One of the models that I use to organise my thinking of private-public trade-offs was developed by the Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and various friends. The basic story runs along the lines that all societies face a problem of bad behaviour – violence. So good societies suppress violence. Private violence (disorder) is suppressed by the state and state violence (dictatorship) is suppressed by mechanisms such as the rule of law and democratic accountability etc.
Good societies also develop norms against violence.
Ludwig von Mises explains this point in Liberalism:
The liberal understands quite clearly that without resort to compulsion, the existence of society would be endangered and that behind the rules of conduct whose observance is necessary to assure peaceful human cooperation must stand the threat of force if the whole edifice of society is not to be continually at the mercy of any one of its members. One must be in a position to compel the person who will not respect the lives, health, personal freedom, or private property of others to acquiesce in the rules of life in society. This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace.
The terrorist attacks in New Zealand have revealed that a lot of people are somewhat disconnected from their moral compasses. So let’s set out some basic principles:
- It is wrong and immoral to celebrate the death of a fellow human being. I am guilty of this myself from time to time (Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, PW Botha …).
- It is wrong and immoral to hate your fellow human being because they are different to you at some margin.
- It is wrong and immoral to hate your fellow human being because their ancestors persecuted your ancestors.
Good societies develop norms and institutions that encourage better behaviour – cooperative behaviour – between individuals.
There is a lot of bad behaviour this weekend. From schadenfreude , to rationalisation, to political point scoring. The social aversion to random violence and the social conventions that underpin that aversion need to be maintained.