Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about propaganda. Although we started off discussing corporate propaganda we quickly ended up talking about the State’s propaganda when I mentioned its program for paying football teams to be propagandists. This lead my friend to ponder whether the general libertarian claim that the State is incompetent was false.
This is actually something worth discussing. Is the State actually incompetent or very competent? I don’t see the State as either. Instead I see it as a specialist, which is to say it’s very competent within its speciality but varies in its competency in other areas. So what is the State’s specialty? Theft.
The State is just another name for the largest gang in an area that pilfers wealth from the people. This pilferage has many euphemisms including taxation, permits, fines, civil forfeiture, and prison work programs. But all of them result in wealth, both in the forms of assets and labor, being transferred from the citizenry to the rulers. Since this is the State’s speciality it’s no surprise that it’s very competent at it.
Propaganda is just one of many tools the State uses to commit theft. As I mentioned yesterday, the State needs to convince its victims that they’re not actually victims, otherwise they get uppity and may either overthrow the rulers themselves or assist a neighboring gang in “liberating” them. A good analogy is the Ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes rely on an ever increasing number of victims. Getting more victims is made possible by the perpetrators of the schemes convincing the victims that they’re actually investors and will make money in the end. So long as this fiction can be maintained the victims aren’t likely to go to the authorities.
As with most perpetrators of Ponzi schemes, the State is very good at selling its criminal activity as an investment. It tells its victims that taxation is actually an investment that funds infrastructure, defense, and education facilities. Permits are sold as a necessity to fund oversight that ensures dastardly citizens won’t cause undue suffering to their fellows. We’re told fines and civil forfeiture are disincentives for actions that harm others. And prison labor is called a method to reform wrongdoers by giving them valuable skills to make a living with after they’ve paid their debt to society.
Unless the State at least provides the illusion of investment the citizenry is unlikely to believe it for long. So the State invests some of its plunder in building roads, militaries, and schools. Of course, of those things, only the military is any good and that’s because it furthers the State’s plundering. But there’s something there for the State to point to as proof that taxation is an investment. Maintaining the illusion of permits is easier because it only requires finding one or two wrongdoers to make a public example of. Fines and civil forfeiture are even easier sells. All the State must do is scare the citizenry into believing that without such punishments in place horrible things like drug dealers handing out heroine to children would become commonplace. Prison labor may be the easiest one to sell because everything takes place behind giant walls that separate the incarcerated from the citizenry.
Through all of this propaganda the victims can be made to believe they’re investors and maintaining that belief is necessary for the State to continue its specialty of theft unopposed.
So, I believe, the State’s varying levels of competency can be explained the same way as any specialist’s varying levels of competency: when you focus the majority of your efforts on a single skill you slowly become extremely competent at it. Propaganda is a tremendously useful skill to a thief, which is why the State excels at it. It’s the same reason a brilliant computer programmer may, for example, display no skill whatsoever in linguistics.