The State and Altruism

Some people may make the argument that the government has “our best interests at heart”. For this reason, the logic goes, we should accept government policy, take what politicians say as true, and, more generally, have faith in our leaders. While libertarians, anarchists, and minarchists, might reject the above claim flat out, I think it may do us some good, as a thought experiment, to accept it as true. Assume that the state really does have our well being at heart. Would this be a good enough reason to accept its existence?

Can an altruistic state really look after, or bring about, our best interests as efficiently as us, our friends, our families, and other third parties that have to compete in the market place for our business? Is there any relation between how much someone desires to serve our best interests and how much they can, will, and are capable of doing so? I think not.

While friends and family can be assumed to generally be concerned about our livelihood, health, and happiness, what about businesses, and private parties we are not closely affiliated with? Does a business’s lack of concern about your best interests really mean it is incapable of fulfilling them? Again, I don’t think so. Businesses, businessmen, private parties, bosses, are all pursuing their own desires, dreams, hobbies etc. However to achieve their interests, that is, profit, market share, high sales, promotion, they must satisfy the wants and needs of consumers, through low prices, quality products, and efficient service.

My point here is that even if a person or group of individuals do allegedly have our best interests at heart, this does not seem to be a sufficient condition to bring those interests into realization. In fact it doesn’t even seem to be necessary. Business’s will only have our interests at heart if it helps them realize their own. Yet, both parties can still benefit from this state of affairs. I don’t particularly care if my boss thinks I should eat well, exercise, have healthy relationships and all that (Although I would appreciate it). I just want him to pay me. This is how the market, more generally, peaceful cooperation, works.

Second, assuming still that the state is really genuinely concerned about us, why should one assume that it is virtuous enough to satisfy us within means we would consider acceptable? Most people may not be willing to murder, rape and steal to accomplish what they think is in their best interests, but the state certainly may (and does). Assume that the Canadian or American governments have their respective citizens’ energy security in mind. The Canadian will probably not consider invading another country, destroying its economy, slaughtering thousands of innocent people, and causing millions to flee their homes so that he may have lower gasoline prices. A government may (and does). Just because the state has its citizenry’s best interests at heart does not mean that it will act in a way that the citizenry would approve of.

Rather than arguing about the dozens of historical examples and counterexamples that prove or disprove the government’s altruistic nature, take the statist claim for granted. When you speak to a statist who claims that we, should trust, need, obey, the government because it has our best interests at heart, ask them, “So what?” Does that mean we will be in any way better off with a government? Furthermore, if someone is condemning private free interaction because, “Doctors working to make a salary don’t really care about us”, again ask “So what?” Does this mean we will be any worse off?

Some people may make the argument that the government has “our best interests at heart”. For this reason, the logic goes, we should accept government policy, take what politicians say as true, and, more generally, have faith in our leaders. While libertarians, anarchists, and minarchists, might reject the above claim flat out, I think it may do us some good, as a thought experiment, to accept it as true. Assume that the state really does have our well being at heart. Would this be a good enough reason to accept its existence?

 

Can an altruistic state really look after, or bring about, our best interests as efficiently as us, our friends, our families, and other third parties that have to compete in the market place for our business? Is there any relation between how much someone desires to serve our best interests and how much they can, will, and are capable of doing so? I think not.

 

While friends and family can be assumed to generally be concerned about our livelihood, health, and happiness, what about businesses, and private parties we are not closely affiliated with? Does a business’s lack of concern about your best interests really mean it is incapable of fulfilling them? Again, I don’t think so. Businesses, businessmen, private parties, bosses, are all pursuing their own desires, dreams, hobbies etc. However to achieve their interests, that is, profit, market share, high sales, promotion, they must satisfy the wants and needs of consumers, through low prices, quality products, and efficient service.

 

My point here is that even if a person or group of individuals do allegedly have our best interests at heart, this does not seem to be a sufficient condition to bring those interests into realization. In fact it doesn’t even seem to be necessary. Business’s will only have our interests at heart if it helps them realize their own. Yet, both parties can still benefit from this state of affairs. I don’t particularly care if my boss thinks I should eat well, exercise, have healthy relationships and all that (Although I would appreciate it). I just want him to pay me. This is how the market, more generally, peaceful cooperation, works.

 

Second, assuming still that the state is really genuinely concerned about us, why should one assume that it is virtuous enough to satisfy us within means we would consider acceptable? Most people may not be willing to murder, rape and steal to accomplish what they think is in their best interests, but the state certainly may (and does). Assume that the Canadian or American governments have their respective citizens’ energy security in mind. The Canadian will probably not consider invading another country, destroying its economy, slaughtering thousands of innocent people, and causing millions to flee their homes so that he may have lower gasoline prices. A government may (and does). Just because the state has its citizenry’s best interests at heart does not mean that it will act in a way that the citizenry would approve of.

 

Rather than arguing about the dozens of historical examples and counterexamples that prove or disprove the government’s altruistic nature, take the statist claim for granted. When you speak to a statist who claims that we, should trust, need, obey, the government because it has our best interests at heart, ask them, “So what?” Does that mean we will be in any way better off with a government? Furthermore, if someone is condemning private free interaction because, “Doctors working to make a salary don’t really care about us”, again ask “So what?” Does this mean we will be any worse off?

 

 

He welcomes all comments, criticisms, and questions.

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