Mises Wire

We Need to Do with the State What We Have Done to Slavery

This article is based on chapter 8 of my 2020 book, Do Not Consent: Think OUTSIDE the Voting Booth.


If someone asked you to define “free market,” could you? Could you do it on the spot without recourse to dictionaries or other crutches?

The term “laissez-faire economy” might do as a first response. But what does it mean? In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand explains,

Based on a column in the Los Angeles Times, August 1962.

Colbert, chief adviser of Louis XIV, was one of the early modern statists. He believed that government regulations can create national prosperity and that higher tax revenues can be obtained only from the country’s “economic growth”; so he devoted himself to seeking “a general increase in wealth by the encouragement of industry.” The encouragement consisted of imposing countless government controls and minute regulations that choked business activity; the result was dismal failure.

Colbert was not an enemy of business; no more than is our present Administration. Colbert was eager to help fatten the sacrificial victims—and on one historic occasion, he asked a group of manufacturers what he could do for industry. A manufacturer named Legendre answered: “Laissez-nous faire!” (“Let us alone!”)

But Adrien-Marie Legendre was hardly the first to express a hands-off idea. In his book An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Murray Rothbard tells us about Chuang Tzu (369–286 BC):

“There has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success].” Chuang Tzu was also the first to work out the idea of “spontaneous order,” independently discovered by Proudhon in the nineteenth century, and developed by F.A. von Hayek of the Austrian School in the twentieth. Thus, Chuang Tzu: “Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone.”

In a Human Action excerpt “Mises: The Meaning of Laissez-faire,” Ludwig von Mises defined a laissez-faire economy as one unhampered by state interference; it means upholding “the individuals’ discretion to choose and to act.”

Most libertarians would agree with this broader interpretation. The problem is any state that took a hands-off policy toward the economy wouldn’t be a state. States are, by design, predatory and parasitical. They exist for the purpose of accruing power and pelf. Libertarian visions of domesticating the state are fantasies.

Besides which, states have won favor for certain people—they enable politicians to buy votes and other support needed to keep the racket going. As for voters, who needs freedom when you can get free handouts? Though citizens gripe about taxes and corrupt politicians, they’ve grown comfortable with the devil they’ve always known.

The public is okay with the state’s willingness to assume responsibilities they refuse to accept. They want the state to pave their roads and educate their kids. They want the state to pay for their healthcare. They want the state to pay for the safety nets of life. Who better to do the paying than the state, which with modern monetary theory will never run out of money? Even a failed state like socialist Venezuela has yet to flatline because of its grip on power and propaganda, even as its people descended into cannibalism and prostitution for survival.

Where Did States Come From?

In his work Common Sense, Thomas Paine, in writing about the “race of kings,” far from having an honorary origin, considered the first of them “nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang” whose purpose was to plunder the defenseless.

Eventually, as Rothbard tells us, the gangs realized the “time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”

If conquered people are the garden from which we expect free markets to grow, we’re deluding ourselves. As painful experience has taught us, attempting to bind a state to the terms of a constitution is another exercise in folly. States have allies, none more important than the opinion makers, the intellectuals. Intellectuals, in return for “a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus,” as Rothbard notes, will provide the needed rationale for the state’s predations.

Thus, to pick examples at random, we have “court historians” and others providing the necessary cover for the bloodbath known as World War I, a famous Keynesian telling us the debt explosion of World War II ended the Great Depression, a “political cross section of prominent economists” expressing their opposition to the Paul-Grayson “Audit the Fed” bill (seven of the eight of whom have Fed connections), and the wholesale lying (archived) that characterizes national elections.

Most states, being parasites, have learned to park their depredations somewhere between freedom and despotism. Paine recognized this when he wrote in Rights of Man,

The portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.

In a “full state of freedom” there would be no government “so formed.”

How Do We End the State?

There are two unmistakable trends working in liberty’s favor: massive government debt and exponentially advancing technology. You won’t have confidence in this claim unless you read Ray Kurzweil’s seminal “The Law of Accelerating Returns.” It would also help to have an understanding of the acronym TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch) as well as a grasp of monetary fundamentals.

As I wrote in an earlier essay,

Technology is ripping a hole in centralized social control and its Keynesian underpinnings, bringing power and freedom to individuals the world over.

Both Keynesianism and technology are on a cusp. One is on a road to collapse, while the other is about to kick into high gear. . . .

[With a fiscal gap in excess of $200 trillion,] government promises will be broken. The bill for the Keynesian free lunch will come due, and the government check will bounce.

Where will that leave us? With a weakened and discredited government, and the bogus Keynesian ideas that supported it, we will have to become more self-reliant. The cry of “Do something!” to the government will be answered with an echo. Free markets will emerge where they’ve been suppressed because much of government will be ineffective or no longer exist. A free market in combination with a revolution in technology will remake our world.

We need to do with the state what we’ve done with slavery. We can govern ourselves without a coercive sovereign. Of necessity, free markets will emerge when the state is gone.

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