September 12th, 2008

eyes black and white

The Myth of the State as Something above Society

In his book Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen notably explains why one should not give to beggars, by using an argument called rent exhaustion. I explained earlier why undiscriminating charity was indeed only fostering parasitism and vice (though I admit I've been so weak as to subsidize my local liquor store that way a few times since I wrote said article). My argument used the Law of Bitur-Camember, which indeed seems to be essentially equivalent to the argument of rent exhaustion as systematized and applied to any political rent. Unhappily, even amongst Economist (as opposed to mere econometrists), too many will not or dare not explicitly apply economic arguments to Politics itself. Tyler himself, though he doesn't seem to indulge too much in the fallacy of considering the State as above society, won't seem to openly come against it.

Great progress will be made when people cease to implicitly accept the Statist Myth of the State as some entity above society, beyond the laws of human behavior, capable of regulating from outside and violate, counter or alter the laws of human behavior to engineer people's lives according to whichever fantasies of the rulers. Many economists have worked to dispel this myth — Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan being some of the first to explicitly apply the economic point of view to the systematic study of government. These days, while I like the blogs of many economists at GMU, including Tyler's, Don Boudreaux's blog stands out in its relentless effort to dispel the Statist Myth. But even they seem to do it without systematically conceptualizing it.

Now even many libertarians make the mistake of discussing various policies as if there really were a State above Society capable to turn arbitrary policies into new laws of human behavior at no cost. Actually, the policies that the State enacts are arbitrary neither in their causes nor in their consequences. On the one hand, they are the result of human actions that have great cost; on the other hand, they do not alter human nature, but only modify human behavior through violence and threats thereof.

Laws are only enacted but with powerful lobbies and ideologies behind them, that either are allowed to clash in an expensive war of all against all, or are given free reign as one hegemonic party imposes its one-sided will upon all. And the same parties that clash over each of their turfs always agree in their common cause against the public.

Then again, laws only affect those who get caught. It costs in violent law enforcement, enacted by bureaucrats empowered against the designated suspects. It costs in bureaucratic hurdles that people have to comply with to receive their subsidies and privileges.

Finally, the next best alternative that people find to openly acting as is officially prohibited is seldom to embrace the desires and tastes of the oppressor. People will do in private what they can't do in public. They will rather live in the dark rather than pay the tax on windows.

No one can decree a better mankind. Political power is no magic wand that can achieve that. Prohibiting the perceived symptoms of evil only spreads more evil and dulls out perception in a typical instance of the Law of Eristic Escalation.