Bryan Caplan  

The Epstein-Huemer Debate on Anarcho-Capitalism

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Video of the Junto debate between Richard Epstein and Michael Huemer is now up.  The resolution: "A government that performs its fundamental functions is preferable to a system of anarcho-capitalism in which these functions are privatized."  Enjoy.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Colombo writes:

I was waiting for this.

Thanks to uploader too.

Colombo writes:

It was difficult to follow because of the audio. This proves that it is necessary a new Federal Agency for debates and microphones. Youtubers need regulation and taxes.

I wonder if Epstein would have won if the debate had taken place outside New York. For example, in Maui both debaters would have lost the debate, and perhaps both would have been put in prison. But who goes to Maui for a debate.

I disagree that the US military could pose a menace to the world in the future. Too much weapons for too few people, most of whom are medicated and cannot concentrate enough to follow orders, and seem to have too delicate emotions to go to war. Computers and robots, on the other hand...

China and Russia are more dreadful, because people there seem a little more cogent.

Eric Hanneken writes:

Michael Huemer waited until the very end to identify what I thought was one of the weakest points in Richard Epstein's argument. If the absence of shared government leads to rampant crime and fighting, how does peaceful commerce ever happen among people living under different nation states? If states manage to agree on rules for arbitrating disagreements among their citizens, why is it impossible for private arbiters to do the same?

Alex writes:

Can any Anarcho Capitalist explain to me if in an Anarcho capitalist society there can be slaves?

Slavery is perfectly compatible with AC, isn't it?

Capital writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Eric Hanneken writes:


For most anarcho-capitalists, Michael Huemer included, anarcho-capitalism is a prediction: For a wide range of existing or plausible societies, if government disappears, the result would be a society which is approximately libertarian. Since anarcho-capitalists are libertarians, that's an important reason why they're in favor of anarchy. (Another important reason is that governments have to initiate force to maintain their monopolies.) So asking if slavery is compatible with anarcho-capitalism is kind of like asking if observations of faster than light particles are compatible with the standard model in physics. That's not what the theory says should happen.

Kind of like, but not exactly. As Michael Huemer talked about at the beginning of his argument, anarcho-capitalists make weaker claims than physicists do. They believe that slavery would have a tough time existing in many real or realistic societies without political authority, but concede that it's possible to conceive of anarchies where slavery would exist or even thrive. Perhaps there's a world in which a large majority feels strongly that a small minority exists to serve them. Under those circumstances plus anarchy, there would be slavery. Of course, given those circumstances, very few governments would prevent slavery either.

And we do know that government is compatible with slavery because they have in fact coexisted, even when the government was supposedly founded on libertarian(ish) principles, as the United States was. Furthermore, as Jeffrey Hummel argues in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, slavery in the U.S. was sustainable only while the government subsidized it through the Fugitive Slave Acts and (in the south) conscription into slave patrols. I dare say blacks in antebellum America could have benefitted from at least smaller and weaker government.

Hazel Meade writes:

Doesn't the use of the word "fundamental" sort of beg the question?

Pajser writes:

Alex, Eric - The slavery is compatible, and it would almost certainly exist in anarcho-capitalist society. It is enough that very few people (maybe one only) want slaves and very few women (maybe one only) are willing to born children and leave them for money.

The landlord who wants the slaves pays to woman to born child on his land and go away. Very few women would do that, but some would. The landlord rises the child. When child is grown up, the landlord reduces his food on little bread and water, not enough for long term survival - and offers significantly better conditions if child signed the contract that he will work for a lifetime whatever landlord demanded.

The child is free to leave. But when he tries, the neighbor (the landlord's collaborator) do not allow trespass. The child is left with choice - slow death or slavery contract. Furthermore, all slave's children will be the slaves on the same way.

Greg G writes:

Heumer's approach to the problem of nuclear weapons is delusionally optimistic. He simply assumes that all nuclear weapons would be "dismantled" and then governments would be dismantled. And of course, no worries about them being reassembled because everyone is far too rational to do that.

Epstein, on the other hand comes off like the ultimate warmonger. He cites game theory as the reason why we should go to war with Iran now. This same game theory would have had us starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and China in the 50's and 60's.

Thank God these guys don't represent the only two options.

Michael Huemer writes:

Greg G, you're confusing recommendation with prediction. I said that the nuclear weapons need to be dismantled before the government is abolished. This is obviously true. I did not predict (still less "assume") that either of these things will in fact happen.

I certainly don't think it's absurd to think that this could and should be done.

I also didn't say "everyone is far too rational to do that." I pointed out that all the actual WMD's that have ever been built have in fact been built by governments. This is an appeal to empirical evidence, not some absurd a priori faith in "rationality". And I didn't say "no worries." I pointed out that since government is the actual source of all WMD's they are prima facie the biggest threat to worry about.

There is nothing naive, utopian, or rationalistic about my approach. People like Epstein and Mark Skousen like to say that because they only hear the word "anarchist" and then ignore everything else that I actually say. I have always said that there will be risks and imperfections, and bad people doing bad things, in any social system. It is a question of which system has the larger problems.

Greg G writes:

Michael Huemer,

Thanks for clarifying. Sorry about misrepresenting your views and misspelling your name.

We still disagree a lot on how realistic it is to think that this dismantling of nuclear weapons and then governments could happen. Where is the appeal to empirical evidence that gives us any reason to think this is realistic? Do you think we are currently headed in this direction?

I think that one of the advantages Epstein had in the debate was that he more often tended to support his contentions with actual historical events while you tended to rely on the fact that you "don't think it's absurd" that your ideas could work.

Have you read Mark Weiner's "The Rule of the Clan'? It seems to me this is a much more realistic account of what happens in the absence of governments.

I think most human violence doesn't come from poor cost/benefit analysis as much as poor impulse control at the personal level and ideas that personal or group or national honor requires it regardless of price. At this point, there are plenty of non-state actors that would like to get their hands on nuclear weapons.

Jim writes:

Typical minarchist vs anarchist debate, no authoritative direction to ensure quality audio video and live streaming to the world.

These guys are in a nation state the size of a library room. Just make sure we have lots of books in the backdrop to make us look smart!

If you ever wonder why we live in a statist world compare the backdrop of the state's propaganda (school classrooms, coordination, flags, uniforms, tall buildings, stuff Huemer writes about) vs anarchist.

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