by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief

[The ‘principal device’ of government is to] search out groups who pant or pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B.”
~ H.L. Mencken

I

Do you know what I am thinking? All arguments for government based on efficiency, productivity, consent or representation assume that they know what other people are thinking. The arguments assume: that when people stay in an area, that means they consent to the government of that area; that when they vote, that means they consent to the entire arrangement; and that whatever the government does, represents the views, values and priorities of the citizens. The government assumes they know better what everyone else is thinking than each individual thinker himself does. No matter how apparently universal various sentiments are, utility is not intersubjectively comparable; there is no unit of measure for utility. Giordano Bruno expressed this nicely:

[N]othing is absolutely bad; for the viper is not deadly and poisonous to the viper; nor the dragon, the lion, and the bear, to the bear, to the lion, to the dragon. But each thing is bad in respect to something else. Just as you, virtuous gods, are bad in respect to those who are corrupt … so those who believe in day and light are bad in respect to those who believe in night and obscurity. And you are good among yourselves, and they are good among themselves; just as now happens among sects of the world, hostile to one another, where the opponents call themselves children of the gods and just; and these, no less than others, call the most outstanding and honored men the worst and most reprobate of men.1

Mainstream feminists premise their naggings on women deserving more than they get, as if it is for them to decide even though they are not the employers. If they believed they were as good as they say they are, then they would all be self-employed if others disagreed.

Value is subjective; it is not inherent in beautiful trees. A tree is only beautiful because we think it is. This does not mean a tree is not beautiful; just that some people might not think it beautiful, or think it would look more beautiful as furniture; while others might find it more beautiful sold, putting the proceeds towards a fast car. Those who want to save a tree from being knocked down should buy it off those who don’t value it like they do; mainstream environmentalists admit they would be getting a good deal, yet they persist in badgering government to interfere as if they would not be getting a good deal.

Max Weber called attempts to enforce one’s values on others “the tyranny of values.”2 Ludwig von Mises elaborated:

What the naïve mind calls reason is nothing but the absolutization of its own value judgments. The individual simply identifies the products of his own reasoning with the shaky notion of an absolute reason. No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power — whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government — could act in a way of which he himself disapproves. A socialist advocates socialism because he is fully convinced that the supreme dictator of the socialist commonwealth will be reasonable from his — the individual socialist’s — point of view, that he will aim at those ends of which he — the individual socialist — fully approves, and that he will try to attain these ends by choosing means which he — the individual socialist — would also choose. Every socialist calls only that system a genuinely socialist system in which these conditions are completely fulfilled; all other brands claiming the name of socialism are counterfeit systems entirely different from true socialism. Every socialist is a disguised dictator.3

Similarly, Mencken said, most men “simply cannot formulate the concept of a good that is not his own good. The fact explains his immemorial heat against heretics, sacred and secular.”4

II

The common good does not exist, for good cannot be ascertained in common. Otherwise it could be argued that everyone who was killed by their own government committed suicide. The popular objection to such an argument is that a particular government had an incorrect idea of the public good. But no one has the ability to define the public good; for since they are not the public, its good is not theirs to define.

They can pronounce judgement and peddle influence all they like; but as soon as they advocate force they are not just expressing their own values, they are stopping other people from expressing theirs by forcefully limiting their ability to do what they want with what is justly theirs.

Since the public good cannot be defined, and all thinking and valuing that others perform cannot be known, government is incapable of systematically furthering the public good or helping others more than they could help themselves of their own accord. Those who argue that government does represent the public good and that it has a right to tax you, imply that everything apparently yours is really the government’s, and whatever you are allowed to keep is simply due to the generosity of government. The implicit premise is that everything is government property and we are all born into slavery to government. Supporters of government ought to give everything they have got to the government, for it is quite disgraceful that they are supporting themselves at the expense of everyone else. In this manner John Ralston Saul blasted accountants as dishonourable for “Knowing how not to contribute to the public weal.”5

III

That no one can know what anyone else is thinking is further shown by the impossibility of ruling out ulterior motives when describing motives for certain acts. All equal opportunity legislation assumes that there are never ulterior motives or that the only ulterior motives are due to economic conditions, race, etc. Why can’t someone hire someone because of their looks, or connections, rather than their skills, if the employer is hiring someone at his own expense for his own use? What right does anyone have to stop a father from hiring his son even though there are black people and women who might be more capable – not that capability has anything to do with it? The reasoning behind it is obviously fallacious. That is why the pick-up line “Can I buy you a drink, or do you just want the money?” is so amusing.6

IV

The whole idea of positive, legally enforceable, societal obligations is shown to be unsupportable in light of subjective individualism. It is equivalent to getting in trouble for something you never did.

V

Government is an attempt to replace the voluntary expression of individual values and valuations, in order to satisfy these same individuals. This is more difficult than commonly thought. Consider the complexity of products on the market that we take for granted. A pencil, for example, is so complex that no one knows how to make it, let alone how to make it to satisfy consumers and those at all levels of production without the use of force. Many people complain that they are not certain exactly how things will be produced on a purely free market, but they are not even aware of how a seemingly simple thing like a pencil is produced. Read Leonard Read’s I, Pencil.

This is the third of a four part series designed to give readers the basic tools to be a libertarian:

Footnotes

  1. Giordano Bruno, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, trans. Arthur D. Imerti (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), p. 169. Quotation marks deleted.
  2. Quoted in Paul Gottfried, After Liberalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 87 and p. 161, where Gottfried supplies references and also recommends an essay by Carl Schmitt that I have not been able to find in English translation.
  3. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998), pp. 688-89.
  4. H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy (New York: Knopf, 1926), p. 31.
  5. John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards (London: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 467.
  6. This does not mean, however, that libertarians morally encourage what they legally allow. Such an accusation is akin to blaming the government that has allowed the distribution of these words for wholeheartedly supporting it, or claiming that every failed government prosecution explicitly endorsed whatever it was they were against. The only thing libertarians claim is that, in the words of Roderick Long, “other people are not your property.” And if these people do not know how to look after themselves, then it is unlikely that they know how to look after everyone else.
(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Acquiescence
  2. Why Sports Fans Should Be Libertarians
  3. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  4. Government Schools Teach Fascism Perfectly
  5. Deport Government to Solve Immigration Problem
  6. The Drugs Problem Problem
  7. Self-Defeating Campaigning
  8. Gittinomics: Economics for Gits
  9. Exclusive Ross Gittins Interview on The Happy Economist
  10. Population Puzzle Solved
  11. An Open Letter to the CIS
  12. Principled Foreign Policy Options: Reinvade or Shut Up and Get Out
  13. WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Political Corruption Exposed!
  14. Feedback please: Is this worth doing?
  15. CIS and IPA Defend State Schooling
  16. A Thorough Review Without Spoilers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  17. Dead Reckoning and Government: A Proposal for Electoral Reform
  18. Quadrant Defends State Schooling
  19. The MPS 2010 Consensus
  20. Slogans for Property Rights Funeral
  21. Government is Impossible: Introduction
  22. Government is Criminal: Part 1
  23. Exclusive John Howard Interview on Lazarus Rising
  24. Response to Senator Cory Bernardi and the IPA
  25. Earn $$$$$ by Justifying Government Against Anarchocapitalism: Survey
  26. Statism is Secrecy: WikiLeaks vs Economics.org.au
  27. One question the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens, the CIS, the IPA, Ross Gittins, Ross Garnaut, Ken Henry, Gerard Henderson, John Quiggin, Clive Hamilton, Tim Flannery, Catallaxy Files, Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo, Phillip Adams, Robert Manne, Michael Stutchbury, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and Dick Smith are scared to answer
  28. Libertarian Philanthropists Should Exploit Tax Evasion Convictions
  29. Ronald Kitching Obituary
  30. The Minarchist Case for Anarchism
  31. Libertarianism in a 300-word rant
  32. Economics.org.au in the news again
  33. Libertarianism In An Executive Summary
  34. The Banking Bubble Blow-by-Blow
  35. WARNING: Libertarianism Is NOT ...
  36. Would Anything Possibly Convince You that You Are Living Under a Protection Racket?
  37. An Open Letter to Dick Smith
  38. Economics.org.au at 42
  39. "My boyfriend calls himself a Marxist and votes Labor, what should I do?"
  40. "He says if I leave him due to politics, I should leave the country too."
  41. No Booboisie at Gülçin’s Galt’s Gulch
  42. "Hey, Mr Anarchocapitalist, show me a society without government"
  43. The Three Epoch-Making Events of the Modern Libertarian Movement
  44. Government is Criminal: Part 2 - Methodological Individualism
  45. Government is Criminal: Part 3 - Subjective Utility
  46. Government is Criminal: Part 4 - Praxeological Synonyms
  47. Government is in a State of Anarchy
  48. Limited Government is Absolute Government
  49. Why the 2012 double Nobel laureate is coming to Sydney
  50. Exclusive Oliver Marc Hartwich Interview on Hans-Hermann Hoppe
  51. A Critique of the Opening Two Sentences of the "About CIS" Page on The Centre for Independent Studies' Website, www.cis.org.au
  52. An invitation for ANDEV members to the Mises Seminar
  53. Sell the ABC to Rupert Murdoch: Lid Blown on ABC Funding Disgrace!
  54. www.inCISe.org.au, The Centre for Independent Studies new blog
  55. The Unconstitutionality of Government in Australia (demonstrated in under 300 words)
  56. The Best Libertarian Film Is ...
  57. Launch Southeast Asian Military Operations to Free Australian Drug Dealers and Consumers
  58. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  59. Hoppe's Inarticulate Australian Critics: The Hon Dr Peter Phelps, Dr Steven Kates and James Paterson
  60. Vice Magazine Westralian Secession Interview
  61. Sideshow to Dr Steven Kates' criticism of the Mises Seminar: Davidson vs Hoppe on Adam Smith
  62. The Best Australian Think Tank Is ...
  63. Announcing a new magazine to rival Time and The Economist
  64. The exciting new Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
  65. Neville Kennard Obituary
  66. Contrarian Conformism
  67. An invitation for Dick Smith, the IPA and other Walter Block fans to the 2nd Australian Mises Seminar
  68. Westralian mining legend Ron Manners of Mannkal belongs in The Property and Freedom Society
  69. What would Bert Kelly think of the Mises Seminar and Walter Block?
  70. Bad news about the Mises Seminar
  71. Gina Rinehart Fan Club gives big to Australian political education
  72. Sam Kennard wins North Sydney by-election by unanimous consent
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