… is from page 175 of my great colleague Walter Williams’s 1995 book, Do the Right Thing; specifically, it’s from Walter’s September 1992 op-ed (for which I cannot find a link) “Wealth and Poverty”:
More than anything else, wealth results from a state of mind and a set of values. Government is not a source of wealth. Governments, including ours, are essentially parasitic; they consume and dispose of wealth produced by private individuals.
Yes. The exceptions to this fact are too few and too nebulous to matter. And if you wonder why Walter describes governments as parasitic, for an answer look no further than the fact that each government prompts people to do as it commands by threatening to cage or to kill people who refuse to do as it commands. Unlike actions in the private sector – in the market, among neighbors, in civil society, where no one is forced with threats of violence to enter into any course of action – credibly threatening violence on all who disobey its diktats is the very essence of the state. Rid the state of the authority or power to credibly threaten violence on others and it is no longer a state.
In the market I must persuade you to serve me by offering to you something of value in return – something that you regard as being at least as valuable as that which you give to me. In private non-market settings, such as the family, traditions and rules of ethical behavior – for example, “Comfort with words and pleasant company the grieving widow next door when her husband dies” – guide us in our actions toward each other. But those who use threats of violence to get what they desire from others change others’ behaviors not by helping these others to improve their lives as these others judge best, but simply by promising not to make these others’ lives even worse by carrying out the threat of violence that is currently on the table. Nothing, of course, prevents this person or group who lives by violence from uncorking months or even moments later a new threat of violence against the same victims.
Most people insist on seeing the state – or, at least, the particular state that is lord over them – differently, as an institution that is not chiefly in the business of getting what it and its cronies want by threatening violence on others, as an institution that is charged with a transcendent purpose and is internally governed by a morality higher than that which applies to ordinary individuals going about their daily affairs. Such a vision of the state is, I’m quite certain, an hallucination. And this hallucination is dangerous.