What Kind of Government Is “Good”?

Of course, the problem of allegiance is more complicated than Hume makes it appear. One can say all he wants, as Mises does, that:

One must take exception to the often-repeated phrase that government is an evil, although a necessary and indispensable evil. What is required for the attainment of an end is a means, the cost to be expended for its successful realization.

It is an arbitrary value judgment to describe it as an evil in the moral connotation of the term. (HA, 719)

Let us then grant that “government” as such is a good thing. But “government” performs numerous acts. It has “policies” that go far beyond mere catching and punishing violent criminals. Suppose then that 99% of a particular government’s rules and regulations are in fact anti-social and precisely contrary to the welfare of the great majority of the citizens. If, as Hume maintains, the chief cause of allegiance to a sovereign is self-interest, as social cooperation is impossible without the state, then do policies that hurt society undermine the ruler’s legitimacy? At what point is a (fully self-interested) revolution recommended?

Merely repeating that “government is good” gives us no clue as to what kind of government is good.

Consider as an example Rothbard’s hilarious deconstruction of the idea that the entirety of the goodness of “government” consists in equality before the law:

Let us postulate, for example, two possible societies.

One is ruled by a vast network of Hayekian general rules, equally applicable to all, e.g., such rules as:

everyone is to be enslaved every third year; no one may criticize the government under penalty of death; no one may drink alcoholic beverages; everyone must bow down to Mecca three times a day at specified hours; everyone must wear a specified green uniform, etc.

It is clear that such a society, though meeting all the Hayekian criteria for a noncoercive rule of law, is thoroughly despotic and totalitarian.

Let us postulate, in contrast, a second society which is totally free, where every person is free to employ his person and property, make exchanges, etc. as he sees fit, except that, once a year, the monarch (who does literally nothing the rest of the year), commits one arbitrary invasive act against one individual that he selects.

Which society is to be considered more free, more libertarian? (EoL, 228-9)

So, political philosophy starts with an awareness of the problem of enforcement of justice; it does not end with it.

Free Rider Problem Excellently Described

An early discussion of this is found in Treatise, 3.2.7:

Two neighbors may agree to drain a meadow, which they possess in common; because it is easy for them to know each others mind; and each must perceive, that the immediate consequence of his failing in his part, is, the abandoning the whole project.

But it is very difficult, and indeed impossible, that a thousand persons should agree in any such action; it being difficult for them to concert so complicated a design, and still more difficult for them to execute it; while each seeks a pretext to free himself of the trouble and expense, and would lay the whole burden on others.

Political society easily remedies both these inconveniences. Magistrates find an immediate interest in the interest of any considerable part of their subjects. They need consult nobody but themselves to form any scheme for the promoting of that interest. And as the failure of any one piece in the execution is connected, though not immediately, with the failure of the whole, they prevent that failure, because they find no interest in it, either immediate or remote.

Thus bridges are built; harbors opened; ramparts raised; canals formed; fleets equipped; and armies disciplined everywhere, by the care of government, which, though composed of men subject to all human infirmities, becomes, by one of the finest and most subtle inventions imaginable, a composition, which is, in some measure, exempted from all these infirmities.

Thus, regarding conscription, for example, we can say that the only two desirable outcomes are “everybody fights” and “nobody fights.” If only some, such as the bravest, fight, then they all perish due to insufficient numbers, and the rest of the cowards are slaughtered shortly thereafter or enslaved by the conquerors.

Now conscription is usually to be condemned, but only because wars made easier though it are to be condemned. Without the government, the only possible outcome is “nobody fights.” The government permits the community to have a choice in this matter, i.e., between “nobody fights” and “everybody fights.” Perhaps “nobody fights” is in a given case / usually / under laissez-faire / always the right choice, but the government allows the choice to be made, as opposed to letting the default situation of “nobody fights” arise willy-nilly.

This post concludes my live blogging of Hume.

Whether Everything That Begins to Exist Has a Cause?

I suggest so, contrary to Hume.

But suppose Hume persists and says that the following proposition is still possible:

(1) “Something will happen somewhere at some time in the future without a cause.”

So, suppose I get up tomorrow and observe a dead fish lying on the coffee table. “Ah-hah!” I say. “This sucker just popped into existence uncaused.” I can see that.

Nothing whatsoever can be affirmed about these random occurrences, because to attribute any property to them is partially to determine them. The preposterously random stuff happens at 100% random locations in the universe, at a random frequency, at frequencies that change at random, etc., all as completely unpredictable and without a pattern as the decimal expansion of an irrational number.

But to introduce chaos into this world in this fashion is to pay a hefty price. If that was our universe, I don’t think we’d have survived as a species in it.

Thus, I simply deny that we are living in a universe like that. Even if (1) is possible, it is not actual. I think that is good enough.

The principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause may have some use in theology. Regarding that, we cannot proceed from the possibility of (1) to the idea that a universe can come into existence without a cause. (1) proposes that an object within our peculiar universe and capable of being supported by it can appear in space and time uncaused. But “before” the universe, there was no environment in which stuff could appear, nor space, nor time, nor apparently the randomness-generating mechanism. The principle is uniquely plausible in regard to the emergence of the universe as a whole.