Knowing vs. Thinking

Often, after someone hears of anarchocapitalism, all sorts of objections on practical grounds are raised. How would the roads be built? How would private defense function? Wouldn’t warlords just take over?

The ironic feature of all these questions is that they are purely speculative. Meanwhile, more fundamental knowledge is on the side of the anarchist libertarian, who points out, e.g. in response to the second question, that not only is there nothing logically incoherent about private defense (you could just defend yourself or hire others, after all), but practically speaking, we have reason to expect private defense to be much more efficient.

Ex ante, two individuals that engage in a voluntary transaction both gain from the trade. Otherwise, they would not have engaged in the trade. So we know that private defense would satisfy the desires of consumers far more effectively than government, an institution completely separated from the satisfaction of preferences.

I find this analogous to the knowing vs. thinking (or believing) distinction. The more fundamental knowledge i.e. knowing, is what we can deduce from human action about voluntary transactions, e.g. that a private defense agency must satisfy the preferences of consumers or it would go out of business, and a more efficient competitor would take its place. The less fundamental knowledge, thinking, is the speculative objection, e.g. that an incentive exists known as the “free rider” incentive and such an incentive could possibly lead to worse defense service production on a free market (for a quick rebuttal, note that the free rider incentive is one of many competing incentives involved in human action. Another, for example, is the desire for social acceptance, and those who paid for a private defense agency could socially reject free riders). Of course, this distinction can be applied to a number of examples.

This is why so many libertarians who read Mises and Rothbard (especially the latter) on economics have no problem imagining a stateless society. If the state can’t manufacture and sell shoes as well as the market, why should we expect it to do better anywhere else? Praxeology, after all, makes no distinction between the content of means or ends, but only discusses the fact that man does have means and ends (and so a consistent application of the praxeological analysis to economics should lead one to taking the libertarian position on every issue when it comes to economic efficiency).

In fact, as I heard Tom Woods say recently, to him it’s so clear a stateless society could work (he did not say this last phrase, but I believe it was a hidden part of his argument; if he ever sees this and doesn’t think this is accurate, then I would take his word over mine), we should accept that as our initial premise and fully accept the non-aggression principle, and those in favor of a State must make their case why a stateless society cannot work. In other words, it should not be up to the libertarian to prove a stateless society could work.

Photo Credit: Dalla* via Compfight cc


Posted on October 12, 2013, in Economics, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. If you’re not going to show how it works, who is? Don’t you as the supporter have that burden of proof? If you just assume it works and say it will work, why would those who disagree pay any attention at all to you?

    • “How” it works is asking for too much. What is necessary for the burden of proof is only the logical explanation, and praxeology suffices for that. In other words, e.g. private defense would work by people voluntarily paying for defense agencies. If you attempt to go further and ask “how” it works, the correct answer becomes “I don’t know.” This is because such a question gives rise to all sorts of speculations irrelevant to the main point, which is the morality of the system (the non-aggression principle). I have no clue exactly how private business will work. It’s like asking me to describe the precise competitive methods telecommunication companies would use on a free market. I don’t know!

      The main point of these blog post, though, is to highlight a distinction between fundamental truths and speculative objections. Fundamental truths lead us to know a private institution would be more efficient than a public one, regardless of industry.

      • First, note my website by clicking on my username. I’m on your side.

        Second, nobody in their right mind is going to take you seriously if you can’t draw a clear picture to help them understand. Just saying, “Trust me! It’ll all work out, your fears are unfounded, and I’m smarter than you.” Is a one way ticket to losing all credibility and putting a bad name on your philosophy.

        Rothbard drew VERY clear pictures on how things would work and it is why he is so effective.

    • Meanwhile, it is up to the individual raising the speculative objection to show why that objection should be raised to the same level (in terms of quality of argument) as the fundamental truth.

      • Your philosophy, your responsibility. Only you can answer questions properly, you understand it more.

        • Glad to hear you’re an ancap!

          My point is that, in an argument, although the burden of proof is initially on the person making the claim – me, since I would be the one saying we should have a completely free society – once I have shown that 1) there is nothing logically incoherent with it (such as in the case of private defense) and 2) it in fact is, praxeologically, more efficient than a society with government running certain services, then the burden of proof falls to the person making the objection.

          He must show why his speculative objection, e.g. that the free rider incentive would mess up the private defense market, should be taken seriously, at the same level as fundamental truths known from praxeological analysis. Why should I take his speculative objection that the free rider problem might lead to a worse defense production (than the government) as seriously as the praxeological fact that private defense agencies, ex ante, satisfy the preferences of consumers, and governments have zero connection to those satisfactions.

          Does what I am saying make sense?

        • I am not saying that, ancaps cannot engage in any speculation, “oh a private defense agency might work like this” etc. to ease a person into understanding it. I am saying in an actual argument, the burden of proof is still on the other person once I have done #1 and #2 in my previous comment.

          • Statists are winning, you have the uphill battle. The majority of people in the world will plainly disagree with your simple argument that government is illogical and inefficient. They can easily turn it right back around on you. You can’t show something is “logically incoherent” without showing the opposite and why it is true. By just saying, “You’re wrong because there’s this one weakness.” They can easily say that weaknesses exist in everything… and they’d be right.

            Limiting yourself like this only hurts your own arguments.

            • Put practicality aside for one second. I am not limiting libertarians to particular arguments. I am merely saying what I think is true and where the burden of proof lies.

              The point of this blog post is that one weakness of government is more fundamental than any of the objections brought against anarchocapitalism.

              It’s like comparing a blind and deaf man who has cancer with someone who has a little bit of acne on his face in terms of illness. We have almost no reason to expect government to satisfy consumer preferences, precisely because they are cut off from them. An objection to anarchocapitalism on the grounds that there are some people who might want to skip out on paying for a service pales in comparison to this. Not only is it weaker, but it is also speculative.

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