UPDATE: This post is
now was a sticky. Because of the relevance this post has for my book and wish to receive input on the matter, I have also allowed comments on this post, though I did not want that enabled until this November.
Starting this September I will attempt to write the first draft of this segment as a submission to Libertarian Papers. But for now here is the original post as it would have appeared on DA:
If you have ever debated the merits of having a stateless society, you should probably know by now that the most frequent counter-argument thrown your way will be the notion that Anarchy leads to chaos.
For whatever reason we are supposed to believe that giving a group of people the power to initiate force within a given territory is necessary to sustain civilization. It is so cliche that people do little to justify the claim aside from pointing to Somalia as evidence. Ask those same people what the situation was like when it was under a government (especially during the civil war sparked by Siad Barre), and you can easily see how far people will go to dodge the burden of proof. (see note below**)
A couple years ago I came across what I am now convinced is probably the best introduction to Anarcho-Capitalism around. Robert P. Murphy wrote an article for Mises Daily that summed up the argument for anarchy as follows:
“What the anarchist does claim is that, for any given population, the imposition of a coercive government will make things worse.”
Society without government need not be perfect to be desirable – but better than other alternatives people have to offer. My system cannot guarantee utopia but neither can any other.
In his article, Murphy makes an excellent point regarding the incentives of private defense agencies. Bill Clinton would have been far less likely to fire off dozens of cruise missiles into third world countries if he had the option of selling those on the open market. So what are the factors that make market protection services less chaotic than government ones?
Enter ACES, a short and simply way of explaining why private protection agencies or individual contractors are less inclined to start war – the simple reason being that they must pay the cost of it themselves. This is an acronym that sums up the following:
Assets – These are anything from bullet-proof vests to smart torpedoes to armored vehicles - direct expenses for starting conflicts. If you fire the first shot, it will cost you dearly to have other protection agencies fire back.
Customers – You need a salary for assets, but no one wants to pay you to turn their home into a warzone.
Employees – Would you work for a company or client that insisted you get into meaningless shootouts?
Suppliers – Why would anyone sell guns and ammo to you if you might use it against them or their customers?
These four factors all come into play to make armed aggression a costly endeavor indeed.
When the cost of assets come into account we can see that protection agencies/contractors would think twice before firing millions of dollars worth of cruise missiles since they have to foot the bill themselves. This assumes of course that there would be as much of a demand for such things at all. Even worse, if you establish yourself as an aggressive protection agent or even a criminal, the result of having every potential victim mobilizing against you will cost you dearly.
To attract customers private providers will only use force when the consequences of not doing so would be worse (such as a robbery or home invasion) instead of making enemies with everyone they meet. Starting a gunfight with everyone you come across does not fly well with potential clients that would rather not have bullets fly past their head when they come home from work.
No potential employees would want to work for anyone that insisted they put their life on the line without just cause. You would have to really pay up to persuade anyone to do so, which transfers costs back onto those that hire you. So what we end up with is employees of clients/companies demanding higher pay (which increases what you have to charge clients – putting you at a competitive disadvantage), or quitting to work for someone else altogether.
What kind of weapons supplier would knowingly sell munitions to someone that might kill some potential customers or come back and use those assets against him or her personally? It can be pretty hard to maintain business when you are dead. Not to mention the reaction of the surrounding population who will now see the supplier as an extension to the rogue protection agency or criminal.
With all of this in mind, consider how government responds to these incentives.
Recently in Libya government demonstrated just how resistant it is to the four factors mentioned above. Within a short time the asset costs went through the roof:
Nearly 200 Tomahawk missiles ($1,500,000 each) were fired into Libya; a total cost of three-hundred million dollars.
Keeping a fighter jet in the air for an hour: $10,000
500+ one-ton bombs dropped: $40,000 each for a total cost of twenty million dollars.
One downed F-15 cost the government sixty million alone.
Maintaining a no-fly zone cost anywhere from thirty to a hundred million per week depending on how aggressive we are in the process.
And arming rebels is estimated to cost a hundred billion per year; and we all know how accurate spending “estimates” turn out.
Why is government so careless about all this and why would private protection firms be less violent? The simple answer is that the government’s cost of assets is simply passed down to unwilling tax payers such as you and me.
Does government stand a chance of losing customers? No, we are stuck with the protection we have because government claims a right to the incomes of everyone in the territory it covers. Even if we think bureaucrats turn our homeland into a war zone (such as the blow back we faced on 9/11), we cannot switch to a less aggressive protector.
Now what about employees? If those in power deemed it necessary, they could draft us to fight in whatever conflict they felt was worth fighting. Or at the very least they could lure in potential recruits and use them for whatever causes they desired while they remain in the service.
Suppliers in the long run can always face the threat of being forced to produce the tools of war whether they like it or not. Such was the case in World War II when resources were diverted to making bombs, planes, tanks, you name it. Aside from having more revenue than any other group to buy the weapons of war, government as a supplier also cares little about the consequences of handing over weapons to foreign fighters to promote “necessary” conflicts in other regions – which is precisely what had happened when it indirectly gave money and weapons to the mujahideen in order to fight the Soviets. Did the politicians that authorized such actions have to pay out of their own pocket?
Of course not. Government simply subsidized the whole thing at the expense of the very people it claimed to be protecting. Because market alternatives to the military and police we have today must use their own wealth to pay for conflicts they engage in, why should we expect them to be just as violent?
**What do I mean by “burden of proof?” The vast majority of all skeptics of Market Anarchy hold that giving anyone the right to force out competitors in an area and allow them to coerce (initiate force) others in that territory is wrong and unnecessary. No one I know thinks that you should allow a business to force people to pay for goods and services exclusively from them and imprison them if they refuse. If that is the way they think of market institutions but feel that government deserves to be exempt from the same standard, I conclude that the burden of proof is on the skeptic of anarchy to explain why government deserves to be an exception to the rule and how it improves the situation for any geographic location. This especially goes for those who claim Somalia was better under a government.