Three Million American Anarcho-Capitalists?

It’s time to evaluate a five year bet.

Back in 2001 Bob Murphy, posting as Bobbi-O on, was optimistic about persuading people of the virtues of anarcho-capitalism. I argued that not even 1% of the population would ever be persuaded to endorse anarcho-capitalism, and asked when he thought such a feat might be accomplished.

Murphy responded confidently:

If by “endorse” you mean people who say, “Yes, I agree that would the best system, I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” then I say it will happen in five years, easy.

We’re not trying to convince people to like our favorite musicians, we’re trying to convince them that systematic theft and murder are counterproductive. Call me naive, but I don’t think it will be that hard to convince 1% to admit this. I recall my own conversion process; I had to first hear the ideas (and think they were too radical), then get disillusioned for some inconsequential reason, and at that point remember all of Rothbard et al.’s arguments that I had earlier rejected.

If I can convince my mom to vote for Harry Browne, and my good Rush Limbaugh-devotee friend to favor drug legalization after an hour conversation, I think 1% isn’t too farfetched.

Again, I’m talking about people agreeing that it would be the best system if implemented, not that these people are going to lift a finger to make it so.

I immediately offered to bet $1000 that this would not happen. Bob accepted the bet in principle, and he was backed by Gene Callahan but we never came up with a metric for deciding the outcome so no money was wagered.

The five years ended last November. Based on a population of roughly 300,000,000 Americans, Murphy and Callahan needed to come up with about 3 million ancaps.

I submit that nothing remotely like Murphy’s prediction has happened. I’m confident that there are not even 30,000 Americans who satisfy the criteria, not even close – and that’s just 1% of 1% of the population.

Two questions occur to me:

How could smart cookies like Murphy and Callahan be so far off base?

My guess is that were caught up in excitement of the (then) recent explosive growth of ancap web sites and forums. Someone in the thread said had been growing at a rate of 50% per month. That may have been true but it was ending as he typed, ASC’s growth has been quite modest from that moment on. What had really happened was that the relatively few people sympathetic with anarcho-capitalism suddenly all found each other through the internet in a brief space of time. And then it was over. There was no second wave.

Has this result changed their opinions about the prospects of rational evangelism?

I’d be interested to hear from Murphy and Callahan on this.

Unfortunately there is a final irony here. Not only have 3,000,000 ancaps failed to materialize but one seems to have vanished, at least from the web. It appears that Murphy’s ancap writing on the web has largely been withdrawn recently, including well over 100 articles at, and

20 thoughts on “Three Million American Anarcho-Capitalists?”

  1. There well might be 3 mil people who would not mind government going away. That is they will not fight to save the system. But they probably would not bother to fight against it either. So maybe Bob n’ Gene were counting on this demo of apathetics to realize there were others that shared their views and so a critical mass tipping point extravaganza would happen and boffo…3mil ancaps. Cha-ching!

    Or maybe they though an Anti-Marx was juuuust about to show himself and would lead them to victory.

    And lastly, the Murphster obviously did not care about the bet as pulled his stuff right when he needed to be making his biggest push in order to win.

  2. I’m not sure which articles you’re talking about that have been pulled, but as a counter-point the Mises Institute website is now hosting his Chaos Theory book as a .pdf file for free on the site.

    He recently published his Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism… maybe he used some of his old material in that book and there were copyright issues with the publisher? Not sure.

  3. Bob Murphy responded by email:

    “Well that’s embarrassing that I said “easy.” If not for that, I would’ve chalked it up to naivete. I think your analysis was right regarding our confidence.”


    “Yes I’m less optimistic. I still think it’s the best strategy but I can’t believe I thought 1% would endorse it within 5 years.”

  4. Extreme optimism that is completely detached from reality is very common among anarchists. Why this is so I’ll never understand. Human beings are dumb, ignorant, lazy, cowardly, dependent, conformist animals. They would rather die than be independent. Nock and Mencken (Notes on Democracy, The Genealogy of Etiquette) had it right. Murphy and Callahan live in a dream.

  5. Has this result changed their opinions about the prospects of rational evangelism?

    Of course you already knew the answer when you asked.

    Unfortunately there is a final irony here.

    Not sure I agree with you that this is unfortunate. Murphy thinks he gets a value of some sort for pulling his writings – that is, he’s pursuing his own values rather than pursuing collective freedom. He’s paying lip service to his own failed rational evangelism strategy while simultaneously engaging in the very practical business of looking out for Number One. I think the irony is frankly hilarious.

    I judge that a full repudiation by Murphy of rational evangelism is possible, all he needs to do is to take an honest look at his motivations for pulling his writings: plain and simple, he cares far more about himself and his loved ones than the great mass of men. As he ought.

  6. Extreme optimism that is completely detached from reality is very common among anarchists.

    Political opinions that are detached from reality are very common among all people. Essentially 100% of the populance holds tight to a host of ideas that boil down to plain nonsense.

  7. Lopez,

    That’s true, but I am talking specifically about the optimism that seems to be more endemic among anarchists and pseudo-libertarians than it is among others. It is very common for liberals, for example, to engage in doom-and-gloom discussions when talking about the future. With libertarians, I sometime get the feeling they believe that the entire establishment of government is about to collapse tomorrow morning and the second coming of Rothbard is soon to be upon us.

  8. Staples,

    … but I am talking specifically about the optimism that seems to be more endemic among anarchists and pseudo-libertarians than it is among others.

    I know what you’re talking about, LRC’s continuing effort to marry libertarianism and Amway is a good example.

    I think Kennedy has the first part of the answer:

    My guess is that were caught up in excitement of the (then) recent explosive growth of ancap web sites and forums.

    The second part might well be that two decades in, after you’ve seen the same movementarian fads come and go three times each and the libertarian movement is still populated with the same few dozen racist creeps, sci-fi weirdos, creepy armed loners and smarmy policy wonks (the names may have changed…), it’s far easier to start “digging Digg” than it is to admit that the whole thing was a waste of time.

  9. As I predicted, we will soon all end up in Courtney’s embrace.


  10. It doesn’t matter. I’m watching WARNING FROM SPACE, which even though it is a mediocre commercial low-grade 1950s Japanese monster movie, is still FIVE THOUSAND TIMES BETTER than any expensive modern Hollywood piece of poo – like, say, THE SALTON SEA, a movie which sucked ass.

    Since America has betrayed the cause of Cinema, (not least because of filthy digital technology) it deserves to be enslaved by Hillary. She is the Scourge of God.

    But Courtney will save us all.

  11. …and my good Rush Limbaugh-devotee friend to favor drug legalization…

    Hehe, I wonder whether Murphy’s friend knew something years before we found out… Either way, there’s a moral here: Even when conservative scum support something good, it’s always for the wrong reasons.

  12. Who needs visible acceptance for ancap?
    Looks like a done deal to me. There doesn’t seem to
    be a way out that’s acceptable to the perps and their
    sycophants. Could this be followed by Downsizing to

    Thanks in advance to all you good people out there, just
    helping in your own small, quiet way.

    I salute you, friend.

  13. …”Too bad! Someone had it in for you” You, too, are subject to fate. You too, are here because of the power of ill will, because of an evil star; you are tossed hither and yon by the hostile workings of magic. And you too, are a man; you are one of us. Never mind what motives impelled you, politics, legalities or the illusion of reason. Such things as reason or cause and effect, do not exist; there is only an adverse fate, a will for evil, which is the magic power of things. The State is one shape of this fate, like the wind that devours the harvest and the fever that feeds on our blood. There can be no attitude towards fate except patience and silence. Of what use are words? And what can a man do? Nothing.
    – from CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI, by Carlo Levi

  14. [shameless plug]

    My An-Cap group on MySpace has 510 members…though stripping out the fake profiles, group member/webcam whores, deliberate enemy infiltrators from commie groups, bored friends-of-friends, and the like would reduce that number.

    [/shameless plug]

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