Ignorance is (a politician’s) bliss

Various convenient fictions (“That to secure … rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” for example) notwithstanding, the real basis of government power is the ability of politicians to con us into believing that we need them — that without their plans and programs and policy, society would instantly degenerate into chaos and “a war of all against all.”

Even the most cursory examination of that claim exposes it as a fraud.

In truth, government does very little to enhance your life. It’s at least as likely, and probably more so, to violate your rights as it is to protect those rights. If government does something you truly need done, it doesn’t do it as cheaply or as well as market entities would. If government does something you don’t need done, it’s just background noise at best and dead weight at worst. And the lion’s share of government activities are of a third sort — undertaken entirely for the purpose of forcing you to buckle under to, and pony up for, the first two kinds of activities.

If you’re not an anarchist (if this column attains the reach I hope it will, you probably aren’t), I understand that your skepticism. No problem — these claims are testable, and I propose that you test them. It’s not difficult. It doesn’t require you to do anything you don’t normally do on an average day. It may entail some skull sweat, but the payoff should be well worth the effort, even if you don’t come to the conclusions I consider obvious.

Here’s the test: Get up tomorrow morning, do the things you usually do … and think about them. Ask yourself whether government has anything to do with each activity. Ask yourself whether government makes each activity easier or more difficult. Ask yourself whether government makes each activity cheaper or more expensive. And ask yourself whether you’d even be doing what you’re doing in the absence of government, or whether you might be doing something else entirely.

Let me help you get started:

When you wake up in the morning, among the first few things you probably do are a) turn off your electric alarm clock, b) turn on your electric light, c) run water in various fashions for your morning grooming, and d) perhaps put some water and coffee in, and turn on, your electric coffee maker.

A few observations about these activities are in order. The first one that comes to my mind is that all of the electrical devices you used probably bear, somewhere on them, the mark “UL.” That mark stands for “Underwriters Laboratories.” UL is the premier consumer protection organization for electrical devices. It tests those devices for safety before they can bear the mark. And it’s a private organization, funded by insurance companies who want to minimize their payouts for fire damage.

On the other hand, the electricity that flows into those devices, and the water that flows out of your shower head, lavatory tap and toilet tank are almost certainly provided by a “public utility.” There are two kinds of such utilities: Government-operated ones and “private” ones operating under government monopoly grants and subject to regulation by government commissions.

It wasn’t always that way. The first electrical utilities were private companies which operated without significant government regulation. Why did that change? Did consumer advocates realize that prices were skyrocketing and agitate for government regulation? No … the primary advocates for the “public utility” system were the largest of the companies themselves. Prices weren’t skyrocketing, they were falling precipitously due to competition, and the obvious “solution” to that “problem” was for the power players to lobby (i.e. bribe) government to put the kibosh on that competition in the name of “stability.”

Government involvement in utilities isn’t for your protection, it’s for the protection of well-heeled elites who want to stay well-heeled and who are willing to pay politicians (with your money, of course) to help them stay that way (at your expense).

Having completed your morning routine, you’re probably headed for the door. Enjoy your day … but take a few minutes of each hour to think about what you’re doing and what effect government has on it (make notes for later research as necessary!). I think you’re going to be surprised to learn how little government does for you, and how much of what it does affects you negatively. You don’t need the politicians, they need you … and they need you not to know that.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory