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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Most of the world, for most of its history, has existed without effective governments

Anarchy Unbound, or: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think
by Peter T. Leeson Conversation August 6th, 2007
No sane person believes that anarchy generates order. The idea that anarchy could be superior to government in some cases seems even more absurd.[1]
Everyone from Thomas Hobbes to Adam Smith repeats the claim that societies need government to protect property and produce widespread cooperation. Even the most libertarian thinkers believe this is true. As Milton Friedman put it, “government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided upon.”[2]
Self-governance, however, might work better than you think. A small cadre of self-described “anarcho-capitalists” reject the anarchy-as-chaos “wisdom.” In the 20th century the most notable of these thinkers have been Murray Rothbard, who grounded his defense of anarchy in natural rights theory, and David Friedman, whose book, The Machinery of Freedom, provided the quintessential consequentialist defense of a purely private society.[3]
Despite the important theoretical arguments in these and other anarcho-capitalist works, even among those familiar with them, most remain unconvinced. On the one hand, natural rights defenses of anarchy do not persuade consequentialists, such as economists, who see significant problems with anarchy’s ability to cope with cheating and violence.
On the other hand, most consequentialist defenses of anarchy are purely speculative. In forging responses to how a stateless society could cope with every conceivable contingency it might confront, anarchists often offer imaginative conjecture, in some cases bordering on science fiction.
Ironically, the case for anarchy derives its strength from empirical evidence, not theory.
Most of the world, for most of its history, has existed without effective governments. As noted economic historian Joel Mokyr points out, “In England,” for example, “there was not even a professional police force to protect private property” until the 19th century.[4]
Large arenas of economic activity in the world remain anarchic, or nearly so, to this day. For example, there is no supranational sovereign with the authority to create formal international laws to regulate countries or to enforce such laws if they existed.[5] Adding to international anarchy is the absence of state-made, supranational commercial law to enforce contracts between private international traders.[6]
In large parts of the developing world governments are too weak or dysfunctional to perform even the most basic tasks, like securing the property rights of their citizens. According to the 2007 Failed States Index, governments in 129 countries are on or nearing the brink of collapse.[7] Somalia has no central government at all.
Even in the developed world pockets of anarchy persist. The costliness of state enforcement, coupled with the fact that the state’s eye cannot be everywhere all the time, means that people cannot in many cases rely on government to protect their property or enforce their contracts even though, officially, a well-functioning state exists.
Despite these significant arenas of anarchy we do not observe perpetual world war in the absence of global government, shriveling international commerce in the absence of supranational commercial law, or even deteriorating standards of living in Somalia. On the contrary, peace overwhelmingly prevails between the world’s countries, international trade is flourishing, and Somali development has improved under statelessness.[8]
If conventional wisdom is right then reality must be wrong. How can this be?
Empirical evidence, past and present, sheds light on how individuals under anarchy develop private institutional solutions to address the problems that statelessness presents. The guiding force behind these solutions is none other than Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Importantly, Smith’s principle applies not only to individuals’ activities in the context of well-functioning institutions, but also to their activities in the development of institutions themselves.
The Invisible Hook
One of the most striking examples of this comes from 17th and 18th-century pirates.[9] In many ways pirate ships were like floating societies.[10] And, like other societies, pirate ships confronted problems of theft of cheating. Since they were outlaws, pirates did not enjoy state protection. Government did not enforce employment agreements between pirates or other piratical “contracts,” nor did it prevent or punish theft between pirates, etc.
Notably, the anarchic environment that maritime bandits operated in did not lead them to simply throw up their hands and abandon the idea of their criminal enterprise. On the contrary, the prospect of mutual gains from organizing this enterprise provided pirates with the incentive to find private ways of securing cooperation and order.
Even by modern standards the institutions pirates devised for this purpose were remarkably sophisticated. Pirates created one of the earliest forms of written constitutions they called their “articles, which codified many of the rules that governed their ships, as well as punishments for rule breakers. These included rules specifying the division of booty, “laws” against theft, and even workman’s compensation insurance to support crew members injured in battle.
To apply punishments and resolve disputes between crew members, pirates created an office called the “quartermaster.” Crew members controlled quartermasters both through their articles, which prescribed the “laws” quartermasters could apply, and by democratically electing crew members to this office.
The office of the quartermaster allowed pirates to overcome another obstacle anarchy posed for their organization—restraining potentially abusive pirate captains. A captain endowed with unlimited authority would be able to prey on his crew, skimming booty, mistreating crew members, and so on. To check such abuse pirates initiated one of the earliest systems of divided power, which transferred authorities susceptible to captain abuse to the quartermaster instead. In conjunction with also democratically electing their captains, pirate checks and balances overcame the threat of captain predation.
This system of governance was entirely voluntary. Pirates drew up the articles governing their ships before taking voyage and required unanimous consent before sailing. Any prospective crew member who disliked the proposed rules was free to exit before sail was underway.
The pirates’ private system of governance worked extremely well. Inter-pirate conflict was rare, order was well maintained, and pirates regularly successfully cooperated, making them among the most effective organized criminal outfits in history.
Trading with Bandits
A common objection to anarchy is that without government the strong will plunder the weak. Indeed, perhaps the oldest, most well-accepted argument for the state is weaker individuals’ inability to prevent stronger ones from plundering them. How can self-governance alone prevent this?
Many mechanisms of self-governance rely on reputation to secure good conduct.[11] It’s not difficult to see how reputation can in many cases prevent cheating even where government enforcement is not an option...
Parting Remarks
Anarchy, like all political-economic organizations, is riddled with problems. It is not clear that these problems are any more numerous or severe than those that plague governments, however. I have argued that anarchy works better than you think. In the face of obstacles that stand in the way of individuals’ ability to cooperate for mutual gain, individuals develop solutions to overcome these obstacles. This is as true in society ruled by government as one that exists without government. Where the state does not provide law, order, or the institutions required to produce these things, private institutions emerge to perform these roles instead.
My examples from above are not intended to suggest that these particular institutional solutions are generalizable or somehow suggest how other societies without government would evolve. On the contrary, there is no “blueprint” for how anarchy would or does work.[18] This, in fact, is the whole point. Private institutional responses reflect the specific problems, times, places, and other conditions that give rise to them. In a different time and a different place with different people, even the same problem situation may be met differently under anarchy.
The unifying feature of my examples is the incentive individuals have to solve their problems. In this sense, the empirical evidence from anarchy only demonstrates that as long as there are unrealized gains to realize, people will find ways to realize them. Fortunately for anarchists, this “only” is considerable.
by smileya5 on 11/19/2007
Actually this article is complete bullshit and has nothing to do with anarchy at all. Anarchists are fundamentally opposed to capitalism. Every grain of ideology related to capitalism is entirely against principles of anarchism. It makes sense something like this is available in this medium (the internet), because this medium is the ONLY place AT ALL that "anarcho" capitalism exists. It's a total fallacy. Capitalism is incredibly hierarchical, which is the complete opposite of anarchy. Capitalism has been a primary oppositional enemy for anarchists ever since its beginnings. It is only since the dawn of the internet that this tiny insignificant group of worthless capitalists has gotten slightly noticed because they attract attention by falsely calling themselves "anarchists."
If you go to ANY anarchist events ANYWHERE ON EARTH, you will not find a single "anarcho" capitalist, because they don't exist, they are not part of the anarchist movement, this exist on the internet and a book or two that no one's read except insane buisnesspeople. Because of their inadequecy and because they know they're not part of the movement they think they're a part of, they feel the need to come out with articles like this and continually vandalize the Anarchism page on wikipedia to try and convince an internet audience less in-the-know that they are part of something they're not. If you go to any anarchist-related protest, conference, gathering, bookfair (anything at all), you won't find a shred of evidence that "anarcho" capitalism exists in reality. They are not anarchists, they are rejected by anarchism as a whole, they are capitalists, they are the enemy.Now if we are to speak of real anarchism which actually does exist in practice and theory, that would be interesting. Some good anarchist sites are: www.infoshop.org www.anti-politics.net www.crimethinc.com
by terminal157 on 11/19/2007
Dismissing the philosophy as unpopular does not in any way refute the worth of the philosophy.

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