Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence: Government is not ‘us’ — it’s always ‘them’

“We are not separate from government. We are not at war with government. We — all of us, whether an elected or private citizen — are the government.”

That was written this year by a tax-hiking RINO — a Republican In Name Only — who has announced his retirement from Nevada’s Legislature. His feel-good, but simplistic pablum very well illustrates what it means to be a RINO, Democrat liberal, progressive or other statist — and why those political persuasions are wrong.

RINOs, etc. paint government as other than what it is: an alien entity separate from us that’s used by them and their special-interest allies to extract unwarranted favors for themselves, in ways sometimes brutal, destructive and oppressive to the rest of us. They try to cover up or deny the most central fact: By its nature, government always operates by coercion — force or the threat of it — and frequently it’s used to benefit those who control it at the expense of non-political folks and aggregate human wellbeing.

Coercion, even when it’s necessary, is always destructive not just of economic incentives, but also of human wellbeing, the human spirit and human dignity.

They rhapsodize about the good things they intend to produce via public-sector coercion, without admitting the following essential points illustrated below. First, whether government action actually yields positive outcomes is always uncertain when decisions are made, and even their intended effects may turn out on balance to be more damaging than beneficial. Second, even government actions that produce good require related actions that are unavoidably destructive of human wellbeing. Finally, on balance, the intended good only sometimes exceeds the related bad, and often it does not.

For example, when government prohibits people from growing wheat for feed on their own farms — as approved in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case — that is an unequivocal act of destruction of human wellbeing. All regulations on the use of property are in their essence partly acts of destruction of human wellbeing because they diminish the power of people to use their property to serve everything from their basic human needs to their most noble aspirations.

Some property regulations — a minority of existing ones, we think — are needed to achieve some good that exceeds the damage that controls do. Regulation to curb damage to other people, such as grossly polluting the air, can be legitimate. However, that does not change the key fact that regulation itself limits human potential and inflicts damage via coercion. Limited government conservatives seek reasonable levels of controls; RINOs and other statists just want more of them.

Similarly, every cent taken in taxes is an act of absolute destruction of human wellbeing. If taxes improved the lot of the person being taxed, people would pay them voluntarily; no coercion would be needed. Tax revenues may be used for good purposes (when not spent wastefully), but even if the good exceeds the damage, the damage remains. So, even when public spending does direct good, it also does indirect harm by requiring taxes.

By contrast, most private-sector activity serves the public interest because, being voluntary for all participants, it doesn’t take place unless it’s mutually beneficial to everyone involved. So, government action is inherently suspect for being coercive and exploitative, but private action usually advances the public interest because it is essentially cooperative.

Limited government conservatives — and, we submit, real Republicans — understand that government involves the destruction of human wellbeing on one side even when it benefits people on the other side. RINOs and other statists either don’t understand this or dishonestly deny it, and they falsely malign private action.

Statists use pretty words to cover up and deny the essentially beastly aspect of all politics and government. But government is not “us” and is instead “them” precisely because its essence is coercion. Their rhetoric can’t change that central fact.

Government in some measure is necessary. What we need in office is leaders who understand and do their duty to the people and public interest. We don’t need statists who want to be political “players” by subjugating the people and public interest to government and to special interests that live on government action – which is exactly what this year’s tax and spending hikes did.

Ron Knecht is Nevada State Controller. Geoffrey Lawrence is Assistant Controller.


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