Huemer keeps confusing “protection” services with “general deterrence.” (145-8)

Protection” consists of a wide variety of goods and services, most of which are fully private; they are excludable, and their consumption is rivalrous. I see no case at all for government provision of them. The market works as expected and improves our welfare speedily.

In addition, the vast majority of protection is now already being privately supplied.

General deterrence, on the contrary, understood as the effect of the threat / fear of punishment on the citizens’ decisions to commit violent crimes, is indeed a public good; both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. This generates a case for having it supplied by the state.

Plus, since the state is the only organization that is authorized to punish (with vengeance being proscribed altogether), general deterrence is for the most part already produced by the state.

In this respect, self-defense and punishment have only one thing in common, namely, that both are justifiable uses of violence. But that is where the similarities end.

The state both properly and actually has zero involvement in self-defense. Guns (and skill at using them), alarms, car anti-theft devices, and so on are private goods in the economic sense. Employing them is one’s natural right and responsibility. Do not expect the cops to save your life or stop a mugger! It’s not what they are for. Cops are not “first responders”; they are precisely last responders, getting into action at the very end of the judicial process.

“It is the fear of punishment that law makes use of in order to ensure obedience: in which respect punishment is an effect of law,” says St. Thomas. (ST, II-I, 92, 2)

Protection and deterrence could not be more different, and we’ll make no headway in our philosophy if we conflate them.


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