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What motivates regulators and prohibitionists?

If you want to know why fellow citizens are a bigger threat to you than foreigners, follow the money.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 6, 2010

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What motivates regulators and prohibitionists?

One version of the Golden Rule is, "In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you."

A logical implication is that you have the right to do as you please as long as you do no involuntary harm to anyone else. And that two people have the right to have a trading relationship, or any other kind of relationship, provided they do no involuntary harm to each other or anyone else. After all, if you wouldn't want others - or the State - to intervene in your personal life or economic exchanges, then you shouldn't intervene - or support the State in intervening - in other people's lives.

Yet, everyone from progressives to conservatives believes this is a naive and simplistic view of law and politics. They say that our behaviors and relationships affect others as well, and that even voluntary self-harm will have negative impacts on others.

This position seems reasonable, but it is based on a shaky premise. Both a gambler and a non-gambler can lose his house. Both a drug addict and a clean person can neglect her children. In the first case, the problem was assuming too much debt; in the latter it is child neglect. But the solution of regulators and prohibitionists is to punish the gambler who does keep his house, and the drug-using mother who does functionally raise her children.

This should strike any reasonable person as unjust. But the regulators and prohibitionists change the subject. They say, well, gamblers are more likely to lose their house, and the drug users are more likely to neglect their children.

Maybe so. Probably so. But it still doesn't justify regulations and prohibitions against responsible people.

The regulators and prohibitionists will reply, "But what will happen to society (or "the country") if this behavior is tolerated?"

Then the question is, what is society? What is the country?  And why am I responsible to it?

Notice that the regulators and prohibitionists don't care much about what goes on in other countries. A person in Detroit is supposed to care more about the troubled youth in, say, San Diego, than about their neighbors in Windsor, Ontario.

Notice how some shriek in horror at the thought of a prayer being said in a government-sanctioned event in some far-off state, but couldn't care less that Norway has a state church.

Notice that many have strong opinions about guns in America, but no opinion about guns in Switzerland or Israel.

Notice that the anti-abortion people don't care to take action against Canada or China for their abortion policies.

People in other countries don't really matter to Americans. Yes, we may care about them in the abstract, but they have no real bearing on our lives. There are so many people in the world dying tragically or being punished unjustly every second, it's impossible to name them all, let alone grieve about them.

There is one reason why we care so much for our fellow Americans and our country. There is one reason, for instance, why a Northeasterner gets upset about school curriculum in a Midwestern state, or a Southerner is upset about the marriage laws in the Northeast, or that everyone's concerned about the number of people without health insurance.

The reason we care is based on a law.

It's a stupid, harmful law, but it seems every country has it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a country.

In the modern world, you can define a country or nation-state by having a legal tender law. This is the law that privileges money created by the government or by a central bank protected by the government. Everyone in the country must accept this form of money as payment for debts owed, and must pay the government this form of money in taxes. Other forms of money are often banned altogether, and barter exchanges often must be recorded and taxed according to cash value

It's socialized money that defines a "society." The guy in Maine and the girl in Hawaii each have to pay their taxes in the dollars created by the Federal Reserve. That's why they're of the same "society" or country, while the man in Maine and the girl in New Brunswick are not.

When someone engages in personal behavior that reduces their economic output, or engages in exchanges that aren't recorded and taxed, then "society" loses the value of the tax revenue - either through reduced services or higher taxes on everyone else.

As a result, any and every activity that may lessen a person's economic output is frowned upon. Progressives have made themselves clear in the last couple of years that there is not a single area of our lives that is not the business of the federal government, including education and "values." And although some conservatives may resent that their taxes are too high and red tape is excessive, even they would impose nanny-state laws against behaviors they think are destructive.

This leads to a paradox: We don't give a damn about people in other countries. They can get high, they can marry people of the same sex, they can do whatever they please so long as they don't attack us.

But our fellow citizens? We care about them so much we believe the government should take away their liberty, property, and sometimes their lives, if they refuse to do what we want. Each decision they make, no matter how far away, impacts me in the national economy. And we call it a "national" economy because of the legal tender law.

Americans aren't bound together by history or culture. We are bound by a national monetary system and its legal tender law.

Ironically, the United States Constitution does not even empower Congress to create a national legal tender law. It empowers Congress to make coins out of money (i.e., out of metals considered to be money: gold and silver) and bars the states from making anything but gold and silver legal tender.

Yet we have a national legal tender law anyway, which forces everyone to receive Federal Reserve Notes (modern-day dollars) as payment for debts and to pay them in taxes.

But what if we were allowed to reject these Federal Reserve "dollars?"

What if we could exchange certificates of ownership of gold and silver instead? Or gallons of gasoline? Or bushels of corn? Or chain-store gift certificates?

What if a voluntary community came up with its own "ticket" or scrip system that they would use in payment of goods, services, labors, and debts?

Just about anything can be used as money if two parties agree to it as the means of exchange. Allow this, and the poorest of the poor will have more financial resources. The more forms of money circulating in the economy - whether it be Federal Reserve notes, foreign currency, certificates of commodity ownership, or store certificates, the more people can start leading independent and prosperous lives. At the same time, if there are more currencies competing with each other, prices of everything will fall.

As more people attain their independence, the need for government programs to "help" people will disappear. People will start viewing their fellow Americans the way they do people in other countries: we don't owe each other anything so long as we don't do each other harm. As a result, each individual will be more inclined to leave other individuals alone, respecting the liberty of others to do what they please so long as they don't hurt anybody else. Fewer and fewer people would feel that others owe "Society" good behavior, productivity, and taxes. Fewer and fewer would be less likely to demand restrictions, regulations, and prohibitions on other people for the good of the country.

Without the legal tender law, each person will look upon another not as a means to increase productivity and tax revenue, but as a fellow sovereign individual with whom to engage in honest friendship and trade.

Get rid of that legal tender law, and we might see peace, civility, and freedom once again.

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