Why Do Governments Suck?

Posted by Jason | Posted in Government | Posted on 21-05-2010

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So many people complain about the government. Actually, I cannot think of one person who doesn’t say politicians are corrupt and our government sucks. Can you? Even the people who run for government offices tell us every election how bad the government is and how they are going to fix it. So what’s up with no one thinking our government is really for the people? After all, the Constitution says “We the People..”, so shouldn’t at least some people believe in the government?

Well, as I’ve said in previous posts, you must think about the government not as a special entity but as a collection of individuals. Take it down to the individual level. What would people think if I did this? Then you can understand why everyone dislikes the government.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say 10 people move to a deserted island. Now the 10 people get along pretty well. Of course, there are some flare ups. People can get on each other’s nerves periodically, but the fact that they all must survive on this island keeps them working with each other. (Eh boy, this is sounding like Lost) There is only one rule on this island that keeps peace between the people. That rule is do not steal from each other. What about murder you say? Well, isn’t murder just stealing someone’s life from them? What about violence? Isn’t violence taking someone’s well being?

How do they enforce this? At first, they each enforce it by themselves or with other members of the group. Also survival keeps you in line. What would happen if every member decided to stop working, sharing and trading with you, because you were deemed untrustworthy? You would have a hard time surviving. One day the group is out searching other parts of the island, and they find some left over stuff from someone who was previously on the island. Part of this find was a gun.

As you can imagine there is a lot of discussion about what to do with the gun. Finally the group decides that they must pick one member of the group that will keep the gun and use it to protect everyone. If someone in the group is accused of stealing from someone else, then the others will judge and it will be up to this individual to enforce the judgment. Also, this individual will use the gun to protect the group from threats outside camp, such as local animals who have trashed their camp several times.

At first everything seem OK. They picked a trust worthy member of the group to be the leader, the guy who governs. Disputes are raised amongst the group, and the leader decides in favor of one or the other. He starts out being pretty fair. Also, if it’s a dispute over something that effects the whole society like say, should they move camps or something, the group can decide for themselves.

One day the camp is destroyed by animals scavenging for food, while the group was off working in the woods. After some discussion, the group decides that the guy with the gun should remain at camp to look over things while everyone else works. The group will have to give up some of their production in exchange for that protection. All but one person agrees to it, and you now have a form of taxation.

As you can imagine, seeing this guy back at camp not doing much other than providing security begins to irritate some in the group. Of course, they need protection, so they suck it up and keep working. If only there were more guns they think to themselves. They could provide their own protection.

Now that this leader, ah let’s call him governor, has all this free time. He starts thinking of ways to run everything better. What would make this society better? His first idea is to have one person do all the cleaning. If one person handles all the cleaning, then the others can focus on working in the woods, gather food, etc. So, he picks the person he believes is best at cleaning, and says this person will be a full-time cleaner. Everyone in the group will have to give up some production in order for him to keep everyone’s clothes, camp, etc clean. As far as giving up production, do not worry, because there will be more production now that the rest of the group doesn’t have to clean. One member says, “I already had an arrangement with that guy to clean my stuff. I would give him some of the berries I picked in exchange for him cleaning my stuff.” The leader responds, “I know. He did a great job for you. That is why I think he could do a great job for everyone. Now everyone will trade with him for that service.” The member responds, “But you asking me to pay more in taxes than I was paying him before.” The leader, “I’m sorry that’s the case, but we can’t expect him to clean everything for less than this. He’s going to need this much to survive. It’s not fair for him to either not get paid enough to do what we’re asking or for you to be the only one who doesn’t have to clean.”

As you can imagine this member is not happy with this decision. He asks the other members to veto the leaders decision, but the majority of them like the idea of not having to clean. They decide they agree. This member who originally didn’t like this idea says he’s not paying more than he was for this service. The group is appalled by his statement. It would not be fair if he didn’t kick in his fair share. On the day when everyone has to pay up, this member refuses. The leader is summoned and explains if he does not contribute, the group will be forced to take his production or some other property he has. He still refuses, so another member goes to take what he is supposed to contribute. When the other member does, he gets punched. He reports this to the leader, and the leader comes to protect him the next time he goes to take his property. The leaders stands there with a gun for protection of this member who’s been tasked with taking what the resisting member is supposed to rightfully contribute.

Going forward the member who had his production taken at gun point begins to despise the leader and the member who took his stuff. He has a very good friend in the group who also starts disliking what’s going on. This friend though just thinks what can he do. This is what was decided by the group. He should have just given up what he was supposed to.

To make matters worse, some members start complaining that the guy who’s cleaning isn’t doing things right. Their clothes aren’t done the way they like. Their camps aren’t thoroughly cleaned like they used to do themselves. They also become disgruntled with this whole cleaning thing. Meanwhile, the cleaner and the governor have developed quite the friendship, since they are both back at camp all day while the others are off working. One day while they are talking, the cleaner says, “You know, it would be great if someone concentrated on gathering wood. It seems like we are always short on wood. Almost every night, I run out and end  up freezing half the night.” The leader responds, “Hmmm, you’re right. I have the same problem. That’s a great idea.” Cleaner, “The one guy who created the axe and saws is great at cutting down trees. He always has extra wood, and I’ve seen him trading with the other guys when their supplies get low. He’d probably be perfect for the job. Besides, it’s not fair that because we are serving the group as  a whole and don’t have extra stuff to trade, that we shouldn’t have wood to keep warm too.”

As you can see, this goes on and on. Soon the “axe man” is cutting wood full-time for the entire camp. Those who used to trade with him only for what they needed are now forced to hand over a certain amount of production in order to ensure equality when it comes to wood for cooking and heating. Those who used to trade with him are very upset, because they are now paying more for less wood. The axe man was a little upset about this, but then he got to thinking that he would at least have a certain amount of food and supplies guaranteed to him. He wouldn’t have to trade anymore and possibly go without something. Over time, his production falls. It doesn’t matter to him now that he’s getting paid the same no matter what.

One day the axe man comes to the governor. The governor is complaining that wood production seems to have declined, and he’s finding himself without wood again in the middle of the night. The axe man responds by promising the governor a little extra wood. The governor agrees and decides to leave things as they are.

As you can imagine, idea after idea is brought up. They are sold to the governor, who then takes a vote. The majority wins, and the rest of the people have to abide by it. If they don’t, the governor comes with the collectors to collect what a disgruntled member should be contributing. He’s not threatening the disgruntled member. He’s just their to protect the collector.  As time goes on, the disgruntled members do the same thing. They come up with ideas, and other members who previously had ideas become disgruntled. No one wants to go back to the way things were originally, because they all had their ideas implemented, and they do not want to lose that.

Quickly the inefficiency of all these ideas eats away at the standard of living on the island. There are shortages all around. Because each member is defending their idea that was implemented, none of them accept responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault. Finger pointing becomes a way of life. The best anyone can do is throw a little extra production at the governor to get him to weigh in their favor. Everyone seems to be doing this after a while. The governor is the only one who seems to be doing well, but everyone is too busy pointing fingers at each other to notice. After all, shouldn’t the leader be compensated more than the rest. He is their leader. Everyone has a say in what happens. This is democratic, so why is it so bad?

There is one reason it’s bad. There is a monopoly on the gun, and under democracy, everything revolves around the gun.

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Comments (4)

I couldn’t tell if that were Lost or Lord of the Flies, haha.

It would appear that you may be taking up a more anarchical approach to government? Have you given up your minarchist views?

To answer your question though, Governments suck because they have no incentive not to. Like the guys on the island, they prefer the status quo because they don’t want to give up what they’ve already gotten.

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John, I’m pretty much there although it will never happen, so I’ll settle for minarchist. I used to think anarchists were nuts, but I think they are probably the most thought out in their ideas.

Many conservatives think anarchy cannot happen, because they can’t figure out how private defense would work or private roads, so they want a minarchist government. The problem is how can you create a minarchist gov’t? How can you ever give the government a monopoly on force, have democracy, and then keep the government in the confines of defending the individual’s liberty only. I just will never happen. I’ve tried thinking about how it could happen. I’ve thought about how the founders structured it, and created an amazing system, but ultimately it failed at doing what the goal was. The government’s been taken over by big interests such as the Fed, groups such as unions, and big corporations like this big pharma and agriculture companies. I cannot think of any limited government structure (document) that will ever prevent that from happening.

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I’m not even worried so much about privatizing defense or roads, but the justice system to me is the weakest link.

My issue with anarchy is that I don’t see how it’s realistic. I bet if you were to put people, with no previous knowledge of a system of government, on an island that they would establish some kind of government system simple to handle moderating disputes (once the population grew to a point where individual handlings of disputes became too complex).

Due to human nature, corruption of that system would be inevitable as the moderator would be the judge/jury/executioner and there would be large incentive for the parties involved to attempt to sway the outcome of the decision.

If we really sit down and think about it in a logical manner – there cannot be a perfect society or a perfect government because they are both made up of imperfect people.

I actually think the Constitution was the closest thing to a perfect system of government. Where our country failed wasn’t in the how the document was written, but in the execution (a piece of paper can’t enforce itself).

It’s the job of the citizens to ensure our “representatives” remain true to the Constitution. Unfortunately we failed in that regard. We fell asleep at the wheel while our “representatives” have slowly perverted the Constitution into a system of political favors and handouts in return for continued re-election and additional power.

Unfortunately I don’t see us coming back from this. There won’t be a return to Constitutional roots. Just like in the story above, everyone involved is too vested in the current system to see it go away. They’re too focused on what they’re getting now to realize what they gave up, and what was given up before them to get there.

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John,

The key is competition and choice. You are right. You’ll end up with government in some form. The idea that anarchists have is this governing would be voluntary. I could settle for either what the founders created or the Articles of Confederation though. Under both of these systems, you had competition and choice. You could moved to a neighboring state. Now everything is federalized, so you have no choice.

I’d highly recommend you read Bob Murphy’s Chaos Theory. He addresses law and defense. I’d also read The Law by Bastiat. He wasn’t an anarchist, but he lays out what just laws are. The problem is I don’t think its ever possible to have that.

In the end though, this is all philosophical. Our government would as soon kill us as see us free, so I wouldn’t count on any change. Look what happened to the South when they tried saying enough already. I’m not saying slavery was right. As you know, nothing is more antislavery than libertarianism. I’m saying they were right in the idea that they should be able to secede. After all what did the Declaration of Independence mean if not that.

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