Monday, January 24, 2011

We Live In The Anarcho-Capitalist Utopia

In my previous essay, "Markets Are Ungrounded," I undertook to list some of the regulations that are necessary for a market to function. The idea of a "meta-market" is particularly tempting to those opposed to "government" regulation - the idea that we might not only choose our transactions, but choose the rules for our transactions. I think this is an impossible, incoherent fantasy.

In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman defines government as "an agency of legitimized coercion." Friedman believes that government should not exist, and that the functions currently performed by government either should not exist or should be undertaken by private individuals and groups.

He says:
The special characteristic that distinguishes governments from other agencies of coercion (such as ordinary criminal gangs) is that most people accept government coercion as normal and proper. The same act that is regarded as coercive when done by a private individual seems legitimate if done by an agent of the government. (In "What is Anarchy? What is government?")

Further, Friedman defines "coercion" as "the violation of what people in a
particular society believe to be the rights of individuals with respect to other individuals."

So how would these private groups work to perform functions now performed by government - for instance, preventing and punishing crimes? Friedman imagines that this would all be done voluntarily - that is, by individuals subscribing to protection agencies that use force to protect citizens from violations of their rights (as defined by the private, competing protection agencies). These protection agencies would then patronize private courts who would compete for jurisdiction.

Here is my problem with the Friedman model: it's exactly the system that exists today, and has always existed since the beginning of human kind.

At the deepest level, Friedman is not proposing any change to the current system(s) of government at work in the world today.

Friedman proposes not regulations for a market, but a system of markets and meta-markets, a system that resolves everything through voluntary transactions. However, this is an illusion. Ultimately, it can't be "markets all the way down" (or up) - competing protection agencies use force, and the balance of force is what supposedly protects citizens. The "free market" is at the deepest level founded upon force.

This is exactly the situation that we have today.

For instance, our Federal and state governments today compete with various forms of organized crime, which fill the institutional vacuums created by the "legitimate" governments denying contract enforcement to some transactions. These are perfect examples of competing protection agencies under the David Friedman model.

Let me repeat Friedman's definition of coercion: "the violation of what people in a
particular society believe to be the rights of individuals with respect to other individuals."

Friedman wants to eliminate this "coercion" thing, at least by governments.

But the protection agencies themselves define what coercion is, for their subscribers. And they enforce their definitions by force.

How is that any different from . . . all of human history? Are not all anarcho-capitalist protection agencies "agencies of legitimized coercion"?

There is no way to protect oneself from coercion (whatever one's definition of this is) without engaging in the coercion of others.

(In case it's not clear, I'm happy to be straightened out here - I'd much rather understand the dimensions of the problem than be "right.")

12 comments:

  1. Amen.

    Coercion is inevitable. Throughout history local monopolies on coercion have developed and expanded. The domain of those monopolies are typically how we define nations or civilizations or societies.

    I don't know whether this benefits individuals within these societies, as proponents of Social Contract ideas would say, but these areas where coercion is monopolized tend to dominate the fractious societies with more egalitarian coercive powers, so they prevail regardless of individual welfare.

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  2. Can't say it any better, SisterY!

    I'm not usually one to psychoanalize authors but I suspect that what Friedman really wants is to jump to an alternative universe: the present essential system ruling a population of an alternative human nature (presumably a nature that meshes with his idea of what human nature ought to be).

    Of course, these wishes will never happen. That's one of the reasons I adopted antinatalism: If you don't like the rules of the game, then if you bring yourself to leave the game, then don't force new life into this world that has to live by the rules of this existence.

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  3. John Quiggin wrote an analogous piece about you can draw a straight line from a feudalist propertarian (right-libertarian) utopia to modern social democracy by means that a libertarian (of a Nozickian bent) would have to find entirely legitimate:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20050620095737/http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2003/07/08/notes-on-nozick/

    He concludes, "The general implication is that, in any society with a constitutional history, the only set of property rights that can be supported by a Nozickian analysis is the status quo, including state powers such as the power of eminent domain and the power to tax. Any attempt to separate property rights granted by the state from the limitations associated with these grants is nonsensical in terms of Nozick’s analysis of process."

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    1. That's not a man with a beard, that's a beard with a man.

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  4. Yes, exactly. So what is the response? Or is this somehow not seen as a big problem?

    I'm wondering why the Nozick thing seemed so self-evident when I was in undergrad, but seems so evidently flawed and unsatisfying now.

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  5. I don't know what the response from right-libertarians would be, or, for that matter, anyone who wanted to use Nozick to argue against the status quo. I suppose they could emphasize the unjust elements of going from William the Conqueror to David Cameron, but then there's the huge glaring original injustice of the forcible dispossession of the Anglo-Saxons.

    I guess you could throw up your hands at the problem of historical acquisition, and argue for justice given the current distribution of wealth and power. This is more or less what many right-libertarians do--they largely accept the current distribution as normative and apply a Nozickian analysis henceforth. They would say that they would like the rules of the game change in their preferred direction (that is, where they want to see us go in the metamarket), and can present arguments for why we should prefer different rules on non-Nozickian bases.

    So yes, for these right-libertarians, it's not a big problem. Either they can't deal with it so they don't, they're not aware of it so they don't, or they just want the rich to be able to get richer and any arguments about justice aren't actually about justice.

    I think we, in the U.S. at least, imbibe a lot of free-market rhetoric which assumes a sort of God-given standard of freedom (a standard built largely around property rights as conceived of by those with the property). Nozick organizes and fits nicely into that, and appeals to those of us with a sense of justice as oppose to an anti-social "I've got mine and I want more!" attitude.

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  6. I've gotten to the point where I am just completely tired of the word "freedom." I don't believe it has any meaning the world of cause-and-effect that we live in. And I HATE the importance people seem to have arbitrarily given it.

    I also wish people would stop saying "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone." I have yet to hear of anything that doesn't hurt someone somewhere.

    Any time I hear someone use any of those phrases I can't help but roll my eyes.

    thanks, Sister Y for an oasis of reality in this crazy world we live in.

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  7. If only we could learn the art of personal photosynthesis.

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  8. Anti-statists like DD Friedman pack a lot into the definition of the state. See Jan Lester and Ryan Faulk for more. We are trying to get at what the state actually, empirically is here. I think your confusion comes from a misreading of that definition, likely the result of Friedman's simplified version in MOF.

    So.. the state, following from the classic Weberian definition, is a territorial monopoly on mass ideologically-legitimized, mass coercion. Each element of this definition could have volumes of books clarifying and expanding it empirically, conceptually, etc.

    For example, the state's mass coercion is uniquely legitimized by the state's ability to act via legislation as law-maker as opposed to law-taker (including when the state is enforcing law). This is analogous to the socialist state's ability to act as price-maker as opposed to price-taker. Keep in mind Friedman is a Hayekian. Law, like any order in human society, emerges bottom-up from individual interaction. Order in human society is emergent.

    Now, the state is emergent too. It's emergent from mass ideological legitimacy projected onto a top-down law-maker, price-maker, etc. It is emergent from a popular denial/ignorance of emergence in human society (kind of like how creationists evolved).

    Another part of the definition of the state to unpack is the territorial aspect. The state acquires *and maintains* its land claim via fiat, via mass ideological legitimization (and with agreements with other states), as opposed to how any other humans must acquire and maintain property: use, trade, gift, conquest, physical defense of actually held property, etc. The intersubjective consensus on property rights is uniquely different for the state. This is part of the mass ideological legitimization.

    More could be said, but I'll try to quickly get an answer to your central query. Yes, "coercion" of some kind is inevitable (though libertarians often argue that force in self-defense or retribution is not coercive because it is not proactive). Absolute, universal voluntary-ism is not practically possible. Rights are sometimes necessarily violently enforced. However, the state acts a top-down imposer of mass coercion. It can do this because it is uniquely subsidized to do so. The mass ideological legitimacy projected onto "the state" makes this mass coercion economically feasible. Thus mass coercion is made much much cheaper for the state than for, say, a security firm. Indeed, mass coercion is generally not economically sustainable without mass ideological legitimization (or extreme asymmetries of power).

    Thus, with the state, you get more coercion and more coercion disconnected from the emergent order in society.

    I hope some of that makes sense.

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  9. Oh, and so the model that Friedman proposes is different from the status quo in that it does not have mass ideological legitimacy projected onto the state (i.e. does not have subsidy-via-mass-ideological-legitimacy given to top-down/law-making/mass coercive land monopolies).

    Also, a state is controlled by a few individuals at any given time, and thus Friedman's world is a world where no group of humans has mass ideologically subsidized mass coercive capacity at any given time. Or something like that.

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  10. You might be interested in Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia," which explores in some depth the issue of protective organizations of the Friedman type, and how they would inevitably assume state-like powers.

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  11. I have read it a couple of times, once in college and once lately. My next article (hopefully up this weekend) will be on his theory of coercion.

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