Sunday, May 16, 2010

Do The Collapse

"Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit."
Barack Obama

A person's last resort tends to be their most powerful god. A lifelong agnostic, hanging from a cliff by his fingernails, just might become less skeptical and try praying, just this once. So what happens when a nation's (or the world, but whatever) economy begins a downward spiral? Where do people turn? Barack Obama turns to government.* Only government can break this cycle (never mind that government intervention created the cycle in the first place). Only government is big enough, and powerful enough. Only government can raise taxes, redistribute wealth, regulate, legislate, and rescue industries in a way that would fix whatever problems ail us. In fact, one of the few moments of outright honesty since Obama's campaign started getting national attention came with an admission of that concept. The monopoly on violence government claims ensures the continuation of various attempts at rescuing the common folks from all manner of horrible and uncomfortable states of being. The federal government, being the largest and best armed, is the boss government, all others submitting to it.

If Obama (and Bush, and Cheney, and Romney, and all the rest of them) turns to government to cure our national ills, where do we turn? How do we display our faith? Who do we trust with the most important aspects of our civilization? Of course we don't trust our children to the government, that would be foolish. No, we raise our own children. Except for the 180 days a year of six (not including homework) hour days spent in government run schools, for thirteen of the first 17 or 18 years of their lives. Certainly not our homes, which belong to us, and are a sacred sanctuary from the world. Except government instructs us on how and where we are permitted to build (building permit, get it?), what materials we can use, how much we have to pay to keep it (property taxes), and the various agencies that can demand inspections and remove our children on the slightest whim, not mention the TV and radio—controlled by the government via regulation of radio and airwaves, among other methods—that are omnipresent within our homes. OK, fine, but not our personal safety. We can take care of ourselves! Except for guns, because the federal government needs to make sure that only safe people own guns, for our own safety. And knives. Some knives we can't have. And metal plates of a certain thickness. But other than that, it's just the taxes that are distributed (redistributed? Shock!) to the military for our national security. And to the intelligence agencies. And to the programs to connect the military, intelligence agencies, state police, and local police, for our own safety. Other than that, no way do we let the feds control our personal safety. I could go on about every aspect of modern life, but hopefully you get the point. I covered life, liberty, and property, so that should suffice.

What would we do without the federal government? What would happen if every person and every corporation stopped paying the extortion fee we call income tax? The federal government would collapse, right?** (Assuming they would run out of money, which they wouldn't because the Federal Reserve can print or "create" as much as it want, whenever it wants, without asking you, which it does on a regular basis.) And then what? Would the interstate highways crumble to dust due to neglect? Would communication break down and isolate us from distant populations? Maybe mobs would rampage through the streets, looting and pillaging, and warlords would conquer your neighborhood. There would be no food in the stores, because everyone knows that only the federal government can authorize food in the stores. Can you imagine the chaos if government appendages like the Department of Education ceased to exist? Who would educate the children? And the local favorite, the Department of Energy, what would we do then? Get the candles! Man the bicycle-driven generators! To assume that all of this flows from the federal government, or is in some way bestowed on us or allowed by it, is to assume that people aren't capable of doing these things themselves. That would be the same people who do it everyday, themselves, right now. Do power plant operators need a government agent to stand behind them everyday and convince them not to push the self-destruct button? Do they need the federal government at any point in their education, training, or career to be able to do what they do? Does any occupation? Dispelling the myth that we need federal agencies to guide every aspect of our lives only requires a little logic. So here it comes.

Pretend you somehow overcame the licensing and regulatory hurdles and you now own a dairy farm. What is your goal? To make money. How do you make money? People give it to you. Why do they give you money? Because you give them dairy products. So far so good. Everyone is happy. But wait, how can we be sure your milk isn't poisoned? Because we all know that people who are just out to make money are soulless vampires hellbent on ravaging the general population. We learned that in college. But that doesn't account for the fact that a dairy farmer can't make money if all of his customers are sick or dead. Even if a small percentage of people get violently ill from his products, people will hear about it, and then he's in big trouble. It's in the farmer's best interest to put out the best product he can, and for the best price he can afford. If slick marketing gets him a better price, good for him. So where does federal regulation need to come in? At what point do we need federal agents enforcing price controls? If one farmer can sell milk for $1 a gallon, fine. If we're so stupid that we pay $10 a gallon for a different brand, that's our problem. I don't see how it's the federales business what goes on with milk.

How about the aforementioned energy production? Would energy companies wantonly dump waste into rivers if not for government saving the day? Again, it doesn't make sense for a company that needs to make money to kill or harm those who will give it money. Only when government comes in and sets guidelines (and who can doubt that federal regulators are always experts in their fields and have only the best interest of the people in mind?) for who can do what and when that the minimum guidelines are met, absolving companies of any liability beyond that. Apply this to the banking industry, clothing, cars, computers, books, TV, all manner of agriculture, medicine, pharmaceuticals, money, etc, and you might begin to see that the federal government has its boundless nose where it doesn't belong in every situation.

Economically, the situation is simple. If Uncle Sam has to rob—I mean tax—Peter to pay Paul, that seems simple enough. But when he goes to pay Paul, there isn't enough. Uncle Sam had to take his cut, so now Paul is short. But look! There's James, rob—I mean tax—him too! It becomes an untenable situation because more than one person has to be robbed—I mean taxed—to pay just one person. Soon Uncle Sam will run out of persons to rob—I mean tax—with no shortage of people to pay. The numbers don't add up. The moral of this story is that whenever government invests in something, it isn't really an investment. Opportunity cost kicks in, and whatever opportunity Peter had to invest his money is now lost. Maybe he would have invested in Paul's enterprise, or helped James buy a new fishing boat in return for a percentage of the profit. But now he can't, because his capital is gone. He ended up "investing" involuntarily in Uncle Sam, who will use his cut to buy himself better guns with which to rob everyone else and fortify his position as the baddest bandit in the land. So every time something is heavily controlled and regulated (a redundancy, sure, but some people might be slow on the uptake) by the government, we can be sure that there were many more opportunities lost than there were created. I know what you're asking now, so I'll get to that.

"What about things that are just so important that the government has to do them?" you may be asking. "All of those national labs are working on such important stuff, we can't just leave it to chance." If these projects were so important, wouldn't they be undertaken by someone anyway? If there is an opportunity to profit from innovation, wouldn't someone take it on? If profit were the goal, wouldn't these projects be done on a budget and in as short of period of time as possible? History says yes. No one forced Rockefeller to revolutionize the petroleum industry. No one had to regulate Henry Ford into developing a faster way to build a cheaper car. No one legislated the light bulb into existence. And if there is no use for these government mandated projects, perhaps the harsh truth is that they aren't needed at all.

If you find yourself thinking that the most important things should be done under the direction of the most corrupt and inefficient entity known to human kind, then maybe you should think about it a little longer. And if you find yourself thinking that the most important aspects of modern life can only be saved by government, maybe you should examine who and what you put your faith in, and who you look to for salvation when it really matters.

*Just for clarity, government means that entity which claims control over the population of a certain geographical area. I've dispensed with the notion that "the people" are the government, because that doesn't really seem to be the case, with ample evidence available on the web. It's a whole different topic, so just go with it.

**To make it easy, I'm not going into how tenaciously the federal parasites would hang on to their hosts, and what means they would use to keep their power.

In order to give credit where credit is due, I should note that Do the Collapse is the name of an album by Guided By Voices.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I would gladly say I agree with everything you wrote, and mostly I do. I would also say that I wholly agree that people don't become corrupted by money, and power, but I can't say I do. To be fair, you don't say that people get corrupted by money, but you did say that money will drive people to make rational decisions based on what's best for their business. Farmer's won't knowingly or willingly allow their product to harm their consumers, it's bad for business. Same goes for electric co-op, or so the reasoning seems to go.

The problem I see with this logic is that humans, err, corporations are conscience-free. Their sole motivating and driving force is profit. Give them a year or two to make their "name" and earn a reputation, and lo and behold their actions start mimicking little more than profit drivers.

Whether it's the corporations who dump pesticides on unsuspecting towns and people as a way to lower costs and increase profits (see: or corporations who enjoy war profiteering while disposing of depleted uranium ( or Big Pharma's attempts to drug our society into oblivion and create cradle-to-grave consumers ( or the infamous "Love Canal" ( or any other number of examples of corporations who have little concern for anything but profit.

Your example of the dairy farmer, at the local level, seems worthy of consideration. But, do you really believe that the nameless, faceless corporation on the other side of the globe cares about anything other than money, power or greed?

Do you really believe that corporations are capable of acting in the best interest of everyone when the ultimate goal is mere profit?

I'm not saying that I want government regulation any more than the other guy, and do agree with the premise of the argument (in totality). Maybe, we should just start praying for the ultimate collapse.