To be consistent with human nature, the way for individuals to arrange relationships with each other is to make agreements with no coercion. Naturally, in any society there will be rules of conduct. In a free society they will be set through agreement. If an individual has agreed to a course of action with someone, they honour that agreement. If they have no agreement, they have no obligation.
A society in which all actions are voluntary (that is, in which any and all obligations are undertaken freely without coercion) is called a “market”, or a “market arena” or for emphasis a “free market.”
The alternative way of structuring society is one where all or some actions are involuntary, under compulsion, in obedience to laws or to obligations that were thrust on to people rather than been accepted willingly. This kind of society is called a “political arena” or a “state” or one ruled by a “government.”
The mythology permeating the United States Constitution and various foundational documents around the world is that government consists of representatives of the people who arrange for those necessary functions to be carried out which could not be done by the operation of a market — for example, providing for the common welfare and defence. This is a myth riddled with major error. First, there are no functions needed in any society which cannot be performed very well by a market alone. Second, representation of the people — all the people — is impossible, for always there will be some who dissent. And third, of course, even if there were something government could perform better than the market, the whole idea of imposing it by force and excluding competition is repugnant to self–owning members of society.
Government is whatever has a monopoly on the use of unaccountable force in its domain. By ‘unaccountable’ this would mean that ultimately, if the use of force is questioned, there is no authority to over–rule, cancel, or prevent it, outside the organisation itself; for example, if the government in the US wants to execute someone, the ultimate judge is one of its own divisions, called the Supreme Court. Incidentally, George Washington himself recognised that government equals force — and he had good reason to know. He famously said “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence. It is force; and, like fire, force is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.” Government is a set of armed thugs with no moral validity at all, bent solely on domination for its own sake.
By definition, government is the absence of a market. It means government is not really something that is, that has distinctive identifiable properties, but rather something that is missing. A market is what a society would be or become naturally, as free self–owning humans chose to interact with each other. Government is what prevents that.
Government performs many tasks poorly, and this results in suffering, misery, and death. That is the garbage out. One can verify bits of it right now by opening today’s newspaper. One will find that most of the stories report bad news, and that most of those concern government or the political arena — while most of the better news stories relate to the market arena, to real individuals.
Many people are hurt and surprised by this “garbage out” — they expected something good and noble. Each time a ‘leader’ is elected, fine speeches are made, and hopes for a brighter tomorrow run high. “The torch has been passed to a new generation,” said JFK to wild cheering by supporters. Within three years he was dead, and within five years the government he had led was mired in a catastrophic, needless, and unwinnable war that killed 55,000 Americans and twenty times as many Vietnamese. Within seven years the dollar was finally disconnected from gold, leaving money at the mercy of the Feds’ inclination to print as much as they saw fit, and so within nine years inflation was running rampant worldwide. Many see a parallel with the disaster in Iraq — yet Bush, too, was popular when elected. Twice!
Note, however, that by definition government is fatally flawed from the get-go — because it ignores or over–rides the fundamental attribute of human beings, namely that each individual own themselves and so have the right to make all of their own choices. Therefore, government is fundamentally irrational and that is the garbage that goes in. So one should not at all be surprised when garbage later comes out — even though government may hire talented people who mean well.
There is a further reason why the institution of government consists of “garbage in”, and is mythical from the get-go: That is, the flawed theories of where it gets its power. Historically there have been two ideas “sold” to those it rules: (a) God and (b) the People. The former was seen in the supposed “Divine Right of Kings” and it rested of course upon the amazing assertion that because King X had clawed his way to the throne, God must have selected him for the job. The latter is the theory underlying democratic governments: That the People delegated certain powers, as in the US Constitution. Unfortunately this is riddled with falsehood, for most of the powers so “delegated” were not possessed by any of “the people” in the first place — for example, the power to seize property against the owner’s will, or to draft them into a war — and nobody can delegate a power they do not have. Hence, again: Garbage in.
Purpose: Myth and reality
Most have almost certainly never met anyone who said to government or to some group or person wishing to be elected to government: “Rule me, please!”
What does happen at elections, assuming government permits elections, is that a large part of society says to it in effect: “Rule them on my behalf, please!” That is, voters hope to gain a benefit at the expense of their neighbours; an election is “an advance auction of stolen goods” as Mencken so perceptively put it. Some are prudes who want government to ban lifestyles they disapprove, some are home buyers who seek a tax advantage over renters, some are parents who want their children “educated” without paying fees, some are business owners who seek to hobble their competitors with regulations which they themselves can readily afford to obey but a small, new market-entrant cannot. And so on, endlessly and sickeningly.
Such is part of the reality in the political arena; factors like those make government popular among voters. This is how a ruled population is fooled into giving government implicit sanction; note that no election has ever offered voters the real choice of “do you wish to have a government, or not?” and so at no time has any society ever been invited to give its explicit sanction.
Blatantly to advertise to voters that government exists to steal from neighbours on their behalf would not be good public relations, so instead an elaborate myth is constructed to gloss over the theft and coercion.
That myth usually includes hushed appeals to patriotism, and at any political meeting national flags adorn the platform to convey the idea that a vote for that candidate would be a vote for “our country.” Travellers can note that this happens in every country!
Hands are sometimes placed solemnly over hearts, as if all unite in worship of “Our Nation”. In such ways is Mencken’s accurate picture of a sordid “advance auction of stolen goods” sprinkled with perfume — or even holy water, if a member of the clergy is invited along to offer prayers. No matter that none in the audience — nor on the platform, probably — could define precisely and unambiguously what “Our Nation” means. Such use of that “Our” and “We”, the first person plural, is integral to the government swindle — it assumes everywhere a completely fictitious collective interest. There is none; there are millions of individual interests, but no collective ones whatsoever.
The myth goes much deeper of course, and is propagated by every available method, not just at election time. It holds that in some mysterious way government is “necessary” for the public wellbeing; a great tragedy of the American Revolution is that its intellectual founder Thomas Paine rightly saw that government was “evil, even at its best” but could not think far enough outside the box to grasp that something evil could never possibly be “necessary.” The process of indoctrination begins no later than entry to government schools, and happens worldwide, and its effect is so very deep that in a large part of modern and supposedly rational society it is still seen as dishonourable to “dodge taxes” or “refuse to fight for one’s country” when called on to do so.
The government lie that is perhaps the most seductive, yet certainly the most blatant, is that it exists to “protect” the “people it serves.” Yuck! First, of course, there has never being a government that served anyone; it rules, period — the very opposite. And secondly it is clearly impossible for any gang of rulers to protect a society against a foreign threat without calling upon members of that society to do the actual fighting! And this politely overlooks the ugly fact that every American war since 1781 — or certainly since 1814) — was not defensive, but offensive. The political thugs who provoke the war and sit behind desks directing it are not protecting anyone; only the grunts in uniform do that, and as often as not they are forced into the activity by being threatened with imprisonment or execution if they refuse.
So much for the myth, and for part of the reality; the other, more potent part of the reality about what government is for is power. However voters may perceive usefulness in the institution, for the rulers themselves the purpose of government is power and control. All leaders in the political arena are hopelessly drunk with power — the sheer enjoyment of directing how other people shall live. Example:
- Government monopolises certain functions within its domain; like money, “justice”, “education”, postal delivery, and either subsidising or making war on foreign governments as the fancy takes them. If one wants such services, they have but one place to go; and the thugs providing it enjoy the sight of people coming to beg.
- Even worse: Whether one wants those services or not, government says people will pay for them anyway! Childless couples must pay school taxes, pacifists pay war tax, non–drivers pay for government roads. No businessperson can compel non–customers to pay for goods and services they do not wish to buy; government thugs can. Such power intoxicates indeed.
- What it does not own or monopolise directly, government regulates, so providing its bureaucrat minions with rush after rush of pleasure as they say to one productive person after another “Do this, and he doeth it.” Regulations permeate business so fully that nobody can possibly read them all in a single lifetime. The United States Food and Drug Administration regulation of medicinal drugs is one common and terribly damaging example. Such power brings higher highs than any drug they make illegal.
Ultimately, government is no more than a bunch of thugs with guns.
The Mafia parallel
The market is everything that government can never be:
- Governed by voluntary contracts between individuals.
- Characterised by voluntary exchanges to mutual benefit.
- Closely and rationally conforms to human nature.
In other words, government is diametrically opposed to a market; it is a non–market institution.
It is interesting to compare government to the one other kind of non–market institution with which one might be familiar: An organised criminal gang — the Mafia. Some people, notably those who work for it, take offence when government is compared to the Mafia; in fact, as will be shown, if anyone is entitled to take offence it is the Mafiosi. They are less hypocritical.
Yes. Unwanted ‘protection’ in which victims are forced to pay for services they do not want and did not need. Enforced by imposing damage and/or injury until compliance is achieved — hence “an offer they cannot refuse.”
Yes. Every government ‘service’ is always provided under compulsion. Even if it is not used, payment compliance is enforced by imposing damage, injury, or death.
Services offered on a voluntary basis
Yes. Most of the Mafia’s activities focus on making goods and services available to willing buyers on a voluntary basis. This has included cigarettes, alcohol, other prohibited drugs, prostitution, and gambling. Whatever government prohibits, the Mafia may — for a price, which covers the cost of bribing government officials to look the other way — make available.
No. Never. One is not forced to accept a service. For example, social security benefits can be refused, but one cannot decline to pay for it, so the exchange is never voluntary.
Enslavement of innocents
Yes. Some of those activities are ‘staffed’ by people kidnapped and brainwashed not to run away.
Yes. Most wars are fought with conscript labour, and about half of all prisoners are victimless criminals.
Claim to benefit victims
No. They are criminals with little pretence.
Yes. They pretend to always be good for the community.
How seen by non–participants
Despised as scabs on the face of society.
None exist — all are victims.
Thus, both gangs engage in compulsory activity, so both are non–market institutions — but the Mafia has one redeeming feature: It also participates in market action — voluntary exchanges — while government has no redeeming feature, for it never does.