Government: What is it Good For?

Dr. Patrick McLaughlin vs. Dr. Antony Davies

Resolved: “Government is necessary for the protection of property rights and provision of some public goods."

Thursday, June 19th at 3:45pm PT | Chapman University | Orange, CA

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Dr. Patrick McLaughlin


People act in a way that maximizes their individual utility – that is, they act in their own interests. This motivation serves as the basic engine of a market-driven economy. But a market-driven economy also relies on the institution of private property and the protection against theft. The enforcement of property rights – a public good – can be performed by individual property right holders, but it is more efficiently allocated to a third-party – government. Other public goods are similarly better provisioned by the government.

Furthermore, self-interest alone does not ensure that externality problems, such as air pollution, are solved. Ultimately, to stop one party from violating the rights of another, the threat of the use of force is required. Societies have long recognized the value of giving a third-party the monopoly rights to the use of force – consider the evolution of the town sheriff and similar peace-keeping institutions. So long as they are adequately constrained, governments can maintain the institutions necessary for a market-based society to function efficiently and protect individual rights from violation by other parties.

Patrick A. McLaughlin is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he co-founded RegData. His research focuses on regulations and the regulatory process, and he has published peer-reviewed articles on several topics related to regulation and governance, including administrative law, regulatory economics, law and economics, public choice, environmental economics, and international trade. Prior to joining Mercatus, Dr. McLaughlin served as a Senior Economist at the Federal Railroad Administration in the United States Department of Transportation. Dr. McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. in economics from Clemson University. He lives in Arlington, VA, with his wife, two cats, and a dog that weighs more than his wife and two cats combined.

Dr. Antony Davies


In the state of nature people exist, but government doesn’t. Therefore, the onus is on those who believe we do need government to justify the claim. All interactions among people are either voluntary or coerced; government is a tool of systemic coercion. Therefore, any justification for government must rest on the premise that there are things necessary to society that can only be achieved by coercion or can be achieved by coercion more effectively than they can be achieved by cooperation. Traditional examples (roads, schools, police and fire protection, the military) rely on the thing exhibiting a free-rider problem (roads) or a coordination problem (the military) or an externality (police and fire protection). In most cases, however, it can be shown that voluntary interaction can provide these things.

Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University and Mercatus Affiliated Senior Scholar at George Mason University. His primary research interests include econometrics and public policy. Davies has authored over 100 op-eds in over thirty newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, and Philadelphia Inquirer, and is a regular columnist for Forbes, US News, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He is a frequent lecturer at policy conferences on Capitol Hill. In addition to teaching at the undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D. levels, Dr. Davies was Chief Analytics Officer at Parabon Computation, President and co-founder of Paragon Software (now Take-Two Interactive), and co-founder and Chief Analytics Officer at Repliqa (now indiePub Games). Dr. Davies earned his B.S. in Economics from Saint Vincent College, and Ph.D. in Economics from the State University of New York at Albany.