Books / Digital Text
1. The Revenue of Government
Governments, in contrast to all other organizations, do not obtain their revenue as payment for their services. Consequently, governments face an economic problem different from that of everyone else. Private individuals who want to acquire more goods and services from others must produce and sell more of what others want. Governments need only find some method of expropriating more goods without the owner's consent.
In a barter economy, government officials can only expropriate resources in one way: by seizing goods in kind. In a monetary economy they will find it easier to seize monetary assets, and then use the money to acquire goods and services for government, or else pay the money as subsidies to favored groups. Such seizure is called taxation.1
Taxation, however, is often unpopular, and, in less temperate days, frequently precipitated revolutions. The emergence of money, while a boon to the human race, also opened a more subtle route for governmental expropriation of resources. On the free market, money can be acquired by producing and selling goods and services that people want, or by mining (a business no more profitable, in the long run, than any other). But if government can find ways to engage in counterfeiting—the creation of new money out of thin air—it can quickly produce its own money without taking the trouble to sell services or mine gold. It can then appropriate resources slyly and almost unnoticed, without rousing the hostility touched off by taxation. In fact, counterfeiting can create in its very victims the blissful illusion of unparalleled prosperity.
Counterfeiting is evidently but another name for inflation—both creating new "money" that is not standard gold or silver, and both function similarly. And now we see why governments are inherently inflationary: because inflation is a powerful and subtle means for government acquisition of the public's resources, a painless and all the more dangerous form of taxation.
- 1. Direct seizure of goods is therefore not now as extensive as monetary expropriation. Instances of the former still occurring are "due process" seizure of land under eminent domain, quartering of troops in an occupied country, and especially compulsory confiscation of labor service (e.g., military conscription, compulsory jury duty, and forcing business to keep tax records and collect withholding taxes).