Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Politics is Always About Looting and Plunder

In the era when progressive minds were concerned about the power of the absolute monarchs the word on the street was "limited government." Progressive minds realized that the absolute monarchs, like the feudal monarchs before them, maintained themselves in power by distributing favors to their supporters. That was insupportable, according to reason and natural law.

That lasted for about 100 years, from 1750 to 1850.

But once the absolute monarchs had been dispatched to the dustbin of history progressive minds forgot all about limited government. Now they saw themselves as the rising ruling class and developed a politics where they would replace the monarch and win political power for themselves by offering favors to their supporters. So much was obvious to the best minds. And it was all discernible from the march of history and from social justice.

Of course, the truth is that politics has always been about loot and plunder. It was about loot and plunder when the hunter gatherers conducted their dawn raids on the neighboring tribe, killing the men and taking the women into slavery. It was about loot and plunder when Agamemnon and his pals including Odysseus, sacker of cities, besieged and sacked the city of Troy. It was about loot and plunder when the Roman legions ranged through Europe and the Middle East. It was about loot and plunder when Europeans discovered America and took the silver from Bolivia and the land from the North American Indians.

The formula is simple. A would-be political leader -- we might call him a freebooter or a buccaneer -- recruits an army with the promise of loot and plunder. We might call these followers freeloaders. If successful, this leader takes political power over some territory and taxes and regulates the people therein to benefit his supporters.

For that brief century from 1750 to 1850 the idea got about that maybe the loot and plunder idea was not such a good plan for government. Because, after all, loot and plunder are destructive. They sweep away productive economic relations and strip people of their wealth. And give it to people whose only talent is military or political soldiering. So the idea got about that government, the agency of looting and pillaging, ought to be limited, so that wealth could increase and benefit everyone.

But in the middle of the 19th century, as we have seen, a new idea got about. The educated sons of the bourgeoisie, shocked by the squalor of the industrial slums, intuited a new society in which all the squalor would be gone and society would become truly social and cooperative, rather than hierarchical and exploitative.

But there was one little problem with their ideas. How would we get from here to there? The answer was as old as the hills. We would get there by recruiting a political army with promises of loot and plunder: bigger wages, less working hours, free education, old-age pensions, health care.

It did not seem to occur to these people -- it still does not occur to their political descendants -- that a political movement based on loot and plunder will end up 100 years later as government based on loot and plunder. And what does loot and plunder do? It strips the land and the people of their wealth and their livelihood.

The trouble with socialism, according to Margaret Thatcher, is that in the end you run out of other peoples' money. It's easy to see why. The nature of the political game is that you must come to each election with a new promise of loot. That is what you have taught your supporters down the decades and that is what they demand. That was why President Obama had to lie about Obamacare and pretend it would lower health insurance premiums, and why Hillary Clinton has to conjure up brain-dead ideas to complicate the capital gains tax to make it look as though she is shaking new money out of the trees that can be spent on her supporters.

In the end the politicians over-promise on the loot. In the end you run out of other peoples' money. In the end you get Greece or Argentina.

So the solution is pretty obvious. You replace the current system with a system of limited government, where the politicians do not rally support by offering free stuff.

After all, any sensible voter should be able to see that in the end the government runs out of money to pay its pensions, so the practical thing to do is to make sure that your life is not dependent upon the continued payment of a government pension. On that view the idea of paying payroll taxes for 40 years on the faith that the government will pay the pensions it promised seems close to certifiable delusion.

But that is the system we live under. Until we don't.

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