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The "School of Rock" and Anarcho-Capitalism
by Scott Shore
9 May 2004

What should an advocate of minimalist government do when his or her fortune turns south and is in need of public assistance?

What should an advocate of minimalist government do when his or her fortune turns south and is in need of public assistance? One can understand both answers to this question. The classical argument might go that if one is opposed on principle to a redistributionist state then one should be consistent and not receive any of the state’s benefits. Of course, this would not only apply to welfare and food stamps but also to any monies received in excess of the market rate of return for Social Security and any advantages in public employment or public universities by answering questions regarding race, national origin, language or gender. To be totally consistent such purists should also refuse government subsidies (direct or indirect) for their businesses.

The less typical answer to the quandary of the “down and out” anarchist/libertarian/Jeffersonian would be just the opposite. Since the State has so displaced voluntary social and community support systems, the unfortunate has been forced to rely on the State when in times past he could look to family, church or community to give him personal, emotional as well as financial support. The State has so destroyed the natural impulses of community and individuals through its impersonal homogenizing bureaucracy it is no longer an expedient but a truly evil social force. The actor Jack Black in the popular movie, “The School of Rock” preaches that to make rock or feel rock one must understand the source of anger and “Give it to the Man!” The “Man” of course is emblematic of all coercive and exploitative authority. What describes the State better than “the Man?” The conclusion from this line of reasoning is to receive whatever financial or in-kind benefits the law allows as an “entitlement” and to take it as far as you can. I like this answer more. The first answer may appear more principled, but it implies utopian conditions which do not exist. The first answer is consistent with a philosophical aversion to the State, but as Emerson once said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Let’s begin with first principles. The only justification for a monopoly of violence (the State) is to protect human life and property through courts of law, property protection by means of physical protection (police and military functions) and the enforcement of contractual agreements between citizens. Any incursions of the State beyond this are an encroachment of fundamental human rights. Certainly the forced collection of taxes for services that a citizen does not want or need is legalized theft. Indeed the State as we know it today is a huge criminal enterprise. The Mafia and other organized crime syndicates are “little league” by comparison. The notion that law created by a legislature or through executive/bureaucratic fiat is moral is clearly refuted by virtue of the law’s (and legislatures’) constantly changing form. What was once illegal (liquor) is now legal? Certainly the “moral” character of liquor or liquor consumption did not change. The same is true of abortion and many other proscribed acts. Conversely slave-holding and the free use of cocaine, opiates and marijuana were all legal at one time. Did they suddenly become any more or less moral? The relationship between law and morality is tenuous at best and coincidental at worst.

Those who believe in the “social contract” idea might believe that involuntary taxation beyond the strict legitimacy of the State is justified. A question remains. Who makes this abstract “contract?” The contract is chosen at some point in time and by some group of very real people. Does unanimity exist at some mystical time in which all agreed to come under the aegis of the State in clearly defined terms? Certainly not! In point of fact, a group enforced this contract over society as a whole. This group by virtue of the social contract theory has the right to govern from the grave. The reality is that the expanded State is an instrument of a variety of interests to exploit and extort dollars and services from disempowered “citizens.” Contrary to a truly free-market world as envisioned by David Friedman in his book The Machinery of Freedom and named anarcho-capitalism, nothing like this remotely exists in America today. Instead privileges through government granted monopolies or oligopolies are typical of our economy. The granting of privilege can be either explicit or implicit through regulations or variations of tax law. It can also be a compulsory institution like the “golden calf” of public education. While some of the Federal and state expenditures go to politically potent entitlement groups which are able to enforce their will in the form we commonly consider “welfare,” even more money is redistributed upward to major corporations and unions. The real sucker is the middle-class “stiff” who represents no particular empowered interest. This is the person who plays by the rules and makes his livelihood by honest commerce and the provision of goods and services which consumers voluntarily purchase. This is the man or woman who dutifully pays his taxes year after year. This is the citizen (“subject”) who merely pays the government to leave him alone. Few can afford to be heroes in Thoreau’s sense of being conscientious tax objectors. Most folks must continue to support their families and fulfill other social or community obligations. They cannot make their point by prison time. To pay taxes is NOT to acquiesce or in any way give a moral imprimatur to taxes.

Most would gladly pay a tax to establish legitimate national defense and security. They would also pay to be kept safe from criminals, terrorists or foreign aggressors and to ensure swift and certain justice in all infringements upon person or property. The truth is that the government does a horrific job at these minimal obligations. The provision of other services would almost certainly be better left to market mechanisms and the spontaneous order of an unfettered free society. This is not to say that laissez-faire conditions would be utopian, but simply far better than we have today. How much human potential would be untapped with a truly minimalist government and almost non-existent taxes? How much prosperity would be created? How much culture and philanthropy would grow? We shall probably never know. The only stand that we can take against the Leviathan State is to organize some form of effective and permanent tax rebellion en masse.

Historically the alternative to American-style revolution against tyrannical government is some form or other of fascism. A downwardly mobile middle-class is a sure recipe for a larger, more oppressive, more aggressive all-encompassing State apparatus. The middle class has always been the source of revolutions. The real question is whether it will be a revolution for freedom or oppression. I am not an optimist. In the meantime, we all recognize that human fortune is fickle and that an individual or family can face temporary hardship, bankruptcy or even poverty. In our current mixed society perhaps the most legitimate recipient of tax dollars is the person who has contributed those dollars throughout his or her life. For these unsung heroes, the receipt of government money is only the return of stolen property! Until real change can be made, the only course left to most hard-working Americans is to “give it to the Man.”

Scott Shore is a political commentator and management consultant in Providence, Rhode Island.

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