Learning to Laugh At the State
I’ll be the first to admit the incredible aggravation I feel whenever liberty is trampled upon by the state’s obedient minions. Everywhere you look, government has its gun cocked back and ready to fire at any deviation from its violently imposed rules of order. A four year old can’t even open a lemonade stand without first bowing down and receiving a permit from bureaucrats obsessed with micromanaging private life. The state’s stranglehold on freedom is as horrendous as it is disheartening.
The worst part is that the trend shows no signs of slowing down, let alone reversing. Politicians are always developing some harebrained scheme to mold society in such a way to circumvent the individual in favor of total dictation. If it isn’t politicians, then it’s an army of unelected bureaucrats acting as mini-dictators. As the late Swedish economist Gustav Cassel once lectured:
The leadership of the state in economic affairs which advocates of Planned Economy want to establish is, as we have seen, necessarily connected with a bewildering mass of governmental interferences of a steadily cumulative nature. The arbitrariness, the mistakes and the inevitable contradictions of such policy will, as daily experience shows, only strengthen the demand for a more rational coordination of the different measures and, therefore, for unified leadership. For this reason Planned Economy will always tend to develop into Dictatorship.
Government interference into economic affairs almost never alleviates the problem it set out to solve. The unintended, and perhaps intended, consequences only rally more calls for further intervention. Because of its countless edicts, the majority of people who reside in Western economies have no concept of how and why markets function as they do. They have mistaken crony capitalism or socialism for genuine capitalism. While mistaken, this distrust of the market has been the lifeblood of the parasitic state.
What the welfare state, with the help of compulsory public schooling, has effectively done is embedded a generation of people with the idea that government is a cornucopia so there is no need to think realistically about the future. Suppressed interest rates, food stamps, unemployment benefits, public housing and the like are presented as cost-free. Their purpose was to create a bloc of dependents unable to grasp the truth that government has to function off of stolen resources. They have little understanding of the basic economic fact that production must precede consumption. In short, government encourages collectively higher time preferences so voters can feel an immediate feeling of euphoria while saying “hell to the future.”
Indeed, for those who understand economics and the broader study of human action called praxeology, the future seems bleak. Wars are waging around the world with more on the way. Thanks to the continuous easy money policies of central banks, relative prices and financial incentives have been distorted to the point where the malinvestments of the last bubble can’t be liquidated before new ones start popping up. The practice of fractional reserve banking is appearing more insolvent by the day (though it was never solvent in the first place).
With so many black clouds on the horizon, the whole situation appears hopeless at times. To quote famed journalist H.L. Mencken
Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.
Mencken’s sentiments were as spot on in his day as they are to modern times. Anyone who thinks morality rests upon not harming others who have done you no harm should be appalled at the degree of rising statism around the world. That isn’t to say violent revolution is viable option of objection. The state is widespread violence in professional form. Politicians and bureaucrats can’t run an economy efficiently but they can see to it thatmass graves are filled with corpses.
Peaceful dissent and education have proven to be effective strategies for undermining the state precisely because the ruling class hates nothing more than enlightened criticism. This is why educating others to their virtual enslavement through such methods as pamphleteering has been clamped down upon by tyrannical regimes. As Murray Rothbardpoints out,
Through a process of educating the public to the truth, they will give back to the people knowledge of the blessings of liberty and of the myths and illusions fostered by the State.
In addition to rousing the people to the truth, the opposition movement has another vital string to its bow: the unnatural lives lived by the despots and their hierarchy of favorites. For their lives are miserable and fearful and not happy. Tyrants live in constant and perpetual fear of the well-deserved hatred they know is borne them by every one of their subjects… Eventually, as enlightenment spreads among the public, the privileged favorites will begin to realize the true misery of their lot, for all their wealth can be seized from them at any moment should they fall out of step in the race for the favors of the king.
In the long run, as Ludwig von Mises always pointed out, “no government can maintain itself in power if it does not have public opinion behind it.” Becoming knowledgeable to the degree at which you are being exploited, along with helping others do the same, is the springboard to liberty.
Almost as important is another crucial task: to laugh at the state. Yes, it is really that simple. Maintaining one’s sanity hinges upon finding humor within the outrageous hoops politicians and their media apologists will jump through in order to justify their actions. Because politics attempts to circumvent economic principles, the childlike logic behind any excuse for market intervention can be incredibly easy to identify and disaffirm as pure fantasy.
For example, as Bloomberg recently reported, the British government ran a larger budget deficit than expected last May. According to the Office of National Statistics, the budget saw a shortfall of 17.9 billion pounds while spending was up 7.9%. Anyone able to employ the slightest bit of reason would figure the increase in spending would have something to do with the enlarged deficit. Yet, as the Bloomberg article explains, such a deficit “may provide ammunition to the opposition Labour Party, which says the government is making the recession worse by trying to cut the deficit too quickly.” So because an increase in government expenditures resulted in an increase in the budget deficit, more spending is required? Talk about logical fallacy!
Or consider the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union which foundthat the mandating of six weeks of paid vacation to Europeans also means that if a vacationer happens to get sick, he or she is legally entitled to more time off. From the judgment:
The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure,
In light of such a ruling, is it still any wonder why many European economies are still mired with high unemployment rates and liberalizing labor reforms are difficult to implement? Who wants to be an entrepreneur when the cost of labor has been inflated so high by various government edicts? But even though it builds upon impoverishing labor policy, the Court of Justice’s ruling is laughable for being demonstrative of the juvenile understanding held by some on the ill effects of government entitlements.
And nothing brings a heartier laugh than a good political campaign rife with ideology flip flopping and grandiose but unsubstantial campaign speeches. For the observer that correctly views politics as a mugger’s game, the verbal gymnastics which candidates engage in to appear as of sound mind and resolute can be downright hilarious. The U.S. presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney promises to be no different.
With the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare recently given the green light by the highest court in the land, the contest for the office of the president just got more interesting. Back in a 2009 interview with George Stephanopoulos, President Obama made sure to point out that the individual mandate within the Affordable Care Act which forces almost all Americans to purchase health insurance was not a tax. From the interview transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: … during the campaign. Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don’t. How is that not a tax?
OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, George. Here — here’s what’s happening. … we’ve done everything we can and you actually can afford health insurance, but you’ve just decided, you know what, I want to take my chances. And then you get hit by a bus and you and I have to pay for the emergency room care, that’s…
STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it’s still a tax increase.
OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.
Now that the individual mandate was held up as a tax under Congress’ taxing power, the President must go on the campaign trail after breaking a 2008 campaign promise where he told middle class Americans he wouldn’t raise their taxes. The irony being that Obamacare may end up being the biggest tax increase on the middle class in the country’s history. It will be entertaining to see the President defend his “middle class warrior” image after the IRS hires 4,000 more agents to shakedown the American people even more than they presently are.
Even funnier is the fact that on Mitt Romney’s campaign website, he promises
to nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. These justices hold dear what the great Chief Justice John Marshall called “the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected”: a written Constitution, with real and determinate meaning.
The irony here is that it is because of Chief Justice Roberts’ siding with the liberal wing of the Court, Obamacare was upheld. Since the Republican nomination race, Romney has lambasted the Affordable Care Act even though he passed its equivalent while Governor of Massachusetts. Yet there are still some American voters who really believe Romney is the stalwart of limited government while he and Obama are both having their campaign chestsfilled by Wall Street. What both candidates represent is the preserving of the status quo of the state acting as a beneficiary to well-established special interests.
Amusement ultimately comes in recognizing politics for what it truly is: a circus inhabited by well dressed thieves. It puts on a show for an audience that is forced to attend and hand over a portion of their earnings to a collective pot called the “public treasury.” The candidates are clowns who have no principles other than to disparage their opponents to the point where voters put them in office on Election Day just to avoid the other guys. They come up with ad hoc responses to justify how to gain better access to your wallet or control your life. Bureaucrats are more of the same as demonstrated by a woman from New Mexico who was recently jailed for failing to return a book and DVD on time to her local library or another from South Carolina who was charged $50 by the highway department for the cleaning of a bloodstain on a street after her son’s fatal car accident where he was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
These stories admittedly strike a nerve but they should be looked at as both a reason to undermine the state’s grasp on society and to show others the bumbling nature at which it operates. Bureaucracies always tend toward following their own rules, as Gary North puts it, “to the point of absurdity.”
Mises once wrote:
Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But… I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.
The rise of totalitarianism is disheartening but it can be fought on an intellectual level through inspiring others. In the end, if the majority of people can be swayed to vote for whatever snake oil salesman is running for political office, it is definitely possible to open their minds to liberty and to the fact that unless they are closely connected with the ruling establishment, they are being ripped off. It is by no means an easy battle. But as the state grows, its violent presence will only become more visible and its planning schemes more idiotic. This is already apparent with such unproductive bureaucracies as the Transportation Security Administration. The other day in the parking lot of my local grocery store, I saw a TSA agent leaving and shouted a not-so-pleasant remark about his employer. As he glimpsed back at me with a confused look, I smirked knowing full well he got the message that at least someone looks down upon him for the sexually harassing, officer of brutality he is.
Yes, there are still horrific instances such as a young man being beat nearly to death at the hands of Pennsylvanian (my home state) state troopers for committing no crime besides not pulling over immediately. But for liberty-seekers versed in sound economics and ethics, truth and morality are on your side. Apologists for government intervention have as good of a chance of disproving the laws of supply and demand as they do of gravity. By being armed with an understanding of the law of scarcity, you are better prepared for the future and can enjoy yourself while laughing at the endless supply of asinine proposals emanating out of the brains of politicians, their enforcers, and even those considered leading intellectuals of the day. The state, with all of its coercive power, can’t take that away.
James E. Miller holds a BS in public administration with a minor in business from Shippensburg University, PA. He is the Editor in Chief at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and a current contributor to his hometown newspaper, the Middletown Press and Journal.
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