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12. The Economics of Violent Intervention in the... > 9. Binary Intervention: Government Expenditures

F. Conflict and the Command Posts

Aside from its purely economic consequences, government ownership has another kind of impact on society; it necessarily substitutes conflict for the harmony of the free market. Since government service means service by one set of decision-makers, it comes to mean uniform service. The desires of all those forced, directly or indirectly, to pay for the government service cannot be satisfied. Only some forms of the service can or will be produced by the government agency. As a result, government enterprise creates enormous caste conflicts among the citizens, each of whom has different ideas on the best form of service. In the final result, government enterprise can hardly fail to substitute its own values, or the values of one set of customers, for the values of all others. Artificially standardized services of poorer quality—fit to governmental taste or convenience—will hold sway, in contrast to the diversified services of higher quality which the free market supplies to fit the tastes of a multitude of individuals.

In recent years government schools in America have furnished a striking example of such problems and conflicts. Some parents prefer racially segregated schools; others prefer integrated education. Some parents want their children taught socialism; others want antisocialist teaching in the schools. There is no way that the government can resolve these conflicts. It can only impose the will of one group by coercion and leave the others dissatisfied and unhappy. Whichever type of school is chosen, some groups of parents will suffer. On the other hand, there is no such conflict on the free market, which provides any type of service demanded. On the market, those who want segregated or integrated, prosocialist or individualist, schools can have their wants satisfied. It is obvious, therefore, that governmental, as opposed to private, provision of services, lowers the standard of living of much of the population.

The degrees of government ownership in the economy vary from one country to another, but in all countries the State has made sure that it owns and monopolizes the vital nerve centers, the command posts of the society. It has acquired compulsory monopoly ownership over these command posts, and it has always asserted, without proof, that private ownership and enterprise in these fields is simply and a priori impossible.

Such vital command posts are defense, money (the mint and, nowadays, note issue), rivers and coastal seas, streets and highways, land generally (the “public domain” and the power of “eminent domain”), and the post office. The defense function is particularly vital to the State's existence, for on its virtual monopoly of force depends its ability to extract taxes from its citizens. Another critical command post held, though not always monopolized by, the State is education. For government schooling permits the influencing of the youthful mind to accept the virtues of the government under which it lives and of the principle of government intervention. Conservatives who often attack “socialistic” teaching in government schools are particularly wide of the mark, for the very fact that a government school exists and is therefore presumed to be good teaches its little charges the virtues of government ownership by example. And if government ownership is good and even preferable in schooling, why not for other educational media, e.g., newspapers—or for other important social services?

Even where the government does not have a compulsory monopoly of schooling, it approaches this ideal by compelling attendance of all children at either a government school or a private school approved by the government. Compulsory attendance brings into the schools those who do not desire or cannot benefit from schooling and forces them out of such competing fields as leisure and business employment.