Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Government Failure

As you probably know, this girl was kidnapped by a creep who claimed to be able to speak to creatures in another dimension. He kept her in a compound in his backyard in Antioch California and subjected her to eighteen years of unspeakable treatment.

During that time, the authorities failed despite many opportunities to discover the crime. Their failure was so grotesque that the Antioch police department took the extraordinary measure of issuing an apology without waiting for the usual internal review. I suspect that he was eventually caught (by the UC Berkeley campus police, of all people) because he wanted to be caught, thinking that he would be rewarded for his crimes with world fame. Which of course he was.

In 1853, Herbert Spencer published an essay, "Over-Legislation," in which he showed how incompetent, inefficient, and just plain cruel government is when it works outside its proper sphere of operations. He then examined the way it works when it stays within its proper sphere: for instance, when it tries to catch criminals.

In 1935, Albert J. Nock put Spencer's point like this:
He shows ... that the State does not even fulfill efficiently what he calls its “unquestionable duties” to society; it does not efficiently adjudge and defend the individual’s elemental rights. This being so – and with us this too is a matter of notoriously common experience – Spencer sees no reason to expect that State power will be more efficiently applied to secondary social purposes. “Had we, in short, proved its efficiency as judge and defender, instead of having found it treacherous, cruel, and anxiously to be shunned, there would be some encouragement to hope other benefits at its hands.”
If government were really efficient at catching criminals, then we might have some semblance of an excuse for giving it control of the entire medical care system. But it isn't, and we don't.

Of course, this is one extreme case, and nothing follows from it by itself. But in a rational person, cases like this don't work upon the mind by themselves. You reflect on them.

Consider why things like this happen in the first place. What would happen if, every time the Antioch police department made a mistake, they lost money? What if, in the event that they made a mistake as loathesomely horrific as this one, they would lose so many clients that they would be driven out of business? That of course is the situation of organizations in the private sector, whether they operate for profit or on a not-for-profit basis. Precisely because they can only get money from people with their individual consent, the market punishes them for every mistake they make.

That is one reason why Spencer's rule is true, and one reason why any given task should only be given to government if it must be carried out and there is simply no one else to do it.
BTW, for more on Spencer, the first libertarian individualist to be slimed by the left, go here.

1 comment:

Todd said...

keep up the good work