Regulate the State
By Bryan Caplan
Sometimes an organization has overwhelming power. “If you don’t like it, go elsewhere” isn’t a serious remedy; it’s a thinly-veiled order to shut up and submit. In such cases, we should seriously consider breaking the overpowered organization into smaller parts to restore competition. Until competition returns, however, regulation is a helpful stopgap. Just because you own an essential resource doesn’t entitle you to use it however you please.
And that’s why governments should be strictly regulated. If any organization has monopoly power coming out the wazoo, they do. Leaving your country is an enormous burden for the average person. Furthermore, the worse your country is, the less likely other countries are to admit you. Using the political process to redress abuse is a pipe dream even if you’re a citizen. And if a foreign government mistreats you, your only real recourse is to beg for mercy.
What kind of regulations should governments face? Some are already on the books in some places: free speech, freedom of religion, bans on uncompensated expropriation. But as a practical matter, the world’s governments remain virtually unbridled.
Almost nothing stops governments from charging exorbitant taxes for shoddy services. This has to end. For example, governments could be required to tax each individual no more than twice the fair market value of the services they receive. And an outside body, not dependent on the government, should set “fair market value.”
Almost nothing stops governments from negligently killing innocent foreigners. This has to end. For example, governments could be required to prove that any foreigners they kill in military action were in fact hostile combatants. An outside body, not dependent on the government, should weigh this evidence. Any government that fails to meet this burden should be forced to pay millions of dollars of restitution per presumed victim.
Almost nothing stops governments from strangling construction, leaving most of the population without affordable housing. This has to end. For example, governments that disallow a construction project could be required to prove that it poses a clear and present danger to human safety. An outside body, not dependent on the government, should adjudicate this. Any government that fails to meet this burden should be held in contempt of court and removed from office.
Almost nothing stops governments from callously excluding desperate foreigners. Even if you’re likely to die without asylum, governments can casually refuse. This has to end. For example, governments could be required to prove that asylum seekers will be safe in their home countries if they aren’t admitted. An outside body, not dependent on the government, should make the call. Any government that defies its decision should be fined millions of dollars of restitution per victim.
If your reaction to any of these proposals is to talk about “sovereignty,” you’re part of the problem. Granting a restaurant owner full sovereignty is harmless because it’s just one restaurant. Granting a government full sovereignty, in contrast, is a recipe for massive, habitual abuse. We need to stop imagining that they’re sacred, or entitled to do whatever they want with what they own – and we have to stop pretending that democracy is an effective check. What good is democracy if you’re perpetually in the minority? What good is democracy if you can’t vote because you’re not even a citizen?
Lately I’ve been hearing numerous demands to regulate Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. I think these demands are overblown because countless excellent, viable substitutes remain. But the pro-regulation activists’ fundamental premise is not crazy. Regulation can and should rein in grotesquely abusive monopolies who act like they’re entitled to treat people like dirt… and every government on Earth readily fits this description. Yes, even Norway. Let’s get governments fully under control, then argue whether search engines and online superstores are in the same league as the monopolists par excellence.