Kristopher Morgan, May 23, 2017
We all have things we would like to see humanity do, whether we want to feed the poor, move towards clean energy, protect endangered species, scientific research, or setting floors on wages. We all like to believe that passing a law is akin to waving some magic wand that simply makes things better. We get ourselves into trouble when we consider the reality of the situation; there is no wand. When we realize passing and enforcing new laws means making criminals out of more and more people, we have to choose responsibly.
Coming to a balanced belief system as to what the proper place of government in society takes an immense amount of study into the social sciences, history, political economy, ethics, philosophy, etc. This can be extremely time-consuming… fortunately there are shortcuts to answering most questions pertaining to the proper role of government. I call one of them the ‘McDonald’s Standard.’ The method is very simple: Clarify what action the government is taking and ask yourself “how would I feel if McDonald’s were doing this?” Here are a few examples to demonstrate how it works.
- Taxation. On one hand, we are threatened with fines and jail time if we do not pay taxes. On the other hand, those taxes pay for services such as roads. Let’s imagine that McDonald’s decided to use the same business model. McDonald’s decides to provide every resident within a 1mi radius with a Big Mac. McDonald’s then decides that they will collect money from all residents, and those who decline simply get locked in a room on McDonald’s property. Is food not a vital service?
- Welfare programs. On one hand, they are paid for through taxation, on the other hand poor people benefit from them. So, let’s imagine McDonald’s decides that they’re going to send their employees in a neighborhood, armed with tasers, guns, and clubs, and they collect money from some residents to give to others (while keeping about 80% for themselves!). What would we think about McDonald’s?
- War. On one hand, evil do-ers really should be taken out of power. On the other hand, innocent people die in government wars. So, let’s imagine a McDonald’s employee tracks a criminal into a Burger King bathroom, right after taking from the BK cashier’s drawer. The McDonald’s employee then proceeds to blow up the entire Burger King restaurant to get this criminal. Does this person get to claim all the other people inside the Burger King were simply collateral damage?
Now I know someone out there is going to say something along the lines of: “of course we don’t expect McDonald’s to take on the same role as the government ya dope! McDonald’s doesn’t have a Constitution, and we don’t elect politicians to operate McDonald’s like we do the government. We don’t expect these things from them because they’re not the government!”
This line of reason is exactly why I am writing this article. What we are actually talking about is government legitimacy, so let’s examine the reasons people believe government has it.
1. The government represents the people through voting. Their job is to carry out the will of the people they represent.
- False. All governments operate via law and enforcement thereof. So what that means is the first thing politicians assume is that they do not have your consent. If they had your consent, there would be no need to use law enforcement measures. Also, the idea that some bureaucrat you have never met before can accurately take your conscience and values into account when making decisions… come on…
2. The government is an entity on its own charged with the task of running society.
- False. The government is a collection of human beings. Society is not a machine that needs an operator, but rather a collection of people. If no human being has the moral right to use force against another, then the government can’t possibly have it. Morality for McDonald’s doesn’t change if they change their name to McGovernment!
3. The government derived its power to use force from the consent of the people.
- False. If nobody has the power to use force against others to begin with, nobody could have possibly given that power to the government. Giving one’s consent to others to use force against themself is a contradiction in terms.
This list could grow exponentially, but I hope the point is clear. Governments are nothing more than groups of people, same as any other, whether it’s a business, a family, a charity, a community watch group, etc. It doesn’t have to be McDonald’s necessarily, but before you support anything any government does, ask yourself “what if someone else in society were doing the same thing? How would that make me feel?” Because let’s face it: most of us spent our formative years pledging allegiance to the flag and learning politically correct/tainted history. By projecting government actions onto parties we feel neutral about, we can overcome these biases.
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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.