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In which I respond to someone in another (private) forum who claimed that all questions about anarcho-capitalism have been answered, that the state is the only possible source of fraud, and that markets "just do things"...
Anarcho-capitalist theory is not one of a political, social, or economic system, it exists entirely as a series of informed speculation as to the forms that social, economic, and political order will take in the absence of centralized authority. For all the talk of Friedman's "rights protection agencies" and Molyneux's "DROs", nobody knows just how these services will be provided under market anarchy. That will be decided in the market, and the form they take could be as different from currently popular speculation as blogs are from newspapers - or much, much more.

People can and will be cheated in a market anarchy. The strength of the web of private incentives that we believe will arise from human nature in the absence of government coercion is that they appear to provide a superior method for addressing and remediating such infractions.

Finally, markets don't do anything on their own. They are tools that men use to pursue specific goals. Unplanned effects do arise from markets, and they are almost always, if not in fact always, beneficial. But markets will fundamentally reflect the values of those using them. It is likely that market forces will serve to attenuate the worst impulses of the worst of men, but not perfectly so. The success of market anarchy will depend on the quality of people participating in it, it will not turn evil men into saints. Impose a market anarchy on today's United States, with a population that has long forgotten the principles and values of individual liberty, that is accustomed to ruling and being ruled, and that has largely abandoned their visions of the future for visions of the next weekend, and we will at best end up right back where we started.

We don't have to turn men into saints to have full freedom. We do have to find men who are willing to be men and seek our freedom in society with them, while protecting ourselves from the rest. We have to find a way to set an example that can be followed, not by men who would become the New Anarchist Man, but by men who would strive to become fully the men they were born to be, as imperfect as that necessarily is. There's no utopias. Market anarchy would be far from it, but it would allow them to build the world as they want to see it. Neither of us can predict just how that world would look, and I certainly won't try to tell them how it should look.


<blockquote>Unplanned effects do arise from markets, and they are almost always, if not in fact always, beneficial.</blockquote>

Benefit is an individual matter. To avoid relying on an ambiguous collective, one must be careful to specify <i>for whom</i> a given market is beneficial.

Posted by Elliot at Monday, January 21, 2008 06:25 PM

Good point, Elliot, but there is an argument that *all* side-effects of markets are beneficial to everyone individually. That would extend even to the purveyor of a business that failed in the market, in that he received information to the effect that he was not putting his resources to his most productive use.

I'm not saying I meant it that way when I wrote it. In writing, clarity and precision must often be traded against one another. The disclaimers necessary to be precise in this case would have diminished the clarity of the larger point I was making, so I didn't even think about all the implication of the phrasing I used.

The whole of the last two paragraph are subject to criticism on the ambiguous collective fallacy, but I didn't deem that the important hill to die on - those imprecisions can be addressed in subsequent conversation. YMMV.

Posted by kylben at Monday, January 21, 2008 06:42 PM

I've read enough of your writing to have a good idea what you meant. But I've also seen plenty of critics of free markets (as well as those who defend free markets out of pragmatism rather than principle). They'll grab hold of a statement like that, construct a straw man, and then toss up counterexamples to "prove" that the market needs "regulation" by some presumed authority. So I've developed a reflex to object to ambiguity.

Good to see you writing new articles here. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Elliot at Tuesday, January 22, 2008 08:06 AM

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