About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Politics Is Not And Cannot Be Our Savior

I have written that the 2012 Presidential election will be the most important Presidential election in American history. Why? Because in 2012 Americans will be presented a choice between two contrary visions of American life: President Obama's vision of a collectivist state wherein individuals labor to enrich the state and the state, in turn, guided by an enlightened elite distributes goods and services among its subjects; and, hopefully, a traditional vision of a capitalist state wherein individuals, guided by their own free will, labor to enrich themselves and their families and wherein government is only a watchman, protective of the natural rights of its individual citizens.

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that 2012 may not be the most important election in American history (H/T to Maggie's Farm). The election of 1860 was perhaps the most pivotal. Not only did that Presidential election decide the role the new President would play in shaping America's future, but it also literally decided whether America would survive as a nation.

Still, in many ways, politics is not the forerunner of how Americans will act in the future, but the bellwether of what we have become. In politics as in almost everything else, we get what we deserve. Rightly understood, politics is the means by which individuals who wish to cooperate in society set the ground rules which govern their cooperative action. Cooperative action cannot exist without "transparent" and mutually agreed upon rules of order and protocol. Individuals who wish to cooperate in society do not negotiate these rules in order to take advantage of or exploit their fellow cooperators. They negotiate rules in order to facilitate and safeguard their cooperative efforts.

Individuals cooperate in order to attain goals that they either cannot attain or cannot attain as efficiently acting alone. To offer a simple and basic example, an individual acting alone cannot build a bridge across the Mississippi. Cooperative action makes it possible for an individual to attain such a goal. However, cooperative action is not a simple undertaking. Potential cooperators must satisfy themselves that they will enjoy the fruits of their cooperative effort. Using means to attain ends is no longer simply a matter of self-trust. A potential cooperator must trust that his partners will allow him to attain his goals. His fate is literally in their hands.

It is contradictory to believe that a man cooperates in order to attain ends he cannot attain acting alone, but at the same time believe that this same man will cooperate by rules which allow other cooperators to deprive him of attaining the ends he seeks by means of cooperation. Therefore, a cooperative groundrule which allows random theft and murder is unthinkable. Every act of cooperation must include a cooperative agreement -- a politically negotiated and mutually agreed upon code of ethics enforced by some mutually agreed upon governing mechanism -- which makes theft and murder taboo. Without such an agreement, it is absurd to believe that rational men would cooperate.

One cooperative action leads to another and another. As the cooperative arrangement proves mutually beneficial to all concerned, cooperative ties strengthen. The cooperative effort continues for the lifetime of the individual cooperators and extends into future generations. A cooperative effort which began as a mutual pact among a few may eventualy become a pact which orders the cooperative actions of thousands or millions.

As time goes on, understandings of the original cooperative agreement change. Successful cooperative societies develop means of adjudicating such differences in understanding. Disputes are resolved by the same political means which established the cooperative agreement in the first place. So long as these political means work to the satisfaction of all or at least to the satisfaction of the greatest number of cooperators, the cooperative society will continue to thrive. However, if disputes become intractable and unresolvable, or if the political process is somehow corrupted, cooperative societies will (and have) cracked up. If such is the case, cooperative action ceases along with the economic and social advantages cooperative action makes possible. Individuals are relegated to act and survive on their own. It's literally every man or family for himself. The individual's standard of living drastically deteriorates.

I contend that our cooperative American society is flirting with a crackup. Politics is no longer the means by which individuals in our society settle their differences and protect their property and freedom. Politics has become the means by which some individuals in our society seek to gain advantage and exploit others. Seeking the enforcement power which is vested in cooperative government to protect individual rights, these schemers intend to use the coercive and political power of government as a means to extort the property and freedom of others in society. They spout religious and moral imperatives which rationalize their grab for power. They foolishly believe that if they can persuade a critical number of their fellow cooperators to agree with them and support their political efforts, they will ultimately be able to "justly" and "rightly" use government to coerce the rest of society to do their bidding, to act according to their own vision of the proper goals all cooperators should rightly seek.

However, these usurpers forget the essence of society is cooperation and that cooperative effort is by nature voluntary. Once individuals feel that they will not be able to attain the benefits produced by cooperative action, once they understand that they would be better off acting alone or in concert with a smaller, closer knit group of like-minded cooperators, they will cease to cooperate with the usurpers and their political supporters. Slowly and inevitably the cooperative, i.e., the larger society, will crackup, disintegrate and splinter into vying factions. When the usurpers seek to hold the former, larger society together by means of force and coercion, civil war erupts and social peace is ended.

The rancorous American politics of 2012 is indicative of a deep and impassable crevasse which divides American cooperative society. On the one side are Americans who envision government power as the proper means by which they can safeguard their lives, freedom and property. Their ultimate goal is to foster cooperative action between individuals, each with the liberty to seek after their own welfare and happiness. They have the utmost respect for the right of property and the right of liberty of action, all the while respecting the mutual rights of other cooperators.

On the other side of this chasm are those who have long forgot, or who perhaps never really understood, the essential criteria of cooperative action: that theft and murder, along with all their corollaries, must be taboo and against the law of the land. The ultimate goal of these usurpers is to control American society to their own advantage or to mold American society to their own vision of it. By seizing political power they imagine they can seize productive power. They fool themselves into thinking that legitimately imposing rapacious levels of taxation is not theft, and that legitimately passing and enforcing laws that violate individual liberty and then mandating the incarceration of the violators is not a variety of murder. They convince themselves they can do these things without consequence.

Just as the election of 1860, the election of 2012 will settle nothing, will decide nothing. America is already divided along faultlines we know exist. Just as in 1860, the election of 2012 will merely make the divide plain for all to see and make whatever it is that must be done in consequence crystal clear in the conscience of each American cooperator.

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