David Friedman: Privatize Everything

| December 6 2012
Christopher Cook

In political theory, there are a few different kinds of anarchy. Among the most common schools of thought are anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-capitalism. (We are, for the purposes of serious discussion, ignoring the kind of “anarchism” espoused by callow youths. You know the kind I mean—kids doodling “A”s in circles on their math books and glomming on to left-wing rallies wearing black bandanas over their faces like some sort of urban stagecoach tilters.)

Like most kinds of left-wing anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism seems to suffer from a contradiction. If we define anarcho-syndicalism as  movement of “revolutionary industrial unionism” that seeks to “obliterate capitalism,” then we should immediately see the conflict before our eyes:

What happens when that movement succeeds? Unionized industrial workers have destroyed capitalism. Now what? “Anarchy” means the absence of rule of law, and when people are free, one of the first things the do is engage in commerce. Commerce plus the right to associate results in businesses forming. Before you know it, “capitalism”—better described as “free market economics”—is back. So what does the anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary vanguard do then? Obliterate it again? Create rules to keep it outlawed? Whoops. In the former case, it just becomes ongoing destruction, and in the latter, the “anarcho” is gone, and it becomes just another left wing movement doing what the left does: oppressing people and taking their freedom.

As anarchist movements go, anarcho-capitalism is a lot more realistic. It is, for one thing, true to its name, in that it proposes something that is truly anarchic: a civilization in which government does not exist and people are free to go about their business. Minarchism (the belief in a minimal state whose main responsibility is simply the provision of internal and external security and third party justice, i.e., military, police, and courts) and anarcho-capitalism are basically the last two stops on the libertarian train line. The big difference between the two is that anarcho-capitalists believe that even the aims of security and justice can be accomplished by private, market-driven means. Perhaps you think that sounds like a bridge too far, and maybe it is. But it is a lot more plausible than the left wing versions of anarchism, which end up requiring coercion and centralization to force people to conform to their vision of a left-wing “anarchic” paradise.

David Friedman makes anarcho-capitalism clearer in this video from Reason TV. Agree or disagree, it is a serious philosophy worth considering:

“Producing laws is not an easier problem than producing cars or food,” says David Friedman, author, philosopher, and professor at Santa Clara University. “So if the government’s incompetent to produce cars or food, why do you expect it to do a good job producing the legal system within which you are then going to produce the cars and the food?”

Friedman sat down to talk with Reason TV at Libertopia 2012 in San Diego. Friedman reflected on the impact of his landmark book, The Machinery of Freedom, discussed the differences between libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism and revealed what his father, economist Milton Friedman, thought of his anarchist leanings.

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