November 28, 2014

Do Americans still believe that government is evil?

TAMPA, October 28, 2012 – Nine days before Election Day, Americans are hunkering down into their traditional Republican/Democratic camps. Supposedly, the future of American society rests upon which corporate-backed candidate wins the presidency. Americans of the past would have regarded this as complete nonsense.

In late 1775, the shot heard ‘round the world had been fired and the American colonists had Boston under siege. Still, most Americans either favored reconciliation with Great Britain or were undecided.

Then, in January 1776, Thomas Paine released his instant bestseller, Common Sense. It is this pamphlet that is credited with persuading a critical mass of American colonists to support American independence from Great Britain. In it, Paine laid out his arguments about the role of government and why the British constitution failed in fulfilling this role for American colonists.

The very first plank he laid down in his argument was that government was evil.

“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil;”

Paine, Jefferson and other founding fathers recognized government for what it is: the pooled and organized capacity for violence of the whole society. This idea comes straight out of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government. There is no law, no matter how minor, that is not ultimately backed up by the threat of violence.

Continue at Communities@ Washington Times…

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What’s so important about replacing Obama with Romney?

TAMPA, April 25, 2012 – Now that the Republican Party and the media have decided, in quite Orwellian fashion, that Mitt Romney has won the nomination (even though he hasn’t); the party has ramped up its campaign to unite behind the Republican candidate. Regardless of those “minor differences” supporters of other candidates may have had, nothing is more important than defeating Barack Obama in November. There is only one question that no one is asking.

Why?

The first answer provided by many Republicans is “Obama is a socialist.”

I don’t read minds, so I can’t speculate as to what President Obama thinks. He may silently recite Saul Alinsky while he signs executive orders. He may be wearing Karl Marx Underoos when he reads from his teleprompter. I don’t know (and don’t want to know). We can only judge him on what he’s done. So far, he hasn’t done anything substantively more socialist than George W. Bush.

Continue at Communities@Washington Times…

For Gary Johnson it’s all about the “Libertarian” message

TAMPA, April 22, 2012 – Self-made millionaire and former two-term governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson initially sought the Republican Party’s nomination for president.

After being largely excluded from the early debates, Johnson left the Republican Party and now seeks the Libertarian Party’s nomination.

“It’s always been about the message,” Mr. Johnson says. “I’m a messenger. I think for the most part I’m delivering the same message as Ron Paul. I think that the message is identifying the solutions to the problems that this country faces and genuinely recognizing the solutions. Having been excluded from the Republican debates, that really was a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

So what are the solutions that Johnson proposes?

Continue at Communities@Washington Times…

Why a Debt Default Would Be Wonderful

While it is likely that the two parties in Congress will reach a deal before the August 2 deadline, I can’t help reflecting on how wonderful it would be if they didn’t. While Congressman Ron Paul has correctly pointed out that the government has already defaulted at least three different times in its history, and continues to default every time it prints new money, it is not quite the same as an “on-the-books” failure to make a timely payment. That is exactly what America needs.

Politicians, mainstream economists, and the media tell us that a U.S. government debt default would be catastrophic. Treasury bonds would be downgraded, interest rates would soar, and the massive government spending that has supposedly fueled the present (jobless) recovery would be severely curtailed, plunging the U.S. and possibly the world back into a deep recession.

Perhaps that is true. However, a debt default by the federal government would still be a blessing to American society for several reasons.

First, one must remember that all government spending represents a redistribution of wealth (what we regular folks call “stealing”). The government forcibly confiscates money from those who have earned it and spends it for the benefit of someone else. The most insidious way that the government does this is by borrowing. When it borrows, it is confiscating money from people in the future – some of whom are not even born yet – to hand out to their special interest supporters today. To the extent that it would prevent or decrease this, a default would result in a more just society.

However, even if one doesn’t care about justice or property rights, a default would help correct the very malinvestment that has caused the crisis in the first place. As I’ve said before, the entire U.S. economy is really one, huge bubble of misallocated resources, caused by at least a century of government intervention. Most people recognize that the government’s backing of mortgages, together with monetary inflation by the Federal Reserve, were the primary causes of the housing bubble. However, most people fail to recognize this same dynamic in almost every sector of the economy.

The government also backs student loans for people to go to college. Just like it did to the housing industry, this has inflated the price of higher education far beyond what could be supported by real demand. That in turn has led to the creation of millions of jobs in the education sector that only exist because the government redistributes wealth to back those loans. When the government funds are no longer there, the price of education will plummet, just as housing prices did. All of those people will be out of work.

Healthcare is another sector with all of the same intervention-related problems. Government subsidy creates artificial demand, inflating the price and driving the misallocation of resources to the healthcare sector. The industry is not forced to innovate in terms of delivering its services in more efficient ways because the customers are forced to buy its products (if you doubt this, just withhold the Medicare portion of your payroll taxes and see what happens). This also directs employees into the healthcare sector that would not be supported by natural market forces. When the government can no longer subsidize it, the bubble will pop, just like housing and education. Again, massive unemployment for misallocated human resources.

Banking, research, agriculture, energy, automobile manufacturing – there is not one sector that anyone can name where government is not overriding the voluntary transactions that market participants would otherwise engage in. Wherever the government is spending taxpayer money, it is overriding the choice that the taxpayer would have made if he had been allowed to keep his money and spend it as he pleased. As F.A. Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, the government has never and can never make better choices than millions of market participants acting in their own self-interest. They simply lack the information necessary to do so.

So, wherever the government is spending money to try to boost some aggregate statistic, it is making the problem bigger, not smaller. If government spending is creating jobs, they are not real jobs. A real job is a voluntary contract between a buyer of services (an employer) and a seller of services (an employee). If that job is created because of government spending, then a third party is introduced into the transaction who is not acting voluntarily.  Government-created jobs force taxpayers to purchase services from employees because it is not profitable for the employers in that sector to purchase them. Forcing taxpayers to purchase them doesn’t make those jobs any more profitable. It just depletes the capital available to create profitable jobs elsewhere.

The prospect of perhaps tens of millions more people unemployed may seem frightening, but that day is coming regardless of what politicians do in Washington. Economic laws are like the laws of nature. They will assert themselves in the end. Any job that requires the government to borrow more money to subsidize it is also a job that depends upon the lenders continuing to lend. As we have seen in recent Treasury bond auctions, those days are coming to an end. Raising the statutory debt ceiling only allows more phony jobs to be created, setting up more employees for the painful correction.

However, the most important reason that a debt default will be beneficial is a philosophic one. It will force a complete paradigm shift in the way Americans think about the role of government. For at least a century, there has been no area of life that some special interest has not appealed to government to manage or subsidize. From the way we conduct commerce to the way we make personal decisions on food or healthcare to the way we coexist with our neighbors in other countries, nothing has been off limits. Complacency about our liberty has been one reason. The other has been the perception of infinite financial resources. The great wealth that the United States generated in its freest period provided a tax base and borrowing collateral that has always been perceived as unlimited. A debt default would shatter that foolish perception.

The default would be a bucket of cold water in the faces of a drowsy and compliant populace. It would wake people up to the reality that Thomas Paine was aware of over 200 years ago, when he wrote that government “is at best, a necessary evil.” People would realize that the government doesn’t “have our back,” other than to stick a gun in it to loot our liberty and wealth. We would no longer hear that horrid refrain from media pundits after some new government incursion or heist: “Well, the government had to do something.” Instead, we would hear the resigned chorus, “Well, the government couldn’t do anything.” And perhaps, in some glorious, enlightened future, “The government shouldn’t do anything.”

Remarks to the Punta Gorda Tea Party July 3, 2010

I would like to thank the organizers of the Punta Gorda Tea Party for giving me the opportunity to come here today and speak to you on this joyous occasion. I say “joyous occasion” because I suspect that everyone of you, like me, has at sometime in the past imagined that he or she was the only person in the world who understood that our liberty was in jeopardy, or who cared enough to do something about it. Yet, today, although the danger has never been greater, there is joy in my heart, as I hope there is in yours, because of what this movement has made plainly obvious: we are not alone! In fact, to paraphrase words attributed to Japanese Admiral Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I believe that those who would dare to attack our liberty have merely awakened a sleeping giant.

I would like to take just a few moments to reflect upon the meaning of that which we fight for, to share a few words from those who established this land of liberty, and to humbly suggest to you an idea to carry forward in this sacred fight. I want to start with the question that I began my first book with, which is, “What is freedom?”

234 years ago, a man named Jefferson answered that question for us. I would like to share a few passages from Mr. Jefferson’s favorite philosopher. This man’s writing was so important to Jefferson that he actually had a resolution passed that said,

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”

I share this with you not to make some theoretical or academic point, but because the ideas Jefferson refers to have the utmost relevance to the struggle we find ourselves in now. Let me read to you the opening words of the essay by John Locke that Jefferson cites:

“TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”

“A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection…

You no doubt recognize that this was the source of those famous words, “We hold these truths to be self evident – which means that no proof is required, for these truths can be directly observed in nature – that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

I wanted to read those passages from Locke because they contain a very important point. Our natural liberty is not the license to do anything we wish. We must exercise our will “within the bounds of the law of nature.” But what are those bounds? What is the law of nature?

Locke tells us. “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

So, natural liberty is the right to order our actions AND DISPOSE OF OUR POSSESSIONS as we see fit, as long as we do not harm another person in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. Libertarians today call this “the non-aggression principle,” but it is really the principle of natural liberty itself. It is the fundamental, founding principle of the United States. It is vitally important that the connection between liberty and non-aggression be understood, for it is upon this foundation that the limits on government power rests.

Jefferson confirmed this many times over the course of his life. Whenever he was asked about the role of government in a particular matter, he consistently applied the non-aggression principle. In a letter he wrote in 1816, he said, ““Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Of religious freedom, Jefferson wrote, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

On another occasion he wrote, “But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”

There are many more quotes just like these that I could read, but the point is made. You may ask yourself, “what does this have to do with Obamacare or any of the countless other present incursions into our liberty?” The answer is this: the reason that Obamacare violates our liberty is because it violates the non-aggression principle, which is liberty.

Now, I want to stop here to draw a crucial distinction. Non-aggression is not pacifism. While the principle of liberty forbids us to initiate force, we have a right and a duty to defend ourselves with force, if necessary, against those who commit aggression against us. And so, in order to secure our rights, we delegate this individual power to government – making government the societal use of force. It is also crucial to remember that all government action is backed by the force of arms. When we make laws, they must be followed or he who breaks the law will encounter that armed force. This power comes from us, from each individual – from our right to use force in self defense. However, we cannot delegate a power to government that we do not possess individually, and so the limit on government power is the same as the limit on individual power: that force may only be used in defense against aggression. When government is kept within this limit, its people are free. When it goes beyond this limit, even if the intentions are good, it is initiating force against its people and we call this tyranny.

When one person steals the property of another, we employ the societal use of force – government – to compel that person to make restitution and to accept punishment for the crime. This is consistent with the non-aggression principle. We call this justice.

When a foreign nation attacks us, we employ our military to defend our lives and liberty with force against that nation. This, too, is consistent with the non-aggression principle.

However, when the government makes a law that says that one person must pay the medical bills of another, or purchase a product that he does not consent to purchase, then it is the government that is the aggressor. It is the government that initiates force against someone who has not committed aggression himself. This is a violation of the non-aggression principle – a violation of liberty – and that is why it cannot be tolerated by a free people. No law written by men can violate the law of nature.

I respectfully suggest to all of you that this be the measuring stick against which you judge all acts of government, from its economic policies, to its criminal law, to its foreign policy. It was the non-aggression principle that our founders used to determine the limits of government power. It is the founding principle of our nation. Once you apply it, you will find that our government has violated our liberty for many decades. This has happened under Republican and Democratic rule. At home, it is characterized by the massive redistribution of wealth, not just for welfare for the poor, but for bankers on Wall Street, for farmers, for scientists, for educators, and for every one of us in programs like Social Security and Medicare – all of these are violations of our liberty that we must begin talking about responsibly phasing out, if we are to regain our freedom.

The violation of our founding principle extends to our foreign policy as well, for we fight wars with nations that have committed no aggression against us. This is a threefold violation: against the people of the nation we attack, against the soldier whose life is risked or sacrificed unnecessarily, and against the taxpayer who is forced to pay for it at the point of the same gun that compels him to pay for Obamacare.

Now, I know that the Tea Party movement strongly supports our troops and so do I. God help us if we ever become a nation that does not honor the men and women who walk in front of bullets to preserve our liberty. However, it is not the soldier that takes us to war. He does not make that decision – not because he is incapable of it – but because for a limited time while he serves, he pledges to follow the orders of his civilian leaders about where he will go and whom he will fight. By doing so, the soldier places a sacred trust in those leaders that they will call upon him to fight only when our lives and liberty are truly in danger.

Now, let me ask you one question: Do you truly believe that those same civilian leaders who have given you Obamacare, the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae, Amtrak – all of which are failed and bankrupt – were suddenly competent when they made decisions about taking us to war? I will suggest this to you: it is not merely incompetence, but a deliberate violation of our founding principle for the purpose of acquiring power that has informed all of their decisions. Remember that Washington, Adams, and Jefferson spent their entire presidencies trying to keep our country out of foreign wars. As James Madison said, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

My friends, we are in a struggle for the greatest idea that the world has ever known: freedom. You, the Tea Party, are being attacked by the established powers with every weapon at their command, and for one reason only: they are afraid of you. They know that their power over you requires your continued consent and you are no longer willing to be governed without it. I ask you to remember the meaning of that great principle of liberty, the non-aggression principle, and apply it objectively to everything that our government does. You will find that most of what it does today violates that principle. In other words, even after we get rid of Obamacare and send this president and Congress job hunting, we will still have a lot of work to do. It will not restore our liberty to vote out those who commit one form of aggression and replace them with people who will merely commit another. We must select representatives from amongst ourselves who will accept the natural limits of their powers or we will be no freer than we are now. But I am joyful today because we the people have that power. We have slumbered for decades, but we slumber no more. The sleeping giant is awake and we are going to win.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

What is Limited Government?

It is certainly encouraging to see a massive grassroots movement demanding that government cease its exponential growth. The Tea Party movement has already flexed its muscles in some high-profile elections, and there is widespread consensus that it will be a factor in the 2010 elections. For the first time in over a century, there is a critical mass of people actually demanding limited government.

However, there is one very important question that must be answered. What is limited government?

The answer supplied by Republicans for the past several decades has been “lower taxes, balanced budgets, and less government spending.” These are all wonderful ideas, although Republicans have hardly put them into practice when given the reins of power. Afterwards, their supporters have chastised them for “not being true conservatives,” although I’m not sure that the conservative movement has ever really been about “small government.” In any case, the fundamental assumption underlying conservative rhetoric is that the limits of government are quantitative. One is led to believe that if the government would only spend less on health care, education, stimulus packages, and other programs (excluding the military, of course), that freedom, peace, and prosperity would be just around the corner.

However, limited government has nothing to do with how much money government spends, but rather what government is allowed to spend money on. Restoring freedom and constitutional government depends not just upon cutting taxes, but redefining what services government can legitimately tax its citizens to underwrite. At one time in America, there was a clear and unambiguous answer to that question: taxation was limited to underwriting the defense of life, liberty, and property.

Politicians have to mince words in order to keep fragile constituencies together, so they rarely make unambiguous statements. When one faction among their supporters opposes a new government health care program, they cannot agree on principle and say that government should have no role in providing health care. This would alienate another faction among their supporters that are currently benefitting from an already well-established government health care program. So, the politician uses words like “sensible” and “market-driven” in order to attack his opponent’s program without acknowledging the principle that it violates whether administered “sensibly” or not.

Truly limited government can only mean one thing: enforcing the non-aggression principle, known to our founders as “the law of nature.” Jefferson said that no man has the right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and that is all from which the law ought to restrain him. As government is merely the societal use of force, its limits are no different than the limits on the use of force by an individual. An individual may use force only in defense against aggression and under no other circumstances. He may never initiate force. The words “sensible,” “lower,” and “smaller” do not apply. The limits on government are absolute.

The argument that needs to be made against the current health care program is that it violates the law of nature. By forcing some people to pay for health care services that are provided to others and by forcing everyone to purchase health insurance regardless of their consent, government exceeds the natural limits of its power. It initiates force and thereby commits aggression against every individual in society. The initiation of aggression results in the state of war. It is for this reason that the new health care program should be repealed. Once the argument is diverted to one simply about cost or the practical means to fund the program, the principle of limited government has been abandoned.

While this is a relatively simple answer, as are all answers to questions of justice, it is a double-edged sword for conservatives. Once the true limits of government power are acknowledged, then a large swath of the conservative platform is called into question. Most obviously, garnering support from older Americans in opposing “Obamacare” on the grounds that it will necessitate cuts in Medicare contradicts the principle of limited government. The flimsy distinction between the new health care program and the old has been that Medicare recipients have “paid into the system all of their lives.” While this is undoubtedly true, everyone knows that those payments all went to underwrite previous beneficiaries and not into some magical trust fund. Medicare is no less a redistribution program than Obamacare. It just benefits a different special interest group.

While support for Medicare may merely be a political necessity for conservative politicians, truly limited government is also at odds with what has become the bedrock of modern conservatism: support for the worldwide U.S. military establishment. This is not to say that limited government means no military establishment at all. However, it does mean that the government has no legitimate authority to maintain standing armies overseas, to fight wars to protect one nation from another, or to protect a foreign people from a despotic government. The natural limit of government military action is to defend its own citizens against aggression by a foreign nation. Beyond this, it is initiating force and exceeding that natural limit.

One might argue that every individual has a right and a duty to protect a fellow human being from aggression by a third party, and that therefore the U.S. government’s military interventions around the world are justified. This was the basis for the (second) argument for the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein was oppressing his people and the United States had a duty to protect them from him. However, no individual has a right to force someone else to defend a third party against aggression. Every American had the right to send money to support Hussein’s opponents or even to go and fight in a revolution to overthrow him. However, no American had the right to force his neighbor to do so. The natural limit on military spending is that which is necessary to protect those taxed to support it. Humanitarian aid in any form must be voluntary.

Liberals constantly use the term “fair share” when justifying the egregious taxation and redistribution system that the U.S. government has become. Of course, this begs the question, “What is my fair share of services that I don’t use and that I actively oppose?” The only rational answer to this question is “zero.” However, once you come to this inescapable conclusion, virtually all government social and economic programs must be eliminated, as they are all based upon taxing one person in order to provide benefits to another.

Limited government does require each individual to pay his fair share, which is the cost to protect his own life, liberty, and property and that of his dependents. It is limited to what is necessary to “secure these rights.” While everyone may not have an equal amount of property, everyone has equal rights and thus an equal stake in providing for their defense. An examination of the U.S. government’s budget reveals that the cost of providing this defense of individual rights is orders of magnitude less than what is spent now. A government operating within its natural limits would not require an income tax, a value added tax, or a “fair tax.” American history has already proven this.

While it may be justified in a theoretical sense, America’s massive redistribution state cannot be abolished with the stroke of a pen. Not even the staunchest libertarian really wants to see Social Security, Medicare, or public welfare turned off tomorrow, with the poor and elderly left to fend for themselves. However, to be committed to limited government means to be committed to working towards eliminating these programs, not reforming them. This may take generations to accomplish, but we must first at least acknowledge that they have to go.

What we can do right now is end our worldwide military empire. Unlike the social programs, this would not mean short-term hardship in exchange for long-term gain. Getting our soldiers out of the 130 countries that they are stationed in would provide an immediate benefit both to the United States and the rest of the world. Proponents of the empire would argue that a sudden withdrawal of our troops would “destabilize” the regions that they are stationed in, but this is absurd. The presence of troops does not provide stability. It inspires resentment and provokes the inhabitants to retaliate. Without a troop presence in the Middle East, the motivation for terrorism would quickly fade. It is much easier to recruit suicide bombers when you can show your recruits armed troops in their own neighborhood than it is trying to convince them to give their lives to stop women in some far off land from wearing mini-skirts. Does anyone really believe that this is why they want to kill us?

A little simple arithmetic will demonstrate that even eliminating all military spending would not allow us to pay for our welfare state. The total military budget is around $700 billion, while Social Security and Medicare alone are over $1 trillion, with Medicaid adding $400 billion more. This does not even take into consideration all of the smaller programs for housing, education, medical research, “infrastructure,” energy, agriculture – all of these programs violate the principle of limited government for the same reason that Obamacare does. Added together, the vast majority of non-military federal spending is some type of wealth redistribution. It would seem that there is no equitable way out.

The answer lies in revisiting the “fair share” idea. Unlike taxation, there is no such thing as a fair share of benefits derived from other people’s money. We must recognize that in order to undo the century of damage we have done to our society, some people are going to have to pay out more than they receive in benefits. We could certainly come up with a plan whereby people my age, in their mid-40’s, would only be guaranteed catastrophic coverage through Medicare and reduced payments from Social Security, both payable only with a demonstrated need rather than as an entitlement. This would allow new workers to get out of the system altogether and finally restore limited government and true social justice. Would it be fair? No. Neither is the status quo. However, it would lead to prosperity and justice for our children. The status quo will lead us to our destruction.

This is only one strategy and I am sure that smart people could come up with others. As the old saying goes, the first step in solving our problem is admitting that we have one. If we want limited government, we must recognize that it is far more than Obamacare or welfare for the poor that is violating the law of nature. Let us continue to oppose Obamacare, but let us also acknowledge the vast amount of work to do even after this new incursion into our liberty is vanquished.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

The Three P’s: Things Government Cannot and Should Not Do

In this late stage of America’s devolution from constitutional republic to social democracy, one is hard pressed to find meaningful debate anywhere about the role of government. Despite a 24/7 news cycle and endless political commentary on talk radio, most Americans have not once in their lives heard the question posed, “What is the purpose of government?” Certainly, we hear that “the government should do this” or “the government should not do that” in regard to particular issues, but nowhere will you hear a meaningful discussion about the underlying mission of government. Indeed, answering this question might not be all that beneficial to our chattering classes, because once it is answered, there is little need for hours and hours of more talk. Clarifying the role of government makes the answers to most political questions rather simple and unambiguous. It is hard not to suspect that many of our politicians avoid this subject intentionally.

If America is truly the “land of the free,” then there can be only one answer to this question. The purpose of government is to defend its constituents against aggression. Period. Since “liberty” and “the non-aggression principle” are one and the same, it is impossible for government to have any other purpose, or any additional role.

As government is by definition the societal use of force, any action of government other than defense against aggression must itself be aggression.  To induce human action through aggression is coercion. When coercion is practiced by government, it is called tyranny.

Freedom is the ability to exercise one’s will in the absence of coercion.  Therefore, freedom is impossible once government is allowed to perform any function other than defense.  If freedom is exercising one’s will in the absence of coercion, one cannot be free while being coerced. Two plus two cannot equal five.

That leaves a multitude of actions that government must be prohibited from engaging in. They generally fall into three categories, which I like to call “the Three P’s.” The Three P’s are to prevent, to promote, and to provide.  There is no way for government to engage in any of these three activities without destroying the liberty that it supposedly exists to defend.  Yet, this is 99 percent of what government in modern America does.

Most Americans look to government to prevent crime.  Once a particularly heinous crime is reported in the media, there are universal outcries about the failure of government to prevent it.  Almost no one stops to think about what it really means for government to “prevent crime.”  By definition, to prevent something is to act before it happens.  Since all government action represents the use of force, government can only prevent crime by initiating force against people who have committed no crime.  Force must always be initiated by someone.  The initiating party is the aggressor.  There is no other possibility.

This is not merely a theoretical or academic argument.  Think for a moment about the results of government’s various “crime prevention” efforts.  Gun control disarms the victims of crimes while empowering violent criminals who don’t care about gun control laws.  Economic regulations which attempt to prevent fraud insulate protected corporations from competition, emboldening them to commit more fraud.  Worst of all, the War on Terror, the ultimate government crime prevention program, has harassed millions of American citizens while allowing terrorists to walk onto planes with explosives in their shoes, underwear (and who knows where else), and has laid waste to an entire nation in order to determine that the “weapons of mass destruction” it supposedly possessed did not in fact exist.

In addition to preventing crime (including terrorism), that war also claims to undertake another of the Three P’s: to “promote.”  Once it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a new rationalization was needed for our brutal invasion of that country.  That new reason turned out to be our missionary desire to “promote democracy.”  Without getting into the erroneous perception that “democracy” and “freedom” are synonymous, it should be quite clear after seven years of uninterrupted martial law in Iraq that our government has failed to achieve either democracy or freedom.  Only government can be capable of missing the irony of ordering people at gunpoint to be free.  While it might play for some good laughs in a Peter Sellers or Monty Python movie, it is really quite horrifying when one considers that our government takes this position in all seriousness.

It is not only in foreign policy that government reaps disastrous results when trying to “promote.”  Consider its attempts to promote “clean energy.”  One need look no farther than the ethanol fiasco or “Climategate” to see the results government gets in promoting respect for the environment.

The same underlying reason accounts for the similarity of results when government tries to “promote” or to “prevent.”  In both cases, force is initiated against individuals who have committed no aggression themselves.  In order for government to “promote” anything, it must act.  When government acts in the absence of aggression, it commits aggression.  By committing aggression against and therefore overriding the decisions of millions of individuals, government causes innumerable unintended consequences.  All of them can be traced to the initiation of force.

The third of the Three P’s is by far the most destructive when undertaken by government: to provide.  The illusion that government can “provide” anything springs from a loss of recognition of what government is.  Government is the use of force, not by an individual, but by all of society.  As it is a destructive force, rather than a creative one, it can produce nothing.  Therefore, it can only provide something to one citizen that it has forcefully seized from another.  This holds true whether it is attempting to provide healthcare, education, housing, or any other form of property.

The fact that human beings spend the majority of their time on earth laboring to fulfill their wants or needs makes this the most costly of the Three P’s.  While warfare represents violent aggression against millions of people, government’s usurpation of human labor initiates violence against everyone.  While the cost of warfare in human lives cannot be expressed in dollars and cents, there is at least a limit to the amount of lives it can affect and the length of time it will go on (despite government’s best efforts to make it universal and indefinite).  However, once government has claimed a right to the labor of its constituents, no one is spared and the subjugation never ends.

While the active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to less than $200 billion per year (as if those amounts were not staggering themselves), the U.S. government spends trillions of dollars each year attempting to provide its citizens with healthcare, retirement benefits, education, housing, and other necessities.  Government’s results in all of these areas are the same: disastrous.  The healthcare, education, and housing provided by government are more expensive, of lower quality, and in shorter supply than would be the case if government did not attempt to provide them.  Aggression cannot create prosperity any more than it can create freedom.

Thomas Paine wrote that “government is at best a necessary evil.”  He understood clearly what government is: an institution of violence.  As individuals, we understand that the need may arise to commit violence against another human being, but only justifiably for one reason: to defend our lives against aggression.  Should we be faced with that unfortunate choice, we may be justified in resorting to violence but afterwards regret that the need to do so arose. Most importantly, no sane person claims a right to initiate violence under any other circumstances.  As we do not possess this power as individuals, we cannot delegate this power to government.  Any legitimate power possessed by government must derive from the individuals who constitute it.

To put it most succinctly, government must always be limited to a negative power.  It is the societal extension of the individual right of self defense.  As individuals cannot use force to prevent, promote, or provide, government cannot either.  Individuals have no right to force one another to do anything, even if they believe that it is in the victims’ best interests.  So, whenever the question arises of whether government should involve itself in some new aspect of its citizens’ lives, remember the Three P’s.  If the new program represents any of them, it is time for each individual to exercise his most basic right in respect to his government: the Fourth P, to prohibit.

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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© Thomas Mullen 2010

>A Nation of Hyenas

>One never knows where one will find profound metaphors for human existence and society, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one while channel surfing last weekend after a morning of yard and house work. However, I had the good fortune to flip on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and observe a perfect analogy to what our once-great society has become.

That episode was about the cheetah, the fastest land animal on earth. The cheetah is a beautiful creature. As the show pointed out, it is literally built for speed at the expense of brute strength, of which it has relatively little compared to other predators in its habitat. While unfortunate for the antelope, it was nonetheless quite inspiring to watch a high-speed pursuit of that animal by the cheetah, exhibiting gracefulness which rose to the level of poetry. Having made her kill, the cheetah brought the antelope back to feed herself and her young.

However, the story was not to end so happily for this family. The smell of blood in the air had attracted a pack of one of the cheetah’s competitors, the hyena. While the aforementioned lack of brute strength would probably not allow the cheetah to fight off even one hyena, that fact was irrelevant in that it was ten or twelve hyenas which now threatened her. Why? They were after the antelope – the fruits of the cheetah’s labor – and were going to use their greater numbers to take it from her by force. They weren’t intent upon killing the cheetah or her young, but were willing to do so, if necessary, to obtain her property without her consent. The cheetah weighed the risks to herself and her cubs and retreated, left to try to make up the loss elsewhere to provide for her family.

A few nights later I broke an embargo of sorts and actually watched a “news” program. I tuned in Cavuto on Fox News[1], which is one of the few shows where actual journalism seems to occur occasionally, despite its network affiliation with right wing propagandists Hannity and O’Reilly.

Cavuto’s regular panel of guests is arguably the most libertarian one can find anywhere in the “mainstream media,” regularly featuring Jonathan Hoenig, Peter Schiff, and even Yaron Brook, President of the Ayn Rand Institute.

That night, the auto company bailouts were again on the docket, and familiar arguments were made by Hoenig and the other panelists about why the results would be worse if the government took control of the auto industry. Cavuto’s token panelist from the left[2] (a female panelist whose identity I have been unable to verify), made the now also-familiar argument that “we bailed out Wall Street and now Main Street is demanding that the government do something for them.” Most of the panelists answered correctly that they were against the Wall Street bailouts as well, a point that was left unemphasized due to several people talking at once. However, the real chance for a meaningful debate still lay ahead. The boisterous Cody Willard set the stage when he said, “if you want to help them, send them your money, but don’t hold a gun to my head.”

The reply from the panelist arguing the liberal perspective was monumental:

“That’s why we have a democratically-elected government and the people want the government to do something.”

When she gave that answer, it was time to stop the quips, the witticisms, and even delay going to a commercial, if necessary. Despite the fact that the host trivialized the exchange by talking over part of both her and Willard’s comments, the exchange between the two was enormous beyond what most viewers probably realized.

There are many who would probably consider Willard’s statement a half-facetious exaggeration for effect. It was not. It is the horrifying reality of what any government bailout or other redistribution of wealth represents. We as Americans have forgotten that all government action is exercised under exactly these circumstances: at gunpoint. That is the purpose of government, to exercise brute force on behalf of its constituents when it becomes necessary to do so. That is why our government was originally so limited. The founders of our nation believed that brute force was only justified in self defense. Therefore, government action was limited to protecting its constituents from harm by other people, whether it was harm by a fellow citizen or a foreign army.

However, when the government undertakes to “do something” about a failed bank or auto company, it really means that We the People have decided to apply brute force to the problem, even though it is not a matter of self defense. Willard was completely accurate: a government bailout of a distressed auto company, whether it saves jobs or not, is really the people using their collective means of brute force (the government) to take property from one group of people and give it to another. This exchange is done at gunpoint – there is no consent by the party being taken from. Had the managers or the employees of the auto company armed themselves and sought to raise the funds themselves by stealing them at gunpoint from the people directly, they would have been arrested and prosecuted for armed robbery. However, Willard’s opponent in the debate argues that there is some ethical difference because a “democratically-elected government” acts as the armed robber in their stead. What can the difference possibly be?

This is the fundamental question that we as a society must answer if we are ever going to reverse the downward spiral we find ourselves in. Do we believe that individuals have inalienable rights or do we believe that a majority vote can take those rights away?

If one takes an objective look at our society as it has evolved over the past century, one must conclude that we have already answered it. Stripped of euphemism, almost every government institution in our society amounts to us using the brute force of government to violate the inalienable rights of our neighbors. Let us consider just a few examples.

Government involvement in healthcare has driven the price so high (through the artificial demand it creates) that the poor and elderly cannot afford it. Our answer is to apply the brute force of government to steal the money at gunpoint from one group of people to provide healthcare to another. In a truly bizarre development, that practice has now resulted in such high prices that almost no one can afford healthcare. So, we will now steal from everyone to provide healthcare for everyone. Lewis Carroll couldn’t have dreamed of anything quite so mad.

In order to be able to stop working but still enjoy the quality of life we feel we deserve after a certain age, we use the brute force of government to steal from those who are still productive to support those who are not. We could save for our retirement, but we choose instead to steal. We call this “Social Security.” It should be called, “Anti-Social Insecurity.”

Similarly, in order to afford to buy a house without saving the necessary down payment and establishing superior credit, we use the brute force of government to compel our neighbors to guarantee our mortgage loans with their money. When the inevitable tsunami of defaults occurred last summer, some objected to the government stealing the money to cover the losses of the banks. In truth, the money had been stolen decades ago, the minute that Fannie Mae was established.

Rather than saving the money for college tuition or allowing our children to work their way through college if we cannot afford to pay the tuition in full, we use the brute force of government to compel our neighbors at gunpoint to guarantee our student loans with their money. As with healthcare, this evil practice has driven the price of college tuition so high that not only are students going into long-term debt just to pay for their education, but their parents are taking out decades-long loans as well.

Should fortune not smile upon us or should we not develop marketable skills with which to obtain employment, we use the brute force of government to steal the money needed to sustain us from our fellow citizens. We call this the “social safety net,” but it also should be recognized as “anti-social.”

If we believe that we have a scientific theory that could lead to a new discovery that will benefit society (and enrich ourselves), we do not seek out capital to research it from those who can provide it voluntarily. We use the brute force of government to steal the money from our neighbors with the flimsy justification that “federal funding of research” will “benefit all of society” with a new medicine or a new technology.

This is by no means the length and breadth of the ways in which we violate each other’s rights on a daily basis. Every program funded by government, besides those that have the express purpose of defending our rights (police forces, the courts, the military), amount to the same thing: using our collective means of brute force to extract money from one group and give it to another.

What should be obvious is that it is not one evil group (the poor, the elderly, the corporations, Wall Street, etc.) that engages in this morally repugnant practice. Politicians will pick their scapegoats to play to their own power bases. The Republicans will blame the poor to get votes and campaign contributions from their base, the corporations and the rich. The Democrats will blame the rich and the corporations to get votes and campaign contributions from their base, the unions, average Americans, and the poor (the poor have only their votes to give and get back only the most miserable portion of the loot).

However, we must wake up to the fact that we all have a hand in this. The steady growth of one redistribution scheme after another has made it virtually impossible to function in our society without in some way participating in the looting of our fellow citizens, while we are at the same time looted ourselves. We have established all of these redistribution schemes through the democratic process. This past century has not been a progressive century. It has been a regressive one. We have regressed from a society of free people that respect each other’s inalienable rights to a society that is based upon competing groups stealing from one another through the brute force of government. We use only the support of greater numbers (majority vote) to justify the institution of each new crime. We have regressed to the brutal law of the jungle. We have become a nation of hyenas.

This has all followed logically from one fundamental break we made from our founding principles. We have elevated democracy to an ideal, at the expense of the individual rights that our government – and any government of free people – was constructed to protect. We have convinced ourselves that anything a majority vote sanctions is just, even if it violates those rights. Once we accepted that premise, the seeds of our destruction were sown.

As one might expect, this is something that the founders of our nation warned us specifically against. When one takes an objective look at our founding documents, the first thing that should jump off the pages is how little democracy there really was in our original government. Only the House of Representatives was chosen directly by the people, with the president and senate chosen indirectly by electors or the state legislatures, respectively.

More importantly, it is vital to realize what all of the limits, checks and balances, and even the Bill of Rights were intended to protect us from. They were intended to protect us from democracy.

One does not need to engage in interpretation to support this claim. The founders said it explicitly on more occasions that one could count. Here are just a few examples:

“Democracy is the most vile form of government … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths,”[3]

“The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”[4]

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”[5]

These vitriolic attacks upon democracy and majority vote from the founders of our nation would probably surprise most Americans. Nevertheless, there they are. The founders understood that democracy was a means, not an end. Their end was protection of the inalienable rights of each individual. Democracy was only good and just insofar as it helped to defend those rights. Furthermore, it must be prevented from being used to violate them. Again, the founders said this explicitly.

“In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”[6]

This passage elucidates another conclusion that proceeds from natural law. Not only is each individual prohibited from using the majority vote to violate the rights of his fellow citizens, he is prohibited from using that vote even to relinquish his own rights. That is because rights are not granted by society. They are inherent in man’s nature itself. They are non-transferable. They cannot be taken or even given away. That is the meaning of “inalienable.”

It was at the turn of the last century that we made the fundamental change in our philosophy. Since that time, we have held democracy up as our ideal at the expense of our natural rights. We did this primarily to justify the routine violation of one specific right: property. It is no accident that as democracy has become more and more extolled as an ideal, property has become more and more reviled. We have even had professors in American universities teach their students that “property is theft.”

Of course, like the hyena, we really do not care what our fellow citizens say or believe. We will not expend much energy in violating their rights to free speech or freedom of religion, because in the end we have nothing to gain from violating those rights. However, by violating their rights to the fruits of their labor, we do gain enormously at their expense. This is the true danger of democracy. We must face up to this plain fact and stop talking about everything but property. As Adams also said, “Now what liberty can there be where property is taken away without consent?”

We are at a crossroads. The system we have built upon the brutal law of the jungle is about to collapse. We are presently suggesting even more brute force (government) to try to preserve it. If we continue on this course, the relationship between predator and prey on the African savannah will seem civilized compared to the state of our society. Unfettered democracy – not unfettered capitalism – has brought us here. We must choose respect for our inalienable rights over the loot that unfettered democracy can provide us with. If not, we must admit to ourselves that the way in which we live and deal with one another is no different from that of the savage beasts of the jungle. A return to our founding principles is our only hope.

Are we not men?

Check out Tom Mullen’s new book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

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[1] “Cavuto” Fox Business News May 27, 2009.
[2] While hard-core progressives might call her a “Fox News Liberal” for even appearing on the hated network, her role on this telecast was without question to argue the liberal side of the issue.
[3] Madison, James Federalist #10
[4] Jefferson, Thomas To Dupont de Nemours Washington ed. vi, 591 1816
[5] Madison, James Letter to James Monroe October 5th, 1786
[6] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: pg. 419.