Re: Capitalists and coercion

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Wed Oct 04 2000 - 13:47:12 MDT

Michael S. Lorrey wrote:

> "J. Hughes" wrote:
> > Capitalism as a system has always required coercion, i.e. governments,
> > simply to exist, if only to enforce contracts.
> This first point of yours is plainly false. See the Law Merchant.

You misunderstand the point being made here. Capitalism doesn't
require the *initiation* of coercion, but it does require coercion
generally, as did the Lex Mercatoria. There are some people who think
that hitting me back after I've hit you is not "really" coercion, but
it makes much more sense to me to say that it is a case of *justified*
coercion. It is "coercion" in this broader sense, under which
retaliative force is coercion, that Hughes used the word here.

Now, you may not think that "coercion" entails "governments;" *I*
certainly don't. I normally reserve "government" for the INITIATION
of "coercion." But this is just a difference of the meanings of
words, not a difference in policy, as I'll attempt to justify later in
this post.

The point is that, given the capacity to coerce, capitalists
historically have rarely restricted themselves to non-initiation, but
have used their forces offensively. (Of course, this doesn't show
that they've been worse than non-capitalists.)

There is a common argument that communists like to make when presented
with the offensive situation of socialist states. They say "well,
REAL communism is anarcho-communism, where everyone is fully
enlightened and they all just live and share and work together
communally without any coercion, retaliative or otherwise.
Russia/China/all-actual-communist-states don't satisfy that
requirement, so they're not REALLY communist states."

We should no more allow that argument to go through than we should
allow this argument to go through: "It may be true that the US and
every other 'capitalist' social unit has initiated force, sometimes
in rather egregious ways, but REAL capitalism is libertarianism/
anarcho-capitalism, where everyone operates under minimal/market law.
The US/Britain/all-actual-capitalist states don't satisfy either
requirement, so they're not REALLY capitalist states."

If it turned out that, although capitalism could *logically* exist
apart from a state, historically realistically it would always form a
state and that state would be immoral, this might be an effective
argument against capitalism. Presuming, of course, there were a more
moral alternative that was less likely to turn out immoral.

Lately I've been enamored by an interesting argument: that anarcho-
capitalism is the current state of affairs, and that the reason we
have government is because we're suffering from a rather extravagant
market failure. It's analogous to Nozick's argument for the
minimalist state: that anarcho-capitalism would result in a network of
private judiciaries and law enforcement agencies, but that the network
of rules which resulted would be laws, and that all the arbitration +
law enforcement agencies put together would, in fact, be a state.

You might object: "But you can opt out of a private protection agency,
and legally start your own; you can't do that under a government!"
This is true, but you still must consent to arbitration or else you'll
have to fight for your own laws. That's just a different way to say
that you must choose to either consent to the law of the land or stage
a revolution. The outcome is exactly equivalent in every way.

In light of this, I'm not convinced that anarcho-capitalism would, by
itself, be better for anyone, since this market failure could and
would just as easily happen again. The only way it could fail to
happen would be if people got much much more upset about being
governed, and decided they wanted freedom a lot more than they do
today. Friedman's argument that AC wouldn't break down into
government requires me to want freedom more than you want to take it
away from me; while this is true with some freedoms, as far as I can
tell, a few people want to take away some freedoms a lot more than
many people want to keep them. This doesn't logically imply
government, since, in principle, they could sign away their rights
while I kept mine pristine, but de facto government results.

This means that the project of bringing about a libertarian society is
not per se a political agenda, a list of political changes to make, so
much as it is a social agenda, a list of priorities which, if everyone
shared them, a freer, better and more moral society would result.



      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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