What happens when the police go on strike?
As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin's anarchism. I laughed off my parents' argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order.
Oh. Maybe it is bad.
This may seem like an odd thing to post on a blog with great sympathy for market anarchism, but I wish to emphasize the complexity, maturity, and depth of the anarcho-capitalist position. We are no "Smash The State / It'll Be Great" utopians. We recognize the need for order, for security, and for people devoted to maintaining these things. We simply believe that these things can be provided better in a competitive market than by a monopoly.
On October 17th, 1969, Montreal did not have a competitive market in security - it had zero firms, which is not a market at all. It did not have market anarchy, it did not have anarcho-capitalism, it had true anarchy - absence of law, absence of order. This is a good indication of the fragility of a monopoly - all it takes is one strike to turn 1 into 0. Or one poor practice, one area of incompetence, or one bribed person to let an area of crime flourish. With several firms, security is more robust.
It also indicates the difficulty and importance of transition periods. It is far too easy for those of us who wish to live in a different world to ignore the current one, and speculate pleasurably about how our alternative might work. But it is tautological that in order to achieve that alternative, we must transition somehow from the present to the future, from the state to the market. And that means dealing with these awkward transitions.
There are many directions the world can go when the state disappears. Not all of them are good. Some of them are downright terrible. Some, we suspect, are quite wonderful. Although I find stable anarchy appealing, that does not mean I am in a hurry to descend into chaotic anarchy. It is important for market anarchists to remember that not all transitions away from the state are good - and for everyone else to see that not all transitions away from the state are bad.