Monday, October 31, 2011

Reading Anarcho-Capitalism: Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom

Last saturday, the reading group discussed David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom, nine people attending. Sjoerd Oudman reports.

The discussion started with an introduction to the selected chapters by Tomasz Kaye, who is of the group most familiar with the book and libertarian/anarcho capitalist theory in general. Earlier, Tomasz had put forward the idea to review the occupy movement within the light of this theory. Tomasz advocated this theory might open up new perspectives on trying to solve the biggest issues the occupy movement is trying to face: the lack of direct personal influence in the issues that concern us.  
In a libertarian society we could be able to deal with issues separately without having to vote for a representative in the form of a political party, that then represents us on all matters. By the market system we can change the legislation if we are willing to pay for it. The ‘vote’ therefore demands a (financial) commitment instead of the ‘free’ choice for a political representative.
The absence of a state and a society based completely on market exchange brings about a possibility to use human competitiveness for the personal good. The fact that warfare is bad for business limits the use of violence and therefore serves the general good.
A very important chapter in the book is the view on law and order, the way crime is solved. The main concern with the absence of a state is a general lawlessness as there is no ‘higher authority’ to step in when people are stolen from, assaulted, raped etc. The chapter ‘police courts and law’ gives insight in competitive arbitration as the solution for disputes.
During the discussion about the text the theory was intensively challenged. The first main arguments questioned in what way this theory is radically new. The diminishing influence of the state and the allowed space for a free market gave room for the biggest examples of theft in human history. There was also the claim that we are already living in some kind of anarcho-capitalist society because the bigger companies have been able to seize governmental control. Comparisons were made to the ugliest sides of capitalist violence. Even more extreme examples were made of syndication, feudalism and organized crime. The lack of a control system allows for a society that runs on blunt force, power to be structured by possession, a general lawlessness that gets the richest and the wealthiest in full control of law and order, in full control of society.
Tomasz argued that there has always been state/governmental power in recorded history and the examples of the worst acts of theft and violence were indeed motivated by capitalism, but executed through the use of the state. He argued capitalism has indeed been extending its grip on society, it can do so because it can influence government. It, in that way, seizes a power everyone will have to accept. Taxpayers are paying for the bills for their wrongdoings, they are not losing their own capital by a state army going to war, but are gaining the benefits when they do.
The second critique was that Friedman’s theory is too utopian, it is a somewhat farfetched idea that self-organization would ‘automatically’ lead to the very balanced and smooth system the theorist seem to have in mind. The theory basically takes a very radical stance and then tries to defend itself against every possible critique it might receive. It aims to set up a sturdy framework. Therefore it is viewed by many present as a very interesting theory, but doubts where raised about whether this could be a very realistic system.

Another question that arose was how ever to implement this theory since it needs a very fundamental change to the current system. It made some of us wonder whether there are communities that live according to this system. Since it entails no need for government there could be autarkic communities that are functioning in this way.
The main question, in what way this theory could be of benefit for the occupy movement remained unanswered. Nevertheless it was a very fruitful and interesting discussion. Especially interesting was that many of us had to -very much- get used to this theory since it represents much of the opposite of left-wing intellectualist theory we have been talking about in former reading group discussions. But it does so without being conservative or narrow minded. Without a doubt this theory is, at the very least, a great thought exercise.

(Sjoerd Oudman)

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