Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two Challenges of Minarchy

In my last blog I suggested that minarchy lies midway between the ideals of anarchy and unbridled progressivism. This raises two obvious questions: "How small is small?" and "How do we prevent small from becoming large?" How any government (national, state, or local)  answers to these questions determines the degree of personal liberty within that jurisdiction. I'll try to focus on the United States, but I think these issues apply equally to all governments.

Almost all minarchists argue that there are three main functions that require a publically-funded governmental monopoly: a defensive military, a domestic police force, and a criminal justice system. (Some of us are also willing to provide a basic safety net.) All three represent a realistic collective response to the darker side of human nature. Some individuals and groups of humans are willing to violate the non-aggression axiom and/or the anti-theft axiom,  in order to advance their interests. Anarchists argue that even these functions ought to be be privatized, which would subject those functions to competition, increase quality, and reduce cost. The question here is whether minarchies can maintain competition without caving into cronyism.  

Obviously, all nations need a military force. The the size of that military is contingent upon how governments use those militaries. Minarchists argue that the the military must be defensive in nature. Thus, we must be able to thwart an invasion. If, governments expand that mandate to include "potential invasions," then the size of the military is likely to expand. According to Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, the United States' military has expanded way out of control, and as a result we have troops stationed all over the world and several wars underway. Cronyism is a primary source of spiraling military budgets. The corporations that supply the "War Machine" with supplies are especially powerful, mostly because military contracts are notoriously opaque and non-competitive. Hence, the proverbial $400 toilet seats! One might argue that we've already "privatized" the U.S. military, however, what we've really done is disabled competition via cronyism. In short, privatization does not necessarily imply free markets.

Minarchists also support a publically-funded police force. Now, first of all, the size of a police force is contingent upon the number of laws that it is required to montor and enforce. The more more laws there are "on the books" the larger the police force you'll need. Minarchists argue that lawmaking powers of congress must be limited the laws that address the harm principle; that is "harm to other persons" (assault, murder etc.) and "harm to the property of others" (theft, fraud, breach of contract etc.). The problem with the harm principle is that it tends to become irrationally pre-occupied with preventing low-magnitude harms and low-probability harms. Paternalistic laws that protect us from "self-inflicted harms" have led to an extraordinary expansion of police forces, especially drug laws, laws against gambling, alcohol abuse. The United States leads the world in incarceration, most of those prisoners committed are non-violent drug crimes. The actual cost of providing a police force is also contingent upon how those policemen are paid. Libertarians argue that policement ought to be paid based on free market forces, where the best policement get paid the most (within the bounds of the free market) and the worst policemen get fired. Of course, crony relationships between politicians and law enforcement are way too common and lead to bloated, over-paid and under-paid policemen.   

Minarchists also accept a publically-funded criminal justice system. Like the police force, the size of the judiciary is contingent upon the number of laws it is expected to enforce. The more laws and the more policemen, the more lawyers and judges that are needed. The exponential growth of the judiciary (at all levels) is also related to the fact that our law schools crank out a lot of lawyers, those lawyers often become politicians, and they have a powerful lobby. Thus, cronyism also contributes to bloated judiciaries. The cost of maintaining a judiciary is also contingent upon how much lawyers and judges are paid, and whether they are appointed or elected. Another important cause of  "judiciary creep" is the longstanding legal tradition of writing laws in a private language known only to lawyers, and judges who are empowered to "interpret" those laws. This also artificially enforces their monopoly.

In sum, I have argued that minarchists seek to limit the size and scope of government to military, police, and judicial functions. However, even if our government limited itself to those three functions, there is no guarantee that small government would not morph into large government. Therefore, the most efficient way to limit the size of government is to limit the ability of politicians to endlessly expand the criminal code beyond crimes against persons and properties. I think both libertarians and progressives agree that the U.S. government has expanded way beyond minarchy.                                         

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