The Invisible Gun
By Stuart K. Hayashi, 3/7/2002 4:41:18 AM
In 1776, philosopher-economist Adam Smith described the phenomenon of “the Invisible Hand.” This was his name for the side effect of the profit motive in a free market -- that, in order to make more money for himself, a businessperson had to help improve the standard of living for his customers.
However, throughout history, the government’s ever-present regulations have spawned yet another sociopolitical-economic phenomenon -- one whose existence very few people are willing to acknowledge and one that is inherent in all laws enforced by the state. I call it “the Invisible Gun.”
If one commits a minor offense, such as parking on state property without feeding the parking meter, then this person can be fined a monetary sum. If he doesn’t pay it, the fines increase. If none of them are paid, then the police are sent to arrest and incarcerate this person. If he continues to resist, he can be beaten or even shot.
As Ken Schoolland noted in the “Escalating Crimes” chapter of Jonathan Gullible, as long as an individual continues to resist a law, the penalties’ severity will rise. Death is the final punishment if the disobedience doesn’t stop, even if the original offense was minor. Every law is backed by a gun.
But few people understand this. People don’t see the force inside each regulation and ordinance, which is why the “gun” is “invisible.” The physical threat behind the legislation remains hidden under a veil of political rhetoric.
It’s entirely proper for the law to be backed by force in defense of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property. The sole condition of having these rights is that one respects the very same rights of others, and they are otherwise inalienable. Thus, when a criminal/terrorist uses force to deprive people of these rights, he forfeits his own, so it’s completely reasonable for police to use force to prevent him from causing further destruction.
But, when a regulation is ostensibly made on behalf of “the public good,” to prevent individuals from doing what they want with their own property, even though that doesn’t do any nonconsensual harm to lives, liberty and property of others, then it is this law itself that’s initiating the threat of violence against innocent people.
Yet, when it comes to the government threatening violence, the public holds a double standard.
Let’s imagine two friends -- Jack and Bob. Jack owns his own restaurant with a smoking section, but he asks that only adults be allowed in it, since he doesn’t want second-hand smoke reaching the lungs of children. Bob is a politician who wants to pass a law saying that no restaurants can have any smoking in them at all, even if they have child-protection policies like Jack’s.
If Bob took out his own gun and aimed it at Jack himself, saying, “If you permit any more smoking in your own restaurant, you’ll have to give me money,” most people would disapprove. And, if he added, “If you refuse to pay up, I’ll throw you in my dungeon. If you fight back further, I’ll shoot you,” everyone would consider that evil.
Yet, if Bob passes a law asking the government to step in as an intermediary and do the gun-pointing for him, people everywhere praise that as democratic, peaceful and “socially conscious.” It’s not violent, they say, because he didn’t point a gun; he only passed a law. That ignores the fact that, when a law is broken, guns will definitely enter the picture.
Because people don’t see that the law is backed by violence, everyone can evade the nature of what’s really occurring here. If Jack hates Bob’s law, they can both dismiss this as “a mere political difference not worth ruining a friendship over.”
They can both consciously evade the fact that Bob is actually asking the state to point a gun at Jack for making the rules for his own property’s use. And Jack can pretend he hasn’t been betrayed in any way.
Therein lies democracy’s dirty little secret. It allows the majority to vote on whether it can harm a certain minority, even though this shouldn’t even be voted on in the first place. Then the voters can call this “the will of the people.”
It should be understood that, in order to prevent democracy from becoming a tyranny over minorities, individual rights must supersede all democratic voting and all regulations. Rights must come first. Laws should come second, and only to protect those rights; nothing more.
Stuart K. Hayashi is the president of the Reason Club of Honolulu and an undergraduate in Entrepreneurial Studies at Hawaii Pacific University, though his opinions do not necessarily reflect that of either institution.