"Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer." ~ Ludwig von Mises
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
It's often said that government is good at only one thing: waging war. I doubt that.
Very true that waging war is its favorite activity, but that seems to me to overstate its skills somewhat; government may be better at waging war than at anything else, but it's not really good at it at all. For starters, the success rate is on average 50%. Then as historians pore over what happened in wars gone by, it becomes ever clearer that the winner was the government that made the fewest mistakes. Hardly a confirmation of competence!
So I float an alternative theory: the one thing that government is quite good at is pulling the wool over observers' eyes and postponing the dire consequences of its own activities. It's pretty good at kicking the can down the road.
When the 2008 meltdown hit, for example, the Internet lit up with articles predicting doom, gloom and chaos immediately, with the Dow disappearing down a plug hole and normal life becoming a distant memory. Didn't happen. The Dow is back this month to where it was in October 2007. For an extra 3% of working-age people, these five years have been horribly difficult (8% unemployment vs. the “normal” 5%) and many a home is “under water,” but things have been nowhere near as bad as in the 1930s. Chaos has been deferred.
To accomplish this, the Feds have certainly had to perform a balancing act. They owe a full year's national production to their creditors, which is far more than can be predictably repaid, and if its “unfunded liabilities” are included, the picture is far, far worse, as Gary North recently suggested; and everyone – lender as well as borrower – is pretending they cannot see that, or that it doesn't matter. They spend as if there were no tomorrow, and tomorrow is cleverly postponed. What the Feds are doing here, the Eurocrats are doing with possibly even greater skill, defying gravity in the full knowledge that the governments of Greece and the other PIIGS cannot possibly repay what they have borrowed and spent. Yet so far, that can too has been kicked down the road with the aid of deception and concealment that would do credit to any circus performer. They are unicyclists; they stay upright by pedaling forward a little, back a little, providing enough rotation to their one wheel just to keep vertical . . . until at least the next election.
But what if the structure of that wheel were to fail?
I'm not nearly well enough coordinated to cycle on fewer than two wheels, but I do have a bike, and each of its wheels has 34 spokes of equal strength. Imagine that I removed 8 of them; probably, the bike would still convey me along a smooth road. Then take away another 8; I would have to make sure the gaps were evenly spread, and to hold my breath. But if a further 8 load-bearing spokes were unscrewed, I would surely land in the ditch.
The application of this to the great problem of ending government before it destroys mankind is not too hard to see, because its “spokes” are actually the people in its domain. Inherently unstable, the vast unicycle of the organized State depends on the structural integrity of a wheel with three hundred million spokes. I am much indebted to a recent STRticle by Tzo, in which he suggested to “walk away and take your spoke out of the wheel and take it with you, and encourage others to do the same.” Excellent advice, and a fine analogy.
Three hundred million is too many to fit in a short essay, so I'll partition them, as Caesar did Gaul, into three: Decorators, Supporters, and Workers. Consider each type of spoke.
Decorator spokes, like me, are made of gaily-colored spaghetti and so do very little to sustain the rigidity of the wheel. We make up two out of every five spokes, and generally absorb from the state more than we contribute to it, though we may unwittingly help “justify” its existence. Decorators receive welfare, attend school or college, have our health preserved, etc., so that government can claim – falsely of course – that but for its generosity, none of those good things would be delivered and we would die or starve. “See,” they can say, “what wise, compassionate and forward looking leaders we are. How lucky you are to have us!”
Decorators also join other spokes in obeying state edicts, and if we removed ourselves in large enough numbers, there would be a wide and useful obedience gap that would damage the credibility of the wheel of state. But that's about it. If and when we take ourselves out of the wheel, it will make little difference to the wheel but a lot of difference to us. Therefore, it's extremely hard for the removal process to begin and gain momentum. In due course when the wheel is about to collapse after more vital spokes have been removed, large numbers of us will have to make alternative arrangements for living, probably by appealing to our grown children and by doing deals with rationally priced services of education and medicine, etc.; but it's most unlikely that we shall lead that process of collapse.
Supporter spokes labor daily for the good of their families, and therefore, like it or not, for that of the wheel of state; they may be made of wood so do add something to its strength. They also number about two spokes in every five. Many reading this will be spokes of this kind, and as you know it's horribly hard not to provide that support. It is generally given reluctantly--but it is provided, via taxation. How exactly does a supporter spoke take itself out of the wheel? Only by going “under government radar” in the White Market, and again while that will certainly happen big-time when the wheel approaches disintegration, it's less than realistic to expect large numbers to do it any time soon.
Aside from which, being made of wood, they are not wholly indispensable anyway.
Worker spokes are the key, for they are made of steel or aluminum alloy or carbon fiber and provide the main structural strength of the wheel of state: they work for it. They number only about one spoke in seven, but that's all it needs.
Once a government employee learns the real nature of his employer and compares it with the nature of human beings and our inherent right to run our own lives, he will become disgusted with the job he is doing. Many, in fact, are already quite demoralized and stay put only for the high pay. This additional factor will act on them, one spoke at a time, in the manner outlined in Twenty Twenty Two, and the impact on the wheel of state will be felt almost at once. My book Transition to Liberty suggests how the growing government labor shortage will take its good effect – until the wheel of state crumples under the load and the lack of spokes.
So we can construct a summary table, of the relative impacts or costs of removing these three different types of spoke from the wheel:-
||On the Spoke||On the Wheel of State|
The six adjectives in that table will certainly change with time. As the wheel begins to bend and wobble (to continue this long-suffering analogy), the exodus of spokes of all kinds will increase with a rush – because the cost of quitting will reduce dramatically – and its impact on the wheel will be even greater in its next cycle. Example: When Supporter spokes see that the government's ability to collect tax has been eviscerated, they will no longer pay it – so the cost of quitting will fall, while the effect of so many quitting will be far more than “modest.”
Picasso, in the picture above, portrayed his unicyclist without a face. His or her situation was certainly precarious, but he may have been so practiced as to be able to keep going indefinitely and cheerfully. By removing ourselves from the wheel of state, however, the rider will become unable to stay upright no matter how hard he tries, for the hub beneath him will crash into the rim and all rotation will cease. We can then imagine the resulting expression on that blank face, and enjoy a little long awaited satisfaction.