Democracy → Anarchy

Some anarchists wonder why people continue to defend democracy despite its putatively bad results. Even assuming that people objectively judge the desirability of the outcome of independent political actions, unless you support a specific alternative form of governance there’s still no reason to abandon democracy. If you think democracy is better than any other political system you can think of, then adopting democracy carries the lowest costs.

For this to be possible, you don’t even have to believe that the democracy is the best out of all future systems, just out of all systems currently conceivably implementable. If I think a state is needed to correct for market failures, then anarchy is out of the question. If your the average person, you probably aren’t going to be very sympathetic towards fascism, monarchism, et cetera. One day there may develop another, better form of governance, and the institutions for it will be in place, but these things have to come into existence first (so one might think, at least). Immediately abandoning democracy for the theoretical possibility of something better doesn’t seem like much of a choice.

I agree that someone interested in the topic and scholarly enough to be self-critical ought to find merit in alternative systems, such as anarchism. But, I only think this because I myself find merit in anarchism. The superiority of alternatives is not at all obvious — in fact, I think that democracy, right now, is the best form of governance we have (that’s not to say that piecemeal improvements can’t be made). Democracies may have its faults, but as of now it’s the system with the least costly faults. It can make sense to defend it on these grounds.

22 thoughts on “Democracy → Anarchy

  1. Roberto Severino

    This whole time, I had the impression that you were a minarchist inspired by Mises, Israel Kirzner, Bob Murphy, and a bit of Gene Callahan by the posts you’ve written.

    Ideally, anarcho-capitalism sounds great on paper, but I doubt the masses would be able to handle it, so I remain a pragmatic independent who prefers no labels. If you want, I guess you could say that I’m a hybrid between a reactionary, a classical liberal, and a conservative in the classical sense, but also against corporatism and cronyism in government.

    1. Nick Zbinden

      I dont understand why people thing that the masses are not able to handle it. I mean there is so much that is complicated in live and people handle it somehow, people are only stupid when they have a insentive to be stupid.

      This argument has been made again and again, people are to suppid to decide for themselfs and so on. Sure this is true in individuall cases, but as a hole this still produces a better endresult then a top-down approch.

      1. Roberto Severino

        I guess there is some truth in what you said, but I also mentioned various people that would never want an ancap society to form in the first place. I am also of the belief that just because you have a specific kind of government in one area doesn’t mean it would necessarily work in another or bring upon the most freedom possible. Arab Spring and what has happened in Egypt seems to a great example of what I’m talking about. In fact, maybe anarcho-capitalism could work in certain areas if it were permitted. I’m not ruling that possibility out.

        1. Nick Zbinden

          I mostly agree with that. The point about democracy specially in places like egypt is that it is not a democracy like switzerland is, most democracy are mostly ‘electing a dictator’, the liberals got democracy but now the are have figured out that the are the minority and the majority does not like them.

          Thus now they are still on the streets trying to constrain the power of the goverment. Lets hope that they can do it.

          A AnCap society would work better because everbody can do there own thing (at least in theory, not sure if that would work so well in reality).

  2. John S

    “Ideally, anarcho-capitalism sounds great on paper”

    This is a pet peeve of mine (Robert, no personal offense intended). Critics of ancap seem to imply that it’s a binary choice between what we have now and full-on ancap immediately. They say things like, “Well, if there were no police, how would we control crime? Ah, this whole ancap thing is baloney.”

    It seems to me that the most sensible way we can reach ancap is through gradual steps. For example, decreasing gov’t control over the education system (through school vouchers, educational tax credits, tax credits for homeschooling, etc). Or making the health care system more of a free market. Or moving towards a Free Banking system. But certainly, not all of these things (and more) at once!

    Though they squabble a lot, minarchists, ancaps, and “hybrids” such as yourself should be completely united at this point b/c their only real differences are related to the endpoint of how far we should roll back the state. But the reality is that we aren’t ever likely to come close to those endpoints in our lifetimes.

    I’m not sure myself if ancap will “work.” But if there are certain aspects of society in which ancap is shown not to be practical, then certainly we can reverse those ancap reforms and re-institute more gov’t control. But to dismiss the whole enterprise due to a quick, a priori assessment that “ancap just won’t work” seems ridiculous (this goes for minarchist and typical critiques against ancap).

    /end rant

    1. Roberto Severino

      Great response! I am actually a supporter of free banking and ultimately, that’s the kind of system that I would like to see, but I would use Scott Sumner’s idea of letting markets determine interest rates and the money supply and a much more passive Federal Reserve NGDP oriented policy as a means of transitioning to such a system. I wouldn’t mind if there was a free market form of fractional reserve banking. For now, I would just get the Fed to stop QE and set the inflation rate to 0 and go from there. Note, I am merely a cartoonist and an economic enthusiast, not a professional or even someone studying the subject in a college. There are still many many things I need to read and learn about, especially one of those intermediate macroeconomics textbooks. I had Greg Mankiw’s macro textbook on my Kindle at one point, but accidentally deleted it. I’ve been trying to find a free PDF of it ever since. I’m also only 18.

      I agree with you on the ways in which you’ve described reducing government control over the education system. I would also advocate revamping our current system towards more of the British system where it takes less time to earn a bachelor’s degree, as one can see in this recent article from The American Conservative. Maybe a Milton Friedman like guaranteed minimum income program would help along with that process and possibly dismantling Social Security.

      I’ve had plenty of good discussions with Ancaps elsewhere like on YouTube an while I also have problems with the longevity of an anarcho-capitalist society in comparison to some of the greatest civilizations known to man like the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, or Ancient Egypt, I really like their devotion and passion towards what they believe in.

      1. John S

        I totally agree with your points on NGDP targeting and education. Re: reducing time to get a degree, I think the decoupling of classtime from competency assessment is a highly positive development:

        Have you read Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society”? I think you’d like it. It’s an underappreciated libertarian classic, imo.

        Re: Rome, Egypt–I don’t mean to get nitpicky, but I have a hard time calling those civilizations great, at least in terms of the welfare of the average person. Many people were actual slaves, and most of those who weren’t fared little better. A society based on maximizing personal freedom would be my definition of the pinnacle of civilization.

        And don’t sell yourself short for not being a “professional economist”! The widespread deference to “experts” is a major weakness of modern societies. It’s the self-education of laymen like you and I which serves as check against those “experts” telling us how to run our lives.

        1. Roberto Severino

          I don’t deny that those civilizations were not without flaws. The United States had many societal problems and ailments like slavery, which I think were influenced by previous mercantilist practices. There were even countries that worked to abolish slavery before the United States did. I remember seeing a whole list of countries on Wikipedia proving this. There’s a lot of great, forgotten stuff to be learned from the past, and as a cartoonist, so many of the best comics were done back in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, but there were obviously many disadvantages that I am very fortunate that I don’t have to face today like the much better technology that exists, etc.

          My point is that these civilizations lasted an extremely long time. I’m trying to imagine how long anarcho-capitalism will be able to run if we slowly transitioned to such a society and I’m picturing of the politicians and the bankers who would NEVER want an ancap society to exist in the first place.

      2. Nick Zbinden

        I would point you do the very short and readable book ‘Less Than Zero’ by George Selgin. Its free and a nice explantion on a good policy for central banks and why 0% inflation is not a very good idea.

        Also I do not understand why you are pro NGDP target but you do not like that QE is done. If you agree with sumner then more qe should be done. Ok I mean you might argue for 0% NGDP or something.

        My system (assuming goverment) would be to have fixed set of base money (possibly cryptocraficlly verfiable) and build on top that a free banking system. This is basiclly a modern form of gold and a free banking system.

        1. Roberto Severino

          Thanks for the recommendation.

          I’m not necessarily pro NGDP or obsessed with that stuff and think people like Sumner obsess too much over that factor. Actually, there’s an article that Sumner wrote called “In Defense of NGDP Targeting” that I read the other day where he talks about two possible ways the central banks can go about achieving their targeting ideas. I really thought the second idea, which is what I wrote above, seemed to make a lot of sense and at the same time, be more decentralized than the first proposal that he wrote. It seems to be that QE probably made sense right after the whole crisis happened as a way to stabilize the economy, but QE 2 and QE 3 are honestly overkill and unnecessary.

          Your idea sounds like it could work too. I’ve been skeptical about whether an actual gold standard would be effective, but I’m still exploring various options.

          1. Nick Zbinden

            Well QE2 and QE3 are necessary if you want to have a 5% GDP targed, specally if you want to go back to pre 2008 trend. I dont think that is a good idea.

            I think once you set a target and agree on a trend of NGDP the central bank has to anything (buy unlimited amounts of stuff) until it hits the target. The future market would be better of course.

            The only thing left to agree on is a trendline, go back to pre crisis trend or start a new trend from now on.

  3. JCatalan

    @98cb000eafa5e5da8e1f03a510f1c385:disqus : I think that pluralism is a great indicator of progress in political development. More successful governments are those which accommodate a broader range of values. Anarchism can be thought of pluralism to a much more radical degree than democracy.* To me, this is the mark of a broadly acceptable system of governance. It’s just that an immediate, planned transition to anarchism would be subject to the same “fatal conceit” as any other planned orchestration of a complex political system. So, I call myself a quasi-anarchist.

    * While I haven’t read Rothbard’s political theory firsthand, what I’ve heard is that he thought that an anarchist society would have to share a certain ethical similarity. I think that if this were the case then anarchism would be damned. The reality is that humanity is heterogeneous, which is why political pluralism is so important. But, anarchism would do more to equalize the distribution of power, which is why I think Rothbard is wrong. Someone might not like your values and may want to suppress them, but where power is more equally distributed the potential costs of them doing that would be high.

    1. Roberto Severino

      I’ve never looked at it that way. I remember reading in my AP Government book back during my senior year about pluralism and how the current government works. I’m happy that you’re being intellectually honest about your beliefs and not dogmatically believing that some anti-statist society would pop out of nowhere. David Friedman would probably admit that anarcho-capitalism isn’t guaranteed to lead to the results that one expects. There was even a libertarian online who said that anarchy is neither capitalism or communism and I thought he made some valid points.

      Coincidentally enough, this reactionary named Davis M.J. Aurini made this fascinating video where he offers some thoughts about anarchy and monarchy and the disadvantages that both would have and how the former doesn’t really address the real world that much.

  4. Eduardo Bellani

    I don’t agree that democracy is the best system available. I believe Hoppe has proven otherwise in his ‘Democracy The god that failed’

    1. JCatalan

      I haven’t read that book, but I’ve read some of Hoppe’s other work where he compares democracy to monarchy. Suffice to say, I don’t just find it unconvincing, I think it’s a really bad argument.

      1. Eduardo Bellani

        Could you pinpoint what you find unconvincing/bad ?

        I could be wrong on my summary, but I think his argument goes as follows:

        A – The king has an incentive to preserve the posterity of his kingdom (since he tends to view it as his property, and can leave it to his descendents)

        B – Such incentive is non existent in democracies, because the rulers are mere managers (the ‘kingdom’ is not their property)

        C – Ceteris paribus, monarchy promotes more prosperity overall than democracy.

        What do you think?

        1. JCatalan

          I think it’s a case of the omitted variable. The argument doesn’t stand up to experience. There have been “good kings,” but there have also been a lot of “bad kings,” and I think the latter are more numerous than the former. We don’t have to think in these polar terms though. It was the monarchies before democracy which limited innovation, protected industries with relatively low productivity (mercantilism), and were threatened by the changes that came along with industrialization. I don’t think it’s an accident that pluralistic government came to exist as industrialization flowered. Capitalism helped distribute power more equitably, and this transferred to political systems.

          In other words, there are various policies which monarchies can pursue to defend their power and that of their successors. This isn’t always, or usually, what is best for society. On the one hand, it makes sense to think that monarchies also want to enhance their wealth and therefore will support policies that allow for societal progress, but societal progress often comes along with the limitation or eradication of the monarchy. The two interests aren’t often aligned. It’s no wonder that totalitarian governments are characterized with having extractive political institutions.

          1. JosephFetz

            If I remember correctly, Hoppe was speaking about the monarchies that existed during the 19th century or thereabouts. His argument was mostly that the move to democratic government was not an improvement over these monarchies in certain respects (mostly in terms of property rights, time-preference, and autonomy), not that monarchy is preferable.

            I highly recommend that you read the book, as I found it very interesting. Of course, there were parts in it that I found to be quite contentious, and it is often these parts that cause most people to have a poor opinion of Hoppe or to conclude that a libertarian society is just a step to feudalism. The book itself is actually a compilation of essays, so the one you read is probably one of those contained in the book.

          2. JCatalan

            I’ll have to read the book, but it those monarchs who I have most in mind. The only monarchy that might fit Hoppe’s bill is the English one, which had by that time lost a lot of its power to parliament. But most European monarchies were reactionaries. The Hapsburg, Romanovs, Bourbons (in Spain), et cetera all slowed the progress of capital accumulation by making innovation difficult to implement (limiting entrepreneurship). I think Hoppe suffers from a false understanding of economic progress under European monarchies.

            And like I inferred in my response to Eduardo, it’s no coincidence that most of these monarchies were phased out with economic progress. Capitalism helps distribute power, allowing for more to demand a greater degree of political pluralism. This is a threat to a monarch’s power, explaining the friction between monarchies and the emergence of democracy.

  5. Pingback: Anarchic Power Relations | Economic Thought

  6. JosephFetz

    While I am an anarchist and I despise democracy, I am also not a revolutionary (for very good reason). I completely understand this post.


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