Monday, March 9, 2009

What about the poor?

One argument commonly heard in defense of states is concern for the poor. Without socialized provision of security, justice and defense, how are the underprivileged going to cope with rich evildoers?

This assumes, of course, that they are better off in a statist environment. But are they really? For a layman, it is (on purpose) next to impossible to decrypt the legal code. Thus, if you intend to sue somebody, you'll most likely need to hire a lawyer. Lawyers enjoy the benefits of a state-enforced cartel. Only licensed lawyers may practice and accordingly, the price of a lawyer tends to be high due to a lack of competition. A rich villain has top niche lawyers at his disposal that are familiar with the loopholes of one particular legal area. That way, even if a poor plaintiff were able to afford a lawyer, in all likelihood he'd still be disadvantaged compared to a rich defendant.

But not only that. Suppose there is a, despite all these obstacles, a high likelihood that a rich defendant may be found guilty despite his efforts in court. He could then also lobby the legislative branch of government to change the law. Specific legislation that is not of popular interest tends to be discussed by just a few members of the legislative branch at all. That way, the cost of lobbying legislators is still manageable. It's much easier, though, if the regulation you'd like to see changed is subject to a non-elected agency's whim. The intransparency and general confusion within these organizations makes it easier to bribe the persons important to your cause since they are not subject to public scrutiny and the actions of their agencies tend to be largely ignored, even more so than what Congress is doing. A determined wealthy individual would have much more options at his disposal than a poor plaintiff, despite the poor man's "right to socialized justice".

Now the minarchists are going to step in and claim that while all this may be true, in a minimal state with a liberty-oriented constitution and no unaccountable agencies, such problems would not exist. Granted, if I had to choose between what we have now and a minarchist state, I'd most certainly go for the latter to seek justice.

Still, with the state being the monopoly supplier of justice, a bad incentive structure arises. On a free market, arbitrators would have to be very careful not to lose their reputation as non-partisan and fair judges or else they'd be out of customers in no time. State judges, even if they are not protected by some kind of tenure, do not have to worry about this. They would be more likely to accept third-party favors since they have no competitors to worry about and even if some rumors arose about them, it'd still be harder to throw them out of office than it would be to just switch arbitration agencies. Since laws are subject to a judge's interpretation, even a staunchly minarchist society could degenerate into petty tyranny eventually. Liberty on paper is not a guarantee for actual freedom, see the Bill of Rights.

Are there legitimate concerns over the provision of law and order for the underprivileged? Yes, one cannot deny that. Is the state an appropriate answer? No, most certainly not.


Jesse said...

Are you proposing that privately funded arbitrators could replace our current legal system? If so, could you expand further on this?

Sphairon said...


I'm sorry for my late response. If you want more information on a free market legal system, I suggest you take a look at these videos:

Drusilla said...

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