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Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Census Of Hummel's Straw Men

Eric, weaknesses abound everywhere I look in Jeffrey Hummel's article.

1) He argues against the strawman position that the free-rider problem guarantees public goods are never produced. That actual argument is rather that they are systematically under-produced, and that a liberty-lover should consider the under-production of rights protection to be disastrous.

2) He argues against the strawman position that if the public goods argument for national defense is valid, then it justifies any level of proposed national defense spending.

3) He argues against the strawman position that social provision of rights protection is what prevents "most stealing and cheating" that doesn't actually occur. No, the actual argument is just that an unacceptably higher level of stealing and cheating would occur without social provision of rights protection.

4) He argues against the strawman position that people will always free-ride if given a chance. No, the actual argument is just that an unacceptably high level of free-riding will occur. (His example about voting doesn't grapple at all with the recent literature on the rationality of voting.)

5) He makes an embarrassing gaffe in his reading of the literature about iterated Prisoner's dilemma. Yes, the best strategy in IPD is cooperation, but that depends on the crucial assumption that players can recognize whether a given other player cooperated or defected in previous iterations. No such recognition is possible in the case of social provision of rights protection. In groups larger than villages, I can't look at you and recognize at a glance how much you've been contributing to communal rights protection. Given his oversight, it's devastating to his case that he admits that the public goods problem is equivalent to a multi-player PD.

6) He seems to argue that the risk of government failure (tyranny etc.) is always higher than the risk of market failure in rights protection, without any empirical evidence. From where I sit in 21st century America, I have a strong existence proof that a state can provide national defense without falling into tyranny. Now, it is true that changes in the factor outputs of production have made wars of territorial conquest very nearly obsolete, and this has drastically reduced the need for territorial defense from foreign invasion. However, as Hummel perceptively argues, defense against foreign aggression should not really be distinguished from defense against domestic aggression, and he gives me no reason to believe that disaster would not ensue if both kinds of defense were not socially provisioned.

The public goods argument for socializing the financing of rights protection comes down to 1) intuitions about counterfactuals and 2) interpretation of a historical record that is rich in organized aggression but effectively devoid of examples of working private defense markets. For more info, see: anarchism minarchism

quasibil, I don't see a labor theory of value lurking in the notion that producers want to get paid for production. As for art being a public good, you are ignoring the last sentence of my twiki essay -- and then complaining cryptically that I'm not reading Tom.

Chris, Tom has indeed elsewhere argued that whatever gets produced (sans force initiation) is the optimal amount, and that there's no such thing as demand that would be realized if only you could be assured that similar demanders would realize their own demand. Tom apparently has never been involved in negotiating a multi-party contract.

I don't claim that state provision of rights protection is guaranteed to reach an ideal optimal level of minimized force initiation. Rather, I claim that it moves us in that direction, and does better on that metric than does the anarchist war of all against all.

Dan, it's sheer nonsense to say I'm suggesting that Block -- a committed anarcholibertarian -- concedes the correctness of the public goods argument for the justification of the state. I'm obviously just saying he concedes that it has nearly universal assent in the economics literature. If you think the latter situation should lead Block to that conclusion, I can't stop you from connecting those dots, but don't get mad at me if that's what your brain naturally wants to do.