The Problems With Anarchists

The anarchist position is that the goal is to have no government, only private businesses providing all services currently handled by governments, including and especially police, courts and military defense.

Each person would voluntarily pay for whatever amount of each service they think they need, contracted with whatever company or combination of companies they choose. Over time, these companies would develop agreements on how to work with each other when needed and would rise and fall individually depending on how well they did at actually providing those services.

Criminals will pay just restitution for their crimes as decided by independent arbitration, and any other penalty that the arbiter thinks is just and will be carried out and enforced by the security company you or any arbiter contracts with.

Civil complaints will also be decided by arbitration with the same understandings.

All of this will be handled via universally and voluntarily accepted just means without infringing on anyone else's rights and no force will be needed or used against anyone but the offending party in criminal cases or losing party in arbitration cases, and no security company will interfere with enforcing the judgments reached by an arbiter or by another security company, who are all held to the highest standards by their contractees.

People would be motivated to interact peacefully because their overriding concern is about maintaining their reputations so that others will be willing to keep interacting with them. If there's a danger, people will voluntarily band together to do whatever it takes to defend what is right and just.

More just? Yes.

Possible? Only if you can successfully get from here to there where you have multiple competing institutions, each of which has to be individually capable of maintaining the strength needed to successfully defend everyone from enemies both internal (criminals) and external (other countries, gangs, mobs, etc.) within their purview for both the current and foreseeable future, as well as the actions of all security companies and all arbitration settlements being universally recognized as definitive and enforceable by all parties that could possibly be involved on any side in any dispute.

But human nature isn't going to change and neither is the rest of the world, even if you could get any part of it to change over.

That is what I see no possibility of, for all the desirability of the end goal, and what no anarchist has made even a stab at actually laying out, step by step, that I've ever read or heard.

I read that these institutions will develop themselves ... but how does the change over actually take place? Saying that it just happens somehow and everything else is going to pause while it's going on doesn't cut it.

I read that everyone will accept the arbiter's judgements and the actions of these security companies as all being beyond reproach, that people are only going to pick companies based on what's right, not necessarily what's best for their own personal immediate interests, that there will be no conflict between these sterling characters and businesses ... but that's not how real people act.

I read that everyone is going to realize what is actually in their own best long term interests and be willing to pay for it ... but they haven't been up until now. What fundamental part of human nature is going to change and what will change it?

In some ways anarchists are a mirror image of the statists. If everything just worked the way it's "supposed" to then everything would be just wonderful.

But it never does. People persist in being the same kind of people they've always been. Reality doesn't change simply because someone thinks that's the way things ought to be.

Accepting the realities about human behavior, desires, and motivations has to be the bedrock of any human endeavor that has even the least chance of success. That means accepting that the bad is just as real and just as basic as the good.

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Paying For A More Perfect Government

The basic ethical ideal of a perfect state is that perfect justice is always perfectly done, but how do we pay for it?

People are not always rational. Miscarriages of justice will happen. Getting the just restitution (and costs) due actually paid by those found liable in civil or criminal cases is not always possible. People want what they want but they often don't want to pay for it until and unless they actually need it themselves.

A person who's never been in trouble with the law or has never been offended against often doesn't put a lot of value (and value judgements are always subjective) into the ongoing operational costs of a justice system. On the other hand, a person who has been sued or charged with a crime, rightly or wrongly, or has been offended against, suddenly puts a lot of value into a justice system that will give them the outcome they want, whether actually just or not.

That's simply human nature.

Accepting all this reality means that there is no perfectly just system possible. It then becomes a matter or looking at the various possibilities and finding the trade-offs that come closest to it.

Voluntaryism is great, but is rarely sufficient.

The general benefits of a justice system are amorphous. They often can't be pinned down to what person gets what value or even what that value is.

A person who owes, whether to the justice system for costs or to the person to whom reparations are due, may simply be unable to ever pay them.

And all of this doesn't even start to consider the ongoing costs of a military capable of defending a given geographical area in today's world.

So it may be that some sort of tax is the most just feasible way of distributing those costs.

Then the question becomes what kind of tax.

A head tax would be the most just, based on the assumption that everyone's life is of equal value. But the reality is that many people would be simply unable to pay an equal portion of all the costs associated with even a minimalist government.

So we need a measurable characteristic that will, as justly as possible, also take into account a person's ability to pay. Monetary value of something, especially when we're considering monetary financing of a system, is the next best way.

But how do we determine an objective value for something in and of itself? We can't, since value is subjective. The closest we can come is the value that two people place on something at the time when it is actually transferred from one person to another.

That brings us down to another two choices. The tax can be assessed on the sale itself or, for durable goods or land, an ongoing assessment.

Both of them have significant problems. For a sales tax, who collects it? How do you enforce it? For durable goods or land, what do you do about the fact that some assets depreciate in value over time and other appreciate. Who decides the value at any given time? And, once again, how do you enforce it?

At this point I've got more questions than answers. Some sort of compromise among all the possibilities has to be reached. Some sort of answers have to be decided upon. But I don't feel competent to declare what those compromises and answers *should* be.

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Pass More Laws, Fix The World. Easy, Right?

This post by James Pethokoukis on the enormous interconnectedness of globe-spanning supply chains, along with David Henderson’s reminder of Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, reinforce the reality that reality is vastly more complex than most people realize.  Indeed, it’s not too far a stretch to say that nearly all mistaken economic notions, dangerous ideologies, and counterproductive government policies are the simple results of people thinking the world to be far simpler than it really is.

The solution is to seize income or wealth from those who have more and give it to those who have less.  Simple. Easy-peasy.

Do you not have as much money as you like, or do you despair that some people have much more money than do other people?  Both the explanation and the solution seem simple.  The explanation for income and wealth inequality is that those who have more have more only because they’ve somehow weaseled an excessively large share of “society’s” wealth from those who have less.  The solution is to seize income or wealth from those who have more and give it to those who have less.  Simple.  Easy-peasy.

Anyone who has mastered simple addition understands that transferring $X from Smith to Jones reduces Smith’s net worth by $X while raising Jones’s net worth by the same amount.  And because wealth simply exists – it’s simply out there – the only effects of any such forcible transfer are simply to make Jones richer, Smith less-rich, and society more equal.  What you get is what you see.  See, simple!

Do you grieve for workers who lose jobs to fellow Americans who choose to buy more imports?  The explanation and the solution are simple: restrict imports.  Jobs saved!  End of story.  Simple!  And the only possible explanation for policies that allow domestic jobs to be ‘destroyed’ by foreign trade is that people in power, who are either malevolent or incompetent, simply failed to pursue the simple solution of protectionism.  It follows that solving this simple problem requires nothing more than installing in high office someone strong and resolute – someone skilled in the art of the deal – who will simply demand that foreigners reduce their sales to domestic consumers.  No more job losses!  Our country is great again!  What could be simpler?  Who needs – indeed, who even notices – complex global supply chains?  Restrict trade and everything we need we will simply produce ourselves.  No prob!

Are people in some foreign lands tyrannized by their own rulers?  The explanation and the solution are simple.  Somehow the levers of state power in those lands fell into the hands of bad guys.  The simple solution is to get rid of the bad guys and replace them with good guys.  And the simple way to replace bad guys with good guys is with physical force.  Further, because we are good guys – and because, when we are abroad, we are always noble – we should simply use the resources at our disposal to dispose of the bad guys and their bad policies.  Quite straightforward, really.

Is the economy slumping?  The explanation and the solution are simple.  Every businessperson knows that the more people spend on the offerings of existing businesses, the more profitable and thriving are these businesses.  So the simple reason for an economy-wide slump is that people aren’t spending enough economy-wide.  The solution is to get people to increase their spending in the aggregate.  Duh!  What could be simpler?

Has some teenager or single mom died of an overdose of an illegal drug?  The explanation and solution are simple.  Drug-enforcement efforts are too weak.  Rev up those efforts and watch not only illegal drug use fall, but currently dissolute and irresponsible people become less dissolute and more responsible.  Simple!

Are some workers paid less than you feel they should be paid?  Of course your assessment is correct, for nothing could be simpler than noticing that some workers’ wages are much, much, much lower than are other workers’ wages.  And wages so low are simply wrong!  The simple and obvious solution is simply to force employers to pay all of their workers wages that are at least as high as you judge appropriate.  Simple!

Do government schools perform poorly?  My gosh, the explanation is simple and plain as day: these schools are underfunded.  To solve this simple problem, simply increase government-schools’ budgets.  Simple!

Whatever your complaint, the solution is simple: give power and authority to the government.

Are some people homeless?  The reason for this misfortune is simple: there aren’t enough homes.  The solution is equally simple: build more homes that homeless people can afford!  (It’s called “affordable housing,” which differs from what too many home-builders mysteriously insist on building: unaffordable housing.)  Why didn’t anyone think of this simple solution earlier?!

Indeed, is your life not ideal?  Is the world imperfect?  The explanation for much of this sad reality is that other people are not behaving in ways that would make your life and the world better.  It’s oh-so-plain to see.  If only merchants would lower their prices.  If only employers would raise the wages they pay.  If only investors would build that new factory in my town rather than elsewhere.  If only those people from far away did not come here and offer to work at the same kind of job that I now hold.  If only the police would get tougher on criminals.  If only our elected leaders would not be out-bargained by foreign leaders.  If only our military were better funded and not restrained by misguided isolationist sentiments here at home.  If only corporations would put people ahead of profits.  If only corporations didn’t spend so much to influence the outcomes of elections.  If only….  Whatever your complaint, the solution is simple: give power and authority to government officials who promise with great earnestness to “solve” whatever problems you, as a voter, instruct them to solve.  These officials, adequately armed and provisioned, will simply roll up their sleeves and attack the problems directly – simply – and fix things.

What could be simpler?

Republished from Cafe Hayek.

Donald J. Boudreaux


Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University, and a former FEE president.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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