François-René Rideau

The myth of "public" and "private"




This text has appeared on «Libres!!» opus 2, an anthology of Libertarian articles, in French, where it was published as article #42, pp. 107—108.



"The 'private sector' of the economy is, in fact, the voluntary sector; and the 'public sector' is, in fact, the coercive sector." ― Henry Hazlitt


The official propaganda constantly talks about "public" and "private" activities, and polarizes debates in terms of "for" or "against" one or the other. It's all a manipulation. If you accept the terms of these debates, you have already lost, and you were fooled beyond everything that matters. The important distinction, from the moral — and hence the economic — point of view, is that between voluntary, consensual interactions on the one hand, and forced, coerced interactions on the other.

The distinction between "public" and "private" is but a trick of tax accounting: a gang that currently possesses supremacy of the use of force, that goes by the gang name "State" claims that they are "us", especially with regards to those of their actions that lead to losing huge amounts of money. Their actions that earn money on the other hand remain "private". But the legal monopolies offered to so-called "private" companies, and the other emoluments that accrue to the state-men are none the less the fruit of force exerted against the customers and tax-payers who foot the bill, as well as those consumers excluded from receiving the services they desire, as well as those producers prohibited from providing competing services. Similarly, a person whose job is controlled by a "public" monopoly may be offering a service that would be voluntarily purchased even without a monopoly, and would be both more efficient and better paid if they were not hampered and corrupted by a bureaucratic apparatus.

This distinction between "public" and "private" is an exercise in accounting fallacy: a fallacy that consists in substituting an accounting event (comparison between "before" and "after") for an economic computation (comparison between several future alternatives at a given time). Now, never can an entry on an accounting book possibly reveal whether the corresponding choice was worth more than those other alternatives that were not chosen! On the other hand, the threat of violence inherent in any action by the State and its "private" minions reveals by its very existence that the choice was detrimental to whoever has to be compelled to agree — the use of force is a negative-sum game that necessarily harms more the victims more than it benefits the winners. The purpose of this fallacy is to deceive the victims of this "legal" plunder, so that they may more easily let themselves be fleeced, or even better, may each help the tormentor fleece the other victims.

If by "private" one means that which falls within decisions taken by an individual, in one's own interest, whether one is narrow-minded or broad-minded — then everything is "private"! Acting in the name of the "public" is but a pretense by which a gang seizes political power: the state-men, politicians, bureaucrats, or managers of privileged companies and institutions, grab and control resources created by other people, and establish their own legal unaccountability with respect of the consequences of their decisions. What the word "public" hides is thus the denial of property rights, a regime of insecurity under which producers do not enjoy the fruits of their labor, but may at any moment be the prey of official predators.

And if by "public" one means that which falls within actions that affect the public at large, then everything is "public": every self-respecting human sees beyond his own person, and has ambitions — that's what drives him to act, to succeed. And every honest action, being a positive-sum game, happens to the benefit of all, whereas every dishonest action, being a negative-sum game, happens to the general detriment. There again, the equation made between the actions of the state-men and that which benefits the public is a double deceit: for it is indeed the "private" actions, those that are consensual, that benefit the public, whereas the so-called "public" actions, based upon coercion by the "State" are by that very reason necessarily harmful, if not in their purpose, at least in the coercive means employed to back them.

Besides, if one were to believe that the State is the source of any and all social good, whence would be the origin of this desire to help the masses amongst the state-men? Are they from a superior race of altruistic angels, destined to reign for a thousand years on the vile degenerate egoistic wretches who constitute the "public"? That would be a curious claim, one in glaring contradiction with the travesty called "democracy" from which our elites claim to draw their legitimacy. No, actually, the State is filled with narcissists, social climbers, psychopathic power-hungry liars, who do nothing to benefit the public unless they are compelled to do it by the sheer weight of public opinion — and who still do it in a way that benefit themselves who control the details more than the public, that mostly sees but their propaganda.

Most people are essentially honest and benevolent producers — or else no society would ever have been possible. Certainly, everyone may be tempted at times to behave as a predator, but victims defending themselves or honest people bringing reprisals keeps everyone in check. Some people are without scruples, but a monopoly of power will precisely attract them like flies, and they hasten to join the ranks of unaccountable bureaucracy and institutional parasitism.

In the end, the only question is that of accountability: That those who do well, with their own resources, be rewarded by the intrinsic worth of their work and the "voluntary" gratefulness of other people, here is a virtuous circle, that of economic behavior. That whose who are not kept accountable of their actions on their own resources be rewarded for their talent to grab the resources of others — there is a vicious circle, that of political behavior: robbery, violence, coercion.

Politics is always more spectacular, more flamboyant, it always is the one that occupies the front of the scene, and organizes the propaganda to its own glory. But it is a parasite. One can only steal values but created by others. Economics, that is never showed but to be denounced, is much larger and always more productive than politics is predatory... or else, there will be an inevitable decline, de-civilization.

The myth of "public" anything is but the forceful establishment of unaccountability — but the very worse is when this Establishment takes over the minds and corrupts the souls, and undermines the very foundations of civilization. The past century displayed many an example of a country that reverted to barbarianism. Enjoy whatever remains of your country, it will not last very long!


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