The Minimal State vs. The Remedial State

This Hit & Run thread, which began by announcing Drew Carey's latest video for defending poker, morphed into the always entertaining anarchy vs. minarchy debate. And as if that wasn't enough, the liberventionist, Republican Party apologist, all-around-amusing fool Eric Dondero joined in the fray on another tangent, thereby demonstrating his superb mastery of logic and evidence.

The minimal state vs. no state debate reminded me of an article I've been meaning to discuss: John Hasnas' "Reflections on the Minimal State", 2 Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 115 (2003).

Hasnas exposes a major weakness in the Lockean justification for the minimal state; namely, that its conclusion does not follow from its premises. Hasnas translates the Lockean argument into modern terminology like so:

1) If the market cannot supply the rules of law, impartial adjudicators, and effective enforcement agencies necessary for human beings to live a secure and peaceful life in society, then a state that supplies these services is morally justified.

2) The market cannot supply the rules of law, impartial adjudicators, and effective enforcement agencies necessary for human beings to live secure and peaceful lives in society.

/ A state that supplies rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services is morally justified.

While most critics of the Lockean argument usually attack the empirical premise (2), Hasnas attacks the normative premise (1).

There are two main reasons why the market alone may not be sufficiently reliable to supply the goods in question: the public goods argument (absent state subsidy, the provision of rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services will be underproduced) and the abusive monopoly argument (the objection voiced in the Hit & Run thread - that anarchy is unstable because of power imbalances).

However, these two objections to anarchy do not alone justify a minimal state that itself provides these goods; rather, these objections, if valid, merely justify a remedial state that ensures that these services are provided. This is the same as the distinction libertarians constantly make between public schools and school vouchers: if it is the case that a free market alone will fail to produce an efficient level of education, then the correct response is state subsidy of education, not necessarily state provision.

Writes Hasnas,

Proving that the market cannot supply the rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services human beings need does not prove that a state must supply these services, merely that a state must remedy the market's failure to provide them. Therefore, the antecedent of the normative premise proves, at most, that a state that remedies this market failure is morally justified, not that a state that supplies these services itself is.

If, as a matter of fact, the only way to remedy the market's failure to supply the necessary rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services is for the state to provide them itself, then the normative premise can be shown to be true. However, it is far from evident that this is the case. Assume, for example, that Landes and Posner are correct that because private adjudication services lack incentives to establish clear precedents they will fail to produce adequate rules of behavior. Although this might justify the existence of a state that subsidized the private production of precedents, it does not require and therefore does not justify the existence of a state that monopolizes the production of precedents itself. Consider also Professor Cowen's argument. Assume that he is entirely correct that the private provision of basic protective and adjudicative services will lead to a dangerous cartel. This would seem to justify the existence of a state with the power to prevent protective agency collusion, not one that required all citizens to purchase protective and adjudicative services exclusively from itself.

I submit that in the absence of strong evidence that the only way to remedy the market's failure to provide adequate protective, adjudicative, and rule-making services is to supply them via a tax-supported monopoly, the normative premise of the Lockean argument cannot be regarded as true. For this reason, even if the empirical premise is true, the argument cannot establish its conclusion; that the minimal state, one that monopolizes the basic rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services, is morally justified.

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Jez, do you really think this kind of word salad establishes a definitive justification for running the world? I could take it on faith that those who say they understand it should be trusted. The only trouble is that any two geniuses who read this will soon be in disagreement about just what it means. I have witnessed it many times on these very pages. It is all a symptom of a terminal condition, being the pronouncements of an anointed intellectual.
Intellectual: Person who believes that there is objective normative knowledge that is understood exclusively by the cognitive community of said intellectuals and that confers upon them the legitimate claim to direct the institutions of the world. What is so funny thing about this claim is that if any two of them start discussing the details they soon get down to wrestlin, no holds barred.
In my opinion if the government has a strong element of democracy it acts like a market, except in a complimentary way to financial markets. Both are composed of non- centrally planned actors. In a market individuals freely exchange goods and services. In a democracy local voices vote for or support government that answers local and regional needs corporately. Both elements are subject to abuse and human foibles. In markets producers go out of business if they don’t serve the market. They survive only by making a profit. If government doesn’t serve the governed in a democracy, it is voted out of office.
I don’t get the metaphysics behind all this. It is good because it works better than the alternatives. Just because markets work, it doesn’t mean government is evil. Government may serve some needs better than markets. Votes are the way needs are made known. Most problems come from cronyism when the government or owners of markets collude with one another to rig the game. Both the government and markets are subject to corruption and dysfunction. Dave

I don't understand your

I don't understand your response. Are you saying you don't think John Hasnas should be appointed Dictator of the World? If that's true, then read through all of the Summa Theologica and get back to me.