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Friday, July 27, 2012

Ring Around the Circular Explanation...

Skeptic: In anarchy, why won't we have pure lawlessness?
Anarcho-capitalist: The market will provide law!
Skeptic: OK, we all know that markets can only function well when the proper legal framework is in place. So what makes us think that the market for law will function well?
Anarcho-capitalist: It will have good legal framework!
Skeptic: But what will provide that legal framework? 
Anarcho-capitalist: Why, the market for law will, of course!
Skeptic: Wait a second: You're telling me that we can be sure the market for law will function well because it will have the sound legal framework needed to have a functioning market provided to itself by itself, which, of course, it could not do unless it already had a sound legal framework that ensures it is functioning well?
Anarcho-capitalist:Yup!
Skeptic: I see...

10 comments:

  1. So, are you saying that the state is the source of law?

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  2. It sounds less ridiculous when you acknowledge that when a lot of people say "markets" they mean spotaneous order (of which market institutions are oftentimes a product of).

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    1. Boosted up to top level again.

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    2. In other words, I have replied to this with a new top level post.

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  3. Christopher Morris makes the same argument in the context of protection agencies in his An Essay on the Modern State (1998) at 65: "libertarian anarchists argue that competition among providers of protection will produce security efficiently, or at least more efficiently than governments. However, it would be difficult to make use of the theory of perfect competition to establish this claim, as its models presuppose the existence of the very thing to be provided, namely, security of person and possession (and absence of fraud, as well as enforcement of contracts). To suppose, for purpose of demonstration, that there exists a perfectly competitive market for protective services would be, in effect, to suppose that basic security of person and goods -- at least that necessary for the existence of a perfectly competitive market for protective services -- is already established. The argument would be circular."

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    1. How many anarchists subscribe to "perfect competition"? Granted, I know that there are many forms of anarchism, but the form that Gene is generally arguing against is that of anarcho-capitalism, which rejects perfect competition.

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  4. Of course, as Roderick Long has pointed out, the argument for prime law (the state) is similarly circular, as one could argue that all the common necessities provided by markets must precede in fulfilling the basic needs of those creating and enforcing the law. His point being not that markets must chronologically precede governments, but rather than any argument or account that firmly touts a need for one to follow the other probably isn't painting a useful picture.

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    1. "as one could argue that all the common necessities provided by markets must precede in fulfilling the basic needs of those creating and enforcing the law."

      One *could* argue that, but one would be quite wrong: for most of human history, most goods were not supplied on markets. The market was a minor part of most people's economic life until fairly recently.

      In any case, it is the ancaps who are making the argument you criticize: they claim that we can wipe out the current source of law, and then have functioning markets that will generate it, so they are making a "markets precede law" argument.

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  5. Right - I generally agree. But I think the more concise argument is that it's silly to look at either one of these things today (markets or government), note that a sudden loss of one would (on some level) dissolve the other, and simply claim that the other could therefore never institutionally reconcile/handle the functions of the one being hypothetically taken away.

    So, even many "ancaps" realize you aren't going to get away with pushing that hypothetical button. There's some level of mutual determinism between institutions here. So, no, you couldn't just wipe away government overnight and expect things to be fine the next morning. You're going to get lawlessness. By the same token, if you wipe away free trade overnight you'd get some similarly horrific consequences.

    But that doesn't mean that a functional system of private/competing law could not arise if our institutions had developed in a different manner, or if they happen to shift in that direction in the future. Those can be quite different arguments.

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    1. "So, even many "ancaps" realize you aren't going to get away with pushing that hypothetical button."

      That is good. But there are still many that would!

      "But that doesn't mean that a functional system of private/competing law could not arise if our institutions had developed in a different manner, or if they happen to shift in that direction in the future."

      Yes, perhaps they could. I am addressing the button pushers.

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