21 September 2014

Huemer i GSP

Očigledno na internetu ima predloga za "besplatni" gradski prevoz, pri čemu se samo misli na gradski prevoz plaćen poreskim prihodima umesto prilozima korisnika prevoza. Ima i protivljenja što se za naplatu koristi privatna firma, kao da je to samo po sebi zlo bez obzira na ishod i posledice.  Ali mene sve to ništa ne interesuje, već me interesuje jedno moralno pitanje: ako državna firma ima monopol na neku uslugu, imamo li obavezu da platimo za tu uslugu koliko državna/monopolska firma traži?

Očigledno je da na pijaci, ako od nekog kupite jabuke, imate moralnu obavezu da prodavcu jabuka platite cenu koju je odredio. Takođe je očigledno - za mene - da nemate moralnu obavezu da državi plaćate porez. Nikom niste dali saglasnost, niste od države tražili da gradi vrtiće, organizuje sudstvo, distribuira gas, sponzoriše glumce i radi sve što radi.

To su dve jasne krajnosti. Ali imate li obavezu da platite neku uslugu koju sa jedne strane dobrovoljno koristite ali sa druge strane nemate izbora jer država istu uslugu organizuje na monopolski način?

Ja nisam bio siguran, pa sam pitao nekog koga smatram trenutno najvećim autoritetom u oblasti političke filozofije i posebno moralno-političkih pitanja kao što su ova -- filozofa Michaela Huemera, pisca knjige The Problem of Political Authority koju smo ovde ranije pominjali.

Uz njegovu dozvolu kopiram prvo moje pitanje a zatim njegov odgovor.

Hello Michael, 

As a huge fan of your work I have a question. 
Here is an example and in fact the real world issue I am struggling with. In Belgrade (Serbia, where I am from), the city government provides public transportation (with some limited private sector participation). They have a problem with free riders (literal free riders – a lot of people ride without paying). 
Many classical liberal minded people argue that you are supposed to pay for the service you use and support new payment enforcement measures recently proposed.  And it’s true, you are not forced to use the public transportation, so if you use it you should pay. But I am not so sure about that, because on the other hand it is a government monopoly. Without that monopoly, perhaps the government firm would not even be in a situation to charge anything at all.
I would like to think through an analogy but I am struggling to fine one.  And I do not remember any discussion of a case like this from your book or elsewhere. 
So I thought I would ask you: does one have a moral obligation to pay for services voluntarily used but delivered only by a government monopoly? 

Dear Slavisa,

Good question. Here are some considerations.
First, consider the issue of consent. Typically when a person makes use of a product for which the provider is asking for money, the person taking the product is implicitly agreeing to pay the price. Thus, it seems, at least initially, that by riding the public transportation, you undertake the obligation to pay.

However, this might be defeated if the other party more or less forces you to get the product from them. Let’s say that I have forced all the other farmers out of business, and then, having done that, I demand exorbitant prices for my food. In this case, your “agreement” to buy my food isn’t truly voluntary, so you aren’t bound to pay for it, if you can avoid it.

You might claim that the public transit situation is comparable to this. However, this is questionable, since you probably have other quite reasonable transportation options, so it would be harder to claim that your use of the government’s transportation isn’t really voluntary.

Second, consider the effect on others. If failure to pay simply resulted in the government having less money, this would be okay, or maybe even good. But actually, it just means that the cost will be borne by other citizens.

Now, you might argue that this isn’t really your responsibility. Example: say that I scare off a mugger by showing him my gun. Then suppose someone argues, “That was wrong; now the mugger is going to go mug someone else!” I could still reasonably defend my action. Even if the mugger mugs someone else as a result of my scaring him off, it would be the mugger, not I, who was responsible for that.

This analogy might be used for tax evasion, since taxes are taken from people by force. But it doesn’t seem to work for payment of fees for services voluntarily taken. If you and the other citizens have implicitly undertaken the obligation to pay for the service (per the first point above), your failing to pay seems like unfairly shifting your portion of the cost onto them. 

Now, you say that the public transportation system is a government monopoly. The monopoly aspect is unjustly imposed by the state. This is true. And if you were a competing transportation provider, you would definitely have a complaint to make about that. Also, as a consumer, you might have a complaint, if you find the transportation system less efficient than the transportation that would exist in an environment of free competition. Still, the mere fact that you (or others) have a valid complaint against someone’s conduct doesn’t necessarily get you out of an obligation to pay them for a service they provided that you voluntarily took. If you think the price is higher than it would be on the free market, you might be able to argue that you are only obligated to pay the estimated free market price. But you surely can’t argue that you don’t have to pay *anything*.
In the U.S., what usually happens is that the government sets up some public transportation program, subsidized by the state, but with individual riders paying fees; however, the government does not actually prohibit private provision of competing services. (It’s just that it’s either unfeasible or unprofitable for any private company to provide a competing service.) So in that case, you really can’t argue that your use of the service isn’t voluntary.

I don’t know what the situation is in Belgrade. Maybe the government has literally prohibited competition with the public transportation system. In that case, you can say that the government has illegitimately used force to *limit* the transportation alternatives available to you, and therefore that your use of their system is *not fully voluntary*. However, it’s certainly not completely coerced either. It seems to be more voluntary than not (it’s *closer* to a paradigm voluntary act than to a paradigm coerced act). So it’s probably close enough to a normal voluntary action that we can say you undertook the obligation to pay for the service.
All things considered, I would say that you should probably pay for using the public transportation. However, because the issue is not completely clear, I would not take action to attempt to punish non-payers – e.g., if you see someone else evade payment, you probably should not turn them in to the police.
I hope that helps.