Author: Timothy Sandefur
Many people think corporations and other businesses routinely do bad, terrible things, and can’t be trusted. Let’s assume that they’re right about this. My question is, why would you ever think that the government would do a better job?
When businesses do bad things, they can be fired, or you can refuse to pay them, or you can shop elsewhere, or sue the people responsible, or call the cops on them.
But you can’t fire the government; you can’t refuse to pay it; most of the time, you can’t sue it, or the people who work for it, because they’re given “immunity.” You can’t realistically choose to move elsewhere, or threaten to do so, or call the cops on them in most cases. And since most law nowadays is made by administrative agencies staffed by unelected bureaucrats, you don’t even have the right to vote on most subjects government deals with.
When Enron defrauded thousands of people, it went out of business and people were brought up on charges. But when government defrauds millions of people, it just keeps right on going. The bureaucrats generally don’t—often can’t—lose their jobs over it. To name just one relatively minor example, in Stump v. Sparkman, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state judge who ordered a girl to be sterilized, without even holding a hearing or appointing a lawyer for the daughter, couldn’t be sued because “A judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors.”
The question is not whether, say, pharmaceutical companies are greedy, or oil companies reckless. The question is, what reason do we have for thinking government agencies are not greedy, or not reckless? And the answer is, we have no good reason for thinking this. Quite the opposite, actually. Sadly, many people seem to think that libertarians and other defenders of the free market have excessive confidence in businesses and private decision-makers. The reality is the opposite: we believe that the frailties and corruption to which human beings are prone means they must be kept as far as possible from the power to dictate the choices of other people. No matter how much you may distrust corporations and other private actors, you have vastly greater reason to distrust the decisions of government.