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Wouldn't services offered by the government be provided better by the private sector?

asked Sep 21 '10 at 02:32

dennis's gravatar image

dennis ♦

edited Sep 21 '10 at 07:36

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I wrote a critique of libertarian anarchism a few months ago @ http://labeit.economicpolicyjournal.com/2010/07/epistemological-problem-with-anarchism.html

Needless to say, I didn't convince any anarchists (and they tend to get very testy when this issue comes up). But I'm fairly certain I discredited libertarian anarchism.

(Nov 19 '10 at 16:23) Michael Labeit Michael%20Labeit's gravatar image


What differentiates government services from those that may be provided by the private sector is that government services involve the use of (retaliatory) force: police, military, and courts of law.

There can be no "market" involved, and therefore no private sector, when the underlying action involves force, since a market transaction is one in which all parties participate willingly. For example, a police officer arresting someone for fraud is not involved in a transaction to mutual benefit with the accused.

Therefore, the government, as its only moral purpose, can and should evaluate when the use of retaliatory force is appropriate, via objectively defined laws.

See The Nature of Government.

answered Sep 21 '10 at 03:27

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦

A police officer arresting someone is certainly not in a mutually-beneficial transaction, no question about it. But those are not the two parties of the market transaction that private enforcement agencies make. That transaction is between the victim and the enforcer.

(Nov 10 '10 at 15:21) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

@Mindy I'd love to clarify/improve the answer if I can but I'm not certain I understand your comment. It sounds like you are saying a victim and a private enforcement agency can make a valid contract to arrest a third party that perpetrated a crime?

If so, no, that is not valid -- because force is still required to arrest the third party. Therefore this is still not a market transaction. For example, what is stopping the third party from contracting his own enforcers? As you can see, this approach quickly devolves into gang warfare.

(Nov 10 '10 at 15:49) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

Often the purpose of this question is the particular challenge: "Why do we need a single institution called 'the government' to have the privilege of using retaliatory force?" Or: "Why should one institution have a monopoly on force?"

Harry Binswanger has pointed out that this question, "Why should anyone have a monopoly on force?" is based upon a mistaken premise: that the monopoly is incidental. But the truth is that any use of force -- just or unjust -- is inherently monopolizing in its purpose. A person using force wants things done his way, or else. He is not tolerating challenge or dissent. He is not looking to make a deal. And he is most certainly not going to coexist peacefully with others who wish to use force against him.

If people create an institution to use retaliatory force in their defense, that institution must be able to use force without being thwarted by rival force-wielding agencies. It could not be effective in its goal otherwise. And if there is organized resistance, then the situation is a state of civil war in which one side (or some opportunistic third party) will eventually be victorious -- and then assert its sole authority to use force.

The Objectivist defense of government over anarchism is based upon an inductive understanding of the nature of force, which is readily observable in the current world and in history.

(People who believe that there should be multiple force-wielding agencies in the same jurisdiction call themselves "anarchocapitalists," a particular flavor of libertarian. This is one more reason to avoid the L word in describing Objectivist politics.)

answered Oct 01 '10 at 17:05

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

edited Oct 06 '10 at 14:32

Because without government—that is, under anarchy—the result is bloody tribal warfare. Just look at Europe during the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire. A strong central government performs the crucial function of maintaining law and order, and preventing attack from the outside. In Ayn Rand's identification, it protects individual rights.

These "services" can't be provided by "the private sector" because they involve and require the use of force. Truly private services, such as restaurants or phone companies, can co-exist, competing peacefully. But governments, by their nature, cannot. To maintain law and order, a government needs a monopoly on the use of force in a region. It needs jurisdiction, sovereignty. When two governments disagree on issues of jurisdiction and sovereignty, their competition is not the peaceful competition of private companies. It is war.

In the end, a strong government, maintaining order and protecting rights, is the precondition of any kind of private sector.

answered Sep 23 '10 at 02:35

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

so something like private prisons would not fall under a nature of government

(Sep 23 '10 at 02:56) Michael Michael's gravatar image

No. What is a "private prison", anyway? A private individual or group keeping someone locked up? By what authority? What if the prisoner's friends and relatives decide that he was unjustly imprisoned? To whom do they appeal? Or do they just try to break him out? And so on.

Do you see where this is going, where it has to go? Any type of "private" government—police, jails, armies—leads to fighting and warfare at some level. The whole purpose of government is to stop such fighting. But to do that, government has to have exclusive power to make and enforce laws in a region.

(Sep 23 '10 at 03:12) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

oh I was referring to contracting out the services to the private sector. It would still be under the legal framework of the government. All they do is provide management services for and run the prison in accordance with governmental guidelines and are regulated by government.Government bureaucracies are organized economic interest groups just as much as private corporations are.

I mean we have security firms as well. Can't the argument be extended to private prisons as well.

(Sep 23 '10 at 07:08) Michael Michael's gravatar image

Oh, I see. Well, sure, government can contract out some services to the private sector. For example, they could contract out the building of a prison to a construction company—I don't see any problem with that. Would they contract out staffing it to a private security firm? That doesn't make sense to me... but I'm not an expert on penitentiary administration. At this point I think we're talking about details of administration, not political philosophy.

(Sep 23 '10 at 15:09) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image
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The idea that private companies could provide police services is actually guilty of a particularly gross form of stolen concept. The concept they steal is "contract." A contract presupposes an agency--the courts and police--that will enforce that contract. Outside that context, a "contract" is wishful thinking.

This relates to the question only regarding private police/military/courts.

answered Nov 09 '10 at 22:18

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Nov 10 '10 at 15:27

you could have public-private partnerships where the government contracts out prison services for instance. Although its not clear that privately prisons are any better or worse than the publicly run ones. at the end of the day government bureaucracies are an economic interest group as much as private corporations are.

(Nov 09 '10 at 23:52) Michael Michael's gravatar image

The anarchists response is that private groups would also handle the courts/police.

(Nov 25 '10 at 15:27) capitalistswine ♦ capitalistswine's gravatar image

From a more anthropological perspective: man needs governments in order to subordinate might to right. If man is to live rationally, to live by his own knowledge and judgment, he has to be free from coercion. If man is to live productively, he must be able to count on keeping the products of his effort. So, in his person and in his possessions, man needs security, he needs to be free from forceful interference. Civilization begins when men agree to respect one another's lives and property, with the weight of the whole group standing behind any victims, against transgressors. At least some rules and laws defining the transgressions and setting up a process for redress must be instituted to achieve the practical implementation of this, and we call that government. It follows that man needs governments in order to live as a rational being. In instituting governments, men are consciously choosing the "rational" over the "animal," and production over predation. When and only when they do, they achieve at once both peace and prosperity.

answered Nov 11 '10 at 21:13

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Nov 11 '10 at 21:15


Seconding to what has been posted, I think this quote might be apt. "Government is like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master". So, its better to limit the scope of that servant than fear for his out-of-scope work by writing it in the Constitution.

answered Oct 11 '10 at 08:45

Harsha's gravatar image

Harsha ♦

This quote makes the distinction between servant and master only a matter of degree, and gives no principle for what a government should be and how it should be limited. A proper government is not a master at all since it doesn't take away any of my rights.

(Nov 29 '10 at 15:53) Mike Hinchey Mike%20Hinchey's gravatar image

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Asked: Sep 21 '10 at 02:32

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Last updated: Nov 29 '10 at 15:53