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News Link • Political Theory

Even Kleptocracy Has Rules: Saga of the Dumb Bell Eight

• C4SS / Thomas L. Knapp

How much wealth does government steal from its subjects altogether? Nobody really knows.

The federal government alone overtly seizes more than one of every five dollars earned in America through direct taxation or borrowing (with the sweat of your brow as collateral).

That’s not counting theft of purchasing power through inflation of fiat currency. Nor does it include “deadweight losses” and other economic distortions incidental to the process of redistributing wealth from your pockets to the political class’s.

Nor does it include the several states’ rakeoffs.

Or the local pelf.

I’m no conservative, but my estimate is: Government in a “liberal democracy” like the US probably steals or prevents the production of somewhere between half and three quarters of the wealth which that democracy’s productive class creates (or would create in its absence).

And “liberal democracies” are reputed to be among the best, i.e. the least robbery-prone, of political governments, which is why it’s reasonable to deem all such governments manifestations of kleptocracy (“rule by thieves”).

States which approach the coveted 100% take (North Korea, for example) generally do so with great pomp and circumstance — martial parades, ubiquitous propaganda extolling the wisdom of the “Supreme Leader,” etc. — and with a wink and a nudge. They’re not fooling anyone. It’s all for show.

“Liberal democracies” put on fewer such shows, but each show has to be more serious in tone because more is at stake. These states rely on the illusion of “the consent of the governed” to maintain their power, and that illusion can only be maintained with the occasional public sacrifice of a few “public servants gone bad.”

The latest off-Broadway production in this continuing series is the saga of the Dumb Bell Eight.

These ambitious politicians got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, leveraging control of a small California city government into the kind of salary and benefit packages usually associated with superintendents of suburban Missouri school districts. Unfortunately for the Dumb Bell Eight, they can’t convincingly play the “it was for the children” card. So, they sit in jail awaiting their show trials.

The difference between the crimes of the Dumb Bell Eight on one hand, and the actions of the average politician, political appointee or state hanger-on on the other, is a difference of degree, not of kind. It’s a distinction of appearance, not of reality.

The Dumb Bell Eight were conspicuous. They were ostentatious. They didn’t hang the right “for the public welfare” signs on their actions. They didn’t bother to route the money through the hands of, or leave enough in the pockets of, the right middlemen (party officials, “labor” leaders, etc.).

Their crime, in the eyes of their fellow politicos, is not that they got greedy. It’s not even that they got caught. It’s that they got silly and failed to keep up appearances.

Even kleptocracy has rules — two of them.

Rule Number One: “Don’t let the victims know what’s being done to them.”

Rule Number Two:”If the victims do notice, serve them the heads of the idiots who broke Rule Number One.”

In a year when politicians see themselves as surrounded by sharks, the Dumb Bell Eight managed to break Rule Number One; now they’re to be cut up and thrown to those sharks per Rule Number Two.

If we want real relief from the ongoing theft, we need to find a way to capsize the whole political boat into that bloody water.
C4SS News Analyst Thomas L. Knapp is a long-time libertarian activist and the author of Writing the Libertarian Op-Ed, an e-booklet which shares the methods underlying his more than 100 published op-ed pieces in mainstream print media. Knapp publishes Rational Review News Digest, a daily news and commentary roundup for the freedom movement.

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