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Freedom's Phoenix

Is Government Necessary?

January 8, 2010 - 8:30am
Nick Coons by Nick Coons


Government is often called a necessary evil; that it'd be nice if we didn't have government, but we need it because there are evil people that need to be kept in check, or because there are stupid people that can't take care of themselves. But are either of these really justifications for the existence of a state?

First, let's acknowledge reality. There are evil people, and there are stupid people (incidentally, while most people agree with that assertion, most people reading this would neither put themselves in the "evil" nor the "stupid" category).

If we're going to say that we need a government, we must define exactly what that is. Is the government the entity that provides us with goods and services? No, that's too broad. Businesses can provide us with goods and services, and we wouldn't call them governments. How about helping the poor? Charities do that, and we don't call them governments. Providing protection? There are security companies that can do that. So if we're to distinguish "government" from any other organization, we have to pinpoint the factor that makes government what it is.

The uniquely defining factor of government is that they are a group of individuals that have the legal right to threaten and initiate violence. No business, no charity, no other organization can legally do that. Furthermore, because government is the only one that can do this, they have a monopoly in a given geographical area. Therefore, government can be defined as "a violent monopoly." This definition sums up the means, not necessarily the ends. Just because the local mob boss might donate some money to help the starving doesn't make him any less evil, and doesn't make his means any less violent. Government's existence is often justified by saying that government must protect our rights. Since rights can only be violated by physical force (you can't think or speak away someone's rights), the argument reduces to "we need government to protect us from violence," or "we need a violent monopoly to protect us from violence," which is a bit absurd.

It should be obvious that if there were no evil people in the world, then no government would be necessary. And if there were nothing but evil people in the world, then no government could possibly function and therefore we would not want government. How about the in-betweens? There are four possible distributions of evil people (the analysis also works if you replace "evil" with "stupid").

  1. All people are good.
  2. All people are evil.
  3. Most people are good.
  4. Most people are evil.

(Technically, there is a fifth possibility, that the split between good and evil is 50/50; but with six billion people in the world, that's a statistical impossibility and not really worth discussing). #1 and #2 were already addressed and are pretty clear. #4 has the same problem that #2 has. If we use majority rule to vote in leaders, then evil people will simply vote in evil people.

Some people have a tendancy to abuse alcohol; we call them alcoholics. A reasonable person would not argue that we should put a distillery in the living room of an alcoholic. #3 follows this same line of thought. Some people have a tendancy to want to exercise and abuse power over others; we call them evil. A reasonable person would not argue that we create an institution that allows people to legally exercise and abuse power over others. People that are good have no desire to exercise power over others; they wish to associate with people voluntarily.

Even without government, there will still be evil/stupid people. And just as the market addresses every other consumer demand - food distribution, personal transportation, communications, technology, clothing, shelter, etc. - so too can the market address the consumer demand that they be protected from evil, or that stupid people are given the assistance they may need.

Related Content:

Government Efficiency - Richard Sutton
The Problem and Solution to Health Care - Page 2 - Nick Coons
Free Market in Family - Nick Coons

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