC ARGUMENT AGAINST GOVERNMENT 

People often debate or argue about the “role of government.” But there is a basic argument that is almost always overlooked. It is a very simple argument. It goes like this:
If you examine anything being “done by government,” you will find human beings doing whatever is being done. They may also use equipment and machinery, but the most important work is done by individual human beings. If you go to a school, you will not find any “government” that runs the school. You will find a principal, a number of administrative people, and several teachers – all individual human beings. No matter what government monopoly you examine, for example a police station, you will find that the important work is done by individual human beings. If you visit a military installation, or a court, or a jail, or a veterans hospital, or a road being built, you will find individual human beings doing the work.

The fact that these human beings call themselves “government,” does not imbue them with magical powers to do their jobs better than those individuals who do not call themselves “government.”

Furthermore, the fact that certain individuals organize themselves into an institution called “government,” does not imbue them with magical powers to do their jobs better than those individuals who do not so organize themselves.

In general, people who don’t call themselves “government,” can do anything humans can do, at least as well as people who call themselves “government.”

Is there any evidence that just because people call themselves “government,” or they organize themselves into an institution called “government,” they can do their jobs better?

IDOLATRY
  • In Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Government is the organization of idolatry.” The dictionary defines “idol” as:
  • A representation or symbol of worship;
  • A false god;
  • A pretender or impostor;
  • An object of passionate devotion;
  • A false conception or fallacy.

An idolater is a worshipper of idols. Idolatry is the phenomenon of worshipping idols. What do we call the belief in the “magical power” of government? What about the belief that because people call themselves “government” – or they organize themselves into an institution called “government” – therefore they have “magical powers” to perform miracles? Superstition, perhaps?


In Parliament, P.J. O’Rourke writes: 

“We treat the president of the United States with awe. We impute to him remarkable powers. We divine things by his smallest gestures. We believe he has the capacity to destroy the very earth, and – by vigorous perusal of sound economic policy – to make the land fruitful and all our endeavors prosperous. We beseech him for aid and comfort in our every distress and believe him capable of granting any boon or favor.

The type is recognizable to even a casual student of mythology. The president is not an ordinary politician trying to conduct the affairs of state as best he can. He is a divine priest-king. And we Americans worship our state avatar devoutly. That is, we do until he shows any sign of weakness, and disability, as it were. Sir James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, said: “Primitive peoples… believe that their safety and even that of the world is bound up with the life of one of these god-men… Naturally, therefore, they take the utmost care of his life… But no amount of care and precaution will prevent the man-god from growing old and feeble… There is only one way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed.” Thus in our brief national history we have shot four of our presidents, worried five of them to death, impeached one and hounded another out of office. And when all else fails, we hold an election and assassinate their character.”

WE NEED PLANNING, COORDINATION, AND MANAGING 

Certain “communal” activities need to be performed. For example, in a city certain things need to planned, coordinated, and managed. If you go to any city, you will find some human beings doing just this. They may use computers and other equipment, but the essential planning, coordination, and managing is always done by human beings. If you visit a large company, you will find the same thing. We absolutely do need planning, coordination, and managing. We have it. People do it.

DO WE ALSO NEED COERCION, VIOLENCE, AND MONOPOLIES? 

Generally, the people who call themselves “government” operate on a different basis from that of the people who don’t call themselves “government.” The following assumptions seem to underlie the behavior of the people who call themselves “government”:
We are the only ones qualified to do the things we do; therefore we must have a monopoly to do the things we do and no one else may do them.
In particular, we must be the only ones who have a monopoly on legalized violence.
Because we are so highly qualified, we can’t persuade people to do what we want; therefore we must use coercion, violence, and armed police to force them to follow our orders.
Because we are so highly qualified, we can’t persuade people to pay for our wonderful services; therefore we must use coercion, violence, and armed police to force them to pay.
Because we do our jobs so well, we must use coercion, violence, and armed police to force people to not compete with us.
Some of our friends (who don’t call themselves “government”) are uniquely qualified to do the things they do (like doctors and other special-interest groups); therefore we grant them monopolies (licences), so they don’t have to compete with unqualified quacks in a free market. Guess what this will do to medical costs – and the licence fees and campaign contributions we’ll be able to collect!

Governments utilize coercive power, the power of violence, the power that stems from the barrel of a gun, power over or against people, government power at the expense of individual power. Government is organized violence. Governments, over time, tend to do their utmost to eliminate individual power. With a few exceptions, governments do not solve problems, they create them.


THE WEAKEST ARGUMENT FOR GOVERNMENT 

“If we don’t have government there will be chaos, disorder, crime, poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, drug abuse, pollution, etc., etc.”

Answer 1: How do you know? Answer 2: Such a list almost always consists of problems we already suffer from – in other words, if we have government there will be chaos, disorder, crime, poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, drug abuse, pollution, etc, etc.

The people who call themselves “government” need such problems in order to justify their jobs. It is in their interest to create such problems and make them worse. The worse the problems, the bigger the bureaucratic empires they create, the more money they get, the more power they obtain, the more people they control.

The bigger the government, the greater the problems. A politician like Bush may say that he will reduce government and lower taxes because he thinks it will help him get re-elected. In practice Bush has greatly increased his own bureaucratic empire. His administration has expanded government regulation with abandon. He promised, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” and then raised taxes. Under Bush, deficit spending has ballooned out of control.

PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED BY PEOPLE, NOT BY GOVERNMENTS. 

Once you realize that governments consist of people, and that whatever is being done is done by individual human beings – even though they may use machines and equipment – then it becomes embarrassingly obvious that only people can solve problems. The entire notion that government can or should do anything becomes quite absurd.

There are an infinite number of ways to organize ourselves to do things. If someone claims that a particular way is the only way, then they have to demonstrate that none of the other ways work – including all the ways we have never thought of. I doubt if anyone can demonstrate this.

The above simple argument completely demolishes all the arguments that “government is necessary” for anything. Human beings are necessary to do certain things. Realizing that government consists of people, it becomes obvious that when people say, “Government is necessary for ‘X’ (whatever)”, they are really saying, “People are necessary for ‘X’ (whatever).” When people say, “Only government can do ‘X'”, they are really saying, “Only people can do ‘X'”.

Some might still argue that it’s not the people in government as such that are necessary, but the structure or institution. This is essentially an argument that some form of management and coordination is necessary. The answer is that the essence of government is coercion (up to and including killing). Whatever management and coordination may be necessary can be provided much more effectively by people cooperating voluntarily for mutual benefit.

The reason why people in government insist on using coercion is because they want your money without providing you with commensurate value in return. They have to force people to pay “taxes”, “duties”, “imposts”, “levies”, “tariffs”, etc., etc., because they know that most of what they do is of no value. They essentially want to get as much as they can from you while returning little or nothing.

A further practical argument comes from looking at the evidence. Few would argue that government as an institutional structure is more efficient than voluntary organizations. Government bureaucracies typically eat up 50-100% (and sometimes much more!) of their operating budgets in “administrative overhead” – bloated salaries for ineffective management. Most people – including many who work for the government – would agree that government tends to be grossly inefficient: slow customer service, bloated cost structures, frustrating work environments, etc.

Given the severe wastefulness, inefficiency, and value destruction of government structures, only a possible moral argument remains. But since government structures are based on coercion, they should be rejected on moral grounds. Government structures fail on both practical and moral grounds.

In their book Breakthrough Thinking, Gerald Nadler and Shozo Hibino write that “an organization, as a collective body, can’t approach a problem.” They have a section on “political and governmental horrors.” They indicate that politics and government “are the graveyards of misbegotten problem solving.” Politicians and bureaucrats have three basic types of “solutions”:
Pass a law.
Throw money at the problem.
Appoint a committee to study the problem.

In terms of problem-solving methodology, all three types are at best inefficient.

I would go further and suggest that as soon as people call themselves “government,” there is a considerable probability that they acquire some kind of “magical power in reverse” – they somehow become less able to solve problems. Nadler and Hibino say that, “Government is operated mainly by bureaucrats, and bureaucrats’ classic criterion in decision making is not fulfillment of project purposes but protection of their jobs.”

Some people say government is a fecal alchemist – everything they touch turns into feces.

P.J. O’Rourke concludes his book Parliament as follows:

“…Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. …Every government is a parliament of whores. [We pay them to get screwed?]
The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us.”

GOOD PEOPLE IN GOVERNMENT 

There are good people in government who produce worthwhile results. These valuable results are produced, not because the good people call themselves “government,” but because they are good, competent, skillful people. If these people were to leave government – stop calling themselves “government” – I expect they would be able to produce even better results.

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