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Volume 18, Number 12

December 2000

Government Lies

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

In October, the press began reporting Albert Gore's startling catalog of lies. They were legion. How can a person tell so many falsehoods so often about so many things? One newspaper account theorized that it was a habit developed from growing up in a highly_political family.

For a child in that setting, we are told, there is always a tendency to exaggerate your place in the universe, to claim that you are at the center of history, and that nothing of significance has occurred without your intervention. Lies are learned at the father's knee and woven into the fabric of everyday life.

That seems plausible. But what does that say about political families whose members aspire to head the State? They are practicing to assume their appointed role as good liars to do what the State does most of the time: lie constantly about its nature, deeds, and effects.

We are not only talking about the run_of_the_mill lies we get in public service announcements and the press releases of the bureaucracies. As Thomas DiLorenzo has documented, these agencies fib at every turn about the glories of their interventions and the iniquities of the private sector. They manipulate data to justify their power, make up anecdotes to illustrate their beneficence, and twist the facts to cover their crimes.

But there's even more to it than that. The State is a lie at its very root, so much so that it must change the very meaning of terms. Gore likes to label a plan to tax less in the future a plot to "spend the surplus." He and his ilk have long called government spending "investment" when it is really the opposite. More fundamentally, the State claims that its theft is taxation, its kidnapping conscription, its weapons of mass destruction "defense," and its courts "justice."

Throughout the centuries, the State has specialized in coining words to cover the essential immorrality of its acts. Instead of committing murder, it is waging war, and instead of robbing people, it is redistributing wealth or raising revenue. Indeed, the State claims it is really an organic part of society instead of what Bertrand de Jouvenel said it was: "a band of brigands." Orwell didn't invent the idea of "Newspeak"; he was merely giving a name for what governments have always done: turned reality upside down with a duplicitous use of language.

For centuries, and even dating back to the origins of written languages, there have been people who were unwilling to accept the State's lies at face value. This is the libertarian tradition. The common strain is the refusal to accept two moral codes, one for individuals and one for the State. Instead, libertarianism advances a unified morality, so that what is wrong for individuals to do to each other, is also wrong for States to do to their subjects.

The libertarian tradition has also embraced a unified theory of economics that seeks to tell the truth about government intervention. There is no "macroeconomics" whereby waste is magically multiplied into productivity. Macroeconomics is no more than micro_behavior multiplied. If the government engages in behavior that would otherwise put a private business in bankruptcy, it is of no social benefit for the State to continue doing the same at public expense.

Both socialist economics and the State itself need lies to cover up their real nature. They cannot survive without them, since people tend to rebel against liars. For example, if a person in the private sector habitually lied like Gore, he would lose friends, customers, and the trust of everyone who had contact with him. Liars like this eventually find themselves alone because very few are willing to make themselves victims.

But in politics, they thrive because the usual sanctions of social affairs do not apply. Indeed, politics is the perfect place for liars. At least if they work for the State, we know where the worst ones are, and we can develop a very realistic habit of not believing a word they say. .FM

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (rockwell@mises.org).

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