We know this is no laughing matter.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D. NY) “Green New Deal” is adored by the pop media, the same pop media darlings who assiduously avoid talking to its free-market critics. If given the opportunity, we and economists such as Dr. Robert Murphy can observe that even the title of her proposal is based on mindless adoration for FDR’s “New Deal”, a set of mandates, threats, and spending programs that made the Great Depression last longer than it should have.
We can ask how in the world she plans on letting the market increase living standards while politicians pour tax dollars into “high-speed rail”. And we can note the inflationary disaster that will be created by her Keynesian “Modern Monetary Theory” of printing money to pay for the spending.
But this is much bigger than even those important lessons.
What we face in our era is the unavoidable fruit of centuries of collectivist philosophy and its attack on individualism. And it’s about time we look at the battle and derive some long-standing lessons that show us why individualism and respect for our neighbor’s rights are essential for the future of mankind. We must understand why they are superior to collectivist big government.
First, let’s toss away thoughts of Ms. Cortez, and begin this important exploration by defining terms.
How about “government”? What do people mean by “government”?
They usually mean the state, and, to clarify our understanding of “The State”, we must distinguish it from “society”. Society comes first. It is the ever-adjusting, constantly-tested and refined, set of rules and interpersonal arrangements, traditions, and achievements humans create voluntarily, through free will: the things, ideas, and breakthroughs we make because we are free to control ourselves and what we acquire or make.
And we can travel all the way back to Paleolithic man to see breakthroughs that people organically developed to help their lives. These are what the Ancient Greeks later listed as the fundamental “Simple Machines”. Although recognized as “machines” by the Greeks, ancient Homo Erectus developed and used things like the lever and inclined plane simply to move things with less effort, freeing up extra hands to do other things – thus increasing productivity and bettering their lives. Likewise, they created non-physical machines – things like language, division of labor, and trade of surplus – that all facilitated easier acquisition of what improved their lives. These ancient societies tested these developments and tools, and kept them if they made life easier and more fulfilling. Failures were tossed.
One of the most important non-physical machines developed was the concept of “rights”, of self-ownership. It was the widely adopted – or, if one believes in the Judeo-Christian tenets, God-given – principle of “mutual hands-offedness”, or “negative reciprocity”: You have a right to be left alone to control yourself and what you peacefully acquire, and I have the same. Those who respect that receive it in return, and are welcomed by society. Those who don’t are shunned and decrease their odds of prospering.
These fundamental traditions and this principle precede any monarch, czar, emperor, or government assembly. The key is the principle of individual ownership, real self-governance. Humans had governance long before “government”, i.e. “The State”.
In that case, what’s “The State”?
The State is the sub-group of humans who, under various rationales and justifications, claim a select distinction over others, claiming to have the rightful power to use aggressive violence and threats of it on others, without being subject to the same shunning and ostracism each of us – as individuals – would experience as a result of us engaging in that aggression.
Numerous philosophers have wrestled with the question of whether or not the State – in its abstract sense – is justified, with some arguing until the mid 1600s in favor of a so-called “Devine Right of Kings”, where some people are somehow blessed by God to rule over others. Others, such as Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau, argued in favor of a mystical and logically unsupportable so-called “Social Contract” between each of the members of society and the rulers, be they oligarchs, a monarch, or a so-called “representative body”. Of course, each of them acted on his own conceit, that of claiming that majority rule represented real individual consent.
Today, some even claim that if you don’t physically flee the government, you implicitly consent to it. So, imagine a gang approaching you to say, “We’re giving you a choice: vote in this thing we’re forcing on you, this thing we’re going to call a government. If you’re in the 51%, you can lever control over the other 49%, and if you don’t like the choices we’re forcing on you, you’ll have to flee, or we’ll arrest you." In every nuance of that approach, you’re not really choosing. It’s a false choice, forced on you, not a real, voluntary one.
Regardless, proponents of “Social Contract Theory” claim you consent to their forced mandates, and never bother to recognize that only in society, away from the state, can people engage in real, voluntary contracts, and if one were to truly see all people consenting to a governing body with real contracts for each person, it would no longer be a state, it would be a business, with real clients.
The state doesn’t have clients. It has subjects.
In fact, some philosophers such as John Locke believed that a state should exist in order to protect your Natural Rights to life and property. The logical problem with his idea is that, in order to function, the state has to claim the power to infringe on your property rights and force you to pay taxes – on threat of arrest. So, in order to create the entity that’s supposed to “protect” you and your property, the politicians claim the power to take your property, and add the insult to it that you “consented”, when you didn’t.
There are major ethical and philosophical problems with all arguments for The State, but one of the major problems of the rationale is actually economic.
Since humans are all subjective creatures, all human valuation is subjective, and we exhibit our values ourselves only through free action, in the markets of ethics and trade. Respect for Natural Rights translates into the prices we show in the market when we buy goods. If we’re not allowed freedom of choice about the so-called “protection service” of The State, how can anyone say anyone values it?
This is where we pause, to reflect on the fact that it appears as if most of us are stuck with the state. If so, what’s the best way to manage it?
The argument is built on a concrete understanding of praxeology – the study of human action, including ethical interaction and economics – and when we return in Part Two, we will see with stark clarity how thinkers like Aristotle inspired the founders to come up with what some viewed as the best way to manage this beast, The State, so that it at least harms the lowest number of people as possible.
We’ll explore that important facet of the subject next, as we gather intellectual ammunition to fight against the ever-metastasizing power of the state that we can see, right now, in the adoration for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s poisonous “Green New Deal”. Thank you for joining us in the fight!