"[T]he burden of government is not measured by how much it taxes, but by how much it spends." ~ Milton Friedman
Why Minarchism Cannot Cut It
Exclusive to STR
Recently Dr. Gary North, the well-known Libertarian predictor of catastrophes large and small, wrote a thought-provoking article entitled "Non-Negotiable Political Demands" in which he listed seventeen. It's worth reading the original, because it's as vigorous an expression of the Classical Liberal position as I can recall reading, and at first sight we can say "Amen!" to each of them. As the author points out, they have much in common with what Ron Paul has been saying during his campaign--and they furnish an excellent example of hacking at the branches of evil instead of striking at its root.
The seventeen are those he would present to Congress, in well-justified confidence that Congress would give not one of them so much as the time of day. North goes on to reason that because of that intransigence, national governments will quite soon collapse under the weight of paying the cost of what they refuse to repeal, and then county and city governments will take over, in a kind of informal and undeclared devolution of power. He seemed to take pleasure in the thought that the era of the nation-state is ending.
I cannot share it. The news that government intruders may all be as close to me as Merrimack, NH instead of Washington, DC gives me no warm, cozy feeling whatever. Governments are governments no matter what their sizes and locations, and are wholly unacceptable in their very nature, because every last one of them arrogantly presumes to run one or more aspects of my life which rightly belong to me alone.
I'm slowly learning to ask of every social-reform proposal I encounter something like, "Suppose that were done, imagine you got your wish. What then?" This "what then?" or "what next?" question can often deflate it rather swiftly. Here, then, is why each of North's 17 demands falls woefully short; the bold-face headings are his.
1. Wars that have not been declared by Congress are indeed unacceptable--but this Demand implies that wars would be acceptable if they were declared by Congress. No way, José! All wars are repugnant and only a strictly defensive one may be justifiable, but those Congress did not declare (Iraq 1 and 2, Afghanistan, Panama, Grenada, even Vietnam and Korea . . .) have wrought much less havoc than those it did declare (WWII, WWI, the "Civil" War . . .) so if we had to choose (we don't), I'd rather have an undeclared war any day of the week. They kill fewer people.
2. The maintenance of military bases outside the United States is likewise unacceptable--but this Demand implies that government military bases would be quite okay if only they were confined to US territory. No, they would not! There were no foreign bases that I can recall prior to the War to Prevent Southern Secession, the war on Spain , or the two wars on Germany ; yet those spilled far more blood than all other US wars combined.
3. Military defense treaties (NATO, CENTO, etc.) Certainly, there should be no such treaties--agreed. But this Demand implies that all would be sweetness and light if they were all ripped up, and that simply isn't so. There was no treaty that obliged the US to come to the aid of France , Russia , Italy and Britain in 1916--but the FedGov did so anyway, for reasons probably connected with building an American Empire after victory.
4. America's membership in the United Nations Organization - again, there was no UN in 1941, nor any US membership in the League of Nations; but that didn't stop FDR manipulating us into a terrible foreign war, probably for the same reason.
5. Graduated ("progressive") income taxation - amen to that; but this Demand implies that if taxation were all non-progressive or "flat," all would be well. No, it would not! Taxation is 100% repugnant no matter what its contour; for it consists of theft. A flat tax would steal X% equally from everyone; no common thief would escape blame just because he treated every victim with impartial equality, and the greatest criminals of the lot should be treated no better.
6. Tax-funded education at any level - of course, it is repulsive to be forced to pay to indoctrinate the next generation with pro-government propaganda. But this Demand implies that so long as the funding is private, government control of what the young gets taught is unobjectionable; and that's just not so. It would be feasible for all schools to be privatized, yet still be subject to licensure by government--just like TV and radio. Any that refused to apply for a license, on the grounds that government has no business influencing (and thereby mentally abusing) children would be closed down in a heartbeat.
7. Government licensing of the right to keep and bear arms - excellent. But you know, I just don't trust government. Even if they tore up all their 20,000 anti-gun-owner laws, they'd still find some way to limit the way we arm ourselves. For example, they might tax gun and ammo sales at, say, 10,000%. Didn't the very first anti-gun laws outlaw only those that poor people--the ones most likely to turn them on government agents--could afford?
8. The Federal Reserve System's monopoly over money - but prior to 1913, there was no such monopoly. Would that be good enough? I don't think so. Right from the get-go the Feds got their fangs on the coinage, and specified a gold and silver standard. A standard, under government control, is not at all the same thing as a free market in money, as Rothbard well recognized--not even if they avoided the absurdity of fixing the ratio of value between gold and silver in the teeth of market opinion. Further: I still don't trust government; it they agreed to scrap the Fed, might they not slip in a true, government owned and operated Central Bank? Yes, they might--for once, when the Republic was yet young, that's exactly what they did.
9. The Social Security system - very good, scrapping that would end governmental fostering of today's inter-generational war. But what would then stop the Feds from forcing everyone to invest in a retirement plan even if (foolishly, perhaps) one wishes not to? Once government compels it, limits and controls will be in place for sure, to distort a true market in such products. Health care, after all, is not actually operated by government, but it's on its death bed anyway from the poison of government control.
10. Medicare and Medicaid likewise distort the health market, and we'd be better off without them. But again, removal of government funding doesn't remove government controls; and what they control, they ruin. Sorry, Dr. North: there is no rational alternative to total eradication of government. Just push it down one rat hole, and it will pop up from some other.
11. The Central Intelligence Agency - indeed, the name of the USA would be a good deal fairer around the world if this sinister organization had never been let loose. But would its demise prevent the FedGov operating a foreign policy, thereby necessarily favoring some foreign interests and aggravating others? Call me a skeptic, but I don't think so.
12. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) - excellent idea, as long as the money sustaining it is returned to its owners, so that people can--if they wish--support private space exploration by investing in such as the Spaceship Company, whose splendid flight of "Spaceship One" in 2005 was celebrated with the banner "Spaceship 1, Government 0." Alas, I fear it won't be; instead, government would spend the money saved on some other vote-catching boondoggle.
13. The National Parks system - wonderful idea, to liberate all those beautiful tracts of land from the dead hand of government. But does anyone think those areas would be relinquished to the market, to use as it sees fit without any kind of zoning laws? Talk to me, if so, about some building lots I have in Florida .
14. The Post Office - if this were wholly severed from government control and its monopoly repealed and its "ownership" of the inside of my mailbox cancelled, then for sure we could communicate for less. Happily though, the market has already overtaken this long-needed reform; we can already communicate for much less. It's called email, and ever since it was invented, the gov-junkies in D.C. have been trying to figure out how to tax it or at least spy on it. Net result: they can learn what we say to each other far more easily than ever before. We need them out of all our communications, not just snail mail.
15. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - yes, that would be radical. If the illusion of safety were removed from government-licensed banks, who knows, people might keep their money elsewhere, such as in gold coin. But then, what's to stop government outlawing the ownership of gold coin--exactly as it did in 1933?
16. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Here's yet another intrusion into the market, to use stolen money to pay those unfortunate or foolish enough to have used a pension plan that fails to deliver. If this were terminated, voters would howl for some equivalent protection, which Pols would leap to provide. The need is not so much to end one way to provide a tax-funded safety net, but to end all ways of forcing one group to subsidize others; and as long as government continues to exist and respond to something as cheap as a vote, that will not happen.
17. The Food and Drug Administration - yes, life-saving drugs would be on the market sooner and cheaper if this were to be dissolved. But for as long as government monopolizes courts, juries are going to be cajoled into awarding absurd penalties at the expense of deep-pocket pharma firms who commit the outrage of making a human error. Only an unfettered market can optimize the marketing of new drugs.
An old song advises "Shut the door, they're coming through the window," and it fits our case. Sure, if implemented, these 17 reforms would give us a far more agreeable society; they would shut the door. But if a window or an air vent remains open, government will clamber through it. There is no rational alternative to a free market society; government has to be excluded absolutely, with every possible re-entry point barred firmly and sealed tight. The only open question is "How?" and I have some thoughts on that here].