Rebirth of Reason


Unanswered Questions about Monopoly Government
by Raymond Raad

Principled libertarians fall into one of two groups: those who support a minimalist monopoly government (aka the minarchists) and those who support anarcho-capitalism.  Minarchists argue that a single government is necessary for the protection of rights.  Anarcho-capitalists argue that capitalism is incompatible with any state whatsoever.  Ayn Rand and the vast majority of objectivists are strongly on the minarchist side of the divide.  They criticize anarcho-capitalists for treating rights as goods that must be earned, and accuse them of completely misunderstanding the purpose of government and the proper role of physical force. 

Yet in order to properly defend constitutional government, objectivists have to do more than simply criticize anarcho-capitalists.  Constitutional government cannot be true by default.  Objectivists have to explain how and why it will work, and what is necessary to include in a constitution in order to render it effective and moral.  Ayn Rand stopped short of answering these questions (it was not her job), so it is up to modern day objectivists to do so. 

In order to defend constitutional government, objectivists must begin by answering the following three questions.  There may be more, but this is a start.  These questions are aimed at those who support the general framework of the US constitution.

Who gets to decide?
Suppose, by some magic, someone found a way to effectively limit the power of a government to its proper role: a police system, a military, and a system of courts.  Suppose everyone in America agreed that laws can and should be made objectively.  It still leaves the question of who should administer this government.  Who should decide the content of the laws?  Who should decide how a criminal is to be punished for a given crime? Who should be commander in chief?  If you support intellectual property “rights”, then there are even more questions to answer.  Who should decide how long a drug company deserves to have a monopoly over the sale of a particular drug?

Even administrators of a limited government have decisions to make, and whenever there are decisions and choices, they can be made incorrectly.  Government officials in a monopoly government can send troops to fight unjust wars. They can punish criminals excessively. They can unintentionally punish innocent civilians for the crimes of others.  There is no way to ensure that decisions are always made correctly.  The very definition of decision requires the possibility that a fallible human will make the wrong one. Thus a proper government has a lot of authority and power, and the question of who should administer such a government is a matter of life and death.

Objectivists, by supporting the US constitution, indirectly support placing this power in the hands of the majority: an elected president is commander in chief, an elected legislature makes the laws, and a supreme court appointed by an elected president interprets the laws.  But what is so great about a majority?  Certainly it is better to have a limited majority government than an unlimited one, but why should 51% of any population have the authority to punish criminals and declare war, or have any authority whatsoever? As Ayn Rand would say, there is no earthly reason for it. 

It seems that the founding fathers placed this power in the majority simply for lack of a better idea.  They did not have objectivism.  They may have believed in contradictions or in necessary evils, but we don’t.  Simple logical examination shows that a majority is not a merit-based entity.  If people have a variety of opinions on a given issue, then it is the opinion held by the most rational among them that is most likely correct, not the opinion held by the majority.  No entity that is run by majority vote is run efficiently. It is up to objectivists to explain why the government is the exception, or to abandon this aspect of their ideology.

Which geographical area?

Another problem with establishing a monopoly government is that one must define the territory over which this government has exclusive authority.  How large or small should this territory be?  Should there be one government over the entire world? One over the entire US? One over each state? One over each city?  Or one over every 200 people?

The purpose of delegating one’s rights to a government is to put together muscle power.  It can be difficult for an individual to overpower a strong aggressor, so he organizes a government with enough strength to overpower any criminal.  For the purposes of punishing individual robbers, a small government might be sufficient.  For the purposes of protecting against foreign invaders, one might want a larger government.  So which should it be?

To really understand this problem, let’s examine a hypothetical example, Ayn Rand style.  Suppose persons A, B and C have a dispute over a property in New York City.  Suppose that the government of New York City sides with person A, the New York State government sides with person B, and the US federal government sides with person C.  Which one should have the authority?  Depending on the size of the territory governed, the decision would be different.  It seems to me that there is no objective way of answering this question.

What motivates government officials?
In any objectivist’s dream government, the president is mostly a figurehead, the legislators have little to do, and judges are devoid of ambition.  The less energetic the government, the better.  After all, how many laws do we actually need or want? How many wars are actually justified and necessary?  How difficult is it to decide the meaning of clearly worded and objective laws?

This is all great, except for one problem.  What would motivate the government officials in such a situation?  Why would anyone want to be a good do-nothing president, or a do-nothing senator, especially if such people are not highly regarded by others? Certainly it cannot be the desire to do a good job, as it is in other professions, because a good job in this case would involve more relaxation than anything else.  Any self-interested hard worker would not find such a job appealing at all.  So the only people who would take such jobs would be the lazy and the power-hungry (i.e., the altruistic). 

Do objectivists want their government run by the lazy and the power-hungry?  Definitely not.  But it is up to objectivists to explain why anyone who is not lazy or power-hungry would want a government job.
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