How to Analyze Anarchy

Over at America's Outback, Garth is challenging himself thinking about anarchy (read down for two more posts). Meanwhile, it appears that Arthur Silber has reluctantly seen the light of reason, and converted. So it's a good time to talk a bit about anarchy.

I see all sorts of objections and arguments raised by libertarians (sometimes minarchists, sometimes just small-government types) against anarchy. Many of these are, in my opinion, pretty weak. But others hold water. In any case, thinking about anarchy is something most people aren't very good at. There are lots of real life models that are applicable, but most people don't think about these. I'd like to lay out a few ways that I think about anarchy, using some examples seen over at Garth's place.

Perhaps the first way to look at any proposed challenge to anarchy is to say: would it really be a problem if I can opt out of my protection agency? Most libertarians do, I think, get this. So they see some of the attractiveness of anarchy.

The next thing to think about when considering a problem in anarchy is: is that problem soluble here and now, in the real life of America 2004? If not, then in expecting anarchy to solve it you're expecting utopia. Consider Garth's example:
...a waste disposal company has bought up 30 acres abutting your back yard and will proceed to use it as a landfill. ... You send [your protection agency] over and they discover that there is nothing in any contract that forbids the construction of the landfill. You are informed that the only way to prevent it would have been a purchase of the land yourself.
Well, that's tough. But the same thing can happen under the state; in fact, due to eminent domain it's more likely to happen. In anarchy, landfills would logically be placed only on the cheapest, most worthless land. Land next to a housing development would probably not be used because it would cost too much. With eminant domain, however, a state is often shielded from the true cost of land (and is spending someone else's money even if they do have to pay a market price). So you can expect many more landfills to end up next to neighborhoods under statism than anarchy.

Again, anarchy doesn't solve all problems. No system can.

Now let's assume there is some solution to a problem here in the real (statist) world. A second way to approach a potential problem is to understand the solution for it here in the real world, and see if that works in anarchy, too. Consider, for example, the problem of a protection agency turning into a state. This is certainly a valid worry. Here's Garth:
Over time PEI becomes a protection monopoly, sets the pricing it wants for its service. Some people drop out and do without, of course, but what happens in the long run is that PEI becomes, de-facto, our government. But one without the constitutional checks and balances that we currency enjoy.
So from anarchy, Garth is seeing the evolution of an unchecked protection agency into an unchecked state.

But in the real world, we have a number of practical institutions by which we rein in the power of the state. Here are some:
  • democracy - the idea that the elite decisionmakers of the state must be accepted by the majority of the citizens
  • constitutionalism - the idea that a the state will follow written rules
  • right to jury - the idea that citizens are each other's judges, and the ultimate judges of the law itself
  • federalism - the splitting of power into subunits of a weakly integrated whole
  • RKBA - the idea that average citizens must be given tools capable of overthrowing the state
  • bill of rights - the idea that people's rights are explicitly written out and understandable to the average man
  • civil rights - the idea that the state must observe extra safeguards when dealing with citizens
  • judicial review/veto - the idea that law can be nullified by agents of the state
Now, look at that list and consider the difference between a state and a protection agency. The difference is that the state has a monopoly on force; the agency doesn't. But how does that matter for any of these? It doesn't. All of the practical institutions that rein in the state, above that men have invented over the ages that rein in the state can be applied just as readily to a protection agency.

If you are the sort who worries about the state evolving from anarchy, ask yourself this: would I sign up with a protection agency that did not have a written law, a constitution, a bill of rights, etc.? If you want these things (I would), don't you think most other people would too? (I do.) These things strike me as very cheap to provide, practically costless for an honest protection agency. I think most people therefore would want them, if only as insurance. Given them, even if the agency did evolve into a state, it would be a "nice" state, akin to a modern social democracy, not the sort of nasty state that people seem to imagine by crossing the United Fruit Company with America under Bush and a dash of Stalin.

Thus, as a sort of worst case result, we get basically what we have now. This is not that bad.

I summarize this whole mini argument as follows: protection agencies are weaker than states. Thus anything we've invented that works to rein in the state, will also work to rein in a protection agency, unless it relies on the monopoly power of a state to work.

Finally, let me assume that you've found a problem that would appear in anarchy but not under statism. Well, that I'd be very interested to hear about. But before you're so sure your problem really is novel, remember that anarchy lurks within of our system, in more ways than one:
  • anarchy among the state elite within a state
  • international anarchy
  • anarchy in the power of the people
  • anarchy in certain uncontrolled institutions, notably the internet
Go ahead, make my day.

So now let's assume you've got in hand one of those rare things that anarchy does worse than statism. Are you really willing to give up all the positives of living in a peaceful libertarian society society for that? Are you willing to give up on living in a moral society for that?

I'd be willing to give up a great deal to live in a moral society.

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