The Private Provision of Public Goods

The private provision of public goods, i.e. goods which are both non-excludeable and non-rival, is the prime concern of anarcho-capitalism. An example of this kind of philosophy can be found in Roderick Long’s writings, a pithy version of which was recently posted on his web site,

Charlotte Ward asks us to imagine a world without taxes. (“Don’t like taxes? Imagine a world without these services,” Tuesday.)

Okay, let’s try. What would it be like?

True, the government wouldn’t be able to provide its services any more. But it also would no longer be able to forbid competitors from offering such services non-coercively. With formerly governmental services no longer insulated from market competition, their quality would rise and their prices would fall.

Government would also no longer be able to rig markets in favor of the corporate elite and against the poor and middle class. Most governmental redistribution is from the less to the more affluent, not vice versa. Getting rid of taxation and the plutocratic policies it supports would eliminate the chief cause of poverty.

Gone too would be the ability to enforce laws against “lodge practice” – laws that deprive the poor of low-cost health care in order to enrich the medical establishment. That one change would do far more for health care than either the liberals’ state-run solution or the conservatives’ corporate-run system.

Oppressive policies like harassing immigrants [deleted by the newspaper: and downloaders] and pot smokers, or bombing Pakistani children, would be unsustainable in a freed market. And police brutality would be a lot harder to maintain if security services were competitive.

Liberals claim to be advocates for the disadvantaged, but all too often support regulations that entrench established interests and make it impossible for the poor to compete.

Conservatives claim to oppose big government, but in practice support corporate welfare, anti-union laws, intrusions into personal liberties, a bloated military-industrial complex, and grants of monopoly privilege and cronyism cloaked in the language of “deregulation” and “privatization.”

And taxation makes all this possible.

To learn more, check out the websites of the Center for a Stateless Society and the Alliance of the Libertarian Left.

Roderick T. Long

A utopia one might guess. While I am generally sympathetic to the outcomes, there are some problems with the philosophy, particularly on the social side. As Bryan Caplan noted in his book, four major bias exist for the general public in regards to economics,

  1. anti-foreign bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners
  2. make-work bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of conserving labor
  3. anti-market bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism
  4. pessimistic bias – the tendency to overestimate the severity of economic problems and underestimate the (recent) past, present, and future performance of the economy.

The last two are the most important for anarcho-capitalists. If there is a tendency to not believe in the market and to be generally pessimistic about the economy, how can it then provide the goods that we desire? And then there is the issue of goods. As has been rightly pointed out elsewhere, as we become more wealthy our tradeoff in the consumption of goods changes from what is called materialist or industrial consumption pattern to a  post-materialist consumption pattern.

Economic development is linked with social change – but the process is not linear. Though a specific modernization syndrome becomes increasingly probable when societies move from agrarian to an industrial mode of production, no trend goes in the same direction forever…In the past few decades, advanced industrial societies have reached an inflection point and begun moving on a new trajectory…described as “Postmodernization.” With Postmodernization, a new worldview is gradually replacing the outlook that has dominated industrializing societies since the Industrial Revolution…It is transforming basic norms governing politics, work, religion, family, and sexual behavior.

For governing politics, we demand government plain and simple. Put the two together and we have the near impossibility of a radical break towards anarcho-capitalism.

Marginal changes it is.

Looking over the entire landscape, Bryan Caplan noted four major bias in the general public in regards to economics,

  1. anti-foreign bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners

  2. make-work bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of conserving labor

  3. anti-market bias – the tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism

  4. pessimistic bias – the tendency to overestimate the severity of economic problems and underestimate the (recent) past, present, and future performance of the economy.

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