Mises Daily

A
A
Home | Library | Shake Down

Shake Down

July 17, 2000

If one has had any doubts, let them be put to rest: the rule of law is now dead in the United States. A Miami, Florida, jury ordered the tobacco companies to pay damages to smokers a sum in excess many times of the companies' net worth, this as "punishment" for producing what attorneys called a "killer product." In truth, the very state apparatus of justice has become the real product of death, for it has killed justice.

On the same day, perhaps at about the same hour, an advisory jury panel in Texas was telling a judge that the U.S. Government bore no fault whatsoever for the massacre of 80 people at Waco in 1993. In one case, a jury has awarded individuals billions of dollars (on paper) to smokers who freely chose to consume a legal product. In the other case, a jury exonerated those who engaged in deception, people who killed other people who simply wanted to be left alone and who posed no threat whatsoever to society.

It is difficult to know why juries make the decisions they do. Juries will acquit an O.J. Simpson, who clearly murdered two people in a savage act of butchery, but will convict an individual who clearly has committed no crime. This has been demonstrated in numerous wrongful convictions of dozens of people accused of lurid sexual molestation of children at day care centers. (Disbelieving appeals courts later overturned many of these verdicts.)

The facts of both the tobacco cases and the Waco massacre are not in dispute. In the first, individuals freely chose to smoke. No one forced them to do so, and the millions of ex-smokers in our midst give lie to the claim that once someone is hooked on tobacco, he is hooked forever. In fact, past juries, many with ex-smokers among those empanelled, refused to buy the arguments that smokers were addicted until death and ruled in favor of the tobacco companies.

In the Waco case, employees of the U.S. Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco agency, stormed the grounds of the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. First shooting the dogs and then shooting into a group of buildings that housed not only gun-carrying men but also women, the elderly, and young children, the agents botched the raid that later was shown to be totally unnecessary.

Because four federal agents (and six Branch Davidians) lost their lives in the shootout, the Clinton Administration and Reno’s "Justice" Department surrounded the complex for more than a month with tanks, soldiers from National Guard units, and other agents. Negotiators from the FBI were caught on tape lying to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, as they demanded that Koresh and the others surrender to certainly be charged with murder of federal agents.

After losing all patience, Reno sent in tanks and tear gas and we know the rest. The building caught fire and 80 people, many of them women and children, perished in the inferno. Clinton declared it a "mass suicide" and said the government bore no responsibility. Apparently, a jury of American citizens has agreed with the president who has been proven to have less credibility than any chief executive since Franklin Roosevelt.

It would be nice to say that these jury decisions are aberrations, a short detour in the usual route to justice. However, it is clear that more and more juries in the United States are declaring that individuals who freely choose certain actions cannot be held responsible for their consequences. At the same time, they are also saying with a very loud voice those agents of governments, individuals who are given the legal license to kill, are nothing more than victims of bad people. Therefore, those "victims" cannot be held responsible for anything they do, even if those actions lead to the death of innocent people.

After observing the behavior of jurors over the last few years, I can only say that Goebbels was right: the Big Lie really does work. When governments engage in propaganda, that propaganda seems to work in part. While the gaggle of government-sponsored billboards urging American youths not to take drugs or smoke cigarettes does not seem to take root, the more important propaganda disseminated by the state does.

For the last several decades, government agents, along with their allies in the mainstream media and other institutions like schools and some churches, have been preaching to Americans that they are victims of the evil "private sector." Oil companies gouge them, tobacco companies kill them, drug companies "rip them off," and automobile companies construct "unsafe" vehicles.

Americans, the people who have the highest standard of living in the world precisely because of the private enterprise system, really are nothing more than victims of that horrible system. Like Orwell's citizens of Oceania who Big Brother declared to have been duped by Goldstein, their government tells Americans that private businesses are out to harm them. Their only refuge is the state.

The propaganda has finally worked. War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is knowledge. The problem, of course, is that while government can convince people that something may be so, that does not mean it really is true.

Take the recent gasoline price hikes across the country--and especially in the Midwest. President Clinton, Al Gore, and Carol Browner from the Environmental Protection Agency all declared that the government had nothing to do with this upward price spike. It was all a conspiracy by Big Oil, and the government would investigate this fiasco.

At the same time the Clinton Administration was calling for antitrust investigations of the oil industry, the EPA was circulating internal documents that clearly blamed that agency for the problems. The EPA memos pointed out that new rules on formulation of "clean-burning" gasoline were causing havoc across the countries and refiners were having a difficult time concocting the government’s newest snake oil. (It turns out that these additives do not create cleaner air, but do poison community water supplies.)

In other words, the speeches by Clinton and his minions pouring rage upon oil companies were simply a diversion to avoid the responsibility that clearly rested upon their own shoulders. Whether or not the general public will understand that they have been duped is another matter. It is almost a sure thing that the major news networks will refuse to run stories about those memos, since it will upset the clever propaganda they have been foisting upon us for the last two months.

One cannot underestimate the consequences of these jury verdicts. In the tobacco case, jurors have said it is perfectly good to have lawyers and their clients loot businesses that have sold a legal product consumers were free to either choose or reject. As for the case in Texas, once again jurors have given the government a blank check to kill, destroy private property, and lie.

A society built upon freedom and private property cannot stand when those in charge of the legal apparatus turn the system upside down to shake down those who either are unpopular or do not have the resources to defend themselves. When the citizens openly give the state the opportunity to loot and kill, it is a dark day. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is knowledge, indeed.

----------

William Anderson, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, teaches economics at North Greenville College. Send him MAIL.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Follow Mises Institute