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  • The Illusion of Government Competence

    Posted by Shannon Love on June 23rd, 2009 (All posts by )

    Here’s three posts from Instapundit this morning:

    ENVIRONMENTAL SOLUTION becomes environmental problem. D’oh!  — Chemicals used to replace CFCs due to CFCs’ theoretical degradation of the ozone layer now seen as a significant greenhouse gas. 

    IF THIS HAPPENED IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, WE’D BE HEARING ABOUT “GREED:” DC subway crash: Regulators had warned to replace aging fleet. — The DC Metro system fails to take unsafe cars out of service. 

    SACRAMENTO BEE: Dan Walters: Pension hike of a decade ago backfires. — Government-managed pension investment implodes.

    What do these stories all have in common? They all demonstrate that government organizations do not systematically make better decisions in the same circumstance than do private organizations. 

    Leftists like to argue that, by some magical mechanism, real-world politicians make better decisions, especially better economic decisions, than do private actors in the free market. They usually make this argument after either the free market corrects itself naturally or the government interferes. They then simply assert, without any possibility of empirical verification, that the magic government unicorns could have prevented the problem if only they had been given enough power to do as they wished. 

    Such arguments are clearly ex post facto. Leftists cannot predict market correction any better than anyone else, so clearly they don’t have a predictive model of the relationship between any particular regulation and any particular market correction. More importantly, when they do have the power, they often do nothing to address the causes of the correction. Last year’s financial collapse demonstrates this clearly. 

    The three stories above are just a small sample of the legions of stories about government mismanagement in areas in which government tries to carry out the same task as the free market and fails miserably.

    In the case of the CFC replacement, the claim was that the free market could not properly assess the harm caused by ozone degradation. Yet, government could not predict the harm caused by the replacement chemicals any better than the free market could. (It is also possible that we overestimated the impact of CFCs and that ozone depletion in the last 30 years is linked to this period’s short, intense sunspot cycles.)

    In the case of the DC subway system, the Metro government organization behaved just a badly as a reckless private company might, and arguably worse. The Metro might plead poverty, yet leftists habitually refuse to believe that companies cannot afford any safety standards that leftists deem necessary. Leftists hold companies to such an arbitrary high standard even though private companies cannot raise money on demand. They cannot compel investors to lend them money and they cannot raise prices higher than consumers will pay. Government organizations like the Metro have no competition and can fund themselves from compulsory taxation. What excuse does the Metro have for not funding improvements that would also not excuse a private company? Even worse, as a government organization, the Metro has sovereign immunity. It cannot be sued for harm caused by its own recklessness. 

    In the Metro safety failure we see a government organization behaving like a ruthless private monopoly with immunity to lawsuits. The magical government unicorns clearly make the same bad decisions as private companies when faced with the same financial pressures. 

    In the case of the widespread public-pension failure, we see that politically managed investments are no more sound than are private investments. The magical government unicorns made the same risky investments as did the most irresponsible private investors. They based their decisions on the same overly optimistic estimations of perpetual market growth. 

    The damage caused by government investment failures hurts more people than does private failure. Private investors cannot make up their losses by resorting to compulsory taxation. Private investors cannot rewrite the laws to eliminate their contractual obligations. 

    These three examples demonstrate how government organizations make the same bad decisions in the same circumstance as do private organizations. There is no magic that causes people in government organizations to make different decisions than private actors would in the same circumstances. 

    We can’t rely on the unicorns.

     

    31 Responses to “The Illusion of Government Competence”

    1. veryretired Says:

      I think what’s involved here is a difference in viewpoint between collectivists and individualists analagous to the former’s belief in positive rights and the latter’s emphasis on negative rights.

      The US has over the years been lauded for, and criticized for, its belief in “American exceptionalsim”. I find that people dedicated to individual liberties find this exceptionalism to be derived from a systemic difference, i.e., the freedoms and progress of the American experiment are built on the foundation of the Constitution, and its accompanying intellectual and moral context. These individualists do not believe the US is immune from the mistakes of other societies, but that the structure of the state helps to prevent some of the more egregious abuses.

      While collectivists are the loudest among those deriding the idea of exceptionalism, their fervent belief in the state as miracle worker is, in fact, a variation of that very concept. But, instead of an exceptional structure, the collectivist relies on a belief in exceptional people, right-thinking members of their own mythological group, who are free from the “false consciousness” that afflicts so many of those unworthy of inclusion in the mystical vanguard.

      Collectivists can thus ignore everything that has happened in the past, or is happening presently right before their eyes, that might cast any doubt on their proposals to always increase the state and restrict the private, because those flawed examples are obviously the work of confused pretenders, or actual sabateurs, and would not be repeated by “the right people”.

      Coupled with this view are the corrollaries of self-description and intentions=achievement.

      If someone describes themselves as a “peace activist” or “advocate for the poor”, and has the correct collectivist pedigree, why, then, that is what they are. It doesn’t matter, then, that they support Hamas, or volunteer to be human shields for gruesome dictators, or anything else. All that matters is that they claim to be activists for peace, then they are cleansed, as International Answer, or that British creep that used to be an MP, or crazy Cindy.

      The same process cleanses anyone who claims the mantle of poverty advocate or social justice activist. The fact that they can swoon over Castro or Chavez, and defend any number of policies which empirical studies have shown to stifle economic progress and increase poverty is unimportant—they are advocating for the poor.

      And that, of course, is the defining characteristic of those for whom intentions, not actual results, are all that matters. Pass a big new program to eliminate poverty, or raise school achievements, or save failing industries. Years later, when the program is analyzed and found to be worthless, at best, or actually harmful, as many have been, where is the fault? Is it with the idea behind the program? Oh no , never that. The failure is always due to—wait for it— not doing enough. Not enough funding, not enough power, not enough caseworkers, not enough, never enough.

      The only possible answer, when everybody who matters knows that this is just, absolutely, positively, the right way to go: bigger programs with more money and more staff and more everything. After all, it just has to be good. It’s to help the poor, or feed the hungry, or (fill in the blank).

      We have to do something. And you know those selfish, indifferent schmucks in the suburbs would never do anything voluntarily. The right thinking, truly enlightened, have to do it, by force if necessary.

      When one has wrapped one’s mind in the warm, comforting cacoon of collectivist mythology, and therefore knows that all the open-minded, tolerant, clear thinking, truly concerned and compassionate people think just like you, and anyone who doesn’t is mean and greedy and lacks compassion and a true desire for peace and other really, really good things, the rest is easy.

      As long as the right people are running things, it will be different this time. You just have to believe, and believe, and believe.

    2. Brett_McS Says:

      The average leftist’s level of thinking about societal problems is this:

      “The Government should pass a law”, breathlessly presented as a brilliant, innovative solution.

      They’re stuck in third grade.

    3. david foster Says:

      “Progressives,” and even old-line liberals, tend to think of government as an idealized parent, not grasping that it is an aggregate of individuals who are pursuing their own personal desires for power, status, money, and security.

      Sure, many government employees (and even some elected officials) are motivated in substantial part by idealism. There’s no question, for instance, that the typical FAA employee is deeply committed to aviation safety. But so is the typical engineer or line employee at GE Aircraft Engine or at Boeing.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      Veryretired,

      While collectivists are the loudest among those deriding the idea of exceptionalism, their fervent belief in the state as miracle worker is, in fact, a variation of that very concept. But, instead of an exceptional structure, the collectivist relies on a belief in exceptional people, right-thinking members of their own mythological group, who are free from the “false consciousness” that afflicts so many of those unworthy of inclusion in the mystical vanguard.

      Heh, I’m going to steal that.

    5. Gekkobear Says:

      Well businesses often screw up from a point of greed. They’re trying to get too much of a profit margin and stumble.

      Whereas Government failing are usually attributable to incompetence, stupidity, and idiocy.

      So, when choosing who to turn to; do you turn to someone who can get the job done, but might get too greedy to succeed? Or do you go with someone too stupid and incompetent to have a chance?

      The choice is made by who makes you “feel better”. Clearly only one choice can succeed; but his failing looks “worse” because he had a chance to succeed. The idiot who can’t tie his shoes never had a hope, so he doesn’t look so “mean” or “cruel” or “greedy”… Of course he’ll never succeed either. It just boils down to what is important. Succeeding, or “feeling good”?

      If you like success, you’ll keep your projects away from incompetent idiots and those whose failings are many and tied to their idiocy.

      If you like “feel good answers” regardless of the outcome, you’ll go with the idiot who didn’t know he was ruining the lives of thousands; rather than the greedy man who thought it would probably work out (but knew what he was doing).

      Not a perfect description of the situation; but how I often see it playing out time and again.

      And we should remove the phrase “unintended consequences” from the allowed lexicon of Government officials; as I often see the consequences before they start; and calling them “unintended” is deceptive when they were also obvious to anyone paying attention.

    6. captcouv Says:

      Jerry Pournelle’s “Iron Law of Bureaucracy” applies:

      In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

    7. Charlie Says:

      Very good analysis, Veryretired. Much as lefties like to portray themselves as the ones open to the future, talk to one at length and you will find someone fearful of risks and pessimistically convinced that left to our own devices we will surely go astray from the(ir) cardinal sins of greed, ignorance and prejudice. That is why they seek right-thinking elites, as you point out.

      Much as Ms Love’s reasoning is persuasive to us here, it will never sway lefties because of their emotional commitment to seeing greed as infecting all things not cleansed by the antiseptic of ideological purity. The idea that we can sit back and trust to our fellow citizens and an exceptional system and expect progress is absolutely alien to their world view. Indeed, the evident history of civilization is that we steadily continue to prosper through good will, understanding and, especially, creativity, but they ain’t buying it.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Gekkobear,

      Whereas Government failing are usually attributable to incompetence, stupidity, and idiocy.

      No, government failings are usually attributable to a lust for power which causes government decision makers to hurt others in the pursuit of that power.

      In the examples of the subway system and the government pension plans, decision-makers made destructive decisions to save money in one part of the government so that they could spend it on something else that would give them more power.

      Large scale institutional errors do not arise from the moral failings of individuals. Blaming a business problem on greed is like blaming a building collapse on gravity. Greed is a human universal and any system must compensate for it just as architects must compensate for the universal presence of gravity.

      Private decision-makers have the advantage not of morality or intelligence but of responsibility and experimentation. If a private actor makes a bad investment decision, they lose their own money. If a government decision-maker makes a bad investment decision, they lose someone else’s money that was taken from them by force. Even very large companies are very small compared to governments. Multiple Individual companies can experiment, fail and disappear without widespread harm. Governments are huge and monolithic. When they can’t really experiment, fail or disappear and when they make a mistake the damage is enormous.

    9. Gary Says:

      It is amazing to me how seldom it is pointed out that liberals talk so much about government as a force for good – except when they form a union to protect goverment employees.

      If government can be trusted, why is it the most heavily unionized industry?

      If it can not, why whould we turn over anything to it that we do not have to?

    10. Michael Says:

      Not to completely disagree, because I think you made a lot of valid points, but I have noticed something in recent years that really concerns me. Two years ago, I was on the boat ride tour of Lake Washington and the tourguide made the point that many of the bridges in the area were built around 1960 and designed to last for around 50 years.

      Gregoire and the Legislature are particularly worried about the potential collapse of two high-traffic spans in the Seattle area: the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the Elliott Bay waterfront and the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington. The Legislature has appropriated early spending for the projects, but design and full financing still are question marks. – Gregoire orders for bridge inspections

      Another example on a much smaller scale, but still relevant.

      Typically a municipality’s water department earns money for a city, but that is not the case in Avon Park, where water rates have not been updated in years. In fact, Gustafson said, the water and waste water rates are currently inadequate to meet expenditures. The city needs a minimum increase of 30 percent and an additional increase of 12.5 percent in water revenues to fully fund infrastructure rehabilitation and a minimum 35 percent increase with an additional 12.5 percent increase in sewer rates to fully fund that infrastructure rehabilitation. – AP discusses raising water, sewer rates

      I don’t know the details behind the DC Metro situation but I have noticed a real reluctance among elected officials to actually make sure that infrastructure is paid for within the existing structure. When it comes to raising taxes and/or raising rates, some will do anything to avoid it for as long as they can.

    11. Texas Pete Says:

      Great post and comments (esp. VeryRetired).

      One aspect that seems missing as an explanation of government incompetence is laziness. Government jobs breed laziness through a combination of absolute job security, a lack of clear, coherent objectives, and outmoded systems for maintaining accountability for employees’ work.

      Most government workers can feel very secure in their jobs, knowing that unions, tenure, and these days, the spectacular growth of government, will keep them employed as long as they like. Heck, 700 government-employed teachers in New York City are collecting $70K paychecks to sit in “rubber” rooms all day doing nothing because they are being disciplined. This absolute job security does not beget hungry employees eager to do a job and get recognition and compensation.

      In private enterprise, the goals and objectives are usually very clear to employees: build more products, sell more products and services, etc. Not so in government, which is mainly interested in maintaining a stable status quo. Without such clear objectives and the sense of a journey to reaching the objectives, government employees are apt to wander in circles, making work for themselves and others.

      Lastly, the online systems that are now de rigeur in private companies for tracking employee work and accomplishments simply don’t exist in the government space. Take a look at any government website, chances are it’s stuck back in 1998. If the public face of government computing systems is still on version 1.0, can we expect the internal accountability systems to be any better? And without strong accountability, government employees are prone to laziness.

      I personally don’t think government employees are stupid, or even incompetent. They are working in a system that simply does not reward hard-chargers. Better to keep your head down and just do what the boss says. This is why the best answer to government incompetence is to shrink the size, scope, and authority of government so they will do less harm.

      Texas is Galt’s Gulch

    12. Ihatesocialists Says:

      Bottom line capitalists rewards excellance. Socialism rewards laziness. America is shifting towards laziness

    13. Charlie Says:

      Texas Pete, that’s because there is no regulation that begins to compare in effectiveness to profit and loss.

    14. goodspkr Says:

      Government is neither efficient nor effective. It is political.

    15. JPINTX Says:

      Remember the old “Maxine” funny about the efficiency of the “state”?

      Some years back the IRS took over the Mustang Ranch in Nevada for failure to pay its tax bill. As required by law they ran the place in an attempt to make enough to pay off the tax bill, and of course they failed and lost money for a year or so. Now, the question is, if these guys couldn’t make money running whores, operating slot machines and selling whiskey, what on earth makes you think they can run anything successfully????

    16. Horst Graben Says:

      Your first example is meaningless, the second type of old equipment causing death happens in the private sector all the time. The third is a great example. Batting over .300, good job.

      A more significant example that makes your point is the phony WMD argument going into Iraq followed by undersized occupation force that allowed AQI to set up shop.

      Another example is having Goldman Saks running the Fed/Treasury as a government agent and driving the economy into the ditch.

      I love all of the nice us versus them emotional drivel in the comments… a great boost to the old self esteem.

    17. DJF Says:

      I agree with the post, but I think Shannon is in error in writing that “as a government organization, the Metro has sovereign immunity. It cannot be sued for harm caused by its own recklessness.” As far as I know, the federal government (on its own behalf and that of the D.C. government), like every state, has, by statute, waived sovereign immunity to permit people to bring tort suits against the government and its various agencies. There are still certain limitations on the claims that can be made against the government – e.g., the government can’t be sued for an exercise of discretion in carrying out a specifically governmental function – but governments generally can be sued, are sued all the time, and pay huge judgments (the money for which come from your tax dollars).

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      DJF,

      As far as I know, the federal government (on its own behalf and that of the D.C. government), like every state, has, by statute, waived sovereign immunity to permit people to bring tort suits against the government and its various agencies

      Sovereign immunity exist by default and has to be explicitly waved for specific acts of government in each individual piece of legislation that authorizes the act. Even when such waivers are granted, damages are usually capped and no punitive damages are allowed. Governments don’t face anything like the pressure from lawsuits that private citizens do.

    19. Shannon Love Says:

      Horst Graben,

      Your first example is meaningless, the second type of old equipment causing death happens in the private sector all the time.

      You misunderstand. I am saying that government and the private sector make the same kinds of mistakes in the same circumstance. Private actors cannot anticipate environmental harm and so does government. Private actors cut corners on safety and so does government. Private actors make foolish investments and so does government.

      I love all of the nice us versus them emotional drivel in the comments…

      We have different political groups because people think differently about the same problems. You can’t pretend these difference don’t exit. People that are in groups that are the targets of government coercion advocated by other groups, seldom have friendly feelings towards those other groups.

    20. Jim Miller Says:

      Shannon – I’ve just added a very big example to your three. King County (Seattle and most suburbs) was just audited by the state auditor (a Democrat) and many problems were found. (The man mostly responsible for the mess, Ron Sims, is now deputy secretary of HUD.)

      (My apologies for not emailing you with this tip, but, if I ever had your email address, I have lost it.)

    21. Victor Erimita Says:

      Government actors make the same mistakes as private actors in the same circumstances. Good point that I make in debates by observing that liberals assume that human beings in government will think, act and otherwise behave more wisely, honestly and competently than human being in the private sector. It is an article of faith. By why is it not equally an article of faith the human being in the private sector will act more wisely, etc.”

      It isn’t. But the difference is that in the private sector mistakes made by one actor will not necessarily be made by another. In fact, it is probable that those mistakes will be observed by others and avoided. The process is far more diffused and therefore each mistake is usually less catastrophic, and there are more diverse opportunities for learning ang avoidance. In government, there is far more uniformity, far less diffusion, and far more likelihood of catastrophic mistake.

      As for the maintenance issue, we pay more taxes than we ever have, yet our schools, roads, bridges, etc. are said to be crumbling. Why is that? Because no politican gets to put his name on road maintenace or fixing old schools. They get their names on new bridges, highways, arip-orts, school buildings and so on. So the money, even much of the money appropriated for maintenance gets…re-appropriated for new projects, while mainatenance on the old goes begging. Just one example of how humans in government do NOT act more in the coollective interest than those in the private sector.

    22. Shannon Love Says:

      Jim Miller,

      My apologies for not emailing you with this tip, but, if I ever had your email address, I have lost it.

      Our emails are now listed in the upper right hand corner of the page under “contributers emails”.

    23. Daniel Messing Says:

      This isn’t even close to being accurate in the case of Metro.

      -Metro cannot fund itself through taxes. Metro’s capital budget is funded by annual appropriation of participating governments and is subject to political whims.
      -Metro is not immune from lawsuits.
      -Metro does not have the power to change laws for its own benefit.
      -This accident was not caused by a “risky investment” but because of aging infrastructure that Metro cannot afford to replace, precisely because it does not have the authority to tax or even have a dedicated funding source. Metro is the only transit agency in the nation without dedicated funding.

      Whoever wrote this didn’t do even the tiniest bit of research.

      I should also point out that riding transit is still safer than almost every mode of transportation, including walking. According to the National Safety Council says there are 0.71 highway fatalities per 100 million passenger miles and 0.05 per 100 million passenger miles for rail systems. Twelve passengers have died in the 33 year history of Metro. Metro currently moves over 800,000 people a day on the railroad.

      It’s easy for the NTSB to say that Metro should have replaced these cars. But nobody wanted to pony up the $800m it would cost to do so. What should Metro have done? Removed a third of its fleet from service and flood the road with cars? These railcars are still within operating standards.

      And yes- there is magic that causes people in government organizations to make different decisions than private actors would in the same circumstances. This is the magic of not serving a profit motive. Look at the safety of government subsidized rail service vs that of profit-oriented (but even more subsidized) air passenger service.

      What happened was a catastrophic failure, to be sure. But what happened is not because “government knows better” arrogance or any such bullshit.

      Trying to score political points off a tragic, fatal accident with some cheezy unicorn trope is pretty offensive, especially when the author hasn’t bothered to check any sources.

    24. Brett_McS Says:

      Gary: “If government can be trusted, why is it the most heavily unionized industry?”

      Well, I’m stealing that one!

    25. Foobarista Says:

      For many lefties, there’s a sort of “the government equals us” narrative. You see this in the number of times they refer to the government as “we”, and the fact that they often assume that “society” equals “the government” when talking about “Society should do X”. The idea that even a democratic government may not always be operating in “society’s interest” is something that only happens when The Other Guys are running the government.

      They also assume a “frictionless transmission” between lofty goals and government action. Government failure can’t happen, because everyone working in the government is a selfless altruist, while everyone working in business is a evil greedhead.

    26. Shannon Love Says:

      Daniel Messing,

      You seem to have some strange idea that Metro is somehow a private company.

      -Metro cannot fund itself through taxes. Metro’s capital budget is funded by annual appropriation of participating governments and is subject to political whims.

      Metro is a government agency and is supported by compulsory taxation. It does not matter how many layers or compartments of government are involved. Politicians decided how much money they will take from the people and give to Metro. Private companies do not have that option.

      -Metro is not immune from lawsuits.

      But Metro can only be sued as much as the government allows the people to sue it. I’ll eat my hat if Metro can be sued for punitive damages that are 10 to 100 times as great as the actual harm. Private companies have to deal with almost unrestricted lawsuits.

      Metro does not have the power to change laws for its own benefit.

      The politicians who created and maintain Metro have the ability to change the laws for its and their benefit. Again the layers of bureaucracy in the system mean nothing.

      This accident was not caused by a “risky investment”…

      I didn’t say it was. I said the accident resulted from politicians choosing not to spend money on safety just like a corporate board of a struggling company would. Again, a government organization makes the same mistakes as a private one. The only difference being that private companies can’t make it illegal for people to compete with them.

      Metro is the only transit agency in the nation without dedicated funding.

      Again, the organizational details are unimportant. If all the politicians work up tomorrow and decided to double Metro’s budget they could do so and the rest of us would have to cough up. If Metro is poorly designed as a transportation agency, whose fault is that, the free-market? Again, you make my case for me. Metro is just like an underfunded department in a poorly managed company.

      It’s easy for the NTSB to say that Metro should have replaced these cars. But nobody wanted to pony up the $800m it would cost to do so. What should Metro have done? Removed a third of its fleet from service and flood the road with cars?

      And would you have accepted a claim of poverty from a private company? Would you have accepted the excuse that they couldn’t attract investors or that customers were not willing to the pay the fares need to pay for new equipment. No you wouldn’t. You would say that the private company was most likely lying and if they couldn’t run a safe operation they should just go out of business.

      Political paralysis is another blow against the myth of government competence.

      And yes- there is magic that causes people in government organizations to make different decisions than private actors would in the same circumstances. This is the magic of not serving a profit motive.

      Profit motive is far from absent in government and is overshadowed by the evil possible by those who with an unhealthy desire for status, fame and power. Do you really see ordinary business people as evil and politicians as noble? That is childish. Preed is far more dangerous and destructive than greed.

      My last two examples illustrate preed in action. In both cases, politicians cut corners and made bad decsions in order to satisfy their own lust for status, fame and power at the expense of the welfare of the people.

      Trying to score political points off a tragic, fatal accident with some cheezy unicorn trope is pretty offensive…

      I know, that was wrong of me. I broke the rules. Only leftists are allowed to exploit tragedy to illustrate a point.

      No matter how you cut it Metro is a government creation and its failures are the failures of government. My point remains, government is no more competent or worthy of our trust than private enterprise. Given its inherently violent nature, it is even less so.

    27. david foster Says:

      Far too early to say that the Metro accident was caused by lack of investment. Getting new cars would have probably reduced the death and injury count from the accident: it would not have prevented the collison.

    28. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Ten years ago NASA crashed a Mars bound probe because of botched unit conversions from customary U.S. measures (feet and pounds) to SI units. You would think that having paid $125 million for that lesson, they would want to avoid a recurrence.

      Today we have a report that they have decided to build their new Ares rocket system, which is intended to replace the space shuttle, based on old space shuttle plans that are in U.S. customary units.

      I suppose that they are from the government and they do not have to care.

    29. Derf Sedipal Says:

      [Another Fred Lapides comment deleted by Jonathan.]

    30. Shannon Love Says:

      Derf Sedipal,

      and let’s do away with the FBI, CIA, Military, FISA, NSA, NASA etc: they are all govt run

      And aren’t they just the perfect models of efficiency and effectiveness!

      You know how to prove the CIA wasn’t involved in JFK’s assassination? He’d dead isn’t he?

      The military, intelligence services and police suffer from all the faults of the rest of the government. They’re expensive, wasteful, often inept, corrupt and make horrific errors. Unfortunately, we have no choice but use the political system to manage violence.

      If I could figure out a way for the free-market to handle mass violence I would get rid of the military. Unfortunately, the “free” in free-market means free of violence. The free-market processes all the myriad tradeoffs in all the voluntary interactions between all the hundreds of millions of people in society. It can’t process involuntary interactions carried out by violence. The only way to suppress violence is with counter violence. The government would ideally only deal with matters relating to violence and leave all voluntary interactions to the people.

    31. DJF Says:

      Shannon – Returning to the point about sovereign immunity, I think you seriously underestimate the burden tort liability imposes on government, particularly municpalities. New York City, for instance, pays billions of dollars in tort damages each year, and this is a major strain on its budget (not that there aren’t a lot of other strains). I also think you’re mistaken if you believe that sovereign immunity has not been waived to a significant extent. If there’s any activity engaged in by both government and private actors that the government cannot be sued for in some American jurisdiction, I’d be interested to learn of it. Of course, the threat of liability may not have the deterrent effect on government that it has on private actors, since government employees generally do not suffer any personal adverse consequences as a result of tort judgments.