Friday, March 30, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part III, Chapter 4




Having considered the protection that government affords against foreign enemies, we will now turn to its functions at home, and see how far the order that exists in human society is due to its action; and what effect that action has upon security.

We have already learned that government is lineally descended from ancient robbers and pirates, who plundered the people as occasion offered. At no period in the line of that descent has it changed its nature. Its methods, however, have undergone constant changes, from time to time, to meet changes in the development of the people; but its essential character remains.

Another thing we have learned is, that “property rights,” to sustain which government exists, is a purely artificial and arbitrary arrangement, existing wholly by virtue of the law; that for all its representing anything in nature, it might as well have been entirely different, as to be what it is; and that, so far as that arrangement violates the natural conditions of property, it is a violation of the natural rights of persons to property.

The real functions of government being to sustain an institution of property which is itself a violation of natural right, and which has its source in privilege, can only perform its functions by the protection and extension of privilege, so it grants titles of nobility, makes grants or sales of land, issue corporate franchises of every variety and kind, co tracts public bonded debts, authorizes stocks, and bonded debts of corporations, issues patents and [221] copyrights, sets up monopolies, loans its credit for private gain to its favorites, taxes some for the advantage of others, and then enforces these privileges with the whole power of the government.

I propose to show that almost the whole effective action of government, is directed to such an enforcement; and that if it undertakes more, it is in the nature of meddlesome and pestiferous interference in the private affairs of people, which always does more harm than good, and is always intended to divert attention from the primary purposes of its action; or else it is to make an excuse for fresh appropriations.

Prof. W. S. Jevons, in an opening address before the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Liverpool, in September, 1870, said: “The laws of property are a purely human institution, and are just so far defensible as they conduce to the good of society;” and he makes that fact the justification of a recommendation to government to confiscate to its own uses private bequests which had been made to charitable purposes.

It is a well recognized fact that the laws of property are wholly artificial, and therefore no natural right will be violated should the people conclude to abolish them.

Although in this country government issues no titles of nobility as such, yet the privileges granted by law hereby the grantee are enabled to subsist upon the labor of other men without labor themselves, amount to the same thing. When the government grants a tract of land in aid of the construction of a railroad, as hundreds of millions of acres have been granted, it simply places in the hands of those who exploit the construction of the road (not those who construct it) the power to absorb the unrequited labor of those who must use that land. The government has granted to individuals precisely what in substance other governments [222] grant to individuals when they confer titles of nobility. The same thing is done too when the railroad franchise itself is granted; and the telegraph,telephone, gas, water, street-car, patent or copyright franchises are given. Wherever a privilege, immunity, or special right is conferred upon one man, or set of men, it is in its nature the same as a grant of nobility; and it has exactly the same effect.

Public bonded debts is another form of privilege which enables the holders of those bonds to live without labor upon the labor of the taxpayers who must pay the interest on those bonds, and finally the principal; and for which those taxpayers do not receive one dollar of benefit. Interest itself is made possible only by conditions produced by the law; and those who pay interest get absolutely nothing in return for it. A bonded debt is one of the forms of slavery whereby the monopolists, through the action of government, which is the instrument of the law, secures and maintains the bondage of the people. No bonded debt can ever carry with it the rightful obligation of the people to pay either principal or interest. It is neither good in law or justice. Even the law, if it were consistent with itself, would condemn it, because no man can be legally held for an obligation which he did not make, or authorize another to make for him. At the very most a bond can only bind those who actually voted for that bond. And if it were possible that at the time of its issue it had received the direct sanction and authorization of every man, woman, and child in the community, it would not bind the next child born. No man can sign away the rights of another without the consent of that other. And if he cannot sign away his rights, it follows that he cannot vote them away; and much less the rights of unborn generations yet to come. There is not a public bonded debt in this world that is worth the paper it is written upon except [223] in so far as the people can be kept in ignorance of its true character, and humbugged into the idea that their own honor is at stake in its payment. The only honor that is at stake is the honor of the governing corporation that issued the bonds. Here again, the honor of the master is the disgrace of the slave. If the slave is so ignorant as to be unaware of the true nature of the bond, and so subservient and submissive as to pay that bond, it is to his everlasting disgrace. But if he sends the bondholder to the men who issued the bond, and tells. him to look there for payment, the disgrace is on the master. His credit is destroyed, and he will have to withdraw from the business of governing The maintenance of the so-called public credit is only useful to governments to enable them to raise, on emergency, the money necessary to sustain their supremacy at home, or fight their neighbors abroad. The people are no more interested in it than the slave is interested in the credit of his master.

Another convenient scheme for exploiting the labor of others is the organization of joint stock corporations. Large blocks of the stock are distributed gratuitously to the organizers, and other large blocks are sold at a small percentage of their face value. Very few of such corporations actually receive from their stock-holders the full face value of the stock they control, and the total capitalization seldom bears any necessary or ascertainable relation to the money actually invested in the enterprise. The stock so issued in excess of the money invested,—which represents no investment at all, is called “water,” or “watered stocks." But they come in for their share of the dividends just the same, and swell the amounts that must go to monopoly, and thus diminish those which can possibly go to labor.

In addition to the stock manipulations of these corporations, it is a common practice to issue bonds [224] bearing a fixed rate of interest, and running a given time, which still further increase the fixed charges of monopoly, and reduce the rewards of labor. The greater the amount of the watered stock in a corporation, the less cash that stock brings into its treasury, and the more necessary becomes the issue of bonds to obtain means to carry on its business. It is often the case that through these bond and stock manipulations, schemers will build whole railroads, and obtain and keep enough of those stocks to control the roads without ever investing a dollar themselves, especially if they have obtained a grant of land from the government in aid of its construction. When a railroad has been built in this way, and most of them have been so, it is of course loaded down with interest-bearing debt, and with dividends on stock which represents nothing; it must charge high rates of freight and passage in order to meet those charges, and pay salaries to high priced officials, and other running expenses of the road. This again puts additional burdens upon those who do business over the road, breeding discontent among the farmers and business men; while at the same time the wages of employees are kept almost down to starvation rates. If the men strike for higher wages, or the farmers and others demand lower charges, the first plea put forward against them is, that “the capital invested is only making legitimate interest,” and so they cannot afford to reduce charges, or raise wages.

But in the first place, the stock does not represent honest capital invested; and, in the second place, there is no such thing as legitimate interest. Interest is always illegitimate. Dividends are always illegitimate; because neither interest nor dividends represent wages for actual labor performed. Those contrivances by which a stock-holder can draw dividends, or a bond-holder can draw interest, are exactly like the slavery of public bonded debts,— contrivances [225] which enable the idler to subsist upon the earnings of the industrious. They exist wholly in and by virtue of the law. They receive from it their only sanction. Through the establishment and maintenance of just such things as these do governments build up monopolies, and protect them afterwards. In the absence of law they would be impossible: First, by violating the natural rights of persons to properly, by setting up arbitrary and unnatural fights of property; and then favoring and facilitating large aggregations of capital through abnormally increasing the power of aggregated capital, and through special advantages enacted in laws relating to corporations, the law kills off the competition of individual merchants and manufacturers, who are placed at so great a disadvantage in the competition for trade that they are driven out of business, or compelled to accept subordinate position under the corporations. Everywhere the individual or firm is giving way to the corporation. Those only who can command almost unlimited captital can hope to make head against these modern cyclops.

Men frequently look upon the tendency to concentration in business, to the disappearance of the small trader of limited means, and the substitution of the corporation, or great capitalist, as indicating a gain to the people at large, in the cheapness of production. If cheapness is taken to mean a less expenditure of labor in the production of wealth, then the idea is wholly erroneous. But if it means the lessened amounts that monopoly is compelled to pay to labor as wages for that production, then their idea is correct. Monopoly does not facilitate the production of wealth. It hinders it. It requires just as much, or more labor to produce wealth under monopoly than under freedom, but those who produce it get less, while more; therefore the outward appearance of cheapened cost [226] of production. That this is true is proved by the steady decrease everywhere in the number of small, or independent traders, who are driven into bankruptcy, and are finally compelled to accept a situation at a small salary under monopoly; and they generally consider themselves lucky if they get even that. And yet, there is probably not one per cent of those who have been thus forced into bankruptcy by the operation of the law, who do not religiously worship the fetish of the law, and who would not consider it their sacred duty to fight, if necessary, for the government, which is the instrument of the law.

Patents and copyrights are other ways in which governments play into the hands of monopolists under the pretense of “rewarding genius,” of “stimulating invention,” and of “promoting authorship.” It makes, and keeps people poor, and therefore helpless; and should they invent a useful article, they are generally so poor that they can not pay the fees for taking out a patent; or if they can, they can not manufacture and sell the article, but must look to monopoly to help them out. And it generally does help them “out,” and so far out that they never get back again.

If a man writes a book he must find some publisher with sufficient means to defray the cost of its publication. And the poorer he is, the more helpless; in other words, the more he is in the power of the publisher. A man with a patent, or a copyright, but without money, is just about as well off as the settler is, on a quarter section of wild government land, who has nothing with which to work it; and if lie had, he is so far from market that his land is well nigh worthless to him. In this condition the patentee, the author, and the settler become easy victims to monopoly. What to them was nearly worthless becomes of vast importance to monopoly, The reward which the generous [227] government grants to genius, or the settler, is a pittance, while that to monopoly is magnificent and substantial. And then, when the monopoly has grown rich on the invention; or the landholder by the rise in the value of the land, people are invited to admire the beneficent generosity of a government which so munificently rewards inventive genius, and the sturdy frugality of its pioneers, notwithstanding the pioneer and the genius may fill a pauper’s grave.

If there are any other opportunities for setting up monopolies, and special privileges, the government maintains several corps of very industrious men to look them up, and parcel them out—for a consideration. There is the national congress, the state legislatures, the city councils, the town boards, the excise, drainage, railroad and warehouse, and inter-state commissions; and all the other legislative, and semi-legislative contrivances whereby laws are passed, franchises granted, contracts let, and taxes imposed. There is scarcely an act from the cradle to the grave that government does not endeavor to bring under subjection to the will of those who assume to rule, and which does not involve the payment of fees, duties, taxes, and contributions of various kinds, either directly to those rulers, or to some of their favorites, whom they have given special permission to collect these charges. The child at birth is required to be registered. If he is sick he can only be doctored by an authorized physician. He must only eat authorized food, drink authorized drink, work at authorized times, and at authorized things, marry in an authorized way, live in an authorized place, and finally die and be buried in an authorized manner. Of course, all these authorizations cost money. It does not matter whether the doctor knows anything or not, if he has gone through certain formalities, the state suppresses all competition so far as it [228] can, except from those who have taken the same formalities. The result is that the doctors are, to a large degree, absolved from the necessity for study. They do not even have to keep posted on the current advance in knowledge in their own profession. Their profession is protected by law from outside competition; and then, by setting up artificial standards of ethics for themselves, they still further limit competition among themselves; or, in other words, make it hard for some and easy for others to get ahead. It naturally follows that some have more than they can attend to, get large fees, and attain great reputation, while others get nothing. The doctor with a large practice is physically unable to keep abreast of the advance in medical knowledge, for want of time and strength, while the one who has none cannot do it for want of means. The latest discoveries in the nature of diseases, and improved methods of treatment, are as completely foreign to the great majority of physicians as if they had never studied medicine. Here again, the law destroys whatever it pretends to protect. Freedom is just as necessary in medicine as in anything else. Protection to a learned profession is just as injurious as any other kind of protection. Instead of protecting ability, and merit, it always turns out that it is incompetence that has received the protection. Ability needs no protection; but incompetence does.

So we may go through the whole list of laws providing for official inspections, against the adulterations of food and drink, all forms of sumptuary laws, laws for the promotion of morality, Sabbath observance, etc., and we shall find that where they do not have the direct purpose in view of violating the security of the citizens, in the direct robbery of those citizens, they still amount to a meddlesome and pestiferous interference, with the direct result of destroying all spontaneous and healthy activity. [204] The law promotes adulterations instead of protecting against them; it fosters licentiousness where it would prevent it; and enables the strong to prey upon the weak instead of preserving the weak against the strong.

The laws for the collection of debt are practically a nullity so far as promoting the payment of just debts between individuals goes. They give almost infinite opportunities for fraud, deception, and dishonesty. Those who are disposed to pay, and have the ability to pay, need no law to compel them. But those who are not, always seek in the forms, technicalities, and delays of the law an efficient method of avoiding payment. Instead of leaving debt where it rightly belongs, as a matter of honor, laws are made for its forcible collection, and then / it no long rests upon honor, but upon the law; so that if a man can cheat according to law he is all right. Honor is not involved. Here again, the law promotes dishonesty instead of honesty. All this has come to be so well recognized that very few good business men will undertake to collect debts by law. They find it costs more than it comes to.

That the law is wholly unnecessary in the collection of debt is abundantly shown in the transaction of business between men. In the stock and grain exchanges pencil memoranda in the note books of brokers are sufficient to guarantee the sales of property to the amount of thousands of dollars. These contracts, depending wholly upon the honor of those who made them, are considered safer than those made outside, although they may be signed, sealed and registered parchments. Among gamblers also, the debt of honor,—the debt which cannot be collected by law, is the first debt paid.

But of course, this only applies to obligations which have an honorable basis,—a basis of equity between man and man. It could never be applied [230] to the exactions of monopoly. When we come to rent, interest, taxes, mortgages, royalties, or any of the other takings of monopoly, which are purely legal stealings, and no honor is involved, the law is then an absolute necessity. It is a club in the hands of monopoly to compel the people to give up. Monopoly could not live a week in the absence of law. And as the chief purpose and function of the law is to create monopolies, and enforce their demands, its action must necessarily be to violate the security which it pretends to subserve, instead of promoting it To the poor the law is utterly worthless, or worse; but to the rich it is invaluable. Yet the poor pay the expense while the rich get the benefit.

The enforcement of contracts comes under the same head as the collection of debt, although it is something more. Men enter into contracts to do certain things; and if the terms of those contracts are just and equal both parties to them are equally benefited, and consequently will be equally interested in their fulfillment, and will therefore need no law to enforce them. But if one party to a contract has misrepresented the facts, has overeached the other, and has secured terms which are not just and equal, then the law is necessary to enable him to enforce and make effective his rascality. Here also the law directly encourages and promotes deception and fraud, and then helps to carry out that fraud.

Then, under the pretense of regulating commerce, the law exacts contributions, tariffs, licenses, duties, fees, and taxes; subjects it to delays, hindrances, and regulations, in many respects prevents it altogether; stirs up envy, strife, war; and again violates security. Commerce needs no regulation. It is best promoted by leaving it perfectly free to take its own unhindered way. If free, it will always adopt such methods and appliances as [231] best promote the interest of those who are engaged in it, at the least cost. What does a ward politician know about the needs of trade of a circulating medium? What does the average legislator know about the requisites of a proper grain inspection, or an inspection of meats, fish, or dairy product? What does h know about the qualifications of a doctor, or ninety-nine out of the hundred things about which he is called upon to legislate? And if he seeks information from those who are supposed to know, that information will be colored by their own interests, or prejudices. Commerce is never regulated except to rob it; and those who regulate it to-day, are the same as those who plundered it of old. The name has been changed, but the thing is the same.

Every human institution, every rule of intercourse, every custom is but the expression of the needs and interests of men, and not of formal laws enacted by government; and so long as they continue to be such an expression they will be observed without law; but when they cease, they will change with the changing needs, notwithstanding the law. Law at the very best, can only hinder and delay the adoption of better customs and usages; and whenever an institution needs the support or sanction of law, it is an indication that it is in a state of decay. Ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry cling longest to old institutions. Men fear and condemn what they do not understand; therefore, when law is enacted to sustain any form or tenet of religion, any standard of morality, or any custom of society, it is certain to represent, not the intelligence of the community, but its ignorance.

This is law at its best. What it is at its worst, we have already had glimpses; but they are only glimpses. Where the law is not a direct and conscious robbery of the people in the interest of a part of those people, it furnishes a means of oppression [232] whereby the most ignorant and bigoted can harass, annoy, and persecute those whose increasing intelligence has discarded the old methods and standards.

Let us take a look at the courts! What do their duties consist of? What is their function? Primarily to enforce the demands of monopoly; sometimes to settle disputes between different monopolies; and very rarely to furnish a tribunal for the people themselves. But their action is so bound up in technicalities, delays, and expense, that in the last case, it amounts to the merest sham. It is a notorious fact that no matter how just may be a man’s claim, unless he is rich he stands no show against the wealthy. First, he cannot employ the best legal talent to conduct his case; second, the delay wears him out; and third, the expense eats him up. The poor man has no more show before the courts, as they are constituted and conducted, than a lamb would have before a tribunal of wolves.

Examine the records of every court in the land, and it will be found that more than nineteen twentieths of all their work is either to enforce the demands of monopoly, or they are purely disputes between different monopolies in which the people have not the slightest interest, although they are heavily taxed to support them.

When a difference arises between two or more individuals, one of them appeals to the law, which assumes to arbitrate it, not with the mutual consent of the parties, but at the instigation of one of them. The government meddles constantly in the private affairs of the people, assuming the right to settle their disputes with or without their consent. It sends its minions to evict the starving widow and fatherless children from their miserable shanty upon the demand of the rich and favored, when they can no longer wring enough from their misery to satisfy their greed. It stands ready to foreclose the mortgage of the farmer when he can [223] no longer meet the demands of the usurer; and it sends its militia, and if need be the army, to shoot down the workingmen if they insist a little too strongly on their right to a little larger proportion of the wealth they produce.

The keeping of records is another very important function of government,—important to the monopolies, but to no one else. Natural property, depending solely upon possession, or occupation, needs to preserve no records. It is only when that natural condition is violated, and men are enabled to own a thing while in the possession of another, that records are necessary. Yet here again; the people are taxed once more to keep the records of their own slavery. Voltaire says that “the art of government is to make two thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.”

Voltaire was right; and those payments are only in small part in the form of taxes, although these are heavy enough in all conscience. During the six years, ending June 30th, 1871, following our civil war, the revenues collected from the people over and above the total expenditures of the government, were in round numbers $380,890,000. Such a thing in any other government on earth would not have been tolerated; nor would it have been here had it not been for our peculiar form of government which falsely deceives the people into the idea that they are governing themselves. Add to this excess over and above all the needs of government, the total expenses of government, national, state, and local. then include the almost incalculable amounts exacted by monopoly through the operations of government, whereby the idle are made rich, and the industrious are kept poor, and we get the aggregate cost of government to the people.

Can a people so taxed, and robbed, and hampered be said to be free? To be free as to be without [234] restriction. What has government, or law, which is the embodiment of restriction, to do with freedom? To speak of “free government” is to employ a contradiction of terms. Freedom and government are utterly inconsistent. There is no such thing as a free government. Government is slavery. There is no slavery possible outside of government, except the slavery of ignorance; and ignorance is soonest conquered when men are free to employ their faculties to dispel it, without the restraining influences of government. Men can never achieve freedom until government is completely eradicated. I am not here discussing their right to so free themselves. Like M. Dunnoyer, “I do not say sententiously: men have a right to be free; I confine myself to asking: How does it happen that they are not so?” Let them once understand that they are not so, and I have no fears that they will not attend to it in a becoming manner.

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