Reply to Edwards By Edward Feser
Response to “Public Goods” Theory • According to Feser, Edwards does not really come to terms with the public goods problem. • Even if there are such things as public goods, that fact does NOT morally justify using taxation to fund such goods. • The existence of so-called “public goods” just means that people who want to the goods don’t value them enough to pay for their production in the face of the free-rider problem.
The Ambiguity of Public Goods • Many government-provided goods appear to be excludable, and therefore DO NOT meet the requirement for being “public goods.” • Postal services, libraries, streets, schools. • Many privately-provided goods DO seem to be non-excludable. • Beautiful yards, deodorant, clothing, nose jobs, makeup, etc.
The Ambiguity of Public Goods • The point is that most of government spending in real life is for things that ARE excludable. • So, it seems that the “public goods” argument for government is not really the justification that exists in the real world.
The Public/Private Distinction? • All goods are more or less private or “public” and their privateness/publicness changes constantly depending on people’s values. • Any economic good at all becomes a good only when someone values it as a good. • Any good at all can become a “public good” as soon as somebody other than the owner starts valuing it for any reason at all.
What’s the Point? • The market can and does, routinely, produce non-excludable goods. • Thus, the idea that government must tax people in order to produce these goods is just plain wrong. • Thus, the theoretical foundation for the government-provision of public goods is really quite fallacious.
But What If. . . • What if the private market does not, in some case, produce some certain good? • This just means that people value other goods more than they value the particular good under consideration. • The fact that some good is not produced in the market is NOT evidence that it SHOULD BE produced at all.
Can We Prove It? • When a person does something without being forced to do it, he values that action more than he values what he gives up in the action. • Thus the involuntary nature of taxation proves that taxpayers value what they could do with their tax money more than they value the “public goods” to be obtained through the taxation. • The coercion involved in taxation strips the cost/benefit nexus from the act of taxation, and such an action is therefore not a wealth-creating action like voluntary actions are.
In Other Words. . . • The free-rider problem that is the basis of the public goods problem, is not a good justification for allowing coercion in the attempt to overcome it. • The use of coercion to overcome these problems creates opportunities for “forced rides” at the expense of ordinary property rights.
Here is the ethical norm that must be assumed by public goods theorists: • “Whenever one can somehow show that the production of a particular good or service has a positive effect on someone else but would not be produced at all, or would not be produced in some definite quantity or quality unless certain people participated in its financing, then the use of aggression against these persons is allowed in order to produce the good.”
Free Riding • The fact that a free-rider gets benefits without paying for them does NOT make him a thief. • If my neighbor takes excellent care of his yard, and the value of my property goes up because of these actions, am I a thief if I fail to send him a check for his efforts? • If I buy a $600 designer sweater, and my lectures at GBC are enhanced in the minds of students as a result, are my students thieves if they don’t write me a check? • No, the free-rider is NOT a thief.
Emigration (Edward’s 2nd Argument) • Does allowing people to move out of the country justify or legitimize the act of taxation? • Feser says yes in the case of fees for a homeowner’s association where the contracts are voluntarily agreed to. • But there is a big difference between the homeowner’s association and a government.
Who Needs to Exit? • If the mafia enters your neighborhood, and demands that you pay for “protection services” are you morally obligated to pay? • What if they say, “you can always leave if you don’t want to pay the protection fee, but as long as you live here, you must pay.” • The mafia has no right to make such demands. • Therefore, taxation is NOT justified by the emigration argument.
What About Practicality? • Assuming we agree that taxation is immoral, what does this imply about whether or not we should pay taxes or evade taxes? • Practicality may play an important role in such decisions.