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Government Is The Problem

Last spring Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University,

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems.… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

As he said this, four scandals — the Benghazi blunder and obfuscation, IRS political profiling, secret investigations of reporters, and NSA spying — were about to explode in public. As they say in show biz, timing is everything.

I hope the students can see that the daily newspapers refute the president’s claims. He said “this democracy is ours” and “the founders trusted us with this awesome authority.” But that’s not how things work. We didn’t intervene in Libya, setting the stage for the attack on the CIA post in Benghazi. We didn’t use a political double standard in ruling on tax-exemption requests from nonprofit organizations. We didn’t try to frighten government whistle-blowers by subpoenaing reporters’ phone records, reading their email, and even naming one journalist (Fox’s James Rosen) as a co-conspirator under the Espionage Act. We didn’t ask the NSA to gather data on us.

We did none these things. They did. Who are they? The wielders of power and the interests for whom they front.

But what about our democracy and our experiment in self-government? It’s time is up. Those are incantations, not references to real things. They are designed to misdirect the public, to sanitize ugly facts that the people are “better off” not knowing.

What facts? That, contrary to Obama, government is not “a system of … tools to do big things and important things together that we could not possibly do alone” — that’s what markets are — when they’re allowed to work, free from interference by presumptuous, meddling politicians and the well-connected interests that seek their favors. Unlike markets, politics fundamentally is not cooperation; it’s violence. “Government is a broker in pillage,” H.L. Mencken observed, “and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.” In light of this, I submit that “free election” is a contradiction in terms, since participation always occurs under duress.

But don’t we have self-government? Don’t we elect representatives to look after our interests? Not even a child should be told that fairy tale. One vote is insignificant, it takes 50 percent plus one to prevail, and the costs that result from elections are divided among many people. For most, that adds up to zero incentive to invest the considerable time and effort required to become well informed, even if that were otherwise possible. (Among other things, you’d need to understand economics, the truths of which are often counterintuitive.)

And representation? As I’ve written previously,

Why [do] we even see these decision-makers as our representatives rather than as our rulers? Think about this: The average congressional district has a population of well over 600,000 people. In Montana, one congressman allegedly represents the state’s entire population of 967,440. The populations of the states range from about half a million (Wyoming) to 36.7 million (California).

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Sheldon Richman

About Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and TheFreemanOnline.org, a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, and the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families. He maintains the Free Association blog (www.sheldonrichman.com).

View all posts by Sheldon Richman →

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2 Comments

  1. Chelsea MinicabDecember 14, 2013 at 11:50 amReply

    i agreed this post- Government is problem by itself

  2. Southfields TaxisDecember 14, 2013 at 12:23 pmReply

    since from my child hood i heard just one thing that Government is not likely to public demands-

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