Perhaps the most life-saving, peace-promoting and standard-of-living-increasing development in human history was the transition from the economic system of conquest, to one of mutually beneficial exchange.  Up until very recent human history, the only way to get ahead was to pillage and rob whoever had what you wanted.  While this is the essence of government, many individuals now achieve financial security through peaceful and mutually beneficial exchange.

All through history, societies that engaged in mutually beneficial commerce became the richest societies on the planet.  This type of commerce promotes and has promoted peace and has enriched both parties of the exchange (As Walter Williams taught his classes for years, the grocer wants your $2 more than he wants his gallon of milk and you want his gallon of milk more than you want your $2, otherwise the exchange wouldn’t occur).  As an example, Venice, Italy, by virtue of its proximity to the Orient and the massive commerce resulting from this position, was the richest city on earth for a very long period.  Indeed, everywhere the promotion of mutually beneficial exchange has occurred the result has been the same. 

Why then, is this economic miracle (non-coerced exchange enriching both buyer and seller) not promoted everywhere and by everyone?  Quite simply, if you are inclined to acquire and use force, you have a much higher time preference as the Austrian economists would suggest, and are more inclined to steal than to do any actual work.  This is, once again, the essence of government.   For example, rather than seek mutual benefit, governments pass laws at the end of which (every time) resides what I call an “or else” clause.  This describes the punishments or fines or jail time for those who disregard or disobey the new law.  “Do what we want or else,” in other words.  Government exists by pillage and plunder, very simply and primatively by conquest, as they produce nothing on their own…..well, except poverty and destruction of property. 

“Buy this health insurance, or else!”  Federal employees are, no surprise, seeking an exclusion from this law.  “Employers, obey health information privacy laws, or else!”  The federal government has grabbed the medical records of millions of individuals without their consent, however, and plans to grab everyone’s records are part of the upcoming electronic medical record’s “meaningful use, part 2.”  None of the laws and their “or else” clauses seem to apply to the tyrants that foist this on the rest of us, do they?

Only the rarest of human beings can obtain power and not use it to leverage or pillage others.  I believe it is our moral and ethical responsibility as individuals to always avoid exchange that is not mutually beneficial even if we are the beneficiary.  “Getting ahead at all costs” is not a free market concept.  It is the ethic of the state and their cronies.  Making individuals purchase what they would not buy on their own (like health insurance) represents a confiscation and wealth transfer from those robbed to those who benefit and receive this loot.  This is the lie of the state then:  what’s yours is not yours, after all, but the state’s …to distribute to those deemed “winners.” In the case of The Unaffordable Care Act, the winners are those industries (hospital, insurance, big pharma and electronic medical records) that are raking in even more of your paycheck than they did before….all for your own good, of course.

I am amazed at all that people are forced to purchase in this day and age (ethanol-containing gas, mandatory features on cars to name just two) and without exception, it is the guns of the state enforcing every one of these purchases, purchases we are forced to make “for our own good.”  My friend Jim Epstein taught me that industry consolidation (something we are seeing in health care like never before) is the smoking gun of government corruption and bribery.  I think he would agree with me that all the items and services we are mandated to buy are yet another window into an increasingly criminal regime.

G. Keith Smith, M.D.