The reason a lot of libertarians object, in general, to government action, is because they view those actions as fundamentally coercive. The power of governments to tax or otherwise expropriate must always ultimately be backed up by force. I take a somewhat different view: while current governments are non-voluntary (coercive), government very much like many western governments is potentially voluntary. I think that the protection of private property rights can be used as the excludable good used to get people to voluntarily pay taxes for collective goods and generally participate in government. For this argument, I will assume that I believe in private property rights as ‘natural rights.’

A lot of the goods that government provides are collective goods, meaning they can’t really be denied to anyone, and if people have a choice whether to contribute resources to help provide for collective goods, they won’t. This is main argument for the necessity of non-voluntary government. Because collective goods cannot be denied to anyone, every individual has an incentive to mooch off the contributions of others but not contributing themselves and if there are a great number of individuals, without noticeably affecting the total amount of good supplied. Since everyone has this same incentive, without the existence of a good that only goes to those that contribute to producing collective goods, collective goods will be largely under-produced. A separate, private, excludable good is needed to convince people to contribute towards collective goods.

Let’s look at an example. One of the simplest examples is national defense. National defense is a collective good because if someone provides defense services they cannot really deny those services to anyone. In the case of national defense, if individuals have the a choice whether to pay taxes to support an army to defend the nation, they won’t. No person will voluntarily pay those taxes because it is very tempting to simply take advantage of the national defense that already exists without themselves contributing, and since the contributions from one person don’t even buy a single soldier, the effect of one person’s non-contribution is not noticeable. People require another incentive to contribute to national defense in order to achieve a reasonable level of security.

If government largely provides collective goods, and collective goods require other incentives or coercion to get people to contribute to them, why do I think that government can be voluntary? I think voluntary government is plausible because I think the protection of property rights (I use the term broadly here) by the police and the courts is potentially that excludable benefit. The general tranquility provided by those services, is a collective benefit, but the individual protection of those rights is excludable, because a government can declare that it will no longer protect a certain individual’s property. There is no doubt that if the government made such a declaration, that individual would be in a heap of trouble, so there is a large non-collective aspect to private property protection services. The important thing about the protection of property rights is that they are very important to the enjoyment of a lot of other goods, it is hard to enjoy physical goods if there is no one stopping others from taking them from you. I won’t use municipal services, like water and sewer, which are often excludable, in my argument because I think that is an issue for another day. The key to voluntary government is bundling collective goods with the protection of individual property rights, people get and pay for all that the government provides or none of it. People will be willing to pay for the collective goods they enjoy if it is the price they pay to get the protection of the police and the courts.