10 April 2008
Who actually benefits from the state?

Now, I am not really interested, here, in the normal response: “Oh, we all do.  It provides, education, health, law enforcement…”  Libertarians know this to be nonsense and there’s no point in rehearsing those arguments here(1).  I am more interested in what we libertarians tend to say:

“Oh well, lots of people: welfare beneficiaries, civil servants, politicians…”

But the point is: do they?

I mean, take Tony Blair.  There he was, Prime Minister for a decade, but was it really worth it?  Sure, you can dwell on the trappings of power: the fame, the central London address, the foreign trips, all those people being nice to you, ruining perfectly decent people just because you can etc, but you’ve also got to remember the hours spent in boring meetings and tramping the streets, having to say things you don’t really believe in and, in the end, the public revulsion.  Oh, and I might add having Gordon Brown as a neighbour.

OK, so what about the ones at the bottom of the food chain - the welfare junkies?  Now sitting on your arse and getting someone else to pay for your housing, food and everything else sounds like a pretty good deal.  But the state extracts its pound of flesh condemning you to a neighbourhood full of chavs with an anti-work culture and a crap local school.  What if there were no state?  Sure you’d have to work for a living but you’d almost certainly end up better off, living in nicer surroundings and with better education options.

Well, if top and bottom are rubbish, what about the middle: the civil servants?  Rubbish pay, good pension.  You might manage to wangle some cushy number with next to no work but you might not.  There are plenty of civil servants who have to work pretty hard.

So, who does win?


1.  But if you would prefer to have those arguments rehearsed see What I believe and Why I am a libertarian.

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  1. Well, if the state provides defence - which I believe it should, “we all do” would be a reasonable answer. Same, too for law and order. It’s only when the state expands into areas beyond its natural remit, as it has done, that the question becomes murky. The state should be there to provide what we need to have collectively - so, in theory, “we all do” should be the appropriate answer. Unfortunately, it no longer is…

    Posted by Longrider on 10 April 2008 at 11:25am

  2. Without it the poor would die and there’d be anarchy in the streets.

    I think that’s the general bottom line belief of the man on the Clapham Omnibus. It may not be perfect, but the free market would be worse, favouring white middle class males at the expense of everyone else.

    Posted by Peter Briffa on 12 April 2008 at 09:58pm

  3. Individually, they all want the state to provide them with favours, power, security, pity, what have you, but collectively the result is often the opposite of what they wanted.

    A concrete example would be an industry acting in its own interest to receive subsidies or special privileges. Initially it seems like a beneficial idea, but once government ministers start pulling the strings in their business decisions and the firm gets more and more inefficient, in the long run it’s actually a net disbenefit.

    By sloshing money and favours between individual balance sheets, government becomes a commons tragedy on a national scale.

    Posted by Jay Jardine on 14 April 2008 at 03:08am

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