Rube Goldberg Government

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

For the younger readers, Wikipedia notes that “Goldberg is best known for a series of popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways.”


The first stage of our Rube Goldbergian government is Democracy. Mencken said it best: "Democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even halfwits would argue it to pieces. Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas." Amusingly, conservatives have routinely been heard to state that “our government is not a democracy,” even when they are on their way to the voting booth. While on first glance democracy may be imagined as preferable to monarchy, the drawbacks are glaringly obvious, as demonstrated by a couple of sayings (as our halfwit might express): “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep, voting on what to have for dinner,” and “Democracy lasts as long as it takes for the voters to realize they may vote themselves largesse from the treasury.”


Constitutions are the next stage of our Rube Goldberg contraption. They are a piece of paper (or parchment, for added expense and ostentation) that tells people in government what to do or refrain from doing. They are imagined a means to deal with the drawbacks of Democracy. It’s a nice dream, but seems rather ineffectual in that regard, in the real world. People in government pay little attention to them, and there is no drawback in doing so. In fact, those in government are usually cheered for ignoring constitutions; the ones who most ignore them are the ones most honored.


Courts are the next Rube Goldbergian stage. The courts can allegedly overturn this ignoring of the Constitution, although they rarely do so. As before, it is hard to do right when the people want wrong; and courts are part of the same government that is doing that wrong, which raises questions as to their impartiality. Anyway justices may easily be caught in a honey pot or simply threatened, as FDR probably did. Finally, their referee job is not even laid out in the Constitution they are supposed to enforce, which is an embarrassment.

Representative Government

Representative government is a very large and important stage of Rube Goldberg government, yet another alleged remedy for the excesses of democracy. People imagine that in voting, they are sending an agent to represent their needs and desires. The first fly in the ointment is that often someone gets elected, other than one votes for. Is such a person still one’s representative? The second fly in the ointment is the question of how can a representative actually represent the needs and desires of diverse and opposing people? Can the representative actually (and magically) represent conservatives and liberals, anarchists and authoritarians, all at the very same time? One starts wondering what the word “represent” means, or if it means anything at all. Most amusing is its function in taming the excesses of democracy; in order to become a representative, the person must promise the people largesse from the treasury while actually intending not to give it to them. In other words, for “representation” to “work,” the politician must lie! It’s amazing how many people put their faith in such a questionable concept.

Just as a side note, my own state Oregon has both direct democracy (the initiative) and representative government (the legislature). As far as I can tell, the quality of legislation via the initiative is higher, and the quantity is much, much less than what comes from the legislature.


Elections are a sideshow designed to select one of these faux-representatives from between the two available options, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They also serve the function of dividing the peons, so they may be easily conquered and controlled.


Police are the next stage of our Rube Goldberg scheme. They are intended to give the petty dictates of the legislature some teeth, by beating people up and throwing them in cages if deemed necessary. Most people who revere police seem to forget this nation was at its best before 1850, when there were no police; and that police have often acted as standing armies or as the personal enforcers of powerful politicians. It’s also odd that people don’t seem to understand the incentives police face--that the disappearance of crime would be a disaster for them. Of course, the police ensure this does not happen by participating in crime themselves. It also helps police that the legislature keeps creating more and more “crimes” for them to “fight.”

Lower Courts

Lower courts are designed to lend an air of respectability to the practice of beating people up and throwing them in cages.


Prisons are designed to store the miscreants who ignore the petty dictates of the legislature. Once in the system, a person can never get back out. Yes, the sentences do end, but the incentives he then faces drive him inevitably back in. Lives are ruined by the smoking of a weed. This is deemed normal and proper.

Ministry of Propaganda

The Ministry of Propaganda is an important part of the Rube Goldberg scheme, whose job it is to make the whole scheme seem not Goldbergian. In other words, it’s supposed to look normal and proper and important and effective, things it manifestly is not. This task is intended to quell discontent among the peons.

Government Schools

Government schools are the most important organ of the Ministry of Propaganda. They are cleverly aligned with the peons’ desire to shift responsibility for their children to other people; without that desire, those schools would cease to exist, since on net, they teach little of value, and much that is detrimental.

One has to wonder, is the above really the best we can do? When will this gigantic, absurd Goldbergian structure finally come crashing down? Was (mostly) voluntary society--simple, non-violent, human-scale and functional--which was replaced by this mess, actually inferior to it?

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