In his national bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene opens chapter 31 with the following statement,
“The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice: Your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. Give people options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. Force them to make choices between the lesser of two evils, both of which serve your purpose. Put them on the horns of a dilemma: They are gored wherever they turn” (Elffers & Greene, 1998, p. 627).
This is of course a summary of the 31st Law of Power, control the options and get others to play with the cards you deal.
I am very much a fan of Greene’s book. In a brutally honest fashion, Greene explains the various methods that kings, presidents, tyrants, and con men alike have used to exercise authority over others. While the average reader would undoubtedly find many of the described tactics to be unethical, the purpose of the book is not to discuss questions of ethics but only to explain those activities that do in fact lead to power when practiced.
As a libertarian anarcho-capitalist who constantly preaches against the authority of the state, you may be wondering why I would concern myself with such matters. It’s true that some people may read this book seeking to learn how to control others, but I have found that the information contained therein is also useful for the exact opposite. When one understands the methods that others use to obtain power, they can recognize what is going on beforehand and avoid the snares in which the power seeker desires to trap them.
In this article I’ll be discussing how the election of representatives to government positions is the perfect example of the 31st Law of Power in action. Like every good con, the less the person being conned knows about the subject of the con, the more likely they are to be swindled. In the same way, the more people come to learn about the nature of elections, the more they will come to realize that the government is in fact the source of their problems and not the solution.
As an American, I will be using the history of the Democratic and Republican Parties as an example, but these same concepts apply to virtually any country with a two-party system (which in today’s day and age is most countries).
While the specific political views of the Democrats and the Republicans have evolved over time, they have always been expressed as opposite ends of the political spectrum. The Republican Party is the party of the church-going nuclear family, committed to traditional values and small government. As Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, reportedly said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has always painted itself as the party of the common man and of progress. While it has taken many forms, the Democrats’ message has always been some variation of the idea that different subsets of people face different problems, and at least one of those groups of people has an unfair advantage. As such, the government must be given additional powers to correct the imbalances in society and ensure a more prosperous life for everyone. Traditional values are almost certainly rooted in ignorance and ought to be thrown out in favor of new, progressive ones.
Now, assuming both of these political parties actually governed the way they campaign, one would expect a particular pattern in history. Republican Presidencies and majorities in Congress should be marked by lower taxes, reduced spending, and the abolition of government agencies and programs that were deemed extraneous. Democratic Presidencies and majorities in Congress should be marked by higher taxes, increased spending, and the creation of new government agencies and programs that will allegedly improve the lives of the citizenry. But is this what history shows?
Take a look at the below chart depicting government spending since 1790 and projected through 2050. There is a consistent trend no matter who controls Congress and no matter who sits in the White House: increased spending. There may in fact be nominal tax cuts throughout America’s history, but since they aren’t joined by corresponding decreases in spending, these so-called tax cuts cannot be sustained indefinitely. To continue paying the deficit, the government will eventually have to raise taxes or inflate the currency, but either way the resulting effect is less wealth in the hands of the citizens.
What about the size and scope of government? How many government agencies do we have anyways?
At the birth of the United States it appears there were only a few. According to the Center for Effective Government, “The first agencies of the federal government were the Departments of War, State, Navy, and Treasury. There was also an Office of the Attorney General” (“A Brief History of Administrative Government”, para. 2). However, today it seems that no one really knows how many government agencies exists.
The Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies states,
“There is no authoritative list of government agencies. Every list of federal agencies in government publications is different. For example, FOIA.gov lists 78 independent executive agencies and 174 components of the executive departments as units that comply with the Freedom of Information Act requirements imposed on every federal agency. This appears to be on the conservative end of the range of possible agency definitions. The United States Government Manual lists 96 independent executive units and 220 components of the executive departments. An even more inclusive listing comes from USA.gov, which lists 137 independent executive agencies and 268 units in the Cabinet” (Lewis & Selin, 2012, p. 15)
Think about it. When was the last time you heard about a government agency closing its doors for the last time? It seems every year a new government agency, program, commission, or some other euphemism for agency is created, but mysteriously the politicians who say they are for smaller government never manage to cut the size of government down.
The bottom line is that no matter who is elected, the result is the same. The government collects more money from its citizens and increases its size and regulatory authority. This may happen slower or faster depending on how the current politicians go about their business, but it happens none the less.
The reason of course is that the government is not some abstract, morally perfect entity that exists apart from the rest of society. The government is, at the end of the day, simply a group of people, and like all people, they act in their own self-interest. However, unlike private individuals and corporations, the government has the power to force the population to pay for its services whether they want to or not.
Assume for a minute that you had the power to increase your paycheck at will. How many people who had this power would choose not to do so? Or assume that you had the power to create money out of thin air in order to pay off your debts. Again, how many people would choose not to do so despite having this power? Once you consider these questions it’s not difficult to see that when politicians and federal employees seek to further their own interests, the result will inevitably be an increase in the size and scope of the state.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that it is always inappropriate to vote. In short term and immediate contexts, voting can be a legitimate act of self-defense against the state. For example, a voter in a local election may save some of his money in the short term if he votes against a new city project that has been put on the ballot.
However, I am suggesting that voting for “better” politicians can never be seen as the engine by which true positive change will come about. The swamp cannot be drained by utilizing the swamp. True, positive change cannot be affected until the population at large recognizes the government for what it is, the source of their problems and not the solution.
By utilizing democratic elections, governments successfully con their populations into believing they have control over what happens in the country. It makes them believe that the actions government takes were really their choices, and that they can set the country on a new course by voting in the future. However, the choice of who to vote into office is more analogous to that of a prisoner who is given the choice of dying by hanging or by beheading. He may in fact prefer one to the other, but either way he ends up dead.
And that is my 2 cents. Take it for what it’s worth.
A Brief History of Administrative Government. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://www.foreffectivegov.org/node/3461
A Quote by Abraham Lincoln. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/83635-the-legitimate-object-of-government-is-to-do-for-a
Edwards, C. (2013, September 21). Federal Spending and Debt, 1790 to 2050. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://www.cato.org/blog/federal-spending-debt-1790-2050
Elffers, J. & Greene, R. (1998). The 48 Laws of Power. New York: Penguin Books.
Lewis, D. E. & Selin, J. L. (2012). Sourcebook of United States Administrative Agencies. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://www.acus.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Sourcebook%202012%20FINAL_May%202013.pdf
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