"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
'Anarchy or Minarchy' Is Only Half the Question
Column by Glen Allport.
Exclusive to STR
I loved your Libertarian Dilemma: Anarchy or Minarchy? in today’s Humble Libertarian (March 22, 2011). Since founding the site, you’ve shown a knack for asking interesting questions and a willingness to consider views outside your comfort zone. In this new column, you say, among other things, that “I am faced with the alternatives of minarchy and anarchy, but I find that each alternative has its own unique and seemingly insoluble problem.”
That got me interested in writing a reply, and the email I intended to send grew to become this column. Thanks for giving me a reason to write it and a starting point for my thoughts.
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Minarchy: Lighting a Match to the Fuse of Tyranny
You are right that problems exist with each of the two major libertarian approaches. Minarchy’s biggest problem is that coercion is evil and draws psychopaths and special interests like a magnet, fueling the growth of tyranny. We see this clearly in America, despite “liberty” being the national slogan (it's on our coinage, for crying out loud) and despite our government having been specifically designed as a minarchy. The federal government was so small that until after the income tax and Federal Reserve were begun early in the 20th Century, most Americans never came in contact with their federal government except at the post office. Imagine no income tax; no globe-spanning uber-military; no EPA, FDA, BATF, FBI, DEA, or any of the other heavily-armed modern alphabet agencies; no Departments of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and so on. For over a century, the U.S. federal government was almost nothing, really, compared to what we have today – and even that was too much.
In short, we had minarchy here and it did not work in the long term. It didn't even work well – compared to real freedom – in the short term. The Whiskey Rebellion, the War Between the States, the role played by federal troops in the genocide of American Indians, and many lesser horrors were sanctioned, enabled, or initiated by the minarchy that was created when the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. And human slavery, which pre-existed the War for Independence, was tolerated under the Articles and remained officially sanctioned under the Constitution.
Minarchy has never worked for long anywhere because power-hungry people (and interest groups and corporations) entangle themselves with the government and find ways to make it grow. Soon you’ve got something like what Americans have now: police-State, nanny-State, security-State, corporatist, welfare-warfare, Bankrupt-SuperPower America occupying the land where a mostly-free people once lived.
Please don't miss the obvious: Our current tyranny was caused by minarchy in the same way a vast forest fire is caused by a smoldering ember left behind in a campfire (or by some other small but intense heat source). Minarchy creates a coercive power center; that power center attracts people who want coercive power over others for whatever reason (their motives don’t matter in the least) and all too soon the liberty party is over and the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. The cruelty of State coercion grows like a cancer; find an exception in world history, if you can. There isn't one – if there were, we'd all be moving there.
One more point: the exceptional wealth that almost two centuries of greater-than-average freedom created in America is, paradoxically, the reason our masters had the ability to build such a powerful tyranny at home and abroad. Minarchy allowed for creation of the wealth now being used to enslave us and to run the most expensive military the Earth has ever seen; had we gone with civil society (AKA "anarchy"), there would have been even more wealth but no kernel of coercive power to grow into a tyranny. And had we instead built a bureaucratic maze of a government, as was and is so common elsewhere, the United States would have become far less wealthy and would now perhaps be a smaller, weaker, and less dangerous tyranny than it is today. Minarchy may thus ultimately be more dangerous than some types of initially larger and less-free forms of government.
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Anarchy: By Itself, Yang without Yin
Anarchy has a different problem (a problem that plagues minarchy as well), which is that no political framework OF ANY KIND, including elimination of the State, is sufficient to create and sustain a healthy, workable, free and compassionate society.
Let me repeat: eliminating the systematic coercion of the State is not enough, because freedom alone cannot do the job. Freedom is necessary but not sufficient. There is another element – an element outside the realm of politics – without which no society can long remain free.
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The Missing Key
That second, necessary element is love – or compassion, or respect, or connection to others, or emotional health, or whatever you want to call it. Without love, we can chatter on about political theory until the end of time without making any progress. And no: morality and other intellectual attempts at simulating love or emotional health do not work, either. This is an issue involving the deeper and more primal levels of consciousness: feeling and emotion. Intellect can enhance those levels (in a healthy person), but all the intellect in the world cannot replace the need for emotional health. Without widespread emotional health – without an overwhelming majority of people who feel a compassionate sense of connection to others – all political efforts of any kind will fail. Without love, anarchy won't work, nor will minarchy, monarchy, fascism, socialism, Communism, democracy, or any other approach. The political arrangement simply won’t matter (for long, anyway) unless there is quite a lot more love in the world than there is now. I'll talk about how we might address this issue later in this column.
Wesley, I believe you are already in harmony with this idea – that love is a necessary part of any free society – given your writings and the tag line you use at your website: "Peace, Love, Liberty."
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You Can't Understand (or even truly see) Reality When Using a Bad Paradigm
The topic of what is needed for a free, healthy, and prosperous society is not complicated. It only appears complicated because people do not have a framework that makes sense of the facts, and as a result, endless picky detail has been substituted for real understanding. The apparent complication of the minarchist/anarchist question (and of the left/right question as well) falls away when you simplify and de-mystify the topic.* De-mystifying includes adding in some of the real and important elements that are usually left out of the discussion.
* Another example is the Federal Reserve, which sounds more complex than quantum physics because the power elite have bought the media and the economics profession in order to hide the simple truth – that the Fed creates money from nothing, like any counterfeiter would, and for the same reasons – and to overwhelm the public with sophistic over-complexity.
In short: To see the topic clearly, use a more accurate paradigm. When you do, I believe you’ll find that things fall into place very naturally. The framework of a reasonably accurate paradigm is what makes sense of the facts, and leaving out the non-political element of emotional health when trying to understand the State or politics generally is like leaving out cause and effect when trying to understand the natural world. In that case you get superstition in place of science; in the case of modern political theory, you get, among other things, the toxic left/right paradigm that blinds people to a fundamental reality of human life: that love and freedom are not enemies, not at odds, not even disconnected qualities that can function well on their own, but are instead two parts of a whole, forming an essential yin and yang for humans, both as individuals and when grouped into societies.
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Without the State, Who Will Pay for the Roads?
Back to the problems of anarchy in particular: One such alleged problem – not one you mention in your column (except for police, courts, and defense, which I address next week in Part 2 of this column), but a reason many libertarians believe minarchy is necessary – concerns the provision of what are seen as "necessary government services." The problem arises mainly (though not entirely) because these services are costly – imagine the cost to build and maintain a road system, for example. And without government to pay for such things, how will they be done? Who will pay for health care? Who will regulate businesses?
My answer to those with such questions is: "Snap out of it!" People know perfectly well who is paying for those things now, and it isn't the Government Funding Fairy.
You seem well aware of this, Wesley, and you'd think any libertarian-leaning person would understand it, but again: not everyone does, so I will address the issue in some detail.
Government has no wealth to fund anything with, beyond what it takes from the people. So for things that people actually want to have done, the difference in funding under anarchy is only this:
It would be much easier for people to pay for what needs doing and for what they want, because they would not ALSO have to pay for things they DON'T want and for things that should not be done at all.
Those last two categories would include aggressive war, torture, molesting air travelers for phony security reasons, preventing Americans from treating their cancer or other disease with safe and effective methods the FDA hasn't approved yet, preventing cattle ranchers from testing their own herds for Mad Cow disease, ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands every year by arresting, convicting, and imprisoning pot smokers, and – well, a lot more besides.
But since people are forced (including under a minarchy) to pay for government services, and since government – not you – decides how to spend that money, it should be obvious that A) customer satisfaction will never be much of a concern where government services are involved, and B) plenty of things you'd never consider paying for voluntarily will be done with your money, and there is realistically nothing you can do about it. Torture Bradley Manning for the rest of his life, even if he's never convicted of a thing? Sure, they can do that, and it appears they're sick enough to want to. Invade or coerce every poor nation on Earth (well, the ones with oil or oil pipeline routes or a thriving heroin trade or something else somebody wants)? They can do that, too. With your money.
There's GOT to be a better way to do things, and there is: civil society – AKA "freedom."
The classic The Market for Liberty (here are the first 3 chapters plus an introduction by Karl Hess) lays out a very readable argument for completely replacing coercive government with civil society, including for defense, local security from crime, contract enforcement, and every other "government service." Murray Rothbard's Power and Market: Government and the Economy is another excellent overview of how civil society can and should replace coercive government, including specifically for defense. The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society provides (as the product description at Amazon puts it) "a rich history and analysis of large-scale, private and voluntary, community-based provision of social services, urban infrastructure, and community governance." In short, despite the constant intrusion of government into these areas, to the point where many people cannot imagine any other way to do things, civil society not only CAN but often HAS and still does, in many cases, provide every type of "government service" we need. Bonus: no mass murder is involved! No vast and ever-growing corruption is set in motion! No corporatism is engendered. Customer satisfaction becomes a reality instead of a punchline. Honest trade and friendship replace mercantilism and gunboat diplomacy.
Putting an end to the criminal "pay us or else" system used by even the smallest and nicest of governments would do three wonderful things almost immediately:
First, the market's built-in incentives to satisfy customers would kick in. Imagine today's government services (the few real services, that is) being provided by people who know that their jobs depend on satisfying the customer – not on intimidating the customer or arresting the customer and not on trying to con the customers into providing a bigger budget for your agency next year. Think Apple Computers versus the TSA (or any other government agency) for an example of what I mean.
Second, Americans would have, at a very conservative estimate, more than a trillion extra dollars every year to spend as they chose – instead of as politicians and bureaucrats and Pentagon planners chose. The precise amount of annual wealth-generation recaptured for the American people would depend on which of the former "government services" remained viable in a free society, on how much of each given service the public wanted, on how efficiently the market could provide each service, and on other things. For example, if government hadn't suspended much of the liability for nuclear power plants (via the Price Anderson Act) and forced citizens to pay subsidies related to nuclear power at various levels from mining on up to waste disposal – how much past, present, and future money would we have saved? At a rough estimate, I'd say the answer is: "a whole lot." And, as a side-benefit, we wouldn't have this little problem of polluting the entire planet with cancer-causing radioactive isotopes that remain deadly for centuries or even (as with depleted uranium) billions of years. (That's actually part of Benefit Number Three, below, but in fact these three benefits overlap quite a bit.)
Third, (and to repeat, because this is perhaps most important benefit of all): The vast harm and evil now inflicted by government would end, because when allowed to choose what their money goes for, most people will not choose to fund a military larger than the entire planet needs, much less to vaporize trillions of their own dollars in aggressive wars and occupations of distant nations that are no threat to us whatsoever. Most people will not choose to pay for massive subsidies to oil companies, to nuclear power companies, and to other corporations. Most people will refuse to go heavily into debt so that failed and criminally-fraudulent bankers can avoid their well-earned bankruptcies and then give themselves (the bankers) multi-million-dollar bonuses besides. Most people will not pay to have the Earth poisoned with megatonnage of depleted uranium, or to allow the massive use of Corexit and other toxic chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico. When allowed to choose whether to spend money spying on, arresting, convicting, and imprisoning peaceful neighbors for using pot or other drugs, or spending that money on something else (anything else, from iPods to charity, from vacations to home repair, from starting a new business to funding their church more lavishly) – Americans wouldn't even have to think about it: they'd immediately stop paying for the violent, murderous Drug War if they had any real choice in the matter; having to write a check for all that would trump decades of propaganda on the topic in a heartbeat.
When I said "coercion is evil," I wasn't overstating things: "evil" is the right word, and it applies just as strongly to coercion for funding (taxation – and fiat currency as well) as to initiated (i.e., aggressive) coercion in other situations. Coercive funding is the foundational evil that the rest of the State grows upon.
Take away the State's "right" to obtain funds at gunpoint and the evil now done by the State will evaporate like a puddle of slime in the midday sun.
So really: Is it necessary for the State to pay for the roads or for other things we need? Don't make me laugh. The truth is the exact opposite: The State makes it almost impossible for us to pay for what we need. The State takes so much of our wealth – and spends it in ways that cause epic harm, in many cases – that we are having serious trouble paying for the roads and medical care and all the other things we actually do need.
Still, can market entities really handle large-scale needs like roads and medical care? The answer is yes, and by "yes" I mean "Of course, and more efficiently, at lower cost, and with far better quality than government versions offer now." Consider the semiconductor industry, for example.
Semiconductors are at the heart of modern life. And as we all know, semiconductors have gotten cheaper-faster-better year after year for decades. Is this because it is cheap or easy to manufacture processor or memory chips? No: it is stunningly difficult and expensive to manufacture such things. A Wikipedia article on semiconductor fabrication plants tells us that "Estimates put the cost of building a new fab over one billion US dollars with values as high as $3-4 billion not being uncommon. TSMC will be investing $9.3 billion in its Fab15 300 mm wafer manufacturing facility in Taiwan to be operational in 2012." The article adds: "Typically an advance in chip-making technology requires a completely new fab to be built."* For perspective on how huge those numbers really are, the 2009 budget for the entire U.S. State Department was $16.4 billion. The Department of the Interior got $20 billion and the Department of Energy was budgeted $24.1 billion. (More data: Intel Corporation's net sales for 2010 totaled $43.62 billion; Ford Motor Company's 2010 total operating revenue was nearly $129 billion and their net income, after expenses and $592 million in income taxes, was $6.561 billion).
* Check out How We Make Our Products: A Behind the Scenes Look [video, 6 min 24 sec], a promotional video by Lexar/Micron. Watching this reminded me of how lucky I am to be living in the 21st Century – and of how positive actual free-market corporations actually are, as opposed to government entities or corporations that are joined to government at the hip.
If semiconductor design and manufacture were taken over by a Cabinet-level Department of Transistor Affairs, or even merely regulated by, say, a Semiconductor and Magnetic Memory Commission, history suggests we would quickly see major changes in the quality of products, efficiency of production, consumer pricing, and rate of improvement in all related areas. Pop quiz: how likely is it that any of those changes would be for the better? See today's medical and pharmaceutical industries for clues.
In sum, people are happy to pay for the roads, for medical care, for charity, and for other necessities, and would find that much easier to do if they weren't also being forced to pay for aggressive wars, for imprisoning and otherwise ruining the lives of drug users, and for other expensive evil that only coercive government could get away with doing, much less forcing us all to pay for. Better products, more efficient production, lower prices, faster advances – these natural benefits of the market are major improvements over government provision of goods and services, but they are far less important than the market's inherent withdrawal of support for evil (most evil, anyway – but that's a lesser topic for another time).
Of course, the minarchist insists that good government – meaning small, limited government – would never do all the bad things our big, overgrown government does. To which I respond: "Go back and read section One of this essay."
Next week: Part 2 of this column, including "Police, Courts, National Defense", "Bringing More Love and Freedom Into the World", and "Empathy is The Heart of Civil Society".