Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 434, September 9, 2007

"A standing government is a bad idea."

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Both Sides Now
by Christian Claypoole

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I read L. Neil Smith's "Thoughts About Monty and Other Things" in the September 2, 2007 issue of TLE with considerable interest. (BTW, for someone who says, "economics is not my long suit," El Neil captures one of the most salient points about the functioning of an economy quite succinctly.) I am one of those who came to libertarianism through economics. While taking night courses toward an MBA, one of the economics professors at University of Baltimore, Dr. Barry Brownstein, precipitated my epiphany by asking questions that exposed the internal contradictions of my (then) conservative beliefs. He then gave me a reading list, and the rest was a slam-dunk.

However, since I had been in the US Army (as an ROTC officer, in Armor at Fort Knox), I was far from a stranger to firearms, from the M1911 pistol to the main gun of a tank. However, since my wife's only fault is that she disliked (and still dislikes) firearms of any kind, I did not own one until many years later. In 2000, my father passed away, and left me his WWII vintage M1911. (Actually, my mother was going to give it away until I specifically asked for it. She also dislikes firearms.)

I began shooting the .45 occasionally, but with the old, inadequate WWII sights and my lack of training, my "marksmanship" was awful. A friend online offered to pay for a training course (I paid all other costs) in Nevada—Front Sight. That changed my life (thanks again, Russell), as I now am a better-than-average marksman with a variety of handguns, and I visit the range nearly every week. My wife still dislikes guns, but encourages my interest in them, as she understands how much enjoyment I derive from shooting.

And that interest led me to become more interested in self-defense issues and the theories of how those would function in a libertarian society.

So I can say I am both a "gnome" and a "Flinter." I have an MBA and an MS in economics. I own and shoot handguns in .45, .40 and 9mm; semi-automatic and revolver, metal and polymer, full-size to compact. (Brief digression—my newest is the CZ RAMI 2075 polymer version in 9mm. I really like this small pistol, which is damn accurate for a compact. I was putting nearly every round in the chest area of the silhouette at 7 yards shooting weak hand only, unsupported. The first time I shot it.) And trust me, it's a tough thing to be a member of the gun culture in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, where I live and work. Two other guys at work and I occasionally discuss guns, shooting, and self-defense issues; we often get weird looks from the others. I often tweak my boss on such topics, as he is quite squeamish about guns, and mostly uninformed/uninterested about politics. But he knows I'm kidding him, usually. The anti-gun laws here are harsh, and I have about the same chance of getting a CCW as winning the lottery. The one-party government here is also frighteningly ignorant on economic topics also. Coincidence? I think not.

El Neil nailed it when he discussed "price." Price information determines how well an economy functions on a day-to-day basis. "Profits" determine the allocation of scarce resources; and since "Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses" (Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell), profits determine the long-term health of an economy. Government interference in the flow of information provided by prices or profits will harm an economy. And all governments do this—taxes and regulations, if nothing else. In every example I have ever been familiar with of politically unfree countries in which the government was relatively laissez faire about the economy, the economic freedom did not flow into the political sector, but rather the political unfreedom eventually poisoned the economic sector.

Because a more important indicator of whether an economy will prosper or not, IMO, is whether the government allows the sanctity/security of private property. If property cannot be easily bought, sold, transferred, inherited, and even destroyed if the owner so desires, economic activity will be hobbled. Few people will build up a business or other economic enterprise when they know that it can be taken from them by the politically connected or the government itself at any time. So they don't engage in entrepreneurial activities, or do so only on the black market. (Reference: see most of the world.)

As El Neil and others have pointed out over the years, no government can long resist the temptation to go from "legalized" theft—taxes—to out-and-out confiscation of property. Dictatorships, whether Franco's Spain or the oft-cited example of Singapore, will begin to meddle in the economy sooner or later. Even if you have a dictator that knows enough to refrain from doing so, his subordinates will avail themselves of wealth through power. And no one lives forever.

Just as the Achilles heel of a democracy is said to be the moment that the electorate discovers that they can vote themselves bread and circuses, any time the bureaucrats and politicians of whatever form of government figure out how to "sell rents," the game is up. ("Selling rents," also called "rent seeking," is an economic term for using government power to gain economic benefits for oneself or to cause economic harm to one's enemies.) Anyone out there know of anyone who can be trusted with that kind of power? Didn't think so. (And, to beat that dead horse once more, neither did Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.)

Government power, wielded by humans, is like the One Ring. It cannot by used for good; it always corrupts the wielder, or abandons him to find one who will use it for evil. No matter how one tries to circumscribe the powers of government, it will burst from those bonds and grow into a monster that consumes both political and economic freedoms.

The people running the US government are becoming more and more like the dictators they claim to fight. Heard about the Military Commissions Act? Warrantless searches and wiretapping? Does eminent domain and asset forfeiture ring (alarm) bells? We are in the process of finding out whether the US economy can still function at its historically high level when our economic and political freedoms are becoming more and more restricted.


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