How I Imagine An Anarchist Defense Agency

April 14th, 2014   Submitted by Seth King

armed-guardThis article is not for pacifists. I do have great respect for pacifists and would enjoy reading articles similar to this one outlining strategies and tactics for anarchist pacifist defense agencies. Sadly, I’ve come across very few, if any, that employed outside of the cage thinking. Maybe I’ll write one myself one of these days. Also, this article is not concerned about the basics of why private defense agencies are needed or why they would not turn into governments themselves. This article is strictly about the nuts and bolts and assumes that the reader is already on board with the philosophy. Furthermore, it must be understood that the economics I present below absolutely require Bitcoin as the medium of exchange. The elaborate nature of underground defense agencies precludes the use of corporate bank accounts or easily seizable stockpiles of precious metals or cash. Let’s get started.

To begin, I’d like you to use your imagination. I’d like you to pretend that you are about to grow a sizable marijuana garden. Hundreds of plants on your own property, not hidden in the slightest. You’re ready to start making a lot of money and you’re willing to openly break the law to do it. You estimate a gross annual income of $5 million. The costs to grow, cure, and trim your marijuana garden necessary for bulk sales is only $100,000. That’s a $4.9 million net profit. But you’re not stupid. You know you’re going to need a lot of security to pull this off. In fact, you’d be perfectly happy to make $400,000 annually, leaving you with $4.5 million that you can allot towards security. So, how does this security work? What does it look like? That’s what this article is about. Maybe by releasing this into our collective consciousness we’ll begin to see something like this sooner rather than later.

The numbers I’m using for this article are completely arbitrary, as is the scenario. The business could be anything such as an underground machine shop, a cattle ranch, a sweatshop, you name it.

To get back to my example, I’ve got a large garden and ideally I’d have ten men with high-powered automatic rifles, bullet proof vests, and Kevlar helmets patrolling the perimeter of my garden at all times. In order to cover all shifts, including weekends and holidays, we’re probably looking at fifty full-time employees. Let’s pay them $50,000 each annually. That’s $2.5 million. (I know what you’re thinking at this point. I’ll address that in a minute. Stay with me.)

So, we’ve got $2 million left to spend on security annually. We can’t just have ten men patrolling the property without any support. They’d be sitting ducks. We need spies. Lots of spies. Spies are a lot less expensive, though. All they do is sit a distance from the airports, police stations, etc. with a pair of binoculars and radio and report any build up of police presence. Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that. But nothing inherently dangerous like having to get into a battle with the state. Let’s pay them $20,000 annually for full-time work. We’ll need them ’round the clock as well. Let’s say fifty men in total to do the job. There goes another million.

We’ve got $1 million left. Where can that go? How about reservists? If the state, or any other criminal organization, ever does attempt an attack we’re going to need backup. But backup isn’t working full-time. They’re simply on-call. Let’s get one hundred men ready to throw on their body armor and arrive at your garden ready to start blasting away intruders if they ever get the call. Of course, these reservists are going to be expensive. You might not pay them any other day of the year, but the one day you do need them they’re guaranteed to be fighting for you. They each cost $10,000 per day. There’s goes our $4.5 million dollars annually for security. We’ve now got a profitable business with very decent security. Granted, the state could drop a large warhead on your property, but doing so would likely piss off your neighbors and severely hurt the state’s legitimacy, causing further disobedience. Any other ground attack would only come with severe loss of life on the side of the police. And frankly, I don’t really expect those cowards to risk their lives to stop a marijuana garden. They may love the war on drugs when nobody is shooting back, but not-so-much against a well organized defense agency populated by people willing to risk their lives.

And that brings me back to a criticism you likely had earlier. Who in their right minds would risk death for a lousy $50,000 a year, or $10,000 in a day? This is where the thought experiment gets fun.

The defense agency I envision does not rely on altruism. Under no circumstances do I expect anywhere near enough people willing to risk their lives for somebody else’s business. Sure, there will always be a very small number of militia members looking for a standoff. But the example I’ve outlined above needs to be able to be replicated not just in a few locations, but globally and simultaneously.

So, if not for altruism, how will a gardener get individuals to protect his crop? Let’s start with more money. $50,000 annually might be good money to stand around a perimeter all day, but does it offset the risks of getting thrown in jail or getting killed? Probably not for most people. But what if there were a gigantic insurance policy on your life? Imagine if getting killed or seriously injured on the job meant a $1 million payout to you or your designated family member(s). Also imagine earning $100,000 annually for every year spent in prison. You could walk out of prison a multi-millionaire for a twenty year prison sentence. Now we’re talking about some real incentive. Good pay for an easy job that might never result in a battle with the state, and a hefty insurance policy in case it does.

Okay, you’re probably wondering where all that money comes from for the insurance policy. Assuming an insurance liability of roughly $110 million, that being $1 million for every one of the one hundred ten men willing to battle the state to defend your property, unless the gardener is already well off financially, he’s going to be paying premiums. Now maybe $350,000 annually in premiums is paid leaving him with a net of $50,000 annually. It’s important to note that the premiums the proprietor pays depends on the liability and risk. If the business is simply knitting grey market sweaters in the comfort of your own home, you likely won’t need the ten armed, full-time guards. Also, the likelihood of your house being raided for illegal sweaters is significantly reduced. So, too, would be the insurance premiums.

Now let’s talk about desertion. Surely, the gardener in our example would not want to pay large annual salaries to guards who are going to surrender at first site of the police. That would defeat the entire purpose. There must be some penalty for desertion. And this is the beauty of free-market anarchism. We’re finding voluntary, incentive based solutions to problems instead of coercion. The state, when confronted with desertion, resorts to court martial, prison, and historically, even death. What could we do to punish individuals who desert their post when in danger? I believe the punishment would not be some Pollyanna view that shame or a poor work history preventing him from future employment is the right answer. The answer must be financial. The guard must stand to lose a significant chunk of wealth for desertion.

So, how would we do that? Surely we can do better than raiding his home and stealing his house and emptying his pockets. The answer is simple. A requisite for employment as a guard would be a hefty bond. Imagine each potential guard putting up a bond of $500,000 held by a third party, or escrow. If the guard ever deserts his post, the bond will be released by escrow to the gardener, thus offsetting the loss to his business and investment for lack of proper defense. If, however, the guard finishes his employment with the gardener he will be refunded his full bond from escrow in its entirety.

One of the beautiful aspects of bonds is that the larger one’s bond, the greater respect an individual will command in the marketplace. I imagine a fresh, twenty year old guard just getting started would have a very small amount to his name. He might only be able to scrape together a few thousand dollars for a bond. In this case, his employment opportunities would be defending those establishments that require little to no risk of desertion such as a bouncer at a club, or an usher at a movie theater. The pay would be as low as the risk. Over time the young guard would build up his bond, squirreling away a portion of his monthly income. Eventually his bond might be worth tens of thousands of dollars, fetching him more lucrative, and dangerous work if he chose.

One interesting side-effect of the defense market is that older individuals are likely to engage in the most dangerous work. Juxtapose this with state defense agencies, whereby young men fight and die in wars despite having the most amount of life to lose. In the system I’ve outlined, it may very well be individuals in their 60’s and 70’s that stand around the garden with their rifles and body armor. Sure, the state is interested in young, healthy individuals for their war machine, because they are expected to traverse hundreds of miles with heavy loads on their shoulders. But that is strictly an offensive skill. Defending plots of land while sitting, standing, or even laying around truthfully does not require individuals be in the pinnacle of physical fitness. Even terminally ill patients could do that.

As far as bonds and insurance go, these types of intricate models cannot exist in the underground economy without Bitcoin. With cash, desertion doesn’t mean a loss of a bond. It means a mafia with a vendetta to end the deserter’s life. With cash, insurance means paying off the local district attorney and chief of police. With Bitcoin, trustless options exist to store and move large amounts of wealth between any number of parties. Even the idea of a defense company may be outdated with the new idea of decentralized autonomous corporations possibly coming into play.

There are numerous possibilities for a market in defense. The ideas I’ve outlined above are what get me really excited for the future. There are too many stale ideas about how to change the world floating around. We need to change not only our philosophical paradigm, but our tactical paradigm as well. Play with this model in your head a while. Try to think up varying scenarios. Imagine doing the exact opposite of what the state does.



15 Responses to “How I Imagine An Anarchist Defense Agency”

  1. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    How would the perpetrators of such a scheme trick intelligent people into accepting bitcoin?

  2. NathanNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t know if you have taken enough externalities into account, since you are basing this on a situation in which some generally accepted form of coercive government exists.
    We also need to take into account that there are factors, incentives, and disincentives that are NOT monetary: family loyalties, ideological loyalties, religious convictions, and other factors that can work for and against all the parties, and skew costing and outcomes.
    The idea of personal bonds for soldiers is one that has been tried in the past in mercenary systems: it sometimes works and sometimes does not. In particular it can possibly be negated if, for example, families or companies or other groups put up some or all of a bond.
    Finally, at first thought, much of the autonomous nature of transactions that Bitcoin supposedly brings to the table is negated when you bring insurance and bonding entities to the table. Open competition between these entities is essential, because there is no way to completely eliminate the need for a trusted third-party (or multiple third-parties) for a system like this to function.

  3. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Why limit it to Bitcoin? Why not in a situation of the absence of a state accept notes issued by individual banks, or gold, silver, etc…?

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Well, we’re not in absence of the state, for starters. And even if we were, the counter-party risk associated with precious metals or bank notes is what really allows for easy capture/control by a state, or an emerging state.

      • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

        Uh, the title of what you wrote is: How I Imagine an Anarchist Defense Agency. Thus I assumed you wrote it from the perspective of a situation of Anarchy. Btw, an emerging state can potentially gain control of many things.

        • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

          An anarchist defense agency can coexist in the presence of the state.

          • NathanNo Gravatar says:

            Can, yes. But likely to? Immediately branded as outlaws if not terrorists, unless you can really ply on the maskirovka to do it.

            • @HRearden, I read the article more as Seth suggesting ways for anarchists to create defense agencies today, or in the near future, while we still have the state, rather than as a theoretical outline of an fully anarchist society.

              @Nathan, In places like Detroit the state may not have the resources or interest to shut down anarchist defense agencies. Where the police can’t keep order, it seems more profitable for them to use the creation of alternatives by communities to beg their superiors for more funds, (“We’ve become so underfunded we almost have anarchy!”, as Cenk Uygur might say), than to go suppressing folks for the sake of maintaining an unfeasible monopoly.

              Also, Seth mentioned that perhaps someone might write up a similar article from a pacifist perspective, and I think we could usefully pursue that direction of thought. Justice doesn’t always require violence, and non-violent institutions may have the ability to avoid backlash from government officials more easily than violent ones.

  4. Greg LilleyNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting thought experiment. Off the top of my head, I can think of several properties of crypto-currency that would make it more feasible.
    1) It’s potential for anonymity
    2) The inability of the state to seize your funds
    3) Possibility of self-enforcing contracts through Digital Autonomous Corporations (DAC)

  5. Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

    The government could use artillery, air support drones or any number of precision weapons systems including soldiers to destroy a fixed location. There is a reason why cannabis growers statside put their large crops in national parks they’re trying to hide it. The Cartels don’t try to hold the farms here because they don’t have the power. Mexico is different than the US.

    Keeping a plot secure takes patrols, perimeter security, scouts, informants etc… You can’t sit in your perimeter and expect victory you will lose every time.

    • NathanNo Gravatar says:

      I don’t think he was advocating a static defense. There are many elements to a successful defense of a fixed position, and he has addressed several: the intel side with the “spy network” (more properly recon), his reserves, and such. He didn’t touch much on mutual aid (support) but that would fit under his reserves. And he didn’t apply much in the way of technology: sensors, passive and active counter-measures, and the like.
      That said, employing artillery against a pot plantation is usually not a serious threat: pesticides and boots on the ground are much more likely (and common), or (and this is the hard one) infiltration and sabotage. And it isn’t a matter of whether or not the cartels have the “power” but what makes sense from a money/bottom line point of view. (And the fact, that when you really get down to it, cartels, like the real terrorists whether they are Irish republicans or Islamists or KKK or government, are pretty stupid: usually run by committee – which makes them MORE stupid, and just plain lazy.)

  6. Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

    You grow marijuana on this parcel of land, and you defend your exclusive governance of the land against other claimants with armed agents. You divide the marijuana’s value with these agents somehow. You imagine yourself deciding the terms of this division. How do you persuade them to accept your terms when they have the arms?

    Why would your armed agents not feel greater kinship with other armed agents defending similar claims to neighboring parcels than they feel toward you?

    Suppose an insurance firm promises to pay you in Bitcoin if armed agents defending a claim to this marijuana farming parcel don’t divide the land’s marginal value as you imagine. This firm must somehow decide when the armed agents claim more of the land’s value than you decide they’re entitled to claim. Why wouldn’t the firm favor the armed agent’s division of the value? Couldn’t the armed agents also hire an insurance firm to guarantee their division of the value? Which insurance firm runs out of Bitcoin first?

    I’m not sure you’ve followed your scenario to its logical conclusion. You want to imagine yourself exclusively governing some parcel of land, other resources including your own labor and fruits of these resources. You want the armed men defending this organization of resources to serve you and not the other way around. Good luck with that.

    If it quacks like a state, it’s a state.

    • //You want the armed men defending this organization of resources to serve you and not the other way around.// Yes. If that was impossible, how do mafia lords protect themselves? Once you have ensured an offer of a secure employment, there will be competition between employees and could-be employees.

      • NathanNo Gravatar says:

        Mafia bosses use the same method that other private and governmental agencies do: have multiple armed forces to balance each other. Just as the CPSU had both the KGB and GRU to balance each other. And usually, at least one of the multiple armed forces has ties and loyalty based on family or other very close relations with the owner/boss that make them more useful.

  7. NathanNo Gravatar says:

    It would seem, especially in an anarchist society, that the people contracting for defense would NOT themselves give up their weapons of personal self-defense, even if contracting for a lot of security and such. Would these people be so stupid as to grant a monopoly of force to their CONTRACTOR? (Don’t answer that, please… IQ levels have been dropping steadily for decades!)