Policy debates typically center around the role of markets versus the role of governments. But this is a misleading distinction. Human society always has governance. Private organizations such as corporations and clubs have management, rules, and financial administration similar in function to those of government. The difference is that private governance is voluntary, while state-based government is coercively imposed on the people within some jurisdiction. So a central question is not whether the market or the government can best accomplish some task, but whether the governance shall be voluntary or coercive.
The Market-Failure Doctrine
Most economists would agree that we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. But the doctrine of market failure found in most economics textbooks fails to distinguish between consensual and coercive governance as correctives. The prevailing theory asserts that while markets might provide private goods efficiently in a competitive economy, markets fail to provide the collective goods that people want. There are two basic reasons offered as to why markets are not sufficient. Markets can easily determine the demand for private goods, but how can we tell how much each individual wants of a collective good? We could ask people how much they are willing to pay, but how do we get a truthful answer? Free riders also are a problem. Once the collective good is provided, folks can use it whether they pay or not, so why pay?
So, the market-failure story goes, markets fail to deliver collective goods. Entrepreneurs lack incentive because they can’t get their customers to pay for the service the way they can get people to pay for individually consumed private goods. Continue reading