The organization of the state has always been a war on the poor by the upper classes of persons. Most wealthy individuals who are advocates for the state apparatus are socialists. The number of government policies making vertical movement in the economy cost-prohibitive for the poor continue to multiply. At the same time, the number of government policies preventing the poor from opting out of participation in the market for a self-reliant and independent life continue to multiply. The end result of being barred from self-reliance and from vertical movement in the market is feudalism and/or communism.
The Tyranny of Plato
Greek life was organized in small city-states (the polis) some of which were able to carve out overseas empires (imperial expansion through war is greatly facilitated when the costs are externalized onto the general populace in the forms of taxation and/or inflation). The largest city-state, Athens, covered an area of only about one thousand square miles, or half the size of modern Delaware. The key facet of Greek political life was that the city-state was run by a tight oligarchy of privileged citizens, most of whom were large landowners. Most of the population of the city-state were slaves or resident foreigners, who generally performed the manual labor and commercial enterprise, respectively, while the “capitalists” collected interest and tribute. The privilege of citizenship was reserved to descendants of citizens and were not subject to interest or tribute. While Greek city-states fluctuated between outright tyrannies and democracies, at its most ‘democratic’ Athens, for example, reserved the privileges of democratic rule to 7 per cent of the population. These were the privileged castes of bureaucrat, military, banker, landlord and others some today might call an Establishment. (Thus, in Athens of the fifth century B.C., there were approximately 30,000 citizens who enjoyed tax-exemption and who directly profited from State policies while the remaining 370,000 were slaves and resident aliens).
As privileged landowners living off taxes and the product of slaves, Athenian citizens had the leisure of voting, discussion, the arts and—in the case of the particularly intelligent—philosophizing. Although the philosopher Socrates was himself the son of a stonemason, his political views were ultra-elitist and statist. In the year 404 BC, the despotic state of Sparta conquered Athens and established a reign of terror known as the Rule of the Thirty Tyrants. When the Athenians overthrew this short-lived rule a year later, the restored democracy executed the aged Socrates, largely on suspicion of sympathy with the Spartan cause. This experience confirmed Socrates’s brilliant young disciple, Plato, the scion of a noble Athenian family, in what would now be called an ‘ultra-right’ devotion to aristocratic and despotic rule.
Plato set up his Academy on the outskirts of Athens as a think-tank not only of abstract philosophic teaching and research, but also as a fountainhead of policy programs for social despotism. He himself tried three times unsuccessfully to set up despotic regimes in the city state of Syracuse, while no less than nine of Plato’s students succeeded in establishing themselves as tyrants over Greek city-states. While Aristotle was politically more moderate than Plato, his aristocratic devotion to the polis was fully evident. Aristotle was born of an aristocratic family in the Macedonian coastal town of Stagira, and entered Plato’s Academy as a student the age of 17, in 367 BC. There he remained until Plato’s death 20 years later, after which he left Athens and eventually returned to Macedonia, where he joined the court of King Philip and tutored the young future world conqueror, Alexander the Great. After Alexander ascended the throne, Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 BC and established his own school of philosophy at the Lyceum, from which his great works have come down to us as lecture notes written by himself or transcribed by his students. When Alexander died in 323 BC, the Athenians felt free to vent their anger at Macedonians and their sympathizers, and Aristotle was ousted from the city, dying shortly thereafter.
Their aristocratic bent and their lives within the matrix of an oligarchic polis had a greater impact on the thought of Socratics than Plato’s various excursions into theoretical right-wing collectivist Utopias or in his students’ practical attempts at establishing tyranny. Thus, for both Plato and Aristotle, ‘the good’ for man was not something to be pursued by individuals, having natural rights, through social cooperation, rather by individuals, subject to the coercion and force of natural law, through the polis. Virtue and good life were in the polis and the promotion of communism rather than in marriage, family or church. This means that Plato’s and Aristotle’s thought was statist and elitist to the core, a statism which unfortunately permeated “classical” (Greek and Roman) philosophy as well as heavily influencing Christian and medieval thought. Classical ‘natural law’ philosophy therefore never arrived at the later elaboration, first in the Middle Ages and then in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of the ‘natural rights’ of the individual which may not be invaded by man or by government (see comment section for author’s explanation of agency).
In the more strictly economic realm, the statism of the Greeks means the usual aristocratic exaltation of the alleged virtues of the military arts and of agriculture, as well as a pervasive contempt for labor and for trade, and consequently of money-making and the seeking and earning of profit. Thus, Socrates, openly despising labor as unhealthy and vulgar, quotes the king of Persia to the effect that by far the noblest arts are agriculture and war. And Aristotle wrote that no good citizen ‘should be permitted to exercise any low mechanical employment or traffic, as being ignoble and destructive to virtue.’ The Greek elevation of the polis over autonomy led to their taking a dim view of economic innovation, private enterprise, self-employment and entrepreneurship. If everyone was self-employed, there would be no leisure time for the statists who would be forced to engage in productive, rather than predatory, means of living. The Greek and Socratic ethical ideal for the individual was not an unfolding and flowering of inner possibilities through self-determination and self-reliance, but a public/political creature molded to conform to the demands of the polis, either by coercion or by force. That kind of social ideal was designed to promote a frozen or static society of politically determined status, and certainly not a society of creative and dynamic individuals and innovators.
Aristotle recognized that laissez faire would lead to prosperity and the masses would become corrupted. Plato suggested that by promoting communism, the people could be compelled to be benevolent and virtuous. Plato also suggested that in order to secure the continuity and sovereignty of the state, as well as to prevent the birth of market economy, population size should be heavily controlled. He called for a fiat currency, inflation, the fining of gold and silver ownership and that the productive classes be put under burdensome taxation. Of course Aristotle differed on the abolition of private property stating that only private property furnishes people with opportunity to act morally, erg. To practice the virtues of benevolence and philanthropy. Instead, Aristotle suggested public education should teach people voluntarily to curb their rampant desires and thus lead them to limit their own accumulations of wealth. Aristotle still hated labor and trade as much as his predecessors and sought to revoke the citizenship of laborers and merchants (see comment section for author’s explanation of Hoppean desires to consolidate land ownership and political power).
Feudalism to the Right and Communism to the Left
Man is not born in isolation. He is born into a family and it is through the family unit that he becomes a social animal. Small populations tend to be self-reliant upon land which they have independently homesteaded. This arrangement leads to a bare subsistence living. One can only have what one can produce oneself. All surplus production may be used to increase leisure and develop new skills for producing other things, but there is always a limit to how much of anything can be produced by one person or a small family of persons. Regardless, how much leisure or idle time one accumulates from reliance upon surplus production saved, human resources remain scarce to produce and implement round-about methods of production. As population grows, greater divisions of labor can take place. Sometimes, even with population growth, there are those who choose to remain “poor,” or, be it, self-employed and self-reliant.
Barter soon gives way to money. Commodity money is a means whereby all surplus goods produced through a division of labor and specialization are held in common through market transactions. The surplus production is traded to improve the overall standard of living for those who socially cooperate in a market economy. Some people are more productive than others, but their accumulation of money is dependent upon the quantity of demand for the products they produce. The commodity with the greatest demand is money. Those who engage in money exchanges for interest develop the largest accumulations of surplus. Much of this surplus is invested in land which does not depreciate over time. Landed estates begin to appear and a feudal society of quitrents is born. The lender becomes an “idler” making his income from interest, rather than from the production of goods or services. The service of money lending is consensual but when other lenders appear on the market in competition for the profits of interest, the State appears in order to secure the status quo.
The State appears to corner and monopolize the market on interest and rents, often in the form of taxation but also through central banking. With competition for the idle pleasure of capitalizing on personal surplus there remains the problem of the “poor” who insist on being self-employed and self-reliant. They are an inconvenience to “society” exactly because greater surplus must be accumulated to the ends of investing in round-about-methods of production to produce better living standards as prices for material well-being deflate over time (all things being equal, absent inflation). This is all well and good for those “poor” who want to labor for the landed estates to their mutual gain (see comment section for author’s explanation of mutual gain), immediately for the upper classes (not in terms of income which is sometimes delayed for years, but of goods or services produced only the upper classes can afford in the present while production remains limited) and, in time, for the lower classes (income is immediate, but the goods produced are delayed due to being priced out of the market for consumption because the goods are not yet mass produced or widely distributed). The question is whether the “poor” should be forced to participate in this interdependent process of production or whether they should be allowed the option of self-reliance.
The self-employed poor, those who refuse to take out loans and who refuse to work for a boss, “force” employers to pay their employees higher wages and to lend their surplus at cheaper interest rates. Property tax is imposed to force the self-employed poor into the market. “Wetlands” and “endangered species” environmentalism is imposed to force the self-employed poor into the cities. Zoning laws exist to prevent the poor from operating businesses on their own property. Licensing laws exist to prevent upward mobility in the market. The days of “living off the land” no longer apply. Vagrancy laws are passed to keep the poor from homesteading or operating businesses on public lands. The self-employed poor is supposedly no use to “society” because “society” is unable to benefit itself from his labors.
Since “society” is “people,” all this really means is that the vagrant is of little or no use to potential employers, lenders, landlords, bureaucrats and others above him on the social scale. One does not have to be a Marxist to conclude that vagrancy and zoning laws are class exploitation. The self-employed poor cannot be allowed to compete with those above him on the social scale, but must serve them, either through interest, rents, taxation or a percentile expropriation of their production as laborers and the “stabilization of prices” through inflation (i.e. deficit spending). These self-employed poor who refuse to engage in the market, but produce their own goods seem annoyingly “idle” when they could be supplying needed labor for the planters and traders of the region.
Vagrancy laws are a method of dragooning people who prefer self-reliance and personal responsibility, of being outside the labor market, into laboring for their supposed betters. They are pushed off public lands, which could be homesteaded, onto private property to labor for the established upper classes. The respectable classes will only tolerate the aesthetic qualities of the lower classes as long as they are supplying the upper classes with needed labor and income to secure their own idleness and leisure. The State has always served the upper classes, to maintain their ascendancy over society, to protect their property from being shared with the poor, to exploit the poor through forced labor, to police the poor in order to prevent uprising and insurrection or the surfacing of dangerous ideas. A proponent of State is an exploiter of the poor and always has been. It is a counter-intuitive to teach self-reliance, industriousness, charity and against idleness while upholding and sustaining the State.
The Stoic doctrine holds that an increase of population and, consequently, scarcity of land, out of natural differentiation arose the State. The State is society. But sociologist Franz Oppenheimer disagrees that scarcity and, consequently, differentiation ever occurred naturally. In his book The State, Oppenheimer explains:
“As a matter of fact, however, for centuries past, in all parts of the world, we have had a class state, with possessing classes on top and a propertyless laboring class at the bottom, even when population was much less dense than it is today. Now it is true that the class state can arise only where all fertile acreage has been occupied completely; and since I have shown that even at the present time, all the ground is not occupied economically, this must mean that it has been preempted politically. Since land could not have acquired “natural scarcity,” the scarcity must have been “legal.” This means that the land has been preempted by a ruling class against its subject class, and settlement prevented. Therefore the state, as a class state, can have originated in no other way than through conquest and subjugation.”
Oppenheimer is correct that fertile acreage had not been exhausted when differentiation occurred, but he is wrong to believe that differentiation occurs only when fertile acreage is exhausted or ownership is legally precluded. People live closer together to benefit from the division of labor. People congregate in cities to increase their productivity and decrease their transaction costs.
Due to the benefits of a division of labor, even if fertile acreage is not exhausted, a natural scarcity of land can occur when wages are apt to be higher than the earnings of an independent agorist working an unmortgaged and sufficiently large property. The corollary is also true. It is more likely in times of economic hardship (high costs of living and few jobs) that people might prefer not to congregate in cities, but to own land and be self-sufficient.
The law of comparative advantage posits that people can more easily provide for their basic needs through the division of labor. It is true that we can’t speak to the specific preferences of people except to say that generally they prefer to have their basic needs met. Some can do that through self-sufficiency because the cost of independence is worth it to them. But if the cost of self-sufficiency is high enough, people will prefer instead the division of labor because it is the most efficient way of providing the abundance that meets and exceeds these needs.
Although Oppenheimer is incorrect, natural scarcity can occur despite fertile acreage remaining in abundance, he is correct that the class system which arises cannot be considered a State unless access to that abundant acreage is precluded politically. When the earnings of self-sufficiency are lower than the wages afforded by a division of labor compared to the costs of living, respectively, then people group together and a natural hierarchy of employers and landlords occurs despite an abundance of land that remains unaccessed. But this class system is quickly render a caste system when access to the abundance of land is preempted politically, thereby, forcing persons to remain in cities despite greater costs and lower wages accompanying the monopolization of industry.