Sunday, June 05, 2005

Rules and regulations and governments, oh my


Robert Bell of Libertopia weighs in on "balanced regulation. The post reflects on another from the Adam Smith Institute Blog, and is apparently also an exension of a discussion begun in the comments section of yet another post, which in turn was a reply to an article of mine. Tangled web, eh?

What seems to be missing in Bell's acceptance of the state as a tool for creating and maintaining "objective standards" and "rule of law" (or commenter probligo's "'standards' that govern the fabric by which the society survives") is recognition of the fact that placing the power to set said standards and rules into the hands of an organization with a monopoly on the use of force is inherently subversive of the objectivity Bell craves. The state does not have to prove its standards and rules against the reality in which they are supposed to operate; if they don't work, too bad: We've got the guns, we've said what to do and how to do it, now drill, ye tarriers, drill.

Societies and cultures do, of course, develop standards, broadly accepted codes of conduct, and mechanisms for the enforcement of those codes. Neither the development process nor the outcomes are always perfect, but competition -- the one activity which the state brooks none of -- tends to produce the optimum codes, since competing standards can be measured against each other and with respect to serving the purposes they are supposed to serve.

Since the state is obviously not the only entity capable of developing standards and codes (as a matter of fact, many of its standards and codes are borrowed from their original developers -- ethical philosophers, religious movements and, in some specific cases, scientific researchers), it takes more than an assertion (even a proven assertion) that codes and standards are necessary to justify vesting a monopoly on the enforcement of said standards and codes in the state. What it takes is proof -- or at least strong evidence -- that the state is, and even as a monopoly will remain, the best enforcer of the best codes, or at least that vesting that power in the state will produce, on balance, better results than either vesting it in some other entity or simply standing aside and letting competition settle the matter.

For example, if one could establish that a state with a court and penal system was able to achieve lower homicide rates, at a lower cost to the members of the society, than an anarchist form of social organization with organically developed institutions of shunning and outlawry, that might bolster the case for the state. And so on, and so forth.

Where politics and political philosophy are concerned, the jury is always out. However, a number of writers -- David Friedman comes to mind -- have convincingly held that the state does not produce superior codes, standards or enforcement mechanisms at a preferable cost compared to other providers of same.

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