by J.D. Tuccille
October 13, 1996

The World Turned Upside Down

The people of New Zealand have enjoyed one of the most remarkable sea changes in the English-speaking world. Twelve years ago, New Zealand was a basket-case country, with an economy described as the most heavily regulated on this side of the Iron Curtain, presided over by Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, who brought his countrymen whisker-close to dictatorship. Now, according to the Fraser Institute, the country boasts the third-freest economy in the world, inflation has dropped from nearly 20% to a carefully managed 0%-2%, and Kiwis are no longer reticent about criticizing their political leaders.

So the voters of New Zealand did what you’d expect: In the recent election, they denied the National Party, which presided over the latest reforms, its governing majority.

If nothing else, the case of New Zealand demonstrates what a fickle friend of liberty is democracy. The constituency for freedom in any country is almost always in the minority, and sometimes a lonely minority. Once the spur of necessity is withdrawn from the flanks of a society that has escaped statist rule through near collapse, people are rarely able to resist the temptation to once again vote themselves favors and goodies in the name of their “just due.”

The United States faces the same dilemma in the November elections, and in more pathetic form: The supposedly revolutionary Republicans in Congress have renounced their anti-government rhetoric after half-hearted attempts to pare back the state produced (we are told) grassroots howls of pain from outraged constituents. The spontaneous nature of these protests may be debatable, as is the GOP’s original dedication to its Jeffersonian cause, but be as it may, the common wisdom now holds that the American people were misunderstood when they marked their ballots in ’94, and what they really wanted was for different people to do the same old things to ’em, and to do those things (please) just a little bit harder.

Well, maybe it’s true. Maybe the American people really want that comfy, life-long childhood, just like New Zealanders.

Of course, there’s more to the case than all that. Kiwis’ post-partum nostalgia for the warm embrace of the Nanny State is enhanced by a comfortingly short memory that both they and Nanny had withered to skin and bones by the end. Besides, the second-finishing Labour Party — under very different leadership — set the current reforms in motion some years ago. Further, the market-oriented ACT Party won eight seats in parliament, and the explicitly pro-freedom LibertariaNZ (under the leadership of vicious bastard correspondent, Lindsay Perigo) began organizing this year.

Americans, likewise have given divided messages about their desires. An accurate reading seems to be: Keep the programs that I like, regulate the next fella, and don’t charge me a dime in the process. A sensible, if selfish demand, if everybody wasn’t asking for the same thing.

And after the Republican retreat from championing smaller government to flirting with social fascism, they hardly hold title to the rattlesnake flag.

But this returns us to the foolishness of relying upon the consent of our neighbors to protect our freedom. They may be on our side, they may not. The political party that one day championed freedom may, the next (like New Zealand’s Labour Party) return to socialist roots. And through it all, what we’re relying on others to defend, has all the time been ours to take — our freedom.

Do I advocate a libertarian coup d’etat?

Well ... only if I get to sleep late.

But, even if a coup were possible (and without mussing the carpets, too), political power means that you are now the focus of all of those outstretched hands and gaping mouths. To hold power in the modern world would require violating the very principles that pushed you to seize control.

No, better to be — within the realm of possibility — ungovernable, and to help like-minded people to do the same. That means defying laws privately and publicly, sabotaging the creaky mechanisms of the state, and harassing ever-so earnest government employees wherever they may appear.

To be ungovernable is a personal declaration, and one that can be adhered to with a varying degree of risk. It’s a stategy that is aided by allies, but that requires only one actor.

So vote, absolutely — it made a difference in New Zealand in 1984, and it almost altered the U.S. ten years later.

But don’t put yourself at the mercy of electoral whims. And don’t trust your freedom to strangers.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 1996 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.