So there are a few people I’ve recently met who are anarchists, and I’ve told them all that I disagree with them. But I wanted to lay down my explanation as to why.

Let’s not talk about the moral underpinnings – because the morals behind any socio-political-economic system are always super-duper good and just. (e.g. socialism’s “From each according to ability, to each according to need”). But the devil’s always in the details. So let’s get into some details.

There are examples in actual history we can look at. The best modern example is probably Somalia, which basically has had no functioning central government for decades now. It, by most accounts, is not a very nice place. It is ruled by warlords. It is crippled by poverty and food shortages. If anarchy were so great, why isn’t Somalia a great place for anarchists to live?

We know the way that power tends to aggregate. See organized crime, or large multinational corporations (or perhaps I repeat myself – ZING). Though a great Libertarian/Anarchist argument against the organized crime part is that organized crime got the biggest boost in power during Prohibition. And the Mexican drug cartels that are currently dominating Mexico are being substantially weakened by the legalization of marijuana here in the US. And it’s a very good point, but the truth is that organized crime existed before and after prohibition, and will still exist even after we legalize pot. And large corporations existed before anti-trust legislation came about in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, and afterwards. (Again, another Anarchist argument might be that large corporations would not have as much power without some kind of government intervention – if so I’d love to hear more about that; I think it was true of the Dutch East India Company, but more examples would be even better)

Let’s talk about a small town operating under anarchism. We’ll completely ignore the problems inherent in a large city – like my own New York – and just start focusing on my example small town. It’s got 100 residents, let’s say. Large cities will be probably even more problematic but I think I can explain my issues with my small town.

Problem #0 – I can walk down the street and just shoot someone in the face. There is no ‘legal’ ramification to that. If the person I do that to is not well-regarded, people might even cheer me on! Of course, if I do that to some beloved town local, I would assume that someone might come back and shoot me in the face. And I don’t want that. Of course the trick is to kill someone when no one else is looking.

Problem #1 – just about everyone has to own a gun. Some people might not, but in general, you just need to own one, primarily as a deterrent. With no formal social safety net, (plenty of informal ones, mind you! But nothing that’s guaranteed to catch people who are down on their luck) – there will be very desperate, very poor people who need things; or very depraved and lawless people who will take what they want. Some people may have an issue with having to own a firearm – and a system that practically forces them to do so seems unfair to those people. So a system that does not approve of force is now inherently, due to its structure, forcing people’s behavior.

So eventually due to the Organized Crime/Large Corporation problem, you will have to step up from the everyone-is-armed-at-home problem, and in to the Defense problem. E.g. instead of one down-on-their-luck person trying to take your possessions, killing you in the process – you now have the potential for a gang to come roaming through your town and ransack the place. You need some kind of defense; an army. So you hire one – and this is Problem #2. Well, it’s problem 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. First off, you have to find an army that’s willing to defend your town – and we have a perfectly free market, so there will be a lot of competition, right? Maybe. In fact, your roving-gangs-of-ransackers are just as likely to be the ‘army’ that you’d hire. Or be somehow in cahoots. So how do we pay these people? We have 100 people in town, and we need to have them all band together to pay the army. But Old Man Caruthers doesn’t want to pay! Well, we can’t force him – Non-aggression principle. Now we have problem #3. So then we have to increase the price that everyone else pays to cover his share – and now all sorts of other people are going to start balking at the prices. So eventually you have to say, “either you pay, or you can get out of town.” That sounds like force. Or maybe you make a deal with the army – mark the houses that have paid, and they get protection, and the ones that don’t, don’t. Sounds like a mess. And things like securing the town’s borders won’t work in that way.

And how did we manage to select which army we got to defend us? A vote? A vote where only consensus is allowed? At 100 people consensus will be hard. At 1000 it will start to become impossible. As soon as we start having a ‘majority’ – then we’re coercing people, and breaking our own rules. Problem #4. (What about payola; the guys in Army Group #1 slipping $100 each to the people who are ‘on the fence’ to secure their vote?)

Problem #5 – who is to keep our ‘army’ in check? Let’s say I’ve got a roving band of raiders. Why don’t I meet up with the person in charge of the army-for-hire, we sit down and have a nice lunch, and I offer them a huge cash payout to stand down on such-and-such a day? Well, certainly, that would erode the trust one might have in such an army – if word ever got out. But why would it? My raiders would just go and kill everyone.

Problem #6 – how do you fire your army? Ideally, with another army, and the first ones just leave. But what if you decide you just don’t want an army at all, then what? And what if “your” army decides they don’t want to be fired?

And we haven’t even gotten into policing yet – which would probably end up being problem numbers 7 through 15…

And we haven’t even figured out what currency any of this stuff is bought or sold in. More problems.

So I think the real, fundamental economic problem here is this:

A market with no regulation at all is not at all free.

Not everyone has perfect information to make perfect economic choices. Certain goods and services exist in certain locations, and cannot be quickly or cheaply transported to wherever they are needed. Monopolies, cartels, and collusion happen and drive prices up. Gluts happen and drive prices down. There is inherent friction in every economic transaction.

And the political problem is this:

The Tragedy of the commons.

Without the ability to coerce people, and without the ability to form majority rule instead of consensus, you aren’t going to be able to do anything as a society. “The Commons” doesn’t have to be a physical thing; like a stream or a pond or grazing grass – it can be like our ‘how do we pay for the army’ problem above. Private property is not a solution. Private ownership of a common good like the water supply runs you into problems with inelastic demand – everyone needs water, so why not jack up the price for access to it? Still more thorny problems.

The Social problem is this:

This system completely and totally shafts the poor, and rewards the rich.

Can’t afford to pay for the army? Get out of town – or get treated however Mr. Caruthers got treated, above. Down on your luck? Hope for some handouts from private individuals. Still starving? Die. How much does this society help lift up the poor? How much does this society prevent the rich from just becoming more and more massively super-rich generation by generation; just sitting idle, reaping the rewards of actions done generations ago, or reaping the rewards of simple dumb luck?


Some interesting pro-anarchy thoughts I had while writing this up: What if you were to view this government as exactly the final result of having one of the armies in problem #2 defending you? E.g. the army won’t let you choose another army, it forces you to pay it. Though, to be nice, they charge a lower percentage of income to poor people and a higher one to rich people. What if that is, in effect, the government we have now, and modern taxation?

The other interesting one is how mafias and black markets tend to disappear when everything is permitted. Organized crime was at its most powerful here in the US in the middle of prohibition. Right now, it deals in drugs and other ‘sinful’ things. If all of those things were permitted, would organizations such as these disappear? What purpose would they serve? <CAVEAT – ARGUMENTUM AD MOVIE-UM> – in the Godfather Part II, we see a little glimpse of the early Sicilian Mob – and, while they were certainly murders, thieves, and extortionists – they were also community-builders, who helped their communities when the government would not. Maybe organizations/groups/towns whatever might end up acting like that?

I was also going to use the metaphor of prison for what happens when you ‘have no rules’. But prison has tons of rules! Yes, but the guards are really keeping “animals in cages” – and may not necessarily care for what the “animals” do. So that might-makes-right, everyone grouping into ‘tribles’ environment might be what you end up with. But what if that’s what the US *is* – the ‘rules’ the government puts on us are the prison guard’s rules, and today’s society is the same as that prison – tribalism, might-makes-right, what-have-you? I think the metaphor breaks down, but I still think it’s interesting.