Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Government of the gaps"

You have probably heard of "The God of the gaps", where the unexplained is attributed to God/gods, but new discoveries shrink the unexplained, leaving less and less room for the supernatural to be the best explanation for observed phenomena.

Well, "The Government of the gaps" is very similar.

It's where people say "how would the mail get delivered without government running a postal service?"... until FedEx and UPS and email show exactly how.

Or any other thing "only government can do", until someone else does it.

It's why I am amused every time someone asks "But who would build the roads?" They are appealing to "The Government of the gaps"- and it makes them look rather dumb.



  1. I rather like the "Government of the Gaps".

    My big issue with the state is that it likes to grant itself monopolies. Once it's involved in a given area, states in general are reluctant to allow civil society (for which read "everyone else") to even try to provide goods or services in that area. The old injunction not to steal because the government hates competition is true in all senses.

    Governments arrange monopolies, for themselves or for their cronies, in one of two ways. The first is legislative fiat, simply prohibiting civil society from acting in that area. For examples see the multifarious prohibitions on individuals owning certain things or practicing certain occupations without permission. You then get into the ridiculous situation of being charged to pay for enforcement to prevent you from doing things that someone else thinks you shouldn't.

    The second is more insidious though, because it's often less obvious. Government simply stacks the deck so heavily against any competitor that the government provided option becomes the only economic one, regardless of how expensive or inefficient it is. A relevant example here is government provided education or healthcare. Yes, in most countries you can opt out, but that doesn't exempt you from having to pay for a "public service" you're not actually using. In essence you have to pay twice, so the government alternative has to look really bad before the majority of people seriously consider using a private provider. If you're at the bottom of the income scale you probably won't be able to afford to.

    The state has other means at its disposal of course. "Regulatory capture" is the process whereby the established players in an industry (government cronies) lobby the government to increase the amount of burdensome regulation in their particular industry. They do this because as large companies they are able to handle this additional burden of compliance far more easily than a smaller company trying to break into the field. It sometimes backfires though, with the amount of regulation forcing *all* players out of the marketplace, leading government to swoop to the "rescue" and start providing the service itself.

    However, a state that worked on an opt-in/opt-out basis, a true "government of the gaps", would be one I could live with. One that provided schools as an option, but didn't bill you for the service if you opted out. One that built roads and charged you for their use, but didn't seek to prevent others from doing the same. One which offered an unemployment plan, but didn't force you to buy it. You could do the same with policing, courts, healthcare or any other system. One that had no power to grant privileges or to regulate for the benefit of itself or of lobbyists, only to act to protect property rights using the same powers available to ordinary individuals.

    Will it ever happen? Doubtful. Those in government tend to like power, and power is not usually seen as offering options to people. It might be one way the current mess could be untangled though, if the will ever existed to transition towards something more libertarian than we have now.

    1. I have always said if a government would allow people to opt out- really opt out and not pay for what they'd rather not "buy" from it- I wouldn't have any problem with it. However, Government can't allow real competition with its "services" or people would see how pathetic and expensive they really are.

  2. But how would people tie their shoe laces?

  3. The market will provide specialist shoe lace tying services to those who require them. Or sell them slip-ons instead. Or they could watch one of the many videos on youtube explaining the procedure and then have a go themselves.

    The free market's all about choice.