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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?

At times Communism has emerged as a reaction against entrenched financial powers in order to bring more equity to the common person. In this system, “the people” are said to own everything in common–perhaps even each other. 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, something like a sheriff is necessary to enforce the very 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 ominous power 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. So it ends up 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 philosophical 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 that 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 fail 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 notions like free will and individual rights, a theocracy is not very appealing.

Democracy is widely considered by today’s westerners to be a highly superior approach. But, at least in its strict form, it can often suffer from the same basic problem of devolving into elitism and/or the eventual subjugation of one class by another. In a voting democracy, we define a group called the “majority” as being more than 50% of the people 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. This is what some American Founders referred to as the “problem of factions.”

For example, in the United States, there have been times when slavery was sustained by democratic process. Even if the slaves had been allowed to vote, there simply may not have been enough of them to overturn a democratic vote. The majority may have supported slavery, but that didn’t make it right, moral or ethical. It only made it legal.

If you were a person of African descent, living in certain states, you were probably consigned to a life of slavery. It has been said that democracy can be explained as two men and one woman, voting on who will do the dishes. When you are in the minority, pure democracy doesn’t always 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, the matter becomes much more serious than who will take a turn at the kitchen sink.

The Founders struggled with the question of what form of government they should choose when forming the US Constitution. What they settled on, they called a Representative Republic. Many people are confused about this, instead thinking the founders somehow invented or established democracy, but that is not strictly correct. The United States of America was not intended to be a democracy, but rather a democratic republic.

In this system, a democratic voting process would be used to elect groups of representatives. This included both representatives of the people and very importantly, representatives of the states.

It was hoped and expected that representatives would behave responsibly and would become sufficiently informed on the various issues of the day to better be able to make intelligent and just decisions. It was hoped, but likely not expected, that they would also be of high moral character and would look out for the interests of the minority while still promoting the general welfare, or improving conditions for everyone at once. The general idea was, the majority wouldn’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.

Some Founders believed it was the unfortunate, but normal course of government to become corrupted 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 many of those limitations were respected for a time, special interests gradually managed to migrate more powers, duties and responsibilities up to the federal level. Today, there is virtually no area of our lives into which the federal government 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 and the primary means of power by which an elite and parasitic ruling class can live at the expense of a less powerful producing class.

Another popular form of government is called Socialism. Different people may understand this term very differently. And these differences can be a huge source of contention in modern political discourse.

Under its textbook definition, socialism calls for centralized control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Good socialists today would probably just say they want to organize government in a way to make things more fair and to take care of people who have a hard time taking care of themselves. Those are Good values and should be promoted in any responsible system.

But socialism is not without its own set of dysfunctions. In practice, it includes a belief that all people have a common right to certain goods and services such as medical care, food and housing. In the view of some, this also includes things like a job, transportation, cellular telephones, day-care and paid vacations.

The challenge boils down to this notion of the “means of production.” To be sure, this might include mines, factories and other kinds of capital. Indeed, there are certain resources that should exist in the public commons where everyone has equal, unfettered access to them. Two notable examples are air and water.

But socialism breaks down once the commons begins to include people, or even the goods and services people produce. We are ultimately the means of production. There is very little capital that exists until someone labors to create it. This is the basis of the labor theory of value recognized be economists across the political spectrum, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.

This is what ultimately puts much of socialism at odds with a social structure where people are free to direct their own lives. It is difficult be both free and owned by everyone else at the same time.

The Founders limited their list of recognized, inalienable rights to things that come to us as a natural part of our existence–things like 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, owning yourself and the product of your labors. A common, more concise term for this is the right to personal property.

It also includes the right to assemble, which is enumerated in the First Amendment. People have a right to cooperate together in person or virtually–not only to protest their government, but also for any other peaceful reason. This must include whom you want to love and to live with, how to earn a living, whom you want to trade with, and on what terms. As long as we can make choices in a way that also preserves similar rights for others, we should preserve the freedom to do so.

The fundamental challenge is that that while government may make promises, it doesn’t inherently have anything to give. Most of what we want and need exists only because of the work and effort of those who are willing and able to produce it. Before government can get into the business of supplying us with our wants and needs, it must first take those things from someone 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.

Participation in a group to share human resources works out great as long as it is voluntary. But when you use the force of government to declare that one person is entitled to the work product of another, you make a master of the first and a servant of the second.

Over time, the number 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. In fact, 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 might take away a new set of rights or entitlements.

But the system is unsustainable. Rates of production soon begin to dwindle. The standard of living begins to fall. Government runs out of places to find money to fund its promises. So it takes the only remaining course it can to survive:

It borrows.

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