Turtles All The Way Down

I'd previously made the connection between flawed arguments for belief in God and flawed arguments for belief in certain political-ethical systems, but it wasn't until I read Jacob Lyles' splendid editorial that yet another connection became clear. Jacob writes,

Thomas Hobbes believed that humans were naturally violent, nasty, and mean. Left in a state of nature, man will constantly try to bash his neighbor over the head and run off with his money. Under anarchy “might makes right” and the strong survive by plundering the possessions of the weak.

Hobbes thought that the only way to change this was to institute a government. If its armed men were stronger than everybody else, then the government could provide a safe environment, ensuring that its citizens could go about their business without fear of being killed or mugged.

But there was a fatal flaw in Hobbes’ reasoning. The government is also made up of men. Instead of ending theft and murder, the men in government become the most flagrant thieves and murderers. Since they are more powerful than everyone else, they exploit their position to conduct plunder on a vast scale.

The bloody history of the world’s governments shows this to be true. They have slaughtered at least half a billion people during the 20th century alone. Hundreds of millions have lost their lives in wars to expand the glory and power of their government. When not killing foreigners, governments have been busy at work killing their own subjects. To cement their power, communist regimes killed additional hundreds of millions of innocents through starvation, forced labor, and the execution of dissidents.

In the United States our leaders have been mercifully slow to kill their own citizens since 1865, but we are not left in peace. Our government has become the largest den of thieves in the history of the world. It serves as a conduit for corporate farmers, arms makers, steel makers, oil companies, trade unions, and others with political pull to siphon away our hard earned money to the tune of $3 trillion per year. The old steal from the young, the rich and poor steal from the middle class, and the politician steals from us all until theft becomes so commonplace as to go unnoticed.

I like to call this the "turtles all the way down" fallacy, grokking an anecdote Stephen Hawking used in A Brief History Of Time.

A well-known scientist once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

Besides appearing in arguments purporting to justify the necessity of government, this fallacy is also frequently committed by those attempting to prove the existence of God. St. Thomas Aquinas, if not the originator of the First Cause argument, was certainly its popularizer, giving philosophical respectibility to this line of thinking.

  1. We perceive a series of efficient causes of things in the world.
  2. Nothing exists prior to itself.
  3. Therefore nothing is the efficient cause of itself.
  4. If a previous efficient cause does not exist, neither does the thing that results.
  5. Therefore if the first thing in a series does not exist, nothing in the series exists.
  6. The series of efficient causes cannot extend ad infinitum into the past, for then there would be no things existing now.
  7. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

Now it's just plain as day to me that the fourth premise contradicts the conclusion. First we say that everything that exists must have been created by something else, but then we promptly forget the rule we just asserted and say that God is the creator and cause of all things, and he himself needs no creator. Total blank out, as Rand might say. Or as an acquaintance of mine once put it,

Super-God is a necessary being for any theist. How could God have been created; where did it come from? The concept of Super-God answers this question. It turns a once laughable religion into a rock solid belief system. All you losers pray to God, I go one step up and talk to Super-God.

I don't mean to disparage all arguments for the existence of God or the necessity of government here; rejecting the turtles-all-the-way-down fallacy does not by itself constitute a rejection of either God or government. But I have yet to hear a good explanation for why so many people find this type of argument attractive. It just seems obviously wrong on its face, and yet the frequency with which it is used in theological and political contexts is both surprising and even a little scary, for it indicates that either I'm missing something incredibly obvious or almost everyone else is.

Scott Scheule, the newest addition to the illustrious Catallarchy crew, gave a more formal analysis of this fallacy as applied to government in his guide for policy makers:

[T]here are two proper requirements to be fulfilled before implementing a policy. I will state them first casually, then in more precise economic terms.

To justify a policy you must show:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. There is a way to fix it.

Now, in economic terms. You must show:

  1. The private market is erring.
  2. The political marketplace will yield a result that fixes the corresponding private market error.

The second requirement is usually ignored. In fact, it was for a long period of time assumed that the government was a perfect actor with perfect information. These assumptions were wrong. Once this was realized, the field of public choice economics emerged, which discussed in detail why the political marketplace has its own errors. I believe the second requirement has never once been fulfilled in the history of mankind, and that is why I am an anarchist.

The readings we've been assigned have a sort of "gotcha" feeling to them. Empirical study comes out, shows that people significantly overvalue risk when it's widely publicizied, and the statists cry, "Gotcha! The private sector erred, capitalism has failed here." Requirement one, satisfied. Time for the government to fix the problem.

Ah, but what of number two?

Irrationality will arise just as surely in the political marketplace as the private one. Every datum offered for a failure of neoclassical assumptions applies just as easily to the political marketplace. Yet the latter extension is ignored. Government is presumed perfect; requirement two is glossed over.

Classic example. It is generally presumed that monopolies are bad. Many prescribe antitrust laws administered by the government to prevent the formation of monopolies in the marketplace; without realizing that the government itself is a monopoly, and one backed up by far more force than any software giant. The market was bad because it was monopolistic, and antitrust proponents assume that an even larger monopoly will be able to fix the initial ill.

Economics is not a game of "Gotcha." It is the study of how people make choices. And how do they do that? A person picks the most preferable of his options.

So, with regards to the big picture, it is not enough to say the market is flawed. Everything is flawed. One must satisfy the second requirement; they must provide a less flawed alternative; we have the entire field of public choice to show why government is not such an alternative.

Unlike most other errors in economics, this is one that is all too frequently made by professional economists with fancy degrees and lots of letters after their names. Why? What explains this glaring blindspot? An unwillingness to part with tradition, both social and academic? An excessive faith in the regulatory power of democracy?

The best explanation for this failure is touched upon in the following two articles: "Do Pessimistic Assumptions About Human Behavior Justify Government?", by Benjamin Powell and Christopher Coyne, and "Do We Really Ever Get Out Of Anarchy?", by Alfred G. Cuzan. Many of us think of the government as “conceptually external,” exogenous to the overall social system. (The same is often said of God - God is external to physical existence, and therefore unbound by its constraints.) The founder of public choice, James Buchanan, made this critical error when he wrote, in The Limits of Liberty:

The state emerges as the enforcing agency or institution, conceptually external to the contracting parties and charged with the single responsibility of enforcing agreed-on rights and claims along with contracts which involve voluntarily negotiated exchanges of such claims.

Yet, if public choice theory has taught us anything at all, it is that governments are composed of men – the very same breed of men who compose markets – and therefore governments must be conceptually internal, endogenous to the social system. Buchanan himself seemed to recognize this fact, observing that

There is no obvious and effective means through which the enforcing institution or agent can itself be constrained in its own behavior. Hence, as Hobbes so perceptively noted more than three centuries ago, individuals who contract for the services of enforcing institutions necessarily surrender their own independence.

Murray Rothbard, writing in For a New Liberty, described the system of checks and balances with which government is supposed to constrain itself:

As we have discovered in the past century, no constitution can interpret or enforce itself; it must be interpreted by men. And if the ultimate power to interpret a constitution is given to the government’s own Supreme Court, then the inevitable tendency is for the Court to continue to place its imprimatur on ever-broader powers for its own government. Furthermore, the highly touted ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ in the American government are flimsy indeed, since in the final analysis all of these divisions are part of the same government and are governed by the same set of rulers.

Very clever, these checks and balances, very clever. But it's turtles all the way down.

Follow-up:Turtles and Lizards and Snakes, Oh My!

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Glen, That's a great point,

Glen,

That's a great point, and one that anarchists desperately need to address. The process is somewhat circular, since a market for law presupposes the very institutions that itself is meant to provide. In order to defend the privatization of law, one must provide additional arguments that such a market would be stable and self-regulatory, even more so than other types of markets. I don't think it's quite the same problem as the "turtles all the way down" fallacy, since a properly functioning market in law would remain stable as a result of competition between different firms, and not as a result of a hierarchical infinite regress. The turtles fallacy specifically relates to systems which depend upon hierarchical infinite regress, while the problem with markets for law is more of a problem of stability.

Roderick Long has an interesting response to this problem, which he gave at last summer's Mises University:

Another popular argument, also used often by the Randians, is that market exchanges presuppose a background of property law. You and I can’t be making exchanges of goods for services, or money for services, or whatever, unless there’s already a stable background of property law that ensures us the property titles that we have. And because the market, in order to function, presupposes existing background property law, therefore, that property law cannot itself be the product of the market. The property law must emerge – they must really think it must emerge out of an infallible robot or something – but I don’t know exactly what it emerges from, but somehow it can’t emerge from the market.

But their thinking this is sort of like: first, there’s this property law, and it’s all put in place, and no market transactions are happening – everyone is just waiting for the whole legal structure to be put in place. And then it’s in place – and now we can finally start trading back and forth. It certainly is true that you can’t have functioning markets without a functioning legal system; that’s true. But it’s not as though first the legal system is in place, and then on the last day they finally finish putting the legal system together – then people begin their trading. These things arise together. Legal institutions and economic trade arise together in one and the same place, at one and the same time. The legal system is not something independent of the activity it constrains. After all, a legal system again is not a robot or a god or something separate from us. The existence of a legal system consists in people obeying it. If everyone ignored the legal system, it would have no power at all. So it’s only because people generally go along with it that it survives. The legal system, too, depends on voluntary support.

I think that a lot of people – one reason that they’re scared of anarchy is they think that under government it’s as though there’s some kind of guarantee that’s taken away under anarchy. That somehow there’s this firm background we can always fall back on that under anarchy is just gone. But the firm background is just the product of people interacting with the incentives that they have. Likewise, when anarchists say people under anarchy would probably have the incentive to do this or that, and people say, "Well, that’s not good enough! I don’t just want it to be likely that they’ll have the incentive to do this. I want the government to absolutely guarantee that they’ll do it!" But the government is just people. And depending on what the constitutional structure of that government is, it’s likely that they’ll do this or that. You can’t design a constitution that will guarantee that the people in the government will behave in any particular way. You can structure it in such a way so that they’re more likely to do this or less likely to do this. And you can see anarchy as just an extension of checks-and-balances to a broader level.

For example, people say, "What guarantees that the different agencies will resolve things in any particular way?" Well, the U.S. Constitution says nothing about what happens if different branches of the government disagree about how to resolve things. It doesn’t say what happens if the Supreme Court thinks something is unconstitutional but Congress thinks it doesn’t, and wants to go ahead and do it anyway. Famously, it doesn’t say what happens if there’s a dispute between the states and the federal government. The current system where once the Supreme Court declares something unconstitutional, then the Congress and the President don’t try to do it anymore (or at least not quite so much) – that didn’t always exist. Remember when the Court declared what Andrew Jackson was doing unconstitutional, when he was President, he just said, "Well, they’ve made their decision, let them enforce it." The Constitution doesn’t say whether the way Jackson did it was the right way. The way we do it now is the way that’s emerged through custom. Maybe you’re for it, maybe you’re against it – whatever it is, it was never codified in law.

That's very true. Julian

That's very true. Julian Sanchez once made the same argument to me.

But note that argument applies just as easily against government. The idea that government sets the rules on property rights relies on some previous existing set of property rights--such as the right to federal sovereignty. To establish a government right to control property rights, you must postulate some kind of pre-existing right, the right for a government to create and modify property rights.

It seems that results in an identical infinite regress, with the only difference being that the government option seems to be more historically present than the anarcho-capitalist option.

Perhaps what stops that regress and permits the creation of markets and whatnot is a mutual and widespread agreement that government is the rightful controller of an area: legitimacy, as David Friedman put it. If the government is supplanted in peoples' eyes, or loses its legitimacy, then the house of cards collapses. By the same token, if people came to believe private enforcement agencies have the right to set property rights, or at least more right than the government does, we could begin to build an anarcho-capitalist society from that legitimacy.

Nice post, with some

Nice post, with some excellent points. I wonder, however, if (some) anarchists might also be subject to a "turtles all the way down" accusation. Specifically, I refer to those anarchists who use the standard arguments in favor of free markets to justify having a market in protection services and law. The problem, of course, is that the standard free-market arguments generally assume the existence of a relatively stable background of property rights (including rights of bodily integrity). To justify a market in protection services and law using the standard arguments, you need some of the property rights that the market is supposed to establish to exist already. But maybe a prior market could establish *those* rights... And thus begins the infinite regress.

Just to be clear, I don't think the above argument (alone) justifies government. But it is a problem that anarchists must deal with. David Friedman's position is that the argument for markets in protection/law is *distinct* from the argument for other markets in the context of already-existing protection/law. Thus, you can't rely on the standard market arguments, but instead must make new ones.

On the first causes

On the first causes argument:

Premise four only contradicts the conclusion if we presuppose God is a "thing in the world." Since theists generally don't assume this, your argument is something of a strawman.

As for the anarchist argument in favor of privatizing law enforcement:

Suppose my neighbor has burglarized my house. A squad of officers from my police department (Dept. A) go over to arrest him, where they run into a squad of officers from his police department (Dept. B), who announce that Dept. B doesn't recognize the legitamacy of Dept. A's arrest warrants and that they are not going to allow my neighbor to be kidnapped. I've never gotten a straight answer from an anarchist as to what's supposed to happen now.

Suppose my neighbor has

Suppose my neighbor has burglarized my house. A squad of officers from my police department (Dept. A) go over to arrest him, where they run into a squad of officers from his police department (Dept. B), who announce that Dept. B doesn’t recognize the legitamacy of Dept. A’s arrest warrants and that they are not going to allow my neighbor to be kidnapped. I’ve never gotten a straight answer from an anarchist as to what’s supposed to happen now.

Then you probably haven't looked hard enough. David Friedman and Randy Barnett have both answered this question. Here is Friedman's answer to your exact hypothetical:

POLICE, COURTS, AND LAWS---ON THE MARKET

Barnett's answer is not online but can be found in The Structure of Liberty.

A similar question might be - Suppose a criminal escapes from the US to Mexico. Mexico refuses to hand him over. What's supposed to happen now?

Friedman is assuming that

Friedman is assuming that Dept. B is operating in good faith though (i.e. that their goal is to actually reduce crime), which is a rather lousy assumpting given that a burglar would be unlikely to hire a police department that actually plans to assist in bringing burglars to justic.

It's quiet likely that Dept. B is one that was specifically chosen because it's going to stonewall any attempts to recover the property, whether my neighbor's claim to it is legitimate or not.

Stormy, The "thing in the

Stormy,

The "thing in the world" part of premise one only serves to provide empirical evidence for that single premise, and does not refer to the rest of the argument. The rest of Aquinas's argument deals with the logical possibilities of existence - all existence - that is, everything that exists. If God does not fall within that category, then God does not exist.

If God is outside logic, than God is a logical contradiction (as the law of non-contradiction is the fundamental basis of all logic) and therefore God is outide possible existence. Talk of the existence of a logical contradiction is simply incoherent, and we cannot speak without coherence. Or as Lugwig Wittgenstein put it, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Friedman is assuming that Dept. B is operating in good faith though (i.e. that their goal is to actually reduce crime), which is a rather lousy assumpting given that a burglar would be unlikely to hire a police department that actually plans to assist in bringing burglars to justic.

No, Friedman is assuming that Dept. B. is operating to maximize value for its shareholders, an assumption that economists make about all for-profit firms. The question is not whether Dept. B. is honest and faithful but whether department B. can make more money through civil interactions with its competitors and clients, or whether it can make more money through a war of all against all. Since war is incredibly expensive for the parties that actually bear its cost, Friedman argues that peace is a more likely outcome than violence, although violence is a possibility (as it is with government as well).

"The bloody history of the

"The bloody history of the world’s governments shows this to be true. They have slaughtered at least half a billion people during the 20th century alone. Hundreds of millions have lost their lives in wars to expand the glory and power of their government. When not killing foreigners, governments have been busy at work killing their own subjects. To cement their power, communist regimes killed additional hundreds of millions of innocents through starvation, forced labor, and the execution of dissidents."

While you did not pen that particular part of the post, I did not see any criticism of it [though, as an empiricist I doubt you would : )]

This shouldn't be an empirical argument -- it should be an apriori argument against the State. For example, what if in the off-chance that the "State" didn't kill me or do something contrary to its stated "peaceful" purpose? The policemen of College Station have never killed me or anyone I know, therefore the State isn't all that bad...

This of course misses the point that in order to be a State:
1) must be funded in some involuntary manner (otherwise it would simply be a private organization)
2) must have a geographical monopoly on said Force

I love the concept of Turtles All The Way Down : )

Tim, Fine observation.

Tim,

Fine observation. Interestingly, the author of that portion, Jacob Lyles, is an Austrian and was at Mises U. with you and me.

But even though he is an Austrian, I think he made the right decision to focus on empirical arguments rather than deal with a priori ones. He is writing for a general non-libertarian audience, and I've found that such audiences are more often persauded by empirical examples than purely logical ones.

Again, the contradiction

Again, the contradiction only arises because you're using this strawman God that exists as a normal physical object within the universe. It has nothing to do without being outside logic, but with being outside the universe.

In particular since time is a property intrinsic to the universe, the question of what 'causes' an object outside of it makes no sense. Without time, something can't come into or go out of being, it either exists or doesn't exist.

>Since war is incredibly expensive for the parties that actually bear
>its cost, Friedman argues that peace is a more likely outcome than
>violence, although violence is a possibility (as it is with government
>as well).

Ah, but Dept. B and the neighbor don't bear the cost in the hypothetical. Since they're financing themselves through burglarly (directly in the case of the neighbor or indirectly in the case of Dept. B), the cost is going to be born by their victims.

From the neighbor's perspective, he can either use a portion of his illgotten gains to finance the war, or he can go into arbitration and lose all of it.

While the war may be less efficient for society as a whole, it's not immediately clear that it's less efficient for the neighbor and Dept. B

Stormy, Let me try to put

Stormy,

Let me try to put the argument in a different form. If it is true that things can exist without a cause or a creator, then it is possible that the universe itself is one of these uncaused, uncreated entities, in which case God is not logically necessary to explain the existence of the universe. In other words, the "universe as a whole" has different properties than entities within that universe - the universe can exist without a cause while things within the universe cannot. This is no different than positing a God, so the argument for God's existence on these grounds fails.

I expected the externality argument, and it is a good one. Two responses: first, the question is whether private defense agencies will be forced to internalize a larger portion of the cost of the wars they initiate than governments. Governments have the power to tax their subjects, but more importantly, they enjoy legitimacy from a large portion of the population which makes their job of taxation and war much easier. A private defense agency - or mafia in this case - would not enjoy the same level of legitimacy. Second, how will Dept. B. finance its wars? It still must pay for the cost of employing armed mercenaries, and armed mercenaries are expensive when they must constantly face the risk of always getting killed. Dept. B. must still internalize this cost, even if they pay for it through plunder. Now, they could always force mercenaries to work against their will, but this also creates a number of problems. Who will watch the watchmen? What will prevent an armed insurrection when other competitive defense agencies are easily available for the mercenaries to switch sides?

Micha, I'd add to your nice

Micha, I'd add to your nice response that Dept. B would likely be considered *especially* illegitimate by clients of other agencies; they'd view it as a front for thuggery rather than a real source of law and would be loath to make contracts with its clients or to respect its legal determinations. Which would make B's clients poorer and less able to fund its depredations.

Now of course this raises the very difficult question of when an agency would or should be viewed as legit and when it should be scorned as just a bunch of thugs. Probably in an an-cap world blood would periodically be shed over this question.

Yet this, again, is not a disadvantage *relative* to the current system. Recent events amply demonstrate that the question of when a state's sovereignty should be respected as legitimate is very much alive. Nevertheless a large number of states with very different sorts of legal practices manage mostly to get along and even to make things like extradition agreements.

Now we're largely getting

Now we're largely getting into a question of size. If Dept. B is much smaller that Dept. A, you're probably right. But if Dept. A is sufficiently large to be assured that a similarly sized Dept. B never arises, one begins to wonder what the difference between Dept. A and a government really is.

Now we're largely getting

Now we're largely getting into a question of size. If Dept. B is much smaller that Dept. A, you're probably right. But if Dept. A is sufficiently large to be assured that a similarly sized Dept. B never arises, one begins to wonder what the difference between Dept. A and a government really is.

Yes, the same thing can be

Yes, the same thing can be said for most industries. Yet, it seems that monopolies tend to be rare in the real world--and were so even before the advent of antitrust legislation.

One explanation is that when any company achieves monopoly power, it as a rule raises prices. High profits make entries into the field a more attractive gamble, hence drawing competitors, and thus, after a fashion, monopolies eat themselves.

Another argument I've heard is that one reason companies manage to get so big is by using the government to reduce their own competition, through tariffs, regulations, etc. This allows them to bloat beyond their natural size. Hopefully, with no government to provide this cover, there would be nothing to help Dept. A swell to an enormous size, a size where it was able to keep out all competitors.

Friedman distinguished the government as an organization of legitimized coercion. Ideally, people would find no such legitimacy in the operation of private organizations.

Stormy, You are right that

Stormy,

You are right that it is a question of size but wrong that the comparison is between Dept. B. and Dept. A. Rather, the comparison is between the size (in terms of power, money, etc.) of Dept. B. to all of its competitors, both peaceful and violent. Dept. B.'s market share is really what is important here, for even if it is large in comparson to A, it may be very small in comparison to A+C+D. Iraq might be pretty big compared to Kuwait, but small compared to the U.S. plus Europe plus Israel.

We all agree that if the optimal market structure for law is a monopoly, a democratic government is preferable to a private corporation, which could quickly turn into a mafia. But if stable competition is possible and likely, and I think it is, then the private production of law is preferable to public provision.

Micha, you're the next Bryan

Micha, you're the next Bryan Caplan.

Tim, How do you prove

Tim,

How do you prove someone is a murderer a priori? What do you call a murderer who hasn't killed anyone?

Jacob, "How do you prove

Jacob,

"How do you prove someone is a murderer a priori? What do you call a murderer who hasn’t killed anyone?"

Uhh, I don't think that you can technically be called a murderer unless you've killed someone or been a willing accomplice in some manner.

I wonder if Jacob still

I wonder if Jacob still thinks you guys are "god-awful", poor writers, and make "weak" economic postings.

Well, that's taking quotes a

Well, that's taking quotes a bit out of context. Lyles only said the entertainment posts were god-awful, and he was referring to only the entertainment posts present on the front page on a particular date. So far as I can see, he didn't say anything about the Catallarchs being poor writers per se (had he, he would of course be mistaken), and he only referred to one economic post in particular as being weak.

Also, for the record, I'm not entirely sure that the Jacob who comments on the instant blog is the same Jacob who was quoted in the above post.

Lately, reading Lyles' blog, he seems to be rather impressed with Catallarchy.

Micha, Ok...another

Micha,
Ok...another explain-it-to-me-slowly question. You say that if the optimal market structure for law is a monopoly, that a democratic government is preferable to a private company. How do you know if the optimal structure is a monopoly? I had a little discussion about private law with someone who dismissed out of hand the idea that law could be provided by any other means than government monopoly, on the grounds that it obviously "wouldn't be fair" to have any system other than the one we have (although they believe we need antitrust because monopolies are bad). I don't put much stock in "it's not fair", since it's a sort of fuzzy-headed reason, but under what circumstances is a public monopoly preferable? One argument I could think of is that the market would tend toward monopoly anyway, but that's used as a kind of catchall reason for government intervention in all sorts of markets.

Lisa, How do I know if the

Lisa,

How do I know if the optimal structure is a monopoly? Well, I don't know that. I was saying that I think the opposite is more likely to be true. (Actually, I probably should have said "if the only possible/inevitable market structure is monopoly," rather than use the word optimal.) But if it were true, and I could be convinced of it, I would much more likely favor democracy over the alternative.

It seems to me the argument between anarchists and non-anarchists, and the argument between libertarians and non-libertarians are both largely arguments over which is a better mechanism of control and choice: competition or voting, exit or voice, markets or politics. Libertarians and their subset anarchists tend to argue that the former is generally a better mechanism of control and choice than the latter. But we don't necessarily discount the claims made by democrats - that voting, voice and politics can serve as a constraint on government and provide some level of choice. We just don't think its as good an option as markets.

But if we grant the assumption that a market in law is impossible, then democracy might be the next best alternative. For if a private system of law leads to a single firm monopoly, there would be no competition, no exit, and no choice. Better to have some level of choice through voting than none at all.

Stormy, Initially you posed

Stormy,

Initially you posed the question of what would happen if two protection agencies had a dispute. This eventually led to a different question - how do we know that a protection agency will not morph into a state?

In a system of competing protection agencies with low costs of switching among customers, security is a private good. The provider captures the benefits of providing good security. The customer reaps the benefits of making wise decisions in choosing his provider. The implication of this is that monopolistic behavior and collusion between different providers will be very difficult, just as it is with most 'normal' private goods in the market today.

Suppose one day that Dept B starts demonstrating 'aggressive' behavior - taking involuntarily funding its customers (taxation), starting wars with other Depts, etc. What will the response be among people nearby?

- There will be a subset of people among Dept B's customer base who want nothing to do with Dept B any longer. They will dial up Depts A, C, D, and E, etc and sign up for their service. Each of the Depts now has an incentive to fight off Dept B and protect these customers because they represent future profits. Dept B will have a tough time funding its aggressive behavior with the loss of paying customers. Sooner or later, the mercs, tanks, and weapons will have to be paid for.

- The rest of the customers in the area, i.e., those not already subscribing to Dept B, the majority of which want to live a peaceful existence at a low price, make mental notes to themselves - "Do not subscribe to Dept B ever." Each other the other Depts A, C, D, E, etc have an incentive to fight Dept B to prevent the loss of their future profits.

With private security, any Dept that wants to become a state is fighting an uphill battle. Law and security, in such a scenario, are a private good. Any Dept that wants to maintain a reputation for efficient service and a potential for profits will refrain from aggressive behavior.

Contrast that with monopolistic governments in which rent-seeking makes aggressive behavior not only possible, but highly profitable.

Glen, David Friedman’s

Glen,

David Friedman’s position is that the argument for markets in protection/law is distinct from the argument for other markets in the context of already-existing protection/law. Thus, you can’t rely on the standard market arguments, but instead must make new ones.

As far as I can tell, Friedman believes that the same arguments that apply for standard markets apply to markets for law also. Just as standard markets results in better service, productivity enhancments, and efficient outcomes, so to would a market for law empower citizens/customers and create 'efficient law'.

The difference in the arguments is that a market for protection/law requires an additional argument - the argument for stability.

Jonathan, Right, that's all

Jonathan,

Right, that's all I think Glen was saying about Friedman's position. That the market for law requires the additional argument for stability.

Tim, So if I wanted to show

Tim,

So if I wanted to show that governments are often murderers on a vast scale, I would have to use an empirical argument.

A priori, I could prove that governments are always thieves. However, I would still need an empirical argument to report the magnitude of their theft. The magnitude is important to the average reader, as I doubt anyone would be very upset over a government that ran off of $10 per capita, except maybe crazy libertarians like you and I.

So, if my purpose is to convince people that governments are evil, I think empirical arguments are superior.

And I stand by my claim that

And I stand by my claim that the American Idol posts are godawful. I try to avoid that crap on TV, I don't want to read about it on a blog.

Whether it’s a really big

Whether it’s a really big Dept. A or an alliance of Dept. A, C, and D, you’re still arguing that keeping Dept. B in check depends on an organization (either a single Dept. or an alliance of several) that is willing an able to manipulate the market so that no large Dept. B type organizations are able to form.

No, the goal is to keep Dept B from partaking in aggressive behavior, not to keep it from forming. It is in each individual Dept's own profit-maximizing interest to prevent aggression. It is generally not in each individual Dept's own profit-maximizing interest to partake in anything more than that, i.e, engage in aggression itself, because aggression is expensive in the absence of a state.

Nobody is making the claim that a state won't form. It is just that the incentives are stacked against it. This is what David Friedman refers to as being on "the right side of the public goods trap."

Nobody is saying that aggressive behavior won't occur. Rather, it is likely to be much less successful than in monopolistic governments.

Whether it's a really big

Whether it's a really big Dept. A or an alliance of Dept. A, C, and D, you're still arguing that keeping Dept. B in check depends on an organization (either a single Dept. or an alliance of several) that is willing an able to manipulate the market so that no large Dept. B type organizations are able to form.

Once that condition is met the market is no longer free. I'm also not sure how that organization is any different than a government.

Jonathan Wilde

Jonathan Wilde said:
"Contrast that with monopolistic governments in which rent-seeking makes aggressive behavior not only possible, but highly profitable."

This isn't the only possible behavior of a monopolist. Another likely behavior is crappy service. Witness the high-crime neighborhoods in many (most?) cities. The cops have decided that isn't worth the effort to provide effect services in those neighborhoods. In some of these neighborhoods, Stormy's renegade Dept. B already exists, in the forms of Mafia, Crips, Bloods, and other gangs that dispense a private law. Yet the presumed good guys are doing as little as possible to put these Dept. B out of business. In some cases, the Dept. Bs of the world infiltrated and corrupted the "good guys", forming a cartel between the two, to ensure that Dept. B can continue without risk.

The question becomes: why not try the private security model? We already have the evidence that the worst possible outcome of the private model resembles the worst possible outcome of the current model. The biggest difference is which model is more resistant to the worst-case senario. What do we have to lose by trying the private model?

Actually, the inner city

Actually, the inner city analogy is the perfect example of my point. Here you have a situation where the government monopoly has effectively fled the law enforcement market. In it's place you have a series of private groups, some like Dept. A (private security firms, the Guardian Angels, neighborhood crime watches, etc.) and some like Dept B. (the mafia, gangs, etc.) By your argument the fact that the Dept. A groups are more effecient should make them ultimately more successful. But as the inner city shows, this isn't the case. The externalities of forceably taking property allow the Dept. B's to more than overcome their lower effeciency.

So the closest thing we have to a free market for private law enforcement is not generally a safer solution, it's a complete hell hole. Can you give me any example of a comparable situation that worked out well?

When you say that the 4th

When you say that the 4th premise clearly precludes the conclusion when quoting thomas aquinas argument I believe you ignore the very point he was making. When he says
4. if a previous efficient cause does not exist, neither does the thing that results,
and then
7. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, which everyone gives the name God.

He is ultimately saying exactly the fact that it is possible to ignore that there must eventually be a thing that at once is and is its own cause. The turtles all the way argument is something that he would, and did, most certainly argue against. Because even its turtles all the way down, there must be a cause for the sequence of turtles itself leading us to the reality that their absolutely must be a thing which was its own cause and also is the result implying that this thing is both eternal and the impetus for all things i.e. at least some type of God. This argument is most certainly not so, in my humble belief, easily debunked.
Matt E.

Matt, If it is true that

Matt,

If it is true that things can exist without a cause or a creator, then it is possible that the universe itself is one of these uncaused, uncreated entities, in which case God is not logically necessary to explain the existence of the universe. In other words, the “universe as a whole” has different properties than entities within that universe - the universe can exist without a cause while things within the universe cannot. This is no different than positing a God, so the argument for God’s existence on these grounds fails.

Actually, the inner city

Actually, the inner city analogy is the perfect example of my point. Here you have a situation where the government monopoly has effectively fled the law enforcement market. In it’s place you have a series of private groups, some like Dept. A (private security firms, the Guardian Angels, neighborhood crime watches, etc.) and some like Dept B. (the mafia, gangs, etc.) By your argument the fact that the Dept. A groups are more effecient should make them ultimately more successful. But as the inner city shows, this isn’t the case. The externalities of forceably taking property allow the Dept. B’s to more than overcome their lower effeciency.

So the closest thing we have to a free market for private law enforcement is not generally a safer solution, it’s a complete hell hole. Can you give me any example of a comparable situation that worked out well?

I'm not sure how can call the inner city an example of "private law enforcement". It's the epitome of public enforcement. The government monopoly has not "fled" the market. They still have jobs and get paid via taxation. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to afford cars, guns, uniforms, wages, etc. They just provide horrible service.

Netiher the mafia, the Guardian Angels, neighborhood watches, nor gangs are working for a profit. None of them have financial incentives to provide protection to customers. None have an incentive to avoid costly war.

Others have given plenty of examples of private security and law - medieval Iceland, the Law Merchant, private arbitration among corporations, extradition treaties between nations, private law enforcement in the old West, competition between US states for corporate-friendly regulations, jurisdictional arbitrage for people seeking tax havens, etc. Your argument is little different from the Hobbesian argument for Leviathan, which is self-contradictory. If Leviathan is simply composed of men like all other men, how can we protect ourselves from it? If one gang fights another gang, will a bigger gang keep the peace? Or will it steal and murder like the other gangs? Will it take half our income, dictate to us what medicines we can take, what we can say, and make us save money for our own good?

Who will watch the watchman? A bigger watchman? Is it watchmen all the way down?

Let me ask you some questions about the logical implications of your view -

- Why aren't Mexico and the US at war today?
- Do you support a world government?
- How expensive is violence in a democracy? What does it cost?

[...] all, they too are only

[...] all, they too are only human. Just attend a faculty meetings some time. Anyone else smell turtles?

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