Why I Hate Government — And I’m Not Too Crazy About Bob Garfield, Either

by Kevin Carson
Why I Hate Government — And I’m Not Too Crazy About Bob Garfield, Either

“The stupid — it hurts!” That’s just a figure of speech, to be sure, but in some cases it’s almost literally true. Bob Garfield’s Valentine for Big Government (“I Luv Big Gov,” Slate, Feb. 15) comes extremely close. Hard right-wingers are easier to take. They love the awful things government does because they’re awful people. They know government is about uniformed thugs pushing people around and murdering them, and they revel in it, because they view the world through a Hobbesian, red-in-tooth-and-claw prism. Center-left goo-goos, on the other hand, try to frame it in positive, nurturing “Why Mommy is a Democrat” terms, and it’s positively gut-churning.

The worst of it is that Garfield, like most center-left types, is unable to discern how intimately intertwined what he regards as the “good” stuff (the Louisiana Purchase, “protection from terrorists,” etc.) is with what he considers “mistakes” (a century of defending slavery, the CIA overthrowing governments, etc.).

Garfield praises the government for “ending slavery,” while reckoning its previous defense of slavery as something it must not answer for. But the defense of slavery was inherent in the nature of the original constitutional arrangement and would likely have persisted indefinitely if not for a series of unlikely accidents. The abolition of slavery was entirely the result of those accidents. The Democrats in 1860 were a dominant pro-slavery party, and showed every indication of remaining so for the foreseeable future. They lost only because the absolutely batcrap paranoid pro-slavery fanatics split with the moderately pro-slavery majority and handed the presidential election to Lincoln. And even with Lincoln in office, they would have been assured a permanent Democratic majority in Congress that would have relegated Lincoln to one lame duck term and the GOP to a footnote in history, had not the pro-slavery fanatics in the Deep South been stupid enough to secede and give the Republicans a governing majority. The U.S. government in the 1850s was a powerful bulwark in defense of slavery, with strong fugitive slave laws, censorship of abolitionist propaganda in the mails, and a gag order on Senate debate. And so it would have remained indefinitely, if not for the utter self-destructive stupidity of the pro-slavery forces themselves.

Likewise, it’s absolutely dumbfounding that Garfield fails to see the connection between the “good’ Louisiana Purchase, bad slavery and the bad Trail of Tears. The main interest Jefferson was promoting with the Purchase was that of agriculturalists in the Old Southwest who wanted free navigation on the Mississippi and a secure outlet through New Orleans for their cash crop exports (like, for instance, cotton). You know, the same farmers whose greed for the land of the Five Civilized Tribes Andrew Jackson was later to accommodate.

As for that “guaranteeing westward expansion” business, where do I begin? Um, I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but there were actually people already living in the Louisiana Territory. And the proceeds of the sale were used by Napoleon to finance the large-scale massacre of slaves fighting for their freedom in Haiti.

Garfield, like most clueless liberals, praises as “progressive” government measures undertaken entirely to serve plutocratic and big business interests, like Hamilton’s “paying off debt from the Revolutionary War.” Um, yeah, leftist historians Charles Beard and Merrill Jensen had a little something to say about taxing dirt farmers to pay off Revolutionary war bonds at face value, when the rich speculators who held them had bought them at a depreciated value of a few pence on the pound.

The “progressive” Transcontinental Railroad was perhaps the single biggest corporate welfare program in U.S. history, funded not only by government bonds but by the giveaway of land grants to the railroads equivalent to the area of France. The growth of the centralized corporate economy in the late 19th century, and the integration of electrical power into giant mass-production factories instead of decentralized local industrial districts as would otherwise have taken place, was a direct outcome of subsidized long-distance shipping.

The Homestead Act wasn’t a “land redistribution program.” The rightful owners of Western land — the genuinely vacant part that wasn’t already rightfully owned by native people, that is — would have been the sodbusters who homesteaded it without anybody’s permission. Instead, the U.S. government engrossed what had been Mexican state land in the Guadalupe-Hidalgo cession and selectively allowed settlers to homestead a limited part of it, while holding the rest in reserve for railroad land grants, or to lease on preferential terms at sweetheart prices to logging, mining, oil and ranching interests. So U.S. government land policy, to the extent it allowed any homesteading at all, simply allowed what would have spontaneously occurred anyway while charging tribute for it. Most of the distribution was actually a welfare program for extractive industries.

The reference to HSBC’s criminal “abetting of drug cartels’ money laundering” is especially comical. Know who else has an interest in laundered drug money? The CIA, which uses it to support black ops around the world like funding death squads in Central America.

The juxtaposition of “protection against terror” and “mistakes” like CIA government overthrows is also pretty chuckalicious. If it weren’t for the US record of overthrowing governments and supporting military dictatorships and death squads all over the world — all in the interest of protecting global corporations against local interference — and being the single most faithful ally and funder of the Apartheid state occupying Palestine since 1948, there wouldn’t be any terrorists to defend against.

The government doesn’t “protect the public against monopolies.” It creates monopolies by legally restricting competition. It was subsidized infrastructure projects like the national railroad system, civil aviation (created entirely with government funds) and the Interstate that enabled companies to externalize their long-distance shipping and wholesale costs on the public and consolidate on a national scale. It was “intellectual property” law that enabled corporations to cartelize their industries through the exchange and pooling of patents (as did GE and Westinghouse), and it’s patents and trademarks today that enable transnational corporations to maintain control over goods actually produced in independent sweatshops and add a $200 Swoosh markup to sneakers that cost $5 to produce in Vietnam.

In one case, Garfield actually touches on the truth — only he thinks it’s A Good Thing. He refers to the role of government in promoting what he falsely calls “free enterprise,” by providing subsidized infrastructure and socializing the cost of reproducing human resources for wage-slaving corporations. Yeah, it sure does. But I think propping up the domination of Big Business is A Bad Thing.

And what about all those social safety net programs? They’re a secondary counter-measure, an order of magnitude smaller, to offset the massive amounts of money the corporate ruling class extracts from workers and consumers by way of monopoly rents enforced by the state. Large corporations and the plutocracy extract wealth from workers, consumers and taxpayers on a historically unprecedented scale, all with the direct aid and collusion of the United States goverment — and then the government takes a small fraction of the stolen loot and gives back just enough to prevent the very worst forms of starvation and homelessness from reaching politically destabilizing levels and threatening the survival of corporate capitalism. Gee, thanks, Uncle Sam!

The state is the executive committee of an economic ruling class. Anything good it does for ordinary people is a side-effect of the bad stuff it does, or an attempt to partially clean up the mess it created in promoting the interests of the corporations that control it. Liberals don’t get this. Genuine leftists, like us left-libertarians, do.

7 responses to “Why I Hate Government — And I’m Not Too Crazy About Bob Garfield, Either

  1. Pingback: Why I Hate Government — And I'm Not Too Crazy About Bob …360 Haters | 360 Haters

  2. Why would an anarchist oppose the CIA (or anyone else) “overthrowing governments”? Surely the anarchist complaint would be “and then supporting a new government”.

    As for the belief that Americans should not have been allowed to settle the land because the rightful owners were the Indians (the various tribes in engaged in warfare with each other), that goes back a long time before Andrew Jackson (although there is a specially strong case against Jackson, as he used violence to move settled peaceful farmers, not just nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes who were at war with everyone – a point made by the United States Supreme Court but ignored by Jackson. much to the disgust of Congressman David Crockett and others – of course quite a lot of people in the eastern part of Jackson’s home state, Tennessee, had problems with his view of slavery also but this did not become obvious for some years).

    The idea that Americans should not be allowed to settle land occupied by Indians (even if they were nomadic hunter gather tribes at war with each other) was the position of George III and his ministers.

    It would appear that Kevin has been converted to the “Tory” cause – and we can expect him to leave what is now called the United States and to return to the land of his ancestors.

    With a name like “Carson” it is likely that Kevin is “Scots-Irish” (Ulsterman) – if this is true, I will do my best to advice Kevin on where he should settle in Ulster (I think he would like Port Rush – it is a nice place) If Kevin is Catholic Irish (rather than Scots-Irish), I am sure some way can be found to get him safely to the Irish Republic.

    Should Kevin decide to stay in the United States (which would rather be hypocritical as he believes the land belongs to the Indians) I would advice him to avoid the area of King’s Mountain in North Carolina – where the “Tory” cause did particularly badly. Shot to pieces by people from what I strongly suspect is Kevin’s own ethnic group.

    However. the commanders of George III did do their best to remove people (including black people) actively loyal to the King, from the South when the war was lost. Perhaps a ship of the Royal Navy (if there are any left – the Royal Navy being radically smaller than it used to be) can be sent to safely pick up Kevin and return him to the land of his forefathers.

  3. Given Andrew Jackson’s strong nationalism (even threatening to use the U.S. Army against South Carolina when this State made noises about not collecting the tax on imports) which way he would have jumped had he lived to 1861 is a difficult question.

    It is hard to see Jackson moving to the anti slavery position – although his friend-enemy (“President Jackson? I shot him once – a fine man”) Senator “Bullion” Benton did. The Republicans (and the minority of anti slavery Democrats – such as the “Barnburner” hard money Democrats of New York State) were presented by their enemies as one part tools of northern big business and one past narrow minded, Bible thumping, religious bigots – Republicans are still presented by their enemies (such as the media and the education system) in this way.

    Although, this did not stop the move of some people in the eastern party Jackson’s Tennessee (only a few years after his death). Which is why the GOP has held the 1st and 2nd Districts of Tennessee for about one and half centuries. (to the bafflement of British visitors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – who assumed that all the South must be Democrat). Being called a Bible thumping religious type is not considered an insult in this area, and the KKK (founded in Tennessee – but further to the West) denouncing northern big business does not impress people who think that union organisers are similar to rabid dogs (which they are actually). And racial politics is not effective in areas where very few blacks live.

    However, Andrew Jackson had spent his entire life fighting for the United States – even the scar on his face was from a sabre cut from a British officer given to young Andy when he was a young boy (Jackson had refused to clean the officer’s boots – young Andy cried when he was cut across the face, leading to his mother thrashing him screaming “boys do not cry – boys FIGHT!” – a rather harsh mother). And his view of race was unstable – for example passionately anti Indian one minute. the next minute adopting an Indian as his son and sending him to Harvard (the lad died).

    Some unkind people have even suggested that all the lead Jackson carried in his body (from his duelling and so on – Americans of Jackson’s generation having a basically anarchist view when it came to matters of personal honour) badly influenced his moods and judgement.


    The late Murray Rothbard pointed out that Jackson’s support of local “pet” banks was just as bad as the support for a National Bank (Martin Van Buren understood this – but seemed unable to stand up to his boss). leading to the credit bubble which burst during the time of President Van Buren (had Buren’s “hard money only” policy been followed from the start the credit bubble would never have been created – as Senator “Bullion” Benton would have understood, as well as the anti slavery “Barn Burner” Democrats in New York). But Van Buren (not his former boss Jackson) got the blame for the bust.

    Still at least Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt – although the father of the national debt (and the National Bank) Hamilton had at least been anti slavery (his membership of anti slavery society was one of the reasons that Hamilton was suspected of being a monarchist).

    But Hamilton was not a proper American – a proper American does not shoot into the air during a duel.

  4. We always make the mistake of viewing history backwards. In other words, we view past events from the perspective of their future (i.e. today) rather than from the climate of the times.

    The British in the American colonies embarked on a Jeffersonian experiment based on the familiar creed that “all men are created equal”. This must be the most mis-used phrase in history. I blame Lincoln for turning Jefferson’s words into a travesty of what he actually meant.

    Jefferson, of course, was simply stating that men who call themselves ‘Kings’ and claim to rule by divine right or hereditary authority or whatever, are no better than the rest of us. Lincoln perverted Jefferson’s phrase into a touchy-feely expression of brotherly love between Blacks and Whites, and he has got away with this travesty ever since.

    The Jeffersonian experiment in self-government was perpetrated by British subjects of King George, who committed treason against their King and told him to get lost on the grounds that he was no better than they were and could claim no authority over them.

    The Negroes in America were no part of this. They were not Americans -they were foreigners – Africans – held captive against their will in a foreign land. So there was no way they could participate in this new experiment in self-government. Lincoln was quite correct when he said the Negroes were inferior to the white population and could not live among them.

    The first Negroes to be brought to North America were hi-jacked by the Dutch from a Portugese slave ship and sold in Jamestown in 1619. There was an English Sir somebody-or-other who secured financial backing for a commercial venture, hi-jacking foreign slave ships, or sailing to Africa to purchase slaves from local rulers, then sailing to America to sell them at a profit. His venture returned a 40% profit for his backers, and he even wrote a book on the subject.

    That is how the world was in those days. Slaves were a commodity to be bought and sold like any other, and the idea of ‘defending’ slavery would have seemed very odd to many, as it was the normal state of affairs throughout the world and had been since time immemorial. It is the abolitionists who would have seemed out of place.

    Before anybody gets the wrong idea, I ought to state that I think it is wonderful that the Negro population in the USA have managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to become fully integrated Americans and have made such a valuable contribution to this country, and it is an abiding tragedy that their ancestors who toiled on the plantations could not have foreseen the wonderful future that lay in store for their offspring – even to the extent that we now even have a Black First Lady descended from slaves in the White House (I can’t stand the woman myself, and certainly wouldn’t want to be married to her, but that’s not the point). But this is also a tribute to America’s itself for allowing and encouraging this to happen.

    None of which is any thanks to Lincoln. He wanted to pack the Negroes all off to Panama, just as Monroe had wanted to ship them back to Monrovia in Africa – now Liberia, and keep the new Western Territories for the White Man.

    The subject of slavery wasn’t mentioned in the War Between the States until January 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation, which, incidentally did not free a single slave. It was an attempt to deprive the ‘King of Spades’, General Lee, of the army of labourers whom he employed digging his fortifications against the Union forces, at the same time giving a figleaf of moral decency to his war of aggression against the Confederacy, while making it difficult for the British and the French, on moral grounds, to support the Confederacy.

    When Lincoln proposed giving the vote to the Negroes he got himself shot, and understandably so. If President Obama suggested giving the vote to illegal immigrants he might well suffer the same fate. Personally I think if John Wilkes-Booth had pulled the trigger four years earlier he would have done the country a great favour. Whatever the evils of slavery, the cure was far worse than the disease. 620,000 of the country’s finest young men perished – that’s six million in today’s population.

    And Lincoln’s legacy has been to turn a voluntary Union of States into a Union held together at gunpoint. And while Jefferson famously stated that “Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed”, Lincoln obtained that consent at the point of a gun.

    Sherman marched into South Carolina with the words “This is where treason began, and this is where we shall end it”. I would not dare speculate how many lives were lost because of Sherman’s poor understanding of history. Secession from the British Crown in 1776 was indeed treason. Secession from the Union in 1861 was not. The United States had been formed as a voluntary Union of equals, and the right to secede had always been explicitly recognised, even by Jefferson himself. If anybody is guilty of treason, it is Lincoln, for denying them that right by force.

  5. Secession from Britain was only “treason” if one both takes an absolutist, not contractual, view of monarchy.

    To those who take a contractual (“feudal”) view of monarchy the King had violated his oath by not upholding the fundamental laws (the fundamental liberties). But then brings us to the fundamental question “what is law” – to those in Britain who followed Blackstone (and others) a “law” was whatever Parliament passes (Parliament seen as “making law” not as the High Court of the King in Parliament applying principles of law that existed INDEPENDENTLY of them).

    Of course Jefferson was horrified by Blackstone and co (although Blackstone never actually denied natural law – he “just” said that no one could cite it against Parliament), but even Hamilton was. To someone like Hamilton one should (to get what one wants) push the limits of government power as much as one reasonably can (an incredibly dangerous view certainly – but not “Parliament can do anything it wants to do”).

    If Blackstone (and, even more, the “great” 19th century British legal thinkers such as Maitland) is correct – then Constitutional limits on government (any Constitutional limits on government) are meaningless.

    If such people insist on putting their legal theories into practice one has to kill them – and it is not “treason” to do so.

    However, those very killers in South Carolina (such as the “Swamp Fox”) refused to apply the same principle to blacks.

    As the “slaves lawyer” (Salmon P. Chase) endlessly pointed out “slavery” was actual a series of Common Law crimes – assault, false imprisonment (and so on). These crimes had been “legalised” by Colonial statutes and court judgements – which actually started in the NORTH (for example the idea that someone could be BORN into service of someone else – without signing any contract).

    Some of this was quite recent – for example George Whitefield (the Calvinists) was involved in the “legalising” of slavery in Georgia (against both Natural Law – and the specific instructions of the Founder of the colony) – and he used the British courts to help him overturn the founding documents of the Colony (as well as Natural Justice).

    Do you not see the hypocrisy here Hugo?

    These people were NOT saying “we want to keep blacks out”(the State of Indiana kept blacks out by law up to the Civil War – and one of the first Acts of Congress, 1790, was that all entrants to the United States should be “free and white”) – what they were doing was to use the threat of violence to keep blacks IN (prevent them from leaving) and to force top the force them to work (without pay) or be whipped to death. These being black people who had committed no crime – as the Natural Law would understand the concept of a “crime” (i.e. an aggression against the bodies or goods of others().

    What they (the supporters of slavery) were doing was the following…..

    “Natural Law (Natural Justice) for US – but Legal Positivism (the government can do anything it likes) for BLACKS”.

    Dr Johnson was the first person to point out the hypocrisy – and although Johnson was a Tory to his bones, it does not alter the fact that it was hypocrisy.

    And Jefferson can not escape blame.

    Slavery will end – WHEN (specifically) at what DATE?

    Evasion, messing about, general moral cowardice (yes moral cowardice).

    Ben Franklin (and many others) begged for a specific date – but were denied it.

    And the next generation of Southern leaders (with a few exceptions) went from “slavery is evil (a violation of Natural Law)” to “SLAVERY IS A POSITIVE GOOD” – that the blessings of slavery should be extended into the West (indeed to as much of the entire world as they could).

    The seceding States could have taken the moral high ground very easily (and thus brought Britain and France in on their side – as well as very many people in the North). Simply by saying……

    “We are setting up a new polity – any black person who does not like this new polity is free to leave, we wish them well”.

    A few Confederate supporters (who really believed the propaganda that the war was about taxes on imports) actually suggest that – but the suggestion was greeted with total horror by the people who were in charge.

    The “Slave Holding States of North America” (to use the official title) was not really about free trade – it was indeed the “Slave Power”.

  6. Of course the modern American government (at least since the1930s) spends money and passes regulations without any real Constitutional restraint – in peace time as much as in war. This is not really the vision of Lincoln (bad as Lincoln was, being a Henry Clay man, he did NOT want a fundamentally different government – that was a lie spread by Woodrow Wilson in his days as an academic, although some libertarians are foolish enough to believe the lie because they do not know that Woodrow Wilson and co invented it).

    The Supreme Court partly collapsed in 1935 (striking down the National Industrial Act – but allowing the gold confiscation) and totally collapsed in the 1940s (when it allowed the very delegated legislation that it had struck down in 1935 – and started to enforce a “Constitution” that does not even exist, for example various anti Christian doctrines that are popular in the Harvard Law School, but are not mentioned in the Constitution anywhere).

    Perhaps the violation of all constitutional restraint was inevitable (as anarchists claim) – so that leads to the question “what would America have been like without a strong Federal government?”.

    Well many feared it would fall to a return of British power – or to France.

    Let us see that this did not happen – let us “assume it away” (which the actual people at the time could not) what would have developed?

    Probably a lot of low intensity violence – as settlers pushed Indian nomads away (or killed them), although there might also have been some mixing (actually there was – a lot of the most famous Indian fighters were related to Indians and some of the leaders of indian nomads were actually white). Perhaps there would have been more mixing (and more land sales) without the Federal government “easy option” sitting there. Although sickness (such as smallpox) would still have done its work – as, contrary to the lies of the left, people were actually horrified when they (quite unintentionally) spread smallpox and so on to the Indian tribes (often the first victims were their own wives – when they had married into the tribes).

    There would also have been low intensity violence between pro and anti slavery people. On the “Bleeding Kansas” model (remember the Republicans won in Kansas, in spite of, not because of, the Federal government). The propaganda against Kansas Republicans – part “religious fanatics”, part “tools of the Koch Brothers and the rest of big business” was not much different in the 1850s (and United States Army commanders such as certain General Lee were not exactly friends of the local Republicans).

    That violence could be very nasty – for example the three men from Alabama who were killed “Indian style” (it took them all night to die), but it was nothing like the Civil War.

    The Civil War killed almost six hundred thousand people – there was not a family that did not lose someone (remember how small the American population was at the time).

    Even if the whole country had become a “Bleeding Kansas” – right back in the 1790s or the early 1800s would it not have been better than the mass slaughter on the scale of the Civil War?

    Of course that would not be true it the Federal government had used the proceeds of land sales (and so on) to pay off slave owners for ending slavery.

    But such Ben Franklin ideas were rejected – most Southern leaders (including Jefferson) refused to set any clear date for the end of slavery (regardless of whether they would be compensated). so history was as it was.

  7. Fascinating; just a brief response to a few of your points as I have to dash out; –
    First, on the subject of treason, regardless of the finer points you mention, the Founding Fathers certainly believed they were committing treason, or at least that King George would perceive it that way. I often amuse myself by asking my friends here (in the Deep South – until next week at least!) how they think history would be taught in (American) schools today if Washington had failed militarily. He would have just been a footnote – a traitor who was hanged for inciting a rebellion against the Monarch (whose picture would adorn the schoolroom wall of course – Queen Elizabeth not King George III that is!).

    “As the “slaves lawyer” (Salmon P. Chase) endlessly pointed out “slavery” was actual a series of Common Law crimes – assault, false imprisonment (and so on).”
    That is a very good point – but only if you regard Negroes as ‘people’. Legally they were commodities. I suppose most people would have regarded them (rightly) as ‘inferior’ humans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no White Supremacist, but the Africans in America were inferior, if only de facto because it was the Whites who were capturing the Blacks & not the other way around. Culturally, intellectually, the Africans were inferior, at least in the sense that they were less developed, or ‘evolved’ than white Americans. I am told the Africans didn’t even have the wheel until the White Man arrived, although I have no idea whether that is true.

    …”And Jefferson can not escape blame.
    Slavery will end – WHEN (specifically) at what DATE?….”
    I don’t like to use the word ‘blame’. Slavery was merely the status quo. Jefferson was in an impossible position – he described it as “like having hold of a wolf by its ears”. How could Jefferson et al set a date for the abolition of slavery? The fledgling country wouldn’t have survived such a shock to the system.

    “…The seceding States could have taken the moral high ground very easily (and thus brought Britain and France in on their side – as well as very many people in the North). Simply by saying……
    “We are setting up a new polity – any black person who does not like this new polity is free to leave, we wish them well…”.
    I don’t think they were seeking the moral high ground – just trying to preserve their way of life. The Confederate Constitution did indeed ban the importation of slaves (but it differed from the US Constitution in that it allowed slaves to be transported to the new territories).

    “………Slave Holding States of North America” (to use the official title)……”
    Official in what sense? Who coined the term and it what sense was it ‘official’?

    ” …(bad as Lincoln was, being a Henry Clay man, he did NOT want a fundamentally different government – that was a lie spread by Woodrow Wilson in his days as an academic, although some libertarians are foolish enough to believe the lie because they do not know that Woodrow Wilson and co invented it)….”
    This reminds me of that teaser “You find yourself on an island inhabited by two tribes, one who always tells the truth and another who always lies. You come to a fork in the road. How do you find out which way to go by asking only one question?”