What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: ArGENTNiGHTiNGALE
Agency to act implies an awareness of causality: understanding right and wrong and knowing what consequences might or will follow. A person ignorant of causality, such as a mentally disabled person or toddler, is not morally accountable for their actions.
Thus, conscious choices made by individuals rely upon an environment where causality exists. As Mises explained, an unstable world of constantly changing laws would have negative consequences:
In a world without causality and regularity of phenomena there would be no field for human reasoning and human action. Such a world would be a chaos in which man would be at a loss to find any orientation and guidance. (Ludwig Von Mises, via Quoty)
Free-market economists have exhaustively commented on the scenario where law exceeds its proper bounds, thus providing the legislator with the opportunity to create new laws as they see fit. The law then changes according to who is in power, leading the entrepreneur to devote a portion of his time to studying politics and understanding the current of changed laws, so as to remain in compliance with whatever new legislation is produced.
Speaking of this situation, where government turns into a shape-shifting creature demanding ever-changing acquiescence, Bastiat wrote:
What would be the consequences of such a perversion? … In the first place, it would efface from everybody’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice. No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree, but the safest way to make them respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law—two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose. (Frederic Bastiat, via Quoty)
What real-world implications do such theoretical abstractions have? Any business owner will attest to the fact that municipal, state, and federal laws make the entrepreneurial process far more difficult than it is sometimes worth. Dealing with “red tape” and wading through bureaucratic policies becomes the name of the game for anybody wishing to simply offer their services in a free exchange with others.
Problems with such laws increase, however, when they become so numerous and befuddling that it’s far easier and more common to break them than it is to obey them. Any time government exceeds its proper and moral bounds, it becomes anybody’s best guess as to what the various branches of government will do next, and what new restrictions they will require.
As Mises noted, such a lack of clear causality begets chaos, which becomes evident whenever somebody tries to take an action. In this environment, any human action is clouded with chaotic uncertainty that suppresses growth and stagnates economic interactions.