MacKenzie, D. W., Ideas on Liberty
I am government-the institution known the world over to all who pay taxes, get subsidies, and face regulation.
Coercion is both my vocation and my avocation; it is in my very nature to compel others to do that which they otherwise would not do. My nature should then be of great concern to you as I impinge on your liberty. My nature affects your life profoundly. Indeed, there is little in your life that escapes my grasp. I am also a mystery to many. Some see me as benevolent, though I murdered 119 million people in the twentieth century.1 Some see me as omniscient, though I face an insurmountable knowledge problem in trying to comprehend the society I seek to control.2 Some see me as an absolute necessity, though people have lived in societies without me.3 But those whom I use seldom recognize any of this. These naive convictions grant me an unwarranted place in society. These misconceptions have imposed great hardships on ordinary people, though they have served an elite of rulers well.
I, government, inspire wonder and awe in many. Some persist in this admiration even when confronted with my worst atrocities.4 It is in my interest that you never truly understand me, for if you did, you would see that, at the very best, I am merely the defender of your personal and property rights and, at worst, the most efficient violator of these rights. In fact, if all did come to know my true nature, they would view me with distrust rather than with wonder. If you all knew what I have done throughout history, you would look on me with contempt rather than with awe.
I benefit few at the expense of the many. Small groups organize easily, and large ones do not. Hence if I serve any interests other than those of actual rulers, I serve narrow interests.5 I grant monopoly privileges to influential industrialists and trade associations. I do this with tariffs and import restrictions that hobble foreign competitors. I do this with regulations that place burdens on new businesses. I do this with licensing laws that restrict access to professions. Of course, these interests pay me to get what they want. Sometimes they pay me simply to leave them alone.6
My form is difficult to comprehend as well. I am vast and complex. No one can fathom me in all my complexity. I comprise a gargantuan array of agencies, statutes and regulations, and discretionary policies. No one would have the time or the intellectual capacity to know me fully even if he were to try. There is little point in trying anyway. One person can do nothing to me. No significant election has ever turned on a single vote, so voters have no obvious incentive to learn about me.7
I waste resources. I employ labor in tasks that people do not want to pay for. My bureaucracies are rife with individuals who get paid to perform tasks that generate no value to others.8 Some of these tasks are even odious-things that people would pay to stop. I do supply some useful things, but at a high cost. My schools cost more than private ones (which get better results). My postal service loses billions each year and cannot compete with the private sector.9
I cause industrial depressions. My central banks disrupt commerce by distorting interest rates with inflated money supplies. This inflation causes unsustainable economic expansions that lead to crashes. I compound this problem with wage controls, welfare, and anti-firing laws that hinder labor markets.
I devastate the environment. Where I reign supreme, the earth is a commons that all want to use and none want to care for. In Eastern Europe I created some of the worst environmental disasters the world has seen.10 When I care for animal herds their numbers dwindle.11
War and Bigotry
I wage wars. People express nationalistic and ethnic bigotry through me.12 I use my power to tax and conscript to marshal resources for combat. This has caused immense hardship, destruction, and death throughout history. …