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Abuse of Power with Becky Akers   1 comment

Christian AnarchyBecky Akers and I are continuing our conversation on anarcho-capitalism and how it is or could be compatible with Christianity. Welcome back, Becky.

Becky: Thanks, Lela, it’s good to be here again!

Last week you said in closing, “Christians like the idea of liberty, but we’re afraid of too much liberty. We know human nature is not a lovely thing since the Fall, so we believe that government is necessary to prevent human nature from riding the society off the rails.”

You’ve raised an essential point, one that not only keeps many folks from embracing anarcho-capitalism but also troubled the Founding Fathers. You reflected the latter’s quandary when you paraphrased James Madison’s “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Some anarcho-capitalists damn the Founders because of such sentiments. I’m not one of them. Recall that Madison lived before the Nazis, Marxism, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Pentagon and NSA. Recall as well that the philosophy of liberty has grown and developed since the eighteenth century just as our knowledge of nutrition or physics has. The Founders didn’t benefit from the Austrian school of economics; they knew nothing of Bastiat or John Stuart Mill. If they had, Madison would more likely have said, “Because men aren’t angels, government is hellish.”

Lela: Those are all fine examples of government out of control and Waco, Ruby Ridge and the NSA do certainly indict the US government along with the other examples. I’m not sure they are strong enough arguments against all governments everywhere.

Becky: Well, we can also look at “good” Christian governments, such as England’s during Queen Elizabeth’s reign or Spain’s during the Inquisition. Or the United States’ administration in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when it passed and enforced laws condemning many people to chattel slavery. Or Israel’s government under beloved King David, who fought a civil war when the northern tribes preferred a different ruler and later compelled prisoners of another war to lie on the ground while his men slaughtered two out of three. Or… alas, the examples stretch endlessly, given that men aren’t angels, and even more so when the State’s power strengthens their evil.

Which brings us back to your original question and a first, very obvious response; I’ll try not to belabor it though the State offers such an enticing target! It’s best encapsulated in that old Latin proverb, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, i.e., Who watches the guards? We’ve all heard or read endless stories about cops’ brutality, political corruption, bureaucratic sloth, judicial absurdities, etc. And where do these horrific “public servants” come from? Yep: those fallen human beings we so distrust! There’s no difference between them and us except our naive idea that picking up a paycheck from Uncle Sam turns sinners into heroes ready and willing to save us from danger.

Lela: Okay, I can buy that. All human beings are fallen and their essential nature does not change when they are hired to do a job.

Becky: And even if we could magically ensure that the State employs only “good” people, folks who would never accept a bribe, who would work hard and consistently put the public’s good (whatever that means) ahead of their own interests, there’s still government’s innate incompetence. Again, I won’t belabor this despite its being another big, fat bull’s-eye because we’ve all experienced it. But let me emphasize that it is indeed innate, built into the political process, and unalterable regardless of “reforms” or tweaks. Why? Because government’s nature deprives its employees of critical information.

Lela: How so?

Becky:  When an entrepreneur provides a product or service, he gleans enormous amounts of information from the market (and the freer from the State’s regulation that market is, the more accurate its information). We haven’t time to explore this exhaustively; indeed, economists have written whole tomes on the topic. So let me cite just one example: prices. They tell an entrepreneur how much people value his product (does anyone out there want haggis for lunch? Will a haggis restaurant in the business district succeed? Or do most workers choose hamburgers and pizza?), which varieties of it they prefer (do more people order a whole haggis, or do they prefer it sliced?), etc. The entrepreneur must please his customers or suffer bankruptcy—and thanks in part to the information prices give him, he can decipher his patrons’ desires. (Entrepreneurs who fail at figuring out such clues go bust. Behold the market’s built-in regulation to rid us of unsafe or inefficient products and services!)

But taxes replace prices when we’re dealing with government. And taxes continue to support government’s “products” and “services” no matter how much their “customers” loathe them. For example, the TSA never has to worry about pleasing passengers: Congress will continue renewing its budget—and stealing the taxes for that budget from us—no matter how long the lines at checkpoints are, how offensive the TSA’s gropings, or how many iPads its thugs swipe.  The TSA has absolutely no incentive to improve its “service” because its “revenue” doesn’t decline despite its assaulting, harming and inconveniencing “customers.”

LELA: Okay, that makes sense.

BECKY: Ditto for cops, the CIA, the NSA, and all the other “policing” bureaucracies that supposedly protect us from bad guys. Even if all cops and bureaucrats were devout Christians, they would still lack the information they need to function competently. Private investigators who can’t solve a murder or find stolen jewelry won’t attract clients. Christian cops who can’t do either may be righteous and compassionate, but they’ll continue to fail at locating killers and missing diamonds because our taxes keep them and their inefficient methods afloat year after year.

To the State’s inherent corruption and its incompetence at protecting us, we must add that governments also specialize in rendering their subjects defenseless. Sometimes that’s as obvious as confiscating guns. Other times it’s as subtle as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other evils, forced airlines to seat anyone who bought passage, regardless of how menacing or bizarre he seemed, and thereby exacerbated the skyjackings of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lela:  This sounds like a topic to pursue more fully. As a Christian, I believe we all stand equal before God, which would say to me that airlines, lunch counters, churches and other public venues shouldn’t be segregated by race.

Becky: You’re right that we all stand equal before God—but not one another. Some older folks who savor peace and quiet don’t enjoy kids; construction companies seldom hire the elderly as employees. The owners of Hooter’s Restaurants don’t appreciate ugly women; neither do the readers of Playboy Magazine. I doubt that Hillary Clinton has ever patronized Hooters or thumbed Bill’s copy of Hustler. Some black people don’t like white people and vice versa.

But this topic cries out for a much longer discussion: may we return to it next time?

Lela:  Yes, that would be fine. I want to give the topic its full due, so we can come back to it.

Becky:  Meanwhile, let’s consider your question’s corollary: who will protect us from predators in an anarcho-capitalist world? Government by its nature cannot provide protection—but freedom affords other, far superior safeguards.

Lela:  Such as?

Becky: First, let’s remember that government creates many of the dangers that frighten us. For example, the Drug War and all other prohibitory laws never rid us of a particular bugaboo; they only drive it underground with all the attendant violence and crime.

LELA:  Prohibition emboldened and increased organized crime because the demand for booze didn’t go away; it just became illegal to supply it. I’m with you so far.

BECKY: Exactly!

I was discussing anarchy with a fellow Christian recently; perhaps because he’s the father of three teens, he’s particularly concerned about heroin’s availability and abuse in a free world. “We need more laws against it,” he moaned, “more cops to stop the traffic in it!” I reminded him, however, that the places under government’s direct control are the ones where “illicit” drugs flourish: public schools, which the State forces kids to attend; prisons; inner cities, which, between subsidized housing and food stamps, are pretty much federal plantations. Abolishing government eradicates the breeding-ground for an overwhelming majority of the perils that now terrify us.

LELA: I don’t buy that yet. I agree that government sets up the conditions in which drug use is most attractive, but without public schools you have the illiterate offspring of people who cannot afford to send their kids to private schools; without prisons, we’d have criminals loose on the streets continuing to commit crimes like theft, rape and murder. It seems to me that illiteracy would actually drive criminality. While I agree with you on subsidized housing and food stamps, I know many people, including Christians, who would say we’d be relegating those people to starvation and homelessness.

BECKY:  Lela, the most literate generations in American history coincided with the decades that enjoyed the lowest amounts of government: only patchy requirements for very basic schooling existed in some areas during colonial days, yet out of that freedom rose the scholars who fought the American Revolution (and I’m not limiting “scholars” to the intellectual giants of the first Continental Congress, either, such as Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin. For a sample of the widespread erudition then, peruse the journals or letters of ordinary soldiers. These “uneducated” men wrote and reasoned far more elegantly than doctoral candidates today). Since “education” became “compulsory” (what an oxymoron!) in the mid-19th century, levels of intellectual attainment have plummeted across the board, year after year.

As for prisons, even with them, we have criminals loose on the streets – until we elect them to political office, that is. Prison is not the only response to crime; in fact, it’s among the worst (which explains the State’s infatuation with it) since it twice victimizes the innocent: first, the thief, rapist, or murderer preys on them, and then the State does, forcing them to pay for their predator’s food, lodging and guards. Freedom offers far better alternatives, ones that make victims whole instead of looting them to “punish” the offender.

Finally, Christians—or anyone else—who insist that it’s OK to steal as long as we use the proceeds to feed and house the poor violate Scripture’s clear command against theft.

But to return to the subject of how we’ll protect ourselves in a free society: you may have noticed that I’ve frequently specified “political government.” That’s because there are other kinds, and you might choose to submit to one in an anarcho-capitalistic world. Homeowners’ associations are somewhat analogous, except in a free society, the variety of their prohibitions and requirements would expand vastly to satisfy every preference. Scared of teenaged vandals spray-painting graffiti on your garage? Choose an HOA that prohibits children. Hate loud rock blasting from your neighbor’s DVD-player? Rent from a landlord who loves classical music and terminates the lease of anyone disturbing his tenants’ peace.

LELA: Okay, I see where you’re headed with that. We’re running out of time for this week, but I want to come back to the topics I highlighted, particularly the idea of non-state governance. I think Christians ask the state for help with some particularly “good” things … like eliminating institutional racism and arresting people who are legitimately harming others … and I’d like to explore the alternatives.  So we’ll come back to it next week.

 

Becky Akers is a free-lance writer and historian who has written two novels about the American Revolution, Halestorm and Abducting Arnold.

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