Andrew Moran: The libertarian movement contains various schools of thought: monarchism, voluntaryism, paleolibertarianism, and deontological libertarianism. But there is no other branch of libertarianism that is as controversial and widely debated as anarcho-capitalism (AnCap).
The concept, which was first coined by economist Murray Rothbard in the mid-20th century, proposes abolishing a centralized state, or the government in general, and substitute it with free markets and private property. Ultimately, AnCap embraces the universal non-aggression principle (NAP).
Under an AnCap society, there wouldn’t be a government that provides roads, courts, fire departments, police forces, or even the military. These are services that would be provided for by the free-enterprise system. Rather than rely on the local authorities to protect your home from unscrupulous individuals, you can hire a business that ensures your home is well secured. Or, instead of depending on civil servants to construct and maintain roads, a private company can do it – either hired to perform this task or a company will pave the asphalt to attract customers to its store.
While it is difficult to predict the particulars of an AnCap society, especially when potentially millions of contracts are established, and millions of people are participating in spontaneous order, AnCap is definitely not an impractical system by any means. Plus, in such a world, you could even practice any other system you wish, such as socialism in your community, as long as you don’t impose your will on others.
AnCap is all about choice.
We already witness the free market do many things that the government does – and even better. Brink’s is one of the most successful security brands in the world today, Domino’s is starting to pave roads across the U.S., and many families have opted out of the government school system to enroll their children in private schools.
So, why wouldn’t this work on a societal level? What are your thoughts, Onar?
Onar Am: According to AnCaps, force and violence is just like any other product, and since competition tends to balance market powers, competition between security firms will prevent any one of them gaining a monopoly, they claim.
The problem is that all the empirical evidence proves that this is not true. History shows that force is like a snowball. Once it starts rolling it is difficult to stop. That’s indeed why all examples of anarchy throughout history have ended up with a state monopoly on violence.
Force does not easily balance out. It follows the Pareto distribution, which is surprisingly common in nature. Anyone who has played the game of Monopoly has seen the Pareto distribution in action. Even though music is sold in the free market, the winners are not distributed equally. 95% of all artists never sell anything, and less than 1% of the composers produce most hits and bestsellers.
We see this tendency in infrastructure too. A handful of companies such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter have a virtual monopoly on the internet because of the snowball effect. In a free, peaceful market they can still lose their position to smaller competitors if they sufficiently mistreat their customers. Indeed, we are seeing that alternative tech companies like minds.com, mewe.com, gab.ai and BitChute.com are gaining traction due to heavy censorship of conservatives by the giants.
Now imagine Facebook, Twitter, and Google but with guns. They are no strangers to collaboration. Recently they colluded against Alex Jones and un-personed him; all of that without having the power of the gun. Imagine how they would behave if they also had a private army at their disposal. That is how anarcho-capitalism would play itself out, sad to say.
Due to the inherent inequality between the armed and the unarmed, a monopoly on violence is inevitable. We cannot choose not to have a state. It will emerge. The only thing we can ever hope to achieve is to chain it down with checks and balances and a heavily guarded and strongly enforced constitution.
AM: The issue that a lot of critics make – and that’s probably because of the first half of the term – is they think AnCap is pure anarchy. It isn’t because there are contracts that need to be enforced by a justice system, one that participants in the contract will need to agree to. An AnCap society isn’t just a lot of people running wild without contracts or respect for private property. So, the idea that AnCap will inevitably result in a state isn’t backed up by history – pure anarchy has, but not AnCap theory.
You point out correctly that the social media juggernauts have a virtual monopoly on the Internet. But, like every company that has once had a monopoly, they could very well go bust. You just need to look to MySpace more than a decade ago, which was the social media powerhouse that controlled 66% of the market. Just look where it is today. Who knows if Facebook or Twitter will be around in a decade or two?
Also, it’s not as if people have zero choice. There are plenty of search engines and social networks available, but people choose to use these platforms and accept their terms of service. We just opt for what we have become familiar with, which is, unfortunately, the YouTubes and the Twitters of the digital economy.
On the matter of private businesses employing a private army. It is unlikely that Google would deploy troops to topple Alex Jones and censor his speech, especially if there weren’t a clause that states, “We will use force if you violate our user agreement.” However, for argument’s sake, let’s say they did. What would stop Jones from hiring his own private security team or a military contractor? Or, if he didn’t have the money, then he could solicit donations to hire a company.
Plus, there could be a clause in a contract with Facebook or Twitter that people could opt out should they choose to use force against clients, which would send their stocks plummeting. If we accepted a society that uses market insurance, one that economist Robert Murphy writes about in Chaos Theory, then it would be near impossible for a corporation or an individual to wage war.
One more thing: The monopoly on violence is derived from the state, not a voluntary society, so to suggest that a state “will emerge” because of inequality between the armed and unarmed is moot.
OA: Let’s use another contemporary example, which is the banning of the Islam-critic Robert Spencer from Patreon. It turned out that he had not violated any of the terms of Patreon, but Mastercard, with whom they have a partnership, demanded that they remove Spencer!
So why would Mastercard do this? Well, they have businesses all over the world, including in Saudi-Arabia and many major Islamic countries. We don’t have any evidence of this, but it could very well be that these major states – organizations with armies – twisted Mastercard’s arm and told them that they will not be allowed to do business within their domain unless they agree to fight critics of Islam.
That would be an example of how organizations with guns operate in the real world – behind the scenes so you cannot tell who is doing what. Is there any reason to believe that this would improve significantly under anarcho-capitalism? No, because major companies can collude to form trusts of virtual governmental power within an area. So what they would do is not send an army to Alex Jones. The electrical company and Mastercard would suddenly out of the blue say that he has violated their terms of service and he would be without electricity, roads, bank accounts, air travel and so on.
The free market is stable when guns are not involved. Once actors can use the power of the gun, you get a monopoly situation which leads to the inevitable formation of governments, but in this case run by totalitarian corporations like Facebook and Google.
AM: While Patreon and MasterCard are wrong for doing this to Robert Spencer, they are still private entities. There are other online funding services and other payment processors consumers can use – if they’re all left-leaning, then it is up to the right to start their own. And, again, you are looking at it through the purview of government, not private individuals using contracts.
Yes, things would be different under an AnCap system because then you and the population of Biloxi, Mississippi can establish your own private property society and enter or not enter into your own contractual agreements with businesses and entities like MasterCard, Facebook, and Patreon. So, Twitter might be a strong influence in a particular area, but that only means people agreed to be a willing participant, with perhaps a couple of caveats.
To use your example of the electrical company, these outlets maintain monopolies decreed by the state. In a world without a central planning body, there would be several other businesses, akin to social media outfits like Gab, ready and willing to provide power to Alex Jones.
It is a correct statement when you say the free market is stable when guns are not involved. But it isn’t the free market using weaponry to gain market share, it is either cronyists who use the power of the leviathan or the leviathan imposing itself on the rest of the world. Should that government metastasize into Facebook and Google, then, similar to today’s environment, you can always opt out and live in an AnCap part of the world that prohibits guns.
In the end, the development of an AnCap world would only occur when the mindset of the average person changes. I do not expect to see AnCap in my lifetime – or my children’s lifetime. When more young people are embracing socialism, it is highly unlikely that there will suddenly be calls for a Rothbardian existence in the 20, 30, or 50 years. Should we suddenly morph into AnCap, then that means we have accepted NAP. Until then, we can only look at society from the point of view of government, which is, unfortunately, coercion and violence.