“Left” Anarchism is Impossible

Make mention of anarcho-capitalism, and the lefties are never far behind to tell you you’re not a real anarchist. You know, because studying economics and improving one’s station in life, that’s for statists, maaaan.

I suppose “left anarchist” might be a broad brush, including all sorts of incoherent ideologies. The anarcho alphabet if you will,  anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-mutualist, anarcho-communist, anarcho-socialist, anarcho-tribalist, Zeitgeist whackos, left market anarchists, and a dozen or so other hipster anarcho-adjectives that have yet to fly through my twitter feed. They all fall under the same flag (yes, that’s an insult) of people who ultimately want freedom, not from the State, but from reality, they want equality, not of opportunity, but of outcome.

nacomNow, we can drop some of these from our discussion before going too far into this particular article. Socialism is defined as State ownership of the means of production, so An-Socs, please collect your participation trophy at the door, and exit the building. Having computers centrally plan the planetary economy is as statist as it is sci-fi, so Zeitgeisters sign off immediately and tell your mother that you’re off the modem, so she can make phone calls again (Yes, I’m that old). In fact, all you people who don’t believe in markets, get lost, it’s time for the adults to have a discussion.

Pull up a chair, left market anarchist. Can I get you a coffee or something? This is long overdue.

Yesterday, when I sat down to write “Sorry Fake Libertarians, Capitalism Requires Anarchy” the original title ended in “and Vice Versa”. When I realized I was already over 4,000 words into deconstructing Binswanger, I realized tackling State capitalism and left anarchism in the same article would lead only to the cutting of corners, and this is really too important for any of us to get lazy on.

So, as promised, here is my response to Anna Morganstern‘s piece at Center for a Stateless Society titled “Anarcho-”Capitalism” Is Impossible“.

As previously mentioned, “left” is something of a broad brush, and it generally covers a spectrum of anti-propertarian ideals. My study of history and economics leading me to believe that private property provides the highest quality of life for human society, I tend to find those ideas detrimental to the advancement of our species, and so I’m hostile towards them. Being a comedian, political correctness is something I despise from the very core of my being. I also tend to find leftists intellectually dishonest, and rushing towards threats of initiatory force, but while these things might be more prevalent on the left, I can acknowledge that these are human problems, and therefore not quite unique to leftists. In any case, your article in C4SS neither called for initiatory force, nor came across as intellectually dishonest, so to the best of my knowledge, these criticisms do not apply to you, and thus I stand guilty of collectivism, a capital offense here in Ancapistan.

But then, that’s sort of the problem with debating leftists in the first place. There is no philosophically consistent leftist position to argue against. We’re talking about the greater organization of human society here, and with each individual you confront, you have a different argument. How can there be an accepted standard of conduct to build a society around, if everyone has a completely different standard of conduct?

The answer is, in my book anyway, to bring it to the lowest common denominator. The Non-Aggression Principle. For certain, inside the non-aggression principle there is plenty of room for debate on what people should do, but through the non-initiation of force, we should in theory be able to live in a relative state of peace, and of course, we all purport this to be our ultimate goal.

The primary problem for ancaps, is that most leftists we speak to, don’t believe in private property, or at least, the acquisition of capital. If we both purport to be adherents to the NAP, the NAP allows me to protect that which I own with force. If I say I own something, and you say I do not, then we are on the brink of a violent confrontation. Whether this comes in the form of a statist screaming to tax the rich, or an anarchist encouraging a union to overthrow a factory owner makes little difference in our book. Both deprive us of property by force, which leaves us with the choice of allowing ourselves to be victimized, or deploying defensive violence against the aggressors. If we wanted to be victimized or to use violence, the State is of course more than happy to provide those services, and so this brand of anarchy holds little promise for us.

Anna doesn’t necessarily make the case that anybody has the “right” to take property without consent, she just acknowledges that they will, for better or worse, do so. According to her article, this makes the acquisition of capital impossible in the absence of the State, thus disproving anarcho-capitalism.

My take on the impossibility of anarcho-capitalism is simply as follows:

  • Under anarchism, mass accumulation and concentration of capital is impossible.
  • Without concentration of capital, wage slavery is impossible.
  • Without wage slavery, there’s nothing most people would recognize as “capitalism”.

So, Anna says that mass accumulation of capital is impossible in the absence of the State. I don’t believe that to be true, and I’ll make the case as to why, but first and foremost I think it’s important to understand that people who feel this way, probably start from the premise that mass accumulation of capital is undesirable. They aren’t saying to themselves “Hey, it would be really nice if people could acquire massive amounts of capital, too bad it’s impossible”. They are saying that accumulation of capital is a bad thing, and here’s how every economic law known to man should be altered in order to prevent this from happening. After all, if mass accumulation of capital is desirable, and anarchy is incapable of providing that possibility, then this would be a failure of anarchist society, and for those who view wealth as a good thing, a really good reason to keep the State around. For Anna, and other leftists, this would not be a failure, it would be a feature, because they view wealth as a bad thing.

Of course, most people don’t feel that way (not that popularity makes an opinion right or wrong). Most people view wealth as a good thing, so long as they are the ones with it. They surely envy the wealth of others, and that’s why they rush into voting booths and demand the State redistribute all the time. No matter how many times that fails to provide any benefit to mankind whatsoever, they will continue to vote their envy. This of course simply makes everyone poorer, which is ultimately what left wing economists want. They cannot make people equally happy, so we will all be equally miserable instead. It is like Alexis de Tocqueville said of democratic societies “But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.  They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism – but they will not endure aristocracy.“. The State of course, is more than happy to provide us with poverty and slavery, so if that’s what you want, why all the fuss? Just sit back, and enjoy the show.

That line of thinking however, is unique to ideologues for the most part. The reason people rush into voting booths to demand these awful policies is because politicians tell them it will make us all better off, not worse. People want to have more, not less. So if your sales pitch for abolition of the State is that they will never become wealthy, good luck selling those ideas.

Anarcho-capitalists view wealth as a good thing. It is the accumulation of capital that creates businesses, and jobs, and construction, it funds research and development for technology, and medicine, it is what made the modern Internet possible, the computer, tablet, or smartphone you’re presently reading this article on. None of these things would be possible without the accumulation of capital. Almost nobody is going to be willing to give that up, and personally, I’m willing to violently resist anybody who says that I have to. So if your desire is to live in peace, your choices are to kill off everyone who thinks like me, or allow people to acquire capital.

So let us presume for the time being that accumulation of capital is desirable, or at least, permissible in Anna’s world. Is it impossible, as she proposes?

The first part of this, that mass accumulation and concentration of capital is impossible under anarchism, has several aspects.

One big one is that the cost of protecting property rises dramatically as the amount of property owned increases, without a state. This is something that rarely gets examined by libertarians, but it’s crucial.

One reason for this is that large scale property ownership is never all geographically massed. A billionaire doesn’t have all his property in one small geographic area. In fact, this sort of absentee-ownership is necessary to become a billionaire in the first place. Most super-wealthy own stock in large corporations that have many factories, retail outlets, offices and the like all over the place. Leaving aside whether joint-stock companies are even likely in anarchy for now, this geographical dispersion means that the cost of protecting all of this property is enormous. Not only because of the sheer number of guardians necessary, but because one must pay those guardians enough that they don’t just decide to take over the local outlet. You could hire guardians to watch the guardians, but that in itself becomes a new problem…

Yes, people steal, no way around that. Hopefully we can agree that stealing is wrong, even if your victim has lots of property, and thus we can agree that a property owner, even a very rich one, has every moral imperative to protect his property with violence. He also has every right to hire people to act as his agent, as Anna seems to acknowledge in her discussion of guardians.

Surely, the more property one has to protect, the greater cost to protect it, but that’s not unique to the market. The State handles things in a similar way. After all, it is not as if we all pay a single price for State protection services. In most of the world, there are progressive income taxes (a thing championed by the left’s statist counterparts), so that the more one makes, the more one pays. Not only as an amount, but as a percentage of income. Additionally, most of the world has property taxes on land, that are taken on a yearly or quarterly basis, as a percentage of the current market value of the property. So market or no market, the more property you have to protect, the more you pay to protect it. Leftists will retort that the rich find ways of avoiding taxes, and while that’s a radical distortion of the truth, it should have no relevance to anarchists in either case. I’m more than happy to see people depriving the State of revenue. The problem is not that the rich avoid taxes, the problem is that the common man pays them, subsidizing the lifestyles of rich and poor alike.

So let us then flip the switch and abolish the State in our minds for a thought exercise.

This morning, Barack Obama held a press conference and announced that he had been reading our emails with some NSA agents, and was enlightened by what he saw. He realized that his thieving murderous ways were immoral, and so today the United States Federal Government and every political subdivision thereof would be dissolved. Surprisingly enough, people did not begin raping and murdering one another or burning cars in the streets, but instead took the former president’s advice to stay calm and seek market replacements for traditionally government run services. For the sake of argument, let us also pretend that we were all able to exchange our Federal Reserve notes for bitcoins or precious metals. I realize this is complete nonsense, I’m just creating a fictitious orderly abolition of the State.

So now, police need jobs, and a market has opened for private protection services. Naturally, they will fill these positions in disproportionate numbers to the rest of us.

Bill sells widgets, an actual physical product not dependent on intellectual property or other State fictions for his revenue stream. He has built a very successful widget business, and has factories in 2 arbitrary geopolitical boundaries formerly known as states, and homes in 3. Bill wants to protect those properties, he has a lot of income freed up from his tax burden being lifted, and his brother in law is a former police officer who just got a job with Acme Security.

Acme security cannot protect Bill’s property halfway across the continent, but knows there is money to be made by helping people like Bill. So the CEO calls law enforcement contacts he’s built over the years in other jurisdictions asking them if they can protect Bill’s properties in these other areas, and offers to subcontract the job out to Contoso Security for a fee. An agreement is reached, a contract is signed, and protection is established.

The guards at Contoso are assigned to protect Bill’s second home. It’s a very nice house, with lots of valuable things inside. An agent of Contoso looks at the house and says to himself “Why am I protecting this guy’s stuff, when I can just take it for myself?”.

Several things prevent him from doing this.

Firstly, he has a contract with Contoso that bars him from stealing the property of Contoso’s clients. To violate that contract would put him in dishonor, and harm his reputation. If he steals from Contoso’s client, at the very least, Contoso will fire him and say bad things about him to other security firms who call looking for references. Even if he manages to take control of all Bill’s property he was assigned to protect, he will have no income stream, and once he has sold all Bill’s assets, he will have nothing but a reputation as a thief.

Secondly, he is not the only employee of Contoso, if he tries to move into the house, or remove belongings from it, he will have to protect it against the rest of Contoso’s agents. Contoso has been hired to use force to defend Bill’s property, and the thief will surely be outgunned unless he gets all his coworkers in on the scheme. If he recruits the other agents of Contoso to assist him in his theft, sure, Bill may lose his property, but Contoso will be out of business after Bill tell’s everybody what a terrible job they did of protecting his property, and that property will not amount to much once it is divided up amongst them. For less than a years salary, they will have thrown away their careers.

Have you ever gotten a job where the employer did not ask you about your employment history? Do you think in the absence of a State background check system, hiring managers might be a little more thorough about checking references?

Stealing Bill’s property is a lousy, short sighted decision. The agents of Contoso have a choice between this small reward of what’s in front of their faces at the moment, or developing long term lucrative contracts with people like Bill all over the world. Sure, it’s not impossible for them to be stupid enough to make this decision, but the market will certainly limit the number of times they can make it. Ultimately, they will eventually be met by a security force that accumulated capital by building a good reputation, and if they use force to continue their thefts, they will likely all be killed, putting an end to the Contoso crime ring once and for all.

Ah, but what of a foreign threat? What of an invading government?

But the property needs to be protected not only from domestic trespassers, but from foreign invasion as well.  Let us imagine that an anarcho-capitalist society does manage to form, Ancapistan, if we will.  Next to Ancapistan is a statist capitalist nation, let us call it Aynrandia.  Well, the Aynrandians decide “hmm, Ancapistan lacks a state to protect its citizens.  We should take over and give them one, for their own good of course.” At this point the billionaires in Ancapistan must either capitulate, welcome the Aynrandians, and Ancapistan is no more, or they must raise a private army to repel the Aynrandians.  Not only will the second option be ridiculously expensive, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, but a lot of property will get destroyed if the Aynrandians decide to engage in modern total warfare.  Ahh but what about all the middle class people in Ancapistan, won’t they form a militia to defend themselves?  Well yes, but they won’t form a militia to defend a bunch of billionaires’ property.

Of course, the statist invader must be a capitalist nation, because, you know, communists don’t do that sort of thing, and Ayn Rand was all about global domination…

Welcome, Anna, to Ancapistan the freest place on Earth. We expelled the agents of the State from this territory, and a funny thing happened, we got back our guns that your statist counterparts had taken from us. We’re not so easy to govern anymore.

Why does one nation invade another? CAPITALISM! Shout the leftists, as the answer to all evils, and by their twisted Marxist definition of this vulgar slang for economic common sense, you might just be able to hammer that square peg into that round hole, with enough force, or at least, you might have been able to do that 500 years ago.

Governments do not attack resources or societies, they attack other governments. They might do this because the other government provoked them, or they might do this for the political party in power to unite the nation behind them. Leftists will of course say this is always about resources, usually attributing it to wealthy corporations. Ultimately, unless a government is acting purely out of defense, (a thing I’m not even sure is possible) what that government wants is to expand itself outside of its existing borders. It wants human tax livestock, and to expand the reach of its currency to make inflation less noticeable. It does not invade, take the oil and leave, it establishes a puppet government to extract from the people of that society for all of eternity.

In order to accomplish that goal, the people of the society must be governable, and if the people were governable, it would not have been an anarchist society to begin with. Forget my little thought exercise from earlier about Obama’s press conference, we all sort of know that isn’t going to happen. The State will be abolished within a given geographical boundary, when the people within that boundary will no longer tolerate the State peacefully. Anarchists will have to kill agents of the State until they stop showing up for work, and once they stop showing up for work, we can all get on with our lives.

If the government with the most power over the people, the local and central governments once holding legitimacy in the minds of those people, who had all their agents and enforcers and offices and flags and propaganda ministries right in the faces of those people, if they cannot hold sway over this society, then how do you propose a foreign government with new flags and languages might accomplish this goal? There would be, as the unconfirmed quote says “A rifle behind every blade of grass”. Worse than that, in the absence of the State, I imagine some of us might obtain rocket launchers, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry. Even with the assistance of surrendered local governments, look at how much trouble US forces have had of stopping insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m no military strategist, and from the argument she makes, I doubt Anna is either. But the State is not going to just go away, it’s going to have to be killed. If we can kill one government, we can kill another, billionaires or no billionaires. If we cannot, then this is all rather pointless because your leftist anarchy is never going to come to fruition either.

But what of banking?

Furthermore, without a state-protected banking/financial system, accumulating endless high profits is well nigh impossible.

Do you even bitcoin bro?

But seriously…

The police/military state helps keep the rich rich, but it is the financial system that helped them get rich in the first place, at everyone else’s expense.

This is true, but as I pointed out earlier, the police/military State is not necessary to protect property. Likewise, the banking fraud you are describing is not necessary to acquire capital, but by all means, continue.

First off, state-chartered banking creates a limited supply of sources from which one can receive banking services. This cartelization allows them to get away with a fairly large amount of fractional-reserve banking, in which more is loaned out than actually exists. By increasing the in-use money supply in a one-sided manner, this creates a situation where the people who take out loans are effectively stealing from everyone else. Companies that finance expansion force their competitors to do so or fail, by bidding up the price of resources. By raising the cost of entry, this limits and reduces the amount of competitors in every industry, driving wages down.

Agreed, this analysis was why I took back my libtard comment. In this you almost sound like you have some understanding of economics.

And the current fiat money/central banking regime, by constantly inflating the money supply, destroys the ability of people to save, thus forcing them to borrow in order to start or expand a business, to buy a home or a car.  It literally and directly concentrates the supply of capital in the hands of a smaller and smaller group of people, destroying savings and feeding effective purchasing power to those with higher credit ratings.  This drives down wages and makes people dependent on those who still have large amounts of capital to hire them.

Again, we agree, this is not an argument against anarcho-capitalism. We’re saying the exact same thing. Continue.

Under anarchy, anyone could lend money to anyone, there would be no special thing known as a “bank” per se (or to put it a different way, anyone could put up a shingle that said “bank”).  Without legal tender and the ability to create large amounts of money out of thin air (the threat of “bank runs” and/or devaluation of bank notes would effectively limit this to a very small level, enough to minimally pay for itself at most), the money supply would no longer be in the hands of a cartel.  Borrowing would become rare, and saving would become widespread, distributing capital more and more widely, rather than more and more narrowly, thus diluting the price of capital.  Under such a system, any shift in demand would be met by a vast array of competitors, driving profits back down to the average.

Here’s where you lose it. Yes, anyone could lend money to anyone, unless of course, they didn’t have any money to lend. Money lending requires accumulation of capital, something I’ve spent this entire article trying to convince you was not impossible or undesirable.

It is true that an ever inflating money supply discourages saving and encourages borrowing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to save and people will stop borrowing in the absence of the State. It simply means that in the absence of the central bank, we can get back to a rational business cycle. Study your ABC’s (Austrian Business Cycle)

There’s a reason central banks lower interest rates during times of high unemployment. If we had a rational economic system (ie, no central bank), low interest rates would indicate a low demand for borrowing, which would indicate lots of capital being available. This makes borrowing cheap, so businesses will borrow money to expand, in hopes of acquiring more of that available capital than they borrowed to fund the expansion, this creates jobs. Of course, when the central bank does this there aren’t any more actual resources available, just more fiat money, and so prices increase to compensate for the expansion of the money supply. The business has invested in this expansion, it presumably sees some uptick in its business from it, and firing employees carries with it expenses like unemployment, so the business is inclined to keep the employee on board, but cannot afford to increase his wages to compensate for inflation. I think this is what you refer to as wage slavery, but that’s not the fault of greedy capitalists. That’s the fault of liberal economists and bad monetary policy. They don’t care if you are miserable, only if you are employed, because unemployed people overthrow governments, while employed people tend to hope things get better tomorrow.

In a gold/silver/bitcoin economy, this cannot happen. The low interest rates actually indicate savings, the borrowing expands the business and there are actual resources available. Competitors emerge and instead of failing upon realization that there are no actual resources, their businesses can succeed, driving up competition for, and prices of, labor, as you point out.

As the price of capital is diluted, the share of production that goes to the workers increases. What we would eventually see is essentially, a permanent global labor shortage. Companies would compete for workers, rather than the other way around.

What is likely, judging from history, is that something like a private syndicalism would arise, where owners of value-producing property would lease it out to organizations of workers, simply because it would be easier for them than trying to hire people on a semi-permanent basis.

Nothing is permanent, and the effort to make temporary things permanent is how we end up with central banks causing bubbles. In a real economy, the interest rates are low because people have saved. As borrowing expands, interest rates go up due to higher demand for capital. As interest rates increase more people are inclined to lend, and thus less and less capital is available, until borrowing becomes less appealing,  saving resumes, and the process repeats. It is a cyclical thing.

This perpetual global labor shortage you speak of has been the holy grail of the central banks for what seems like an eternity, they have perpetually failed to accomplish it, leaving nothing but disaster in their wake, and how you expect that to happen at all, especially without mass accumulation of capital is missing from this article.

As for property owners leasing factories to organizations of workers. This sounds like some stab in the dark at horizontal work forces, but you’ve really done nothing to support that claim other than indicate you predict this would occur.

Anybody who has ever been a manager or business owner can tell you, it’s not really the State preventing horizontal work forces from conquering the market. Most people simply do not have the organizational or managerial skills to run a business. If you try to have a business where nobody is actually in charge, then everybody just sorta does whatever they want, and absent some extraordinarily talented group of individuals who were all experts at what they did and cooperated far more seamlessly than the average workforce, nothing of substance could ever get accomplished.

Imagine a team of thousands of Walmart door greeters trying to negotiate billion dollar contracts, fixing computers, or developing advertisement campaigns. The idea is pure nonsense. That’s what division of labor is for. In any division of labor, some people get paid more than others, some people issue orders, and some people obey them, some people write checks, and some people cash them. The left calls this “wage slavery” ignoring the fact that slaves don’t earn wages and can’t quit their jobs.

This is not the fault of the State. The State has done everything in its power to lower us all to the same level. It is despite, not because, of the State that some of us manage to escape the misery of low paying jobs, and excel above others.

For sure, all these conditions are exacerbated by State interference, but this again is something we can all thank the left’s statist counterparts for. The left anarchist and the left statist repeat nearly identical propaganda in hopes of accomplishing the same goal, through different methods. Both seek, or claim to seek, to bring up the poor at the expense of the rich, under the unbelievably ridiculous notion that wealth causes poverty.

The truth of the matter is the opposite, wealth creates wealth. Wealthy people spend money and hire people. Wealthy people invest in startup companies that bring people out of poverty. There is not a limited amount of prosperity that needs to be redistributed, there is a limitless amount of prosperity being obstructed by the ignorance of the population, and the violence and coercion of our common enemy, the State.

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Chris

Christopher Cantwell comedian, writer, voice artist, and Patriot.

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