Saturday, February 24, 2007

For the Curious

I've been trying to come up with some explanations, but I think this says it pretty well.

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11 Comments:

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Josh Gould said...

This doesn't really work for me (not surprisingly). Argument by analogy is, I suppose, a decent start, as is the Socratic Method, but moral propositions are useful guides for individual action, not for determining the fundamental structure of society.

Consider:
You see, if we want to help the poor – or the sick, or the old, or whoever – then we’ll just do it, and we don’t need the government to force us to do it.

This is rather naive, not least because one can argue that helping those who cannot help themselves is a moral duty so long as it does not place undue sacrifice upon yourself. Even if enough people are sick or poor or otherwise in need, that may not cause enough other people with sufficient resources to actually do anything. Worse, many might assume that someone else should help out, and we quickly end up issues surrounding free riders and significant collective action problems.

All of this is a vast oversimplification, but it strikes me that the entire libertarian (and anarchist) project suffers from being prescriptive. Why, after all, do we live in state societies rather than strictly voluntary associations?

In some ways, I'm not entirely clear on your position, Mike. Is abolition of the State what you have in mind? Or something less radical? I don't think these sorts of propositions should (or can) be separated from why these political structures exist in the first place. Jared Diamond has some ideas, as do many others.

In an anarchist society, how are disputes mediated? Are there laws? Is there property? (and if there is, how is it guaranteed without law, backed by an enforcement mechanism?)

All rather pertinent questions, methinks.

(And for the record, that Stefan uses the phrase "fog of statism" which is rather begging the question.)

 
At 8:42 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Ha! I almost named this post "For Josh" because I knew you'd respond.

"In some ways, I'm not entirely clear on your position, Mike. Is abolition of the State what you have in mind? "

Yes.

But of course do not mistake "the state" for "government". One can have government - self-management, local voluntary participatory democracy. But of course, it would be voluntary and those who did not agree with decisions, would simply not take part nor be forced to pay. As for property, there is some debate as to the nature of property, but the real point in an anarchist society would be that multiple forms would co-exist, so long as those taking part voluntarily agree. So one community would have private property like we have no, on may have an idea based on usage ("mixing your labour with the land"), some may have communal ideas of property. All, so far as I have found, agree that personal chattels - cars, books, houses, etc - are private property.

Enforcement would be a matter of those who specialize in settling these things operating in a the market. A common law tradition would still develop and exist.

"why these political structures exist in the first place."

For me it is mere historical "habit" than a natural extension of human behaviour. We have been evolving toward more freedom for years, from absolute rulers, kings and autocrats who enforced their will with violence to representative democracies that still enforce their will with more subtle violence, but violence none the less - and highly centralized power, far more centralized than ever. I see anarchism as merely the next logical step - removing the last vestiges of hierarchical rule and genuinely allowing people to live in a decentralized, free society.

At any rate, my point with this link was not to post the "See! See! Gotcha!" reasoning, but to show, in an entertaining, snarky way, the illogic behind how most of us think.

I am not trying to convert anyone, I just want people to see why I made the shift, because for me, it really wasn't that much of a shift. Also I suspect "the fog of statism" is a play on the "fog of war" saying...its hard to see the big picture when you are caught in the middle of it.

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Mike said...

"why these political structures exist in the first place.

BTW, this exact argument was used to justify slavery 150 years ago, but you would not accept it now, would you? Apply that to the existence of the institution of the state.

 
At 1:08 AM, Blogger Declan said...

"Enforcement would be a matter of those who specialize in settling these things operating in the market."

You're not a big fan of mob movies, are you? :)

More seriously, I recommend reading Jane Jacobs, 'Systems of Survival'. It does a good job separating commercial activities like shopping from government activities like policing and explaining how and (to some extent) why they have entirely different moral codes and describes how attempting to graft one system onto the other (e.g. applying commercial morals and methods to governance) leads to intractable corruption and the creation of 'monstrous hybrids' such as the communist state (government taking over the powers of commerce) or organized crime syndicates (market actors taking on governance roles).

Beyond the difficulties with confusing the roles of government and market, I guess the questions you would have without the state is who would encourage behavior with positive externalities? Who would discourage behavior with negative externalities. Who would manage those segments of the economy where market failure is common? Who would take care of the mentally ill, people with bad judgement, addictions, etc.? Basically these are the same concerns Josh raised about collective action problems and free riders and so on.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Declan,

"You're not a big fan of mob movies, are you? :)"

He he, actually I am. Of course, the reason the mob can exist is because of the state making some of these things illegal, thus preventing open information exchange, the ability to find alternate means of conflict resolution etc. Alcohol prohibition is the classic example - when made illegal by the state, organized crime moves in to fill the demand, but in an underground way where the actors have no "legitimate" recourse when things go wrong - violence and "Good Fellas" negotiation are the only option. You'll notice the mob doesn't run much booze these days. The same could be applied to drugs and gambling and make the 'mob' as we know it a lot less powerful. Indeed, with no laws per se, and everything allowed, using violence becomes a liability and has negative economic consequences, making it less likely to be used.

I think I need to qualify that when I refer to a "free market" I am not advocating the same thing as right wing corporate apologists or CATO institute-loving "vulgar libertarians" advocate. Far from it. Merely the free, voluntary interactions between individuals and like minded groups - Prodhon, Bakunin, Tucker, Karl Hess etc. Worker owned factories, cooperatives, sole proprietors shops etc. Without the power of the state, many (if not most) super large corporations - Walmart, Microsoft, Boeing - simply would not exist. The market and the actors within it would be small and decentralized. On that scale, where local producers are also local consumers, I suspect that it would be in people's economic interest to "encourage behaviour with positive externalities" and "discourage behaviour with negative externalities". That's not to say that large enterprises wouldn't exist, but they would certainly be organized differently, with more diffuse power structures. A perfect example, actually is the Canadian Wheat Board, in its original form - an organization created by Western wheat farmers for western wheat farmers run by western wheat farmers that worked quite well before it was taken over by the state (it worked quite well after that too because the government basically left it alone).

"Who would take care of the mentally ill, people with bad judgement, addictions, etc.?"

Well again, I have more faith in human nature - I think a lot of people would be more than willing to help, and would be able to because they could give more than just money - volunteering their labour, trading and bartering. They would be able to take ownership, if you will, of such problems, rather than doing what they do now - "the government will take of this so I don't have to" method of disassociating from it, using it as an excuse to do nothing and abdicating responsibility.

Don't think I'm utopian in all this Declan, I'm not. I know there will be problems, but I honestly think now that the state is causing more problems than it solves and that a society without a state would still be better than what we have. Problems yes, but a lot less of them and those that exist would be less severe.

I know its hard to get your head around. Have a look at Kevin Carson's blog (Mutualist Blog) and checkout some of his writings.

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger Josh Gould said...

I haven't had much of a chance to craft a response yet, but I can think of several objections to the feasibility of a state-less society.

The first is the problem of population density - how are conflicts resolved when the community is large enough that many people are effectively anonymous from each other? How would public works be organized (roads, sewers, hydro, sanitation) in a city or even a large town?

The second is the division of labour and the complexity of modern industrial society - you've mentioned that you would do away with the "last vestiges of hierarchical rule" yet organizational hierarchies are everywhere. Given the potential for market failure - and the relationship of said failure to corporations, governments, and other Big Organizations - how does a strictly voluntary society deal with it?

Something like the CWB is in fact a textbook case of the problems of market failure and free riders. It was from the very beginning empowered by and related to government. But, you're right - for the most part it has been left to its own devices (e.g. the farmers who vote for its board), barring recent sorry examples. Yet the current debates seem to revolve around a minority of farmers who want to benefit both from the CWB's marketing power while also getting higher prices privately. In sufficient numbers, the latter will undermine the former - the very epitome of the free rider phenomenon.

Well, this is winding up longer than I'd intended. Then again, it's a rather large topic. One more thing:

Well again, I have more faith in human nature...

Aha! That means I get to base arguments in human nature too! Hehe ;)

I tend to share your faith in the basic goodness of people... but that's tempered by the fact (and I'll call it a fact) that there are usually enough people around who aren't so good and who tend to screw things up for everyone else. In Leviathan, it isn't that Hobbes needed everyone to be an appetite-driven, thoughtless jerk, but rather that a few people fail to adhere to social custom, and in so doing provoke that "war of all against all" that made life "nasty, brutish, and short."

I'm not quite the pessimist that Hobbes was, but I see his point. In any case, what you propose is a social revolution of rather unparalleled scope. My thinking is that such a revolution would change our lives considerably, not necessarily a bad or good thing, but I imagine that the consequences are not all that predictable. Complex systems often tend to unexpected behaviour... a theme for my masters thesis, anyway! :)

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger Mike said...

"The first is the problem of population density - how are conflicts resolved when the community is large enough that many people are effectively anonymous from each other? How would public works be organized (roads, sewers, hydro, sanitation) in a city or even a large town?"

A community can be a community of communities (yeah I know...just go with me). The point is that a voluntary community, which itself may be a voluntary part of a larger community. So your community could be your neighbourhood, your building, your block, your union your church...you can be anonymous if you want, but likely will not. The community can then decide for themselves about roads, utilities etc and contract to have them built. And really, were aren't talking about a clean slate here - the roads and things we have aren't going anywhere.

"The second is the division of labour and the complexity of modern industrial society - you've mentioned that you would do away with the "last vestiges of hierarchical rule" yet organizational hierarchies are everywhere. Given the potential for market failure - and the relationship of said failure to corporations, governments, and other Big Organizations - how does a strictly voluntary society deal with it? "

So long as the division of labour is agreed upon by the parties involved, and no party involved uses any kind of coersion or has an unfair balance of power, hierarchically organization can be fine. Examples include those explained here , coops like Mondragon and regions like Emilia Romagna (lots more from Kevin Carson, who loves to gather this stuff. These are some examples of how this is, and has been, done now. The recovered businesses of Argentina are other examples.

So yes, it is a rather large topic but I have no problem discussing it. I did consider all your points well before I decided that, for me, a stateless society was a much better social model. Feel free to read what I have linked to, and follow the links off of that.

I'm not trying to convince you I am right, but merely explaining how I cam to the conclusion I did. As for Leviathan, well, I don't buy it. There is an evolutionary basis for cooperation and altruism that rebuts Hobbes, in my opinion. Dead philosopher vs observable science - you decide.

;)

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Jay said...

Josh, if "moral propositions are useful guides for individual action, not for determining the fundamental structure of society" then certainly the welfare state can't be justified by an appeal to moral duty.

"Why, after all, do we live in state societies rather than strictly voluntary associations?"

In other words, why do people live in involuntary rather than voluntary associations? Er, maybe it's because by definition they are _forced_ into joining them? Can you think of any modern state on the face of the earth that didn't come about through the conquest or displacement of its original residents?

Declan, think your mob analogy through a little more. What, fundamentally, separates a well organized mafia from the state? If the mob offers you "protection" services in exchange for not burning your house down are you morally obliged to pay? If they allow you to select a new mafia don every four years and otherwise keep the neighbourhood free of crime, are they a legitimate entity yet, in your opinion? How much further would they have to go?

As far as free rider and collective action problems go, I am of the opinion that restraining government is the biggest free rider problem of them all. For all the talk of market failure, people seem to give precious little thought to the problem of "government failure".

P.S. Molyneux's podcasts are quite excellent (check out "Loving the Left"). He's got almost 600 available on his site, many of which deal specifically with the questions that keep coming up here.

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger Josh Gould said...

Josh, if "moral propositions are useful guides for individual action, not for determining the fundamental structure of society" then certainly the welfare state can't be justified by an appeal to moral duty.

A rather flippant conclusion from a rather flimsy premise - a far more complex debate than simply claiming that an appeal to more duty can't impose an obligation.

"Why, after all, do we live in state societies rather than strictly voluntary associations?"

In other words, why do people live in involuntary rather than voluntary associations? Er, maybe it's because by definition they are _forced_ into joining them? Can you think of any modern state on the face of the earth that didn't come about through the conquest or displacement of its original residents?


When I ask "why" I am not doing so in the normative sense. But the historical question remains: why do human beings almost everywhere live in states? It is not the case that a small group of people one day decided to force everyone else to live under their rule - groups hunter-gatherers didn't one day allow one guy tell them to start planting crops and allow him and all his decendents to be their king.

You may as well ask why people live with their families as children - it's hardly a question of an involuntary versus a volutary association, but simply where we end up by chance. But no one ever forced me to live in a state - I was born into one, as we all were!

Now, we could just say that we live in states because we have always lived in states. Ever since early agricultural societies reached a certain threshold of complexity, these states have continued on. Whether you can draw any conclusion about the necessity or desirability of that sort of social organization is an entirely different question, but the historical fact remains.

In any case, states are not and have never been required for one human population to overwhelm, displace, or eradicate another. Our ancient ancestors did not require civilization in any form we would recognize to eliminate the neanderthals, nor did early agricultural societies require centralized authority to displace or absorb nearby hunter-gatherers.

Okay, enough of that for now!

Declan, think your mob analogy through a little more. What, fundamentally, separates a well organized mafia from the state? If the mob offers you "protection" services in exchange for not burning your house down are you morally obliged to pay? If they allow you to select a new mafia don every four years and otherwise keep the neighbourhood free of crime, are they a legitimate entity yet, in your opinion? How much further would they have to go?

States operate on the basis of law, and a legitimate state does not allow its rulers to be exempt from the law. It is nothing more than hyperbole in the most extreme to argue that, for instance, Canadian politicians operate in some extra-legal environment. There are good states and very bad states - the existence of the latter is not clear evidence that the institutions of law - the state - are inherently evil or bad. That argument may not go far with an anarchist/libertarian, but it is not unsound.

As far as free rider and collective action problems go, I am of the opinion that restraining government is the biggest free rider problem of them all. For all the talk of market failure, people seem to give precious little thought to the problem of "government failure".

How is restraining government an example of a collective action problem in which rational actors may conclude that there are stronger incentive not to engage in cooperation? You can't twist or invent definitions to suit your argument.

 
At 5:23 PM, Blogger Jay said...

"States operate on the basis of law, and a legitimate state does not allow its rulers to be exempt from the law"

Ever hear of sovereign immunity? In any event, States do lots of things that an average person (or group of people) would go to jail for such as extortion, kidnapping and murder. Statists like to call them taxes or licenses, prisons and war. In this sense, the State is over and above the laws that constrain its own citizens.

The origins of the contemporary nation state is indeed a fascinating topic. Although he wasn't an anarchist, Mancur Olson speculated this was due to roving bandits converting to stationary bandits - i.e. instead on moving from town to town plundering the population, he sets up shop and siphons off some of the economic productivity in exchange for protection from roving bandits. De La Boetie also hinted at convention as a powerful motivator in "Discourse on Involuntary Servitude"

As for the public goods problem of government, I'm not twisting or inventing anything - it's part of the fundamental fallacy of government.

Trying to control government entails serious incentive problems (see also Public Choice Theory). If OilyMcHalliburton stands to profit $100M from some particular piece of legislation, they might well be willing to spend $99M in direct and indirect lobbying to get it done. The cost to the individual citizen on the other hand is a few cents on the tax bill, so why would a rational actor drag himself through endless letter writing campaigns and committee meetings if the return on the effort is likely to be negligible?

 
At 12:42 AM, Blogger Stefan Molyneux, MA said...

Come by and have a listen to the 'stateless society' podcasts at www.freedomainradio.com!

All the best,

Stef

 

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