At the basis of political economy lies the idea that government assemblies ought to meddle with the personal decisions made by individuals. If people don’t act, value, believe, transact, or uphold the values that hold sway among a government and its cronies at any given time, the awesome force vested in the power of politics will and should crack down on them.
That initial mistake causes a good percentage of all conflicts between human beings. If we don’t have a bloated government administration over which we can wrestle control, it doesn’t matter much who is in charge. The fight over central government involves the taxes and regulations we lobby and protest over; it’s the goodies we obtain from others and distribute as we see fit; it’s the money bags and subsidies we throw at things our experts in their lab coats have proposed; it’s the building codes and the zoning regulations, the travel restrictions and the health declarations.
If you object to the fight, you’re un-American. If you protest the result, you’re anti-science. If you speak up, you’re offering hate speech. But the government doesn’t really work for the benefit of the majority, and it will not lead us to a land of milk and honey.
The United States of America was, to quote John Goodman’s character Frank in the movie The Gambler, “based on F-U.” The foundation of this land of opportunity was that the rulers may not – indeed cannot – interfere in the squabbling between citizens, and their individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. The United States was once governed by what anyone would now call a very minimal government. That government gave way long ago to the behemoth we now have.
Somewhere along the way, was it World War I, the creation of the Fed, the destruction of academia? – we stood the logic of American life on its head. If anybody anywhere offends, or otherwise causes harm, if anybody has access to something others don’t, if anybody holds a thought not in step with his fellows, the aggrieved must assemble as many cronies and allies as possible, and then snitch, fire, steal, mandate, imprison or ultimately kill those who have the nerve to disagree. There can be no mercy for wrong thinkers, for the climate deniers or the anti-vaxxers. There can be no tolerance for those who don’t embrace the Lord, unquestionably respect the life of an embryo, or see the words of Trump as the golden ticket to a proud future.
In short, we have a desire to rule, a desire to dominate others. The pandemic, says Michael Malice, has been the perfect setting for neurotic and low-status people to dominate – to assert moral and physical force – over the rest of us. Another pariah of the establishment, Joe Rogan, in a conversation with Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein (two ultra-pariahs of the ruling class) called the Karens and the wrath-seekers “the weakest minds, and the most cowardly amongst us.”
What prompted this reflection was, oddly and illustratively enough, Sarah O’Conner’s discussion in the Financial Times on Universal Basic Income, which is the idea that a government, out of general revenue, can and should afford every citizen a basic livelihood. She doesn’t like it, but for all the wrong reasons:
“If a UBI let employers off the hook entirely from the idea that a job should be something a person can live on, it could make it easier to hire people for fewer hours on a casual or fleeting basis. […] There is a danger in seeing job insecurity as an inevitability to which we must adapt, when in some cases it is simply a regulatory failure to which we should respond.”
There are three problems here that relate to the way we look at economic and political relations in the 2020s.
First, what other people do and the transactions they make are no one’s business but their own. Letting “employers off the hook,” or saying that “a job should be something a person can live on” is entirely detached from the way a liberal, free society orients itself. These things are the business of the people making those transactions,and no one else’s.
Second, “pay” isn’t something that employers, by virtue of being rich, entrepreneurial, or profit-seeking rightfully owe anyone. Pay is owed as a result of contracts made between employers and workers. These are an outcome of trade. Workers provide value for their employers, who in turn pay wages at an agreed-upon rate. That a third-party observer disagrees with the valuation made by either party is beside the point.
Third, the “job insecurity,” the “we must adapt,” and “regulatory failure” canards indicate an urge toward central-planning that is almost always unwarranted. Many libertarians correctly object that governments are in no position to make such determinations. Government functionaries have poor information and inadequate enforcement mechanisms to will their visions into reality. In the end, they tend to make matters worse everywhere they act.
While O’Connor misses this view in the narrow topic of UBI, the conflict isn’t over that specific policy proposal, or even about vaccine mandates. It’s not about the politics surrounding abortion or immigration or foreign policy. It’s not about issues of health or eating habits, about sexuality or workout routines. Those are all downstream from the much bigger, and much deeper question: For what purposes may societies condone the use of violent force?
The answer is many fewer than most people presently believe. Because most things are simply none of the government’s business.