Service Limits — “We Can (All) Be Heroes”

Perhaps you are familiar with the organization U.S. Term Limits, which advocates for the replacement of professional politicians with citizen legislators at all levels of government.

You may also be familiar with the limits federal law imposes on political actors who become market actors. SeeUnderstanding the Revolving Door: How Ethics Rules Apply to Your Job Seeking and Post-Government Employment Activities.”

To aid in understanding, a discussion of some terms and concepts follows.

The non-aggression principle supports each individual’s inherent worth and dignity (self-ownership) and opposes the initiation of force against any individual.

Power means the initiation of force, also known as aggression, and is distinguishable from the defensive use of force. Only federal, state, and local agencies possess power; individuals and firms do not possess power.

Free market means a condition in which goods and services may be exchanged freely and voluntarily. Individuals and firms operate primarily in a free market (market actors); those employed by federal, state, and local agencies (political actors) do not operate primarily in a free market.

Service limit means that an individual employed by a federal, state, or local agency may be employed by such an agency only for a limited period of time.

Power has some influence on the free market, and individuals and firms operating in the free market have some influence on the exercise of power by those political actors. For ongoing commentary on the interplay between power and market, see the Power & Market Blog.

In his article “Libertarian Class Analysis,” writer Sheldon Richman observes that

The government’s coercive taxing power necessarily creates two classes: those who create and those who consume the wealth expropriated and transferred by that power. Those who create the wealth naturally want to keep it and devote it to their own purposes. Those who wish to expropriate it look for ever more-clever ways to acquire it without inciting resistance. One of those ways is the spreading of an elaborate ideology of statism, which teaches that the people are the state and that therefore they are only paying themselves when they pay taxes.

The state’s officers and the court intellectuals at universities and the news media go to great lengths to have people believe this fantastic story, including the setting up of schools. Alas, most people come to believe it. The role of war is to scare people into paying taxes for their own alleged protection and to keep the wealth flowing to the exploiters with a minimum of grousing.

Service limits reduce the gap between the exploited and the exploiters; the governed and the governors.

Public choice scholars recognize that individuals are not angels, and political actors are no more ethical than market actors. Service limits provide an institutional restraint on individuals while they wield political power. The answer to Roman poet Juvenal’s famous question: “Who watches the watchers?” may be: We all should.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, promotes service as a political actor as fostering “civic engagement.”

To that end, service limits on political actors would not only promote individual awareness and readiness for potential service as a political actor, service limits would also disrupt the entrenchment of individuals wielding power by increasing opportunities for disclosure and transparency as a political actor’s service term ends. Service limits would help protect against abuses of power, deficit spending, self-dealing, political jobbery, nepotism, and patronage, excessive pensions, and other forms of corruption.

One argument against the implementation of term limits for political actors is that such limits would place political actors at a disadvantage to market actors. A free society should favor an imbalance favoring market actors over political actors, and examples of such imbalances may be seen in the United States Constitution (“No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” Article I, Section 9, Clause 3) and the Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Amendment 1).

Yet the implementation of service limits on agency personnel would create an incentive for institutional knowledge to build and reside outside of agencies claiming a monopoly on aggression — that is, power — rather than metastasizing in and corrupting such agencies. Non-governmental organizations — such as trade associations and charitable institutions — possess and develop much expertise already. Expertise, without power, can only be so influential and persuasive, and by definition could never overcome the coercive power of a political actor claiming the right to initiate force.

Libertarian scholar David D. Friedman has discussed how market actors within civil society could be incentivized to develop military skills to reduce the need for — and to protect against the threat to liberty caused by — standing armies comprised of political actors.

Although service limits can help grow and sustain a desirable imbalance that favors liberty over tyranny, history shows that many individuals will combine and leverage factional influence to acquire power.

As the next entry will discuss, the implementation of more open, competitive and representative elections, and democratic lotteries — as opposed to the current rigged, bipolarizing electoral system threatening not only American citizens but every soul on Earth — can further restore the optimal imbalance of market over power.

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