Beginners Guide to Peace - Treacherous Roads
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The Deceptive Nature of Government
Governments the world over will have you believe that they are the solutions to the world’s problems when, quite to the contrary, they are the causes of many of our hardships. During the 20th century governments were collectively responsible for killing over 100 million of their own citizens. This astounding number excludes the many tens of millions more that were killed in wars between various countries throughout that century.
“But we are not like that..”, your government may tell you. The truth of the matter is, no matter what country you live in, if you resist compliance to government dictates and the thievery of involuntary taxation to a sufficient enough degree, you will be faced with the gun to the head.
Home Invasions and Highway Robbery
Imagine that you are a home owner in the U.S. In nearly every jurisdiction you are compelled to pay property taxes, often in large part to finance the local schools. It does not matter whether you have children in the system. You may be a bachelor without children, a retired couple who are “empty nesters”, or perhaps a young couple homeschooling your children or sending them to private schools that you pay for with your own funds. Whatever the case, you are still compelled to pay the property taxes.
If you refuse to pay the property tax, the local government can place a lien against your house. Resist long enough, you will eventually receive an eviction notice. If you refuse to leave, the local police may be enlisted to forcibly remove you or bar you from reentering your house if you leave. Put up enough resistance, you will eventually be forced to comply with a gun to your head.
Similarly, if you refuse to buy a government issued tag for your car, you will likely be spotted by the police and be directed to pull over. If you refuse to pull over your car may be rammed or forced off the road until you comply. Once stopped, you will find a gun at your head, demanding that you exit your vehicle. Make even the slightest wrong move, or comply too slowly, and you may very well find yourself beat to the ground wondering "how can this possibly be public service?"
The Gun to the Head
Libertarians use the expression “the gun to the head” to encapsulate the argument that compliance to government rules and taxation is not voluntary but is in fact compulsive and backed by aggressive force. While some non-libertarians may concede that government obedience is backed by the threat and at times the actual use of force and violence, they will counter that some services or functions are just too import to be left to the free market or would not be provided at all.
With very little effort, though, it should become obvious that there are at least some functions that governments monopolize that could exist in the free market without the coercive extraction of taxpayer funding. Would art and music in the United States suddenly collapse if there was no National Endowment of the Arts? Would Midwestern farmers be unable to survive without the government forcing nearly every automobile driver in the U.S. to subsidize a massively wasteful and environmentally questionable corn ethanol program? Are sports stadiums really so critical that taxpayers must be forced to pay for them? The city of Los Angeles somehow survived for two decades without an American football team. In some cities taxpayers are forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for stadia and other buildings that the majority will never use or profit from.
Probably nearly everyone has their own list of one or more government activities that they criticize or downright oppose and yet they are forced to fund. Unfortunately the mindset that “this is for the collective good” ignores the government aggression behind the funding of these non-critical expenditures.
Some may suggest that this is being too selective. Perhaps we don’t really need to force taxpayers to pay for those particular services but surely there are other things such as roads, schools and national defense that require coercive funding or they would never be provided or adequately funded. It is to this assertion that anarcho-libertarians make a bold reply: There is NO constructive function of government that would not operate equally well, if not better, in the free market and without the need for the initiation of force.
A Necessary Evil?
There is no doubt that governments at all levels and across the planet will execute force and violence against anyone within their borders that refuses to fund their operations. That this is a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle should be clear to anyone who takes the time to think about it. Understanding this, the defense of government aggression ultimately comes down to an argument quite similar to the 19th century defense of slavery: “If we eliminate slavery, who will pick the cotton”?
This is, in essence, the “necessary evil” argument, one that is disgustingly vile and demonstrative of an incredible lack of creativity, imagination and sensitivity. Just as history has shown that slavery was not necessary for a prosperous economy, over the centuries writers, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and other creative spirits have demonstrated that other violations of the NAP are also unnecessary. Voting for a lesser of two evils is still voting for evil, and acquiescing to the “necessary evil” of government initiated violence is ultimately to support a different form of slavery.
Unmasking the State
"The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens… Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere." - Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace
Before proceeding to a brief discussion of how free markets work non-coercively to provide goods and services that people desire, including those that governments attempt to monopolize, we need to fully understand the true nature of the State. The first thing to recognize is that the State is not necessarily a synonym for government in that governments do not, by definition, automatically require the initiation of aggression in order to operate.
Obviously governments would be much smaller if they had to rely on voluntary funding from their citizens. The only functions of government that would survive, if any, would be those that citizens considered so essential that they would voluntarily support them with their money. In short, without the ability to extort and coerce payment, governments would essentially evolve into businesses that would need to compete with other businesses to provide the best possible service for their customers. Unfortunately extortion and the initiation of force are the standard modus operandi of all national governments and nearly every government at any level globally, with the exception of a few local organizations and communities that operate through consensus and\or voluntarism.
In contrast to government, which is merely a general system of rules and institutions for establishing order within a society by any number of means, peaceful or otherwise, the State is an institution that specifically seeks to legitimize the use of aggression and violence in order to rule the people of a particular geographic region. It deceptively attempts to legitimize its use of force through a variety of methods, from promoting myths such as “divine rule” and “manifest destiny” to more recent tactics such as propaganda, control of the media, and government run education systems. Perhaps the most insidious of these ploys is the claim, in "representative" democracies, that "we are the government". These deceitful practices, among others, are outlined in Rothbard’s masterful short work The Anatomy of the State.
Perhaps the most insidious method that the State uses to try to gain legitimacy is to hijack the most positive elements of human nature and cultural traditions, to appropriate society’s art, technology and cherished symbols, and to claim itself as the indispensable source of all things great. In doing so it seeks to cloak its true character behind a shroud of alleged necessity and questionable generosity.
Though we have been led to believe otherwise, the evidence of the present and recent past shows that that there is no service or product that the State provides that the free market could not provide as well as, if not better, through voluntary and nonviolent means. Unfortunately the forceful monopolization by government of many areas of the economy and private life has negated the possibility of viable competitors in the marketplace. Additionally, government run education systems the world over have systematically distorted history by creating a false narrative that dismisses or intentionally hides the many positive outcomes of the free market.
The Non-Aggression Principle in Action
If it can be demonstrated that a good or service can be provided peacefully in the free market, how can it be argued that it is necessary for the State to provide it? Why resort to aggression and force if these things can be provided nonviolently through voluntary human action?
For those who desire to live in a peaceful and productive society, there should be one basic rule of thumb: If a good or service can be produced through peaceful means somewhere, there is no need to produce it through the slavery of the State anywhere. This is a fundamental application of the Non-Aggression Principle.
In our modern world where we require the cooperation of tens of thousands of people for all but the most basic goods, there is no place for aggression, slavery and the blood sacrifices of war. In the brief listing of topics that follows, we will endeavor to provide examples of how the free market can and does provide all of the essentials that we hold dear in our culture, peacefully and through voluntary interactions.
Safe Food and Unadulterated Drugs
How can we know we are getting safe food and drugs without the government?
If you look at the back of many canned and packaged goods sold in the U.S. and elsewhere, you may notice a small “K” or “U” inside a circle. Those symbols indicate that the food manufacturer has paid one or more private companies to certify that their food is kosher for Jews. There are similar halal certifications for Moslems as well.
For Jews and Moslems who desire to live within the dietary restrictions of their faith, these certifications are a useful guide, adding only a small additional cost to their overall food bill. For the food manufacturer, they gain the ability to attract an additional segment of consumers to their product. For the certifying organizations, there is a strong incentive to honestly observe and inspect all food that they certify. If they fail to do a proper job for any product, they risk damaging their reputations, or “brands”, and losing their credibility and ability to sell their services.
Maintaining a good reputation and preserving the “brand” is of vital interest to almost every company. When several bottles of the over- the-counter pain reliever Tylenol were tainted with poison by a demented individual in 1982, the company that owned the Tylenol brand implemented a massive nationwide recall of the product, reimbursing their customers and implementing tamper resistant packaging that has become standard for many products. The actions of the company have become a textbook example of an appropriate corporate response. In the end the company not only protected their brand but strengthened it in the long run.
As should be obvious, food and drug manufacturers have a strong incentive to not make their customers sick, or worse. Those that do harm should and will quickly disappear from a truly free marketplace. Additionally, there is no reason that food and drug safety certifications, following the kosher and halal certification models, cannot operate in a market free of State regulation and oversight.
Social Security and Medical “Insurance”
Isn’t retirement and medical insurance too important to leave to the free market?
In the United States, the meaning of the word insurance has been thoroughly corrupted by the State. Insurance, properly understood, is a method for individuals and groups to minimize certain risks through payments to an insurer. The insurer, managing and protecting the pool of payments they have received from their customers, are then responsible for fairly distributing reimbursements to claimants whenever previously agreed upon conditions are met.
A communication company, for example, could take out an insurance policy on a new satellite prior to launch. The insurance company, calculating that perhaps one out of a hundred rocket launches are failures, might charge $2,000,000 to fully insure a $100,000,000 dollar satellite. Over the course of every hundred launches, it would expect to have to pay out $100,000,000 once, on average, assuming each satellite is of equal value and fully insured. If it collects $2,000,000 for each launch, it would expect to net roughly $100,000,000 for every hundred launches, minus operational and other expenses. The communication company benefits because they are able to eliminate the risk of losing $100,000,000 on a single satellite in exchange for the much smaller cost of the insurance policy.
Smoothing the bumps
Insurance helps to smooth out the roller coaster gyrations that life can bring, providing for a smoother and calmer ride. It should be understood that insurance is different from individuals putting aside money in a savings account in order to deal with future expenses and emergencies. There are certain emergencies in life that, though rare, can far exceed the ability of the average individual or family to save for. By many people pooling their resources under the management of an insurance company, the maximum financial risk for any individual is greatly diminished.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, while banks were failing left and right, insurance companies provided a measure of stability in the midst of the chaos. While banks had overleveraged themselves by making loans to buy overinflated stocks and other risky ventures, insurance companies had chosen to take a more conservative approach, diversifying their investments to protect the insurance pool of their policy holders.
Government pyramid schemes
Recognizing the positive brand that the insurance companies managed to uphold during that tumultuous time, the U.S. government, in rolling out a new welfare program for the elderly in 1935, latched onto the word “insurance” and called its plan Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI). Unfortunately, OASDI, more commonly known as Social Security, is not a true insurance program where a pool of money is set aside into a number of diversified investments. Instead it relies on a system more commonly known as a “pyramid scheme” where the fees from new entrants are fed directly to the early entrants into the program, those at the top of the pyramid. Like all pyramid schemes, this scam only works when the number of new entrants far exceeds the number of beneficiaries. As could have been predicted, this scheme is reaching its limits. In the United States and other advanced industrial countries, the bottom of the pyramid has been drastically reduced as families have fewer children. Simultaneously, the top of the pyramid has grown greatly in size as better nutrition and medical advances have enabled people to live much longer. What this means in the long run is that the promised benefits to new entrants must be slashed or that they must be taxed at a much higher rate, and for more years, then earlier recipients. Governments, of course, are not above looking for short term “fixes”, hoping to delay the day of reckoning by allowing floods of young immigrants into the country to temporarily prop up the unstable pyramid scheme.
Even more disconcerting has been what government has done to the business of “medical insurance”, forcing insurance companies to sell policies to previously uninsured people who can then wait until they are sick before buying a policy. This is equivalent to the satellite company in the previous example thinking it can buy insurance and collect a benefit after a rocket launch has already failed. The end result, of course, is that medical insurance companies have had to drastically increase premiums for all those it insures to compensate for the obvious financial losses it would sustain for selling insurance to those that are already sick.
In the United States we have the unfortunate situation that medical insurance is often tied to employment because of government ordered “employer mandates”. All companies over a certain size are now required by law to provide subsidized medical insurance for their employees or pay a tax penalty. What this means is that, if you lose your job, you also lose your medical insurance. Ironically, the reason that medical insurance is tied to employment in the U.S. is because of previous government interference. In 1943 the Federal government issued a wage freeze, preventing companies from competing for workers by offering higher wages. As a work-around, some companies began offering medical insurance as an incentive to gain new hires. Now the government has done a complete turnaround, forcing companies to provide a benefit that was previously offered as a means to bypass government restrictions of the free market.
The pyramid schemes that the U.S. government have created in Social Security, Medicare and other programs are ultimately unsustainable and demonstrate the State’s ineptitude or incapability in doing long term planning. Compounding the inevitable collapse, the U.S. Supreme Court (Helvering v Davis, 1937) long ago ruled that Social Security “contributions” could not be earmarked in any way, meaning that during the many years when there was a Social Security “surplus”, the money went to paying for government programs such as Defense rather than being invested and protected as would happen in a real insurance program.
Adding to the difficulty of planning and saving for retirement, the government created U.S Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed) and other central banks across the globe have artificially suppressed interest rates. The effect of this has been to punish individuals and entities such as insurance companies that wish to be conservative with their investments. The end result is that near zero interest rates have distorted the marketplace, making it difficult to determine the real price of goods and services and pushing many into riskier and more volatile investments such as the stock market.
Given the inevitable upcoming crash of government pyramid schemes across the globe, it should be obvious that retirement and medical insurance, like food, housing and every other good and service, should be the responsibility of the individual and not the government, nor should they be forced on any employer. Unfortunately the State, by interfering with the free market at multiple levels, has badly damaged the public understanding of insurance, its benefits and requirements. Instead, the State has driven up costs and reduced the kind of competition that ultimately benefits consumers.
Wouldn’t the poor be uneducated without taxpayer financed government schools?
In 2015, only 34% of 8th graders in the United States were considered proficient in reading and 33% were proficient at mathematics, according to the U.S. government. The statistics for students of low income families were even worse, with only 20% of 8th graders eligible for the free lunch program being proficient in reading and 18% in math. With performance records like this it would be hard to argue that government schools are doing an adequate job of educating the majority of students, let alone the poorest. This is after decades of steady increases in government spending in education and coinciding reductions of class sizes in the United States.
The abysmal performance of government schools is not a phenomenon restricted to the U.S. but exists in many countries across the globe. The reaction of parents to the obvious shortcomings of “public” schools has manifested itself in a variety of ways.
In many developing countries, a significant percentage of poor families pay for private schooling for their children even when supposedly “free” taxpayer funded schools are available. The book “The Beautiful Tree” brilliantly documents this surprising finding. In the early 2000’s researcher James Tooley traveled to numerous countries to study their “education” systems. Contrary to his expectations Tooley discovered that, in countries from Ghana and Nigeria to Pakistan, India and rural China, many of the world’s poorest people were willing to pay a significant portion of their income to provide for private schooling. In case after case Tooley found that the government run schools were so abysmal that the parents were willing to make significant financial sacrifices in order to properly educate their children.
In the United States the reaction to poor performing government schools has been an explosive growth in home schooling. From 2003 to 2012 there was a 67% increase in the number of students who were homeschooled, rising to 1.77 million, or 3.4% of the school aged population, by 2012. In making this decision, two parent families often forego a second income in order to provide what they believe is a superior education. Compounding their economic hardship is the fact that they must continue to pay property and other taxes to finance schools that their families will never use.
In the United States, both home schooling and private schools that provided low cost or free education existed over two centuries ago. There was no need for the government to provide what the free market was already doing. The drive for compulsory government education, in the words of Murray N Rothbard, was not so much because of an altruistic impulse but the result of “a conscious scheme to coerce the mass of the population into a mould desired by the Establishment.” The result, of course, was predictable as Rothbard further states “Indeed, if the mass of the populace is to be educated in government schools, how could these schools not become a mighty instrument for the inculcation of obedience to the State authorities?”
Utilities and “Natural Monopolies”
Aren’t certain industries “natural monopolies” that require governments to choose a “winner” for a particular city or region?
It is often argued that services such as electricity and natural gas are “natural monopolies” where it makes sense for one company or entity, selected and either regulated or completely run by the government, to have a complete monopoly on that service in any given area. What Thomas DiLorenzo reveals in his book Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government  is that, in the late 1800 and early 1900’s, cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia had numerous companies competing to provide consumers electricity within each of those cities.
The monopolization of utilities was not the result of free market forces but “..were all created by government, for the benefit of government and its corporate welfare state allies in the electric power, water supply, natural gas, and other industries”. In the case of Baltimore, a 25 year monopoly was granted to the Gas Light Company in Baltimore beginning in 1890 in exchange for an annual $10,000 payment and 3% of dividends. In the course of a few of decades, hundreds of other monopoly grants were awarded by state and local governments across the United States.
Fortunately, in fairly recent times, a number of states in the U.S. have yielded to public pressure and have once again allowed multiple gas and electric providers to compete to serve the consumer. In addition to shopping on price, electric customers often have the ability to choose the source of electrical generation such as natural gas, nuclear or solar.
What about the roads?
Don’t we need the government to build the roads and rails?
Doesn’t the “free rider” problem prevent private roads from being built?
Roads and other transportation infrastructure are further examples of government interference in previously well functioning markets. As with schools, the free market in the United States was serving the needs of customers by providing efficiently built roads, bridges and railroads centuries ago.
Unfortunately a small group of corporations and investors were able to pervert the free market by cajoling, bribing and\or manipulating government officials into favoring certain companies and businesses by subsidizing pet projects that were often more costly and of inferior quality compared to what the market was already providing. In his book How Capitalism Saved America, Tom DiLorenzo describes many examples of this in Chapter 5, “Highways of Capitalism”, and Chapter 7, “The Truth About the “Robber Barons””. Some excellent examples provided are as follows:
Privately funded roads
By 1845, there were over 10,000 miles of privately constructed roads in the northeastern U.S. alone operated by 400 companies. Local merchants often invested in private turnpike companies because they understood that better roads would increase trade to their towns. Landowners often invested in the roads as well, understanding that increased commerce would increase the value of their land. While social pressure, newspaper campaigns, town meetings and even ostracism were sometimes used to promote investment in roads, never was there a need to hold the gun to the head of taxpayers.
The other transcontinental railroad
Most school students in the U.S. learn about the government funded Union Pacific and Central Pacific transcontinental rail line. Few if any hear about the Great Northern Railroad transcontinental line built by James J. Hill.
After the Union Pacific had distributed stock to a number of legislators in 1862, the corrupt U.S. Congress unsurprisingly voted to subsidize a transcontinental rail line with millions of taxpayer dollars. As could be expected from a government program, the project was marked by corruption, inefficiency and poor workmanship. While the Union and Central Pacific lines declared “mission accomplished” at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869, large sections of line had been so poorly constructed that they had to be rebuilt or relocated, extending the project another five years.
In contrast, James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad was privately funded and, completed in 1893, became a model of durability and efficiency, using high quality materials and making sure workers received adequate breaks. While taxpayers had been coerced to help pay for the Union and Central Pacific lines, James J. Hill not only received no government largess but worked diligently to make sure that his customers succeeded. With the motto “We have got to prosper with you or we have got to be poor with you”, Hill advocated crop diversification to help mitigate the impact of price fluctuations and even provided free seed grain, and sometimes even cattle, to farmers harmed by droughts. All the while Hill continued to improve efficiency and to drop rates, providing additional benefits to his customers.
In the world of economics, “free riders” are people who benefit from a good or service without direct payment. Critics of privately funded transportation systems often assert that the “free rider problem” can only be solved by government monopolization of roads, bridges and other features. Why the “problem” of free riders is something that government needs to fix, or whether it is really even a problem at all, are two important questions that should be considered.
The fact that governments provide goods and services to millions of people who pay little or no taxes would seem to indicate that they don’t really consider the issue of “free riders” to be a problem at all. The reality is that the impetus for government monopolization or regulation of certain services and industries often comes from businesses that are inefficient and seek the protection of the State to shield them from the forces of the free market.
One example of this is the U.S. steamship industry in the early 1800’s. Often subsidized by local governments and\or granted monopolistic control, companies in this industry were under little or no pressure to cut costs for their customers. It was not until entrepreneurs like Cornelius Vanderbilt entered the market that both prices and service improved for the consumer. Challenging the blatantly anti-consumer monopoly laws and adopting new technologies in the 1830’s, Vanderbilt drove down the standard boat fare from New York to Philadelphia from $3 to $1. For passage from New York City to Albany, Vanderbilt went one better, eventually offering free passage for a trip that his competitors were charging three dollars. Apparently Vanderbilt was not troubled by the “free rider” problem. By selling food and drink on his boats, Vanderbilt was able to recoup his operational costs and pushed competitors to lower their prices as well, to the benefit of all consumers.
Free market success and government failure
For those that would argue that certain goods and services cannot be provided by private industry, Tom DiLorenzo not only provides numerous examples of free market successes but also provides as counterpoint many examples of failed government investments and corruption. Perhaps one of the most important points made in How Capitalism Saved America is the identification of who the real “robber barons” in U.S. history were. As he describes it:
“As common as it is to speak of “robber barons,” most who use that term are confused about the role of capitalism in the American economy and fail to make an important distinction—the distinction between what might be called a market entrepreneur and a political entrepreneur. A pure market entrepreneur, or capitalist, succeeds financially by selling a newer, better, or less expensive product on the free market without any government subsidies, direct or indirect. The key to his success as a capitalist is his ability to please the consumer, for in a capitalist society the consumer ultimately calls the economic shots. By contrast, a political entrepreneur succeeds primarily by influencing government to subsidize his business or industry, or to enact legislation or regulation that harms his competitors.”
What about today?
Because governments usually contract the construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure to private companies, the real question is not who will build the roads but who will finance them. The fact that privately funded roads, rails, bridges and ferries existed in the past is proof that one does not require the government gun to the head to fund them.
Anytime governments take money from taxpayers to finance infrastructure projects, not only are they using force and the threat of violence unnecessarily, they are also distorting the free market by picking winners and losers rather than allowing the market to decide how best to allocate scarce resources. In the U.S taxpayers spend millions of dollars to subsidize uneconomical rail lines to sparsely populated areas that could better be served by commercial bus services. In Japan, by way of contrast, there is a vibrant free market in rail transportation, at least in the Tokyo metro area. Unfortunately, even in the largely competitive free market of train travel in Japan, the government there also extracts payments from taxpayers for uneconomical lines away from the major cities.
Law Enforcement and the Judicial System
How can there be justice without a government created judicial system?
It would be hard for anyone to say with a straight face that there is much justice in the U.S. “judicial system”. With less than 5% of the world’s people but over 22% of the world’s prisoners (2015), there is obviously something horribly broken.
In the United States, we have a “law enforcement” system, not a justice system. Very often laws are written by lobbyists for the benefit of corporations, even in industries that are supposedly “regulated” by the government. Quite often the supposed lawmakers know little if any about what is actually in the bills they vote on. As Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House at the time that the “Affordable Care Act” (aka ObamaCare) was being debated in 2010, famously said to her fellow lawmakers, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
Justice should be a means of restoring balance, as much as is humanly possible. Obviously certain crimes, such as murder and rape, are irreversible and difficult if not impossible to mend. For acts of aggression such as those, perhaps the best that can be done is to prevent further assaults through permanent incarceration or exile. For other types of crime, however, a true justice system would provide for compensation of the victims by the perpetrators. Unfortunately this rarely happens as any fines collected from the perpetrators of crime usually go into the “system”.
What we instead see in the United States, and probably elsewhere, is a legal system where vices such as drug and alcohol use, prostitution and gambling are punished with ferocity while the perpetrators of corporate crimes such as the home mortgage scandal of 2007-2008 go largely unpunished. How we got to this present state of affairs is a topic of discussion in the upcoming chapter Losing the Way.
Environment\Clean Air and Water
Isn’t the government needed to protect the environment?
There are two common myths among many environmentalists. One is that capitalism and the free market are responsible for destroying the environment and that other is that the State is needed to protect it. The truth of the matter is that it is private enterprise that most often provides the solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems while the central planning of the State, by ignoring property rights, often increases the damage to the environment.
Standard Oil saves the whales
In the early 1800’s whale oil was an important source of lighting for much of the United States. In reaction to increasing consumer demand, the U.S. whaling industry experienced tremendous growth at this time. From 392 whaling vessels in 1833, the industry grew to 735 ships by 1846 to produce a combined total of 6 to 10 million gallons of whale oil each year. Despite the rapid expansion, the cost of regular oil rose rapidly from 35 cents a gallon in 1825 to 95 cents in 1855, undoubtedly due to the diminishing number of whales. Had the growth of whaling continued at this rate, it seems certain that many species of whale would have become extinct by the end of that century.
Fortunately technology and the free market intervened. Because of the rapidly rising price of whale oil, economic incentives were created to find a replacement. Following the invention of kerosene distillation from petroleum in 1849, entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller entered the market to provide a better, standardized alternative, providing the basis for the name Standard Oil. By improving efficiency and reducing waste by finding uses for distillation by-products, the price of the superior kerosene eventually dropped from 59 cents a gallon in 1865 to seven cents in 1895. Interestingly, the drilling for petroleum in Pennsylvania, the site of the world’s first oil wells, actually improved the local environment by decreasing the contamination of lakes from naturally occurring petroleum leaks!
The advance of technology of course did not end there. The use of kerosene as a lighting source was eventually replaced with the incandescent bulb in the late 1800’s which itself is being quickly replaced by cooler and more energy efficient LED bulbs in the current century.
Cars make cities cleaner
In the late 1890's, many large cities across the globe were experiencing an environmental crisis. One of the biggest issues was how to deal with the tsunami of manure created by the horses used in transportation. In New York City alone, there were at least 100,000 horses producing a total of 2.5 million pound of manure per day. To deal with this problem and the thousands of dead horse carcasses every year, a ten day international urban-planning conference was convened in New York in 1898 to discuss ways of dealing with the issue. Unable to find a solution, the conference was abandoned after just three days.
Fortunately technology and entrepreneurship, rather than central planners, were able to provide an answer. The invention and mass production of the automobile led to the rapid replacement of horses. By 1912 the number of cars already exceeded the number of horses in NYC. What was once seen as an insolvable problem quickly faded from memory.
Private property and the environment
When discussing the matter of protecting the environment, there are two significant problems to solve. One is known as the “externalization of costs”, the other is the “tragedy of the commons”. The historical evidence suggests that the recognition of property rights is a practical solution to both of these issues.
In economic terms, the externalization of costs is the attempt by companies and individuals to pass off the costs of production to others. One notable example of these costs is the creation of pollution, be it land, water and air. In early 19th century U.S., the common law tradition of recognizing and supporting strong property rights helped to mitigate these externalities. By allowing victims of pollution to sue for damages, the amount of pollution that any company could produce was kept in check. Unfortunately, by the late 1800’s this tradition was corrupted and largely abandoned as government courts in the U.S. began siding with the polluters, arguing that the “greater good” of the economic development overrode individual rights to protect their property.
The “tragedy of the commons” is the observation, found many times in history, that when a resource is held in common, whether it be land, water or air, there is a strong incentive for individuals to maximize their use of the resources in the short run with little or no thought of sustaining the availability of the resource in the long run. The complete deforestation of the Easter Islands by the native population in the 1600’s is one example of this concept. A more recent example is the collapse of the Grand Banks cod fish population in the 1990's after decades of overfishing.
When people or companies own their own property, whether it be land, water or air, there is a much stronger incentive to plan for the future. When a lumber company logs its own land, it has a much stronger incentive to plant new trees and to provide for its future compared to what happens when it leases “public” land from the government.
The failure of government control
To believe that government centralized planning and ownership of resources is the best way to preserve the environment is to believe a myth. The fall of communist control of eastern Germany in 1989 starkly illustrated the failure of the State to protect the environment. The inventive and industrious German people had been divided since the end of World War II in 1945. When East Germany was finally opened to the West and free market forces, it was found that the cars manufactured under communist control were so poorly designed and highly polluting that the government of West Germany moved to ban them from the country.
While the United States and other western governments have traditionally wielded less control of the economy in comparison to the various incarnations of communism, their preparation for and execution of various wars throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries have clearly created environmental disasters of their own. From the destruction of entire islands to test hydrogen bombs, to the thousands of tons of chemical weapons created decades ago that still lie stockpiled across the country, from the defoliation of much of Vietnam by toxic herbicides in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the use of depleted uranium in countries like Iraq in the early twenty-first century, the trail of destruction left by the U.S. empire is unprecedented in its global scope.
The “Protection” Racket
Wouldn’t we be at the mercy of criminals\other governments without police protection\defense?
It seems the ultimate irony: governments threaten their citizens with violence, jail and even death in order to extract payment for “protection” from supposed threats from within (criminals) and from without (foreign invaders). While hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of “undocumented” immigrants pour into the United States and numerous European countries largely unimpeded, the governments of those countries forcibly extract hundreds of billions of dollars from their citizens annually for protection from the supposed threat of “foreign invasion”, apparently oblivious to what is already occurring. Even more ironically, many if not most of those immigrants are escaping hellholes of destruction either created or exacerbated by U.S. and European military aggression and interference in other countries.
Of course, it is not just the taxpayers that have the guns to their heads. Very often young citizens are conscripted through drafts and other means and forced into battle. Some governments even coerce children as young as 11 or 12 years old into becoming soldiers and murderers for the State..
The power of government to whip up fear and popular support for war can be particularly difficult to resist, even when it goes against the natural inclinations of most people. As the Nazi propagandist Herman Goering said in an interview during the Nuremberg trials:
“Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
The Importance of Open Rebellion and Silent Resistance
Through lies, propaganda and either influence or outright control of the local press, the State tries to hijack the natural human tendency to love one’s family, friends and homeland and distorts it to generate fear and hatred of “the other”. Once the war disease has taken root in a society, it can be very difficult to resist. Traditionally, the number of conscientious objectors willing to openly criticize the State’s war mania is only a small percentage of any population. Risking social ostracism, at best, or imprisonment, exile or even death, the role of war resister is one that relatively few people seem to have the internal constitution and moral foundation to undertake.
The very fact that people need to be tricked and lied into war, however, is a hopeful sign. Even for those on the battlefield, there are centuries of evidence that the soldiers themselves have often been reluctant to kill, even in the heat of battle when being fired upon. In his book On Killing, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman presents evidence from the two World Wars and earlier armed conflicts that many soldiers silently, secretly and intentionally went to great lengths to avoid inflicting casualties by either not firing their weapons at all or aiming slightly away from their opponents when prodded. Unfortunately the State has worked overtime to overcome the innate revulsion towards murder found within most people. Once the natural proclivity to resist murder was identified, governments in the United States and elsewhere revised their training methods, changing practice targets from bullseyes to human silhouettes and instituting new psychological tactics to increase the lethality of soldiers on the battlefield.
In the end, War is a Racket. That was the conclusion and the name of the short book written by U.S. Brigadier General Smedley Butler in 1935. At the time the United States most decorated general, Butler railed against the war profiteering of numerous companies that had occurred during the First World War. He noted the growing militarism of countries across the globe and identified some of the costs borne by soldiers, whether enlisted or drafted. He recognized the existence of a military industrial complex decades before outgoing U.S. president Eisenhower belatedly warned of such internal threats in the last days of his eight years in office. Like the extortion rackets practiced by organized crime, the extraction of money for wars and militarism is merely one crime among many practiced by the State.
The Real Power of the State
“The government is not sustained vertically because it has guns pointed down at the population but horizontally, in that the populations attack each other for questioning the value of government. You just look in your life..It is the slaves’ willingness to attack each other that makes slavery possible.” Stefan Molyneux, FreeDomainRadio.com podcast FDR3470
For which “vital” government service are you willing to put a gun to your neighbor’s head? Given that so many goods and services can and have been successfully provided by the free market in both the past and present, for which are you willing to put a gun to your neighbor’s head to have provided? It is easy for some when they can task the State to do the dirty work, but for what thing would you yourself be willing to threaten someone’s life?
The real power of the State comes from the acquiescence of millions of people to allow it to implement the aggression and violence that they have been trained to believe is necessary for the functioning of society. This belief in “necessary evil” is a falsehood deliberately crafted by the State through its control of the schools and its power to influence the press and other forms of media.
Rape is Still Rape
In the end, to believe that the violence and aggression of the State is needed to achieve certain goals, however noble, is like believing that rape is a valid or even preferred method for bringing children into the world. It demonstrates a stunning and absolute lack of imagination, creativity and sensitivity. It is akin to believing, like they once did in the past, that slavery is required for the functioning of the economy. To accept the bellicose path of war, human sacrifice and inhumanity laid out by the State is to travel a treacherous road, one which all decent people must avoid vigorously.
- Libertarians use the expression “the gun to the head” to encapsulate the argument that compliance to government rules and taxation is not voluntary but is in fact compulsive and backed by aggressive force.
- There is NO constructive function of government that would not operate equally well, if not better, in the free market and WITHOUT the need for the initiation of force.
Healing Our World: The Compassion of Libertarianism by Dr. Mary J. Ruwart. Discusses nonviolent, libertarian approaches to issues such as jobs, health and protection of the environment.
1. ^ Death by Government by R.J. Rummel. Also see Necrometrics by Matthew White.
2. ^ Football is Great (Just Not for the Economy) by Dennis Coates at Foundation for Economic Education.
3. ^ Nations Report Card: Math and Reading.
4. ^ National Center for Educational Statistics: Math and Reading.
5. ^ National Center for Educational Statistics: Homeschooled students ages 5 through 17 (2003 to 2012).
6. ^ For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray N. Rothbard (pp. 148-149), Kindle Edition.
7. ^ The Myth of "Natural" Monopoly (Chapter 45) Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government by Thomas DiLorenzo (Kindle Locations 2763-2765).
8. ^ This is the very definition of economic Fascism, the marriage of corporatism and government. Library of Economics and Liberty (Fascism).
9. ^ How Capitalism Saved America by Thomas DiLorenzo (pp. 85), Kindle Edition.
10. ^ How Capitalism Saved America by Thomas DiLorenzo (pp. 86-87), Kindle Edition.
11. ^ The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America by Burt Flosom (Kindle Locations 151-152).
12. ^ How Capitalism Saved America by Thomas DiLorenzo (pp. 110-111), Kindle Edition.
13. ^ How Capitalism Saved the Whales by James S. Robbins at Foundation for Economic Education.
14. ^ How Capitalism Saved the Whales by James S. Robbins at Foundation for Economic Education.
15. ^ The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894 by Stephen Davies at Foundation for Economic Education.
16. ^ Nazi leader Hermann Goering, interviewed by Gustave Gilbert during the Easter recess of the Nuremberg trials, 1946 April 18, quoted in Gilbert's book Nuremberg Diary.
^ Home invasion
: Elián González. Detail from photograph of unidentified border patrol officer during the seizure of Elián González from his uncle's residence on Good Friday, April 22, 2000. Original photo by Alan Diaz of the Associated Press, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
: Panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus_Bosch, public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
^ Cultural hijacking
: 911 attack on the south tower of the World Trade Center. Photograph by Dan Doane Jr./SIPA Press, public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
^ No justice
: A Southern chain gang. Library of Congress public domain image, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.
^ Humpback whale
: "For Richard", by Barbara Howard. Photograph by Wardsislander, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons .
^ Cars make cities cleaner
: Mulberry Street, NYC, 1900 . Library of Congress public domain image, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.