Saturday, May 28, 2016

The hammer of the state

Perhaps the word "rant" in the title of A rant on socialism, authoritarianism, and welfare was not enough of a clue, but the post was not intended as a thorough exploration of the role of the state and the obligation to work. Since the post has been cited by LK (On the Value of Work in a Social Democracy) and has attracted a couple of comments, let me be a little more expository.

First, by "the hammer of the state," I simply mean ordinary state coercion, with "state" in the Weberian sense of the institution with a monopoly on the use of coercion. I've lifted the colorful metaphor from Nathan Burney's The Illustrated Guide to Law. I don't like to sugarcoat ideas or use too many euphemisms (unless they're funny or ironic): when the state uses force, it's force, i.e. violence. I don't like to bury the use of violent force under layers of abstraction, until it takes on the character of natural law. Violence is always a choice actual human beings make in actual, concrete social situations. If we're going to use violence, let us look it squarely in the face.

Second, I didn't mean that literally everyone must work. As noted in the post, people should retire, and people who are completely disabled shouldn't work. We can add to that list small children: based on my cursory and intermittent amateur reading on educational science, we should not try to push children to learn to read before about age 7. Of course, after about age 7, school is a child's work, and they should work. And finally, if someone wants to live in the forest and live on roots and bark and berries, well, good for them; we don't have to force such people to take paying, socially useful jobs.

Also, most people want to work, both because when it is not forcibly degrading or pointless, most people enjoy working, and because it is rational to work in a cooperative society and gain the benefits of cooperation.

Finally, I am directing my ire not so much at lazy slackers, but rentiers, people who live off the work of others by virtue of ownership of the means of production. Those people are the ones who should really fear the hammer of the state.

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