19 April 2012

Public Goods

Let’s play spot the fallacies:

We do not just have governments in order to rob Peter to pay Paul. We have governments because there are things they can provide that the private sector is either unable or unwilling to provide effectively - courts, police, schools, roads, other infrastructure, etc. Conservatives focus so much on redistribution that they tend to ignore this fact, but if you think about it, you'll realize public goods are why we have government in the first place. [Emphasis added.]

I will cede that the court system is best administered by the government, given its coercive touch.  However, the idea that there is no way the free market can provide policing, education, roads, and other infrastructure is simply foolish.

Regarding policing, consider that private investigators and voluntary constabularies have both played major roles in law enforcement for a decent portion of American history (with the former still in existence).  Of course, there is not likely to be any free market policing of victimless crimes, like speeding and drug use, but I don’t see this as a down side, seeing as how the negative externalities of these laws as the relate to property rights are already handled by the law.

Regarding education, it is laughable to claim that the free market can’t provide schooling in light of the present existence of private schools, private universities and colleges, and home schooling.  While a free market model would increase the probability that people would have to pay directly for education instead of soaking other people for the costs via taxation, this will encourage more efficiency and lower costs in the long run (and, let’s be honest, the current results of the modern public school system are simply abysmal), and will likely end the public-school-as-free-daycare model of education that currently plagues society today.

Regarding private roads, I will simply note that privatized highways currently exist, and that there have been many cases of privately funded roads.  In fact, the modern road system was initially built on private financing from businesses.  Furthermore, it is quite conceivable that the free market can provide lots of infrastructure.  Sure, it might be more expensive, given the market tendencies of those entities known as natural monopolies, but this will likely help conserve resources and distribute them more equitably over time.

What’s also ignored in this “analysis” is the crowding effect that the government plays in competition for these services.  For example, the government providing education at no cost to it recipients (or, more accurately, their parents) makes it considerably more difficult for other companies to compete since they cannot coerce people to buy their product.  Really, once one accounts for the competition-distortive effects of government, it should become readily apparent that the claim that the market is unwilling to provide certain things, and thus the government must is simply wrong.  Whether this claim is made in ignorance, malice, or plain stupidity is for the reader to decide.


  1. I would like it if anyone who champions "government is the only means of achieving X goal" would cite me one example of government being better than private industry, courts of law notwithstanding.

    A large part of the problem here is our education system - it makes drones incapable of individual thought, for all that it claims to promote individualism, independence, and capability. I know I keep playing the same tune on my own discordant harp, but it is an area of which I have intimate knowledge and righteous criticism and dislike. I'm sure the Education Industry has similar dislike of me.

    If you wear someone down enough, from age 5 or so on to 23 (the average age of college graduation these days), they will believe the government is the best, sole provider of all that is good and right. Government is like an overbearing attachment parent who doesn't know when to let go. I "attachment parent" my kids, breastfeeding until at least age one, baby-wearing for 9 months or longer as needed by my kids, and gradually weaning them to eat solids and walk independently. School, public or private, let's be honest, regresses all of these behaviors.

    For right or for wrong, when the government wanted to tame the Native American population, they allowed Christian missionaries to set up schools to take the NA young into the fold, separate them from their traditions and culture, and show them the paradigm, laws, and morality of the new nation in which they were living. We willingly give our children over to a similar system of indoctrination, which leads us to the blind spots regarding the fallacies of which you write.

  2. I think you're arguing this on the wrong grounds. The reason "Conservatives focus so much on redistribution" is because that's where most of the money goes.

    You want to focus on other things the government does/doesn't do well, fine but, defense aside, in budgetary terms they are mostly rounding errors.

  3. HerewardMW- Redistribution is a service, though (think private charities or personal giving as free market examples). There have always been people willing to redistribute their wealth (think: Rockefeller's or Gates's charitable foundations, for example), which means that there will always be a service for wealth redistribution. Unfortunately, the government is terrible at providing this service, which simply reinforces the point I made above.