Government on net incentivizes work and employment

From Ozimek:

Finally, incentivizing work is consistent with neo-classical, non-paternalistic framework when you remember that the government on net disincentivizes work and employment. Due to the progressive tax and transfer system, and the variety of implicit marginal tax rates people face, the status quo is that many people are probably working an inefficiently low amount.

To determine government’s net effect on work and employment, you need a no-government baseline. For our purposes here, I think the appropriate no-government baseline is the Grab What You Can World. In this world, the government prevents people from acting on the bodies of others, but it does not have any rules regarding the use of non-body pieces of the world. In this world of no economic regulations (including no property rules), people can do anything they want with any piece of the world at any moment in time.

I am told that the Grab World would feature very low work incentives because people cannot exclude from others anything they put effort into producing. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll assume it is for this post.

Right now, we don’t have the Grab World because our statist anti-libertarian government has invented and imposed things like private property systems. The state promulgated regulations to create such systems and enforces the systems daily with its thugs. I am told that the incentive to work in this statist regime with these kinds of government interventions into the economy is massively higher than the incentive to work in the Grab World.

So, it seems, the government on net incentivizes work.

This is a flippant point, but it has important implications for the question of what the appropriate amount of labor is. Folks like Ozimek seem to think that the the appropriate amount of labor is the amount that would be expended under a laissez-faire set of economic institutions. This is, in significant part, because they think laissez-faire is the no-government set of economic institutions in which people work exactly as much as they want, without government intervention.

But laissez-faire is not the no-government set of economic institutions. The laissez-faire set of economic institutions is a statist intervention into the economy that distorts incentives in a way that leads to far more labor being expended than the actual no-government set of economic institutions (aka the Grab World). If there is something normatively important about getting people to labor as much as they would without government intervention, then adding transfer systems to propertarian systems is a step in the right direction. By bringing work levels closer to the Grab World, transfer systems actually help unwind government work incentive distortions.