I Pick C, with a Crucial Modifier

In response to Gabriel Syme's question, the answer is market anarchy. What separates market anarchism from the everyday usage of anarchy are cultural traditions which result in a respect of natural rights, a knowledge among a large portion of the populace of the long term benefits of cooperation, but most of all, a robust market for the provision of the economic goods of personal protection, dispute adjudication, and law enforcement.

The reasons why an armed individual who just wishes to be left alone will last longer in a market anarchy are simple yet very difficult to understand, even for the most radical of libertarians, because many who come to libertarianism via philosopical reasoning are not used to thinking in economic terms. There are at least two reasons why individuals would more easily be able to own guns in a market anarchy. Both arise from strong market incentives to protect gun ownership.

Gun Ownership Allows Individuals to Partially Absorb Defense Costs

As an analogy, most people can understand why it is in the best interests of a car insurance company if its clients drive defensively. Drivers less likely to end up in accidents save the insurance company money, resulting in higher profits. Thus, drivers with poor records are charged higher premiums, whereas drivers who show evidence of safe driving are charged lower premiums. Insurance companies pocket a part of savings while passing on the rest to customers.

In a democratic system, citizens within a given geographical location have no choice in who defends their rights. There is simply one monopolistic government. Although different levels of government may exist, such as local, state, and national, they do not compete with each other. In contrast, under a market anarchy, citizens within a given geographical location would be able to choose competing companies working for profit to defend their rights. I may choose one company to defend my rights; my neighbor might choose another. There is no territorial monopoly on the service of rights protection.

In such a system of competing personal protection agencies, customers who own guns would likely be more highly valued than customers who did not. The gun owner similarly saves the private defense agency (PDA) money by owning the gun and thus partially partaking in his own defense. All things being equal, an armed individual requires less outside defense than an unarmed individual. Most PDAs would likely encourage their customers to own guns by charging them lower subscription prices than those customers who do not own guns.[1]

In contrast, a democratic government is basically a monopolist protection agency. It does not provide a service in order to seek profit, but rather, raises money via coercive taxation. Since the money it garners via taxation is little impacted by whether its citizens own guns or not, it has no profit motive to allow gun ownership. More likely, it has an incentive to see its citizens without possession of guns so that it can acquire funds for its general operations more readily, reducing the chance of any sort of tax revolt or armed resistance to its monopolistic practices.

Competition Allows Gun Owners Greater Choice and Opportunites for Exit

As a second analogy, most people can understand how businesses that mistreat their customers lose business. If McDonalds started placing poison in its burgers, most customers would stop patronizing McDonalds and switch to Burger King, Wendy's, Arby's, etc. Mistreating its customers hurts McDonald's profits.

Similarly, if a PDA suddenly banned the ownership of personal firearms, its customers who desired the ownership of personal firearms would flock to competing PDAs, hurting its bottom line. It would also be less able to enforce gun control on its remaining clients or forcibly capture fleeing customers due to fewer resources from loss of subscription fee revenues.

If an anti-gun PDA tried to make war on other PDAs that did allow ownership of personal firearms, most of its customers would switch to other PDAs because war is costly. Most customers are probably be willing to pay for defense, but the demand for aggression would be lower precisely because it is costly. Tanks, soldiers willing to die, bombs, guns, ammo, and more all have to be paid for, and these costs will have to be borne by the customers of that PDA. In the event that their PDA declares war on other PDAs for whatever reason, including a dislike of other agencies that allow gun ownership, customers have an incentive to change to non-aggressive PDAs so as to save themselves money. Furthermore, these competing PDAs would thus have more resources with which to fight the aggressive PDA due to higher subscription fee revenues resulting from greater demand for its services.

A PDA has an incentive not to mistreat its clients and take away their guns because it works for a profit. In contrast, a democratic government is a monopolistic defense agency. It will not lose money if it bans the ownership of guns. It customers cannot switch companies without incurring extremely high financial and social costs of moving to a different geographic location that has more favorable gun laws. In a market anarchy, customers do not have to bear these relocation costs, but simply have to pick up the phone and dial up a different PDA.

It is a given that gun owners are safer under democracy than under communism. Democratic leaders can be ousted by their citizens in elections if a majority of citizens are unhappy with their policies, resulting in a modicum of protection from tyranny. Yet, for similar reasons based on greater choice and better incentives, gun owners would be even safer under market anarchy. Any argument in favor of democracy over communism is an even stronger argument in favor of market anarchy over democracy.

Communism is totalitarian rule. Democracy is majoritarian monopolistic rule. Market anarchy is true self rule.


fn1. By extension, PDAs would likely charge higher premiums to customers who own weapons that pose a threat to so many people (nukes, napalm, biological weapons, etc) that the PDA would lose money from liability. Similarly, the PDA would likely charge higher premiums to people with criminal records who own guns, or simply refuse to do business with them.

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Note to readers: Gabriel

Note to readers: Gabriel Syme is not the author of that. The Quiz was written by the late Mark Penman, whose archived work can be found here: The World's Most Direct Political Quiz

Hit that "Up the spout" link on that page for loads more good stuff.

"If an anti-gun PDA tried to

"If an anti-gun PDA tried to make war on other PDAs that did allow ownership of personal firearms, most of its customers would switch to other PDAs because war is costly. Most customers are probably be willing to pay for defense, but the demand for aggression would be lower precisely because it is costly. Tanks, soldiers willing to die, bombs, guns, ammo, and more all have to be paid for, and these costs will have to be borne by the customers of that PDA."

Suppose an agressive PDA funded itself through looting and pillaging instead. Would other PDA's reliably make "agressive war" to stop it? In all cases, even when the agressive PDA's leaders, unlike Hitler, actually has two brain cells to rub together in addition to an evil disposition and doesn't actively seek to accumulate powerful enemies while looting? And if any PDA did step up to the plate, who would pay for that and why, and what about the other free riders?

Assuming those people who

Assuming those people who have been looted and pillaged have contracts with PDAs of their own, then it seems fair to believe those PDAs would either work together or seperately against the aggressor PDA to return the stolen property to the rightful owners.

And if the people who were robbed didn't have contracts with PDAs, they'd still be free to go ahead and contract with one or more after the aggression.

Gutsy defence, Jonathan. I'd

Gutsy defence, Jonathan. I'd pick C over B, too as it is the only logical extension of my belief in the sanctity of individual choice.

It's disappointing to see the minarchists and other libertarian types who should know better jump to the Somalia scenario without thinking things through. I, for one, think the Common Law system that has served the West reasonably well for centuries would hold up just fine on the market even with its coercive funding eliminated. Who knows, maybe even most local police forces and the US army would remain intact, the only difference would be their incentive structures and the ability of customers to opt out. It would not be Somalia by any stretch.

Andy, The best I can do is

Andy,
The best I can do is to present the ideas rationally. If someone wants to call me a "barking moonbat" after that, it's their loss. I think most libertarians, who are used to seeing and arguing about strange ideas, would be open to these arguments.

Ken, Suppose an agressive

Ken,

Suppose an agressive PDA funded itself through looting and pillaging instead. Would other PDA?s reliably make ?agressive war? to stop it? In all cases, even when the agressive PDA?s leaders, unlike Hitler, actually has two brain cells to rub together in addition to an evil disposition and doesn?t actively seek to accumulate powerful enemies while looting? And if any PDA did step up to the plate, who would pay for that and why, and what about the other free riders?

There are two separate but related economic goods in question. My post is about the economic good known as law enforcement. In a system of competing protection agencies, the people who seek out providers and discriminate among competing suppliers garner most of the benefit from doing so. Similarly, suppliers who do an effective job providing law enforcement capture nearly all the benefit of doing so from paying customers. Thus, law enforcement in a polycentric legal system is a private good, not a public good.

The second economic good is territorial defense, which my post did not touch upon. The benefit of people who provide territorial defense is dispersed among all the individuals who live within a given territory, and thus, territorial defense is much more of a public good than is law enforcement. The term "free-riders" may be meaningful when talking about this economic good, but I can't see its relevance when talking about the other economic good of law enforcement.

The inescapable conclusion from Hitler's despotism is that he came to power in a democracy and killed millions of the very people living in his jurisdiction. That itself should raise some questions about the weakness of monopolistic law enforcement.

The relevant question here is not, "Which is the perfect system of law provision and enforcement?" but rather, "Which system works better - a market anarchy or a democracy?"

Market anarchy works better because it greatly increases the economic incentives of Exit access and provision. The issue of how to get to market anarchy is a different question, but once there, it becomes much more difficult for someone like Hitler to do what he did than in a monopolistic legal system.

Imagine that you were a subscriber to Hitler's protection agency before you found out he wanted to kill you. He then lets it be known that he wants to kill people like you. What do you do? Surely, you would switch protection agencies. You have a large incentive to do so. Surely, there are millions of others like you will start making similar phone calls. Hitler's PDA will lose all the subscription fees it previously had been getting from you and others like you. Competing PDAs will be in greater demand, will be able to raise their subscription costs, and will generate many more revenues. They have an economic incentive to fight Hitler because that is the demand from that part of the population that Hitler has made known he wants to kill. A simple announcement of malice by Hitler will completely shift the economic picture against him.

Consider the relevant incentives:

- you: incentive to switch PDAs and take your money elsewhere
- Hitler's PDA: incentive not to partake in aggression (i.e., unethical war) due to loss of money
- other PDAs: incentive to fight Hitler due to higher demand and maintain a reputation for protection against thugs like Hitler. Notice the term "free-riders" does not really apply. There is a profit motive to fight Hitler. (As I mentioned before, fighting a foreign invading power is different because the benefits are widely dispersed, but that's another topic for another day.)

If Hitler tries to raise money by pillage and plunder, he will have less money to work with, and competing PDAs will have much more money to work with. If the general assumption that more money will lead to greater success in war, then he will be fighting an uphill battle.

Contrast that to a democracy. Jews in Germany could only Exit by fleeing the country, which itself was economically costly and dangerous. Their share of economic power in the monopolistic market for law was rendered impotent precisely because it was not enough to capture the entire monopoly. They would have been much better off if they had the ability to choose a different law enforcement agency to protect their rights. Like in all things, division of labor and specialization of tasks can greatly increase the ability to attain ends. Instead Jews had few options when the Gestapo came.

More generally, the question of "What would happen if a PDA waged aggressive war?" is put in proper perspective by asking another question - "What would happen if a monopolistic government waged aggressive war?" The answer to the second question is quite clear because it is evident all around us. Democratic governments pursue aggressive war against their citizens. We have little choice other than putting up with it, engaging in civil disobedience, or selling our souls by trying to capture governement for our own benefit at the exclusion of everyone else. Democratic governments extort 50% of our income, tell us how to educate our kids, dictate which drugs we take, tell us how much water to use in flushing our toilets, draft us to kill people we don't know, regulate us for our own good, and much more. And that's in the freest democracy in the world(!) They are constantly in a state of war against the citizenry. I don't think I am exaggerating. They even boast about it - the War on Drugs, War on Obesity, War on Digital Pirates, War on Cable Thieves, etc.

Market anarchy would be preferable precisely because someone like Hitler would be much more kept in check than in a democracy. The only thing protecting us from absolute despotism in a democracy is a robust culture of liberty. Market anarchy can provide economic incentives to give us much greater protection.

I used to disagree with

I used to disagree with market anarchy, but then I graduated. Nothing like a little face to face with The Man to change your mind. Nice article Jonathan.

As a barking moonbat

As a barking moonbat anarchist myself, it's so nice, again, to be reminded of Mr Syme's authority in these matters, with the following quote posted by Mr Syme, as a comment to his original article:

Er, guys...? It's, like,... a joke...? You know, fun.

Why would one simplify such matters into a multiple choice but for a laugh? I mean, especially when we spend most our waking hours here on Samizdata.net railing against communists f***ers, tyranny of democracy and barking moonbat anarchists.

Excusing the rather strange English, it would seem the editorial policy on Samizdata is currently against:

a). Communism (and one supposes all other forms of hard core collectivism, such as Fascism)
b). Democracy
c). Anarchy

So if you're against collectivism, democracy, and anarchy, what exactly does that leave you with? I think only Sherlock Holmes could answer this one, with the removal of impossibles from improbables. The only option I can think of, which avoids the rule of one man, the rule of some men, and the rule of no men, is Telly-Tubby Land, a land ruled over by a windmill! :-)