Politicians and lawyers pretend that they are important people doing important work. But often they’re important because they are parasites. They feed off others, while creating no wealth of their own.

We all complain about businesses we don’t like, but because business is voluntary, every merchant must offer us something we want in order to get our money. But that’s not true for politicians and their businessman cronies. They get to use government force to grab our money.

Those people who take instead of producing things make up “the parasite economy,” says Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz. It’s my favorite chapter in his new book, The Libertarian Mind. The parasite economy, says Boaz, thrives wherever “you use the law to get something you couldn’t get voluntarily in the marketplace.”

That includes much of the military-industrial complex, “green” businesses that prosper only because politicians award them subsidies, banks that can borrow cheaply because they’re labeled “too big to fail,” and—unfortunately—me.

All of us are parasites if government granted us special deals. Some parasites (not me) lobbied for their deal. “You might use a tariff to prevent people from buying from your foreign competitors or get the government to give you a subsidy,” says Boaz. “You might get the government to pass a law that makes it difficult for your competitors to compete with you.”

This quickly creates a culture where businesses conclude that the best way to prosper is not by producing superior goods, but by lobbying. Politicians then tend to view those businesses the way gangsters used to view neighborhood stores, as targets to shake down.

Says Boaz, “You have politicians and bureaucrats and lobbyists coming around to these companies and saying, hey, nice little company you’ve got there, too bad if something happened to it. … They start suggesting that maybe you need to make some campaign contributions, maybe hire some lobbyists, and maybe we’ll run an anti-trust investigation, and maybe we’ll limit your supply of overseas engineers. And all of these things then drag these companies into Washington’s lobbying culture.”

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