Jan 22, 2023·edited Jan 22, 2023

I think you, David Friedman, and Bryan Caplan need to co-author an anarcho-capitalist tome that builds upon your previous works and offers a deep dive into the best arguments against it. Maybe you should consider a documentary as well.

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That would be amazing.

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This is an idea I've had for a long time. They should probably self-publish it so it can be as long as they want.

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Just as long as it looks and feels like a quality product. Bryan’s latest books have felt like cheaper phone-in work. He lucked out getting to work with Weinersmith on Open Borders. I doubt they’ll work together again. I might say the same about some of Mike’s sensibilities, but his writing/thinking style more than makes up for it.

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I agree wrt Bryan Caplan and Build Baby Build for sure when it comes to illustration. But I think his thinking style makes up for it too.

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Excellent and thanks - thanks too for continuing to publish things you've covered very well elsewhere.

One of the things that comes up in conversation about this is the inconsistency in governance. That you have all of these different orgs providing security/legal services that at some point they won't enough in common to negotiate with when two parties with two services come to (sometimes violent) disagreement. This might boil down to cultural and larger social institution similarity (e.g., in Canada you're really unlikely for things to diverge drastically that two sides cannot negotiate competently).

I'm a fan of governance competition (like with accounting certifications), and see a thread in that concern that I can't quite pull on.

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Two related questions:

(1) What is preventing the security market from devolving into a monopoly (or an oligopoly where switching providers is difficult and costly)?

(2) Why wouldn’t sufficiently well-off private security firms just become states (or more dramatically, warlords)? Is getting paid by voluntary customers better for security firms than receiving involuntary tribute?

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1) It has. The question is how to introduce competition, and can it remain stable once introduced?

2) A better way to put it - why wouldn’t competing security firms collude, and merge into a state? The short answer is competition and free entry. But that just pushes back the question, which turns into, how do we guarantee competition and free entry?

But put the question the other way around. Why is monopoly better? How do we prevent monopoly from becoming oligarchic tyranny? Why should the government provide this service, rather than subsidize it? How large should the subsidy be? How much of it should be a transfer between groups, and which groups?

The existing system takes all this as known, without much evidence. Or perhaps I am mischaracterizing it. But then, where is the evidence? Where was the research that established the status quo as the most promising alternative, to the exclusion of the need for any further inquiry?

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"It’s amazing how little traditional political theory tries to grapple with this."

Any time you think a major intellectual tradition has failed to account for an obvious problem, there is a 99.9 percent chance that you have not done an adequate literature search (harder than it sounds, because they will often use different terminology). What you're looking for is the highly-regarded "Systems of Survival" by Jane Jacobs. It explains the reasons why the moral systems of guardians must be different from the moral system of capitalism.

You could also look to the "krysha" system of the post-Soviet world, which initially started by providing protection after a government collapse and almost immediately turned into a set of protection rackets that quickly grew into the Russian mob as we know it. See https://www.in-formality.com/wiki/index.php?title=Krysha_(Russia,_Ukraine,_Belarus).

There are many objections, but one of the most obvious is that competition is bad for the security providers, so they quickly establish norms against poaching each other's customers (unless they intend to start a war with a rival security provider, which sometimes they do). This eliminates any benefit to the customer.

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So does Jacobs conclude that there are two distinct sets of moral truths, and two distinct classes of moral agents to which they apply, or that only one is true, applying to everyone, and the other is wrong and applies to no one?

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Or is it contextual, with morality being one thing in one context, something else in another? But then, what creates the context where government agents always face less restrictive constraints?

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From the last page of the book: "Some other civilizing agent must therefore be necessary. This, I now think, is the guardian-commercial symbiosis that combats force, fraud, and unconscionable greed in commercial life - and simultaneously impels guardians to respect private plans, private property, and personal rights. Mutual support of morally contradictory trading and taking; it tames both their activities and their derivatives. So perhaps we have a useful definition of civilization: reasonable working guardian-commercial symbiosis."

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I guess I should just read the book.

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Your vision of an anarcho-capitalistic society is strangely optimistic given your pessimism about human psychology. My hunch is that you're switching to a more positive view of human psychology when you imagine an anarcho-capitalist society, and that you're not you're devoting much of your imagination to where anarcho-capitalism could go wrong.

Suppose everyone is amoral and the goal of everyone is nothing but their own selfish gain. Let's also keep in mind another feature of human psychology that I don't think you've mentioned in this context: humans often pursue short-term gain at a cost to long-term gain, so that even humans who are selfishly motivated typically do not end up maximizing their own wellbeing, even if self-benefit is their only goal. Now suppose there is no central government, but there are armed organizations ("providers") offering protection to households and neighborhoods. This line in your post strikes me as extremely naive under this assumption: "Each provider must strive their best to satisfy customers or risk losing market share to their competitors. If your security company is doing a terrible job, you fire them and hire a different company."

It does not seem intuitive to me that in an anarchistic world in which everyone is selfish, and often focused on short-term gains rather than long-term gains—and in which there are armed groups which have taken over the role of "protection"—each one of these groups *must* strive their best to satisfy "customers." Satisfying customers would, of course, be an instrumental goal at best. That's obviously implied by the human selfishness assumption. The actual goal with respect to customers would be extracting resources from individuals. So is it plausible that in a world of purely self-serving actors who are often focused on the short-term rather than the long-term—and who are mostly motivated by the accumulation of resources and status—armed organizations will have no choice but to offer the best services? And if one of these armed organizations are fired by a household or neighborhood, they will allow a smooth and friendly handover to a competing armed organization?

Just to raise the most obvious and easy-to-imagine sort of problem: you don't think these armed groups will intimidate people or neighborhoods into hiring them, or into not firing them? You don't think these groups will violently intimidate the competing groups to keep them out of certain areas, for instance? Remember that no one has the intrinsic goal of providing a good service, since everyone is just after resources and status. Is it really going to turn out that providing the best service is necessary (as implied by your "must") for armed groups to accomplish that? And even if peaceful hirings and firings of the competing armed groups would work out better for most people in general, do you really believe that everyone including the armed groups that are losing out will always recognize this, and that everyone will behave as rationality and prudence dictates?

If humans are as selfish as you believe, and as short-sighted as I suspect you also believe, there are going to be major problems no matter what the governing structure of human societies is like. Any defense of anarcho-capitalism would be a lot more interesting if it engaged with all the problems that might arise in such a society, some of which are likely to be similar to current problems, and some of which would be unique. I would be intrigued to hear a case for anarcho-capitalism that presents it as just barely better than what we have now, which admitted not everything would be great, and which conceded that there is a ton of uncertainty about how such societies would function. When you instead seem to imply that under anarchy, all the current problems you don't like are drastically reduced and no new major problems take their place, and when you do not seem to have a lot of uncertainty about what an anarcho-capitalist society would be like, it seems very much like your argument is a product of ideology rather than being an honest attempt to imagine anarchy.

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It's weird isn't it? He regularly castigates socialists for their magical thinking, but then he does exactly the same thing himself just with a different utopia in mind.

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Jan 23, 2023·edited Jan 23, 2023

So, what stops providers from introducing high barriers to switching from them to a competitor? You might say, "Since customers will be reluctant to buy from people who introduce such high barriers, there is an incentive not to introduce them," but that only matters if this incentive would be reliably stronger than the incentive to introduce these barriers (namely, the strong incentive to force customers to continue paying you for what you provide if they want to continue receiving anything like what you provide). Even if that happens in some markets, why wouldn't there still be a bunch of important markets where the incentive to introduce higher barriers is stronger instead? Wouldn't that make this system worse than a more-conventional or more-hybrid system?

A lot of distopian cyberpunkish fiction makes this point vividly. Imagine, for example, that in order to get hired you need cybernetic enhancements because employers just won't higher un-enhanced people compared to enhanced ones. So, such enhancements become a practical requirement of working in the economy, which in turn is a practical requirement of caring for yourself and others. For a lot of people, cars are a practical requirement in just this way. Now, just assume that the people who provide these enhancements require you to sign a contract saying that you will only get replacement parts from them, that you will only buy law enforcement services from a list of approved enforcement providers who actively enforces the previous requirement, and they design their enhancements in such a way that it is difficult for any third-party to make replacement parts. Just like cars, you will often need to repair or replace parts, but in your ideal society wouldn't the end result be that this company can basically charge you however much it wants and give you as crappy a replacement as it wants because you have no other alternative and these enhancements are a practical requirement of life?

This might sound fanciful because it involves things like cybernetic enhancements, but notice that none of the problem actually hinges on that fact. There are technologies that become practical requirements of life we all have to agree to if we want to take care of ourselves and those we care about these days. Wouldn't a pure (non-hybrid) anarcho-capitalist society just result in companies making themselves into effective monopolies in any market - like those involving practical requirements of life - where the incentive to introduce high barriers to switching to another provider would be noticeably stronger than any incentive to the contrary? Since this would be a winning strategy, each competitor would also have a very strong incentive to copy this strategy, and there is (as far as I can tell) no reason to think that the incentives to attract customers by not having such barriers would be stronger than the contrary incentives. Even if some companies might opt not to have such high barriers, if the incentive for the barrier is higher than the incentive to avoid them then the companies who opt not to have high barriers will be adopting a losing strategy and tend to decrease in size and scope over time.

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Can you please elaborate on a possible objection to the anarcho-capitalist solution above?: ‘under an-cap, richer people will have access to better security than poorer people, which further increases the inequality between rich and poor people, which keeps injustice high.’


Is this a valid drawback to the an-cap solution that the current system does not have to face? Or will the answer be something along the lines of “current crime protection measures *also* significantly enlarge the gap between the rich and the poor, ‘albeit to a lesser extent / to an even greater extent’”? Or will it be that in order for the rich-poor gap to shrink, other anarcho-capitalist solutions to other societal issues must be enforced (some sort of integrated interdependent system exists)? Or is the answer to the objection above entirely different?

Love reading your posts :)

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Rich people have access to better food, education, housing, transportation, everything. Why should we feel obligated to address these together rather than separately? Is there reason to think better security would increase existing inequality?

Perhaps that looks like a cop out. But what comparison are we to make? No one would say that poor people get the same quality of security under any existing system that I know of. Why would that disqualify this particular reform? Perhaps we can argue the opposite direction- since the existing system has obviously failed to provide adequate security to persons on an equal basis, therefore it should be replaced with something better.

One of the few resources that poor people have in relative abundance is labor. The existence of unemployment implies that either the capital required for providing security is the limiting factor, or that some external factor (existing monopolist supply, perhaps?) is chilling poor persons' ability to provide mutual security. That is, either it is just too costly, even for persons with excess labor capacity, or someone is preventing them from providing a solution that takes full,advantage of their existing resources.

Someone might object that security is largely a public good type problem, the sort that creates market failure. Apparently, it provides problems for existing government institutions as well, since the problem remains unsolved.

I don’t think anyone denies that social dilemmas exist. The question is, which proposed or existing solutions actually address the problem best? This is an empirical question, but curious persons are prevented from experimenting on a small scale with alternative solutions (not to mention that the existing system is basically a large scale experiment that lacks the usual scientific requirement of a control group and voluntary participation).

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As a thought experiment, I have seriously considered the various alternatives to government law enforcement (e.g. lynching, bounty hunting, and of course private security) and it seems to me that the biggest issue is that people don't want to have the law enforced on themselves, but on other people. I think it's a little odd that this post doesn't address that, given that the main complaint I've seen about law enforcement is the idea that the people the police are accountable to (politicians, bureaucrats, theoretically voters) are not the same people that have the most direct experience with them (criminals, suspected criminals and people who live in neighbourhoods with lots of crime), and I can't help but feel like private law and order would only make these problems worse.

It's not particularly appealing to have agents of the state come around to rough me up, but I think most people find that preferable to having a random citizen's hired thugs do it - obviously opinions may vary on this, but at the very least the government seems more predictable. I suppose the arguement is that if someone else's security company violates my civil rights I can just sue them, which will be reassuring to the small percentage of defendants who can afford to hire a lawyer.

Not saying I can't imagine this being an improvement on the status quo, but it also seems like the premise for a dystopia with private armies for the rich and crime syndicates extorting protection money from the poor. It's not hard to find historical and contemporary examples of the kind of abuses that occur whenever state power is weak.

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Is that what generally happens with all of the insurance companies, security guards and arbitration agencies that settle a majority of conflicts today? When you got in your last fender bender with someone who had a different insurance company, did the other driver's company send thugs to your door so that you had to pay everything and the other driver nothing?

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Well no, that would be illegal - such a company could itself be taken to court. I believe there's a point where if you refused to cooperate you could be arrested, if only for disregarding court orders, but that's so many steps removed as to be almost irrelevant. It is somewhat different if you actually privatize the enforcement of laws, and make it legal, in some situations, to send hired thugs over to imprison people.

My point was that a private system works fine for those kind of disputes between people who have money, but when we get to street level crime (murder, theft, drug possession) the incentives are very different, and I don't think this post adequately addressed the shortcomings of a privatized system in that context.

Maybe there's a way for it to work - I'm interested! There are some fascinating historical examples, but none that I can think of that would be an improvement over the status quo.

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Do you think that the main reason insurance companies don't use thugs (to gain one-sided outcomes for their customers by extorting the customers of other insurance companies) is that they'd be taken to government court if they did? Or is it, instead, the fact that developing strong relationships with other companies, and establishing principles that usually allow for quick negotiation of deals, is far more profitable than massively negative-sum street fights?

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Jan 31, 2023·edited Jan 31, 2023

I honestly don't know, I think we perhaps have different assumptions going into this - bear in mind my arguement was mostly that the same incentives to use violence that apply to the police also apply to a privatized equivalent - I'm sure the people that can afford private security would be fine, it's everyone else I think we should be concerned about.

We seem to have a very different frame of reference - you're looking at modern corporations and wondering why they'd resort to violence, whereas I think that looking back at the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the Italian Mafia is a better analogy for the kind of dynamics that would result from this system. Comparing these hypothetical entities being discussed to organised crime may seem unfair, but I think the distinction between providing security and protection racketeering is going to be unclear, especially in low-income areas when most people don't have the money to afford better options.

You may think violence is massively negative sum, but that hasn't stopped people from using it historically, it's a very effective threat if you can make it credibly!

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I think you're misunderstanding what private security as a replacement for government police would be. It wouldn't be specific people stationed at your property, which of course only quite wealthy people could afford. It would look the way car insurance works today. You have a contract with an agency, paying a rate based upon your risk factors. If you get into a conflict with someone who's with a different agency, the agencies have every incentive to pursue restitution efficiently, as opposed to greatly inefficient government courts. Car insurance basically is a widespread form of private law enforcement already, as are the arbitration services used most of the time between corporations.

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Feb 1, 2023·edited Feb 1, 2023

That would work if it was common to catch people at the scene of the crime, and then politely ask them to exchange information on security providers - note that if someone does not stick around to exchange insurance information, that's a criminal matter and you have to get the police involved.

Given that the incentive is not to stick around after doing crime, since you're looking at spending years in prison rather than a moderate increase in insurance premiums, I am assuming that private security, much like the existing police, would need have to have both detective capabilities (to work out who wronged you) and enforcement capabilities (in the event that the person who robbed/assaulted/murdered you ignored the court summons they were filed). I am assuming that this service would be expensive, and that the majority of criminals (being of low income) would not bother to pay for it - if they have a dispute, they can settle it out of court (possibly through violence - private law enforcement won't intervene if the victim can't afford coverage). I am not sure exactly how this would work out, but I am skeptical that having the investigators and enforcers of the law answer only to the victim of crime would necessarily be an improvement over the status quo. Obviously some people will pay a premium for gentle and compassionate enforcement of the law, however I think there are plenty of other people who'd pay a premium for high clearance rates, by any means necessary, and I expect the free market to provide. I am assuming that the actual laws would still be decided by the government, but exactly how aggressively those laws are enforced is definitely something private companies could compete on. This comes back to my original point - people pay to have the law enforced on other people, the customer is not the person receiving the service.

In summary, I think there are important differences between the parts of the law we have privatized verses the parts we have not. Mostly had this conversation because I was curious about how this would actually work, but we seem to be approaching this with very different assumptions

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

One issue I think all these ancap "abolish X bit of government" arguments have never considered is - how could we guarantee a competitive market in X? We have no data on this because nobody has ever tried to privatise security (except maybe the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and that's not a good data point for the ancaps). And presumably in this utopia there would be no government to enforce competition laws. What if you're simply replacing a public monopoly that at least nominally protects everyone, with a private monopoly that only protects those who can afford its services? So you get only the downside that's obvious to everyone, and you might not even get the upside which is entirely theoretical.

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> the government can abuse you a lot more than your HOA can abuse you.

And yet I've been abused by the H.O.A. a lot more than I've been abused by the government.

• If a liberal is a conservative who's been mugged,

• and a libertarian is a conservative who's been arrested,

• what do you call a libertarian who's been abused by an H.O.A. corporation ?

I was a card carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy ™ for 25 years until, not coincidentally, my H.O.A. experience. Having represented myself in court more times than I ever wanted to, I've seen how H.O.A. law actually works. And more importantly, I've seen how it does not work. Among the many things those experiences taught me was that the conservative and (small "l") libertarian crap I had been preaching for decades was wrong. In some cases, horribly wrong.

As somebody who is probably a lot smarter than me once put it:

> HOAs do a great job of illustrating to libertarians (who seem to need to learn this more than the average person, for some reason) that the world is not a deductive system, and all facts about human relations don't follow from a simple logical calculus.

> Simply spinning out definitions of voluntary and involuntary quickly gets you into a conundrum here.

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Privatizing is a simple idea but take that a step further and decentralize it.

By using companies you have built in overhead. The closer you get to someone paying for protection directly to the protector and dispute resolution cutting out the managerial process leads toward the most efficient process and something governments cannot come close to competing against.

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Might a problem not be with poor people? If people cannot afford protection, there will be no consequences from harming them. Is it not a problem that part of the population is left without any sort of protection, or is that just a necessary cost?

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When private courts were implemented in Iceland for over 300 years the victim was able to sell his claim to reimbursement (funny idea, every crime needed a victim and it was the victim comoensated, not the state).

People would buy the claim from the victim and use their wealth to fund the court process.

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#4 is just subsididarity.

Make the decision at the lowest level that is reasonably possible. Hiring security or paving roads is much better done at the HoA level than the national level. National Defense, which you arent talking about may (or may not?) be best handled at the national level.

I am a minarchist not an an-cap, but subsidiarity gets us pretty close to the same point.

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Any way to use crypto and blockchains for practicing and implementing such ideas?

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Patri Friedman and I talk about how he's reducing switching costs here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5sKZaT5XOTlnuKLIjVO5eI?si=06a27fcad3be4ed3

Not a utopia, there are some cool projects already out there like Prospera - would love to welcome you there some time, Mike! https://prospera.hn/

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