The Problem With Market Anarchy Is…

… Government?

Patri Friedman takes down that theory:

In the article “Coercion vs. Consent”, in this months Reason Magazine, Richard Epstein says the following about anarcho-capitalism: “A large society with no central authority offers an open invitation to some sleazy individual to consolidate power in his own name.”
A large society with a democratic central authority, on the other hand, offers a literally open invitation every election for sleazy, power-hungry individuals to take the reins of an already-consolidated power base. Ostensibly in our names, practically in their own. The flaw he suggests in ancap is simply it reverting to what we already have. While consolidation of power by sleazy individuals is definitely a problem, government, far from being a solution, is the quintessential manifestation of this phenomenon.

More succinctly:

Q: “But what if some gang gets all the guns and takes over???”

A: “Dude, they already have.”

29 thoughts on “The Problem With Market Anarchy Is…”

  1. I haven’t read either article, but are you willing to concede that there are fates worse than the status quo? I hate the stupid bogeyman cited in the Epstein, and it seems very implausible to me among people who understand and are willing to defend their liberty by personal force of arms–and among potential henchmen capable of comprehending their own mortality. But the horror Epstein foresees is surely more horrific than a reversion to democratic kleptocracy. This doesn’t make Friedman (pere et fils?) wrong, but it does seem to me to make the rebuttal specious.

  2. There are definitely fates worse than the one we endure. North Korea, for example. Perhaps a better argument is that anarcho-capitalism contains better structural protection against despotism, which I think it does. Patri doesn’t present the specific arguments – he was looking for an e-mail response and not a treatise – but they’re out there.

  3. Greg,

    I haven’t read either article, but are you willing to concede that there are fates worse than the status quo?

    Of course.

    I hate the stupid bogeyman cited in the Epstein, and it seems very implausible to me among people who understand and are willing to defend their liberty by personal force of arms–and among potential henchmen capable of comprehending their own mortality. But the horror Epstein foresees is surely more horrific than a reversion to democratic kleptocracy.

    It seems clear to me that the worst horrors are far more likely to result from states, including this one under certain circumstances, than their absence.

    Specifically Epstein worries about a putsch by a Saddam or a Stalin – but these men executed coups against states, it seems unlikely to me that they’d have been as successful without a centralized state to capture.

  4. I haven’t read either article, but are you willing to concede that there are fates worse than the status quo?

    Sure, but the objection that AnCap might collapse into government is still silly on the face of it. A more coherent objection is that AnCap would collapse into a *worse* government than a democracy.

    But democracies collapse too.

  5. My impression is that in any ancap society without continuous, perpetual warfare it would be difficult for a would-be demagogue to gain a significant following. I think Patri (David?) Friedman expressed this by saying government and non-government are like equilibrium points such that it’s very difficult to get from one to the other.

  6. Then shouldn’t you take a neutral position instead?

    Given that I can’t calculate the odds of government collapsing to worse government or market anarchy collpasing to a worse government that would have existed had there been a government to start with, I prefer market anarchy over government.

  7. I see little prospect that collapsing anarchy could produce Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Red China. They were produced by states.

    I think the only objection I can really bring sounds a bit tautologous–if it did collapse then a warlord could theoretically unite the various factions and then start up a new Nazi Germany, but that’s the same as suggesting the progression ancap->state->Nazi state. I’d agree with Lopez though, this is pure speculation for the most part, and we can only guess based on what we know of human nature and history.

  8. John,

    Do you mean you prefer it theoretically, in terms of expected structure? Or do you also base this judgment on history, which doesn’t seem to be very supportive of any sort of anarchy whatsoever.

  9. Scott,

    Do you mean you prefer it theoretically, in terms of expected structure? Or do you also base this judgment on history, which doesn’t seem to be very supportive of any sort of anarchy whatsoever.

    It’s fair to say that there’s little historical precedent for market anarchy. But it’s also fair to say that cultures with freer markets tend to be far better places to live than those with less-free markets.

    My judgement is that freer markets will as a consequence of their nature produce more of the things I want, and thus be better places to live. I’m not saying that a free market is going to be possible any time soon though.

  10. So, from a consequential stance, do you believe that since the freer the market the better, that necessarly involves an absolute free market (i.e. anarchy)? I just think of those who would rather cut their losses, as they worry that going too far may cause problems that will result in going back to a market that is very far from free. i.e. anarchy collapsing and returning to despotism, etc.

    To be honest, it just seems to me that psychologically the urge to coerce is so instilled in human beings that cutting losses is really the only way to go. I consider myself a market anarchist, but honestly I can’t really see it working when you consider the way 99% of humanity thinks and acts.

  11. I just think of those who would rather cut their losses, as they worry that going too far may cause problems that will result in going back to a market that is very far from free. i.e. anarchy collapsing and returning to despotism, etc.

    That’s fine, but there’s no evidence at all that that’s any more likely than Hitler winning an election and consolidating power via government, or Stalin grabbing hold of a pre-existing state.

    To be honest, it just seems to me that psychologically the urge to coerce is so instilled in human beings that cutting losses is really the only way to go.

    Why not just go straight for a non-ideological military dictatorship? The urge to massacre large numbers of fellow human beings is also pretty well instilled in human beings, and I’d much rather live in Musharaf’s Pakistan than Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

    Again, there’s nothing to suggest that any losses at all are being cut by adopting democracy.

    I consider myself a market anarchist, but honestly I can’t really see it working when you consider the way 99% of humanity thinks and acts.

    The vast majority of people don’t have such a strong ideological connection to FedGov that they willingly write checks to the US Treasury, so I’m not at all worried about the level of commitment that they say they have to government. If there was an income-cloaking device avaliable to that 99%, they’d dump their money into it.

    I’m not a fan of rational persuasion of 100 million voting feebs, but I do see the potential that the costs of changing government can be made lower, resulting in a freer market in government. And since government can only offer carrots and sticks, and any carrot it can give you had to have been taken from someone else via a stick, a market for government will result in governments delivering less sticks and less carrots.

  12. “Why not just go straight for a non-ideological military dictatorship? The urge to massacre large numbers of fellow human beings is also pretty well instilled in human beings, and I’d much rather live in Musharaf’s Pakistan than Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

    Again, there’s nothing to suggest that any losses at all are being cut by adopting democracy.”

    I should have said the urge to coerce up to a certain point. Very few people want to massacre millions of others. However almost everyone is ok with some form of wealth redistribution.

    “I’m not a fan of rational persuasion of 100 million voting feebs, but I do see the potential that the costs of changing government can be made lower, resulting in a freer market in government. And since government can only offer carrots and sticks, and any carrot it can give you had to have been taken from someone else via a stick, a market for government will result in governments delivering less sticks and less carrots.”

    You mean have government power be more on a local level?

  13. You mean have government power be more on a local level?

    That’s an example, but it’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about lowering the barriers to moving between sovreign countries, about restructuring incentives such that governments lower those barriers themselves.

  14. Would you say there is a market in governments right now? I mean there are many but all have territorial monopolies. What barriers are you referring to?

  15. But I thought there was no market since each state has a monopoly and keeps competitors in its area out by force?

    No, most people can in fact move themselves and their money between governments. It’s just that the cost is high and the return is low.

  16. That’s sort of a semantic issue. In one sense there’s always a market for everything, because people have free will and have material possessions to trade. So you could have a “market” for cigarettes in a soviet gulag. Put another way, it’s not that government maintains an absolute platonic monopoly on force in a given area, it’s that they claim such a monopoly and their claim is widely perceived as legitimate.

  17. It’s just that the cost is high and the return is low.

    But the government’s claims to legitimacy are still unjust, right? Or are you suggesting that if the government acts like a huge corporation that “owns” the continental US that then we would then be obliged to respect it’s “private property”?

  18. “No, most people can in fact move themselves and their money between governments. It’s just that the cost is high and the return is low.”

    See Stefan’s comment. The state having the monopoly is still unjustified, unless I’ve misread every piece of market anarchist propaganda incorrectly.

  19. Stefan,

    But the government’s claims to legitimacy are still unjust, right?

    Of course. I’m suggesting a course of action, namely finding a way to reduce the amount of coercion in your life. Let me pose a hypothetical:

    Suppose we have a libertarian living in the state of New Jersey. He hates it there, and wants to get more freedom for himself. I propose that L moves to Montana. Now it’s true that Montana has a government too, but I’m not endorsing that government, I’m just noting that L will become noticeably freer by moving across a line on a map. That’s something that all of the (completely correct, mind) denunciations of the claims of the state will never get him.

  20. I think Scott’s issue is with Kennedy referring to an inefficient “market” for governments–perhaps Kennedy meant the market for protection services, I’m not sure.

  21. I’m not endorsing that government, I’m just noting that L will become noticeably freer by moving across a line on a map.

    Ah right, I got that part. I was just bringing up something related I’ve been thinking about, namely that some people argue government ownership over its land is moral because you could just leave for another country, in analogy to how a corporation’s ownership over its land is moral because you could just leave the corporate land. This analogy sounds silly on its face, except for the fact that some corporations claim ownership over large tracts of land, like oil companies, or Disney, etc. The best response I’ve been able to come up with is that Walt Disney is mixing the labor of its employees with and thus adding value to Disneyland, whereas it’s hard to see how governments can be said to do the same thing.

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