Thursday, September 6, 2012

Concessions and Contentions

In a recent post on his blog, Gene takes issue with an excerpt from one of Bob Murphy's articles (and it's subsequent narration). The excerpt:

"I think there are strong reasons to suppose that civil war would be much less likely in a region dominated by private defense and judicial agencies, rather than by a monopoly State."

Gene responds:

"Well, yes, a region "dominated" by ancap-style private defense agencies and judicial systems would not have civil wars, because, per the theory of these entities, they will be non-aggressive and will respect property rights. But what in the world makes one think we can get to such a world? Can anyone actually present any instances of a modern state breaking down, after which a whole bunch of "private defense agencies" simply hang their shingles up on Main Street and begin selling defense services?"

Two concessions:

1. There is no promise that bringing governmental functions under the purview of markets will result in an ideal anarcho-capitalist society. There is no promise of an end to "civil war." There is no promise that entities that provide security and/or arbitration on an open market will be "non-aggressive" or have perfectly libertarian ideals.

2. There is no promise that toppling the state suddenly would provide for a situation in which alternate institutions could rise suddenly to replace them, functionally.

And yet, even with these concessions in mind, and even with purely consequentialist concerns, my anarchic tendencies still pervade:

1. Very few ANCAPs believe that a functioning anarchy is dependent upon a massive conversion of the public to libertarian ideals. If we did, we would have likely conceded its inefficacy from the start. The defining arguments, instead, appeal to human nature, incentives, and market-structures; it's about economics. The belief is that not only would it be more difficult to manage a consistent and pervasive externalization of costs for meaningful "non-libertarian" governance (outlawing of drugs, gambling, etc.), but also that free markets provide stronger, faster, and more meaningful checks against the centralization of power. There's a lot of debate, even within libertarian circles, about what that kind of world would look like. What isn't in as much dispute (for all that we may disagree on ideals) is that it would approximate a baseline libertarianism far better than what we currently have today.

2. I think the deontological pull of some libertarian arguments would lead one to believe that pulling the hatch on everything in a heartbeat would technically be the "right" thing to do, ethically, even if it had undesired consequences. I have sympathy for that view (it's one that I've held at various points), but I don't think all libertarians hold that view. Regarding the proverbial "gun in the room" in libertarian-speak, I think there's a difference between not having a gun and dropping a gun. When you look at failed states, you're not looking at destroyed institutions, you're looking at vacated and re-occupied institutions. And the difference between the dissolution and re-occupation of an institution are as different as night and day. In fact, this is one of the pillars of the anarchist rebuttal to arguments about invasion from foreign nations; that it would be much more difficult to control, extort, and expropriate without some kind of centralized system through which to operate.

And, to me, this just reinforces the argument against the state. No one single organization or institution should enjoy such a monopoly of power that its dissolution or usurpation could leave people, quite literally, defenseless. Indeed, it's those very monopolistic privileges that suppress alternative institutions and therefore leave people helpless when the state goes up in flames. If the government had some kind of monopolistic power over the production and distribution of food, and such a government were subsequently overthrown, what would we then say about our predicament? Would we look at the warlords now holding or fighting for the reigns of that centralized system and wonder how people could ever be so silly as to think free markets in food could ever meaningfully displace the centralized system being fought over?

Are these knock-down arguments? Absolutely not. The contentions that surround these arguments are actually fairly complicated and a lot of it is subtle. Couple that with the magnitude of the implications and you've got quite a lot to work out and discuss. So while I would caution you to not take the substance of my short-handed rejoinders for granted, I'd also ask that you'd not give the ideas short-shrift either. As I'm too often reminded, libertarians could go a long way to show a little humility in light of serious arguments. And people who have a bone to pick with libertarians could go a long way in addressing the most thorough and decisive form of libertarian arguments; not simply scoring rhetorical points to assuage their political animosity.