On a recent episode of Lions Of Liberty, Marc Clair interviewed John Perkins, author of New Confessions of An Economic Hitman. During the discussion, Mr. Clair described the power of government leveraged by big business as a chicken and egg situation. This is not an uncommon conclusion considering that libertarians and anarchists point to the government as the problem while progressives point to the greed of business as the source of corruption. However, assessing the question logically, one of these is clearly the primary culprit.
There are three possible configurations of any social structure: statelessness where business is subject completely to the whim of the market (i.e. anarchy), a coexistence of state and business, or complete ownership of the means of production by the state (i.e. communism or socialism). Needless to say, any practical application of the middle configuration would appear on a continuum between no state and complete control by the state. It is in this configuration we find ourselves today.
Where states exist, state actors claim powers which exceed natural rights. For example, the U.S. federal government claims a power to tax citizens (i.e. expropriate private property) as a means of raising funds to maintain government agencies. Such a power does not naturally exist and could not be exercised by someone outside of the government.
Since humans act purposefully, applying available means to achieve desired ends, it would be natural for anyone claiming the power of expropriation to exercise that power when they deem necessary. Similarly, anyone not directly possessing such power would seek avenues through which it could be wielded on their behalf. In a free market, businesses have no such power to expropriate: they must serve consumers in order to reap benefits from them. However, when the power of the state can result in greater profits for less cost, businesses will naturally seek access to that power.
In a stateless society, no person, group, or business can legitimately claim powers over others. The state introduces such claims to power and, as a result, the corruption inherent in it.
When classical liberalism gained momentum in the late 18th century, it sowed the seeds for the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Progressives continue to descry the period because it represents the growth of big business. Few of them recognize, or are willing to admit, that the poor grew into a middle class, benefiting from the products and services made available by efficiencies of industrialization. Instead they focus on what they term a lack of equality. In response, Lord Acton had this to say:
“The finest opportunity ever given to the world was thrown away because the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom.”
Despite the obstacle of progressivism, people around the world have risen from poverty. The wars and communist experiments of the middle of the 20th century provide stark contrast to the benefits of voluntary exchange and the division of labor. Despite this, a significant portion of millennials believe that socialism and communism are not just viable but preferable to capitalism. While they espouse this position, they surf the web on their smart phones, laptops, and tablets, connect with their friends using GPS and Uber, as well as enjoy the greatest variety of organic, vegan, and locally grown foods, none of which would have been available in a centrally planned, socialist world where equality dictates needs over desires.
The stories of a post-apocalyptic world generally involve one of two scenarios: a world of chaos, individual danger, death, and starvation or a world of tyranny involving individual danger, death, and starvation. Since these stories consistently sell, it’s hardly a surprise that they would be a staple of modern fiction. However, part of their appeal is likely found in a common belief that one or the other of these outcomes is inevitable.
While admittedly an anecdotal observation, most people seem to expect mankind to eventually destroy itself and this planet Earth. The belief generally appears based on a distrust in the ability of others to withstand the temptations of greed and power; few people believe themselves susceptible to such weakness. The misnomer “greed” aside, power certainly has pitfalls for nearly everyone granted it. Regardless, this belief in man’s inevitable self-destruction has little to support itself, particularly in a world where the trend is toward decentralization.
The wars and socialist experiments of the twentieth century offer prime examples of what happens when power becomes concentrated. When the cost of an individual’s actions is borne by others, as was the case in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, The Soviet Union, communist China, and Cambodia, among others, human life becomes expendable. This history provides the guidepost toward humankind’s brighter future provided we learn from these mistakes. While not all people have been sufficiently convinced, technology like the Internet gives greater numbers of people access to the truth. I believe this will drive the trend from a future of tyranny toward ever increasing individual liberty and, as a result, peaceful coexistence.