THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 718, April 28, 2013
When democracy becomes tyranny, those
of us with rifles still get to vote.
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
There are two Americas.
People who live in other countries and don't know this, need to understand it. People who live in this country are even less likely to be aware of the difference, although, if there is to be a tolerable future—or any future at all—they're going to have to deal with it.
One of the two Americas everybody has to live with today is a politico-corporate structure, and a kind of wildly metastasizing societal cancer, the United States government and the mercantilist—not capitalist—companies whose operators have come to believe, quite mistakenly, that they own everything and everybody within their gaze.
FaceBook thinks it owns your ideas.
Monsanto thinks it owns your genes.
If you are reading these words, likely you're part of a different America. If you aren't, there are things here you need desperately to know.
This other America we live with has fed, housed, and clothed more human beings, achieved greater progress, generated more prosperity, than any similar entity in history. It, not the government nor any of its parasitic corporate attendants, is that bright, shining beacon in the West that has inspired people to come here, or to remake their own countries, for two centuries. In many ways, the poorest person today lives a healthier, longer life than the Pharaohs in their day, because of this second America, consisting of the individuals of this nation and the civilization they built, one painful, expensive brick at a time.
We call the driving energy of this America capitalism.
There is a difference—a big difference—between mercantilism and capitalism. Under the latter, individuals put away some portion of their income instead of spending it immediately, invest whatever they may have accumulated that way in some private undertaking, and strive to improve their fortunes—and compete with others—by offering customers the best possible goods and services at the lowest possible prices.
Invariably, as a part of this constant striving between private enterprises, prices steadily fall, while the quality of goods and services—many of them entirely new inventions—constantly rises. This is the process by which America grew to be the most prosperous and progressive nation in human history and on the face of the planet. The fact that peace and freedom didn't always follow is not due to capitalism.
Mercantilism, rather than being born of individual effort and aspirations, is the bastard offspring of business and the State. It is the system against which Adam Smith railed in his 1776 bestseller Wealth of Nations, when commercial lash-ups like the British East India Company were granted a monopoly in some foreign territory by the King, and had their own armies and navies to enforce it. Our Founding Fathers were fighting mercantilism as much as they were the British crown. The tea that they dumped in Boston Harbor may have been taxed by the King, but it was imposed on the colonists by some royally approved monopolist.
Today, it may be as simple as a company bribing a congressman in order to obtain a government contract. It may even be less direct than that, with the company promising to build the new factory that the contract will necessitate within the congressman's district, creating jobs the congressman can then brag about the next time he runs for re-election.
As the company and the congressman become mutually dependent on each other—symbiotic—they grow wealthier and more powerful, joining what Ayn Rand called "the Aristocracy of Pull". Note that this relationship has nothing to do with satisfying purchasers, the price or quality of whatever goods are involved, nor does it matter whether the product is actually wanted. Money—stolen at implicit gunpoint from unwilling "customers"—and raw political power are all that count.
In fact, should anybody happen to come along, offering a better or cheaper product, instead of rising to the occasion and competing with the innovator—a process by which technical and social progress are achieved—the entrenched mercantilist company will "encourage" its symbiotic congressman to pass a new law or promulgate some regulation that will cripple its competition, preserving the status quo. Progress and potential are lost in the process, but nobody cares. Next time someone asks you what happened to the flying cars and hotels on the Moon we were promised in the 1950s, tell them mercantilism is what happened.
It ate them, along with our children's future.
With the rise of mercenary corporations like Blackwater to do the government's dirtiest work overseas, and voracious all-encompassing contractors like Halliburton, we appear, in fact, to be returning to the very bad old days of "John Company" with its private armies and navies.
It doesn't help that the principal thrust of the administrations of both Bushes, Clinton, and especially Obama, has been an attempt—more blatant and brutal with every passing year—to force everything and everyone into the mercantilist mode, destroying genuine capitalism in the process, and, along with it, any hope of a future worth living for. That's why the State devoured General Motors, and why the once great General Electric dedicates itself to the evil cause of victim disarmament.
If being an American is important to you, understand that you do not have to make excuses or apologize for the ("misdeeds" is a sadly inadeguate word for the uncountable atrocities that mercantilism has committed, from long before Wounded Knee, to long after Operation Keelhaul) of organizations that have become the common enemy of all mankind.
Despite what anybody tells you, these two entities, capitalism and mercantilism, and the separate Americas rooted in them, are at war. They have always been at war from their primal stirrings in the 17th century. Fundamentally, this is what the struggle between Jeffersonian "democrats" and the original "bankster", Alexander Hamilton, were all about.
The difference—and the reason that the badguys are winning— is that Hamilton knew exactly who he was, and what he was doing, while Jefferson, although he was a genius in many pursuits, didn't have a clue about his role in history or what he was up against. If he had, there would be a penalty clause in the Bill of Rights, and the black lie of limited corporate liability would never have been written into law.
It is our task, as long as we remain free to act, to correct this error within the Bill of Rights. It remains to us to untell the lie that makes corporatism possible. Otherwise, the two Americas will always be at war, as long as it remains easier and cheaper to steal or destroy things than to conceive of them and make them—and even simpler, to get some stupid, crazy, or corrupt politician to pass a law.
Or until one of them, capitalism or mercantilism, ceases to exist.
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Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations:
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