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March 3, 2008

Monday Open Thread — Question For The An-Caps

by Brad Warbiany

As long-time readers of this blog know, I tend towards anarcho-capitalism from time to time, but have had lingering doubts. So here’s the question:

We have seen that areas outside of the “government” provision of security tend towards abuse. The specific instance I’m referring to is the gang or mafia model, where those groups designed to protect purveyors of “illicit” goods/services such as drugs, gambling, prostitution, etc, rule their “consumers” through fear and threat of force. A consumer fears retribution if they attempt to seek out another provider of security, and the damage created by “turf wars” hurts us all.

So the question is this: is there any reason why such a situation will not occur in an an-cap society? The nature of security is such that it is a good procured by the weak from the strong, and there may or not be incentives for the strong to behave towards one another in a civilized manner. Will private security forces be anything other than small feudal organizations?

Note — This question doesn’t mean that an an-cap society may not be better than our current monstrosity of government abuse. But to evaluate whether it will be better or not, we should ensure that we know what society we’re evaluating, not a utopian version of that society.

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30 Comments

  1. I’m not an Anarcho-Capitalist, but if you don’t mind I’ll comment anyway. There are two quotes that I’d like to use to tie together my answer. First:

    “Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant — and a fearful master.”
    —George Washington, 1797

    Anarcho-capitalists talk about “competing governments” providing “security”. But government is force. Supposedly, these governments are non-territorial. If they are territorial, in what way are they different from current governments? But the concept of jurisdiction is firmly based on the concept of territoriality. So absent territoriality, how are competing claims of jurisdiction and conflict of laws over a controversy to be resolved?

    Customer of government A will deny the power of government B’s courts to apply its laws to resolve the dispute involving him and the customer of government B. He will appeal to government A to provide protection from government B. Either government B will use force to capture A and submit him to its courts or it will refuse. If it refuses it has breached its contract with B, so B goes to government C, or D, or E, until one of them will provide him with the “justice” he seeks. Willingness and ability to use force becomes the standard of “success” in such a system.

    “When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.” -Ayn Rand

    The problem is that there is no objective final arbiter in this system (the role a traditional territorial government plays in all controversies between parties in its courts). Instead groups compete in the use of force to satisfy the subjective desires of its customers and its courts, if they want to retain their customers, will decide cases in an extremely biased nature. This is precisely the reason that we have Federal District Courts in the United States with judges appointed for life: The fear that state courts could not be objective arbiters when dealing with citizens of their state and a foreign state or, alternately, where their position depended on satisfying the electorate. Think about how much more justified that fear would be in an anarcho-capitalist system.

    Comment by Barrett — March 3, 2008 @ 1:52 pm
  2. is there an example of this economy/society existing in history without any written rule of law?

    Comment by oilnwater — March 3, 2008 @ 2:18 pm
  3. A few things.

    As already said, government is force. To go a step further, it is the monopolization of force. If you had a choice would you rather have competative choices for the use of force or a monopoly of such force? The anarcho-capitalist chooses the former. Force can be used for good or bad so an an-cap would rather be able to pick an choose what uses of force that he would support. Government, even democratically elected ones, have a tendency towards the arbitrary use of force (think of all the nanny-state laws here). To give them a monopoly of force in such matters stikes me as a bad idea.

    Prohibition and the war on some drugs is a good example. When made illegal the sellers of such things are forced into a black market where they must defend their trade not only from each other, but from the government as well. It is a recipe for violence. And worst of all, it really isn’t necessary. We do not need to be saved from our own vices.

    Is it possible that a warlord will arise out of anarcho-capitalism? Certainly. Anarcho-capitalism makes no promises that bad men will cease to exist. Anarcho-capitalists simply see no reason to enshrine them in government. I see no point in giving them any sort of legitimacy that a state may claim.

    Comment by tkc — March 3, 2008 @ 2:45 pm
  4. http://www.anarchism.net/steppes.htm

    Comment by ed42 — March 3, 2008 @ 6:26 pm
  5. Let’s take the example of mafias. When do they arise, and what do they do?

    Generally, mafias arise under two conditions:

    1. The general government fails to protect a certain set of people.

    2. There is a trade that people want but the general government forbids.

    The real mafia has its origins in Sicily, where the regular government was too corrupt or inept to protect poor people. In a sense, the mafia arose to provide government services to people who couldn’t get them from the general government (and, in modern Sicily, still really can’t).

    The mafia provides services that are generally forbidden (but are not criminal): drug trade, gambling, prostitution, etc. In a libertarian society, these are not crimes, and there’s no reason legitimate businesses wouldn’t trade in them.

    The question is: in the absence of general government, would defense agencies tend to act more like the mafia? I don’t think so. For starters, there isn’t going to be a group that can’t get government services. Not only will government services likely be cheaper, you’re also likely to see different models of service provider: syndicates, mutual societies, co-ops, etc. Under one of those, I think just about everyone will be able to afford one. In the absence of a serviceless underclass, I think you’re less likely to see the rise of the mafia.

    Moreover, defense services aren’t likely to be subsidizing their violence with other prohibited trades. Lacking that subsidy, violence becomes much more costly.

    I should also note that the mafia has a very specific culture, borne from a very specific culture. The idea of a Swedish mafia is funny because Sweden lacks the cult of machismo and surreal obsession with honor.

    Comment by Joshua Holmes — March 3, 2008 @ 6:50 pm
  6. Heh. I haven’t made this connection before but it occurs to me that the unjustified blame liberals and socialists place on Capitalism for the results of their regulations and controls which they then use to justify more and more controls are very similar to what anarcho-capitalists do not to capitalism, but government.

    I’ll assume that you are familiar with the first phenomenon. TKC argues that the one government we have is dangerous because it acts in an arbitrary manner. Rather than pushing for more objective laws and stronger protection of individual rights as the solution, he and other anarcho-capitalists desire to multiply the number of entities acting arbitrarily. You thought one government was bad. Wait until there are thousands.

    Comment by Barrett — March 3, 2008 @ 8:10 pm
  7. Brad, what we have now is exactly that sort of breakdown, so there is no reason why the mafia scenario cannot arise; it is a very big risk.

    I don’t believe such a breakdown to be inevitable – a society with a strong cultural aversion to tolerating aggressive violence will avoid it. But, and this is a big but, in the absence of such a culture such a breakdown is a very real and likely possibility. It is, in fact, one of the big reasons why I do not support the anarchists who advocate violent overthrow of the government.

    Comment by tarran — March 3, 2008 @ 9:08 pm
  8. tarran,

    That’s one of the reasons that I’ve suggested incrementalism in dismantling the state. We have an American culture which has grown accustomed and reliant on government. If you remove that all at once, our culture will simply recreate it in another form.

    The American revolution was that of a self-sufficient people tossing off the chains of a monarch which desired to rule us, and thus created a government based upon liberty. The French were a people used to being ruled, and when they tossed off the chains of monarchy, they replaced those chains with the chains of democracy. They replaced one ruler with thousands, as Barrett suggests.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 3, 2008 @ 9:52 pm
  9. Brad, the post about “competing governments” and “territorial jurisdiction” are straw man arguments at best, and severe distortions of the market anarchist point of view. If one accepts the former, then of course the latter follows. Anyone heard of thinking outside the box?

    Morever, “Mafia gangs” are essentially byproducts of the state, and as such they etch out their pockets of power from the governments control of the economy. The proposed features you ascribe to private protection agencies are *actual” features of every government, past and present.

    Look at the big picture and many of your questions answer themselves. The private production of defense consists of much more than armed gangs. Such a thing is possible, but the overall likelihood is a comprehensive network of private services ranging from defense and armed security, to arbitration, legal representation and collection of restitution.

    Your concern that security would be a “good procured by the weak from the strong” is also a curious one, if you use it to suggest that all gangs should hand over all their guns to a “super-gang” (a government) and rest assured that this immense power will be used compassionately. If by “strong” you mean that agencies in a better financial position will provide protection more effiently than private individuals, then of course this is true of any part of the economy, and it’s called specialization and the division of labour. There are people and organizations that can fix my computer better than I can when it suffers a crash. If they do a lousy job I take it somewhere else next time. The laws of supply and demand, and the mechanism of consumer feedback do far more to minimize fraud and deception than legislation does.

    Here is a good place to start on the issue. I recommend this highly if you have a serious interest in expoloring the idea of a stateless society. The link below is an excellent place to start, and the single best paper I have ever read on the subject.

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 3, 2008 @ 10:28 pm
  10. Sorry, I forgot to post the link.

    http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/3_4/3_4_4.pdf

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 3, 2008 @ 10:31 pm
  11. Barret,

    If you believe that the principles of justice can be objectively determined, whether a given arbiter is “final” has no bearing on it’s right to do business with it’s clients. From the article I referenced above (discussing Robert Nozick), George H Smith clarifies this crucial point:

    “If, for instance, it is possible to verify objec-
    tively that one procedure is valid whereas another one is not, then it does
    not matter who employs the procedures in question. If a dominant agency
    employs correct procedures, then it is morally right, but so is every other
    agency which employs correct procedures. If, on the other hand, the domi-
    nant agency employs incorrect procedures, then it is morally wrong, as is
    every agency which employs such procedures. Thus, if there is an independent verifiable standard by which to judge legal procedures, then Nozick’s
    argument has no force whatever. That an agency believes in the reliability of
    its procedures has nothing to do with the alleged right of that agency to
    insist that other agencies conform to its standards. If the dominant agency
    uses what are in fact reliable procedures, then it cannot prevent other agen-
    cies from using reliable procedures as well. If, on the contrary, the domi-
    nant agency uses unreliable procedures, then to impose such procedures on
    other agencies would be manifestly unjust. If we postulate objective procedures, therefore, the major issue becomes
    what procedures are employed, not who employs them. The dominance of a
    particular agency has nothing at all to do with this issue.”

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 3, 2008 @ 10:42 pm
  12. Tim,

    Contrast your statement:

    The proposed features you ascribe to private protection agencies are *actual” features of every government, past and present.

    With the final statement of my post:

    This question doesn’t mean that an an-cap society may not be better than our current monstrosity of government abuse. But to evaluate whether it will be better or not, we should ensure that we know what society we’re evaluating, not a utopian version of that society.

    What I’m looking for is a justification that we’re comparing a realistic version of an an-cap society to that of the current state, and not an idealized an-cap society.

    There are a lot of arguments towards that idealized society, but there are also arguments that it will devolve into chaos. It’s the Stability Problem, and I’m looking for some real debate on that topic rather than justification that *any* an-cap society is better than the state.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 4, 2008 @ 11:25 am
  13. Barrett says, “I’ll assume that you are familiar with the first phenomenon. TKC argues that the one government we have is dangerous because it acts in an arbitrary manner. Rather than pushing for more objective laws and stronger protection of individual rights as the solution, he and other anarcho-capitalists desire to multiply the number of entities acting arbitrarily. You thought one government was bad. Wait until there are thousands.”

    The difference between government and what the anarcho-capitalists propose is the level of coercion. The state monopolizes it and the an-caps reject this.
    On the other hand, millions of people engage in voluntary transactions every day that sometimes involve large groups of people. That idea that this is a bad thing is absurd on its face. The idea of mutually beneficial volutary arrangements between millions of people works great and so the an-caps ask, “Why introduce a monopoly of force where none is needed?”

    If you believe that we would suddenly be at each other’s throats without the coercion of government then I think you are mistaken. Most of us get along just fine.

    Comment by tkc — March 4, 2008 @ 11:47 am
  14. if incrementalism is working in any direction, it’s the direction of one strong govt, in this country at least.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 4, 2008 @ 3:57 pm
  15. Brad,

    I agree that we are not talking about utopias, either under the state or under anarchism. But the analysis can cut both ways; one could easily begin with the “state of nature”, with all its complexities and imperfections, and wonder if the state can really do any better at providing protection and establishing order. I see no reason to believe that an anarchist society at its worst would necessarily be any less “stable” then any government at its best.

    At any rate, I think it is disingenuous to start with, and presuppose a stable order under the state and analyze whether such order would be maintained or strengthened under anarcho capitalism.

    I have no problem with rejecting utopias, and that includes “ideal governments”. In short, I believe that there would be far greater checks and more effective defense against crime bosses and warlords in a stateless society than subjects have under Hitler’s and Mussolini’s. If you seriously disagree I would be interested in knowing your reasons.

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 4, 2008 @ 7:34 pm
  16. [...] the Liberty Papers, Brad Warbiany asks about the likelihood of an-cap models disintegrating into mini-feudalism, and whether there is any reason to believe that private security firms wouldn’t behave [...]

    Pingback by …no third solution » Blog Archive » Comments on Comments #8 — March 5, 2008 @ 7:56 am
  17. An illustration:

    Did you ever see the footage of the crowd beating the shit out of the Hell’s Angels at Evel Knievel’s jump at The Cow Palace in 1972?

    {beat… beat}

    Let me ask you a question: if the *illusion* of government protection were gone and everyday citizens had to face these animals on their own powers of reason and action, just what makes you think the animals would survive the day?

    Comment by Billy Beck — March 5, 2008 @ 11:53 am
  18. i think maybe you’re equating outburts of violence, with the daily practice of organized coercion backed by the promise of violence.

    Comment by oilnwater — March 5, 2008 @ 12:06 pm
  19. It’s the Stability Problem, and I’m looking for some real debate on that topic rather than justification that *any* an-cap society is better than the state.

    If I were interested in poinsoning the well, I would argue that the moment the mafia-esque behavior becomes significant, the society ceases to be an an-cap society and we can thus ignore it. :)

    Joking aside, there is a side to people that seeks to live at the expense of others. This side can be weakened by cultural factors and proper education but not eliminated entirely. The beauty of an an-cap system is that for low levels of violence, it is far more stable; under a government, people who would never support the mafia do support politicians who promise them goodies like “free health care” or “free education” paid for by guilt-free extortion.

    Now, if we lived in a society peopled by people who study political theory and are very sensitive to the principles behind classical liberalism, such mafia like structures would never arise. The problem is that 99% of the population don’t care about political theory, and no amount of social engineering will change that. Thus they are susceptible to snake-oil salesmen offering “free health care” as a Christmas present.

    To be stable an ancap society would have to have checks preventing these snake-oil salesmen from gathering a sufficient following. I think that what is required is
    1) Ease of movement between polities.
    2) A high enough level of technology that people aren’t struggling to survive
    3) Low barriers to mass communication – which we now have thanks to the internet
    4) Technologies like microgenerators, water purifiers etc which allow an individual to “opt out” of utilities etc.
    5) A culture that is tolerant of people who are different.

    Under such a system, the would be mafioso would face very high barriers to establishing control. However, these barriers, no matter how high, would not be a certain guarantee against the rise of mafia clans.

    Comment by tarran — March 5, 2008 @ 7:20 pm
  20. If we are discussing the most significant features of a market anarchist society in terms of its checks against violence and brutality, I would have to say that such a society would be characterized by the absence of legitimized coercion. That individuals and gangs would attempt to use force is obvious, even in a free society. And of course, some would do so successfully. However, the fact that such force is delegitimized is the most effective counterbalance against the possibility of it being institutionalized and systematic.
    The state is not a fearsome monster just because it has the biggest guns; it is the greatest standing threat to liberty because the vast majority of people accept its activities as legitimate and morally proper. Considered a necessary evil, people are nonetheless resigned to accept it as fact of life, and therein lies the key to its power. A society based on the consistent recognition of individual rights and self ownership does not depend on the acceptance by most people of any explicit philosophy, since as has been pointed out, most people choose not to think in abstract terms. But of course, significant cultural shifts can still take place, and if, as a result of an influential minority, people no longer accept a systematic violation of rights by any government, I think it can be reasonably assumed that they would be equally vigilant of the powerful gangs or other criminal organizations.
    If we are to start with a anarcho capitalist society, we should take into account a general acceptance of libertarian principles, even if this acceptance is merely implicit.

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 5, 2008 @ 9:02 pm
  21. Billy,

    Let me ask you a question: if the *illusion* of government protection were gone and everyday citizens had to face these animals on their own powers of reason and action, just what makes you think the animals would survive the day?

    The reason I suggest this is by looking at the world stage as largely an-cap on the aggregate level. The UN’s personal hopes aside, there is no real consequence for a local dictator to worry about being controlled by any international police. Look at Mugabe in Zimbabwe for a bit of evidence of this.

    On the world stage, local strongmen often become local dictators and put their people under the boot, and those local strongmen often survive decades in power. There is a precedence for such things to happen, and there is precedence for individual people, while they may detest the situation, to be too fearful of the repercussions to overthrow those strongmen.

    I think if anything, tarran’s point that it requires a people who don’t wish to be ruled for an an-cap society to thrive is a very good one. Would you say that we really have that in the US today? Or would you say that we need to change the culture before we’d simply be exchanging one set of rulers for another?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 5, 2008 @ 9:53 pm
  22. The state is not a fearsome monster just because it has the biggest guns; it is the greatest standing threat to liberty because the vast majority of people accept its activities as legitimate and morally proper.

    Tim, I agree wholeheartedly with your statement above. However, the problem is that people can easily be convinced of the legitimacy of these coercive gangs. Inevitably every society faces some “crisis”, people being thrown out of work due to technological change*, invasion, strangers immigrating, etc. The temptation of those being hurt in such a crisis is to support violent suppression of the change through embargoes, or immigration quotas or something. And when someone appears offering a little guiltless violence to many people will execute that near universal human trait of rationalizing a betrayal of one’s principles.

    Based on the thousands of years of recorded history, we can state with certainty that human society is unstable. This principle applies to an-cap societies too. Whether an-cap societies are more or less stable than societies with states, though, is a very different issue. But we can be certain that an an-cap society will eventually collapse.

    *Lest anyone berate me, I am aware that in the long run the technological change does not permanently lower employment. In the long run, in an unhampered economy, a person desiring work will find it.

    Comment by tarran — March 5, 2008 @ 9:55 pm
  23. Tim,

    The state is not a fearsome monster just because it has the biggest guns; it is the greatest standing threat to liberty because the vast majority of people accept its activities as legitimate and morally proper. Considered a necessary evil

    Would the vast majority in Zimbabwe or Cuba consider the activities of their dictators to be legitimate and morally proper, or are they simply resigned to the fact that they believe it’s too powerful to resist?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 5, 2008 @ 9:57 pm
  24. Brad,

    That really depends on the level of kleptocracy. The average North Korean is about as badly abused as the average Zimbabwean. However, the vast majority of North Koreans love their “Dear Leader” and thank him whenever anything goes right in their lives. Some of this is due to fear. However, i think the vast majority of North Koreans sincerely believe that Kim Jong Il legitimately holds them as thralls.

    Comment by tarran — March 5, 2008 @ 10:26 pm
  25. Brad: “I think if anything, tarran’s point that it requires a people who don’t wish to be ruled for an an-cap society to thrive is a very good one. Would you say that we really have that in the US today?”

    Of course not. You’re talking about people born & bred to a government yoke for whole generations.

    I’ll tell you what, though: I’m pretty sick and tired of people addressing these matters from Pragmatism. (Please note the capitalization: I did that for good reason.) Mark this: there is no way to *get* to what you’re talking about without proceeding from *principles*. That’s a fact. This is my own conviction: *principled* objections in *action* would go far to making the necessary arguments to these people. I am still convinced that there is enough of a political conscience remaining in this country to which to appeal with demonstrations of action from principle by those with the courage of conviction.

    I’m only talking, essentially, about what Martin Luther King achieved in the South: flood the courts and embrace the prisons. A bunch of *children* did this, and even the worst racists down there couldn’t stand it.

    Now; I might be wrong. But if I am, and it wouldn’t work, then at least the issue would be perfectly clear for all to see.

    And that in itself would be a value.

    Comment by Billy Beck — March 7, 2008 @ 7:23 am
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  27. So the question is this: is there any reason why such a situation will not occur in an an-cap society? The nature of security is such that it is a good procured by the weak from the strong, and there may or not be incentives for the strong to behave towards one another in a civilized manner. Will private security forces be anything other than small feudal organizations?

    Note that the most successful mafias in history developed a monopoly on their territory and at some point transform themselves into States. Which gives you the situation we have today. So, I suspect that if you already have an ancap society then you’ll have your mafia question answered. For speculation about the answer, see

    http://www.no-treason.com/Kennedy/3.php

    I don’t see a whole lot wrong with that in theory, although of course such means don’t exist now and may not for some time to come.

    Comment by John Lopez — March 9, 2008 @ 8:44 am
  28. Market anarchism does not require angels of flesh and blood human beings. The difference between minarchists and anarchists is that the anarchists oppose *all* criminal institutions, both potential and actual. If anything, I think it can be said that minarchism falls short of a realistic view of the world, in hoping the “right gang” will be sufficient to constrain the abuse of power.

    Comment by Tim Hopkins — March 10, 2008 @ 6:52 pm
  29. there is no way to *get* to what you’re talking about without proceeding from *principles*. That’s a fact.

    I would go further and so there is no way to get there from here *period*.

    This is my own conviction: *principled* objections in *action* would go far to making the necessary arguments to these people. I am still convinced that there is enough of a political conscience remaining in this country to which to appeal with demonstrations of action from principle by those with the courage of conviction.

    Whatever makes you think that?

    Comment by TGGP — March 11, 2008 @ 2:28 pm
  30. Brad,

    A consumer fears retribution if they attempt to seek out another provider of security, and the damage created by “turf wars” hurts us all.

    That seems to describe the current situation under government. In what sense is the government anything but another mafia? In what sense are they anything but a full participant in such turf wars?

    The nature of security is such that it is a good procured by the weak from the strong, and there may or not be incentives for the strong to behave towards one another in a civilized manner.

    That’s the nature of security? How do the weak procure it from the strong now?

    Comment by John T. Kennedy — March 13, 2008 @ 11:22 am

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