Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Four Roles of Government

So, libertarians are always bitching about what it is the government can do. In fact, among academic circles libertarians are often confused with anarchists because of our anti-government sentiment. Let's make this clear, tonight, that libertarianism and anarchism are two similar, but separate ideologies. Government can't do a lot of things, but according to libertarians it does have some function. In fact, it has four of them. I'll list them here for ya.
  1. Courts
  2. Police, fire, and prisons
  3. National defense
  4. Prevention of corruption
First off is the court system. It is the job of the government to make sure that criminals are dealt with and that laws passed by legislative bodies are bound to the constitution (the US constitution for the feds, and the State constitutions for everything else). Courts also tie in with the fourth role of government, but they are listed separately to distinguish their criminal and constitutional role with their civil role.

The reason court decisions have to be constitutional is to prevent legislative law from becoming the entire law of the land, meaning you don't want federal or state laws restricting the citizens or over-empowering the government. The majority of rules in a free society come from Common Law. That is, law determined by the decisions of judges and not from legislation. This will help prevent laws from affecting people they aren't meant to affect, or to prevent laws from affecting too much of society.

The second role of government is its police, fire, and prison system. These are industries, like the military, that do not work under a private model because they are required to keep society safe. It is absolutely the governments job to find and arrest violent criminals, put out fires (for a reason I will discuss later), and maintain its own prisons. Once again, it is the governments job to keep people safe from those who would want to do them harm. Most libertarians agree that the police should be working to keep violent criminals out of society, rather than some non-violent criminals (like drug offenders).

That principle applies to the third role of government: national defense. Now, this means that it is the job of the government, not the private sector, to provide for and maintain the armed forces (including navy, air force, and army). The key word in this role, however, is defense. The armed forces are not meant to be an offensive force that actively invades other countries who have not first attacked us (think every war after WWII, and some before). They are meant to provide defense against nations who wish to do us harm. If we are attacked, the government has a right to defend us. This does not mean they have the right to preemptive warfare (though, if there was ever a situation in which intelligence was 100% sufficient, it might be), and they do not have the right to offensive warfare. Just as an example, if this role was truly implemented the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wouldn't have happened and troops would not be allowed to be stationed in countries outside of the US.

The fourth and final role is a confusing and broad role, but it applies to the two rules of a libertarian society and how they prevent corruption. Those rules are:
  1. You cannot force an individual to give up their private property or to engage in non-consenting activity
  2. You cannot fraudulently acquire the private property of an individual.
These roles can be interpreted and applied broadly, but that is largely their intent. These two rules would be enforced by the decisions of local courts, NOT by federal courts and NOT by legislation. So, how about some examples of how these rules would be applied.
  1. The right to unionized labor is not lost, but their ability to force companies into an agreement is.
  2. A company cannot force you to buy a product or requisition a service
  3. A company cannot fraudulently sell you something that doesn't work or not perform a service that was paid for
  4. A person getting a divorce would be entitled to only what was agreed upon when the separation was mutually agreed upon. If one party failed to meet that agreement, then they have committed fraud against the other.
There are literally a million other things those two rules could be applied to, which is what makes them so powerful. Those two rules by themselves would get rid of much more corruption than any legislation could. So, how are these rules enforced, you might ask?


I know, everyone gets all uppity about lawsuits because it seems everyone is suing everyone for everything, but you have to understand that lawsuits are one of the ways that the free market corrects itself and doesn't affect those not involved. Lets give an example.

I placed my money into a savings account. No big deal, right? Well, let's just say that this bank is secretly taking money from my account and depositing it into a large pot that would be distributed back to me when I made a withdrawal (kind of like a Ponzi scheme). This is of course fraudulently using my private property (money) in a way that I did not consent to. So, what do I do? I sue them. The local court sides with me on the basis of the fraud rule, I get reparations from the bank, and I go about my life. No regulation was added to make sure that this didn't happen again, and no one else will be affected by that decision (unless, they happen to go through the same thing). This make sure that those who were corrupt got what was coming to them, but the market as a whole was not compromised by regulation. The bank would learn from its mistake and correct them so that they don't have to go through another lawsuit.

It's beautiful ain't it?

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