|Public Goods Fallacies |
False Justifications For Government
This march 2003 article develops the arguments underlying section 2 of my speech Government is the Rule of Black Magic: On Human Sacrifices and Other Modern Superstitions.
|1 Public Goods|
The most popular tentative justification of government in rational terms is Public Goods theory and its variants , whether presented from a utilitarian point of view (often with the help of its econometric toolbox), or from a moral point of view: some activity is of a special nature or has a special importance, and therefore must be managed by a central agency ``in the interest of the public´´. Without analyzing the details for the moment, suffice it to say that all other justifications of government somehow boil down to a more particular or more general case of the Public Goods argument. The ``public good´´ considered may be some form of service related to security (police, justice, army), infrastructure (transportation, telecommunications, education, health), ``harmonization´´ in some matter (information, education, language, industry standards), certification (identity, land registry, verification of conformity to standards), etc.
Unhappily, many libertarians concede some ``public goods´´ to the statists, but then they are on a slippery slope, for there is no reason to stop the public goods argument to any particular service. To paraphrase Emile Faguet: minarchists are libertarians who do not have the courage to accept the full consequences of their ideas; anarchists are uncompromising libertarians. Indeed, using arguments of the ``public goods´´ type, government can intervene into just any domain — and once it does, it will make sure that the domain is so messed up that, by the same argument, it will have to extend its grasp over it until the domain is both completely under its control and completely messed up. But of course, intervention is based on the premise that government intervention is useful, to begin with — and this is precisely the point that statists posit as a petition of principle; it is precisely the point that needs to be disputed.
A common confusion is to fail to distinguish ``government´´ as a monopoly of force from ``government´´ as an organization of force. In this article, we are using the word ``government´´ in the first meaning, that of a monopoly of force. ``Government´´ in the second meaning, that is, organization of force, always exists, just like ``the market´´ always exists; it may be simple or complex, it may be structured in a variety of ways, but there is no question being ``for´´ or ``against´´ it; the question is about individuals being free or subjected, about there being a monopolies and privileges, or there being a free market. Libertarians support freedom, in the way that force is organized just like in all other matters.
Here is a brief review of the justifications given by statists to argue for the necessity or utility of government.
|2 The Externalities Fallacy|
The Externalities Theory of ``public goods´´ states that some activities intrinsically imply externalities , and that government is a magic solution to managing these externalities. Actually, government is but a way to coercively concentrate externalities, from lots of small, manageable ones, into the huge and overwhelming externality of choosing a ``good´´ government, which turns out to be completely unmanageable .
Actually, governments create new externalities. Indeed, an externality always corresponds to either the lack of definition of a formal property right, or to the lack of enforcement of an existing property right, or to the contradictory enforcement of overlapping property rights. In as much as governments coercively impose their monopoly on the definition and enforcement of new and old property rights, they are the cause of any lasting externality. Governments prevent the use of natural mechanisms by which property rights emerge and externalities disappear: homesteading and the common law. Whenever government defines a rights protection policy or lack thereof, it makes the protection services stray away from what market forces would lead to, overprotecting some properties, and underprotecting other properties. It thus creates monopolies and hidden protectionist subsidies to the overprotected privileged ones, and at the same time creates the Tragedy of the Commons and a hidden taxation to the underprotected victims of its policies — in both cases, it generates a dynamics of plunder, whereby people are incited to lobby for ever more protection, all the while being discouraged from respecting underprotected properties, so that these underprotected properties will be more and more overexploited.
As for the way externalities are treated by governments, it is remarkable that in democracies, protectionist laws against political competition from emerging parties are welcome as a way to secure that the will of the people will prevail, and to guarantee the power of the people against the power of money and lobbying. Actually, political protectionism increases the power of the established parties over the people, and replaces public campaigning based on the interest of the people with private lobbying based on the interests of the established politicians and of those who can have them vote protectionist laws in their interest (or have to pay racket protection to the politicians for the politicians not to vote laws against their interest). What the collectivists are actually doing is to replace private people responsibly launching public advertisement campaigns with shadow agencies lobbying political powers that be, and with irresponsible political parties directing propaganda at the public. Now, private advertisers can be sued for fraud if they breach their promises; they must fund their campaign on the expected marginal increase in the revenues of their own legitimate activity. On the contrary, the political advertisers constantly lie; they fund their campaign with taxes levied on the population and with the sale of protectionist favors to various political lobbyists. Thus once again, politics does not remove the ``problems´´ of a free society, but actually concentrates them and amplifies them.
|3 The Game Theory Fallacy|
The Game Theory version of ``public goods´´ similarly considers government as an external all-knowing benevolent God, that will help people choose the average best scenario in interactions modelled after simple mathematical ``games´´. But if we are to correctly use Game Theory, we must acknowledge government as made of people with their own self-interest who must be considered as self-interested players among other players; the only particular characteristic of political action is that government agents have the power of legal coercion, which in Game Theory translates into their playing negative-sum games of their choice.
In Game Theory, simple mathematical ``games´´ such as the prisoner's dilemma or the ``chicken´´ race, model situations where there is a potential benefit for players in finding a way to coordinate their action. All the ``theorems´´ about such games merely restate in formal terms the informal hypotheses that were put in the model. It certainly does not follow that government is the right way to achieve this coordination — though such is precisely the non sequitur claim of statists. Actually, it is possible to apply game theory to compare coordination through government coercion with coordination through market competition; and this exercise in game theory will easily show how dreadful the effects of government intervention are.
Coordination is not something that magically happens, without cost, by divine intervention, just because the playing parties agree that coordination would be a good thing if it happened. And if it did, no coordinator would be required to begin with. Coordination is thus a service, and this service is worth whatever benefit the coordinated players get that they would not get if left uncoordinated. There remains to determine the most cost-effective way to achieve this coordination — assuming there exists such a cost-effective way.
In a free market, the playing parties are free to choose a coordinator. Their interest will thus be to find a coordinator that will provide the best value for his cost. If there exists a service provider that can indeed bring coordination at a cost less than what coordination is worth, then the interests of all concerned will converge toward this coordination happening. If the costs of enforcing coordination actually overwhelm the benefits of this coordination, then the interests of all concerned will converge toward this coordination not happening. All in all, the free market, i.e. the freedom for the players to choose who will coordinate if anyone, ensures that coordination will happen if it is good, at the best cost.
Let us now consider the case of government as a coordinator. Just like any private service provider — for government is made of private individuals, just like any institution — government is a player that will maximize its interests. The only thing that distinguishes government from a free market coordinator is that government detains the means of coercion, with which it can exclude or discourage any competing service providers. Thus, at equilibrium, a government will monopolize the coordination of a game; it will then reap off most benefits of the game, leaving the players with just what it takes for them to make the game profitable. In an opt-in situation, where people have the choice to either call for government coordination or relinquish coordination, the government will leave to the players barely more profits than the ambient marginal interest rate (with respect to stakes invested in the game) — and that only if this cooperation proves profitable to all concerned despite the monopoly cost of government. Things are much worse in an opt-out situation, where a government can coerce people into accepting its protection services for some pattern of activities. In such situation, government will not only reap out all the benefits of coordination, but will also go further and charge a surcharge that makes players worse off than if they had not played. This surcharge will indeed increase until it reaches the normal interest rate for the transaction costs of opting out of government intervention (by emigrating, going into civil disobedience, hiding into clandestinity, lobbying the established powers to promote one's interest, seizing political power democratically, making a revolution, or whatever). And the more powerful the government, the higher are both this cost and the interest rate.
In the end, what game theory proves — if that was needed at all — is that coercive power benefits whoever holds it to the detriment of whoever endures it — which isn't exactly big news. Actually, game theory is but a way to formalize things in mathematical terms, but can say nothing less and nothing more than could be said without it. The same common sense reasoning that is required to see how the qualitative mathematical formalism does or does not map to reality can be used directly to reason about reality, without the intermediate mathematical jargon. As usual, mathematics is used in a pseudo-scientific way to inspire awe in people who are presented with complex-looking models. This awe is used to hide the fact that the very same old fallacies are being presented but with a different vocabulary. Oh, and by the way, as far as argument from authority goes, I am a mathematician born and raised in a family of mathematicians.
|4 The Impossibility To Exclude Fallacy|
With the Impossibility To Exclude and Impossibility to Divide theories, many economists define ``public goods´´ as goods from which the exclusion of third parties is allegedly impossible, or the division of which into individual shares is impossible. They then introduce the notion that government is a magic solution to manage these goods and has a ``natural monopoly´´ on those goods. This ``natural monopoly´´ of course is nothing else than the allegedly impossible exclusion of people who will not fit government-established rules, and the allocation of shares of the allegedly ``indivisible´´ common good according to the government-imposed criteria.
Now, the very notion of the government allocating splits of the common good, and excluding people from it are contradictory to the premises that were meant to justify government intervention to begin with. The allocation of quotas, the rationing, the toll booths, etc., set up by the government prove that the ``common good´´ was not indivisible after all. The exclusion measures taken by the government, such as immigration control or compulsory birth control, selective subsidizing of nationals, or the surveillance of land by armed forces, prove that exclusion from the goods is possible. All the alleged impossibilities about exclusion are but bad excuses to justify conferring to the government a monopoly on the actually possible power of exclusion.
Maybe exclusion is indeed impossible without the use of armed force, but the only reason why the use of armed forces seems impossible without government is because the premise that government should have a monopoly on the use of armed force was silently posited, from the outset, in a hugely circular reasoning: government should have a monopoly on some goods, because it has the monopoly of force — which original sin of a monopoly is admitted as necessary without justification. Once again, the government is supposed to be made of superior people, or to have some magic pixie dust, that enables it to do what is admitted to be impossible to mere mortals. And once again, we find that in the end, the magic pixie dust is nothing but the power of legal coercion — brute force.
Now, as nicely remarked by Pascal Salin, having the monopoly to decide who to accept or to exclude about the use of some good is by very definition the property right on said good; what governments actually claim under false pretense is thus the expropriation of property from its legitimate owners, to confer it to an illegitimate political body. The claims of impossibility are just a trick of prestidigitation, and it is not externalities that have been shifted and concentrated: it is actually property rights that have been stolen and concentrated into the hands of the politically strong of the moment.
|5 The Catastrophe-Prevention Fallacy|
The Catastrophe-Prevention version of ``public good´´ agitates the straw man of a simultaneous failure of all suppliers of some service to justify government intervention in the market of said service. Now, the only way that there could be a catastrophic simultaneous failure of all suppliers of said service is that there be only a one simultaneous management of all supplies by a de jure monopoly — which is precisely what government introduces.
The fallacious argument goes that when there is an extraordinary catastrophe in a particular field, then government intervention is necessary to save that field, at least until the issue clears up, and then to intervene permanently to prevent further catastrophes. But how does legal coercion actually help with saving people and helping them recovering their situation? If government already exists and has special powers of clairvoyance, why didn't it prevent the previous catastrophe, to begin with? If it couldn't prevent it, why would it be able to better avoid the next one? Finally, if some occasional catastrophes in the private sector justify taking management out of the hands of private people, don't the permanent catastrophes in the public sector justify taking management out of the hands of government? And in whose hands should things then be? The hands of a super-government? The hands of God?
A variant of the argument says that it is their special importance to the collectivity (national independence, national self-sustenance and some such), that make it necessary to manage some goods collectively by fear of mismanagement. But by considering any good or service collectively, rather than individually, just everything can be of ``national importance´´. Rothbard showed in Power and Market, that this was a fallacy of average collective choice vs marginal individual choice: If there were suddenly no more light bulbs, no more toilet paper, no more wheat, or no more hairdressers, no more bridge operators, no more toilet cleansers, then the nation would be in a sorry state indeed. But that doesn't mean we have to collectivize any of these operations. Indeed, the sudden disappearance of these goods or services doesn't correspond to any imaginable real-life event in the free market. As long as each patron of each of these activities is ready to pay a marginally profitable price for a marginal increment of the activity — i.e. as long as the activity is worth it at all —, then there will be people ready to provide the service for a profit. On the contrary, the only way that such operations could be put collectively in danger is precisely by their being collectively managed, so that bad decisions by the central administrator can ruin the whole industry.
|6 The Collective Will Fallacy|
Collective will theories, whether the democratic version of ``Will of the People´´, the nationalist version about ``Identity of the Nation´´, or the socialist version about the ``Good of Society´´, go on to suppose that individuals must be coerced into joining a particular utopia. The utopia is assumed to be good in theory, because people willingly adhere to it; yet at the same time, it is admitted in practice that people do not willingly adhere to said utopia, since they must be coerced into adhering to it.
For instance, in democracies, ``the people´´ is to be coerced to do what it is alleged to want to do but is blatantly admitted to not want at all, to begin with (or else, it wouldn't need to be coerced). Indeed, if, say, 50.1% of the population wanted to fund this or that other insurance, charity, research project, army, etc. then there's no doubt that said insurance, charity, research project, army, etc., will be abundantly funded, without the need for coercion. In a free society, each of the ``public´´ goods that a majority of the people want to fund, and even those goods that only a minority wants to fund, will be funded, by people who care, confiding their money to people that they — caring people — deem able to best provide these goods. That is, each ``public good´´, charity, or whatever, will be controlled by those responsible people who are most interested in it. In contrast, in a democracy, these goods are actually controlled by a class of politicians and public administrators, who are not checked by people who do care, but by a vast mass of people who don't care; most people are disinterested in any particular ``public good´´ or charity, and won't vote for one of the two main parties (those who have a chance of making a government) based on any particular issue. Finally, the knowledge that they will have to pay for something on which they have little control anyway makes them cease to care: they are made irresponsible, deprived from any will, by the very system that claims legitimacy from their responsibility and their will.
Similarly, a nation or collective can be good only in as much as people gladly identify to it; coercing people into some policies will only make them less prone to identify to it: though they may submit to the compulsory public role-play of abstract patriotism, they will actually retreat to their personal interest, and cut their ties to the actual people of nearby or larger neighborhood. Compulsory forms of nationalism and collectivism only replace genuine concrete love of one's neighbor by hypocritical appearance of love of an abstract entity, that only hides fear of the Power, and indifference, despise or hatred toward other people.
|7 The Broken Window Fallacy|
The Broken Window Fallacy supposes that there are some goods, ``public goods´´, that government can create out of the blue by its own sacred power of coercion. Of course, when individuals not blessed by this sacred power dare to do the same destructive and freedom-infringing things as government does to ``create´´ those goods, they are immediately spotted as criminals and treated as such — and rightly so.
Example deeds which make this double standard obvious: stopping people at arbitrary points along roads, forcing them to humiliate themselves, and levying a ``fee´´ on riches they carry; forging currency that claims to be backed on riches one owns but isn't really; compelling people into using such currency; threatening to rob, detain or kill people who do things that displease one, and enforcing one's threats if they do not abide by one's wishes; offering people ``offers they cannot refuse´´ to sell them service they don't want, with a non-satisfying quality, at a price they can't negociate; forcing people to spend their money, their lives, etc., in a war they don't want, waged in a way of which they disapprove. The only difference between these criminals and government agents is the official seal, this magic pixie dust that creates legitimacy when it is sprinkled over the worst crimes, including mass killings. This superstition was once characterized in the case of democracy with the following well-known quip:
Majority, n.: That quality that distinguishes a crime from a law.
Behind this double-standard is the fallacy of What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen: the statists will count only the ``positive effects´´ of intervention on people who benefit from it and conspicuously forget to count the negative effects on people who suffer from it — because the benefits are concentrated, whereas the cost is spread. Although the fallacy is most often used in this crude form, when confronted to its substance, statists will go a long way toward sweeping their fallacy behind the veil of complexity.
For instance, if faced with the absurdity of their broken window argument, they will quickly retreat toward a ``differential´´ version of it. In this differential version, they acknowledge that government's coercive interventions don't magically institute a spontaneous generation of goods for free, and that government services are to be paid at a hefty price; but then promptly assert that irresponsible government officials endowed with coercive power can somehow take better decisions than responsible citizens (probably thanks to some magic moral purification that is brought by their coercive power). The underlying argument is still the very same magic creation of riches through coercive destruction — but it has been pushed back behind a thickening veil of complexity. And of course, when an increasing complexity makes arguments either way inconclusive, they will victoriously claim that their case was established, by petition of principle.
Keynesians take the fallacy one step further: when faced with sufficient evidence (which they will never be honest enough to be the first to bring forward), they will not deny that the way their equations are utter nonsense when applied to meaningful, understandable, quantities. They will just evade the obvious falsity of their equations as applied to any understandably meaningful measurements, by claiming that their equations should only be applied to special ``aggregate´´ measurements blessed as such by keynesian economists. In a word, they claim to be high-priests of a religion the tenets of which are obviously absurd when inspected, but they claim a monopoly on interpreting their magical equations, and evade criticism by complexifying the question.
|8 The Moral Fallacy|
The Moral Fallacy supposes that man is too evil (or too ``something´´) to govern himself regarding some ``public goods´´ that must thus be confided to the government — but the government itself is made of men who are not less evil (or less ``something´´) than the rest of mankind. Government is not determined by an external superior force, but by men among others. Actually, its coercive power is of a corrupting nature that will make government officials evil rather than good, both by changing those who embrace it and by selecting those who seek it.
Indeed, the very corrupting nature of power will attract to it people who do not have the scruples to refrain from using it, and drive even the honest leaders into being self-righteous aristocratic tyrants. This process was remarkably described by Friedrich A. Hayek in his excellent book The Road to Serfdom. Meanwhile, coercion will spread not only suffering, but also physical and mental apathy, moral and psychological retreat, among those who are deprived from the choice of their life, plus hypocrisy and servility when they are in contact with their masters and their master's enforcement administration.
Libertarians are often unduly reproached to worship a myth of the good savage — quite on the contrary, it is statists who worship the myth of the good statesman. To quote Edward Abbey,
Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.
Actually, it is a common pattern that statists will reproach to libertarians what is actually a blatant failure of their own way of thinking.
|9 The Altruist Fallacy|
The Altruist Fallacy is a particular misconception often used together with the Moral Fallacy, to justify the necessity of government: it affirms that people are naturally egoistic, and that there needs be an external force to make them behave in altruistic ways in spite of themselves, so that they may survive.
This fallacy once again supposes that government is moved by an external force outside of the public, whereby statesmen and their henchmen would be more altruistic and less egoistic than the citizens. But it also supposes that altruism is in opposition with egoism — which is false. And which it is so obviously false, that it is by appeal to people's egoist interest that the self-proclaimed altruists try to convince people to follow them in their statist schemes.
Egoism, self-care, is not opposite to altruism, care for others. Indeed, care for others can mean nothing but support for these other people's own self-care; altruism thus verily presupposes, respects and supports egoism in other people. Moreover, the foundational basis for altruist behavior can be but the egoist self-satisfaction derived from cooperating with others. Some forms of cooperation may appear as "self-less" to external observers who neglect to take psychology into account; but to a consistent utilitarian, even the most "self-less" attitudes are really egoistic once non-material gratifications are taken into account (and ultimately, all gratifications are psychological, not material).
Thus, this fallacy is based on a deep misunderstanding of utilitarianism. This misunderstanding tries to separate the altruism in people from their ``self-interest´´, and pretend that only government can take advantage of this altruism and limit the ``evilness´´ of self-interest. But in a proper utilitarian setting (as opposed to the caricatures of it used by statist economists and philosophers), ``self-interest´´ will already account for the interactions with other people. For a given personal "utility", one doesn't want either other people's utility or disutility in addition to it; possible love and hate are already included in personal utility functions; utility already includes the physical and psychological benefits from cooperation with others and other ``altruist´´ behavior. The correct utilitarian stance is one of mutualism, where people can, will, actually did, do, and will continue to adopt rules of cooperative conducts out of their own self-interest. Such fallacies and their debunking have all been well treated by Henry Hazlitt in his book: The Foundations of Morality, that extracts the quintessence of the achievements of classical anglo-saxon moralists, and corrects their mistakes.
Thus, altruism, in its mutualistic form, is already included in personal self-interest. Not only cannot government increase total utility by magically unleashing a secret source of altruism in people; but government can and will only act in an altruist way if it is actually controlled by the altruist tendency in people, which must preexist to any altruism by government. Government is not a superhuman source of altruism, but can only give back the human altruism that was successfully put into it. And then again, nothing warranties that this altruism rather than antagonism will dominate the coercitive apparatus of the state. On the contrary, by concentrating coercive power, government is a great incentive for people without scruples to strive toward seizing power, whereas really altruistic people won't partake in the struggle for power.
|10 The Long Term Interest Fallacy|
The ``Long Term Interest´´ Fallacy combines the Moral Fallacy with the Catastrophe-Prevention Fallacy: it supposes that only government can take into account the long term interests of people. Now, only people with property rights truly secured on the long term can and will commit to coherent long-term investments. However, governments are never secure in their remaining in power, unless they may use extreme oppression, which both makes obvious their lack of benevolence and spends the resources necessary for long-term investment.
Thus, contrary to the implicit prejudice behind this fallacy, governments only ever manage things on the short run. Indeed, the horizon of foresight of any political party is the next elective mandate. If ever one politician wanted to see further than the rest, his party would soon remind him of his duties toward it; political parties that do not force politicians to think in the short run get quickly wiped out of significance by parties that do; politicians without a political party simply don't get elected; and since even ``good´´ political parties can't remain in power very long, even if their policies are oriented toward the long term, these policies will be changed with next government. In conclusion, politics mean that whatever is politically managed will be led by short term demagoguery.
Technocratic administrative bodies, in as much as they last longer than governments, may act on the long term — but then, unchecked by any ``democratic control´´, and moved around by governmental directives as far as their official role is concerned, the only consistent direction in which they act in the long run is the interest of the administration members themselves: excessive wages and outrageous ``work conditions´´, protectionist measures against change or competition either internal or external, political power given to official labor unions, continuous extension of the ``duties´´ (i.e. powers) of the administration, etc. All that to the detriment of the citizens being ``served´´ what they don't want, of the taxpayers having to fund an administration they don't like, of the potential competitors and innovators, forced to bankruptcy or prevented from existing (if external) or compelled into following the hierarchically-imposed way (if internal) — and even of most members of the administration, who have to bear with a rigid hierarchy that makes them as hapless as useless.
The real force toward positive long-term planning has always been private interest of foresighted people. Private pension funds typically consider interests over decades (and it is typical that collectivists will be angry at pension funds, because they are precisely the way by which freedom turns the salarymen into the greatest capitalist force in the world, instead of the slaves that they collectivists want workers to remain). Banks, despite their being made largely irresponsible by the statist central banking system, also typically invest with decades of foresight, and used to invest with one hundred years of planning. Established families typically invested several centuries in advance, before the governments completely destroyed the incentives: the estate tax destroyed long term family planning for physical property, and the state education destroyed it for intellectual tradition.
|11 The Uniformity Fallacy|
The Uniformity Fallacy assumes that uniformity in some matters is good in itself, and is a ``public good´´ such that common government regulations over as large a territory as possible is the only or best way to achieve the desired uniformity in these matters. However, uniformity is not always good in itself; coercion by governments is neither the only way nor the best way to enforce standards; moreover the domains that standards will optimally regulate are seldom either large or territorial; and most importantly, a system of coercion hampers the very discovery of which better standards should be commonly adopted and enforced, because it destroys the points of comparison, neglects most opinions save that of the authority and its lobbyists, and prevents dynamic adjustment to varying and evolving individual circumstances.
For instance, let us consider the limits to the jurisdiction of a government. Statists will argue that it is the number of persons to which laws apply that makes the effectiveness of laws and limits their utility, they then deduce, firstly that uniformity is good, and secondly that governments are the only good way to achieve uniformity, and thirdly that governments must be as large as possible.
Firstly, they suppose that laws are forcibly good — whereas laws may be bad. But, let us suppose that for some reason, some given laws are to be considered as good. Now, they are not such an absolute good that everything must be sacrificed to them, including the life of every single man, woman and child on earth. This good is comparable to other goods, and the costs involved in achieving this good are comparable to the costs involved in achieving other goods. Therefore, this good is not sacred, and choosing whether to pursue it or not, and in which way, is but one another of the moral choices that are part of every man's life. Whether it is more or less urgent than other goals is a question to be examined. And another question worthy of simultaneous examination is the means to achieving this good.
A special mention must be made about the notion of uniformity that is often invoked by statists at this point. Uniformity is not good per se. A bad law uniformly enforced on the whole wide world is extremely bad. A change toward uniformity can be bad, if it comes from worsening the law at some place to make it conform to widely accepted bad law. A change toward disuniformity can be good, if it means better law somewhere freeing some people from universal slavery. Uniformity doesn't directly matter; it is not a goal worthy of pursuit, and not even a proxy for a goal worthy of pursuit. Similarly, a change toward equality by the dissemination of poverty is bad, whereas a change toward inequality by the creation of riches is good.
Secondly, even though some laws may be good, this does not justify the use of coercion to impose them upon other people. Indeed, the use of governmental coercion supposes that an evil much larger than the good being spread is at work behind the coercion — and this unleashed evil is prone to enforcing evil laws and corrupting even good laws, rather than to promoting good laws. The extension of the jurisdiction of good laws and good institutions is good; but in theory as well as in practice, the only laws and institutions the jurisdiction of which coercion can extend are those that are so bad that people won't voluntarily support them.
All in all, even though sometimes, widely accepted good laws may be good, statists still fail to make any point considering either the goodness of the particular laws they wish to promote, or the relative desirability of extending the acceptance of these laws, or the means of extending this acceptance, or the process by which governmental coercion can be confined into contributing positively rather than negatively to all these problems. In short, there is no problem, and government is not the solution; statists are but basing their claim on a double petition of principle.
Liberty and Responsibility are the only possible warranty that people will choose to obey good laws rather than bad laws. Peaceful persuasion through rhetorics filtered by critical reasoning and demonstrable benefits is the only way that good habits, good laws, and good institutions can be durably spread among the population, while at the same time discarding bad habits, bad laws and bad institutions.
|12 The Ad Hoc Fallacy in Any Collectivism|
The arguments for the collectivization of some service into a state-managed ``public good´´ contains an intrinsic ad hoc fallacy: Why pick any particular form of collectivization?
Indeed, why collectivize or not collectivize, say, ``toilet paper´´? Isn't there but a more specific need to collectivize ``green soft toilet paper in 5 inch wide rolls sold under a brand the name of which ends with an S´´? (After all, some company may very well have a dangerous monopoly on these!) Or why isn't there instead a need to collectivize production of all paper? Why collectivize at the scale of Great Britain? Why not collectivize at a smaller scale, say Westminster or the block next door? Or at a larger scale, say Northern Eurasia, or our quadrant of the Milky Way? And why collectivize it on a geographical scale at all? Why not collectivize for people whose name begin with an ``R´´, or who wear black socks?
As far as arbitrarily choosing the scale, we could as well argue that the considered services are of such a particular nature or importance for an individual that the individual shouldn't be deprived from the individual independence of being able to choose how these services should be provided to him without being coerced. Or if we are to take the opposite view, why stop? If collectivization of the considered service is of such an importance that the necessity for everyone to obey the same orders is an absolute priority that justifies coercion and violence until everyone agrees — then we should stop all other activity, withhold all human rights and wage world war until there is a world government so at last everyone will be under the same rule. — and why stop there even? it is also urgent to send space ships to conquer the universe and compel space aliens into accepting the same social laws as we have.
Collectivists implicitly accept that their argument is not universal: their claim verily supposes the existence of an important counter-effect that becomes preponderant and limits the applicability of their argument. What are these counter-effects, their relevance, their limits? Only by identifying and studying these counter-effects can the applicability of their argument be established. In other words, their claim contains its very own contradiction, which they dismiss by voluntary ignorance. Their call for governmental coercion is based on a one-sided view of government. This is the case of all statist justifications.
|13 The Real Justification|
In each case we saw, some ``problem´´ without solution was described, followed by the non sequitur claim that government is useful and necessary as the only (or best) possible solution to said problem. Actually, government was not a solution to any of these problems, and could only be seen as such based on a one-sided view of government: a view that insists on the visible benefits of government action, but that doesn't take into account the costs associated to any government action, and the costs of ensuring that government will act in the interest of the people rather than to their detriment. Government is supposed to be a magic wand that bestows services at no cost, directed by some godly will above the failures of mankind — but it isn't . TANSTAAFL .
There exists no rational justification whatsoever for government intervention. All the common arguments are but ratiocinations that hide behind some petition of principle the one and only real justification: sheer brute force. Government is but oppression of the politically weak to the profit of the politically strong, based on force and fraud, on violence and ignorance.
Having accepted this conclusion, the next question to bother any truth-loving person would normally be to wonder: ``if belief in government is irrational, how come so many people so readily indulge in it?´´ Indeed, it would be interesting to analyze the common patterns of thought that lead to the formulation of such pseudo-justifications as the one we deconstructed, and to their acceptance by the public at large. However, there is no space in this article to bring answers to this legitimate inquiry; so I can but refer the dauntless reader to other writings of mine .
: For a libertarian bibliography on this topic, see the Public Goods Theory section of Roy Halliday's bibliography for the LNF.
: In Economics, an externality is the side-effect of an action that concerns third parties not involved in the action. The externality is said to be negative if the effect is detrimental to the third parties, and positive if the effect is beneficial to the third parties.
: The idea that externalities were not solved by government but concentrated, I found first explicitly stated in Bryan Caplan's Anarchism Theory FAQ.
: See also Fallacies in the Theories of the Emergence of the State by Bertrand Lemennicier.
: ``There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.´´ — a famous quote from Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In other words, if such thing as a free lunch existed, it would be better than anything else (there wouldn't be anything like it), however, it doesn't really exist (there isn't anything like it), for there is always someone, somewhere, paying for anything valuable that is apparently ``for free´´, and that might indeed be marginally for free to someone when it is already being paid for in a hidden way.
: See notably the essay Government is the Rule of Black Magic from which this article is excerpted.
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