Legitimacy Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun

At The Liberty Papers, Brad Warbiany tries to make the case for the legitimacy of this government:

Whether or not a government is legitimate rests on one very simple basis: whether the overwhelming majority of people living under that government recognizes its legitimacy.

Brad goes on to say that this government is legitimate since most people seem to be in favor of it. But is that really true? If people had a free choice, would they support this government?

Consider this: let’s suppose that out of the goodness of their hearts and the confidence they have in their own popularity, this government decided to make taxes voluntary. No estimated payments, no withholding, no penalties. On April 15th, send them ten grand or ten dollars or send them a big fat middle finger – your choice, no questions asked.

How much money do you think this government would get via voluntary contributions?

The answer of course is that they’d get next to nothing, because it’d be a sucker deal for anyone to volunteer to fund this government. Given the choice, Brad’s “overwhelming majority” would opt out of taxation overnight, thus opting out of this government that he’s so sure they support.

The perception of legitimacy that Warbiany sees is really a combination of massive intimidation by the government and a lifetime of exposure to that same intimidation on the part of the populance. Warbiany’s legitimacy comes out of the barrel of a gun.

23 thoughts on “Legitimacy Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun

  1. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    Lopez,

    That’s an interesting argument, but I don’t know whether it holds water upon further scrutiny. If I were Warbiany, I’d ask you how come it is that Harry Browne, who would have slashed taxes significantly and removed many of the burdens of goverment, had received about one percent of the vote in his two presidential campaigns? Or any other LP candidate at any other level, for that matter.

    Alternatively, I could ask you this: what would you think would be the results of a national referendum asking whether income taxes should be abolished?

    Unfortunately, many libertarians think that the freedom-loving people of the world are oppressed under government rule, trying desperately to break free, but that is simply not ture. People don’t want to be free. As Mencken noted in his Notes on Democracy and elsewhere, fear is the common denominator of humankind. Fear, not liberty, freedom, independence, or any such ideas.

  2. Fawkes says:

    The Liberty Papers is an outlet for state knob-jobbers posing as “gradualist minarchists”. Read further into their archives for slavish rationalizations for state terror (as long as it is practiced by “legitimate governments”), Lincoln adulation, pro-nationalist claptrap and other nauseating government worship.

  3. What does that overwhelming majority have to do with me? Can an overwhelming majority justly decide I no longer have the right to life and have me shot?

  4. John Lopez says:

    Alternatively, I could ask you this: what would you think would be the results of a national referendum asking whether income taxes should be abolished?

    It’d fail. Most people want ‘free’ stuff from the government and they’d see that getting the loot-tap turned off would mean the end of that stuff. So they’d gladly vote taxation on everyone else, trusting that the government would continue to enforce tax laws on everyone else. On them too, of course, but they’d judge that they’re getting more than they paid for. Most people are net tax consumers.

    But if they had nothing to go on but their individual choices, putting their money in blind, then what? Even the worst of the government cheerleaders would decide that it’s a really, really stupid deal to cut a check to this government. More proof of that lies in the fact that virtually no-one volunteers extra tax payments now. If you write a check to the US Treasury, they’ll cash it and put it into the general fund. How many political bloggers have done that? Zip-zero, because it’s a stupid thing to do. If taxes were voluntary, no-one’d pay.

    I judge that people are comfortable enough where they are and scared enough of change (or ignorant about the whole thing, take your pick) that they’d never vote this government away. But I also judge that given the choice, they’d opt out overnight. It isn’t a contradiction, it’s an example of the difference between epistemic and instrumental rationality. Most people are instrumentally rational but not epistemically rational. Give them a clear choice and they’ll follow their self-interest like bloodhounds.

  5. John Lopez says:

    Josh,

    What does that overwhelming majority have to do with me?

    You have to get them on your side if you want to get votes, man. Geez.

  6. icmp says:

    I don’t see how fear being the common denominator for humankind has anything to do with proving that ‘people dont want freedom.’ I sincerely doubt most people would prefer to live in fear than free.

    As for the argument that if people were so against taxation and govt why did Harry Browne only receive 1% of the vote in his campaigns — is simply that the political duopoly (and the constitution itself) in the US prevents and makes it excessively difficult for third parties to run and compete with them, or make any meaningful changes if they were to win. They have virtually endless funding and a monopoly on the ‘national debates’ that limits public exposure to alternatives.

    Further, what the people want is largely not something we can actively debate without our heads exploding. Everybody is different in their individual needs and desires .. and that is one reason why democracy can never work.. in short, the “people” (collectively) dont know what they want.

    And as long as we’re citing historical statistics, here is my favourite:
    In 1992 there were 185 million people ‘of voting age’ (Census.gov), of which 61% actually voted (~112 million).. Of that, Clinton received 44 million (43%/23%, GHB 39 million (39%/21%), and ROSS PEROT 19.7 million (19%/10%).. Candidates get votes by public exposure, not so much by ideology, and Perot bought plenty of that.

    So, not only did 58% of the voters vote AGAINST the winner, in all there were 71% of ‘eligible’ people who DID NOT legitimize the government by abstaining as well as voting against Clinton.

    The US government is by no means representative of American people– it never has been and I presume it never will be.

    This pattern of abstention outnumbering actual voters (or at least that plus those who voted ‘against’ the winner) has been evident throughout American history. There have been very few (if any) where that pattern is not true and as such, there can be no ‘legitimacy’ of our government by the ‘majority’ who support it– because there is no such majority. Of course, realizing that this is Lysander “Constitution of no authority” Spooner territory, it goes without saying that even if there were a majority, it would naturally have illegitimate means to dictate to others how they may live.

  7. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    icmp,

    I don’t see how fear being the common denominator for humankind has anything to do with proving that ‘people dont want freedom.’ I sincerely doubt most people would prefer to live in fear than free.

    I think you misunderstood me. It’s not that people want to live in fear, it is that they are fearful. Fear is the greatest motivator of humans, not the desire to be free. Look at every electoral campaign going back to whenever. What do politicians sell? Fear, of course, because they know people buy it:

    * Conservative: vote for me or else the Muslim/Soviet/British/Indian/Mexican (pick your favorite era) boogeymen will kill us all.

    * Liberal: if you don’t vote for me, them evil conservatives will take away your child’s school lunch, burn black churches, and destroy your retirement plan.

    People are motivated by fear, which is why they want government. As I mentioned in my conversation with Bessman (where is he, anyway?), government does a fairly good job at providing stability and a false sense of security, at the expense of liberty. That’s what people want.

  8. icmp says:

    Well, true in that politicians sell fear to voters but I think that has more to do with people being ignorant and easily-manipulated than people wanting government over freedom.

    I would say government is only good at providing a false sense of both stability and security.. War-mongering republicans obviously dont provide much real security and Liberal taxation, welfare with republican keynesianism doesnt provide much real economic stability for those of us who know more than what we’re told. Post-Katrina New Orleans is a perfect example of this.

  9. Sam,

    If I were Warbiany, I’d ask you how come it is that Harry Browne, who would have slashed taxes significantly and removed many of the burdens of goverment, had received about one percent of the vote in his two presidential campaigns? Or any other LP candidate at any other level, for that matter.

    It’s simple: Voters don’t bear the costs of their individual decisions in the voting booth. Lopez is pointing out how people would act if they did bear the costs of their decisions.

  10. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    Kennedy,

    It’s simple: Voters don’t bear the costs of their individual decisions in the voting booth.

    What do you mean? By voting RepubliCrat, are you not voting yourself more taxes, regulations, impositions, coercion, aggression, violence, etc? Wouldn’t you have less of those if the White House and Congress were full of LP members?

    Voters do bear the costs of their decisions, albeit indirectly.

  11. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    icmp,

    Well, true in that politicians sell fear to voters but I think that has more to do with people being ignorant and easily-manipulated than people wanting government over freedom.

    True, but why are they ignorant and easily-manipulated? The government and the media do a great job at brainwashing, but that cannot be the entire story, especially today, when information is cheaper, faster, and more readily available than ever. Fear, to a great extent, lies underneath the reluctance to educate oneself, think for oneself, and be independent.

    Once you start thinking rationally and independently, you may find yourself in a tiny minority, without the warm, comfy blanket of social acceptance. Most people shudder at the idea.

  12. John Lopez says:

    Sam,

    True, but why are they ignorant and easily-manipulated?

    Because they pay no penalty for it. The ignorant and credulous voter gets the same government as the intelligent and informed voter.

  13. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    Lopez,

    Because they pay no penalty for it. The ignorant and credulous voter gets the same government as the intelligent and informed voter.

    They pay no penalty vis-a-vis other voters, but they do pay a penalty vis-a-vis themselves, had they had an LP-type government, or no government at all.

  14. Joshua Holmes says:

    And if that one person voted LP, what good would that do?

  15. John Lopez says:

    Sam,

    They pay no penalty vis-a-vis other voters, but they do pay a penalty vis-a-vis themselves,…

    They pay no penalty at all because the ignorant and credulous voter gets the same government as the intelligent and informed voter. Who, you’ll notice, gets the same government as the LP voter, who gets the exact (exact, mind you) same government as the nonvoter. Paraphrasing Kennedy, “The expected return on any effort anyone puts into voting in presidential elections is negligible.

    …had they had an LP-type government, or no government at all.

    Neither of those are going to come out of the ballot box any time soon nor if they did would they come about because or in spite of our individual votes or non-votes.

    Your one vote provides you no discernable benefit, no matter how you expend it.

  16. To be slightly more precise: The expected political return for the individual in large elections is negligible.

    Sam,

    By voting RepubliCrat, are you not voting yourself more taxes, regulations, impositions, coercion, aggression, violence, etc?

    I will get the same political return on my vote whatever I do with it.

    Wouldn’t you have less of those if the White House and Congress were full of LP members?

    That’s quite possible but has effectively nothing to do with my vote. Everyone who voted libertarian in the last election still got Bush and this congress – same as everyone who voted democratic or republican or Pat Paulsen or didn’t vote. Politically it didn’t make a bit of difference what you did with your vote.

  17. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    Lopez, Kennedy, Holmes –

    What the hell are you guys talking about??? You lecture me that my vote doesn’t matter, and that we all get the same government anyway. My reply is – of course, when did I say otherwise? When did I claim that voting LP would make a practical difference? When did I ever show an inclination for democracy?

    My point, which all you missed and that libertarians in general like to ignore, is that humans don’t want freedom. Face it, accept it, deal with it. That’s all I was saying. Lopez’s piece was making the implicit claim that the American people would abolish government in a heartbit, the freedom lovers that they are. Yeah, right. That was the part where he and I disagreed. I doubt we have any disagreements regarding the illegitimacy of government, majority rule, or the futulity of voting.

    Libertarians like to bitch about government, and indeed they have a gazillion good reasons to do so, but you cannot escape the unfortunate fact that goverenment exists because the cowardly, dependent, dumb, and ignorant people of this country (or any other country) want it to exist. That was my point.

    Don’t misinterpret me again – I am in no way saying that government is legitimate simply because the majority wants it to exist. The majority has no legitimate claim to take even one cent from one person. I feel weird to even have to state it.

  18. Sam,

    People vote for government because they don’t bear the cost of their vote. Lopez pointed out that if they would not support government if they had to bear the cost of their own decision.

    Most people are rationally ignorant and rationally irrational about collective politics because collective politics is waste of their time. Being right about politics doesn’t get you any better political return than being wrong.

    You say they are cowardly, dependent, dumb, and ignorant, but do you get a better political result if you’re brave, independent, intelligent and informed? No.

    So what’s the political return on your bravery, independence, intelligence and careful study?

  19. Uncle Sam Staples says:

    Methinks you insist on misinterpreting me, or otherwise we have a really bad connection here.

    Being right about politics doesn’t get you any better political return than being wrong.

    True. When did I say otherwise? The question is, Do they think so? The answer is a resounding No.

    You say they are cowardly, dependent, dumb, and ignorant, but do you get a better political result if you’re brave, independent, intelligent and informed? No.

    True. When did I say otherwise? The question is, Do they think so? The answer is a resounding No.

    So what’s the political return on your bravery, independence, intelligence and careful study?

    None. When did I say otherwise? And stop, you’re making me blush.

    You can talk all you want about diminishing returns or whatever, but when people go to the ballots they do think that they make a difference, that their votes count and matter, that they can bring about a change, etc. They are motivated by what they think, not by what you write in this blog. You try to analyze this mathematically and statistically, forgetting that economics is a socio-psychological field.

    I get a feeling that you are as frustrated as I am with this thread, because your previous post (which you deleted and replaced with the one above) mentioned something about me not following the thread (I could only catch the first sentence).

    Alright people, enjoy your barbecues, picnics, and whatever. Don’t forget to celebrate the real Independence Day eight days from tomorrow – H.D. Thoreau’s birthday.

  20. John Lopez says:

    Sam,

    True. When did I say otherwise? The question is, Do they think so? The answer is a resounding No.

    What Kennedy & everyone else is getting at is that voters only think so because reality has no bearing on collective politics.

    Lopez’s piece was making the implicit claim that the American people would abolish government in a heartbit, the freedom lovers that they are. Yeah, right.

    Dood, I was saying explicitly that if taxes were voluntary virtually everyone would opt out of them in a heartbeat, thus opting out of this government. Nobody has to love freedom to love what’s in their wallets. If you wanted to refute my position all you’d have to do is point to the hordes of people who proudly volunteer extra tax payments every year.

    Except those hordes don’t exist, do they?

  21. jomama says:

    Once the voter, living with all his fear of The Other Voter, finds out that his gummint died some time ago, what will he do?

  22. The answer of course is that they’d get next to nothing, because it’d be a sucker deal for anyone to volunteer to fund this government.

    It would be a sucker deal for anyone to volunteer to fund any provider of public goods, no matter how efficient or just it was at doing so. In the sense of receiving something for money, volunteering is always a sucker’s sport, by definition.

  23. John Lopez says:

    Scott,

    In the sense of receiving something for money, volunteering is always a sucker’s sport, by definition.

    Right. You can of course get a public good from a private good. For example religious charity is really a private good – if you give to the poor you get into Heaven. The public goods aspect is a side effect of the private good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *