If the Government Does X, It Is Called Y

Young people and foreigners who are unfamiliar with the conduct of public affairs in the United States sometimes have difficulty in decoding the rhetoric used to describe government actions in this country. As a public service to such political novices, I have drawn up a brief guide whose entries match a particular government action, objective, or condition with the terms commonly used to describe it in the news media and in polite conversation. Simply apply the rule: If the government does X, it is called Y.

X = extortion; Y = taxation

X = robbery; Y = taxation

X = unjust (and often pointless or destructive) compulsion of innocent persons; Y = regulation

X = kidnapping; Y = imprisonment of persons convicted of [victimless] crimes

X = torture; Y = enhanced interrogation techniques

X = imperialism; Y = global peacekeeping operations

X = spying on citizens without cause; Y = homeland security operations

X = sexually assaulting and battering airline passengers — men, women, and children alike; Y = airline security operations

X = herding, stripping, and irradiating airline passengers — men, women, and children alike; Y = airline security operations

X = accepting bribes; Y = accepting campaign contributions

X = propagandizing the general public; Y = holding official press conferences

X = indoctrination in servility and loyalty to the state; Y = public education

X = savage, pointless massacre of foreigners; Y = national defense

X = unjust enrichment of private individuals and corporations; Y = subsidies

X = beating, tasing, and shooting innocuous persons; Y = making arrests

X = debasement of the currency; Y = quantitative easing

X = fostering systemic economic booms and busts; Y = monetary policy

X = fostering systemic economic booms and busts; Y = fiscal policy

X = wasting and destroying natural resources; Y = implementing conservation policies

X = suppressing liberties on unjust and baseless grounds; Y = implementing environmental policies

X = serving the interests of the Israeli state; Y = carrying out Middle East policies

X = maintaining a police state; Y = maintaining law and order, public health, and national security

X = lying about everything of consequence; Y = keeping the public informed

X = robbing productive Peter to pay unproductive Paul; Y = maintaining the safety net

X = murderous, blundering, destructive global intervention; Y = U.S. foreign policy

X = suffering blowback; Y = being attacked because foreigners hate us for our freedoms

X = unjustly enriching Goldman Sachs et alia; Y = preventing another Great Depression

X = deferring and worsening the inevitable day of reckoning; Y = stabilizing financial and housing markets

X = rigging the game to ensure the reelection of incumbent members of Congress; Y = democracy in action

X = bribing or intimidating foreign governments to assist big multinational corporations; Y = U.S. foreign policy

X = gratifying one’s megalomania and feathering one’s nest at public expense; Y = public service

X = war; Y = peace

X = slavery; Y = freedom

X = ignorance; Y = strength

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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