Why I’m Not an An-Cap
A few weeks ago, I delved into the question of Libertarianism and Utilitarianism. The two are competing moral philosophies, with Libertarianism valuing personal liberty as its paramount goal, and Utilitarianism valuing maximizing utility (aka “the common good”) as its highest goal. I believe that the logical end of Libertarianism is anarchism (which, to be truly anarchist, will likely take the form of anarcho-capitalism). The logical end of utilitarianism, to most people who believe in “the common good”, is socialism, but that’s not necessarily the case. The logical end of utilitarianism is a political system which best maximizes utility, which socialism has proven— at least in practice— to be far from maximizing utility.
I call myself a libertarian, but I don’t consider myself an an-cap. The reason I’m not an an-cap is that I have a bit of utilitarianism in me, and I see the tradeoffs of anarcho-capitalism as being less able to maximize utility than a just minarchy. Ideologically, I see anarcho-capitalism, if it were to be stable, as being the most moral possible system. My understanding of humanity, though, makes me think that the end result of a society set up as an-cap will be worse than the a just minarchy.
When I look at the world situation, I think of a sort of an-cap model. Essentially, we have competing governments without any binding super-government above them. What result do we have? Some governments are good, and treat their citizens well. Some governments are bad, and oppress their citizens. Most governments agree not to fight with each other, because the costs are very high, but occasionally wars do occur. The key point is that competing governments has not resulted in peace and freedom, but in relative stability and widely varying results. Of course, the an-caps will point out that these competing governments are based upon territory, and their competing security firms are not. In theory, they are correct. But in reality, my belief is that we would quickly return to government.
The question, of course, is the Stability Problem. David Friedman, the man who [literally] wrote the book on anarcho-capitalism, addressed the stability problem. His belief is that the aspects of competition and the idea that the people attracted to security agencies wouldn’t be the power-mongering type we have now lead him to believe the situation wouldn’t devolve into government. But I don’t think the pages he devotes truly proves this. A competing viewpoint would be that of Paul Birch, who sees an an-cap society quickly devolving into a city-state society. He believes there is an inherent instability when multiple competing security firms and courts occupy the same territory, and that competition will lead to one firm completely dominating the market, to the exclusion of other firms.
In reality, I think of it more as a mafia situation. I look at how the mafia operates, i.e. protecting those outside the law. Because those outside the law have no recourse to take their disputes with the mafia to the “legitimate” authorities. The mafia, however, knows that it can only go so far. If they truly overextend their boundaries, their “customers” will seek asylum with competing families, but to do so includes high transaction costs (i.e. the fear of retaliation). While war between families is rare, since the costs are extremely high, families care little whether opposing families are exploiting their customers unless they see a way to exploit the situation. The customers are offered a service that they cannot find from the “legitimate” sources, and the only people who provide that service are the people who are willing to back themselves up with force.
The question is whether a free market in protection services could avoid this? I’m not so sure. I see Birch’s point about competition between security firms being inherently unstable, i.e. firms working out disputes between their own customers will be cheaper than working out disputes between their customer and those of an outside firm. Thus, competition within a certain area (since most disputes will be between people located geographically near each other) will tend to be dominated by one firm. But what kind of firm will it be? Will it attract good people, or will it be run like a mafia might? What will the transaction costs be for leaving the territory for another, and how will a firm that acts as a mafia handle people who have left the territory? For example, if I work and live in one town and leave because I’m upset with the security/court situation, will I be harassed if I drive in to work each day?
Of course, the an-caps will have a response to this. Minarchist governments often don’t stay that way. And that I cannot refute. Our own federal government in the USA began as a minarchist state, but has grown into the leviathan. I cannot even begin to defend it. The real question is whether anarcho-capitalism will devolve into a bad situation faster than our style of government, and whether it will devolve into something worse. That, again, is a question I can’t definitively answer, but I do see a potential difference between the two systems. I can see an-cap devolving into a city-state system pretty quickly. The question between that and a federalist minarchy such as what the USA was designed to be is that the federalist minarchy has a binding higher authority to appeal to. City-states, much like our current world order, doesn’t have a binding authority to appeal to. Thus, if you’re stuck in one of the bad ones (bad enough, like communist Russia, or East Germany) where they don’t let you escape, you have no recourse.
So that’s why I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. Simply put, I would have more trust in a limited and well-designed minarchy than market anarchy. However, I consider the an-cap community to be fellow travelers, and while I disagree with them, I’m not 100% sure they’re wrong in their beliefs. I’d love to see, should we reduce the size of our current government (or overthrow it) down to the level I’d prefer, to see some an-cap experiments. Because I ideologically love the idea of an an-cap society, I’d love to see it get a chance. I’m just not sure it will live up to its billing.