Classical Liberalism Has Failed   Leave a comment

 

What do I mean by that?

It’s an acknowledgment that classical liberals failed in their attempt to limit the power of the state and our current mess in Washington DC is a prime example.

Their failure resides in their ideal allowing for the very thing that is poison to liberty. You see, classical liberals believed that at least a minimal state is necessary for a  functional civil society.  Unfortunately, once the state exists, it is impossible to limit its power.

Believe it or not, I didn’t believe that myself until fairly recently and I instinctively shy away from that realization, but it becomes increasingly obvious to me that even a minimal state will seek to acquire more power and grow far beyond what its original intention, no matter how we might try to limit it.

Image result for image of a public road with potholesOur Founders believed there was such a thing as “public good” – basically, the joint supply of services in such a way as to cease rivalry by a body with a monopoly on institutional coercion that obliges everyone to finance those goods.

Example?

Prior to the creation of the federal government in 1789, lighthouses in the United States were colonial- or state-owned and often privately managed.  Local entities collected “light-dues” based on the tonnage of vessels using the ports the lighthouse protected.

So, most people grew up with publicly managed lighthouses and assumes the state that stood behind them was necessary, even though England had an entire system of privately-managed and -financed lighthouses for centuries before the government took them over. Sailors associations, port fees, and spontaneous social monitoring offered an effective solution to any issues arising from private-ownership.

The “wild” west was indeed wild when first opened to settlement, but many of the problems of, for example, property rights of land and cattle had been worked out before the federal government finally got around to administering those territories. The now much-maligned entrepreneurial innovations like cattle branding, constant supervision by armed cowboys on horseback, and the introduction of barbed wire solved the majority of the issues there a long time before the government showed up.

Today, because the government controls the western states and puts forth a narrative that there would be chaos (just look at the Hollywood movies!) if the state weren’t there to protect the west from “anarchy”, people believe there is no alternative to the state controlling most of the lands in the American west.

People observe that today’s highways, hospitals, schools, police protection, etc., are almost entirely supplied by the state, and deeming these services to be necessary (which they are), they conclude without further analysis that the state must also be necessary.

Most people believe the state is also necessary to protect the defenseless, poor and “destitute”. Small depositors, ordinary consumers, and workers are all deemed too fragile and stupid to take care of themselves.

What if the above-mentioned resources could be produced to a much higher standard of quality more efficiently, economically and individually adaptable through entrepreneurial creativity, private property and spontaneous market order? For example, why am I stuck paying $80 a month for garbage collection on my city lot? I’m charged this regardless if I put out any trash. I might only put out one can every two weeks while my neighbor (who owns a daycare center) puts out a half-dozen cans every week … yet we pay the same amount. Why? Because a statist monopoly requires regimentation and prevents any sort of competition for our money. I could negotiate with a private company  to meet my actual needs and charge me for my actual needs rather than my government-perceived needs.

The hospital in my town is privately owned, though heavily regulated by the state. It never turns anyone away. It didn’t before the state got involved because it was owned by a church. Do those regulations assure that everyone is covered? It wasn’t the case in the past. Why would it be the case now? Have churches doing medical ministries changed their ministries substantially since government started regulating them? But we’re told these regulations are necessary because …????

But what about the roads?

What about them? My neighborhood roads currently look like a map of the moon with a few craters filled in. I live inside the City of Fairbanks where we see road maintenance rarely. Despite the fact that we get significant amounts of snowfall here, we expect to see the plows in March. Sometimes they might do a pass after a heavy dump, but they’ll inevitably leave a berm at the bottom of our driveway that requires quick and muscular action for about two hours after work to clear before the temperatures drop and turn it into immovable white concrete.

My brother lives outside the city in the borough (like a county) which technically does not have road powers. The roads around his house are maintained by a road commission that he pays fees to. The commission hires a contractor to take care of the road. These roads rarely have potholes and they’re fixed quickly if they occur. The snow is generally cleared by the time he gets home from work or when he gets up in the morning. Yes, it costs money, but less than what is collected from me in property taxes. Although the road service areas are administered through the borough, several of them existed before the borough took control of them and they would largely continue to be unaffected if the borough stopped collecting paperwork on them because people would still need to get to and from their homes if the borough stopped functioning in that capacity. My brother gets better road maintenance for less money from the private sector than I do from the public sector.

By the way, he can also now get trash collection from a private company for about the same amount as we pay in the city. I interviewed the owner of the company and he explained that if he had more customers, he could afford to charge less and provide more flexibility in service than he currently does.

Although the state insists its existence is necessary to defend property rights and coordinate social processes, the fact is that they are a body with a monopoly on violence (or its more subtle sister, coercion). The state invariably acts by trampling on numerous legitimate property titles, defending them very poorly, and corrupting the moral and legal behavior of individuals toward the property rights of others.

We shouldn’t be so wedded to the status quo that we refuse to see there might be other, better ways of doing things.

 

 

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