A decision by the Virginia State Court has cleared the way for the removal of two statues of Confederate generals in Charlottesville, the latest in a series of monument removals in Virginia over the past several years. We defer to others on the merits of the decision as a matter of law. But as we noted in a previous post, the most crucial lesson from this controversy is that governments should not erect statues in the first place:
No good argument exists, however, for why governments should be in the “statue” or “history” business. Government interventions in the economy and society can sometimes make sense as responses to monopoly, or externalities (e.g., pollution), or insufficient provision of public goods (e.g., national defense). Even in such cases, governments often overreach, but at least advocates of intervention can suggest that private mechanisms, on their own, might not produce a good outcome.
None of the standard “market failures”, however, explains why governments need to build statues or any other kind of monument. Governments do so as a method of thought control, to nudge their citizens toward a particular view of the state. This is NOT a legitimate function of government.
Public monuments are inherently political, and which views are considered acceptable shifts over time. Commissioning a statue or monument does not serve an essential function of government. No societal ill is cured or externality solved. Rather, resources that could be invested more intelligently or, indeed, left in taxpayer pockets, are wasted on politicized public displays.