ISN’T ANARCHISM ‘BAD’?
Unfortunately, the term has been degraded through mythology to mean “a world without rules” – usually garbed in post-apocalyptic outerwear and riding a well-armed motorbike. This is nonsense, of course. “Anarchy” is merely the logically consistent application of the moral premise that the initiation of the use of force is wrong. If violence is a bad way to solve problems, then the government is by definition immoral, since “government” always means a group of individuals who claim the right to initiate violence against everyone else, in the form of taxation, regulations etc.
BUT IF THERE IS NO GOVERNMENT, HOW CAN THE INEVITABLE CONFLICTS IN HUMAN SOCIETY BE RESOLVED?
The most important thing in philosophy is to consistently question the premises of propositions.
For instance, embedded in the above question is the premise that conflicts within human society are currently being resolved by governments. This is pure nonsense. Governments are agencies of force – governments do not persuade, governments do not reason, governments do not motivate, governments do not encourage, governments do not resolve disputes. Governments have no more power to create morality then rape has to create love. A gun is only useful in self-defense; it cannot be used to create virtue.
FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS AN ANARCHIST, YOU SURE DO SOUND LIKE A POLITICIAN! WASN’T THAT JUST A COMPLETE DODGE OF THE QUESTION?
Excellent catch! Here is as good a place as any to introduce you to the concept of Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs). This concept cannot answer every conceivable question you might have about dispute resolutions within a stateless society, but rather is a framework for understanding the methodology of dispute resolution – just as the scientific method cannot answer every possible question about the natural world, but rather points towards a methodology that allows those questions to be answered in a rational manner.
DROs are companies that specialize in insuring contracts between individuals, and resolving any disputes that might arise. For instance, if I borrow $1,000 from you, I may have to pay $10 to a DRO to insure my loan. If I fail to pay you back your money, the DRO will pay you instead. Obviously, as my credit rating improves, the cost of insuring my contracts will decline.
The DRO theory can be as complex as any other free market theory – and a lot of intellectual effort has gone into resolving how particular transactions might occur, such as multimillion dollar international contracts. Credible DRO theories have also been advanced that solve problems ranging from abortion to child abuse to murder to pollution. For more on DRO theory and practice, please see “The Stateless Society: An Examination of Alternatives” below.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ROADS?
The most important thing to understand about anarchism is that it is a moral theory which cannot logically be judged by consequences alone. For instance, the abolition of slavery was a moral imperative, because slavery as an institution is innately evil. The abolition of slavery was not conditional upon the provision of jobs for every freed slave. In a similar manner, anarchic theory does not have to explain how every conceivable social, legal or economic transaction could occur in the absence of a coercive government. What is important to understand is that the initiation of the use of force is a moral evil. With that in mind, we can approach the problem of roads more clearly.
First of all, roads are currently funded through the initiation of force. If you do not pay the taxes which support road construction, you will get a stern letter from the government, followed by a court date, followed by policemen coming to your house if you do not appear and submit to the court’s judgment. If you use force to defend yourself against the policemen who are breaking into your home, you will very likely be shot down.
The roads, in other words, are built at the point of a gun. The use of violence is the central issue, not what might potentially happen in the absence of violence.
That having been said, roads will be built by housing developers, mall builders, those constructing schools and towns – just as they were before governments took them over in the 19th century. For more on this, please see the section on “Roads” below.
OKAY – HERE’S A SCENARIO FOR YOU: A GUY BUILDS A ROAD THAT COMPLETELY ENCIRCLES A SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD, AND THEN CHARGES $1 MILLION FOR ANYONE TO CROSS THAT ROAD. ISN’T HE HOLDING EVERYONE WHO LIVES IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD HOSTAGE?
This is fundamentally impossible. First of all, no one is going to buy a house in a neighborhood unless they are contractually guaranteed access to roads. Thus it will be impossible for anyone to completely encircle the neighborhood. Secondly, even if it were possible, it would be a highly risky investment. Can you imagine going to investors with a business plan that said: “I’m going to try to buy all the land that surrounds the neighborhood, and then charge exorbitant rates for anyone to cross that land.” No sane investor would give you the money for such a plan. The risk of failure would be too great, and no DRO would enforce any contract that was so destructive, unpopular and economically unfeasible. DROs, unlike governments, must be appealing to the general population. If a DRO got involved with the encircling and imprisonment of a neighborhood, it would become so unpopular that it would lose far more business than it could potentially gain.
ALL RIGHT, SMARTY-PANTS – WHAT ABOUT THIS: THE COMPANY THAT SUPPLIES WATER TO A NEIGHBORHOOD SUDDENLY DECIDES TO INCREASE ITS RATES TENFOLD – PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE FORCED TO PAY THE EXORBITANT PRICE, RIGHT?
First of all, if you are so concerned about people paying increasingly exorbitant prices for services, then it scarcely seems logical to propose the government as the solution to that problem! Taxes have risen immensely over the past 30 years, while services have declined.
However, even if we accept the premise of the problem, it is easily solved in a stateless society. First of all, no one will buy a house in a neighborhood without a contractual obligation that requires the supply of water at reasonable rates. Secondly, if the water company starts charging exorbitant prices, another company will simply move in and supply water in another form – in barrels, bottles or whatever. Thus, raising prices permanently costs the water company its customers – and makes every potential customer back away, for fear that the same predation will happen to them.
Investors will quickly realize that the water company is shooting itself in the foot, and will align themselves with other shareholders, resulting in a takeover of the price-gouging water company, and a reduction in rates, accompanied by rank apologies and base groveling. Given that this result will be known in advance, no CEO would be allowed to pursue such a self-destructive course. Only governments that can be manipulated by corporations to prevent competition truly endanger consumers.
OKAY – WHAT IF TWO DROS HAVE DIFFERENT RULES – ISN’T THAT JUST GOING TO RESULT IN ENDLESS CIVIL WAR?
First of all, it is unlikely that DROs would have wildly different rules, because that would be economically inefficient. Cell phone companies use similar protocols, so that they can interoperate with each other. Railroad companies tend to use the same gauge, so that trains can travel as widely as possible. Internet service providers exchange data with other service providers, passing e-mails and other data back and forth. Like evolution, the free market is more about cooperation than pure competition. If a DRO wants to create a new rule, that rule will be fairly useless unless other DROs are willing to cooperate with it – just as a new e-mail program is fairly useless unless it uses existing protocols. This need for interoperability with other DROs will inevitably keep the number of new rules to the most economically efficient minimum. Customers will prefer DROs with broader reciprocity agreements, just as they prefer credit cards that are valid in a large number of locations.
New rules will also add to the costs for DRO subscribers – and if it costs them more money than it saves, the DRO will lose business.
BUT – WON’T THE MOST SUCCESSFUL DRO JUST ARM ITSELF, VIOLENTLY ELIMINATE ALL THE OTHER DROS, AND EMERGE AS A NEW GOVERNMENT?
First of all, if the potential emergence of a new government at some point in the future is of great concern, then surely the elimination of existing governments in the present is a worthy goal. If we have cancer, we go through chemotherapy to eliminate it in the present, even though we may get cancer again at some point in the future.
Secondly, unlike governments, DROs are not violent institutions. DROs will be primarily populated by white-collar workers: accountants, mediators, executives and so on. DROs are about as likely to become paramilitary organizations as your average accounting firm is likely to become an elite squad of ninja death warriors. Given the current existence of governments that possess nuclear weapons, I for one am willing to take that risk.
Thirdly, if a DRO tries to turn itself into a government, the other DROs will certainly act to prevent it. DROs would simply refuse to cooperate with any DRO that refused to submit to “arms inspections.” Furthermore, DRO customers would also not take very kindly to their DRO becoming an armed institution – and their rates would certainly skyrocket, because their DRO would have to provide its regular services, as well as pay for all those black helicopters and RPGs. Any DRO that was paying for goods or services that its customers did not want – i.e. an army – would very quickly go out of business, because it would not be competitive in terms of rates. For more on this, please see “War, Profit and the State” below.
ARE THERE ANY EXAMPLES OF ANARCHIC SOCIETIES BEING SUCCESSFUL IN THE PAST?
There are, but that is not the essential question. Again, the essential aspect of anarchic theory is the moral rule banning the initiation of the use of force. Anarchists advocate a stateless society because governments are evil. When slavery was abolished for the first time in human history, there was no prior example of a successful slave–free society — if that had been a requirement, then slavery would be with us still.
That having been said, I can confidently point towards a nonviolent society that you’re intimately aware of – you. I am guessing that you do not use violence directly to achieve your aims. It seems likely to me that you did not hold your employer hostage until you got your job; I also doubt that you keep your spouse locked in the basement, or that you threaten to shoot your “friends” if they do not join you on the dance floor. In other words, you are the perfect example of a stateless society.
All of your personal relationships are voluntary, and do not involve the use of force. You are an anarchic microcosm – to see how a stateless society works, all you have to do is look in the mirror.
HOW CAN A SOCIETY WITHOUT A GOVERNMENT PAY FOR NATIONAL DEFENSE?
Many people, when first hearing the concept of a stateless society, cannot imagine how collective defense could possibly be paid for in the absence of taxation. I have already briefly discussed this above – here are some more details.
This is an important question to ask, but there is a way of answering it that also answers many other questions about collective action.
In any society, there are four possibilities that can occur in the realm of collective defense. The first is that no one wants to pay for collective defense. The second is that only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense; the third is that the majority of people want to pay for collective defense; and the fourth is that everyone wants to pay for collective defense.
Let’s compare how these four possibilities play out in a state-based democracy:
1. No one wants to pay for collective defense. In this case, voters will universally reject any politician who proposes collective defense of any kind.
2. Only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, no politician who proposes paying for collective defense will ever get into office, because he will never secure a majority of the votes.
3. The majority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, pro-defense politicians will be voted into office, and spend tax money on defense.
4. Everyone wants to pay for collective defense. This achieves the same outcome as number three.
Thus, all other things being equal, a democracy produces almost the same outcome as a stateless society – with the important exception of #2. If only a minority of people want to pay for defense, they cannot do so in a democracy, but can do so in a stateless society.
In a stateless society, if the majority of people are interested in paying for collective defense, it will be paid for. The addition of the government to the interaction is entirely superfluous – the equivalent of creating a Ministry devoted to communicating the pleasures of candy to children, or sex to teenagers.
However, the possibility exists that people are willing to pay for collective defense only if they know that everyone else is paying for it as well. This argument fails on multiple levels, both empirical and rational.
1. People tip waiters and give to charity, even though they know that some people never do.
2. There is no reason why, in a stateless society, people should not have full knowledge of who has donated to collective defense. Agencies providing collective defense could easily issue a
“donor card,” which certain shops or employers might ask to see before doing business.
Names of donors could also be put on a website, easily searchable, creating social pressures to donate.
3. When the money required for collective defense is stripped from taxpayers at the point of a gun, a basic moral tenet – and rational criterion – is violated. Citizens institute collective defense in order to protect their property – it makes no sense whatsoever to create an agency to protect property rights and then invest that agency with the power to violate property rights at will.
4. When collective defense is paid for by the initiation of the use of force, there is no rational ceiling to costs, and no incentive for efficiency – thus ensuring that costs will escalate to the point where they become unsustainable, causing a collapse of the economic system and leaving the country vulnerable.
WHAT ABOUT EDUCATION?
The question of education follows the same pattern as the question of collective defense outlined above. However, there are certain additional pieces of information that can strengthen the case for a free market in education.
First of all, it is important understand that State education was not imposed because children were not being educated. Prior to the institution of government-run education, the functional literacy rate of the average American was over 90% – far better than it is now, after hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent “educating” children. Before the government forcefully took over the schools, there was almost no violence in schools, there were no school shootings, no violent gangs, no assaults on teachers – and it did not take more than two decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a reasonably-educated adult. Most of the intellectual giants of the 18th and 19th centuries – the Founding Fathers included – did not even finish high school, let alone go to college.
Government education in America was instituted as a means of cultural control, due to rising tribal fears about the growing number of non-Protestants in society – the “immigrant issue” of the time.
There are a number of core reasons that government education cripples children’s minds; for the sake of brevity, we will deal with only one here.
It is reasonable to assume that the majority of parents want to give their children a good education – and this education must necessarily include the teaching of values, or the relationship between personal ethics and real-world choices. In any multicultural society, however, a common curriculum cannot include any fundamental values, for fear of offending various groups. Thus values must be stripped from education, turning its focus to rote memorization, bland technical skills (geometry, sports, wood shop), and neutral and propagandistic views of society and politics (“Democracy is good!” “Respect multiculturalism!” “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”). This effectively kills the energetic curiosity of the young, turns school into a mind-numbing series of empty exercises, creates frustration among those needing stimulation, and engenders deep disrespect for the educational system – and its teachers – who remain institutionally indifferent to the welfare of the students. Combine this hostility and frustration with the easy money available through drug sales – and the possibility of surviving on welfare – and entire generations of youths become mentally crippled. The costs of this are beyond calculation, since the damage goes far beyond economics.
YES, BUT HOW WILL POOR CHILDREN GET AN EDUCATION IF IT IS NOT PAID FOR THROUGH TAXES?
This reminds me of the old Soviet cartoon – two old women are standing in an endless line-up to buy bread. One says to the other: “What a terribly long line!” The other replies: “Yes, but just imagine – in the capitalist countries, the government doesn’t even distribute the bread!”
Whenever I argue for a stateless society, I say: “The government should not provide ‘X’.” The response always comes back: “But how will ‘X’ then be provided?”
As mentioned above, the answer is simple: “Since everybody is concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence.” In other words, since everyone is concerned that poor children might not get an education because it costs too much, those children will be provided an education as a direct result of everyone’s concern.
Look, either you will help poor children get an education, through charity or volunteering, or you will not. If you will help poor children get an education, you do not have to worry about the issue. If you will do nothing to help poor children get an education, it is pure hypocrisy to raise it as an issue that you claim to be concerned about.
That having been said, there are a number of ways that a free society can provide education that is far superior to the mess being inflicted on children now.
First of all, poor children are not currently getting any sort of decent education. The perceived risks of a stateless society cannot be rationally compared to a perfect situation in the here-and-now.
Those most concerned with the education of the poor should be the ones most clamouring for the abolishment of the existing system. The educational statistics for poor children are absolutely appalling – and this should raise the urgency of finding a solution. It is one thing to say, “You should never cross a road against the lights, even if there is no traffic.” It is quite another thing to say, “You should never cross a road against the lights, even if you are being chased by a lion!” Those who oppose a stateless society always ignore the existence of the lion, thus adding their intellectual inertia to the weight of the status quo.
Secondly, much like the question of collective defense, the cost of education will be far lower in a free society. The $10,000-$15,000 a year currently being spent per-pupil in public schools is ridiculously overinflated. Year-round accelerated education would help the child graduate several years earlier – and with tangible job skills to boot! The resulting increase in earnings would more than pay for the education – and many companies would scramble to offer loans to such children, knowing that they would be paid off soon after graduation. Thus education would be more beneficial – and, since there would be no war on drugs or automatic “welfare” in a free society, fewer self-destructive options would be available.
As for higher education, it is either recreational or vocational. If it is recreational, then it is about as necessary as a hobby, and cannot be considered a necessity. If it is vocational, such as medicine, then additional earnings will more than pay for the costs of the education. Businesses need accountants – thus those businesses will be more than happy to fund the college expenses of talented youngsters in return for a work commitment after graduation. (This is how my father received his doctorate.)
Talented but poor children will be sought after by schools, both for the benevolence they can show by subsidizing them, and also because high-quality graduates raise the prestige of a school, enabling it to increase fees.
In a stateless society, a tiny minority of poor children may slip through the cracks – but that is far better than the current situation, where most poor children slip through the cracks. The fact that some non-smokers will get lung cancer does not mean that we should encourage people to smoke.
A stateless society is not a utopia, it is merely a utopia compared to a government society.
Now, we shall really begin to make the case for anarchism by examining the question of whether the government is a valid moral entity.