By Franklin Sanders
In his book, Stealth of Nations, Robert Neuwirth mentions that the French call the underground economy “System D,” from a French word for people who take charge, run the obstacles, and get things done.
Here in America, it’s time to install System D. The system we’ve got has stopped working.
Rights come from God
You’ll never hear me talk about “natural rights” because although there is a divine law discernible from nature, it is only a pale outline of what the Scriptures reveal. Besides, generally the only “rights” most men exercise by nature is their “right” to knock somebody on the head and rifle his pockets.
But rights are grounded in the Creator’s eternal will, as Blackstone asserted, or they have no ground at all. Those rights are found in the Ten Commandments. Each prohibition enjoins a duty as well, and any duty God commands becomes a “right” against all men.
For instance, the right to property is grounded in the 8th Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” for it embraces also the duty to protect and promote the property and well being of others. The 6th commandment founds the right to life, for the commandment “Thou shalt do no murder” means also that you must respect and protect all life. The 7th Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” forbids adultery and enjoins chastity, but it also protects someone’s wife or husband from the assaults of others.
Clearly, rights conferred by God cannot be alienated by any government, except as punishment for crime.
Whoa! Hold on right there! The most basic right we have, the right to life, depends on our being able to support ourselves, to earn a living, to sell our labor and our produce. If we cannot work, we cannot eat, and we cannot live.
The proposition that we have a right to sell our labor and our produce is so self-evident that you wouldn’t imagine it needs any protector. In fact, the entire economy and all government in the United States is run on the presupposition that no one has a right to make a living. That’s what the income tax is all about, and all business & professional licensing.
Take me back to Tennessee
In Tennessee 1848 & 1870 constitutions, the only subjects granted to state taxation are “merchants, peddlers, and privileges.” Merchants were viewed as a necessary evil, mischievous middlemen whose trading was nothing more than useless trafficking. Existing by the toleration of the commonwealth, they must still be controlled by taxation. Peddlers were strangers whose honesty was questionable at best, and whose dishonesty was unpunishable because they generally decamped before their defalcations were discovered. Privileges were granted by the commonwealth, and therefore the commonwealth had a right to part of their profit.
“Privileges” were newly added to the 1848 constitution, and the General Assembly nearly caused a revolution and generated many supreme court cases when it declared that “keeping a standing jack” was a “privilege.” Keeping a standing jack means keeping a male donkey at stud to breed horses, which a fourth of the folks in Tennessee did. The Supreme Court opened the door to unceasing mischief with a decision that said that the General Assembly under the constitution could declare anything a privilege, but it trusted the voters to make sure they didn’t carry that too far.
We are still paying for that mistake. They ought to have marched on Nashville then and sown it with salt.
However, other than a few outstandingly noxious acts like taxing jackasses, the economy and all professions were basically free, except for taverns, because folks in taverns had a bad habit of getting drunk and cutting and shooting each other. All the “occupations of common right,” which included pretty much every labor, trade, or undertaking you can imagine, from banking (yes!) to barbering to ditch digging, were open to all comers, even what are now styled the learned professions.
How did that change?
How did that all change? I’ve read hundreds of legal cases from the 19th century, and I can only tell you that the watershed was the War For Southern Independence. Before that war, state supreme courts and the U.S. supreme courts were tenderly jealous of every man’s rights and limited state interference. After the war, pretty much anything the state wanted to do was OK by the judges.
The big push for state control came with the rise of Marxism/socialism and its lame cousin, progressivism. First came the anti-trust legislation in the late 1880s, instigated no doubt by the predations of arrogant big business. Slowly that philosophy of control moved down the food chain, as it always does, till it reached the lowest & least.
At the beginning of the 20th Century progressivism made huge inroads with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) enshrining the principle that government knew better than consumers what they could put into their bodies.
Remember that until congress passed that act, anybody could walk into a pharmacy and buy all the laudanum (tincture of opium) or anything else he wanted. Within the next decade the federal government ratcheted up the war on drugs, finally passing Prohibition in 1918. World War I gave the socialists their first big chance to control the economy for a Really Good Purpose.
After the war the rise of fascism, called in its Italian homeland “corporativism,” promoted a fully state run economy. This brand of socialism formed every working craft and industry into “corporations,” each supposedly exercising a stake in the government. In practice, however, the Fascist Party exercised all power.
Hard for us to grasp today what a mighty grip fascist socialism took upon the minds of that day. In the mid 1920s and early 1930s, it looked successful. Roosevelt adopted Mussolini’s tricks in the United States, cartelizing industries and agriculture and taking over control of vast swaths of the economy. From that era date the licensing laws at the state level which converted occupations of common right into cartelized trades controlled by the state. Think “board of cosmetology.”
To reduce opposition, generally those already practicing the trade were “grandfathered” in, and then the pretense maintained that the common law right to practice that trade had been abolished somehow. But how? By the state’s mere say-so? They can take away what God himself has given?
Moreover, for anyone to assert those rights and fight that war through the courts was a battle beyond the psychic and financial reach of most people. They just paid the fee and took the license. The right didn’t disappear, though, mind you. Once those people applied for permission to practice a trade, their signature on that contract made them liable to observe all the state’s rules. They voluntarily gave up their right to practice their calling.
Along the way states hungry for more revenue adopted driver licensing (whatever happened to Magna Carta’s right to travel?) and business licensing. Of course, the feds, ever eager to right all wrongs, have since Roosevelt’s incursions piled on in thousands of ways, and extended to commerce clause to everything interstate, in-state and on the planet Mars. They now tell you how much water you can use to flush your toilet, how long to cook your hamburgers, and what kind of shower fixtures to use.
The rights aren’t dead
This briefly describes how we arrived at a point where no real money circulates, banks & the central bank create money out of thin air, governments try to run the economy, and more than half the people in the U.S. draw their income from some level of government. This is how we arrived at a point where this system they have created has become so overloaded with debt and dead weight that it is grinding to a halt before our eyes.
I have a better idea: System D. Let ’em have it. Let all the people who want to live in that dying and wretched economy stay there. Let it die all by itself, as it surely will. For me and mine, I am building the economy – and the world – I want to see, not later, not after the collapses, not when the ship comes in, but right here and now. Live free or die.
I’m not talking about doing anything illegal – necessarily – but then, I don’t see exercising rights given to me by God as illegal. I am talking about working with people whose word is their bond, who wouldn’t call a shyster lawyer if a police car ran over them, and whose handshake is better than any contract ever written. People with the law written on their hearts.
I’m talking about working around regulations when I can, or going where they aren’t. Here’s an example. Our church wanted to build a sanctuary. Susan showed the plans to an architect from Memphis, and he said, “You can’t build that for less than $500,000.”
“Oh, yes, we can,” she replied, “We have to. We don’t have that much.”
County we live in has no building code. We don’t have to build halls 40’ wide to make room for handicapped people in Rascals. We didn’t build ramps. If somebody in a wheelchair wants to come to our church, we’ll pick ‘em up and carry them up the stairs, gladly.
Because there was no building code, we could use full dimension Amish sawmill green lumber and avoid numerous other building code sillinesses. Of course we got professional and competent electricians to wire the place, and plumbers to plumb it. Think about it. The presupposition behind all building codes is that left to yourself, you would build a place that would catch fire and kill you & your family.
We built the building for $285,000. Does that give you a flavor of how MUCH waste the “official” economy causes?
So from here on out, I’m looking for those people who want to build that new economy: System D. I’m going to work with them, and buy from them, and sell to them, and if something goes wrong, we’ll work it out together. And if that integrity threatens the stability of the government, well, I reckon they can come get me. Won’t be anything new.
Meantime, a new world is going up.
Used by permission. Subscribe to the Moneychanger’s daily commentary by dropping your email address at Franklin’s website, the-moneychanger.com. Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focuses on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. F$99 a year. Franklin is a trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. F. Sanders, The Moneychanger, P.O. Box 178, Westpoint, Tenn. 38486 Tel. 888-218-9226.