Friday, November 02, 2012

Who Are We Going to Coerce Today?
(Originally Titled: Politics Is a Bore)

The term “political junkie” is familiar to all of us today, but when I first heard it years ago used by a news reporter to describe herself, I was puzzled. Why, I thought, would anyone be so obsessed with politics to spend every waking minute following every conceivable tidbit of information coming out of the political arena?

Perhaps the reporter’s interest in politics was strictly professional, to cover what was going on, but I suspect that many in her position, as well as others who follow political news closely, admire the entire system and consider it important to support. Many political junkies, I fear, are those who admire the coercive apparatus of the state and relish the thought of being in a position of political power to make political decisions.
To me, politics is a bore—precisely because it is all about coercion, the government-initiated type; it’s seldom about reducing government involvement in our lives. And following politics closely, as many do, means their interest really comes down to: who is going to be coerced today? Let’s see who’s going to be told by the anointed authorities what they can and cannot do. Protecting individual rights has long since disappeared from our political landscape such that decisions in today’s government-by-lobby mixed economy invariably constitute violations of innocent victims’ rights for the sake of someone else’s rent-seeking benefit.

Just look at the disgraceful shakedown of Gibson Guitar, carried out in the name of the environmental lobby. Flimsily suspected, but never charged, of illegally importing wood from Madagascar and India, the company was twice raided with Gestapo-like tactics by armed, bullet-proof clad SWAT teams. At a 2011 press conference, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz courageously called the Justice Department on its flagrantly unjust laws and tyrannical procedures. Because of the outcry that followed, the Department compromised by allowing Gibson off the hook with a settlement: $350 thousand in fines and censorship (a gag order) not ever to do again what Juszkiewicz did at his press conference, namely to contradict the alleged facts claimed by the government (1, 2, 3). If this is not coercion in politics—the initiation of the use of physical force against innocent victims—what is?

Now I suppose one could say that some politicians are trying to do good things in Washington and the state capital. And I will grant that maybe one or two may be trying to roll back government intrusions into our bedrooms and board rooms. Ron Paul’s two presidential runs have certainly given a hearing to new ideas and Paul Ryan has put Ayn Rand’s name in the news.*

But, seriously, what have Democrats and Republicans done in the last hundred years to increase the protections of individual rights? Democrats make no pretense at rolling back government interventions; they are only too eager to pass more laws increasing the state’s size and power. Republicans, on the other hand, are notorious for paying lip service to the free market and capitalism, but when in office they end up increasing the government’s coercive powers more than the Democrats would have done. Look at the two previous Bush administrations.

“Passing a law” for over a century has almost always meant increasing coercion against an innocent party for the gain of a pressure group. The “squeakiest wheel,” of course, gets the grease in a mixed economy; that’s the fundamental theory of the system because there is no just way to determine who gets the favors, or should I say, rents. But the laws are democratically passed by vote, one might object? Democracy, as the Greeks taught, can be a form of dictatorship and Hong Kong survived quite well for decades under the British common law without general elections.**

That’s not to say that I don’t believe in voting, though not voting is just as valid a participation in the system as pulling a lever. In the current political season, I will vote against the many California tax propositions and probably vote for the lesser of two evils for president. I was going to write in Ron Paul’s name, as I did four years ago, but I think a statement does need to be made in this election. I realize that my vote in this very blue state is virtually worthless and after the election politics will resume its usual games of playing “who are we going to coerce today”?

Yawn! Wake me up when something really good and important happens.

Altering a bit what I have said before, “I do not expect life to improve much, if at all, in the next four years of the [next] presidential administration. I do not expect the [next] (or [current]) administration to be the indicator of the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.” Life goes on. Cultural and political systems change slowly. Political junkies can continue to obsess over every coercive decision that is made in positions of power. I will read and write about other topics.

*A recent informal search of The NY Times produced these mentions of Ayn Rand’s name: 97 for all of 2011, 10 for the first quarter of 2012, 68 for the second quarter, and 147 for the third. Paul Ryan seems to be doing some good, though most comments about Ayn Rand in the Old Gray Lady remain smarmy, snarky, ignorant, and hostile. Perhaps after I am dead, these Times writers will also be dead and younger ones will take their place, ones who have actually read Rand’s works and are capable of separating her personality and followers from her ideas.

**I’m not convinced that the vote is fundamental to a genuine liberalism. The classical liberals saw it that way, but Hong Kong has shown us that a constitution and legal system that are adhered to do not require voting to keep the system going. When African Americans and women attained the right to vote, that did not guarantee them the protection of other, more important rights to liberty and property.

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