The Utilitarian Argument for a State and where it FailsSubmitted by dwalters on Fri, 07/25/2014 - 00:59
Most arguments for the existence of a State structured society boil down to a single premise - through the existence of a State, violations of Natural Law can can be minimized. For instance, “there will be less theft,” “there will be less murder,” and so on. On the whole, it is argued that, folks will be better off. This is the Utilitarian Argument for a State. Let's explore.
The following figure demonstrates the proposition. In the absence of a State, society would arrive at a Natural Equilibrium where the inherent – yet informal – organization would result in some baseline level of violations against Natural Law – which can be assumed to be measured in some arbitrary units of value (i.e. money, emotional value, etc - shown as blue).
When a State is put in place, money, sweat, tears, etc must be extracted from the populace to sustain its existence. Under the influence of a State, by Le Chatelier's Principle, the equilibrium level of Natural Law violations will be shifted – for the better or for the worse. Under a State, both of these must be assigned a value and, subsequently, added together. If the summed value falls below the Natural Equilibrium, the State could be said to be ”worth it” (shown in dotted green) from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis – whereas the red dotted line represents the case where the sum exceeds the Natural Equilibrium, and so, is ”not worth it”.
In other words, if the State costs more and/or causes more harm than otherwise would be experienced by the People in its absence, it is not worth having.
[Note: The plot is normalized to the Natural Equilibrium level – such that “worth it” appears as a reduction in cost (a negative number) and “not worth it” shows up as an additional expense (a positive value).]
The Utilitarian Argument contends that the State can be kept on the green side of the Natural Equilibrium. I turn to the words of Common Sense:
"How came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check?
...the provision is unequal to the task; the means either cannot or will not accomplish the end, and the whole affair is a Felo de se: for as the greater weight will always carry up the less, and as all the wheels of a machine are put in motion by one, it only remains to know which power in the constitution has the most weight, for that will govern: and through the others, or a part of them, may clog, or, as the phrase is, check the rapidity of its motion, yet so long as they cannot stop it, their endeavours will be ineffectual: The first moving power will at last have its way, and what it wants in speed is supplied by time."
~ Thomas Paine, February 1776
It's a striking result to plot the US Incarceration Rate versus the Gross Federal Debt.
However, the criticism goes philosophically deeper than the question - “Can the State be limited?” Fore, before a State is established, the questions must be answered: 1) Are the objectives sought to be achieved by establishing a State worth taking people's money, often involuntarily (by theft), to fund said objectives? 2) Does the group of people seeking to establish the State have the authority to subject the remainder of the population to its rule?
The first question can be restated as - “Is it acceptable to violate Natural Law in order to potentially prevent violations of Natural Law?” - or - “Is it acceptable to steal from your neighbor because, otherwise, some “other people” would have stolen more?” This is a question that you must answer for yourself - but please take into account the words of Frederic Bastiat:
”Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
~ Frederic Bastiat 1850
And, a play on Gandhi - When everyone seeks to screw everyone else through use of the State, in the end, everyone ends up screwed.
In any case, the second question still must be faced - Does the group of people seeking to establish the State have the authority to subject the remainder of the population to its rule? This question is not that different than that faced by the likes of Isaac Newton, John Locke, and later, Thomas Paine concerning the issue of divine right. Amanda Read wrote at washingtontimes.com:
Newton observed that when it comes to dispensing with laws, the king has no authority to ignore laws which are against mala in se (that is, laws against crimes that are wrong in themselves based on absolute principle). “The King cannot dispence with a law made for securing the liberty or property of the people,” wrote Newton.
This realization, if taken to its logical conclusion - that the king has no inherent right to do away with those of the people - leads one to conclude that - a king is no better than a common person - and for politicians, the same necessarily holds true. This question has been answered before.
While some may contend that a group of adults can get together and establish a State under a unanimous contract that binds a community to its rules, and while adults can certainly engage in binding contractual agreements among each other, at what age, for instance, does such a community define an age of consent whereby any individual younger is subject to its rule against their will? Mind you, this is not simply a question of parental authority over children born to them. Hardly so.
Once a contract is established through the unanimous consent of the adults in the community, would the contract be changeable? Or, would it be permanent? If it's changeable, who would have the power to legislate? For example, would unanimous consent be required for every change? Or, would majority consent suffice? Or, would an elected group be trusted with that power (I mean responsibility)?
Whether he said it or not, the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson rings of truth:
”A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
If the contract is permanent, well, there arises another serious concern. Consider a youth one year younger than the age of consent established by the adults of the community. Now, suppose one year passes and the young one – while of consenting age – is still early enough in years to still be dependent on his or her parents. Is such a person that does not consent to the permanent rules established the prior year bound to follow them? In reality, if the rules were permanent, it would not matter if the child was one year younger than the age of consent or still yet to be born during passage. They would be reduced to nothing more than the slaves of their forefathers.
I'll leave you with Jefferson's words to Madison in a letter, September 6, 1789:
The question, whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here, on the elementary principles of society, has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted, I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident, that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living; that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by any individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of its lands in severality, it will be taken by the first occupants, and these will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to its creditor. But the child, the legatee or creditor, takes it, not by natural right, but by a law of the society of which he is a member, and to which he is subject. Then, no man can, by natural right, oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the payment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come; and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which is the reverse of our principle.
The Utilitarian Argument for a State fails to hold up to scrutiny – not only in a practical sense, either, but in a very human sense. For instance, how long will divine right be allowed to persist?