The Statist’s Dilemma

“If there were no government to force everybody to pay (proportionally) for services like security or firefighting, then these services would not be provided at all, or much more inefficiently.”

The state, as a de-facto monopoly of force and order, can impose certain sets of measures that individuals, acting rationally (and with their self interest in mind) would fail to produce by themselves. So the story goes – rational individuals are in an eternal Prisoner’s Dilemma, which can only be solved by the state.

Theoretically, a private security agency acting within a given area would be less efficient than a state-run institution because they can’t charge all beneficiaries of their services. Thus, these services would be more expensive than otherwise because there are less people paying.

But because someone may benefit, not by his own actions but by the actions of others, is it fair to put a gun to his head?

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5 comments so far

  1. Ali on

    What’s the argument meant to be here? A rhetorical question like “is it fair to put a gun to his head?” doesn’t illuminate anything. It seems to me that the real problem here is one of identifying legitimate authority – by definition, a legitimate authority can force me to do something by putting a gun to my head, sure. So the question is: which authorities are legitimate? — you (as far as I can make out) jump to the conclusion that there’s no legitimate authority at all cos you have a prior aversion to coersion.

  2. […] Yes, I am talking about legitimacy. Does a benefactor of any sort have an intrinsic right to extract benefits (by force if need be) from all his potential passive beneficiaries? […]

  3. adi11235 on

    I partially answered your query in my latest blog entry.

  4. James on

    There’s a bigger problem with the argument you are critiquing. The game theoretic setup for the PD starts from the assumption that people seek to benefit themselves with not so much regard for the well being of others. If this is false, the agency of coercion is unnecessary. If this is true, then we should conclude that the agency of coercion of coercion is not a solution to the PD and just replaces it with a different problem. The members of the agency of coercion would use the power to coerce as a means to the betterment its own members (and if its members are thinking long term, to better the welfare of others just to the extent needed to maintain their own power).

  5. adi11235 on

    Well said!


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