By Robert Higgs • Monday August 31, 2015 8:23 PM PDT •
In the USA, thousands of distinct actions that violate no one’s natural rights have been declared illegal. Often the law provides for draconian punishment of those who violate such unjust laws. Sometimes, especially in cases involving alleged violation of tax laws or drug laws, the government may seize an alleged violator’s assets, making it impossible for him to mount an effective defense, conduct a business, or even live a normal life. In this perverse legal environment, ordinary people know, unless that are especially dense and ignorant, that the law’s hammer may fall on them at any time, regardless of how scrupulously they have conducted themselves and their affairs.
In such circumstances, most people experience a certain amount of apprehension, and many live in stark fear that the government may at any time ruin their lives. So, just as the government diminishes people’s well-being by taking their money in the guise of taxes, fees, and fines, so it equally or perhaps even more greatly diminishes their well-being by generating a pervasive apprehension or fear in their minds. We can all recall accounts of how people languishing under Communist dictatorships lived in fear of the “midnight knock on the door.” But a political and legal regime need not be Communist to have a similar effect on people’s peace of mind.
There is a loss of well-being as a result of pecuniary taxes and other takings, and there is similar loss of well-being as a result of merely living in a society where “justice” is a joke and the authorities act arbitrarily and capriciously to a great extent. People in the USA today live in such a depraved legal environment. Their quality of life suffers even if the law’s hammer never actually falls on them. One never knows when he has been or might soon be placed in the government’s cross-hairs. So far as the logic of the situation is concerned, I can’t help but think of the concentration camp in the film Schindler’s List, whose commandant used the Jews confined there for target practice.