We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

Government law has the same relationship to law as government money has to money.

– Jan C. Lester, last night at Christian Michel’s, during the Q&A following a talk by Mikolaj Barczentewicz entitled “Do we have a duty to obey the law?” (Here is some linkage to a performance Lester gave in 2012 to Libertarian Home.)

This is only my recollection the day after, but I reckon the above is about right.

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • RRS

    Consider two forms of social order: observed order and desired order.

    Laws are a description (in some circumstances a definition) of observed order.

    Rules, regulations (legislation) are descriptions of desired order.

    It is the relationship of the individual to the form of social order, whether it be the observed order or some desired order that will determine the obligations of the individual with respect to either laws or legislation.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    And yet, if I hand government money to the barman, he gives me beer in return.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    Government law and money are the only such most of us have ever known, though.

  • RRS

    Dear Sanity,

    No such a Thing!

  • RRS


    I should explain.

    I take it that “Government Law” (legislation etc.) has no more “validity” than “Government Money” ( the “Government” really has NO money -it’s OPM).

    But, we all “know” the impacts of other Law from the order of things. We all “know” of the power of exchanges from our own efforts, the things in which we “store value,” and the ways in which we keep track (account).

  • RRS


    Are you really handing “government money” to the barman; or are you following Bastiat in exchanging service for service. That the “symbols” of exchange (legal tender) are provided through a bank (checks, credit-debit card) denominated or represented by specie or paper authorized by Government does not make it government money.

    I think the point is – the Government does not have any money of its own only what it takes from us. There is no government money.

    There is no “government Law,” other than the power it takes from us by legislation (rules and regulation).

    There is a function of Governments through which WE provide means to enforce those true laws which define the observed order (No murder, theft, fraud, etc.).

  • Tedd

    Perhaps I’m interpreting this the wrong way, but to me the phrase “government law” means statutory law, as opposed to common law. So by that interpretation it’s not at all true that “government law” is the only law most of us have ever known. We are as aware, if not even more aware in some ways, of common law than statutory law.

    But I suppose you could make the case that the phrase “government law” applies to both statutory law and common law since, in most countries most of the time, the courts are funded by and in some sense controlled by the government.

  • Alsadius

    I will agree with that statement literally. Government law and government money are both the most obvious, most important, and(for all their flaws) least problematic methods of creating law and money.

  • Paul Marks

    The principle is true.

    As Carl Menger pointed out – money starts off as a commodity (gold, silver, salt….) that people value and later choose to use as money, and then the government comes along….. (by the way this does not mean that private conmen can not abuse money also – government is the principle, but NOT the only source of such criminality).

    Law is the same – both the Common Law (let us leave aside the perversions of Maitland and co who pretended that all the term “Common Law” meant-means is “the law the King imposes over the whole Realm – not just part of it”) and old Roman law (from which the later codes developed) started off from what people (ordinary people) held to be crimes – i.e. aggression against their body or goods. Then the state…….

    In civil law also – the rules of business-property dealings were worked out by people engaged in trade, they were later “incorporated” into government law (in Scotland this process was going on as late as the 19th century).

    Of course the state has transformed both criminal law and civil law – (for example in Sweden the state has, basically, made violent gang rape a minor crime – operating under the false philosophy that humans are not beings with the capacity to CHOOSE between good and evil, hence that crime is the “fault of society” and people from “different cultures” must be treated with understanding – cultural relativism and the denial of natural law OBJECTIVE right and wrong).

    Also civil law (the law covering business and property dealings) has been (and is being)transformed by the state. Turned from understandable principles (based on human reason in the light of experience) to tens of thousands of pages of complex (and often contradictory) regulations.

    But (like the monetary perversions by the state and by private conmen) all this is NOT a good development.

  • RRS in his last comment, nails it on at least two levels that I can see right now – well done, sir.

  • The terms need to be defined, by ‘government money’ does the writer mean money belong government? Or does he mean fiat money created by government decree?

    I took him to be taking the second meaning, but some commenters here are assuming the first.

    Two very different discussions ensue.

  • RRS


    Getting away from Pollock & Maitland this might fit the discussion:

    To have a clear understanding of LAW it must be distinguished from RULES OF POLICY. That requires a recognition of the distinctions of the functions of POLICY in attempts to DETERMINE courses of human conduct from those of LAW which are to EXAMINE human conduct, and its results, as they occur, to determine, not the conduct, but whether it meets, or fails to meet the levels performance of obligations commonly recognized and accepted within the social order.

  • RRS


    Government law has the same relationship to law as government money has to money.

    A reply to the query: “Does he mean money belonging to the Government” requires acceptance of a particular understanding of “belonging.” That turns upon the same understanding of “Fiat;” authority (power) – that it shall be so.

    How would anything accepted as performing the major functions of money come to “belong” to a government? If “belong” means within the control of, that is roughly equivalent to the control over what shall be so (Fiat).

    Either of those conditions is brought about by “legislation” or Dictat; neither of which is LAW.

    “Do we have a duty to obey the law?”

    Thus it is “government law” not “government money” that seems at issue.


  • Paul Marks

    Cats – what is meant by “government money” in this context, is indeed fiat money (although it does not start of as officially fiat – governments, right up to the early 1970s claimed to have a commodity to cover their notes, it was “just” [officially] that ordinary people were not allowed to exchange their notes for this commodity, governments could still [officially] to the American government and ask for gold till 1971).

    In law what is meant by “government law” can be the government enforcing sanctions (punishments what ordinary people understand to be crimes – both the first Roman thinkers and Common Law thinkers (such as Bracton) understood this. Later (in various complex ways) both Roman rulers and British (and other modern) rulers came to believe they “made” law – their WILL decided what was and what was not a “crime”,

    As RRS points out – if the WILL of the ruler (or rulers)is “law” then the distinction between law and policy collapses.

  • Richard Thomas

    What Paul says above is correct. I think it’s important to realize that when the US (and other countries) went off the gold standard, they effectively stole all that gold from people (and countries and other entities) holding those notes. Not just metaphorically but in a very real way.

    Most would not notice the difference of course. At least, not at first.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Mr Thomas – and in the United States the theft was very direct. The Federal government stole (with threat of violence) privately owned in 1933 and voided private contracts that mentioned specific weights and purity of gold. The end of the Constitution of the United States was really in 1935 when the Supreme Court refused (by five to four) to enforce the Constitution – but the people (not just the elite) also failed. The people reelected Franklin Roosevelt (the man who had used the Constitution of the United State to wipe his backside) in 1936 by 60% to 40%.