Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Coercive power goes a long way toward explaining political corruption."

Walter E. Williams: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, with about $60 billion in assets each, are America's richest men. With all that money, what can they force us to do? Can they take our house to make room so that another person can build an auto dealership or a casino parking lot? Can they force us to pay money into the government-run retirement Ponzi scheme called Social Security? Can Buffett and Gates force us to bus our children to schools out of our neighborhood in the name of diversity? Unless they are granted power by politicians, rich people have little power to force us to do anything.

A GS-9, or a lowly municipal clerk, has far more life-and-death power over us. It's they to whom we must turn to for permission to build a house, ply a trade, open a restaurant and myriad other activities. It's government people, not rich people, who have the power to coerce and make our lives miserable. Coercive power goes a long way toward explaining political corruption.

Too often we forget that all government action, no matter how well-intended, and even when accomplished by democratic means, is inherently coercive. When we vote, we should carefully consider whether what we want is so important that we're willing to take it from, or force it upon, others at the point of a gun. Because, that's what government ultimately does on our behalf. This is no less true when a judge rules by fiat as when a majority acts by referendum, and we kid ourselves it we think otherwise. Perhaps democracy is "fairer" than tyranny, but only marginally so.

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