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.

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