"Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer." ~ Ludwig von Mises
Check Your Premises
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Apologists for government, along with uncritical government participants (most citizens), claim that just governments exist by way of a social contract. The idea is that the people voluntarily cede a portion of their freedom to government in exchange for social order secured by the government’s rule of law. The members of government, who are designated as representatives, are entrusted by the governed to secure society in exchange for the powers granted them.
One might venture to say that the social contract is just another way of expressing the granting of the power of attorney. The principal (citizen) entrusts and empowers the agent (representative) to make decisions for him that are in the principal's best interest, in exchange for compensation. Let's consider what should be expected of the social contract if it indeed is analogous to granting power of attorney.
Let's say you give power of attorney to Agent A, and he is now in charge of your finances. You instruct him to do his best to maximize the return on your money, and in return you will compensate him based on his performance.
Upon entering into this voluntary agreement, you both have an understanding that you are acting in each other's best interests. You are placing your trust in the agent by transferring the control of your money over to him, and he is to perform his duties to the best of his abilities in return for compensation based on his performance.
Now quick—check your premises. You have entered into a voluntary agreement with another individual, and as is the case in all voluntary human interactions, you both do so because each perceives that he will benefit from the transaction. If at any time either one of the parties feels that he is no longer benefiting, the agreement can be ended. There is a measure of mutual control in this arrangement.
So what should you expect from this set of premises? You should expect fair treatment because of the voluntary nature of the arrangement that was made for mutual benefit. The participants are free to part ways at any time if dissatisfied.
Now let’s consider how parallel the social contract may be to this type of interaction. Imagine giving power of attorney to Agent B, wherein this agent has the legal right to keep the relationship intact ad infinitum, and that furthermore, you have no choice but to live with the actions undertaken by the agent. You cannot revoke the power of attorney that you grant him, you must pay him regardless of if he earns money for you or not, and since he controls your money he can do what he wants with it, including keep it for himself.
I'll bet you would really want to find an agent who you could trust, no?
But imagine further that Agent B is legally able to pass along his power over you to other agents, and this transfer process takes place every four years or so. Your agent, no matter how sweet a guy he is, quickly becomes some stranger who has complete control over your finances. Would you be surprised to find that this agent just might view the situation as something that he might take advantage of? He does not know you. He does not care about you. What he has is control over your money and the freedom to use it in any way he sees fit.
This is the social contract in terms of power of attorney. Not so attractive now, is it?
Again—stop here and check your premises. Is the nature of your agreement voluntary? Do you expect to benefit under these conditions wherein the agent possesses all the power and you none? Conditions wherein you cannot withdraw from an “agreement” with a total stranger no matter what happens?
No one should have to explain to you what you should expect.
If you complain that the agent should use common sense in how he treats your relationship, that he should take care of your interests because that is the reason why you vested him with that power—that he should restrain himself from abusing the privilege because it is best for everyone to be treated fairly, well... Really?
After all, the agent has the law on his side. Whatever he does is legal. You cannot opt out of the relationship. Explain to me why he should care about you when he has all the power to do whatever he feels is best for him? How naive must you be to complain or be shocked and outraged by whatever behavior you witness this empowered individual make?
Human beings respond to incentives. This explains the inevitability of someone taking advantage of the situation. It doesn't matter how many good people there are, if there is an opportunity for taking advantage of people, the good people will generally shun such an opportunity and the bad people will trample each other trying to get it.
Government is a way to take advantage of others. Some individuals get to spend other people's money to impose their ideas on everyone with force. This will attract the worst elements of society, who will crowd out and make these positions unavailable to the good folks. They will make the process so disgusting (because they make the rules, remember?) that good people will not be able to endure the odious path required to reach the seats of power.
Again, please check your premises when you consider government action. If you view it as a contract entered into in good faith between principal and agent, where both are working honestly each toward their own mutual benefit, you have premised incorrectly. Very badly so, in fact.
Since government is a monopoly on force and whatever "services" it decides to provide, you are forced to "give agency" to this organization that has the law on its side and can do whatever it wants with whatever it decides to take from you. This is the correct premise from which to begin an analysis. You should expect abuse, as you cannot legally defend yourself against such treatment that will inevitably be dished out by the all-powerful agents.
Interacting with government is not a voluntarily-transacted contract entered into between two consenting parties designed for mutual benefit. It is the imposition of force from "agent" to "principal," and since the principal has no legal recourse against the agent, then abuse of the relationship by the agent is the only reasonable expectation.
Thuggery with fancy lipstick smeared on it.
The evidence of this is abundant in the world around you. Don't give power of attorney to strangers. Authority is yours to delegate or to keep, and no one can take it from you. Revoke your delegation of authority where it is not warranted. Notice this will not stop those on the "service" end of the "social contract" from demanding your submission to their force.
But at least now, you're awake. Eventually, that will count for something.