The State’s Bad Math

On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a message that — for those of us who inveigh against widespread, institutionalized violence — sounded a lot like a threat, that “much of the work of implementing financial reform lies ahead of us.” Fortunately for libertarians, the ciphers of the state, broadcast by its many mouthpieces, are not difficult to decode, transparently glorifying the policies of coercion that begot the “Panic of 2008.”

Still, appraisal of the ways that the state disseminates its economic message is a worthwhile project considering Orwell’s shrewd, ever-relevant observation that “[p]olitical language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” It is an enduring and reliable frustration for anarchists that the state and its media pawns are intent on making statements such as “the economy is bad,” or “the economy is unhealthy,” but there is a reason, if not an outright calculated one, underlying the employment of this construct.

The notion that the economy, no more than the aggregate of consensual exchanges made by individuals, could be “bad” or “unhealthy” is completely incoherent. It would be more accurate (but less convenient for agents of government agitprop) to say that violent state intervention in the economy is “bad” or “unhealthy.” The arguments of the state rely on presenting “the economy” as a self-contained and distinct entity in and of itself, as something that can be acted upon or refined from without, as a doctor might act upon a patient, or a mechanic upon a car. Through this rhetorical misdirection, parasites like Bernanke assume the shape of beneficent caregivers, possessed of the antidotes for the country’s economic maladies.

“The Federal Reserve,” boasted Bernanke, “is already supporting the economic recovery by maintaining an extraordinarily accommodative monetary policy, using multiple tools.” He’ll have to pardon me for not saying “thank you,” for wishing that the state would keep its “tools” of power and brutality tucked in the tool belt instead of monkeywrenching around in the lives and decisions of free and competent individuals.

Just as the economy is not some elephantine life form capable of being tweaked or of concerted movement in any one direction, the state is not really an institution itself; more precisely, it is a category of human action, distinguished not by ornate buildings or volumes of Byzantine legal code, but by the initiation of physical force. And, it is important to remember, this initiation of force is undertaken by people — real, flesh and blood like you and I — not by gods, angels or neoclassical monuments in Washington. The state, then, is no more than an abstraction we use to represent these existing individuals who act in this particular way, and who do things that, if attempted by anyone else, would not enjoy the same presumption of legitimacy.

If, for instance, I wanted to buy something costing two dollars by tendering a torn in half one dollar bill and asserting that it had become two dollars, no one would consider that a justifiable position. When the surrogates of the state, however, maintain that their manipulations of monetary policy will hasten economic recovery, the truth of what that really means is obscured by their oratorical flourishes. The calibration of interest rates, taxation, regulations, all of these things steal your property and your labor, forcing you to work within an invisible scheme designed to siphon wealth to the colluding Big Business and Big Government.

Most individuals do not have a giant, well-paid lobby in Washington securing tailor-made policy (i.e., violence) to entrench their interests, so they should not for one instant harbor the delusion that the workings of the criminal Federal Reserve System are designed to do anything to alleviate their economic woes.

A famous passage from Orwell’s novel 1984 reads, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.” Through his suggestion that, due to theft and the watering-down of our money, “we have come a long way,” Bernanke is asking us to believe that two and two make five, but — as is always true of the state — the numbers just don’t add up.

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