Monday, December 19, 2005


Care of Mutualist Blog I stumbled upon the a critique of anarchism, , The Battle Between Law and Anarchy," By Lisa Jones.

I sent Lisa the following reply:

Hi Lisa,

I just got through reading your column on the "Battle between Law and Anarchy."

I must say that I am confused as to a number of points you make. First off, there is your attempt at an argument against anarcho-capitalists. You say

"anarcho-capitalists also oppose taxation and the very existence of the state. They want to privatize all public institutions, such as schools, and rely on a self-regulating competitive marketplace instead of government...

Plus, I don't mind chipping in for public roads, schools and sewer systems. Insofar as tax revenues are used wisely for the common good, I support limited taxation."

Now this is an odd argument. After all, if you don't mind "chipping in" for roads, schools and sewer systems, surely you don't need to be taxed in order to fund such things. You are actually siding with the anarchists on this case and saying that such things can be provided without the coercive influence of taxation.

Saying that you don't mind paying for these things is not an argument in defence of taxation, then. It is an argument that says taxation is unnecessary. If you want to try an argument in defence of taxation, first try thinking of something that the government does that you hate it doing, and then ask yourself why it is OK to be forced to pay for it. For instance, tell us why you think it is right that you should have to pay taxes to fund the Iraq war, or enforcement of the PATRIOT act. Otherwise you are siding with anarcho-capitalists and saying that it should be up to you what you spend your money on.

My second point of confusion is about your claim that there is some sort of dichotomy between law and anarchy, even going so far as to say that "Dismantling legal protections like habeas corpus, for example, isn't conservatism. It's a step toward anarchism" which is completely ridiculous, since habeus corpus is a restriction on government, an attempt to limit the scope of the state.

The central belief in your position on law here seems to be based around your claim that "To help protect us from the worst impulses of human nature and from the excesses of government, laws are necessary." Here here! I thoroughly, and utterly agree.

And I am an anarchist.

Now, tell me, if there needs to be laws to protect us against the excesses of government, who is to decide what those laws are? Legislatures? Who is to decide when they have been broken? Courts? And who is to enforce them? The police?

In the end, you have contradicted yourself: If you support the rule of law, you are an anarchist. This is quite simply because if you support the rule of law, and the use of law to constrain government, you necessarily have to believe that the task of creating, adjudicating, and enforcing laws ought not to be left up to the government. It should not be monopolised by a single institution. But, since Weber, the accepted definition of a state is as an organisation with a monopoly on the use of legitimate force. When anarcho-capitalists attack the government and want it abolished, they want to abolish that "institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area" (Ayn Rand). Well, the "certain rules of social conduct" in question here, is the law. And if you want the law to be enforced against the government, then surely you want institutions that are not the government to enforce that law. But if you want that, then you want it to be the case that there is not an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce laws, and so no government. And no government is anarchy. Therefore, you must be an anarchist.

The only alternative is that we should trust the government to for some reason enforce the law against itself. Now THAT reminds me of your statement, "They must mean self-regulating in the sense that foxes are self-regulating in a henhouse"!

Richard Garner

Now, frankly, I did not expect a reply, so I was surprised and flattered to recieve one. Lisa Jones sent the following email:

Hi Richard -- I'm not sure how familiar you are with government in the U.S. You seem to think that government is a closed loop -- government makes laws about government which government then enforces. What you forget is the role of the people and electoral process. For example, officials can be recalled by intervention of the electorate. Ours is a system of checks and balances in which private individuals and public officials all play a role.

As for not minding to chip in for public roads -- if you use roads, schools, etc. you ought to chip in too. I have no problem paying to subsidize people who are unable to pay, but I have a problem subsidizing people like you who are unwilling to pay due to your delicate anarchist principles. In the U.S. we call people like you freeloaders. Pony up or shut up.

Government is necessary to safeguard and manage public assets. What's your big idea for handling water and sewage systems in a city? Letting ten different private companies dig up streets and yards to lay pipe to compete for water and sewer dollars? That's just stupid.

Anarchy is a nice theory. It's fun to debate, maybe. But it has no application to reality. Sorry to burst your bubble.


So, it now behooves me to respond to this!


Thanks for the response. I honestly didn't expect one, and so I am flattered that you took the time out. Needless to say, though, there are things that need to be said in response.

You say,

I'm not sure how familiar you are with government in the U.S. You seem to think that government is a closed loop -- government makes laws about government which government then enforces. What you forget is the role of the people and electoral process. For example, officials can be recalled by intervention of the electorate.

It is indeed one of the advantages of your system of government, and one that makes it in many was superior to others, that some officials can be recalled. However, first off, presidents cannot be.

Moreover, a revote for a politician simply reveals how odd the electoral process is. You obviously believe that government ought to exist in order to provide some benefit for the general public, some goods or services. But in what way can elections be a sensible way of organising this?

The first and obvious point is, suppose there was a recall, as in California with the election of governor Schwartzenegger. What is the result? Did every single person in California back Schwartzenegger? Of course not. Some voted for the Democratic candidate. Some voted for third party candidates. So now we clearly have people in california living under a governer that they didn't want and may still not want.

You may say, "ah but it is just obvious that the minority has to make concessions to the majority." First of all, that presumes that Schwartzenegger got a majority of votes. He may have got more votes than anyother representative, but did he get more votes than all others combined? And did he get more votes than all the others combined, plus all those who thought none of the candidates were worth spending their vote on. So, I doubt this is a concession to a majority, but just a concession to the largest group.

However, even if it were true, it is not true that the minority must make concessions to the majority. The majority of people vastly prefers Britney Spears to Bad Religion, and more especially, the Dead Kennedys. And yet the needs of those who prefer the Dead Kennedys is still represented. They can go out and get their preferred CDs with exactly the same ease as Britney Spears fans can. Now, as I say, you seem to see government as existing to provide service, and yet you have simply identified an example as to why the nature of government processes compared to alternatives creates problems that do not face the alternatives.

Add to this the fact that voters are much worse informed than consumers of CDs. Or cars. I can compare what the Republican party did in presidency with from 2000 until now with what the Democrats did with the presidency from 1992 until 2000 (my years are probably wrong, but you get my point). I cannot compare the job the Republicans are doing with the presidency now with the job the Democrats are doing with it now. And yet I can compare Fords from 2000 with GM cars in 2000, with Volkswagens in 2000, with Toyotas in 2000, etc, etc, etc. It surely would not be a a good system for providing all the services the automobile provides to say that I can only compare what two manufacturers have done, and even then I cannot compare identical time slices!

On top of that, in the electoral process consumers can only accept package deals. A voter cannot say, "well, I want policies 1-3 of candidate X, 4-6 of candidate Y, and 7-10 of candidate Z." This type of arrangement is actually illegal in private industry - it was one of the criticisms laid against Bill Gates and Microsoft that you couldn't buy Windows without buying Internet Explorer. And yet that is precisiely how elections operate.

On top of this, you ignore issues such as "market failure," which in government prcesses is perhaps better called "government failure," and yet operates the same way. You neglect the fact that laws to improve society as a whole rather than benefit a special interest are public goods, and so will be undersupplied, whilst special interest laws are more nearly private goods, and so will be oversupplied. You ignore the fact that costs of providing policies to particular beneficiaries are always externalised. You forget that the benefits of special interest laws are highly concentrated and visible, whilst their costs are widely dispersed and hard to see. The consequence of all this is that public policy is far more likely to be aimed at promoting the interests of special interests, especially corporate interests, than the general good. And that is because it is how democracy works

You also write,

Ours is a system of checks and balances in which private individuals and public officials all play a role.

Right, but the "checks and balances" are a sham, because they are all a part of the government. As Bryan Caplan notes,

Competition checks the abuse of power. Indeed, our system of federalism and division of powers purports to do precisely that. But it is hard to deny that US history reveals (1) cooperation (or "collusion") between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to enlarge the power of the federal government, and (2) growing federal dominance over state and local governments

Murray Rothbard echoes this:

Certainly, the most ambitious attempt in history to impose limits on the State was the Bill of Rights and other restrictive parts of the United States Constitution. Here, written limits on government became the fundamental law, to be interpreted by a judiciary supposedly inde­pendent of the other branches of government. All Americans are familiar with the process by which John C. Calhoun's prophetic analysis has been vindicated; the State's own monopoly judiciary has inexorably broadened the construction of State power over the last century and a half.

The trick is that whilst a judgement of "unconstitutional" may be a powerful means to challenge the legitimacy of a government endeavour, the judgement "constitutional" serves as a powerful endorsement. It is indeed a fear for those in government that they may be prevented from doing what they want to do by some citizen who stands up and says, "wait, it doesn't say that you can do that in the Constitution, and doing that is unConstitutional." And yet, as Rothbard contiues,

This danger is averted, Black adds, by the State's propounding the doctrine that some one agency must have the ultimate decision on constitu­tionality, and that this agency must be part of the federal government itself. For while the seeming independence of the federal judiciary has played a vital role in making its actions virtual Holy Writ for the bulk of the population, it is also true that the judiciary is part and parcel of the government apparatus and is appointed by the executive and legislative branches. Professor Black concedes that the government has thereby set itself up as a judge in its own case, and has thus violated a basic juridical principle for arriving at any kind of just decision. But Black is remarkably lighthearted about this fundamental breach: "The final power of the State… must stop where the law stops it. And who shall set the limit, and who shall enforce the stopping, against the mightiest power? Why, the State itself, of course, through its judges and its laws. Who controls the temperate? Who teaches the wise?…"

Ask yourself, who pays for the Supreme Court? Who appoints Supreme Court judges? Who enforces supreme court decisions (Recall Andrew Jackson's famous response to Supreme Court opposition to some of his activities, "well, that's their decisions; now let them enforce it")? Who judges the Constitutionality of the Supreme Court's resolutions? Where do you go if you think the Supreme Court is courrupt? As Rothbard concludes,

There is a myth that the "American System" provides a superb set of "checks and balances," with the executive, the legislature, and the courts all balancing and checking one against the other, so that power cannot unduly accumulate in one set of hands. But the American "checks and balances" system is largely a fraud. For each one of these institutions is a coercive monopoly in its area, and all of them are part of one government, headed by one political party at any given time. Furthermore, at best there are only two parties, each one close to the other in ideology and personnel, often colluding, and the actual day-to-day business of government headed by a civil service bureaucracy that cannot be displaced by the voters.... What would keep the free-market judges and courts honest is the lively possibility of heading down the block or down the road to another judge or court if suspicion should descend on any particular one. What would keep them honest is the lively possibility of their customers cutting off their business. These are the real, active checks and balances of the free-market economy and the free society.

The same analysis applies to the possibility of a private police force becoming outlaw, of using their coercive powers to exact tribute, set up a "protection racket" to shake down their victims, etc. Of course, such a thing could happen. But, in contrast to present-day society, there would be immediate checks and balances available; there would be other police forces who could use their weapons to band together to put down the aggressors against their clientele. If the Metropolitan Police Force should become gangsters and exact tribute, then the rest of society could flock to the Prudential, Equitable, etc., police forces who could band together to put them down. And this contrasts vividly with the State. If a group of gangsters should capture the State apparatus, with its monopoly of coercive weapons, there is nothing at present that can stop them—short of the immensely difficult process of revolution.

For an explicit example of just how mythical your pretend system of "checks and balances" comes from Alberto Gonzales,

Comments made by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in his former capacity as White House counsel, have some conservatives warning that he would be the wrong choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"The Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is," Gonzales responded in the summer of 2003 when asked by Dr. John Willkie, president of the Life Issues Institute, to comment on whether the document that created the U.S. government addressed the issue of abortion.

The Constitution says what the Supreme Court says it says. Is whatever the government wants to do legal? Yes, if the supreme court decides it is. What kind of a check on power is that? But what are you gonna do? You can't get somebody else's interpretation on what the law says, because, (A) the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court and nobody else gets to judge the legality or illegality of the government's action, or those of anybody else, excpet it. And (B) nobody else is entitled to have their view of the law enforced. Therefore, the law is whatever the Supreme Court says it is.

And this is your "Rule of Law"!!!!!!!!

You then go on to say,

As for not minding to chip in for public roads -- if you use roads, schools, etc. you ought to chip in too. I have no problem paying to subsidize people who are unable to pay, but I have a problem subsidizing people like you who are unwilling to pay due to your delicate anarchist principles. In the U.S. we call people like you freeloaders. Pony up or shut up.

Exactly. I agree. So what you are saying is that roads, schools, etc. should be provided privately, charging user fees, and for anybody who is unable to pay, there should be charitable support. In that case, you are on the sides of anarchists.

The trouble is that you don't really mean that at all. You want schools to be provided free at the point of access out of general taxation, meaning that the bill for paying them is forced on those that don't use them. You want petrol taxes, road taxes, etc. and other forms of general taxation to pay for all roads, meaning that some people are forced to pay for roads that they may never drive on, and that they are forced to pay the same amount for roads that they seldom use as for roads they use regularly.

Moireover, you forget that government has gcrouded out competition in these services due to it unfair competition. If it is unfair competition to subsidise foreign export so that multi-nationals undercut, say, African farmers, then it is unfair competition to subsidise Public Schools so that they can provide their servies for "free" and thereby undercut private schools. The same goes for roads. Add to this all the means by which governments regulate competition out of existence, or behind very tough barriers, and you get the conclusion: Governments schools and roads, etc. are areas where the state has a coercive monopoly. In effect, then, anybody who wants to use a road is forced to use a government road. Anybody who wants to use a school, is forced to use a government school.

So you advocate a system where people are forced to consume government services, and then call them "free-loaders" and dub them as unfair and immoral if they decide they don't want to pay for these services they are being forced to consume! Imagine if a ganster robbed the general neighbourhood, used the proceeds of the robbery to fund his friend's grocery store, so that his friend could undercut any competitor and put them out of business. In such a situation, the people in the neighbourhood would have little choice, if they wanted groceries, to go to the store of the gangster's friend. Now you say that if they do, then they should not complain about being robbed by the gangster!

You finally conclude,

Government is necessary to safeguard and manage public assets. What's your big idea for handling water and sewage systems in a city? Letting ten different private companies dig up streets and yards to lay pipe to compete for water and sewer dollars? That's just stupid.

It is stupid indeed. So why do you think that road owners will sacrifice lost revenue in order to close roads and let water companies do it? Why do you think that home owners will just let water companies dig up their yards to do it? In the end, this is a stupid example. Roads will only be dug up to lay pipes when it is more valuable to the water company to lay pipes than it is for road owners to have their roads open to road users. And since road owners value road users as paying customers, and customers pay for roads when being able to use a road is more valuable to them than being use their money on anything else, this means that roads will close to allow waterpipes to be laid when water users are willing to pay a price higher than road users are. And, of course this would not be a permanent arrangement, since once the pipes are laid, the road can open again.

A historical example of private provision of water and sanitation can be found in Stephen Davies Private Supply of 'Public Goods' in Nineteenth Century Britain. You'll find that in the real world, things are quite different from how your scornful manner portrays them. In fact, in that example, government is the problem, not the solution.

Richard Garner

Let's see what Lisa's response to this will be!


Blogger margretflynn8035 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Hey, you've got a great blog! You might be interested in my site, where I cover issues of home equity loans and penis enlargement!

Seriously, you were probably Jones' first exposure to a serious argument that went beyond her "taxes are the price we pay for civilization" and "but what would we do without roads?" picture of reality. So you should probably expect her to be perplexed.

Ironically, anarcho-commie types get *exactly* the same reaction from technocratic liberals, who apparently can't conceive of anything being administered from the bottom-up by voluntary associations.

And they mightily resent any New Leftish critique of corporate liberalism that casts doubt on their belief that (as Clinton put it) "Government is just all of us working together." Uh, yeah--just like a big Amish barn-raising, only with black-uniformed pigs in kevlar vests, administrative law tribunals, spies and executioners.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Lol! kevin! I seriously thought someone was spamming with your name until I read your second sentence more closely!

True, Jones was a hack - I got a second response, and will post it, but it simply showed that she didn't even read what I had to say.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:21 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

So what was her re-reply? I can't wait to see it...

12:10 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Gekko, I'm sorry - Jones sent another response, but due to technical mess ups in my Outlook Express program, I lost it. Anyway, in the jist of it, she smeared private protection agencies as "mafia protection rackets" (which seems to be the intuititive leap many people take, forgetting that their shopping malls, department stores, banks, etc. etc. are policed by private companies!)

She said that it was my contention that the Constititution says whatever the supreme court decides it says, forcing me to repeat that it was actually Gonzales contention. But I then asked her to refute me and tell me who she could take her case to if she disagreed with the constitutionality of a supreme court ruling.

She said that she likes the system of checks and balances that exists in the US, effectively repeating the same argument she used in the "people don't mind chipping in to pay for roads" argument. I responded by telling her that the question wasn't whether she liked it, but why those that don't should be forced to pay for it and accept its "services." If people in the US were free to choose that system of checks and balances and did so because they preferred it, then we would have anarchism. But they are not free to choose it, but have it forced on them.


12:42 AM  

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