This article was published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Thoughts on Dismantling Government
- or -
You be careful while you're taking that bomb apart.
by Richard O. Hammer

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[This article was written for, and first appeared in, Texas Independence Magazine, July 1997. Web site:]

Recently I watched the movie Gandhi again (Columbia Pictures, 1982). The riots and violence shown toward the end of that movie reminded me of a danger that I think Texans may need to understand. In that movie, as an oppressive foreign government withdrew its forces, violence erupted among the people who had been the subjects of that government. I hope that Texans, who are now debating a new Constitution for Texas, might plan to avoid such dangers as they plan to dismantle the evil empire.

The movie showed ethnic warfare that broke out in India, between Moslems and Hindus, in the late 1940s as Britain withdrew its forces of colonial occupation. All across India, in every village, Moslems and Hindus had lived side by side for hundreds of years in a peace held by British law. But the British withdrew with their law.

Suddenly no means existed, in communities, to process petty neighbor-to-neighbor animosities. No time had been allowed for replacement, community-based systems of law to grow. In the melee which ensued most people, it seems, could imagine only one resolution: a split at the national level.

And sadly that is what happened. India split, into the now predominantly-Hindu India and predominantly-Moslem Pakistan. Mass migrations resulted, as families from each sect chose to flee when they found that their homes were doomed to be annexed into the nation of the opposite sect. What a mess. But I propose that it might have been avoided if the power of the state had been dismantled more carefully.

Consider another mess: the savings and loan scandal in the U.S. People who have studied this mess have concluded that it could have been avoided if government arrogance had been dismantled in a different order. The problem was caused by the fact that government insured deposits in S&Ls, and continued to insure those deposits after deregulating management of the S&Ls.

Rarely will you see me arguing in favor of an act of state. But some acts of state seem justified in light of other acts of state. If a big mama government promises to insure you, no matter what you do, gradually, as the insurance bills skyrocket, it will dawn upon statists that costs might be contained if government also takes charge of your choices. This is reasonable, if you assume that government had any business providing insurance in the first place.

So, my point is that some acts of state do serve real needs. In many cases the only institutions in a society which can fill a given need are run by the state, because the state has killed the possibility that a private industry might grow to fill the need. This happens where the state has given itself a monopoly in filling the need, or where the state, through a scheme of redistribution, has filled the need for a price below cost, and private enterprise has been unable to compete.

In these cases disaster may follow careless deregulation. Where a real need is served by institutions of state, and where no private industry capable of filling demand for the need has grown, then sudden removal of the state institution which fills the need will probably make a mess.

When the British withdrew from India, they took with them the only system of law that living Indians had ever known. A wronged person could hope to find peaceably-enforced justice only by applying to the British. And suddenly the British were gone.

I believe that we humans can, and almost always do, find ways to live peaceably enough with our neighbors. We need peaceable relations. And just as sure as the grass grows, we build ways in our societies to resolve disputes which inevitably arise. A study of the history of English law shows that a working system of common law existed, in communities all across that land, before English kings started to take that law under central-government control by requiring that some procedures take place in the King's Courts (for a fee, you will not be surprised to learn). (Readers who want to learn more about this history of English law can find it in The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, by Bruce Benson.) But the building of community-based law takes time.

So, how can Texans dismantle the de facto state without making a mess? I take a lesson from the savings and loan scandal. Some acts of state are needed because other acts of state have created an environment which invites abuse. Study the tumor carefully before starting to cut. With the S&L situation, first the insurance should have been withdrawn.

I find it more difficult to imagine the appropriate way that the British should have withdrawn from India. But I believe the correct approach would have included a series of steps spread over time. First the British should have rescinded their monopoly in administering law (I assume, since governments have this habit, that the British had made it illegal for anyone else to administer justice). This would allow growth of alternate means of administering law.

Further, while allowing alternate systems to operate, the British should have started charging user fees, small at first but increasing with time, for those who appealed to British law. The plan would have been to price British law out of the market, gradually. When the fees for British law got high enough, alternate institutions should have grown large enough to dominate the market. Most Indians would have learned to use and trust those alternate institutions (as much as any system of law can be trusted). Then the British could have withdrawn without making a mess. Anyhow, this is my view. I invite you to consider it.

Now, reasonable people will object that my kind of plan will not sell. It is unpopular to withdraw a government service that looks like free candy. I agree. Indeed, I fear it may be impossible to dismantle some government programs by working through the means available in a majority-rule democracy. For myself, since I have these doubts, I work through the Free Nation Foundation, following a different plan to peaceably achieve limited government.

But, for the sake of Texans, I hope that a majority of you have seen enough of government to know its sweet promises always bring more pain than pleasure. I hope you will be able to work through your new constitution to cut government. But, I suggest, be sober. Make sure you have a clear head when you pick up that knife. D

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