First, a few preliminaries:
There are two basic types of anarchism, “anarcho-capitalism” and “anarcho-socialism”.
A “government” is “a group of people which claim to hold a legal monopoly on the initiation of the use of force in a geographical area”.
The “non-aggression principle” (NAP) states that aggression is inherently illegitimate (i.e. that the initiation of the use of force is immoral). Another way of stating this principle is by saying that “all decisions in life should be voluntary”. In certain very special situations, even ardent supporters of the NAP will recognize that a violation of the NAP may be acceptable (imagine pulling your friend back when he’s about to mindlessly step in front of a moving bus). But the feeling among these people is that violations ought to be very rare and that they ideally could be prevented with better foresight. In general, both types of anarchists feel that the NAP should be adhered to, but that self-defense is acceptable. Instead of using force, anarchists typically feel that social pressure and ostracism are more effective at dealing with the few people in any society whose behavior causes harm to innocent others.
What really distinguishes the “anarcho-capitalists” from the “anarcho-socialists” is their feelings regarding “property rights”. In order for capitalism to function as the capitalists intend, it is necessary for them to be able to vigorously defend their property rights. On the other hand, people can afford to take a more lenient approach towards violations of property rights in a socialist society. Thus, it isn’t surprising that capitalists and socialists put forth different philosophical arguments in regards to property rights in order to affirm those sentiments. Here is the typical philosophical argument given by capitalists in order to make the point that it is valid to use force to defend one’s property (I think that John Locke may have been the first to put this forth): People own their bodies, and assuming that free will exists, people are responsible for their actions. So it would seem to follow that people own the effects of their actions. Thus, if a person finds a stick in the woods and carves it into a flute, then that person has mixed their labor with the material in the stick, and so thus now the person “owns” the flute. Similarly, if one goes out into an unoccupied territory and tills the field and grows a garden, then that person “owns” that garden. Likewise, if a person works in a different occupation, and then trades their labor in that field for some land (with or without the use of money as an intermediary), then that person “owns” that land, even though they haven’t actually mixed their physical labor with it, because the exchange was voluntary and a prior owner presumably mixed their labor with the territory. Furthermore, the contention of capitalists is that this land is “owned” in the same way that a person “owns” their kidney. A person’s kidney needs nutrients provided by the person in a similar way that a garden does, and so a person’s “internal labor” is mixed with their tissues in the same way that a person’s “external labor” is mixed with their property. Thus, it seems to follow that one’s property is simply an extension of oneself. Therefore, capitalists see violations of property rights as being equivalent to initiations of the use of force on the person directly, and so capitalists’ stance is that it is valid to use force to defend their property rights (and justify this by claiming self-defense). In their view, trespassers are in violation of the NAP, and so it is valid to forcibly remove them from the property if the landowner asks the trespasser to leave and they refuse.
Many people, and especially socialists, will reject this argument given by advocates of capitalism regarding property rights (read, for example, this http://dbzer0.com/bl...moral-guideline). The conclusion that a person’s property should be regarded as an extension of themselves seems to be particularly troubling. Is your computer a part of your body? Everyone would reject this. To me the most obvious critique of the capitalist argument is that the assumption that people have free will is invalid. After all, a person is made of matter. Matter behaves according to physical laws which are very well understood. Thus, free will is an illusion. Since the scientific evidence indicates that there is no free will, what are the implications? To me, it means that we ought to be a whole lot more compassionate. Why? Because it’s not their fault. So anyway, socialists reject the capitalist conclusion that it’s valid to use force to defend their property. Instead socialists would tend to use social pressure against individuals who take things from others. Inherent in the NAP is the notion of self-defense. Capitalists tend to think of this self-defense as being applicable in a broad way, since they see their property as being part of themselves. Socialists, on the other hand, feel that self-defense is only valid when the concept is used in a more narrow sense of the word, which only includes their physical bodies. Given that I’m well aware of the unintended harm that the use of force can have, I definitely favor the socialist position on this issue.
Summing this part up…
Anarchists can thus be seen as simply promoting “Kindergarten ethics”: don’t hit unless in self-defense, and don’t steal. They take these principles taught to young children and merely advocate that they should be extended to society as a whole. The difference between “anarcho-capitalists” and “anarcho-socialists” is that the capitalists generally feel that stealing is as bad as hitting, and so it’s acceptable to hit someone if they’ve stolen from you. Socialists, on the other hand, tend to feel that although stealing is wrong, that stealing is not as bad as hitting, and so you ought not to hit someone if they’ve stolen from you.
The goal of the next several paragraphs is to clarify the differences between capitalism and socialism. Supporters of anarcho-capitalism generally give the usual economic argument that if everyone makes voluntary decisions based on their individual self-interest, then everyone will be better off. Adherents of anarcho-socialism, on the other hand, think that individuals should take a more humanitarian approach to their decision making (more on this below).
The next thing to notice is that “pure capitalist” and “pure socialist” are two endpoints on a spectrum, and there is a continuum of possibilities between the two extremes. My wife was born in the countryside of Communitst China in the mid 1970s, and she points out that, even there, it wasn’t entirely communist. They still used money, each family got a piece of land, and of course they still had possessions (clothing, etc.). What they did do is that each family in the village pooled their crops together when they were sold at the market, and each family was repaid an amount proportional to the number of people in that family. But she points out that there were still additional ways for people to make a little bit more money, as individuals. Money as an intermediary of exchange is likely to exist at all point along the spectrum except for the “pure socialist” endpoint. At this point we have what is known as a “gift economy” (which is the ideal of anarcho-socialists, with no money, no markets, and no central planning). Personally, I see the elimination of money as being a worthwhile long-term goal of the human species.
A voluntary transaction between two parties is an integral aspect of all societies. How society chooses how to manage (or not) this transaction is fundamental to how it operates. If there is a government, the government can use force to stop transactions which would have otherwise taken place, or to force transactions to occur which wouldn’t have happened in the free market. In a voluntary society, this is not an option.
The main role of government in a capitalist system is to deal with market failure. Market failures mainly include: externalities (which is the effect that voluntary transactions have on a third party – banks giving out risky loans which can disrupt the entire system is an example; the banks takes into account the effect the loan not being paid off will have on themselves, but not for the market as a whole), information asymmetries (when one party involved in a transaction has more information than the other), non-competitive markets, public goods (items such as roads and national defense which can be shared and for which exclusion is difficult, often resulting in “free rider” problems), instability (periods of high unemployment have plagued modern economies in the past; the extent to which the government can reduce the length and severity of these periods is debatable), and income inequality (or lack of a safety net). The most common objection to anarchism, namely that there would be nothing to stop armed thugs from taking over the neighborhood, can be seen as one possible market failure, although there are ways of dealing with this (anarcho-capitalists often discuss private defense companies in competition with one another).
Let’s look at externalities, as an example. Externalities can be positive (inventions) or negative (pollution). Government plays the role today of managing negative externalities with regulation and taxes, and encouraging positive externalities with subsidies, intellectual property protection, etc. How are externalities handled in anarcho-capiltalism? Force can’t be used, but incentives or discouragement from the rest of the population can be, either financial or with good or bad publicity (the internet can be helpful here…lists of people who contribute to this or that, for example). Firms want to stay in business, and people generally don’t want to be regarded as outcasts. This societal persuasion will sway participants in transactions to not strictly do what would be the best for themselves without the pressure, but rather to take the opinions of others into account. This societal pressure should mostly eliminate the market failures. But now, look at what we have here. People and firms are taking public opinion into account when making decisions. This is socialism. And the solidarity the people are displaying in their teamwork to influence the decisions of the capitalists makes them look like one big union. It would seem that in order for public opinion to be taken into account and for the transaction to still be voluntary, it must be that the parties involved in the transaction have grown to become more concerned about their fellow human beings (otherwise there would be “unchosen positive obligations”). But this is not necessarily the case, because of the societal pressure that can be given in order to make it in their own long-term best interest to behave this way. This is an aid in dealing with the “bad apples” who aren’t motivated by humanitarian concerns. The word “democracy” is often taken to mean that individuals should have some control over aspects of their environment which affect their lives. Anarcho-socialists often say that there should be “democracy all the through”, at all levels of organization. I agree with this, and it seems that an anarcho-capitalist society could lead to the same result, but only if the people demanded it. The capitalist / socialist dichotomy is traditionally seen as a trade-off between efficiency and equality. The history of the 20th century indicates that when people do what is best for society instead of themselves, they have less incentive to work hard (they become “free riders”), and this leads to economic hardship for the society because less gets produced. My thought is that this is because socialism has always been applied with force in the past. If they are voluntarily making the choice, the incentive to work hard will still be there, and their incentive may even be increased like how many today are driven to voluntarily do inspiring feats when raising money for a charity.
It is also helpful to point out the distinction between the “free market” and “capitalism”, because socialists are in total opposition to capitalism but not to all aspects of the free market. The free market includes all voluntary exchanges, such as your oranges for my apples. The free market would exist in anarcho-socialism, to the extent that it didn't violate the freedoms of others. If you grow some vegetables in your garden and exchange them for some of the fruit off your neighbor’s tree, that is not capitalism. But if you own 100 acres of land and pay 100 people a daily wage to tend crops on the land and you then sell the crops to make a profit, that would be capitalism. Essential to capitalism is the ownership of property (or means of production) that is not intended for one’s own personal use, but rather to be used by workers that are paid a wage. Socialists in general are not opposed to possessions intended for personal use (including houses and small plots of land for gardening). But their belief in general is that whoever uses an item, owns it. The feeling is that there is no reason for people to own stuff beyond that which they can personally use, and that past that they are just taking from others.
And last, it’ll also be helpful to have in mind the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.
All of the above in this post was the “review”. It’s been leading up to this critique of anarcho-capitalism that I want to make: an anarcho-capitalist society would actually consist of a bunch of small governments. Thus, anarcho-capitalism is not true anarchism, and the main criticism that anarchists make of statists societies, namely that they are excessively violent due to the fact that the initiation of the use of force is legal for a certain group of people in a statist society, also applies to anarcho-capitalist societies. Why is this the case? Because every landowner in an anarcho-capitalist society would be its own government. According to anarcho-capitalism, property owners, and only property owners, have the right to initiate real physical force against someone on their property (to get them to leave). This is a legal monopoly with the right to initiate force in a geographical area. In other words, this is a government. Furthermore, in an anarcho-capitalist society, and particularly in a city, everyplace is owned by someone. There is no “public space”. Thus, if you’re not wealthy enough to buy your own property in a city there, you’ll always be on someone else’s property. In that scenario, the landowners have the right to initiate force against you at any time, if you’re unwilling to leave their land. So in other words, travelling from property to property in an anarcho-capitalist society would resemble travelling from government to government today. Now, of course, often this right to initiate force won’t be utilized by the landowners, but in principle, the right is still there. You can also consider the extreme situation where a group of wealthy individuals collude and buy up all the land in an area. Then the unfortunate people living there will be under their rule: obey us or be evicted. A person would have no rights on other people’s property. You would have no freedom of speech or assembly (see the text of the 1st Amendment up above), and you can’t move around much without having some money. If everything is private property, you have no guaranteed spot where you can espouse controversial ideas. The landowners in an anarcho-capitalist society would have a great deal of freedom. But the renters would basically have no rights at all and ultimately their situation would seem to resemble slavery. Anarcho-capitalists often assert that their conception of a society would result in the “most freedom”. However, I think it is clear from this discussion that this is only true for the wealthy. The poor may have more freedoms in our current statist system than they would in anarcho-capitalism. An anarcho-capitalist society has the potential to be quite terrible for them. Whether the wealthy would actually act as cruel as they theoretically could act in this system remains to be seen, but the mere fact that they would have the right to do so is frightening.
Since I have a deep admiration for human rights and civil liberties, I consider the above criticism of anarcho-capitalism to be tremendously significant, and thus I consider myself to be an anarcho-socialist.
And finally, the capitalist system has a number of other flaws. A big problem I see with capitalism is that it encourages consumption with the advertizing. This has harmful effects, particularly on children. The message is: more goods is always better, more goods mean more happiness. This is not eco or human friendly, nor is it even accurate – surveys indicate that, above a certain income level, happiness is independent of wealth. Capitalism fails to recognize that human desires are of a social nature, and thus rising wages may not produce greater satisfaction if the standard of living of the capitalist has risen even more. The competition in capitalism can be ruthless, and never lets one relax. Given the vast improvement in worker productivity over the past several decades, people ought to be working fewer hours, but instead they are working more. Socialists point out that there is less need for defense agencies in a socialist system than in a capitalist one. Most crimes are property crimes, and arise from class conflict. Many anarcho-socialists see voluntary socialism as being inevitable. The feeling is that it will be a natural result of the continued progress of the human species. There are too few controlling the majority today. Socialists feel that the large inequality in income inherent in capitalism is despicable. The fundamental moral principle often mentioned is that of universality – that we should hold ourselves to the same standards we hold others. The hierarchy and inequality inherent in capitalism seems to encourage violations of this principle. Always looking for profit, a capitalist society can be driven towards imperialism. Capitalism can exploit the poor in other nations, mainly by gaining access to their natural resources. This undermines local development (the profits going overseas to wealthy firms lessens the degree to which these resources improve the lives of the locals). Isn’t employing a person just a voluntary transaction? It is, but the problem arises when the firm is very powerful and the person is very weak. If people choose to work for low wages and in unsafe conditions because it is their only alternative to starvation, this cannot be seen as a genuine "free choice”. Also a poor person is limited to the extent that they can participate in a democratic system, due to the fact that they likely don’t have the time to read up on the issues and also are driven by hunger to make decisions based on their immediate self-interest. Does the social mobility in capitalism imply that there is freedom? No, because it is competitive, it is thus exclusionary. Plus, if a homeless person became a Fascist dictator, that wouldn’t justify Fascism. Capitalism encourages oppression to the extent that it rewards firms who give their workers the market minimum. Human beings are treated as commodities to be rented as workers. Human beings ought to relate to one another cooperatively, not competitively. The aim of world history is human freedom. Anarcho-socialism will reach this goal.
In regards to free will…
Given that I’ve acknowledged that people don’t have free will in this post, why bother to write it in an effort to influence them? After all, people are just going to do what they’re going to do, right? Isn’t it a waste of time to try to change the minds of people? Not necessarily. If there is a running computer program and it is given a new piece of information midway through its computation, the program may end up with a different final result than it would have otherwise. Also, just because free will is an illusion doesn’t mean that the universe is completely deterministic. Furthermore, recall that I too lack free will. So, don’t blame me for my hypocrisy. :)
To elaborate, suppose some morning I have the option of either peaches or persimmons for breakfast. And suppose I choose the persimmons. Afterwards, it would seem to be quite natural to say something like “I could have had the peaches instead.” The questions to ask here are: what does “I could have had the peaches instead” mean, and is it true? It is certainly true that if you had chosen the peaches, then you would have had them. But that is not what “I could have had the peaches instead” means. Part of what it means is that you feel that it wasn’t determined in advance what you would do. And it also means that you think that, if everything else had been exactly the same up to the point where you made your decision, that you actually had the option of picking the peaches. The “free will position” here is that the result was not determined in advance and that you really did have the option of picking the peaches. The “determinist position” is that the result was predetermined and that you actually didn’t have any choice in the matter (although it appears to you as though you did). Most world religions would lead one to take the “free will position”, whereas a study of classical physics would lead one to take the “determinist position”. However, I feel that both of these positions are wrong. The world doesn’t obey the laws of classical physics. The universe obeys the laws of quantum mechanics instead. And, a degree of randomness and unpredictability is built into quantum mechanics. So, my position is that the result wasn’t completely predetermined, but also that you had no real choice in the matter. If you imagine a thought experiment consisting of two identical universes leading up to the moment in which you make the choice, it is possible that you’d make a different choice in each universe. But that wouldn’t be a result of your “free will”. Instead that would be a result of the randomness of quantum mechanics (Note: according to the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, this thought experiment actually does indeed occur. This results in a possible solution to the free-will conundrum since each copy of yourself would have a perfect illusion of free will in that you’d never experience a universe other than that which you chose, but every other copy of you in other universes chose something else. According to this scenario, there is no free will because you actually chose all of the possibilities.). I think that people have confused correlation with causation when they believe that a conscious feeling of choice is the reason for the body's movement. I believe that the ultimate source of both the conscious feeling and the body’s motion is physical law.