The free rider problem claims a market failure occurs when people take advantage of being able to use a common resource, or collective good, without paying for it, as is the case when citizens of a country utilize public goods without paying their fair share in taxes. Socialism is proposed as a solution to the free rider problem. However, the free rider problem is a government problem and not a market problem. Few investors pass up opportunities for a high rate of return on investment simply because others who have not invested might benefit. 

An early example of the argument originates with Celsus, the pagan philosopher who argued that Christians benefited from the policing, judicial, and military functions of the Roman state without volunteering public service. Since the primitive Christian had no use for the state of Rome, the Christian did not see the need to volunteer service. In the primitive Christian’s opinion, the church would have been better off without the imperial state of Rome. The state was something the primitive church suffered, not something they desired, and the free-rider argument was simply a pagan construction to expand the state’s power and influence over and into the church.

The free-rider problem is a basis for government intervention to the ends of providing for the general welfare. Of course, the welfare provided through law, courts, police and military is a generality a principled Christian can do without.

“Early Christians saw their task as one of patient suffering, not taking over themselves the work of the police. This negative attitude toward state functions had its roots not in moral absolutism and the search for complete abstention from any use of force and any relation to the state, but rather in consideration of the importance and urgency given to the affairs of the church, and (in an accessory way) in the state’s idolatry of making itself God.” — John Howard Yoder

But what about the poor?  Indeed, how will the poor free ride without government services. But do the poor really free ride through government services? The free rider argument is a way of incorporating the poor into subsidizing services provided by government from which the rich primarily and largely benefit.

WHO ARE THE FREE RIDERS?

There are several important things man needs for temporal survival, one of which man esteems greater than others: Security. The Liberals inverted the Conservative argument when claiming, “Who will provide food, shelter, and clothing to the poor and disabled if the State does not?” Who would provide security for the poor and disabled was not a concern of the Founding Fathers. It was whether the poor might benefit from the rich providing security for themselves. For example, I being rich get burglarized most of the time. It is not fair that the poor have nothing a burglar wants and who are most of the time the burglar. I prosecute the burglar and that is one less ruffian at my expense with whom the poor must contend. By incorporating the poor through equal suffrage and taxation (by making the police public), I reduce my “premium” at the expense of those who need security less than I. This in turn leads to a corruption of the poor. They are not protected but policed and they are even poorer for it.

As far as the poor are concerned, we must admit that they and the market would benefit from less taxation and government regulation. Not only would they keep more of their income and make more income, the price of security would decrease, even more so under an insurance policy that indemnified property loss rather than prosecuted thieves. Since the poor are burglarized less, it might not benefit to pay higher premiums that total more than the total value of property burglarized in a year. We must also admit that an insurance company would want to keep its liabilities at a minimum so as to keep premiums competitive. Competing insurance companies operate under different incentives than monopoly governments. The thing about the market is everyone gets the justice they want.

Most people against a private law system are moralists. The viability of anarchy is not a question (there are examples of it working in the past). The problem is that it is not sufficiently authoritarian. The authoritarian would say his neighbor should do something about security for the poor, tax his neighbor and then tell the poor what good he has done by providing him security with the taxes expropriated from his neighbor. Moralists end up being worse than the miser because they steal whereas the miser merely withheld. A monopoly government cannot ensure the justice everyone demands. Everyone contends with each other for control of the state to get the justice they demand. We would like to believe the process of integration could be civil but when coercion and force are available to those with control, we do not see the need to concede any way of doing justice other than our own.

The criminal law can be supplied by the market in and for those communities who demand it. To standardize coverage across the board causes contention and chaos. Equal protection under the law becomes protection for those who are equal. Diversity is swallowed up in a sea of coerced uniformity and forced integration. That never bodes well. Again the procedure is not standardized by force, rather allowing law to reflect the diversity of values and beliefs held by victims for how they want justice done. This is achieved by allowing a free market in the provision of law.

IS SOCIALISM THE SOLUTION?

Justice in religious circles is not the same as defense. Retaliation is hardly defensive especially when what is retaliated against are nonviolent, consensual, victimless “crimes.” The moralist defines liberty, not as defense of life, property, and against enslavement, but as “to live without sin or in the influence thereof.”

Justice is not a reactive, negative policy, especially when funded by taxation. It is a proactive, positive policy that exploits the misfortune of others for personal gain, either as a bystander seeking legalized revenge or as a tax subsidized revenger acting on behalf of society (not God mind you) and without the consent of a victim (especially in “crimes” that have no victim).  At best, it is behavior modification and is the subsidization of failed parenting. Apologists may want us to believe that government is a “safety net” against bad parenting, but like anything subsidized, it is an enabler of poor parenting (by increasing moral hazard).

State provided justice is a form of welfarism. Some try to make a distinction between the two by suggesting that state justice is merely inefficient, but that welfarism is evil. This would only beg the question as to why welfare is evil and not merely an inefficient form of charity. After all, security is simply a necessity of life not unlike food, clothing, and shelter. If we can tax to provide justice in the name of punishing immorality, certainly in the name of punishing immorality we can fine (tax) or incarcerate those who do not donate to charity (welfare).

The State does not have a responsibility to defend personal rights to life, liberty, or property. It secures its own privilege to infringe upon the same in order to satisfy demands for justice. Therefore, the argument that justice is the defense of life, liberty,  and property is disingenuous. It is an argument that attempts to hide the proactive, positive nature of justice behind reactive, negative terminology associated with self-defense and the defense of others. In short, I am taxed to subsidized “justice” for others. To subsidize behavior modification or another’s vengeance through taxation is welfarism.

WHOSE JUSTICE ANYWAY?

As one who is coerced to pay for police services, I would hope that were I to suffer property damages that I could recover my financial loss from the perpetrator in restitution.  It does not provide me justice to have the heavy hand of the law deny me restitution from my assailant by killing or maiming him (instead of apprehending, if at all necessary, the perpetrator in order to recover my loss). On the market, if I hire someone to apprehend an assailant, then the failure to do so results in a forfeiture of pay and, where my assailant has been incapacitated to the point of being unable to make restitution, assumes my assailant’s liability. This is what makes private insurance better than government. The consumer gets the justice for which the consumer pays. Therefore, as a tax-payer entitled to justice, if the police deny me justice by killing or maiming my perpetrator (because they are either unprofessional or incompetent), then I should be allowed to seek redress in court from the officer that killed or maimed my perpetrator.

The fact that causing serious injury or death to persons committing a traffic violation is a part of the job description for police could only attract those lacking any sense of proportion or morality to the profession. A cop that is incapable of giving pursuit and who must rely on deadly force alone should not be on the force. It is negligence on the part of the department to retain physically unfit cops while knowing they are incapable of giving chase, thereby increasing the likelihood of excessive force being used. When it comes to torts, the people who are forced to pay for police services should have a guarantee that when they are arrested or a loved one is arrested, the best people for the job will be hired to execute the law.

I am not in favor of preemptive violence (punishing someone for what they might do instead of what they have done). Too often preemptive violence is directed towards the poor, homeless, mentally ill, or those suffering from addiction because it is assumed they are the most likely to commit crimes. The question is whether there ever should have been a law to enforce. The fault lies with all who believe nonviolent offenses require a violent response. Trying to escape a violent response to a nonviolent “offense” is not an act of escalation, but of deescalation (avoidance, not confrontation). In such a case, it is only natural to flee or fight a perceived threat even if it be unwise to do either. Motivated by fear, the response is natural, not criminal. Same cannot be said of officers who respond to nonviolent offenses with violence.

It would be nice to know the offense of those suffering under the heavy hand of the law. At least then we might agree that some violators should never have been in a situation where police may cause them serious injury or death in the first place and whether the state is putting the public safety at risk with over-wise statutes to be enforced. No doubt people will fight or flee from the enforcement of laws they believe to be unjust and, while this may not be a prudent course of action, it hardly justifies a violent response for nonviolent offenses. Put a loved one in the same situation and then say, “My daughter deserved being tased/shot in the back while handcuffed because she was stupid and/or scared enough to have run from the cops.”

WHAT ABOUT MORALITY?

When a peace, I mean Law Enforcement, officer (LEO) enforces an unjust law, it could be argued what he does is criminal.  I have been told that LEO’s are allowed discretion when enforcing laws.  They can also resign without any penalty to themselves for refusing to enforce an unjust law.  Therefore, LEO’s who enforce unjust laws choose to do so.  Since the state is founded on the principle of “implied consent” (not unanimous explicit consent), it follows that consent is not implied when a law conflicts with or goes beyond what is permissible by constitutional law.  Having established LEO’s are acting criminally when enforcing unjust law, what should those who (rightly) believe they may neglect observance of unjust laws do?

Consider:  A criminal or several criminals heavily armed approach you and want you to give them money upon threat of death.  Would you argue due process, civil liberties, or natural rights?  Would you resist or comply?  If you would not do so with a criminal, why would you with a LEO?  The provoked response is very likely to be the same.  This is the problem with people who resist cops, either by argument or by flight:  They think LEO’s are reasonable people.  LEO’s do what is necessary, not what is reasonable.

The question of a LEO’s guilt is a legal, not a moral, one.  The standards of human conduct are quite lower in the laws of men than they are in the laws of God.  The laws of men allow for or permit the “reasonable” use of physical force, or threat thereof, to save life, defend liberty, and protect property (even though a LEO has no duty to do any of these things).  “What is a reasonable amount of force to protect property?”  The law itself does not specifically dictate what kind or amount of force can or should be used in each imaginable scenario. There is a Use of Force Continuum, but it is merely a guideline. It is a judgment call, hence, a call allegedly based on reason.  But here is the catch:  From a legal perspective, the least amount of physical force or coercion “necessary” to secure compliance to the law is “reasonable,” is “lawful.”  We are not talking about a judgment call at all. We are talking about necessity. Reason is not a factor when securing compliance through necessary violence, else one might reason that compliance does not always ensure safety.  For the sake of an officer’s wrath (because they are not reasonable after all), comply even if, in doing so, your observance of the law makes you less safe.

So, I ask LEO’s, “Why do you believe that in order to be responsible, you must use force?”  Resorting to the use of force in the performance of a civic duty does not often result in a lasting peace.  In some cases, it causes death.  It may have been necessary to use force to secure compliance, but the use of force is hardly reasonable to reconcile disputes. Despite legal exceptions in the law which may justify force while performing a civic duty, to act on them almost always destroys relationships and makes the reconciliation of broken ones nearly impossible.  There is a trade off when using necessary force to secure compliance, especially when the laws are unjust (there is no life to be saved, no property to be protected, no liberty to be defended when securing compliance). It is to make of oneself a disturber of the peace and an enemy to mankind.  It is up to you to decide how many relationships you are willing to sacrifice to enforce compliance to unjust laws or even of just laws the victim may not want enforced.

WHAT IF…?

Question: “Why should space cannons be left to the private sector? What about the free rider problem? Why would one person contribute/invest in something like a space cannon, that has no immediate or quantifiable gain, and at the same time is non-rivalrous and non-excludable, meaning there is no way of preventing someone who doesn’t contribute from gaining?”

Answer: “Not everyone benefits to the same degree. Some benefit not at all. If people feel they would benefit from the space cannon they would fund it voluntarily.”

Question: “Yes, but if a space cannon is constructed and saves earth (and Bruce Willis) from a massive asteroid, everyone is saved. Hence, everyone benefits, whether or not they contributed. So, an individual might say, ‘Hey, enough people are probably going to pitch in for this expensive thing that we are probably never going to need, so I might sit it out. I think that’s where the market fails. Isn’t the rational solution to the problem socialism?”

Answer: It is more accurate to say, ‘If I fund the cannon, the earth might be saved in the highly unlikely event an asteroid approaches on a direct course while I and my family are certain to die of starvation when doing so.’ There is always an opportunity cost and comparative advantage dictates that different persons will forego different opportunities based on their circumstances. It might be a noble thing to sacrifice your family for the greater good of humanity in the off-chance a meteor ever approaches on a direct course for earth, but no one has a positive right to sacrifice others for their own survival regardless how may people are involved. That is collectivism.

Your hypothetical situation is based on three assumptions that requires omniscience:

1. The individual will not act in his own interest, even when obligated to do so by a contract to which one explicitly agreed, or in the interests of others (to include one’s family).

2. The solution to the problem, a space cannon, has the highest probability of success.

3. The threat is not only a distant probability, but imminent.

Because of hypothetical improbabilities, made probable only by assumption, the individual can be forced to do what I think is in his best interest or is in my own best interest. But the individual saw Deep Impact and realized the space cannon had a low probability of deflecting the asteroid and an even lower one of destroying it. In fact, the probability is that the threat would only be slightly mitigated, if not increased, by breaking the asteroid into two large pieces. The individual decides a space trampoline would not only be cheaper, but more effective. One can save the world and feed one’s family by funding a competing solution. Alas, the individual is unable to do so because, in your presumed omniscience, you have expropriated, in the name of the collective, all resources to direct towards your preferred solution.

In this scenario, your free rider argument either destroys the world by monopolizing the market and directing resources to a failed solution or it kills off a family of lesser means despite the asteroid never materializing. Taking the highly improbable and marginal case in which most persons might legally justify theft and applying it broadly to justify all theft committed by government is really a deceptive tactic. If I were to ask whether you would renounce theft in cases not representative of this highly improbable and marginal case, you would still advocate for theft.  You are not concerned with free riding by others as much as you want to be the free rider.

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L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

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