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Government could not exist without a well-developed economy. A fundamental requirement for a government to be a government is that it must maintain a point of contact between the men it “employs” and the people it “governs.” Said government must also have the ability to adopt an administrative apparatus to enforce and apply the legislation that the people in government put down on paper. You could fill entire libraries with legislative acts but they would have no meaning whatsoever if there were no enforcement apparatus, or if that apparatus was unable to maintain a point of contact with the governed. In other words, governments, for their very existence, require a reasonably well functioning economy that produces a surplus from which it may extract its tribute. By definition, the administrative class within government is not productive in the sense that it produces goods and services that can support itself.

But now consider what I view as the most common objections from the state religionists to my laissez-faire views … that even my “precious free market” relies on the apparatus of government to work. First of all, the premise itself is untrue. Bruce Benson’s Enterprise of Law would be a terrific place to start the discussion. But let’s consider their argument. They would say that I could not freely exchange my economics services with my students if it were not for the government enforcing contracts (see the Benson book for a contrary view, or things like the history of Merchant Law). They would say that for students and me to engage in an educational transaction that each must have driven on public roads, or benefitted from government efforts to clean our water or maintain a sewer system, or benefit from the Fed maintaining the money stock of the country, and so on. And that since I benefit from all of these wonderful things government does, I am bound to pay tribute to the government.

Nonsense.  And it is nonsense for one reason that is widely understood but also nonsense for less well understood reason. The understood reason is that when government monopolizes the production of some good or service I am prohibited from exit, and am prohibited from using other suppliers. The most obvious example is money. The Fed is the monopoly producer of base money in the US, and the value of said money is impacted by Fed monetary policy. It is virtually impossible for a private issuer of money to exist in the US. So, since I “enjoy” the privilege of using US money, does that now mean I am to pay tribute for the maintenance of the Fed? Hardly. Same thing for roads and other infrastructure. Let’s ask the state religionists to respond seriously: do you really believe that absent government, we would live in a world with no roads? Not only is that absurd to say (the earliest roads were in fact privately built and operated) the very system of roads that government has created is now the source of much consternation here in the U.S. Think about the screaming of the statists as the budget was being mightily slashed last week, “how dare you allow our infrastructure continue to crumble!” Well, what the hell? YOU have a virtual monopoly in infrastructure development and maintenance and you are admitting that under YOUR watch it is crumbling? Give me a break.

OK, but let’s ignore the monopolization of these “goods” by government and let’s follow the logic of the argument. The argument says that since I “free-ride” off of things the government provides to all of us that I am obligated to contribute. But consider this: is not the very existence of government owed to private sector productive efforts? Who is doing the free-riding here? Ought not this argument be turned right on its head? The government could not exist without being able to extract surplus from the productive class. It seems odd that this is the best reasoning a statist could give to support his view of the world.

But let’s consider yet another fact. Much of the value created by the productive class is not captured by the productive class themselves. Consider the amount of wealth created because Gutenberg mastered the printing press. How much of that wealth accrued to Gutenberg and his heirs? The answer is an asymptotic zero. Not 50% or 40% or even 10% but closer to zero. Doesn’t the government “free-ride” on Gutenberg’s invention? And all of the inventions of all of the entrepreneurs through history? How much value does Bill Gates actually keep from his entrepreneurial activities? Should the rest of the private sector be forced to compensate Bill Gates for the “public good” he has created? Should the government? I am sure by now you are saying that even asking the question is absurd. And if you have this inclination, then how is it any different from the line of argument that suggests I “owe” government tribute because my market activities depend on the goodness of government for their very existence. The premise is false to begin with, since it is entirely possible to engage in market transactions absent coercive government. But even it if the premise is not false, the argument is itself contradictory — but would you expect anything less of the best of statist defenders?

3 Responses to “Your Precious Little “Free Market” Depends on the State for Its Very Existence”

  1. Harry says:

    Back in college days I read a whole book on this subject for a philosophy class by Walter Lippman that had as its only point that our government conferred the blessings of incorporation. The argument went that therefore there were great obligations to the blessors of this privilege.

    In retrospect, this idea is perverse, but is one of the axioms of the progressive movement, who regarded Walt the Lip as an equal to Socrates.

    If one thinks people should be free, then that is a different axiom. How many of your progressive tenured colleagues want to argue about that?

  2. Rod says:

    This is the same argument the Mob uses to explain why it’s wise to give Paulie Walnuts a thick envelope each Thursday. Youse neva know when sumbuddy might torch ya restaurant.

    Public school advocates use the free-rider argument to explain why childless couples or single people ought to pay school taxes. If it were not for public schools, our society would be filled with people who can’t read or do arithmetic at higher than a sixth grade level. Hmmm.

    On the other hand, when parents send their kids to private or parochial schools, the burden of teaching them is removed from the local public schools. Isn’t that free riding?

    No, the public school advocates would argue: along with each kid attending the local schools comes a big state subsidy per student, and there’s plenty of room in the over-built public school buildings. But wouldn’t the public schools just hire fewer teachers than they’d need if the Catholic and private school kids went to public school? I wonder if the teachers’ union would cooperate with that.

  3. chuck martel says:

    The increase of human productivity that correlates with the industrial revolution and the free market has produced the wealth that has enabled the leviathan state. In the feudal age, no matter how much the small states confiscated, there wasn’t enough wealth to support large, oppressive bureaucracies, finance wealth redistribution schemes and wage unimaginably destructive wars. The advent of the specialization of labor, the trade enabled by it and innovation in finance have created the pools of riches that despotisms of all stripes confiscate for their own purposes. Governments at all levels are basically gangs that extort wealth from the general population for distribution to their own membership, whose welfare is of utmost importance. At times circumstances might require that the government agency provide some form of benefit to their victims; a diploma, a stretch of asphalt pavement, an occupational license or a park but those are incidental to the primary objective, confiscation of wealth for the purposes of the members of the gang.

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