Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Not-So-Visible Gun: Government Is Not Our Friend

A relative in years past would frequently tell his children, when coming upon a representative of law enforcement, “See that policeman? He is our friend!”

The militarization of police forces in recent years notwithstanding, and trigger happiness of some cops aside, the police by and large are our protectors against the bad guys. They use self-defensive force to protect us from those who initiate its use.

But government per se? The 22 million or so elected and unelected members of federal, state, and local governments still hold the legal monopoly on the use of physical force. They can initiate coercion against the rest of us to do what they say, or what the law says, we ought to do, supposedly for our own good or to protect us from presumed bad guys.

Some writers have contrasted Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the marketplace with an alternative metaphor: the visible fist of government. While fists can do damage, the symbol of the fist usually indicates intimidation.

Governmental coercion is much more than intimidation.

 “Who Are We Going to Coerce Today?” is how I recently retitled a previous post, because coercion is the essence of governing in our mixed economy. A gun—initiated coercion—backs up every decision of the bureaucrats and law that they enforce.

The problem today is that not many citizens see or acknowledge the presence of the gun.

Special interest groups—and by that I mean not just “crony capitalists” but most significantly leftist intellectual organizations and their leaders—lobby hard to pass laws in the name of the “public good.” In fact, however, they are unabashed rent-seekers whose laws benefit the lobby at the expense of everyone else, often to the detriment of the very groups they claim to benefit.

There are too many examples to cite, but the supposed Robin Hood (redistributionist) principle of taking from the rich to give to the poor usually enriches the better off at the expense of the less well off. Wage controls cause unemployment and enhance the incomes of those who manage to keep their jobs. Price controls of the ceiling type cause shortages and price floors cause surpluses; they benefit the first dwellers, such as existing renters and farmers.

“But we are the government and we can change it,” the naïve might say. No, only the army of 22 million, mostly unelected bureaucrats constitute the government. And change? Maybe a tiny bit can be changed every two, four, or six years when we vote, but that often is for the worse.

Fight City Hall? Not easily, and with extremely rare success. Government prosecutors (1, 2) are often powerful and unaccountable.

The attitude and battle cry of many bureaucrats, unfortunately, seems to be: “We have the power. You don’t. So Get lost!”

That is the gun talking. And that is why government is not our friend.


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