A reader wrote the other day to straighten me out on taxes, government and civilization after I had written that taking from some people to give to others was the basis of civilization.
“Individuals when left to their own devices produce goods and services that the market wants, and when allowed to peacefully exchange those goods and services on an agreed upon set of prices and paid for by money that the market decides is sound is the basis of civilization,” he lectured me, in somewhat ragged syntax.
“Government, through the use of force and/or the threat of force, disrupts, distorts, manipulates, cajoles, and otherwise interrupts this process,” he continued.
“Only liberty prevails. Only when human beings are free to voluntarily make goods and services, buy those goods and services, and enjoy the fruits of their labor without government and others stealing from them is progress truly made.”
In case I wondered how the poor and downtrodden would fare in this fellow’s imaginary world, he had the answer to that too:
“Amazing that even in an era when every single thing a human being can think of or do is taxed that hundreds of private charities still exist and still feed the hungry, care for the sick, find shelter for the homeless, and lift up the poor and downtrodden. Families, private charities, churches, hospitals, and volunteer organizations do these things every day and do them better than government could ever hope or dream of doing.”
So there it was, the libertarian utopia laid out in sparkling detail — free people freely exchanging string beans for haircuts without the meddling of government and then, in their spare time, building soup kitchens and hospitals for the less successful.
I hear it on average about once a week from libertarians, conservative Republicans, Tea Partiers, or whatever label you wish to apply, and I’ll tell you what it reminds me of: It reminds me of the Marxist dream of a workers’ paradise in which the workers own the means of production, everyone cooperates with everyone else, and government gradually withers away.
The common denominator is the breezy disregard of reality.
Marxists, like the kind I met at a peace conference in Albany last year, breezily ignore the whole history of the 20th century. They disregard the little matter of what happened when Marxist ideologues actually got their hands on the levers of government.
It’s as if they never heard of the Soviet Union with its forced-labor camps, its show trials, its repression. Or China with its mass starvation and its Mao worship.
It means nothing to them. They want to overthrow the capitalist class and create a workers’ state just as it were an exciting new idea. (I’m referring to little splinter groups like Socialist Action and the U.S. Marxist-Leninist Organization. There aren’t many members of these groups, but they exist.)
What the libertarian, Republican, Tea Party ideologues ignore is a little different. It’s not that their model was tried and came up short but that it has never been tried and probably never could be tried, that it’s pure fantasy.
They talk as if it’s an obvious state of affairs — the only way progress is ever made — and as the way rational people do things. They quote Adam Smith or Ayn Rand or the so-called Austrian economists, and they carry on about how government interferes with the creative energy of people acting in their self-interest, and you would think this is how the world actually works, except maybe in socialistic Europe or Obama-led America.
When people have low taxes and little government they prosper, naturally. When people have high taxes and a lot of government they suffer. Best of all is no taxes and no government.
Anytime I encounter an apostle of this faith I always ask for real-world examples, and of course I never get any, because there aren’t any. They exist only in the clouds, like the stateless workers’ paradise posited by Marxism.
Countries with little or no government are disaster zones, like Somalia. Counties with little or no taxes are Arab monarchies, like Saudi Arabia.
Countries with big government and high taxes are often both prosperous and free, like much of the rich, industrialized world.
It doesn’t matter. Faith is faith. Ideology is ideology.
A big difference is that true believers of the Marxist persuasion have been relegated to the far fringes of our society, to kooky little groups that you would never know existed if you didn’t attend the United National Peace Conference, whereas true believers of the libertarian, conservative, Republican, Tea Party persuasion control the House of Representatives — yikes! And they write letters to newspapers, and they’re all over television and radio, and they’re as pleased with themselves as if they had just discovered electricity.
Selfishness is what makes the world healthy and happy, and if we would all live accordingly we’d be better off. That’s the message of their great thinkers — Adam Smith, Ayn Rand et al. — and that’s the doctrine behind their hatred of taxes, which the letter writer in this case called “nothing more than legalized theft.”
That they can’t find a living example of their libertarian utopia bothers them not at all.