Why Is It Always A Corporate Dystopia?

January 5th, 2014   Submitted by Christian Gruber

SnowCrashOf all the tropes thrown at market-anarchists by advocates of the State, “Who will build the roads?” is the most common with “What about Somalia?” close on its heels. But the relevant critique most commonly levelled by progressives, and one of the biggest hurdles in imagining a stateless society comes out in fears that Big Business will run the show. In some cases it is an outright accusation that anarcho-capitalists want Monsanto and BP and the Koch Brothers to run the world in a William Gibson-esque orgy of corporate domination. This view is partly attributable to neoconservatives and other actual Big Business advocates who use the language of free-market economics, while advocating a mercantilist system quite apart from a liberated market society. But what market-anarchists advocate is a world free of privilege – and to me, that is a world free of the corporation as we know it.

This quote by Frederic Bastiat should not be new to many:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” – Frederic Bastiat – The Law par. L. 102.

The citation above needs a bit of a tweak to address modern concerns. Because anarchists oppose the State, and market-anarchists support private property, it is an unnecessary leap to think that they support corporations as they are in our current, state-entangled society. Well, to those detractors I say (with apologies to Monsieur Bastiat):

“Modern progressivism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinctions between government and society, and between private and corporate. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the progressives conclude that we advocate it being done by a corporation. We disapprove of state education. Then the progressives say that we advocate elitist education. We decry imprisonment by the state. They therefore conclude that we wish for corporate prisons. We object to the worship of the state. Then the progressives say that we worship of the corporation. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we therefore must want corporate primacy. And so on, and so on. It is as if the progressives were to accuse us of wanting only corporations to feed us because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

This lack of imagination is not that surprising. I had my own doubts about non-state alternatives shaped by contemporary expressions of “public” and “private”. As might be expected, I ended up in a corporatist, dystopian, cyberpunk future. My own journey led me through a religious/spiritual left-leaning socialist minarchism. I wanted a minimal “nice-guy” caretaker state and I saw corporations as distinct from state power, and in opposition to it.

Three key things led me to see that the goals of a just society are best effectuated by more freedom, not more centralized regulation.

First, my analysis of power and privilege expanded to take into account the remarkable degree to which the State intervenes. I had always fantasized that one might wrest control of the State from the evil people and put it to good use. But this has never been shown to occur without a new privileged caste emerging and benefiting from the concentration of state power. Instead of a simplistic Marxian critique, I explored theory of exploitation based on coercion, of violence or the threat of violence.

Secondly, I saw the existing institutions, governmental and private, in the context of that power and privilege. The corporation is the creation of the State. Not the structure of “the firm” per-se, but the protections against liability. Such protections prevent owners (shareholders, partners) from being held accountable for the actions of their agents (officers). The State, in granting such privilege, permits certain people to avert accountability, to externalize cost, risk, blame, etc. It often does so under cover of a “benefits” argument about encouraging economic growth and investment or something similar. But these claimed benefits are not proven, they are assumed, and the immunity gives those with power and privilege a leg-up in securing further privilege.

Thirdly, I observed that corporations use state power and wondered if the State wasn’t actually the political wing of well-connected bosses. While it’s more complicated than that, a revolving door of lobbyist and politician, of consultant and executive create an incestuous mess that’s hard to split apart. The historical data was consistent with the theory. And when I looked at other interests – religious, labour, ideological, etc., these also sought out coercive privilege, and opposing factions simply attempted to gain power within the structure of “organized coercion and confiscation” that we all know as “government”.

Bastiat points out that the State is not a thing with resources of its own:

“[These socialists declare] that the State owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; …that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.
Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law, as from an inexhaustible source? … But is it possible? … Whence does [the State] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary?” – Frederic Bastiat Justice and fraternity, in Journal des Économistes, 15 June 1848, page 319.

The reality is that the State does not furnish well-being, the members of society do through their multifarious combinations of cooperation and competition, of selection and preference-setting. When they do so through a centrally controlled entity like the State, the mechanism takes on a different character, because that entity bypasses the constraints placed on the rest of society’s members – the normal obligation to not do violence, to not coerce. Bastiat describes the resulting dynamic clearly as a cycle of corruption through a concentration of privilege and power, which becomes a high-value target for influence:

“…Finally…we shall see the entire people transformed into petitioners. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, shipping, industrial companies, all will bestir themselves to claim favors from the State. The public treasury will be literally pillaged. Everyone will have good reasons to prove that legal fraternity should be interpreted in this sense: “Let me have the benefits, and let others pay the costs.” Everyone’s effort will be directed toward snatching a scrap of fraternal privilege from the legislature. The suffering classes, although having the greatest [numerical] claim [to such resources], will not always have the greatest success.” – Frederic Bastiat Justice and fraternity, in Journal des Économistes, 15 June 1848, page 319.

Bastiat’s analysis remains relevant. The State is a legal and social fiction layered on top of society to empower a few to direct the resources and actions of the many. Whether one supports or opposes this narrative, that is its nature. Corporations are certainly those groups in society “bestirring themselves to claim favours”. What anarchist, even anarcho-capitalist, is in support of that? None that I have met. Advocates of a liberated market society have no particular interest in preserving the existing patterns of wealth. They do have an interest in unburdening the new entrepreneurs, those who would improve society by discovering its desires, needs, and preferences.

It is from this political place that market-anarchists advocate an end to the State and the legitimation of coercive centralized regulation and confiscation. This is not an opposition of purely voluntary hierarchies or the firm structure, per-se, nor of flat cooperative structures, or any other arrangement that uses no coercion. By all means all forms of social structure should be the subject of such experimentation and may the most effective ones prosper. But if the power to grant favours exists, it will be used, and primarily by the powerful. Such arrangements of common ownership, joint effort, risk pooling should require no special powers if they are of any value to a free society.

Market-anarchists of my stripe oppose the modern corporation, as it currently stands, because it seeks and benefits from resources secured by the State through coercive means, and the protection by the State of its owners from the consequences of their actions. And my anarchism tolerates no such structural privilege.

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39 Responses to “Why Is It Always A Corporate Dystopia?”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent article.

    Did Bastiat, in your opinion, or as far as you know, ever become an anarchist? Or did he always concede some excuse for the state’s existence?

    Furthermore, have you read much Etienne le Botie? I would definitely enjoy an article of your caliber about his writings.

  2. Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

    O.K. But who will build the roads? If the society you imagine requires private property rights and contracts, how do I know what you own, and who resolves disputes over the terms of contract? Something like a blockchain could be a title registry, but which blockchain do I consult? A blockchain is distributed rather than decentralized. The title registry exists in many different places, but only one legitimate version of it exists.

    A minarchist argues that property and contract, without continual, violent conflict over title and terms of contract, requires a single title registry and a single system for resolving disputed terms of contract. The minarchist may agree with everything you say about state chartered corporations and state privilege, but this agreement doesn’t answer the minarchist’s objection to anarchy.

    Why are you an anarchist and not a minarchist, and if you are a minarchist, rather than an anarchist in the strictest sense, what are the limited state powers that you advocate?

    If you are an anarchist, why should I expect Lockean proprieties to predominate in the society you imagine? Why would the most powerful individuals and groups of individuals not dominate resources, regardless of the contributions of labor (other than the labor required to dominate resources) to the value of resources, and why would these individuals and groups not forever battle one another, as male lions forever battle to dominate the territory of a pride in nature?

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Uh, often the most powerful have majority control of resources when a state exists. Thus the existence of a state does not prevent that from happening. In fact the state may make it more likely by granting privileges to certain business owners and businesses.

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        The state is a powerful group dominating, so a state certainly does not prevent a powerful group from dominating; however, I’m still not sure how the NIV meme becomes a universal norm, and the only universal norm, without a state imposing it. If we simply assume away people who don’t want to respect the NIV meme, where does that get us?

        In the minarchist view, a minimal state might impose the NIV meme and only the NIV meme. An anarchist may object that this state will not remain so limited and will inevitably impose other rules serving the interests of its constituent. That’s a fair objection to minarchy, but it’s not an argument for anarchy, assuming that universal respect for the NIV is your goal.

        If a state forces me not to initiate violence in a conflict with you, by threatening me with violence if I do, is this state respecting the NIV meme?

    • David BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      Who will build the roads? Someone other than mass murderers…

      But in all seriousness, the State doesn’t build roads now. They contract that out to private firms. So the real question is who will pay for the roads? And the answer is the same as it is now… the drivers.

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        Drives might pay for some roads, directly or indirectly, but I suppose that communities would pay for many roads directly.

        For example, my subdivision has roads. I believe the county maintains these roads now, but I suppose that whoever built the subdivision paid for the roads initially, so the cost of building these roads was part of the cost of my residence.

        Without a state assuming the maintenance costs, I suppose an association of homeowners would bear these costs. The title to my house might include a covenant with other homeowners in the subdivision requiring me to contribute to the maintenance of the roads as a condition of holding the title.

        In principle, the homeowner’s association could charge drivers a toll to enter the subdivision, but I expect few communities to do so. Even owners of commercial property would not maintain their roads this way, any more than WalMart charges customers a parking fee now.

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        People living in a residential community own the community’s roads collectively through a homeowners’ association, and an association of residential communities maintains roads joining different the communities, so something like a residential property tax pays for many roads. This arrangement is not radically different from the way that roads are financed now, so the existence of roads now suggests that roads would still exist without states building and maintaining them.

        Many homeowners’ associations would contract out responsibility for road maintenance to a firm specializing in this service, and an association of residential communities could similarly contract out the maintenance of roads joining communities.

      • absoluterightsNo Gravatar says:

        Yes! Correct! Finally, someone who gets it.
        I think I have found my intellectual home. My brain twins abound on this site. Thank you for your article.

      • absoluterightsNo Gravatar says:


    • Cash SnowdenNo Gravatar says:

      Some people imagine that something like credit reporting agencies, which already exist, or Ebay’s feedback system, or Carfax, which already exists, would be impossible without socialism/extortion funded thugs to issue threats, cage and murder people who intrude on no one. OF COURSE the market can give you a clear idea of who and what can be trusted, of what the actual facts of a situation are. It performs far better than a state can in that role. Wherever a problem exists, an entrepreneur will see the rewards that come from providing a solution. With the default rule being ‘let the buyer beware’ and due diligence service options available to eliminate most of his risk, the idea that a state and its violent enslavement would do a better job is absurd, IMO.

    • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

      Getting rid of the State isn’t enough, the way I see it. Replacing one group of people who initiate violence on others with multiple such groups, for example, is not really improving things.

      We know the State and Statism is evil, but until we put our hands on the real root of that evil, the factor that enables the State to commit its many atrocities, we’re not going to solve the problem: if you look at the worst things that humans have ever done to each other, each one of them rests on the initiation of violence, where violence is defined to be an assault (I include credible threats to be the same as the thing) directly on the human body. We know about individual crimes like murder, rape, assault, beating, kidnapping, torture, etc; certainly war and large group violence we know about. But if you look at the core power of Statism, it too comes from the initiation of violence, most notably in Western societies jail (which is an act of kidnapping)(and its threat).

      Imagine if you will a so-called “State” that never initiated violence: it would have about the same power as the Queen of England, almost all of it ceremonial. The agents of the State cannot even “tax” us directly: taxation is often called “theft”, but in reality, it is extortion: the state could not even physically steal all of what they “tax” from us, instead they must threaten us with violence to *give* them our money (or to be the State’s thieving agents, e.g. tax “withholding”). Without the initiation of violence, one gang’s ability to “tax” at the scale that modern states do would be reduced by orders of magnitude, since their only means of enforcement would have to be peaceful: shunning, economic retaliation (which is expensive for them), etc.

      Statism is in fact *defined* in terms of the initiation of violence: “the State is that entity that is considered to have a monopoly on the legitimate initiation of violence in a given region.” All we need do is reject the notion that the initiation of violence is *ever* legitimate – by States, by warlords, by mafia bandits, by the rich, by gangs, by *anyone* – and not only do we take down the State, we also avoid all of the rest of the worst things that people do to each other. And in the process, we prevent some “psuedo-state” from arising in its place, since any such psuedo-state would likewise not have access to the power of the initiation of violence.

      All it takes is a meme: the meme of non-initiation of violence. It’s a simple, straightforward meme, one that cuts across every civilization on this planet, one that does not require deep legal expertise on homesteading principles, one that does not require deep economic expertise on the workings of free markets and the dangers of “intervention”, to absorb. It’s a meme consistent with many other great memes, e.g. the Golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). It’s a meme that will spread much better than the “non-aggression principle” meme, since that is a complicated meme to even understand and requires many assumptions that most people will reject.

      A society in which the non-initiation of violence meme was prevalent would be one that supported multiple political philosophies: communists could live a communist life, AnSocs could live under their rules, AnCaps under theirs, Mutualists under theirs, etc. Sure, at the boundaries of their intersection, there will be some disputes, but with the NIV meme in place, those disputes would have to be settled peacefully, through negotiation, compromise, etc. Over time, people of various groups will have a chance to observe how the rules that other groups have fared, making the entire society a form of “living laboratory” for different rulesets (channeling some Patri Friedman in this end part).

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        You seem to advocate a state of being in which the NIV meme is a universal norm (and practically the only universal norm). O.K. But why is this norm universal? Why expect universal respect for the norm ever to be voluntary? Some people want to impose their will on other people forcibly. Aren’t you advocating a State imposing this norm?

        • Brian DrakeNo Gravatar says:


          The obvious answer is no. The I in NIV is Initiation. You don’t impose NIV when you defend yourself (which is responsive, not initiatory).

          Checkout Stephen Kinsella on estoppel. Anyone initiating violence against me has no argument against my defense of myself. If they assert I am initiating violence on them and condemn initiation of violence, they condemn their own action as well. If they assert defensive violence is unjust, they cannot then justly defend themselves against my reprisal, and I could just easily argue that my defensive violence is actually an independent act of initiation which brings them back to the challenge of criticizing my initiation while justifying theirs. And so on. People initiating violence have no argument.

          It is this willingness to defend myself that is the “instituting” of the NIV, and thus not an imposition on anyone.

          • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

            Brian, love your emphasis on the difference between initiation and response… It is absolutely crucial. I do not actually make an argument for or against defensive violence: people will have to make that choice, of course, and I realize that that can be a difficult, nuanced choice (or not). The importance of that choice pales in comparison to the choice of whether to *initiate* violence or not, because if no one initiates violence, then *there’s no violence to respond to*.

            [Interestingly, I debate with Kinsella on this topic quite a lot, and even though he has pushed this estoppel concept, he still explicitly reserves the right to use violence in response to non-violent property crimes. I cannot see how he does not understand how this violates his own estoppel notions, but he continues to rebuff me on this. This is the place where I think liberatarian/AnCaps have made a mistake: by advocating a violent response to an unwanted but nonviolent act (a property rights violation like trespassing), by a concept similar to estoppel, they are essentially losing the right to complain when someone else advocates a violent act in response to non-violent acts (like not wanting to pay taxes). In essence, they have ruined their own arguments against Statism by making essentially doing the thing they argue against with those that don’t agree with the AnCap position on “property” (like most traditional anarchists).]

        • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

          Martin, I do advocate the NIV; but that’s all I can do, as you point out: *advocate* it. As in, try to convince people to choose that as their starting point norm. You are absolutely correct that I’d be stuck in a contradiction were I to advocate a State’s enforcement of the NIV (to be clear, I am a State abolitionist, not a minarchist).

          Now, why do I think this is a better “universal norm” to advocate than others? Basically, a combination of marketability, plurality, and because it more directly attacks the worst things that people do to each other (and this includes the State itself: I think a society in which the NIV is dominant is less vulnerable to a return of Statism than even an AnCap society which, as quite a few libertarian scholars have argued, has no real safeguard against a dominant protection agency (or a cartel of them) more or less becoming a new State… of course, different scholars argue about how *likely* that is and it’s not a settled question, but I prefer something with more protection).

          Basically: I think we are much, much more likely to get a large group of people onboard with the NIV than we are with NAP or “propertarianism” (largely the same thing) or, for the other anarchists here, their particular brand of anarchy. Really, I’d argue that most flavors of anarchy have as part of their core something very similar to the NIV, so it forms a common bond across (and quite a few other philosophies, religions, -archys, etc).

      • absoluterightsNo Gravatar says:

        To be even more precise…the initiation of direct, proximate, and nonconsensual harm.

    • Reverend DracoNo Gravatar says:

      Asking, “Without government, who will build the roads,” is like asking, “Without slaves, who will pick the cotton?”

      Same question – same answer: The Market will do it; not only in a more *fiscally* responsible manner, but also a more *morally* responsible manner – since violence or the threat of violence would be absent.

  3. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Good article. A good pro free market movie is Hometown Story. Alan Hale Jr. and Marilyn Monroe are in the film. In the film a newspaper editor in a small town with a chip on his shoulder rails against big business. He re-examines his view of business after an owner of a large company comes to the aide of young girl whose life is endanger.

  4. David CNo Gravatar says:

    I feel that fear of “corporate privilege” is overrated. In a free society, people are still going to organize and group under a common cause, and a common name to do things. Economies of scale will still matter. If the state eliminated limited liability, the private sector would probably recreate something similar using insurance and bearer shares. What the corporations gain from limited liability, vs what the state takes in the form of heavy taxes and regulations … there is no compare, clearly most corporations are getting a raw deal, clearly most pay far more in costs than they gain in “protection”. Corporate limited liability is a protection racket, just like any other mafia protection racket. The “protection” they get, is nothing compared to the “costs” they pay.

    Also, lets look at this rationally. Like take a typical mega company, Exxon had a global corporate profit of what? 20 billion? Well US government spending is something like 6000 billion. So now, according to the socialists, I’m supposed to go hysterical over corporate control, and presume that these evil greedy corporations are pulling the puppet strings strings of the benevolent state. No bullshit. The state even has nukes, a million man army, and the power to print money. It’s clear as day who’s pulling the puppet strings, it’s clear when it comes to corporate “privilege” vs state power, which one is out of control and which one isn’t.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Exxon-Mobile has a very low profit margin. There are people who think that oil companies make too much profit but there profit margin is far less than what businesses in other industries make. Gas stations only make about 5 cents profit per every gallon of gas they sell. That is why they sell food which generally also is sold with a low profit margin. Of course gas stations generally sell food at a higher price than supermarkets but my point is oil companies sell their product at a low profit margin compared to businesses in other industries.

      • Reverend DracoNo Gravatar says:

        Businesses with low profit margins don’t regularly, year-after-year, post record profits in the 10s of Billions. . . they’re lucky to cover expenses.

        Oil companies and gas stations are 2 different creatures. . . gas stations *have to* operate on low profits, due to the artificially-inflated cost of fuel – artificially inflated by the *oil companies*
        If gas stations tried to make a large profit at the pump, they’d either be run out of business or bombed into submission. And rightfully so.

    • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

      I was with you on the first part: this is an excellent article, and the only slight “miss” I see is the claim that without the state, shareholders would be held liable for the actions of employees of the companies that they have bought stock in, thus concluding that the State grants a huge externalized boon to corporations in granting “limited liability”. I think the truth lies somewhere in between, as folks such as Stephan Kinsella have laid out well. Yes, *someone* is liable for the actions of the employees of a corporation, *someone’s* personal assets are at stake if a fractional reserve bank runs out of reserves (say), but it is the legal *owner*, not shareholders… Shareholders don’t “own” a corporation. They don’t get to use the corporate jet, they can’t sit in the corporate offices, they can’t work out in the corporate gym. They are much more akin to creditors who have loaned money to the corporation than they are owners, and it is highly likely that the most dominant contractual relationship that would prevail in a freed society between owner and shareholder would be one structured like a loan, with the contract explicitly limiting the liability of the shareholder and keeping it on the owners.

      In a freed society, responsibility and liability cannot just dissappear: *that* is the difference between such a society and a State. But it can be transferred via contractual agreement.

      Additionally, the costs of any such transference of liability will, in general, be internalized… E.g., shareholders get less privileges with respect to the corporation’s assets in return for not having liability. If you want to take on the liability, then that’s not the contract you sign; you buy a partial stake and become an *owner*, getting more but at the cost of the extra liability. This is another characteristic of the State system, as pointed out correctly in the article: the cost of limited liability is externalized via State violence.

      As to your comment, I think trying to separate the corporations from the State and point the finger only at the latter kind of just muddies the message. I personally don’t think “limited liability”, the second of the 3 things mentioned by the article, is the particularly pernicious collaboration between the State and corporations. But #3 – corporations using the power of the State for their own good – is a Whopper, and by defending corporations as you are, I think you are sweeping this under the rug and in so doing losing people from your pov. It’s true that Exxon’s profits or income or whatever is less than the State… but there’s a lot more Exxons in a given country than States. And you refer to the State’s spending, but: who do you think they *spend* it with? The connected, privileged, crony corporations.

      It never really seems fruitful to me in our rhetoric to separate the State from corporations: they are really the same thing *in today’s Statists world*. I understand that in a feed society, we very much expect organizations to do great things, and so we’re tempted to defend today’s organizations, but it just sends the wrong signal… I think many of today’s corporations would much rather operate on a level playing field, one where they didn’t have to curry favor from the government, and so I don’t think they are “evil”. But if we want to say that, we should say *that*, not “the corporations of today are just fine”.

  5. Ethan GloverNo Gravatar says:

    The most frustrating argument you can come across is “what is capitalism?” you’d think the dictionary would be a fine starting point, but as with everything, it is rejected because it doesn’t fit preconceived bias.

    • David BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      Is someone putting forward that argument? I don’t see it. The dictionary is a fine starting point, but of primary concern is what people mean, not what people say. So, if people cannot come to common terms, it’s important to be able to articulate what you mean with different words. I have no loyalty to the word “capitalism.” However, I have an intense preconceived bias in favor of self ownership, non violence, and the freedom to trade. When one says “capitalism” and means these things I can discuss it in those terms. When on says “capitalism” and means the opposite, I can also discuss it in those terms. Because words are just a road signs, not the road itself.

      • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

        David, do you differentiate between “initiation of force” (e.g. not respecting your preferred property rights rules, that is, theft, trespassing, etc) and “initiation of violence” (assault, murder, rape, kidnapping/imprisonment)?

        I ask because I find this a weakness of the AnCap intellectual foundation, even though I am basically an AnCap, but I see a bit of an opening in your mention of “non-violence”. If we give that jailing someone is a violent act – it is kidnapping and imprisonment, acts directly against the human body – then can you consider it legitimate to jail someone who has not in turn committed a violent act? Someone who has stepped on your lawn because their philosophy on land ownership is different than yours, or someone who has used the rake that has been lying on your lawn for 9 months (apparently you don’t clean up much 😉 because they believe in a “use” definition of ownership, or just someone who has nicked a loaf of bread because they are starving? Would you be ok with jailing them, and thus committing a violent act against someone who has not done so first (though in each case they have done something that you don’t agree with and wish they had not done)?

        This, to me, is where libertarianism/anarchy should be headed: we swear off all initiations of *violence*, and stop saber rattling over what we deem as our “property”. When you say that you believe in self-ownership, I think that philosophically, this reverses things. Here, you’ve already assumed that “property” is the dominant societal rule (rather than non-initiation of violence), and in so doing, actually *reduced* the protections from violence, since you have logically and philosophically now reduced the status of your body to that of your shoes and the lawn laying on your yard. Your body is so much *more* than that. Sure, *if* we’re going to have “property”, then surely you own your own body; but way before we even have that discussion about “property”, we need to establish with our neighbors etc that whatever the dispute we have with them, we agree to settle it *peacefully*, that is, with no one being the first to use violence… and that even means disputes over the rules of “property”.


        • Brian DrakeNo Gravatar says:


          I don’t think you’ll find strong advocation of “jailing” as you describe it in the leading AnCap literature. While the concept of forced confinement may not be completely off the table, I’m not aware of any prominent theorist who would consider imprisoning a person for trespass or unauthorized-use-of-rake to be a just use of force. If you’re aware of any (theorists/thinkers/writers/advocates) who do promote such a view, I’d be curious to read them, so please share where you came across this view.

          “Force” and “violence” are usually synonyms. Your unique differentiation is not about the action, but the justification for its application.

          As to “preferred property rights rules” I see this two ways. A just society has logically coherent property rules (for how else can we discern justice but by the correct application of reason?) and yet allows within that framework, any consensual activity. Without writing an essay here, I would assert that I’ve found the property rules most commonly advocated by “ancaps” (not all of them, of course) to be the most logically coherent in their formulation and justification of any I’ve encountered. I.e., I have not found logical or even moral coherence in other systems so far. I think it’s a false equivalence to simply dismiss these differences as “preference”.

          So if a society in general is to be just, it will adopt as an “umbrella structure” property rules that are coherent. But then, within the boundaries of their own property (as defined by those “umbrella” rules) individuals may act and organize in whatever way they want to consent to. Thus, the ability for communes, syndicates, mutualist enclaves, and other collectivist property systems to exist in a free society where “ancap” property rules are the defacto “law”. I do not see the inverse as possible (i.e., logically coherent property rules allowed under a general system of a less-just property rules).

          • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

            “I don’t think you’ll find strong advocation of “jailing” as you describe it in the leading AnCap literature.” I agree, which is exactly why it is a red flag for me: the AnCap theory does not in any way differentiate violent from non-violent enforcement and so it does not provide this protection, and yet most AnCaps instinctively seem to *want* it. They’ve missed that their current theory doesn’t actually provide them what they want, and it is my hypothesis that it is the NIV that would provide them what they needed.

            As I’ve said, AnCap theory creates an equivalence class out of “your body” and “your possessions/property”, and thus, it is perfectly valid within AnCap theory for a judge to rule that justice can be served by equating a violent enforcement mechanism to a property rights violation, just as a judge will often rule a monetary fine as being “equivalent” to loss of some property right. Sure, different judges will haggle over how to make this valuation, and some will not make it all, but I submit that that is not sufficient protection. If we as AnCaps don’t want violent enforcement of non-violent offenses, then we should advocate a theory that is explicitly compatible with that; and propertarian theory is not.

            The fact that folks like Kinsella have to “tack on” extra concepts like estoppel to try to address this is a continued part of that red flag… it’s like slapping a bandaid over a leaky dyke: better off to build the dyke right in the first place.

            ““Force” and “violence” are usually synonyms. Your unique differentiation is not about the action, but the justification for its application. ”

            I’m having real difference seeing this. I clearly am *defining* these things descriptively, not normatively, and they are different definitions.

            You brought up the issue of whether one has a “preferred set of rules”, or whether one can make a logical argument to find “the one right” set of rules. It’s a common, common argument with me on this, and it would be painful and long to go into the whole thing. Suffice it to say, while I respect the attempts to be as logical and rational as possible in coming up with one’s preferred rules, it’s still a *preference*, you just got there in a particular way. I can also make a rational argument for why chocolate is better than vanilla, but it would be the height of arrogance – and an invitation for everyone else to do the same – were I to be so sure of my objective argument for the superiority of chocolate that I felt justified in using violence to impose it on everyone else. The history of the world is filled with countless incidents of people doing horrible things to each other in the name of “the one objective right thing” (e.g. in the wake of 9/11, the so-called “Objectivists” talked themselves into thinking that it was objectively “right” for all 1.1 billion Muslims to be exterminated with nuclear weapons). I’ve had enough of it. If I have an airtight argument for why X is the right choice, and I go out to someone and disagrees, does waving my proof in their face and then shooting them really make the world a better place? What I have learned over 30 years of being a libertarian and talking to statists, socialists, anarchists, mutualists, Georgians, and everything in between is: they are *all* sure they are right, and they are all sure they have an airtight argument for why. If we justify violence in the name of our “airtight argument”, we are implicitly saying to everyone else “you should do the same”. I say enough: let’s all just agree that we all have our perspectives, our preferences, and that where they clash, let’s at least resolve those clashes peacefully, and then we can sit back and watch over time and see how the various -isms and -archies work out in practice.

            • Brian DrakeNo Gravatar says:

              Sorry Andy, I don’t feel inclined to continue discussing with you.

              I find myself reading your posts (not just to me) and having a serious disconnect with your manner of communication and how it expresses your thinking. I can and do debate long and vigorously with people who disagree with me on all manner of things, nor do I back down if I’m stumped or legitimately challenged (I actually enjoy when I’m shown to be wrong, as it helps me learn). But I observe such an amorphous slipperiness to your thinking that I cannot see any further discussion profitable. This isn’t said out of malice or disrespect, nor is it meant accusingly since I don’t know your motives. It’s only offered from blunt honesty.

              Best to you,


        • absoluterightsNo Gravatar says:

          yes, this reply is an initiation of force. Me running over and punching you in the head, is an initiation of violence.
          Both of those are not precisely the problem…it is the initiation of nonconsensual harm, that people universally deplore.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      I define capitalism the same way I define a free market: the separation of the economy and the state.

      • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

        I don’t find that definition very compelling. It does not differentiate between voluntary socialism and voluntary propertarian economies, for instance, even though both are completely unrelated to the State.

        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          It is a separation of economy and state and property and the means of production are owned by individuals and companies rather than being owned and controlled by the public at large.

          • Andy ClearyNo Gravatar says:

            But the difference between capitalists and anarchists isn’t whether “property is owned by individuals and corporations and not the public at large”, but either that there is no property at all, or that property is transferred by use and occupation rules (vs only being transferred voluntarily).

            I don’t think you’re characterizing the “non capitalist” perspectives correctly, and in so doing, you’re not getting to the heart of how “capitalism” differs from them.

            Just my 2c though.

  6. Christian GruberNo Gravatar says:

    Ok, I want to reply to some of the comments, but haven’t figured out wordpress properly yet. I’ll try to get to some replies later today or tomorrow. So used to G+ and Facebook commenting flows. Please forgive if my comments end up in incorrect places. :/

  7. Janos SzaboNo Gravatar says:

    “Who’s going to build the roads?” Why, no one of course.

    If the asphalt elephant lumbering over the landscape needs to be fed by huge tax subsidies then it shouldn’t have been adopted in the first place.

    The delusion that mechanical transportation implies the need for high-powered vehicles moving at high speed over a monumental roadbed is a congenital myopia born of economic master planning and subsidized industrial boondoggles.

    See “Energy and Equity”, by Ivan Illich, for an analysis of “radical monopolies” like the highway/car complex.

  8. AndreaNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article. This is my first time on your site and I have enjoyed the lively and articulate comments above. I have a small delema and I’m hoping someone can help me. I’m an older, single mom, attending community college where I am enrolled in a Social Problems course that after just one week is making my blood boil. The textbook, required readings and videos shown thus far are so unabashedly biased in favor of the Statist agenda, however I have trouble articulating clear, precise, arguments against many of the facts and statistics presented. Would anyone be able to suggest some academic books that point out the opposing anarcho-capitalist response to some of the most common claims by leftists? I know when an argument feels wrong but emotions only cloud the actual issues. I need some hard facts handy when debating with this professor.

    Here is an example of what she has us reading for homework tonight:

    Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
    Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.
    By Joseph E. Stiglitz

    The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.” It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper one percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.
    One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.
    Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin. Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.
    First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible.
    Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.
    Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.
    None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.
    Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.
    But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.
    When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment.
    Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.
    America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.
    In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.
    As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.
    The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

    Please help! Thank you kindly.