I have talked in the abstract about private property and public property and have argued for the superiority of the former. But in existing societies, ‘capitalist’ as well as ‘communist’, there is a mixture of public and private property institutions. I may own my car, but the government owns the streets. How far can the idea of private property be pushed? Are there some tasks that must be done but that, by their nature, cannot conceivably be done privately and must therefore continue to be done by government?
I believe not. I believe that although there are certain important tasks which are difficult to do under institutions of total private property, these difficulties are in principle, and may be in practice, soluble. I hold that there are no proper functions of government. In that sense I am an anarchist. All things that governments do can be divided into two categories — those we could do away with today and those we hope to be able to do away with tomorrow.
Most of the things our government does are in the first category.
The system of institutions I would like to eventually see achieved would be entirely private — what is sometimes called anarcho-capitalism or libertarian anarchy. Such institutions would be, in some respects, radically different from those we now have. How they might work is discussed at some length in the third section of this book.
After reading the next few chapters, the reader may reasonably wonder why, if I do not expect anarcho-capitalism to produce anything much like historical capitalist societies, I bother to defend the historical record of those societies. Some anarcho-capitalists do not. They concede the justice of many of the usual attacks on capitalism but argue that everything would be different if we could get rid of government. That is a cop-out. Human beings and human societies are far too complicated for us to have confidence in a priori predictions about how institutions that have never been tried would work. We can and should attempt to distinguish those elements in historical capitalist societies that were produced by institutions of private property from those that were produced by government intervention. Having done so, we must base our belief that institutions of private property will work well in the future on the observation that those institutions, to the extent they existed, worked well in the past.