Over a year ago, I wrote an article titled Fundamentals: What is government? I gave a pretty technical definition of government (or the state), but over the last several months, I’ve found myself giving a much more practical explanation of what government is.
If you strip it down to its most basic functions, the state is a means to limit choice. This is a value-free statement and should not be used to support the institution of government or reject it. However, once any analysis of this statement occurs, it is easy to see that a positive outcome of an involuntary government can be judged as a utopian ideal.
The action axiom tells us that people act in their own rational self-interest to maximize their own psychic utility. In other words, people make choices that they believe will provide themselves the most benefit. This offers no guarantee of success but it at least allows for trial and error and the chance of observation of others. Either way, someone will only voluntarily enter into a transaction with another person if they believe they will end up in a better position after the transaction than they were before. This applies to all parties in the transaction.
With this in mind, how does restricting choice (i.e. options) via state action put individuals in a better position to improve their lots in life? This could only be accomplished by a state that successfully limited the choices of people whose goal is to engage in involuntary transactions like murder, theft, rape, etc. Despite this being the goal of a number of governments throughout history, the elimination of the choice to not murder or steal has never come close to being accomplished. In actuality, the greatest perpetrator of theft and murder usually ends up being the government that was chartered to prevent it in the first place!
If a supporter of the state makes the case that government forced upon people is better than freedom, ask them why an individual is better with fewer options at his or her disposal. Why are three options better than four options? Five options? Six options?