Water (aka Human Nature) and the State

The LawI’ve made two arguments. First, that human nature is like water in that it tends to follow the path of least resistance in the pursuit of needs and desires and second, that the state is a monopoly on force. So how in the world do these two concepts relate?

In his superlative essay called “The Law”, 19th Century French Philosopher Frederick Bastiat laid out this case beautifully as he observed and assessed the major socialist movements in France and elsewhere across Europe (another history meriting some narrative that I don’t have time for here). What he keenly observed was this: that in the midst of their extensive and intensive poverty, people across Europe were looking increasingly toward the government as a means to better their lives at the expense of others—something that would have seemed unimaginable just centuries or even, in many countries, decades before.

Why? The necessarily short version: because a wave of “revolutions” produced governments that were becoming increasingly accountable to the people.

Well, that’s excellent! comes the reply. If you are opposed to that, you must be an advocate for tyranny under a central dictator!

Excellent or not, allow me to defend myself before I am branded an authoritarian (which is so far from true that it is laughable…but I have to convince you of that before you are able to actually laugh). I am no advocate of a central dictator; their track record of respecting private property is no better, and typically far worse than a republican or quasi-republican government!

What Bastiat observed was that people were using the new responsiveness of the government (“if I provide what these voters want, I will get re-elected”) as a tool of plunder. While it was obviously wrong to steal from their neighbors, they found it quite justifiable to elect an official who would do the stealing for them.

And as the counter-argument runs: then it’s not stealing. Why not? Let’s put another label on it, as Bastiat did, and call it, as he did: legal plunder. Certainly, electing officials who take from some to give to others is legal from the point of view that a government is legitimate.

Once again, I must dismiss implicated arguments and tangents in order to pursue my main topic in building foundations; we will put aside the question of legitimacy once more. The key point right now is “water” and the state. As the state became increasingly used as a means to take from some and give to others, more and more and more and more groups within society saw it and lobbied it and pressured it and bribed it and threatened it in order that they, too, could use it as a tool to take from some and give to others.

That is what human nature does. If, by and large, people must work to provide for their families, they will work. But if there is a path of lesser resistance, namely, the state, by which they can ease the work which they must put in for their ends, they will ultimately pursue it as a general principle. And for the immediate cries that I do not care for the miserable masses of 19th Century Europe, or the blue collar workers of today struggling paycheck to paycheck, I will annul your fears through philosophical and utilitarian arguments alike over the coming months. (Convincing you that all welfare redistribution programs actually do more harm than good is not an easy task, but I shall tackle it anyway.)

But for now, let me remind you that anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 lobbyists are registered in Washington D.C. each year and millions upon millions of dollars are spent each year by the corporations that can afford them—the largest ones—to protect their products, their goals, their markets, et cetera. See? It is the path of least resistance if it is effective. When water cannot overcome a barrier, it will find a different way and divert its attention. In simple terms: if it were not effective, the money and time would not be spent as it is.

And do not think that the water principle does not apply to those elected to Washington. They also, as a general rule, follow the path of least resistance. It is far easier to find re-election campaign funds and donations from businesses and organizations whose interests are protected by the state.

Ultimately, when an entity with a monopoly on force can be used to achieve one’s ends easier than working for it in other ways, especially if that entity is legitimate in the eyes of the people, that path of least resistance becomes the path most taken.


 

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