The Myth of Public Goods

By Mark Davis
Exclusive to STR
The myth of public goods is based on the belief that there are special things that everybody needs, but nobody will pay for. The priests perpetuating this myth include self-interested professors who spend a lifetime informing young, bright-eyed students about the magical qualities of these special goods that can only be provided by popular people with big guns. The media reports on the provision of these special goods and services as if this violently engineered operating system was mandated from the heavens. The democratic-corporate state is therefore a necessary evil that must impose itself on society, touching the lives of all, for our own good. That’s a heavy price to pay for magic beans.
Free-markets, where individuals make their own decisions instead of coercive central authorities, are considered too dangerous. Because all those crazy, ignorant people out there making their own decisions would be the death of us all. There would be no government army or police to protect us, no fire departments, electricity, water, sewer, parks, or roads! Air travel would come to a halt and where would we watch our sporting events?! Our children could not be educated!! Civilization itself depends on public goods being provided by political means. Peaceful cooperation somehow lacks the efficiency of violent coercion when it comes to these special “public goods.”
Public goods are thus used to justify creating an organization that forces people to pay for something up front and then this organization (based on a monopoly on the use of force) provides the quality and quantity that the leaders of this organization decide is right for us all. And for it all to work, it is believed by these cultists that, the pixie dust of democracy somehow changes the fundamental human trait of favoring self-interest. Elected officials (flesh and blood people) are magically elevated above the quest for virtue and now have the power to work selflessly in the public interest. That’s enough leaps of faith to build one hell of an obstacle course, coming and going.
In a world of scarcity, it is impossible for everyone to use anything. Such is life; so the question becomes how do we deal with scarcity? There are only two ways: trade and theft. That is, you can work for it (trade your labor) or steal it. Free markets (the economic means) allocate resources to where they are most needed by reading the signals sent by consumers through the price mechanism. Coercive collective authorities (the political means) allocate resources based on who demonstrates the most political power. In free markets the consumers vote with each dollar they spend on what goods and services they think are most needed at what price. The alternative is central planners deciding what goods and services are provided, at what quality and at what price, with consumers getting a tiny “voice” through elections of “representatives.” 
It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to see which system has superior efficiency. It also doesn’t take Mother Teresa to recognize which system is morally superior. Socialists believe that the granting of special privileges to politically powerful people is worth the loss in efficiency because politicians are such good people and bureaucrats are such great experts in making choices for the rest of us. Socialists also like to ignore the gun that is pointed at everyone to get us to go along with their statist schemes because they have such wonderful egalitarian ideals. In short, good intentions are suppose to justify crappy goods and worse service in a system that is based on legalized theft (i.e. politics).
The myth of public goods is used as a failsafe argument when cornered by logical and moral reasoning revealing the fallacies of socialism. Of course the free market provides “private goods” better than central planning authorities, but not so for those mythological “public goods.” The same tired arguments have been trotted out since before the Caesars to justify the state. But try to get cult members to explain what a public good is and they get real fuzzy. Usually it’s as simple as saying, “Well, just look at all the wonderful things the government does for us. If it weren’t for government water pipes, you’d have to dig a well; and you couldn’t get to work without government roads and bridges.” The Romans built roads, bridges and water pipes using the state apparatus, so that’s the way it shall be done forever. After all, everything we know about organizing society is based on the perceptions and decisions made by people living 2,000 years ago. Right? Or maybe we should reexamine some of those myths like public goods.
The fact that most roads in this country were built by developers and private companies dig wells and lay the pipes that provide water throughout the world does not deter socialists from believing that “only the state” can provide these services. They then back slide to the position that “only the rich” would have roads and water or some such nonsense. Think for a second about the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. It is a classic example of scarce resources being allocated by a political process. Political power determined whether or not and where that bridge would be constructed. Fail! Does anybody with half a brain think that this “public good” would have ever even been considered in a free-market system where profit and loss allocated resources? If it did, then the idiots who built it would go bankrupt. The incentives in the upside down world of politics actually reward said idiots by re-electing them. Enough of that; so what is a public good?
Most economists define public goods as something that once produced by someone can then be consumed by other people at no additional cost. Some economists expand the definition to have two defining traits: non-excludability and jointness in consumption. Non-excludability means that once somebody produces something, they can’t keep others from using it. Or at the very least, it’s not worth the cost to exclude them. Jointness of consumption means that once somebody produces something that additional consumers can then also use the good without additional cost (like above). Even armed with these defining characteristics, it is difficult to spot those special goods that require violent organizations to provide them. No doubt there are goods that can meet this definition, but it does not necessarily follow that they must be provided by governments.
As Hoppe said in Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security, “Clearly my neighbors would profit from my well kept rose garden--they could enjoy the sight of it without ever helping me in my garden. The same is true for all kinds of improvements that I could make on my property that would enhance the neighboring property as well. Even those people who do not throw money in his hat can profit from a street musician’s performance. Those fellow passengers on the bus who did not help me buy it profit from my deodorant. And everyone who ever meets me would profit from my efforts, undertaken without their financial support, to turn myself into a most lovable person. Now, do all these goods--rose gardens, property improvements, street music, deodorants, personal improvements--since they clearly seem to posses the characteristics of public goods, then have to be provided by the state or with state assistance?”
“But, but…” socialists stutter, “Those are not important goods and services; so they don’t count!” Try to get them to define “important goods” and away we go again. So much for definitions, let’s look at some things commonly believed to be public goods like airports, railroads, auto roads, electricity, stadiums, bridges, policing, fire fighters, national defense, telephone and postal services. I saved the best for last because it seems that many people are waking up to the fact that UPS and Fed Ex provide package delivery services much cheaper with a smile while striving for the convenience of the consumer. E-mail grew up in the free market, providing an alternative to the US Postal Service that nobody could see coming. Ending the government enforced monopoly for a telephone service provider (AKA deregulation) allowed competition that has resulted in providing a better, cheaper telephone service with a focus on consumer satisfaction. Ditto for package and mail delivery services. So we have obvious examples of private provision of goods that formerly had that mythological aura of “public goods.” 
What about radio and television broadcasts? They are non-excludable and additional customers can be added with no additional cost, but there are abundant examples of private broadcasting companies. State licensing is an impediment to efficiency imposed for reasons of control and cartelization, not to protect consumers or enhance the provision of these goods. Private providers came up with commercials and these industries have flourished for almost a hundred years. The Internet could be considered a public good and has become a shining example of free markets evolving and adapting to consumer preferences. Here are examples of how the free-market can and does provide public goods.
Do you really think that airports would not be constructed without political intervention and control? Sports stadiums for billionaire owners and players? There are already numerous private fire fighting, security and dispute resolution companies in spite of having to compete against virtual monopolies that try to regulate them out of existence. I’ve covered police and national defense in a previous article here. Follow the link to Professor Hoppe’s work above for a classic, irrefutable treatise on the subject. Is redistributing income from younger people to older people by force a better way than individual planning to provide for retirement considering efficiency or moral principles?
Customer satisfaction determining profit and loss through competition and a price mechanism as an organizing principle in society must surely be better than politicians determining resource allocation through monopolies and the use of force. This is so when considering utilitarian and/or moral principles. So why does this myth that “public goods” require state production perpetuate itself so widely? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that everybody who works for the government has an incentive to promote the government provision of these goods and services? That’s a lot of people and their numbers are growing. 
Do government policemen promote more funding for their departments or competition from private investigators? Do government school teachers promote more funding for their employers or more competition from private schools? The influence from state controlled educational institutions and ignorant media lackeys are overwhelming. That anybody questions the sacred cow of public goods theory would be amazing if not for the glaring inconsistencies and fallacies associated with what is, in the end, obviously blatant propaganda reinforced by institutional bias. Professor Randall G. Holcombe has an excellent paper called A Theory of the Theory of Public Goods that explains this idea very well.
Finally, how do so many believe that people become virtuous through the process of elections yet people who engage in voluntary trade are demonic? Kind of like the Cardinal in the Catholic Church that becomes God’s infallible right-hand-man after his peers votes it to be so while everybody else falls short. Democratic rituals require a fantastical leap of faith to believe that mere mortals who lie, cheat and sell their souls to moneyed interests to get elected somehow become so virtuous after winning an election so that they can then promote the “public good” over their own self-interest. Yet a spontaneous system that harnesses the natural survival instinct of self-interest into its voluntary process, such that others also benefit, is considered unstable, even evil. Only years and years of subtle and not so subtle political programming could lead one to be so naïve. Or accept the status quo to be “as good as it gets” while spiraling down a black hole of cynicism.
Public goods theory was created out of whole cloth by court intellectuals in order to justify the status quo political power structures that support them. These public institutions are crumbling around us as evidence of their inefficiency and moral turpitude becomes perfectly clear. We can cling to familiar forms that comfort us allowing them to suck our society down the drain with them or we can grasp real change and resurrect what made this country and its people great. That is respect for private property and contracts, personal responsibility for decisions and actions, seeing political leaders for the scoundrels they are and throwing them out on their rears; and trusting our neighbors and ourselves. We don’t need a Frodo to throw the Ring of Political Power into the fire, because we can all volunteer to do it together.

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Mark Davis's picture
Columns on STR: 65

Mark Davis is a husband, father and real estate analyst/investor enjoying the freedoms we still have in Longwood, Florida.


ScoobyDoo's picture

But a bunch of the examples listed in the second paragraph (electricity, water, sewer, parks, roads, air travel, and sporting events) aren't even public goods.

Your own sources say this about public goods: "[public goods] have the special characteristic that their enjoyment cannot be restricted to those who have actually financed their production." (Hoppe), and "A public good, as defined by economic theory, is a good that, once produced, can be consumed by an additional consumer at no additional cost. A second characteristic is sometimes added, specifying that consumers cannot be excluded from consuming the public good once it is produced." (Holcombe) Or as wikipedia puts it, non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

The examples are almost all clearly rivalrous, excludable, or both. You say you're making an argument about public goods, but you aren't actually describing public goods.

Mark Davis's picture

Perhaps you missed the qualifying statement before the list "So much for definitions, let’s look at some things commonly believed to be public goods..."

I've recieved e-mails from many people listing these examples as public goods, so I felt I must address them. Some can meet the definition, if loosely i.e. roads once built can have one or a hundred cars use it at no additional cost. The whole point of the article is that the existance of these goods is a myth and don't really exist, and why this myth is perpetuated.

I welcome any examples that you wish to suggest that are "really" public goods.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

Let me preface this by stating clearly that I don't think that the State ameliorates the public goods problem - and even if it did, the 'welfare gains' from adding up little triangles of formerly-non-existent consumer surplus from 'correcting' market failure in the public-goods case, are more than wiped out whenever the political-parasite class has a turf war (a.k.a. 'war').

The only defensible position is anarchy, and that involves accepting that certain goods (e.g., national defence, basic education and basic health care such as inoculations) will be underprovided (in some 'utilitarian' framework) - in that a notional aggregate utility functional would be increased if the production of the good was increased (or decreased in the case of a social bad).

That said, anyone who has read Buchanan knows that the logic of the theory that there are goods with publicness-aspects (asymmetric utility interdependence) is unassailable, and to say otherwise just makes one look like a bit of a dill.

There are issues of utility-comparability and differing marginal valuations of money and consumption goods, for certain - but that is a SEPARATE ISSUE.

No economically literate person can defend the assertion that public goods - goods that are non-rival (or partly non-rival) or non-exclusive in consumption - don't exist.

We will remain the 'daft uncle' of the discipline of economics while we permit these sorts of whackery to persist.

Put it this way: if you believe in externalities, you A FORTIORI believe in utility-interdependence. If you don't believe in externalities, then you don't accept that you should be compensated for pollution associated with my production; you undermine one of the basic tenets of property rights. Under a 'no externalities need be compensated' theory of property, I could build a plant that accidentally spilt toxic waste into a river, and assert that nobody was affected.

And public-goods arguments are simply the assertion that in some classes of good, those externalities are economically significant and failing to account for them is a fault if you are trying to participate in discussions of efficiency (the best use of resources to maximise consumption subject to constraints: the CRUX of the economic way of thinking).

Now to qualify this, there are some who believe that interpersonal (and intertemporal) utility comparisons are nonsense, and I have some limited sympathy with that: my preference map changes all the time... but at a GIVEN point in time, I know that my preferences satisfy the requirements for a utility functional (ordinal preferences, transversality and so on).

Anyhow... too many folks in our world try to score the 'big get' against elements of economic theory without properly understanding them: I think that Hoppe's constant use of straw-man arguments in this matter is faintly ridiculous.

Confession: my background is in economic modelling... I was institutionalised at what our enemies called a 'right-wing think-tank' for ten years as an Honours and grad student, but I escaped into the wild in 2002.

I got an HD (high distinction) in Public Finance at 3rd year, if memory serves, so I must have known something about this crap once upon a time.



ScoobyDoo's picture

Take this bit of your essay:

"What about radio and television broadcasts? They are non-excludable and additional customers can be added with no additional cost, but there are abundant examples of private broadcasting companies. State licensing is an impediment to efficiency imposed for reasons of control and cartelization, not to protect consumers or enhance the provision of these goods."

You've actually jumped across three entirely different concepts within as many sentences. You've got 1) the broadcast itself, 2) the company that creates the broadcast, 3) the 'right' to transmit on a specific section of the radio spectrum. These each match up with once of the four areas in the matrix in the wikipedia article.

The broadcast itself is the public good in this example. Once you send the broadcast, there is little purpose in 'owning' it. It is beyond your power to keep people within range from intercepting the signal, and no one else is denied listening to the signal just because you tune your radio into the same station. It's non-rivalrous and non-excludable. ie: a public good. You mention scarcity, but public goods are essentially non-scarce. No violence is needed to create or control the broadcast

The company, the broadcasting equipment, and all the time and other resources that go into producing the broadcast are both rivalrous and excludable. If you use my radio, I don't get to use it (rivalrous) and I can stop you from using my radio (excludable). So the company is a private good. Again, no violence is needed beyond the typical defense of private property.

The 'right' to transmit would fall into the Common Good area, although the licensing pushes it into the Private Good arena. The spectrum is most definitely rivalrous. If we're both transmitting on the same band and the same place at the same time, both our transmissions are ruined (although in some circumstances the one with the most powerful transmitter wins). Two people using it at the same time actually reduces the value of the medium. This was basically the situation during the early years of radio, where anyone could power up their spark gap transmitter and blast out a noisy signal across a broad band that hampered everyone else's ability to communicate. It's non-excludable in the sense that I can't physically stop you from broadcasting unless I go into your house/building and destroy your transmitter. So it's a Common Good: Rivalrous and non-excludable.

The Tragedy of the Commons has two theoretical solutions: regulation and privatization. Licensing a chunk of the spectrum for a specific area and a specific broadcasting power is akin to public grazing lands being converted to private ranches or farmland. Once given the exclusive right to use the resource, the owner can develop it much more efficiently. But we also 'regulate' other parts of the spectrum for non-exclusive use under specific guidelines. So we have bands like amateur, FRS, and GMRS bands for non-commercial comms, MURS for commercial comms, the 2.4 Ghz band for things like WiFi and cordless phones. Amateurs and MURS operators are expected to minimize interference by a set of operational rules, and WiFi and cordless devices minimize interference by the design of the device, primarily lower power levels. Although, if you saw Steve Jobs' latest iPhone demo, that approach is not always successful.

It's actually the attempt to make the non-excludable common good into an excludable private good that requires the coordinated state violence. I can claim the right to exclusively broadcast on a specific band... but if you're doing it too, there isn't much I can do to stop you without violating other concrete property rights. I would need to go into your building and take or disable your transmitter. That is essentially what the state does for you in this situation, although they'll usually just persuade you with fines rather than actually take or disable the equipment.

Also, I think it bears mentioning that the existence of non-rivalrous, non-excludable 'public goods' doesn't necessitate any specific government action. An argument that they exist isn't an argument for a specific treatment of them. We don't NEED to privatize or regulate the radio spectrum. It doesn't inherently belong to anyone, and no one really has the right to have their WiFi or TV run without interference. An unregulated radio spectrum very well might come out with more utility than the specific uses that regulators have deemed are worthy.

But if people are telling you that something is a public good when it's not actually a public good, the best defense is probably to explain what a public good is, and why that specific item is NOT a public good. The term itself is a bit newspeakish, but it's fairly easy to define and then sort the various goods into their proper bucket. If anyone is claiming that a sports stadium is a Public Good, then they're wrong on the face of it, way before they start claiming any sort of need for government action.

ScoobyDoo's picture

STR flagged my first reply as spam for some reason, so here's a second try:

If people are saying that those things are public goods, it's simple to show that they are not by pointing out where they are rivalrous or excludable. It's not a terribly complex point to make.

I think your essay suffers most from accepting the assumption that the existance of a public good would necessitate state intervention. Since you don't want state intervention, you're trying to argue that such bogeymen don't exist. But despite the newspeakish name, public goods don't actually have anything to do with the state. They can be, and often are, created by private enterprises as well. Likewise, there are many arguments for the state getting involved in non-publicgoods, too. So proving that everything is rivalrous or excludable doesn't prove the anti-state point any more than proving that some things are neither proves the pro-state point.

The example you give of a radio broadcast is an excellent example of a real public good. It is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous by nature. Private companies, government entities, and individual citizens with home built equipment are all capable of producing this public good.

The spectrum itself is NOT a public good, since it's rivalrous. Two stations transmitting on the same frequency will interfere with each other and make both attempts to communicate worthless. Anyone using the spectrum's status as a public good as an argument that the state needs to get involved is just plain wrong, since it's not a public good at all. It would be more of a common good, and the licensing is an attempt to turn it into a private good by imposing artificial excludability.

Digital data is another decent example of an inherently public good. It is an interesting flip to the arguments presented in the essay, where those inherently public goods are subject to state regulation that seeks to impose artificial excludability, and push them into the club goods corner of the matrix.

Some things can be shifted from the excludable to non-excludable side depending on how you treat them. ie: the Commons in the Tragedy of the Commons. It's only a non-excludable Commons until they decide to privatize it and start excluding. The Rivalrous side is much more concrete. Very few goods are truly non-rivalrous, infinite, non-scarce goods. Even roads get congested when too many people use them at once.

ScoobyTwo's picture

Ok, so here's the points I was trying to make, hopefully condensed enough to get past the spam filters:

1) Anyone saying that an excludable or rivalrous good is a 'public good' is wrong on the face of it. You can just say so.
2) 'public good' is really a newspeakish misnomer. Non-state entities are perfectly capable of creating non-rivalrous, non-excludable goods. case in point: radio transmissions and digital information.
3) Thus: the existence of such goods is not proof that the state needs to exist, and it's no threat to a market anarchist philosophy.
4) likewise, proving their non-existence wouldn't prove a market anarchist philosophy is right, anyway. There are lots of arguments for state control over rivalrous and excludable goods. example: roads (only so many people can use them at one time, so they're rivalrous)

maybe I should submit my full comment as an article?

Mark Davis's picture

Thank you both for the thoughtful comments.

Your last post above ScoobyTwo pretty much sums up my position. I didn't mean to suggest that if public goods didn't exist that we therefore must have anarchy; but to counter the argument I constantly hear that the existence of public goods means we can't have anarchy. I'd be interested in seeing you write an article on the subject that would hopefully do a better job than I did of explaining the first three.

Mr. Transom - I'm glad to hear that you have escaped from the institution and are now in the "wild". That you still speak of "notional aggregate utility functional" and "publicness-aspects (asymmetric utility interdependence)" with passion reveals that you may have been there too long ;>) Anyways, this article was not meant to be a scholarly treatise on economics as there are plenty of those over at the Mises Institute and elsewhere including the links I provided. The Myth of Public Goods, in my view, isn't that someone can create a definition that includes various goods and services, but that this concept can then be used to justify the state. I hoped in this article to address the public perception of public goods (including many things that do not meet the given definition) in an effort to inspire non-economists (99.9% of the population) to question the status quo and the need for a state. As ScoobyTwo said the term is "newspeakish" and most of the world has only a very superficial understanding of the term.

That said, I agree that some goods will be "underprovided" in anarchy if only temporarily and based on comparison to a theoretical optimum level. I have some problems with the belief in the ability of mathematical formulas and models to determine what the "optimum" level is that goods/sevices "should" be provided at which, as you pointed out, is always changing anyway. I also don't think Hoppe "constantly uses straw-man arguments" but will look a little closer now that you have mentioned it. I believe that free-market principles apply to all goods and services and state interference leads to unintended consequences and diminished results.

Perhaps you guys have seen this (see address below), but it is a good article that includes some history on radio waves pertinent to this discussion. The courts were well on their way to settling how to allocate band-width issues via the use of private property rights when Hoover stepped in to license and control it.

Wilton D. Alston's picture

Here's what I don't get, and I admit that my eyes tend to glaze over the more economic jargon I see. I agree with ScoobyDoo, particularly this comment, "I think your essay suffers most from accepting the assumption that the existence of a public good would necessitate state intervention." I do concede however, that the author's latest comment explains that question satisfactorily.

Simply put, it really doesn't matter if public goods "exist" or not. What matters is this: Is it moral for you to take something from me, by force, and give it to someone else, regardless of justification? If that justification could be characterized as notional aggregate utility functional or justified via asymmetric utility interdependence is irrelevant. The notion of anarchy is not based (necessarily) upon a deduction that things will be better distributed, or more efficiently produced, although far too many of us who support it use these utilitarian arguments from time to time. If theft is immoral, it doesn't matter how many equations one can produce, or the complexity of the arguments around them.

Allow me to end my post with another straw man, or maybe two.

Consider: It is possible that the economy of the South would not support the wholesale release of all chattel slaves. The job market might not absorb them. The housing market might not allow them to be efficiently housed. So what? Don't keep people as slaves, because is it immoral, period.

Consider: It is possible that a road built by a private firm might have a toll cost--assuming that tolls are how the road is financed--that is too high for all prospective users in a locale. So? (This is not an uncaring question, and no, I don't club baby kittens for sport!)

The utility and availability for use of any (most?) good varies all over the place. Scarcity, anyone? In fact, statist measures tend to exacerbate this variation. For example, public schools are financed by taxes on people who don't use them (no children), and people who have left them in disgust (private school parents). It would seem then, that utility is asymmetrical regardless of paradigm, and is therefore irrelevant to the "why" of anarchy versus statism. That I might think of a situation where a good might be "underprovided"--a designation that itself seems based upon omniscience--in anarchy simply puts anarchy in the same place as statist approaches, only without the inherent theft.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

Hey there Wilt,

When you say "Simply put, it really doesn't matter if public goods "exist" or not. What matters is this: Is it moral for you to take something from me, by force, and give it to someone else..." I half-agree.

Taking it as read that no central planner knows the 'social utility functional' (and so could only expend public-goods output to the optimum by fluke)... it still DOES matter that public goods exist. It does it does it DOES, I say.

If we in the anarcho-capitalist (I prefer 'akrato-capitalist' or 'voluntaryist' personally) fraternity close our eyes and stick our fingers in our ears at the mention of non-rival non-excludable (and potentially asymmetric) utility interdependence, then we consign ourselves to the marginalia of economics... and that is where we actually have the greatest likelihood of WINNING.

BUT - even and here is where we all find ourselves in rabid agreement: the fact that public goods DO exist (in some utilitarian sense) DOES NOT justify the use of State force to extort resources from society in order to 'correct' the market failure.

The reasons are primarily two: the easiest to recognise is the tendency of the State to expand well past the point where it does any tangible good. The rise of bureaucracy, X-inefficiency and the problem of organisational 'capture' are only exacerbated by the fact that a big pool of power will attract the most degenerate among us.

The second is the most important: that - as you point out - it is wrong to extract resources by force, even if you think you will do good with them. {Leaving aside issues of extreme exigency - may I take your boat by force if my child is drowning and you refuse to lend me the boat? [Yes - I will compensate you later... ]}. As the best argument against Bentham goes: if 5 thugs get more utility from kicking an old man to death, than the old man loses... does that make it a net GAIN to social welfare?

That second argument rests on the idea that individuals have rights, and no set of individuals can gain additional rights simply by grouping them: in a population of N we don't each have 1/Nth share in each other's rights which we can 'pool' whereby the biggest pool gets everyone's rights to do with as they wish.

In fact, it is easy to frame a utilitarian argument for the anarchist position: that over time, the use of government to ameliorate the public goods problem, will - with probability ONE - lead to a reduction in social utility as a result of the abridgement of rights.

Thus Rights are the ULTIMATE public good: so long as there is a slave anywhere in the world, we all suffer a loss of utility.

As I have explained elsewhere, my journey to anarchism was relatively short: as an undergrad I was politically disengaged (although I already viewed all politicians as scum) until a lecture on Sortition given by the late Ross Parish that started at 5:30 p.m. on the first Friday of semester 2 in 1992 (Ross was still alive then, obviously).

By 7p.m. that day, I was a proto-anarchist (or at worst a minarchist who favoured selection of political officeholders by lot as a mechanism for preventing the tendency of the political process being captured by Party interests and careerist rent-seekers). The following Monday I changed from a straight Accounting major with a compulsory one-unit in Economics, to straight Economics/Econometrics.

In 1994 I did Public Finance - which sought to re-affirm the minarchist position by furnishing a utilitarian framework (public goods -> need for amelioration -> government as fixer ->progressive taxation [due to diminishing marginal utility of money]).

But by then the damage was done (as far as me becoming an anarchist was concerned); Parish made us read Mill's "On Liberty", and Lysander Spooner's "No Treason", some Rothbard, some Nock, and some other material of that nature... as well as some Bentham to cleanse the palate. He was a gem.

Interestingly, none of the folks with whom I worked in our academic 'think tank' had a brighter view of the political process than I did: we all saw them as self-interested parasites who were too lazy to work but too cowardly to steal without the force of the State behind them.



Mark Davis's picture

Thank you for the comment Wilt.

I tried to balance the moral with the utilitarian arguments, but most of the arguments I have heard from statists for government provision of public goods are utilitarian. Liberals promoting welfare and conservatives promoting warfare tend to discount, if not totally ignore, the moral issue of the use of force required to implement their "policies". I agree that the use of force (violence) should be everyone’s primary concern as it is mine, but, alas, I don't see the level of concern from statists on their immoral positions. While I tried to bring up morality at every turn, in order not to lose the attention of statists targeted by this article, I focused on their utilitarian arguments for the state that public goods represent. This position is most strongly acerbated by conservatives in their argument for the "need" for a state in order to "protect" us. Accepting tax slavery as a precondition for safety seems cowardly as well as immoral.

So I do not accept the premise that even if public goods exist in any form, that this justifies the need for a state. I was just attempting to render this premise a moot point. Addressing the "gun in the room that everyone ignores" when the state provides any good/service more directly will likely be the focus of another article in the future.

Faré's picture

You might be interested in my essay "Public Goods Fallacies"