Almost 100 years ago, the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer had the audacity to acknowledge that, throughout human history, there have been only two ways to acquire wealth—the economic means and the political means.
The first—fundamentally peaceful—is the voluntarily exchange of the products of one's own labor for those produced by the labor of others.
The second—essentially violent—is the coerced expropriation, using actual or threatened force, of what others have produced.
Government itself, noted Oppenheimer, originated through the latter means—by the historical conquest and subjection of peoples by warlike brigands. Those minorities then demanded tribute—taxes—from the subjected peoples.
Penetratingly, Oppenheimer recognized that by its very nature government will always continue to reflect its original predatory function: After all, political scientists define government as, “That institution in a given geographical area that holds a legal monopoly on the use of force.” Such force means government will always be seen by those with the robbers’ mentality as their remedy of first, second and last resort.
This is why—in Nevada as elsewhere—government tends to grow unceasingly. Despite paper barriers like constitutions and despite modern predators’ skilled disinformation campaigns, the conquest, subjection and exploitation of wealth-producers remain the overriding obsession of those drawn to government.
Consider contemporary Nevada events:
- According to a Las Vegas Review-Journal survey, more than 1,800 state and local public officials today pull in at least $100,000 annually. Seven years ago the number was only 489. No popular groundswell produced this shower of lucre onto government bureaucrats. Rather, the government-employee class itself, increasingly beyond citizen control, simply reached into public coffers and awarded itself the raises.
- Plaintiffs last week proved to the satisfaction of a respected district judge that state and local Nevada government officials this year repeatedly broken state and federal constitutional law in order to hinder petitioners for smaller-government ballot questions. Tellingly, a commercial signature-gatherer at the DMV collected signatures all morning for a tax-increase petition unmolested. Then after he put on an “Axe the Tax” T-shirt and started collecting tax-reduction signatures, state government bureaucrats rushed out and illegally forced him to leave.
- The Nevada Trial Lawyers Association—its members all “officers of the court” and thus part of state government—was this week caught in a massive lie to the people of Nevada. The NTLA had indicated earlier that it was only “peripherally” involved in a mysterious initiative campaign designed to surreptitiously amend the state constitution to prevent statutory reforms of medical malpractice tort law. On Tuesday the Review-Journal reported discovery of a March 8 letter by NTLA President Andrew Thomas that revealed the association was hip-deep in funding the fraudulent initiative campaign.
- As it does every biennium, the state teacher union—the so-called Nevada State Education Association (NSEA)—has again come up with a less-than-honest scam to separate Nevada taxpayers from their money. This time it’s the “Improve Nevada Public School Funding To The National Average” question the union placed on this November’s ballot. If voters approve it, a definition of “national average” funding carefully selected by the NSEA would be permanently inserted in the Nevada Constitution. That definition disingenuously excludes a huge proportion of the per-pupil taxes that Nevadans every year pay to support education.
- AFL-CIO hucksters are campaigning to make the Nevada constitution require a state hourly minimum wage always $1 over the federal minimum. But if merely amending the constitution could really raise everyone’s wages, why don’t the union bosses seek a $1,000-an-hour minimum wage? The real goal, of course, is simply to drive minority and young people out of marginal, entry-level jobs, permitting the unions to extort monopoly-level pay scales in more Nevada industries.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist makes a telling distinction between what he calls “the Takings Coalition”—special interests eager to use government to take money, land, rights, etc. away from others—and what he calls “the Leave-Us-Alone Coalition”—the taxpayers, property owners, small-business people, home-schooling parents, etc., who want nothing more from government than to be ignored.
Norquist’s distinction is Oppenheimer’s—reborn. And it is especially relevant here in the Silver State.
Incited by Gov. Kenny Guinn’s success imposing huge new, unjustified taxes on Nevadans last year, a ravenous coalition of politically active Takers now figure the sky is the limit.
But like their brother and sister brigands of antiquity, they know only how to assess your defenses and then to sack and pillage.
Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.