Arnold Kling  

Jurisdictional Disputes

Religious Education... Gary Becker on Soaring Consume...

A comment on this post raises a valid issue. I was suggesting that I wanted a sort of anarcho-capitalism in which I can choose the government or governments I wish to operate under. The comment reads, in part

Multiple states serving multiple customers in a single territory (like BK or Mickey D's) would be realistic if government were just about delivering services. But the concept of jurisdiction is a necessity to the existence of the state: the state is simply a group of people with an official monopoly on coercion within a certain boundary.

It seems that way now, but could it be different?

First of all, why do government boundaries have to be physical rather than logical? For example, the Internet protocols are set by committees of engineers. If you want to abide by them, fine. If you don't, then I guess your computer won't be connected properly to the Internet. But that's a decision for you to make--it isn't forced on you by where you live.

If you loosen the link between geography and jurisdiction, then that raises the issue of how to resolve jurisdictional disputes. Today, when two companies sign a deal, they will sometimes put in a provision that says that any disputes will be resolved in the courts of a particular state (typically, the state where one of the firms is headquartered).

Under the system that I envision (vaguely), you would need lots of these sorts of agreements, as well as common-law customs, for resolving jurisdictional disputes. So, if I say that my neighborhood is smoke-free and you say that you live under a jurisdiction where anyone may smoke as long as they are outdoors, then we need some way to resolve whether or not you can smoke on the local sidewalk. That case is probably pretty simple, but other cases easily could get more complicated.

I have suggested that we need an ultimate arbiter when all else fails. But I would like the arbiter to be just that--like a referee in basketball. Government as we experience it today is like a player-referee. Naturally, it is hard for other people to get a chance to play--it is hard to start charter schools that compete on a level playing field with government schools, it is had to break off from a large county or state to form a separate township, etc.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Patri Friedman writes:

You, sir, are an anarchist.


Troy Camplin writes:

It seems to me that the original intent of the structure of the US on a power law distribution, where the government closest to you affected your live most, with decreasing effect the further the government got away from you, would be the one most conducive to having a wide variety of variation. If the federal government was there just to keep armies from invading and to make sure there was free trade among the states and with other countries, then states could experiment more, and -- better -- counties and cities/towns could experiment more.

Grant writes:
I have suggested that we need an ultimate arbiter when all else fails.
How do you prevent this arbiter from seizing power and becoming more than a referee?

The problem I have with your model is that any legitimized coercive power seems to open the door for political "entrepreneurship", i.e. the expansion of state power by smooth-talking politicians. I would think that even in anarchy, popular opinion and morality would serve as an "ultimate arbiter" of sorts.

Can anyone point to a post where Arnold explains why he thinks more traditional market anarchy wouldn't work?

Carl Jakobsson writes:

Under the system of extraterritoriality in Europe before the rise of the nationstates and between different countries in Europe, America and Asia before the first world war, it was the norm that disputes would be settled according to ones countrys laws, not according to the laws where one was. It is similar to what you are proposing. More about it here:

Now, how to convince/trick/force our governments to let go of their monopoly?

Rue Des Quatre Vents writes:

There's already a Friedman in the comments. But what you describe is fleshed out in more detail by David Friedman in The Machinery of Freedom. There's also a nice little chapter on how the Icelandic system of law in 1200 AD mimicked this framework.

VentrueCapital writes:

1. I agree with Patri Friedman's post (as well as with pretty much all of the other posts).

2. I consider myself an anarcho-capitalist and I support a system very similar to what Dr. Kling proposes -- perhaps even identical. I believe the simplest way to explain it to non-libertarians is to say "Each person who owns property can choose which local government has jurisdiction over it. For example, even if you live in Fort Lauderdale, you could post a sign to declare that your home was officially part of Greensburg, Kansas. You would follow all of their laws, pay their taxes, vote in their elections, and use their services -- unless you made other arrangements for those services, just as many small town don't have their own police or fire departments and instead pay their counties for those services."

3. I strongly agree that the biggest questions for such a system are how to handle disputes over jurisdiction, and how to prevent the central government ("ultimate arbiter") from overstepping its boundaries.

4. Maybe I'm overlooking something, because the only questions of jurisdiction that I can see arising under this system involve cases where someone commits an act on a piece of land in one jurisdiction, and it affects his neighbor who is in another jurisdiction. Why wouldn't those be handled the same way they are handled in the present system, just as when someone shoots across a state line?

Of course, as David Friedman (and others) have pointed out, local governments would be free to make other arrangements with each other, to deal with jurisdiction and other questions.

5. As for controlling the federal government, maybe I'm too optimistic, but I believe that clearly worded constitutional amendments would work, at least if they were the right ones. (I agree with "minarchist" libertarians on that!)

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