Button Pushers and Apologists

push_buttonIn his recent article “Don’t Smash the StateSteven Horwitz warns that thinking about government as something that should be wiped out of existence is a diversion, and libertarians could better spend their time and effort with a more appropriate mental model.

Specifically, he views the state as a bomb that must be defused carefully or bad things will happen. He urges libertarians to reconsider radical notions like, “smash the state” and gives both a moral argument and a practical argument for picking it apart in an orderly manner.

The moral argument is that getting rid of state activities in the wrong order could cause unnecessary problems for innocent people who are dependent on the state. The practical argument is that trying to get rid of government all at once will not work. Both of these points are superficially compelling, so it is important to show their shortcomings before libertarians get the wrong idea about the state.

The moral argument says that if someone is dependent on the government and that dependence is solely due to government action, for example the minimum wage, then it would be good to remove the minimum wage laws before removing the wealth transfers that support these people. Here Horwitz says that, “Our analysis of the all the damage the state does should carry with it a deep concern about the victims of that damage.” However, there are an even greater number of victims who are totally discounted in his analysis, namely victims of taxation. Continue reading

The Ultimate Resource 2

The Ultimate Resource 2

The Ultimate Resource 2

Many works on economics are depressing. This is because economic analysis properly starts with the ideal economy: a free market of individuals producing all the wonders one can imagine. It then analyzes the ways in which government prevents these good things from happening in the real world. The reader is then left to contemplate his own dismal existence in comparison to what might have been. Notable exceptions include I, Pencil and Julian Simon’s book The Ultimate Resource 2.

Simon’s book is uplifting because instead of comparing reality to an anarcho-capitalist society, it compares the real world to popular, but imaginary, dystopias. He dismantles the alarm around overpopulation, resource depletion, and other doomsday scenarios with solid economic analysis and historical evidence. Furthermore, he explains how all of these supposed problems are solved efficiently and elegantly by the free market.

This book is ultimately a happy tale of human progress. Despite the seemingly limited supply of natural resources and the counter-productive efforts of government, people continue to have more access to food, water, clean air, and other things that make their lives better. Every resource that people desire has been on a trend towards greater abundance. This is not in spite of population growth, but because of it. As Simon says:

“More people, and increased income, cause resources to become more scarce in the short run. Heightened scarcity causes prices to rise. The higher prices present opportunity and prompt inventors and entrepreneurs to search for solutions. Many fail in this search, at cost to themselves. But in a free society, solutions are eventually found. And in the long run the new developments leave us better off than if the problems had not arisen. That is, prices eventually become lower than before the increased scarcity occurred.”

Simon cautions that although this trend is prominent in historical surveys, it is not inevitable. Continue reading


pompeiiPompeii was a wealthy city in Southern Italy until its population was destroyed by the eruption of a neighboring volcano in the year 79 CE. However, the eruption left much of the city intact, and preserved it under several meters of ash. It is slowly being dug out and has become a tourist attraction where people go to see what life was like at the beginning of the common era.

Pompeii was impressive for its orderly neighborhoods, metal water pipes, and some clever civil engineering. It was much smaller, and much less grand, than the city of Rome located a short distance to the north. Yet, in comparison, Pompeii seems to shine as a city that never lived past its prime. Rome, on the other hand, is a shadow of its former glory.

The interesting question, however, is not whether Pompeii would have suffered the same decline as Rome, but why so many civilizations seem to rise and fall with the historical tide. Is it part of human nature that societies must decay? Continue reading

Theory and History

Theory and History

Theory and History

Ludwig von Mises’ last book is an examination of social sciences as they are and as they should be. Mises characteristically spends time excoriating historians who pretend to be economists. His main effort, however, is on the proper delineation between psychology, economics, thymology, and, of course, history.

For those who have read Human Action, the distinction between historical science and economic science is well known. When a so-called economist models the price of onions in Venice in the 1850s, he is not furthering economic knowledge, but simply using mathematics to relate what happened in the past. That this work provides no economic insight and has no predictive power is a central theme of Theory and History.

Furthermore, Mises attacks supposed economic theories that are actually theories of history, and bad ones at that. He embarrasses Marxism for its foundational beliefs that technology determines the social state of affairs and that history is on an inevitable trend towards a final state of socialism. With his typical dry humor, Mises tears apart collectivist ideologies, though some may seem obscure to a modern reader.

On the other hand, his work on thymology is immortal. Continue reading

Anarchy in Afghanistan

There's no government, like no government.

There’s no government, like no government.

Dr. Ilia Murtazashvili and Dr. Jennifer Murtazashvili have done research on conflict resolution systems in Afghanistan that many ancaps will find interesting. In their paper, “Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling“, they describe how most Afghanis choose traditional, decentralized conflict resolution solutions over state provided systems. Specifically, the paper focuses on conflicts over land and how, after doing extensive field research, the authors believe that “…it is time to rethink anarchy as a policy option in Afghanistan and similar fragile states.”

The Murtazashvilis are not suggesting total anarchy, but rather a complete laissez-faire system for resolution of disputes over land. This is not simply a matter of economic efficiency, but also the cultural and social norms of the various groups that live in the country.

From a historical perspective in different areas of the world, they point to other academic research:

“The experience on the American frontier provides ample examples of order in the pale shadow of the state. Anderson and Hill (1990, 2002, 2004) depicted how frontier settlers cooperated without relying on the American government in an ‘‘anarcho-capitalist’’ environment. During the California gold rush that commenced in 1848, individuals established informal systems of property rights to allocate access to gold deposits (Umbeck 1977).3 In fact, individuals in each of the major frontier sectors jumped the gun on land settlement by establishing government-like organizations to specify and enforce property rights during times when they had no formal rights to do so (Murtazashvili 2013).”

Continue reading

Liberty is Not Enough

somaliaOpponents of libertarianism often ask the following question: if libertarians hate government, why not live somewhere like Antarctica or Somalia? From a very narrow perspective, they have a good point. Anarcho-capitalists could enjoy total liberty by living alone on a deserted island.

However, this would simply be trading one kind of freedom for another. Ancaps want to have freedom from crime, which is called liberty. Yet, they also want freedom from the the constraints of nature. That means technology, wealth, and division of labor in the free market. In a word: capital. If an individual only cared about liberty, any wasteland devoid of people would be paradise. However, ancaps care about capital, too. Hell, it’s in the name.

This is evidenced by the large ancap populations in places like New York City, where taxes are high, the nanny state is only overshadowed by the police state, and the government occasionally kills people for selling cigarettes. They prefer to suffer under the yoke of government and enjoy the high standard of living provided by capitalism. It is not perfect capitalism, but even the hampered market can produce an amazing abundance of prosperity. Continue reading