permanently harm Americans’ faith in government

Insty:

http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/173039/

PEGGY NOONAN: Fortress IRS: Agency stonewalling could permanently harm Americans’ faith in government.

In all the day-to-day of the IRS scandals I don’t think it’s been fully noticed that the overall reputation of the agency has suffered a collapse, the kind from which it can take a generation to recover fully. In the long term this will prove damaging to the national morale—what happens to a great nation when its people come to lack even rudimentary confidence in the decisions made by the revenue-gathering arm of its federal government? It will also diminish the hope for faith in government, which whatever your politics is not a good thing. We need government, as we all know. Americans have a right to assume that while theirs may be deeply imperfect, it is not deeply corrupt. What harms trust in governmental institutions now will have reverberations in future administrations.

The scandals that have so damaged the agency took place in just the past few years, since the current administration began. And it is not Republicans on the Hill or conservatives in the press who have revealed the agency as badly managed, political in its actions, and really quite crazily run. That information, or at least the early outlines of it, came from the agency’s own inspector general.

Let's look at a few key lines here:

It will also diminish the hope for faith in government, which whatever your politics is not a good thing.

Actually, for voluntaryists like myself ( voluntaryism – n – a libertarian philosophy which holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary. The principle most frequently used to support voluntaryism is the non-aggression principle (NAP). It is closely associated with, and often used synonymously with, the anarcho-capitalist and individualist anarchist philosophies.), diminishing people's hope and faith in government is a wonderful thing. Some of us hold that government is inherently, definitionally, the use of force by the strong against the weak under the color of "legitimacy" (and ill-defined term that, when pressed, gives up a meaning closest to "might makes right"), and that mere "reform" can never change this.

Thus any hope or faith in government is necessarily either a hope that one and one's family can eventually seize the whip by the handle end, or is a false hope that the snapping end of the whip against one's back is an accidental temporary condition.

We need government, as we all know.

We do not all know this. I do not assert that society with out government is utopian – Somalia, the Icelandic Republic, the South Asian mountain highlands – all were populated by people, and thus were characterized by the human condition ( "From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned." / “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”).

But just because the absence of government does not imply perfection does not mean that the presence of government is better. The idea that it is is a testable hypothesis, and I believe that the test already shows that the amount of government we have is far, far too much.

Americans have a right to assume that while theirs may be deeply imperfect, it is not deeply corrupt.

This is a crazy inspirational, aspirational sentence that is not even wrong. First, there is no line dividing "deeply imperfect" from "deeply corrupt".

imperfect – adj – exhibiting or characterized by faults, mistakes, etc.; defective

corrupt – adj – containing errors, tainted, contaminated

The sentence is pure rhetoric – and bad rhetoric at that. The word "imperfect", because it contains the word "perfect" has an inherent connotation of being – if not exactly Godly – then at least seated somewhere near by. Argument by connotation is not worth addressing.

Second, saying we have a "right to assume" something is inane. In a sense, sure, we do. We can have the right to assume anything we want – the right to assume that Santa Clause exists, that the sun rises in the West, and the Earth is flat.

What all of these have in common with each other (and the assumption that the US government at all levels is not deeply corrupt) is that they are testable hypothesis, and they are hypotheses that – once tested – are revealed to be false.

The IRS scandal is a good thing. It is transparency. It is the small shop owner seeing that the mafia lords who "protect" him for $100 a week are protecting him mostly from themselves. It is the artisan seeing that the check she is about to be handed is forged. It is the peasant who believes in the divine right of kings realizing that the king is an irreligious bastard. It is the woman who sees through the pickup artist's lines.

Government exists to give power and money to politicians, government employees, and patrons of the government.

The current IRS scandal is not unique in that the IRS is the only pit of corruption being run for the benefit of the politically connected.

The current IRS scandal is unique in that it shows the populace that the IRS is a pit of corruption being run for the benefit of the politically connected.

Last 5 posts by Clark

Comments

  1. Ryan says

    A deconstruction of a piece from PJ Media? Surely you could have found more challenging subject material. Saying this is like a professor critiquing the critical analysis of a grade-school student is an insult to both professors and grade-school students.

    Anyone expecting a coherent argument from PJMedia is likely to be sadly disappointed, as I in in Clark for giving them exposure even if through critique. Shame! Shame! :P

  2. Mark Jessup says

    Just a couple of observations:

    First, Peggy Noonan. She is nothing but a fawning, swooning wannabe-conservative who at heart, is just one more big government statist. She said that Dan Rather was 'the best boss she ever had' (used to write commentary for him), she was the one who came up with that 'kinder, gentler nation' crap for GHWB (which was a not-so-subtle slap at the Reagan Administration) and who could forget the whole 'thousand points of light' yammering?

    Second, as for "Americans' faith in government"? Screw that noise, what Americans need to restore their 'faith in government' is to raze the entire infernal federal structure to the ground, tar and feather each and every establishment bureaucrat, and run them all out of town on a rail, declare the federal government abolished, and hold a new Constitutional Convention open to LEGAL AMERICANS ONLY, and establish a NEW highly limited federal government with basic functions only, i.e., national defense and foreign policy.

  3. Joe Pullen says

    I long ago lost any faith or hope in our government. I'm a happier man living without such delusions. @Stormy Dragon – actually the only thing I demand of our government is they stop their over reaching.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield says

    OK; a thought or two;

    • It isn't that people should "have faith" in their government, it is that they should demand a certain standard of behavior. On that basis the current scandal is an excellent thing.

    • I firmly believe that in the absence of some form of government more or less chosen by the governed, there will arise one imposed on the governed by some self-selected elite. For society to function with no government per se would require the constant vigilance of the majority of the population, and most of us don't want to do that much work on it. So what is needed is a framework that limits the power of government to actually bother people too much. Our Constitution was and is an excellent try.

    • It took decades of drift to get us as far from the framework of the Constitution as we have. It will take decades to go back, if that is at all possible. Attempts to do it all at once will shatter the whole, and the consequences of such shattering, while possibly entertaining, are unlikely to be good in the long term … or even the medium term.

    • Arguing theory vs theory gets nobody anywhere. The theory behind pretty much any form of government looks good on the surface. The Theory behind absolute monarchy can sound great, which is why so many good SF stories are set in Monarchies. The Statist THEORY sounds wonderful. We need to hammer on the point "Look; that's been tried. It's expensive as all get out and doesn't flipping work. Doing more of the same is simply pounding more sand down the same rat hole.". This puts the Statists on the defensive, which makes them uncomfortable and causes them to make mistakes. Being on the defensive makes Statist indignant, and indignant people tend to sound like self-important pillocks.

  5. Daniel Taylor says

    It's always a matter of perspective, isn't it?

    Governmental activities are a necessity. We need to act as groups, and we need individuals to act as our representatives between groups. It's when those people get the impression that what they are doing is ruling rather than serving that everything gets messed up.

  6. d010060002 says

    Surely there are things that the government does that everyone, even collectively, doesn't have the power to do. For instance, isn't any people not ruled by a government vulnerable to a hostile takeover by a people that is actually governed?

  7. says

    @Daniel Taylor

    It's always a matter of perspective, isn't it?

    I'd answer that with a "no".

    Governmental activities are a necessity.

    Except I've already talked about socities that do not have governments.

    We need to act as groups, and we need individuals to act as our representatives between groups.

    It's not clear to me that we do need to act as groups, or at least as groups other than family units, friendship groups, small firms, and other voluntary assemblies.

    It's when those people get the impression that what they are doing is ruling rather than serving that everything gets messed up.

    I disagree entirely. I think that people should neither rule nor serve, but merely trade and otherwise interact voluntarily.

    The local barber does not serve me, nor I her. We trade.

    My friends do not serve me, nor I them. We assemble for companionship.

    My employees do not serve me, nor I them – we trade labor for cash.

    And so forth.

  8. says

    @C. S. P. Schofield

    It isn't that people should "have faith" in their government, it is that they should demand a certain standard of behavior. On that basis the current scandal is an excellent thing.

    Agreed.

    I firmly believe that in the absence of some form of government more or less chosen by the governed, there will arise one imposed on the governed by some self-selected elite. For society to function with no government per se would require the constant vigilance of the majority of the population, and most of us don't want to do that much work on it. So what is needed is a framework that limits the power of government to actually bother people too much. Our Constitution was and is an excellent try.

    This is a valid and good critique of my position.

    It took decades of drift to get us as far from the framework of the Constitution as we have.

    I disagree. Most of the damage was done during a single four-term president's administration.

    Attempts to do it all at once will shatter the whole

    Yes! Fingers crossed!

    and the consequences of such shattering, while possibly entertaining, are unlikely to be good in the long term … or even the medium term.

    Good? No. Better than a continued American Imperial State? Yes, likely.

    This puts the Statists on the defensive, which makes them uncomfortable and causes them to make mistakes. Being on the defensive makes Statist indignant, and indignant people tend to sound like self-important pillocks.

    I'm willing to give that a shot.

  9. Zac Morris says

    When it boils down to it, I can not call myself a Libertarian because, in my mind, to do so means possessing at least one of two things: a fundamental faith in humanity, or the ability to defend yourSelf [thoughts/beliefs/property/All] from said humanity. I do not possess the first, and it has always been my experience that the second is, at best, an illusion that always leads to catastrophe.

    Am I missing or failing to grasp something?

    As a result, sadly, I believe that I trust the government (even a corrupt government) that offers some framework of protecting [even some of] my interests, more than I trust humanity as a whole.

    This is neither good nor bad, it just is…

  10. says

    @Zac Morris

    When it boils down to it, I can not call myself a Libertarian because, in my mind, to do so means possessing at least one of two things: a fundamental faith in humanity, or the ability to defend yourSelf [thoughts/beliefs/property/All] from said humanity.

    I disagree that this is an accurate definition.

    Libertarianism (Latin: liber, "free") – n – a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism. Libertarians advocate a society with minimized government or no government at all.

    I do not possess
    the first

    Nor do I.

    As a result, sadly, I believe that I trust the government (even a corrupt government) that offers some framework of protecting [even some of] my interests, more than I trust humanity as a whole.

    So 100 people on the street are a danger, but if you take those 100 people, hand them uniforms and authority, they are no longer a danger (or as big of a danger) because…

    why?

  11. Conster says

    So am I the only one to think it's ironic to accuse someone of "pure rhetoric" based on pure semantics? Because it should be pretty obvious the meaning of "corrupt" they meant was "guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked", not the meaning that is typically used to describe computer files.

    Now, I agree that most governments are both "deeply imperfect" (though I would use "flawed", myself) and "deeply corrupt", but that doesn't mean the two are the same thing. Perhaps you'd prefer it if they'd used the terms "idiotic" and "evil"? Then again, apparently "evil" is a relative term… anyway. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between these two concepts is by describing their effect on people: a "deeply flawed" government makes you want to bang your head against the wall, while a "deeply corrupt" government makes you want to put them up against the wall.

  12. Zac Morris says

    Clark, my argument is: is Liberty possible without: 1) a belief that a critical mass of Individuals will respect other Individuals that implement their Liberty differently [what I'm calling "faith in humanity"], or 2) that an Individual has the means to protect his Liberty from those that would try to take it away?

    The ideal of Liberty resonates very deeply with me, but sadly my faith in humanity is so low as to make that belief nothing more than a dream.

    Now regarding:

    So 100 people on the street are a danger, but if you take those 100 people, hand them uniforms and authority, they are no longer a danger (or as big of a danger) because…

    When I say government, I do not mean a personified government. I mean the framework of government. As a result I believe it is our duty to fight personification of government (When you say "corruption" are you speaking in terms of personification [politicians/special-interests/etc?]). At the point where the framework of government doesn't provide a means to manage personification (what I call corruption), then that trust will be lost.

    At this time, my faith in the current process is greater than my faith in humanity. Do I believe that process is under siege? I do, but I believe strengthening the process is our best recourse as this time. Whether that is ultimately tilting at windmills, only time will tell.

    So I'm not saying that I oppose those that dream of something completely different [Liberty as something obtainable]. I respect and admire such people. I even believe that obtaining such a state, must ultimately be the definition of Success for all of humanity! I just believe we still have a whole lot of evolving to do.

  13. mud man says

    I disagree entirely. I think that people should neither rule nor serve, but merely trade and otherwise interact voluntarily.

    Didn't you name yourself a Christian? I believe the notion of servanting, or service, as demonstrated by Jesus, is built in. In strictly practical terms, I don't see how a neighborhood association can function strictly based on trading … I/you have to make myself available for some level of altruistism, just a willingness to help out. I don't see this as opposed to human nature at all, but clearly massive retraining will be required.

  14. Richard says

    Clark wrote:

    Some of us hold that government is inherently, definitionally, the use of force by the strong against the weak under the color of "legitimacy" (and ill-defined term that, when pressed, gives up a meaning closest to "might makes right")

    I thought that anarchy is inherently, definitionally, the use for force by the strong against the weak. In the absence of the rule of law, who decides what is right and what is wrong? Each individual must. As soon as someone commits a crime, you have three options:
    1) Do not punish the crime – anyone strong enough to take something that is not theirs and keep it gains wealth and power (might makes right).
    2) Punishment by vendetta – People (and their families and friends) are responsible for retribution for wrongs done against them. Those who are strongest are either able to defend themselves against vendetta, turn the vendetta around on their victims, or are feared enough that no one tries vendetta (might makes right).
    3) "Neutral" arbiter – The people band together to set up a representative to dispense law and order (i.e. government).

    I don't see any fourth option, or how option #3 is any more "might makes right" than the alternatives.

    Clark wrote:

    any hope or faith in government is necessarily either a hope that one and one's family can eventually seize the whip by the handle end, or is a false hope that the snapping end of the whip against one's back is an accidental temporary condition.

    So which are you? The one holding the handle or the one with the scarred back? If the latter, can you give examples of how the government has damaged you specifically?

    Clark wrote:

    But just because the absence of government does not imply perfection does not mean that the presence of government is better. The idea that it is is a testable hypothesis, and I believe that the test already shows that the amount of government we have is far, far too much.

    Hold on there now.
    You're arguing two different things there:
    1) That we have too much government, and
    2) That no amount of government is necessary.

    I would argue that at least a minimal amount of government is necessary to assert the rule of law. I do agree that we have "too much government" now (as government = law, and it would take a lifetime to read every word of every law on (and off) the books, every precedent, and every interpretation). But I do not agree that complete anarchy is a desirable end. The two may be related, but they are not the same idea.

    Clark wrote:

    First, there is no line dividing "deeply imperfect" from "deeply corrupt".

    From dictionary.com:

    im·per·fect/ɪmˈpɜrfɪkt/ Show Spelled [im-pur-fikt] Show IPA
    adjective
    1. of, pertaining to, or characterized by defects or weaknesses: imperfect vision.
    2. not perfect; lacking completeness: imperfect knowledge.

    cor·rupt/kəˈrʌpt/ Show Spelled [kuh-ruhpt] Show IPA
    adjective
    1. guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; crooked: a corrupt judge.
    2. debased in character; depraved; perverted; wicked; evil: a corrupt society.

    "Corrupt" may not necessarily be distinct from imperfect, but in common use, corruption implies ill intent; imperfection may not.

    For example: If a man kills another man, and is put on trial:
    1) an imperfect government may acquit due to lack of evidence
    2) a corrupt government may acquit because the judge has been bribed

    Again: I'm not saying that corruption can't mean what you say it means. I'm saying that when describing people and government, that's generally not the usage, so you're twisting her words to make your point.

    Clark wrote:

    Second, saying we have a "right to assume" something is inane.

    Agreed. That was poorly worded. I would have worded it:
    "Americans do not have the right to a perfect government, but they do have the right to a government with honesty and integrity."

    Clark wrote:

    The IRS scandal is a good thing. It is transparency.

    Agreed. It shows people that they are being denied the right to honest government.

    Government exists to give power and money to politicians, government employees, and patrons of the government.

    That's not why government exists.
    There are two ways to bring, and keep, a government into power: military force, or common agreement.
    I doubt that people, in the common agreement scenario, are going to say, "Let's support a govenment that only helps itself!" The role of government is to put into effect a series of rules to maintain order, rules that will affect everyone equally, not just the ones with power.
    Most governments fall short of this goal, but I would argue that havign a flawed rule of law is better than having no rule of law at all.

  15. Andrew says

    I subscribe to involuntaryism: a philosophy which holds that, much like the gag reflex, some forms of human association are unavoidable.

  16. Daniel Taylor says

    You engage in voluntary trade, Joe comes along and steals your stuff then flees to a place where nobody knows you. Maybe he smacks you over the head for your trouble as well, just to add injury to insult, and now you have to pay for medical care exactly when you have been deprived of a significant portion of your assets.

    There's always a Joe, you see.

    The fine examples of the places that "didn't have government"? They [b]did[/b] have government. It didn't look like a big Democratic Republic where every member of the government was designated by formal means, but there were leaders and judges at the very minimum, chosen through informal means, and those people were most definitely the government. There were also rules that would get you sanctioned should you break them. The sanctions were different, of course. No jails, but if you did something bad enough to need locking away you'd be either killed or banished.

    Of course, with no formally designated mayor, council, or books of laws it all looks very open and free, but that's only because everyone is in each other's hip pockets to the point where none of that needs to be formally declared. If you voluntarily want to do something that the community sees as against their interests, good luck with that.

  17. says

    @Daniel Taylor

    You engage in voluntary trade, Joe comes along and steals your stuff
    then flees

    As long he takes less than 28% (federal) + 6% (state) + 15% (FICA) + 4% (property taxes) = north of 50%, I come out ahead of the game.

    Or, alternatively, if I can hire a local security firm.

    There's always a Joe, you see.

    Agreed. You're arguing that 4.4 million Joes are better than one or two.

  18. mud man says

    @Richard

    Option 4, the community as a whole responds to the specific incident with an ad hoc social response, ranging from not inviting the criminals to parties, to driving them out of the community with stones or firebrands and pitchforks.

    Don't see how this action can be seen as a "trade". But maybe I should go read the books?

  19. Richard says

    mud man wrote:

    @Richard

    Option 4, the community as a whole responds to the specific incident with an ad hoc social response, ranging from not inviting the criminals to parties, to driving them out of the community with stones or firebrands and pitchforks.

    Don't see how this action can be seen as a "trade". But maybe I should go read the books?

    Okay, then, 4) Mob justice. The victim cries to the community for satisfaction, and the mob, having more power than any individual, can enforce the unwritten rules. (See also: witch hunts) I would still consider that to be more "might makes right" than Option #3 (the force of the people applied directly to administer justice, as opposed to the force of the people applied through a (theoretically) neutral arbiter that they select to do the same).

  20. Mercury says

    First, there is no line dividing "deeply imperfect" from "deeply corrupt".

    imperfect – adj – exhibiting or characterized by faults, mistakes, etc.; defective

    corrupt – adj – containing errors, tainted, contaminated

    I think in common usage “imperfect” simply means “not perfect” which is the general condition of most things. So, “imperfect” is often used simply as an understatement as it appears to be in Noonan’s piece.

    “Corrupt” on the other hand, usually implies human agency; something (or someone) is not functioning as it should or could be due to some form of malicious human action or influence.

    Unfortunately those who pay taxes to the IRS are or are rapidly becoming a minority of the populace and an oppressed one at that. Therefore fewer and fewer people are incentivized to even care about IRS corruption one way or the other which just makes IRS corruption that much easier to get away with.

  21. says

    "If angels were to govern men"…

    But I think Madison got the conclusion wrong. He recognized that concentration of power in one place was dangerous, given the human tendency to abuse power, but somehow thought that concentrating it in three places (classic oligarchy territory) would diffuse the problem. If power corrupts, avoid concentration of power.

    More to the present point, I would like to think that even the statists think we need a trustworthy government, not a trusted (but untrustworthy) government. But I begin to doubt the point. Economists have argued for some time that it is important that the Fed be trusted while systematically breaking its word (since only unexpected monetary policy has real effect). Similarly, I see in the argument that Snowden's leaks hurt national security an argument that government should be trusted but untrustworthy: free to collect this data, but also believed when it tells people that it does not (since why else would the targets leave their communications within reach?). This argument seems a more pedestrian "do not look at the sausagemaker" argument: government is ugly, but necessary; shining light on its inner workings cannot fix the problems without breaking the system, so why make people unhappy by doing it?


    Didn't you name yourself a Christian? I believe the notion of servanting, or service, as demonstrated by Jesus, is built in.

    As a Christian, I am undoubtedly commanded to serve, to renounce the self. But Christ did not wash the disciples feet from obedience, but from love, and I accept my duty of service (although I confess to falling far short of satisfying it) while objecting to people commanding it by force. But that is not the fundamental point, for promotion of and participation in government puts us not in the place of the servant but the master. And while there is abundant Christian precedent for offering one's own service, to command the service of another at gunpoint is the antithesis of service.

  22. Todd S. says

    @Zac Morris, where you and I possibly differ, is that I am a Libertarian BECAUSE I lack faith in humanity. In other words, I want to give as little power (legalized force) over to people (government) who are by their nature imperfect. That includes myself, of course. I have no reason to suspect that I am not equally inclined to be corrupted with power.

  23. mud man says

    @Richard
    "Theoretically", you said that right. Where did these "Laws" come from except "The Mob"? Why an imperfect attempt to codify community standards rather than allowing community standards to act directly?

    Why is Law going to be better, or even other, than Human Nature? … except that Law offers additional opportunities for gamesmanship.

  24. Zac Morris says

    @Todd S. I think this difference is spelled out more clearly in my last response to Clark.

    I depends on how you view government:

    To me government is a process.
    I think for you it government is people/personification?

    With this difference in mind the whole BECAUSE I lack faith in humanity becomes either a reason for or against Libertarianism as a form of Government.

    Granted a process of government doesn't run without people, so yes, it is possible for it to become corrupted when enough people participating in that process are themselves corrupt, but until that time I think the process is still salvageable, without resorting to a completely different process (aka form of government).

  25. Zac Morris says

    Personally, I believe that the most pragmatic way to affect real and meaningful change in our government is for us to break the stranglehold of the two party system. In that way, lots of various guiding principles are represented, and no one "agenda" is mandated on The People.

    Can we all agree on that?

  26. Richard says

    mud man wrote:

    @Richard
    "Theoretically", you said that right. Where did these "Laws" come from except "The Mob"? Why an imperfect attempt to codify community standards rather than allowing community standards to act directly?

    Why is Law going to be better, or even other, than Human Nature? … except that Law offers additional opportunities for gamesmanship.

    Mob rule leads to:

    Witch hunts
    Honour killings
    Lynchings
    Genocide
    etc.

    Why is the Law going to be better than Human Nature? Because it gives an objective standard for someone to live up to, and for others to compare their behaviour to. Let's set down law #1:
    1. You may not kill another human being (except to preserve your own life).

    Law #1 is pretty much in every system of laws in every government in human history (with various exceptions depending on the culture).

    Example #1: A foreigner comes into town and is killed. Under Mob rule, they might not bother doing anything to punish the wrongdoer. Why would they? He's not a member of the Mob. Under the rule of Law, a crime has been commited, a violation of Law #1, and he has to be tried, regardless of whether people think what he did was right or wrong.

    Example #2: A rich, powerful man with lots of "bodyguards" has a rival killed. In the Mob justice scenario, someone speaks up and demands justice, and is killed. At this point, everyone starts to think over whether it's worth risking their lives to bring this man to justice. Under the rule of Law, the arbiter is usually granted men and equipment by the people such that he is powerful enough to bring this criminal down.

  27. Rich Fiscus says

    I consider government a necessary evil for the people's protection. It requires empowering exactly the kind of people we must protect ourselves from. Ergo blind faith in government is the regular sort of evil of the unnecessary and unacceptable variety.

    For various reasons I could not possibly explain here* it is inevitable the vast majority of people will lose sight of their own responsibility to hold government officials accountable. Democracy is not something that can be bestowed or bequeathed. It can only be taken by demand of the people and must be sustained the same way. Government scandals are arguably the most effective way to jolt the masses into embracing that responsibility.

    * I do not mean to imply my reasoning is beyond anyone's comprehension. In fact just the opposite. It is beyond my ability to explain cogently in a form suitable for this sort of discussion. Welcome to the wonderful world of autism.

  28. Gabriel says

    Since this is Heinlein Week here at popehat:

    “A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”

    Government does not exist except as a behavioral model for predicting the actions of individual persons with the [Government Employee] tag. I "have faith" in my model insofar as it does accurately predict that such persons will behave in ways which are usually self-serving and often criminal.

  29. Daniel Taylor says

    @Clark: Joe grabs everything he can carry, and smacks you over the head first just to make sure you don't stop him.

    You might or might not wake up. Joe doesn't care, he's gone.

    As for the numbers, at least 1% of Americans are Joe due to mental illness according to NIMH. That's 3 million Joes for you right up front.
    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1Antisocial.shtml

  30. wisco says

    Richard wrote:

    I thought that anarchy is inherently, definitionally, the use for force by the strong against the weak.

    Not really, or at least, not helpfully. The most helpful definition of anarchy (perhaps best subsumed in other terms like voluntarism) is simply the lack of a legitimate monopoly on coercion. In fact, whatever "-archy" term you prefer to describe this country's system of government, it is in fact the use of force of the strong against the weak. Where strong here is defined by whomever can successfully control or lobby or marshal the forces of government to serve their interests.

    I've always wished that some other term like anomia or something when we want to talk about that Hobbesian trope. As Daniel Taylor mentions above, anarchistic societies are not lawless.

    @Zac

    You hit the nail on the head. Our government is a process, as long as you're not looking for anything teleological. This process is the interplay of incentives on your average human being and is not, in itself, evil, or corrupt, or what-have-you. Rather, I think it is all of those things to the extent that it lacks the checks and limits that we who don't get a wide berth to use force are subject to.

  31. Sam says

    The Theory behind absolute monarchy can sound great, which is why so many good SF stories are set in Monarchies.

    I'm picking nits here, but you've unwittingly stepped into my territory. So many SF stories are set in Monarchies, or more accurately Imperial government, because they saw many similarities between space travel and oceanic exploration/colonization. Some reasoned that Imperialism was the only viable form of stable government over such vast distances/times. They further argued that the Imperial age was a necessary component of expansion due to its resource intensive nature. I believe Asimov spells this out fairly clearly in his Foundation series.

  32. says

    @Daniel Taylor

    @Clark: Joe grabs everything he can carry, and smacks you over the head first just to make sure you don't stop him.

    You might or might not wake up. Joe doesn't care, he's gone.

    Your argument is that the system works better if Joe has an officially issued taser and police union backing him?

  33. Daniel Taylor says

    @Clark: are you asserting that police are preferentially clinically diagnosable psychotics?

    Admittedly, even 1% of police being such is a serious problem, but that is why it is a profession that requires close and very public scrutiny.

  34. mud man says

    @Richard
    What Clark said, but ALSO nothing prevents Laws Forbidding Witches, in fact those witches in Salem were tried according to Law, not to mention the Inquisition. Honor killing is REQUIRED BY LAW in some places, so much for your Universal Law #1.

    I would like to mention that the Third Reich was conducted entirely according to local established Law, but one is not allowed to mention You-Know-Who in this sort of discussion, under pain of community disapprobation, and my skin is thin, personally.

    The point is that you can't distinguish between "Mob Rule" and "Jurisprudence" in any principled way. By ad hominem flagwaving, sure. What Gabriel said.

  35. says

    @Daniel Taylor:

    @Clark: are you asserting that police are preferentially clinically diagnosable psychotics?

    I wasn't remotely suggesting that.

    If you ask me to consider the hypothesis though… yes, I'd guess that the ratio is 1% psychotics in the general population and perhaps 10% in police departments.

    Just a hunch; no hard data.

  36. Richard says

    wisco wrote:

    The most helpful definition of anarchy (perhaps best subsumed in other terms like voluntarism) is simply the lack of a legitimate monopoly on coercion.

    With the lack of a legitimate monopoly on coercion, won't the strong necessarily be the ones who are doing the coercing? I see the distinction, but not the practical difference.

    wisco also wrote:

    In fact, whatever "-archy" term you prefer to describe this country's system of government, it is in fact the use of force of the strong against the weak. Where strong here is defined by whomever can successfully control or lobby or marshal the forces of government to serve their interests.

    That's a bit teleological, isn't it? "The system of government is influenced by [the strong, who are defined as] those who can influence the system of government."

  37. says

    Another nitpick: We'll always have government; government is how we regulate (i.e. and hat tip to Randy Barnett, make regular) our affairs.

    Whether we have a state to facilitate government is a separate question.

  38. says

    PS: I read most of The Art of Not Being Governed, and there's an important thing that facilitates the title: territories out to which a body can light, if the locale becomes a bit too "sivilized" (hat tip: noted philosopher H. Finn).

  39. says

    @Ken

    I read most of The Art of Not Being Governed, and there's an important thing that facilitates the title: territories out to which a body can light, if the locale becomes a bit too "sivilized" (hat tip: noted philosopher H. Finn).

    Indeed, I'm writing a science fiction novel that talks a lot about this.

  40. Daniel Taylor says

    I'll consider your hypothesis when there's hard data for it. Due to reporting bias on malfeasance and ordinary problems with trusting people with serious authority positions it can look one hell of a lot worse than it actually is.

    That 1% is the people who require some sort of intervention to not be a problem. It doesn't count opportunists and people that just weren't brought up to respect other people's property.

    The anarcho-capitalist model conveniently assumes that these people cease to be a problem in the absence of a government.

    I shouldn't need to remind you that for every idiotic law on the books there had to be at least 2 idiots, the one who did whatever the law prohibits, and the one who thought that making a law about that was a good idea.

  41. says


    establish a NEW highly limited federal government with basic functions only, i.e., national defense and foreign policy

    There you go with that damned socialized defense again.

    In less than 1 generation, you'll produce exactly what we have now. Those with the price of a Congress critter will buy the laws they want while pushing the "tough on crime!" propaganda to divert and control the peepul. S.O.S., rinse, lather and repeat.

  42. C. S. P. Schofield says

    @ Clark

    "I disagree. Most of the damage was done during a single four-term president's administration."

    I'm no great fan of FDR. He had an absolutely enormous ego, and was a great deal less intelligent than he thought he was. That said; A lot of the rot got started under Teddy (who I like). More putrified during Wilson's less than stellar administration. Truman wasn't too bad, nor was Ike, but JFK was a third rate political hack with a first rate political machine, and did a lot of damage. He was followed by the Horrible Handwringing Texas Slob, who in turn was followed by Nixon. Nixon was a big government True Believer to such an extent that the Left's hatred of him only makes sense if you think of it as revenge for having the gall to defeat Helen Gahagan Douglas.

    I agree that FDR has much to answer for. I'm not at all sure I think he did the most damage.

  43. Piper says

    FWIW @Clark – I'm still waiting for evidence that the "IRS Scandal" is much other than a Witch Hunt. Peggy Noonan and Mr. Issa desperately want it to be a scandal, but the cherry-picking of data to slant their arguments feels a lot like throwing someone who can't swim into the deep end and saying 'see – they don't float – WITCH!'.

  44. wisco says

    @Richard

    won't the strong necessarily be the ones who are doing the coercing?

    Sure, but with the appropriate checks and limits, who the strong are becomes more equitable. To take a relatively minor example (but to the owners involved) if I come to your house and kill your pet, you can hold me accountable for your loss. Doesn't matter if I'm a homeless transient on one hand or David Koch or George Soros on the other. If I show up under the color of law, for any reason and kill your dog, I get a wide berth if not a complete pass. The specifics and mechanics differ slightly, but you can scale up the principle behind this all the way to Abdulrahman al-Awlaki's drone murder.

    Where power is as decentralized as possible, the playing field between strong and weak becomes as level as possible.

    And as far as the process that is government not being teleological, I was specifically referring to it not leading to any grand objective or end-goal. Lots if libertarianish folks like to laud past, but in truth it's always been a mixed bag. Sure, 100 years ago, economic rights were much less hindered, but rights of expression and conscience were, compared to today, in the crapper.

    tl;dr – decentralize, decentralize, decentralize

  45. Richard says

    @Clark:
    Witch hunts: The vast majority of the accused in your link were acquitted or never tried. I'd imagine that wouldn't be the case in a Mob Rule scenario, where such things as "evidence" and "due process" are not required by law (because there is no law).

    Honour killings: I think we're talking about different things. I'm talking about the hunting down and extrajudicial killing of female relatives for "dishonouring" their families (by being raped, marrying for love, etc).

    Lynchings: How does your link help an argument against mob rule? Your article describes "the practice of killing people by extrajudicial mob action." Is your argument that there would have been fewer lynchings, had there not been laws in place to criminalize murder? I honestly don't see your point.

    Genocide: Okay, you have me there. In fact, there is quite a bit of legalized genocide going on around the world. However, I don't think that abolishing the rule of law entirely is the answer – stronger constitutional protections are the answer.

    Honestly, I don't see your point. You sarcastically say "Good thing those [horrible things] never ever happen when there's a government around!"

    It's like sarcastically saying "Good thing I never get spam because of my spam filter!" Sure, you're still going to get spam, but you'd get a lot more without the filter.

    Are you honestly asserting that "Without a government, there would be fewer witch hunts, lynchings, and honour killings?"

  46. Burst says

    Couple of things:

    1. This appears to leap straight from asserting that government is not necessary, to claiming that only the amount of government needed is under discussion, not whether it should exist at all.

    Either any amount of government is too much (we need none), or we do need at least some, and we're arguing about the amount. I concede this could simply be unclearly stated rather than contradictory.

    2. I take serious issue with your definition of 'corrupt.' Here's the first one I found: Corrupt (Dictionary.com)

    You skip right past definition #1, 'guilty of dishonest practices,' which is clearly what the original author intended to invoke. There is in fact a vast difference between a system which is unintentionally flawed and one that is willfully malicious. I feel your sidestepping of this point is specious at best.

    Notwithstanding, I think the original article greatly overstates the impact of this specific scandal on American opinions, as if we've always looked at our government as a shining bastion of righteousness until this one thing came out. Hardly.

  47. Richard says

    wisco wrote:

    Sure, but with the appropriate checks and limits, who the strong are becomes more equitable.

    But who is to enforce the checks and limits except for a government?
    This is an earnest question.

    wisco wrote:

    if I come to your house and kill your pet, you can hold me accountable for your loss.

    Accountable to whom?

    wisco wrote:

    Where power is as decentralized as possible, the playing field between strong and weak becomes as level as possible.

    Who keeps the power decentralized? What keeps someone (e.g. a corporation) from centralizing power?

    wisco wrote:

    And as far as the process that is government not being teleological

    Sorry, I used the wrong word. I just meant that when you define "strong" as "those who influence the government," then speak of being governed by the strong, it doesn't really tell you anything.

  48. LibertyEbbs says

    @ Richard

    "…in a Mob Rule scenario, where such things as "evidence" and "due process" are not required by law (because there is no law)."

    I think you are conflating centralized government with rule of law. Are you assuming that you cannot have the latter without the former? I think it is a false assumption if you are. I think that was part of what Wisco was saying.

  49. says

    Voluntaryism (wtf did that word come from? I need a new buzzword bingo card) makes about as much sense as communism (or Stalinism or Taoism, the ersatz-communist tyrannies many people wrongly think of when that word is encountered) or unfettered capitalism or fascism; that is to say, no sense in the real world. Each of these would be workable if you could crank out human beings with selected, programmed mental characteristics.

    Marx's "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" would work for a world filled with angels. Any human population will quickly sort itself into various stratas of power, depending on the levels of greed, cunning and empathy (or lack thereof) of the individuals. The other theoretical systems mentioned above would (will or have) lead to the same eventual tyranny of the ruthless over the rest.

    What's kept this country working more or less well, as measured by individual freedom and opportunity, is its willingness to mix and match as well as the system of checks and balances. Occasionally those checks and balances get unbalanced and misery results. We're in such a period now. The refuge of last resort, the courts, are part and parcel with the oligarchy controlling the executive and legislative branches. Expect a couple more generations before that quaint bill of suggestions returns to being a Bill of Rights.

  50. wisco says

    @Richard

    But who is to enforce the checks and limits except for a government?

    Any individual or group who has a right to defend themselves from incursion of others. You can call those governments if you want. That "defense" doesn't necessarily need to entail bullets flying. It could simply be smaller jurisdictions without supremacy or or primacy. For instance, the Icelandic Gothi, between the landnama and the Conquest, had a ubiquitously recognized right to that defense and what's more, had no claim over those under them, but from their assent.

    if I come to your house and kill your pet, you can hold me accountable for your loss.

    Accountable to whom?

    Accountable to you, under current laws. I'm not arguing right here for an anarchic utopia; rather just pointing out under this current system the most "lawless" among us are those who operate under the color of law.

    Who keeps the power decentralized? What keeps someone (e.g. a corporation) from centralizing power?

    To overgeneralize, those jealous of their autonomy. As an aside, corporations here is a red herring. Corporations only have "power" to the extent they are granted it by the government. Outside of that, all good things they accrue come from convincing others to give to them.

    when you define "strong" as "those who influence the government…"

    Maybe it's more on target to define the "strong" as those who less subject to the desires of others who would attempt to coerce them. Call that a government or something else…

  51. Richard says

    mud man wrote:

    @Richard
    What Clark said, but ALSO nothing prevents Laws Forbidding Witches, in fact those witches in Salem were tried according to Law, not to mention the Inquisition. Honor killing is REQUIRED BY LAW in some places, so much for your Universal Law #1.

    I would like to mention that the Third Reich was conducted entirely according to local established Law, but one is not allowed to mention You-Know-Who in this sort of discussion, under pain of community disapprobation, and my skin is thin, personally.

    The point is that you can't distinguish between "Mob Rule" and "Jurisprudence" in any principled way. By ad hominem flagwaving, sure. What Gabriel said.

    First, I included a "(with various exceptions depending on the culture)" caveat in my Law #1. I'm not going to say that it was illegal for a Samurai in medieval Japan to kill a peasant of any rason whatsoever – but peasants are not allowed to kill other peasants, nor to kill Samurai.

    Second, I didn't say that government was always better than Mob Rule. Clark defined government as "the use of force by the strong against the weak." I was saying that I didn't see how Mob Rule fit that definition any less.

    Then you challenged me how Rule of Law can be any better, or any different. I answered with examples of things that happen under Mob Rule. I didn't mean to imply that they never happen under Rule of Law, just that they were more prevalent, and actually inevitable, under Mob Rule.

    Finally, two explicit differences between Mob Rule and Jurisprudence (in the US, at least): reasonable doubt and exclusion of evidence.

    In Mob Rule, anything goes to collect evidence: hearsay, testimony obtained under torture, any evidence acquired by any means. Any of that can be introduced at whatever "trial" they hold. Under Rule of Law, they (can) have protections such as the 4th and 5th Amendments.

    In Mob Rule, the crowd just has to be convinced that the person did it. In, for example, the recent Zimmerman trial, a juror admits she thinks he was guilty, but she was not sure beyond a reasonable doubt, so she voted to acquit. How can you have a "reasonable doubt" provision (or something similar) without the Rule of Law?

  52. InnocentBystander says

    The problem with Noonan's essay is that it is the scandal is precisely about Republicans spinning the IG's report to discredit the IRS.

    The IRS made an error that had political ramifications. The IG's report said the was no evidence of political bias or intent in their actions.

    The media is blasted with accusations counter to those findings without evidence, just innuendo. Those in charge of investigating don't wait to seek actual evidence of wrongdoing. They level accusations and intentionally misrepresent the facts for their own personal gain. Perhaps, some evidence might exist that runs counter to the IG's report. We haven't see any yet.

    The irony is the "scandal" was simply the anti corruption mechanism of the IRS doing its job. Most people have no idea of the scrutiny that IRS employees undergo from the IG or how the process works. Congress created a special agency whose permanent job it was to investigate the IRS. TIGTA has sole jurisdiction and responsibility to enforce criminal law as it pertains to IRS Operations including IRS employee misconduct and external attempts to corrupt Tax Administration. They have authority to execute and serve search and arrest warrants, serve subpoenas and summonses, and to make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States relating to the internal revenue laws. The TIGTA website is full of a list of agents convicted of crimes included looking at tax forms without authorization and padding expense reports.
    TIGTA is the prosecutor. They looked at the allegations and said no evidence of political motivation. However, no one can doubt the political motivations of the Democrats and Republicans investigating in congress. The sad thing is that the report is available for everyone to read, yet what we hear is innuendo, rehashed op-ed pieces, and misreported statistics so mangled that the truth becomes irrelevant. If I hear again the "how many liberal vs conservative groups were targeted" ignorant misunderstanding of the entire issue I'll scream!

  53. Palimpsest says

    Starting with the work of the Peggy Noonan doesn't help. She is part of the neo-conservative attempt to create a scandal by ignoring that the IRS also investigated progressive groups.

    But refresh my memory. When did the people have faith in the Government? Was it before they demanded Bill of Rights before ratifying the Constitution? Or never?

  54. Burst says

    After reading everything I see I restated previously made arguments; sorry there.

    Frankly, I would argue that our current system is voluntary, albeit collectively. No one made us break away from England and form the United States – we did that quite voluntarily, fighting a literal war to do so. That's a macro level example, but I think it is important.

    On the micro scale:

    It's not clear to me that we do need to act as groups, or at least as groups other than family units, friendship groups, small firms, and other voluntary assemblies.

    Exactly. If your family needs to deal with another family, will both families sit down together in their entirety to discuss it? Of course not, a couple of representatives will handle it. If both families need to deal with another family collectively in some way, again, representatives. Those representatives have more de facto power individually than those they represent – repeat ad infinitum, and government is fait accompli.

    Research has established many of the patterns of how leaders emerge spontaneously in human groups; also, most importantly, that they always do. This mechanism, writ large, creates monarchies.

    So 100 people on the street are a danger, but if you take those 100 people, hand them uniforms and authority, they are no longer a danger (or as big of a danger) because…

    why?

    Yes, they have uniforms and authority, but you forgot other things the simple mob lacks: they also have rules and accountability. They are not free to just do whatever they wish. A policeman needs a warrant to search your home; your neighbor doesn't, nor does a mob in the street.

    One person can sue the police department, but can do nothing against a mob. The courts and other government entities provide a check on the power of the police. That's how we handle this: we ensure as far as is possible that no single group has absolute power, and there is someone else to deal with anyone who overreaches.

    In the real world this is far from perfect, but I'd much prefer to deal with an organization that I can hold accountable in court should I need to, rather than with a mob against which I have no recourse whatsoever.

  55. Richard says

    LibertyEbbs wrote:

    @ Richard

    "…in a Mob Rule scenario, where such things as "evidence" and "due process" are not required by law (because there is no law)."

    I think you are conflating centralized government with rule of law. Are you assuming that you cannot have the latter without the former? I think it is a false assumption if you are. I think that was part of what Wisco was saying.

    I gave my four scenarios. Once the people have delegated the enforcement of law to a (supposedly) neutral arbiter, you have, in essence, established a government. I don't know where the "centralized" bit you're getting is coming from, except that I can't see any way, once you've established a government, to keep it from trying to expand itself as far as it can.

  56. Texan99 says

    "Governmental activities are a necessity. We need to act as groups. . ."

    Where did this idea come from, so prevalent everywhere I go lately, that the only way to act as groups was through a government? Why do so many people assume that the only way people can discipline each other to live together honestly and peacefully is through a government? It's as if the people writing these things had never experienced working with other people in clubs, guilds, associations, or businesses — or even living in a neighborhood where people exerted pressure on each other not to act like jerks.

    I'm not prepared to argue that we've figured out how to provide every single function of government through private institutions (I worry about national defense and epidemic control), but I'm darn sure we can take care of most of what our government now does via private institutions.

  57. wumpus says

    Wasn't Blackwater/Xe/Acadamy[sp?] recently sold? Does anybody know who our overlords would be (via simple divide and conquer) once government is removed?

    The reason anarchy doesn't work for Humans is that real danger/work/whatever is somebody else's problem. Whether it is people watching a rape from a highrise or otherwise not being involved, it is quite a simple to divide and conquer.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

    This appears to be wired into human nature. If people won't speak out, who will be willing to get in a gunman's face? The whole point of government/cops is to appoint someone who is in charge of "someone else's problem".

    In economics these are called externalities. They don't work well in Libertarian systems, largely because the population is big enough for it always to be someone else's problem.
    [no preview box on this browser, so who knows how it came out]

  58. Burst says

    Clark:

    But just because the absence of government does not imply perfection does not mean that the presence of government is better. The idea that it is is a testable hypothesis, and I believe that the test already shows that the amount of government we have is far, far too much.

    This is very confusing. Some clarification would be much appreciated.

    The current state of the world seems to strongly support the hypothesis that even massive, overbearing government produces far better quality of life than any anarchic situation.

    After all, I certainly wouldn't move from Texas to Somalia, no matter how much information the NSA collects on me. Am I missing something in your argument?

  59. Shane says

    @mud man

    Didn't you name yourself a Christian? I believe the notion of servanting, or service, as demonstrated by Jesus, is built in.

    "… look at this coin, whose face do you see on it? Give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's but give unto God what is God's"

    Bringing one's faith into an argument over the proper role of government is usually a bad idea.

  60. Tious says

    Why is it those that use words like "scandal at the IRS" actually tell us what and where the scandal actually is?

    First, it was Republicans trying to say that only they are picked on….oh, Issa purposefully ignored any liberal groups in his request for information? Gotcha.

    Second, Republicans cried about how the IRS AG said right wing groups are targeted? Oh, he didn't actually tell others at Congress that he had other documents showing that not just right wing groups were targeted?

    Or how about the right crying about how this was all political? Nevermind that the same Republicans crying about the IRS are the same ones who could CHANGE THE LAWS……how about the fact that most of these right wing groups openly challenged the IRS about getting tax exempt status yet then are shocked when the IRS looks at them carefully?

    Can I get a single person that can actually SHOW me what is the actual evidence for any sort of scandal?

  61. Gabriel says

    The anarcho-capitalist model conveniently assumes that these people cease to be a problem in the absence of a government.

    No, the anarcho-capitalist model assumes that these people are a problem with or without a government and thus not a justification for making government an additional problem on top of the ones we're going to have anyway.

  62. davnel says

    Ken:
    While I sorta agree with you, the whole premise of this article is flawed. You assume we have even a modicum of faith in our gummint – WE DON'T. I don't trust them as far as I can throw Kin Dotcom. They have consistently acted like armed schoolyard bullies that ASSUME they'll never get caught. BAH!

  63. Random Encounter says

    @Texan99: call it whatever you like, but once you have enough people trying to cooperate you get a government.

    Change the titles and your typical corporate hierarchy with managers and board of directors quickly becomes exposed as the classic feudal model with managers instead of lords and employees taking various vassalage roles. In other words, a government without a state.

    As soon as people are cooperating and managing property (especially land) rights you end up with states of various sorts, from free cities and mini kingdoms to full fledged empires. The governance required for different sizes of independent states varies in effectiveness, but there's always something there.

    If a government doesn't exist in an area, someone will try to make themselves the government for that area in short order, either members of the community with some other influence and any ambition will begin competing for recognition as a leader or a nearby state will claim the territory themselves (sending in tax collectors and troops, of course).

    The only way to live without government is to retreat from the world completely, then you can be the lord of whatever bit of land you could find that nobody else wants enough to come bother you on. Good luck with that.

    Seriously, has nobody actually read Paine?

  64. Burst says

    @RandomEncounter:

    I like corporations as an example for this. There is no external coercion on them whatsoever – they form the structures they do out of completely free choice, driven by a single goal, profit. If it doesn't work, change it or go under. Guess what works?

  65. says

    How do voluntaryists justify child rearing? It seems like all the arguments for disciplining and controlling children (they aren't capable of controlling themselves, it is in their best interest) could be used to justify the state. That in turn seems to transform Voluntaryism from a strong moral position (no involuntary associations!) to a weak, consequentialist one (only involuntary associations when they have good outcomes, as we think they do in child rearing but don't in governing).

    Not trying to be argumentative, just curious.

  66. davnel says

    I read somewhere that any democracy eventually devolves into a dictatorship, which is taken over by a religious theocracy, which is overthrown by anarchists who eventually appoint a "divine" monarch who gets overthrown by democrats, and the whole thing recycles endlessly. We seem to be getting dangerously close to stage two.

  67. Shane says

    This appears to be wired into human nature. If people won't speak out, who will be willing to get in a gunman's face? The whole point of government/cops is to appoint someone who is in charge of "someone else's problem".

    So who will get in the government/cops face? Seems that you have traded one bad situation for another.

  68. says

    @Burst:

    Yes, they have uniforms and authority, but … they also have rules and accountability.

    LLOLLLLLLLLLL!

    Thanks for the hearty belly laugh.

    But, seriously, since this is apparently your first day on our planet, let me explain a few things about cops and government employees to you.

    Have a seat; this is going to take a while…

  69. barry says

    The problem with 'revolution' (and Clark's 'gasoline-solution' from a previous blog) is much what John Lennon said: "We'd all like to see the plan". To demolish a system that isn't working very well to rebuild one that you hope works better is a big risk, and things have to be going really bad for that risk to be worth taking. The possibility of "much worse" is going to put a lot of people off.

    Revolution would require either everyone having the same idea of what the replacement system would be, or that things are so bad that anything would be better. Or everyone is deluded enough to think that their preferred replacement system would be the one that naturally springs into existence from the rubble. The more reasonable view is: if it's broken, try to fix it (without doing too much damage to the bits that aren't as broken).

    Zac said;

    ..the most pragmatic way to affect real and meaningful change in our government is for us to break the stranglehold of the two party system.

    I can agree with that. Voting on a choice of two is the very minimal of democracy. But there are many systems of voting and vote counting (none perfect as Ken Arrow proved). "First Past the Post" voting almost guarantees a two party system with both parties trying to appeal to the same middle ground with very similar policies on most issues. You can vote for a 3rd party, but unless they have a real chance of winning, it is a 'wasted vote'. [see Simpsons episode where Kang & Kodos run for president]

    Under this system, no amount of voting can get rid of either of the two main parties or the corruption that seems to attach to permanent political parties.

    With Instant Runoff (IRV) or Preferential or Ranked Choice voting, you can vote for a minor candidate or party without it being a 'wasted' vote (if your candidate is eliminated in an earlier count round, your next preference vote becomes your new first preference vote) This gives minor parties a chance to grow their support over a number of elections till they can become large enough to challenge one of the two main parties. It requires voters to be more aware of how their votes are counted and to care, and despite being imperfect, seems more democratic.

    eg. in the very close 2000 US Gore vs Bush election, Green candidate Ralph Nader got 2.74% of the vote, Reform candidate Pat Buchanan got 0.43% and Libertarian Harry Browne 0.36%. I am sure that the support for these parties was larger than that, but was kept looking low because many of their supporters wanted to have a say in the main Gore vs Bush contest. Under IRV voting they could have given first preference to who they really wanted, and still had one whole vote in the main game, knowing their first candidate wouldn't win [Gore would have won on Nader preferences]).

    Even if the minor parties don't win, their voting numbers can begin to show their actual support which the other parties and voters have to take notice of, rather than those artificially low numbers produced by people quite reasonably not wanting to waste their vote.

    A start rather than a fix.

  70. barry says

    That 'Arrow' link was supposed to go here (wikipedia page)

    ps. Many people seem to mishear the saying "It's not perfect, but it's the best system we have" as "It's not perfect, but it's the best system there is" _ when it's obviously not.

  71. JR says

    I would think that a society is an excellent example of rule of law without a designated government body. There are established norms of behavior and interaction as well as consequences for straying from them.

    To say that mobs would be less likely to consider facts or mete out appropriate discipline is to say that the majority of people, who would take it upon themselves to do so, are less likely to consider facts or mete out appropriate discipline which is also to say that the majority of people, who would apply for the role of one who does so, is less likely to consider facts or mete out appropriate discipline.

    If the majority of people are incapable or disinclined to adhere to a system of rules then the solution is not to fix the rules. On the other hand, if the majority of people are capable and so inclined then mob rule enforcing is no more fearsome than government rule.

  72. Sam says

    One thing I haven't really seen addressed here is the function of government to protect its constituents from threat not only from malicious individuals but also from malicious foreign governments. I assume the answer to that in a decentralized system is a militia but I'm curious how well that would function in the 21st century? Would a militia still be sufficient given the rapid technological advance of weaponry in the past century? I loathe using fear as a motivator for government but I'm genuinely curious.

  73. Tim! says

    @grouch:

    When you say Taoism, I think you mean Maoism.

    Taoism is much closer to Clark's ideal than to any derivative of communism.

  74. wgering says

    Americans have a right to assume that while theirs may be deeply imperfect, it is not deeply corrupt.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  75. Zac Morris says

    With Instant Runoff (IRV) or Preferential or Ranked Choice voting, you can vote for a minor candidate or party without it being a 'wasted' vote (if your candidate is eliminated in an earlier count round, your next preference vote becomes your new first preference vote) This gives minor parties a chance to grow their support over a number of elections till they can become large enough to challenge one of the two main parties. It requires voters to be more aware of how their votes are counted and to care, and despite being imperfect, seems more democratic.

    I could most definitely get behind this idea! I even believe the process of implementing this change would provide a real and tangible measure of corruption; as the existing parties show their true colors via trying to block/control the outcome.

  76. InnocentBystander says

    Tious: Can I get a single person that can actually SHOW me what is the actual evidence for any sort of scandal?

    Sure: http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2013reports/201310053fr.html

    It is a scandal of administrative incompetence, not political malice or partisanship. Thousands of man hours spent processing applications that were so unnecessary that the IRS's solution was to say OK, no one needs to fill them out anyway. When a talentless kid wants to get on the football team but the coach can't use them in the game, they make them equipment manager or waterboy. He gives them a position where they can't hurt the team or hurt themselves. Well, the waterboys of the IRS proved they can hurt the IRS a lot.

  77. Xenocles says

    I've been reflecting on Thucydides today, specifically the line he attributes to the Athenians in the Melian Dialogue:

    The strong do what they can; the weak suffer what they must.

    The question is not whether might makes right, but whether the mighty have any use for righteousness. While nobody can take my ability to make the right decisions, they can dramatically limit my options. Thus if I am to be as righteous as possible I must be free, and if I am to be free I must be strong.

    So human interactions should be voluntary. I agree, they should. We should design machines to be as efficient as possible, but we know we can never achieve 100% efficiency. Waste is inevitable. So too with chasing the ideal of complete voluntarism. We will inevitably face the choice between deliberately falling short of our ideal or having that ideal annihilated from without.

    So do we die pure or make the best compromise we can? I hate to poison the well but I can't help but see any belief in a third way as hopelessly naive. I would have it differently, but the world never promised to please me. I simply don't see a plausible way for a society to be strong without at least a limited measure of government. Sure, we could theoretically all agree to build a navy and man it and pay the sailors, and we could all agree on the scheme for funding that fleet, but are we to believe that such harmony is even possible, let alone within reach? I have trouble believing the agreement could survive the naming of the flagship.

    (The Athenians ultimately lost the war in which they put Melos to the sword, and it was only the greater strategic concerns of the victors that saved Athens from the same fate. I suppose that's a kind of justice, but it did the Melians little good.)

    So to end my rambling, I suppose I'd say that the choice is not whether someone will assume power over others, but what the extent of that power will be and who will wield it. We can name that power anything we want, but it does pretty much the same thing as a government. So why not strive to wield it benignly rather than bemoan the reality that it will be wielded?

  78. says

    @Clark: "I've already talked about socities that do not have governments."

    Americans use the term "government" to refer to the statist State. It contributes to cloudy thinking. Every society has some form of governance — a means to address wrongs, openly and publicly (and, for the most part, peacefully). Thus it can be said to have "government" (but not "A Government").

    Our enemy is The State, the organization that claims a monopoly on the 'legitimate' use of force. As Clark's example and Obama's murders show, The State's use of is –in the end– ungoverned.

    The Irish example illustrates the difference between government and The State. This society had some folk called kings. They weren't monarchs: there were many of them. They governed quite well without a monopoly on force, without any ability to make "official law", and each was the king of only those people who chose to recognize him. It wasn't perfectly volunterist, but then who is perfect?

    "The State" is the thing, the thing itself. O'wise, govern with alacrity.

  79. says

    @Richard…

    Let's set down law #1:

    1. You may not kill another human being (except to preserve your own life).

    Law #1 is pretty much in every system of laws in every government in human history (with various exceptions depending on the culture).

    Every government in history violated your Law #1 with impunity, and often on a momumental scale.

    Example #1: A foreigner comes into town and is killed. Under Mob rule,…

    What's with this epithet "Mob rule"? Anybody hear Clark or any volunerist advocate such a silly thing?

    Your foreigner, like the locals, would have some support, a clan, a tuath, an insurer, or some other group to which he could appeal for justice. These groups, like governments would have arrangements (treaties?) with each other to provide for local support of its clients. Or, a visitor could sign up with a commercial insurer.

    Your "Mob Rule" is naive.

  80. wumpus says

    "What's with this epithet "Mob rule"? Anybody hear Clark or any volunerist advocate such a silly thing?"

    I forgot. Crime magically disappears in volunerist/anarchist situations. It never occurs to cops and mobsters to build the old Family again.

    Tell us, what actually happens when the old cops decide to take over the town, or somebody brings in a horde of goons? Try to use examples that would work in large cities, and not just Western movie plots.

  81. says

    Tim!:


    When you say Taoism, I think you mean Maoism.

    Taoism is much closer to Clark's ideal than to any derivative of communism.

    You are correct. Thank you.

    The current article and discussion reminded me of the latter half of the 60s — little red books of Mao, bible thumpers, hawks and doves, riots and sit-ins, small-town America mostly wondering wtf?. The Beatles' Revolution seemed to toss the salad (they got a lot of flak from all sides about that, so it must've been pretty reflective of moderate thinking). That led us into Nixon (reaction of a pendulum?), 4 dead in Ohio, spontaneous combustion of rivers, smog alerts, environmentalism. The push-back against consumerism replaced a government of the people with a government of, by and for the beneficiaries of that quaint religion of the mythical "free market". Now we're back to discussing doing away with the very form of our government, but, as in the 60s (and probably other times of which I have no first-hand knowledge), I don't see any real plan for its replacement.

    This swing of the pendulum will probably fizzle. The monied interests seem to have consolidated their control over all three branches of the federal government and are much more adept at motivating sufficient segments of the population to maintain that control. Individuals not only can't afford to lobby for their needs, they can't even afford the price list of Congress critters.

  82. Richard says

    piperTom wrote:

    What's with this epithet "Mob rule"? Anybody hear Clark or any volunerist advocate such a silly thing?

    Your foreigner, like the locals, would have some support, a clan, a tuath, an insurer, or some other group to which he could appeal for justice. These groups, like governments would have arrangements (treaties?) with each other to provide for local support of its clients. Or, a visitor could sign up with a commercial insurer.

    Your "Mob Rule" is naive.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. You're jumping into the middle of a debate there. That particular debate is not about what volunerists advocate; it's a tangent about the practical differences between mob rule and rule of law.

    Way up, near the top of the thread, in response to Clark's statement that "government is inherently, definitionally, the use of force by the strong against the weak." I listed for him the only three options I could think of for addressing grievances: Non-enforcement, vendetta, and a neutral arbiter (a government). I then asked him how a government fit this definition better than any of the other options.

    Someone else suggested that the people as a whole could come together and dispense justice, so I added that fourth option as Mob Rule. (I'm not going to repeat the four definitions; they're within the first 20 posts in the thread).

    That same person asked me what practical distinction there was between Mob Rule (where the people as a whole dispense justice directly) and Rule of Law (where the people as a whole decide on rules for everyone to follow, and appoint a (theoretically) neutral arbiter to enforce them (i.e. a government).

    The reply you quoted had me trying to explain that distinction. It had nothing to do about volunerism, except that "Mob Rule" was one of only three alternatives to the establishment of laws and a government to decide issues of "right" and "wrong."

    You put forth several alternatives to mob rule or a government for justice, but I would argue that clan, tuath, and insurer seeking reparations all fall under what I called "vendetta" (retribution by associates of the injured party).

    piperTom also wrote:

    Every government in history violated your Law #1 with impunity, and often on a momumental scale.

    I'm not going to bother to look up counterexamples (as I'm fairly certain there have been at least a few governments without blood on their hands), nor to chide you for both quoting and ignoring my disclaimer of cultural exceptions, because the actions of government had nothing to do with my point.

    The point of Law #1 was to give a basis for the rest of the post, which illustrated the differences between enforcement of a (simple, mostly universal) law by the people directly, as opposed to enforcement of law by an arbiter appointed by the people. This, again, was a tangential debate about the practical differences between these two systems, and was a direct reply to someone who had stated that there were no such differences.

    TLDR: I did not state that I had seen "Clark or any volunerist advocate such a silly thing [as Mob Rule]." I listed four options for addressing grievances in any society, and asked Clark how "government" was any more "might makes right" than the alternatives. One of those options was Mob Rule; someone asked me how Mob Rule was distinct from government; the post you quoted was a direct reply to that question.

  83. J R in WV says

    But I question the basic truth that would underlie Noonan's whole premise: The IRS wasn't shown to have done anything wrong!

    First: Organizations which plan to participate in politics are not allowed to become tax-exempt 503(c)whatever organizations. Thus, exercising more care in investigating groups which show every indication of planning to engage in politics is in fact what should happen.

    Second: No organizations were not permitted to become tax-exempt that were in fact qualified to become tax-exempt!

    Third: Both Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning groups are investigated before being granted tax-exempt status.

    Where is the corruption? Where is the lack of trust? These folks were exercising their best judgement in performing their assigned jobs, and for this they're being pilloried unfairly by people whose whole careers are built upon fomenting distrust of government, which they wish "to strangle in a bathtub!" People who are lying about all the facts of the situation, most of whom face no inhibition upon their constant stream of lies about their opponents.

  84. Anony Mouse says

    It's not the scrutiny, it's the targetting. Furthermore, your third point is pathetic, weaksauce spin.

    "In total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words 'progress' or 'progressive' in their names were processed as potential political cases. In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit." — Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

    I'm sure even you can tell that there's a difference between 30% and 100%. One might even call 30% "tokenism". It's a sad smoke screen regurgitated by folks who love them some Kool-Aid.

  85. Anony Mouse says

    Forgot to add:

    Even just skimming the Wikipedia article would grant a lot of insight.

  86. Daniel Taylor says

    Homing in on the "Tea Party" groups is natural if you are looking for groups that might be being formed primarily for political purposes, because the national "Tea Party" is a political organization, so declaring affiliation with it is pretty clearly stating political intent.

    That's like saying that a liberal group named "Democratic Party Food Shelf" wouldn't be immediately scrutinized, and that the name itself wouldn't be considered politicization of whatever else they were doing.

  87. InnocentBystander says

    anonyMouse: It's not the scrutiny, it's the targetting.

    The IRS agents came up with a set of criteria to determine potential groups that could be primarily involved in political election intervention. The intent of the criteria is to separate ALL these groups for scrutiny. The selection criteria did not meet a fair standard. The primary reason it was unfair was it included groups by name. "Tea Party" for example. Choosing "Tea Party" groups unfairly burdens The Oolong Society and the Earl Gray club. The IG said some groups that wouldn't have been selected by objective criteria were improperly targeted. The large majority of tea party group SHOULD have been selected. He contended that UP to 17 applications did not contain information that would have led to their selection. He qualified that by admitting that some of these groups submitted information afterwards that showed they should have been selected. The IRS agreed that some of these 17 were improperly selected, but indicated that "agent experience" would have led to suspicion and allowed them to choose some of them anyway. The reality is that the IRS tried to TARGET every potentially political group, liberal and conservative. They incompetently failed. Improperly choosing by name caused them to collect a few groups that shouldn't have been given extra scrutiny. Its all in the IG report. Unfortunately, most people are relying on "news" interpretations of the data or the coordinated media circus of leaks from Issa's committee.

  88. Burst says

    @clark:

    Miscarriages of justice, however spectacular, do not make the times when justice is served meaningless, and those occasions absolutely do exist.

    I see you are arguing that the police are a greater problem than criminals, and that a system without them would not have significant crime ("one or two Joes").

    If our system of accountability is ineffective, is the answer really that there should be no accountability at all?

    I find this difficult to credit, and would love to hear evidence and/or logic to support this conclusion. It seems to me that abuse would grow rather than decline in such a scenario.

    Is there any true evidence one way or the other?

  89. barry says

    I found an interesting article "The Benefits of Monarchy" on what looks like a libertarian site; reason.com by an assistant editor Matthew Feeney who is a dual British/American citizen.

    One argument he makes is:

    Something else that can be said in favor of a constitutional monarchy is that it allows for the head of the state to not be a political figure. Whether Democrat or Republican, the American president represents the country as the head of state, meaning that regrettably American culture, traditions, or interests are never represented by anyone other than a politician.

    I like him because he agrees with a point I tried to make (on the separation of state and government) on a previous blog :)