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Systems for Governing

In the case of a monarchy, the king is often, tacitly or explicitly, deemed to be a higher form of life than everyone else. In contrast, the commoner is subject to the king and his bloodline possibly even to the degree we might consider a horse to be subject to its rider.

From this assumption, comes the right of the king to demand whatever he wants from his subjects. What he offers in return is a foreign policy, or protection from even more hostile outside forces. In addition, he would also offer some degree of domestic policy—a court to settle disputes among citizens or to punish those who break an established code of conduct. While the king may be responsible to lead in matters of national defense, the true burden of fighting and dying still falls back to his subjects the same as every other burden in the society. Naturally, this includes working for the production of food, shelter and the other necessities of life.

Many people reject the idea that a king can or should be regarded at a higher social strata than his subjects. After all, he is just a regular human being like everyone else. How is it he becomes elevated above his peers in the first place?

Communism has been promoted as a reform against monarchial power which would bring equity to the common man. In this system, “the people” are said to own everything in common, including each other, it would seem. Theoretically, there are no elite entitled to the “rights of the king” since all people together form a common group, equally entitled together, to all assets, labor and production. While this sounds good at a certain level, it doesn’t really address the problem of who will be the “sheriff.” If everyone is the same, then who is really in charge? Ironically, we discover a sheriff is then necessary in order to enforce the idea that no one has a right to be the sheriff.

In practice, every implementation of communism we have seen has eventually established a totalitarian center of power at least as onerous as those existing in a monarchy, if not worse. Just as a monarch uses force in order to keep all commoners common, a communist government must also use its power to enforce this idea of sameness among its citizens. The ruling body formed in order to wield this powerful hand of government consists of people. And those people invariably become an elite ruling class with access to goods and services not available to the rest of the population. Communism has typically devolved rather quickly into a system not too different from a monarchy except that power and privilege are shared by those few who administer the government rather than being held by a single sovereign and his family.

Some theocracies still exist in the world today, including in the Middle East. Under this system, an organized church or religion runs the state. The supreme leader of the religion also has broad power to decide state issues. Where all the citizens subscribe to the same religion, this type of government could have a certain philosphical appeal. After all, if the governed believe they are being led by God’s chosen representative on earth, maybe that is enough for them to voluntarily subject themselves to his rule. This does seem to solve the “sheriff” dilemma since God, by most definitions, is a superior life form and presumably, thereby entitled to demand whatever he wants of us.

The primary problem with theocracies is, they tend to be very harsh on people who may not subscribe to the chosen set of religious beliefs. If you live in Saudi Arabia and you refuse to honor the practices of the prevailing religion, Islam, you may be subject to harsh punishments—even death or dismemberment in some cases. In terms of western values like free will and individual rights, a theocracy is not likely to be very appealing to most people.

Democracy is widely considered by today’s westerners as a highly superior approach. But, at least in its strict form, it can easily suffer from the same basic problem of devolving into elitism and/or the eventual subjugation of one class to another. In a voting democracy, we define a group called the “majority” as being more than 50% of the people, and who agree on a particular issue. This group, which will vary from one issue to another, has seemingly endless power over the minority, or all the rest of the people.

In a pure democracy, the majority always get their way. The minority on that issue will just have to live with it. For example, in America, there have been times when slavery was sustained by the democratic process. The majority voted for it, but that didn’t make it right, moral or ethical. It only made it legal.

If you were a person of African descent, in the minority, and not allowed voting rights, you were probably consigned to a life of slavery. It has been joked that democracy can be explained as 2 men and 1 woman, voting on who will do the dishes. When you are in the minority, pure democracy doesn’t generally end up promoting your best interests. And when the issues at hand involve who will work for the maintenance of society and who will enjoy the fruits of that labor, without having to engage in productivity themselves, the matter becomes much more serious than who will take a turn at the kitchen sink.

The American founders struggled with the question of what form of government they should choose when forming the Constitution for the new nation. What they settled on, they called a Representative Republic. Many Americans are confused about this, instead thinking the founders somehow invented or established democracy, but this is not correct. The United States of America was not intended to be a democracy. Rather, the founders well understood the pitfalls of a system where a majority could take advantage of a powerless minority. Instead, they created a system where a democratic voting process would be used to elect groups of representatives.

It was hoped and expected, those representatives would behave ethically and responsibly and would become sufficiently informed on the various issues of the day so they would better be able to make intelligent and just decisions. It was also hoped, elected representatives would be of high moral character and hence would be more likely to look out for the interests of the minority while still promoting the general welfare, or improving conditions for everyone at once. The general idea is, the majority won’t always get their way, but if the deliberative bodies of representatives start to get too far out of control, the people can vote to replace them with others who will hopefully do a better job.

The founders also had a clear sense that it was the unfortunate, but normal course of government to become too powerful over time, eventually becoming a burden rather than a protection to its people. In order to try to prevent this, they described in the Constitution a strict set of limitations on what powers the federal government could wield. While those limitations were respected for a time, gradually special interests managed to migrate more powers, duties and responsibilities up to the federal level. Today, there is virtually no area of our lives into which it does not go. In some ways, the government, which was meant to be the protector of our liberties, has now become the greatest threat to those liberties. Today it has become the primary means of power by which an elite and parasitic ruling class can now live off the work and productivity of a less powerful producing class.

A Social Democracy can be thought of as a compromise between a democracy and a milder form of Communism we call Socialism. Under Socialism, only certain things are thought to be owned in common—but not everything as you might find in stricter Communist regime. For example, people are often believed to have a common right to certain services such as medical care, food, and housing. Often, this is expanded to also include such things as transportation, telephones, and day-care. By declaring these things to be a right, proponents essentially claim a common ownership over the means of producing them.

The American founders limited their list of recognized inalienable rights to things that come to us as a natural part of our existence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This right to “the pursuit of happiness” can best be described as choice, or self determination, having control over your own future direction, and owning yourself and the product of your labors. Another term for this is personal property. In contrast, the socialized approach attempts to enlarge this notion of rights further to include things that don’t exist naturally, but rather require another person working by the sweat of his face.

To illustrate, let us consider some of these systems in the context of food production. Everyone needs food to survive, but as we have discussed, there is not enough of it spontaneously provided by nature to keep us all satisfied. Rather, someone has to perform a lot of work to produce it. Our inherent rights, as recognized by the Declaration of Independence, should be expected to give us the freedom to go out and find naturally occurring food, at least to the degree it is available. We would also expect to be free to reasonably and cooperatively access land, water and sunlight as can be found in the earth to plant and cultivate food for our own use.

But as these naturally occurring resources become more scarce, in comparison to the population of mankind, we can expect a more difficult challenge where we may have to purchase or trade in order to access them. We should expect to be able to choose what types of food we will eat and in what quantities, as long as we do the work necessary to produce it. And if someone unreasonably impedes our efforts to find and produce our own food, or if they steal away our food after we have done the work to produce it, this would be a violation of our inherent rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Under a socialized approach to food production, we would instead attempt to define a new right: the idea that every citizen is automatically entitled to somehow be provided with food regardless of whether he or she has done any work to produce it. The basic ethical challenge to this approach is: Food doesn’t exist without the work and efforts of other people—in this case, farmers. So if one person has a right to free food, who is going to do the work to provide it? It would seem that in order to fulfill the expectations inherent in this promise, we must make slaves of one class of people in order to serve the needs of another class.

So within the context of a particular method of social organization, we might declare a “right” to food, to a job, or to a place to live, but these are not really rights in the same sense as those rights recognized as inherent and unalienable by the Declaration of Independence. Rather, they are something else. We might correctly call them entitlements, or the promises of a government. But in such a case, before a government can fulfill its promise to deliver free food, that food, or the means to produce it must first be obtained from another person.

If the producer of the food doesn’t agree to give it up by his own choosing, it will either have to be taken by force or purchased with money. If it is to be purchased, then the money will have to be taken from someone else. So however you look at it, the promises of a socialized government must eventually be backed up by the forceful subjugation of someone, somewhere.

Advocates of socialism may defend their approach in spite of its ethical flaws with the assertion that the group being subjugated includes everyone equally so that makes it OK. Everyone is responsible for the production of everyone’s food. And everyone is also entitled to everyone else’s food. It seems to have a certain appeal—until you actually have to work through the details of implementing it.

If everyone owns everyone then everyone is also everyone else’s property. In other words, everyone is somehow both master and slave at once. Unfortunately, experience has demonstrated that when putting this theory into practice, there evolve two different classes of “everyones.” One “everyone” includes those who exercise the power of government—the organization empowered to enforce the system. These ruling elites become the true masters and are at the center of power. They do not produce much themselves, but instead justify their part in the system by being “in charge,” or running things. The other “everyone” turns out to be everyone else—you and me. This is the class that will perform the work and/or pay the taxes necessary to keep the whole system running.

The fundamental problem with any kind of socialized approach stems from the fact that while government may make promises, it doesn’t really have anything to give. The things we want and need exist only because of the work and effort of those who are willing and able to produce. If the government gets into the business of supplying us with our wants and needs, it must first take those things from someone else who has produced them. In this role, it becomes a broker of indentured servants whose job it is to support some other class of people who enjoy a higher degree of power and political influence.

Any time you declare that one person is entitled to the work product of a second person, you make a master of the first and a slave of the second. So socialism, whether in the pure form of communism, or the “lite” version of a social democracy, eventually results in a form of institutionalized involuntary servitude. As such, it is fatally flawed from a purely ethical standpoint, but it has practical problems as well.

The socializing of production can work for a while. But eventually, people start to figure out that there are certain things they don’t really need to work for anymore. If the government will provide me with what I need, regardless of my ability or desire to work for it, then what reason do I have to work? The inherent forces of economics include negative feedback to keep people doing what they need to in order to survive.

For example, when I get hungry, I am more motivated to perform the work necessary to produce food. But under socialized economies, feedback signals are artificially changed to move things in the opposite direction. The resulting forces give people incentives not to work or to be productive. And as with all systems which incorporate positive feedback, they are inherently unstable and eventually go “off the rails.”

Over time, the group of producers begins to diminish and the group consuming the services begins to grow. In the short run, this feels good to those in the governing class since they are the ones making and administering the laws that assure the continual provision of services. As those receiving the services become a majority, continued power for the elite governing class is virtually assured. No one wants to vote for a candidate who is going to take away a new set of rights or entitlements. Many would rather vote for those who will continue or even expand such programs. But, because government has nothing to give one person except that which it has first taken away from someone else, this system, at its core, is one of institutionalized slavery by degrees. And those who end up doing all the work eventually start to catch on to the fact they are being exploited.

So it is not sustainable. As the parasites grow in number and power, and the producers become fewer and less influential, the system continues to erode, and the government finds itself with fewer options for continued funding. It turns out to be very difficult to take away an entitlement once people have become accustomed to it. And it takes a massive amount of work from a shrinking producing class to create the energy and work-product needed to provide an ever-increasing set of “rights” and entitlements to a growing class of dependents. As the state begins to run out of money and/or taxing power, it typically takes the only course it can.

It borrows.
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