It’s time to evaluate a five year bet.
Back in 2001 Bob Murphy, posting as Bobbi-O on anti-state.com, 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 anti-state.com 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 lewrockwell.com, anti-state.com and strike-the-root.com.