The institution of government versus the terrible currently in charge.

This post describes the crucial difference between a tool or institution, and those currently in charge of it.

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Disclaimer: I have studied MMT since February of 2018. I’m not an economist or academic and I don’t speak for the MMT project. The information in this post is my best understanding but I don’t assert it to be perfectly accurate. In order to ensure accuracy, you should rely on the expert sources linked throughout. If you have feedback to improve this post, please get in touch.

According to the above self-described libertarian, the national government is irredeemable and the only solution is for it to be abandoned. He makes the analogy of someone continually abused who keeps returning to their abuser, despite no evidence or interest by the abuser to make positive change.

Leaving an abuser is difficult but it is possible. There are many people, institutions, and programs available to support the abused and stand up to the abuser. There is only one national government. There’s no replacement. We can either make it better or let it go.

If government truly were abandoned, the power in society remains. So where does it go? Does it naturally, evenly distribute among every single person, or does it get hoarded even more by the rich, only further increasing our unprecedented levels of inequality? According to free-market philosophy, “freedom for all“, or “liberty“, is fair and egalitarian for all people – whether in abject poverty or a billionaire. According to economist Asad Zaman, “freedom for all” is, in reality, freedom for the rich to exploit the poor. The government is a primary tool for protecting the poor.

In addition, there are some things only the national government is capable of providing (Sekera, 2014). The government is the only issuer of the currency, which makes it the only institution that does not require income. This means it’s the only entity capable of doing things that are valuable but not profitable. In contrast, for-profit businesses are not capable of providing jobs for all, because they require profit. This means that in order to survive, businesses must shed workers precisely at the time when workers are most in need of stable employment. Only the national government is capable of providing a job for all, in both good times and bad (Forstater, 1999).

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Those currently at the levers of power are truly terrible. Our elected (cough, “elected“) officials are marinated in bribes (which are now legal) and corrupt in the extreme. The very institution – the very idea – of government, however, is not. If a person has a hammer and uses it only to hit people on the head, the solution is not to outlaw hammers (or abandon them). The only possible solution is to get the hammer into the hands of someone more capable and caring, and start building things. (Hammers are very useful when you need to drive in a nail!)

“I can change him.”

Is it possible to reform our current leaders? Almost certainly not. Is it possible to replace them with people who are more capable and caring? Can we replace them? Maybe not. But if we are to survive as a species (those of us here in the 99%, anyway) then there is no alternative.

If you wish to eject our corrupt leaders, I stand with you. If you want to eliminate the very concept of government, I stand against you. Millions are desperate for what only it can provide. Giving up on the very institution of government is allowing these millions to die. It’s also giving up on ourselves and our potential as human beings.

Taking care of the poor is not “a worthy goal“ it’s critical to saving our species. The number of “the poor“ is growing exponentially and will someday soon include even the owners of McMansions.

We are in this together whether we like it or not.

Some more, but less-well formed, thoughts about libertarianism

(First, as a brief somewhat-aside: My strong instinct is that the more someone believes government should be abolished, the less desperate that person is for what only the government can provide. I wonder how many in abject poverty call themselves hard-core libertarians.)

Libertarians wish to eliminate not just our current crop of (terrible!) government officials but the very institution of government. Any attempts to increase its power [1] is seen as a deliberate attempt to strip control away from individuals, and to replace it with “some distant bureaucrats” who micromanage all of our lives. “You don’t trust us.”

[1] (More precisely, anyone who does not actively work towards reducing the power and size of government, or eliminating it entirely.)


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The argument is based on several assumptions, such as the following:

  • It is assumed that – regardless who is currently in power – the institution of government can only do harm. Any action it takes cannot ever be positive or neutral, it is unambiguously negative.
  • It is assumed that the national government, the currency issuer, has no unique capabilities for providing critical services.
  • It is assumed that no one is desperate for the protection and services that only the government can provide.
  • It is assumed, were the government to fully disappear, that the power in society would become evenly distributed among all individuals – there would be no coercion or exploitation. This is the philosophy of “freedom for all“ or “true liberty“, which on the surface is fair and egalitarian. In reality, “freedom for all“ is freedom for the rich to exploit the poor (Zaman 2016).
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The point is not to increase or decrease the size or power of anything or anyone. The point is to ensure (not help, not incentivize – ensure) that no one in society is starving, homeless, or drinking poisoned water; no one goes bankrupt because they need healthcare, and no one is exploited by others who already have more than they need. It’s not about luxury, it’s about preventing exploitation and abject poverty. It’s about defining a minimum level of dignity and social inclusiveness that we as a society choose for no one to go below.

Not taking care of the poor is not just “a worthy goal“, it’s critical to saving our species. If you think of the human species as a single person, we have a terrible infection in our foot and it’s just spread to our knee. You can see a red line all the way up. If we don’t take care of it, and aggressively so, it will inevitably spread and there will be no stopping it. The number of people known as “the poor“ is growing exponentially. Soon enough, it will include even those with McMansions.

Finally, in a sense, we are the government and the government is us. There’s no separating the two. If government is bad, it’s only because we allowed it to get that way. Giving up on the institution of government is giving up on ourselves and our potential as human beings.

To repeat:

We are in this together, whether we like it or not.