Anarcho-Capitalism: Teaching People How to Fish Without Government
Perhaps the best way to think of anarcho-capitalism is to consider it a means to teach people how to fish for themselves, rather than looking to government for their sustenance.
Donald Hank's latest article “ANARCHO-CAPITALISM: FRESH FISH OR YESTERDAY’S CATCH?” warrants at least one more response. My essential complaint is that Donald does not accurately describe anarcho-capitalism (AC) in order to even make the case that it be set aside. Neither of his two articles express to me that he ascertains AC which while synonymous with laissez-faire and/or free market economics literally means uncoerced capitalism but implies a great deal more. Besides the observation of the superior value of a free market, AC adherents generally also adhere to the non-aggression principle (NAP). NAP warrants its own article and I highly recommend people investigate it further.
Though Ludwig von Mises was not himself an anarcho-capitalist (AnCap), many AnCaps reference his work on Human Action to best understand capitalism as distinct from other attempts to categorize and control the phenomenon associated with commerce. To grossly summarize my own understanding of von Mises, “humans will act in their own perceived best interest and the cumulative merit of those actions are not improved upon by government. Moreover, the economy (domestic and global) is too complex to be controlled. When control is attempted the results defy the expectations and there are always unforeseen and usually negative consequences that we are left to deal with (usually leading to compounded mistakes)”.
Risking some more presumption about the definition of capitalism I will remark that economic intercourse never stops, it reacts when both private interests and government act. Whether supply and demand are natural (free market) or artificial (governed), capitalism might be understood as the observation of the continuous outcomes resulting from commerce. The reaction defies the desired outcomes of those using government for their ends.
Please, never mistake me for promoting drugs but both alcohol and drug prohibition are instructive because they clearly demonstrate that people will determinedly resist attempts to control their choices even to the point of risking being classified as a criminal. In these cases, government made the problematic outcomes of drug and alcohol use worse than it found them. I need to decline a more involved investigation of what happens when government legislates prohibitions and regulations here as there are ample articles and books doing this.
Government might be explained by supporters as an attempt and belief that some human agency is necessary for and can do a better job of preventing harmful outcomes resulting from a free market. Perhaps in contrast anarcho-capitalism is the observation that no human agency can determine what is “good” and “bad” better than cumulative human action freely engaging in commerce. AnCaps did not originate this understanding but in my opinion they have adopted it more wholly than most other communities.
Presumably because we describe ourselves as anarcho-capitalists, the inference is that no state is the goal. For some AnCaps it certainly is, but AnCaps I know are not ignorant of the reality we live in just as Donald points out; chances are that without some fantastical polar shift change governments will continue to govern or rule foreseeably. A common straw-man levied at AnCaps is how will anarcho-capitalism replace the State. I understand this question very well and as a former Conservative I used to ask this myself. However it is not really a valid question.
How do we get to an anarcho-capitalistic society? I cannot lie and presume to claim I know; that would be analogous to claiming that I can predict the weather and explain climate change with a computer model. It would also be claiming that I know best or that anyone can know best, which ironically is how those in government proceed and fail.
Like the proverb that it's the journey rather than the destination that we live for, AC to me is not a mission plan; it is understanding. I know this sounds mystical and gnostic, but it is more tangible and productive than that. When a politician is seeking your vote and support and tells you what s/he will do for you implying that it cannot be done without government or it can be done better with government you can assess that candidate better if you are informed that s/he is not likely to represent your interests at all unless they are aggressively voting "nay" to all new programs and determined to disassemble existing ones.
Knowing, by which I mean truly understanding, that innovation is purely a market characteristic and so too can security and justice be, this understanding changes the authority of the conversation. People employed by government can be and are innovative too, but not because they are employed by government; employment is incidental but the ability to force a solution using public policy and legislative authority is not.
The unique contribution of AC is that it does not concede any argument that government is necessary to protect property, rights and the economy much less to deliver social support services. There is simply no area in which government is involved in which it is necessary. Please excuse me as I make these assertions and I do not defend them with references but one can find references aplenty at the easy to find Libertarian and AC online sources.
Another value of AC is that it rejects the myth that the free market only serves the rich or is vulnerable to manipulation by the rich; as if we are not already vulnerable to the machinations of the rich and political with government's so-called protection and guidance. These arguments serve as fear tactics to keep unproductive control agents employed by government. The so-called Great Leaders like Emperors wearing new clothes convince us to trust them based upon glamour and our own self deception. AC disdains Great Leaders for the lies they tell and the disasters they lead us to.
To Donald's point about the path to Anarcho-communism through State Communism, there are of course those Conservative and Libertarian contributors that believe that the path to anarchy or AC is via minarchism, but as Donald sagely points out how do we ensure that the “interim minarch” will not rebound or find some way to justify its endurance and resemble the failures of the Communist States?
AC's constructive criticisms of the Libertarian Party are not unlike Donald's inferences; AnCaps are not seeking to replace those in government with ourselves. Whoever is in government, government would still be credited as contributing or as essential and that is not AC's belief. Ron Paul's Congressional tenure and effort is instructive; despite the inspiration he served to spread the Libertarian message, government is resistant to any reform effort that reduces it. Again this is evidence that Donald is assuming things, but has not yet begun to understand AC.
Donald's recommendation for focusing on the tried and true while seemingly reasonable on the face of it is tantamount to crediting government with being a necessary means of implementing free market reforms. Donald has an understandable, but to an AnCap, a frustrating pragmatism in that he implicitly recommends that we work with government. Why? If we come to understand that government is not helping then we need to discredit its perceived contribution.
The US Government far exceeds the written authority of the US Constitution. That document is easy to read and understand unless it is an impediment to someone's political objectives and then it must be “interpreted” as a living document and imagined to permit things it clearly does not. AnCaps like Libertarians and some Constitutional Conservatives do not humor these excuses or any intellectual accommodations to government overreach. Government is not a medium for the tried and true and treating it that way merely exasperates the problems we face.
Our agreement should be that we are working not with government but around it or even despite it while those in it exceed their charter. If a person uses the logic that it is better to get some free market style reform than none at all, the government still stays in place, as strong or stronger. What is really achieved? When the government chooses winners there are also likely to be losers who rarely enjoy press coverage. Sure the free market has losers too, but there is a stark difference between being out competed versus having the government award a monopoly to your competitor that effectively shuts you down.
Donald's enduring mistake in my opinion is his assumption that proponents of AC must insert themselves or their representatives in government to have value. Value should not be measured against the status quo, especially one wrought with failure. Since he exclaimed his wish that government would go away, I'm encouraged that by altering his perception and dispensing with being pragmatic he will come to view AC more positively. What I can predict is that if we follow Donald's advise on AC we will always have intrusive government.
So, I recommend we reject Donald's question of “fresh fish or yesterday’s catch?”. AC's ideas are not new; it's more relevant to say their time has come as evidenced by its increasing popularity, growth in the community of contributors and the failure of the US Constitution to limit US Government growth. Instead, anarcho-capitalism is better described as an effort to teach people how to fish without government.
Image Credit: CC By 2.0 (Flickr)/LouisvilleUSACE