I recently had a discussion on Twitter with several minarchists/limited-government Constitutionalists (for the sake of this discussion, I will group both of these groups into the term “minarchist”) about whether the free market could handle police protection services better than the state could. Throughout the conversation, I noticed several contradictions in their arguments, some as egregious as claiming that they would not levy taxes but then supporting the idea of tariffs as well as subtler, more complex ones.
Minarchists strongly support the idea of property rights and self-ownership. This typically comes from an acceptance of the Non-Aggression Principle, which of course states that it is unethical to use violence or the threat of violence against peaceful individuals. As a result, they believe that markets should be free from government intrusions. By removing the institutionalized coercion, people will be free to pursue what they want, leading to markets that maximize amount of people whose demands are met.
I agree with all of this. Unfortunately, minarchists fail to take the final step.
Like any libertarian, minarchists hold that it is important that the individual rights to private property and to freely associate are maintained for the free market to exist. But unlike those who advocate for a stateless society, minarchists believe that it is the job of a government to ensure that these rights are secured. For whatever reason, they do not believe that the free market would be able to adequately handle industries such as police protection services.
Without going into the details of how private police protection would work (it’s been discussed numerous times by many people—a quick Google search should return plenty of material on it), let us inspect the view that the government is what is best suited to ensure that individuals have their individual rights secured.
First, it is important to note that what is being discussed here is a system where an individual may not opt out without facing some sort of coercive repercussions. In other words, it would be considered a crime to choose to not participate.
Let’s not pretend that minarchy would require any sort of overly complex code to define the rule of law. The role of government would be to defend individuals against violence acted on their bodies and theft of their property. These are simple, universally-accepted reasons to defend oneself. The agents of the government, in defending rights, would theoretically act in ways that would be permissible for any other individual to act.
However, in a system where the government controls how rights are defended, the choices that individuals have to defend themselves are restricted. One may not decide to say, “I no longer wish to pay for my government to provide these protective services; I will use that money in other ways that are more preferable to me.” If free markets require that people are not harmfully coerced, then it logically follows that the basis by which these free markets are built should be maintained by property rights and freedom of association.
So in an effort to minimize coercion in the lives of people, minarchists employ coercion against those who choose to not participate. In other words, to make sure that individual liberty is not restricted, individual liberty is restricted. Government agents may delegate to themselves what I have every right to do on my own, but I may not hire someone to delegate that same right instead of the government?
The foundation of the free market is coercion? That cannot be. How can you reasonably support free markets when you don’t support a free market for what allows all of the other markets to be free?