Tuesday, June 13, 2006

An open question

Force and coercion are major historical themes, but the roles of which I fear may be somewhat underplayed by Austrian economists. While I'm surely hoping for a minarchist state or better to come about, the conspicuous absence of any readily identifiable forms of such existing in practice doesn't encourage. While it may be that such states are possible, they're not in evidence around every crook and corner.

So, I ask all of you, what role does force play in the collapse of market relationships (i.e. free, voluntary) into political relationships (i.e. coercive)?

Taking the accumulation and inheritence of property in a typical society revolving around intensified agricultural production, especially sedentary and with a complex division of labor, social stratification is almost bound to occur. Once you have a stratified society, you have different power-potentials - that is, different abilities, due to the accumulation of prestige, wealth, skills, etc. to work your will above and over the will of others.

Now given this scenario, I believe that rational self-interest will inevitably lead to attempts at violence and coercion. Situations that encourage high time preference (i.e. instant gratification over maximized future returns) are likely to see the worst of it. Ultimately, I think this almost precludes a developing society with a complex division of labor and stratification, high population density, and with an overall high social rate of time preference from becoming anarcho-capitalist or minarchist - there's too much short-term gain to be had by fleecing your neighbors, making such a turn fleetingly unlikely.

Any thoughts? Does that sound about right, or am I full of it? Tell it to me straight, people!


David said...

Correct me if I'm wrong Tim but it seems as if you are asking if, without the state, society will devolve into a Hobbesian "state of nature," of all against all. This is a complicated question with many conditions that can be added on which results in vastly different conclusions.

First we must consider the circumstances at which the government disappeared. Suppose it happened in a developed state (such as the US) where people are (mostly) free. Suppose it happens tomorrow. Would, on the dawn of Thursday morning, suddenly venture out to rape and pillage? Nah. I don't think a lot of people would; there's an entrenched mindset of not doing such things. And unlike the victims of New Orleans, (some of whom broke down in the state of nature), we would not be so desperate to survive. Developing countries, however, might have a problem because the average population is more desperate but even then no society has no property rights; it is an institution woven into all peoples of the world. Hard to break.

If this is not the topic on which you are inquiring plese clarify your question. Especially the "collaspe into" part. What do you mean by that?

ryan said...

You're entirely correct. And even if you weren't, imagine what a world without government would look like. Let's imagine an anarchocapitalist world with private companies that enforced contracts and the security of property, etc, etc. Presumably duplication of effort would lead to some amount of geographical concentration/specialization, so, really, how much does such a world really differ from, say, Singapore? Or, for that matter, The Godfather -- doesn't Vito start doing his thing through what amounts to voluntary transactions for the provision for security in an anarchic environment?)

Governments are way better at force than nongovernments, so the existence of one government pretty much explains the development of governments 2 through N. And if you think we'd somehow be different, well, when it really comes down to it, the Romans weren't a whole lot different than modern Americans. When the (western half of) the government collapsed, the old prelates and generals just created new governments.

Tim said...

David, I'm not so much talking about a war of all against all in the Hobbesian sense, but more of the fact that if given time to develop, big-men appear and become chiefs - maybe wealthier, maybe more prestigeous, whatever. But what I'm wondering about is not what the normal people do - it's what does the big-man do?

Under what circumstances will a tribal chief with largely symbolic powers formalize into a role that includes state powers, like those of violence?

I certainly don't think that the state is the best means to keep the peace in the world - but it seems to be very common and robust, and I'm suggesting that their development is almost inevitable.

That's not to say in any way that they can't be moved beyond or worked through - but identifying the best garden to grow a free society in wasn't the immediate goal of the post.

Tim said...

Ryan, government are better at force than nongovernments?

They're not better at making Oreos or automobiles, so why force? I think other agencies can wield it just fine - but I think (I'm not entirely sure myself) what I was getting at is that whoever comes to be most effective at wielding such power in a society tends to begin to take on the characteristics of government.

As for me, I think a Corleone-run society would be an interesting and refreshing change, where at least we could rely on their greed to permit them to be bought off - the government is rarely so kind, and often acts not out of greed, but for our own good (at least rhetorically so).

C.S. Lewis said it well:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

ryan said...


Of course government is better at force than nongovernment. I know this because all anarchic societies have been conquered by one government or another.

My point about Singapore and the Corleones is more or less in agreement with you -- if the world were to turn into the anarchocapitalist paradise, it wouldn't look much different, at least in those respects that anarchists seem to be concerned with. Sure, you could have a bunch of societies looking like Singapore, but there's a reason why Singapore is generally considered to be a country. And we would consider the Corleones to be a country if they weren't already inside a country.

Tim said...

You're probably right - un underdeveloped, uncoordinated anarchic society is no competition for a gorilla of a state.

But what of semi-states? Take the Swiss Confederation of yore. Under the right circumstances, they were able to mostly become independent. It's a bunch of little governments making a big government of their own, but bottom up in the right sense, and if taken to an extreme, means to me that a situation that permitted individuals to act likewis might exist.

I guess the "better" at force part is what I'm bothered by. They may be able to exert more of it earlier and more contentrated than another less centralized society, all else the same - but the costs involved with doing so are going to be greater correspondingly, as the central plan deviates more from the market's plan.

In any case, thanks for posting!