Any author who gives his work away faces
the unique challenge of convincing people who have not invested their money in
buying it that it is worth investing their time to read it.
Samuel Johnson once wrote: “No man but a
blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” which makes my task even harder, since
either Mr. Johnson was a blockhead, or I am.
I do think that there are some
circumstances under which releasing a work for free does not necessarily imply
that it is worth exactly what readers pay for it. Those proposing radical new
approaches to age-old problems – the addition of new thought to the human canon
– will not find it particularly easy to get people to pay good money for such
mad claims. If I am writing a book on Christianity, then I can sell it to
Christians; if I am writing a book on libertarianism, then I can sell it to
libertarians; if I am writing a book on politics, I can sell it to the deluded…
If I am writing a book for the future, for
a truly free society that is yet to be, who do I sell it to? I cannot even tell
in particular detail what this new society might look like, or be able to
achieve – save that I am sure that they have not yet found a way to send gold
backward through time, and deposit it on my doorstep.
Although improbable, it is not completely
impossible that you might find something radical, thrilling and new in this
book – despite its cover price. The best way to spread new ideas is to make
them as available and accessible as possible, which is why I give everything
away, and rely – not without reason – on the generosity of my readers and
Despite our universal abhorrence, evils
continue to plague the world, without respite. We fear and hate war, yet war
continues. Our souls revolt against unjust imprisonment and torture, yet such
injustices continue. We feel powerless in the face of endless tax increases –
and with good reason. We feel agonizing compassion for those who are caught up
in the endless bloody nets of tribal conflicts, condemned to mute horror and
blank-eyed starvation. The plight of the enslaved weighs down our hearts with
the rusty chains of useless sympathy. We would do almost anything to
free the world from such monstrous evils – yet we feel so helpless! We all want
a free and wonderful world, and yet feel utterly paralyzed before these monsters
who commit such universal crimes…
Violence, injustice and brutal control are
truly the malignant cancers of our species. Philosophers have chided and
reasoned in vain for thousands of years. Governments have been instituted to
serve and protect the people – yet always escape the flimsy walls of their
paper prisons and spread their choking powers across society, darkening hope
and the future.
In this book, I do my part to put an end to
I know exactly how all these horrors can be
I am fully aware of the outlandishness of
this claim. I am fully aware that you have every right to be perfectly
skeptical and cynical about the contents of this book. I would not blame you at
all if you laughed in my face, spat at my feet – did anything that you pleased
– as long as I could get you to turn just one more page.
Because – what if it were possible?
What if it were possible to live in
a world free of the terror and genocide of war? What if it were possible
to live in a world without unjust imprisonment, institutionalized rape, and the
endless subjugation of the helpless and arming of the vicious and evil?
What if you held in your hands a small
blueprint that could lead to just such a world? A world of peace and plenty –
of compassion, voluntarism, virtue and true liberty?
Isn’t that what we all really dream of?
Isn’t that the world that we wish with all
our hearts that our children could inherit?
Isn’t that the
world that we would like to take even a few steps towards?
Give this book
a few minutes, I beg you.
We can get
My next book –
“Achieving Anarchy” – will show us how.
Why do we
examine the destination before mapping the journey?
said, “He who has a why… can bear with almost any how.”
discuss how to get to freedom, why must know why a stateless society is so
This book will
show you what real freedom looks like.
– and highly intelligent – questions that arose in response to my last book
“Everyday Anarchy” mostly centered on the question of how a stateless society
could self-organize in practical terms.
these sorts of questions are a fascinating and endless kind of intellectual
delight. Much as Alice mused as she fell down the hole at the beginning of Lewis
Carroll’s famous book, we intellectuals are tempted to design the future down
to the last detail. We try to respond to every conceivable objection with yet
another essay on how roads can be delivered in the absence of a government, or
how international treaties can work in the absence of law courts, or how
children can be protected in the absence of the police, or how national defense
can be secured in the absence of a State army, and how the poor can receive an
education in the absence of public schools, and how and why doctors will help
the impoverished sick without being forced to, and so on.
I have always
argued that these answers – though intellectually stimulating and enjoyably
debatable – will never convince those who wish to avoid the morality and
practicality of nonviolent solutions to the problems of social organization.
in my last book, as well as a recent video, I provided a proof for anarchy,
which relied on the reality of non-contractual special-interest group
relationships with up-and-coming politicians. A large number of people wrote to
me in response, saying either that such special interest relationships did not
exist – surely a laughable proposition, given the 30,000 plus lobbyists
registered in Washington, DC alone – or that if I wanted anarchy, and democracy
was a great proof of the practical functionality of anarchy, then surely I
should be happy with democracy!
There seems to
be no end to the foolish statements that can be uttered by those afraid of the
truth. The truth, as Socrates gave his life to show, remains highly threatening
to entrenched interests and has a very personal and volatile effect on our
In reality, it
is not so much a stateless society that we fear, but rather a family-less and
friendless society where we rock gently, hugging our useless truths to our
chests; solitary, ostracized, alone, rejected, scorned, derided. The truth is a
desert island, we fear, and so as evolutionarily social animals, we join our
corrupt circles in mocking and attacking the truth, and resent those who tell
the truth, for revealing the corruption that formerly was only visible
unconsciously – which is to say, largely invisible.
important to understand up front that this book will contain truths that will
likely be highly threatening to you – and certainly to those around you. The
world, viewed philosophically, remains a series of slave camps, where citizens
– tax livestock – labor under the chains of illusion in the service of their
masters. As I talked about in my book, “Real-Time Relationships,” the
predations of the rulers survive on the horizontal attacks of the slaves.
Because we savage each other, we remain ruled by savages.
Thus, you may
find that as you read this book, you experience a rising frustration and
irritation with its contents – and possibly with me as well, if experience is
I certainly do
sympathize with these emotions, and truly understand their cause, but I would
strongly urge you to refrain from sending me angry e-mails – for your sake, not
mine. It is, as you know, highly unjust to attack a truth teller for the
discomfort he causes.
It is not my
fault that you have been lied to your whole life long.
the lies exist whether or not you hear the truth – from me, or from anyone
impossible for any single man – or group of men – to ever design or predict all
the details of any society. In order for you to get the most out of this book,
I will make a few suggestions which may be helpful.
First of all,
if you approach this book with the idea that you’re going to find every
possible gap in an argument, or nook and cranny where uncertainty may reside,
then this book will be a complete waste of time, and will raise your blood
pressure for absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
Smith formulated the arguments for the free market in the late 18th century, it
was not considered a requirement that he predict the stock price of IBM in
1961. He began working with a number of observable and empirical principles,
and proved them with rational arguments and well-known examples.
of the “invisible hand” was not dependent upon Adam Smith predicting and
describing in detail the invention of, say, the Internet. The methods that free
men and women invent and use to solve social problems cannot reasonably be
predicted in advance, and finding every conceivable fault with any and all such
possible predictions is arguing against a mere theoretical possibility, which
is both futile and ridiculous.
been said, it is still worth reviewing some possible solutions to social
organization that do not involve the monopolistic violence of the State. When
Enlightenment thinkers attacked and undermined the exploitive illusions of
religion, they were not able to provide a valid and scientific system of ethics
to replace the mad moral commandments of historical superstition. It certainly
is valuable to disprove existing “truths,” but if we do not come up with at
least plausible alternatives, these falsehoods inevitably tend to morph and
reemerge in a different form. Thus did the death of religion give rise to
totalitarianism – just another worship of an abstract and irrational moral
absolute; the “State” rather than a “god.” The unjust aristocratic privileges
of the minority that the Founding Fathers so railed against simply morphed into
the unjust privileges of the majority in the form of “mob rule” democracy –
which then morphed back into the unjust aristocratic privileges of the minority
in the form of a political ruling class.
societies all need rules to live by, and if existing rules get knocked down,
they simply rise again in another form if rational replacements are not
provided. Exposing a lie simply breeds different lies, unless the truth is also
I have set
myself a number of goals in the writing of this book that I wanted to mention
up front, so you could understand the approach that I am taking – the strengths
and weaknesses of what I am up to, as it were.
promise to refrain from exhausting your patience by trying to come up with
every conceivable solution to every conceivable problem. Not only would this
end up being grindingly boring, but it would also indicate a strange kind of
intellectual insecurity, and an unwillingness to give you the respect of
accepting that you can very easily think for yourself about the solutions to
the problems discussed in this book. My aim is to give you a framework for
thinking about these issues, rather than have you sit passively as I explicate
the widest variety of solutions to all conceivable problems.
words, my purpose in this book is to teach you to be a mathematician, not show
you how good a mathematician I am.
how to solve problems is far more respectful than giving you solutions. I have
always said that everyone is a genius, and everyone is a philosopher. You do
not need me to spell out how a stateless society can work in every detail, but
rather to give you a framework which you can use to work out your own answers,
and satisfy yourself how well a truly free society will work.
Bacon was putting forward the scientific method in the 16th century, it was not
necessary for him to solve every conceivable scientific problem in order to
prove the value of his methodology. It certainly was useful for him to show how
his methodology had solved a number of vexing problems, and that it pointed the
way to answers in a number of other areas, but of course if Bacon had been able
to solve every conceivable scientific problem that could ever possibly arise,
there would be precious little need for his scientific method at all, since we
would just consult his writings whenever we had a scientific problem that we
could not solve.
In the same
way, as a philosopher I am interested in teaching people how to think in a new
way, rather than giving them explicit answers to every conceivable problem. My
approach to rational and scientific ethics – Universally Preferable Behavior
(UPB) – is to provide people a framework for evaluating moral propositions,
rather than to give them an utterly finalized system of ethics. If such a
system of ethics ever could be developed – which seems highly unlikely, given
the inevitably-changing conditions of life, society and technology – then no one
would ever have to think about ethics ever again, and philosophy would fall
into the abyss reserved for dead religions and defunct ideologies, interesting
only as yet another example of a temporary historical illusion, like the
worship of Zeus or Mussolini or Paris Hilton.
method certainly did – and does – provide an objective methodology for gaining
valid knowledge and understanding of the physical world, just as UPB provides
an objective methodology for separating truth from falsehood when it comes to
evaluating moral propositions, and the free market provides an objective
methodology for determining value in the provision of goods and services,
through the mechanism of price.
The value of
the scientific method only truly becomes apparent when we abandon religious or
superstitious revelation as a valid source of “truth.” We only refer to a
compass when we become uncertain of our direction. We only begin to develop
science when we start to doubt religion. We only begin to accept the validity
of the free market when we doubt the ethics and practicality of coercive
central planning. On a more personal level, we only begin to change our
approach to relationships when we at last begin to suspect that we ourselves
may be the source of our problems.
Much like a
river, alternative tributaries only arise when the original flow is blocked.
The development of new paradigms in thought is in general more provoked than
plotted, and erupts from a rising exasperation with the falsehoods of existing
“solutions.” This spike in emotion can sometimes arise with extraordinary
rapidity, from a slow build to a sudden explosion – and it is my belief that
this is where we are poised in the present when it comes to an examination of
the use of violence in solving social problems.
As a vivid,
living value, the nation-state as an object of worship and a source of
practical and moral solutions is as dead as King Tutankhamun. No one truly
believes anymore that the State can solve the problems of poverty, of
mis-education, of war, of ill health, of security for the aged and so on.
Governments are now viewed with extraordinary suspicion and cynicism. It is
true that many people still believe that the idea of government can
somehow be rescued, but there is an extraordinary level of exasperation,
frustration and anxiety with our existing methods of solving social problems.
When someone says that we need yet another government program to “solve”
all the problems created or exacerbated by previous government programs, most
people now view this approach as an eye-rolling non-answer.
Of course, we
still hear a lot about government “solutions” in the media, academia, and the
arts, but most people now understand – at least emotionally – that this
bleating arises from special interest groups that are either threatened or
protected by the State – the automatic reaction of “increase regulation!” When
a problem arises, this demand no longer comes from the people, but rather from
those parties that will benefit from increased regulation.
The rise of
the Internet has also rocked the mainstream paradigm of “government as virtue.”
In particular, the US-led invasion of Iraq has contributed to a final collapse
in belief about the virtue of statist solutions to complex problems. It is
easier to believe the lies of the past, since we were not there when they were
told – it is harder to believe in the lies of the present, since we can see
them unraveling before our very eyes.
belief that the government can solve problems is collapsing on two fronts –
first, we now understand that the government cannot solve problems – and
second, and more importantly, we can see that the government is not giving
up any of its control over the problems it so obviously cannot solve.
point is worth expanding upon, since it is so important, and so often
government claims to take our money in order to solve the problem of poverty,
for instance, but the government clearly does not solve the problem of
poverty, but rather in fact tends to make it worse, what then do we begin to
understand when the government continues to take our money?
If I take your
money telling you that I will ship you an iPod, what realization do you come to
when I neither ship you the iPod nor return your money?
understand that I only promised you the iPod in order to steal your money.
In the same
way, the government did not increase our taxes in order to solve the problem of
poverty, but rather claimed that it wanted to solve the problem of poverty in
order to increase our taxes. This is the only way to explain the basic fact
that the problem of poverty has not been solved – and in fact is worse now –
but the government continues to increase our taxes.
We are all
beginning to understand – at least at an unconscious level – that the
government lies to us about helping others in order to take our money.
If religion is
not the answer, and the State is not the answer, then what is?
Well, when a
particular “answer” has proven so universally disastrous, the first place to
look is the opposite of that answer.
property rights” (communism) is disastrous, then “property rights” (free
markets) are most likely to be beneficial.
If faith is
disastrous, then science is most likely to be beneficial.
is disastrous, than reason and evidence are most likely to be beneficial.
If violence is
disastrous, then peace and negotiation are most likely to be beneficial.
If the State
is disastrous, then anarchism is most likely to be beneficial.
It is this
last statement that tends to be the most challenging for people.
Many of us can
accept a world without gods and devils, without heaven and hell, without
original sin and imaginary redemption – but we cannot accept, or even imagine,
a world without governments.
Many of us can
picture a world with a minimum government – with a State concerned only with
law courts, police and the military – but we cannot picture a world without a
government at all.
can accept a world where 9,999 gods are ridiculous and false illusions, but
that his God – the God of the Old Testament – is a true, real and living
deity. A Christian remains an atheist with regards to almost every god, but
becomes an utter theist with regards to his own deity. Getting rid of almost all
gods is utterly sensible – getting rid of that one final God is utterly
In the same
way, Libertarians, Objectivists and other minarchists feel that getting rid of
99% of existing government functions is utterly moral – but getting rid of that
last 1% is utterly immoral!
We do not
accept these reservations in other areas of our lives, which is enough to make
us suspicious of the true motives behind such statements. A woman who is beaten
up only once a month lives 99.99% of her life violence-free, but we would not
consider her beatings acceptable on that ground. It would be even more
ridiculous to say that a woman should not be beaten every day, but that it
would be utterly immoral to also suggest that she should not be beaten at all.
If I claim
that it is moral to reduce State violence, can I claim that it is utterly
immoral to eliminate such violence completely? Can I dedicate my life to
reducing the incidence of cancer, but then claim that eliminating cancer
completely would be utterly immoral? Can I reasonably set up a charity to
reduce poverty, but then claim in my mission statement that the elimination of
poverty would be a dire evil?
Of course not
– I would be viewed as an irrational lunatic at best for making such
claim that a reduction of violence is a moral ideal, but who then also
claim that the elimination of violence would be a moral evil, must at
least recognize, if they wish to retain any credibility, that they are
proposing an entirely foolish contradiction.
here, I do not mean that anarchism will completely eliminate human violence –
the violence that I am talking about here is the morally “justified” and
institutionalized initiation of force that is the foundation of State power. (I
am not going to go into a lengthy discussion here about the nature of the
State, or the moral reasoning against the initiation of violence, since I have
dealt with those topics at length in my podcasts, and in other books. Suffice
to say that the State is by definition a group of individuals who claim the
right to initiate the use of force against legally-disarmed citizens in a
specific geographical region.)
Thus, I think
it is reasonable for us to take the approach that if it were possible to
run society without a government, this would be a massive net positive.
When we have
governments, we inevitably get wars, politically motivated and unjust laws, the
incarceration of nonviolent “criminals,” the over-printing of money and the
resulting inflation, the enslavement of future generations through immoral
deficits, the mis-education of the young, rampant vote buying, endless tax
increases, arms sales around the world, unjust subsidies to specific
industries, economic and practical inefficiencies of every conceivable kind,
the creation of permanent underclasses through welfare and illegal immigration,
vast increases in the power and violence of organized crime through
restrictions on drugs, prostitution and gambling – the list of State crimes is
When we choose
to justify governments, we inevitably choose to justify the crimes of those in
power. Choosing government is also choosing war, genocide, enslavement,
financial, moral and educational corruption, propaganda, the spread of violence
and so on.
You can never
get one without the other. Imagining otherwise is like imagining that you can
choose to justify the Mafia without also justifying the violence that it uses
to maintain its power. We may as well imagine that we can support the troops
without simultaneously supporting the murders they commit.
number of bloody and genocidal crimes that orbit the power of the State, surely
we can at least be open to the possibility that society can be organized far
more effectively and morally without such an evil power at its center. If it
turns out that society can run without a State – even haltingly, even
imperfectly – then surely we should accept such practical imperfections for the
sake of avoiding such rampant and bottomless crimes against humanity. Surely,
even if anarchy were proven to produce fewer and worse roads, we could accept
some mildly inconvenient and bumpy rides for the sake of releasing billions of
people from direct or indirect enslavement to their political masters.
this, imagine that someone in the 19th century proved that cotton would be 10%
rougher if slavery were abolished. Would it be moral or reasonable for people
to say, “Well, it is certainly true that slavery is a great evil, but I still
prefer it to slightly less comfortable cotton!”?
No, we would
view such monstrous selfishness as staggeringly corrupt. The moral hypocrisy of
claiming to be against slavery, but refusing to actually oppose slavery
for fear of even the mildest practical inconvenience, would be an ethical evil
that would be hard to comprehend.
people dismiss the possibility of anarchy out of hand by saying, “Oh, but how
would roads be provided?” what they are really saying is that they
support war, genocide, tax enslavement and the incarceration and rape of the
innocent, because they themselves cannot imagine how roads might be provided in
the absence of violence. “People should be murdered, raped and imprisoned
because I am concerned that the roads I use might be slightly less convenient.”
Can anyone look at the moral horror of this statement without feeling a
bottomless and existential nausea?
that the reality of the situation is that roads will be provided far more
efficiently and productively in a stateless society?
is the case, then the practical considerations turn out to be the complete
opposite of the truth – that we are accepting murder, genocide and rape for the
sake of bad roads, rather than good roads!
This kind of
net loss provides the moral and rational core of the arguments in favor of a
stateless society. While it is certainly true that some people will end up
losing out under anarchy, it is the evil and corrupt who will lose the most,
just as priests lose out in an atheistic society, much to the relief of children
everywhere. The true reality of an anarchic society is that the moral goals of
every reasonable human being – the alleviation of poverty, the provision of
“public services,” the education of the young, the protection of children, the
old and the infirm, will actually be created and provided in a positive,
productive, gentle and moral manner.
The great lie
of the statist society is that the helpless and dependent are protected, when
in fact they are trapped and exploited.
The great lie
of the statist society is that the ignorant are educated, when in fact they are
made even more ignorant.
truth of the anarchic society is that the helpless are protected, the ignorant
are educated, the sick are treated – and that roads are built, and are better.
To gain the
beauty and virtue of anarchism, we sacrifice nothing but our illusions.
should actually want to help people, rather than just pretend that we are doing
should not sacrifice the peace of the world to our fears of imperfect roads.
people do not say that we should not live in a free society because the roads
might be imperfect. The endless argument against anarchism is the “Argument
from Apocalypse.” (AFA)
The AFA is not
an argument at all, of course, but rather relies on rampant fear mongering, and
an argument from intimidation.
argument goes something like this:
actually be nice if it were slightly more sophisticated than that, but the
reality is that it is not.
argument is that if we accept proposition “X,” civilized society will collapse,
children will die in the streets, the old will end up eating each other, and
the world will dissolve into an endless and apocalyptic war of all against all.
This is not an
argument at all, since it relies on fear and intimidation. Darwin faced exactly
the same “objections” when he first published his theory of evolution. “If we
accept that we are descended from apes, everybody will abandon morality,
society will collapse, war of all against all etc etc etc.”
faced the same argument when suggesting that slavery should be abolished;
atheists face the same silly objections when disproving the existence of God;
philosophers have been put to death for suggesting that ethics should be based
on something other than superstition; scientists are accused of the same evils
whenever some new development threatens people’s existing prejudices – it is
all the most rampant nonsense, which survives only because of its endless
remains effective because of a basic logical fallacy which has doubtless been
around since the dawn of speech: “Belief ‘X’ would result in immorality or
destruction, and so only a fool or an evil man would advocate ‘X’.”
Since very few
people wish to appear either foolish or evil, they tend to back down in the
face of this argument, or take the imprudent path – which I have trod many a
time – of attempting to disprove the AFA.
results in evil!” cometh the cry – and anarchists around the world endlessly
respond with: “No it won’t!” – thus losing the argument before it even begins.
The only thing
that is relevant in any intellectual argument is whether it is true or not.
Refusing to examine the validity and consistency of a mathematical argument
because you fear that accepting its conclusions will result in endless evil is
simply surrendering to superstitious fear-mongering, and abandoning your
rationality. Propositions cannot be evil – mathematics cannot be evil – statism
cannot be evil – error cannot be evil – and the truth is not virtuous!
cannot strangle a baby; an argument cannot rape a nun, and a theory of
anarchism cannot turn people into shrunken-headed zombies in hot pursuit of
A theory of
anarchism can only be true or false, valid or invalid, logical or illogical.
deploys the AFA, it proves nothing except that he has no good arguments, and
that the proposition in front of him is emotionally unsettling in some way. In
other words, all that the AFA proves is intellectual idiocy and emotional
immaturity. It is the philosophical equivalent of arguing against the
proposition that “ice cream contains milk,” by saying, “I once had a dream that
an ice cream monster was trying to eat me!” It is the kind of non
sequitur we would expect from a very young child, which would only indicate
an utter incomprehension of the proposed statement.
People who are
threatened by ideas should at least have the honesty to say, “I am threatened
by this idea,” rather than pretend that the idea is somehow objectively
threatening to the human race as a whole. If I am afraid of short men, I should
be honest about my fears and say, “I am afraid of short men,” rather than
vehemently argue that short men will somehow destroy the world!
prejudice against anarchists – much like prejudice against atheists – is one of
the last remaining acceptable bigotries in the world. We cannot judge any group
negatively – except a group that relies on reason, evidence and nonviolence.
Thus, it will
not do us any good to run screaming from the idea of a stateless society,
imagining all kinds of demonic horrors. If we allow fear-mongering to not only
inform, but rather define and direct our thinking, then we are left without the
ability to think at all, but instead must sit clutching the skirts of those who
tell us tall and terrifying tales.
judge the truth of an idea by our fears of its effect.
or against the existence of gods are not validated by our fears of – or desires
for – a godless universe. We cannot oppose a theory of gravity by saying that
it is unpleasant to fall down stairs; neither can we oppose a new theory by
demanding prior historical examples. The entire point of a new theory is that
it is unprecedented; the first man to invent a jet aircraft could scarcely
submit examples of jet aircraft flying in the past.
objection to anarchic theories is that they are not embraced or validated by
professional intellectuals, philosophers and academics.
This is very
true, and, as I explained in great detail in my book, “Everyday Anarchy,” I
think we can view this as a positive, rather than a negative.
Still, is it
reasonable for me to ask you to reject the near-universal consensus of highly
intelligent people – professors, pundits, columnists, academics and so on –
simply because they happen to disagree with or ignore the propositions that I
am putting forward here? Surely we have all heard of a number of scam artists –
particularly on the Internet – who sell snake oil solutions to genuine
ailments, preying upon the weak, the desperate and the gullible. Is it
reasonable to ask everyone to completely abandon respect for scholarship and
professionalism, to turf experts for the sake of their own preferred opinions?
Is this not our fear of what the Internet will do to social consensus? Can we
not find on the Wild West of the Web articles claiming that smoking is good for
you, that space aliens were responsible for 9/11, that exercise is dangerous,
fluoride will kill you and eating fat will make you lose weight?
How can we be
sure that a theory of anarchism is not just another one of these crackpot ideas
that rails against the universal consensus of experts in the field, attempting
to dislodge sober scholarship with wild-eyed speculation? Perhaps this book is
just a form of elaborate trickery, a playing out of some wretched and buried
psychological trauma, designed to separate you from your friends and family by
infecting you with strange and illicit ideas – and taking your money to boot,
since Freedomain Radio relies on voluntary donations!
these are all excellent questions to ask, and I for one would be highly
unlikely to pit my own judgment against that of, say, my doctor or my
accountant. One of the main reasons that we need specialists is because
enormous swaths of human knowledge remain buried under entirely
counterintuitive paradigms. Who would have thought that making your gums bleed
– at least at first – with floss would lead to oral health? Exercise often
feels bad, and eating pie always feels very good, and so we need experts to
remind us of the long-term effects of such activities, compared to the
short-term incentives and disincentives. We prefer to spend money in the moment
rather than save it for a rainy day; a surgeon might make us feel very unwell
in order to prevent or cure an illness that we may not have even felt yet; a
friend might strive to impress upon us the emotional problems of a highly
attractive sexual partner; and the dark satisfactions of discharging anger
towards a spouse in the present might create for us a very unpleasant future
In all these
areas, we rely on the objectivity and expertise of those around us, who possess
the training and knowledge to steer us against our immediate desires, or who
are not subject to our own immediate desires – as in the case of our friends –
and so can often see things more clearly.
What about the
famous idea that deep study tends to lead to moderation? A little learning is a
dangerous thing, it is often said – and with good reason. If we are ignorant of
the effects of early childhood experiences and the long-term effects on the
psychology of the personality, it is far easier to look at criminals as simply
“bad guys.” If we are ignorant of the basic truth that history is almost always
a tale told by those in power in order to justify and support their own
“virtue,” then we shall inevitably be genuinely shocked when we come across the
long-lost truths of the vanquished, or the foreign – or the dead.
we not look for moderation in our responses to complex questions? The problem
of health is complex, requiring a wide variety of inputs from nutritionists,
physical trainers, doctors, psychologists and so on – most of whom will counsel
a form of Aristotelian moderation. Too little exercise leads to brittle bones
and flab; too much exercise leads to injury. Too little food leads to a lack of
energy; too much food leads to excess weight. An over-focus on the desires and
needs of others leads to codependency; too little focus leads to selfish
narcissism. Parents must often attempt to strike a balance between discipline
and indulgence; the needs of the many must be balanced with the needs of the
few, even in just the business arena; the sacrifice of our own short-term
happiness for the sake of the longer-term happiness of another we love is all
part and parcel of having a wise, flourishing and positive set of personal and
Given all this
complexity, does the answer of “just get rid of the government!” not strike us
as overly simplistic? My mother used to talk about three spheres within society
– business, government and labor – and the need to find a balance between them.
“The endless challenge in society is finding a way to stimulate business growth
– but not at the expense of labor – so that there is enough tax revenue for
government to provide effective social services.”
This kind of
juggling act strikes us as eminently mature in many ways, and recognizes that,
just as there is good and bad in every individual, so there is good and bad in
every group. You can find bad and corrupt people in the realm of politics,
labor and business, if you want – but stretching this basic reality into an
outright condemnation of any group seems explicitly prejudicial. A man who has
been robbed by a Chinese acrobat would scarcely be justified in demanding that
the world be utterly rid of Chinese acrobats. One swallow does not a summer make;
nor do bad politicians invalidate the value of government as a whole.
isn’t it rather childish to suggest that we rid ourselves of an institution
that is so open and responsive to our feedback? We live in a democracy, for
heaven’s sake – why throw the baby out with the bathwater, when we can get
involved and change the system? If we do not like a particular company’s
business practices, we do not have to throw out “capitalism” as a whole – we
can inform others about their odious practices, organize boycotts and so on.
Surely the communicative power of the Internet has removed significant barriers
to freedom of self-expression and the exchange of information, to the point
where we no longer need to sit back when an institution fails to serve us, but
rather we can very quickly and effectively work to bring about change in our
It also seems
very alarming for us to take the enormous risk of getting rid of a government.
Such a radical step has never been taken before as part of a conscious
philosophical program. Governments have collapsed, of course – and we can only
look at the example of Somalia to see the infighting and warlords that can
arise from such a situation – and governments have been taken over, either
internally or externally – but there is no example in history of consciously
dismantling a State without any goal of replacing it. Does it seem sensible to
go directly against the entire collective history of our species, and throw out
an essential human institution that has been around as long as we have? Other
radical “reorganizations” of human society have resulted in endless slaughter,
chaos, war, and the staggering disorientation of children raised without
families, of rampant polygamy, communal “ownership” and so on. It does seem to
be a particular curse of our species that every generation or two, some new
idea comes along which aims to overthrow the entire history of human
interaction, and replace the controlled hurly-burly of a State-managed free
market with something like fascism, socialism or communism. Then, some other
wild-eyed rebel comes along and decries that, “family is dictatorship,” and
attempts to undermine and destroy that most essential component of social life,
the nuclear family. Then someone else comes along and says, “Property is
theft!” and the cycle just seems to start all over again.
The basics of
human society – of human life itself – seem to be that families are good, that
private property is important, that the greed of the free market cannot provide
all possible goods and services, that some form of centralized regulation and
law-making seems to be essential, that there is good and bad in everyone, but
there are some very good people, and some very bad people, and that the good
people need a government to protect them from the bad people.
I confess that
it must be quite exasperating for people to hear some of the basics that are so
commonly accepted as truths opened up once more for a new examination. Perhaps
it feels somewhat akin to a biologist being lectured to by a creationist during
a long intercontinental flight, or a math teacher being cornered by a
hyper-intense student strung out on caffeine who insists that numbers are just
an illusion, man!
not consistently reopen the basic methodology of the scientific method;
economists are not continually overturning the essentials of their own
profession – that human desires are limitless, but all resources are limited –
and doctors do not continually debate the value of the Hippocratic Oath.
Surely, we can
say, some basic aspects of human life can be accepted as given, so that we can
have a firm foundation to build our edifices of thought upon. There are certain
kinds of philosophers who will continually re-open the question of metaphysics
and epistemology, and demand to know how we know that we are not living in the
dream of an existential demon, and that everything is a managed illusion, and
that we may in fact be a brain in a tank in a form of Matrix! These sorts of
“thinkers” do bring up intellectually stimulating questions, to be sure, but
there are very few of us who do not inevitably shrug our shoulders after
failing to penetrate this veil of ignorance, and shake off the burden of these
unanswerable questions, certain that we still have a life to live in the real
world, and that to sit and forever ponder these unanswerable questions would be
to sink into a form of hyper-intellectual coma.
us suppose that it would be a good thing to get rid of the government – well,
it might also be nice if we could fly, breathe underwater and sneeze gold! An
essential component of rational prioritization is to recognize and separate the
possible from the impossible. It may indeed be the case that we live in the
dream of a demon, but so what? What possible difference could it make to our
daily life if this were, or were not, the case? If it is utterly impossible to
get rid of the government – at least in our own lifetime – then isn’t it just a
kind of narcissistic self-indulgence to continue to play around with the idea
as if it ever could be implemented? We could also theorize that spending a
solid week in zero gravity could be an excellent cure for lung cancer, but that
would scarcely help the people suffering in our own lifetime. Surely, those of
us with the intellectual abilities to traverse such endless abstractions should
use our abilities for a more tangible and immediate good, rather than perform
the intellectual equivalent of inventing the inner workings of Klingon biology.
do have the right to be skeptical about those who take their intellectual
powers and run off in hot pursuit of the impossible – what could possibly be
their motivation? Why would anyone want to get involved in a series of ideas
that can never be achieved, that are alienating and frustrating to discuss,
that eject these thinkers from anywhere close to the mainstream of social
thought – and which create endless awkward silences at dinner parties,
sweaty-palmed avoidances in one’s early dating life, endless impossibilities in
educational environments, teeth-grinding frustration when reading the newspaper
or watching a movie, a reputation for eccentric and strangely intense thinking
patterns, habitual eye-rolling from friends, a suspicious intellectual monomania
that people kind of have to steer around if they wish to avoid “setting you
off” – and, last but not least, some fairly endless challenges when it comes to
raising your children, and filling them full of ideas that will doubtless set
them approximately one solar system’s league away from their peers.
It seems like
an entirely generous estimate to imagine that more than one in 100 people will
ever be interested in learning more about anarchism – and perhaps one out of a
thousand will avidly pursue the course of thought and become full-fledged
anarchists. What are the odds that these incredibly rare creatures will just
happen to be scattered around the budding anarchist’s social, familial and
anarchism is a surefire recipe for social and familial isolation. After the
virus of anarchism infects you, the possibility of infecting others remains
very low – thus, you must either retreat to some sort of mental cave, or live a
psychologically-perilous form of double life, biting your tongue and averting
your eyes whenever the topic of politics, economics or the State comes up.
these dire social consequences – combined with the fact that anarchism will
never be implemented in our lifetime – how can we possibly understand the
pursuit and acceptance of these wild ideas as anything other than a kind of
intellectual shell around a hyper-tender personality, designed to alienate,
frustrate and drive people away, perhaps as a result of a tortuous history of
Other than a
strange and perverse kind of emotional masochism, what could conceivably
motivate someone to take such a mad, vain, futile and unachievable intellectual
if anarchism is sane, anarchists are not.
certainly true that there are many strange people in this world who believe
many strange things – and that some of those strange people believe in
anarchism. Stalin was both an evil sociopath and an atheist; Hitler was a
murderous racist who also knew how to tie his shoes – this does not tell us
anything about atheists or people who know how to tie their shoes as a whole.
I can say for
myself – and I only mean this for myself – that although the truth often does
press down like the weight of a cathedral on my sometimes-sloping shoulders,
and though it does lower a dark and rippled glass between myself and the
companions and family of my youth, and though it startles and scatters shocked
glances in the faces of those around me, and although it renders the present
unstable and the future uncertain – even with all that the truth demands and
imposes upon me, I would not let you tear it from my heart with any power at
The truth was
not something that I set out to pursue. I dabbled in ideas when I was a child,
just as I dabbled in playing certain instruments and painting in watercolor –
never once dreaming that it would be anything other than a mildly diverting
hobby. Looking back on it now, many decades later, it reminds me of one of
those horror stories which depicts the disastrous consequences that result from
“delving too deep” into the earth. Some sort of unholy beast arises from the
depths and lays waste to the surface world – a beast that has lain dormant for
hundreds or thousands of years is suddenly disturbed, and awakes with a
sky-splitting roar, and a savage and unquenchable hunger for destruction.
shock of initial eruption, when the ideas that we started out merely playing
with suddenly seem to take on a life of their own, like the escalating spells
of Mickey Mouse, we do recoil in horror and leap back as if laser-scoped by a
trigger-happy sniper, but we quickly learn the lesson of all horror stories,
which is that the monsters are never outside our head.
The truth is
an angry, demanding and liberating coach, who drags us kicking and screaming up
a sharp and broken mountainside, and then sets us down gently to marvel in
breathless wonder at the most beautiful view that can ever be conceived. As our
complaints roll emptily down to disappear into the fogs of our past, in a bare
ripple of white smoke, our eyes stream with tears in mute gratitude at what we
have been able to behold.
Such happy and
driven fools often look quite mad to those around them. The truth is a drug
that renders the motives of those who pursue it incomprehensible and strangely
disturbing to everyone else. The ferocity of truth’s beauty is utterly beyond
addictive; there is a passion and almost desperation to regain and reenter the
perfection of consistent reason and the beauty of the clicking matchup between
thought and observation. It keeps us awake even when we are exhausted; it
strikes us with fits of passion even when we must be both silent and still; it
obscures mere faces and opens up real minds; it peels away all the petty
shallowness of the world and reveals all the glories and horrors of true depth.
And that makes
it all worth it. The pursuit of truth only seems like masochism to those who
have not tasted its joys. If your personal pleasures tend to center around
social acceptance, then you unconsciously know – or perhaps consciously – that
the pursuit of philosophical truth and wisdom will strip away that which gives
you the most happiness in the moment. In a very real sense, you are huddling at
the oasis of small-minded social pleasures, and cannot see beyond the desert
that surrounds you, to a wider and greater world.
there are very few philosophers who will help you to let go of this illusion.
Most philosophers will talk endlessly about the beauty of the world beyond the
desert, but will not confidently lead people away from the oasis they cling to.
“You really should come with me,” they say, “because this oasis is pretty bad,
you know, and there is this wonderful world beyond the desert that we should
all go to!” And they tug at everyone’s trousers and endlessly cajole everyone
to start marching across the desert to this wonderful new world – which baffles
and irritates everyone in sight.
“If this new
world is so wonderful, and it is supposed to set you so free, then why does the
sum total of your freedom appear to be nothing more than your endless
insistence that we all follow you out into the desert? If our world is actually
so small, petty and unsatisfying, then why do you spend your time here, rather
than in this new world that gives you such endless pleasure and freedom?
Because we must tell you directly that it appears to us that you are also
afraid of this desert, and you do not wish to cross it alone, and so you are
desperate to find people who will come with you, because you do not in fact
believe in this wonderful new world of happiness and freedom. If you had
cancer, and you had discovered a cure for it, you would not refrain from taking
that cure until you had convinced everyone else with cancer to take it. Rather,
you would take the cure, and document everything with as much detail as
possible, so that you could better make the case to others that they should
take your cure. But, this is not what you are doing. You say that you have a
cure for unhappiness called “wisdom,” but this “cure” seems to require that
everyone else take it at the same time. You do not appear to be willing to lead
by example, but instead seem to be enslaved by a compulsive need to get
everyone else to take this red pill at the same time that you do. Your pursuit
of wisdom has clearly not given you the freedom, happiness and peace of mind
that you claim it does – that you portray as a benefit in order to sell it to
others. The world is full of people who will try to sell you ‘cures’ that they
will not take themselves, and there is no good reason to believe that your
claim that philosophical wisdom leads to happiness is any different!”
paradox enslaves everyone at the oasis. The anarchist or philosopher, it turns
out, is only tortured by his vision of the world beyond the desert – and in
fact is only reinforcing everyone’s belief in the necessity of social
conformity for the achievement and maintenance of happiness. In this way, the
philosopher is actually turning everyone against the pursuit of wisdom,
for the sake of his own social anxieties. He is actually portraying philosophy
as that which tortures you with a vision that you cannot achieve, but that you
must continually harass others to pursue.
the philosopher seems utterly unable to even perceive this basic paradox
– let alone solve it – how much credibility are those around him going to grant
his ability to perceive, pursue and capture the truth? If I claim to be a
wonderful mathematician, and go on and on about the glories of exploring
numbers, but all that anyone ever sees is my continual frustration at the fact
that no one else seems to be very interested in math – and my complete
inability to balance my checkbook, or even notice that it doesn’t add up – then
will I not be perceived as a kind of arrant fool, motivated by heaven knows
metaphor is somewhat limited, since when we leave the oasis and cross the
desert, we pass completely out of view. However, when we pursue the truth from
our love of truth, and shrug off those who do not wish to join us, we do arise
as a beacon in our social world, a sort of lighthouse that can help guide the
few who are capable of being seized by such a love of truth that they are
willing to give up the immediate creature and social comforts of living in a
world of lies.
Those of us
who cross the desert first can be deemed the most courageous in a way, but I
must confess that in fact my journey felt less like a fish who braves leaving
the water for the shore than a fish that is caught by the hook of philosophy
and yanked unceremoniously from the depths. The future pulled me forward –
against my will at times – and it was with great regret that I left almost
everyone behind. I was not convinced of the glories of the world beyond the
desert, but rather feared that the desert would go on forever, and that
actually I might go mad. Fortunately to say the least, this did not happen, and
I did discover the world beyond the desert, and all the beauties and truths
that it contains.
By the time
that my particular journey had slowed to at least a walking pace, I felt very
little desire to go back to the oasis and try and get my former companions to
join me in this new world. Once we have made the wrenching transition from
ignorance to wisdom, we genuinely understand and appreciate the difficulty of
the process, and would no more imagine dragging our former companions across
this desert than we would choose a random person on the street to join us in an
ascent of Everest.
At the end of
my last book, I talked about a small village inhabited by those of us who have
made it across this desert. I believe that it is our job, if we choose it, to
make this little village as hospitable and inviting as possible for those few
hardy, thirsty souls that we can see struggling out of the shimmering heat of
the sand dunes. Creating a place where truth is welcome is the first goal for
us pioneers. We know that we cannot return to the half life that we had before;
we know that it would be selfish to continue on and on in the path of wisdom
without creating some markers and resting places for those who are following
us; and we know that the incredible advances in communication technology have
for the first time in history allowed the path across the desert to be mapped
has it been so relatively inviting to pursue the path of truth and wisdom. The
destination is no longer the Socratic cup of hemlock, or Nietzsche’s madness,
or Rand’s later cultishness, or the dry death of academic conformity – but
rather a gathering place – a forum, I would say – where we can exchange ideas
and experiences, and support each other, and learn how to best defend ourselves
against those who would do us harm, and build our new homes – virtual though
they may be for many – in the company of others, rather than alone, which has
so often been the case in the past.
As we make our
new homes more comfortable and inviting, we will in fact begin to draw more and
more people across the desert, because they will see that there is a
destination that can be achieved, and they will get more than a glimpse of the
life that can be lived beyond lies. No sailor can navigate by the stars if the
night is overcast – or if only one star is visible. As more and more stars wink
into view, the navigation becomes easier and easier.
If you are
tempted to pursue the freedom of truth and wisdom – or, to be more accurate, if
the skyhook of truth and wisdom snatches you into some unsuspected stratosphere
– then the choice has to some degree been made for you. To hang suspended
between the worlds of conformity and wisdom is to live in a kind of null zone,
where you gain neither the satisfactions of conformity nor the joys of wisdom.
It can be
truly hard to leave those behind who cannot or will not join you on this
journey, and the only consolation that I have been able to offer myself – and
which I offer to you now – is that there could be nothing better to do with our
lives than to create a world where we do not have to choose between wisdom and
companions, between virtue and society – where a unity with truth will not mean
a disunity with those around us.
repeat them every time I make an argument, I wanted to put a few principles out
up front, before we begin.
foremost, although I am an anarchist, I am not a utopian. There is no social
system which will utterly eliminate evil. In a stateless society, there will
still be rape, theft, murder and abuse. To be fair, just and reasonable, we
must compare a stateless society not to some standard of otherworldly
perfection, but rather to the world as it already is. The moral argument for a
stateless society includes the reality that it will eliminate a large amount of
institutionalized violence and abuse, not that it will result in a perfectly
peaceful world, which of course is impossible. Anarchy can be viewed as a cure
for cancer and heart disease, not a prescription for endlessly perfect health.
It would be unreasonable to oppose a cure for cancer because such a cure did
not eliminate all other possible diseases – in the same way, we cannot
reasonably oppose a stateless society because some people are bad, and a free
society will not make them good.
Secondly, I am
not proposing any Manichaean view of human nature in this book. I do not
believe that human beings are either innately good, or innately evil. I take a
very conservative and majority view, which is that human beings respond to
incentives, which also happens to be the basis for the discipline of economics.
Human beings are not innately corrupt, but they will inevitably be corrupted by
power. Most people will respond to situations and circumstances in a way that
maximizes their advantage, not explicitly at the expense of others, though that
can happen of course, but we are biological as well as moral beings, and there
are very few people who will sacrifice the safety and security of their family
in order to follow some abstract moral principle. When human beings are forced
to choose between virtue and necessity, they will in general choose necessity,
and will then rework their definition of virtue to justify their own actions.
been said, it seems very clear that human beings are driven to a very large and
deep degree by virtue. A man can almost never be convinced to do what he
defines as evil – but if that evil can be redefined as a good, men will almost
inevitably praise or perform it. Very few men would agree to murder for payment
– but very few men will condemn soldiers as murderers.
people would openly say that they oppose rape, but support the rapists –
however, when the same moral equation is redefined as a good, just about
everyone says that they oppose the war, but support the troops.
This is one of
the lessons that I explicitly take from our existing ruling class, which is
that the power of propaganda to redefine evil as good is a fundamental
mechanism for controlling people and making them do what you want. Before any
government can truly expand, it first needs to take control of the money
supply, in order to bribe citizens, and the educational system, in order to
indoctrinate children. A large percentage of the army’s communications budget
is dedicated to propaganda, and I assume that these people know more than a
little about how to best spend money to control the minds of others.
Thus, I do
understand that the reason that the debate about a stateless society is so
volatile and aggressive is because anarchists are fundamentally attempting to
reclaim the definition of virtue in society – and since society as a collective
is largely defined by generally-accepted definitions of virtue, the anarchist
approach to ethics is an attempt to fundamentally rewrite society as a whole.
to do this have almost always resulted in disaster, because they have always
relied on gaining control of the government and using its power to impose some
new version of ethics on a disarmed citizenry. The anarchist approach is
particularly unsettling because we say that initiating violence to solve social
problems is a great evil – perhaps the greatest evil – and so we steadfastly
reject and refuse political solutions.
In the current
world of governments, not only is political violence used to solve ethical
problems, but also the use of such violence is itself considered virtuous and
wise. Thus anarchists are entirely above the existing debate, because we are
not trying to grab the gun and point it in the direction that we approve of,
but rather are pointing out that violence cannot be used to achieve a positive
good within society. Thus not only are existing solutions immoral, but the
entire methodology for solving problems is based on a moral evil – the
initiation of the use of force.
This is a
fundamental rewrite of society, and people are right to be concerned and
skeptical about the anarchist approach. It is the most fundamental transition
that can be imagined – it is the difference between asking how slaves can be
treated better, and stating that slavery is an irredeemable moral evil. It is
the difference between asking what transgressions children should be beaten
for, and stating that beating children is always and forever immoral.
to anarchism that I hear fairly often is that human beings are not so
constituted as to be able to productively and intelligently rule themselves.
rests on such a fundamental error that it is worth dealing with up front, since
it will show up time and again in the upcoming arguments for anarchism.
We can all
understand that it would be completely irrational to say that slaves cannot be
freed, because they lack initiative and education. We all perfectly understand
that slaves are barred from education, and punished for taking initiative. It
is like saying that a totalitarian economy cannot be privatized because all of
the workers are lazy – it is clear that this “laziness” actually arises out of
a totalitarian economy, rather than any innate habits of the workers.
Nutritionists might as well say that fat people cannot lose weight, because
they are fat. The entire purpose of an expert is to help undo the habits that
ignorance and a lack of opportunity has bred, and substitute more rational and
positive behaviors in their place.
certainly true that people who come out of a statist educational system tend to
be functionally retarded in many ways – they do not understand law, they do not
understand politics, they do not understand economics, they do not understand
philosophy, they have very likely never taken a course in logic – or even been
offered one – they do not understand the scientific method, and they
fundamentally do not know how to think or debate from first principles.
These are just
the natural and disgusting results of the existing system – to say that men
cannot be free because they lack the habits that freedom would have inculcated
is a completely circular argument – it is like saying that newborn chicks of
geese that have had their wings clipped can never fly, or that the daughter of
a Chinese woman who suffered through foot binding will be born with bound feet.
virtues of the future for the sake of the evils of the past creates a
closed-loop system that we can never escape. When anarchism comes to pass,
there will doubtless be challenging and wrenching transitions for many people –
but so what? This is actually an argument for anarchism, rather than
against it. The harder that it is to transition out of a violent statist
society, the more it is necessary to do so, and to prevent it from ever
reemerging again. We do not say that heroin is less dangerous because it is so
hard to quit, or so addictive – this is a central reason why heroin should not
be taken in the first place! Constantly increasing our dosage of heroin because
it is hard to quit would scarcely be a rational response to the problem of
deadly addiction. The harder it is to quit, the more we should try to quit it,
and the more we should strive to avoid re-addiction.
that I would like to make up front is that there always seems to be a strange
disconnect or isolation in people’s concerns about the helpless and dependent
whenever I talk about getting rid of public schools, the response inevitably
comes back – automatically, it would seem, just like any other good propaganda
– that it would be terrible, because poor children would not be educated.
There is a
strange kind of unthinking narcissism in this response, which always irritates
me, much though I understand it. First of all, it is rather insulting to be
told that you are trying to design a system which would deny education to poor
children. To be placed into the general category of “yuppie capitalist scum” is
never particularly ennobling.
A person will
raise this objection with an absolutely straight face, as if he is the only
person in the world who cares about the education of poor children. I know
that this is the result of pure indoctrination, because it is so illogical.
If we accept
the premise that very few people care about the education of the poor,
then we should be utterly opposed to majority-rule democracy, for the obvious
reason that if only a tiny minority of people care about the education of the
poor, then there will never be enough of them to influence a democracy, and
thus the poor will never be educated.
who approve of democracy and accept that democracy will provide the poor with
education inevitably accept that a significant majority of people care enough
about the poor to agitate for a political solution, and pay the taxes that fund
democrat who cares about the poor automatically accepts the reality that a
significant majority of people are both willing and able to help and fund the
education of the poor.
If people are
willing to agitate for and pay the taxes to support a State-run solution to the
problem of education, then the State solution is a mere reflection of
their desires and willingness to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake
of educating the poor.
If I pay for a
cure for an ailment that I have, and I find out that that cure actually makes
me worse, do I give up on trying to find a cure? Of course not. It was my desire
to find a cure that drove me to the false solution in the first place – when I
accept that that solution is false, I am then free to pursue another solution.
(In fact, until I accept that my first “cure” actually makes me worse, I will
continue to waste my time and resources.)
“solution” to the problem of educating the poor is the existence of public
schools – if we get rid of that solution, then the majority’s desire to help
educate the poor will simply take on another form – and a far more effective
form, that much is guaranteed.
“Ah,” say the
democrats, “but without being forced to pay for public schools, no one will
surrender the money to voluntarily fund the education of poor children.”
Well, this is
only an admission that democracy is a complete and total lie – that public
schools do not represent the will of the majority, but rather the whims
of a violent minority. Thus votes do not matter at all, and are not counted,
and do not influence public policy in the least, and thus we should get rid of
this ridiculous overhead of democracy and get right back to a good old Platonic
system of minority dictatorship.
of course, is greeted with outright horror, and protestations that democracy
must be kept because it is the best system, because public policy does
reflect the will of the majority.
In which case
we need have no fear that the poor will not be educated in a free society,
since the majority of people very much want that to happen anyway.
same argument applies to a large number of other statist “solutions” to
existing problems, such as:
Health care for the impoverished;
If these State
programs represent the desires and will of the majority, then removing the
government will not remove the reality of this kind of charity, since
government policies reflect the majority’s existing desire to help these
programs do not represent the desires and will of the majority, then
democracy is a complete lie, and we should stop interfering with our leader’s
universal benevolence with our distracting and wasteful “voting.”
We will get
into this in more detail as we go forward, but I wanted to put the argument out
up front, just to address the ridiculous objection that removing a democratic
State also removes the benevolence that drives its policies.
anarchic argument is that a democratic State uses the genuine benevolence of
the majority to expand its own power, and exacerbates poverty, ignorance and
sickness in order to justify and continue the expansion of that power.
This is not
the first time that the benevolence of good people has been used to control
We only need
to think of the example of organized religion to understand that…
point, and then we shall begin really rolling up our sleeves and having some
fun figuring out how a free society can truly work.
ideas of anarchy can be alarming, it is important to remember that anarchy is
not an untried and untested system. As I talked about in my last book, anarchy
is the foundation of how we organize our own personal lives, and it is also the
root of how the government manages to survive, at least for as long as it does,
despite its corrupt and evil nature.
to re-writing social ethics failed because they did not evolve out of what
works in our personal lives. We fully accept that theories of physics cannot
contradict that which is directly observable within our own lives; that which
describes a falling planet cannot contradict our direct perception of a falling
we would so strenuously resist the incursion of State power into our own
personal and practical “anarchy,” it can be easier to understand how statism
is a violent and artificial solution, not anarchy.
If we look at
something like communism, we can see that it represented a radical reversal of
what actually works in our own personal lives. We retain and trade property
constantly in our own lives. Stripping us of the right to own and trade
property is an entirely artificial “oppositional solution,” which is why it had
to be imposed through endless violence, murder and imprisonment.
In the same
way, when we look at something like religion, we can see that it represents a
radical reversal of what we actually believe to be true in our own personal
lives. Children do not need threats, bribes and propaganda to believe that the
sun will rise tomorrow, that gravity works and concrete is hard on the knees.
They do not need to be bullied in order to learn language, or grow physically
and mentally, or ask endless questions and explore their environment.
believe that some ancient and fantastical Jewish zombie died for their “sins,”
and that they are trailed and judged by an omnipresent and invisible ghost, and
that they need to eat and drink symbolic flesh and blood to commune with some
universal and incorporeal mind – well, that takes an enormous amount of
propaganda, bribery and bullying. Religion is an entirely artificial “oppositional
solution” to the question of existence and ethics. It must be repetitively and
aggressively inflicted on children, because it scarcely comes naturally to them
however, does not fall into this category.
when you face a problem at work, I can’t imagine that you ever sit your team
down and say:
“I’ve come up
with the perfect solution to our problem – what we’re going to do, see, is pick
two of us, give them guns, and then those two are going to force the rest of us
to do whatever they want for the next few years, and then we are going to
perhaps pick two other people who will get those guns, and then they’ll
be able to force us to do whatever they want us to do for the next few years,
and then we’ll start all over again…”
I have yet to
see a business book with anything close to the title of: “Creating A Violent
Internal Monopoly To Solve Your Customer Service Woes!”
In the same
way, if you face problems in your relationship, you may go to a marriage
counselor, but I have never heard of any couple going to the Mafia, and saying:
“We can’t quite agree on how we should be spending our money, so we’re going to
buy you guys a bunch of guns and bombs, and we want you to tell us what to do,
and if we disobey your orders, we want you to kidnap us and throw us in some
dank and horrible cell, where we can only hope to be raped by other people!”
If you are
looking for a job, I do not imagine that you will kidnap someone and force him
to hire you. If you want a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, I cannot believe that
you will chloroform and kidnap someone you are attracted to, like the
protagonist in John Fowles’s “The Collector.”
If you are
having trouble parenting, it does not seem at all likely that you will hire
someone to kidnap you if you parent in a way that he disagrees with for some
This list can
of course go on and on, but the basic reality is that we never look for statist
solutions to problems that we face in our own lives. We never create a
localized monopoly, arm it and give it the right to take half our income at
gunpoint, and then force us to obey its whims.
something about statism, some aspect of it, which profoundly isolates us from
our fellow citizens. We turn from animated problem-solvers to mindless
defenders of the status quo. As an example, I offer up the inevitable response
I receive when I provide an anarchic solution to an existing State function.
When I say that theoretical entities called Dispute Resolution Organizations
(DROs) could enforce contracts and protect property, the immediate response is
that these DROs will inevitably evolve into a single monopoly that will end up
recreating the State that they were supposed to replace.
Or, when I
talk about private roads, I inevitably hear the argument that someone could
just build a road in a ring around your land and charge you a million dollars
every time you wanted to cross it.
Or, when I
talk about private defense agencies that can be used to protect a geographical
region from invasion, I am promptly informed that those private agencies will
simply turn their guns on their subscribers, take them over, and create a new
Or, when I
discuss the power of economic ostracism as a tool for maintaining order and
conformity to basic social and economic rules, I am immediately told that
people will be “marked for exclusion” unless they pay hefty bribes to whatever
agencies control such information.
It is the same
story, over and over – an anarchic solution is provided, and an immediate “disaster
scenario” is put forward without thought, without reflection, and without
Of course, I
am not bothered by the fact that people are critical of a new and volatile
theory – I think that is an essential process for any new idea.
concern me is the fundamental lack of reciprocity in the minds of the
people who thoughtlessly reject creative solutions to trenchant problems.
I don’t mean
reciprocity with regards to me – though that is surely lacking as well – but
rather with regards to any form of authority or influence in general.
if people in a geographical region want to contract with an agency or group of
agencies for the sake of collective defense, what is the greatest fear that
will be first and foremost in their minds?
will be that some defense agency will take their money, buy a bunch of weapons,
and promptly enslave them.
How does a
free society solve this problem? Well, if there is a market need or demand for
collective defense, a number of firms will vie for the business, since it will
be so lucrative in the long term. The economic efficiency of having a majority
of subscribers would drive the price of such defense down – however, the more
people that you enroll in such a contract, the greater everyone’s fear will be
that this defense agency will attempt to become a government of some kind.
entrepreneur will be able to sell this service in the most economically
efficient manner if he does not directly and credibly address the fear that
he will attempt to create a new government.
We are so used
to being on the one-sided receiving end of dictatorial edicts from those in
power – whether they are parents, teachers, or government officials, that the
very idea that someone is going to have to woo our trust is almost
incomprehensible. “If I am afraid of something that someone wants to sell me,
then it is up to that person to calm my fears if he wants my business” – this
is so far from our existing ways of dealing with statist authority that we
might as well be inventing a new planet.
It is so
important to understand that when we are talking about a free society – and I
will tell you later how this habit is so essential for your happiness even if
anarchism never comes to pass – we are essentially talking about two
sides of a negotiation table.
When it comes
to government as it is – and all that government ever could be – we are never
really talking about two sides of the table. You get a letter in the mail
informing you that your property taxes are going to increase 5% – there is no
negotiation; no one offers you an alternative; your opinion is not consulted
beforehand, and your approval is not required afterwards, because if you do not
pay the increased tax, you will, after a fairly lengthy sequence of letters and
phone calls, end up without a house.
certainly true that your local cable company may also send you a notice that
they’re going to increase their charges by 5%, but that is still a
negotiation! You can switch to satellite, or give up on cable and rent DVDs of
movies or television shows, or reduce some of the extra features that you have,
or just decide to get rid of your television and read and talk instead.
None of these
options are available with the government – with the government, you either pay
them, give up your house, go to jail, or move to some other country, where the
exact same process will start all over again.
imagine getting this letter from your cable company?
bill is now increasing 5% per month. You cannot cancel your cable. Ever. You
cannot reduce your bill in any way. If you turn off your cable, your bill will
remain exactly the same. If you rip your cable out of the wall, your bill will
remain exactly the same, with the exception that we will charge you for the
damage. Your children will be unable to cancel your cable contract.
please note that we will be reducing our delivery of channels by approximately
1 every month. As we deliver fewer channels, you can anticipate that your bill
will sharply increase.
If you do
not pay your bill on time, the ownership of your house will revert to us, and
we will lock you in an undisclosed location, where you will be forced to do
tech support, and where we will be unable to protect you from assault and rape.
attempt to defend yourself when we come to take your house, we are fully
authorized to gun you down.
consider this kind of letter to be utterly criminal – and we would be outraged
at the dictatorial one-sidedness of the letter, as well as the threats of
violence it contained.
this is exactly the kind of communication that we get from our governments all
the time – and in many ways, it is not unrelated to the kind of non-negotiated
dictums that we received from our teachers when we were children.
Thus, when a
philosopher of anarchy proposes private solutions to public services, we
automatically and almost unconsciously feel that we are back on the receiving
end of one-sided and dictatorial commandments, and fear this multiplicity of
small “quasi-governments,” and imagine that instead of receiving a few such
ugly letters a year, we shall get perhaps dozens per month.
you do not understand that anarchism is always and forever a two-sided
negotiation, then you will remain forever untempted by its rational and
empirical pleasures, and continue to confuse coercion with voluntarism, which
is about the most fundamental error that can be made in moral understanding.
If you feel
the need for collective defense, but you are afraid that whoever you contract
with for such defense will end up ruling over you, you can just sit back, put
your feet up on the desk, clasp your hands behind your head, and just see who
comes along with an offer that satisfies you.
Once you grasp
this fundamental shift in thinking – in understanding – then you can “flip
over” to the other side of the table and use your real creative mojo to start
solving the problem.
In this way,
you can ask yourself, “If I really wanted to sell collective defense services
to a group, how could I best address and alleviate their fears that I would
turn into some kind of local dictator?”
What do you
think? If you could personally make $10 million a year by solving this problem,
what would you come up with? How would you address and alleviate people’s fears
that you would take their money, go buy an army, and rule over them?
There are as
many creative and productive answers as there are people interested in the
problem – here’s one that occurs to me, just off the top of my head…
deposit $5 million in a third-party bank account, and offer it as free payment
to anyone who could prove that I was not fulfilling my contract with my
customers to the letter. I would publish my accounts and inventory as widely as
possible, and give free access to anyone who wanted to come by and inspect my
business and its holdings.
In this way,
people could rest assured that I was not amassing some secret army of black
helicopters and men in robot suits.
“Ah,” you may
say, “but what if no one wanted to come forward and perform these kinds of
Again, that is
easy to solve. I would just pay an organization $1 million a year to audit my
business – and promise them that if they ever found me accumulating any
kind of secret army or weaponry, then I would then pay them the $5 million in
the third party bank account. In this way, external audits would be certain to
be performed, and those auditors would have every incentive to turn over every
filing cabinet in search of a miniature robot army.
“Ah,” you may
say, “but what if you were secretly paying this auditing organization $2
million a year to only pretend to audit your business?”
Well, here we
are starting to get into some very strange economic territory, which would be
utterly unsustainable in a free market, because my company would then be out $5
million up front, be paying $1 million for an auditing company, and then a
further $2 million to produce fake audits – such a company would never be able
to offer competitive rates relative to a company that operated on the up and
But even if
this were possible, it would still be an easy problem to solve, by simply
paying five companies to perform audits if necessary – paying $5 million a year
out of a profit of $10 million a year still leaves you $5 million ahead!
“Ah, but what
We all know
that this game can go on for forever and a day – the mindset that I strongly
urge you to try and get yourself into, however, is that you do not have to
contract with anyone who is not willing to satisfy your desires!
if no entrepreneur is able to offer you a deal that successfully calms your
Why, then you
do not have to take any deal at all.
“Ah,” you may
then say, “but then I am leaving myself open to the risk of foreign invasion!”
Well, that is
very true, but clearly, if you reject all offers from entrepreneurs who want to
protect you, because you feel that their protection carries too much risk, then
clearly you prefer the risk of invasion to the risk of protection.
With that in
mind, you may well choose one entrepreneur’s scheme – not because it is
risk-free, but rather because it is less risky than the risk of
If you wish to
be presented with a risk-free choice, then unfortunately you wish to be
presented with a different kind of universe than the one we inhabit, since risk
is an inevitable and natural part of life.
With that in
mind, let us turn to one of the first great objections to the idea of a stateless
society, which is collective defense, to provide an example of the
methodologies we will use in this book.
invasions should be prevented rather than repelled, just as illnesses should be
prevented rather than cured.
conceivable case for anarchism is that a stateless society would by its very
nature prevent invasion, rather than merely possess the ability to
violently repel it.
before we figure out how to repel an invasion, let us look at what an invasion
is actually designed to achieve.
Let us imagine
a land where there are two farms, owned by Bob and Jim respectively. Bob is a
rapacious and nasty fellow, who wishes to expand his farm and make more money.
To the east of
Bob is Jim’s farm, which is tidy, efficient, and productive, with a wide
variety of cows and chickens and neatly-planted fields.
To the west of
Bob is an untamed wilderness full of bears and wolves and coyotes and
mosquitoes and swamps and all other sorts of unpleasant and dangerous things.
standpoint of mere practical considerations, how can Bob most efficiently
expand his farm and increase his income?
would be to invest in a few guns, head east, and take over Jim’s farm. For a very
small investment, Bob ends up with a functioning and productive farm, ready to
provide him with milk, eggs and crops.
On the other
hand, Bob could choose to go west, into the untamed wilderness, and try to cull
a number of dangerous predators, drain the swamps, hack down and uproot all the
embedded trees and bushes. After a year or two of backbreaking labor, he may
have carved out a few additional acres for himself – an investment that would
scarcely seem worth it.
If Bob wants
to expand, and cares little about ethics, he will “invade” Jim’s farm and take
it over, because he will be taking command of an already-existing system of
exploitation and production.
Thus, we can
see that the act of invading a neighboring territory is primarily motivated by
the desire to take over an existing productive system. If that productive
system is not in place, then the motivation for invasion evaporates. A car
thief will never “steal” a rusted old jalopy that is sitting up on bricks in an
abandoned lot, but rather will attempt to steal a car that is in good
of the costs and benefits of invasion is essential to understanding how a
stateless society actually works to prevent invasion, rather than merely repel
country invades another country, the primary goal is to take over the existing
system of government, and thus collect the taxes from the existing citizens. In
the same way that Bob will only invade Jim’s farm in order to take over his
domesticated animals, one government will only invade another country in order
to take over the government of that country, and so become the new tax
collector. If no tax collection system is in place, then there is no productive
resource for the invading country to take over.
to take a silly example, we can easily understand that Bob will only invade
Jim’s farm if he knows that Jim’s cows and chickens are not armed and
dangerous. To adjust the metaphor a little closer to reality, imagine that Jim
has a number of workers on his farm who are all ex-military, well-armed, and
will fight to the death to protect that farm. The disincentive for invasion
thus becomes considerably stronger.
In the same
way, domestic governments generally keep their citizens relatively disarmed, in
order to more effectively tax them, just as farmers clip the wings of their
geese and chickens in order to more efficiently collect their eggs and meat.
cost-benefit analysis of invasion only comes out on the plus side if the
benefits are clear and easy to attain – an existing tax collection system – and
if the costs of invasion are relatively small – a largely disarmed citizenry.
In a very real
sense, therefore, a stateless society cannot be invaded, because there
is really nothing to invade. There are no government buildings to inhabit, no
existing government to displace, no tax collection system in place to take over
and profit from – and, furthermore, there is no clear certainty about the
degree of armaments that each citizen possesses (don’t worry, we will get into
gun control later…).
country can be very certain that, if it breaks through another government’s
military defenses, it will then not face any significant resistance from the
existing citizenry. A statist society can be considered akin to an egg – if you
break through the shell, there is no second line of defense inside. Invading
governments are well aware of the existing laws against the proliferation of
weapons in the country they are invading – thus they are guaranteed to be
facing a virtually disarmed citizenry, as long as they can break through the
Let us imagine
that France becomes a stateless society, but that Germany and Poland do not. Let us go with the cliché and imagine that Germany has a strong desire to
expand militarily. The German leader then looks at a map, and tries to figure
out whether he should go east into Poland, or west into France.
If he goes
east into Poland, then he will, if he can break through the Polish military
defenses, be able to feast upon the existing tax base, and face an almost
completely disarmed citizenry. He will be able to use the existing Polish tax
collectors and tax collection system to enrich his own government, because the
Poles are already controlled and “domesticated,” so to speak.
words, he only has one enemy to overcome and destroy, which is the Polish
government’s military. If he can overcome that single line of defense, he gains
control over billions of dollars of existing tax revenues every single year –
and a ready-made army and its equipment.
On the other
hand, if he thinks of going west into France, he faces some daunting obstacles
There are no
particular laws about the domestic ownership of weapons in a stateless society,
so he has no idea whatsoever which citizens have which weapons, and he
certainly cannot count on having a legally-disarmed citizenry to prey on after
defeating a single army.
us say that his army rolls across the border into France – what is their
objective? If France still had a government, then clearly his goal would be to
take Paris, displace the existing government, and take over the existing tax
is his army supposed to go once it crosses the border? There is no capital in a
stateless society, no seat of government, no existing system of tax collection
and citizen control, no centralized authority that can be seized and taken
over. In the above example of the two farms and the wilderness, this is the
equivalent not of Bob taking over Jim’s farm, but rather of Bob heading into
the wilderness and facing coyotes, bears, swamps and mosquitoes – there is no
single enemy, no existing resources to take over, and nothing in particular to
But let us say
that the German leadership is completely retarded, and decides to head west
into France anyway – and let us also suppose, to make the case as strong as
possible, that everyone in France has decided to forego any kind of collective
What is the
German army going to do in France? Are they going to go door to door, knocking
on people’s houses and demanding their silverware? Even if this were possible,
and actually achieved, all that would happen is that the silverware would be
shipped back to Germany, thus putting German silverware manufacturers out of
business. When German manufacturers go out of business, they lay people off,
thus destroying tax revenue for the German government.
army cannot reasonably ship French houses to Germany – perhaps they will seize
French cars and French electronics and ship them to Germany instead.
And what is
the German government supposed to do with thousands of French cars and iPods?
Are they supposed to sell these objects to their own citizens at vastly reduced
prices? I imagine that certain German citizens would be relatively happy with
that, but again, all that would happen is that German manufacturers of cars and
electronics would be put out of business, thus again sharply reducing the
German government’s tax income, resulting in a net loss.
by destroying domestic industries for the sake of a one-time transfer of French
goods, the German government would be crippling its own future income, since
domestic manufacturing represents a permanent source of tax revenue – this
would be a perfect example of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
what the German government could do is seize French citizens and ship them to Germany as slave labor. What would be the result of that?
this would not work either, at least not for long, because slave labor cannot
be taxed, and slave labor would displace existing German labor, which is
taxable. Thus again the German government would be permanently reducing its own
income, which it would not do.
that Germany might invade another country would be to seize control of the
wealth of the government – the ability to print money, and the ownership of a
large amount of physical assets, such as buildings, cars, gold, manufacturing
plants and so on.
nothing remains unowned in a stateless society, except that which has no value,
or cannot be owned, such as air. There are no “public assets” to seize, and
there are no state-owned printing presses which can be used to create currency,
and thus transfer capital to Germany. There are no endless vaults of government
gold to rob, no single aggregation of military assets to seize.
if we go up to a thief and say to him, “Do you want to rob a house?” what is
his first question likely to be?
“Hell I don’t
know – what’s in it?”
A thief will
always want to know the benefits of robbing a house – he is fully aware of the
risks and costs, of course, and must weigh them against the rewards. He will
never scale up the outside of some public housing welfare tenement in order to
snag an old television and a tape deck. The more knowledgeable he is of the
value of a home’s contents, the better he is able to assess the value of
breaking into it.
leadership, when deciding which country to invade, will know down to almost the
last dollar the tax revenues being collected by the Polish government, as well
as the value of the public assets they will seize if they invade. The “payoff”
can be very easily assessed.
On the other
hand, if they look west, into the French stateless society, how will they know
what they are actually going to get? There are no published figures for the net
wealth of the society as a whole, there is no tax revenue to collect, and there
are no public assets which can be easily valued ahead of time. There is no way
to judge the cost effectiveness of the invasion.
statist society is like grabbing the cages of a large number of trapped
chickens – you get all of the eggs in perpetuity. Invading a stateless society
is like taking a sprint at a flock of seagulls – all they do is scatter, and
you get nothing, except perhaps some crap on your forehead.
Thus it is
completely impossible that the German leadership would think it a good idea to
head west into France rather than east into Poland.
We could leave
the case here, and be perfectly satisfied in our responses, but I am always
willing to go the extra mile and accept the worst conceivable case.
Let us say
that some mad German who was beaten with bagfuls of French textbooks when he
was a child ends up running the government, and cares nothing at all about the
costs and benefits of invading France, but rather just wishes to take it over
in order to – I don’t know, burn all the textbooks or something like that.
We will get
into the nature and content of private agencies in the next chapter, but let us
just say that there are a number of these private defense agencies that are
paid to defend France against just such an invading madman.
Well, if I
were setting up some sort of private military defense agency, the first thing I
would do is try to figure out how I could most effectively protect my
subscribers, for the least possible cost.
thing that I would note is that nuclear weapons have been the single most
effective deterrent to invasion that has ever been invented. Not one single
nuclear power has ever been invaded, or threatened with invasion – and so, in a
very real sense, there is no bigger “bang for the buck” in terms of defense
than a few well-placed nuclear weapons.
If we assume
that a million subscribers are willing to pay for a few nuclear weapons as a
deterrent to invasion, and that those nuclear weapons cost about $30 million to
purchase and maintain every year, then we are talking about $30 a year per
subscriber – or less than a dime a day.
agencies only make money if an invasion does not occur, just as health
insurance companies only make money when you are not sick, but rather well.
question that I would be most keen to answer if I were running a defense agency
is: “How can I best prevent an invasion?”
Let us assume
that the French stateless society is a beacon of liberation in a sea of
aggressive and statist nations. The French defense agencies would work day and
night to ensure that the costs of invasion were as high as possible, and the
benefits as low as possible. Were I running one of these agencies, I would
think of solutions along the lines of the following…
If I were
concerned that my subscribers might be robbed by an invading army, I would
offer reduced rates to those willing to allow their electronic money to be
secured so that it could not be spent without their own thumb print, or
something like that. (Naturally, any system can be hacked, and people can be
kidnapped along with their money, but the purpose here is not to prevent all
possible workarounds, but rather to simply reduce the material benefits of
might offer reduced defense rates to manufacturers that would be willing to
allow a small GPS device to be installed in the guts of their machinery, so
that if it was removed to another country, it would no longer work. This device
could also be included in cars and other items of value, so that they would
either have to be used in France, or they could not be used at all.
Given that the
control of bridges is a primary military objective, in order to facilitate the
movement of troops and vehicles, I would also encourage the installation of
particular devices in domestic cars and trucks, which would automatically keep
access to bridges open. Thus invading armies would find their access to these
bridges much harder, which would again slow down the speed of their invasion.
if invasion seemed imminent, I would arm and train as many citizens as
possible. Any invading army would face a quite different challenge in a
stateless society. If Germany invades Poland, how many citizens would risk
their lives fighting against just another government? Whether a Polish leader
taxes you, or a German one, makes relatively little difference – which is why
your average citizen does not care much about who runs the local Mafia.
Citizens of a stateless society, however, would be resisting an attempt to
inflict taxation and a government upon them, and so would be far more willing
to fight the kind of endlessly-draining insurgencies that we see so often in
the annals of occupation.
These are just
a few admittedly off-the-cuff ideas, but it is relatively easy to see how the
benefits of invading France could be significantly diminished or even
eliminated, while the costs of invading France could be significantly increased
or made prohibitive.
could be raised that some lunatic group could simply detonate a nuclear bomb
somewhere inside France, for some insane or nefarious motive – but that is not
an argument against private defense agencies, and for a statist society, but
rather quite the reverse.
madman” argument is not solved by the existence of a government, since no
government can protect against this eventuality – however, a free society would
be far less likely to be the target of such an attack, since it would have a
defensive military policy only, and not an aggressive and interventionist
foreign policy, and thus would be infinitely less likely to provoke such a mad
and genocidal retaliation. Switzerland, for instance, faces no real danger of
having airplanes flown into buildings.
It is my
belief that over time, the need for these proactive and defensive strategies
would diminish, since the only thing that would really ever be needed is a few
nuclear weapons as a deterrent – and even the need for these would diminish
over time, since either the world itself would become stateless, thus
eliminating the danger of war, or the statist societies would continue to
attack each other only, for the reasons mentioned above, and the need to
continually defend a stateless society would diminish.
look at some of the illusions that we have about statist “protection” in history,
as a demonstration of how we can critically evaluate an example of a statist
“national defense” is the need for a government to protect citizens from
aggression by other governments.
This is an
interesting paradox, even beyond the obvious one of using a “government” to
protect us from “governments.” If you were able to run a magic survey
throughout history, which government do you think people would be most
frightened of and enslaved by? Would it be (a), their local State or Lord, or
(b), some State or Lord in some other country? What about ancient Rome – would it be the local rulers, who forced young Romans into military service for 20
years or more, or the Carthaginians? What about England in the Middle Ages?
Were the peasants more alarmed by the crushing taxation and strangling mobility
restrictions imposed by their local Lord, or was the King of France their
primary concern? Let us stop in Russia during the 18th century, and ask the
serfs: “Are you more frightened of the Tsar’s soldiers, or the German Kaiser?”
Let us go to a US citizen of today, and demand to know: “Are you more
frightened of foreign invaders taking over Washington, or of the fact that if
you don’t pay half your income in taxes, your own government will throw you in
Of course, we
have to look at the Second World War, which has had more propaganda thrown at
it than any other single conflict. Didn’t the British government save the
country from Germany? That is an interesting question. The British government
got into WWI, helped impose the brutal Treaty of Versailles, then contributed
to the boom-and-bust cycle of the 1920s, which destroyed the German middle
class and aided Hitler’s rise to power. During the 1930s, the British
government supported the growing aggression of Hitler through subsidies, loans
and mealy-mouthed appeasement. Then, when everything had failed, it threw the
bodies of thousands of young men at the German air force in the Battle of
Britain. Finally, it caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands more British
citizens by defending Africa and invading France, rather than let Nazism
collapse on its own – as it was bound to do, just as every tyranny has done
throughout history. Can it really be said, then, that the British government
protected its citizens throughout the first half of the 20th century? Millions
killed, families shattered, the economy destroyed, half of Europe lost to
Stalin, and China to Mao… Can we consider that a great success? I think not.
Only States win wars – never citizens.
The fact of
the matter is that we do not face threats to our lives and property from foreign governments,
but rather from our own. The State will tell us that it must exist, at the very
least, to protect us from foreign governments, but that is morally equivalent
to the local Mafia don telling us that we have to pay him 50% of our income so
that he can protect us from the Mafia in Paraguay. Are we given the choice to
buy a gun and defend ourselves? Of course not. Who endangers us more – the
local Mafia guy, or some guy in Paraguay we have never met that our local Mafia
guy says just might want a piece of us? I know which chance I would take.
There is a
tried-and-true method for resisting foreign occupation which does not require
any government – which we can see being played out in our daily news. During
the recent invasion, the US completely destroyed the Iraqi government, and now
has total control over the people and infrastructure. And what is happening?
They are being attacked and harried until they will just have to get out of the
country – just as they had to do in Korea and Vietnam, and just as the USSR had to do in Afghanistan. The Iraqi insurgents do not have a government at all – any
more than the Afghani fighters did in the 1980s.
Let’s look at
the Iraqi conflict in a slightly different light. America was attacked on 9/11
because the American government had troops in Saudi Arabia, and because it
caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through the Iraqi bombing
campaign of the 1990s. Given that the US government provoked the attacks, how
well were the innocent victims of 9/11 protected by their government? Even if
we do not count the physical casualties of the war, given the massive national
debt being run up to pay for the Iraq war, how well is the property of American
citizens being protected? How much power would Bush have to wage war if he did
not have the power to steal almost half the wealth of the entire country? The
government does not need taxes in order to wage war; it wages war because it
already has the power of taxation – and it uses the war to raise taxes, either
on the current citizens through increases and inflation, or on future citizens
fact helps explain why there were almost no wars in Western Europe from the end
of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the start of World War One in 1914. This was
largely because governments could not afford wars – but then they all got their
very own Central Banks and were able to pave the bloody path to the Great War
with printed money and deficit financing. World War One resulted from an increase in State power – and in turn swelled State power,
and set the stage for the next war. Thus, the idea that we need to give
governments the power to tax us in order to protect us is ludicrous –
because it is taxation that gives governments the power to wage war.
countries, this “war” may be a war on poverty, or illiteracy, or drugs, or for
universal health care, or whatever. It does not matter. The moment a government
takes the power – and moral “right” – to forcibly take money from citizens, the
stage is set for the ever-growing power of the State.
then arises – how does a citizen keep his property and person safe? The first
answer that I would give is another question, which is:
Let’s look at
the security mechanisms the private sector has introduced in just the past few
ATMs/credit cards (less need to carry cash);
Cell phones (can always call for help);
Call display (virtually eliminates harassing
Sophisticated home security systems;
ID tracking tags;
Credit card numeric security;
Secure online transactions;
And much more…
What has the
public sector done? Well, they shoot harmless drug users and seize their
property. They will shoot you too, if you don’t pay the massive tax increases
they demand. The police are virtually useless in property crimes – and many
violent criminals are turned loose because the courts are too slow, or are put
in “house arrest” because the prisons are too full of non-violent offenders.
So, who has
most helped you secure your person and property over the past few decades? Your
government, or your friendly local entrepreneurs? Those who have stepped in to
protect you, or those who have doubled your taxes while letting criminals walk
free? Have capitalist companies enraged foreigners to the point of terrorism?
Of course not – the 9/11 terrorists attacked the World Trade Center (to protest the financing of the US government), the Pentagon, and the White House. They
didn’t go for a Ford motor plant or a Apple store – and why would they? No one
kills for iPhones. They kill to protest military power, which rests on public
then, it makes about as much sense to rely on governments for security as it
does to rely on the Mafia for “protection.” The Mafia is really just protecting
you from itself, as are all governments. Any man who comes up to you and says:
“I need to threaten your person and steal your property in order to protect
your person and property,” is obviously either deranged, or not particularly
interested, to say the least, in protecting your person and property. As long
as we keep falling for the same old lies, we will forever be robbed blind for
the sake of our supposed property rights, and sent to wage war against internal
or external “enemies” so that those in power can further pick the pockets of
those we leave behind.
When considering statist objections to
anarchic solutions, the six questions below are most useful.
- Does the
government actually solve the problem in question?
People often say
that government courts “solve” the problem of injustice. However, these courts
can take many years to render a verdict – and cost the plaintiff and defendant
hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Government courts are also used to
harass and intimidate, creating a “chilling effect” for unpopular opinions or
groups. Thus I find it essential to question the embedded premises of statism:
Do State armies actually defend citizens?
Does State policing actually protect private
Does State welfare actually solve the problem of
Does the war on drugs actually solve the problem
of addiction and crime?
Do State prisons actually rehabilitate prisoners
and reduce crime?
It can be very
tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that the existing statist approach
is actually a solution – but I try to avoid taking that for granted, since it
is so rarely the case.
- Can the
criticism of the anarchic solution be equally applied to the statist
One of the most
common objections to a stateless society is the fear that a political monopoly
could somehow emerge from a free market of competing justice agencies. In other
words, anarchism is rejected because it contains the mere possibility of
political monopoly. However, if political monopoly is such a terrible evil,
then a statist society – which is founded on just such a political monopoly –
must be rejected even more firmly, just as we would always choose the mere possibility
of cancer over actually having cancer.
- Is anarchy
accepted as a core value in nonpolitical spheres?
In my last book,
“Everyday Anarchy,” I pointed out the numerous spheres in society where anarchy
is both valued and defended, such as dating, career choices, education and so
on. If anarchy is dismissed as “bad” overall, then it also must be “bad” in
these other spheres as well. Unless the person criticizing anarchy is willing
to advocate for a Ministry of Dating, the value of anarchy in certain spheres
must at least be recognized. Thus anarchy cannot be rejected as an overall
negative – and its admitted value and productivity must at least be accepted as
potentially valuable in other spheres as well.
- Would the
person advocating statism perform State functions himself?
Most of us
recognize and accept the right to use violence in an extremity of self-defense.
Those who support statism recognize that, in this realm, State police merely
formalize a right that everyone already has, namely the right of self-defense.
A policeman can use force to protect a citizen from being attacked, just as
that citizen can use force himself. However, if someone argues that it is moral
to use force to take money from people to pay for public schools, would he be
willing to use this force himself? Would he be willing to go door to
door with a gun to extract money for public schools? Would he be willing to
extend this right to everyone in society? If not, then he has created two
opposing ethical categories – the State police, to whom this use of violence is
moral – and everyone else, to whom this use of violence is immoral.
How can these opposing moral categories be justified?
- Can something
be both voluntary and coercive at the same time?
recognizes that an act cannot be both “rape” and “lovemaking” simultaneously.
Rape requires force, because the victim is unwilling; lovemaking does not.
Because no action can be both voluntary and coercive at the same time, statists
cannot appeal to the principle of “voluntarism” when defending the violence of
the State. Statists cannot say that we “agree” to be taxed, and then say that
taxation must be coercive. If we agree to taxation, the coercion is unnecessary
– if we do not agree to taxation, then we are coerced against our will.
- Does political
organization change human nature?
If people care
enough about the poor to vote for state welfare programs, then they will care
enough about the poor to fund private charities. If people care enough about
the uneducated to vote for state schools, they will care enough to donate to
private schools. Removing the State does not fundamentally alter human nature.
The benevolence and wisdom that democracy relies on will not be magically
transformed into cold selfishness the moment that the State ends. Statism relies
on maturity and benevolence on the part of the voters, the politicians, and
government workers. If this maturity and benevolence is not present, the State
is a mere brutal tyranny, and must be abolished. If the majority of people are
mature and benevolent – as I believe – then the State is an unnecessary
overhead, and far too prone to violent injustices to be allowed to continue. In
other words, people cannot be called “virtuous” only when it serves the statist
argument, and then “selfish” when it does not.
There are a number of other principles,
which are more specific to particular circumstances, but the six described
above will show up repeatedly.
We will now take a quick tour through an
overview of anarchism, and sketch in broad strokes the beginnings of our
solutions to the horrors of worldwide violence.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- No one
wants to pay for collective defense. In this case, voters will
universally reject any politician who proposes collective defense of any
- 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.
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
wants to pay for collective defense. This achieves the same outcome as
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
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.
- People tip
waiters and give to charity, even though they know that some people never
- 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
- 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Now, we shall really begin to make the case for anarchism by examining the
question of whether the government is a valid moral entity.
constantly tend to recur whenever the subject of dissolving the State arises.
The first is that a free society is only possible if people are perfectly good
or rational. In other words, citizens need a centralized State because there
are evil people in the world.
The first and
most obvious problem with this position is that if evil people exist in
society, they will also exist within the State – and be far more dangerous
thereby. Citizens are able to protect themselves against evil individuals, but
stand no chance against an aggressive State armed to the teeth with police and
military might. Thus, the argument that we need the State because evil people
exist is false. If evil people exist, the State must be dismantled,
since evil people will be drawn to use its power for their own ends – and,
unlike private thugs, evil people in government have the police and military to
inflict their whims on a helpless and largely disarmed population.
there are four possibilities as to the mixture of good and evil people in the
- That all men are moral;
- That all men are immoral;
- That the majority of men are moral, and a minority immoral;
- That the majority of men are immoral, and a minority moral.
balance of good and evil is statistically impossible.)
In the first
case, (all men are moral), the State is obviously unnecessary, since evil does
In the second
case, (all men are immoral), the State cannot be permitted to exist for one
simple reason. The State, it is generally argued, must exist because there are
evil people in the world who desire to inflict harm, and who can only be
restrained through fear of State retribution (police, prisons etc). A corollary
of this argument is that the less retribution these people fear, the more evil
they will do. However, the State itself is not subject to any force, but is a
law unto itself. Even in Western democracies, how many policemen and
politicians go to jail? Thus if evil people wish to do harm but are only
restrained by force, then society can never permit a State to exist, because
evil people will immediately take control of that State, in order to do evil
and avoid retribution. In a society of pure evil, then, the only hope for
stability would be a state of nature, where a general arming and fear of
retribution would blunt the evil intents of disparate groups.
The third possibility
is that most people are evil, and only a few are good. If this is the case,
then the State also cannot be permitted to exist, since the majority of
those in control of the State will be evil, and will rule over the good
minority. Democracy in particular cannot be permitted to exist, since the
minority of good people would be subjugated to the democratic will of the evil
majority. Evil people, who wish to do harm without fear of retribution, would
inevitably take control of the State, and use its power to do their evil free
of that fear. Good people act morally because they love virtue and peace of
mind, not because they fear retribution – and thus, unlike evil people, they
have little to gain by controlling the State. And so it is certain that the
State will be controlled by a majority of evil people who will rule over all,
to the detriment of all moral people.
option is that most people are good, and only a few are evil. This possibility
is subject to the same problems outlined above, notably that evil people will
always want to gain control over the State, in order to shield themselves from
retaliation. This option changes the appearance of democracy, of course:
because the majority of people are good, evil power-seekers must lie to them in
order to gain power, and then, after achieving public office, will immediately
break faith and pursue their own corrupt agendas, enforcing their wills with
the police and military. (This is the current situation in democracies, of
course.) Thus the State remains the greatest prize to the most evil men, who
will quickly gain control over its awesome power – to the detriment of all good
souls – and so the State cannot be permitted to exist in this scenario either.
It is clear,
then, that there is no situation under which a State can logically or morally
be allowed to exist. The only possible justification for the existence of a
State would be if the majority of men are evil, but all the power of the State
is always controlled by a minority of good men. This situation, while
interesting theoretically, breaks down logically because:
- The evil majority would quickly outvote the minority or
overpower them through a coup;
- Because there is no way to ensure that only good people would
always run the State; and,
- There is absolutely no example of this having ever occurred in
any of the dark annals of the brutal history of the State.
error always made in the defense of the State is to imagine that any collective
moral judgments being applied to any group of people is not also being
applied to the group which rules over them. If 50% of citizens are evil,
then at least 50% of the people ruling over them are also evil (and
probably more, since evil people are always drawn to power). Thus the existence
of evil can never justify the existence of the State. If there is no evil, the
State is unnecessary. If evil exists, the State is far too dangerous to be
Why is this
error always made? There are a number of reasons, which can only be touched on
here. The first is that the State introduces itself to children in the form of
public school teachers who are considered moral authorities. Thus is the
association of morality and authority with the State first made, and is
reinforced through years of repetition. The second is that the State never
teaches children about the root of its power – force – but instead pretends
that it is just another social institution, like a business or a church or a
charity. The third is that the prevalence of religion has always blinded men to
the evils of the State – which is why the State has always been so interested
in furthering the interests of churches. In the religious world-view, absolute
power is synonymous with perfect goodness, in the form of a deity. In the real
political world of men, however, increasing power always means increasing evil.
With religion, also, all that happens must be for the good – thus, fighting
encroaching political power is fighting the will of the deity. There are many
more reasons, of course, but these are among the deepest.
I mentioned at
the beginning of this section that people generally make two errors when
confronted with the idea of dissolving the State. The first is believing that
the State is necessary because evil people exist. The second is the belief
that, in the absence of a State, any social institutions which arise will
inevitably take the place of the State. Thus, Dispute Resolution Organizations
(DROs), insurance companies and private security forces are all considered
potential cancers which will swell and overwhelm the body politic.
arises from the same error outlined above. If all social institutions are
constantly trying to grow in power and enforce their wills on others, then by
that very argument a centralized State cannot be allowed to exist. If it is
an iron law that groups always try to gain power over other groups and
individuals, then that power-lust will not end if one of them wins, but will
spread across society until slavery is the norm.
It is also
very hard to understand the logic and intelligence of the argument that, in
order to protect us from a group that might overpower us, we should support a
group that has already overpowered us. It is similar to the statist argument
about private monopolies – that citizens should create a State monopoly because
they are afraid of a private monopoly.
Once we begin
to reason away the fogs of propaganda, it does not take keen vision to see
through such nonsense.
Another common objection to a
stateless society is that violence will inevitably increase in the absence of a
centralized State. This is a very interesting objection, and seems to arise
from people who have imbibed a large amount of propaganda about the nature and
function of the State. It seems hard to imagine that this conclusion could ever
be reached by reasoning from first principles, as we will see below.
There are several circumstances
under which the use of violence will either increase, or decrease – and they
tend to correspond with the basic principles of economics. For instance, people
tend to respond to incentives, and tend to be drawn to circumstances under
which they can gain the most resources by expending the least effort. Thus in
the lottery system, people respond to the incentive of the million dollar
payout by expending minimal resources in the purchase of a ticket.
There are several circumstances
under which violence will tend to increase, rather than decrease – and
interestingly enough, a centralized State creates and exacerbates all such
Economically speaking, risk is
the great balancer of reward. If a horse is less likely to win a race, the
gambling payout must be higher in order to induce people to bet on it. By their
very nature, speculative investments must potentially produce greater rewards
than blue-chip stocks. Similarly, white-collar criminals generally face less
physical risk than muggers. A stick-up man may inadvertently run up against a
judo expert, and find the tables turned very quickly – while a hacker siphoning
off funds electronically faces no such risk. In general, those interested in
stealing property will always gravitate toward situations where the risks of retaliation
If force or the threat thereof
is required for the theft – as in the case of taxes – one of the greatest ways
of reducing the possibilities of retaliation is through the principle of
overwhelming force. If five enormous muggers circle a 98 pound man and demand
his wallet, the possibilities of retaliation are far lower than if the 98 pound
man approaches five enormous men and demands that they surrender their wallets.
Clearly, the existence of a
centralized State creates such an enormous disparity of power that resistance
against government predations is, in all practicality, impossible. A man can
either stand up to or move away from the Mafia, but can do almost nothing to
oppose expansions of State power.
Thus, we can see that the existence
of a centralized State creates the following problems with regards to violence:
- The use of
violence tends to increase when the risks of using that violence decrease;
- The risks of
initiating violence tend to decrease as the disparity of power increases;
- There is no
greater disparity of power than that between a citizen and his government;
there is no better way to increase the use of violence than to create a
centralized political state.
Using violence is a brutal and horrible
task for most people. Most people are not physically or mentally equipped to
use violence, either due to a lack of physical strength, a lack of martial
knowledge, or an absence of sociopathic tendencies. However, the government has
enormous, relatively efficient and well-distributed systems in place to
initiate the use of force against largely disarmed citizens. Thus, those who
wish to gain the fruits of violence can do so by tapping into the government’s
network of enforcers, without ever having to directly witness or deploy
It can generally be said that
the use of violence tends to increase as the visibility and proximity of
violence decreases. In other words, if you can get other people to do your
dirty work, more dirty work will tend to get done. If everyone who wished to
gain the fruits of State violence had to hold their own guns to everyone’s
heads, almost all of them would end up refraining from such direct and
Thus in the realm of proximity
as well, the existence of a centralized State tends to both distance and hide
the reality of violence from those who wish to pluck the fruits of violence –
thus ensuring that the use of violence will tend to increase.
In a stateless society, it is
impossible to “outsource” violence to the police or the military, since they
are not funded through collective coercion. When there is a government,
however, those who wish to gain the fruits of violence – i.e. tax revenues, the
regulation of competitors, the blocking of imports and so on – can lobby the
government to enforce such beneficial restrictions on the free trade and
choices of others. They will have to pay for this lobbying effort, but they
will not have to directly fund the police and the military and the court system
and the prison guards in order to force people to obey their whims. This
“externalization of costs” is an essential ingredient in the expansion of the
use of violence.
For instance, imagine you are a
steel manufacturer who wants to block the imports of steel from other countries
– how expensive would it be to build your own navy, your own radar system, your
own Coast Guard, hire your own inspectors and so on? How would you convince all
the shippers and dock owners and transporters to inspect every container on
your behalf? Would you pay them? Would you threaten them? And even if you found
it economically advantageous to do all that, could you guarantee that
none of your competitors would do the same? Would it still be economically
advantageous if you ended up getting into an arms race with all of your fellow
manufacturers? And what if your customers found out that you were using your
own private militia to block the imports of steel – might they not take offense
at your use of violence and boycott you? No, in the absence of a centralized
State that you can offload all the enforcement costs to, it is going to be far
cheaper for you to compete openly than develop your own private, overwhelming
and universal army.
Thus, in any situation where
the costs of using violence can be externalized to some centralized agency, the
use of that violence will always tend to increase. Offloading the costs of
violence to taxpayers will always make violence profitable to specific agencies
– whether private or public. And so, once again, we can see that the existence
of the State will always tend to increase the use of violence.
How much do you think you would
spend if you knew that you would be long-dead when the bill came due? This is,
of course, the basic principle of deficit financing – the deferment of payments
to the next generation – which is perhaps the most insidious form of taxation.
Forcibly transferring property from those who have not even been born yet is
perhaps the greatest “externalization” of costs that can be imagined!
Naturally, the risks of retaliation from the unborn are utterly nonexistent –
and neither is any direct violence performed against them. Thus the principle
of “deferment” is perhaps one of the greatest ways in which the existence of a
centralized State increases the use of violence.
It is well known in
totalitarian regimes that in order to get people to accept the use of violence,
that violence must always be reframed in a noble light. Government violence can
never be referred to as merely the use of brute force for the material gain of
politicians and bureaucrats – it must always represent the manifestation of
core social or cultural values, such as caring for the poor, the sick, the old,
or the indigent. The violence must always be tucked away from direct view, and
the effects of violence elevated to sentimental heights of soaring rhetoric.
Furthermore, the effects of the withdrawal of violence must always be portrayed
as catastrophic and evil. Thus the elimination of the welfare state would cause
mass starvation; the elimination of medical subsidies would cause mass death;
the elimination of the war on drugs would cause massive addictions and social
collapse – and the elimination of the State itself would directly create
a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk nightmare world of brutal and endlessly warring
Propaganda is different from
advertising in that all that advertising can ever do is get you to try a product
for the first time – if the quality of the product does not meet your needs or
expectations, then you will simply never buy that product again. Propaganda, on
the other hand, is quite different. Advertising appeals to choice and
self-interest; propaganda uses rhetoric to morally justify the absence of
choice and self-interest. Advertising can only stimulate a one-time demand;
propaganda permanently suppresses rationality. Advertising generally uses the
argument from effect (you will be better off); propaganda always uses the
argument from morality (you are evil for doubting).
The private funding of
propaganda is never economically viable, since the amount of time and energy
required to instil propaganda in the mind of the average person is far too
great to justify its cost. In a voluntary system like the free market, paying
for year after year of propaganda (which can only result in a “first time”
purchase of a good or service) is never worth it. Propaganda is only “worth it”
when it can be used to keep people passive within a coercive system like State
taxation or regulation. For instance, here in Canada, socialized medicine is
always called a “core Canadian value,” and can be subject to no rational, moral
or economic analysis. (Of course, if it really were a “core Canadian
value,” we would scarcely need the State to enforce it!) Because the existing
system is so terrible, it takes years of State propaganda – primarily directed
at children – to overcome people’s actual experiences of the endless
disasters of socialized medicine. Propaganda is always required where people
would never voluntarily choose the situation that the propaganda is praising.
Thus we need endless propaganda extolling the virtues of the welfare state, the
war on drugs and socialized medicine, while the virtues of eating chocolate
cake are left for us to discover and maintain on our own.
Government propaganda is
primarily aimed at children through State schools, and usually takes the form
of an absence of topics. The coercive nature of the State is never
mentioned, of course, and neither are the financial benefits which accrue to
those who control the State. Children do hear endlessly about how the
State protects the environment, feeds the poor and heals the sick. This
propaganda blinds people to the true nature of State violence – thus ensuring
that State violence can increase with relatively little or no opposition.
Parents are forced to pay for
the propaganda of public schools through taxation. Thus a ghastly situation is
created wherein the taxpayers are forced to pay for their own indoctrination –
and the indoctrination of their children. This “externalization of cost” is
perhaps the greatest tool that the government uses to ensure that increasing
State violence will be subject to little or no opposition or rational analysis.
No corporation or private agency could possibly profit from a 14-year program
of indoctrinating children – the State, however, by inflicting the costs of
indoctrination onto parents, creates a situation where the slaves are forced to
pay for their own manacles. And as we all know, when slaves don’t resist,
owning slaves becomes economically far more viable.
For the above reasons, it is
clear that the existence of a centralized State vastly increases both the profits
and the prevalence of violence. The fact that the violence is masked by
obedience in no way diminishes the brutality of coercion. All moralists
interested in one of the greatest topics of ethics – the reduction or
elimination of violence – would do well to understand the depth and degree to
which the existence of a centralized State promotes, exacerbates – and profits
from – violence. Private violence is a negative but manageable situation –
however, as we can see from countless examples throughout history, public
violence always escalates until civil society becomes seriously threatened.
Because the State so directly profits from violence, eliminating the State can
in no way increase the use of violence within society. Quite the contrary –
since private agencies do not profit from violence, eliminating the State will,
to a degree unprecedented in human history, eliminate violence as well.
It has often been said that war
is the health of the State – but the argument could also be made that the
reverse is more true: that the State is the health of war. In other
words, that war – the greatest of all human evils – is impossible without the
The great Austrian economist
Ludwig von Mises was once asked what the central defining characteristic of the
free market was – i.e. since every economy is more or less a mixture of freedom
and State compulsion, what institution truly separated a free market from a
controlled economy – and he replied that it was the existence of a stock market.
Through a stock market, entrepreneurs can achieve the externalization of
risk, or the partial transfer of potential losses from themselves to
investors. In the absence of this capacity, business growth is almost
In other words, when risk is
reduced, demand increases. The stagnation of economies in the absence of a
stock market is testament to the unwillingness of individuals to take on all
the risks of an economic endeavour themselves, even if this were possible. When
risk becomes sharable, new possibilities emerge that were not present
before – the Industrial Revolution being perhaps the most dramatic example.
Sadly, one of those
possibilities – in all its horror, corruption, brutality and genocide – is war.
In this section, I will endeavour to show that, in its capacity to reduce the
costs and risks of violence, the State is, in effect, the stock market of
All economists know the
“fallacy of the broken window,” which is that the stimulation of demand caused
by a vandal breaking a window does not add to economic growth, but
rather subtracts from it, since the money spent replacing the window is
deducted from other possible purchases. This is self-evident to all of us – we
don’t try to increase our incomes by driving our cars off cliffs or burning
down our houses. Although it might please car manufacturers and home builders,
it neither pleases us, nor the people who would have had access to the new car
and house if we did not need them for ourselves. Destruction always diverts
resources and so bids up prices, which costs everyone.
(In fact, breaking a $100
window removes more than $100 from the economy, since all the time spent
returning the window to its original state – calling the window repairman,
deciding on the replacement, cleaning up the shards of glass, etc – is also
subtracted from the economy as a whole.)
There will always be accidents,
of course, and so repairs are a legitimate aspect of any free market. However,
war can never be said to be an accident, is never part of the free
market, and yet is commonly believed to be good for the economy – and must be,
for at least some people, since it is pursued so often. How can these opposites
be reconciled? How can destruction be economically advantageous, when it is so
obviously bad for the economy as a whole?
We can imagine an unethical
window repairman who smashes windows in order to raise demand for his business.
This would certainly help his income – and yet we see that this course is
almost never pursued in real life in the free market. Why not?
One obvious answer could be
that business managers are afraid of going to jail – and that certainly is a
risk, but not a very great one. Arsonists are notoriously hard to catch, for
instance, and there are so many hard-to-trace sabotages that can be undertaken.
Poison can be added to the water supply that would incriminate a water
supplier, which would take months to resolve – at which point the trail would
be long cold. Foreign hackers could be paid to infiltrate competitor’s
networks, or mount denial-of-service attacks on their web sites – sure doom for
those who sell over the Internet.
Not convinced? Well, what about
eBay? If you have a competitor who is taking away your business, why not just
get a hundred of your closest friends to give him a bad rating, and watch his
reputation – and business – dry up and blow away?
All of the above practices are
very rare in the free market, for three main reasons. The first is that they
are costly; the second is that they increase risks, and the third is the fear
If you want to hire an arsonist
to torch the factory of your competitor, you have to become an expert in
underworld negotiations. You might pay an arsonist and watch him take off to
Hawaii instead of setting the fire. You also face the risk that your arsonist
will take your offer to your competitor and ask for more money to not set
the fire – or, worse, return the favor and torch your factory! It will
certainly cost money to start down the road of vandalism, and there is no
guarantee that your investment will pay off in the way you want.
There are other tertiary costs
to pursuing a path of “competition by destruction.” You can only target one
competitor at a time, which is only partially helpful, since most businesses
face many competitors simultaneously – some local, and some overseas and
probably out of reach. Even if you are successful in destroying your
competitor, you have opened a “hole” in the market, which will just invite
others to come in – and perhaps compete even more fiercely with you. When it
comes to competition, in most cases it is better to stay with “the devil you
know.” It wouldn’t make much sense to knock out a small software competitor,
for instance, and end up giving Microsoft a good reason to enter the market.
Also, if you are a business
owner, competition is very good for you. Just as a sports team gets lazy and
unskilled if it never plays a competent opponent, businesses without
competition get unproductive, lazy and inefficient – a sure invitation to
others to come in and compete. Successful businesses need competition to
stay fit. Resistance breeds strength.
Also, what happens if you do
manage to successfully sabotage your opponents? If you do it well, no one
has any idea that you are behind the sudden spate of arson. What happens to
your insurance costs? They go through the roof – if you can even get any!
Furthermore, you will not be able to meet all the new demand right away, thus
ensuring that clients will find alternatives, which will likely remain outside
your control. Thus you have increased your costs, created incentives for
potential customers to find alternatives and alarmed your employees – creating
a dangerous situation where competitors are highly motivated to enter your
field just when you are the most vulnerable to competition! Overall, not a very
Let us say you decide to pay a
man named Stan to torch your competitor’s factory – well, the basic reality of
the transaction is that Stan, as a professional arsonist, knows how to work the
situation to his advantage far better than you do, since you are, ahem, new to
the field. Stan knows that no matter what he does, you cannot go to the police
for protection. What if he tapes your conversations and then blackmails you?
Then your exercise in amoral competition suddenly becomes a lifelong nightmare
of expense, guilt, fear and rage.
As mentioned above, what if
Stan decides to go to your competitor and reveal your plans? Surely your
competitor would pay good money for that information, since he could then go to
the police and destroy you legally even more completely than you were hoping to
destroy him illegally. A basic fact of criminal activity is that once the
gloves come off, the results become very hard to predict indeed!
What if Stan goes to your
competitor and says: “For $25,000, I was supposed to torch this place – for
$30,000 I can just turn around and set quite a different fire!” This pendulum
bidding war can turn into a desperately stressful money-loser for everyone
concerned (except Stan, of course).
And who is to say that Stan is
even a “legitimate” arsonist? What if he is an undercover agent of some kind?
What if he has been sent by someone else in order to get some dirt on you? What
if it turns out to be blackmail, or a set-up by your competitor? How would you
know? Again – it is all very risky!
Let us say that all of the
above works out just the way you want it and Stan actually torches your competitor
Bill’s factory – what might happen then? You have just created a bitter enemy
who suspects foul play, knows that you have a good motive for torching his
factory, and has nothing to lose. He might complain about you to the police,
hire private investigators and put an ad in every local paper offering a cash
reward of a million dollars for information leading to proof of your
participation – so he can sue you and recover far more than a million dollars!
Either your new enemy will find
out actionable information, and then go to the police, or he will find out unactionable
information – hints, not proof – in which case he may choose to retaliate
against you. Since you’ve been able to do it in a way that cannot be proven –
and he now knows how – you have just educated a bitter and angry man on how to
torch a factory and escape detection. Are you going to sleep safe in your bed?
Are you sure that he’s going to target only your factory?
What does all this look like in
terms of economic calculation? Have a look at a sample table below
showing the costs and benefits of competition through arson. If we assign arson
a cost of $50k, with a 50% probability of success, and a resulting economic
benefit of $1m, we see a net benefit of $450k (50% of $1m – $50k in costs). So
far so good. But if we include a 10% risk of blackmail, a 20% chance of
retaliation, a 25% chance of increased competition – all reasonable numbers –
and finally $100k in increased insurance and security costs – we can see that
the economic benefits are erased very quickly (see below).
Net Benefits (benefit / risk – cost)
(Note that the above table only
shows the economic calculations – these do not include the emotional factors of
guilt, fear and worry, which are of great significance but hard to quantify.
This is important because even if the above numbers were less disagreeable, the
emotional barrier would still have to be overcome.)
As the above conservative
example shows, it is not really worth it to attempt economic gain through the
destruction of property – and that is exactly how it should be. We want people
to be good, of course, but we also want strong economic incentives for virtue
as well, to shore up the uncertain integrity of free will!
How does this relate to war and
the State? Very closely, in fact – but with very opposite effects.
The economics of war are, at
bottom, very simple, and contain three major players: those who decide on
war, those who profit from war, and those who pay for war. Those
who decide on war are the politicians, those who profit from it are those who
supply military materials or are paid for military skills, and those who pay
for war are the taxpayers. (The first and second groups, of course, overlap.)
In other words, a corporation
which profits from supplying arms to the military is paid through a predation
on citizens through State taxation – and under no other circumstances could the
transaction exist, since the risks associated with destruction outlined above are
equal to or greater than any profits that could be made.
Certainly if those who decided
on war also paid for it, there would be no such thing as war, since
war follows the same economic incentives and costs outlined above.
However, those who decide on war
do not pay for it – that unpleasant task is relegated to the taxpayers (both
current, in the form of direct taxes and inflation, and future, in the form of
Let us see how the above
analysis of the costs of destruction changes when the State enters the
If you want to start a war, you
need a very expensive military – which must also be trained and maintained when
there is no war. There is simply no way to recover the costs of that military
by invading another country – otherwise, the free market would directly fund
armies and invasions, which it never does. Or, if you would prefer another way
of looking at it, you can only invade another country by destroying large
portions of it, killing many of its citizens, and then fighting endless
insurgencies. Given the costs of invasions and occupations – always in the
hundreds of millions or billions of dollars – what profits could conceivably be
extracted from the bombed-out country you are occupying? That would be like
asking a thief to make money by fire-bombing a house he wanted to steal from,
and then staying and keeping the occupants hostage. Madness! Thieves don’t
operate that way – and neither would war, without the presence of the State and
the money of the taxpayers.
Since the taxpayer’s money pays
for the war, the costs of destruction for those who start the war are very low
– how much does George Bush personally pay for the Iraq invasion? While it is true that those who profit from the war also pay the taxes
needed to support the war effort, the amount they pay in taxes is far less than
they receive in profits – again, facts we know because there are always people
willing and eager to supply the military.
Those who decide on war and
those who profit from war only start wars when there is no real risk of
personal destruction. This is a simple historical fact, which can be gleaned
from the reality that no nuclear power has ever declared war on another nuclear
power. The US gave the USSR money and wheat, and yet invaded Grenada, Haiti and Iraq. (In fact, one of the central reasons it was possible to know in
advance that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction capable of hitting the US was that US leaders were willing to invade it.)
Avoiding the risk of
destruction was the reason that the USSR and the US (to take two obvious
examples) fought “proxy wars” in out-of-the-way places like Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea. As we shall see below, the fact that the risk of
destruction is shifted to taxpayers (and taxpayer-funded soldiers) considerably
changes the economic equation.
The “risk of retaliation” in
economic calculations regarding war should not be taken as a general
risk, but rather a specific one – i.e. specific to those who either
decide on war or profit from it. For example, Roosevelt knew that blockading Japan in the early 1940s carried a grave risk of retaliation – but only against distant and
unknown US personnel in the Pacific, not against his friends and family in Washington. (In fact, the blockading was specifically escalated with the aim of provoking
retaliation, in order to bring the US into WWII.)
If other people are
exposed to the risk of retaliation, the risk becomes a moot point from an
amoral economic standpoint. If I smoke, but some unknown stranger might
get lung cancer, my decision to continue smoking will certainly be affected!
The power of the State to so
fundamentally shift the costs and benefits of violence is one of the most
central facts of warfare – and the core reason for its continued existence. As
we can see from the above table regarding arson, if the person who decides to
profit through destruction faces the consequences himself, he has almost
no economic incentive to do so. However, if he can shift the risks and losses
to others – but retain the benefit himself – the economic landscape changes
completely! Sadly, it then it becomes profitable, say, to tax citizens to pay
for 800 US military bases around the world, as long as strangers in New York
bear the brunt of the inevitable retaliation. It also becomes profitable to
send uneducated youngsters to Iraq to bear the brunt of the insurgency.
The fact that the State shifts
the burden of risk and payment to the taxpayers and soldiers is very important
in emotional terms. If the “arson” example could be tweaked to provide a profit
– say, by reducing the risks of blackmail or retaliation – the other risks would
still accrue to the man contemplating such violence. Such risks would cause
emotional discomfort in all but the most rare and sociopathic personalities –
and the generation of negative stimuli such as fear, guilt and worry would still
require more profit than the model can reasonably generate.
Thus the fact that the State
externalizes almost all the risks and costs of destruction is a further
positive motivation to those who would use the power of State violence for
their own ends. Once you throw in endless pro-war propaganda (also called
“war-nography”), the emotional benefits of starting and leading wars funded by
others can become a definitive positive – which ensures that wars will continue
until the State collapses, or the world dies.
If the above is understood,
then the hostility of anarchists towards the State should now be at least a
little clearer. In the anarchist view, the State is a fundamental moral evil
not only because it uses violence to achieve its ends, but also because it is
the only social agency capable of making war economically advantageous to those
with the power to declare it and profit from it. In other words, it is only
through the governmental power of taxation that war can be subsidized to the point
where it becomes profitable to certain sections of society. Destruction can
only ever be profitable because the costs and risks of violence are shifted to
the taxpayers, while the benefits accrue to the few who directly control or
influence the State.
This violent distortion of
costs, incentives and rewards cannot be controlled or alleviated, since an
artificial imbalance of economic incentives will always self-perpetuate and
escalate (at least, until the inevitable bankruptcy of the public purse). Or,
to put it another way, as long as the State exists, we shall always live with
the terror of war. To oppose war is to oppose the State. They can neither be
examined in isolation nor opposed separately, since – much more than
metaphorically – the State and war are two sides of the same bloody coin.
Most libertarians have, at one time or another, been
challenged by the problem of public property,
or how the market can best protect and allocate goods “owned” in common such as
fish in the sea, roads, airwaves and so on. An old economics parable sums up
the problem nicely – let’s briefly review it before taking a strong swing at
solving the problem of public property.
The issue is well described by a parable called the problem of the
commons (POTC), which goes something like this: a group of sheep-owning
farmers own land in a ring around a common area. They each benefit individually
from letting their sheep graze on the common land, since that frees up some of
their own farmland for other uses. However, if they all let their
sheep graze on the commons, they all suffer, since the land will be stripped
bare, and so they will end up watching their sheep starve, since their own land has all
been turned to other uses. In many circles, this is considered an
incontrovertible coup de grace for
the absolute right of private property – and the free market in general –
insofar as it “proves” that individual self-interest, rationally pursued, can
result in economic catastrophe. Due to the POTC, it is argued, the property
rights of the individual must be curtailed for the sake of the “greater good.”
Thus regulation and government ownership must be instituted to control the
excesses of individual self-interest for the sake of long-term stability, blah
There is one significant difficulty with the POTC, however,
which is that it fails to prove that government regulation or public ownership
is necessary, or that turning the POTC over to the State solves the problem in
any way. In fact, it is easy to prove that even if the POTC is a real dilemma, the worst possible way of solving it is to create
government regulations or public ownership.
The simplest rebuttal to the POTC, of course, is to point
out that the problem faced by the farmers is not an excess of private
property, but a deficiency. If we imagine
the farms surrounding the commons to be doughnut-shaped, then clearly the POTC
is best solved by simply extending the ownership of the farms to the very
center, like pizza slices (yes, these metaphors are making me hungry as well!).
If private property is thus extended to include the commons, farmers no longer face the problem of everyone wanting
to exploit un-owned resources. Everyone can then use their extra land to feed
their sheep, and everyone is content. (Alternatively, a woman can come along,
buy up the commons and start charging grazing fees. To ensure the longevity of
her resource, she will naturally take care to avoid overgrazing.)
However, let us accept that under some circumstances the
POTC is real, and cannot be overcome through the extension of private property
rights. What solutions can then be brought to bear on the problem?
Solutions to social problems always fall into one of two
categories: voluntary or coercive. Voluntary solutions to the POTC abound
throughout history – the most notable being the kinds of social arrangements
made by fishermen. When a number of fishing communities dot a lake, villagers
develop complex and effective measures to ensure that the lake is not
over-fished. Any display of wealth is frowned upon, since it is clear that
wealth can only come from over-fishing. Communal leaders meet to figure out how
much each village can catch – and it is very hard to hide your catch in a small
village. Furthermore, the problem of not knowing exactly how much fish is being
taken by others – as well as natural annual variations in fish stocks – lead to
significant underestimation of allowable catches, which ensures that
sustainability is always achieved. Left-leaning economists might be baffled by
the POTC, but there is scant recorded historical evidence of illiterates in
fishing villages regularly starving to death due to over-fishing (unless their
village leaders were left-leaning economists perhaps).
The POTC is yet another manifestation of that old bugbear:
the blind insistence that man is a being whose sole motivation is immediate
financial considerations. (Economists who believe this and who also have
children are most baffling in this regard!) “Ahhh,” says the miserly farmer of
this ‘instant gratification’ fairy tale, “I will graze my sheep by night and
callously denude the commons, so I can grow a dozen extra turnips!” But what
good will his extra turnips do him if no one in the village will talk to him,
or when no one will help him build a barn, or when he gets sick and needs
people to care for his sheep? No, even miserly farmers are far better obeying
the rules and forgetting about their extra turnips – since they will lose far
more than they gain by circumventing social norms. Communities have weapons of
ostracism and contempt that far outweigh immediate
(Has this changed in the Internet age? Surely we are far
less constrained by social norms than we used to be! Not at all – now, with
tools ranging from credit reports, web searches and easy access to prior
employers, conformity to basic decency is more important than ever.)
However, let us assume that none of the above
rebuttals to the POTC holds firm, and in certain circumstances there is simply
no way to extend property rights to, or exercise social control over, resources
which cannot be owned – what then? Do we turn such a thorny and complex problem
to the tender mercies of the State to solve?
One of the most interesting aspects of using the State to
solve the POTC is that the State itself is subject to the problem
of the commons.
Since the State is an entity wherein property is owned in
“common,” the problem of selfish exploitation leading to general destruction
applies as surely to State “property” as it does to the common land ringed by
greedy and short-sighted farmers. Just as farmers can destroy the commons while
pursuing their individual self-interest, so can politicians, bureaucrats,
lobbyists and other assorted State toadies and courtiers destroy the economy as a whole in pursuit of their own selfish economic and political goals.
The POTC argues that, due to “common ownership,” long-term
prosperity is sacrificed for the sake of short-term advantage. Because no one
defends and maintains property that can be utilized by all, that property is
pillaged into oblivion. And – the State is supposed to solve this problem? How? That is exactly how the State operates!
Let’s look at some examples of how the State pillages the
future for the sake of greed in the here-and-now:
inflationary monetary expansion;
government bonds, which future generations must
spending the money taken in through social
security, which future generations must pay for;
offensive “defense” spending, which future
citizens will pay for through increased risk of domestic attacks;
massive educational failures, which have
immensely deleterious effects on future productivity and happiness;
the granting of special powers, rights and
benefits to lobbyists such as unions, public sector employees and large
corporations, which results in higher prices and deficits (the cost to the US
economy for union laws alone is calculated at $50 trillion dollars over the past 50 years);
the failure to adequately maintain public
infrastructure such as roads, schools, bridges, the water supply and so on,
which passes enormous liabilities onto the next generation;
massive spending on the war on drugs, which
increases crime in the future;
the pollution of public lands and other fixed
assets, which saves money in the short run while ruining value in the long run;
…and goodness knows how much more!
From the above
examples, it is easy to see that the POTC applies to the State to a far greater
degree than any other social agency or individual. If we recall our group of
greedy farmers, we can easily see that they have a strong incentive to avoid or
solve the POTC, since it is they themselves who will suffer from the despoiling of un-owned lands. However, in
the case of the State, those who prey upon and despoil the public purse will never themselves face
the direct consequences of their pillaging.
Thus their incentive to prevent, solve or even alleviate the problem is
even if the farmers do end up destroying the un-owned lands, they can at least
get together and voluntarily work to find a better solution in the future. Once
the government takes over a problem, however, control passes almost completely
from the private sphere to the public sphere of enforcement, corruption and
politics. Once firmly planted in the realm of the State, not only is the
problem of public ownership made incalculably worse, but it cannot ever be resolved,
since the predation of the public purse is now defended by all the armed might
of the State military. Consequences evaporate, competition is eliminated, and a
mad free-for-all grab-fest simply escalates until the public purse is drained
dry and the State collapses. (This is what happened in the Soviet Union; in the
1980s, as it became clear that communism was unsustainable, Kremlin insiders
simply pillaged the public treasury until the State went bankrupt.)
Thus the idea
of turning to the State to solve the POTC is akin to the old medical joke about
the operation being a complete success, with the minor exception that the
patient died. If the POTC is a significant issue in the private
sector, then turning it over to the government makes it staggeringly worse –
turning it from a mildly challenging problem of economics into a suicidal
expansion of State power and violence. If the problem of the commons is not a significant
issue, then surely we do not need the State to solve it at all.
there is no compelling evidence or argument to be made for the value, morality
or efficacy of turning problems of public ownership over to the armed might of
the State. Both logically and ethically, it is the equivalent of treating a
mild headache with a guillotine.
If the State
is an evil, corrupt and destructive solution to the problems of social
organization, what alternatives can anarchism offer?
An essential aspect of economic life is the
ability to enforce contracts and resolve intractable disputes. How can a
stateless society provide these functions in the absence of a government?
The first thing to understand about
contracts is that they are a form of insurance, insofar as they attempt to
minimize the risks of noncompliance. If I enter into a five-year mortgage
agreement with a bank, I will attempt to minimize my risks by requiring that
the bank give me a fixed interest rate for the time period of the contract. My
bank, on the other hand, will minimize its risk by retaining ownership of my
house as collateral, in case I do not pay the mortgage.
In a world without risk, contracts would be
unnecessary, and everyone would do business on a handshake. However, there are
people who are dishonest, scatterbrained, manipulative and false, and so we
need contracts which basically spell out the penalties for noncompliance to
In modern statist societies, contracts are
generally enforced not through the court system, but rather through the threat
of the court system. I was in business for many years, at an executive level,
and I never once heard of a contract being successfully enforced through the
state court system, although I did on occasion hear litigious threats – which
is quite different. The threat was not so much, “I am going to use the court to
enforce this contract,” but rather, “I am going to use the threat of taking
you to court in order to enforce this contract.” The prospect of expensive and
time-consuming legal action was always enough to force a resolution of some
kind. No actual court compulsion was ever required.
It is quite easy to see that when a process
that is designed to mediate disputes becomes itself a threat which causes
disputes to be mediated privately, it has largely failed in its intent. State
court systems have become like the quasi-private car insurance companies – the
threats and inconvenience of using them has caused most people to settle their
disputes privately, rather than involve themselves in something that they are
forced to pay for, but can almost never use.
This bodes very well for anarchic solutions
to contract disputes.
In a stateless society, entrepreneurs will
be very willing and eager to provide creative solutions to the problems of
contractual noncompliance. As a nonviolent solution, the profits will be
maximized if noncompliance can be prevented, rather than merely
addressed after the fact.
To take a simple example, let us pretend
that you are a loans officer at a bank, and I come in requesting $10,000.
Naturally, you will be very happy to lend me the money if I will pay back both
the principal and interest on time, since that is how you make your profit.
However, such a guarantee is completely impossible, since even if I have the
money and the intent to pay you back, I could get hit by a bus while on my way
to do so, leaving you perhaps $10,000 in the hole.
What questions will you need to answer in
order to assess the risk? You will want to know two things in particular:
- Have I
consistently paid back loans in the past?
- Do I have any
collateral for the loan?
These two pieces of information are
somewhat related. If I have consistently paid back loans in the past, then your
need for collateral will be diminished. The more collateral that I am able to
provide for the loan, the less it is necessary for me to have a good credit
The reason that a good credit history is so
necessary is not just to establish my credit worthiness, but also to help the
bank assess how much I have currently invested into my good reputation. If I
have taken out loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past, and
repaid them on time, then it scarcely seems likely that I would have gone
through all of that just to steal $10,000.
If we say that my good credit rating saves
me two percentage points on my interest payments, and that I will need a
further $500,000 of loans over the course of my life, then my good credit
rating will be saving me at a bare minimum tens of thousands of dollars. Thus,
I would end up losing money if I took out a $10,000 loan and did not pay
it back, since the cash benefit would not cover the losses I would incur
through the destruction of my credit rating. Physical “collateral” is thus less
required, since I have the very real “collateral” of a good credit rating.
These kinds of economic calculations occur
regularly in a statist society, and would not vanish like the morning mist in a
However, there are certain kinds of loans
that some financial institutions would be willing to make, despite the high
level of risk involved. Young people just starting out – who have no family to
provide collateral – would be in a higher risk category, as would those who had
failed to make loan payments in the past. As we can see from late-night
television commercials for cars, no credit history – or even a bad credit
history – does not make one permanently ineligible for loans.
There are two main ways to manage risk in
any complex situation – hedging, and insurance. The “hedging”
approach is to bet both for and against a particular outcome. In
the world of currency trading, this means betting a certain amount that the
dollar will go up, and another amount that the dollar will go down. In the
world of horse racing, it means betting on more than one horse. This is also why
people diversify their stock portfolios.
The “insurance” approach tends to be used
where hedging is impossible. When I was an executive in the software world, my
employees would often take out insurance in case I got sick or died. It was
relatively impossible to “hedge” this risk, because keeping “backup employees”
in a basement is not particularly cost-efficient, let alone moral. Life
insurance is another example of this.
These strategies are already
well-established in the current quasi-free market. However, in one-to-one
contracts, state courts retain their monopoly. If I am an employee, I have a
one-to-one contract with my employer; I cannot “hedge” the risks involved in
this contract, and currently neither can I buy insurance to mitigate the risk that
my employer will go out of business, while still owing me pay and expenses.
In the absence of a government, the need
for the rational mitigation of risk in contracts would still be there, and
entrepreneurs will inevitably provide creative and intelligent solutions to
Let us take a relatively small example of
how contract disputes can be resolved in a stateless society.
Let us say that I pay you $15,000 to
landscape my garden, but you never show up to do the work. Ideally, I would
like my $15,000 back, as well as another few thousand dollars for my
inconvenience. In a stateless society, when we first put pen to paper on a
contract, we can choose an impartial third party to mediate any dispute. If a
conflict should arise that we cannot solve ourselves, we contractually agree in
advance to abide by the decision of this Dispute Resolution Organization (DRO).
Since I am not an expert in pursuing people
and getting money from them, if I had any doubts about your motives, capacity and
honesty, I would simply pay this DRO a fee to recompense me if the deal goes
awry. If you run off without doing the work, I simply submit my claim to the
DRO, who then pays me $20,000.
When I first apply for this insurance, the
DRO will charge me a certain amount of money, based on their evaluation of the
risk I am taking by doing business with you. If you have cheated your last ten
customers, the DRO will simply not insure the contract, thus implicitly
informing me of the risk that I am taking. If you have a spotty record, then
the DRO may charge me a few thousand dollars to insure your work – again,
giving me a pretty good sense of how reliable you are.
On the other hand, if you have been in
business for 30 years, and have never once cheated a customer, or received a
complaint, then the DRO is simply insuring against delays caused by sudden
madness or unexpected death. It may only charge me $50 for this eventuality.
This form of contract insurance is a very
powerful positive incentive for honest dealings in business. The cost of
insuring a contract is directly added to the cost of doing business, and so if
it can be kept as low as humanly possible, the financial benefits to both
parties are clear.
The cost of insuring a contract can be kept
even lower if you are willing to provide collateral upfront. What this means is
that if you cheat me out of the $15,000, and the DRO has to pay me $20,000, you
promise to pay the DRO $25,000. If you cheat me, the DRO can then take this
money directly out of your bank account.
In this way, contracts can be enforced
without resorting to violence, or lengthy and incredibly expensive court
battles. The risks of entering into contracts are clearly communicated up
front, and honest people will be directly rewarded through lower enforcement
costs, just as non-smokers are directly rewarded through lower life insurance
Suppose I have contracted with a DRO to pay
restitution if I cannot fulfill my business obligations in some way, and end up
owing them $100,000. What happens if I cannot pay, or simply refuse to pay?
Currently, the State will use violence
against me if I do not pay. While this may be a satisfying form of medieval
vengeance gratification, it scarcely helps me cough up $100,000 that the DRO
actually wants from me. In a stateless society, what options are available for
the DRO to get its money?
In any modern economy, individuals are
bound by dozens of obligations and contracts, from apartment leases to gym
memberships to credit cards contracts to insurance agreements. The costs of
doing business with people who are known to honor their contracts is far lower,
which is why it seems highly likely that a stateless society produce both DROs,
and Contract Rating Agencies (CRAs).
CRAs would be independent entities that
would objectively evaluate an individual’s contract compliance. If I become
known as a man who regularly breaks his contracts, it will become more and more
difficult for me to efficiently operate in a complex economy. This form of
economic ostracism is an immensely powerful – and nonviolent – tool for
promoting compliance to social norms and moral rules.
If an individual egregiously violates
social norms – and we shall get to the issue of violent crime below – then one
incredibly effective option that society has is to simply cease doing any
form of business with such an individual.
If I cheat my DRO – or another individual –
out of an enormous sum of money, the CRA could simply revoke my contract rating
DROs would very likely have provisions
which would simply state that they would not enforce any contract with anyone
whose contract rating was revoked. In other words, if I run a hotel, and an
“outcast” wants to rent a room, I will be immediately aware of this, since I
will enter his credit card, and be promptly informed that no contract will be
honored with this individual. In other words, if he sets fire to my hotel,
steals or destroys property, or harasses another guest, then my DRO will not
help me at all. Will I be likely to want to rent a room to this fellow, or will
I tell him that, sadly, the hotel is full?
In the same way, grocery stores, taxicabs,
bus companies, electricity providers, banks, restaurants and other such
organizations will be very unlikely to want to do business with such an
outcast, since they will have no protection if he misbehaves.
Economic interactions, of course, are
purely voluntary, and no man can be morally forced to do business with another
man. People who cheat and steal and lie will be highly visible in a stateless
society, and will find that other people will turn away from them more often
than not, unless they change their ways, and provide restitution for their
An outcast can get his contract rating
restored if he is willing to repay those he has wronged. If he gets a job and
allows his wages to be garnished until his debts are paid off, his contract
rating can be restored, at least to the minimum level required for him to hold
a job and rent an apartment. A DRO, which is always interested in preventing
recurrence, rather than dealing with consequences, may also reduce his burden
if he is willing to attend psychological and credit counseling education.
In this way, contracts can be enforced
without resorting to violence – the tool of economic and social ostracism is
the most powerful method for dealing with those who repeatedly violate moral
and social rules. We do not need to throw people into economically unproductive
“debtor’s prisons” or send men with guns to kidnap and incarcerate them – all
we need to do is publish their crimes for all to see, and let the natural
justice of society take care of the rest.
Ah, but what if an “outcast” has been
treated unjustly, and is being blackmailed by a DRO or CRA?
Well, remember that anarchism is always a two-sided
negotiation. In order to get people to sign up to your DRO or CRA, what checks
and balances would you put in your contracts to calm their fears in this
Let us turn to
a more detailed examination of how private agencies could work in a free
these are only possible ideas about how such agencies could work – I’m sure
that you have many of your own, which may be vastly superior to mine. The
purpose of this section is not to create some sort of finalized blueprint for a
stateless society, but to show how the various incentives and methodologies of
freedom can create powerful and productive solutions to complex social
problems, in a way that will forever elude a statist society.
We will start
with a few articles that I originally published in 2005, which go over my
theory of Dispute Resolution Organizations – DROs. More details about this
approach are available in my podcast series as well.
Twentieth Century proved anything, it is that the single greatest danger to
human life is the centralized political State, which murdered more than 200
million souls. Modern States are the last and greatest remaining predators. It
is clear that the danger has not abated with the demise of communism and
fascism. All Western democracies currently face vast and accelerating
escalations of State power and centralized control over economic and civic
life. In almost all Western democracies, the State chooses:
where children go to school, and how they will
the interest rate citizens can borrow at;
the value of currency;
how employees can be hired and fired;
how more than 50% of their citizen’s time and
money are disposed of;
who a citizen may choose as a doctor;
what kinds of medical procedures can be received
– and when;
when to go to war;
who can live in the country;
…just to touch on a few.
Most of these
amazing intrusions into personal liberty have occurred over the past 90 years,
since the introduction of the income tax. They have been accepted by a
population helpless to challenge the expansion of State power – and yet, even
though most citizens have received endless pro-State propaganda in government
schools, a growing rebellion is brewing. The endless and increasing State
predations are now so intrusive that they have effectively arrested the forward
momentum of society, which now hangs before a fall. Children are poorly
educated, young people are unable to get ahead, couples with children fall
ever-further into debt, and the elderly are finding their medical systems
collapsing under the weight of their growing needs. And none of this takes into
account the ever-growing State debts.
years of the twenty-first century are thus the end of an era, a collapse of
mythology comparable to the fall of communism, monarchy, or political
Christianity. The idea that the State is even capable of solving social
problems is now viewed with great skepticism – which foretells the imminent
end, since as soon as skepticism is applied to the State, the State falls,
since it fails at everything except expansion, and so can only survive on
Yet while most
people are comfortable with the idea of reducing the size and power of
the State, they become distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of getting rid of
it completely. To use a medical analogy, if the State is a cancer, they prefer
medicating it into remission, rather than eliminating it completely.
This can never
work. If history has proven anything, it is the simple fact that States always
expand until they destroy society. Because the State uses violence to achieve
its ends, and there is no rational end to the expansion of violence, States
grow until they destroy the host civilization through the corruption of money,
contracts, civility and liberty. As such, the cancerous metaphor is not
misplaced. People who believe that the State can somehow be contained have not
accepted the fact that no State in history has ever been contained.
Even the rare
reductions are merely temporary. The United States was founded on the principle
of limited government; it took little more than a few decades for the State to
break the bonds of the Constitution, implement the income tax, take control the
money supply, and begin its catastrophic expansion. There is no example in
history of a State being permanently reduced in size. All that happens during a
tax or civil revolt is that the State retrenches, figures out what it did
wrong, and begins its expansion again – or provokes a war, which silences all
but fringe dissenters.
well-known historical facts, why do people continue believe that such a deadly
predator can be tamed? Surely it can only be because they consider a slow
strangulation in the grip of an expanding State somehow better than the “quick
death” of a society bereft of a State.
Why do most
people believe that a coercive and monopolistic social agency is required for
society to function? There are a number of answers to this question, but they
tend to revolve around four central points:
- Dispute resolution;
- Collective services;
- Pollution, and;
We will tackle
the first three in this section, and the last one in the next.
It is quite
amazing that people still believe that the State somehow facilitates the
resolution of disputes, given the fact that modern courts are out of the reach
of all but the most wealthy and patient. In my experience, to take a dispute
with a stockbroker to the court system would have cost more than a quarter of a
million dollars and from five to ten years – however, a private mediator
settled the matter within a few months for very little money. In the realm of
marital dissolution, private mediators are commonplace. Unions use grievance
processes, and a plethora of specialists in dispute resolution have sprung up
to fill in the void left by a ridiculously lengthy, expensive and incompetent
State court system.
Thus it cannot
be that people actually believe that the State is required for dispute
resolution, since the court apparatus is unavailable to the vast majority of
the population, who resolve their disputes either privately or through
water and electricity and so on are all cited as reasons why a State must
exist. How roads could be privately paid for remains such an impenetrable
mystery that most people are willing to support the State – and so ensure the
continual undermining of civil society – rather than concede that this problem
is solvable. There are many ways to pay for roads, such as electronic or cash
tolls, GPS charges, roads maintained by the businesses they lead to, or
communal organizations and so on. The problem that a water company might build
plumbing to a community, and then charge exorbitant fees for supplying it, is
equally easy to counter, as mentioned above. None of these problems touch the
central rationale for a State. They are all ex post facto justifications
made to avoid the need for critical examination or, heaven forbid, a support of
completely contradictory to argue that voluntary free-market relations are
“bad” – and that the only way to combat them is to impose a compulsory monopoly
on the market. If voluntary interactions are bad, how can coercive monopolies
provision of public services inevitably leads to the following:
The granting of favorable contracts to political
Tax-subsidized costs leading to over-use, and
A lack of renewal investment in infrastructure
leading to expensive deterioration;
A growth in coercive pro-union legislation,
which spreads inefficiencies to other industries;
A lack of innovation and exploration of
alternatives to existing systems of production and distribution, and;
A dangerous social dependence on a single
…and many more
such inefficiencies, problems and predations.
countless examples of free market solutions to the problem of “carrier costs,”
this argument no longer holds the kind of water is used to, so people must turn
elsewhere to justify the continued existence of the State.
perhaps the greatest problem faced by free market theorists. It is worth
spending a little time on outlining the worst possible scenario, to see how a
voluntary system could solve it. However, it is important to first dispel the
notion that the State currently deals effectively with pollution. Firstly, the
most polluted land on the planet is State-owned, because States do not profit
from retaining the value of their property. Secondly, the distribution of
mineral, lumber and drilling rights is directly skewed towards bribery and
corruption, because States never sell the land, but rather just the resource
rights. A lumber company cannot buy woodlands from the State, just harvesting
rights. Thus the State gets a renewable source of income, and can further
coerce lumber companies by enforcing re-seeding. This, of course, tends to
promote bribery, corruption and the creation of “fly-by-night” lumber companies
which strip the land bare, but vanish when it comes time to re-seed. Selling
State land to a private company easily solves this problem, because a company
that was willing to re-seed would reap the greatest long-term profits from the
woodland, and therefore would be able to bid the most for the land.
should be remembered that, in the realm of air pollution, States created the
problem in the first place. In England, when industrial smokestacks first began
belching fumes into the orchards of apple farmers, the farmers took the
factory-owners to court, citing the common-law tradition of restitution for
property damage. Sadly, however, the capitalists had gotten to the State courts
first, and had more money to bribe with, employed more voting workers, and contributed
more tax revenue than the farmers – and so the farmer’s cases were thrown out
of court. The judge argued that the “common good” of the factories trumped the
“private need” of the farmers. The free market did not fail to solve the
problem of air pollution – it was forcibly prevented from doing so
because the State was corrupted.
However, it is
a sticking point, so it is worth examining in detail how the free market might
solve the problem of air pollution. One egregious example often cited is a
group of houses downwind from a new factory which is busy night and day coating
them in soot.
Now, when a
man buys a new house, isn’t it important to him to ensure that he will not be
coated with someone else’s refuse? The need for a clean and safe environment is
so strong that it is a clear invitation for enterprising entrepreneurs to sweat
bullets figuring out how to provide it.
If a group of
homeowners is afraid of pollution, the first thing they will do is buy pollution
insurance, which is a natural response to a situation where costs cannot be
predicted but consequences are dire.
Let us say
that a homeowner named John buys pollution insurance which pays him two million
dollars if the air in or around his house becomes polluted. In other words, as
long as John’s air remains clean, his insurance company makes money.
One day, a
plot of land up-wind of John’s house comes up for sale. Naturally, his
insurance company would be very interested in this, and would monitor the sale.
If the purchaser is some private school, all is well (assuming John has not
bought noise pollution insurance). If, however, the insurance company discovers
that Sally’s House of Polluting Paint Production is interested in purchasing
the plot of land, it will likely spring into action, taking one of the
Buying the land itself, then selling it to a
Getting assurances from Sally that her company
will not pollute;
Paying Sally to enter into a non-polluting
someone at the insurance company is asleep at the wheel, and Sally buys the
land and puts up her polluting factory, what happens then?
Well, then the
insurance company is on the hook for $2M to John (assuming for the moment that
only John bought pollution insurance). Thus, it can afford to pay Sally up to
$2M to reduce her pollution and still be cash-positive. This payment could take
many forms, from the installation of pollution-control equipment to a buy-out
to a subsidy for under-production and so on.
If the $2M is
not enough to solve the problem, then the insurance company pays John the $2M
and he goes and buys a new house in an unpolluted neighbourhood. However, this
scenario is highly unlikely, since the insurance company would be unlikely to
insure only one single person in a neighbourhood against air pollution.
So, that is
the view from John’s air-pollution insurance company. What about the view from
Sally’s House of Polluting Paint Production? She, also, must be covered by a
DRO in order to buy land, borrow money and hire employees. How does that DRO
view her tendency to pollute?
brings damage claims against Sally, because pollution is by definition damage
to persons or property. Thus Sally’s DRO would take a dim view of her
pollution, since it would be on the hook for any damage her factory causes. In
fact, it would be most unlikely that Sally’s DRO would insure her against
damages unless she were able to prove that she would be able to operate her
factory without harming the property of those around her. And without a DRO, of
course, she would be unable to start her factory, borrow money, hire employees
important to remember that DROs, much like cell phone companies, only prosper
if they cooperate. Sally’s DRO only makes money if Sally does not pollute.
John’s insurer also only makes money if Sally does not pollute. Thus the two
companies share a common goal, which fosters cooperation.
if John is not insured against air pollution, he can use his and/or Sally’s DRO
to gain restitution for the damage her pollution is causing to his property.
Both Sally and John’s DROs would have reciprocity agreements, since John wants
to be protected against Sally’s actions, and Sally wants to be protected
against John’s actions. Because of this desire for mutual protection, they
would choose DROs which had the widest reciprocity agreements.
Thus, in a
truly free market, there are many levels and agencies actively working against
pollution. John’s insurer will be actively scanning the surroundings looking
for polluters it can forestall. Sally will be unable to build her paint factory
without proving that she will not pollute. Mutual or independent DROs will
resolve any disputes regarding property damage caused by Sally’s pollution.
other benefits as well, which are almost unsolvable in the current system.
Imagine that Sally’s smokestacks are so high that her air pollution sails over
John’s house and lands on Reginald’s house, a hundred miles away. Reginald then
complains to his DRO/insurer that his property is being damaged. His DRO will
examine the air contents and wind currents, then trace the pollution back to
its source and resolve the dispute with Sally’s DRO. If the air pollution is
particularly complicated, then Reginald’s DRO will place non-volatile compounds
into Sally’s smokestacks and follow them to where they land. This can be used
in a situation where a number of different factories may be contributing
The problem of
inter-country air pollution may seem to be a sticky one, but it is easily
solvable – even if we accept that countries will still exist. Obviously, a
Canadian living along the Canada/US border, for instance, will not choose a DRO
which refuses to cover air pollution emanating from the US. Thus the DRO will have
to have reciprocity agreements with the DROs across the border. If the US DROs
refuse to have reciprocity agreements with the Canadian DROs – inconceivable,
since the pollution can go both ways – then the Canadian DRO will simply start
a US branch and compete.
is that international DROs actually profit from cooperation, in a way that
governments do not. For instance, a State government on the Canada/US border
has little motivation to impose pollution costs on local factories, as long as
the pollution generally goes north. For DRO’s, quite the opposite would be
There are so
many benefits to the concept of State-less DRO’s that they could easily fill
volumes. A few can be touched on here, to further highlight the value of the
condominium building, ownership is conditional upon certain rules. Even though
a man “owns” the property, he cannot throw all-night parties, or keep five
large dogs, or operate a brothel. Without the coercive blanket of a central
State, the opportunities for a wide variety of communities arise, which will
largely eliminate the current social conflicts about the direction of society
as a whole.
some people like guns to be available, while others prefer them to be
unavailable. Currently, a battle rages for control of the State so that one
group can enforce its will on the other. That’s unnecessary. With DRO’s,
communities can be formed in which guns are either permitted, or not permitted.
Marijuana can be approved or forbidden. Half your income can be deducted for
various social schemes, or you can keep it all for yourself. Sunday shopping
can be allowed, or disallowed. It is completely up to the individual to choose
what kind of society he or she wants to live in. The ownership of property in
such communities is conditional on following certain rules, and if those rules
prove onerous or unpleasant, the owner can sell and move at any time. Another
plus is that all these “societies” exist as little laboratories, and can prove
or disprove various theories about gun ownership, drug legalization and so on,
thus contributing to people’s knowledge about the best rules for communities.
One or two
problems exist, however, which cannot be spirited away. A person who decides to
live “off the grid” – or exist without any DRO representation – can
theoretically get away with a lot. However, that is also true in the existing
statist system. If a man currently decides to become homeless, he can more or
less commit crimes at will – but he also gives up all beneficial and
enforceable forms of social cooperation. Thus although DROs may not solve the
problem of utter lawlessness, neither does the current system, so all is equal.
persons, such as murder and rape, are generally considered separate and
distinct from those against property. However, this is a fairly modern
distinction. In the European system of common law, crimes against persons were
often punished through the confiscation of property. A rape cost the rapist such-and-such
amount, a murder five times as much, and so on. This sort of arrangement is
generally preferred by victims, who currently not only suffer from physical
violation – but must also pay taxes to incarcerate the criminal. A woman who is
raped would usually rather receive a quarter of a million dollars than pay a
thousand dollars annually to cage her rapist, which adds insult to injury.
Thus, crimes against persons and crimes against property are not as distinct as
they may seem, since both commonly require property as restitution. A man who
rapes a woman, then, incurs a debt to her of some hundreds of thousands of
dollars, and must pay it or be ejected from all the economic benefits of
other advantage can be termed the “Scrabble-Challenge Benefit.” In Scrabble, an
accuser loses his turn if he challenges another player’s word and the challenge
fails. Given the costs of resolving disputes, DROs would be very careful to
ensure that those bringing false accusations would be punished through their
own premiums, their contract ratings and by also assuming the entire cost of
the dispute. This would greatly reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, to the
great benefit of all.
On a personal
note, it has been my experience that, in talking over these matters for the
last twenty-odd years, people honestly claim that they cannot conceive of a
society without a centralized and coercive State. To which I feel compelled to
ask them: exactly how many lawsuits have you pursued in your own life? I have
yet to find even one person who has prosecuted a lawsuit through to conclusion.
I also ask them whether they maintain their jobs through threats or blackmail.
None. Do they keep their spouses chained in the basement? Not a one. Are their
friends forced to spend time with them? Do they steal from the grocery store?
words, I say, it is clear that, although you say that you cannot imagine a
society without a coercive State, you have only to look in the mirror to see
how such a world might work. Everyone who is in your life is there by choice.
Everyone you deal with on a personal or professional relationship interacts
with you on a voluntary basis. You don’t use violence in your own life at all.
If you are unsatisfied with a product, you return it. If you stop desiring a
lover, you part. If you dislike a job, you quit. You force no one – and yet you
say that society cannot exist without force. It is very hard to understand.
People then reply that they do not need to use coercion because the State is
there to protect them. I then ask them if they know how impossible it is to
actually use the court system. They agree, of course, because they know
it takes many years and a small fortune to approach even the vague possibility
of justice. I also ask them if they are themselves burning to knock over an old
woman and snatch her purse, but fear the police too greatly. Of course not.
They just think that everyone else is. Well, after twenty years of
conversations, I can tell you all: it’s not the case. Most people, given the
correct incentives, act entirely honourably.
evil people exist. There are cold, sociopathic monsters in our midst. It is
precisely because of the human capacity for evil that a centralized State
always undermines society. Due to our capacity for sadism, our only hope is to
decentralize authority, so that the evil among us can never rise to a station
greater than that of excluded, hunted criminals. To create a State and give it
the power of life and death does not solve the problem of human evil. It merely
transforms the shallow desire for easy property to the bottomless lust for
The idea that
society can – and must – exist without a centralized State is the greatest
lesson that the grisly years of the Twentieth Century can teach us. Our own
society cannot escape the general doom of history, the inevitable destiny of
social collapse as the State eats its own inhabitants. Our choice is not
between the State and the free market, but between death and life. Whatever the
risks of dissolving the central State, they are far less than the certain
destruction of allowing it to escalate, as it inevitably will. Like a cancer
patient facing certain demise, we must reach for whatever medicine shows the
most promise, and not wait until it is too late.
You might well
now be thinking: how can a stateless society deal with violent criminals?
challenging question can be answered using three approaches. The first is to
examine how such criminals are dealt with at present; the second is to divide
violent crimes into crimes of motive and crimes of passion, and
the third is to show how a stateless society would deal with both categories of
crime far better than any existing system.
question is: how are violent criminals dealt with at present? The honest
answer, to any unbiased observer, is surely: they are encouraged.
A basic fact
of life is that people respond to incentives. The better that crime pays, the
more people will become criminals. Certain well-known habits – drugs, gambling,
and prostitution in particular – are non-violent in nature, but highly desired
by certain segments of the population. If these non-violent behaviors are
criminalized, the profit gained by providing these services rises.
Criminalizing voluntary interactions destroys all stabilizing social forces
(contracts, open activity, knowledge-sharing and mediation), and so violence
becomes the norm for dispute resolution.
wherever a law creates an environment where most criminals make more money than
the police, the police simply become bribed into compliance. By increasing the
profits of non-violent activities, the State ensures the corruption of the
police and judicial system – thus making it both safer and more profitable to
operate outside the law. It can take dozens of arrests to actually face trial –
and many trials to gain a conviction. Policemen now spend about a third of
their time filling out paperwork – and 90% of their time chasing non-violent
criminals. Entire sections of certain cities are run by gangs of thugs, and the
jails are overflowing with harmless low-level peons sent to jail as make-work
for the judicial system – thus constantly increasing law-enforcement costs.
Peaceful citizens are also legally disarmed through gun control laws. In this
manner, the modern State literally creates, protects and profits from violent
standard to compare the stateless society’s response to violent crime is not
some perfect world where thugs are effectively dealt with, but rather the
current mess where violence is both encouraged and protected.
Before we turn
to how a stateless society deals with crime, however, it is essential to
remember that the stateless society automatically eliminates the greatest
violence faced by almost all of us – the State that threatens us with guns if
we don’t hand over our money – and our lives, should it decide to declare war.
Thus it cannot be said that the existing system is one which minimizes violence.
Quite the contrary – the honest population is violently enslaved by the State,
and the dishonest provided with cash incentives and protection.
– in its many forms – has been growing in Western societies over the past fifty
years, as regulation, tariffs and taxation have all risen exponentially.
National debts are an obvious form of intergenerational theft. Support of
foreign governments also increases violence, since these governments use
subsidies to buy arms and further terrorize their own populations. The arms
market is also funded and controlled by governments. The list of State crimes
can go on and on, but one last gulag is worth mentioning – all the millions of
poor souls kidnapped and held hostage in prisons for non-violent “crimes.”
States terrorize, enslave and incarcerate literally billions of
citizens, it is hard to understand how they can be seen as effectively working against
violence in any form.
How does a
stateless society deal with violence? First, it is important to differentiate
the use of force into crimes of motive and crimes of passion.
Crimes of motive are open to correction through changing incentives; any
system which reduces the profits of property crimes – while increasing the
profits of honest labor – will reduce these crimes. In the last part of this
section, we will see how the stateless society achieves this better than any
motive can be diminished by making crime a low-profit activity relative to
working for a living. Crime entails labor, and if most people could make more
money working honestly for the same amount of labor, there will be far fewer
As you have
read above, in a stateless society, Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs)
flourish through the creation of voluntary contracts between interested
parties, and all property is private. How does this affect violent crime?
Let’s look at
“break and enter.” If I own a house, I will probably take out insurance against
theft. Obviously, my insurance company benefits most from preventing
theft, and so will encourage me to get an alarm system and so on, just as
is more or less analogous to what happens now – with the not-inconsequential
adjustment that, since DROs handle policing as well as restitution,
their motives for preventing theft or rendering stolen property useless is far
higher than it is now. As such, much more investment in prevention would be
worthwhile, such as creating “voice activated” appliances which only work for
stateless society goes much, much further in preventing crime – specifically,
by identifying those who are going to become criminals, and preventing that
transition. In this situation, the stateless society is far more effective
than any State system.
In a stateless
society, contracts with DROs are required to maintain any sort of economic life
– without DRO representation, citizens are unable to get a job, hire employees,
rent a car, buy a house or send their children to school. Any DRO will
naturally ensure that its contracts include penalties for violent crimes – so
if you steal a car, your DRO has the right to use force or ostracism against
you to get the car back – and probably retrieve financial penalties to boot.
How does this
work in practice? Let’s take a test case. Say that you wake up one morning and
decide to become a thief. Well, the first thing you have to do is cancel your
coverage with your DRO, so that your DRO has less incentive against you when
you steal, since you are no longer a customer. DROs would have clauses allowing
you to cancel your coverage, just as insurance companies have now. Thus you
would have to notify your DRO that you were dropping coverage. No problem,
you’re off their list.
as a whole really need to keep track of people who have opted out of the
entire DRO system, since those people have clearly signaled their intention to
go rogue and live “off the grid.” Thus if you cancel your DRO insurance, your
name goes into a database available to all DROs. If you sign up with another
DRO, no problem, your name is taken out. However, if you do not sign up with any
other DRO, red flags pop up all over the system.
then? Remember – there is no public property in a stateless society. If you’ve
gone rogue, where are you going to go? You can’t take a bus – bus companies
will not take rogues, because their DRO will require that they take only
DRO-covered passengers, in case of injury or altercation. Want to fill up on
gas? No luck, for the same reason. You can try hitchhiking, of course, which
might work, but what happens when you get to your destination and try to rent a
motel room? No DRO card, no luck. Want to sleep in the park? Parks are
privately owned, so keep moving. Getting hungry? No groceries, no restaurants –
no food! What are you going to do?
what incentive is there to turn to a life of crime? Working for a living – and
being protected by a DRO – pays really well. Going off the grid and becoming a
rogue pits the entire weight of the combined DRO system against you – and, even
if you do manage to survive and steal something, it has probably been
voice-encoded or protected in some other manner against unauthorized use.
that you somehow bypass all of that, and do manage to steal, where are
you going to sell your stolen goods? You’re not protected by a DRO, so who will
buy from you, knowing they have no recourse if something goes wrong? And
besides, anyone who interacts with you may be dropped from the DRO system too,
and face all the attendant difficulties.
Will there be
underground markets? Perhaps – but where would they operate? People need a
place to live, cars to rent, clothes to buy, groceries to eat. No DRO means no
participation in economic life.
As well, prostitution,
gambling and drugs will not be “illegal” in a stateless society – and the
elimination of the war on drugs alone would, it has been estimated, eliminate
80% of violent crime. There are no import duties or restrictions, so smuggling
becomes completely pointless. Currency would be private, as we will see below,
so counterfeiting will be much harder.
taxation – the take-home pay for an honest worker is far higher in a
opportunities, lower profits – and greater incentives to do an honest day’s
work – there is no better way to steer those who respond to incentives alone
away from a life of crime.
Thus it is
fair to say that any stateless society will do a far better job of protecting
its citizens against crimes of motive – what, then, about crimes of passion?
passion are harder to prevent – but also present far less of a threat to those
outside of the circle in which they occur.
Let’s say that
a man kills his wife. They are both covered by DROs, of course, and their DRO
contracts would include specific prohibitions against murder. Thus, the man
would be subject to all the sanctions involved in his contract – probably
confined labor and rehabilitation until a certain financial penalty was paid off,
since DROs would be responsible for paying such penalties to any next of kin.
Fine, you say,
but what if either the man or woman was not covered by a DRO? Well, where would
they live? No one would rent them an apartment. If they own their house free
and clear, who would sell them food? Or gas, water or electricity? Who would
employ them? What bank would accept their money?
Let’s say that
only the murderous husband – planning to kill his wife – opted out of his DRO
system without telling her. The first thing that his wife’s DRO would do is
inform her of her husband’s action – and the ill intent it may represent – and
help her relocate if desired. If she decided against relocation, her DRO would
promptly drop her, since by deciding to live in close proximity with a rogue
man, she was exposing herself to an untenable amount of danger (and so the DRO
to a high risk for financial loss). Now, both the husband and wife have chosen
to live without DROs, in a state of nature, and thus face all the
insurmountable problems of getting food, shelter, money and so on.
murderers would be subject to the punishments of their DRO restrictions, or
would signal their intent by dropping DRO coverage beforehand, when
intervention would be possible.
Let’s look at
something slightly more complicated – stalking. A woman becomes obsessed with a
man, and starts calling him at all hours and following him around. Perhaps
boils a bunny or two. If the man has bought insurance against stalking, his DRO
will leap into action. It will call the woman’s DRO, which then says to her:
stop stalking this man or we’ll drop you. And how does her DRO know
whether she has really given up her stalking? Well, the man stops reporting it.
And if there is a dispute, she just wears an ankle bracelet for a while to make
sure. And remember – since there is no public property, she can be ordered off
sidewalks, streets and parks.
(If the man
has not bought insurance against stalking, no problem – it will just be more
expensive to buy with a “pre-existing condition.”)
may seem unfamiliar to you, DROs are not a new concept – they are as ancient as
civilization itself, but have been shouldered aside by the constant escalation
of State power over the last century or so. In the past, undesired social
behaviour was punished through ostracism, and risks ameliorated through
voluntary “friendly societies.” A man who left his wife and children – or a
woman who got pregnant out of wedlock – was no longer welcome in decent
society. DROs take these concepts one step further, by making all the
information formerly known by the local community available to the world as
whole, just like credit reports. (If you prefer your information to be kept
more private, DROs will doubtless offer this option.)
really no limits to the benefits that DROs can confer upon a free society –
insurance could be created for such things as:
a man’s wife giving birth to a child that is not
a daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock;
fertility problems for a married couple;
…and much more.
All of the
above insurance policies would require DROs to take active steps to prevent
such behaviors – the mind boggles at all the preventative steps that could be
taken! The important thing to remember is that all such contracts are voluntary,
and so do not violate the moral absolute of non-violence.
– how does the stateless society deal with violent criminals? Brilliantly! In a
stateless society, there are fewer criminals, more prevention, greater
sanctions – and instant forewarning of those aiming at a life of crime by their
withdrawal from the DRO system. More incentives to work, fewer incentives for a
life of crime, no place to hide for rogues, and general social rejection of
those who decide to operate outside of the civilized world of contracts, mutual
protection and general security. And remember – governments in the 20th
century caused more than 200 million deaths – are we really that worried about
private hold-ups and jewelry thefts in the face of those kinds of numbers?
There is no
system that will replace faulty men with perfect angels, but the stateless
society, by rewarding goodness and punishing evil, will at least ensure that
all devils are visible – instead of cloaking them in the current deadly fog of
power, politics and propaganda.
above, DROs are private insurance companies whose sole purpose is to mediate
disputes between individuals. If you and I sign a contract, we both agree
beforehand to submit any disputes we cannot resolve to the arbitration of a
particular DRO. Furthermore, we may choose to allow the DRO to take action if
either of us fails to abide by its decision, such as property seizure or
So far so
good. However, a problem arises if I have no DRO contract, and turn to a life
of theft, murder and arson. How can that be dealt with? Above, I suggested that
DROs would simply band together to deny goods, services and contracts to
may be concerned about the power that DROs have in a stateless society. When
describing how a stateless society could deal with murderers, we are reviewing
an extreme situation, not everyday economic and social relations. A doctor
might say: if a patient has an infected leg, and you have no antibiotics,
amputate the leg. This does not mean that he advocates cutting off limbs in
less serious circumstances. When I say that DROs will track violent criminals
and try to deny them goods and services, I do not mean that DROs would be able
to do this to just anyone. First of all, customer choice would make this
impossible. A store owner can ban anyone he likes – but he cannot do so
arbitrarily, or he will go out of business. Similarly, if people see a DRO
acting unjustly or punitively, it will quickly find itself without customers.
important thing to remember is that DRO contracts are perfectly voluntary
– and that hundreds of DROs will be constantly clamoring for our business. If
we are afraid that they will turn into a myriad of quasi-police states, they
have to address those fears if want they us as customers.
How will they
do that? Why, through contractual obligations, of course! In order to sign us
up, DROs will have to offer us instant contractual release – and lucrative cash
rewards – if they ever harass us or treat us arbitrarily. As a matter of
course, DRO contracts will include a provision to submit any conflicts with
customers to a separate DRO of the customers’ choosing. All this is
standard fare in the reduction of contractual risk.
words, every person who says, “DROs will turn into dangerous fascistic
organizations,” represents a fantastic business opportunity to anyone who
can address that concern in a positive manner. If you dislike the idea of DROs,
just ask yourself: is there any way that my concerns could be
alleviated? Are there any contractual provisions that might tempt me
into a relationship with a DRO? If so, the magic of the free market will
provide them. Some DROs will offer to pay you a million dollars if they treat
you unjustly – and you can choose the DRO that makes that decision!
Other DROs will band together and form a review board which regularly searches
their warehouses for illicit arms and armies. DROs will fund “watchdog”
organizations which regularly rate DRO integrity.
If none of the
above appeals to you, then the DRO system is clearly not for you – but then
neither is the current State system, which is already one-sided, repressive and
dictatorial. And remember – in a free society such as I describe, you can
always choose to live without a DRO, of course, or pay for its services as
needed (as I mention in “The Stateless Society”) – as long as you do not start
stealing and killing.
For those who still
think DROs will become governments, I invite you to take a look at a
real-world example of a DRO – one of the world’s largest “employers.”
Currently, over 300,000 people rely on it for a significant portion of their
income. Most of what they sell is so inexpensive that lawsuits are not cost-effective,
and transactions regularly cross incompatible legal borders – in other words,
they operate in a stateless society. So how does eBay resolve disputes?
Simply through dialogue and the dissemination of information (see http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/unpaid-item-process.html).
If I do not pay for something I receive, I get a strike against me. If I do not
ship something that I was paid for, I also get a strike. Everyone I deal with can
also rate my products, service and support. If I am rated poorly, I have to
sell my goods for less since, everything else being equal, people prefer
dealing with a better-rated vendor (or buyer). If enough people rate me poorly,
I will go out of business, because the risk of dealing with me becomes too
great. There are no police or courts or violence involved here – thefts are
simply dealt with through communication and information sharing.
Thus eBay is
an example of the largest DRO around – are we really afraid that it is going to
turn into a quasi-government? Do any of us truly lie awake wondering whether
the eBay SWAT team is going to break down our doors and drag us away to some
offshore J2EE coding gulag?
Any system can
be abused – which is why governments are so abhorrent – and so checks and
balances are essential to any proposed form of social organization. That’s the
beauty of the DRO approach. Those who dislike, mistrust or fear DROs do not
have to have anything to do with them, and can rely on handshakes, reputation
and trust – or start their own DRO. Those whose scope prohibits such approaches
– multi-million dollar contracts or long-term leases come to mind – can turn to
DROs. Those who are afraid of DROs becoming mini-States can set up watchdog
agencies and monitor them (paid for by others who share such fears, perhaps).
either the majority of human beings can cooperate for mutual advantage,
or they cannot. If they can, a stateless society will work – especially since
millions of minds far better than mine will be constantly searching for the
best solutions. If they cannot, then no society will ever work, and we
are doomed to slavery and savagery by nature.
stand by my thesis in “Caging the Beasts” above – if you mug, rape or kill, I
will support any social action that thwarts your capacity to survive in
society. I want to see you hounded into the wilderness, refused hotel rooms and
groceries – and I want your face plastered everywhere, so that the innocent can
stay safe by keeping you at bay. I abhor the thug as much as I abhor the State
– and it is because such thugs exist that the State cannot be suffered to
continue, since the State always disarms honest citizens and encourages,
promotes and protects the thugs.
details about DROs and how disputes can be resolved in a stateless society, you
can subscribe to:
By far the most common objection to the idea of a stateless
society is the belief that one or more private Dispute Resolution Organizations
(DROs) would overpower all the others and create a new government. This belief
is erroneous at every level, but has a kind of rugged persistence that is
Here is the general objection:
society without a government, whatever agencies arise to help resolve disputes
will inevitably turn into a replacement government. These agencies may
initially start as competitors in a free market, but as time goes by, one will
arise to dominate all the others economically, and will then wage war against
its competitors, and end up imposing a new State upon the population. The
instability and violence that this “DRO civil war” will inflict upon the
population is far worse than any existing democratic State structure. Thus, a
stateless society is far too risky an experiment, since we will just end up
with a government again anyway!
This objection to an anarchic social structure is
considered self-evident, and thus is never presented with actual proof.
Naturally, since the discussion of a stateless society involves a future
theoretical situation, empirical examples cannot apply.
However, like all propositions involving human motivation,
the “replacement state” hypothesis can be subjected to logical examination.
The basis of the “replacement state” hypothesis is the
premise that people prefer to maximize their income with the lowest possible
expenditure of energy. The motivation for a DRO to use force is that, by
eliminating all competition and taking military control of a geographical
region, a DRO can make much more money than through free market competition,
and that it is worth it to invest resources in military conflict in order to
secure the permanent revenue source of a new tax base.
We can fully accept this premise, as long as it is applied
consistently to all human beings in a
stateless society. To make the “replacement state” case even stronger, we will
also assume that no moral scruples could conceivably get in the way of any
decision-making. By reducing the “drive to dominate” to a mere calculation of
economic efficiency, we can eliminate any possible ethical brakes on the
Let us start with a stateless society, wherein citizens can
voluntarily choose to contract with a DRO for the sake of property protection
and dispute resolution. Each citizen also has the right to break his contract
with his DRO.
There are essentially three possible ways that a DRO could
gain military control of an entire region:
- By secretly amassing an army, and then suddenly unleashing it
upon all competitors;
- By openly amassing an army, and then doing the same thing;
- By posing as a voluntary “Defense DRO,” amassing arms
supposedly for the legitimate defense of citizens, and then turning those
arms against the citizens and instituting itself as a new government.
There is one additional possibility, which is that a
private citizen can try to assemble his own army.
Let’s deal with each of these in turn.
In this scenario, let’s say that a DRO manager called “Bob”
decides that he is tired of dealing with customers on a voluntary basis. He
decides he is going to spend company money buying enormous amounts of armaments
and training an army. (For the moment, let us assume that Bob can make this
decision entirely on his own, and does not need to submit to any sort of Board,
bank or investor review.)
Let us assume that Bob’s DRO has annual revenues of $500
million a year, and profits of $50 million a year.
The most immediate challenge that Bob is going to face is: how on earth am I going
to pay for an army? Given that, in a free society, there is no way of knowing exactly
how many citizens are armed – or what kinds of weapons they have – it would be
necessary to err on the side of caution and assemble a fairly prodigious and
overwhelming army to gain control of an entire region, otherwise Bob’s investment
would be entirely lost in a military defeat. Such armies are scarcely cheap.
For the purposes of this argument, let’s say that it is going to cost $500
million over five years for Bob to assemble his army – surely a lowball
estimate. How is he going to get the money to pay for this?
The most obvious way for Bob to raise the extra $500
million is to charge his customers more. The $500 million Bob needs represents
more than 10 years of his DROs annual profits of $50 million a year
(reinvesting the $50m for 5 years at 10% yields $805.26m). Thus, in order to
pay for his army within five years, Bob is going to have to more than double
his prices. Since we have already assumed that it is Bob’s greed that makes him want to create a new government – and that this
greed is common to all citizens within the society – we can also assume that
his customers share his motivation. Thus, just as Bob wants to have an army so that he can maximize his income, his customers
just as surely do not want Bob to have an
army, for exactly the same reasons. The moment that Bob informs his customers
that he will now be charging them more than double for exactly the same
services, he will lose all his customers, and go out of business. Sadly, no
army for Bob.
Perhaps, though, Bob recognizes this danger, and plans to
keep his customers by telling them that he is raising their rates in order to fund an army. “Help me buy an army by paying me double your
current rates,” he tells them, “and I will share the plunder I’ll get when I
take over such-and-such a neighborhood!” Even if we assume that Bob’s customers
believe him, and are willing to fund such a mad scheme, Bob’s secret is now
out, and society as a whole – including all the other DROs – have been informed of Bob’s nefarious intentions.
Clearly, all the other DROs will immediately cease doing business with Bob’s
DRO. Since a central value of any DRO is its ability to interact with other
DROs – just as a core value of a cell phone company is its ability to interact
with other cell phone companies – Bob’s DRO will thus be crippled. In other
words, Bob will be more than doubling his rates for many years – while
providing a far inferior service – for a highly uncertain and dangerous
In addition, Bob’s bank would immediately cease doing
business with him, rendering him unable to pay his employees, his office
rental, or his bills. Bob’s electricity company will cease supplying
electricity, he will find his taps strangely dry, his phones will be cut off, and
many other misfortunes will arise as a result of his stated desire to become a
new dictator. It is hard to imagine him lasting five days, let alone retaining
all of his paying customers at double the rates for the five years required to
build his army!
Even if all the above problems could somehow be overcome,
it is hard to imagine that Bob’s customers would be happy to arm Bob in the
hopes of sharing in his plunder. Unlike the government, which can tax at will,
DROs must actually protect their customer’s property
in order to retain their business. Given that those who contract with DROs are
those with the most interest in protecting their property, it makes little
sense that they would fund Bob’s DRO army, since they would have no actual
control with that army once it was created, and thus no way of enforcing any
“plunder contract” created beforehand. In a free society, people would not try
to “protect” their property by funding a powerful army that could then take it
away from them at will. That sort of madness
requires the existence of a government!
Perhaps Bob will try to fund his army in other ways. He may
try and borrow the money, but his bank will only lend him the money if he comes
up with a credible and measurable business plan. If Bob’s business plan openly
states his desire to create an army, his bank would cease supporting him in any
way, shape or form, since the bank would only stand to lose if such an army
were created. If Bob took the money from the bank by submitting a fraudulent
business plan, the bank would be aware of this almost immediately, and would
take the remainder of the money back – and impose stiff penalties on Bob to
boot! Again, no army for Bob.
What if Bob tried to pay for his army by reducing the
dividends he was paying to shareholders? Naturally, the shareholders would
resent this, and would either have him thrown out, or would simply sell their
shares and invest their money elsewhere, thus crippling Bob’s DRO. Perhaps Bob
would try paying his employees less, but that would only drive his employees
into the arms of other DROs – also destroying his business.
It is safe to say that it is practically impossible for Bob
to get the money to pay for his army – and even if he got such money, his
business would never survive such a dangerous transgression of social and
There are other dangers, however, which are well worth
The most likely threat would seem to come from “Defense
DROs,” since those agencies would already have weapons and personnel that might
be used against the general population. However, this would be very difficult
for two main reasons. First, “Defense DROs” would require investment and
banking relationships in order to grow and flourish. Given that investors and banks
would not want to fund an army that could steal their property, they would be
certain to insert myriad “failsafe” mechanisms into their “Defense DRO”
contracts. They would make sure that all arms purchases were tracked, that all
monies were accounted for, and that no secret armies were being assembled.
“Defense DROs” would also be subject to the same kinds of
funding problems as Bob’s DRO. Let’s say that Dave is the head of a “Defense
DRO,” and wakes up one day seized by the desire to assemble his own army and
First of all, citizens would never contract with any
“Defense DRO” that would not submit to regular audits of its weapons and
accounts to ensure that no secret armies were being created. If Dave decides to
bypass this contractual obligation, and start secretly funding his own army,
how is he going to pay for it? The moment he raises his rates without
increasing his services, his customers will know exactly what he’s up to, and
withdraw their support. Bye-bye army. Dave’s funding would also be subject to
all the other problems raised above.
It can thus be seen that there is no viable way for any DRO
to pay for a secret army without destroying its business in the process. Armies
are only really possible when the government can force taxpayers to subsidize
Perhaps, instead of Bob or Dave, we have a privately
wealthy individual named Bill, a multibillionaire who decides to raise an army
and institute himself as a new dictator. Due to his immense wealth, he is not
dependent on any customers, employees, or shareholders. Let us say that he can
pay for an army out of his own pocket, immediately.
Bill’s challenge, of course, is that in a free society, he
cannot exactly pick up a complete army at his local Wal-Mart. Armies are
fundamentally uneconomical, expensive overhead at best, and thus it seems
likely that geographical defense in a free society would be limited to a couple
of dozen nuclear weapons, to deter any potential invader. Thus even if he could
get a hold of one, buying a nuke would not help Bill very much, since he would
be unable to use it to overwhelm all of the other “Defense DROs.”
What about more conventional weapons? Part of the service
that “Defense DROs” would offer to subscribers would be a guarantee that they
would do everything in their power to prevent the rise of an independent army –
either of their own making, or of anyone else’s. Thus arms manufacturers would
have to provide rigorous accounts of everything they were making and selling,
to be sure that they weren’t selling arms to some secret army, probably in the
foothills of Montana. If people were really worried about the possibility of
someone creating a private army, they would only do business with “Defense
DROs” that guaranteed that they bought their arms from open and legitimate arms
dealers – subject to independent verification, of course.
Thus when Bill came along trying to buy $500 million worth
of weapons, and hire an army of tens of thousands of soldiers, one question
would be: where on earth would
they come from? Arms manufacturers would not be sitting on $500 million of
inventory, due to the limited demand for such products, and the costs of making
and storing them. Thus the arms manufacturers would have to really crank up
their production, which could not be hidden from the general population, or the
Defense DROs that such extra production would directly threaten. In order to
make all the extra armaments, manufacturers would have to borrow money to
expand production. Where would they get this extra money from? Their banks
would surely not fund such a dangerous endeavor, and would immediately notify
any Defense DROs it had contracts with, and drop the rogue arms manufacturer as
a customer. Defense DROs and general customers would also never do business
with such a dangerous arms manufacturer ever again, thus driving it out of
No manufacturer would ever expand production for a “one
time” purchase, any more than you would buy a car to make a single trip. Also –
why would an arms manufacturer sell deadly weapons to a private individual,
knowing that this individual would be able to use those arms to steal more
weapons from the manufacturer?
Secondly, even if Bill could somehow get his hands on the
necessary weapons, where would these tens of thousands of new troops come from?
In a stateless society, the military would not be exactly the same kind of “in
demand” career that it is today. In order to assemble an army of tens of
thousands of men, Bill would have to advertise, recruit, pay them, train them,
etc. This would be impossible to hide. Since it would be completely obvious
that Bill was assembling an army, what could people in society conceivably do
to stop him?
First of all, if this were a potential risk, his bank would
have a clause in its service agreement giving it the right to refuse to honor
any payments clearly designed to fund a private army. Secondly, no DRO would do
business with Bill – or his soldiers – the moment that it became apparent what
he was up to. This would mean that none of Bill’s soldiers would have any
guarantees that they would get paid, grocery stores would not sell them food,
electricity companies would cut them off, gas stations would not sell them gas,
etc. When society as a whole wants to stop doing business with you, it becomes
very hard to get by.
Remember, we began this section with the premise that
someone would want an army in order to make money. Let us see if this can be
achieved, even if all the above obstacles can somehow be overcome.
Let us say that our first friend “Bob” can somehow
get his army – the question is: can he make that army pay?
Remember, it cost Bob $500 million over five years to
assemble his army – let us say that it costs another $1 billion over the next
five years to subdue a reasonably-sized region, due to the loss of life and
equipment involved in combat. What kinds of financial returns can Bob expect?
If you know that Bob’s army is going to be at your house in
two weeks, and there is no way to stop it, you would just pull a
“scorched-earth Russian defense” and leave, right? You would take everything of
value with you, and perhaps destroy everything that you could not bring. Thus,
what would Bob’s army end up getting control of? Not much.
However, let us imagine that Bob’s army could
somehow seize assets that would be worth something. How much would they have to
steal in order to make a profit?
First, let us look at the alternatives, or the opportunity
costs of Bob’s army.
Bob has to invest $100 million each year over five years to
assemble his army – what does that cost him overall?
If Bob invested the $100 million back into his DRO instead,
he will likely get 10% ROI. In five years of compound returns, that translates
Then, Bob has to invest another billion dollars over
the next five years invading a series of neighborhoods. How much does that
really cost him? $1,665.22m, or $1 billion invested at 10% over five years. But
that’s not all – the $832.61m above would also have gained 10% per year
over the remaining 5 years, resulting in a total of $1,340.93m.
Thus Bob’s five years of preparation and five years of
military rampaging have cost him over $3 billion. Given the enormous
risks involved in such an endeavor, investors would likely demand at least a
20:1 pay off – similar to the software field. Thus Bob would have to steal well
over $60 billion, given that he would likely want to keep some money for
Where would this $60 billion come from? The burned-out
houses? The abandoned cars? It is hard to imagine that anything Bob got his
hands on would be worth very much at all.
(The evidence of history tends to support this conclusion.
Economically, imperialism is a disaster for everyone except those intimately
connected to the coercive power of the State.)
Also, Bob has wrecked an economy that was enabling him to
generate a 10% annual return on his investments – even if he steals billions of
dollars, it would still be less than he would have received over the
course of his life if he had just re-invested his money! Reinvestment also
carries with it the considerable advantage of not exposing Bob to the risk of
death through assassination or war.
What if Bob wanted to spring a surprise attack on citizens
and start taxing them? Again, all the other DROs would stand to lose all their
customers in such an event, and so would take all necessary steps to prevent it
from occurring. They would have to provide innovative “checks and balances”
solutions to potential customers in order to win them as clients, ensuring
their collective vigilance against such surprise attacks. Furthermore, given
that there are no borders in a stateless society, those that Bob’s army
encircled would just abscond in the middle of the night, fleeing his
However, even if all of the above problems
can be somehow overcome, and the creation of a rogue army in a free society
could become both possible and profitable, the solution to this danger
is simple. Any “Defense DRO” would simply buy the trust of its clients by promising
to pay them a fine in excess of any potential military profits if that DRO was
ever discovered to be assembling an army. As mentioned above, DROs would simply
put millions of dollars in trust, payable to any customer that could find
evidence proving that a rogue army was being created. Problem solved.
When we look at the series of steps required to make the
creation of a private “rogue” army economically profitable, we can see that it
becomes so unlikely as to be functionally impossible. If we assume that the
economic incentive of maximizing profits would drive someone to consider such a
course, we can easily see that the fears of inevitable private tyrannies are
The “replacement state” mythology is just another ghost
story invented to keep us in cages whose bars are merely fictional.
Another question that constantly arises
about anarchistic social organization is the degree to which different
communities will create or maintain unjust or irrational rules. What would stop
an Islamic community from imposing Sharia law, or a particular group that
wishes to raise their children communally, or have multiple spouses, or ban the
wearing of red clothing?
This is of course possible, but there are
several tendencies within an anarchic society that will discourage and
eliminate such obtuse practices in the long run.
First of all, though, it is important to
understand that there is no real solution for this in a statist society –
assuming it is not a dictatorship. As long as we do not aggress against others,
if a group of friends and I wish to get together and live in an enormous house,
share all our property and live in some polyamorous hippie flesh-pile, there is
nothing illegal about this in a statist society. As long as our children are
fed, cared for and educated, we can all choose to live common-law and raise our
children collectively if we want.
Similarly, if a group of Muslims wish to
live according to Sharia rules, and everyone voluntarily accepts these rules
and lives by them of their own free will, there is very little that a stateless
society can do about that either. Since governments only have violence and
propaganda to maintain their rule, they can only send SWAT teams in to break up
communes, or tanks and helicopters to dismember religious groups – but very few
of us would applaud that as a reasoned and positive response to the challenges
of varying beliefs within society.
Economically, a stateless society is
fundamentally characterized by an inability for particular groups to
violently offload the costs of their preferences onto others.
If you are part of a group that wishes to
invade Iraq, for instance you will have to find a way to fund that yourself –
you will not be able to print money or tax others to pay for your preferences.
Do any of us truly believe that the chicken-hawks in the current political
administration would have decided to commit genocide against the Iraqi
population if they had been sent the multi-trillion dollar bill for the evils
they contemplated? Would any purely private financial institution have funded
such a monstrous invasion? Of course not – war is impossible without taxation.
The most economically efficient legal
system is the one which extends reasonable resources to prevent problems before
they occur – and then sits inert until someone complains about an injustice.
The DRO system is wonderful at preventing
problems, since it inherently contains all sorts of red flags for potential
criminal behavior, as described above. What do I mean by saying that it will
very likely sit in an inert state?
Let us look at gambling as an example.
Gambling – though obviously potentially
addictive – is a voluntary transaction between adults. In any reasonable legal
system, where there is consent, there can be no crime. A man may complain if he
loses his shirt at a roulette table, but he cannot claim that he was the victim
of force or fraud.
If we understand this, we can see that
there is an enormous difference between a proactive and a reactive
legal system. A reactive legal system waits patiently until it receives a
complaint about an injustice – then, it leaps into action to provide justice.
A proactive legal system sends armed
men out in waves, ferreting and rooting around in society in order to capture
and punish adults interacting in a voluntary and peaceful manner. This kind of
legal system is an ugly stepchild of the Spanish Inquisition, and arises out of
a hysterical form of aggressive moral puritanism, generally religious in
origin. In this kind of legal system, an absence of force or fraud is not
enough to allow people to escape moral condemnation, capture and punishment.
These “voluntary crimes” tend to revolve around mind-altering substances,
gambling and prostitution, and are often instigated in a statist society by
women who find out that they have married the wrong men (the Women’s Christian
Temperance Union etc.)
Activities which certain people find
distasteful are ferreted out and punished not because the participants find
them evil or immoral, but because others do. The man who smokes some
vegetation, gambles some money, or pays for sex obviously is not the criminal
complainant – neither is the person who sells him weed, casino chips or sex.
Instead, it is others who wish to wreak their moral vengeance upon such
Mencken once wrote: “Puritanism: The
haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” As a philosopher, I do
not counsel or believe that drugs, gambling or visiting prostitutes is a recipe
for long-term happiness and wisdom – but I also understand that unwise or
ill-considered actions are not solved by the initiation of violence.
The insertion of this “third party” into a
legal system – the entity that brings charges in the absence of complaints by
any individuals in a transaction – is very, very expensive. Can you imagine how
expensive it would be for a computer company to send someone over to your house
every time you wanted to install a program, to make sure you got it right?
Compare this to the cost of your average reactive tech support call
center – it would be hundreds – if not thousands – of times more expensive.
There are many people who find it highly
objectionable that other people enjoy taking mind-altering substances – how
many of them would be willing to fund the true cost of their outrage
In the United States, the Drug Enforcement
Agency budget for 2007 was over $2.3 billion. If we imagine that there
are perhaps 25 million taxpaying adults in America who are virulently
anti-drug, would they remain as virulently opposed to drugs if each of them
received a bill for $100 a year? What about the approximately $100 per year
that it costs to incarcerate the resulting prisoners, and the $100 in other law
enforcement costs? Overall, the war on drugs costs over $20 billion a year -
$800 for each of the 25 million taxpaying adults who find drugs so
How many of these people would find
themselves somehow magically able to manage a “live and let live” attitude
towards drug consumption if they were sent an $800 bill every single year? Can
we imagine that 50% of them would drop out? If so, then the remaining 12.5
million people would be sent a bill for $1,600 – how many of them would drop
out that this rate? Half? Very well – then the remaining would be sent a bill
for $3,200 – and so on, until the last man to be sent the bill for $20 billion
somehow found it in his heart to avoid the bill by embracing tolerance and
The “drug war” (which is a war of course on
people, not drugs) would inevitably collapse if those who found drugs so
objectionable actually had to pay for their moral outrage themselves.
Similarly, enforcing Sharia law requires
just such a proactive legal system, which is horrendously expensive relative to
a reactive legal system. How long would such religious intransigence last if
the fanatics had to pay for their mania themselves, and faced competition from
perfectly functional legal systems that charged one tenth the cost?
Proactive legal systems are prohibitively
expensive, unless the costs can be violently extracted from others. In this
way, we know for certain that proactive legal systems would have a very short
lifespan in a stateless society, and that the natural justice of reactive legal
systems would very quickly become – and remain – the norm.
What is commonly called “culture,” in other
words, is most often little more than a set of violently subsidized and
Two other questions that arise about
anarchism is the “tank in the garden” problem and the question of gun control.
I have kept these examples in the “Reasoning” section because the answers to
these questions pertain so many other questions as well.
This objection runs something along these
“Let us suppose that you have a neighbor
who becomes obsessed with military hardware, and begins building a tank in his
backyard. It looks like a very realistic tank, and he even gets a hold of
shells. He then drives the tank back and forth in his backyard, and points the
turret directly at your house. Clearly, this is not a good situation for you,
but your neighbor is only exercising his own property rights, and so what right
do you have to interfere with his tank-building? Certainly, if he accidentally
blows the top off your house, you can act in response, but surely you should
not have to wait for such a disaster in order to intervene – forcefully, if
If we believe that anarchism is a society
without rules or laws, then this would seem to be a perplexing problem. In a
statist society, you simply have laws against private tank ownership, and the
problem is solved!
However, as we have discussed above,
anarchism is not a society without rules or laws, but is rather populated by
agencies entirely devoted to preventing foreseeable problems. Some problems are
complicated and hard to detect – but the “tank in the garden” is not one of
those problems. Furthermore, if we are so concerned about military hardware
being used against us, it scarcely seems a wise “solution” to arm a government
to the teeth, and disarm ourselves proportionately.
If people are afraid of the “tank in the
garden,” all they have to do is ensure that their DRO contract contains
protections against well-armed neighbors. How can this be achieved? Well, when
my wife and I bought our house, we signed a contract stipulating that we were
not to repaint the outside of our house for a period of five years. I am sure
that we would not have hesitated to sign the contract if it also included a ban
on building tanks, nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers.
If someone does break their DRO contract by
building such weapons, the DRO can invoke all of the exclusion and ostracism
penalties discussed above.
Some people prefer to live in neighborhoods
where there are no guns; some people prefer to live in neighborhoods where
everyone has a gun – and some people do not particularly care one way or the
other. Anarchism perfectly satisfies everyone’s preferences in this area. If
you are a developer building a new neighborhood, you can require everyone
buying a house to sign a contract promising to refrain from owning a gun. The
enforcement possibilities for this are endless, but need not be intrusive – if
I were a DRO and wanted to prevent gun ownership, I would simply revoke my
contract with anyone who used or showed a gun in the neighborhood – including
acts of self-defense.
On the other hand, I could build a
neighborhood which required that everyone be willing to have and know how to
use a gun – as is already the case in Switzerland. If I believe that gun
ownership in a net positive, I would buy a house in this neighborhood.
Ah, but what if you have a gun in the glove
box of your car, and you are driving from neighborhood to neighborhood? Well,
then, you are just taking a risk that if you are discovered, your DRO may
revoke your contract, just as if you carry a concealed weapon against the law
in a statist society. Or they may not care about drivers.
In general, it seems very likely that few
if any gun restrictions would be in place in a stateless society. The level of
crime would be at least 90% lower than it is today; children would grow
up happier, better educated and more secure – and of course you do not need to
actually own a gun in order to gain the protective benefits of gun ownership. A
thief who wants to break into your house does not know in advance whether you
have a gun or not – if everyone is legally disarmed, then he can be quite sure
that you do not. However, in a stateless society, there are no “laws” against
gun ownership, except those that people enter into voluntarily. If a large
number of thieves somehow figure out how to operate in an anarchic society,
they will inevitably be drawn to those neighborhoods which have anti-gun
contracts, so they will face less risk during their robberies. If these crimes
become prevalent, then randomized gun ownership would be the most optimal
solution – if these crimes remain extraordinarily rare, as is most likely the
case, insofar as only the mentally ill would attempt them, then gun ownership
would become an unnecessary overhead, and would very likely decline to almost
nothing. There would still be people who would own guns, but they would be a
small minority of eccentric collectors, like those who collect medieval swords
– legacies of a brutal past that has long since faded into history.
The question of roads always seems to arise
as a central objection to a stateless society – which makes perfect sense in a
way, because it is a form of public ownership that we have all experienced
firsthand, and because it can be hard to picture what they may look like in the
absence of a government.
The alternative to state-funded roads is
generally conceived to be toll-based roads. This is considered a disastrous
solution, because who wants to stop every block to put a quarter in a meter?
Remembering our methodology from above, it
is essential that we put ourselves into the mind of a road developer, sitting
on the other side of that table, attempting to sell us access to his
Imagine that you have sunk your life
savings into building a complicated network of roads. If you don’t attract
drivers who are willing to pay to use them, you are finished – your children
are going to cry themselves to sleep with hunger.
When you stand up to make a presentation to
a group of potential customers – drivers – are you seriously going to tell them
that in order to drive a half a mile to pick up a loaf of bread, they are going
to have to stop a few times to put quarters into a toll meter?
Of course not.
So – how are you going to convince drivers
to use your roads?
For those who have not spent any time – or
blood – in the entrepreneurial world, this is exactly how almost all companies
are funded. You take your business venture to a group of investors, who play a
very serious game of “devil’s advocate,” trying to find holes in your business
If your entire fortune hung in the balance,
how would you answer these objections? If you cannot provide good answers, you will
never get to sell your roads.
I am certainly no expert in construction –
I was an entrepreneur in the software world – but I can tell you some possible
answers that I would explore in order to prepare for such a meeting. I can also
tell you that none of them would involve having drivers stop every few minutes
to push change into a slot.
If I desperately wanted to build roads in a
stateless society, I would first approach construction companies who wanted to
build houses or malls in some area not currently served by a road. If you want
to build a mall a few miles out of town, you’re not likely to attract many
investors unless your business plan includes road access to the mall, since
there are very few people who enjoy the prospect of a bracing hike to and from
a “Target” store.
If you are developing a housing complex,
you will face exactly the same requirement – it is true that you can sell
houses without road access, but you will not be able to sell them for more than
it costs to build them.
So there are really two kinds of roads, in
two kinds of environments – highways and intercity roads, and already-existing
and new roads.
It is easy for us to understand that
highways to new places will be built in the free market, for the simple reason
that if you cannot build a highway to that new place, that new place will never
come into existence. Secondly, there is not much point building a highway to a
new housing development, without building roads from the highway to and within
the housing development.
Thus, anything that is built that is new
will only be built if roads to access it are constructed at the same time.
If I want to buy a new house somewhere
outside of town, and a new highway and new roads are built to accommodate my
desire, I will certainly be very interested in the long-term quality of the
roads that have been built, since so much of my property’s value hinges upon
easy and comfortable access to it.
Thus, the long-term quality of these roads
will be a significant factor – probably a deciding one – in my decision to buy
a house. Road quality is as important as the house’s construction quality when
it comes to evaluating the value of a property. How much would you pay for a
million-dollar mansion in the middle of the Amazon forest, with no road access?
Assuming you are not Howard Hughes, probably nothing at all.
What about the danger that someone sells me
a house, and then jacks up the price of the road maintenance?
Knowing that this is a risk, when I was
negotiating my mortgage, I would ensure that a built-in and fixed price for
road maintenance was included in my mortgage terms. I would also want the right
to demand an open bid on road maintenance services when the contract came up
We can all understand that the construction
and maintenance of new buildings – commercial or residential – can only occur
with high quality road access. (We can see this kind of phenomenon, to a
smaller degree, in the fact that almost no malls are built without parking
spaces, or houses without driveways and garages.)
So really, the question of road
construction and maintenance – as far as it is raised as an objection to a
stateless society – only hinges on existing roads, not new ones.
Imagine some communist country which
provided out of the public purse a pony for each girl on her sixteenth
birthday. Now, imagine that some crazy capitalist thinker came along and said
that this country should switch from communism to the free market.
Naturally, just about everyone would then
demand: “But how will each girl get a free pony on her sixteenth birthday?”
Of course, the answer is that she will not
– but it may very well be asked whether the pony is really such an absolute
necessity for every girl.
Government roads are just such a kind of
“statist pony” – they are extravagantly wasteful, badly planned and allocated,
and facilitate all sorts of dangerous and inefficient behaviors, just like
every other government program on the planet. There is thus no possibility that
a free market system of roads will look exactly the same as a statist system –
because drivers will have to pay for road use directly, rather than offloading
the total costs to taxpayers as a whole.
Thus when picturing a free system of roads,
the question becomes: what will we as drivers be happy to pay for?
Certainly we will pay for safety, which we
currently do not receive. We get jolting and wasteful traffic lights instead of
gentle and fluid roundabouts. We get endless predatory ticketing instead of
road systems that promote safety. We get endless construction that does not
take place in the dark of night, but rather in the agonizing slow motion of
rush hour. We get a sagging expansion of our cities, because developers do not
have to pay for the costs of the roads that lead to their houses, office
buildings, factories and shopping malls. We get eighteen-wheeler trucks blaring
and rocketing beside small passenger cars. We do not see businesses adapting to
the monetary and social costs of rush hour, because they do not face increased
demand in wages because traveling in rush-hour costs more. Thus everyone has to
start at nine a.m. or thereabouts.
Like every other government program, roads
and traffic control are run for the profit of special interests – construction
companies, unions, bureaucrats and cops, primarily – and not for the sake of
the end users, the drivers. The tens of thousands of deaths – and hundreds of
thousands of injuries – that occur annually in the United States alone, would
be a completely unacceptable body count in any private industry. Experiments
such as roundabouts, removing traffic signs and lanes, charging a premium for
high-volume traffic and so on – all of which have been proven to increase
efficiency and safety – simply do not spread across the system, any more than
salmon steaks showed up in your average Stalinist store.
No matter what happens to the highway
system in general, we all appreciate that city roads have to be maintained. How
can this happen without a toll at every corner?
If we look at the average downtown core, it
is largely composed of shops and businesses. Is it beyond the pale of human
thought to imagine that the stores and businesses on a particular city block
would be able to get together and all chip in for a relatively modest fund to
maintain the roads and sidewalks around them – particularly when they no longer
have to pay property and profit taxes to the State?
If we do believe that this is impossible,
then we face exactly the same problem that we faced before about democracy. The
central idea of democracy is that citizens are able to put aside their own
petty personal self-interest and vote according to their conscience, with an
eye to the collective good of society. If we accept that human beings are
capable of voting in this way, then surely we can accept that they can put a
few bucks a month into a common pot to pay for the roads that bring customers
and employees to them. If we do not think that human beings can organize
themselves to take care of a few hundred meters of roads that they directly
benefit from, then they will never be able to vote for political candidates
with any thought for the common good, and democracy must be abolished.
Either way, we end up with a stateless
There are, of course, many other ways to
charge for roads in a free society. GPS tracking devices can effortlessly
monitor the movements of cars, and a single bill can be sent, and the proceeds
apportioned out to the road companies involved.
Furthermore, non-dangerous advertising could
very easily subsidize the cost of roads – one possibility that springs to mind
is radio commercials that would be inserted into programs based on the location
of drivers, so that they did not provide visual distractions.
All right, you may say, but what about the
reality that highways – and city roads – are extremely non-competitive
situations, since no one is going to build a highway next to another highway
and compete with it?
That is somewhat true, although it is
important to be precise in terms of what is meant by the word “competition.”
Brad Pitt has a monopoly on Brad Pitt – or
at least, he did before he got married. However, Brad Pitt still faces
competition – not just with other actors, but rather with everything else that
human beings could be doing instead of going to see a Brad Pitt movie. He
competes with bowling, sex, napping, reading books on anarchy – everything you
could imagine! Thus, although he has a monopoly on Brad Pitt, he does not have
a monopoly on you. (That is the difference between the government and
the free market – the government does have a monopoly on you, because it
initiates the use of force against you.)
In the same way, any particular highway may
have a monopoly on getting from A to B in the straightest line – but that does
not mean that it has a coercive and exclusive hold over everyone’s entire
Let us take an example of an “evil
capitalist highway robber baron” named Jacques, who decides to start jacking up
the rates for any driver using his highway.
First of all, Jacques will not be making
this decision in a vacuum. After roads become privatized, everyone who buys a
house who relies on a particular highway will be fully aware of their
vulnerability to increased road tolls in the future. As an enterprising
construction capitalist, I would sweeten the pot for people in this regard by
negotiating a twenty year guarantee with Jacques that he would not raise their
prices any more than one or two percentage points a year. (This highlights
again a very essential aspect of understanding how a stateless society works,
which is that obvious worries will always be addressed and alleviated ahead of
time. If people are afraid that someone is going to jack up their road prices,
they will simply negotiate fixed fees ahead of time – which is the essence of
mortgages and car payments of course.)
However, let us imagine that no binding
contracts limit Jacques’s ability to raise his prices, and one day he announces
that his rates are going to triple.
What happens then?
Well, people are not about to move because
the price of their road travel is going up, so that is not likely to be an
issue – what they will do, however, is go to their bosses and say that
they need a raise.
Bosses – having been one myself – are
notoriously cheap individuals, who do not want to pay a penny more than they
have to for what they want. If I were a boss in this situation, I would explore
other alternatives to giving raises.
For instance, I might offer them a day or
two a week to work at home. Alternatively, since no doubt Jacques’s prices are
higher during rush-hour, I would also offer more flexible hours to those who
wanted them, so that they would not have to pay a premium to come to work at a
If I were another kind of entrepreneur, I
would set up a website dedicated to helping people find carpooling, so that
people would end up paying less.
Also, the increased prices per vehicle
might very well make it economically viable to start running buses along the
In this way, Jacques might gain a temporary
increase in his revenues, but consumers would simply adapt to his increased
prices, in such a way that this increase could not be both significant and
In other words, by drastically raising his
prices, all that Jacques is really doing is teaching people to find
alternatives to using his highway. He is training them to avoid his service –
and one of the terrible aspects of this practice is that once people get used
to working at home or car pooling, not all of them will revert to their old
habits if he drops his prices.
Jacques also creates another significant
risk, which can easily escape the inexperienced eye.
By increasing the price of his highway,
Jacques has reduced the collective wealth of entire neighborhoods to a far
greater degree than he has increased his own wealth specifically. Of course, no
one expects Jacques to be motivated by some abstract considerations of social
wealth, but nonetheless he is creating a very dangerous situation.
Almost all neighborhoods have some sort of
Business Association, where members meet to discuss a variety of collective
concerns. This Association will certainly meet – and pointedly not
invite Jacques – a day or two after he jacks up his prices, in order to figure
out what they should do. They will likely decide to ostracize Jacques, which
will certainly have a negative effect on his ability to move with ease and
profit in the business world, since so many deals are consummated through
It is very possible that this form of
business ostracism will cost Jacques more than he can possibly make by raising
his rates, especially after the inevitable consumer adaptation.
However, perhaps Jacques doesn’t care about
these particular business relationships – it does not matter, his ability to do
business is still irretrievably harmed.
Whomever Jacques wants to do business with
next will be fully aware that he has a habit of outrageously jacking up his
prices without warning. Therefore, if someone has a choice about doing business
with Jacques, he will very likely refrain.
Anyone who does end up wanting to – or
having to – do business with Jacques will have to do far more due diligence and
legal wrangling than before his fears were elevated by Jacques’s deleterious
and unpredictable business practices.
Thus it is enormously unlikely that jacking
up his prices will end up having a permanent and positive effect on Jacques’s
However, to take the argument to its
extreme case, let us say that Jacques does somehow end up creating a
permanent and positive enormous profit.
His actions have created a large number of
business people who have a direct interest in reducing those prices again – all
those people whose property values and business expenses have been negatively
impacted by Jacques’s price increase.
The Business Association members would be
highly motivated to plot and execute a takeover of Jacques’s highway business,
in order to restore their own property and business values. Whatever debts they
may incur in this process will be more than recompensed by the increase in
these values. Since the personal profits that Jacques is accruing remain far
less than the collective costs he is inflicting on others, he remains highly
vulnerable and exposed to a takeover bid, either hostile or friendly.
Of course, the Business Association members
are unlikely to be experts at running a highway, so they would more likely act
as investors for competing highway companies, to fund an expansion takeover, on
the condition that this new company would guarantee a return to the original
rates, along with a longer-term guarantee of reasonable rate increases.
Thus in general the instability, customer
alienation, ostracism and endless competitive risks introduced by sudden and
large price increases do not pay off at all, and in fact threaten the viability
of the business as a whole. In the example above, we have simplified the
scenario by pretending that Jacques can make all of these decisions on his own,
which would never be the case in any free market. Any industry that has a
potential for a monopoly would require a large amount of capital investment and
management, which comes with stockholders, investors, and a board of directors.
Jacques would not have the right or the ability to make significant decisions
about price without the support of the majority of the interested stakeholders
– all of whom would view, and quite rightly too, the jacking up of prices as
far too threatening to the long-term value of their investment.
We could imagine a scenario where Jacques
is able to build a $500 million dollar highway out of his own pocket, because
he has inherited billions or something like that – but it seems very unlikely
that his venture would succeed in the long run, because people would be
hesitant to get into business with someone who does not have a multitude of
other interested parties to temper his judgment, and who retains a tyrannical
level of control over his own organization. For instance, people do not want to
get heavily involved in a company without a succession plan, and having a
single “dictator” in a company does not bode well for its long-term success. If
Jacques is not actively grooming a number of successors, and if he then gets hit
by a bus, no one will be able to step into his shoes, and his company will
fail. This level of risk would be too high for most other companies, since it
would take a number of years to build his highway, and Jacques’s company could
collapse at any time, leaving bills unpaid and orders unfulfilled. If Jacques
insisted upon these conditions, all that he would be revealing would be his own
lack of business judgment, which would also cause more experienced
businesspeople to shy away from getting involved with him. Thus it seems
exceedingly unlikely that Jacques would be able to build such a
capital-intensive structure while retaining dictatorial control over the
I do apologize for the detailed and
somewhat technical nature of the above explanation, but I do think that it is
essential to understand that there are always two sides to every negotiation.
In a free society, there are a near-infinite set of options available to
peacefully address what could be considered sub-optimal business practices on the
part of others.
Finally, let us look at how the provision
of automobile insurance would affect the safety of roads.
In most Western countries, automobile
insurance is compulsory – I believe that this would continue to be the case in practice,
if not in principle, in a free society.
I would much prefer to use someone’s roads
if I could know for certain that all the other drivers carried insurance. Thus
it seems very likely that insurance would be required for anyone traveling on a
road. (How could this be enforced? A number of options spring to mind, most
notably that currency companies would not process gas purchases from uninsured
Naturally, the fewer car accidents there
are, the more car insurance companies can make in profit. This direct
correlation is one of the core foundations to the achievement of security in a
stateless society. If, say, Jacques’s roads are unsafe, then the car insurance
companies will charge a premium for anyone who wants to drive on them – thus
cutting into Jacques’s profits considerably. This will drive Jacques to invest
in road improvements.
At the moment, insurance companies have no
direct control over government road policies, and so these companies can only
compete on price, not on the proactive promotion of road safety. However, when
competition for roads heats up through privatization – and remember, the
competition is not just between different road systems, but also between using
roads and not using them – insurance companies will be forced to compete on
creating the safest possible roads, in order to keep their prices as low as
When the costs of roads are directly borne
by the drivers, the benefits are both staggering and almost limitless. Without
the ability to externalize the cost of roads to other taxpayers, drivers can
make more informed and rational decisions about the costs and benefits of
driving. Where to live, how far to commute, whether to drive in rush hour,
whether to use public transit, whether to carpool, whether to work from home –
all of these decisions are fundamentally driven by cost, but in a statist
society, these decisions almost always turn out to be disastrous, because the
simple and rational efficiency of the price mechanism is not allowed to
function, to the detriment of resource consumption, the health of the
environment, and the quality of life for literally hundreds of millions of
If I were to say that roads should not only
be provided by the free market, but also that they should be enclosed under a
roof, cooled in the summer and heated in the winter, that all stairs should in
fact be escalators, that all corners should be landscaped with plants and
fountains, and patrolled by security guards – surely you would say that this
would be an outlandish standard, which could never be achieved in the free
Well – that is exactly what a mall is.
Never underestimate what the free market
The provision or subsidization of health
care is considered a foundational justification for State power, for a number
of seemingly compelling reasons.
First of all, health care expenses can be
both unexpected and enormous. Secondly, people undergoing an acute health
crisis are scarcely in a position to negotiate, haggle and wait. If you have
been hit by a bus, and are bleeding out, you will not barter with whoever
arrives to treat your injuries. Thirdly, health care providers are generally
considered to be in a difficult position, insofar as they almost never refuse to
treat someone who arrives in the emergency room, whether that person can pay or
not. Fourthly, people have certain reservations or fears about the
trustworthiness of medical advice, and so wish to ensure the quality and
consistency of the instructions they receive. Finally, since doctors,
pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare providers currently profit from
illness, rather than health, the incentives are considered reversed, in that
pharmaceutical companies, for instance, are motivated to deliver medication,
rather than discover alternatives to medication or prevent the problem in the
The “solution” to the above problems has
almost always been the creation and expansion of State power over the medical
field. In all Western democracies except the United States, this has resulted
in the socialization of medicine, or the creation of a fundamentally communist
monopoly that is funded by the taxes generated through the efficiency and
productivity of the free market. Those who are healthy are forced at gunpoint
to pay for those who are sick. Furthermore, the State regulates the licensing
of health care providers, creating significant legal barriers to entry to
doctors, nurses and other practitioners.
The imperative of providing health care –
the axiom that it is a “right” – is considered a justification for the violence
of the State in a way that trumps just about every other consideration. Even
those who would be willing to accept the substitution of private charities for
public welfare find themselves hard-pressed to defend the idea that health care
should be a for-profit industry, because of the fear that, as the song goes,
“the rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor…”
Every empathetic person feels the utmost
compassion for an innocent child born with some form of correctable birth
defect, to poor parents perhaps, who might require tens of thousands of dollars
of expert help to correct the problem. The sheer random misfortune of such a
disaster truly stirs us with sympathy, because we all understand that this
wounded child could easily have been us, or our own child.
Similarly, those who are born with some
genetic or congenital disorder are also “unjustly” inflicted with additional
medical costs, through no fault of their own. A child whose teeth just happen
to grow crooked requires thousands of dollars more in dental work than a child
whose teeth just happen to grow straight.
When a person is struck down by an
unexpected, unanticipated or inevitable medical condition – as will happen to
all of us, in the case of death itself – it feels excruciating to imagine that
they would have to debate costs and benefits. Particularly in the case of
parents, having to choose between the best medical care for a sick child, and
the medical care that they can afford, seems brutal and inhumane. Michael
Moore’s documentary “Sicko,” for instance, opened with the story of a man who,
it is claimed, had to choose between replacing one finger or another, but could
not afford both.
The vulnerability and fear that accompanies
significant medical ailments should, we feel, not also be combined with cold
calculations about costs and benefits. Should a man with cancer be forced to
choose between chemotherapy and eating? Surely a just and compassionate society
should do everything within its power to avoid inflicting such stark and
ghastly choices upon its citizens.
Furthermore, since medical advice can be
truly a matter of life or death, a compassionate society should take every
conceivable step to ensure that medical practitioners go through a rigorous
process of training and evaluation. Again, the vulnerability and fear involved
in medical decisions should never be exacerbated by fears that the
self-interest of the medical practitioner is not directly aligned with the
self-interest of the patient.
There is no question that human beings are
not possessed by innate sainthood. Doctors can be abrupt, greedy, false and
treacherous. Patients, as well, can be difficult, obstructive, non-compliant,
litigious and hypochondriacal. They can fake injuries in order to gain unjust
benefits, and can also become addicted to certain medications such as
painkillers, and become dangerously manipulative.
Anarchism recognizes the empirical reality
of human corruption in a way that statism simply does not. Anarchists recognize
that power corrupts, while statists forever believe that power is the cure
for corruption. Anarchists understand that the only valid and proven way to
oppose human corruption is through voluntarism and competition – statists
believe that the only way to oppose human corruption is to create a monopoly of
Fundamentally, anarchists believe that
virtue results from a marketplace of voluntary interactions – statists believe
that virtue is a dictatorial compulsion, created and maintained at the point of
Ideally, no matter what your political
convictions, we can all recognize that medical care should be:
- Focused on
prevention, rather than cure;
- As cheap as
- As competent as
- As accessible as
- Aligned with the
interests of the patient.
A basic law of economics is that whatever
you subsidize, increases; and whatever you tax, decreases.
Statist health care “systems” follow the
basic model that the doctor does not get paid when you are healthy, but only
gets paid when you are sick.
In other words, the doctor has no direct
economic incentive to prevent illness, but every incentive to treat it.
In statist health care systems, the doctor
is paid per patient visit, not for a successful cure. Thus doctors do not make
their money from curing patients, but rather from seeing patients
– thus they have every economic incentive to keep consultations as short as
possible, and to outsource any complicated “cures.”
Furthermore, in socialized medical systems
in particular, it is actually illegal to collect and publish information
about the quality and success rates of doctors. If I find out that I have
prostate cancer, I cannot possibly find out which doctor has the greatest or
best success rate in curing it. (More importantly, if I have a family history
of prostate cancer, I cannot find out which doctor has been most successful in preventing
it from occurring.)
When you sit back and really think about
it, this is staggering – absolutely staggering!
It is illegal to sell a food item without
publishing the nutritional information. It is illegal to run a public company
without publishing your financial information. It is illegal to sell a car
without publishing its fuel efficiency. Hell, it is illegal to sell an item of
clothing without publishing where it was made.
Every stupid and irrelevant piece of
information is required by law – but the success rates of doctors are
not only not required, but you will actually go to jail for collecting
and publishing this information!
Why is that?
This information is violently banned in
most countries for two simple reasons – firstly, in any socialized system, this
information would cause a stampede of sick people towards the most effective
doctors. Since access to a doctor cannot be determined by price, the waiting
times for good doctors would increase exponentially, while the incomes of bad
doctors would decrease. Voters would go largely insane if they could not get
access to the most competent doctors, and would demand immediate changes in the
system. Unfortunately, the only way to limit general access to specific doctors
in a socialist medical system is to allow those doctors to raise their prices –
thus eliminating the communist aspect of the system.
The second reason that this information is
unavailable in most medical systems is that it is already available to
particular individuals, who specifically do not want it to be shared
among the general population.
Whenever the “specter” of privatized
medical care is raised, every pundit on the planet starts wailing about the
evils of a “two-tiered” medical system. Basically, this is the fear that if
elements of privatization are introduced to a public health care system, all
the good doctors will flee to the private sector, leaving a dilapidated public
The fascinating aspect of this scare story
is that these same pundits genuinely do not seem to imagine that a “tiered”
medical system does not already exist within a socialized environment.
There are in fact four tiers in a
socialized medical system; the first is inhabited by rich and prominent people,
such as politicians, media personalities, pundits and so on – who do not wait
in line to get MRIs or consultations with the top specialists in the field.
These people inhabit a sort of “Potemkin village” of “show medicine,” and are
never allowed to fall through the cracks, for fear that they may write about or
describe the true realities of the system. Those in the know will direct these
people to the most competent medical specialists, and ensure that they are
ushered into private consultations without the indignity of having sit in a
waiting room. These patients then inevitably move to the front of the line for
treatment, and remain immensely satisfied with the public health care system,
because they do not actually have to deal with it, but rather remain quite
happy to have everyone else pay for their elite private medical care.
The second tier is composed of those who
are inside – or at least near – the medical profession itself. A gentleman I
know who is a psychologist received the bad news that his father had colon
cancer. Because he was relatively close to the medical profession, he could
call on friends and immediately find out who was the best specialist in town
for this disease. Then, he introduced himself to this doctor, saying that he
was a friend of so-and-so, and thus inevitably vaulted to the front of the line
– and this special treatment followed his father all the way through his
diagnosis and chemotherapy. He always got the best doctors, and he rarely had
to wait. This is not because doctors are evil, or innately corrupt, or anything
like that, but rather because it is very uncomfortable to refuse a favor to a
friend – and it is in fact easier to gather and keep friends when you can do
favors for them, because then they will inevitably do favors for you as well.
The third tier is composed of rich people
without political or medical contacts who can fly overseas for medical
treatment, to the US or other more market-driven health care environments.
The fourth tier is composed of those who
are not prominent, or do not wield power, are not rich, and who also do not
have contacts within or near the medical profession. These hapless souls
shuffle through the public health care maze, consistently displaced by those
with more power, unable to gain even a scrap of information about the quality
of the care that they are receiving, waiting with numb hope for the system to
grace them with an appointment, with x-rays, with treatment, with advice –
lost, helpless, dependent, frightened, ignorant – with no more actual “rights”
than a forgotten cow lodged in a stall awaiting antibiotics.
Since a doctor is paid to see as many of
these people as possible, he will impatiently rush them through his office,
spending a documented average of about eighteen seconds listening to their
symptoms – and by far his most common treatment option will be to write a
prescription, or refer the patient to a specialist.
There are three main reasons that he writes
a prescription; the first is that it gets the patient out of his office as
quickly as possible, as well as transferring the bulk of any potential
liability to the pharmaceutical company. The second reason, which is directly
related to first, is that pharmaceutical companies shower him with gifts and
trips and seminars in order to promote their medications. The third reason is
that a patient can be seen very rapidly if he or she is only coming in to get a
refill of the prescription – “Are you still experiencing the same symptoms?
Very well, here you go!” – thus ensuring continued high-volume billing.
Of course, referring a patient to a
specialist is also a very rapid way of getting him out of your office, thus
maintaining your billing rate.
Imagine if I suggested the following as the
solution to the problem of how to deliver healthcare in a stateless society:
The way that I see it working is this:
one DRO should amass enough weaponry to violently drive all other medical DROs
out of business. This DRO should then take about twenty percent of people’s
income – and kidnap or shoot them if they do not give up their money – and then
provide health care as it sees fit. This same DRO should also have complete
control over how many doctors there are, and how a doctor should be trained,
and how a doctor should be paid. Again, if anyone attempts to become a doctor
without following the detailed and lengthy rules of this DRO, they can be
kidnapped and/or shot. This DRO should pay doctors per patient visit, to ensure
that doctors would see as many patients as possible in any given day – and it
should make sure that doctors are neither paid for successful treatments, nor
penalized for any unsuccessful treatments. Doctors should not make any money
whatsoever by preventing illness, but rather should get paid for treating as
many illnesses as possible, as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, this DRO monopoly should be
able to shoot or kidnap anyone who dares to collect and publicize any
information about the success rates of its doctors.
In order to ensure that citizen feedback
is available to this DRO, every couple of years, citizens should be able to
appoint a representative of their choice to the Board of Directors. Whoever
they choose should be paid by the existing doctors that the DRO controls, or by
the pharmaceutical companies…
We could continue with this example, but I
think that you can see the ridiculousness of this “solution.” If I put this
forward as my answer, I would receive an unbelievable tsunami of incredulous
and contemptuous e-mails, wondering just what particular drugs I had been on
when I described this as the best possible solution to the problem of providing
Inevitably – and again, ludicrously – these
same people will also deluge me with incredulous and contemptuous e-mails when
I suggest privatizing the provision of health care.
In socialized medicine – as in any
socialized or communistic system – the consumers are not the customers.
I talked about this in terms of academia in my previous book, “Everyday
Anarchy,” but this reality has far more dire consequences in the realm of
If automobile manufacturers were paid to
produce automobiles by politicians, rather than by consumers, it is easy to
imagine what the results would be. Since consumer input would be almost
nonexistent, the preferences and needs of the consumer would have almost no
effect on what was produced.
If this statist monopoly also supported and
protected a monopolistic public sector union, can we imagine what the
efficiency and productivity of these workers would be?
What if these manufacturers were paid by
the number of cars that were delivered, not the quality of each car? Can we
imagine what would happen to the wheels when we attempted to drive the cars off
What if these car manufacturers were also
heavily subsidized by the oil and gasoline industries –and those subsidies were
directly proportional to the inefficient fuel consumption of their cars? Can we
imagine that they would build energy-efficient cars, or would they want to
increase their income by building inefficient cars?
Does anyone ever suggest that we should
nationalize car production? Yet it is impossible to have a health care system
without cars – or at least ambulances – since there is no easy way to deliver
doctors, medicines or patients without cars.
(We could easily make the same arguments
about the software and computer industry, with even more deleterious results!)
It is hard to imagine why we would create
such a horrendous system for health care, while rejecting it as ridiculous and
inefficient in terms of car production.
Surely our health is far more important
than our cars.
Any time a coercive agency intervenes on
behalf of the consumer, that coercive agency then immediately and permanently becomes
the consumer, and the needs and desires of the actual consumer are almost
entirely eliminated from the equation.
Ever since Blaise Pascal discovered the
laws of probability, a singular human institution has arisen to help people
deal with unpredictable risk – insurance.
Insurance is simply a way of playing the
law of averages in order to create predictability. If one out of a hundred
people is going to be randomly hit with a ten thousand dollar bill, it makes
sense for everyone to have the option of paying a fixed amount of money in
order to be insured against such a bill.
(Please note that in this section, I am talking
about the free market insurance companies of the future, not the mercantilist
semi-statist monsters of the present.)
The wonderful thing about insurance is that
the interests of consumers are almost exactly aligned with the interests of
providers, since both are directly motivated by the desire to decrease risk.
If I take out insurance against the dangers
of smoking, the insurance company only has to pay out if I get sick from
smoking – thus the insurance company will inevitably reduce my rates if I quit.
In the same way, if I have taken out insurance against the danger and expense
of diabetes, my insurance company will charge me less if I lose weight.
(To be slightly more precise, the insurance
company does not exactly want me to quit smoking, but rather wants to
make money out of insuring me. An insurance company can as easily make money
insuring smokers as it can non-smokers – however, insurance companies know that
customers are more likely to stay if their rates can be reduced, which means
creating incentives to quit smoking.)
Every sane individual prefers to prevent an
illness rather than cure it – and this is exactly the same motivation that
drives insurance companies as well, since they make the most profit from
healthy people, rather than sick people.
Thus, in a free society, insurance
companies provide two essential services – one that you have to pay for, and
one that you get for free.
The service that you get for free is an
objective and detailed risk analysis of various lifestyle options. If you want
to know how dangerous hang gliding is, all you have to do is apply for
insurance, tell them that you are a hang glider, and see what happens to your
rates. You do not have to sign up in order to gain detailed information about
the risks your habits and hobbies incur – all you have to do is apply.
Insurance companies are invaluable sources of information about relative risk,
since their entire livelihood is based upon a rational and sustainable
evaluation of risk.
The service that you have to pay for is the
alleviation of risk by spreading it around.
(This is an enormous topic, but I would
briefly like to mention that any discussion of free-market health-care
provision – and insurance companies in particular – will doubtless draw
comparisons to the existing system within the United States. This “system” has
very little to do with the free market, in that more than fifty cents of every
health care dollar is spent by the government, which violently protects a
monopolistic doctor’s union called the American Medical Association, and also
hyper-regulates the medical field with literally hundreds of thousands of laws,
rules, directives and requirements. The incentive of private profit, combined
with the corrupt largesse of a public purse, is technically called “fascism,”
rather than freedom.)
In terms of health care, then, we can be
sure that your insurance company wants to keep you as healthy as possible. The
farmer who sells cows is interested in their long-term health, in a way that
the butcher who disassembles them is not.
Due to this motivation, private insurance
companies will be reasonably proactive in attempting to prevent health problems
from developing, rather than merely curing them after they have occurred. They
will be sure to pay doctors first for prevention, and then for successful
cures, rather than for merely cycling as many patients through their offices as
In any situation where lifestyle choices
can ameliorate health problems, those will be chosen in preference to endless
medication. It does not cost the insurance company any money if you go for a
walk or do some sit-ups; it does if you have to be on insulin for the rest of
Conversely, medication is in general
cheaper than surgery, all other things being equal, and so effective
medications will be researched, developed and prescribed more often than
invasive and dangerous surgery.
Spending money on a pricey doctor is
probably about the most cost-effective investment you will ever make. The most
effective doctors are those who cure the most efficiently – and for sure, most
customers of health care insurance would also purchase life insurance from the
same company, so that any disastrously failed “cures” would cost the company an
enormous amount of money.
In this way, returning a customer to health
not only guarantees future health care payments, but it also postpones the
payment of death benefits. In this way, the self-interest of the insurance
company is directly aligned with the self-interest of the customer, who
doubtless does not prefer to be either sick, or dead. If the doctor is also
paid to prevent, cure and keep alive, then all three parties have the same
goal, which is the polar opposite of any statist system.
Thus whenever anyone starts evaluating
which health care insurance company to go with, each company would be tripping
over themselves to provide independently verified statistics about the
long-term health of their customers – the number of ailments prevented,
identified and cured; the average life expectancy, successful pregnancies and
births and so on. These companies would be selling health to you, rather
than inflicting repetitive treatments on you, which is the case with socialized
The proactive and dedicated partnership
between insurance company and customer – designed to serve the self-interest of
each – would create a very positive and prevention-based healthcare approach.
In the same way that companies that sell dental insurance require you to go for
bi-annual checkups, proactive insurance companies would require regular health
checkups. (I have experienced this directly in my career. Most investors
require senior managers to be insured against illness, to protect their
investment – in order to qualify for this, I had to go through a full checkup
by a private agency, which reviewed my blood work, my history, and ran a wide
battery of tests.)
In this way, the self-interest of the
doctor – who normally gets paid for treatment, not cure – and that of the
patient, who prefers prevention rather than treatment – can be productively
It is not a subject that many people are
particularly comfortable with, but charity can be a very complex and dangerous
We certainly want to help the unfortunate,
but we do not wish to enable and subsidize bad decisions – this is only part of
the complexity involved in helping others – which a statist society cannot
distinguish or deal with at all.
If society gave everything that a poor
person could possibly require in order to live comfortably, that would scarcely
reduce the numbers of poor people, but would rather increase them considerably.
On the other hand, the children of poor people are scarcely responsible for any
bad decisions their parents may have made – however, if charities give a lot of
money to poor people with children, more poor people will tend to have more
children, which will only increase poverty.
This balancing act is one of the enormous
and complex challenges of true charity – and yet another reason why a
violent monopoly will never end up helping the poor in any substantive or
When it comes to health care, there is no
doubt whatsoever that the majority of people care about the provision of health
care for those who cannot afford it. At a hospital I visited recently, I saw a
placard on the wall thanking the five thousand volunteers who helped run
Doctors as a whole will always treat
someone who comes with an immediate injury, whether they can pay or not. If we
assume that medical treatments for the genuinely deserving and needy poor would
consume about ten percent of general health care spending, then we can be
completely certain that this amount of money would be donated by concerned
individuals, either in time or money. We can be certain of this because we know
of a large number of religious organizations that require ten percent of
people’s total income – twenty percent in fact, since this is pretax income –
and people are quite happy to pay that.
Thus the medical needs of the poor would be
entirely taken care of in a free society through charity and pro bono
work. Charities would also compete to provide the most effective care for the
poor, in order to gain the most donations. I would certainly prefer to give my
money to an organization that was best able to create and provide sustainable
health practices and medical treatments for the poor.
In this way, not only would the
self-interest of doctors, insurance companies and customers be aligned – but
also the self-interest of donators, charities and the poor they serve.
In a stateless society, the poor will be
genuinely served by a far better system, composed of those whose self-interest
is directly aligned with the health of the poor.
As has been shown over and over again,
throughout history and across the world, benevolent self-interest, enhanced by
free association and voluntary competition, is the only way to create
sustainable compassion within society.
I am aware that I have not answered all
possible objections to the question of how health care is provided in a free
society. I am also aware that the possibility always exists that people can
“fall through the cracks,” or that charities could conceivably make mistakes,
and either fund the wrong people, or fail to fund the right people.
Once more, this possibility of corruption
and/or error is often considered to be an airtight argument against anarchy,
when in fact it is an airtight argument for anarchy, and against
Competition and voluntarism are the only
known methodologies for repairing and opposing the inevitable errors and
corruptions that constantly creep into human relations. The fact that human
beings can make mistakes – and are always susceptible to corruption – is
exactly why they should never be given a monopoly power of violence over
When an entrepreneur – whether charitable
or for-profit – makes a mistake by failing to provide value – others will
immediately rush in to provide the missing benefit. It is this constant process
of challenge and competition that allows the best solutions to be consistently
discovered and reinvented in an ever-changing world.
One of the
great challenges of anarchistic philosophy is the problem of prisons, or
the physical restraint of violent criminals. Let us examine the punitive
mechanisms that might exist in the absence of a coercive State system.
can assume that in the absence of a State, DROs will necessarily band together
to deny the advantages of a modern economic life to those individuals who
egregiously harm their fellow citizens. Such necessities as bank accounts,
credit, transportation, lodging, food and so on, can all be withheld from those
who have been proven to have committed violent crimes. Also, in a stateless society,
since there is no such thing as “public” property, violent criminals would have
a tough time getting anywhere, since roads, parks, forests and so on would all
be privately owned. Anybody providing aid or comfort to a person convicted of a
violent crime could face a withdrawal of services and protections from their
own DRO, and so would avoid giving such help.
solution alone has not been sufficient for some people, who still feel that
sociopathic and violent criminals need to be physically restrained or
imprisoned for society to be safe.
tackling this issue, I would like to point out that if the problem of violent
sociopaths is very extensive, then surely any moral justifications for the
existence of a State become that much more untenable. If society
literally swarms with evil people, then those evil people will surely
overwhelm the State, the police, and the military, and prey upon legally
disarmed citizens to their hearts content. If, however, there are very few evil
people, then we surely do not need a State to protect us from such a tiny
problem. In other words, if there are a lot of evil people, we cannot have a
State – and if there are few evil people, then we do not need a State.
punitive measures are discussed, fears arise about unjust punishments. What if
DROs act against someone who has been wrongly convicted of a crime?
Well, according to our usual methodology, we must remember to compare a
stateless society not to some perfect utopia, but rather to existing statist
societies. Are people currently unjustly sent to prison? You bet. Are
non-violent drug users jailed? Yes, by the millions. Do some people pretend to
confess to less grievous crimes because they are threatened with terrifying
sentences if they do not? Of course. Do the police manufacture evidence? Yes.
Are policemen rewarded for preventing crimes, or obtaining convictions? The
And – are war
criminals such as George Bush charged with their genocidal crimes? Of course
not. They are given pensions and speaking tours.
If we live in
a terrifyingly obese nation, saying we should not bother dieting because some thin
people get diabetes is irrational to say the least.
Let us imagine
what might happen to a rapist in a stateless society. All general DRO contracts
will include “rape protection,” since DROs will want to avoid incurring the
medical, psychological and income costs of a rape for one of their own
customers. Part of “rape protection” will be the provision of significant
financial restitution to a rape victim. (Women who can’t afford “rape
protection” will be subsidized by charities – or lawyers will represent them pro
bono in return for a cut of the restitution.)
If a woman
gets raped, she then applies to her DRO for restitution. The DRO then finds her
rapist – using the most advanced forensic techniques available – and sends an
agent to knock on his door.
sir,” the agent will politely say. “You have been charged with rape, and I’m
here to inform you of your options. We wish to make this process as painless
and non-intrusive as possible for you, and so will schedule a trial at the time
of your earliest convenience. If you do not attend this trial, or testify
falsely, or attempt to flee, we shall apply significant sanctions against you,
which are outlined in your existing DRO contract. Our agreement with your bank
allows us to freeze your assets – except for basic living and legal expenses –
the moment that you are charged with a violent crime. We also have agreements with
airlines, road, bus and train companies, as well as gas stations, to prevent
you from leaving town until this matter is resolved.
represent yourself in this trial, choose from one of our lawyers, or we will
pay for any lawyer you prefer, at standard rates. Also, as per our existing
contract, we are to be allowed access to your home for purposes of
investigation. You are free to deny us this access, of course, but then we
shall assume that you are guilty of the crime, and will apply all the sanctions
allowed to us by contract.
“If you are
found to be innocent of this crime, we will pay you the sum of twenty thousand
dollars, to be funded by the woman who has charged you with rape. We will also
offer free psychological counseling for you, in order to help you avoid such
accusers in the future.”
The trial will
commence, and will return a verdict in due course. (It seems highly likely that
lie-detectors will be admissible, since they are more than 90% accurate when
used correctly, which is better than most witnesses. The reason that they are
not admissible now is that they would make lawyers less valuable, and also
would reveal the degree to which the State police lie.)
If the man is
found guilty, he will receive another visit from his DRO representative.
afternoon, sir,” the agent will say. “You have been found guilty of rape, and
I’m here to inform you of your punishment. We have a reciprocal agreement with
your bank, which has now put a hold on your accounts, and provided us limited
access. We will be deducting double the costs of our investigation and trial
from your funds, and will also be transferring half a million dollars to the
woman that you raped. We are aware that you do not have sufficient funds to
cover this cost, which we will address in a moment. We also have reciprocal
agreements with the companies that provide water and electricity to your house,
and those will now be cut off. Furthermore, no gas station will sell you
gasoline, and no train station, airline or bus company will sell you a ticket.
We have made arrangements with all of the local grocery stores to deny you
service, either in person or online. If you set foot on the street outside your
house, which is owned privately, you will be physically removed for
trespassing. Your wife and children can leave at any time. If they have no
place to go, we will cover their transition costs, and charge you for them.
you have the right to appeal this sentence, and if you successfully appeal, we
would transfer our costs to the woman who has accused you of rape, and pay you
for the inconvenience we have caused you. If, however, your appeal fails, all
additional costs will be added to your debt.
“I can tell
you openly that if you choose to stay in your house, you will be unable to
survive for very long. You will run out of food and water. You can attempt to
escape your own house, of course, leaving all of your possessions. If you do
successfully escape, be aware that you are now entered into a central
registry, and no reputable DRO will ever represent you. Furthermore, all DROs
which have reciprocal agreements with us – which is the vast majority of them –
will withdraw services from their own customers if those customers provide you
with any goods or services. For the rest of your life, it will be almost
impossible for you to open a bank account, use centralized currency, carry a
credit card, own a car, buy gas, use a road – or any other form of
transportation – and gaining food, water and lodging will be a constant
nightmare for you. You will spend your entire existence running, hiding and
begging, and will never find peace, solace or comfort in any place.
there is an option. If you come with me now, we will take you to a place of
work for a period of ten years. During that time, you will be working for us in
a capacity which will be determined by your skills. If you do not have any
viable skills, we will train you. Your wages will go to us, and we will deduct
the costs of your incarceration, as well as any of the costs I outlined above
which are not covered by your existing funds. A small amount of your wages will
be set aside to help get you started after your release.
stay with us, we will do our utmost help you, because we do not want to have to
go through all of this with again you in the future. You will take courses on
ethics. You will take courses on anger management. You will take psychological
counseling. You will emerge from your work term a far better person. And when
you do emerge, all of your rights will be fully restored, and you will
be able to participate once more in the economic and social life of society.
“You have a
choice now, and I want you to understand the full ramifications of that choice.
If you come with me now, this is the best offer that I can give you. If you
decide to stay in your house, and later change your mind, the penalties will be
far greater. If you escape, and later change your mind, the penalties will be
greater still. In our experience, 99.99% of people who either run or stay end
up changing their minds, and end up that much worse off. The remaining 0.01%?
They commit suicide.
“The choice is
now yours. Do the right thing. Do the wise thing. Come with me.”
Can we really
imagine that anyone would choose to stay in his own house and die of thirst,
unable to even flush his toilet? Can we imagine that anyone would choose a life
of perpetual running and hiding and begging? Even if the rapist had no interest
in becoming a better person, surely the cost/benefit of the options outlined
above would convince him.
always be a small number of truly evil or insane people within society. There
are far better ways of dealing with them than our existing system of
dehumanizing, brutal and destructive State gulags, which generally serve only
to expand their criminal intent, skills and contacts. Also, it is important to
remember that the existing State prisons contain relatively few evil or insane
people. The majority of those in jail are nonviolent offenders, enslaved and in
chains because they used recreational drugs, or gambled, or went to a
prostitute, or did not pay all their taxes, or other such innocuous nonsense –
or turned to crime because State “vice” prohibitions made crime so profitable,
and State “education” kept them so ignorant.
then, is between a system which removes the tiny minority of evil people from
society, rehabilitates them if all possible, and makes them work productively
to support their own confinement – or a State system which spends most of its
time and energies enslaving innocent people, while letting the evil and insane
roam free – or become Commander in Chief.
Another central justification for the
existence of the State is the need for a stable and universal monetary system.
In the absence of any general system for determining price and value, the
argument goes, economic activity grinds to a standstill, since all that is left
in the absence of cash and prices is self-sufficiency, barter and/or an
inefficient command economy of some kind.
If the government stops defining and
promulgating the money supply, the argument goes, money would cease to exist,
and the economy would collapse. Every group would come up with their own
definition of money, and at the mall, you would have to try to negotiate with
people who were using diamonds, gold, shark teeth, salt, spices, DVDs and
goodness knows what else as cash.
Our economic life would thus become an
endless runaround of attempting to match a variety of currencies to a variety
of products; the value of our salaries would be diminished – or perhaps
eliminated – by the amount of labor that it would take to find someone who
would accept our “currency.” Furthermore, given the enormous multiplicity of
“currencies” in a stateless society, we would never be sure whether or not we
were being ripped off in some manner, as someone tried to convince us that 12
shark’s teeth were in fact equal to our bag of cinnamon – and horror of
horrors, we might get home and find out that those shark’s teeth were in fact fakes!
(I hope that we are far enough along in our
understanding to recognize an “Argument from Apocalypse” when we see it!)
Like so many arguments against a stateless
society, the above approach can be defined as the “idiot kindergarten”
argument. In this view, society is composed of largely retarded adults, who
find it impossible to cooperate for mutual advantage, but instead run around
like chickens with their heads cut off, grabbing and snatching at whatever
value they can, eyeing each other with suspicion and hostility, and probably
eating glue and stuffing plasticine up their noses.
The essential thing to understand about
money is that cash is just another product, exactly like an iPod, a car or a
A telephone line is designed to facilitate
communication in a “many to many” scenario – anyone who pays to access it can
talk to anyone else who has paid to access it. From the standpoint of the
consumer, a telephone line is an “invisible” medium for the exchange of
conversation, from anyone, and to anyone.
In the same way, money is an “invisible”
medium for the exchange of value in a market system. Money is only required
because people wish to trade – I do not generally set a “market price” for the
vegetables that I grow for my own consumption in my backyard. (Although my time
certainly has a form of “price” of course…)
Money reflects the degree of actionable
demand for goods and services – actionable because we all may want a
Lamborghini, but very few of us actually have the money to purchase one.
Quite literally, money is a way of
measuring apples versus oranges. How much of my economically productive time is
a dozen oranges worth? How many oranges is a dozen apples worth? In the absence
of money, the only alternative is direct trade, which is horribly inefficient,
for the obvious reason that if I want to trade apples for oranges, I have to
find someone who wants to trade oranges for apples.
Like any commodity, money has a price – and
this price is called “interest.” If I want to rent a car, rather than buy it,
then I do not have to outlay the entire capital cost of the car, but rather I
can borrow the car (which really means borrowing the capital cost of the car,
since someone else has to have already paid for it) and pay a rental fee.
In the same way, if I want to borrow money,
then I have to pay a “rental fee,” which is interest, which equals the
amount that I am willing to pay in order to have something sooner rather than
later. “Interest” exists because time is the most precious commodity that
we have, because it can never be replaced, and without it we are nothing.
I can save for 20 years in order to buy a
house outright, but there is no particular value in that; it is true that if I
take this approach, I have saved myself a loss of money and interest, but so
what? I have only exchanged paying interest for paying rent on some other place
to live – both of which are forms of non-recoverable income. Whether I hand my
money to a bank or a landlord is immaterial.
If we are afraid that a stateless society
will not be able to create or sustain any form of objective monetary system,
then what we are really saying is that human beings will refuse to cooperate,
even if their lack of cooperation means a complete collapse of the economic
system, and the entire basis of their high living standard.
We can easily imagine that in the absence
of cash, economic wealth and growth would collapse by probably 95%. Let us say
that the average annual income of a developed economy is about $35,000 a year –
when we reject a stateless society for fear that it cannot sustain a monetary
system, we are really saying that human beings would accept an annual drop in
income from $35,000 to $1,750 rather than cooperate with each other.
To put it another way, if I were willing to
pay you $33,250 a year – the difference between living in a mud shack and
living in a comfortable home, between near starvation and having more than
enough food, between plumbing and an outhouse – in order to cooperate with
other human beings, would you say “no”?
Of course not.
If human beings do not possess enough
rational self-interest to accept a 20 fold increase in their income
simply for the sake of participating in some reasonable monetary system, then
philosophy, medicine and society of any kind would be utterly impossible, and
you would not be able to read this, because you would have said to yourself
that the effort of learning how to read is not worth it.
I apologize if I am hammering the point
perhaps too hard, but another way of understanding this is to imagine the
Let us say that you make $35,000 a year,
and one day, you get a letter in the mail from the Anarchist Credit Card
We have a very exciting offer for you!
If you agree to sign up for the Anarchist Credit Card (ACC), and agree to use
it for at least 80% of your consumer purchases, we will deposit $700,000
into your ACC account every single year, free of charge, for you to spend as
you see fit!
We will also only charge you 1% interest
Would that be an offer that just might
interest you? $700,000 of free money every single year, just for signing up for
and using particular credit card?
Well, this is exactly the anarchist offer!
Given the massive incentives involved in
participating in a voluntary monetary system, we can be certain that all but
the insane will leap at the opportunity.
Entrepreneurs who can offer people an
immediate and permanent 20-fold increase in their income will not find any
shortage of people willing to sign up for their services.
Thus, we can be absolutely and completely
sure that a stateless society will have a stable and beneficial monetary
We can now spend some time examining how it
It is always fascinating to see what Ayn
Rand used to call the “blank out,” which occurs when people defend the existing
statist system of currency.
Government predation upon the economy
through its monopoly on currency is one of the most savage and destructive
aspects of a statist society.
The overprinting of money, which is used to
bribe existing special interests, results in inflation, or the loss of
purchasing power that results from too many dollars chasing too few goods and
If I wanted to start a credit card company,
and sent out a business plan to investors informing them that my goal was to
ensure that consumers paid 5% more per year for all their purchases, and use
that as the basis for my profit, they would laugh at me as insane and ridiculous!
“Who would sign up for such a vampiric credit card?” they would chortle, and
probably send it around to each other as a joke.
Then, these very same investors will run
across an anarchist, and end up defending the existing statist currency system,
without even noticing the rank contradiction.
This is the true strangeness of the world
that only the anarchist can see.
Inflation is a brutal attack upon the poor;
deficit financing is also a staggering predation upon the unborn, the financial
equivalent of a farmer securing a loan by pledging his unborn future livestock.
The reason that statist monetary systems
always grow to collapse is the simple financial equation that lies at their
The reason that Mafia protection schemes
“work” is because the costs of enforcement are far less than the rewards of
intimidation. If you ask a restaurant owner for $1,000 a month in “protection,”
but it only costs you $100 a month to pay a thug to threaten him, the economic
benefit is clear. In effect, the thug’s wages are directly paid for by his
victims, and the vast profits go to the thug’s leaders.
The limitation in the profits of organized
crime is the balance of power between the thugs and the restaurant owners. If
the Mafia predation becomes too great, the owners will simply sell their
restaurants and set up shop elsewhere. Alternatively, they can hire their own
security guards to protect their restaurants, thus starving the Mafia out of
business – or hire their own thugs to threaten the Mafia thugs in return. (In
“The Godfather,” for instance, a young Corleone decided to kill a thug rather
than pay him.)
However, governments are subject to no such
“restrictions.” Moving out of Brooklyn is one thing; moving out of the United
States is quite another, due to the time and expense involved. Furthermore,
moving to another country does not solve the problem of taxation, because
“protection money” will be violently extracted from you no matter where you end
Furthermore, citizens cannot hire security
guards to protect them against the police and the military, since they are so
outgunned. Thus the limitations of evasion or retaliation simply do not exist
in a statist society.
In addition, governments become less and
less reliant on direct and immediate taxation over time, since their ability to
print money and take out loans against future taxation diminishes the need to
please the taxpayer in the short run.
Thus we can see that the Mafia would only
continue to grow if they could somehow establish the following situations:
- The restaurant
owners could never leave.
- The restaurant
owners could never defend themselves.
- The Mafia could
take out legal loans against future “protection” profits.
- The Mafia could
print as much money as it wanted – whenever it wanted – and would never
face any significant “counterfeit” competition.
- The Mafia was
well-paid to collect this protection money.
This situation would result in a cancerous
growth in the size and power of the Mafia, because the significant imbalance
between short-term gains and long-term pains would be so great that the
deferral of immediate profits would never occur. We may as well expect a single
and childless young man who knows that he has only two weeks to live to spend
one of those weeks planning and investing in his retirement.
Of course, it is entirely natural and
inevitable that the government defines its own actions as virtuous, and the exact
same actions as evil and criminal if performed by others. Printing money is
an essential and virtuous government function; the private printing of
money is the evil act of “counterfeiting” – although both are the creation of
fiat currency out of thin air for the private profiteering of particular
If you’re in the mood for a bit of
intellectual fun, it is always enjoyable to try out the following approach when
arguing for an anarchist society: describe how you think an anarchist
society should run, but smuggle statist principles in, just to see if people
notice the substitution.
In the case of currency, I would say something
“The way that I see currency working in a
stateless society is that one particular private agency should have the right
to print as much money as it wants, whenever it wants – and it should use this
power to pay for an army that it would then use to shoot anyone who tried
printing competing currencies. This agency should have the right to create
debts for people who have not even been born yet, and to charge whatever it
wants to the citizenry as a whole, using the future income that will steal from
them as collateral for spending in the here and now!”
Naturally, people are shocked and appalled
when I propose such a system. They consider it corrupt and evil for money to be
created and promulgated in this manner, and immediately respond with myriad
examples of the endless and immoral consequences of my proposed system.
Then, they inevitably defend the Federal
The “shock treatment” of this sudden
reversal has at least the potential to jolt someone’s conscience into a kind of
desperately-needed rationality, and help them finally see the savage amount of
propaganda that has been inflicted on them.
It is impossible to know for certain how
money will work in a stateless society, but I can at least tell you what I
would prefer as a consumer.
One of the greatest – and unnecessary –
challenges in existing statist societies is a near-complete inability to know
what the future holds in terms of monetary stability. The interest rate goes up
and down according to the whims of the leaders; more money is printed, and then
less money is printed; the government scoops up more, then less, of available
capital in terms of loans; bonds are issued with a variety of interest rates,
and so on.
In particular industries, the business
environment is even more random. Regulations swell and change; tariffs rise and
alter; import restrictions grow and fall; union rules come and go – and the
endless teasing possibility of government subsidies and contracts keeps many a
faltering business around long after its natural expiry date.
Thus, the first guarantee that I would
require from anyone wishing to enroll me in a monetary system would be stability.
I do not want to have to worry about whether my money will be worth less next year,
or whether its value is going to fluctuate in any substantial manner.
There is a reason that people tend to
travel with credit cards, rather than with gift certificates for specific
stores and restaurants. Since gift certificates are not as portable, they would
have to carry a significant stack of them to spend money from place to place.
When traveling abroad, credit cards are
generally preferable to cash, because they do not have to be converted, and are
less convenient to steal.
In the same way, gold has been a common
currency throughout history because it is rare, portable, strong enough to last
(but soft enough to mould), universally valued, easily dividable, and does not
lose value when it is split, like a diamond.
Thus, to get my business, any particular
currency would have to offer portability.
The cost savings for monetary systems tend
to take the form of a bell curve – when a currency is not very portable, like a
gift certificate, it remains very cheap to produce and consume. When a currency
becomes somewhat portable, it operates in a kind of limbo – it is much
more expensive than a gift certificate, but not as cheap as a currency that is
very portable, which has economies of scale working for it.
For instance, it might be valuable for the
retailers in my geographical region to offer me a form of subsidized currency
that I could only spend in their stores. This already occurs in used-books
stores; you can either take cash or credit – and the credit is much more
lucrative, because the store owner gains the additional value of knowing that
you will buy only from him.
However, localized currencies face the
significant disadvantage of being unusable in transactions that require wider
economic reach. It is unlikely that the company that provides your electricity
resides in your county, in which case your “local dollars” could not be used to
pay your electricity bill, which would cost you additional time and energy to
pay the bill from a different account, using a more universal currency.
In a stateless society, your bank could
also analyze your spending habits and proactively buy particular currencies. If
you spend $100 a month at Store X, it could buy 100 “Store X dollars” a month,
getting a 5% discount, since Store X can book its unspent consumer dollars as
an asset and guarantee of future earnings. The bank may charge you 1% for this
service, but you would still be 4% ahead.
We must remember that inconvenience breeds
entrepreneurs. In a stateless society, an obvious service would be a “transparent”
way of paying your bills using the most advantageous currency available. I
might have bank accounts with five different kinds of currency – and thus my
bank would provide bill payments in a universal format; I would not need to
know all the details, but the bank would complete my transaction using the most
advantageous currency. In this way, I might have different kinds of money, but
that difference would be largely invisible to me, except for the savings I
would receive. (Note that these different currencies would also be a
disincentive for invasion, as mentioned above.)
Would it be cheaper for me to participate
in a currency that would be accepted on the other side of the world? That is
very hard to predict ahead of time, because there would be significant cost
savings in a universal currency, but there would be significant costs as well.
It is hard to imagine that a Chinese food seller would be interested in
offering currency-based discounts to a teenager in Zimbabwe, and so the local
incentive to provide subsidized currency would be diminished. On the other
hand, the significant amount of technical resources required to run any
currency would not have to be duplicated.
Of course, since inconvenience breeds
entrepreneurs, it is certain that a number of enterprising souls would come up
with a framework for running currencies that could be populated with any number
of specific currencies, just as websites almost never write their own “shopping
cart” code from scratch, but rather populate existing frameworks with their own
products and prices.
This approach could very easily overcome
the problem of duplicate investments in technical currency frameworks – this,
combined with a transparent abstraction layer for bill-paying in multiple
currencies, would create an enormously efficient and user-friendly currency
system – or systems, to be more precise.
If the above two criteria were met, my next
consumer question would be: how secure is this currency?
Security is always a delicate balance
between usability and safety. Any online transaction could require you to enter
10 unique passwords, each 255 characters long, which would then be virtually
unbreakable – the problem is that no one would use it, for the same reason that
very few people put 20 locks on their front door, and walk around like some
sort of apartment superintendent, their key rings clanking like a suit of chain
mail. It certainly is an inconvenience to be robbed, but it is also
inconvenient to spend 20 minutes opening and locking your door every day.
I would not require that my currency be
perfectly secure (if this were even possible) – I would prefer that this
security at least match my preferences and requirements.
Some people are carefree; some people are
cautious, and some people are downright paranoid. The paranoid people always
prefer to shift the costs of securing their money to the carefree people; in
the same way, the carefree people resent paying for all the extra security
features that the paranoid prefer. Thus, any effective supplier of a monetary
system would very likely have different levels of security and precautions, and
would charge the appropriate costs for each level.
Carefree people might choose to have few if
any security features at all, and thus pay the least for participating in a
monetary system. On the other hand, the paranoid might require voice and
fingerprint identification, as well as retina scans, specific dance moves and
obscure Urdu phrases in order to complete a transaction. All this
specialization is part and parcel of the inevitable entrepreneurial obsession
with providing the most possible value in every conceivable situation, in order
to avoid leaving even one thin dime of potential profit on the table.
Of course, a central purpose of the free
market is not to create profit, but rather to eliminate it, or at least make it
as small as possible. Any firm which overcharges will inevitably be undercut,
which is why profits even in successful companies are generally no more than a
few percentage points. Thus we can be sure that there will be just the right
number of currency systems in a free society – not so many that economic
interactions become complicated and cumbersome, but not so few that a lack of
competition will allow profits to inflate.
The majority of economic transactions in a
free society will be performed electronically, because the transaction costs
are far lower – however, cash will always be necessary, for a variety of
reasons. The price of cash transactions, being higher, will be reflected in a lack
of discounts – or a surcharge – in the price, which will discourage but not
eliminate these kinds of interactions. It also seems likely that cash will not
carry a guarantee of restitution in the case of loss or theft, in the way that
electronic currency would, unless there was a way to electronically associate
cash with a particular individual.
At the moment, it may seem that electronic
transactions are subjected to a surcharge, while cash transactions are not –
however, this is not the case at all.
Credit card companies do charge a few
percentage points per transaction, while cash can get you certain kinds of
discounts at computer stores, but in reality the exact reverse is true.
Currently, if you take your money and put
it under a mattress, it will lose a few percentage points at least per year due
to inflation. Furthermore, a certain percentage of your taxes is used to
maintain and defend the statist monopoly on currency. It is quite likely – if
we include debts and deficits – that you are paying at least 10% of your income
for the “privilege” of participating in a statist currency system. This system
has all the characteristics of any brutal and violent monopoly, which is that
it is exploitive, random, destructive, cancerous, and on a certain course toward
I pay a percentage point or two on most of
the donations I receive for Freedomain Radio, which come through PayPal. I
assume that in a free market, this would be halved at least – thus I think it
is safe to say that currency transactions would be very likely around 1% of the
total value, or one tenth of the bare minimum of what you’re paying at the
moment for the statist system.
A 90% reduction in cost, combined with far
greater security features, guaranteed stability in the value of the currency,
portability proportional to your requirement – as well as discount incentives
to shop in particular areas – would result in an essentially “free” monetary
system. (It would also doubtless be the case that you could choose not to pay a
penny in fees to use a currency, if you were willing to submit to
advertisements on that currency!)
What would happen, though, if a particular
currency DRO ended up going bankrupt? Would everyone end up losing his or her
The standard cliché here – at least for
older people – is the “bank run” scene in Depression-era movies, where frantic
people storm a bank desperate to get their money, once they hear that it might
be going out of business.
Of course, this vision is always considered
to be negative towards banks, rather than towards the relatively new Federal
Reserve, which was in charge of the currency for the entire nation. In the same
way, if a foreign enemy were to bomb farm fields in the Midwest, it is
doubtless the greedy capitalist grocery store owners who would be blamed and
vilified in perpetuity for the resulting price increases.
Let us say that some greedy or improvident
DRO currency provider started running his company poorly – what would happen?
Well, the first thing that would happen is
that his investors and board of directors would notice.
The first thing that I would require from
the group in charge of any currency system I was involved in would be that they
hold the majority of their savings in the currency system that they are trying
to sell to me. I would demand external audits to ensure that at least 80% of
their savings were in their own currency system. The moment that any of these
people began to sell off their own currency holdings, it would be a clear
indication that they no longer had faith in the long-term viability of what
they were selling.
Secondly, I would require an immediate sale
of the company should its asset/debt ratio exceed a very conservative number.
How would a sale help me? Well, if someone wanted to buy a distressed currency
company, he or she would only want to do so if the existing customer base could
be retained. In other words, additional benefits would have to be offered to
the customers in order to retain them – a fee holiday, some sort of cash bonus
or something like that. In order to keep me from withdrawing my money from this
currency system, someone would have to pay me to accept the increased risk if
it was in distress.
Thirdly, I would demand that any
significant losses come directly out of the bank accounts and assets of those
in charge of the currency. If I ended up only being paid 80 cents on the
dollar, because they had screwed up the business, I would make damn sure that
they ended up with zero cents on the dollar, and living in a van down by the
river as well!
This would eliminate the incentive for
managers to prey upon the company for personal gain. No matter how badly their
customers ended up, they would end up in a far worse situation.
Fourthly, I would demand the right to
withdraw all of my money at any time I wanted.
Let us now trace the likely sequence of
events that would occur if a currency company got into financial trouble.
As mentioned above, the leadership and
investors would be very quickly aware of any potential problem, and would be
equally if not painfully aware that if a whiff of scandal or instability leaked
into the marketplace, their entire investment may very well go down the drain.
Since voluntarism and a free society is all
about preventing problems, rather than curing them – the direct opposite of
statism, which is all about inventing problems, and then exacerbating them –
managers and investors would be hyper-vigilant in protecting the financial
soundness of their organization. The success of any voluntary money system starts
and ends with credibility and trust – the moment that either becomes even
remotely compromised, the entire system is called into question. Competitors
will always be looking for weaknesses in other monetary systems, and will
provide incentives to lure customers away. Thus the investors and managers
would put every conceivable check and balance in place to ensure that the
system remained trustworthy.
Should some upcoming problem escape them,
however, and Company XYZ were to encounter real financial difficulties, what
Well, when any company hits a financial
problem, it is either because it is no longer viable, or it is being badly run.
Since we have already established the innate value of and requirement for
currency, we know that XYZ cannot be in trouble because no one needs its
services anymore – thus its difficulties must result from being badly run.
If a company is being badly run, it can
either reform itself from within, or it cannot.
If XYZ can reform its management
practices from within, then bankruptcy will not be the result of its misstep –
some firings, some dropped bonuses, and some cutbacks, but not bankruptcy.
Customers might not even have a clear sense that anything is amiss at all.
Ah, but what happens if XYZ cannot
reform itself from within?
In any free market system, there exists a
plethora of so-called “raiders” who are constantly looking for poorly-run
companies to snap up and improve. These raiders would doubtless very quickly
sniff out the problems within the company, and would try to take it over in
If I were one of these raiders, I would
face a very difficult balancing act, which is that it would be advantageous for
me to leak the problems XYZ was experiencing, in order to drive down the value
of the company and pick it up for less money – however, such a leak would also
create a panic among the customers, which could largely eliminate the value of
Thus, my best strategy would be to leak the
problems at XYZ – and simultaneously offer a guarantee to existing customers
that their currency would be protected, as well as some sort of incentive or
bonus to retain their allegiance. I would be willing to put all of this in
writing, of course, in a binding contract, which would take effect the moment I
got control of the company.
This would cause a temporary dip in the
price of XYZ, thus allowing me to gain control of it more cheaply – and would
at least help alleviate the fears of existing customers by providing a binding
guarantee to retain the value of their money.
However, as a raider, I would be facing
significant competition from another source – other currency companies.
Company ABC, on hearing about any possible
problems with XYZ, would immediately take out full-page advertisements,
offering significant bonuses to any XYZ customers who transferred their money
to the ABC Company. There would be so many “lifeboat” companies offering to
rescue XYZ customers at par or greater that such customers would doubtless be
able to walk to shore!
It could be the case that whatever solution
any individual customer chooses might not pan out – in other words, a raider
might offer a five percent bonus to currency holdings, and then fail to deliver
it, falter in his execution, and customers might end up having to pull out at
eighty or ninety cents on the dollar.
Color me cold, but I cannot see the innate
tragedy in such a situation. Anyone who offers you “free” money does so with
the implicit – though perhaps unspoken – background of risk. If I decide to
leave my money in a troubled company, in the hopes of gaining five percent
more, and I end up getting ten percent less, it is hard to see how that is
significantly different from investing in a stock or a bond – or a horse, for
Thus, there is no conceivable situation in
which currency customers would wake up one day to find their savings utterly
wiped out – there is so much profit in customer retention, particularly in
currency situations, that a literal stampede of entrepreneurs would attempt to
insert themselves into the equation, to the benefit of the existing customers.
Doubtless there are ten thousand churning
minds out there at this very moment, chanting their heated way through every
conceivable possibility that might result in financial ruin for customers of
the XYZ Currency Company. And perhaps such a possibility exists – but again,
this is an argument for anarchism, not against it.
Any farmer can fail to produce crops at any
particular time – this is a natural reality and risk of farming, or indeed of
any human endeavor.
Since any farmer can fail to produce crops,
the only way that we can guarantee – as best as possible – the continual supply
of crops is to have a large number of farmers. If we only have one farmer for
the entire world – to take an exaggerated example – then the moment that the
inevitable happens, and that farmer fails to produce crops, worldwide
starvation inevitably results.
This distribution of risk is an essential
part of any rational strategy to reduce danger. If you are only ever allowed to
buy one stock your whole life long, then you may do very well, but you also may
do very badly. Diversification is the key to minimizing risk.
In the same way, when we have a State
monopoly on currency, and we accept that currency organizations can fail from
time to time – and certainly there is no shortage in history of examples of
States corrupting and destroying their currencies – we have truly all of our
eggs in one very precarious basket.
If we are truly concerned about currency
failure in a free market system, then the worst possible solution we could come
up with would be to create a violent monopoly over a single currency. If we are
concerned about farm failures, then obviously the solution is to have as many
farms as economically possible, so that those that fail can be shored up by
those that succeed.
In other words, if currency failure is not
a problem, then a stateless society is the best solution.
If currency failure is a problem –
then a stateless society is the best solution.
All moralists interested in
improving society must answer the most essential questions about human
motivation, and show how their proposed solutions will create a rational framework
of incentives, punishments and rewards that further moral goals generally
accepted as good. The 20th century clearly showed that there is no possibility
for ideology to invent or create an “ideal man” – and that all such attempts
generally create a hell on earth. Utopian thinkers must work with man as he is,
and recognize the inevitability of self-interest and the positive responses to
incentives that characterize the human soul.
In the previous chapters on the
stateless society, I have shown how society can operate in the absence of a
centralized government. One question that repeatedly arises in response to
these possibilities has been the following:
In the absence of a
centralized State-run police force and law/court system, how can child abuse be
prevented, or at least minimized?
When discussing ethical issues,
it is essential to deal with what is arguably the greatest evil within human
society: the abuse of children by their parents or primary caregivers. If we
can create a society that treats children better than they are currently
treated, we have created a goal or a destination worthy of the considerable
efforts it will take to achieve it.
In any post-tribal society,
family life generally becomes very opaque. Great evils can be committed within
the family home, in isolation from the general view of society, and children by
their very nature can do almost nothing to protect themselves. Excepting grave
or obvious physical injuries, governmental agencies rarely get involved – and
even when such agencies do get involved, it is far from clear that their
involvement results in a better situation for the victimized child.
As we know from totalitarian
regimes, any situation which combines an extreme disparity in authority with a
lack of accountability for those in power tends to increase abuse. This does
not mean that all parents are abusive, of course, but it does mean that in
situations where abusive tendencies do exist, the power differential
between parents and children, combined with the reality that few parents face
any legal or direct financial consequences for their abuse, tends to prolong
and exacerbate child maltreatment.
Due to this situation, it is
hard to say that the existing system works to maximize the protection and
security of children. While there is no perfect utopia wherein all children
will be loved, nurtured and protected, any society which contains strong
positive incentives for good parenting is a vast improvement over the current
situation. Since children are by far the most vulnerable members of society, if
a stateless society can protect them better than a statist society, it is
perhaps the greatest moral benefit that anarchism can bring to bear on the
Before discussing how a
stateless society can far better protect children, let us first look at how
existing societies create problems for children.
existence of the welfare state has directly contributed to the rise of
single-parent families. Abuse is generally more prevalent in single-parent
- The war on
drugs has created extremely unstable, volatile and violent social
housing projects have gathered together unstable single mothers and
unstable drug dealers (in fact, housing projects are sometimes called
“girlfriend farms” for such men) – thus exposing children to highly
dysfunctional role models.
school education often creates unstable and dangerous environments for
children, where younger children in particular are easy prey for bullies.
- The rise of
taxation has reduced take-home income to the point where, for many
families, both parents need to work. This has left children vulnerable to
abuse by outside caregivers – and often leads to an excess of unsupervised
time for children in their early teens.
social agencies are no better at protecting children than any other State
agencies are at protecting the environment, helping the poor, healing the
sick, or any of the other self-appointed “missions” that bureaucrats
devise for themselves.
- If a badly-raised
child becomes a criminal, parents are not directly liable for the
resulting social, medical, legal or property costs.
- If, through
their bad parenting, parents end up alienating their children, they face
far fewer financial problems in their old age, due to State-run social
It is clear, then, that the
existing system has room for improvement, let us say. How, then, does a
stateless society better encourage good parenting?
First of all, in a stateless
society, disputes between people are mediated by DROs. Is there any way that
DROs can profitably intervene in a situation where there are deteriorating
relationships between parent and child, or where the child is being directly
One of the primary reasons for
the existence of DROs is to protect citizens against unacceptable levels of
risk. In a free society, if a child goes off the rails and begins hurting other
people or damaging their property, DROs will hold the parents responsible. To
take a true disaster scenario, if your child paralyzes another child, you as a
parent will be on the hook for a lifetime of medical bills, rehabilitation and
equipment. Given that childhood – even in the absence of malice – is a
physically risky time, few parents would accept the risk of having no protection
for any potential injuries their child might commit or experience.
Like any insurance company,
DROs would lower rates for children who were less at risk. An insurance company
would prefer that your child be active – or they would face the health problems
which naturally arise from inactivity – but not that your child be aggressive,
especially towards other children. Children who learned positive negotiation
skills – or at least did not hit, throw, punch or push other children – would
be cheaper to insure. Parents who raised aggressive children would be charged
far more in insurance than those who raise more peaceful offspring.
Some forms of child abuse do
not generally result in destructive tendencies towards others, but rather
towards the self. Anorexia nervosa, self-mutilation, excessive piercings and
hyper-dangerous activities are all signs that a child has experienced specific
forms of abuse – usually sexual in nature. Given that DROs also provide health
insurance, it seems likely that DROs would do as much as possible to prevent
and detect these kinds of activities, since they scarcely profit from
At this point, you may be
thinking that bad parents would scarcely stay in a DRO system, since it would
be very expensive to insure their children. This is a natural response, but
For instance, most parents
prefer to have their children educated – even parents who abuse their children.
Most schools would doubtless prefer DRO coverage for their students, because “unprotected”
children would be more risky to have around. Thus, in order to get their
children educated, parents have to have a DRO contract that protects them. If
you are a bad parent, it will be almost impossible to avoid the significant
costs imposed upon you.
Furthermore, I would prefer
that my DRO refuse to insure parents without also insuring their children,
because I care deeply about the health and well-being of children.
I am sure that I am not alone
in this desire.
Currently, when you apply for
medical insurance in the United States, you are subjected to a battery of tests
aimed at determining your general level of health, and so your future medical
risks. Similarly, life insurance costs usually depend on health indicators such
as smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Also, the earlier that you
buy insurance, the lower your initial payments are.
Thus, we can imagine that a
variety of DROs will approach new parents with a number of different insurance
offers, all designed to protect their children.
These DROs will be eager to
offer the lowest possible rates for the parents. How can they achieve that?
When a young man applies for his first car insurance, the insurance company
usually takes into account any driving courses that he has taken. Similarly,
DROs will offer lower rates to parents who take specific training on how to
best raise children to be peaceful, safe and healthy members of society. DROs
will also work hard to determine exactly which parenting practices are most
likely to produce such happy children.
Children need very specific
guidelines and parenting skills at different stages in their development. Given
that parents are likely to want to keep insurance coverage on their children
until they turn 18 – and that DROs are very interested in preventing problems
over the long run – it also seems likely that DROs will continue to provide
lower-cost coverage if parents update their parenting skills periodically.
There are other significant
indicators that parenting is becoming problematic. For instance, parental
substance abuse virtually guarantees that the children will be abused or
neglected. DROs will offer far lower rates to parents who have either never
shown these tendencies, or if they have, are willing to subject themselves to
rehabilitation and random testing to prove that they are still clean. Remember
that these tests are in no way intrusive in nature – parents can always refuse
to take such tests, and simply accept the consequences.
What about the children? Since
prevention is by far the better part of cure, their insurance costs will remain
the lowest if potential problems can be identified before they manifest
themselves in costly antisocial behavior. With the young in particular, early
intervention is the key. How can DROs best keep the costs low for these
children? Intermittent psychological and behavioural assessments would be a
good start, as would proactive parenting classes. Naturally, no parents would
ever be required to submit their children for assessment – they would just pay
for the increased costs if they did not.
If a child displayed truly
problematic behavior, DROs would threaten to drop family coverage entirely
unless the parents accepted intervention.
This combination of research,
financial incentives and constant updating creates three partners in the
raising of children – parents who wish to keep their children happy and their
insurance costs as low as possible, DROs who wish to prevent problems rather
than pay for their remediation, and experts who constantly research and
communicate best practices in parenting.
Parents who were themselves
poorly raised often do not understand the best way to raise their own children.
Lacking access to objective information and best practices, they often repeat
the same mistakes that were inflicted upon them. Parents currently reluctant to
“lift the blinds” on their parenting and familial circumstances would be
presented with strong and positive financial incentives to do so. Parents who
refused any kind of DRO coverage for their children – or who refused reasonable
interventions to help them improve their parenting – would face negative
repercussions from the DRO system, which have been discussed at length above.
Thus it seems highly likely that a stateless society would create a wide
variety of social interests all focused on improving the parenting of children,
and ensuring the children were raised to be as peaceful, happy and productive
There is an old fable that goes
something like this: the Sun and the Wind are having an argument as to which
one of them is stronger. The Wind boasts that he is able to uproot trees, tear
the roofs off houses and throw down power lines. The Sun looks sceptical. Below
them, as they argue, a man is walking along a country road. “Ah”, says the
Wind, “I bet I can tear the cloak right off this man’s back!” “Go ahead,”
smiles the Sun. The Wind goes down and tears around this man, attempting to pry
his cloak off his back. Naturally, the man simply clutches his cloak tighter,
and the Wind can find no purchase. Finally, exhausted, the Wind withdraws. “Let
me show you how it’s done,” says the Sun. Bursting into full brilliance, the
Sun generates enormous heat, and the man begins to sweat. After ten minutes or
so, the man sighs, wipes his brow – and slowly shrugs off his cloak.
This parable contains a
powerful message about the difference between a stateless society, and society
ruled by centralized government. The government always tries to force people to
do things, which only increases their resistance and secrecy with regard to
State power. Human society, though, only advances when a multiplicity of
competing voluntary agencies create and maintain circumstances which truly
benefit virtue and punish vice. This is an apt description of the free market –
and it is also a description of the manner in which a stateless society will
continually work to improve the safety and happiness of children.
Abortion is always
a tragedy, and one of the saddest occurrences on this earth. Government
“solutions” are also always disastrous, and so it is hard to understand
how combining a tragedy with a disaster can create any kind of positive
outcome. Mixing arsenic with mercury does not solve the problem of poison – and
combining the violent inefficiency of the State with the tragedy of abortion
does not solve the problem of family planning.
wishing to reduce the incidence of abortion – surely all rational and sensitive
souls – must recognize that giving the government the power to combat abortion
also gives it the power to promote abortion, which it currently does to
a hideous degree. The best way to reduce the incidence of abortion is to
withdraw State subsidies and allow the economic and social consequences to
accrue to those who engage in sexually risky behaviours.
incidence of abortion is not very complicated, since it is subject to the same
laws of supply and demand as any other human activity. Simply put, any activity
that is subsidized will increase, and any activity that is taxed will decrease.
The incidence of abortion will go down only when abortion is no longer
subsidized – and when responsible family planning is no longer taxed.
Abortion is very
rare in a stable marriage, and is generally only performed under an extremity
of financial or medical distress. The vast majority of abortions occur to
single women, or women in unstable relationships. Particularly over the past
fifty-odd years, the role of sexuality has been forcibly separated from
marriage and procreation. This is an entirely predictable – although perfectly
horrible – development, given the role of the State in breaking down stable
In general, any
program which subsidizes pregnancy in the absence of a stable family structure
will also tend to encourage abortion. In particular, State subsidies which
encourage the pursuit of sexual pleasure in the absence of virtue, financial
stability (or at least opportunity) and personal responsibility will also tend
to increase the number of abortions. When the financial and social consequences
of pregnancy are mitigated through State programs, risky sexual behaviours will
inevitably increase – resulting in an increase of both pregnancies and
mitigating the financial consequences of unwanted pregnancies directly alters
the kinds of decisions that women make about sexual practices and partners.
Having a child out of wedlock is one of the most costly decisions a woman can
make, insofar as it tends to significantly arrest her educational, emotional
and career development. The physical impossibility of being able to work for
money and care for an infant at the same time reduces most young single mothers
to a life of dependency, exhaustion and poverty. The chance of meeting a good
man when already burdened with a baby lowers a single mother’s chances for a
good marriage. Not only does she come with a baby and significant expenses, but
she probably also has few economic skills to offer. Plus, it is hard to date
when you are breastfeeding. For these and many other reasons, single mothers
often end up settling for unstable, unreliable men, just to have any sort of
man around. Inevitably, the chances of having another baby thus increase –
sadly, without a corresponding increase in relational stability.
This is why,
in the past, society expended considerable effort to ensure that women did not
get pregnant before marriage. The staggering financial losses incurred by
childbirth without commitment usually accrued to the new grandparents, and so
it was those parents who tried to do their best to prevent such a disaster.
This need, being common to all parents, was generally shared across society,
creating a near-impenetrable web of sexual chaperoning. (Social self-government
based on individual incentives is the only way that social problems have been –
or ever will be – solved to any degree of stability.)
costs about $250,000 to bring a child from birth to age 18, under the current
system. In a free market environment, with fully privatized and
charity-supported education, health care, housing and so on, this cost will
decrease of course (since all taxation would cease, and competition increase) –
but it would still be considerable.
short, are expensive. However, when the welfare state enters the equation, all
of the above changes. Now, if a young woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, she
can survive quite nicely. She will very likely never be rich – or probably even
middle class – but she will be able to survive on some combination of any of
the hundreds of State subsidies which directly benefit poor mothers.
In addition to
the usual suspects – welfare, Medicare, child supplements, food stamps – there
are many other ways she can lean on the State. When her child grows up, the
State will also pay for his or her education. Does she need to take the bus?
That is subsidized as well. Drop her child off for a story at the library?
Subsidized. Daycare is subsidized as well, as is her apartment through rent
control or public housing. Dental problems? No problem – subsidies take care of
most if not all of the bills. The amount of money and resources provided to
single mothers by the State is literally staggering! And when she gets old? Not
to worry if she has been unable to save much money, or has alienated her
children – Social Security will take care of her!
pregnant while unmarried is no longer a “life or death” issue, a young woman
has far less incentive to keep her womb to herself until the right man comes
along. She will not have a great life economically, but she will survive just
fine – and also nicely avoid having to slave away at low-rent jobs. If you were
staring at years of McJobs before you got any kind of decent career, “Plan B
for Baby” might start looking pretty attractive, too!
State-enforced subsidies, young women are seduced into self-destructive
decisions, and sink into an underworld of dependent and dangerous lifestyles.
If they have daughters, those girls will grow up in a world filled with
unstable men, and without a loyal father’s love and guidance. What are the odds
of such girls growing up to be sexually responsible? Not nil, certainly, but
not high either.
As a result of
the increasing subsidization of poor sexual choices, the stage is set for
rising numbers of abortions – and, since having an unnecessary abortion is one
of the most egregious examples of preferring short-term gains to long-term gains,
subsidizing error is scarcely the best method of encouraging greater
It is very
hard to make good decisions when everyone around you is making bad decisions.
Either you go along, and jump right into their pit of error, or you withdraw,
provoking social ostracism and, all too often, outright hostility. When,
encouraged by the endless subsidies of State programs, a certain number of
unplanned pregnancies are reached, they become the norm, and vaguely something
“not to be criticized.” Young women, in order to keep their friends and not be
attacked as “superior,” often decide that it is cool to engage in sexually
risky activities. When combined with the financial incentives outlined above,
the “social acceptance” motive proves overwhelming for far too many women.
alternatives are available to those young women who decide to take the
“straight and narrow” course and avoid risky behaviours? What kind of
opportunities are out there? Minimum wages, State-monopoly unions, over-regulation,
crippling taxation, mind-numbing apprenticeship programs and a thousand other
political factors have virtually killed off good job opportunities for the poor
and unskilled. Jobs are scarce, taxes are high, and careers almost impossible. State
schools fail to train poor youngsters for anything useful, and higher education
is probably out of the picture as well. So it is fairly safe to say that
productive and honorable lifestyles are as thwarted as irresponsibility and
instant gratification are encouraged.
So far we have
only been talking about women – but what about the men? How has male behaviour
been affected by these fundamental reversals in social values? Well, as the
negative effects of sexual indiscretion become smaller and smaller, men also
become conditioned to expect, let us say, “short term” interactions with the
fairer sex. As more and more women decide to engage in risky sex without
requiring a commitment, the value of education, integrity and hard work for men
goes down proportionally. As male virtue becomes debased, other values, more
sinister and shallow, take their place. Women go for “hot” guys, or guys with
lots of cash to spend, or with the kind of predatory status that comes with
gang membership. The entire ecosystem of sexual attraction and stable provision
is turned upside down, and the men formerly viewed as losers become winners –
and vice versa.
Thus, a woman
looking for a “good” man faces a distinct scarcity of such paragons – and may
also face the mockery of her peers if she chooses a geeky provider over a
shifty stud-muffin. “Good men” become more scarce – and objects of ridicule to
boot. Female attractiveness, formerly the coin that purchased male loyalty, now
becomes a magnet for shallow and unstable man-boys looking for another notch in
as abortion are so complex that they cannot be solved without reference to the
shifting nature of rewards and punishments created by an ever-growing and
ever-violent State. Like most social problems, the solution must be voluntary,
and based on the financial, social and moral realities of biology and
I am often asked why on earth anyone should
get interested in anarchism, when there is virtually no chance that a stateless
society will ever come into existence in our lifetime, or in the foreseeable
future at all.
This is a very interesting question, and to
some degree it involves a very personal answer, and so I hope you will forgive
me if I forego the odd syllogism or two, and speak directly from the heart.
The story of the progress of human morals
is almost entirely populated by people who did not live to see the world that
they loved in their minds. Those to whom the idea of the separation of church
and state arose as a tiny, faint glimmer over the burning horizon of religious
warfare did not live to see these two whores pried apart by the power of
Those who first dreamed of a world free of
slavery lived only to see slavery increase and worsen, not diminish and
Those who dreamed of reason, evidence and
science in the late Middle Ages saw their dreams go up in endless flames – and,
all too often, themselves as well, under the burning mercies of Christian
Those who dream of peaceful debate rather
than flashing swords taste the bitter dregs of hemlock, not the sweet nectar of
It is an inevitable consequence of inertia
and corruption that those who dream of a better world almost always die before
those dreams come true. The entrenched and pompous self-righteousness of
viciousness and exploitation always moves to discredit any attack with all the
resources it has stolen. The embedded corruptions of existing familial,
professional, economic and political relationships is a sinewy Hydra that a
thousand men with a thousand swords cannot possibly bring down in one
However, you may say, even if this is true,
what form of altruistic madness could take hold of us to the point where we are
willing to sacrifice so many comforts in this world in order to secure a better
one for people we shall never meet? Why should I care for people who are living
200 years from now, and their opinion of me, and those who fight beside me in a
war whose spoils only the unborn will receive? Even if they thank us, and build
statues in our names, what possible good can that do for us now? Why should we
give up all the creature comforts of blind conformity and refuse to surrender
to the endless momentum of the cultural riptide, gaining no love and peace in
the present, but rather only willed incomprehension and spiteful calumny?
There may be those among us who are
motivated for the most part by a love for a future that they shall never
inhabit. There may be those of us willing to sit in the dark and tell tales of
green fields to our fellow dungeon-dwellers, so that our grandchildren’s
children, whose lineage has been sustained by the bright stories of a free
world beyond their walls, can emerge from the rubble of their crumbling jails
into a sunlight that has been pictured and predicted, though not seen, for many
And it will be our world, this world
of the future, that we shall never tread. The evils and pettiness of the world
that is will fall away from our rising ideals, like unneeded past boosters from
a rocket piercing the stratosphere and launching to the stars. The door to this
world of beauty, and plenty, and generosity, and peace, and benevolence can
only be opened by the key of philosophy, of wisdom. I personally consider it
the greatest possible honor to do my part in helping to fashion this golden
key. I am a kind of intransigent warrior, far more at home in this time of war,
the war for the future, than I would be I think in this world of the future,
where all major foes and evils have been laid to rest. A natural warrior can
rejoice to be born in a time of war – I am just such a born fighter, and take
enormous pride and satisfaction in confronting and attempting to master the
embedded evils and lies of the human mind. The size of my soul, it has turned
out, is directly proportional to the size of my enemies, the enemies of wisdom
and virtue. In this time, where the exploration of this world has largely
ceased, but the exploration of other worlds has yet to begin, my restless,
combative and explorative nature finds its true natural home and greatest
possible purpose in the mental wrestling with unseen demons.
Thus, I can genuinely say that I could not
conceivably wish to be born or to live in any other time. This new universe of
instantaneous communication is my natural element, and the endless potential of
these unexplored lands of thoughts, feelings, dreams and insights has given my
soul scope to expand in a way that I never imagined possible. I am hopefully
slightly larger than the size of my enemies; and certainly far smaller than the
scope of the world I explore.
For me, then, the small pleasures of social
conformity shrink to insignificance next to the glory of leading the charge in
this kind of battle, the thrill of reasoning out new connections, the
excitement of lighting up my own mind, and helping to light up the minds of
others. To feel the power of significant evolution within the span of a few
years, within my own mind, within my own soul, within my own life, is for me a
staggering and unprecedented gift, which I would live a thousand years of
social discomfort in order to attain.
I am also acutely aware of the reality that
had I been born and lived in a different time – a later time, or an earlier one
– I would have been pedaling a bicycle with a broken chain, if you understand
me. The power of the conversation that I have initiated and am involved in is
what gives my mind traction, links and engages it in the real world; it is the
other stick that brings the new fire.
Thus for me it is an irreplaceable
privilege to be doing what I am, where I am, during this time in history. I am
a man who is excited by navigation, not the unloading of cargo. I live to
explore, not to settle and consolidate. I live for battle, not administration.
I fully realize that my joys are not
everyone’s joys. If you do not happen to have my particular fetish for the
endless swordplay of abstract battles, why on earth would you be interested in
exploring and understanding the characteristics of a land you will never set
Within our minds, because of our personal
histories, there exists – for want of a better phrase – a kind of “dead zone,”
which is the black and broken scar tissue of the endless dictatorial
commandments we were subjected to as children.
These commandments may have existed within
your own home, but without a doubt this is exactly what you were subjected to
in school. When you were a young child, opening up and exploring your own mind,
and the new world before you, your teachers – and by proxy, your parents –
never asked you what you most wanted to learn and explore.
Instead, you were jammed into a little
desk, in a tight boxlike row with other children, while a teacher scratched with
grating chalk on an old blackboard. Your individuality was not respected and
explored; the natural and specific direction of your mind was not harnessed and
expanded; your latent talents and abilities were not teased and conjured into
full, magnificent view.
This was a dictatorial, almost entirely
one-sided “relationship” – and this “relationship” showed up in school, in
church, and very likely at home as well. Who really cared what you
thought? Who really cared what you preferred to do? Were you not in general
treated, at home, in school and at church, as a generally disobedient and
largely inconvenient kind of pet? Did people talk to you, ask you questions,
sit down and open you up to yourself – or did they feed you, clothe you, wash
you and manage you? Was your childhood a more or less endless series of
little commandments and “suggestions” – put that down, pick that up, don’t go
there, go here, share, be nice, don’t raise your voice, go and read a book,
turn that off, brush your teeth, finish your homework, don’t use those words,
use these words, stop playacting, calm down, go to bed, wake up – all of these
teeth-gritting and petty commandments circle your childhood like an endless
buzzing cloud of little gnats, that can never be swatted, are never full, and
can never be escaped.
In the face of the needs and preferences of
others – particularly those in authority – do we not fall back on a kind of
empty, dull and resentful conformity? When others get irritated with us –
particularly in our personal relationships – do we not either flash up with
resentment, or sink back with resentment? Do we not either bully back, or
surrender and plot?
When we explore anarchy as a theoretical
ideal, we slowly and surely – and painfully – make gradual inroads back into
this “dead zone.” Like the last man in a city struggling to start the generator
that will bring it back to life, when we continually re-imagine what it is like
to sit on the other side of that negotiating table, we re-grow these deadened
nerve endings of resentful conformity and dull compliance.
In the statist paradigm, we listen only to
God, and obey His commandments.
In the anarchist paradigm, God also listens
to us, and we negotiate as equals.
When we mentally practice sitting on the
other side of that negotiating table, we re-learn a lesson that has long been
pounded out of us – the lesson of empathy and mutually-advantageous debate.
When we imagine being a DRO owner and attempting to sell our services to a
community, we challenge and break the mental habits of evasion or compliance to
By far the most popular video that I have
ever produced has been an off-the-cuff discussion of how best to approach a job
interview. This video explicitly follows anarchic principles, in so far as I
remind people that although they are being interviewed, they are also the ones
doing the interviewing, and evaluating the person who is evaluating them. In
the same way, when you are on a first date, if you only worry about how you are
being perceived, rather than being curious about how you are perceiving the
other person, then you are not in fact having a relationship at all, but rather
are acting out an empty form of self-erasure and compliance to the needs and
preferences of someone else.
When you explore the anarchic paradigm of
human interactions, you continually imagine sitting on the other side of the
negotiating table and attempting to provide benefits to yourself.
In the statist paradigm, we struggle to
exist under a coercive and one-sided monopoly. We never practice sitting on the
other side of that table, because there is no other side to that table, any
more than slaves get to negotiate their wages. We seethe with resentment or
hysterical “Stockholm Syndrome” patriotism, but we no more think of reasoning
with our political masters then we think of trying to control a plane
psychically while jammed in the back of “economy class.”
When we are on the receiving end of brutal
and coercive instructions, our self-esteem, our very souls, fade and
flicker and diminish and collapse. We cannot think of ourselves fundamentally
as having value because we are never treated as if we have value in and of
ourselves. Our teachers seem constantly irritated with us, our parents are
constantly correcting and managing us, and our preachers are constantly
informing us of our sins.
Self-esteem has a lot to do with believing
(or at least understanding) that we have value in and of ourselves, and that
our feelings and thoughts are worthy of consideration. We are treated so little
this way when we are children that I strongly believe that we grow up
fundamentally scarred in our ability to comprehend our own independent value.
For instance, I can only remember one
incident in my childhood when I was able to sit with an adult and chat in a
relaxed fashion – and be asked questions – for any length of time. It was with
a camp counselor, when I was 13 or so. I couldn’t sleep, and we sat out front
of our cabin, looking up at the stars, and chatting easily back and forth about
our thoughts. (I clearly remember him telling me that everyone thought
Frankenstein was the monster, when in fact it was the name of the doctor who
created him – and I know that I remember that for very clear reasons, to do
with my family! For anyone who is interested, I used that interaction as the
basis of the sleepover conversation between the two girls in my novel “The God
When we repeatedly picture the natural
“win-win” interactions of an anarchist society, we unconsciously remind
ourselves that we are worthy of being negotiated with, and that other people
have to bring value to the table if they want to interact with us – that we do
not exist simply to fulfill the greedy needs of others.
This mental exercise has staggering
benefits in our personal relationships – and is the surest and most stable set
of bricks that we can use to build a bridge to the future. Once we get used to
the idea that we are worthy of negotiation, and that other people need to bring
value to our lives in order to be of value to us, our self-esteem necessarily
I face this quite often in my conversation
with people in a variety of forums, including the Freedomain Radio Board.
People will be difficult, or negative, or hostile, or evasive – and genuinely
believe that I have some duty or obligation to continue to interact with
This is fundamentally a statist position,
insofar as these people do not believe that they have to provide consistent or
overall value in order to receive resources from others. In the past, before I
became an anarchist and practiced this way of thinking, I was very susceptible
to this kind of entitlement and manipulation. Now, however, it has become
almost funny for me to see the shock that people experience when I simply find
interacting with them more negative than positive. Almost inevitably, they will
attempt to “rope” me in by attempting to snag me with my own values (“I thought
you valued debate!”) – or, if I ban them for being genuinely unpleasant or
abusive, they haughtily inform me that I am “censoring” them, and going against
“anarchism,” and rejecting the values I proclaim on my very website
(“free”) and so on.
The truth of the matter is that I am acting
in complete accordance with anarchistic principles when I refrain from
interacting with people who do not bring me value. The fact that they are
unable to “sit on the other side of the table” and empathize with my perception
of the interaction only tells me that they have a long way to go in the journey
towards understanding what voluntarism really means. The idea that I – or
anyone – “owe” them any form of interaction is entirely statist in its essence.
It is the belief that value does not have to be reciprocal, that one side can
dictate terms to the other – and, most fundamentally, and most subtly, that the
“values” of the person not receiving value should force them to continue
the interaction. (“Don’t you love your country?”)
When we get used to sitting on both sides
of the table, so to speak, it becomes that much harder to exploit us, and press
us into the service of other people’s neurotic defenses, needs and desires. We
get habitually used to “checking in” with our own feelings, to see whether or
not we are enjoying a particular interaction – and if we are not, we feel
perfectly free to disengage. We do not “owe” other people time, energy or
resources – they must “earn” our attention through positivity, just as an
entrepreneur must “earn” our business through the provision of value.
When we raise our standards in this manner,
it is certainly true that large numbers of people will react with
incomprehension (and sometimes hostility), because we are in a very real sense
rewriting our social contract with those around us. Before, they could count on
us to provide them with what they wanted, and they did not have to trouble
themselves by considering what we wanted. When we begin to require
reciprocity in our relationships, people tend to get upset with us, because we
are in fact highlighting their own entitled narcissism.
To give a minor example, as you may know I
give listener conversations for free over the Internet, which I then publish as
podcasts if the listener agrees. The majority of people politely request these
conversations – however, a not-insignificant minority simply inform me that
they are “ready” for a conversation. This is always surprising to me, the idea
that I somehow “owe” them a conversation, because I am “dedicated” to
philosophy and mental health. (This entitlement is all the more jaw-dropping
when these people tell me in advance that they do not want to this conversation
released as a podcast – and don’t even offer to donate either!)
Helping people to understand that they need
to provide value in their relationships is a very tricky and challenging
endeavor – but one that is vastly easier with people who have genuinely and
deeply explored anarchism and voluntarism, particularly in their own personal
Once people understand that if they do not
provide value in their relationships, they do not in fact have relationships,
but rather are just using people in an exploitive manner, then they can work to
undo the damage of the legacy that they have inherited from their family and
their school and their church, which is that you either take value from people,
or you give value to people – but a mutual exchange of value is not
possible. You either steal, or you are stolen from – this is not the best
paradigm for having a strong, deep and emotional understanding of the “free
market of relationships” that is the primary characteristic of an anarchic
Thus, exploring anarchy will free you in
your world right now, the world you actually live in, the world of your
professional, familial and social relationships. Learning how to negotiate from
both sides of the table will make you a more powerful and effective employee; a
better and more loving spouse; a happier and more credible parent – it will
bring you all the joys and liberties of a free society, even as you labor under
excessive taxation and regulation.
Finally – and not insignificantly – the
more that we can teach people, directly or by example, that relationships must
be mutually beneficial in order to be considered positive, the more we will
teach people that the State is evil, because it is one-sided, and violent, and
The world will be free of the State when we
finally see that the State is inferior to all of our personal and
professional relationships. When we are completely used to thinking in terms of
mutual advantage, the violent exploitation of the State will finally become
clear to us, and it will fall away.
I truly thank you for taking the time to
read this book. I hope that I have stimulated some interest within you about
the thrill and value of exploring anarchy.
If you are interested in exploring these
ideas further, you might enjoy some of the Freedomain Radio podcasts, which are
available at www.freedomainradio.com.
The feed for these podcasts is:
You can try the “greatest hits” as well:
You can also use the Freedomain Radio wizard to build your own customized lists
of podcasts at:
Freedomain Radio has become the largest and most popular philosophy show on the
Internet as a direct result of voluntary donations, which help spread the ideas
and excitement of philosophy around the world.
For more free books, please visit www.freedomainradio.com/free.
If you have found this book to be of value,
please donate whatever you can at www.freedomainradio.com/donate.html.