June 20, 2017
TIJUANA (AP) – Mexican police arrested nearly 50 elderly Americans Wednesday as they exited on the Mexican side of an underground tunnel connecting San Ysidro, California and Tijuana, Mexico. The Americans were being smuggled into the country in an attempt to get them to the nation’s premier heart transplant center, located in the isolated desert town of Vista de Nada. Authorities believe that the Americans, several in wheelchairs and all in poor health, were en route to the world-famous Transplanto Gringo Heart Center, which until recently had been a popular destination for Americans seeking treatment for serious heart conditions and unable or unwilling to wait the 2 years required for heart surgery appointments in the United States. American hospitals have been facing a mysterious shortage of qualified staff since the 2013 passage of the universal ChimeraCare bill, that had been hailed as guaranteeing health care for all Americans while reducing costs and providing a pony to all 6 year olds.
A law that went into effect on January 1, 2017 in Mexico, however, ended this popular “medical tourism,” after the Partido Faux Libertario swept to victory in the 2016 elections with 38% of the vote, but 82% of the seats in the Congress of the Union. President Juan Hermano Brinca, a trained economist from the Universidad de Nuevo León de Vaquerías (UNLV), noted that the Americans were traveling on public roads and unowned land to get to the Heart Center, and that the majority of Mexicans were annoyed by their presence, and would have certainly refused to allow them to travel on the roads and the land nobody owned had they personally homesteaded every meter of the country. “As Trustee of all of the unowned and public land in the State of Mexico, it is our party’s responsibility to centrally plan the transition to the spontaneous order in the most libertarian manner possible, ” added PFL Spokesman Maleducado de la Hayek.
When asked about the property rights of those who supported the free travel of foreigners within Mexico, Vice President Mirada Perdida responded, “It isn’t their property, since they lost the election. What are you, some kind of socialist?”
(h/t dL’s inspired comment on my last post)
It is almost 30 years to the day since Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee Ed Clark set off a firestorm of criticism within the party for indicating that he didn’t think free immigration should be immediately adopted. One of the strongest criticisms came in a post-mortem of that campaign by Mr. Libertarian, Murray Rothbard, who stated:
Immigration provided probably the greatest (or perhaps the second greatest) single scandal of the Clark campaign. New York Times liberals, you see, love Mexicans but only in Mexico; they are not too keen on Mexicans emigrating to the United States. And so the Clark position, which not only betrayed the libertarian principle of free and open immigration, but also froze immigration restrictions in with the welfare system. — Libertarian Forum, Sep-Dec 1980
We all make mistakes, and the purpose of this post isn’t to single out Clark for something he said three decades ago under the pressure of the highest profile campaign in LP history (indeed, Rothbard himself strayed much further only a few years later). But the question of whether Clark’s campaign had violated libertarian principles wasn’t even considered debatable at the time: it was obvious to all libertarians that free and open immigration was as clearly the libertarian position as was free and open trade. It should still be obvious and, in the present environment, it is more important than ever to rekindle that awareness.
An excellent contribution toward that end is today’s post by dL of Liberale et libertaire: Restricted Immigration is not a Libertarian Position. I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety. There are some hard issues on which the libertarian position is debatable. Immigration (more accurately, freedom of travel) is not one of them.
For those who agree that free immigration is the only position consistent with the non-aggression principle, but who are concerned about the plausibility of some of the non-libertarian objections based on practicality, I would encourage a thorough reading of University of Hawaii Professor Ken Schoolland’s long article for the International Society for Individual Liberty: Why Open Immigration? In particular, Schoolland has demolished the “welfare magnet” theory with an insightful study of migration within the 50 states: there is an incredibly strong correlation between welfare benefits and migration: IT IS STRONGLY NEGATIVE! Immigrants flee the high welfare states to go to the low welfare states (Arizona ranks 46th in welfare benefits: it would be almost the very last place for a welfare-seeker to settle).
Violent crime rates are also negatively correlated to immigration, and immigrants increase the wealth of current residents. Even the security argument is backwards: the underground railroad that has developed to allow workers to enter this country makes it easier for an undetected terrorist to enter, and would disappear without the revenue provided by the demand by millions of secret passage.
Utopia is not an option, and the practical argument over the pluses and minuses of immigration can never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction, but two principles should guide the confused:
(1) When in doubt as to whether aggression will work or not, the default position should be don’t aggress.
(2) To successfully control the borders would require the delegation of an enormous amount of power to government officials, who are fallible human beings prone to the corruption of power, like all other human beings. The type of society we would need to restrict immigration successfully would be Hell on Earth.
More than 30 years ago, the first edition of David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom was the book that first made me comfortable calling myself an anarchist. The second edition, from 1989, has been out of print for a while, but David has just put online a complete copy of this masterpiece.
Even if you’re already an anarchist, there is much to learn from this wonderful book. I highly recommend it.
If you prefer it in paper form, a used paperback copy is available at Amazon for only $100. At that price, it is STILL worth it.
This essay is NOT by me: it was written by Jeremy Weiland, currently blogging at Social Memory Complex, around 3 years ago, and was linked by William Gillis in a post at Human Iterations that I think captures my view of how property rights are more appropriately defended as a second order good representing the Goodwill/Reputation/Credit of the claimant. Unfortunately, Gillis’ link is to an old site of Weiland’s that is now defunct, and the latter’s essay from 2007 is simply too good to lose, so I’ve copied and pasted my archived copy of it here. I have a few quibbles with Weiland on details, but that can wait for another day. The rest of this post is his essay:
Let the free market eat the rich!
by Jeremy Weiland
Anarchy and Distribution
On the LeftLibertarian2 Yahoo! group, we’ve been experiencing some disagreements about the likely consequences of an anarchist society. There are so many aspects of our current culture, economy, infrastructure, etc. that have been distorted by privilege. Civil society has become so confused with the institution of the State that it’s hard to extricate one from the other. That’s why distinguishing the competing visions of different anarchists usually comes down to predictions of what the likely ends of anarchy are, not the broad means.
A long running debate among the anarchists, especially between individualist and more communist type, centers around the justice of wealth disparities. Certainly the existence of the State serves to enrich particular interests at the expense of others, but in anarchy would the rich dominate society – just as they do with the State? Even if we could immediately switch off the institutions that forcibly manipulate society, there is danger that the legacy of privilege and accumulated wealth could persist for some time, distorting markets and continuing the frustrate the balance of power between individuals.
Individualist anarchists have had a variety of responses to the problems of historical property and wealth distribution. Even anarcho-capitalists who see large scale social coordination as the natural direction of society have different views, such as Hans Hermann Hoppe’s theory of a natural elite and Murray Rothbard’s support of syndicalist takeover of State-supported corporations. On the other side of the coin, left-leaning individualists also entertain a variety of approaches: from the agorist trust of entrepreneurship as a leveling force to mutualists such as Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson speculating about the possible need for short term State sponsored redistribution and reform.
The key question for anarchists is always and ever what will the the stateless society look like? Our constant search for the answer continually motivates and refines our strategies for getting there. But sometimes I think anarchists focus on details too much and get bogged down in achieving their vision of this society (I’ve written about this before). It’s easy to forget that anarchy is – anarchy becomes defined by – however humans naturally interact, not how we wish they would interact. In other words, this is an empirical matter, about which we waste time arguing over. At the risk of posing yet another prescription for anarchists, however, I’ll simply suggest that it is in human nature we find the kernel of proportionality and balance that could inform this matter.
The Modern Corporation
There are two basic entities among which wealth can be aggregated: corporations and personal estates. Both of these entities rely first and foremost on the stability and security of the social order, making politics necessary. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how large scale aggregations of wealth require an outside stabilizing force and defensive agency to maintain, and how in a free, dynamic market there are entropies that move imbalances back to equilibrium. There is also a proposed basis for a relative equilibrium among people once privileges are abolished. This investigation will identify two main beneficiaries of state intervention: large modern corporations and large personal estates.
The modern corporation is a legal entity chartered by the State. Corporations benefit from an arsenal of privileges, such as personhood and limited liability, which serve to set the rules of the market on terms favorable to corporate investors and managers. The trend has always been to correct any perceived problems with big business by large, top-down regulation, rather than to reexamine the quite blatant decisions made long ago about how to treat these entities.
For instance, it is conceivable that a firm could argue effectively in front of a judge for certain of the rights of being a human citizen on a case by case basis, but current established law mandates a clumsy legal equivalence between living human beings and abstract organizations of people and assets (which is historically dubious). The benefit to big business, of course, is to regularize and simply business legal proceedings, setting aside the legal advantages this gives corporations over individual humans. The ability to exercise first and fourth amendment rights as if the firm were a human being results in corporate campaign contributions and protection from random inspections, for instance – very different from the way those rights were intended to be invoked by the founders.
Obviously, limited liability is a fiat subsidy to corporate investors, the value of which is vast when one calculates the total capitalized value of the stock market, for instance. But the utility of the subsidy goes even further, because it allows investors to hire managers who have a legal mandate to pursue profits while maintaining a distance from the way profits are pursued. Highly capitalized firms, who by their sheer size wield far more potential for harm than any single individual, essentially obfuscate the way decisions are made so that if third parties to the stockholder-manager relationship are harmed, stockholders cannot lose more than their investment.
The imbalance of responsibility this enables cannot be underestimated, for it goes to the very heart of corporate economic behavior. What would be different about business, socioeconomics, and politics if stockholders knew that their managers’ activities would leave them fully liable for the actions of the corporation and could lose their savings, their car, their house? Limited liability and corporate personhood make possible a way of doing business in a far riskier way than normal people would.
In a free market, corporations would not be able to rely on the State for their very existence. Any ability they’d have to do business as an entity would come from the consent and cooperation of the market – customers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, banks, but most importantly management. Without an SEC and intrusive reporting requirements, oversight, and regulatory enforcement, it would be very hard to prevent the larger and more complex firms from being subjected to outright fraud in a variety of ways. The legal relationships that govern so much capital finance and business activity would become much more ad hoc and less predictable. Risk would skyrocket, which is a much more favorable environment for the small-time entrepreneur than the big, clumsy, bureaucratic corporation.
Think about the huge stabilizing effect of the federal government for making big business anything less than a total ripoff for investors right from the start. Think about the ways government regulation rationalizes markets to make them safe for large industries to exploit and oligopolize. Think about how much leeway the modern CEO is afforded to run the business in pursuit of short term gain, with stockholders often supporting them even as they engage in questionable activities. Enron’s reckless destruction of shareholder value is hardly remarkable, when you think about the level of complexity in which they schemed and strategized – the fact that it doesn’t happen more often is (until you check your tax bill and realize you’re subsidizing the stability and security of others’ investments!).
The Personal Estate
Obviously the most direct way in which people benefit from the institutional character of our statist society is through direct ownership. While there are few (if any) rich people who aren’t heavily and diversely invested in corporate capitalism and share in its redistribution of wealth and special favors from the government, there are additional State provisions to benefit individuals. Unlike corporate privileges, those which govern the stability of personal estates arguably serve the interests of more modest individuals, especially the middle class. However, I intend to show that the rich benefit far more from fiat stability and socialized security than the rest of us.
The biggest subsidy enjoyed by the wealthy lies in government regulation of finance. By regulating banking through inspections, audits, and the centralized monetary maintenance practiced by the Federal Reserve System, depositors enjoy a level of stability in the system that is quite unrivaled in history. Of course, regular joes like you and I prefer our current experience to frequent crashes and bank runs, but there’s a catch: we don’t pay for this “service” in proportion to our deposits (or the interest we earn!). Instead, we help subsidize the regulation and maintenance of the financial system from which the elite depositors benefit disproportionately.
Rich depositors are more likely to invest in instruments and accounts which yield higher interests rates. Plus, they’re more likely to earn a greater amount of their income directly from the interest on their deposits. The barriers to entry in banking prevent individuals from forming their own mutual banks and force them to rely on the aggregated wealth of big depositors at some level of the hierarchical finance establishement. And because the rich can afford to pay for maintenance of their wealth by managers, accountants, and brokers, they are more likely to anticipate and capitalize upon market shifts than us.
Keep in mind that central regulation and maintenance of markets, groomed and rationalized by the Fed, the FDIC, and other departments, encourages the sort of investment patterns that count on steady profits and interest – phenomena much more likely to benefit the wealthy than those of us investing in 401-Ks and IRAs. By lowering risks, any entrepreneurial profit opportunities regulation kills are made up for in the stability of markets and the steadiness of investment income. Of course, that benefits those who’ve already accumulated capital much more than those of us who’ve yet to achieve our fortune.
However, the extent of State intervention to benefit the rich extends beyond finance into the very real area of asset security. The rich depend on the stability and predictability of systems that ensure and protect their title to their property, but again their benefit from these phenomena dwarfs ours. For example, they count on the government keeping a central repository of property titles to justify excluding others. This takes property off the market and thus raises the value of their property. Sure, middle class homeowners are likely to enjoy these phenomena, but the system they pay for doesn’t benefit them to nearly the degree it does the rich. Socializing the costs of kicking people off one’s land necessarily favors those who have more land to guard.
Police patrols of moneyed neighborhoods provide an example of socialized security, where defense and sentry costs are not paid directly by the beneficiaries. Sure, many wealthy types hire security guards, but they’d have to hire many more – and pay much higher insurance premiums – if it were not for public law enforcement defending their property, nor the extensive, expensive, and centralized hierarchy that makes it less likely property will stay stolen and criminals remain at large.
The Entropy of Aggregated Wealth
As I stated earlier, we may find the answer to the problem of persistent wealth imbalances in human nature. Two aspects of that nature are greed and envy. Just as stockholders are always in danger of management and employees siphoning off profits and imperiling the long term viability of the business, rich individuals face similar uncertainties of theft and fraud. Because the lack of a State would force these costs to be internalized within the entity rather than externalized onto the public, it is highly likely that the costs of maintaining these outsized aggregations of wealth would begin to deplete it.
The balance of power between the rich and non-rich is key here. Direct plundering of wealth, though fraud or theft, threatens the rich in a crippling way. It raises their costs directly in proportion to their wealth, either through insurance costs, defense costs, or losses. They have to worry not just about outside threats, but also the threats posed by their servants, employees, and even their family members. Because the wealth is centralized around one individual or one management team, it is near impossible to find any fair way to distribute the responsibilities of stewardship without distributing the wealth itself. Having a lot of stuff becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
Meanwhile, less rich people economize on these costs by banding together with other modest individuals to either hire outside defense (socializing protection on their own, voluntary terms) or by personally organizing to defend property (via institutions such as militias). Because the ratio of person to wealth is relatively greater, there are more interested individuals wiling to play a role in defense and maintenance of property. It’s the distribution of the wealth over more people that necessarily makes that wealth easier to defend. And since everybody has basically the same amount of stuff, nobody has an interest in taking advantage of, nor stealing from, others.
In fact, normal human greed suggests that there will always be an element of society that wishes to steal and cheat others. What the wealthy offer criminals like this in an anarchy is easy targets, because big estates are harder to defend and so invite more opportunities for plunder. Not only that, but its far more likely that wealthy estates will be targeted because its easier to steal a million dollars from the bank, or a vault, than to rob a thousand or so common people. The larger the disparity in wealth, the more intensively the wealthy will be targeted by criminals.
On the other hand, normal people would necessarily be less likely to be targeted by the criminal, for a few reasons. First, since the ratio of human bodies to wealth in a modest community would be much greater, the deterrent effect would be insurmountable to all but the most stupid crooks. Second, the criminal elements in a modest community are more likely to share in the legitimate wealth of the economy, preventing them from preying on their neighbors. Since the economy is completely free, current mentalities about the reasons for criminal behavior are minimized because people see that by working hard they can actually get ahead.
The Free Market as Egalitarian Equalizer
This phenomenon of disadvantaged rich and advantaged poor, brought about by the costs of estate and business management, suggests an interesting dynamic. It may be that in a free market there will exist a natural, mean personal wealth value, beyond which diminishing returns enter quickly, and below which one is extremely disposed towards profit and enrichment. If this is true, then that means that normal, productive, and non-privileged people will tend to have similar estate values. This wide distribution of wealth will tend to reinforce bottom-up society and a balance of power unrivaled in history (except maybe in frontier experiences).
In a stateless society, institutions for business and personal organization must derive their permanence from their usefulness not just to an elite few, but from the respect of the entire community – customers, suppliers, neighbors, etc. An entity that can operate efficiently and deliver a steady stream of income, whether an estate or a corporate business, becomes less viable the larger it grows because internal transaction and maintenance costs start to skyrocket. This is a function not of wealth itself, but rather of the difficulty wealthy individuals experience in convincing others to honor and defend their estate. The more people benefit from a body of wealth, the more people will support it.
Indeed, the State can be seen as a mechanism for acquiring the consent of the governed to sign onto a program of stabilization that is inherently artificial, precisely due to its disproportionate dividends to established elites. Through institutional identity, the State co-opts authentic community support or opposition and channels it into modes that are predictable and stable. But authentic community stability is no harder to realize in a genuine, stateless society where people participate only in voluntary organizations. Similarly, inauthentic, imposed stability usually benefits those who cannot maintain their position without outside help. Wealthy interests use the State as a way to marshal public support without yielding control or spreading the wealth, as it were. It’s a con job.
A truly free market without subsidized security, regulation, and arbitrarion imposes costs on large scale aggregations of assets that quickly deplete them. I do not think they would be able to survive for very long without the State, even if “natural elites” exist or some form of social darwinism is proven correct, because natural hierarchies such as those would not need State intervention to maintain. One can chalk this up to the fickle and often dark side of human nature, but it’s a phenomenon that we cannot just wish away – indeed, we should see a place for these dynamics in the legitimate, bottom up society. It may be that libertarianism, taken to its logical conclusion, is far more egalitarian and redistributionist than we ever dreamed – not as a function of any central State, but rather due to its lack.
A final note: I’d appreciate any feedback on this thesis. I find it difficult to call it my own, as it seems so straight forward that some anarchist or economist should have brought it up before. However, in my (admittedly less than extensive) reading I’ve not encountered the full argument in this form. Also, many thanks to the Attack the System Yahoo! Group for their help in refining these ideas.
“Property is Theft!” was the battle cry of one prominent French anarchist in the 19th century. “Au contraire, mon frère,” retorted another. “Property is Liberty!” “You’re both wrong,” said a third. “Property is Impossible!” How such people got along with each other is amazing. More so, since it was the same man, Pierre Proudhon, who said all three.
All anarchists support property rights, including those who oppose property rights. And all anarchists oppose property rights, including those who support property rights. Context is everything. So are definitions.
Property is Theft
Proudhon was no fool: he recognized the irony of that statement, for in the process of condemning property, he was confirming it. Without the concept of property there can be no concept of theft. So let’s try to figure out what he might have really meant.
When Proudhon wrote these words, far and away the most important form of property was land, and most ownership of land was the result of arbitrary claims enforced by the ruling government rather than personal homesteading or voluntary transfers traceable to a personal homesteader. In short, most property at the time WAS stolen.
Thoughtful anarcho-capitalists concede this point, and insist they only support homestead-based claims, thinking they have addressed the entire anarcho-communist objection to private property. They have not. For another fundamental point is that owners of land were considered to have the exclusive right to determine what happens to everything AND EVERYONE on their land. And some anarcho-capitalists defend that point of view. Oddly, many of them defend this view of property rights as a logical outgrowth of the principle of self-ownership.
As I’ve noted before, my favorite definition of anarchy comes from Roderick Long:
Other People Are Not Your Property
I’ve yet to meet an anarcho-capitalist who objects to this formulation. Nearly all of them also agree with Thomas Jefferson’s formulation of the rights of man in the Declaration of Independence, where he states that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable (which is an acceptable variant of inalienable, regardless of what you’ve heard), meaning that they are “incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another.” [No, “uncapable” is not an acceptable variant.]
But if “Trespassers Will Be Shot On Sight” is a valid assertion of property rights by the owner, then it is clear that self-ownership has become alienable and inferior to property rights. Yes, of course, I might shoot someone because they are a credible threat to my life, but this is true whether they’ve threatened me in the home I own, the apartment I rent, the hotel where I’m staying, or the restaurant where I’m eating: it has nothing to do with my being the owner of the property.
Proprietary communities are another extraordinary application of extreme propertarianism. Defenders of these sometimes assert that ANY rules can be set and enforced, so long as the property was legitimately homesteaded or transferred. Again, anybody who believes that self-ownership is unalienable needs to explain why they are so casual in permitting its alienation. I can say for certain they’ve never had to deal with the management of a co-op or condo association.
Property is Liberty
However, I come not to bury property rights, but to praise them. Proudhon’s later pronouncement recognized that the claims of private property owners were a bulwark against government violations of life and liberty. I think we need to go further: property rights have proven to be an indispensable way of reducing social violence in general. As James Payne has documented in A History of Force, the world has been getting more and more peaceful over the centuries, and an increasing respect for property rights is probably one of the reasons. John Hasnas has written an excellent account of how law developed in pre-Norman England, with property rights arising as an effective alternative to blood feuds. And Bruce Benson, in his many studies in The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, has identified property rights as a characteristic of all the legal systems he has seen develop in societies without central planners. When anarcho-capitalists are asked for historical examples of their societies, they usually pick multi-century examples such as Celtic Ireland and Viking Iceland, while anarcho-communists point to short-term experiments such as the Paris Communes and Spanish Revolution. It does appear that anarchist societies which respected property rights lasted a heck of a lot longer before failing. Alas, like virtually every government in history, virtually every anarchy in history was of finite duration. More on that shortly.
Property is Impossible
The Hasnas piece is especially instructive, because he notes the limits on property that naturally arose. Easements are one obvious example: if you own a piece of land, and I acquire, even by legitimate homesteading, all of the land surrounding yours, I don’t have the right to effectively imprison you by denying you access to my land to get out. It would be useless to own the ground but not any of the space above the ground, yet I can’t own everything above the land up to the end of the universe (I still wonder what exists 1 mile beyond the end of the universe). I can’t exclude air and light going onto my property, and forbid all molecules that I consider to be pollution (especially now that so many think carbon is a pollutant). Absolutism on property quickly becomes absurd. And it is all because we look at property improperly, trying to derive a single set of rules for all situations from first principles, when property is, in fact, a problem solver that self-owners adopt for the purpose of living in peace and harmony with each other.
A Bundle of Rights
Property is not a single right, but a bundle of different rights that can be unbundled when desirable. Recent Noble Laureate Elinor Ostrom is doing the hard work of determining how real people have solved problems involving common pool resources that resist both government and private property solutions. She has discussed at least 5 different categories of property rights: access, withdrawal, management, exclusion, and alienation, and emphasized that it clearly isn’t “all or nothing.”
One can make even finer distinctions. If I homestead property to build a house, that might include a right not to have loud noise disrupt my sleep, but if I homestead property to build a factory, that right might not exist. We can look at my homesteading property for growing food, another might use the same property for hiking, another as a travel route to the other side, and as long as the later uses don’t interfere with the earlier ones, each has homesteaded a right to the same property. Granted, homesteading a location for a personal residence should provide more of a right to exclude others. Still, reason must prevail.
We homestead property to the extent we are using it and in the manner we are using it, and we abandon our claim when it becomes clear we have stopped using it (as Bill Orton has suggested, much of the difference between ancap and ancom theories of property can be described as how “sticky” property is after homesteading).
Once we stop treating homesteading as granting total and permanent control over property merely through the act of mixing a little labor with it or fencing it off, we expand the number of people who support property rights enormously. Even anarcho-communists support possession, a right not to be violently dispossessed of property so long as a person is using it. And while many ancoms are infuriatingly vague about the length of time a person can stop using property before it is considered abandoned, and why lending property is okay and transferring property is okay, but lending property in exchange for a transfer of property (renting) is not okay, they’re not so insane as to argue that a person who leaves his bed to go to the restroom at night has abandoned his bed and left it open to claimed by another, as some have charged.
Similarly, one of the most well-known common law precepts in the relatively sticky property world we live in is “possession is nine points of the law,” and while it may not have been literally true in statute, it did and to a great extent still does represent the common sense of the average person in the Anglo-Saxon world. The accepted legal principle of adverse possession derives from it, and legal scholars have referred to it over the centuries as a valid idea if not a mathematically literal statement. So let’s not go around claiming the anarcho-communists are spewing pure drivel when they talk of possession rather than property.
Furthermore, even to the extent property rights are legitimate, dispute resolution over property cannot be territorially based, because that means begging the very question. You can’t do that on my property! Who says? The judge says! Which judge? The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property! Who says it is your property? The judge! Which judge? The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property! I want a different judge! You have no choice, since you’re on my property! According to who? The judge! Which judge? The judge I selected for all disputes involving my property!
Anarchists are usually treated to a catch-22 when trying to defend the practicality of our views, by people asking for historical examples. If we point out that there hasn’t yet been a complete anarchist experiment, that is treated as proof of utopianism. If we provide clear examples from the current world, such as in Hasnas’ excellent The Obviousness of Anarchy, all our examples are dismissed because they are occurring within a society that still has a government (even though its existence has no credible connection to the examples). And if we provide historical examples, of which there are several, of reasonably close approximations to what we propose, we’re asked why they no longer exist.
Based on their great longevity, I think experiments in anarcho-capitalism have proven more successful than those under anarcho-communism. But I think the anarcho-communists have the answer to why the former still eventually failed: concentrations of power are dangerous even when they result from voluntary behavior. In both Iceland and Ireland, voluntary law and private property prevailed for centuries, but the acceptance of Christianity and, more importantly, of the tithing of money to the church, led to increasing concentrations of wealth in the hands of those overseeing church operations, and what was voluntary became coercive once that concentrated wealth was used to project violent power.
Thus, it is right to question hierarchy in all of its forms, including landlord-tenant relationships and employer-employee relationships. That doesn’t mean declaring them illegal, but it does mean being uncomfortable with ALL imbalances of power and addressing the reasons for them. At present, enormous amounts of land are closed off to homesteading, even within cities, and both licensing and regulation are used to destroy countless opportunities for self-employment. Intellectual property laws are used to prevent people from using their own tangible property based on their own knowledge, and the only people who can afford to enforce these laws are the wealthiest because of a monopoly legal system that is outrageously costly to use. Get rid of these restrictions and the imbalances of power blamed on capitalism become immensely smaller.
And if you pay attention to the words of the most intelligent anarcho-communists instead of strawmanning their views, you’ll discover that the methods they propose to get rid of the non-violent hierarchies they oppose are non-violent and completely consistent with a free market. As a market anarchist, I have no problem with the views of, for example, db0 of A Division by Zer0, even though he probably has a problem with mine. As I see it, we are not only allies on the most important issues of our time, such as military intervention, drug prohibition, corporate welfare, and the licenses, regulations, and taxes that destroy the opportunities of the average person, but we are even allies against hierarchy. David Friedman, whose The Machinery of Freedom was the book that converted me to anarcho-capitalism (although I now prefer to call myself a market anarchist, common law anarchist, or just plain anarchist), made it clear that he strongly preferred a society of individual business owners rather than large corporations, and saw extending free markets as the best way to achieve that.
In anarchy, networks replace hierarchies as tools for organizing society. Similarly, I see prices replacing bosses, as we coordinate activity through the price system rather than by having people who give orders and people who obey them. But, in addition to that, we need vigilance against imbalances of power when they develop, even when the result of voluntary activity. Boycotting businesses that treat workers poorly or use market power to restrict consumer choice is part of maintaining a free society (I’m currently planning to switch from my Apple iPhone to a Google Android for that very reason). Ostracizing wealth accumulators who do nothing to help the less fortunate and praising those who use wealth for the benefit of society are also parts of it.
I especially like the idea of goodwill as the ultimate currency, as William Gillis wrote recently on his site, Human Iterations. In an anarchist society, the rich never forget that they cease to be rich if the rest of society chooses not to recognize their property claims: the moment you claim the right to more than what you can personally control, you are relying on other people to honor your claim. So be nice to people.
To Serve Man
Okay, time for the anarchist cookbook. I believe that property is a problem solver, a useful tool for achieving social peace and economic efficiency that benefits society enormously. However, it is a useful social convention, not a an absolute right derivable from self-ownership: there is no reason that a person born in the year 2100 should have fewer rights than a person born in the year 2000, but if all the world becomes private property, and property owners can establish all the rules for their property, then every person born after that date will be born a slave, and self-ownership will become a joke. Moreover, the limits on property rights have already been acknowledged in common law, and ancaps need to abandon the cartoon version of contract law, and learn about duress, undue influence, and adhesions: established common law concepts that go beyond the “well, he agreed to it” view of contractual obligations. We’ve modified contract law enough in the US to recognize that employees have the right to quit their job even if they signed a multi-year contract (except for those who join the government military), and debtors can have their obligations cancelled in bankruptcy and never end up in prison if they don’t pay (except for those who owe the government taxes). In short, the sanctity of contract is already recognized as an intolerable concept under law, because it violates self-ownership. Self-ownership is inalienable. Period.
All anarchy requires is that we accept the idea that other people are not our property. With that alone, we’ll create whatever order and organization is needed in an environment of mutual respect. When we have disputes we can’t resolve, we’ll create tools for resolving them. History tells us that private property is one of those tools, but we shouldn’t raise it to the level of a fetish that overrides our common sense and our humanity.
We Can All Live Together
What makes me most optimistic about the future of the anarchist movement is that reality will always win out over theory. Both the ancap who insists that homesteading creates total and permanent domination of a location and the ancom who insists that all private property is evil bow to the reality that, while they may continue to use the tools of persuasion, ostracism, and boycott, they ultimately will have to live in the world as it is. I see no evidence whatsoever that anarchist societies can succesfully adopt either of the extremes (and if I’m wrong, I’ll bow to that reality). The Hasnas piece I referenced earlier suggests that people create property rights when they can solve a problem and make exceptions when those exceptions solve a problem. Common law developed from the common sense of people.
Anarchy is not a system. It isn’t even an -ism, although anarchism is a word we sometimes use. It is an attitude of respect for other people, and a rejection of master-slave relationships (with no exception for government officials). What grows from an atmosphere of mutual respect is unpredictable, differs from place to place, and changes over time. I believe that private property has proven its value, but that it isn’t sustainable without a suspicion of all concentrations of wealth and power, even voluntary. As much as I think anarcho-communists are dead wrong about the need to abolish rent and wages, I think they are dead right about the need to be suspicious of all imbalances of authority and to openly condemn those who take advantage of such imbalances.
Up with Property! Down with Hierarchy!
[End Note: I am not claiming that my interpretations of Proudhon’s slogans are identical to his. Proudhon didn’t even say these things, because he spoke French. But I think he and I would have been friends, at least until we got into a discussion of French vs California wines.]
I’ve always been an optimist, for three basic reasons:
(1) I’ve always been an optimist.
(2) There is no prize in pessimism: if you bet correctly on the end of the world, how will you collect the bet?
(3) There is significant evidence that optimists move the world in their direction more successfully than pessimists. I suggest Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism if you care about the details. Of course, pessimists won’t read it and optimists don’t need to read it!
On the more specific issue of the future of the world, my optimism is based on the fact that, while the news is dominated by the feckless and dishonest people who have always tried to run things, the real world consists almost entirely of the mutually beneficial second-by-second voluntary interactions between anonymous people throughout the globe. It is harder to document, but far more significant in the long run.
For a view of recent optimistic trends with which I heartily concur, I recommend Reason Managing Editor Jesse Walker’s “Five Reason For Optimism.” He details the following trends over the past few decades:
1. A surge in nonviolence.
2. The media revolution.
3. The rise of voluntary governance.
4. An explosion of entrepreneurship and wealth.
5. The breakdown of hegemony.
One of the most important conclusions to draw from his article is that we need to look beyond what is happening in the United States to see the remarkable trends in the direction of liberty. Another is that the unipolar world that has caused the US government to become a global bully with contempt for all limits on its power is crumbling, not because of any great awakening by Americans, but because the rest of the world is no longer willing to play along.
Roderick Long has written a spot-on critique of the acceptance speech by the undeserving winner of the Nobel Prize Peace this year. “The Atrocity of Hope” captures the flavor, but the details are well worth reading and remembering. It has frequently been suggested that Obama won the prize merely for not being George W. Bush. Unfortunately, it turns out that he is.