Financial institutions make bad bets in their investments, lose billions of dollars on those bets, and face bankruptcy as a result. The authorities say they have to transfer billions of dollars from the public treasury to the failing institutions to save the financial system. Turns out:
- Public officials panicked about the financial system’s future when large banks demanded money to cover their bad bets.
- Financial institutions – the ones that threatened to bring down the financial system with them – looted the public treasury. If they could not quite continue business as usual, they would certainly try.
- Government’s effort to clear financial institutions’ troubled assets did not work as intended. Policies to restore liquidity did not restore trust among lenders, nor did banks resume lending.
- Nothing government did could prevent the huge economic contraction that followed the financial collapse.
Over time, the United States develops a system to fund health care that proves unsustainable for the public treasury. Authorities want to reform the system to give everyone access to health care services. Turns out:
- Making health care mandatory for everyone was the principal aim. All other aims and policies followed from this one.
- The cost of health care for each household now becomes a tax. The IRS enforces payment of the tax, and collects a fine for nonpayment.
- People who are unemployed have to pay the tax along with everyone else.
- Government so overreaches on health care that it loses the public’s trust and its majorities in Congress.
The financial panic causes business volume to contract drastically: corporate revenues and profits fall, banks stop loans, and companies lay off millions of workers. The authorities say that we must jolt the economy back to life and put people back to work with a stimulus package funded from the public treasury. Turns out:
- Public funds prevent members of some favored groups, such as teachers, from being laid off. It does not result in new hires.
- Public funds let some favored highway projects and other maintenance work begin. It does not visibly restore the nation’s plant.
- Public funds do not result in more hiring by corporations or small businesses, nor does it enable unemployed workers to find work in any capacity. Authorities extend unemployment benefits.
- The best argument for federal programs becomes, “Look how much worse it would have been without the stimulus.” No one can refute an argument like that.
Al Qaeda flies airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The authorities say they have to use enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture, to prevent that kind of thing from happening again. Turns out the authorities have other reasons to torture people:
- For revenge. The CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in one month (March 2003). It waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times in August 2002.
- For fun. Pictures of Lynndie England and Charles Graner in Abu Ghraib confirm that.
- To intimidate. Intimidation might prevent future attacks, but for an enemy that relies heavily on suicide attacks, that’s questionable.
- To obtain useless information, useless because you force your prisoner to say what your prisoner thinks you want to hear.
Al Qaeda flies airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in a successful surprise attack on the United States. The authorities say we have to take out Saddam Hussein to prevent Hussein and his allies from attacking us again. Turns out:
- The war in Iraq weakens our allies and strengthens our enemies in the region.
- The war lowers the United States’ moral standing as a world leader.
- Every claim advanced to justify the war in Iraq is an error or a lie. When pressed to explain the shoddy intelligence work, the commander-in-chief replies, “So what?”
- The concentration of effort for the war in Iraq leads to ineffectual, counter-productive, and self-defeating operations in Afghanistan. As a result, both wars are lost.
Who are the authorities, anyway? What do they have to say or do before we no longer listen to them? When will we say: “You have forfeited your authority”? What do they have to do before we conclude: We don’t believe you anymore. We withdraw your authority, authority that belongs to us, and we give it to new public servants who deserve our trust?
Honestly, if the authorities have not forfeited their legitimacy already, what more would they have to do? Start and lose another war? Completely bankrupt the public treasury? Torture people in the public square, with videos on YouTube?
For a moment I thought the only thing the government hasn’t done yet is deploy the nation’s armed forces against our citizens. It has done that, too: in Waco, Texas, April 1993. The large scale use of force against American citizens could occur again if we don’t prepare for the upcoming turmoil thoroughly, if we do not direct anger, frustration, and motivation for change into constructive channels that help us to restore our constitutional republic. If it does happen, if government uses violence against citizens in the name of order, if motivation for change dissipates under fear, we won’t be able to restore our republic. It will be gone, irretrievably.