Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Lesson From Rob Ford’s Ousting

[This post originally appeared on the blog of mises.ca, on November 28, 2012]

Austro-libertarians, present company included, have a tendency to believe that they understand the political system—the State—better than the average person. This opinion stems from careful study of the theory and history of the State, broken down logically and with consistency that any “Austrian” undertakes in his becoming one. The “average person” doesn’t waste his time reading volumes written 50, 100 or 200 years ago. He has no clue as to who Frederic Claude Bastiat, Alert Jay Nock, or Herbert Spencer are, not to mention Lysander Spooner, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Harper or Murray N. Rothbard. The writings of these gentlemen have summed up the nature of the State to be that of a monopoly of the physical violence over a given territory. Naturally, since the State is comprised of individuals who fill in various official spots by living off of the taxation of other people’s productive labors, it will tend to maintain the status quo at the very least—and perpetually push for an expansion of its influence as standard practice. Since “mainstream” individuals tend to call for or accept government intervention in the market as the solution to any perceived problem, Austro-libertarians conclude that adherents to the mainstream ideology of interventionism fail to recognize the true nature of the State as described above. Yet, the case could be made for the exact opposite: Austro-libertarians, perhaps out of naiveté, fail to see the practical nature of the State—the indiscriminate practitioner of force that has no qualms about destroying lives, and thus fail to heed the warning that they themselves loud; while mainstreamers recognize the State’s frequent use of its might and are careful not to rattle any cages.
To be sure, the reluctance of the inhabitants of states of the former Soviet bloc to step up and criticize the established system of their countries never surprised me due to the publicly known secret of the diligence of the ideological police. There, advice to not provoke calamity onto oneself through criticism is predictable, if not disheartening. Yet, getting the same or similar advice in a beacon of democracy, such as Canada ought to be outrageous, right? Here freedom (of speech and ideas) reigns supreme, does it not? In our great democratic society, we are told, the commonweal trumps ideology. Therefore, Austro-libertarian criticisms of the political system ought to be celebrated as offerings for a higher quality of life. In practice, not only is Austro-libertarian thought shunned, it appears that those who make even the smallest of efforts to benefit the public through the use of less interventionist policies are now open targets for political assassinations.
It may or may not be the case with other writers in Austro-libertarian and Anarcho-capitalist circles, but this writer has experienced more than one instance of worry expressed by a friend or loved one about the “dangerous” contents of his works published on this website. In a beautiful embodiment of Basitat’s “what is seen and what is not seen” lesson, these people understand that bad things will happen to them if they attempt to change the system; but fail to realize that even worse things happen when they don’t. Sure, they might get admitted to post-graduate studies, or get a job with an established crony corporation, or never provoke a CRA audit upon themselves. But in doing so, they support the theft through regulation, inflation and taxation—the three pillars of interventionism—which ultimately bring about a lower standard of living than otherwise possible for themselves by forcing business to move away, stifling innovation, dictating behavior and destroying capital.

While not “Austrian” in his economics, or libertarian in his politics, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in his time in office—which seems to have come to an abrupt end half-way in his term due to a judge’s decision—at least was willing to cut down some of the Public Sector in Canada’s largest city. His solution to garbage removal, for instance, though not fully market-based (more on this in my next post), did upset the public union’s monopoly over this essential service, and sent a threatening signal to other unions that their racketeering reign might be coming to a close. Similarly, Ford went after the police and firefighting unions in trying to cut the increases to their annual budgets, and tried to reduce the number of libraries under the city’s proprietorship. Realistically, these attempts at cutting the excesses of Toronto’s government are as miniscule relative to the real solutions needed, as is Ford’s offence compared to the scandals of politicians of all spheres that come to the public light on a daily basis. Yet, if his policies proved successful, then the public acceptance of interventionism—as embodied through unionism, public education, public media, even universal health care—may quickly erode, leaving thousands of “civil servants” without the above market (Discounted Marginal Value Product) incomes they have come accustomed to. This is very dangerous business.

Unsurprisingly then, Rob Ford’s publically expressed desire (whether genuine or not) to cut down on the Public Sector made him the target of every Public Institution under the sky. His time in office was marked by the savage attacks on his personal life by the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, more than anything he did or failed to do. It comes as no surprise then, that he is being ousted out of office as a result of an inquiry conducted by a public official, a so-called Integrity Commissioner, and a judgment reached by a publically appointed judge. In a statement that could not be more wrong, Mr. Ford has declared this outcome to be the result of “left-wing” politics, when really his ousting is the result of interventionist politics. All politicians break the code of integrity in their jurisdiction. “Right wing” Toronto Sun lists a bevy of provincial Liberal indiscretions with public money that trump Ford’s conflict of interest by a thousand times. On the other hand, who can forget federal Conservative Minister Bev Oda’s royal treatments on the public tab. All that either the “left” or the “right” have to say is, “at least we are not as bad as the other guys.” Despite the “right’s” protestations, Ford is as guilty of the crime of abusing power as any of the others. Yet, in no case did a judge oust a single “civil servant” out of their job. Ford brought the shadow of a threat to the interventionist status quo and is now paying the price for it through a career assassination of the first kind.

Ultimately, there is a lesson here to be learned for all those who seek to change the status quo. Mr. Ford is guilty of the transgression he was accused of, regardless of its paltriness. More so, he is guilty of not staying true to the principles he supposedly espouses: those of the impossible dream of responsible government. So, the lesson is that if one decides to go against the grain, he must be in practice what he claims in his rhetoric; otherwise the great machine that is the Establishment (by this I mean not some secret society of ultra-rich people, but the bureaucrats, elected representatives, publicly funded media, union workers, crony capitalists, etc.) will grind you up in a heartbeat. In this respect, Texas Congressman Ron Paul remains the unchallenged standard bearer.

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