WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?

The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)
The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until each flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)

Here are some more excerpts from Essays on Political Economy by Frédéric Bastiat. The subject here is Government. At the time Bastiat wrote (1848), competing groups of Socialists politicians promised the impossible to the people of France. Then what happened in France looked much like what is happening here today.

What did Bastiat see as the source of the trouble? Was it the politicians? Not really. The problem is we each want something for nothing.

Man recoils from trouble–from suffering; and yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation, if he does not take the trouble to work. He has to choose, then, between these two evils. What means can he adopt to avoid both? There remains now, and there will remain, only one way, which is, to enjoy the labour of others. Such a course of conduct prevents the trouble and the satisfaction from preserving their natural proportion, and causes all the trouble to become the lot of one set of persons, and all the satisfaction that of another. This is the origin of slavery and of plunder, whatever its form may be–whether that of wars, impositions, violence, restrictions, frauds, &c.–monstrous abuses, but consistent with the thought which has given them birth. Oppression should be detested and resisted–it can hardly be called absurd. (from here)

The problem is that we, the great mass of humanity, are all selfish, not just politicians. Fortunately, slavery is not as popular an institution as it used to be, or is it? How do some people enslave other people in this day and age?

The oppressor no longer acts directly and with his own powers upon his victim. No, our conscience has become too sensitive for that. The tyrant and his victim are still present, but there is an intermediate person between them, which is the Government–that is, the Law itself. What can be better calculated to silence our scruples, and, which is perhaps better appreciated, to overcome all resistance? We all, therefore, put in our claim, under some pretext or other, and apply to Government. We say to it, “I am dissatisfied at the proportion between my labour and my enjoyments. I should like, for the sake of restoring the desired equilibrium, to take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be dangerous. Could not you facilitate the thing for me? Could you not find me a good place? or check the industry of my competitors? or, perhaps, lend me gratuitously some capital, which you may take from its possessor? Could you not bring up my children at the public expense? or grant me some prizes? or secure me a competence when I have attained my fiftieth year? (from here)

Sound ridiculous? Well, we can be ridiculous. We can each go to the government and asks for favors at the expense of others, and our leaders will say, “no problem”. Thus, we can all end up paying each others bills, and our leaders will happily take a cut from each transaction.

Shortsighted, we can fail to consider what we are throwing away. We can forget that We the People must insist upon the morality of our leaders.

But the most remarkable part of it is the astonishing blindness of the public through it all. When successful soldiers used to reduce the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object, like ours, was to live at other people’s expense, and they did not fail to do so. What are we to think of a people who never seem to suspect that reciprocal plunder is no less plunder because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is executed legally and with order; that it adds nothing to the public good; that it diminishes it, just in proportion to the cost of the expensive medium which we call the Government?

And it is this great chimera which we have placed, for the edification of the people, as a frontispiece to the Constitution. The following is the beginning of the introductory discourse:–

France has constituted itself a republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Thus it is France, or an abstraction, which is to raise the French, or realities, to morality, well-being, &c. Is it not by yielding to this strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy not our own? Is it not giving out that there is, independently of the French, a virtuous, enlightened, and rich being, who can and will bestow upon them its benefits? Is not this supposing, and certainly very gratuitously, that there are between France and the French–between the simple, abridged, and abstract denomination of all the individualities, and these individualities themselves–relations as of father to son, tutor to his pupil, professor to his scholar? I know it is often said, metaphorically, “the country is a tender mother.” But to show the inanity of the constitutional proposition, it is only needed to show that it may be reversed, not only without inconvenience, but even with advantage. Would it be less exact to say–

The French have constituted themselves a Republic, to raise France to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Now, where is the value of an axiom where the subject and the attribute may change places without inconvenience? Everybody understands what is meant by this–“The mother will feed the child.” But it would be ridiculous to say–“The child will feed the mother.”

The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the citizens with the Government when they placed these simple words at the head of their Constitution:–

We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of securing interior tranquillity, of providing for our common defence, of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree,” &c.

Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy. (from here)

Don’t we all know that government is horribly inefficient? Don’t we all know that requesting special favors from politicians is dishonest? Don’t we all know that the fact “everybody does it” does not make what is dishonest honest? Then why do we believe dishonest politicians who promise to give us things we have not earned? Perhaps it is time we reconsidered.

Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this twofold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all Governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.

For ourselves, we consider that Government is and ought to be nothing whatever but common force organized, not to be an instrument of oppression and mutual plunder among citizens; but, on the contrary, to secure to every one his own, and to cause justice and security to reign. (from here)

Not certain of your choice? Then consider reading all of this great work, Essays on Political Economy.

18 thoughts on “WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?

  1. I am curious on how our gov. is securing our well bring by making trade agreements with countries that us workers cannot compete with their low cost labor because of USA hugger costs of living.

    Regards and goodwill blogging

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I get up it takes me awhile to get it together too.
      🙂

      The problem with trade agreements, I think, is that they are too long and complicated. Hence special interest find endless opportunities to favor certain business interests at the expense of the people. I will illustrate that in a post next week.

      BTW, Essays on Political Economy by Frédéric Bastiat is probably the best thing we can read to understand what government does wrong when it tries to “fix” capitalism. I strongly recommend it. Never seen anything more instructive or readable on this subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My initial comment is that the damaging of each daisy in the chain affects a work of greater beauty than the daisies singly. Indeed, man was given such dominion over nature to craft nature into greater glories. The dangers are in the two extremes: believing that damaging the daisies is wrong for the sake of some work of beauty or believing that damaging the daisies for any other purpose besides beauty–see Transcendental Properties of Being for explanation how the ultimate purpose in the opposite case i.e. towards beauty is Truth–and affecting some perverse concoction.

    What the analogy of the daisy chain above falls into is the former i.e. that the damage to the daisy is to be avoided at all costs. It is a form of sloth to be honest. It refrains from action out of fear of pain or loss. In the end, it is selfishness condemning selfishness.

    I will have to reread Bastiat. Typically, I am wary of all things French and Clement’s letter to the Corinthians has been a much more enjoyable read. But for the sake of the daisy chain, I suppose I should flagellate myself with a French “philosopher.”

    Like

        1. @Stephen

          Getting the point, I see. True solidarity is voluntary. Sometimes it even opposed by the government, a government with history of putting innocent people in chains. In fact, men have abused the power of every government to do that.

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        2. Getting the point? You mean say what I have been saying the entire time?

          “[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”

          And if the leader in the triumvirate that lead the charge against the Soviet Empire is not persuasive, you could read our actual positions in our own articles:

          “Solidarity bases itself on the notion of free association of persons into mutual agreement for the common good. The framers, in whatever wisdom the Almighty saw fit to give them, began the whole structure of governance around “We the people.” The very cause, the actual mover that makes our nation exist is the free association of the persons living there. It is not a royal we or a metaphorical we. It is the kernel of truth that “people…are linked together by a common destiny, which is to be constructed together, if catastrophe for all is to be avoided.” We are linked by our interdependence and need to work together to affect our common good.”

          https://aspva.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/finding-solidarity-in-the-founders/

          Ascribing positions to someone who never has or would advocate them just muddles the discussion.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. @Stephen

          You are dancing around my complaint. When government forces solidarity, we substitute the solidarity that comes from free association with iron chains. Then it is not love that binds us together; it is the power and greed of the elites. In fact, the example you mentioned, the Soviet Empire, spoke much of solidarity, and that empire manufactured many iron chains.

          The founders of this nation created a limited government. Charity they left to the love of mankind; it was the hatred of men they saw the need for government to control.

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        4. Your complaint, relative to our position, is a non sequitur.

          You will note that we offer no blueprint for how government is to interact with aid to the poor. We have none. We are, after all, a party based on principles, not policy. The various localities know best how to best affect the common good in their community and that may or may not include the intervention of government.

          For example, in Smyrna Delaware–a small, rural community of about 10,000 people–there is a gardening society that owns a massive vegetable garden. Certain members of the gardening society know a woman that is in charge of various social programs for the locality. They provide her with their produce which they really only grow for fun and some sustenance and she then delivers it to the needy.

          In this case, the poor were provided fresh fruits and vegetables without government intervention and that is perfectly alright so long as the poor are cared for. The government’s interest consists primarily in ensuring that the rights of men, including that to private property remain defended, but especially the rights of the poor. Exactly how this is done is left to those who actually know the lay of the land in the community i.e. the community itself. In my native Arlington, there are community gardens that partner with the food pantries and the government to provide the same service. Now, this makes more sense in Arlington for the government to be involved since it is a larger community and programs require resources that the community may not have already. Even then the government needs to be limited to the least restrictive and direct means of intervention.

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        5. @Stephen

          My complaint is that you want to reach into other people’s pockets, take their money, and give to whoever you think is more deserving. I don’t think that is honest. It is stealing. I also think it works poorly.

          Consider the problem with a command economy, a Socialist economy. Whenever a human being tries to manage something, he of necessity must reduce the complexity. In addition, he must either make each decision himself or delegate. In a free market economy we don’t need all that management. We can make each decision our self because we are spending our own money. In a Socialist economy, everything belongs to the government.

          Now consider the problem with government-run charity. The presumption is that government has the right to distribute everything we earn equitably. Effectively, that means we don’t own anything except what the government allows us to keep, and such an attitude obligates government busybodies to be nosy about every cent we earn, every cent we spend, and every cent we keep. If the busybodies don’t approve of our choices, they start taking our money and distributing it for us. Therefore, government-run charity has the same management headaches as a Socialist economy. Socialism is what the Democrats obviously believe, and it appears to be what you believe.

          All you are saying is your party would not be as bad as the Democrats. You have a different version of Utopia. You would better managers of a Socialist economy.

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        6. “My complaint is that you want to reach into other people’s pockets, take their money, and give to whoever you think is more deserving. I don’t think that is honest. It is stealing. I also think it works poorly.” Want? No. Think that in some cases a community may deem it necessary to provide certain services through government programs rather than private? Yes. But that is not for me to decide or anyone besides the local community. Not Richmond. Not Washington.

          “Consider the problem with a command economy, a Socialist economy.” Why would a semi-distributist care about a command economy since such an economy is an antithesis of his position?

          Again, the rest of your objections are projections of your already confirmed biases and not actually reflective of our actual positions. We aren’t socialists, not matter how much you want us to and you really seem to want us to be socialists. True, it would make your line of argument easier since you would just need to recycle old talking points. But as I have said before, your objections fall flat. They do not correspond to our positions unless you perform the mental gymnastics of ignoring everything we say.

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        7. “Just a different version of Utopia.” As in the eponymous work of St. Thomas More that is fundamentally misunderstood by nearly every “conservative” pseudo-intellectual in this post-modern age?

          Right, I forgot that you were a fan of Bastiat’s endorsement of usury. Shame on me. Screw divine precept, right? Interest is TOTALLY ok now.

          Like

        8. In other words, you endorse theft as a guard against theft. As the party that is against all forms of theft, we have the high ground. You call taxation theft, but we know this to be lawful from the Scriptures. You consider interest to be lawful, but know from the Scriptures that it is unlawful. So you would have us encourage one form of theft over a perceived form of theft? Who then actually encourages theft?

          Like

        9. @Stephen

          Interest to be lawful? Not exactly. Go back and read The Parable of The Talents. What did the lord tell his wicked and lazy servant? Instead of burying his money in a hole, he told him he should have deposited it with bankers.

          Frankly, I don’t much care for fractional reserve banking. Without government backing, that business model is inherently unstable. With government backing we risk the entire economy. Politicians never seem to know when to stop risking other people’s money. Hence, I am not much interested in getting our government involved in banking either one way or another. I would also observe that there are other sources of what you would describe as unearned income besides interest.

          Nevertheless, we will further consider the subject of interest. The Old Testament did not condemn the use of interest in business transactions; it condemned using usury to trap people into debt slavery or into slavery itself.

          Consider this text.

          Exodus 22:25-26 New King James Version (NKJV)

          25 “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down.

          The poor back then slept in their garments. If someone is so desperate that they have to give you the clothes off their back, they need charity, not a business deal.

          How do you rationalize this one?

          Deuteronomy 23:19-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

          19 “You shall not charge interest to your brother—interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. 20 To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.

          It is okay to lend to a foreigner, but not to your brother? Apparently God had no problem with His chosen people lending to foreigners, but He had concerns when they lent to each other. Why?

          I made the mistake of lending money to a relative once. Should not have done it. Just causes unneeded aggravation.

          Borrowing and lending, except when both parties regard it purely as a business transaction, is not a great idea. Both parties must understand the risk, and the risk must be strictly monetary, not a pound of flesh or some such stupidity. Neither party should think the loan is being made out of friendship or some sort of obligation. The lenders only obligation is to lend money to someone he thinks will make profitable use of his money. The borrowers only obligation is to do his best to pay back what he borrowed with the agreed amount of interest.

          Like

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