Monday, 10 August 2009

From Indifference to Minarchy to Anarchy

Two years ago, I was indifferent to most questions of economics and politics. I was not interested in either subject. My interest in world affairs was stimulated when I became aware that the truth about many major events and trends is systematically suppressed by the mainstream media. I started out on a journey seeking truth. Realizing that the world is full of manufactured myths and grand lies led me to ask how this situation has come about and what can be done about it.

I stumbled upon Ron Paul, 2008 U.S. Presidential candidate. His inspiring vision, refreshing clarity and candid truth-telling led me to find out more about the political philosophy and economic viewpoints he stood for – libertarianism and Austrian economics. Very quickly, I became a minarchist (or constitutionalist), and began seeing that freedom is good and government is the opposite of freedom. I became interested in the new Libertarian Party UK, which has a minarchist platform.

Now, I am an anarchist. I no longer support the minarchist view that government should be limited to protection of life, liberty and property. I now believe that government should not exist at all.

Looking back I can identify several key discoveries which caused my shift from indifference to minarchy and finally to anarchy:

1. Learning that the concept of government is unethical.
2. Learning that government is behind virtually all the problems with the world.
3. Learning that the free market is superior to government.
4. Learning that there is nothing that cannot be provided by the free market.

The first discovery was the simplest. Government is obviously unethical, when you recognize that taxation is theft.

The second discovery involved learning to recognize the difference between corporatism and the free market. Just because a particular industry is “private”, this does not mean it is not under the control of government. Only an industry subject to no licensing, regulations, price controls, etc is a free market industry – and therefore no industry today is truly a free market. Some industries, such as the technology industry, are subject to less government controls than others and this explains why some private industries are highly efficient, dynamic and competitive, while other industries are stagnant and inefficient, with quality declining and prices increasing.

The pharmaceutical industry, for example, is seen by many as highly exploitative and evil. To the extent this is true, it is because of heavy government controls in that industry. Evil and exploitative firms cannot survive on the free market, and rely on government privileges to stay in business and continue their morally questionable actions.

The third discovery involved learning economics. Because of my interest in Ron Paul, I found very quickly and began learning economics in the Austrian tradition of Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. I learned that the Austrians conceived of economics as an axiomatic-deductive subject, rather than as an empirical subject, as it is conceived by all other schools. I studied the epistemology of economics, and came to understand that it is invalid to treat economics as an empirical science. Empiricism is valid only where the constancy principle holds. A rock, a planet and a molecule always act the same way to the same stimuli. Thus, their behavior can be analyzed by observations, data, equations, experiments, hypotheses, predictions and models. Human beings cannot be analyzed in this way because human beings have reason, make choices, and aim at goals. In short, human beings act.

Austrian economics is entirely derived, using verbal logic, from the axiom that human beings act. As long as the logic is sound, Austrian explanations for events are as undeniable as the action axiom itself. Where an Austrian explanation is in conflict with a non-Austrian explanation, the former must be true, and the latter incorrect. A major focus in the work of Austrian economists is exposing the flaws in non-Austrian economic theories – such as those of Marx, Marshall, Keynes and Friedman, whose theories dominate mainstream economic teaching. Mainstream theories about inflation, the business-cycle, competition and monopoly, welfare, money, banking and all forms of government intervention have been debunked by generations of Austrians.

The fourth discovery resulted from my own sense of cognitive dissonance. I realized that, as a minarchist, I was denouncing all taxation as theft, and yet supported the existence of government (essentially saying that government is unethical and inefficient, but necessary).

The arguments for free markets in healthcare, education, money, banking, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, etc are all essentially the same: the free market is superior economically to government, and is also the only ethical position. The question then begged itself: why, if the free market is better than government in all these areas, should it be any different in the protection and arbitration (law) industries? Or is it not any different at all? Is any government necessary?

Virtually all modern Austrian economists are anarchists. The first few generations of Austrians – Menger (1st generation), Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk and Frederick Wieser (2nd generation), Mises and F.A. Hayek (3rd generation) – were all minarchists. Mises gave two reasons why he rejected minarchy. First, he did not think that security and law could be provided on the free market. Second, he believed that in some rare circumstances, monopolies could be formed on free markets which could exploit consumers, and government was needed to prevent this.

Mises’ student Murray Rothbard, standing on the shoulders of his great tutor, made the leap to anarchy. He showed that Mises had made an error in his theory of monopoly and that, in fact, exploitative monopolies are not viable, or even identifiable, on a free market under any circumstances. Exploitative monopolies always rely on a government grant of legal privilege.

Rothbard’s other great breakthrough came when he revived the work of the 19th century individualist anarchists, such as Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker and Gustave de Molinari. Building on their pioneering insights, he demonstrated how security and law could be provided by free markets and there are enormous benefits to having them provided that way – even greater benefits than those that would be obtained by establishing free markets in other areas like education, healthcare and money.

Rothbard also integrated his economic work with natural rights philosophy and individualist ethics. He saw that economics and ethics are intimately connected via the joint concept of property. Economics is concerned with how resources can be allocated efficiently. Ethics is concerned with how resources can be allocated justly. Efficiency and justice are both maximized by strict adherence to property rights and the non-aggression principle.

Rothbard used the term “anarcho-capitalism” to describe his integrated system. It is known by a number of other names such as libertarian anarchy, market anarchy, and voluntarism.

Rothbard’s works Man, Economy and State (1962), Power and Market (1970), For a New Liberty (1973) and The Ethics of Liberty (1982) were quickly embraced by the Austrian school, and there was a flowering of anarchist thought and literature. Most Austrians became Rothbardians. Even non-Austrians, such as David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman, became anarcho-capitalists.

The current (5th) generation has extended the work of Rothbard. Hans-Hermann Hoppe has made breakthroughs in our understanding of democracy, how it functions, and how it compares to monarchy. Joseph Salerno has clarified the distinction between Mises and Hayek with regard to the socialist calculation problem, emphasizing the fundamental problem as one of property and the role of entrepreneurship. Stephan Kinsella has critiqued the Rothbardian view of copyrights, and Kinsella’s anti-IP stance has become popular in the last few years.

Through studying the work of libertarians and Austrian economists, I reached the view that government is always:
1. Unethical.
2. Undesirable.
3. Uneconomic.
4. Unnecessary.

For these reasons, I cannot morally advocate anything except libertarian anarchy; total freedom and no government.

On Extremism

It is fashionable to advocate moderate government policies. “Extreme”, or radical, views are frowned upon or openly attacked. In some cases, it is right to denounce extremism. However in today’s world extremism per se is denounced, and I believe this is a serious error.

Part of the reason for this fashion is the widespread belief in the left-right political paradigm, wherein all political viewpoints are placed on a 1-dimensional axis and called either “left-wing” or “right-wing”. At the two extremes of this political paradigm are said to be Communism (extreme left) and Fascism (extreme right). Since both of these views are generally considered (rightfully) bad, most people conclude that a good position must lie somewhere between the two extremes – the moderate position.

The terms “left” and “right” are ill-defined, and different people tend to have their own personal definitions of what these terms mean. “Left-wingers” tend to oppose private property and support massive wealth redistribution. “Right-wingers” tend to oppose heavy wealth distribution and support price controls (tariffs, subsidies, minimum wage, etc), product controls (regulations) and behavioral controls (bans on guns, drugs, prostitution, etc).

For a more in-depth analysis of the left-right political paradigm, see

The view that extremism per se should be denounced, and moderate views embraced, has led to the idea of moral relativism. This is the view that there is no such thing as absolute right and absolute wrong; that there is no such thing as absolute ethics, merely relative ethics. (It has also led to the popular view that truth is relative; that there is no such thing as absolute truth and absolute falsity, but merely different interpretations.)

Moral relativism and the rejection of extremism per se are misguided and dangerous, as the following simple example shows.

Consider a serial killer who murders children at a rate of 1 per week. Suppose that this particular killer is “above the law”; that is, murder laws do not apply to him.

Consider the following two positions could one take with regard to this situation:

1. The "Extreme" View; one could advocate that this killer should stop killing immediately.
2. The "Moderate" View; one could advocate that he cut down to, say, 1 child-murder per month.

There is little doubt which one of these is the correct moral position to advocate. Only by taking the first position can one consistently say that murder is wrong per se (a statement which few would disagree with). Few people would argue that the more moderate position is superior to the extreme position in this case. It could be said that the moderate view is more “realistic” and “achievable”. A reduction in the rate of child-murders would always be welcomed, but stopping the serial killer completely should always be held high as the ultimate goal and the only correct moral position.

If the number of murders this serial killer commits is a given, one could advocate a different form of murder:

3. The “Opposition” View; one could advocate that instead of murdering children, the killer should murder pensioners instead.

Few people would actually take this position, even though it may be “achievable”, because the wrong in this situation is not the particulars about who is being killed, but rather the concept of murder itself. Debates about whether it is preferable for children or pensioners to be killed would entirely miss the point.

Another position one could take is:

4. The "Other Extreme" View; one could advocate that the killer should kill more children, say, 1 per day.

The only people who might take this view are those who consider murder to be not only legitimate and acceptable, but also consider an increased murder-rate to be preferable. It is difficult to see how this position could ever be justified.

Let us now consider another example.

Government is defined as an organization with a monopoly of arbitration (law) over a certain territorial area. Being the sole producer of law, government is in the position to put its own actions “above the law”. They declare that some crimes committed by them are in fact “legal”. The most obvious example is taxation. There is no way to view taxation other than as mass theft carried out by the government against taxpayers. The word “tax” is a mere euphemism for theft-by-government.

Since governments write the law, they can choose how much they wish to steal from each person. After income tax, national insurance, council tax, VAT, excise taxes, and many other forms of taxation (notably inflation), it is not unusual for government to steal over half the income of the average individual. Consider the following two positions that one may take on this issue:

1. Anarchy; one could advocate that the government should stop stealing immediately.
2. Smaller Government; one could advocate that the government cut down its stealing to, say, 20% of individual income, and limit its activities accordingly.

Once again, it is clear which is the correct moral position to advocate, assuming one recognizes that taxation is theft and theft is immoral. And yet, there are more proponents of small government in the world than there are anarchists. Many people believe that government should be small (usually limited by a constitution to the protection of life, liberty and property) but should not be eliminated completely – i.e. “minarchy”.

As with the case of the serial killer, any reduction in government theft is to be welcomed, but it should not be advocated as the ultimate goal. Statists are unable to argue that stealing is wrong per se, because they advocate theft on a small scale. If stealing is not wrong per se (as all statists believe) then it is hard to argue against taxation on moral grounds.

Again it could be argued that small government is more “realistic” and “achievable” than no government at all. Some politicians advocate minarchist positions because it is more palatable to the general public than anarchy. Ron Paul is probably one of them, given his background in Austrian economics and friendships with anarchists such as Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell. This is a strategic decision. Rothbard and Rockwell frequently ally with minarchists against big government, while continuing to hold aloft the ultimate goal of libertarian anarchy.

While there are more minarchists than anarchists, the most popular political viewpoint is the following:

3. The “Opposition” View; one could advocate that the money stolen in taxation be distributed differently, or the form of government altered.

As in the case of advocating the serial killer targeting pensioners rather than children, this view completely misses the point. The wrong here is not the particular form of theft, or how the stolen money is distributed; it is the act of theft itself that is wrong.

Unfortunately, most mainstream political debate centers around what should be done with the loot. There are those on the “right” and those on the “left”, and every election a new group is elected, on promises to change the way government loot is distributed. Rarely is the amount of taxation or the size of government at the center of debate; merely the form of government, and which individuals will get a larger or smaller share of the stolen money. The morality of taxation is never discussed at all.

Over the years, government has grown bigger and bigger, stealing more and more wealth from productive individuals. The reason for this is the prevalence of the following view, which is naturally encouraged by governments through their control of education and the media.

4. The "Other Extreme" View; one could advocate that government increase stealing to, say, 60% of individual income.

Just as in the case of the serial killer, advocates must regard the act of taxation not only as legitimate and acceptable, but that higher taxes are preferable. Those who believe in increasing the size of government and the amount of taxation are called Communists (left-wing) or Fascists (right-wing).

Because it is fashionable to hold a “moderate” view, with both left- and right-wing elements, the government, as it has increased in size, has become a mixture of Communism and Fascism. Some industries are nationalized (and there is little or no debate about this), such as the protection, law enforcement, road management, money, education and healthcare industries. Other industries are heavily cartelized through regulations, such as the media, pharmaceutical, agriculture, banking, energy and insurance industries, which, due to nominal private ownership, are often mislabeled “free market” industries. All private businesses are subject to heavy restrictions on employee pay, working conditions, product controls and licensing. Personal behavior is regulated through bans on gun ownership, prostitution and drugs. The economy is distorted through inflation, fractional-reserve banking, subsidies, tariffs and other price controls. There is a large welfare state, transferring money from productive individuals to non-productive individuals, which is mislabeled “charity”. Finally, a significant portion of taxation is spent on overseas wars, mislabeled “peacekeeping” and “national defense”.

The obsession with details about the form of government – left or right – has led to virtually every area of life being controlled either directly or indirectly, by government.

The real debate should not be about how the government controls a certain industry, but about whether the government needs to be involved in that industry at all. Is government necessary?

It may be an extreme view to answer this question in the negative, but I believe it is the only ethical answer. All questions boil down to government vs. freedom, and freedom always wins.