More featuring Justin Jefferson»

by Justin Jefferson, senior columnist

We live in an age of big government, and getting bigger. Every day we hear calls for government to do more, from regulating light-globes, to regulating baby-sitting, to subsidizing both business and unemployed, to adjusting the climate, and everything in between. There is nothing this wonderful invention can’t do.

Presumably a better society is to be reached somewhere between the level of big government we have now, which everyone seems in favour of, and totalitarian government, which everyone disowns.

All government, whether democratic or not, claims a monopoly of legal coercion. Whenever anyone questions the justification for government forcibly overriding voluntary transactions, we are told that government represents society. According to the theory of representative government, we the people elect representatives to make and enforce laws that represent the will of the people. Government supposedly protects the interests of society with a view to the public interest, as against the selfishness of the individual.

But when we actually critically examine this idea, we find there is little or no evidence for it.

For starters, in Australia, voting is compulsory. You cannot build any theory of consent on that.

A voter does not get to vote on any particular law, policy, or action of government. Yet any and every single action of government is presumed to “represent” the people, even people who in fact don’t know about it, or don’t want it.

You only get one vote, but all the different policies are bundled as a package deal. It is impossible for the voter to separate out policies he doesn’t want from those he does. Thus if we are looking for actual evidence that government represents the will of society, the electoral process provides no evidence that any given law or act of government does in fact represent the will of the majority, let alone “society”. But if the electoral process does not supply such evidence, what does?

You only get to vote for a politician in your electorate. You have no direct vote on who is Prime Minister, or a member of Cabinet. These are all decided in private by private organizations — political parties — whose specific purpose is to capture the public law-making power.

Marginal seats are more important to a political party than safe seats, so the marginal voters have more weight in deciding policy than other voters.

No matter how great the greatest inequality between parties to a market transaction, it is never as great as the least inequality between the state and an individual.

Under Australian law “misleading and deceptive conduct” is illegal. So is “conduct that is likely to mislead or deceive”. But only “in trade or commerce”.

Breach of promise by politicians is legal, routine, notorious; unlike frauds in market transactions, who are rightly treated as criminals. One political party not so long ago confiscated ten percent of everything Australians produce — amounting to billions of dollars a year — on promises that they then failed to perform. But no prison for them.

While the representative theory of government paints government as a consensual and civil discourse, the fact is that taxation is a compulsory impost based on force and threats. If you don’t pay, ultimately you will be physically seized, and imprisoned where you are at further risk of being violated.

Your one-twenty-millionth of a say means in effect you have no control about whether you pay, what service is to be provided, whether you get it, and whom you are forced to pay for. It is a pure fiction that “we”, i.e. the people, own public i.e. government assets. In fact and in law, the state owns them not the people. You have no property right as a result. If you doubt this, try and get your equal share of your property and see what happens.

At election time, the mass media usually focus on two or three major issues, and the vast bulk and detail of laws and policies are never in fact discussed nor known by the public when they vote.

Political parties have long since mined out what everyone or a simple majority wants, such as defence against invaders, and the criminalization of murder. So then they turn to amassing majorities by aggregating the votes of smaller and smaller interest groups.

For example, a political party might get, say, four percent of the vote by promising a special handout to farmers; seven percent of the vote by promising another industry a compulsory licensing scheme to exclude competition; ten percent by promising a handout in cash or kind to a vocal minority; another seven percent by illegalizing something a minority pressure group doesn’t like, even if it’s a consensual activity that’s none of their business.

And so on to a bare majority. That is how we are governed: three layers of it. Thus not only is there no evidence that government represents the will of the majority, but the reality is that under modern democracies, it is actually minorities who are the real movers and beneficiaries behind most new laws.

The government-funded departments who administer these schemes then become major full-time vested interests calling for the expansion of governments’ powers and income at the expense of everyone else.

In this scheme of things, there is nothing stopping A from voting for a benefit paid for with property taken from B. But B doesn’t just sit there being exploited: he tries to recoup his losses by urging politicians for “free” goodies paid for with property taken from A or C.

For example in the recent debate on paid maternity leave, the most common argument was that those in favour have “paid tax”; as if this conferred a general entitlement to live at others’ expense. But that is not an argument in favour of forcibly helping yourself to the fruit of other people’s labour, it is an argument against taxing A to pay for a benefit for B. The ethical dimension is disregarded, all based on the lie that this destructive and anti-social process represents society and the greater good.

The effect of the representative theory of government is that democratic politics becomes a mere unprincipled scramble by interest groups for mutual plunder and privileges; falsely called the “public interest”.

The executive branch of government consists of hundreds of thousands of officers in NSW alone. According to the theory of representative government, these armies of officials all act as the mere delegates of their respective Ministers, who act as the mere delegates of the Executive in Cabinet, who act as the mere delegates of the party with a majority in the lower house of Parliament, who act as the mere delegates of the people. This Yes Minister theory is literally a joke as an explanation and justification of government in the real world.

Thus there is actually little or no evidence, as opposed to assumption and assertion, that the state in fact represents society.

To recap:

  1. It’s true, isn’t it, that there is no evidence for my former belief that any given act of government represents society?
  2. It’s true, isn’t it, that government is based on force or threats, not on the agreement of society?
  3. It’s true, isn’t it, that majority opinion, and therefore minority opinion, cannot justify using force or threats to get something for nothing by taking it from someone else?
  4. It’s true, isn’t it, that government intervention cannot of itself make any service cheaper than it can be provided by the market?
  5. It’s true, isn’t it, that social justice does not justify forced redistributions more than voluntary transactions?