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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12180/overrating-government-service/

Overrating Government Service

March 15, 2010 by

It’s not the government’s unwillingness to protect certain property rights but rather the government’s assault on (what should be) property rights that allows particular communities to remain in a violent equilibrium. FULL ARTICLE by Robert P. Murphy

{ 44 comments }

The_Orlonater March 15, 2010 at 9:52 am

Another excellent article; I never really thought too much about this in particular before, thanks for bringing it up.

Scotty Stevens March 15, 2010 at 10:15 am

This article is right on the money.

Anyone that fears that society would collapse without government rule, simply doesn’t understand simple human psychology that, at heart, humans are moral.

Welfare could be replaced by charities. Anyone that wouldn’t want to live somewhere where drug-selling took place, would have the free choice to move somewhere else. Every individual and business would be all the more incentivised to act morally, since, subconsciously, moral folks are respected more than immoral.

Humans don’t need a government to live peacefully.

Wildberry March 15, 2010 at 11:28 am

Ok, this is a really good point. However, how do you address the possibility that a company that could openly hire Blackwater could fill the void left by government police with a new form of monoply, first perhaps by gaining a monopoly positon in essential goods by being free to use force to eliminate competition? Just because the government doesn’t intervene doesn’t mean no one will. That void is usually filled by someone with superior access to oppressive means, especially weapons.
Wouldn’t government even in its minimalist form have to insure safety from such “third party” intervention?

Jack Roberts March 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm

The argument that a private organisation would hire a PMC and eliminate competition appears to be a solid argument on the surface. But this falls into the category of already occurring even when a state exists. The state does far more damage to competition than an unchecked organisation hiring a PMC. If the public would find out about such despicable acts as they do even under a repressive state, they will have the power to vote with their money. This will create an incentive to not get caught killing your competition. Much as it is with a state today.

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

Yes, but if you can vote with your money, the commodity in question is not essential. Human nature is not utopian, and nature abhors a vacuum. You assume too much when you assert that the elimination of one form of coercions will not result in another form arising.

The_Orlonater March 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Depends whether or not the monopoly is valued highly, how consumers react is much more important to analyze.

Zach Bibeault March 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm

1) Consumers would never condone Blackwater unless it was the #1 provider of service, and gave them the most for their money.

2) It could never succeed in trying to use violence to achieve market share. Within a DAY 100 defense firms would rise up to defend consumers like yourself from the tyranny of Blackwater, and in the meantime a defense firm(s) that TRULY catered to the masses, perhaps one of the aforementioned 100, would eviscerate Blackwater’s market share.

Such an arrangement as you fear is no more possible than free market cartel arrangements.

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

I’m not suggesting that one day it is the government police, and the next it is Blackwater. Such things are done incrementally and with sufficient skill as to not arouse the mases. Any disruption in the status quo will create a temporary catalyst for realignment of power. But it is unlikely the lamb becomes top preditor just because the lions are retired. In fact, couldn’t it be said that the removal of government police is just another form of intevention? It is one thing to assert that the free markets will produce the superior outcome, but another to assert what policies will keep them free.

Ohhh Henry March 15, 2010 at 11:58 am

“… how do you address the possibility that a company that could openly hire Blackwater could fill the void left by government police with a new form of monoply … ?”

The people who are affected by the new monopoly could use force to defend themselves.

If the company goons threaten and intimidate people but do not succeed in becoming a monopoly then they are garden-variety brigands. If they succeed in establishing a monopoly of force then they are by definition a government. There is no difference between the two types of brigandage, except for the degree of success. There is also a difference in rhetoric – in the former situation the goons would most likely not try to defend their actions as being for the greater good, but the most successful brigands always insist that their violent monopoly is “for the children”.

“Wouldn’t government even in its minimalist form have to insure safety from such “third party” intervention?”

Safety is a relative term. The owners of the monopoly on force cannot be too effective, or else the need for their “services” would disappear and they would have to hang up their badges and get a straight job. Therefore the owners of violent monopolies create and stir up bogeymen in order to maintain a state of fear and soften up their chosen victims so they are ready to accept protection. For example, Israel maintains a handy pool of violent and angry terrorists in a reservoir called “Gaza” in order to keep their country in a constant state of war. The whole USA policy in the Muslim world accomplishes much the same thing. China keeps stirring up anxiety over Taiwan and the USA. Around the world the drug war creates violence and tax evasion which become the excuse for larger and larger police, military and surveillance organizations. For everything else, if an insufficient level of threat can be created in the traditional means i.e. through foreign policy and trade restrictions, then there are always false flag attacks.

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Just one question: Are you saying that if the Gaza was filled with pacifists, Israel would cease to be a military state? Or that the interests behind our intervention in the Middle East are solely for the purpose of justifying our militarism? Police and armies are created primarily to defend or seek economic interests, which are justified by more wholesome rhetoric, and attacked with equally shallow demagoguery.

Jake March 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Is the State to human liason a conditio sine qua non? In the dearth of a centralized, monopoly police force, would individuals ostracize amicable, social conventions? Furnishing an affirmative “yes” can only be grounded in arbitrariness.

Tom H. March 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm

“Is the State to human liason a conditio sine qua non? In the dearth of a centralized, monopoly police force, would individuals ostracize amicable, social conventions?”

Very well put.

Sean A March 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Spot on. To add a few thoughts:
The issue of black markets concerns the ability to circumvent legal enforcement. If prohibition is only loosely enforced we can expect to find a large degree of competition to meet the still present demand. The more avidly it is enforced, the larger becomes the advantage of hardened criminals who specialize in working around the legal framework; it also gives such criminals more of an incentive to join the market since competition will be legally withdrawn by force. In other words, the superior criminals don’t need to violently force competition out with their own guns; government guns can effectively accomplish this for them.
There also becomes an incentive for cooperation between the monopolized legal enforcement and criminals. Though a sense of “duty” may repel this incentive from the legal enforcers, history has shown plenty of instances where values have led legal enforcers to accept the incentives extended by criminals.

William P March 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Seems to me like legalizing addictive drugs that override rational decision through chemical dependence is a very bad idea. I would venture to say that if heroine were sold at every street corner to anyone over 18, we’d have a lot more heroine addicts. Same for cocaine.

Michael A. Clem March 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm

The first question would be why you think that heroine and cocaine would be sold at every street corner, and who do you think would be the the buyers who eventually become addicted (since addiction doesn’t happen with merely the first use)?
Also, as a practical matter, drug prohibition criminalizes all users, addicts and non-addicts, and actually makes it harder for society to deal with addicts and abuse, not easier. Locking someone up and taking their property from them is hardly a good addiction treatment, especially since government has a difficult time keeping drugs out of jail, and threatening to do so does little to encourage addicts to seek help.
And then there’s the principle of the thing. If we’re going to rely on government to tell us what we can do to ourselves and our bodies, instead of making those decisions ourselves, then what happens to personal responsibility, independence, and freedom? For example, they’ve tried (but failed) to make vitamin and mineral supplements prescription-only, and there’s an increased pressure to do something more radical about obesity and the foods we eat.

Eric March 15, 2010 at 7:13 pm

You don’t have to speculate on what would happen if Heroin and Cocaine were legal, it used to be and what you seem to be worried about didn’t take place. Bayer used to sell it, see here,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin#History

When they were both legal, they were also found to be much safer. What is called OD in Heroin use is quite often (some would say most often) impurities that are poisons or at the least, unknown strengths.

A storefront that was selling Heroin would not wish to kill their customers. If you’ve ever been in a pot-store (in say CA or Amsterdam) you would see the difference. And the legal businesses would eliminate the street corner pusher. When I was in Amsterdam, only the non-legal drugs were being offered to me on the street. Nobody was selling pot on the street when it was available in a “coffee shop” under much better conditions and at a cheap price.

newson March 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

in australia, this used to be the case. heroin pills were available without script much like codeine pills today. presumably there were addicts then, too, much as today we have those addicted to prescription drugs. people didn’t die from poorly cut drugs, however, as they do so often today. and drug-related violence wasn’t the scandal that it is today.

George March 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm

“Seems to me like legalizing addictive drugs that override rational decision through chemical dependence is a very bad idea. I would venture to say that if heroine were sold at every street corner to anyone over 18, we’d have a lot more heroine addicts. Same for cocaine.”

I’m not of the view that there should be no government and that we should enact a system where property rights are absolute above all, but I am rather of the view that we should allow competing systems, and let people decide rather than theory or ideology. Instead of arguing which philosophy is superior, let the facts speak for themselves and let the people decide freely which system they prefer.

Some areas will have more government, some will have less, some will be relatively free areas but will enforce certain social standards and customs, and others will be rather laissez-faire. There is already a free market in government; only the choice is limited. As time goes on there should be an improvement in choices, especially once colonization of the seas begins in earnest (give it another 10-20 years). Let competition work its wonders!

billwald March 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm

From the essay, “The reason is simple: Even though the police don’t protect the merchants in dangerous neighborhoods, the police also don’t harass them . . . .”

Truth, the police generally don’t have any legal obligation to protect any specific person or property unless the obligation is contracted in advance. An example might be that a police dispatcher tells a victim of something that the police will arrive within 5 minutes and don’t arrive for an hour and something preventable happens 15 minutes after the call a civil case for damages could be made against the police. Mostly, the existence of the police increases the chances of post-crime apprehension and punishment.

Scotty Stevens writes: Anyone that fears that society would collapse without government rule, simply doesn’t understand simple human psychology that, at heart, humans are moral.

This is not theoretically, historically, or observably true. As an old beat cop (Jack Gottwig, RIP) put it, “You will hear it said that Soandso is a good person but loses control when drinking. Not so! Soandso is an evil person but he hides it when he is sober.”

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Well said. It is a mistake to think of alternative social structure in utopian terms. Humans are coarse and self-centered, notwithstanding the many notable exceptions. It is not wrong to think the best in people, but is is wrong to assume the worst will simply vanish.

William P March 15, 2010 at 1:42 pm

George, could the issue of drug enforcement realistically be decided at the state level? For better or for worse, it comes down to a border security issue, and it is much easier to enforce one national boundary than 50 state boundaries.

I don’t think the problem is as black/white as it seems to some libertarians. The most effective means to counter drug addiction is good parenting and societal taboo. Parenting is affected little by the State. Having said that, legalization would remove much of the taboo.

Broadly speaking, I don’t think the Austrian method, which assumes rationality, is applicable to chemically dependent zombies. As an analogy, I don’t think Mises or Hayek or Rothbard would recommend full liberty for schizophrenics.

Seattle March 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm

You misunderstand the way Austrians use “rationality.”

When we say that “Man is Rational” we do not mean that they are logical or even smart. What we mean is their action is purposeful behavior: They make choices and act in order to accomplish goals. Under this definition a heroin addict is just as rational as anyone else.

billwald March 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Agree 100%. Probably 80% of working police (not administration) think that marijuana should be legalized for adults. It would make a nice house plant for most people.

There is a big moral and pragmatic difference berween stuff that grows in pots and stuff that requires dangerous chemicals to manufacture.

J. Cuttance March 15, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I’m writing an article on NZ’s ever-healthy cannabis trade.

The best quote so far is from a grower – “It’s the cops that are keeping the price up, and good on them.”

I’d appreciate any references to papers on the costs of enforcement, cheers.

William P March 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Seatlle,
I understand that definition well and good…

but the Austrian school of economics is not limited to advocates of total anarchy. The Institute is named after someone who (I assume) would be very against the legalization of narcotics. The addict may be acting to relieve immediate “uneasiness,” i.e. his withdrawal, but in doing so he acts to perpetuate his longer term uneasiness.

The essential point being that there are time where limiting “freedom” is justified, and absolutely moral. It would be very hard to consider yourself “your brother’s keeper” and provide him with recreational heroine.

BioTube March 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Mises was an avowed minarchist; I highly doubt he approved of nanny-statism(especially since he wrote that some intervention inevitably leads to more intervention once it fails to achieve the desired ends).

Havvy March 15, 2010 at 7:13 pm

His economics show the results of intended actions without always giving a value judgement. He would probably argue against illegal drugs, due to the inefficiencies involved.

newson March 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

“Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own
foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments.
A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief doneby bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.”

mises, human action. pp.733-4

Anthony March 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Thanks for looking that up…

Guard March 16, 2010 at 4:49 am

An interesting question. If heroin were totally legal it could be very inexpensive, providing the addict with an essentially unlimited supply. Would potential addicts quickly burn out? And maybe very obviously, (since they wouldn’t have to hide) so that the public would generally disdain the use of the drug? One phenomenon I have observed in extensive dealing with dysfunctional people is that a person will sometimes do something for the sole reason that they are told not to. In view of this, I wonder what effect prohibition has on initial use. Part of what contributes to immorality in general and specifically to drug use is government oppression. Immorality gives an illusion of freedom when actual freedom is so thoroughly limited.

Scotty Stevens March 16, 2010 at 4:51 am

——
Scotty Stevens said: “Anyone that fears that society would collapse without government rule, simply doesn’t understand simple human psychology that, at heart, humans are moral.”
billwald replied: “This is not theoretically, historically, or observably true. As an old beat cop (Jack Gottwig, RIP) put it, “You will hear it said that Soandso is a good person but loses control when drinking. Not so! Soandso is an evil person but he hides it when he is sober.”
——

billwald, to be clear, what I’m saying, is that a general human, when born, is wired to be sensible, as well as peaceful toward others, unless they are threatened. What I’m saying, is that by taking away a government, the entire populace wouldn’t suddenly become drug addicts, visit strip clubs, beat people up, and gorge themselves on burgers. Rather, humans are incentivised to treat themselves and others in the best possible way, to more easily enjoy freedom and happiness. Most people don’t want to become addicted to anything, or to harm others, as they’re wired to realise that to take that path would lead them to an unhappy life. As I said, we don’t need a big organisation of people (government) to remind us of what we are already wired to know, and to punish us with impunity if we make mistakes. One has to ask, what is the motive AND intellect of a person that wants to work for an organisation like that..?

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I would only say that it is not the general case that causes the problem.
Newson’s quote by Mises is an argument he is making at the margins. Mises would also argue that the property rights of the individual, including one’s body, must be protected. The questin is, how? In one way of looking at the problem, even a neighborhood that funds its own police force is creating a “state” function, and imposing their will on those who want to be free to steal, for example.

billwald March 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

>billwald, to be clear, what I’m saying, is that a general human, when born, is wired to be sensible, as well as peaceful toward others, unless they are threatened.

I think not. The one observable truth of Christian doctrine is our innate sin nature, I prefer to rename it defective DNA. There is no evidence to indicate that humans have become more moral or çivilized in the last 6000 years. Technical advances permit us to do our killling more sanitarially and efficiently.

>What I’m saying, is that by taking away a government, the entire populace wouldn’t suddenly become drug addicts, visit strip clubs, beat people up, and gorge themselves on burgers. Rather, humans are incentivised to treat themselves and others in the best possible way, to more easily enjoy freedom and happiness.

Agree that post people cooperate for mutual benefit. I’m a “social contract” person. About 3000 years ago Socrates, one of those guys, wrote a proof that moral (law abiding) people are happier than outlaws and asked why, then, do people act immorally? He concluded that most of us are crazy. That is real close to Christian doctrine 1000 years before Christ.

Scotty Stevens March 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Scotty Stevens said: “billwald, to be clear, what I’m saying, is that a general human, when born, is wired to be sensible, as well as peaceful toward others, unless they are threatened.”

billwald replied: “I think not. The one observable truth of Christian doctrine is our innate sin nature, I prefer to rename it defective DNA. There is no evidence to indicate that humans have become more moral or çivilized in the last 6000 years. Technical advances permit us to do our killling more sanitarially and efficiently.”

billwald, my friend, with the greatest respect, I think we are singing from two vastly different hymn sheets. I.e. the doctrine you subscribe to is one I decided I couldn’t take seriously after I dipped my toe in years ago.

But I could be wrong…

Michael A. Clem March 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Mythical nonsense. People are born morally neutral and learn morality as they grow up. People are generally morally good because they learned that it is beneficial, but this moral learning is far from perfect, and since it is learned while growing up, not so easy to change as an adult, especially if you are not conscious of what you’ve learned.

Bob Roddis March 16, 2010 at 10:12 am

If the streets and neighborhoods were private, firms could/would offer “Kiddie-proof Gangsta-Free Neighborhoods” complete with private schools. The neighborhood and school could/would vet all potential residents and students. It’s likely that most neighborhoods and schools could/would likely ban all druggie types if they so chose.

It’s the government with its public streets and schools that keeps people from disassociating from unsavory types.

Wildberry March 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm

That is an appealing fantasy, but unlikely. Do we dismantle the constitution while we’re at it? A reaction to oppression cannot be just another form of oppression. This is the problem. It appears that many can see the “evil” of the state, but do not see the same evil in their own utopian conceptualizations. Let me illustrate: What is a Gangsta? How will it be established? How will it be kept “free”? After all, in your vision, people are free to engage in “alternative lifestyles”, and no individual has the right to interfere with another individual’s freedom. This is the slippery slope being described in the quotation offered by Newson.
Somehow, the answer is in the distinction between “government” and “state”. I’m a little fuzzy on which applies in your example.

brian March 17, 2010 at 5:30 am

Wildberry:

I think the point to see here is that there is a choice inherent in applying to one of these enclave neighborhoods. If you are a ‘Gangsta’ or ‘Alternative Lifestyle’ type, then it matters not what the definition of such is, as you will likely find an established community of like-minded people. This is the beauty of the system Bob proposes. There will likely emerge “Stepfordian” communities just as well as “Hoods” communities.

Michael A. Clem March 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm

It’s not necessary to dismantle the Constitution to privatize local roads and neighborhoods (never mind the fact that the dismantling has been taking place anyway, through SCOTUS interpretations and such). As you say, people are free to engage in alternate lifestyles and no individual has the right to interfere with another’s freedom. That includes private property rights and freedom of association. Only through some kind of forced integration (such as Affirmative Action) can one be required to associate with people that one does not wish to associate with. So I’m afraid I don’t see this “slippery slope” that you allude to.

billwald March 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

That’s the way it was before Sir Robert Peel invented police departments. Police departments became ubiquitus because it more economical for the rich people. These days people spend more on alarms, guards, and private police than the total cost of local, county, state, and federal agencies.

Maybe it is time to revert to the old days. Half the new construction seems to be guarded developments and high rises for rich people.

Nick Bradley March 16, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I think that the standard anti-prohibition argument is still accurate, here’s why:

The government has granted itself a legal monopoly on the supply of certain services (e.g. protection). When they refuse to provide this service, the black market will. So, armed gangs protect drug dealers (or they provide the service to themselves).

Drug dealers are also more likely to rob and kill each other becaue they know that the competition suffers from a shortage of security as well.

paul stephens March 17, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I’ve been arguing the libertarian, anti-prohibition position for 40 years or more, and I’m still amazed at how few people understand or agree with it.
Of course, the “drug wars” have never been primarily about “drugs.” It’s about control, and increasingly, the whole “drug problem” is coming right out of the prison-like public school system, where 5-10% of children k-8 (and in many places, high schools as well) are being force-fed a variety of stimulants, anti-depressants, anti-virals, and who knows what else to “cure” (or pre-empt) “behavior problems” or “learning disabilities” based on their resistance and dislike of authority or, perhaps, the the waste-making, war-making “prison-industrial complex.”
And a society which stifles all differences and individuality, and makes us all into timid, fearful, conformists to the dictates of the state-sponsored elites.
We need to go far beyond even libertarian “market economics” to really understand the horror which do-gooders inflict on us (and profit from) on a daily basis.

Nathan March 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I liked the article, because it made me think. The drug example occurred as more valid than the union example. I’d be interested to hear people’s comments on accountability. In the union example, it seems that neither the cops that prevent private security forces nor the proposed security forces have a force restraining them from abuses. What stops the company’s private security forces from abusing and quashing the union picketers well beyond a mission of protecting company property and protecting non-union workers? I heard the argument of reputation, but I don’t believe that there would be sufficient transparency in the security company’s actions. They are incentivized to provide the best service to the company paying them–hence to be most effective. That could easily include black ops against the unions–history shows it has.

TokyoTom July 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

Bob, I think that, looking at the history of labor-management-police relations, that much of your labor discussion is simply factually wrong – management DID use violence to break up strikes and deliberately harmed striking workers (because they preferred to deal with workers on an individual rather than collective basis), and that management frequently treated the cops as if they were the company’s private security force.

It seems to me that violence in collective bargaining stemmed in part from the state grant of corporate status and limited liability, which not only served to shield shareholders from liability for violence, but enabled corporations to grow so large. The result in the end was popular pressure for politicians to act to rein in corporations and favor labor, though unsurprisingly shareholders and management have regained the upper hand in the use of government and have successfully eroded away labor protections/favoritism.

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