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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 75 of the May 9th, 2020, draft of the important forthcoming monograph from Deirdre McCloskey and Alberto Mingardi, The Illiberal and Anti-Entrepreneurial State of Mariana Mazzucato:

The State on which Mazzucato dotes is itself, as we have noted repeatedly, dependent on coercion. Saying so repeatedly, we realize, will irritate our statist friends, who are pure of heart, and would not think of coercing anybody—except all those people subject to any governmental policy, which in a modern administrative State is everybody except a few mountain men in Idaho.

DBx: Yep.

State officials have one and only one ‘resource’ that non-state actors don’t have – namely, widespread acceptance of their initiation of coercion against peaceful others. Reasonable people can and do argue over the extent to which society requires such a ‘resource.’ But at the bottom of each and every plea for state intervention into the economy, and of nearly all pleas for state intervention into society generally, is a plea for such coercion. This fact is changed not one bit by the sincerity of the hope of those who plead for such coercion that it will work upon merely being threatened – that is, without having actually to be unsheathed and wielded.

Unlike non-state actors – unlike business people, unlike consumers, unlike neighbors, friends, and passers-by on the sidewalks of Boston or Barcelona or Bucharest – the state does not ask. It commands. It demands. And it backs its commands with credible threats to coerce those who disobey.

Statists with some genuinely liberal sensibilities – a group that includes most statists in the developed world – dislike the revelation of this reality of state action. The revelation reduces the prospects of the state retaining the grandeur, the mystique, the sense that the state is somewhat divine, that are essential for state officials to continue to enjoy widespread public acceptance of their initiation of coercion against peaceful people. But the moment anyone suggests that a proposal for state intervention be one only of requests rather than of commands, the hard truth rears its head.

I would have little problem with state officials, in their capacities as state officials (remember, these officials are mortals just like your neighbor Sharon and your annoying co-worker Steve), asking all employers never to pay hourly wages below some minimum that these officials have somehow divined is ‘optimal.’ Likewise, I’d not bother to object if state officials were merely to ask buyers who purchase imports to send along to the state a bit of extra money each time buyers make such purchases. Such requests would annoy me because of their evident officiousness. But being mere requests, I’d have no real reason to object.

Yet remember: the state doesn’t ask; it commands. The only thing the state has that makes it a state is the authority to initiate coercion – actual face-smashing, knee-busting, blood-spilling coercion – against peaceful people.