Friday, August 15, 2014

ANS-- foundational document #2 -- government is based on the threat of violence

This is a short article about what government is and does, and how. 
Find it here:  Sorry, I have no idea where I got this or who wrote it.  I may even have written some of it myself, but I don't know.  It was in my Word files, which got all disorganized when I got the new computer.

Government is ultimately based on the threat of violence

There are two basic functions of government:  One is to allow civilization, the other is to manage the commons. 
The more primitive function, the first one, goes like this:  before there was any government, each family had to defend itself against all others.  In order to do this, they had to be tough guys – to appear to be "the meanest son-of-a bitch in the valley", so that others would leave them alone.  But being the tough guy takes up a lot of time and energy and doesn't leave you a lot of time for other pursuits, or a lot of emotional depth for other relationships. So, people came up with the idea of specialization, appointing certain, well-suited guys to be the tough guys for all of us, while the rest of us were then relieved of this responsibility and could therefore develop culture, art, science, religion, family life, romance, ordinariness and peace, and even pacifism.  Thus, ultimately, all civilization rests on the threat of violence (not violence, but the threat of violence.  There's a subtle difference, which I won't go into here.*) 
So, the cops are the essence of government. 
The second function of government applies to modern, people's governments; an innovation of democracy/republicanism.  This is the essence of government of the people by the people and for the people: the management of the commons.  What this means is that when WE the People are the government, rather than a dictator or king, we own certain things in common, and they must be managed for the common good (where in a monarchy they are owned by the Crown and managed sometimes for the good of the king and sometimes for the good of the country, depending on the personality of the king.)  Anyone who tells you that the management of the commons isn't a legitimate function of government is not in favor of democracy, but thinks governments should be dictatorships or monarchies (or theocracies).  But a democracy is different in that authority flows up from the bottom rather than down from the top.  Interestingly, that is also how economies actually work too. 
What do I mean by economies working from the bottom up?  Well, it's like this: If you give more money to someone poor, they will spend it, so it goes into circulation.  If you give more money to someone middle class, they will spend some of it, so it goes somewhat into circulation.  If you give a rich person more money, they won't necessarily spend it, because they are already spending all the money they can; after all, you can only eat just so much, and wear just so many clothes, and buy just so many cars.  So, if you add money to the wallet of someone who is already spending all they want to spend, they don't spend it, and it doesn't go into circulation.  So the way to encourage the economy is to add money to the bottom, and it will circulate around, enriching everyone. (For example: The poor person buys food at the local grocery store, so the grocery store prospers.  The grocery store uses it to pay their employees, who also then prosper.  The employees go out and spend it on food and goods, which spreads the prosperity further. Etc.) The problem with old-fashioned capitalism is that this money goes up and up through society and ends up in the hands of the rich people, where it stagnates if the rich people are rich enough.  Therefore it is good for everyone to keep rich people below the level where they are spending all they care to spend so the money won't get stuck there and will keep circulating.  Thus, a fairly flat relative wealth is good for everyone, whereas extreme differences in wealth level are bad for everyone, even the rich people. 
So, back to managing the commons.  The commons includes the obvious stuff, like real property ( parks, roadways, watersheds, public buildings, etc.) and also includes less obvious things like education, defense, foreign policy, health care, water rights, fire protection, scientific research, and anything else we decide we are better off doing together rather than separately.
Please, at this point, read Brad Hicks' essay on when government does it better than private industry. 
There is a basic economic idea that you need to grasp.  It is that relative wealth is what counts, not absolute wealth.  Thus, when all businesses in a field are taxed more, the loss for each one is zero because they all were taxed equally.  Don't believe it?  Read this more detailed, but still understandable, essay, How Markets Foil Collectivist Schemes
This is the reason that government must regulate business, and it cannot be regulated by itself.  If business tries to self-regulate, those who see that there are no cops and take it to mean they can cheat with impunity, cheat.  As soon as one business cheats, all of the others must cheat too in order to compete successfully.  If the government, whose cops have teeth, is successful in keeping them all from cheating, they can all prosper without cheating. 

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