A Theory of Government
By Arnold Kling
My latest essay is something that, if I were so inclined, I could try to dress up in academic jargon and send to a professional journal. But having to dress thoughts up that way is one of the things that keeps me from wanting to be an academic.
Suppose that you and I are meeting with an Arbiter to resolve a dispute, and you notice that I am carrying a gun. You might wonder about my commitment to fair arbitration. Indeed, you might reasonably worry that I am not going to comply with the Arbiter’s decision if it goes against me. Rather than accept the decision, I might take out my gun and demand that you comply with my wishes in our dispute.
In order to demonstrate my commitment to resolving the dispute peacefully, I could give my gun to the Arbiter. Once the arbiter has my gun, then you can have confidence that I will go along with the Arbiter’s decision. Giving the Arbiter my gun is a commitment strategy on my part. It shows that I am committed to accepting the decision of the Arbiter, which in turn gives you confidence that going to the Arbiter is worthwhile.
…We do not give guns to baseball umpires, and still we accept their decisions as final. However, I would argue that baseball games are peaceful in the context of a society in which we expect government to enforce the peace. Thus, although umpires are not employed by the state, their authority to resolve baseball disputes is indirectly backed by the state, in the sense that if you engage in violence to try to overturn an umpire’s call, you can be punished by the state.
In contrast, if you are a heroin dealer involved in a dispute with another heroin dealer, it is much harder to commit to peaceful resolution of a dispute. Because you are involved in a business that is not sanctioned by the government, you cannot submit your dispute to an Arbiter who has ultimate backing from the state. Thus, it becomes difficult to develop peaceful mechanisms for resolving disputes among heroin dealers.
The state’s credibility in resolving disputes depends on the state holding what I call the Golden Scepter. That is, if the state has enough force at its disposal, it can enforce its decisions in resolving disputes. Thus, the state can be defined as the Arbiter with the Golden Scepter.
I would be eager to see comments from other bloggers on this neo-Hobbesian view of how government is inevitable and how its powers are very difficult to limit.