A Canadian's perspective from a few years further down the road to serfdom:
One of the key functions of modern government is to reduce, by law, the options people have, especially when they are facing challenges to survival.
A classic example of this is socialized medicine. Like all socialist systems, government health care creates big shortages and surpluses, beyond the reach of market correction: in this case, serious shortages of doctors, nurses and essential equipment, balanced by huge surpluses of administration and unspecialized support staff.
By contrast, one need never go far to find a dentist or a veterinarian in Canada, because these fields have not been fully "socialized."
So if you have a toothache, or your cat is ill, you know where to go. If the case is serious, you hardly need an appointment. It will cost you or your insurer money, of course, but within reason, and there will be no waiting lists, or all-night encampments in a crowded lounge outside the emergency ward, among the moaning and wheezing. (Then later, the waiting room inside.)
If you need serious tests, because you are stressed-out by medical symptoms, you may wait for a very long time. If you have money, and are still mobile (unlike so many of our old and ill), you may consider crossing the border. But in principle, in Canada, you wait your turn -- and if symptoms get worse you can try emergency. You might be extremely willing to pay for the tests, but the government won't let you. You could, in more than theory, die, because the government has restricted your options.
Guns are another good example. There are places on the surface of this earth -- and some of them are in our cities -- where life is fairly dangerous. Things may happen that have happened to others, and the police cannot be everywhere at once. The wisdom of our ancestors, not only Stateside but here, was to allow the honest citizen to carry. Gun accidents happen, as car accidents happen, but the citizen was granted a powerful "option" against assault, mugging, robbery and worse. This in turn reduced the options of potential assailants, muggers, robbers, etc.
The right to life, which necessarily includes the right to defend your life when it is threatened, underpins both freedom and order. The ham fist of government chips away at both, when it employs the implements of social engineering.
But survival does not come down only to select, momentary, life-threatening situations. The whole Nanny State was, after all, erected on the premise that someone must take care of the poor and helpless -- or more precisely, that this immortal task should be taken away from religious and other "faith-based" institutions. The vagaries of private donation -- in goods, services, time, money and devoted love -- were replaced by bureaucratic appropriation through taxes, and the love that comes from bureaucratic decree. From there, the state spread into taking over everything.
My third example of the withdrawn "option" is something that will be coming more clearly into view as our economy absorbs the shocks administered by the international financial crisis, and foolish profligate government responses ("bailouts" and "stimulus packages" on an unprecedented scale). Whole nation states may become effectively bankrupt, and thus unable to pay out welfare and other customary benefits without triggering hyperinflation by simply printing money. (We've been here before; we learned nothing.)
Labour law sets "minimum wages," which hardly make a difference in good times, but must be very constraining in bad.
Beyond such obvious legislation, the Nanny State has created an incredibly cumbersome apparatus to regulate the labour market.
The tax system burdens employers with huge costs -- both direct in cash and indirect through the cost of administrative compliance -- that are invisible to most employees. Each sees his salary, and the deductions taken from it directly; he does not begin to see the other costs associated with employing him, unless he is of an unusually curious, imaginative and generous disposition.
Compounding this, feminist developments in family law, over the last generation, have added a new layer of garnishes that trump labour law -- together with the bureaucracies to impose them -- as the social costs from the destruction of the family are monetized and arbitrarily reassigned. Males, the traditional bread-winners, especially in hard times, are often bankrupted by spousal and child support payments set at whimsical levels by ideologized family courts. This prevents them from, for example, supporting aging parents and the new families they have formed.
My question for today is, what will the citizen do when he has lost his job, can no longer depend on the "social safety net," and needs to earn money any way he can? Forget the minimum wage -- just money for immediate food and shelter.
We are presented, it seems to me, with two terrible "options." The first is, that honest citizen methodically continues to obey all laws, and he and his immediate dependents quietly starve. And the second is, the entire economy is metamorphosed into a black market, carrying society into real lawlessness, as the Nanny State crumbles under its own weight.
Perhaps my prognosis is too dire.
My two cents?
Bring it on.
"Worse is better", to use a quote attributed to Lenin.
What folks forget when they use the perjorative term "black market" is that for all of their potential risks (caveat emptor, anyone?), black markets are in fact free markets, where buyer and seller voluntarily meet and exchange value.
I'll take my chances with my fellow citizens, rather than the multiple hordes of rogues, charlatans, and incompetents currently employed by my extracted-by-force taxes who claim to be "looking out for my interests."
A virulent pox on all of them.