Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Non Sequitur as Rhetorical Strategy

I'd like to propose that there is a certain type of conflation surrounding libertarian thought. And, unlike the types more prominently discussed among libertarians, I believe this brand of conflation originates within the small but vocal ANCAP community. Consider that, while Anarcho-Capitalism may be both the most politically consistent and effective way to bring about the most libertarian world possible, it is not, in itself, synonamous with libertarianism. To be sure, not all ANCAPS (voluntaryists, pan-archists, etc.) are guilty of falling into this trap. But I think it's easy for radical libertarians in the more Rothbardian tradition to ensnare themselves in this semantic trap of sorts.

I believe that we tend to think of such a system as both the institutional setting as well as the endgame; a system of violence-stifling that is self-propelled by the relative responsiveness of markets. But must that lead to to a ubiquitous suppression of aggression (in the libertarian sense)? After much thought, I must concede that it doesn't, neccearrily, follow from our own assumptions.

The argument for such a (non) political framework, properly understood, is that markets are more robust institutions than traditional political venues to which we typically flee. And we have very strong reasons to believe those underlying suppositions; that markets are more volitile and thus responsive, that collussion over a vast and voluntary market is much harder to achieve, that the reality of regulatory capture and rent-seeking favors the powerful and connected in traditional political outlets. These items are but the tip of the proverbial ice-berg. We can say, with strong evidence and sound theory, that unabedded markets are, on many levels, more responsive to consumers than political markets are to voters. And so, a populace seeking to limit the types of coercion of which libertarians so often speak might find market-centric solutions a quite fitting means to that end.

But what about a world in which this not what the populace wants? How then might a market-based system develop? This is the question ANCAPS must face if we wish to conflate our preferred system with the outcome we may wish to achieve. Obviously, there are many good reasons for which libertarians may believe that market-based systems would relatively maximize liberty - the most prevailent point of which may be the fact that actors would seemingly be more directly forced to account for the cost(s) associated with their preferences. This, perhaps above all else, is the strongest argument to be made in this context. When taxation is no longer a ready source of funding, one would think a compounding sort of financial pressure would fall upon the most dubious and controversial institutional activities (perhaps the economically exhaustive efforts of drug-warriors, for instance). However, at the end of the day, it would seem that if most people did in fact want to prohibit drug use, even in a society of privatized law, it could still be achieved if actors were willing to bear that cost. We can argue that this is unlikely. We can argue that, regardless, it would still result in less of this behavior than traditional political systems. But we must admit that markets are ultimately in the hands of consumers. And consumers need not agree with us in a reasonable hypothetical. If we'd like to honestly face the populace right now, in fact, it's clear that they wouldn't.

So does this mean I'm tossing aside the ANCAP label? No. I still have a very strong deontological affinity for property rights. I still have the half-way-educated opinion that liberty, as a constrainging value, is generally utility-maximizing in the long run. And I still believe that the absence of political structure, in the way we know it, is still the best ticket to realize those things. But perhaps we (libertarians) would be better served by using "Anarcho-Capitalism" in the institutional sense, to dileneate between traditionally monopolistic systems of political justice and market-based (voluntary) ones, instead of using it to mean both that AND a world of perfectly libertarian institutions. The invocations should be properly parsed into separate references, and we should at least acknowledge that they are not mutually inclusive.


  1. You know, there are times I'm not sure I even like being an anarcho-capitalist, but that's where the deontology keeps leading me. I'll have to blow the dust offen my blog and expand on that....

  2. I think the terms carry a lot of baggage. Whether it's "anarchist", "anarcho-capitalist", or even just "libertarian", there will always be some conflation in the minds of outsiders because, usually, they only understand a rough caricature of the ideas at best. And that bias is pretty persistent. I don't think there's enough of us out there to affect the terminology in any serious sense. And even among us I'm sure we each have some differing conception of what that end-game world might look like. I just know that my thoughts lead me to a place where property rights make sense as a measure by which we validate the use of force. And I think a world where markets are introduced to the enterprise of "law" or "justice" or whatever would better facilitate those outcomes. I suppose if that makes me an ANCAP, I can live with it.