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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Nature of the Anarcho-Capitalist State

Fortuitously, I was reading Bob's material on the stability of anarcho-capitalism at the same time I was reading Bosanquet's The Philosophical Theory of the State. The happy coincidence led me to realize that it is not really correct to call the anarcho-capitalist system proposed by Murphy or, say, David Friedman, "stateless." The state governing a territory in their systems is a federation of defense agencies. National politics occurs in whatever sort of assembly, board, congress or what have you that sets the inter-agency rules (laws). If any agency refuses to join the federation or at least abide its decisions it will find the interests of its clients continually suborned to the interests of the clients of agencies in the federation. (Murphy acknowledges as much when he writes, "Why wouldn’t the vast bulk of reasonable customers patronize defense agencies that had interlocking arbitration agreements...?")

The biggest change from the current system is the elimination of all those without much property from any say in political arrangements. (Of course, the wealthy have a huge voice in the current system, but when you only get justice when you can pay, property becomes that much more important.) We have seen systems like this before: they produce laws setting the penalty for killing a wealthy man as twenty cows, while the penalty for killing a poor one at one pig. (See the Anglo-Saxon law code before the common law, for instance.)

UPDATE: David Friedman notes in the comments that the above does not describe his system. And you know, I was on the verge of writing, "Caveat: I read The Machinery of Freedom about fifteen years ago, and I'm not sure if I remember it correctly." Well, it appears I certainly should have done so.

11 comments:

  1. You may be describing a possible system, but it is not the system I sketched in _The Machinery of Freedom_, as should be obvious if you read part III of that book. There is no federation of rights enforcement agencies or assembly thereof. There is only a network of pairwise contracts, by which each pair of agencies agree on what private court will settle disputes between them. You are looking at a market and seeing a hierarchy, not at all the same thing.

    Any readers interested in the subject can find the full text of my book webbed at:

    www.daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf

    Other material related to the system I describe can be found at:

    http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/Libertarian.html

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    1. Sorry, I read your book a long time ago and was going from memory. The post has been updated to reflect the above.

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    2. Well, in fairness to Gene, it is not obvious to me that this "network of pairwise contracts" would not naturally evolve into "bundles" of such contracts with emergent standardized centralized mechanisms for adjudication of disputes thereunto pertaining. Nor is it obvious to me that somewhere in that process, the line defining a "state" would not be trampled under foot.

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    3. Thanks, Tom. I think the same thing: why would these pairwise contracts not evolve into a federation of mutually contracted defense agencies? But, in any case, I did mischaracterize David's system as he presented it, due to faulty memory.

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  2. Granting for the sake of argument that the " federation of defense agencies" suggested by some anarcho-capitalists can be called a state I'd like to challenge your claim that this would mean that "The biggest change from the current system is the elimination of all those without much property from any say in political arrangements".

    Assuming that such a setup didn't in fact have some sort of democratic mandate it seems likely that it would not survive long without popular support. The existence of large numbers of people opposed to the system would give them political power even if they were excluded from formal political influence.

    But its not clear why people without much property would not benefit from and support such a system. Even wage earners who immediately consume their income would be better off without either direct or indirect taxes at least partially used to support a state bureaucracy. And if the economic theory that tends to support anarcho-capitalism is true then such an arrangement will lead to higher productivity and higher real wages.

    Opposition from groups seeking wealth redistribution via a stronger state would seem to be the biggest challenge to the success of an anarcho-capitalist society. Such groups would give its supporters the political power you claim they would lack. If such groups became sufficiently powerfully they would use force to defeat the "federation of defense agencies" and it would be the end of the libertarian experiment.

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    1. "But its not clear why people without much property would not benefit from and support such a system."

      We can say that in the past, such systems have been resented by such people, and have evolved into systems that dispense penalties more equally.

      Sometimes dignity outweighs wages!

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    2. I think this support by individuals would be reinforced by the inherent choices involved.

      Right now, I have no choice in police or adjudication services. The state is it. Yet without a coercive monopoly, the choice exists. I would feel like I had some control, even if only through selection selection of available options, rather than bullied as someone with limited means while those with greater means seem to be able to always choose.

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  3. Hey Gene, remember when I was a materialist and you were trying to snap me out of it using the Chinese Room argument? And I came back and said the room+man system understood Chinese, at which point you knew it was pointless to continue debating me?

    This is why I will check in with you on anarcho-capitalism in 6 months.

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    1. Good idea, Bob. It has taken me years of study of political philosophy to grasp the general idea of a state as opposed to having some knowledge of this state or that state. But you are quicker than me: I can easily imagine you getting my point within six months or so.

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  4. BTW, can someone explain to me why Gene said he had mischaracterized Friedman's system, but not mine? Were you supposing Gene that when I talked about the agencies having interlocking agreements, that they all sat down at a conference table and signed them simultaneously? Is that why my system is a state, but Friedman's isn't (since in his system, he explicitly says they signed their contracts between two firms at a time)?

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    1. Oh, I think both your systems would be sorts of states, and both would wind up with a ruling consortium of defense agencies. I didn't describe Friedman's the way he describes it correctly, but I described the end result correctly.

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