James Scott, David Friedman, and Robert Ellickson Debate Anarchy

One and a half anarchists



Trinity College hosted an all-star panel on anarchy last month. The forum featured the economist David Friedman, one of the better-known exponents of market anarchism; the anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott, whose ideas overlap with left-anarchism, though he's ultimately ambivalent about anarchy; and the legal scholar Robert Ellickson, whose work is sometimes cited by anarchists, though he very definitely favors a state. (At the forum, Ellickson argued that for several social functions—infrastructure, pollution control, a safety net—we're better off with some sort of compulsory government.)

Footage of the forum has now been posted online. The whole thing is worth watching, though I wish there had been more time for direct engagement between the panelists. Scott and Friedman get in some (polite) shots at each other's views, but there's little in the way of follow-ups to their critiques; and only at the end does one of the anarchists (Scott) offer a sustained reply to anything in Ellickson's presentation. (It's fun to watch the shift in Friedman's facial expressions in that part of the program: Suddenly he seems far more sympathetic to what Scott is saying.) I haven't seen any post-debate wrap-ups from Scott or Ellickson, but Friedman has posted some thoughts on the event here. The video is below:

Further reading: A selection of Friedman's Reason articles can be found here. Scott hasn't written anything for Reason (yet!), but I reviewed his book Seeing Like a State here (with additional comments here); Tom Palmer reviewed his book The Art of Not Being Governed for us here; and Lucy Steigerwald reviewed his book Two Cheers for Anarchism for us here. I don't think Ellickson has written for us either, but a fellow named David Friedman reviewed his book Order without Law for us here.

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  1. I believe strongly in anarchy, and only a strong central government can deliver it to the people!

    1. That is language that Chomsky would love.

      1. Neam Chimpsky was a better anarchist than Noam Chomsky ever was.

  2. I’ve always known you libertarians are closet anarchists. You won’t be satisfied until not even one road or bridge remains.

    1. libertarians are failed anarchists.

    2. They’ll be roads and bridges. They’ll be privately owned. You can use them if you pay a toll in whatever form of payment the owner(s) accept provided they have no other issue with you that might cause them to not accept your payment. Like maybe you’re gay and they’re Christians then you might need to turn around and find another route.

      1. Like maybe you’re gay and they’re Christians then you might need to turn around and find another route.

        I suspect that road owners operating under such rules would find enforcement to be prohibitively expensive with very little to show for it. And so such roads with such rules would be a rare thing. Probably only the driveway at Bob’s Bible College would maintain such a rule with any vigilance.

        1. I find the RoadZ! argument to be terrible. It’s just like saying the private production of defense won’t work because it doesn’t exist. Before it was banned, it was highly effective and efficient.

          Has anyone arguing in favor of road socialism bothered to look at stagnant tecnology, cost overruns, and budgetary abuse by the state road bureaucracy? When was the last time they actually improved road construction techniques by utilizing the latest technology available? They atick with what they know will wear and require frequent repair. Crumb rubber was fought against by the state and road crews. Why? The roads would last far longer and require minimal repairs compared to current road construction. In fact, they conducted a test on two such roads. One was made utilizing crumb rubber, and the other using current construction. After 7 years, the crumb rubber road required very little in maintenance, while the other road required repairs due to cracks, potholes and so on.

          1. So which one had a positive economic impact? Crumb rubber. So which one would customers want when they have to pay for things by themselves, or by doing it as a neighborhood, etc.? A road that required frequent upkeep, larger crews, and more expense over the life of the road, or one that would probably last their lifetime (depending upon traffic conditions) and is far more economical?

            Are the arguments against private roads due to the lack of top men managing them, because no one else can? The burden of proof lies with those who oppose the private production of roads. They need to show how all of the sudden, central planning and control is more efficient than private production in certain instances people feel uncomfortable with.

        2. I was being facetious.

      2. I will gladly grant you free entry to my bridge, it only will cost you to exit it.

        1. +1 New Jersey toll roads

        2. Private bridges lead to coerced marriage contracts, which lead to murder and betrayal.

    3. Exactly. In Libertopia we have flying robotic cars. No need for roads.

  3. Anarchy relies on human anture changing to not self-organize into bands that will grow and metastasize into full-blown governments. It is a philosophy as ungrounded as communism.

    The only option is mitigation and vigilience. Government is an emergent proprty of human behaviour. Like other stressors, it needs to be adapted to and mitigating efforts need to be undertaken. But, it is delusional to think it can be done away with and not return.

    1. This. Anarchy isnt stable long term, or even middle term, governments quickly form, if for no other reason someone is stronger than others and can form as a warlord or gang leader.

      Not that minarchy is stable either, but it can last a bit longer.

      1. No social system is stable, which is why its so strange to see people talking about anarchy as though they are not already living it.

        1. So you won’t mind giving me that worthless green cloth in your wallet.

          Social constructs have effect and reality by virtue of the people who agree that they exist. You may try to deny it, but that won’t change the reality of it.

          1. The reality is that there is a gang that I have to pay tribute to in order to avoid being kidnapped or killed. That’s the price of doing business, and I just have to hope that they are satisfied and won’t decide to fuck me regardless.

            How is that different from anarchy?

            1. Man, i hate it when Hugh is right.

            2. How is that different from anarchy?

              Because all government is not equally bad. They range from absolute evil dictatorships to constitutional republics (the best we’ve found to date). A tightly constitutionally restrained government will allow for more liberty than any other form yet tried.

              Their is no guarantee that the government that springs from anarchism will be restrained in the least. In fact, I suspect it won’t be restrained at all.

              In a republic, the ruled, at least, get to pick their rulers. Not sure that’ll be the case in the government evolving from anarchy.

              1. There are no “rulers” in an anarchy. In an anarchy you pick your government by paying for it. Who would pay to have their human right violated?

                1. Oh, there will be rulers.

                  Who would pay to have their human right violated?

                  Let me turn that around on you. Why would I run a business to protect your rights when I can simply use my guns to obtain your wealth?

                  No matter how many times I run the scenarios to their logical conclusions, I only come up with two possible outcomes. You either get range wars or government. (And it’s likely the range wars end in government as well.)

                  1. Because I will hire a competing government to defend me.

                    1. Because I will hire a competing government to defend me.

                      And the two will go to war (a range war). (This is essentially Afghanistan or early Native American tribes. Tribal warlords.) What happens when your side loses?

                      Or even worse. Me and your new government company get together and decide it’s more profitable for both of us to rape you and split the proceeds rather than do battle.

                    2. And if they go to war a third, fourth and fifth government that my neighbors employ will get involved to defend them and yada yada yada it doesn’t make any sense to do as you suggest.

              2. To be pedantic, this is not a refutation of Hugh’s argument. The ‘difference’ is definitional and of scope. Hugh is correct, the underlying state is anarchy – a premise inherent in nature. Look at the macro level, as between Nations all is anarchy. Before someone says “what about international law” I point to the basis of international law being ‘international norms’ – whatever Nations have done historically – the concept of law between nations is laughable.

                The difference, should you be so inclined to call it Hugh, is that ‘Government’ is a locally metastable condition of the Anarchy function run over time. Perturb the function and it will revert to anarchic behavior but again settle into its metastable state.

                1. On what do you base that, Punctuation? It’s not clear why the state would be the “locally metastable condition,” especially when locality ranges from Belgium to China and Brazil and the United States.

                  If domination, or Hobbesian submission, or unending hostilities is the “logical conclusion” to parties existing without a common ruler, I don’t see why that does not apply to the world at large yet so clearly applies to communities along a geographical feature, or individuals and groups within communities.

                  1. Scale and proximity MJG.

                    Interactions that occur at less frequency and at greater distances have weaker impact on the meta stability of those of higher frequency and locality. Thus govt forms in the latter and anarchy prevails in the former.

            3. The gang you pay kidnaps and kills people every day.

              1. Yep. As far as I can tell, that’s what governments do.

                When given the choice, however, I’ll take the one that’s, at least in theory, constrained from doing so.

                1. So the efficacy of the pro-government position should be gauged by it’s own internal theory, while the efficacy of the anti-government position should not be gauged by it’s own internal theory, but instead by the hypothesis you’d prefer to project onto it.

                  Sounds legit.

                  1. Yep. If we’re going to talk about whether the government is constrained “in theory,” the same applies to the ‘governments’ of libertarian anarchy.

                    We’re not basing our system on the kindness of man.

                  2. I think you (both) misunderstand my point. I am not pro-government. My position is that government is inevitable. You’ll either get it by design (constrained) or it will evolve into existence. The ones that evolve into existence haven’t, historically, been all that liberty oriented.

                    1. Yes that’s the pro-government position in this context. I get that you don’t like the semantics of it, so much so that semantics are the only thing you’re addressing in this reply. But I’m arguing against the state and you’re arguing for it. Thus pro- vs anti-

                      So “evolved” governments are different than what, the Divinely Created governments? They’re all “evolved” from something else.

                    2. So “evolved” governments are different than what, the Divinely Created governments?


                      The United States government was “Divinely Created” with a single purpose in mind. Individual Liberty. And it did a pretty good job for 150 years or so. Not bad for a first crack at it. The Founders made some mistakes, certainly, but it’s been better than anything that had come before it wrt liberty.

                      The vast majority of evolved governments are dictatorships as they usually come about from a certain individual/group amassing enough power to impose their will upon others. Either that or rival groups wage war for resourses (power).

                      So, if liberty is your goal, setting up a system that attempts to promote it is vastly superior to what generally evolves on its own.

                    3. And that system is capitalism with competing governments. Those that do a good job of defending individual negative liberty will gain customers while those that don’t will go out of business.

      2. This is not true, ancient Ireland lasted for well over a thousand years without central government. They utilized private law known as “Brehon Law”.

        1. Not just Ireland. Government is a recent invention as far the history of man goes. It only became a thing when agriculture lead to cities and people became tied to a particular area.

    2. I believe anarchy is, 1) the only moral system of government (my definition of morality being the lack of force & coercion), and 2) definitely unachievable right now, and perhaps always. I don’t count it out though because, for example, the difference in violence between ancient tribal humans and humans today is so profound as to, in my opinion, constitute a true change in our nature. So it can happen. It just takes a shit load of time.

      1. How do you define ‘government’?

      2. Nicely put, Gojira. I am putting you on my list of good commenters.

    3. Human nature is predicated on social cooperation. By and large, people cooperate because it’s more efficient, productive and beneficial in the long run to do so, for all parties involved. That is human nature, we’re a social species. Compulsory government might be a natural desire for certain individuals to institute it, namely those that would control it, but government’s relationship to society represents an aberration of human nature, a defiance of it. The results of that defiance are all the failures of government we have seen. Perverse incentive structures and cycles of catastrophic failure are not the best humanity can do, nor is it the cornerstone of ‘natural’ social interaction, or we’d have died out as a species long ago.

      As for people who think anarchy means there would be no rules or enforcement, I’m not sure there can be much of debate since they’re not speaking the same language as the market anarchists that they want to debate. Market institutions ought to replace government ones for the production of all things the government presently produces. Security and law are economic goods that would be better produced outside of the control of a monopoly, like all other goods. If there were market based institutions producing those things, it wouldn’t be so simple that a government could just spring forth from the vacuum, because it’s not true that there would be a vacuum in that scenario.

      1. There would be no vacuum because what you just described is a government.

        “voluntary” government is the “organize into bands” stage of my comment which inevitably metastasizes into compulsary government as it becomes seen to be more expedient for issue X. And the ratchet begins.

        1. There would be no vacuum because what you just described is a government.

          It’s “governance”. If you’re seriously going to argue that anarchy is a state of no rules, no law and no enforcement, while knowing full well that’s not a scenario that anyone in the debate is advocating, then clearly there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

          1. That’s why I avoid the trigger word “anarchy.” I like to frame in in terms of polycentric law vs. monopolistic law. That is to me the central question. Does there need to be a final arbiter of disputes?

    4. The only option is mitigation and vigilience.

      That’s what anarchists propose.

    5. Should have posted my response at this level of the thread, but this analysis is TCR. +1 for robc and Hugh. Assuming, of course, you’re actually trying to model human behavior empirically.

    6. So not this.

      Oh, so areas in an economy that are basically free from political involvement are involved in nothing but violence and chaos?

      Lobster fisherman are shooting one another on a daily basis. There is so much war that there are no lobsters because everyone is warring with one another.

      There is a computer shortage, and they are so expensive because top men aren’t there to regulate CPU’s, ram, motherboards, and so on.

      Sneakers, oh my god, where can I get a pair? Nike is at war with Adidas and New balance. Due to the lack of top men controlling production and no regulations, it is utter chaos and shoes are so hard to find.

      1. This was in response to uncivil and rob.

  4. How’s that recount going, Jill?

    Judge rejects PA recount

    Well, it’s not too late to stop the Trumputin. Maybe Russia hacked the election?

    1. Hacked how? Like, with an axe?

      1. Apparently, no one really knows.

      2. They guessed the DNC password. It was “beatbernie2016”. Hillary’s was “huma69”

    2. Yeah, I saw that not only did Michigan refuse to do the recount, but now they’re talking about voter id. Thanks Jill:)

  5. I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about Lucy?

    1. It was seen, not spoken; and you did it there.

    2. Like I love lucy?

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