Do citizens owe a vast debt to the state for keeping the peace? Many big-city police departments have effectively abandoned serious efforts to solve robberies and other cases of nonlethal violence; the District of Columbia police, for instance, make arrests in fewer than 10 percent of burglaries and robberies. But D.C. police have set records for arresting citizens detected drinking alcohol on their front porches. They have also been valiant in cracking down on drivers with unfastened seatbelts.
Insofar as government prohibits people from owning or carrying weapons for self-defense, it is scant consolation that a policeman arrives after the crime to chalk off the body. There are more than twice as many private security guards as uniformed policemen in the United States. More citizens than ever before are living in gated communities or relying on home alarm systems. Private citizens use guns to defend themselves more than 2 million times a year, according to Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck. After comparing the effects of more people carrying guns with other popular reforms, economist John Lott concluded that “of all the methods studied so far by economists, the carrying of concealed handguns appears to be the most cost-effective method for reducing crime.”
The one area in which it is most plausible that government could provide a unique service is national defense. However, if a government busies itself making enemies, and then praises itself for pledging to protect citizens from the enemies it makes, there is less than a transcendent benefit. The war in Iraq will very likely cost Americans more than a trillion dollars — a high price for Bush’s May 1, 2003, victory strut aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
What have politicians given to the citizenry that they did not originally take from them? This is the bottom line that must permeate all thinking about the “goods” or “services” that government “provides” to the citizenry. In reality, in the vast majority of cases, politicians give back far less in value than they take. The more the government takes, the less the citizen owes to the government.
Insofar as the government takes from the citizen more than it renders to the citizen, the citizen owes the state the same contempt that he would have for any other con artist….”