Kevin, here’s a thought. I will attempt to logically explain to you my thoughts on government and corruption. You said:
( From everything I’ve seen out of you, Markadelphia, your answer to any problem is to ) increase the involvement and control of government – insisting that will solve all our problems. After, of course, admitting that the government is completely screwed up and full of corrupt criminals. But, somehow, if we just put the right people in charge, this will all change.
Yes it will. Government can work, if you want it to. You don’t want it to work. So it never will, in your eyes. Think of it this way.
1. People in our government are, for the most part, corrupt and evil.
2. Our government has federal programs run by these people.
3. The programs are, for the most part, corrupt and evil, doing more harm than good.
Now change the paradigm.
1. People in our government are, for the most part, competent and effective.
2. Our government has federal programs run by these people.
3. The programs are, for the most part, effective and help people.
Our country is like any company, Kevin. If you have an ineffective CEO or employee, a change is made and many times, that company performs more effectively. Let’s do that now.
Can’t you see what’s going on here? Bush/Cheney want the government to be viewed as incompetent and/or evil. This allows them to increase the privatization agenda that they, and other like minded individuals have. They can say “See? Look at how big government screws thing up!” and then dance their merry way into increased profits and furthering the class divide.
This is from a comment left by one Markadelphia, fellow blogger, and recent
vociferous, er, enthusiastic commenter at this blog. If you haven’t been following the various comment threads, Mark is self-admittedly from the left side of the political spectrum, and though older than you might think, is as polyannish as any twenty year-old when it comes to the question of government. He has, obviously, very strong opinions from which I and all of the other commenters here have been little able to sway him, with the sole exception being gun control. Fair enough.
But it’s time once again to attempt to reach him. As the proverb goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can lead a human being to facts, but you cannot make him think.
But you can try. To mix proverbs, “Who knows? The horse might learn to sing.”
Government has been another of the ongoing themes of this blog, but once again, I think we’re going to have to go back to first principles, as Markadelphia has exhibited a tendency to dismiss or misconstrue points that are not made explicitly. We shall begin with a definition of the term:
Government – (n): the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc.; political administration: Government is necessary to the existence of civilized society.
That is definition #1 at Dictionary.com, and it is short, succinct, and (I believe) accurate – even the last part in italics, from the original.
Not everyone agrees with that last part. Anarchists of all stripes do not, and have said so ad nauseam in comments on this blog. (If you have not, Mark, I strongly urge you to read Lysander Spooner’s 1870 treatise No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. While I risk converting you into an Anarchist, I would be interested in your take on Spooner’s arguments.) There is, in fact, a broad spectrum of beliefs on just what role government should play, and what form government should take to bring the best results to their citizenry as a whole. (We’ll ignore those forms of government whose stated purpose is to benefit only the minority.) These beliefs range the gamut from the Anarcho-capitalist to the fully Communist. I would think that most of my readers would agree that our Constitutional Republic has so far exhibited the best results for the greatest number, but by all available evidence it is now damaged – the only questions remaining are how badly damaged, and is the damage irreversible.
Mark accuses me: “Government can work, if you want it to. You don’t want it to work. So it never will, in your eyes.”
No, Mark. That’s not it at all. To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke slightly, the mystery of government is not that it works, but how to make it stop.
The first principle of government is that, no matter the form, government is the organization of violence and the threat of violence (a term usually reframed as “force,” or “power”) to coerce others; “political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states.” Because of this fact (and I am in complete agreement with the big-“A” Anarchists on this one) government is by definition an evil. It doesn’t matter if this force, power, or violence is in the hands of a priestly caste, a warrior class, or guys with dark sunglasses and little earbud radios. It doesn’t matter if the form of government is a tribal band, a theocracy, a monarchy, a communist dictatorship, or a liberal democracy: the core of all government is violence and the threat of violence.
But here’s where I depart from the Anarchists and fall in line with Thomas Paine: It’s a necessary evil, because I agree with the Dictionary.com definition’s last line – “Government is necessary to the existence of civilized society.” As Paine put it in Common Sense:
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
I believe that government is a necessity because, regardless of its inherent evil, governments will form from human societies, and as even a member of the Left can recognize,
The natural state of mankind is tribal war. The strong will always dominate the weak if they can get away with it. This is historically true, and remains true to this day unless I have missed some subtle evolutionary sea change.
Because government is the organization of violence and the threat of violence, governments are always more effective at violence than individuals. Thus, the only effective defense against hostile governments is another government. This is a fact that history teaches us, unless I, too, have missed some subtle evolutionary sea-change.
In an attempt to keep this essay from becoming textbook-length, I’m going to avoid discussion of other forms of government and concentrate only on ours – a Constitutional Federal Republic, a specific kind of representative democracy. This form of government was agreed upon by the Founders because they realized that the Articles of Confederation did not give the central government of these United States enough power to defend against other, hostile, governments. But because they understood that government is evil they did their absolute best to constrain that power to certain, specific functions and to exclude it from others.
The founding American philosophy of government is that of John Locke, and the purpose of that government is spelled out in the preamble to the Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution, about which P.J. O’Rourke quipped,
is less than a quarter the length of the owner’s manual for a 1998 Toyota Camry, and yet it has managed to keep 300 million of the world’s most unruly, passionate and energetic people safe, prosperous and free
spells out in detail the construction, powers, limits and duties of the various branches of the federal government. It also spells out how that government is to be funded. Our form of government was conceived to do what no previous government had ever proposed: to recognize and protect the rights of its individual citizens.
We have since failed to respect that ideal, repeatedly, because human beings are what they are, and government is what it is.
I challenge you to find anywhere in that document the power to redistribute wealth from any one group for the benefit of another in the name of “charity” or “fairness.” Read the story of Davy Crockett and charity and comment on that, if you would; particularly this quote:
The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means.
First, tell me if that statement is wrong, and if so tell me why. If it is not wrong, then explain to me whether that power is any less dangerous if the system of collecting revenue by income tax, property tax, excise tax, death tax, or name-your-tax places the burden on only a small part of the populace, and if so, how.
You proposed that “People in our government are, for the most part, competent and effective.” That may be true, but it does not mean that those people may not also be corrupt and evil. These characteristics are not mutually exclusive. Someone can be corrupt, competent, effective and evil, all at the same time. But the Founders were, by any ability I have to measure, competent, effective, and altruistic. I often wonder at the timing of our Revolution and the philosophies our Founders adhered to that produced their behavior and resulted in the Constitution of the United States, compared to the French revolution and the horrors that developed there. Regardless, the successful function of our form of government hinged on one overarching prerequisite – a moral populace.
John Adams said
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Being a product of his age, I think his distinction between “morality” and “religion” is one merely of emphasis, because I believe one can have morals without being religious, but I doubt he did. Alexis de Tocqueville observed
The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.
We’ve arrived there, because – while the majority of the populace may be moral – too many people actually running the government are not. Lord Acton said that “power corrupts.” It also attracts the corrupt. Another O’Rourke quote:
Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum.
Again, Mark, government is evil. It corrupts and it attracts the corrupt. You acknowledge the corruption, but deny the source, insisting that putting the right people in charge will fix the problem. This is the primary fundamental error you make. It won’t. Exposure to power tends to corrupt them too. A Mencken quote:
A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.
He wrote that in the 1930’s. Not much has changed.
The solution is not to abandon government – I’ve already stated that it is a necessary evil – it’s to keep government at the absolute minimum size possible where it can still perform its necessary functions. This is what the Constitution attempted – and failed.
Finally, you said “Our country is like any company.”
NO IT IS NOT. This is the second fundamental error you and your ideological brethren make. Government is absolutely unlike business. Businesses provide products and/or services and are in competition with other businesses. They must earn your money, resulting in a trade in which both parties find advantage. Government is a monopoly its citizens are forced to support. If a business fails to provide good quality or service, it ceases to exist. Government coerces you out of your money and regardless of its performance simply gets bigger. Donald Sensing once wrote,
A long time ago Steven Den Beste observed in an essay, “The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to themselves, they will regulate everything they can.” Celebrated author Robert Heinlein wrote, “In any advanced society, ‘civil servant’ is a euphemism for ‘civil master.'” Both quotes are not exact, but they’re pretty close. And they’re both exactly right. Big government is itself apolitical. It cares not whose party is in power. It simply continues to grow. Its nourishment is that the people’s money. Its excrement is more and more regulations and laws. Like the Terminator, “that’s what it does, that’s all it does.”
I invite you to visit your local law library and take a look at the U.S. Code. The Constitution may run 48 pages complete with all 27 Amendments, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and an index in the pocket edition, but the U.S. tax code, Title 26 alone, one of 50 in the U.S. Code, runs 3,387 pages in two volumes. Title 26 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (the part written by the IRS, not Congress itself) is in twenty volumes and runs 13,458 pages. And both grow, each and every year.
And each and every law and regulation therein is backed up by the threat of violence. Replacing the CEO or the bureaucrat tends to have little to no effect on this. Check your history.
So let’s turn this around and let me logically explain to you my thoughts on government and corruption.
Government “works” if you want to define it as taking money from the populace and providing services to that population without discussion of efficiency, “fairness” or anything else. You want it to work as defined by “making things more fair and equitable for everyone.” It won’t. Think of it this way.
1. People in our government are, for the most neutral, but government is power, and power corrupts and attracts the corrupt. It only takes a few.
2. Our government has federal programs run by these people.
3. The programs are, for the most part then, corrupted. How much good and how much harm they do is difficult to measure, but the fact remains that the majority of those federal programs have no basis in the Constitution. It does not give the government authority to do most of the things it does. But because we, the populace, are convinced we want those things, we go along.
Now change the paradigm.
1. The government should not be doing most of the things it is doing.
2. If those programs had never started, the interference that the government has placed on society would have resulted in a different result. Perhaps better, perhaps not, but we’ll never know now, and entropy argues that we can’t reverse the path we’ve taken.
3. The programs in place are all inefficient (sometimes spectacularly so), often counterproductive (sometimes spectacularly so), and they never suffer market forces that in business result in change.
4. Because all of this is paid for by people coerced by the threat of force.
In a later comment you stated:
Well, you are going to have to define “force.” I don’t have a problem with the government taking my tax money in order to form a standing army and protect our nation. Do you? Is it only certain groups that you don’t want your money given to or all of them? Or is it something else? Another way of looking at it?
Force is the threat that police will come to your home and confiscate your property, arrest you and put you in jail if you do not pay; and will wound or kill you if you resist. I don’t have a problem with government taking my tax money in order to form a standing army and protect our nation either. It’s one of the powers and duties spelled out plainly in the Constitution, and one of the few jobs that governments are necessary for. Charity is not, nor should it be, because the power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man.
I’ll close with two quotes from other bloggers:
Here’s a truly American Revolutionary idea. You let me pay for my own health care. In return, I get to eat all day and drink all night if I want to. If I start missing work, fire me. If I commit a crime, imprison me. If I die, bury me. Until then, leave me the hell alone. – Ravenwood
It makes one look like a savage to say so, but if your house burns down, blows over, or floats away, it’s not the job of the federal government to fix it for you. Charity is one thing, but federal tax dollars coerced at 1040-point from a single working mother of two in Dubuque (and then filtered through a morbidly obese federal agency) to rebuild your bungalow in Destin is not charity, okay? It’s extortion. – Tamara K.
Charity is not the business of government. Health care is not the business of government. Retirement planning is not the business of government. Flood insurance is not the business of government.
But there seems to be no way to make it stop.
OK, everybody, thanks for your patience. Fire away!