Steady as she goes

Many people, including myself, often criticize Marxism/communism/socialism on the grounds that it has been tried in the past and has failed. For contemporary socialists to still support these same ideologies even after they have been repeatedly tested seems unreasonably utopian and naive.

Yet I sometimes wonder whether libertarians, especially anarcho-capitalists, aren't guilty of a similar thing. The fact that no genuinely libertarian societies exist today leaves us with two problems. If such societies existed in the past, why did they fail? And if genuinely libertarian societies never existed, what does that imply about their potential to exist in the future? This may not be quite as bad as the failed experiments of communism, but it should give us some pause.

A common libertarian response is that free societies would work and/or have worked, but that governments ruin the picnic. As Roderick Long wrote in a review of Anthony de Jasay's Justice and Its Surroundings,

De Jasay concludes that the problem with stateless social orders is not that they are inherently unworkable, but rather that ?states stop them from emerging, and intrude upon them when they do emerge? (p. 15). It is difficult to know what moral the anarchists among us should draw from this conclusion. On the one hand, de Jasay brings us the cheery news that social order can be maintained without a state. On the other hand, he observes more gloomily that stateless social orders have not succeeded in holding their own against predatory states. Is protection against the state, then, one good that markets have trouble supplying? One would like to hear more from de Jasay about this apparent instance of market failure.

It's encouraging to see that I am not the only one troubled by this problem. Patri Friedman recently noticed the same thing:

This makes me wonder if I've uncovered an element of hypocrisy in the libertarian vision, or at least wishful thinking. Libertarians sneer at socialists for ignoring aspects of reality that don't fit their ideals, like the fact that people won't work very hard if decreased effort yields the same reward. Or that centrally planned economies are far less efficent than decentralized markets. And libertarians are right about these flaws in socialist visions. But don't libertarian visions ignore aspects of reality that don't fit their ideals too? How about all the theories about why governments spring up, grow, and flourish: rational ignorance, the problem of dispersed vs. concentrated interests, the free rider problem, public choice theory? How are these empirically observed and theoretically sensible effects any different than their socialist counterparts? What is the point in proposing systems that are efficient if they are unstable?

I think efficiency is better understood than stability, and that is part of why our blind spot is the latter. But it also seems to me that part of the difference is psychological. In the minds of socialists, people "ought" to work the same amount no matter what their direct return, and "ought" to be less efficient when blindly pursuing self-interest instead of working to some master plan. In the minds of many libertarians, governments "ought" not to exhibit ratcheted growth, special interests "ought" not to be able to manipulate any system to transfer wealth from dispersed interests, and so forth. So each side designs and dreams of systems for their falsely angelic world. But only by ignoring aspects of reality that make the dreamer uncomfortable can it be imagined that these systems work, or will be stable, or would ever come to pass in the real world. Thus each side laughs at the other's unrealistic visions...

We will not bring about a more efficient, libertarian world without finding ways to change societal equilibria and design systems that are efficient *and* stable. Making converts is not the solution, since even if we convince people to try a libertarian system, it will devolve like all the rest. We have to admit that big government is an equilibrium, understand why, and figure out if there are feasible equilibria that are better.

This is partly why I think focusing on the moral "ought" questions is a waste of time and leads to utopianism. I say this not because I wish to justify or excuse any rights-violations that might trouble a moral-libertarian. It's just that ethics doesn't take us very far and may blind libertarians in the same way it has blinded some socialists. If you passionately believe that profits and inequality are immoral then you are less likely to notice whether a system devoid of profits and inequality doesn't actually work in practice. If libertarians focus too much on rights and not enough on stability and equilibria, the same may be true for them.

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Brings to mind some

Brings to mind some potential book titles:
"No Government Via Total Government", By Karl Marx"
or
"Murray Rothbard Goes To Arabia"

John T. Kennedy has covered

John T. Kennedy has covered this issue rather well with:

A porcupine's worth its price
http://no-treason.com/Kennedy/3.html

The revolution will be all business
http://www.anti-state.com/kennedy/kennedy4.html

Marketing market anarchism
http://anti-state.com/article.php?article_id=156

Economic Secession
http://anti-state.com/article.php?article_id=395

And just in case someone disagrees with the conclusions above, they should ask themselves this: realistically, how many people could answer this quiz (http://no-treason.com/laissezfirearm/quiz.htm) correctly? *That's* how many people will be impressed by argument.

Can you see Libertarians

Can you see Libertarians killing 100,000,000 people? I won't seriously consider any equivalence arguments until they do.

Paul Birch torched the

Paul Birch torched the feasibility of JTK's economic secession arguments on the anti-state.com boards months ago, and I've yet to see any response from JTK about it. As long as most people think the state is a legitimate organisation doing legitimate things, you won't be able to challenge its power and win. The state has far more resources at its disposal.

http://anti-state.com/forum/index.php?board=7;action=display;threadid=4485

And just in case someone disagrees with the conclusions above, they should ask themselves this: realistically, how many people could answer this quiz (http://no-treason.com/laissezfirearm/quiz.htm) correctly? *That's* how many people will be impressed by argument.

Whether or not people are convinced by libertarian arguments is irrelevant to whether or not economic secession will work. It's possible that neither will work.

- Josh

"Paul Birch torched the

"Paul Birch torched the feasibility of JTK's economic secession arguments on the anti-state.com boards months ago..."

Almost. I am surprised that Birch's unspoken assumption that governments *always* act to defend their existence and that it is *always* effective went unchallenged, though. While he is correct in most cases, sometimes states are unwilling/unable to look out for their own survival. The DDR and Yugoslavia come to immediate mind.

"Whether or not people are convinced by libertarian arguments is irrelevant to whether or not economic secession will work. It's possible that neither will work."

You're quite right.

Almost. I am surprised that

Almost. I am surprised that Birch's unspoken assumption that governments *always* act to defend their existence and that it is *always* effective went unchallenged, though. While he is correct in most cases, sometimes states are unwilling/unable to look out for their own survival. The DDR and Yugoslavia come to immediate mind.

I'm having a Stupid Day. What's DDR?

And while Yugoslavia is an example of a state that wasn't able to keep from dissolving, it was also delegitimised in the eyes of the people. The people didn't think Yugoslavia should exist anymore. I'm not sure Paul made it clear or not, but I thought it was understood from the context of the thread, that Kennedy is proposing that we will be able to cripple the state while most people still support it by hiding our income streams and purchases. If most people support the state, the state will crack down and crush that sort of opposition without too much trouble. If most people don't, there's no reason to sneak your money around, as people will throw a fit when the state comes after you anyway.

Of course, this goes back to what I think needs to happen: minds need to change. And that won't happen without evangelism.

- Josh

"What's DDR?" East

"What's DDR?"

East Germany.

Yeah, that is what Kennedy seems to think, though his article doesn't mention it specifically.

"Of course, this goes back to what I think needs to happen: minds need to change. And that won't happen without evangelism."

Perhaps. I discount evangelism alone, though. Until individuals can sucessfully defend their production from a group, far more people will be democrats (small "d") than anarchists. The idea of the free lunch won't go away until the lunch does.