Contracts for contracts (for contracts)

The only proper role for government is a crucial one — to uphold contracts voluntarily entered into by consumers and businesses. Without such a role for government, there would indeed be chaos and anarchy. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” want us to believe that turning the Internet into a public utility will inaugurate this role, when the government was already playing that role all along. The real and only possible purpose for this rule is to ensure that government sets the terms of contracts into which customers and businesses would otherwise freely enter.

Dr Hurd, quoted in a post at Samizdata.

It’s the first part that’s important: the proper role of the state being to uphold contracts, lest there be chaos and anarchy.

Granted the state does play this role, the question that ought to be asked (but almost never is), is why should the state play this role?

The issue is more fundamental than doubts over whether contract enforcement actually needs to be a monopoly, or whether contracts would be enforced “better” or more efficiently on the market. The question is literally this: why should the state enforce contracts?

Men will not keep their contracts in the absence of government; they will cheat and rob one another. So men establish government to play its “crucial” role. But there is no contract between government and the people which would force the government to do this; and even if there were one, who would enforce it? If contracts must be enforced by a government, we would need a meta-government to enforce the one between government and the people. And a meta-meta-government to enforce the one between the meta-government and the government and the people. And a meta-meta-meta-government…

But government does enforce contracts; it does play that role.

The actual existence of government can tell us a great deal about the supposed necessity of government.

(The interested reader may like to search out de Jasay’s “Self-contradictory contractarianism”, available in Against politics)

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