The seductive power of royalty

by Russ Roberts on January 19, 2009

in Politics

The general reaction to the incoming administration reminds me of the book of Samuel when the people of Israel ask for a king. Samuel, the prophet is not pleased. Neither is God. He tells Samuel to warn the people of what the king will do. Here is Samuel's warning:

11 And he said: 'This will be the manner of the king that shall
reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for
his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his
chariots.

12 And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands,
and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his
harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his
chariots.

13 And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

16 And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants,
and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

17 He will take the tenth of your flocks; and ye shall be his servants.

18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye
shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.'

19 But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: 'Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

20 that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.'

.

We are in a very dangerous time in America right now—a time when people think the President can change our lives, bring us hope, transform us. Such expectations cannot be realized. But the desire to see the King or the President as a savior opens the door to much mischief or worse, tyranny. Watch your liberty and your wallet. They are both at risk.

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{ 33 comments }

Martin Brock January 19, 2009 at 9:45 am

Amen.

Mercutio.Mont January 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

If Obama only wanted a tenth of my stuff, we'd call him a libertarian!

Baurak Ale January 19, 2009 at 10:08 am

Calling all Mormons! Read this post, then let us quit our Conservative worship.

Linus Pauling January 19, 2009 at 10:09 am

I believe the people have actually gotten rid of the "dynasty" rule of the past 20 years and installed in office a man who is self-made.

This calls for a celebration! I am sure we can afford this party…

geo January 19, 2009 at 10:13 am

Going back to Road to Serfdom is O the guy who's going to sell us on Utopia, or is he the guy we give all power to so we can finally have the plan implemented?

He is a great speaker so could be the first. I'm not sure he's authoritarian enough (yet) to be the second; but that could come in time.

He's already issuing strong warnings to banks to lend (like a dictator).

muirgeo January 19, 2009 at 10:33 am

"Watch your liberty and your wallet. They are both at risk."

We are Russwe are.

Adam January 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

Amen. God definitely gets it right every time. God gave us a few instructions (be fruitful) and a handful of laws. He instructed Moses to set up an honest judiciary and planned that we would live in peace and faith. Too bad the world just can't live in such simple liberty.

Randy January 19, 2009 at 10:51 am

"…but there shall be a king over us; 20 that we also may be like all the nations…"

Hobbes actually makes a great deal of sense up to the point that he tries to make the case that we have all somehow agreed each to all to subject ourselves to the sovereign power. The above sounds more likely – a power hungry elite seeking to be "like all the nations".

The Other Eric January 19, 2009 at 11:05 am

The American media, and I would guess most of the people, have always invested the president with powers he doesn't have and a centrality he can't live up to. The current situation, as complex as it is, can be seen as a dangerous situation where a single president can actually create policies that will dramatically alter the republic.

Much like to build-up to Iraq War 2 there is nothing being said in the press about the dangers of unbalanced powers, unchecked bureaucracy, and unpaid balances.

LowcountryJoe January 19, 2009 at 11:06 am

Interesting citations from the bible Professor Roberts. However, after listening to your podcast from last week with Fazzari [where, in my opinion, you didn't seem to challenge his BS enough], I'm more inclined to believe that these things would stimulate an economy and get folks back to work. Perhaps happy days are here again in Progressiville.

[/sarcasm, most of it anyway]

Martin Brock January 19, 2009 at 11:26 am

… these things would stimulate an economy and get folks back to work.

State spending can always get folks back to work. States can simply pay people to dig holes and refill them, as our boys in khaki have done in Iraq lately.

The problem is not work. The problem is producing something that others will freely exchange for their produce. States can't employ people doing that, because statesmen don't know what others will exchange for their produce. States can only tell us what we must exchange for our produce.

Maybe, in some perversely majoritarian sense, a nominally "democratic" state can know what "the average man" will exchange for his produce, but the average man seems very fond of khaki, and I'm not.

Charlie January 19, 2009 at 11:31 am

For all of Russ's doom and gloom, I would love to see some actual predictions, something specific and on record.

My guess is his rhetoric is far bolder than what he actually thinks will happen.

Sam Grove January 19, 2009 at 11:55 am

States can't employ people doing that, because statesmen don't know what others will exchange for their produce.

Further, it doesn't matter, for statesmen use guns to fake reality, thus they cannot fail, and failure is essential to discovery in the market.

floccina January 19, 2009 at 11:55 am

Hopefully people are just very happy that Bush is gone and that we now have proof positive that a non Caucasian can become president.

Mercutio.Mont January 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Bush was from the Caucasus?

muirgeo January 19, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Amen. God definitely gets it right every time. God gave us a few instructions (be fruitful) and a handful of laws. He instructed Moses to set up an honest judiciary and planned that we would live in peace and faith. Too bad the world just can't live in such simple liberty.

Posted by: Adam

So God made the world and man but we screwed up so it's our fault because it can't be God's fault because he gets it right every time.

And the worry is supposed to be about unreal expectations of people voting for a Professor of Constitutional law who actually surrounds himself with the brightest and listens. Superstition about perfect deities scars the crap out of me Gods and invisible hands will solve everything…

Adam Ruth January 19, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I was thinking this the other day, about how democracy only flattened the power base a little bit. There's still an aristocracy. It's a bit easier to get into, and heredity plays a much smaller role in staying in, but it's an aristocracy none the-the-less.

Democracy has the shared illusion that "the people" are in control, but it's actually this new aristocracy that's really in charge.

Sam Grove January 19, 2009 at 4:45 pm

And the worry is supposed to be about unreal expectations of people voting for a Professor of Constitutional law who actually surrounds himself with the brightest and listens.

Well, he did vote for the bailouts.

brotio January 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm

"… who actually surrounds himself with the brightest and listens." – Mierduck

Like a Treasury Secretary who doesn't understand Form 1099 (even though his company gave workshops on the subject). This is supposed to be the ONLY man in the world who fully understands the bailout, but we're to believe that he's too ignorant to understand contract labor. I work with people whose education ended in California public schools in the 1970s who understand Form 1099, but we're supposed to believe Geithner's only stupid, not a tax-cheat.

A Secretary of State whose husband took campaign contributions from China, and who has been paid millions by foreign governments to represent them.

An avowed socialist as liaison to the Church of AGW. That one actually makes sense, since AGW is a socialist religion.

A Commerce Secretary who was so poorly vetted that the Obamessiah had no idea of the impending investigation, or of Richardson's ineptitude in the Los Alamos fiasco, which caused KKK Byrd (D – West Virginia) to declare he'd never work in Washington again.

An Interior Secretary who claims to be for energy independence, but is opposed to drilling in ANWR, offshore, and said he would block the Roan Plateau project even if gas cost $10-a-gallon.

brotio January 19, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Oh yeah!

Let's not forget an Attorney General nominee who oversaw the pardons of Marc Rich, Boricua Popular Army and FALN terrorists, and the return at gunpoint of Elian Gonzales to his Cuban master.

Gil January 20, 2009 at 4:46 am

Sooooo . . . what is the alternative then? Disband the governments and make current landholders into sovereign landowners?

Randy January 20, 2009 at 5:57 am

Gil,

No disbanding necessary. Just make payment for government services voluntary. Those services that people really want will survive. Its just that those who want them will have to pay for them.

Gil January 20, 2009 at 8:30 am

Voluntary payments?!?! Voluntary payments means the 'government' becomes a private charity or a private business (presuming you'd allow private firms to compete with what the government provides). And, of course, if the 'voluntary government' folds from lack of donations then it's the same thing as just plain dismantling it.

By the way, by 'sovereign' I am referring to who actually owns the land and makes the laws on that land which by elimination can only mean the people who are currently landholders and they'd get full owership of the land their holdings encompass by default.

Moroni January 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

@Mercutio.Mont: What do you mean by Conservative worship?

As far as I can see, in U.S. politics anyway, the parties that espouse libertarian and 'conservative' principles are the least likely to cause the individual to have to trade personal convictions for collective determination; nor personal agency for state-run vindication of idolatry.

Something interesting to note: "the nations" = "gentiles" depending on the translation.

France is the only EU member that is actually a republic (in name anyway,) and seven other EU nations are MONARCHIES!!!

The U.S. remains, for now, the first, and sometimes only, experiment in the self-determination of the free man. Only those statesmen who are willing to 'put the brakes' on the current trends, recently promoted by both major parties, and return to the original premise of the Constitution, are worthy of the votes of free men. Idolizing any politician is folly, allowing the ever-increasing power and size of government itself: slavery.

Moroni January 20, 2009 at 9:03 am

Pardon my mistake,

@Baurak Ale (not Mercutio)

worship????

Randy January 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

Gil,

"And, of course, if the 'voluntary government' folds from lack of donations then it's the same thing as just plain dismantling it."

The problem with assuming that a voluntary government would not work is that it implies also that the services the government provides do not have value. In other words, your argument boils down to the idea that government is exploitation and taxes are theft.

"…can only mean the people who are currently landholders and they'd get full owership of the land their holdings encompass by default."

They acquired that land (property) in accordance with the rules set forth by your government. So I'm confused. Are you in favor of your government mandates or not? Or perhaps you are just in favor of an organization that uses force as you decide.

Gil January 20, 2009 at 10:56 am

Oh! Suddenly it's MY govenrment!

"In other words, your argument boils down to the idea that government is exploitation and taxes are theft."

Gee – isn't that the Libertarian definition of what defines government and taxes? That is to say, what separates government from a private business and taxes from voluntary payments? What I meant was if government was 'voluntary' and can only attract money from only interested parties then it sounds it has made the transition to the private sector and therefore is a business or a charity.

How can a government be voluntary yet have a claim to a 'monopoly over the land' or a 'monopoly to define what is illegal and have the right to detain and imprison people'? The Vatican could come close to such a system as its edicts and admonitions can be ignored by adherents and non-adherents and neither Vatican official can't march onto others' private land and tell them what to do, let alone forbid other religions from appealing to peoples' interest.

Finally, what d'you s'pose would happen if the voluntary government folded because of anti-government Libertarians and indifference-to-government free-riders? Who owns the sovereignty the land then? Landholders get the land they're on already seems the path of least resistence. Either that or all land goes on the market and is auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Randy January 20, 2009 at 11:59 am

Gil,

"…what separates government from a private business and taxes from voluntary payments?"

What separates is the ability of a private business to prove that what it provides has value. That people are willing to pay for a product or service voluntarily is the proof of value. An involunary organization, one which forces subjects to pay for its products or services, can only "claim" that its products have value. Propaganda is not proof.

"How can a government be voluntary yet have a claim to a 'monopoly over the land' or a 'monopoly to define what is illegal and have the right to detain and imprison people'?"

It can't. But as long as it chooses to maintain such a monopoly it cannot also claim to be providing anything of value. It is simply an enterprise of exploitation.

"…what d'you s'pose would happen if the voluntary government folded because of anti-government Libertarians and indifference-to-government free-riders?"

What makes one an anti-government libertarian? Could it be that such people are tired of being exploited? It seems to me that an enterprise of exploitation should either crack down or back off in the face of open opposition. I prefer the latter… how about you?

As for free riders; that is a common rationalization, but the truth is that in order to avoid a few free riders this government has created an entire society of free riders – or at least wannabee free riders.

"Who owns the sovereignty the land then?"

Again, it was your government that arrived at the current distribution. I can live with it as a starting point. If you can't, then maybe you have a bigger problem with your government than you had imagined. Maybe you're actually a closet libertarian.

Amanda January 20, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Linus Pauling | Jan 19, 2009 are you SURE that "we can afford this party"? Before you say that you might think about what it means, and just what we actually CAN AFFORD right now.

Gil January 21, 2009 at 12:14 am

*sigh!* Xb

So you want government to be 'voluntary' yet it is somehow different from a business or a charity. I am lost here.

Where's vidyohs when you need him.

Randy January 21, 2009 at 8:10 am

Gil,

Its not so difficult. Government as it is is different than a business or a charity in that government doesn't earn its revenue. Government as it should be is an enterprise that earns its revenue.

And again, the idea that government can not work as a voluntary organization is also an admission that government does not earn its revenue – that government is an enterprise of exploitation. You may be comfortable with that. Most people are. And even those of us who are uncomfortable with it seldom find it practical to rebel. To generalize a bit, libertarians are those who don't see any reason to honor or respect an enterprise of exploitation – even when it goes by the name of government.

vidyohs January 21, 2009 at 8:10 am

"Where's vidyohs when you need him.
Posted by: Gil | Jan 21, 2009 12:14:29 AM"

Why, young sprout, I am touched.

Actually, not feeling compelled to contribute to every single thread, I was just watching you lead the monkeys around the mulberry bush. Having fun, are we?

Gotta go create some wealth today, so this will be short.

In short, belief makes things real, and no one can make you believe or disbelieve.

Therefore, if one believes that government is real and has right to his mind and soul, then it is real to him; and that, my little weasel, is purely voluntary.

I know that government is not a natural creation, it is the creation of men in the form of agreements; agreements to which those men individually voluntarily resolve to submit, thus giving the agreement power
them individually.

No agreement between you and someone else can have power over me and it can only be imposed through superior force, or my voluntary submission.

Conclusion, government is voluntary, historically, today, and tomorrow, solely because of the belief people invest in it.

gappy January 21, 2009 at 11:18 am

Interesting posting. When I was in Denmark, I visited the Royal Palace in Copenhagen. It was a very modest affair, compared to anything else I had seen in Europe. I thought that modest, humble leaders are the hallmark of a healthy society. Although I do not think that Obama encourages the cult of personality, and definitely did not pander to the crowd (a lot of whom were very disappointed by the low-key, rather gloom speech), I think it is an example of the unwisdom of the crowds.

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