Monday, 27 September 2021

That’s None of Your Business, Actually



Today's political conflicts are dominated by one unspoken assumption on all sides -- one that that Joakim Book makes plain for us this guest post: Political arguments isn’t truly over specific policy proposals such as vaccine mandates, immigration or foreign policy -- 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, says Book, is many fewer than most people presently believe. Because most things are simply none of the government’s business.

That’s None of Your Business, Actually

by Joakim Book

At the basis of mainstream 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 arguments about politics -- which too often amount to someone complaining that "my team" isn't it control. Yet it never seems to occur to these people that if we don’t have a bloated government administration over which others can wrestle control, then 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 apathetic. 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 Britons who led the world into the Industrial Revolution were not politicians but scientists and entrepreneurs who saw new ways to make new things work -- and to make them pay. The people who founded New Zealand were not the aristocrats who barely realised this Revolution was happening, but largely by small-time settlers who wanted the aristocracy and political class off their back so they could make a life for themselves here on the back of that Revolution's prosperity. But this was never made explicit. In the United States of America, it was: the U.S. was, to quote John Goodman’s character Frank in the movie The Gambler, “based on F-U.” Indeed, the explicit foundation of the United States 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. 

On the back of that, the United States (and the other English-speaking places) were once governed by what anyone would now call a very minimal government. Those governments gave way long ago to the behemoths we now have.

Somewhere along the way, was it World War I, the creation of the Fed, the destruction of academia? – we all stood on its head the logic of liberty made plain in America's founding. 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 is intolerance in whichever side of the political aisle you look. There can be no mercy (says one team) for wrong thinkers, for the climate deniers or the anti-vaxxers. There can be no tolerance (says the other team) for those who don’t embrace tradition, unquestionably respect the life of an embryo, or see the impact of immigration as anything but frightening.

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 – for any number of big fat hypocrites to take their chance 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 canards of “job insecurity,” of “we must adapt,” and “regulatory failure,” 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.


  Joakim Book is a writer, researcher and editor on all things money, finance and financial history. He holds a masters degree from the University of Oxford and has been a visiting scholar at the American Institute for Economic Research in 2018 and 2019.

His work has been featured in the Financial Times, FT Alphaville, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Svenska Dagbladet, Zero Hedge, The Property Chronicle and many other outlets. He is a regular contributor and co-founder of the Swedish liberty site Cospaia.se, and a frequent writer at CapX, NotesOnLiberty, and HumanProgress.org. This post first appeared at AIER; it has been edited for local context.

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