Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 7: The Government Trap

by Griffyn

All right, it’s time to move on to the seventh chapter of the book, “How I found freedom in an unfree world” by Harry Browne

Harry is going to talk about the popular misconceptions about the nature of government.

I will simply be adding the parts of the book that I highlighted.  By no means is this the entire book or even the best way to sum up each chapter, it’s just what I highlighted so that I could review the book quickly later.

Chapter 7: The Government Trap.

To be free, you must know what you’re doing and why. Otherwise, slight setbacks can cause you to discard your plans and give up.

The Government Trap

I think there are four basic Government Traps—popular misconceptions about the nature of government:

1. The belief that governments perform socially useful functions that deserve your support.

2. The belief that you have a duty to obey laws.

3. The belief that the government can be counted upon to carry out a social reform you favor.

4. The fear that the government is so powerful that it can prevent you from being free.

The Market

As we’ve seen before, all individuals are different—fortunately.

If everyone wanted the same things, we would all be struggling against each other to acquire what little was available.

With our difference in values, I can trade something to you for something I value more. You, on the other hand, will be getting something you want more than what you’re giving up. Each of us improves his situation without hurting the other.
This is a market—a compatibility of values that makes an exchange possible.

Types of Transactions

Within the General Market there are two basic kinds of exchanges. The most common is a two-sided transaction—one in which each party participates because he wants to.

In a one-sided transaction, one of the participants forces the other to choose between two new alternatives. He introduces violence (or the threat of it) as a way of making the unwilling participant a part of the relationship.


…let’s sum up what we’ve seen of the ways people get what they want through the market:

1. Nothing is free. To acquire anything requires an expenditure of time, energy, or money. (Not even natural resources can be used without an application of effort—whether that be cutting down a tree or picking up an apple.)

2. Anything you want that you can’t provide entirely for yourself requires an exchange with someone else.

3. A one-sided transaction doesn’t provide a gain for the unwilling participant—even if he receives something in return. It wouldn’t be one-sided if he valued what he receives more than what he must give up, for then he’d have entered the transaction willingly.

4. Whatever an individual does is the highest-valued alternative that he believes is available to him.

5. At any given time the General Market reflects the consensus of the highest values the people therein believe possible. As individuals go about their business, they’re getting the best they know how in the world as it is.

Speeding up History

But some people are impatient. They look about them and get the impression that things aren’t moving as fast as they could be. They want to improve upon the natural, automatic processes of the market.
And so they form governments.

They hope thereby to make more things available to more people more quickly. In addition, they hope to have their lives and property protected for a smaller price than they think it would cost without government.

The basic mistake is the assumption that with a government they will have more than what they would have had in the marketplace. The truth is that they wind up with less. For the government can only give you something by taking away something you wanted more.

People seek government action because they don’t approve of what other people choose to do with their lives. They want to overrule the decisions others have made concerning the uses of their own time and money.

Enforced Conformity

When the government intervenes, however, all of us are required to adhere to standards set by the government—and at a cost dictated by the government. Almost all of us are deprived of the choices we would have preferred.

In a world of vastly different tastes, the government imposes one way upon us and forces everyone to adhere to that one way.

Government regulation always overrules the consumers.

what the government thinks they should have, consumers are forced to take and forced to pay for.

Absolutely every government regulation is enforced by violence. If you’ve never seen that violence, it’s because you’ve been careful, obedient, or lucky. Would regulations still be obeyed if the police, courts, and jails were dissolved?

Government Businesses

If they aren’t willing to pay for the service in the free market (the General Market apart from the government), who can say they’re willing to pay for it through government?

Governments don’t rule; they overrule.

Why Governments?

I can think of three reasons:

1. Most people believe that governments add to the general well-being, rather than reduce it. They haven’t recognized the simple economic truths we’ve covered here.

2. Many individuals believe they’re getting more benefits from the government than they give up. They pay a price in taxes and reduced alternatives (many of which they may not have recognized), but feel that they get back more in subsidies and special privileges.

3. The last-ditch argument for government is that it’s necessary for the protection of life and property.

Governments don’t protect you. They can’t. All they can do is promise to make the person who hurts you pay for his crime—if they can catch him.

What is Government?

The Government Traps ensnare many people because they never stop to recognize what a government is. It’s an agency of coercion that’s accepted as necessary by most people within its area of influence.

a realistic understanding of government keeps you out of the Government Traps.

There’s nothing to be gained by trying to make the government more efficient, by trying to get the “bad guys” out and the “good guys” in. The government has nothing to offer you.


Back: Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 6: The Group Trap
Next: Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 8: The Despair Trap

Categories: Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

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