At a conference last year, I picked up two books published by the Independent Institute, for whom I now serve as a Research Fellow: Housing America andAnarchy and the Law. As I perused Housing America, I reflected on the disastrous consequences of government involvement in the housing market. As I perused Anarchy and the Law, I reflected on the fact that most of the popular and plausible justifications for government are undermined by theory and evidence. The reality is that a lot of the things governments do—even those things we think only government can do, like deal with market failures and provide public goods —are wasteful, superfluous or destructive.
There are some good things that governments probably do, but we cannot tell whether these are worthwhile because they take place outside the realm of voluntary cooperation. Some of our favorite places in Memphis (the zoo, public parks, and the public library) are underwritten or aided by various levels of government. Because taxes and redistribution are compulsory rather than voluntary, there is no way to know whether the resources that produce these amenities are being used wisely or wasted.