The Phantom Tollbooth Run

Isn’t it convienient that these mixups happen just when the police want to get into a car?

MIAMI (Reuters) – Florida police dismissed a traffic citation against one of three Muslim medical students interrogated as terrorist suspects in a false alarm last week, the men’s lawyer said on Wednesday.

Collier County Sheriff’s deputies issued a ticket on Friday to one of the three, Kambiz Butt, charging he failed to pay a toll on Alligator Alley, the main east-west highway through the Everglades.

The men’s lawyer, David Kubiliun, said Collier Sheriff Don Hunter notified him on Wednesday that authorities had voided the ticket after reviewing a toll plaza videotape that showed him paying the toll.

Like Ares Comes The Cowgirl

Raise high the roof beam carpenters
like Ares comes the Cowgirl
taller far than a tall man

– Sappho

Some may have noticed that there has recently been an organizational bloodbath at No Treason. With one exception, I demoted the entire editorial staff. Gone from the journal staff are the Senior Editors; the position doesn’t even exist anymore. Robertson? Gone. Condor? Gone!! Schneider, Beck, Starr, and Freely? All gone. Gone likewise are the weblog editors. There are now simply two editors of No Treason, Lynette Warren and John Kennedy. The rest were demoted because they were not performing any editorial function. They occasionally produced good articles and items, but aside from that Lynette is the only one who ever did a lick of work around here.

Most people, even those participating in No Treason, are not aware that since even before the public launch on June 9th 2001 Lynette has been more influential than anyone in determining he course of this project.

Raise high the roof beam carpenters
like Ares comes the Cowgirl
taller far than a tall man

– Sappho

Some may have noticed that there has recently been an organizational bloodbath at No Treason. With one exception, I demoted the entire editorial staff. Gone from the journal staff are the Senior Editors; the position doesn’t even exist anymore. Robertson? Gone. Condor? Gone!! Schneider, Beck, Starr, and Freely? All gone. Gone likewise are the weblog editors. There are now simply two editors of No Treason, Lynette Warren and John Kennedy. The rest were demoted because they were not performing any editorial function. They occasionally produced good articles and items, but aside from that Lynette is the only one who ever did a lick of work around here.

Most people, even those participating in No Treason, are not aware that since even before the public launch on June 9th 2001 Lynette has been more influential than anyone in determining he course of this project.

I met many of these people on the newsgroup alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater. I didn’t have all that much interest in the Clinton scandals, I thought they were largely irrelevant to the fundamental problems of government. But I was very interested in many of the writers I found on that newsgroup, and the Clinton scandals weren’t the only thing they were writing about. The people in the newsgroup who interested me most comprised the largest collection of individualist anarchists I had ever encountered, in fact Mike Schneider and Billy Beck were the very first such anarchists I became aware of. I don’t mean to delimit any of these people with labels, many of them strongly resist labels of any sort, but it was clear to me that there was a core of writers on the newsgroup who rejected government while recognizing property rights. And from my perspective these people were core of the newsgroup itself, though they certainly were not representative of the whole spectrum of views there. Kipawa Condor called the newsgroup alt.anarcho-capitalism and I think that’s appropriate, the individualist anarchists were the driving force of the newsgroup, they set the agenda.

As the end of Clinton’s term approached many realized that the newsgroup was unlikely to be sustained indefinitely in it’s current form. Sometime in 2000 Mike Schneider and I began a private discussion about ways to sustain what we valued most from the newsgroup. I also had in mind that I wanted to see the writing of some of these people become available to a broader audience than the newsgroup reached. It turned out that Mike and I had different visions. He wanted to create a forum that would continue the anarcho-capitalist discussions taking place in the newsgroup. He also wanted to weed out the weezils. In October of 2000 Mike did just that by launching American Liberty. I always thought American Liberty to be of great value and I offered my assistance from the beginning. I’m pretty sure I was the second moderator of the forum, after Mike. (My performance as a moderator has been entirely undistinguished, about all I can say in my defense is that I did considerably more scut work at AL then Mike ever did at NT.) But while I think I was welcome to join Mike as an equal or near-equal partner in AL, I did not do so. I knew that I wanted to take things in a different direction.

In November of 2000 I saw Union Square Journal and I said “That’s it.”

Martin McPhillips had skimmed the cream off of the Whitewater newsgroup, he had recruited three of the very best writers on the newsgroup and he started publishing articles by them and permanently archiving them on the web. The writers he recruited were Billy Beck, John Sabotta and Lynette Warren. On the I had followed the writing of all three for years, with great interest. Though Beck and Sabotta were writers I identified as individualist anarchists, USJ was by no means an anarchist journal. I decided I wanted to start my own anarchist journal, following the example of USJ.

Lysander Spooner’s No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority had for me forever demolished any pretense of legitimacy for government, so I chose the name No Treason for my project. Ultimately I wanted to recruit as many anarcho-capitalist writers of high quality as I could find, but I decided I needed at least three writers to get the ball rolling and launch the project. One of them would be me. I’ve never considered myself much of a writer, but I do have things I want to say and I judge I developed a voice of my own on usenet, for what it’s worth. It’s worth something to me anyway. I certainly have never considered my writing skills to have approached that of Beck, Sabotta or Warren.

I knew I could count on Mike for some support, but it seemed unwise to depend on him considering his commitment of effort to American Liberty. The first actual recruit to No Treason was Rob Robertson. Rob was also among the cream of the crop in the newsgroup, his writing could stand up against that of the USJ writers and not suffer by comparison. Rob was not an anarcho-capitalist at the time, but he was a very principled libertarian and he was finding it more difficult to defend any government as time went by. Rob was also impressed with USJ and decided he would write some articles for NT. I needed one more writer to get going, but instead I recruited Kipawa Condor. Kip was never one of the most prolific writers on the newsgroup, but he was a much better writer than I was, and his judgment was sound. Kip agreed to take a whack it.

It’s true that Kip has yet to produce an actual article, but it is also true that he was very influential in the planning stages of No Treason and I have always been grateful for his contribution at a crucial point of the project. And he had some great articles planned, perhaps I’ll share them sometime. No Treason could easily have just died then if I didn’t have Rob and Kip on board confirming that the project had a chance to succeed.

Rob and I started to write articles and I started to lay the foundation for he web site. (It’s unclear what Kip was doing.) I settled on the domain name I was seriously considering the simpler, but Rob threatened to bolt because that could be parsed as “not reason”. I think that was very good advice, but not the best advice Rob ever gave me. That came next.

As it became clear that we were going to be able to launch a respectable web site I decided to invite Beck and Sabotta to contribute articles if they had time. Rob insisted that I should invite Lynette too. I objected that while I respected Lynette, and liked her writing very much, she wasn’t close to being an anarchist and her USJ articles would not be appropriate on NT. Rob insisted I’d be stupid not to get Lynette if I could. That was the best advice he ever gave me.

I invited all three of them to contribute. I assured them that I hoped they would continue to be successful at USJ and that I did not see the two sites being in any sort of competition. Beck begged off initially as I recall, he had too much on his plate already. Sabotta seemed inclined to throw something my way, but urged me not to hold my breath. And Lynette said sure, she’d be pleased to contribute to No Treason.

Great, I thought, I bagged the statist.

To be continued.

Disputing Narveson – Round 2

After the publication of my recent article at, disagreeing with Jan Narveson on a point tangential to his excellent piece on Pure Libertarianism, Gene Callahan asserted in the ASC forum that a thief or robber was the kind of public goods defaulter which Narveson was talking about coercing and he offered this passage from an earlier piece by Narveson:

“The classic example of the public good in question is nonviolence. The assassin, the robber, the rapist, collect benefits from others without paying for them; the cost all is borne by the victim.”.

It had not occurred to me that Narveson was considering a robber or thief to be a defaulter in the context of a public good, but after reading the article that Callahan had pointed out it was clear to me that he was. I disagree that a thief can properly be considered to be a public good defaulter, but the dispute has been reduced from what might have been a disagreement in principle to a disagreement over how certain terms should used.

I emailed Narveson on this point, saying I did not see how a thief is a defaulter in a public goods problem. Narveson was kind enough to send me a thorough reply. I felt the issue still boiled down to one crucial statement he made in the email, he said that a public good a case where the producer of the good isn’t the one who gets it. I replied to Narveson:

“I would say that this is not what a public good is. A public good is a case where the producer of the good can’t control who gets it. But if we say that a thief is “producing peace” by not stealing from you, we recognize that he certainly has control over who gets the peace he is producing. The bad he produces when he steals from you is not a public bad, it is your private bad. And the good he would produce by not stealing from you is your private good.”

(I would not normally speak of a bad as opposed to a good, but Narveson had in is email so I followed his lead.)

Narveson was kind enough to reply again; he said that he didn’t see any difference between his characterization of a public good and mine. That doesn’t seem quite right to me, but I didn’t see any point in bothering him about it by email again.

I stand my my assertion that those who steal produce private bads for their victims, and therefore any good they produce when they don’t steal is a private good, not a public good. Narveson said to me that the victim of violence is unable to control the benefit of nonviolence, which is within the control of the aggressor. I’d point out that many producers of goods don’t get what they produce. The masseuse doesn’t get the massage she produces and the surgeon doesn’t get the operation he produces. But these are private goods because the producer determines who gets them. And I would say that the producers of non-violence certainly determine who gets any non-violence they produce – the people they choose not to aggress against.

Thus I think that Narveson is wrong about a thief being a defaulter in the context of a public good, and thus the argument in my article stands intact against what he said about public goods defaulters. But he was actually talking about something other than public goods; so our dispute is not a disagreement over principle.

Charlie Anderson Takes On The Feds

Last week I quoted a scene from Shenandoah where anarcho-capitalist Charlie Anderson (played by Jimmy Stewart) stood up to a Confederate officer who came to enlist his sons. There’s another fine scene later when the feds show up to “buy” Anderson’s horses for the war effort. They arrive as delegation of about ten men, headed by a federal representative of some sort named Carroll who is being advised by a man named Tinkum. Anderson recognizes Tinkum as a horse thief, it’s little wonder the feds have hired him to find the best horses. The feds just start looking over the horses and talking between themselves as Anderson looks on with increasing dissatisfaction. Soon the feds start making decisions.

Carroll: We’ll take these…

Anderson: (forcefully) What do you mean take ’em?

Charlie and his eldest son Jacob approach the feds.

Tinkum: Well howdy Mr. Anderson, I ain’t seen you in quite a spell.

Anderson: I don’t get around to visiting jails much Tinkum.

Tinkum: This here is Mr. Carroll, Mr. Osbourne, and Mr. Marshall. They’re our federal purchasing agents.

Carroll: That’s right Mr. Anderson. Although we’ve got a set price that we can pay, I’d like to hear what you think these animals are worth.

Jacob: The horses aren’t for sale.

Anderson: Now what my son tells you is the gospel truth gentlemen, and you can carve his words in stone if you’ve a mind to. The horses are not for sale.

Carroll: Now that may be, but I just think I oughta tell you we’re authorized to confiscate anything we can’t buy.

Anderson’s youngest boy has never heard the word…

Boy: What’s confiscate mean Pa?

Anderson: Steal.

Anderson identifies it without hesitation.

Carroll: You know, I don’t think you quite understand…

Jacob: You’re not gonna take one horse off this farm mister, so you might as well forget it.

Carroll: I thought you said these were reasonable people.

Tinkum: Everybody in the county knows they’re just sitting out the war.

Carroll: I, I think what Mr. Tinkum means is that he figured anybody who’s uh, too yellow to fight wouldn’t mind making a few dollars off of the war…

Jacob: Yellow?

He lunges for Carroll but Charlie Anderson intercepts his son.

Anderson: I apologize for my son’s manners Mr. Carroll, he was taught to have more respect for his elders.

Carroll: I accept your apology sir.

Anderson: Jacob, I don’t know what gets into you every once in a while. You know you shouldn’t hit this gentleman…while I’m around!

Charlie pops Carroll squarely on the chin, and a brawl breaks out between the Andersons and the feds. It goes on for a bit in the old comic movie style until Carroll has had enough and pulls out a pistol to shoot Charlie in the back. Instead Charlie’s daughter Jenny shoots the gun from his hand with a rifle. She orders the feds off the farm; they pick themselves up and leave.

Anderson: That fellow Tinkum is the the only man I know who started at the bottom and went down. He used to steal horses for nothing, now he gets paid for it.

Jacob. Pa? First it was Johnson. Then it was on our land. And now they come driving right up into our yard. Aren’t we gonna do something about it?

Anderson: Now, I must be getting old. Seems to me we just did.

Shenandoah: A Terrific Anarcho-Capitalist Film

I saw this terrific anti-state film starring Jimmy Stewart over the weekend. Stewart has long been one of my favorite Hollywood actors but I had missed this film, which I now gather is his last great role.

Stewart plays Charlie Anderson, a Virginian patriarch in the Shenandoah Valley during the civil war. The film opens with a skirmish between Union and Confederate troops. Two of Anderson’s sons witness it and the eldest son Jacob reports back to Anderson, who can hear the cannons clearly:

Jacob: They come closer every day, Pa.

Anderson: They on our land?

Jacob: No sir.

Anderson: Well, then it doesn’t concern us. (Pause.) Does it?

Charlie Anderson is a widower still deeply in love with his wife who has been dead for sixteen years. He promised her on her deathbed that he would raise their children as Christians but it is clear that Charlie himself is not by nature a religious man. He begins each meal by leading the family in saying grace. Charlie Anderson doesn’t have much to say to God, but if he has to speak to him then God’s going to hear what’s on his mind:

“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t of done it all ourselves. We worked dog bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway Lord for this food we’re about to eat, Amen.”

A great anti-state scene comes early in the film. A confederate officer named Johnson arrives with a handful of soldiers and asks Anderson if they can drink from his well. Anderson recognizes Johnson, and gives his permission. Their conversation begins politely enough but quickly turns sour:

Johnson: When are you gonna take this war seriously, Mr. Anderson?

Anderson: Now let me tell you something Johnson, ‘fore you get on my wrong side. My corn I take serious because it’s my corn. And my potatoes and my tomatoes and my fences I take note of because they’re mine. But this war is not mine and I take no note of it.

Johnson: Well…, maybe you’ll take note of it when the Yankees drop a cannonball in your front parlor.

Anderson: Well I might as well tell you right now that I can’t think of another thing I want to hear you say.

Johnson: You have six sons, don’t you Mr. Anderson?

Anderson: What, does the size of my family have some special interest for you?

Johnson: Matter of fact it does. We need men. Now two of these men here are no more than sixteen. It seems strange to quite a few people around here that none of your sons are in the army.

Anderson: Well it don’t seem strange to me, with all the work there is around here.

Johnson: I’ll come right to the point Mr. Anderson. Came out here to get ’em.

Anderson’s eyes narrow. He has not enjoyed talking to Johnson, but now he begins to contemplate the ways he could kill Johnson, if need be. Then he laughs in the officer’s face. Johnson has not brought enough men, not nearly enough.

Johnson: I say something funny?

Anderson: I think so… You came all the way out here to get my boys, huh?

Charlie Anderson calls out his six sons and invites Johnson to say his piece to them.

Johnson: There’s a Yankee army breathing down your neck Mr. Anderson, I don’t think you realize…

Anderson: You’re town bred, aren’t ya?

Johnson: I don’t see what that has to do…

Anderson: I’ve got five hundred acres of good rich dirt here. As long as the rains come and the sun shines it’ll grow anything I have a mind to plant. And we’ve pulled every stump, we’ve cleared every field, and we done it ourselves, without the sweat of one slave.

Johnson: So?

Anderson: So? Can you give me one good reason why I should send my family, that took me a lifetime to raise, down that road like a bunch of damn fools to do somebody else’s fightin’?

Johnson: Virginia needs all of her sons Mr. Anderson.

Anderson: That might be so Johnson, but these are my sons! They don’t belong to the state. When they were babies I never saw the state comin’ around with a spare tit. We never asked anything of the state and never expected anything. We do our own living and thanks to no man for the right.

Marketing Market Anarchism

[Originally published at on December 17, 2001]

In his article In Search of the Antimarx, Bob “Missing Loop” Murphy airs our disagreement over the merits of attempting to convert masses of people to anarcho-capitalism. Murphy characterizes my view fairly in his short summary of it; in another article I explain why I think rational evangelism won’t work. By this I mean simply that people are never going to be persuaded by rational argument to adopt anarcho-capitalism in numbers sufficient to dissolve government. Talk isn’t going to carry the day for us, and neither can force when we are so outnumbered.

But what I want to address here is Murphy’s intent to go beyond rational argument, to advance an anarcho-capitalist agenda by packaging the message.

First of all I think Murphy’s goal is unrealistic, indeed unattainable:

“I think the only hope for a stateless society is a population committed to true voluntarism, that is, to absolute and total freedom.”

Frankly I would despair if I thought this were true. And anyway, if such a population were so committed to freedom there wouldn’t be much reason to worry about limited government because it would work.

A common argument made against anarcho-capitalism is that it requires perfect people, or at least people far more virtuous than the general population is now. Murphy seems to accept this argument. The argument is wrong because, as David Friedman points out, imperfect people behave far more benignly in markets than they do when wielding government:

“I have encountered precisely the same error among libertarians who prefer limited government to anarcho-capitalism. Limited government, they say, can guarantee uniform justice based on objective principles. Under anarcho-capitalism, the law varies from place to place and person to person, according to the irrational desires and beliefs of the different customers that different protection and arbitration agencies must serve.

This argument assumes that the limited government is set up by a population most or all of whose members believe in the same just principles of law. Given such a population, anarcho-capitalism will produce that same uniform, just law; there will be no market for any other. But just as capitalism can accommodate to a diversity of individual ends, so anarcho-capitalism can accommodate to a diversity of individual judgments about justice.

An ideal objectivist society with a limited government is superior to an anarcho-capitalist society in precisely the same sense that an ideal socialist society is superior to a capitalist society. Socialism does better with perfect people than capitalism does with imperfect people; limited government does better with perfect people than anarcho-capitalism with imperfect. And it is better to wear a bikini with the sun shining than a raincoat when it is raining. That is no argument against carrying an umbrella.”

– from Socialism, Limited Government, Anarchy, and Bikinis
in The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman

The question of course is how to get from here to there. Murphy wants to do it by marketing a message. He admires Marx as a marketer of ideas:

“And you have to hand it to Marx. He sure as hell didn’t lead by example. (He himself was bourgeois and a scoundrel to boot.)

So how did he do it? His writing gave people an entire worldview. Marxism allows you to interpret history, economics, politics virtually everything. And it was all based on a basic human yearning: equality.”

But is equality a basic human yearning? I don’t yearn for it. I’d say the basic human vice Marx played upon was jealousy. And Murphy says it’s “far easier to dislodge an erroneous belief than a correct one”, but then how does one explain the success of Marx? America once had far more limited government and far freer markets but Marx’s false philosophy made great inroads against a more correct philosophy and continues to do so. It’s clear that false premises don’t prevent a philosophy from making great advances. Marxism advanced not by rational argument, not by being correct, but by irrational appeals and systematic incentives.

Murphy is ready to go beyond rational argument and seems to be willing to persuade people on the basis of false premises:

“Or, if you don’t believe in evolution, then (chances are) you’re a believer in one of the major religions. And then of course the popularity of your creed is an example that people can be inspired by the truth as well as by myths.”


To convince religious people that truth can carry the day Murphy invites them to take their own creed as an example. But these creeds are contradictory which means at least some of them are wrong. In fact for any of them to be true most of them must be largely wrong. And since most of these people must be embracing creeds which are largely wrong their own creed is not a valid example of how people can be inspired by truth, quite the opposite. Yet Murphy invites them to accept it as a valid example.

I’m certainly not saying that such an argument cannot persuade many people, Marx demonstrated that false arguments can be very persuasive while appealing to the irrational. I just think such persuasion is worthless for the purpose of getting people to embrace truth, because while it is possible to arrive at a correct conclusion by an invalid argument it is not possible to apprehend truth by such means. I don’t trust someone who has reached a correct conclusion by invalid reasoning because if they’re vulnerable to one invalid argument they’re vulnerable to the next.

Being correct is only an advantage in argument if the audience you’re trying to persuade is competent to grasp a valid argument. The success of Marx’s collectivist philosophy argues very strongly against the idea that Murphy’s chosen audience is sufficiently competent.

To put it bluntly, collectivism can be advanced by “useful idiots” but incompetence can’t usefully advance rational individualism.

The Fundamental Fallacy of Government

[Originally published at on July 30, 2001]

Why do we need government?

Government is a monopoly of force. Why is it that most people favor such a monopoly?

The Declaration of Independence says:

We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Setting aside the question of a Creator, I agree in principle that first sentence. It says that there are values which are appropriate to men according to their nature and that rights are implicit in their relationship with those values.

The next sentence offers a reason why we are supposed to need government: We need government to secure rights. This quaint notion has gone a bit out of fashion with many advocates of government, today they typically want government to secure all kinds of things, many of which have nothing to do with rights, but they all want government to secure something. And they’re convinced that only government can do it.

Why can’t people secure their rights, or anything else they need, by voluntary means? Why can’t people freely contract to secure whatever they need to secure? Why is a government, a monopoly on force, necessary to secure anything essential?

The fundamental answer which advocates of government offer for these questions is that we need government to solve a public goods problem. We are told that there is something that we all need, but that we will not secure by voluntary means. Often the argument is used for defense. The argument is that we all need to be defended from foreign invaders but the necessary means to do so cannot be funded on a voluntary basis. If the funding of defense is to be voluntary, what incentive is there for the individual to fund it? After all, for the defense to be viable a large number of people must voluntarily contribute their resources to it, but the individual only controls the actions of one person. Thus the individual has substantial incentive to be a free rider, he’ll get the benefit of defense whether he contributes or not, and the defense will be funded or not regardless of whether the particular individual contributes or not.

I acknowledge this is a legitimate concern and I don’t offer any easy answers.

I just point out that the government as a cure is worse than the disease.

Government “solves” one public goods problem by creating another that cannot be solved. Let’s assume a government is instituted to solve the public goods problem of defense. A mandatory tax is imposed on everyone in the territory to fund defense. Of course force will be used to extract the taxes from any who would not pay voluntarily. But in the end we get the defense we all need by eliminating free riding.

So far so good?

Oops, there’s a catch.

You see, by instituting a monopoly of force you’ve created another threat that people need protection from – the government itself. How will people restrain that government? How can they prevent it from becoming a tyranny?

You have another public goods problem on your hands. And you can’t solve this one the way you “solved” the first. Everyone needs government restrained but that can only be achieved by the voluntary donation of efforts by a great many people. But government will be restrained or not regardless of what the individual does, so he has the very same incentive to be a free rider with respect to the restraint of government as he had with respect to defense. And while you can force people to fund defense you cannot even in principle force people to restrain government since the act of forcing them would be an act of governing.

So government can only be restrained by widespread voluntary donations of effort. But the argument for instituting this government in the first place was that individuals could not be relied on to make such voluntary donations of effort. If you can’t rely on people to voluntarily donate the effort required to repel a foreign invader, how can you rely upon them to voluntarily donate the effort to restrain government?

If voluntary effort can be relied upon to restrain government then you don’t need government because voluntary effort could then be relied upon to solve the problems that government is supposed to solve. In this case there is no justification for government since there is no public goods problem to be solved by a monopoly of force. There’s no way to justify forcing people to solve problems that they are perfectly capable of solving voluntarily.

And if voluntary effort cannot be relied upon to restrain government then there is no justification for government because you haven’t solved any public goods problem by instituting government, you’ve only made things worse by creating a public goods problem that cannot be solved.

In either case government makes things worse.

Sorry folks, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and the argument that government is necessary to secure something that we all need has never been anything but an argument for a free lunch.

Insurance And Private Defense In Chaos Theory

I’ve recommended
Bob Murphy’s Chaos Theory
as a book that will stimulate readers to think about free market alternatives to
government. But I have serious reservations about Murphy’s overall scheme for a market
based society because it relies on insurance to do things that insurance won’t do. From
cover to cover Murphy offers insurance as the glue which will hold a free society

The idea that insurance can provide market
solutions to certain crucial problems goes back at least to The Market for Liberty written
by Morris and Linda Tannahill in 1970. In the second half of Chaos Theory Murphy offers
essentially the same market solution for defense that the Tannahills do. In the first half
of his book he spins even more elaborate insurance schemes, but I believe his interest in
market solutions insurance could provide probably had it’s origin in consideration of
proposals for defense like those offered in The Market For Liberty. So I will begin my
critique there.

Insurance is central to defense in the society
Murphy envisions:

"In an anarchist society committed to
the sanctity of private property and contract, insurance companies would most likely
oversee defense services."

It’s certainly natural that people will seek
to be insured against the damages of foreign invasion, and Murphy sees this as the first
step toward the solution to the problem of defense.

"Like natural disasters, wars bring
widespread death and destruction. In market anarchy, insurance companies would provide
coverage for these losses too, and would thus have a great financial interest in deterring
and repelling military attacks."

Murphy then asks us to consider a society that
starts with no collective defense. People will want to be insured against invasion, but
the price of insurance will be very high, and insurance itself will do nothing to protect
the people.

"In this bleak situation, an executive
at the Ace insurance company has a brilliant idea. He can undercut his rivals and offer
the same level of coverage for only, say, 5,000 per person – half the price charged by his
competitors. He can afford to do this by spending some of his revenues on military
defenses, and thereby lower the probability of foreign conquest. For example, he might pay
private defense agencies $40 billion per year to maintain helicopters, tanks, trained
personnel, etc. and be on the constant alert to repel any attacks. If these preparations
reduced the chance of foreign invasion to only, say, one-half of one percent per year,
then they would "pay for themselves." The innovative insurance executive would
reap huge profits and capture the market for military liability, while the residents would
enjoy increased security and lower premiums. With property safe from foreign
expropriation, investment and population growth would be stimulated, allowing greater
economies of scale and further rate cuts."

This "brilliant idea" is in fact a
recipe for driving the Ace insurance company into bankruptcy. Producing defense will not
enable Ace to charge lower prices than it’s rivals, quite the opposite is true. If Ace
produces defense which lowers the chance of public invasion all of Ace’s competitors will
cut their prices to take full advantage of the new situation. And they will be able to
charge less for insurance than Ace, because they don’t have to pay for the overhead of
actually producing defense.

David Friedman explained this in The Machinery
of Freedom in 1972:

"This is the problem of Morris and
Linda Tannahill’s idea of financing national defense through an insurance company or
companies which would insure customers against injury by foreign states and finance
national defense out of the money saved by financing the customers. Such an insurance
company, in order to pay the cost of defense, would have to charge rates substantially
higher than the real risk justified, given the existence of it’s defense system. Since
people living in the geographical area defended would be protected whether or not they
were insured by that particular company, it would be in their interest either not to be
insured or to be insured by a company which did not have to bear the burden of paying for
defense and could therefore charge lower rates. The national defense insurance company
would lose all it’s customers and go bankrupt, just as it would if it were simply selling
national defense directly to customers who would be defended whether or not they paid.’

As Friedman points out, defense is a hard
problem in the free market because it is a public goods problem. In a free market
producers of defense cannot easily control who receives the benefit of the defense they
produce. There is no magical quality of insurance that enables insurance companies to
profit from producing public goods.

Murphy is aware of the public goods problem.

"Does the above system really avoid
the perennial problem of private defense? That is, can it overcome the free rider problem?
After Ace Insurance entered into long-term contracts with defense agencies, what would
stop a rival firm, such as Moocher Insurance, from undercutting Ace? After all, the
likelihood of property damage would be the same for Moocher’s clients as for Ace’s, yet
Moocher wouldn’t spend a dime on military expenditures. This reasoning is perfectly valid,
yet the case for private defense remains strong."

The reasoning is perfectly valid, which means
that no case has been made. It means that such a plan would result in bankruptcy for any
company that attempted to implement it.

Murphy goes on to talk about factors which may
tend to make the public goods problem easier to solve, but they have nothing in principle
to do with insurance. He says that the market of defense is "lumpier" than
generally assumed which really means that a small number of agencies have the ability to
afford national scale defense even with free riders. That’s nice if it’s true, but it has
nothing to do with insurance. He talks about offers the defense producing agency cold make
to get enough subscribers to make defense profitable. Such offers might well work in
certain circumstances, but again they have nothing to do with insurance.

If two companies are offering to sell defense
to you, why should it matter to you that one of them is your insurance company? The
defense will only be produced if it is profitable to produce in and of itself, and if it
is produced you’ll be able to get a better rate on your insurance regardless of who
produced the defense.

There is no good argument in Chaos Theory to
support Murphy’s assertion that insurance companies would most likely oversee defense.
Some other points he makes on defense are plausible enough, but it is unfortunate that he
chose insurance as the lynch pin of his scheme because it really has no bearing on the
hard problem of defense.

Murphy asks a great deal more of insurance in
the first part of his book; I will address that in another piece.

A Porcupine’s Worth Is His Price

"The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price.."Hobbes

Government is a predator. Those who seek to secure their liberty face the problem of how to avoid being prey. Some look at the leviathan state and despair that they will never have sufficient force at their disposal to defeat such a predator. They need to learn from the porcupine.

The lesson the porcupine teaches is that you don’t have to be strong enough to defeat a predator to avoid being that predator’s lunch. It suffices to be an expensive meal.  Predators tend not to dine on porcupines because a serving of porcupine tends not to be worth the mouthful of quill that it costs.

In Price Theory David Friedman writes:

"… the essential objective in any conflict is neither to defeat your enemy nor to make it impossible for him to defeat you but merely to make it no longer in his interest to do whatever it is that you object to…

Why do nations seek overwhelmingly to resolve disputes peacefully rather than by force? Because war is usually more expensive than it is worth to the party that initiates it.  The reason that Communist China doesn’t take Taiwan by force is not that it cannot do so, but rather because China judges Taiwan will
cost more than it is worth to take by force. Taiwan does not need to be anywhere near as powerful as the predator to survive, it just needs to be more expensive than it is worth to the predator.

Those who fought for American independence understood the lesson of the porcupine.  One of the most powerful symbols in the war for independence is seen in the Gadsden flag.

The message of the Gadsden flag is not that we can defeat all predators, but that we will cost them dearly. The colonists did not seek to be more powerful than the British, they sought simply to be too expensive for the British to rule.

Some advocates of anarcho-capitalism think that to achieve liberty from government we need to convince a majority or some critical number of people that anarcho-capitalist society will be better for them than governed society.

The porcupine teaches a different lesson -that men will be free from government whenever they become too expensive to govern.

This is the crucial insight which makes me optimistic about the chances for anarcho-capitalist society. I’m not optimistic about converting masses of people to accept anarcho-capitalism through any sort of rational evangelism. I’m not optimistic about persuading large numbers of people to be more moral or to use better judgment. But I am optimistic that in the long run people can be made too expensive to govern.

Rational Evangelism Won’t Work

Anarcho-capitalists are faced with the problem of how to get from our current society to a stateless society. A common assumption many share is that large segments of the population must persuaded of the moral superiority of anarcho-capitalism or of it’s practical advantages. Bob Murphy takes this view in his article In Search of The AntiMarx:

"I think the only hope for a stateless society is a population committed to true voluntarism, that is, to absolute and total freedom."

In this view the primary task of anarcho-capitalists now is to convert the masses, to persuade them to adopt certain moral or philosophical foundations of anarcho-capitalism.

Short of force, there are two primary ways by which one might seek to persuade people. Many people can often be persuaded by rhetoric regardless of the validity of the proposition under consideration. Murphy expresses a certain admiration for Karl Marx’s ability to persuade, even though he recognizes Marx’s arguments as invalid. Murphy is enthusiastic about packaging an a anarcho-capitalist message using rhetorical techniques and methods similar to those employed by Marx. He’s also enthusiastic about the prospect of a charismatic anarcho-capitalist leader.

Can people be persuaded by such methods? Sure. But in Marketing Market Anarchism I explain why I think this kind of persuasion is of no real value to anarcho-capitalists.

The other way to persuade people is by valid rational argument. With some individuals we see this work wonderfully well. If anarcho-capitalism has a valid basis then valid arguments for it can be made. So all that needs to be done is to get all of these valid arguments into the marketplace of ideas and hammer away with them until the masses see the light of reason?

Would it were so.

I call this second approach rational evangelism. It won’t work either. The very fact that large masses of people have routinely accepted invalid arguments on the basis of clever rhetoric or the attraction of charismatic leaders ought to make one extremely skeptical about the efficacy of rational evangelism. Part of the problem is that most people are not sufficiently competent at reasoning to fully apprehend a valid argument of significant complexity. But all men by nature have a rational faculty and a very large part of the problem stems from the fact that they are to a large degree responding quite rationally to the simple choices before them.

How can rational choices lead to undesirable results like the continued expansion of government? The Prisoner’s Dilemma illustrates how this can happen. Principia Cybernetic Web explains the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

"The game got its name from the following hypothetical situation: imagine two criminals arrested under the suspicion of having committed a crime together. However, the police does not have sufficient proof in order to have them convicted. The two prisoners are isolated from each other, and the police visit each of them and offer a deal: the one who offers evidence against the other one will be freed. If none of them accepts the offer, they are in fact cooperating against the police, and both of them will get only a small punishment because of lack of proof. They both gain. However, if one of them betrays the other one, by confessing to the police, the defector will gain more, since he is freed; the one who remained silent, on the other hand, will receive the full punishment, since he did not help the police, and there is sufficient proof. If both betray, both will be punished, but less severely than if they had refused to talk. The dilemma resides in the fact that each prisoner has a choice between only two options, but cannot make a good decision without knowing what the other one will do."

It turns out that because of the incentive structure it’s in neither prisoner’s self interest to cooperate with the other prisoner against the police. Prisoner A considers what prisoner B will do. If B chooses to cooperate with A and not implicate him then A is better off if he implicates B, since A will go free. If B chooses to defect and implicate A then A is better off implicating B since then A will avoid the harshest punishment. So whatever B does it is in A’s interest to defect and implicate B. When prisoner B consider’s what A will do he’s faced with exactly the same situation, whatever A does it’s in B’s self interest to defect and implicate A. So if both A and B act out of rational self interest with respect to the incentives in place each will defect and implicate the other. And they’ll both receive a moderate sentence.

But anyone can see that A and B would both do better if they cooperated and refused to implicate each other because they would both get off with a lighter sentence. If you got to choose the action for both of them the best thing to do would be to have them cooperate with each other but each individual only gets to choose his own action.

In a sense we are all prisoners of government. Individually we can choose to cooperate with each other to dissolve government, or we can choose to defect and wield government against others. We’d be best off if everyone cooperated but we each only get to choose for ourselves. The incentive structure government provides is such that defectors can enrich themselves at the expense of those around them by wielding government. Or they can seek to protect themselves from other defectors by wielding government. Those who cooperate against government and decline to wield it are effectively at the mercy of those who do choose to wield it. This is why individuals overwhelmingly choose to defect and wield government.

Go back to the original Prisoner’s Dilemma to understand why rational evangelism won’t work. If you’re prisoner A and you understand the situation you can easily explain to B why it’s in your common interest to cooperate. You can even convince him because your argument is entirely valid – you’ll both do better if you cooperate. But you haven’t changed the situation a bit, you’re both still individually better off defecting regardless of what the other prisoner does. In the game where we’re all prisoners of government the overwhelming majority will consistently choose to defect, out of rational self interest, regardless of valid arguments for voluntary cooperation against government because the individual doesn’t get to choose for everyone, he only gets to choose for himself.

So how can we win this game?

We can’t.

We need to change the rules, we need another game.

No Treason?

I had never heard of Lysander Spooner before I started surfing the web in 1996.  I soon found a web site created by Niels Buhl that featured some fascinating works of political philosophy that I was completely unfamiliar with. One of the most important was No Treason No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner.

A little background: I’d been a liberal for most of my life. As a very young man I’d  fancied myself a communist, I even carried Mao’s Little Red Book around with me for a couple of years reading it like scripture. But as I settled into making a living I mbraced  a more typical and pedestrian American liberalism. I felt the proper function of government was to help people. I always voted a straight democratic ticket up until 1992. Clinton was the very first liberal I couldn’t bring myself to vote for, but that was only because I didn’t trust him.

The launching of the Clinton administration was punctuated by the fiasco in Waco. I initially supported the government’s role at Waco, but at the same time I was haunted by the sense that something was terribly wrong with this government. Not something that could be blamed on a scoundrel like Clinton but something much deeper. I didn’t know precisely what it was but I knew I wanted a whole lot less of it. By 1994 I was gleefully cheering Republicans on in their crusade to cut back government. By 1996 it was pretty clear to me that their crusade was a scam.

This is about the time I was introduced to Spooner’s work.

I had never heard of Lysander Spooner before I started surfing the web in 1996.  I soon found a web site created by Niels Buhl that featured some fascinating works of political philosophy that I was completely unfamiliar with. One of the most important was No Treason No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner.

A little background: I’d been a liberal for most of my life. As a very young man I’d  fancied myself a communist, I even carried Mao’s Little Red Book around with me for a couple of years reading it like scripture. But as I settled into making a living I embraced a more typical and pedestrian American liberalism. I felt the proper function of government was to help people. I always voted a straight democratic ticket up until 1992. Clinton was the very first liberal I couldn’t bring myself to vote for, but that was only because I didn’t trust him.

The launching of the Clinton administration was punctuated by the fiasco in Waco. I initially supported the government’s role at Waco, but at the same time I was haunted by the sense that something was terribly wrong with this government. Not something that could be blamed on a scoundrel like Clinton but something much deeper. I didn’t know precisely what it was but I knew I wanted a whole lot less of it. By 1994 I was gleefully cheering Republicans on in their crusade to cut back government. By 1996 it was pretty clear to me that their crusade was a scam.

This is about the time I was introduced to Spooner’s work.

I’d been thinking quite a lot about what the proper function of government was. I studied the Constitution and other works of the founding fathers to understand what they thought. The founding principle of American government was that just government required the consent of the governed. But there was a nagging question that kept coming up: Who consented to this constitution, this government? I couldn’t figure it out. I heard legal scholars describe the Constitution as a form of contract. When asked how a contract could be binding on people who had not even been born, they’d brush off the question with the assurance that an explanation of how such a contract was valid was too technical for the layman to understand.

But how could they consent to what they did not understand?

This was by no means the focus of my inquiries into the proper function of government, it was just a nagging puzzle that wouldn’t go away. I assumed the Constitution was a valid contract for reasons I didn’t yet fully understand.

So Lysander Spooner’s writing hit me like a truck. A big truck.

Spooner revealed the dirty little secret: There is no contract. The Constitution is not a contract, in substance it’s nothing like a contract and it has no morally binding force on anyone.


It is plain, then, that on general principles of law and reason—such principles as we all act upon in courts of justice and in common life—the Constitution is no contract; that it binds nobody, and never did bind anybody; and that all those who pretend to act by its authority, are really acting without any legitimate authority at all; that, on general principles of law and reason, they are mere usurpers, and that everybody not only has the right, but is morally bound, to treat them as such.

If the people of this country wish to maintain such a government as the Constitution
describes, there is no reason in the world why they should not sign the instrument itself, and thus make known their wishes in an open, authentic manner; in such manner as the common sense and experience of mankind have shown to be reasonable and necessary in such cases; and in such manner as to make themselves (as they ought to do) individually responsible for the acts of the government. But the people have never been asked to sign it. And the only reason why they have never been asked to sign it, has been that it has been known that they never would sign it; that they were neither such fools nor knaves as they must needs have been to be willing to sign it; that (at least as it has been practically interpreted) it is not what any sensible and honest man wants for himself; nor such as he has any right to impose upon others. It is, to all moral intents and purposes, as destitute of obligations as the compacts which robbers and thieves and pirates enter into with each other, but never sign.

If any considerable number of the people believe the Constitution to be good, why do they not sign it themselves, and make laws for, and administer them upon, each other; leaving all other persons (who do not interfere with them) in peace? Until they have tried the experiment for themselves, how can they have the face to impose the Constitution upon, or even to recommend it to, others? Plainly the reason for absurd and inconsistent conduct is that they want the Constitution, not solely for any honest or legitimate use it can be of to themselves or others, but for the dishonest and illegitimate power it gives them over the persons and properties of others. But for this latter reason, all their eulogiums on the Constitution, all their exhortations, and all their expenditures of money and blood to sustain it, would be wanting.


This didn’t instantly turn me into an anarchist, that came a little later, but it crippled me as an advocate of government. Never again could I propose any government activity without knowing that I was advocating that it be forced upon others regardless of consent.

This journal is dedicated to the insight of Lysander Spooner. I would sum up his political philosophy this way: We are not born with any positive moral obligation to any state or agency or individuals, the only legitimate obligations we have are those to which we freely consent. To reject the obligations we are commonly supposed to have to the state,  but to which we have not in fact freely consented, is No Treason.