June 6, 2007

The nature of government

In defending his position that the Brown County Commissioners should not have allowed Bright Properties LLC to build some condos in Brown County, Greg Travis (husband of Monroe County Council member Sophia Travis) argues that government zoning laws are "a legally binding contract, where two parties have freely exchanged items of equal consideration, and freely entered into by property owners."

That is just laughable. Government is not a business and it the laws it passes are not a contract with consenting adults. Government makes demands and forces compliance at the business end of a gun. Neither Dan Bright nor anyone else in America today has an individual choice of whether to be under the jurisdiction of government.

Yes, government can enter into contracts, for everything from cleaning the county courthouse to leasing a toll road. Money is exchanged for services. But there is a huge difference between a specific contract for a specific thing and the law. The law is not a contract, it is a decree that the government's subjects are forced to obey.

To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that all laws are bad, and I am not an anarchist. What I am saying is that to equate laws to contracts is just mind-numbingly stupid.

Travis further argues that the government's subjects can simply leave. That we have the freedom to travel is a poor rationale for the appropriateness of a law. Even if the people of Afghanistan, while under the authoritarian regime of the Taliban, could have simply picked up and tried to get to another country that allows more personal liberty, does that justify the Taliban's brutal system? Furthermore, not all governments allow freedom of movement: the Soviet Union and their "allies" in Eastern Europe actually used lethal force to prevent people from leaving the Communist-ruled lands.

Note that I am not saying that zoning laws are equal to the strict laws of oppressive totalitarian regimes. I am simple making the point that you simply cannot look at government the same way you look at the local Bob Evans.

You can choose whether or not to go into Bob Evans. You have a voice in government, but unless 50% of voters agree with you (with you being the +1), then it does not matter whether you like the law or not. You have to obey it regardless. Unlike a restaurant meal, a law is not a contract with the consent of both parties - someone born in 1960 cannot be said to enter into a "contract" with government regarding a law passed in 1957. It is just idiotic to say otherwise.