Arnold Kling  

Anarchists Anthropomorphizing Government

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Descent into Warlordism... Unpersuasive Argument Against ...

Bryan writes,


I fail to see how getting a [government] counts as "breaking" a warlord equilibrium. Why shouldn't it simply be described as "accepting" a warlord equilibrium - you quit resisting the rule of the most powerful warlord, and let him run things?

Here, he is guilty of the same sin as those who romanticize government. He anthropomorphizes government. The collectivists see government as a benign individual. Bryan sees it as a single warlord.

I see government as an institutional arrangement. It is implemented by many individuals, with competing interests. The difference between government and warlordism is that these competing interests are resolved using rules that are viewed as more important than any one individual.

In a warlord regime, the President could not be voted out of office or impeached. He could only be defeated by a more powerful military gang.

Put it this way. Why is it that the Mafia do not shake me down regularly? Because I am protected by the rule of law, backed by the threat of force.

Does paying taxes represent the same type of shakedown? I would say that it does not. With the Mafia, most of the money goes for the personal benefit of gang leaders, who hold their personal positions by threat of force. With the government, most of the money gets recycled back to people, and the government's leaders can be peacefully removed.

I believe that my fellow citizens are unwise in their support of leaders with a much more expansive view of government than I favor. However, Social Security and public education arose from due process, not as a Mafiosi's racket.

I do not believe that a competitive market in private security services could protect me from the Mafia. As I said in my previous post, all it takes is one successful warlord to break a private security equilibrium.


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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Bill Stepp writes:

The competing interests that form governments and give them their institutional shape are never really resolved; and any alleged resolution is still based on coercive force mediated by statist public opinion.

Taxation is a shakedown. The stolen money gets recycled (less a huge "brokerage commission") to net tax consumers (Spooner's "knaves") and even net taxpayers (Spooner's "dupes").

Even if government's leaders can be peacefully removed, their rule is still based on a combo of coercive force and statist public opinion.
Social security and public education arose from a statist, coercive process, not from due process.

The history of government is far worse than that of the Mafia because the former has stolen far more resources, destroyed far more property, and killed far more people that the mob.
As Spooner pointed out in his highwayman analogy, a highwayman is too much of a gentleman to do what governments do. He doesn't come around every pay period and steal from you, nor does he add insult to injury on April 15.

Zac writes:

Arnold writes,

Does paying taxes represent the same shakedown?

The answer, unequivocally, is yes. Taxes are theft. Simply because a group of other people have decided it is in the best interest of society to steal from me and back this decision with rhetoric does not make it morally superior or at all distinguished from a mugging or shakedown. If you believe this, you have romanticized government.

Historically, governments are far worse than run-of-the-mill organized criminals. Consider Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, contemporary North Korea.. and I haven't left our most recent century. Arnold, you must forget that Nazi Germany was a government. They had a constitution and everything.

There is no need to make false distinctions. We live in a warlord regime right now. Those in power are constrained ultimately only by the threat of rebellion, as in any situation of rule by the threat of force. Arnold has high regard for "due process," but what does that mean? The only morally legitimate way for institutions to arise is through market mechanisms - voluntary, mutually beneficial transactions between rational actors.

As I commented previously, Arnold and other minarchist libertarians simply suffer from some residual anti-market bias. They doubt that markets could provide these services and cannot fathom a world without government.

Bob Dobalina writes:

Do you really think that the Social Security program was a result of due process? That the threatened court-packing and switch in time were above board?

I sure don't.

Randy writes:

Arnold,

Re; "...competing interests are resolved using rules that are viewed as more important than any one individual."

Precisely correct. So many have lost sight of this important principle. Obviously, if the system is broken then we must resort to violence. The system isn't broken. You just didn't get your way this time. Try being more persuasive next time.

Randy -- What would constitute "broken", in your opinion? For example, if we had had one-party rule for the past 150 years, would you say the system was broken?

Shadow Hunter writes:

minarchist libertarians simply suffer from some residual anti-market bias.

Zac,
And the anarco-capitalists ingnore the fact that the group of men with guns can upend the market. The problem is not that government is a necessary evil. It is an emergent evil.
Sooner or later some group is going to gain monopoly control over the use of violence in a given territory. This is regardless of what you think the cost benefit ratio will be. Someone will consider the benefits of power worth the effort and cost of battle. This has been true throughout human history.
We will have government. The only question is what kind of government we will have.

Randy writes:

Christopher,

Re; "What would constitute "broken", in your opinion? For example, if we had had one-party rule for the past 150 years, would you say the system was broken?"

Good question. Broken would be when a government fails to maintain order. A good government maintains order while satisfying at least most of the needs of its people, but even highly tyranical forms of government can be considered not-broken if they maintain order, and no government has yet to satisfy the needs of all the people all the time.

Bill Stepp writes:

Shadow Hunter says,

We will have government. The only question is what kind of government we will have.

As a historical fact, this is incorrect. There have been stateless societies. See the current issue of The Indspendent Review for an example.

Think of government as a cancer. Some scientists say cancer will always exist, but that doesn't stop them from trying to prevent and cure it.
That, in a nutshell, describes the historic role of anarcho-capitalists: to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, and to argue against the existence of the State and its retainer-parasites.

Randy writes:

Bill,

Its fun to do thought experiments on the need for government, but it really comes down to the simple mathmatics of power. The individual at odds with the power of the group is going to lose. And a group that gives away its power as a group, places itself at the mercy of groups who have maintained their power. Our democracy works because it has the ability to consolidate the power of a very large number of people. It seems that the same can be said for the form of Communism practiced in the People's Republic of China. A replacement for either must provide equal or greater power. Human rights and economic freedom are fine, but only part of the equation.

John P. writes:

Arnold, great post.

The "compared to what?" question is vital here. Yes, the US government can be thought of as thuggery. But it has also been consistent with the rise of one of history's richest and free-est societies. I would not want to live in any other society that exists now or has existed (as far as I'm aware). An anarcho-capitalist society may be better, but I would need a lot more convincing before taking the red pill.

William Stepp writes:

Randy writes,

And a group that gives away its power as a group, places itself at the mercy of groups who have maintained their power. Our democracy works because it has the ability to consolidate the power of a very large number of people.

How does a group give away its power as a group?
Democracy works if you mean it has the capacity to authorize and conduct advance auction sales of stolen goods, and to parcel them out to the government's political retainers and voter- sycophants.

I define power as the use of force by the state, not as something existing in a state of nature and outside the locus of state power that can be consolidated by government.
Some libertarians like Nock made a distinction between social power and state power. Social power is the free market and voluntary exchange.
State power is government's use of force.

Randy writes:

William,

A group could give away its power by choosing to not act as a group. Generally this would mean being unwilling to accept the need for sacrifice in the interest of the group. Imagine a gang in which the other members cut and run when one of them is attacked.

Your description of the methods of government is quite accurate. Truly, Democracy doesn't stack up well in comparison to Utopia. Though in the real world it does quite well.

The type of power I am concerned with is that which is created by human activity, and this power can be harnessed, coordinated, and even amplified by government. Which is not to say that there is not an optimal form or degree of government for a given culture.

Arnold -- What do you believe to be the minimum that the Federal government must extract in taxes in order to provide the services you believe are required to maintain order?

Brian -- How many clients to you think a PPA would need to have to adequately defend you against the US government? How much of a premium would it need to charge?

Glen Raphael writes:

Arnold:

Warlords and mafioso that overstep boundaries, fail to live up to promises, and make too many enemies tend to get overthrown and replaced - often by someone very similar to them but with stronger support -- which resembles how we treat presidents. When you say "these competing interests are resolved using rules that are viewed as more important than any one individual" - isn't that just as true of gangs? That they evolve standards of conduct which even those at the top are then bound to observe?

Our presidents rotate through office because that's one of the rules of our gang. The Queen of England doesn't because her gang follows different rules. Why couldn't "rotating leaders" be a rule in a warlord regime? Why do you not consider the mafia "an institutional arrangement implemented by many individuals, with competing interests"?

Rafal Smigrodzki writes:

Arnold wrote:

"all it takes is one successful warlord to break a private security equilibrium"

Well, yes, but then all it takes to break a power equilibrium in a state is one dictator capable of breaking the opposition. Happens over and over again.

I presume that the reason why you trust that this will not happen in the US is because the political culture of this land is somewhat more resistant to authoritarian rule than e.g. in Uganda.

There is no a priori reason to believe that the anarcho-capitalist society with the right political culture could would not be at least as stable as the US society. All you need is a few (tens of millions of) good anarcho-capitalists willing to punish the warlord *and* everybody who doesn't oppose him *and* everybody who fails to punish. I.e. the immediate individual cost of being a warlord, or supporting him by act or omission, must be higher than the discounted individual benefit.

This would be a stable equilibrium, as long as there are enough anarcho-capitalist believers.

Rafal

Randy writes:

Lessons from the American revolution.

First, its doubtful that the colonists could have imagined a democracy in 1774. They would have resisted throwing out something good for something possibly better because the risk was too great. It was the fact of the revolution that made the change possible. Something good turned into something bad, and made the change less of a risk.

Second, the Articles of Confederation didn't work. Why? Primarily because they did not give the federal government the power to tax.

The moral of the story; a king is not required, but a central power is.

Bill Stepp writes:

The Articles of Confederation did work, and were a lot better than the Con-job-stitution.
If the central government had no power to tax, it could not have had military bases in 130 countries, and could not have subsidized the corrupt Saudi regime, and other dictators. 9/11 wouldn't have happened.

Sampson Mocha writes:

Taxation is theft, but a person can still be free if they are willing to play thier own game by working under the table or not working at all. Also if a majority of people were to go "on the dole" these socialist programs would destroy them selves. I believe this is already happening.History shows us that when socialism starts to crumble in public opinion, that it can only be upheld by a dictator--- thus our present american police sate.

Randy writes:

Bill,

Re; "If the central government had no power to tax, it could not have had military bases in 130 countries, and could not have subsidized the corrupt Saudi regime, and other dictators. 9/11 wouldn't have happened."

You're probably right. And we would not have fought any of our numerous wars. But Florida and the southwest would still be Spanish, the central states would still be French, the Northeast would still be British, and Alaska would still be Russian. Europe would be ruled by the Germans and eastern Asia would be ruled by the Japanese. If the 13 confederated states somehow managed to survive at all in this power hungry world, they would still have slaves, and a much lower standard of living than they currently enjoy.

Bill Stepp writes:

We can't rerun history, but there's no reason to assume things would have been as you suggest.
For example, Germany lost the Battle of Britain and couldn't even defeat Russia in WW II, so what makes you think it would have conquered Europe?
I seriously doubt Japan would have conquered all of Asia, but even if it had, you are assuming that no revolutions or libertation movements would have overthrown the conquerors.
At the very least, France's North American empire would have been scaled back by Napoleon, who had to finance a big war in Europe; and I see no reason Spain would not have been removed.
Likewise, slavery would have died a natural death at the hands of the free market without Lincoln's criminal little war. And 620,000 innocent lives would have been spared.

How do you know FDR wouldn't have been elected king of the North and lied his way into WW II?
Etc.
Your error is assuming no change in the status quo at the time of the Revolution.
If history shows anything, it shows change, not stasis. Just compare a world map today with one 100 years ago and another 200 years ago.

Sampson Mocha writes:

in response to : I believe that my fellow citizens are unwise in their support of leaders with a much more expansive view of government than I favor. However, Social Security and public education arose from due process, not as a Mafiosi's racket.

I reply:

The only leader I recognize is myself. Also, everything shitler did in germany was legal and arose from due process.

Randy writes:

Bill,

Agreed that we can't rewrite history. My aim was to point out that the use of centralized power has positive as well as negative effects. And these positive effects are the justification for the existance of centralized power.

Bill Stepp writes:

Centralized power has no positive effects.
It's just a big crime.

Randy writes:

Bill,

Interesting statement. So, do you believe in the use of an organizational structure in a business organization? - or the chain of command in a military organization? Do these structures add value?

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