Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Sexta

My final contribution (a brief and hopefully eirenic valediction) to the Cato-sponsored portion of the discussion is up at Cato Unbound.

In other news, Peter Klein has responded to my earlier response, and P. M. Lawrence has counter-responded. I’ll have more to say anon.

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10 Responses to Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Sexta

  1. Black Bloke December 1, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    I wish P. M. Lawrence had a blog, or at least an updated site.

  2. Gabriel December 1, 2008 at 8:57 pm #


    I’ve noticed you and others have spent a lot of time and effort arguing that private defense agencies and anarchy will be at least as efficient as government. One criticism I’m curious about is the opposite criticism – namely, what if PDAs are more efficient under anarchy, and things actually become worse than they are now? Maybe instead of demanding freedom, people end up demanding tyranny. In other words, what if your desired social system works, but it’s worse than the state?

    For example, the recent arguments with Keith Preston have frequently mentioned the idea that freedom of association will lead to thousands of tiny angry tribal enclaves (picture hundreds of copies of the Branch Davidians scattered around town). Perhaps in a major city like New York or San Francisco people will not be able to walk down the street or go to a grocery store, because about a dozen different mutually hostile “tribal enclaves” (private properties?) will lie between them and the nearest one. Or maybe people will object that this condition is intolerable, and thus either one dominant gang (or cooperation among existing gangs) will result in the streets being kept safe. Then the situation is right back to the present one, except instead of government cops patrolling streets it’s now Disney cops instead, which hardly seems to be an improvement. Neither situation seems preferable to the imperfect situation we have now.

  3. InkyD December 1, 2008 at 9:20 pm #


    I’ll take a shot at this one.

    Violence is expensive. Governments can afford violent “defenses” because the rulers don’t have to foot the bill. Playing nice is much more cost effective.

  4. Gabriel December 1, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    Playing nice is much more cost effective.

    There is extensive discussion of this argument on the wikipedia page for “private defense agencies”. The issue of cost effectiveness boils down to whether the costs of predation are outweighed by the benefits of predation (e.g. the PDAs who violate the rights of non-members may be at a competitive advantage and thrive like mafias of the present).

    This is irrelevant to my question however. I’m saying, suppose that PDAs do in fact provide their customers with what those customers want; if people want tyranny, or if they don’t want tyranny per se but tyranny is the only logical way to realize what they want, then it’s trouble. Whether the gang members patrolling the streets and shaking people down are private or not makes little difference to the victims. 🙂

    Walter Block likes to ask “Where do you feel safer, Central Park at night or Disneyworld at night?”. My answer is: it depends on who you are, because in theory goons with guns can show up and get you in either place. 🙂

  5. Bob Kaercher December 1, 2008 at 10:47 pm #

    Gabriel: What you’re basically positing is a situation where, once in anarchy, people then decide to form a new government, or governments, thus rejecting anarchy. That’s certainly possible, but it’s not necessarily a reflection on the efficacy of anarchy of anarchist ideas if people reject them in favor of a new state after having a taste of liberty.

    And what’s with the smiley faces? Is there something about gang members shaking people down or getting attacked by armed goons that particularly pleases you? Reminds me of those inane local newscasters who actually smile while they report on someone’s child going missing.

  6. InkyD December 1, 2008 at 10:57 pm #

    Ah, yes I guess I misunderstood. So you’re asking what if different groups were willing to pay a lot more money for tyranny instead of relatively affordable peace. That would suck big time, especially if there were no peace (and profit) minded groups to move closer to.

    But to me, the question is how likely is that scenario. Not very, in my opinion, because money matters. To think otherwise would insinuate ethical behavior can only exist under the watchful eye of government, and is not the natural outcome between selfish individual transactions.

  7. InkyD December 1, 2008 at 11:01 pm #

    I took the smiley faces to mean “Hey, I’m not trying to be abrasive.”

    As much as I hate emoticons, they do seem to help keep misunderstandings/misinterpretations to a minimum. For me, anyway. 😉

    Of course, if I ever wink at you in real life, feel free to sock me.

  8. Gabriel December 1, 2008 at 11:02 pm #

    And what’s with the smiley faces? Is there something about gang members shaking people down or getting attacked by armed goons that particularly pleases you?

    Actually I only meant to include one smiley face. Nevertheless, I will admit in the interest of intellectual honesty that there are some people I consider deserving of being shaken down by thugs. :/

  9. Gabriel December 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Reminds me of those inane local newscasters who actually smile while they report on someone’s child going missing.

    I know exactly what you mean, this is one reason I hate watching the news. You can often tell a newscaster’s opinion on some matter, and further that this opinion will inevitably be a desire for government intervention or pleasure when such intervention takes place. I once saw a Michael Moore interview, and you could tell his heart was leaping for joy at the prospect of the government stepping in and taking charge of things, as was the interviewer.

  10. Richard Garner December 4, 2008 at 5:50 am #


    Firstly, one has to remember [i]why[/i] agression would be expensive: Because not only would pro-tyranny customers have to pay for aggression, but they would also have to pay more for it than those they would oppress would be willing to pay for protection against the pro-tyranny guys.

    On top of this, the pro-tyranny guys would face a free-rider problem: Suppose I was, to use a Rothbardian example, anti-red head. I would benefit from spending on tyrannising over red heads. But I would get that benefit so long as somebody else was spending on it, whether I was doing it or not. The result is that my incentive is to try and free-ride off other people’s anti-red-head spending: Tyranny of redheads is not a good that can be supplied only to anti-redheads that choose to pay, but must be supplied to all anti-redheads. Meanwhile, protection of redheads faces no such problem, since it [i]can[/i] be supplied as a private good: An agency can say, I will protect you against those guys that oppress redheads, but I will not protect this other guy, and so restrict the supply only to those that pay.

    And, in ther end, taking your point about agencies supplying what their customers want, you have to ask who their actual customers are. Taking David Friedman’s model of anarcho-capitalism, an agency might think that the obvious candidates are its customers… or it might sell legal assent and by willing to be bought off buy others. That means that pro-tyranny customers may well find themselves without agencies to supply their tyranny because anti-tyranny customers have been willing to pay enough that their agencies can buy other agencies’ agreement not to enforce the tyrannical rules, and to not prevent protection against anybody who does.

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