Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Doing Government's Dirty Work

by Tibor R. Machan

It has always bothered me that government carries out all kinds of
tasks that are none of its business. Collecting funds for innumerable projects people in a country undertaken by means of extortion -- taxation, in short -- is just one of these tasks. It is bad enough that a government founded on the principles of our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (among others!) extorts funds from the citizenry. But it then goes on to coerce employers to collect these funds, to become its bagmen, and hand them over to the various governments perpetrating the extortion.

Forcing employers to collect the extorted funds is really low. They must incur the cost of this collection, with overhead and special employees hired just for this entirely non-productive purpose. The money wasted in the process could have meant jobs for millions of people who, in turn, could pay for what government provides voluntarily, by various means that do not amount to extortion and that do not burden others with the collection process. But worst of all is that these companies become complicit in what is by all accounts a natural crime!

Yes, these are radical notions, but so at one time was the idea of
abolishing serfdom, which along with taxation was part of the unjust feudal system. Maybe in time taxation will go the way of serfdom but while it is still kept in force by the police of most societies, at least the collection could be more honest and straightforward. That way everyone would get a clear idea of what taxation is about, namely, expropriating people's resources at the point of a gun. Getting employers to do the dirty job manages, also, to disguise what is going on.

People who believe it's OK for a democratic government to extort
resources from the citizenry probably believe themselves to be
supporting law and order. The following exchange, written by the
ancient Greek general, Xenophon (circa 444 BCE), in his Memorabilia, should disabuse them of that idea:

Alcibiades: Please, Pericles, can you teach me what a law is?

Pericles: To be sure I can.

Alcibiades: I should be so much obliged if you would do so. One so
often hears the epithet "law-abiding" applied in a complimentary
sense; yet, it strikes me, one hardly deserves the compliment, if one does not know what a law is.

Pericles: Fortunately there is a ready answer to your difficulty. You wish to know what a law is? Well, those are laws which the majority, being met together in conclave, approve and enact as to what it is right to do, and what it is right to abstain from doing.

Alcibiades: Enact on the hypothesis that it is right to do what is
good? or to do what is bad?

Pericles: What is good, to be sure, young sir, not what is bad.

Alcibiades: Supposing it is not the majority, but, as in the case of an oligarchy, the minority, who meet and enact the rules of conduct, what are these?

Pericles: Whatever the ruling power of the state after deliberation enacts as our duty to do, goes by the name of laws.

Alcibiades: Then if a tyrant, holding the chief power in the state, enacts rules of conduct for the citizens, are these enactments law?

Pericles: Yes, anything which a tyrant as head of the state enacts, also goes by the name of law.

Alcibiades: But, Pericles, violence and lawlessness -- how do we
define them? Is it not when a stronger man forces a weaker to do what seems right to him -- not by persuasion but by compulsion?

Pericles: I should say so.

Alcibiades: It would seem to follow that if a tyrant, without
persuading the citizens, drives them by enactment to do certain
things -- that is lawlessness?

Pericles: You are right; and I retract the statement that measures
passed by a tyrant without persuasion of the citizens are law.

Alcibiades: And what of measures passed by a minority, not by
persuasion of the majority, but in the exercise of its power only?
Are we, or are we not, to apply the term violence to these?

Pericles: I think that anything which any one forces another to do
without persuasion, whether by enactment or not, is violence rather than law.

Alcibiades: It would seem that everything which the majority, in the exercise of its power over the possessors of wealth, and without persuading them, chooses to enact, is of the nature of violence rather than of law?

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