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Sunday, November 20, 2011

It Ain't the State

It's human nature. Courtesy of Ryan Murphy, here's a graph from Stephen Pinker's new book showing war deaths as a percentage of population:
Incredible how many more people were killed in warfare in the absence of the state! The idea that eliminating the state will reduce violence is massively refuted by the evidence. "But," you complain, "that's not the sort of state-free society I envision: I envision one in which people will follow the non-aggression principle." Well, it's very nice to have visions. But there is simply no reason to think that, if the state is eliminated, ancapitopia is what will emerge. We have had many, many non-state societies in the past, and none of them turned into ancapitopia. And you know what? When you eliminate the state, by definition, you won't be in charge! In fact, I'll give you a hint who is really, really likely to take charge: whoever can organize a whole lot of violent force really quickly. And if no one can, there will be a bunch of people who could not quite succeed at this fighting each other.

Experience teaches anyone willing to listen that eliminating the state will produce a huge spike in violence. A bunch of wishful thinking is hardly counter-evidence!

37 comments:

  1. I don't believe that that is the libertarian argument. The libertarian argument, as I understand it, is merely that it is always wrong for individuals to initiate force/violence/aggression upon other individuals. This also applies to groups of individuals, as well.

    It isn't that libertarians deny the problems of human nature and all that goes along with it (i.e. there is nothing utopian about anarcho-capitalism), rather it is the realization that merely using a monopolistic power-center as a medium to initiate force/violence/aggression (in inclusion or in lieu of individuals/groups) does not make it any more right.

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  2. "I don't believe that that is the libertarian argument. The libertarian argument, as I understand it, is merely that it is always wrong for individuals to initiate force/violence/aggression upon other individuals."

    Well, Joseph, that is *a* libertarian argument. I don't know why you think there is something that is *the* libertarian argument. In any case, I guarantee you, I have seen the argument I am making -- the State causes violence -- quite often. Search mises.org and I'm sure you can find tons of examples.

    "it is the realization that merely using a monopolistic power-center as a medium to initiate force/violence/aggression (in inclusion or in lieu of individuals/groups) does not make it any more right."

    Yes. I had that same realization.

    And then later, I had the superior realization that, given the monopolistic power center is the chief means of *reducing* violence, then it certainly *is* right to support its existence, and it is those who try to dismantle it who are guilty of violence and aggression.

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  3. "I have seen the argument I am making"

    Oops, meant "the argument I am criticising."

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  4. "The idea that eliminating the state will reduce violence is massively refuted by the evidence."

    What about all the evidence of genocide and democide (see Professor R.J. Rummel's work)? In the 20th century alone, scores of millions of civilians were slaughtered by their *own* governments. By definition, these figures would be excluded from Pinker's analysis. (And that doesn't even touch upon all the pervasive non-lethal forms of violent repression and control.)

    Have there been events comparable (in terms of the sheer scale of evil) to Stalin's Purges, Mao's Great Leap Forward, or Hitler's Holocaust, in stateless societies?

    Of course, the existence of democidal governments is not proof that all states are necessarily mass-murdering, totalitarian regimes. But neither are the figures you cited alone proof that violence is necessarily increased in the absence of a state.

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  5. Mike B.,

    Genocide, war, etc. are included in the data. Nonstate societies are predominantly made up of small groups of people constantly at war with one another. So even though the twentieth century features terrible genocides and wars, it was the most peaceful time in human history.

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  6. Mike B., the fifth line in the "state" part of the ledger is "20th century, wars and genocides." (I know it's kind of hard to see in the size I am able to use.)

    This death figure is a *tiny* fraction of the deaths per 100,000 we see in non-state societies.

    So now that I've handled that objection, you will happily admit that, overall, the state is a source (and a huge source) of violence-reduction, rather than of violence, right?

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  7. New Guinea seems to appear a lot. Or, as it was called then, "Territory of Papau'. Hmm?

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  8. Well, New Guinea appears a lot because it had many of the last stateless societies in the world.

    And "hmmm" what?

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  9. "proof that violence is necessarily increased in the absence of a state."

    Oh, and Mike B., I am certainly not trying to make any necessary argument! My argument is prudential, not deductive, more along the lines of, "That drunk, violent-looking man in the corner? We probably would do best not taunt him." It's certainly not *necessarily* the case that you will get a beating as a result, but we should play the odds.

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  10. "given the monopolistic power center is the chief means of *reducing* violence, then it certainly *is* right to support its existence"

    Ah, good ol' Hobbes.

    Would you favor a world government to reduce international violence, then? As it is, the nation-states of the world are essentially in a state of anarchy vis-a-vis one another. Without a monopolistic power center to rule over them, they are free in the "state of nature" to wage war against one another, as they have done for hundreds of years.

    And if you do do not support a one world government, then, well, why not, you crazy anarchist you?!

    "So now that I've handled that objection, you will happily admit that, overall, the state is a source (and a huge source) of violence-reduction, rather than of violence, right?"

    I didn't see that initially. To answer your question:

    Assuming the accuracy of this data, then yes, but not without first asking a couple questions. (I haven't read Pinker's book).

    1. Did Pinker properly take into account variables other than just state vs. nonstate -- for example: culture, medical technology, etc. -- that affect what he's measuring? Surely these variables are critical to making sense of the data, for what else could explain the gross disparity between Kato, California, 1840s and Semai, S.E. Asia (both are nonstate)?

    2. Are the societies listed a a fair representative sample of nonstate societies (in terms of what he's measuring)? If there are any nonstate societies that are excluded, what do they look like? I'd also be curious to know how Pinker defines "state" and what forms of social organization these various societies followed.

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  11. I'd sure like to see what the numbers for New Guinea were, oh say, before 1883.

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  12. "Would you favor a world government to reduce international violence, then?"

    But Mike, *I'm* not the one recommending the existing order be completely overthrown and one that is at present purely imaginary be put in its place! I look around me and see a world of states. I didn't recommend it, and no one intentionally brought this global situation about. But, given that it has had the effect of dramatically reducing violence, I'd say we had better experiment cautiously about changing it. You see, *I'm* not following a rationalistic design that gives me a blueprint I wish to impose upon society.

    *If* I were to be re-born in 1000 years, *and* found I lived in a world with one government, *and* that world was much less violent than our own, *and* I were faced with a bunch of "nation-staters" who demanded we dismantle the world government immediately, *then* I certainly would suggest caution.

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  13. The best argument against this graph is that it does not control for wealth.

    The data is also spotty because anthropologists haven't been able to reasonably measure violent death rates in every society. I don't see why this would bias us in one direction or the other (is measurability of death rates correlated with especially bad nonstate institutions?) although it is worth noting that two of the "classic" historical examples of anarcho-capitalism are not present on the list.

    The pattern is still very, very striking. What I really wonder is that, since anarcho-capitalists love doing historical case studies/"analytical narratives" so much, shouldn't there be more libertarian literature on all these failures in cooperation?

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  14. "I'd sure like to see what the numbers for New Guinea were, oh say, before 1883."

    Joseph, are you seriously suggesting that a bunch of tribes that had no contact with or knowledge of the outside world at all, let alone the British government, suddenly became more violent because someone in London said, "We claim this chunk of this island"?

    Here's what Wikipedia says about the highlands, where these tribes lived:

    "Before about 1930, most European maps showed the highlands as uninhabited forests."

    So the state claiming this land and the people in it had absolutely no knowledge of each other. The claim alone could hardly have produced violence, could it?

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  15. The reason why there is so many references to New Guinea is because they were among the last hunter-gatherers left. And their way of life was the most "pristine" in the sense that no one interacted with them. If you want to measure the death rates of hunter-gatherers directly, you need to do so in New Guinea or a handful of places in Africa and South America. The other estimates on the list were performed indirectly. That explains the disproportionate number of examples from that part of the world... there is no real mystery to it.

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  16. "My argument is prudential, not deductive"

    OK. My guess, though, is that factors *other* than statehood, such as ideas, culture, technology, geography, etc. etc., probably play a bigger role in determining the amount of violence in society. Again, what else would explain the wide disparity in death rates among the many societies which all have nonstate-ness in common? So I readily admit that certain nonstate societies may be a lot more violent than certain state societies. But many of these nonstate societies are vastly different from, say, the United States, in ways that are unrelated to the state vs. nonstate variable. Therefore, I don't think it's justified to draw conclusions based on this data about whether the United States would be more or less violent without the state. In fact, I don't think it's even meaningful to ask that question, unless you can somehow control for all the manifold variables at play (ceteris paribus and all), which we can't do.

    Also, I don't want to mislead you. I find these questions very interesting, but my libertarianism has never been based on crude consequentialist thinking. As a practical matter, though, I'd be pretty darn satisfied with limited constitutional government (not that I'm holding my breath).

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  17. So, if I object to a utopian plan for society by saying, "That wouldn't work like you say -- in fact, it would plunge society into lawless, violent chaos," then that is "crude consequentialist thinking"?

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  18. The Viking Invasions into England reveal much about the nature of the early state.

    There were freemen who had no lord to defend them from Viking invaders.

    And there were people who gave up their freedom to live under lords who could organize armed defense against Viking raiders. In return, they worked a part of the year for free for those lords.

    Guess who lived under more stable and peaceful conditions and who were slowly dislocated and wiped out. Before these lords came about, agricultural yield was pitifully low, and after the age of freemen came to an end, agrarian yields shot up in England.

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  19. "Guess who lived under more stable and peaceful conditions and who were slowly dislocated and wiped out?"

    [GENE, JUMPING UP AND DOWN WITH HAND RAISED]: Call on me! I know! I know!

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  20. Gene, you wrote, "*I'm* not following a rationalistic design that gives me a blueprint I wish to impose upon society."

    What do you think of panarchy? You probably know what that is, but for the benefit of other readers, this is the idea that you can keep your government if you like it -- I don't want to impose anything on anyone -- but just don't coerce those of us who do not wish to benefit from its services into accepting these services. (Yes, we can physically relocate to disassociate ourselves from our current governments, but (a) where can we move to that is not under the control of a coercive, monopolistic government? and (b) why should we have to move?) In other words, why not have competition in the services of government?

    I'm wondering if you're committing the fallacy (I don't know its name) that is illustrated by the story: Suppose all shoes were provided by the government, and someone proposes the radical idea that government should not provide shoes. The fallacy is to think that we would all have to go without shoes.

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  21. "What do you think of panarchy?"

    I used to call myself a panarchist, and contributed to a published volume on the subject. My take now: Interesting idea, but untried. Better go slowly.

    "Suppose all shoes were provided by the government, and someone proposes the radical idea that government should not provide shoes. The fallacy is to think that we would all have to go without shoes."

    Well, here is the non-fallacy I'm committing: Some people suggest we abolish the state. Lots of evidence suggests that in doing so, rather than going without violence, we'd have violence supplied in abundance. Therefore I am skeptical of their suggestions. Maybe they can go work it out on Sealand or something of the sort, and let us see how it works out.

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  22. "So, if I object to a utopian plan for society by saying, "That wouldn't work like you say -- in fact, it would plunge society into lawless, violent chaos," then that is "crude consequentialist thinking"?"

    No. I was referring to the argument you were criticizing, viz., "if we abolish the state, then the # of violent incidents will be reduced. Therefore, let's abolish the state." I was saying that that sort of argument never informed my libertarianism.

    Also, the system of social organization I favor is not utopian, nor is it based a rationalistic "blueprint" or "plan." Rather, I believe that within the existing state of affairs there are already many good elements, but also bad elements. I want to revitalize/heal the good elements that are already present, and reduce/mitigate the bad elements to the greatest degree possible. But I do not wish to impose an entirely new system from the ground up.

    For example, what I call good elements include federalism, constitutionalism, (relatively) free markets, (relatively) strong protections for free speech, religious freedom, and so on. Bad elements include tendencies toward technocracy, legal paternalism, corporatism, pervasive rent-seeking, neo-Wilsonian foreign policy. Ironically, many of the bad elements I identify emerged from the "rationalistic designs" of progressives who wanted to "overthrow the existing order" and remold society according to their own "blueprint."

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  23. "but just don't coerce those of us who do not wish to benefit from its services into accepting these services."

    Oh, and on this point, Larry: It would seem that establishing a territorial monopoly as the sovereign over a territory is key to this violence-reducing effect. So what you are saying, in effect, is that I am free to have a state, so long as you are free to undermine it.

    No, I'm sorry, you don't have a right to bring society down around your ears just because you don't like paying taxes.

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  24. "I want to revitalize/heal the good elements that are already present, and reduce/mitigate the bad elements to the greatest degree possible. But I do not wish to impose an entirely new system from the ground up."

    That's cool, Mike. And I'm with you on most of your good / bad lists as well!

    But this means it's not you this post is addressing; it is, say, Rothbard or Block.

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  25. Gene, how do we know the violence-reducing effect of the state depends on its territorial monopoly, if, as you pointed out earlier, non-monopoly states have never been tried? (Thanks for the interesting discussion, by the way.)

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  26. I guess the first impotant question is: "Is there any reason to believe that these graphs bear any relationship whatsoever to reality?"

    The second question, if so, would be "are there any other essential characteristics apart from state/non-state that would show the same correlation, and if so how do we know that it is statism/non-statism rather than those other characteristics that account for the difference?"

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  27. Bob couldn't post here -- trying to figure out what happened.

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  28. Governance reduces violence.

    A strong state is but one way to achieve governance, probably the worst.

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  29. All of the societies in the top of the chart had governance of some sort.

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  30. It is also important to define violence. Imagine a surveillance state in which all-powerful police will pepper-spray or taser anyone who shows the slightest hint of resistance, where one can be charged with "assaulting an officer" by using one's face to stop a punch.

    Once the public has become acclimated to this situation, perhaps there is very little actual bloodshed in this society, but I would argue that grave violence to people's rights is taking place.

    Does Pinker's book take into account this sort of violence?

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  31. Well, Larry, I think it would make sense to call that state of affairs awful, but not violent. Not everything bad is violent!

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  32. where did Iraq or Afghanistan fit in 2005? obviously right now in this country, we're all benefitting from troops abroad rather than troops at home. cuz all was quiet in the Homeland^tm in 2005, in terms of "war deaths." but I guess this isn't an anti-war post so much as it is a jab at libertarianism, or something. libertarians, anyways, usually are nothing more than brain marines for the ruling class.

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  33. Adam, was there something unclear in what I wrote? I thought it pretty obvious that this was not an antiwar post.

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  34. no no, it was my own brain a-jumble.

    our state is pretty good for us here at home. it is not so good if you were an Iraqi in 2005, or are currently an Afghani.

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  35. Do you think there is a chance that enough other things have changed in terms of human cultural norms, wealth, etc. such that phasing out the State now MIGHT lead to different results vis a vis violence than supposedly stateless societies saw in bygone days?

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  36. Possible, Brian. But I am sceptical.

    Homo homini lupus.

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  37. I can't make out the graphs too well, but it looks like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia isn't listed, because that would be 25,000 per 100,000. But who's counting? (I'll withdraw my wiseacre remark if the categories deal with this somehow.)

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