19 January 2011

Politics: The Game That Everyone Loses

Some Americans have strong, sometimes unyielding preferences for Mac computers, while most others have similarly strong preferences for PCs and wouldn't be caught dead using a Mac. Some Americans love classical music and hate rock and roll. Others have opposite preferences, loving rock and roll and consider classical music as hoity-toity junk. Then there are those among us who love football and Western movies, and find golf and cooking shows to be less than manly. Despite these, and many other strong preferences, there's little or no conflict. When's the last time you heard of rock and roll lovers in conflict with classical music lovers, or Mac lovers in conflict with PC lovers, or football lovers in conflict with golf lovers? It seldom if ever happens. When there's market allocation of resources and peaceable, voluntary exchange, people have their preferences satisfied and are able to live in peace with one another.

Contrast how the market handles decision-making with how the government handle decision-making:
The lesson here is that the prime feature of political decision-making is that it's a zero-sum game. One person's gain is of necessity another person's loss. As such, political allocation of resources is conflict-enhancing, while market allocation is conflict-reducing. The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena, the greater the potential for conflict. It would not be unreasonable to predict that if Mac lovers won, and only Macs could be legally used, there would be considerable PC-lover hate toward Mac lovers.

While Williams reaches a minarchist conclusion, a view that I’m sympathetic towards on practical grounds, a better conclusion would be a case for anarchy.  A stateless society is better because it encourages mutual cooperation among people, doesn’t impose any societal costs (i.e. taxes), and doesn’t promote intergroup warfare.  Any governance that would exist would be voluntary, and encourage people to seek compromises that actually benefit both sides.

Either way, Williams is correct in arguing that the government should be making fewer decisions, not more.  In addition, government should cede power, not claim it.  The current overbearing monstrosity only exists to waste resources and cause people to fight with one another instead of doing things that are actually productive.  Indeed, it’s time to kill the beast.


  1. Without rule of law and the ability of the state to enforce it, the incentives to revert to a might makes right society is greater than cooperation, because the potential gain appears greater than the potential loss. History bears this fact. People have found that greater gain comes by ruining the system of cooperation. Rule of law is one of the most important principles contributing to the rise of the West in modern times.

  2. Are you arguing that rule of law can't exist outside of the state? If so, how do you explain the stateless societies of southeastern Asia?

    Also, history bears the fact that power can be corrupted far more easily than not-power can be. thus, James Madison's conclusion was wrong. Since men aren't angels, you don't give them power over other men.