The Worst Book I Ever Read

A friend of mine complained that I didn’t fully understand libertarianism so he recommended “The Machinery Of Freedom” by David Friedman (Milton’s son) (available as a PDF here). This book is well-respected within libertarian circles. It takes a specifically anarcho-capitalist position (my friend is an anarchist) but it spends a great deal discussing libertarianism first. To say I didn’t like the book would be an understatement. It was atrocious. It was a horrendously argued book that relied on straw man arguments, ignoring the middle ground, a complete absence of evidence and mainly stating positions without even attempting to defend them. The only praise I have for the book is that it is mercifully short and easy to read.

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(The book raises a lot of issues which I cannot fully discuss for space reasons. I intend to discuss them in further posts. Until then I will focus more on the book itself.)

Friedman opens by saying a libertarian society should be based on private property. A not entirely unreasonable beginning and one that most libertarians would agree with. However, instead of engaging this point, he completely ignores any possible objections. He dismisses out of hand the question of who has control over private property and how they got it. Seeing as in most of the world (especially post-colonial countries) property is concentrated in the hands of a small elite who conquered the land through war, while vast numbers are landless, this is a glaring omission. The few countries where this isn’t the case, this is because the state sponsored some form of land redistribution (Ireland for example).

Friedman argues that no society should be based on coercion, which again sounds reasonable until you realise that private property is based on coercion. If you are on my land you must either do as I say or get off my land. If you refuse, I can use force or get the police. Friedman pretends this isn’t an issue, instead he says private property is good and then moves on. It isn’t a good opening to the book and it was a foretell of what was to come.

Among libertarians Friedman is considered something of an economist, which strikes me as strange because he displays a woeful ignorance of economics. The book reads like someone who took a two week economics class and drew conclusions based on it. The examples he uses are ridiculously simplified to the point that they cannot be taken seriously. He presumes everyone gets paid exactly what they produce, that the market is governed by perfect competition, government always an everywhere makes things worse etc. At times he reads like a parody of a libertarian. It would be almost cruel to point out all the fallacies he commits and I was willing to forgive him as someone who didn’t know any better until I read he is supposed to be the main arguer for a libertarian society from an economics point of view (as opposed to say a moral or philosophical).

The biggest problem of the book is the complete lack of evidence. There are no sources given and the bibliography is scanty. Barely any facts, figures or real world examples are used; instead he deals in fictional hypotheticals. He simply states things and presumes we already agree with him. For example he says that the welfare state costs the poor more than the rich. No evidence or reason is given, it is simply stated that the poor pay more in taxes than they get in benefits. This ridiculous statement is added a throwaway remark as though it was too obvious to need elaboration. However, if the poor pay more than they get, then surely the middle class and rich pay even more yet they are not entitled to the same amount of benefits. Then who does benefit? Unless the state is running a massive surplus (it isn’t) then someone must get more than they put in unless the money disappears down a black hole.

This lack of reality is backed up by ignoring any possible criticism. What will happen to the poor in a libertarian society? What of those who are too old or sick to work? With a lazy flick of the hand he dismisses these objections with a shrug as if to say, “don’t worry they’ll be grand”. The very reasonable point that the Great Depression is an example of the need for government is also dismissed in a single sentence. Friedman acts as though ignoring criticism is the same as responding to it. Worse still he simply wishes away problems. Monopolies do not occur in the free market, because. . . . well, because he said so. He claims that in the 19th century there were no monopolies, he doesn’t feel the need to back up this preposterous statement with facts or evidence, simply saying it seems to be enough.

A current running through the whole book is that you are either a Libertarian or a Communist. Friedman pretends there is no common ground. He ends every description of a possible libertarian society by saying something along the lines of, “well if you don’t like that at least it’s better than Communism” and thinks he’s won the argument. To pretend that there are only two ideologies in the world is a gross misrepresentation that Friedman regularly indulges in. The only other ideology he discusses in the book is Marxism and he devotes a chapter to misrepresenting it before criticising it.

This brings me onto the next major problem I had with the book. Friedman either ignores possible criticism or only picks the most ridiculous counter arguments. He does not debate any actual economists or politicians but rather straw men of his mind who bear little reality to actual arguments to be made. For example it is an obvious point that one of the advantages of wealth is that it allows you to buy more things, while the disadvantage of poverty is that you are unable to afford many items. Therefore there is a danger that the rich will live a life of opulence while the poor struggle to live (some would have too much and others too little). However Friedman builds a straw man by pretending this allows the rich to buy everything leaving the poor with nothing. He then argues that the rich do not have enough money to buy everything and considers the point settled before moving on. This ridiculous ignoring of obvious facts was one of the many things that deeply frustrated me while reading the book.

The book is divided into very short chapters most only a page or two and read more like newspaper articles. This means few of his ideas are well thought or argued out; he simply introduces a proposal and then moves onto something else. Even given this shortness, the book becomes wearisome very quickly and I lose track of all the flaws in his argument, the fallacies he uses or the straw men arguments that no one would ever use (which is probably why he doesn’t name a single opponent in the book). In his world a private school system means the poor can afford to go to rich schools, which begs the question of where the rich will go? Presumably they would lose a bidding war with the poor, who also have the ability to set up their own schools (I’m not making this up; this is genuinely the argument he makes). The idea that poor people may be unable to afford things they need seems entirely alien to him. If they do not buy health insurance, that couldn’t possibly be because they can’t afford it, no, it must be because they don’t want it. So public health is really forcing the poor to buy things they want. Derp.

At times Friedman reads like a parody of himself or someone trying to troll libertarians. I’m not even going to criticise these points or point out how ridiculous they are, they are pretty self-evident. He argues that we should privatise the moon landings and let private business compete over who can send the first man to the moon. They can fund themselves through advertising, TV rights and selling moon rocks. Children over the age of say 9, should have the option of being independent and not controlled by their parents. Socialists should buy shares in companies if they want to control them, he argues that this could be done in five years.

However, it is when Friedman begins to discuss Anarchism that things get really ludicrous. He says we should privatise the police and let competing private security firms take over. Reading it I felt like I had followed a white rabbit and ended up in Wonderland as Friedman blissfully described how efficient and peaceful the world would be. Choosing security would be like choosing insurance, the magic of the invisible hand will ensure the best possible world. The absurdity was breath taking and was the gap with reality. The idea that criminal gangs could take over was dismissed out of hand. There would be mafia because . . . well, there just wouldn’t. People could simply freely choose between security firms, who of course would never force people to choose. These security firms would never go to war because wars cost money, so any arguments would be solved peacefully. Just like in the real world where nobody ever kills another person and there is no war or violence because everyone knows how costly that is.

(I hope everyone notices how restrained I am in only using the word Derp once. I am very tempted to end every sentence with it.)

In this mythical anarchist society there would be several courts and several laws all made by competing companies. People would choose whatever laws they like best and be subject to those ones. Of course the extremely obvious problems with this are ignored (surprise, surprise). Instead Friedman presumes people will easily decide which laws apply in which case through use of bargaining or money or magic fairy dust (honestly, at this point anything is possible). This whole section is completely bizarre and outrageous and might as well be entitled “Leave Your Brain At The Door”. All problems are wished away. Money might be power, but in an Anarchist society the poor won’t be powerless. Judges won’t be corrupt nor will there be any false arrests. If there are people can just sue (a disturbingly large amount of libertarian problems are solved by presuming that there are no problems with suing people). Private security firms won’t try to take over the country, they won’t be power hungry, they won’t take bribes, and in fact they will be more peaceful.

I’m all for reading books that clash with my own ideas and hearing different viewpoints. However, reading “The Machinery Of Freedom” was almost painful. The arguments were so atrociously made that even when he supported more immigration (the one point where I would agree with him) he was still wrong. Friedman does not argue his case, instead he simply makes statements in a condescending tone and presumes it is the same thing. He only battles with straw men and debunks arguments that no one actually uses. He pretends that there is no middle ground, that you are either a libertarian or a communist.  He does not use evidence or facts to back himself, rather simply stating it is enough. The obvious problems of a world without a government are just wished away. It was never going to be easy to argue for a libertarian or anarchist state, but Friedman seemed to want to make it as difficult as possible.

67 thoughts on “The Worst Book I Ever Read”

    1. Funnily enough the friend who recommended this book also recommended Rothbard and “Ethics” in particular. Honestly, I’m so snowed in with college, it’ll be summer before I’ve enough free time to go exploring more libertarian or anarchist books, but I’ll put Rothbard on the list.

  1. When I was in high school I went to a lecture by a libertarian. I found the lecture persuasive, so I followed it up by reading a bunch of books. The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Also, I’ve had a lot of anarchist friends who would recommend things. In recent years, I’ve come to believe that following up on stuff out of some sense of responsibility, that somehow I ought to read things that I disagreed with, was just a waste of time, especially if they’re ideas like anarchism that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being implemented.

    Now, I no longer waste my time with certain extreme positions, Anarchism, Libertarianism, Marxism, Objectivism, etc. But then, I’m in my late forties. I guess everyone has to read at least a couple of books on each of those.

    1. That’s all well and good, but Marxism or anarchism aren’t necessarily “extreme positions”, they can be taken to extremes, which is bad. I think the tendency to forgo theories or “meta-narratives” is a ridiculous outcome of the neoliberal order at the end of the cold war. All people, when discussing economics or politics, operate from a point of view and with certain assumptions, you can’t just not have an ideology, because most of the time, you’re actually just using an ideology that seems natural to you.

      1. I certainly agree that there is nothing wrong with having an ideology and I certainly prefer those who are open about theirs. However, I would definitely see anarchism, libertarianism and communism as extreme points of view. What they all share is the goal of a utopian society which has little or no hope of being achieved. Their views are so different from most people’s and the proposals for changing society are so radical that I feel extreme is the word for it.

    1. Only one question? Come on, I’m expecting a full critique and will be disappointed if I amn’t challenged.

      Power doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The reason government has a monopoly of violence is that if it didn’t other groups would try to gain one. They would not compete peacefully and politely like Friedman thinks, but bloodily in attempts to form their own monopoly. Criminal gangs either go to war with each other or collude to divide territory between them. They do not compete in a free market.

      The system Friedman proposes would obviously lead to chaos as multiple overlapping laws and security forces would inevitably clash. The world would be so chaotic, violent and unstable that people would group together for self-protection and the state would be reformed.

      1. I know I promised to go away for a while, but I must say that I don’t blame you for thinking that the D. Friedman book was not very good. I said in a previous comment that it was not one of my favourites. But he is not “the main arguer for economics from an economics point of view”, not even close. You would have been far better off reading the likes of Mises, Rothbard and Hoppe. Focus on their economics first, which in my opinion is the only way you can understand libertarian ethics. All three writers are superb, although there are plenty of other great ones too.

        “Criminal gangs either go to war with each other or collude to divide territory between them. They do not compete in a free market.” – Robert Nielsen

        If you had read Rothbard, you’d know that we don’t grant the state any higher status than a very large and very successful criminal operation. And we would agree that states go to war with each other or collude to divide territory between them, instead of competing in a free market.

        Watch some Stefan Molyneux videos if you don’t have the time to read Rothbard or Hoppe. This is Anarchism for Beginners (not Dummies 😉 )

        https://www.youtube.com/user/stefbot/videos?flow=grid&view=0&sort=p

        1. There is a difference between libertarianism and austrian economics and they needn’t go hand in hand. It is just as possible to be a neo-classical libertarian like Friedman as an Austrian like Rothbard. However, I will discuss Austrian economics another time, I will focus on libertarianism for now.

          I’m not sure why you’ve turned my comment into a quote but if the state was abolished criminal gangs would replace it (at which point anarchists would complain this wasn’t “true” anarchism so it couldn’t be said anarchism failed.) You may believe that the state is a criminal gang, but you have to prove that the alternative is better, something that cannot be done.

          Funnily enough I have come across Molyneaux before and found him ridiculously over the top. His video on the minimum wage was completely ridiculous, he argued that the government was using guns to force people to be unemployed. I got in a big argument with some commentors before giving it a rest.

          1. It is true that another criminal gang would probably attempt to replace any government that was abolished. Are you saying that this is the fault of anarchism? Why not blame the people who support the rule of criminal gangs, instead of the anarchists who are the only ones who oppose it?

            Molyneux is correct; the government will literally use physical force violence to prevent you from hiring people or from working below the minimum wage. If you resist their court orders and arrest warrants, they will literally kill you. Physical force violence is the entire basis of government.

            1. If anarchists remove the barriers preventing criminal gangs from taking over the country then yes I would blame them. Its the same as if I was to relaese a vicious animal from its cage, its my fault as I should have known there would be trouble. Also criminal gangs aren’t democracies, they are dependent on the will of the people, they don’t need support.

              “they will literally kill you”
              I think you’re exaggerating just the slightest bit. Breaking labour laws carries a fine. You may not agree with them, but lets not get hysterical. The government may be based on force but so is private property.

              1. “Why not blame the people who support the rule of criminal gangs, instead of the anarchists who are the only ones who oppose it?” -GM

                Exactly.

                “If anarchists remove the barriers preventing criminal gangs from taking over the country then yes I would blame them.” -RN

                No such barriers exist. You’re forgetting that the government is a criminal gang. Anarchists oppose all criminal gangs, including the government. You support the criminal gang called government.

                “You may believe that the state is a criminal gang, but you have to prove that the alternative is better.” -RN

                No. Rather, it is you who has to justify* your support of the criminal gang called government by demonstrating that your fear that not supporting criminal states would lead to far worse criminal gangs taking over and far worse injustices committed is in fact a realistic fear.

                “Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a ‘Great Leap Forward’ that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children.

                “In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.” – Robert Higgs

                * Of course you wouldn’t be “justifying” a criminal gang in the libertarian sense of justice by demonstrating that if it weren’t for the existence of that criminal gang then much worse criminal gangs would take over, but you get my point.

                1. So if I remove all police from a city and criminal gangs take over, its not my fault, its the gangs fault. Surely I am partially responsible as my actions led to this occurring.

                  As much as I love overblown rhetoric it is just silly calling the government a criminal gang. You know this too. After all, if it was, you would be justified in using force to protect yourself from it and to overthrow it. I don’t see you launching a violent revolution so I take it you don’t really believe the state is a criminal gang.

                  The state is not a gang because it has legitimacy. It relies on the support of the people. Were we fundamentally opposed to it like you think we are, we would overthrow it Arab Spring style. But we don’t. Either the entire population is deluded or maybe we like the state. Maybe there is some benefit to it and a realization that we would be worse off without it.

                  Let’s not get too caught up with the burden of proof. You are in opposition to the existing order so it is natural that you must explain and justify your position rather than the world justifying itself to you. Almost any time the state has broken down, chaos and lawlessness has replaced it. Its obvious that in the absence of a dominant power, others will attempt to replace it. A system of competitive violence would be destructive.

                  No anarchists have not committed genocide, but they are so few of them that they’ve done very little. They have on occasion attempted to violently overthrow the state and during the late 19th century there was a campaign of anarchist terrorism across Europe. (Which I’m sure you’ll tell me was not the anarchists fault)

                  “The force employed when exercising private property rights is not aggressive force.”
                  If you’re on my property and refuse to move, then I am applying force to get you to move. Its a false distinction to draw an arbitrary line between defensive and aggressive. After all, if the state uses force while you are on its property, does that mean it is using defensive force and therefore acceptable?

                  1. Firstly, police provide useful security services,besides being enforcers for the state. Anarchists want security to be provided in a competitive manner, that’s all. There is no question of security not being provided in an anarchist city.

                    Secondly, just because an anarchist believes that the state should be abolished, does not imply that a violent revolution is the correct course of action for them to take. This should be obvious to an intelligent person.

                    Thirdly, anarchists understand that most people support the existence of the state. In fact, anarchists understand that this is the reason for the state’s existence. Without popular support, it would disappear tomorrow. As you have argued on many other topics, however, just because something is widely believed does not make it true, and just because an institution is widely supported (e.g. the Catholic Church) does not make it a benign institution or one which society as a whole is better for.

                    Fourthly, many anarchists believe very strongly in the rule of law. Indeed we see state violence as the main source of chaos and instability in the world. The reason that we don’t want a violent revolution is because we think the resulting lawlessness and radicalisation would produce much more severe violations of property than already prevail.

                    Fifthly, in response to “Its a false distinction to draw an arbitrary line between defensive and aggressive” – Is there a distinction between a security guard and a terrorist attempting to shoot each other? Between somebody attempting to protect innocent life, and somebody attempting to take innocent life? I’ll say at least one thing in favour of the Right, they don’t suffer from the same level of moral equivalence as the Left do. As Stefan Molyneux has asked, is there a difference between lovemaking and rape?

                    Finally, the state doesn’t own any property. Everything it has, it acquired through extortion and fraud. The correct course of action would be return state resources to the people from whom it was stolen.

                    1. Security and law provided in a competitive manner is an oxymoron. In order for law to work, there must only be one law. Everyone must be accountable to the one law. There simply would be chaos if people could pick and choose. Likewise there must be a monopoly of force, any order system would be inherently too unstable and violent. Therefore the best form of monopoly is one which is democratically accountable.

                      You dodged my point so I’ll repeat it. If the state is a criminal gang then surely you are justified in using force to defend yourself. Right or wrong?

                      I would argue that the Catholic Church is widely despised and disrespected and unlike the state is not accountable to the people. The question naturally arises, why do people so overwhelmingly support the state? If it is so obviously nothing more than a criminal gang then why do people support it?

                      It is useful to consider all the territory of Ireland as belonging to the Irish government (I think there’s even something to this effect in the Constitution). If this helps your understanding, then think of the state as owning property, and we are living on it, therefore must follow its rules. Imagine if a private company bought an island and made rules for everyone who lived on its property and rented from it. It would be in effect a government. You could also imagine it levying rent in proportion to wealth (ie taxes).

                      What I said about aggressive and defensive force was meant that it is a matter of opinion. If I trespass on your property but otherwise not threatening you, if you forcibly remove me, is this aggressive or defensive force? I think it could be argued either way. What if I owe you money but refuse to pay. If you force me to do so (say with the threat of prison) are you using aggressive or defensive force? You can draw simple black-and-white analogies but there is a large grey area.

                      All property was gained by force at some point or other. If you trace the history of land in any country you will eventually come to a point where the land was seized in a time of war as bounty. You may think the state owes its property to force and extortion, but so does private property.

                    2. There does not need to be only one law; this is just something is repeated but not properly examined. Multiple jurisdictions already exist between different nation-states, which is a form of anarchy. Think about how places like Germany and Italy worked prior to their unification into nation-states. Consider how the US developed when states were strong and the federal government was weak. Decentralisation is not chaos. On the contrary, decentralisation produces a natural order of peace and prosperity, and the ultimate decentralisation takes us to a system of private property where there is no coercive central monopoly.

                      I agree that we would be ethically justified to defend ourselves against the state, but it’s certainly not something that I advocate. I believe that we should meticulously obey the state not just for reasons of self-interest (to avoid going to prison) but also to protect the people around us from the consequences of that action. All of us can do much greater good for ourselves and the world when we are outside of prison instead of inside. Additionally, we don’t want to provoke any sort of violent counter-state activity, because of the reason I already mentioned – that we think that such action could produce far greater lawlessness and property violations than already prevail. Obeying the state is a pragmatic and not a purely ethical decision. It’s a bit like the question of whether a small child should get into a fight with a phsyically abusive parent – it might be ethically justified, but practically it is a terrible and potentially fatal idea.

                      Why do people support the state? Many reasons. Maybe they are right and I am wrong. But I think that they simply don’t understand economics, and that they also have moral failures in that they are interested in the benefits which the state can give to them, and they don’t care about the fact that other people, in many cases future generations, will be forced to pay.

                      If there was an entity which could legitimately claim to have homesteaded the territory of Ireland, or had acquired it through voluntary exchange, that would be one thing. The Irish government, however, has not done that. It does not have a stronger claim to somebody’s house or land than the person who did in fact homestead it or acquire it through voluntary exchange. There is no actual evidence that the Irish government owns the territory, beyond its claim to do so.

                      It could be argued either way whether it was aggressive or defensive to remove a trespasser? If somebody was in your house, against your will, you can’t say whether it would be aggressive or defensive to take steps to get that person out of your house, including physically removing them? Maybe you should think about it. I know where you’re coming from – I once suffered from left-wing equivalence and agnosticism. But you really need to deal with it. The grey areas aren’t as big as you seem to think they are.

                      All property was gained by force – again, I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I express my opinion that this is another piece of statist propaganda, most often held by people who inhabit universities and others who have never experienced the voluntary attainment of property. While some property is gained by force (particularly, the property which the state acquires through extortion and fraud), most property is not acquired in this way. Most property is produced by somebody who thereby naturally acquires the rights to it, or is exchanged in a voluntary manner which transfers title from one person to another. Do you think that all the people who run businesses, who earn salaries, who are self-employed, are all engaged in some sort of massive swindle? Seriously.

                    3. “There does not need to be only one law; this is just something is repeated but not properly examined.”
                      There is a good reason for this. Surely it is obvious that a crime like, say car theft, should have one clear punishment, rather than 5 or 10 seperate laws all competiting with each other? There is a difference between multiple jurisdictions (like District and Supreme Courts or national and EU jurisdictions) and laws in direct competition. This point is rarely examined because it is so obvious. In fact I still don’t quite believe how you could dispute this point so I won’t continue.

                      “they also have moral failures in that they are interested in the benefits which the state can give to them”
                      I think we’re going have to fundamentally disagree on this point here, though if you ever wonder why libertarians are viewed as callous or heartless, this is why.

                      When I say all property was gained by force, I mean this in a historical sense. If you go back and follow the string to the beginning you come to the theft. All property began with theft and force. It is its first cause so to speak. My family’s property was legitimately bought and not stolen (like everyone in Ireland). It was bought from someone who bought from someone else, going back decades until you come to the time when property was in the hands of landlords (19th century). They inherited it from ancestors who gained the land by literally stealing it from native Irish or as reward for fighting against them. The root of property is forcible theft. This is the case in all countries that have experienced war and invasion. Property in America is based on theft from the Native Americans. Other levels can be built over it, but the foundation is force.

                      This is why replacing the state with private property system is no improvement. It too is based on force. (By the way, none of the above means I think private property should be abolished or anything ridiculous. I am simply aware of the history.)

                      “Most property is produced by somebody who thereby naturally acquires the rights to it,”
                      How does this apply to land (which is what I have been focusing on)? How do you acquire rights to land?

                    4. People choose where to do business, where to store capital, and where to live partly as a function of the legal systems in each jurisdiction. This competition that takes places is not after an incident takes place which requires the courts, but before it takes place. And when incidents occur which involve parties governed under different legal systems, we have procedures which set out how such conflicts will be resolved. These are basically the same principles by which law under anarchy would work, except that the legal systems under anarchy would be more competitive, and therefore of higher quality and lower cost.

                      “I think we’re going have to fundamentally disagree on this point here, though if you ever wonder why libertarians are viewed as callous or heartless, this is why.” Is it not a moral failure to vote in your self-interest instead of in the interests of society as a whole? Or do you think nobody does this?

                      “When I say all property was gained by force, I mean this in a historical sense. If you go back and follow the string to the beginning you come to the theft. All property began with theft and force….”

                      Firstly, land is falling sharply as a percentage of humanity’s total wealth, so this argument is growing less and less relevant.

                      Secondly, if you read some proper books you’d already know the standard answer to this question: property in land is acquired through homesteading virgin territory.

                      Thirdly, it makes no sense to argue that because land was historically acquired through force in many cases, that a private property system today is therefore also based on force and can’t be justified. You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole with this one, I’m afraid! I agree it’s true that we probably all have certain advantages or disadvantages due to property violations committed by or against our ancestors, and it’s impossible for reparations to be sought now. But meanwhile there are massive property violations taking place every day of our lives right now, and stopping these immediately would be the priority if society was attempting to put itself right. This is because even if the distribution of resources can’t be made right and just from a historical perspective, it does not grant any further support to the notion that we should accept the completely arbitrary and senseless redistribution of resources which governments impose today. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.

                  2. RN: “It is useful to consider all the territory of Ireland as belonging to the Irish government”

                    Perhaps it’s useful if your objective is to rationalize your support of the state, but that’s about it. Libertarians deny that the state owns the territory it controls any more than the mafia owns the territory it controls.

                    1. You missed/ignored the crucial point in my analogy. If a private company was to buy the island of Ireland, you would have no objection to it acting as the government of its property (the island). The only difference is how the property was obtained an issue which is often ignored (as it was by Friedman)

                1. Yes it is. Recall the wars fought over water use rights and transportation rights of way. In the U. S. the railroads are perfect examples of land taken by force for commercial use. More examples abound throughout the world; there are conflicts driven by property rights (oil, for example) on almost every continent that are not between governments or between governments and the governed.

                  Anarchism and libertarianism are essentially a form of magical thinking. You guys remind me of 18th century explorers trekking across Africa looking for “original man” in his perfect garden of Eden. You assume properties of the human character and condition for which there is no (I don’t mean “little”) scientific evidence.

                  And, your arguments just assume away potential refutations. A perfect example is where GM reminds Robert that “Governments are criminal gangs.” By defining governments as criminal gangs, he obviates any objection to his argument that requires distinguishing between criminal gangs and governments. Criminal gangs and medieval fiefdoms may have some similar characteristics, but they are not the same. The fundamental idea of a republic is that government exists because of and acts in accordance with some version of the collective will of the governed. Anarchism and libertarianism simply state without evidence that there is only one mechanism for determining this will, the market. “The Market” would resolve all conflict, all inequity and all crime if allowed to operate “freely”. This is magical thinking. There is no evidence-based discussion about the details of this mechanism. Proponents simply hypothesize about human behavior and how they believe it would manifest in “free markets”. The very notion of “free” markets is magical.

              2. I agree with everything that PRA said. In particular, there are no barriers to criminal gangs taking over. The gang which rules is simply the one which has the most popular general support or acquiescence. It could not be any other way; a government without general acquiescence suffers a rebellion. Democracy is a just a formal system through which the most popular gangs achieve power.

                “For if the bulk of the public were really convinced of the illegitimacy of the State, if it were convinced that the State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large, then the State would soon collapse to take on no more status or breadth of existence than another Mafia gang.” – Rothbard.

                (I originally put one of your sentences up as a quote, because I intended to contrast it with Rothbard’s above.)

                “I think you’re exaggerating just the slightest bit. Breaking labour laws carries a fine.”

                What happens if you ignore the fine? They will attempt to arrest you (in ordinary language, to kidnap you). What happens if you resist arrest and defend yourself? They will kill you. I’m saying this merely as a matter of fact, it’s not intended to be hyperbole. It’s reality. People who respected property wouldn’t use or threaten violence against other people who haven’t themselves committed any form of violence. Respecting property, including other people’s bodies, is the same thing as being non-violent. Violating property is the same thing as being violent. And it is only the government which violates property on a habitual, massive scale. No other individual or organisation in society comes close.

                For a counter-example: If I attempted to fine you for writing a blog post I didn’t like, what would you do with my letter? You’d throw it in the bin. Why not do the same with the government’s fine or with their taxes? Because they will kill you if you fight back, that’s why. The state is the institutionalisation of violence.

                1. You fail to see why the state is not the same as individuals. Taxes are not theft. A brief note on the origin of the state is necessary.

                  People came together in collective groups originally for self-protection. An anarchist world is violent, dangerous and unstable so people sough protection from it. Every person has a right to defend themselves, so this right was transfered to the collective or state. It had the right to defend itself. There was a natural requirement that all who benefit from the state must contribute towards it (originally in the form of military service). After all if I protect you, it is only fair that you return the favour. Therefore all who reside within the state are compelled to defend it. If not they must leave.

                  However, it is not economically efficient for everyone to be in the army, there are many other jobs that must be done. So instead of everyone contributing to the defense of the state physically, they can instead pay towards the upkeep of the army. Again there must be compulsion as otherwise some would benefit from protection without paying for it. Thus taxes were formed.

                  I could elaborate further onto the creation of the welfare state, but I think if we reach agreement on the above, that would be progress. We transfer some of our rights to the state in exchange for security and protection. This gives the state authority and legitimacy to act. So arrest is not the same as kidnap.

                  (Also if I went onto your property and refused to leave, you would use force to eject me. If I resist the same way as in your scenario above, I will be killed. What is the difference between this and the state?)

                  1. Robert Nielsen: “A brief note on the origin of the state is necessary.”

                    I am currently about half way through reading economist Bruce L. Benson’s scholarly book “The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State.” In Chapter 3: “The Rise of Authoritarian Law” he describes a very different picture of the origin of the state than what you describe.

                    In summary, “If customary, non-state institutions provided justice effectively [see Chapter 2], why did authoritarian law replace them? The change occurred at least in part because kings sought to increase their revenues and transfer wealth to politically powerful allies. England’s historical record on public prosecutions, public police, adversarial trials, rules of evidence, and the alienation of crime victims supports this conjecture.” ( http://www.independent.org/publications/books/summary.asp?id=92 )

                    I feel bad urging you to read some good books on the subjects we are discussing, especially since it’s a bigger investment to read a book than just read a short comment from me, but in all honesty I think you would learn much more (and in a more efficient manner) by spending more time reading some good books on the subject than discussing these issues superficially with people like me in comment sections.

                    You’ve reached the point where you grasp the basics of what libertarians believe, but you need a deeper understanding of their positions and arguments and I think that is best found in scholarly books. Books like “The Machinery of Freedom” can introduce people to positions they have never considered before and basic arguments, as can laymen people like me on the internet, but if you’re looking for a more rigorous argument for various libertarian economic claims and libertarian ethics, I really believe the books are better. I haven’t read many books myself, so you may want to ask some smart libertarians what books they think are best rather than just listen to my recommendations. But anyway….

                    Here is an “Anarcho-Capitalist Bibliography” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe:
                    http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe5.html

                2. The difference is that the state will kill and threaten peaceful people who have not violated anybody’s property. On the other hand, if you are in somebody else’s house or on their land, without their permission, you are violating their property and it is not unreasonable for them to remove you.

                  As for the origins of the state, I guess it’s a fairly interesting question. You are probably aware that modern democratic nation-states are a new invention and that in the centuries prior to World War 1, the world was mostly covered in monarchies and city-states, natural progressions from tribes and smaller settlements. People do have a tendency to seek safety in numbers. Remember that anarchists have no problem with peaceful co-operation – the objections begin when people begin to dominate and oppress others. As democracy and the nation-state became the norm, so did socialism, corporatism, fascism, persistently high inflation, high taxes, the destruction of the nuclear family and traditional virtues, and of course total warfare on a global scale.

                  Your belief that an anarchist world is violent, unstable, etc. is widely shared, but has no justification whatsoever. The larger, popular political entities formed from the unification of smaller structures are more likely to produce apocalyptic warfare against each other than the smaller states were, which is exactly what happened in Europe in World War 1 following the unification of Germany and the strengthening of democracy in other nation-states. Small states stay neutral more often than not, and try to avoid creating enemies, while big states seek to dominate everybody else.

                  In any case, I don’t think it really matters how the state was formed. The question of whether taxes are theft depends only on the nature of the transaction and the relevant property rights of the parties concerned. It doesn’t depend on the historical question of how such a circumstance came to be.

                  I have some sympathy for PRA when he urges you to read. My opinion is that a single good book would produce a vast improvement in the quality of these conversations. We are reinventing the wheel for you every time.

                  1. Well the only people the state does kill (in the real world not fictional anarchist world) have usually violently violated someone’s property. Most people the state kills (if it has the death penalty) have committed murder or some form of assault. Or those who are violently resisting arrest and therefore neither peaceful nor non-threatening.

                    However, the anarchist dystopia of a nightmarish state cruelly oppressing the people falls apart here in Ireland where the police are unarmed and the last person executed was in the 1950s. So your (and Molyneaux’s) stories of the state killing all you stand in its way or don’t comply with wage regulation has no place here. If the state was such a criminal organisation why would it disarm itself?

                    I’m afraid you’re misreading history. The consolidation of the state into large entities lead to stability and a century of relative peace (1815-1914). It was when these states started to fracture that violence occurred, for example in the Balkans. The post-Versailles system was inherently unstable as the states were too small and weak. It took the two superpower hegemony of the Cold War to restore balance. How any of this can support the case for anarchism is beyond me.

                    It is necessary to understand the origin of the state in order to understand how it operates today. If understand where taxes come from, you can understand why they’re not theft. You say you support voluntary co-operation, but for co-operation to work, there must be binding rules.

                  2. Resisting arrest could be considered defensive, depending on whether the person being arrested has in fact violated anybody’s property to begin with. And the reason that the state often doesn’t need to kill very many of its own citizens is that the threat of killing them is sufficient to get compliance. It’s a bit like looking at a town in Sicily with a low murder rate and saying that Cosa Nostra must be a very peaceful organisation. Such a claim would be ignorant to the fact that it is peaceful only because the dominant criminal gang has achieved compliance through the (explicit or implicit) threat of violence. Without the threat of deadly retribution, not many people would pay protection money to the mafia, and neither would they pay their taxes.

                    By the way, I’m actually a fan of the Irish policy of unarmed Gardaí. However, this doesn’t change the underlying nature of taxation. The fact is that if you don’t pay taxes, you will be arrested/jailed/kidnapped/etc.

                    With respect to history, I am also a fan of the 19th century. Look at the German Confederation from 1815 to 1871. A very loose association, it was a successful and broadly speaking peaceful entity. Only after Germany unified was there a strong, democratic central state, with the resulting welfare and warfare policies which ultimately led to bankruptcy, hyperinflation and disaster. If Germany had not unified there would have been no Bismarck chancellorship, no welfare state across the whole of Germany, less militarism and foreign aggression, less currency debasement, etc. Similarly, if the overwhelmingly large Russian Empire had not attempted to dominate its neighbours, perhaps we could have avoided World War I. This can be debated. But who can’t be blamed for the World Wars? Small countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Ireland, that’s who.

                    As for the Cold War, it can also be blamed on the existence of superpowers attempting to dominate each other and everybody else. We may face the same with the US and China facing off before too long. A polycentric order provides the solution.

                  3. Again, the idea that ownership of property somehow justifies violent defense of it is silly. The notion that governments “will kill you” if you resist is equally silly. Some governments do kill people who resist their laws. In the US, this happens several times a year to convicted first-degree murderers. But, it happens only after a due process, which is one way that this government is different from a criminal gang. But, all of this should be obvious, even to you. Sometimes, I wonder if you take Kafka literally.

                    1. Charles, many people in the US have been falsely convicted and executed after so-called due process. see: http://www.innocenceproject.org/

                      Social compact (contract) is a lie of the highest order. In some ways society is created to support the greater good, but this is maintained through violence or the threat of violence–and being incarcerated is a form of violence, lest one think it is not..

                      By its nature, property is a common good, and I won’t get into distinguishing property from possession here. Proudhon had it right: “Property is theft.”

                    2. I know that, which is why I oppose the death penalty. The state in which I live, Florida, is, with Texas, among the worst offenders in this regard. Another statistic, although we view it here in isolation, is that 1/3 of black males under the age of 25 will be or will have been incarcerated before their twenty-fifth birthday. We could sight injustices found in developed societies all day, night and year. But, when these injustices are compared with injustices found in many tribal societies, in so-called “failed states” (where the social contract hasn’t been honored), they are small beer.

                      If property were not owned by individuals, some of the property users and beneficiaries would seek to gain more benefit from its use. In some cases such efforts would benefit everyone, thereby benefiting those who exerted efforts to improve output, too. For example, some members of an agricultural commune may develop farming techniques or technology that yielded greater output per acre planted. But, there would be individuals in this society who would seek to benefit by taking from others without increasing total output. In fact. We see this condition in the US, too, but, it is more widespread and more pernicious in authoritarian states who claim to hold the “people’s property” in trust for them and manage for the greater good. We see almost innovation and almost complete reliance on violent suppression in anarchic states (if you could call them “states”).

                      Besides, how can property be theft? If everybody owns it, no one owns it. In what sense, then, am I able to steal from myself?

                      It seems to me that some distinction between property and possession (there are several, depending on whether you are using “possession” as a noun or a verb) is central to your argument. Why not bring it up?
                      Simply reasserting that Proudhon had is right (does he still have it right?) is not helpful to my understanding of your point.

                      In the end, it seems that a civil society working largely to similar ends seeks a balance between private ownership and/or control of property public stewardship of property for the common good. One of economist Thomas Schelling’s great insights is that micromotives do not generate macrobehavior. So-called “free-market” thinkers accept as axiomatic the principle that optimizing behavior by individuals will result in optimal macro outcomes. This principle is simply untrue. Data overwhelmingly falsifies it and there are far more efficacious frameworks that explain behavior and outcomes, yet, many still believe it. Symmetrically, macro-optimizing behavior may not produce optimal micro outcomes for every individual. This assertion is obvious. Taxing toxic waste generation effectively, minimizes such generation for the society as a whole, benefiting most of its members, but, for the producer of toxic waste, it increases the cost of doing business, thereby, reducing the cost of someone else investing in the development of superior technology for producing those goods or substitute goods.

                      Returning to property vs. possession. If you’re referring to the distinction between ownership and control, several discussions may follow. If you’re referring to the distinction between “things/objects we own” (bicycles, radios and cars) and “real property”(land and/or buildings, the ownership of which may or may not be identifiable or actual – there are unowned public lands, still there for the “taking”), different discussions would follow and they would be quite different.

      2. “Only one question? Come on, I’m expecting a full critique and will be disappointed if I amn’t challenged.”

        It would take far too much time to respond to everything you say. If you take GM’s suggestion to read Rothbard, etc, I’m sure you’ll learn the libertarian criticisms of your position.

        “Friedman argues that no society should be based on coercion, which again sounds reasonable until you realise that private property is based on coercion.”

        Many libertarians use the term “coercion” when they really should use the term “aggression.” Coercion is imprecise. Libertarians are not opposed to coercion per se. Force can be used justly in defense of private property, for example. Rather, libertarians are opposed to aggression.

        “There is a difference between libertarianism and austrian economics and they needn’t go hand in hand. It is just as possible to be a neo-classical libertarian like Friedman as an Austrian like Rothbard. However, I will discuss Austrian economics another time, I will focus on libertarianism for now.”

        Note that while libertarians tend to hold certain economic views, it is not a person’s economic views that makes him or her a libertarian. Here is a very concise summary of “Who Is a Libertarian” by austro-libertarian anarchist Stephan Kinsella: http://libertarianstandard.com/2013/02/26/who-is-a-libertarian/

        1. But if you don’t correct me then I’ll presume I’m right? Isn’t the first law of blogging that you cannot ignore someone who is wrong?

          Honestly, I haven’t the time to read Rothbard any time soon. Nor is telling someone to read a book a good enough response. If I’m wrong say where and why. I don’t shrug my shoulders and say go read so-and-so’s book and leave it at that. Engage the debate, don’t dodge it.

          1. “But if you don’t correct me then I’ll presume I’m right?”
            You’ll learn a lot more if you don’t just presume you’re right.

            “Engage the debate, don’t dodge it.”
            Just because someone refrains from arguing against every point you make that they disagree with does not mean that they are dodging the debate. It could just mean that they believe they have better ways to spend their time.

            1. I was winding you up in order to bait you into a debate. One of the main problems of the internet is that sarcasm and joking doesn’t show. The best posts are the ones that get a response, so I was stirring the pot with that comment.

          2. “Honestly, I haven’t the time to read Rothbard any time soon. Nor is telling someone to read a book a good enough response. If I’m wrong say where and why.”

            You have the time to read me, but not Rothbard? Why would you rather read Rothbard than me? Even if you don’t have the time to read a full one of his books, at least read the first couple pages of equivalent length to the comments that I might write on your blog. It would be a better use of your time. I encourage you not to read any more of my comments until you’ve read one of Rothbard’s books. I’ll help you by not posting anymore, unless of course you would like my opinion on what choice of book to read. Peace.

            1. I’m in my final year of college, have 6 essays due by the end of the month, this blog to keep up to date and my personal reading list includes “Economists And The Powerful”, “The New Industrial State” by John Kenneth Galbraith (on its 4th renewal from the library) and “Arguably” by Christopher Hitchens. I could add Rothbard to the list but I say it’ll be after exams (in May) before I have a chance to read it. Though feel free to recommend which one of his. Also I don’t think reading a page a day is a good way to approach a book, you just end up forgetting what’s going on. There’s no need to stop commenting, in fact it would be counter productive, the whole reason I’m even considering reading Rothbard is because of you and GM’s comments.

              1. I agree that reading a page a day is not a good way to read a book. Perhaps then you could still put less time into talking with me here and more into finishing your school work so that you can have more time to get through your reading list and reach Rothbard sooner.

                The only book I’ve read of Rothbard’s is “For a New Liberty” which is good, but is still more of a book for the masses, rather than a scholarly book, in my opinion. Maybe “Power and Market” would be better although you may want to ask someone whose read it. There are several smart people on the Mises.org Forums who I’m sure could direct you to an ideal book for what you’re looking for.

                I’d recommend you Bruce Benson’s “The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State” (even though he’s not an Austrian) before “Rothbard’s for a New Liberty”, for you.

                “the whole reason I’m even considering reading Rothbard is because of you and GM’s comments.”

                I must admit that that is one of the main reasons why I’m commenting. You’re a smart person interested in learning more about libertarianism and I would like to do what I can to help. While I know that the most productive thing I can do is probably to focus on educating myself, I can’t help but try to get others more interested as well.

          3. “If I’m wrong say where and why.”

            There are so many points that I believe you are wrong on. Reading a book would answer many of those points for you, saving me a lot of time. Of course, if there is a particular point that you want me to explain for you, then reading a whole book to try to find the answer may not be the most efficient way to get things done. If there is a particular point that you would like me to explain, I can do that for you.

            1. “saving me a lot of time”
              That’s the heart of the problem. It saves you time but costs me a lot. Too often saying ‘go read a book’ is someone being too lazy to respond. I know this isn’t the case with you and you seem decent. But I did make the first move with the post so you could engage with any comment I made about the book. It’s strange that so far there hasn’t been a single comment in defence of the book.

              1. No, it’s more cost-effective for you too. You’ll learn a lot more about libertarianism by taking 10 hours to read one of Rothbard’s books than to spend 10 hours having discussions with me in the comment section of your blog.

                “It’s strange that so far there hasn’t been a single comment in defence of the book.”

                I have no interest in defending the book. If I had more time I would, but it’s not worth it currently. Also, your specific criticisms are not clear to me so I can’t say whether I agree or disagree with them. Sarcastic paragraphs aren’t arguments, so I can’t even agree with your criticisms without taking a lot of time to rephrase them and better understand what they are. For example:

                “In this mythical anarchist society there would be several courts and several laws all made by competing companies. People would choose whatever laws they like best and be subject to those ones. Of course the extremely obvious problems with this are ignored (surprise, surprise). Instead Friedman presumes people will easily decide which laws apply in which case through use of bargaining or money or magic fairy dust (honestly, at this point anything is possible). This whole section is completely bizarre and outrageous and might as well be entitled “Leave Your Brain At The Door”. All problems are wished away. Money might be power, but in an Anarchist society the poor won’t be powerless. Judges won’t be corrupt nor will there be any false arrests. If there are people can just sue (a disturbingly large amount of libertarian problems are solved by presuming that there are no problems with suing people). Private security firms won’t try to take over the country, they won’t be power hungry, they won’t take bribes, and in fact they will be more peaceful.”

                I have nothing to say to that, either in agreement or disagreement. Maybe make your positions and arguments clearer if you want more people to explain why they agree or disagree with them.

                1. I’m not sure which is more cost-effective, because these comments are more engaging and allow us to get to the heart of the matter. Whatever about relative benefits, its absolute time constraints that are the problem. So its a choice between an hour of blogging or 10 hours of Rothbard/Galbraith.

                  Ok I’ll admit that frustration got the better of me towards the end of the review. Its just the book got so completely absurd that I lost him. However, the earlier paragraphs aren’t that bad, pointing out his use of straw man, lack of supporting evidence, reliance on perfect competition etc. True I’m discussing his style of writing more than his points, so you may interpret them differently, but you can say something.

                  1. “However, the earlier paragraphs aren’t that bad, pointing out his use of straw man….”

                    Ok, I’ll reply to that:

                    “… one of the advantages of wealth is that it allows you to buy more things, while the disadvantage of poverty is that you are unable to afford many items.”

                    Ok. This is true in all societies. Regardless of whether or not there is a government those with more wealth can buy more things while those who have very little wealth can’t trade for as much other stuff.

                    “Therefore there is a danger that the rich will live a life of opulence while the poor struggle to live (some would have too much and others too little).”

                    Ok. So again, this danger exists in societies with governments as well.

                    “However Friedman builds a straw man by pretending this allows the rich to buy everything leaving the poor with nothing.”

                    I personally have encountered people who hold this irrational fear. Of course, no economist (hopefully) would hold such a belief, and so I agree that it is quite lame of Friedman to pick such an obviously incorrect position to argue against.

                    Then again, I’m not sure that this objection to Friedman’s system is a genuine one, so I’m not sure who Friedman should have quoted and responded to. It’s true that there are inequalities of wealth in our current society with a government and there would still be inequalities of wealth in an anarchist society, but who cares? How is that an objection to an economic system?

                    You said, “some would have too much and others too little,” but again, how much is too much and how much is too little? GM brought this point up earlier in the comment section of your recent post on food regulation when your writing seemed to assume that there was a certain standard of “safe food” that was acceptable when in fact there are only degrees of safeness and different people have different preferences for how much they want safer food relative to other things.

                    So basically, I think you should make it clear where your position differs from Friedman’s regarding this inequality of wealth issue. Yes, inequalities exist, but so what? How is that an objection to what Friedman argues for? What do you propose as the alternative? Do you propose letting a group of people use aggressive force to decrease the wealth inequalities in the society? I would oppose that because it is unlibertarian.

                    “He then argues that the rich do not have enough money to buy everything and considers the point settled before moving on.”

                    Well, in Friedman’s defense, that would settle the point that he was arguing against. Your criticism seems to be that he argued against a silly position rather than a related more significant position that merits a response. I don’t know what that position is (perhaps you could explain it) and apparently Friedman didn’t either since he didn’t respond to it.

                    1. Yes all societies have rich and poor, it is only a question of relative position. The welfare state reduces these differences by taxing the rich and redistributing to the poor. So yes there will always be rich and poor but in a libertarian society this gap would be astronomically larger.

                      “It’s true that there are inequalities of wealth in our current society with a government and there would still be inequalities of wealth in an anarchist society, but who cares? How is that an objection to an economic system?”
                      Are you telling me that inequality is irrelevant? The relative position is hugely important and an issue that many care about. Without the welfare state we would be reduced to a third world level of inequality with a small handful with huge wealth and power with everyone else struggling to get by.

                      You don’t seem to understand the problem with inequality. Of course, there is no absolute perfect level, it is all relative. You seem to have no problem with some sort of apartheid system with the top 10% running society.

                      Obviously I disagree with Friedman and believe inequality should be reduced by the state. As an anarchist you naturally disagree with this.

                    2. “An issue that many people care about…” You are a smart guy, and very cynical toward religion and other false but attractive memes, and therefore I expect to do you better than raise the popularity of an idea as if it is has anything to do with whether the popular view is correct or not.

                      “Without the welfare state we would be reduced to a third world level of inequality with a small handful with huge wealth and power with everyone else struggling to get by. You don’t seem to understand the problem with inequality. Of course, there is no absolute perfect level, it is all relative. You seem to have no problem with some sort of apartheid system with the top 10% running society.”

                      Firstly, the top 10% isn’t “running society” in an anarchist world. Nobody is running society. There is no central plan. There is no coercion to do what somebody else wants you to do against your will. And there is no “apartheid” (a governmental system) – there is free association, which is a completely different thing.

                      Secondly, you sound extremely confused about the difference between relative and absolute wealth. Just because the “rich” are rich, doesn’t mean that the “poor” are “struggling to get by”. Increased inequality does not imply that the poor are worse on an absolute level, by the definitions of the worlds.

                      Generally accepted views on inequality are the perfect showcase when it comes to my earlier explanation regarding why people are statists. The first reason is that they don’t understand economics, so they don’t understand that rich people in a free market don’t actually cause harm to anybody else. Unlike how things work in a government-controlled economy, getting rich in the free market generally requires a person to improve the lives of many other people. If we understood this properly, and also understood how productive people tend to respond to incentives, we would not be so keen to tax the rich.

                      This brings us to the moral failure. There is a lot of infantile resentment toward the rich, and there is a lot of desire for free things from the government. So people vote out of their own personal prejudices and selfish desires, not bothering to educate themselves and act in a way which would be to the benefit of the greater good. I am hopeful that Western societies will move on from this, but I think it’s going to take quite a long time.

  2. Leave your brain at the door seems to be the line also taken when arguing for christianity.
    The arguments must have been really bizarre and I know I don’t want to read the book.

  3. This is a hilarious post and as a result of it – and the comments, where even libertarians acknowledge the book is bad – I have taken it off my wishlist.

    I can’t help but think what Friedman would do when faced with an actual socialist such as myself. Sounds like he’s so far into his bubble that he’d scarcely be able to believe it.

    Btw, it’s no surprise he sounds like someone who has taken econ101 but no more, and now think he knows the secrets of the universe:

    “I am an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field.”

    http://www.blogger.com/profile/06543763515095867595

    …he is someone who has taken econ101 but no more, and now think he knows the secrets of the universe!

    Anyway, a couple of people have recommended Rothbard and Han-Hermann-Hoppe. Seriously? These guys are just as bad as Friedman, if not worse.

    In my experience, many of Rothbard’s argument rest on misuses of reductio ad absurdums and argumnents from personal increduility.. He seems to be more concerned with making his opponents look stupid than actually discovering what the correct answer to a problem is. He wrote an entire book attacking Keynes as a person, entitled ‘Keynes the Man.’ He argued for a “free market” in children. Gene Callahan regularly calls out Rothbard’s arguments on his blog:

    http://gene-callahan.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/rothbards-critique-of-multiplier.html

    http://gene-callahan.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/those-non-violent-libertarians.html

    http://gene-callahan.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/its-interesting-to-watch-projection-in.html

    In fairness to Rothbard, he was good on the history of thought.

    Hoppe is even worse. Naked Capitalism ran a series with actual quotes from his book:

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/11/journey-into-a-libertarian-future-part-i-%E2%80%93the-vision.html

    Noah Smith also caught him being a complete and utter imbecile:

    http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/how-to-win-arguments-by-pretending-to.html

    …see for yourself.

    If you are going to engage with anarchism go for left anarchists like Proudhorn. At least they are coherent.

    1. Glad you liked the post. Without a doubt Friedman has never heard a proper criticism of his ideas. His book is filled with ridiculous arguments that absolutely no one would make. His book is so simplified its no wonder he’s never studied economics.

      It is interesting that while we have a lively debate about anarchism going on, no one has come forward to defend “The Machinery Of Freedom” or criticise my review of it. Says a lot I guess.

      I haven’t read any of Rothbard so it wouldn’t be fair of me to judge him. However, the snippets of him that I have heard second hand aren’t flattering. Basically the third Callahan link sums it up, I heard he makes severe personal attacks based on misrepresentations. And the fact one of his main books is a polemic in favour of the gold standard says a lot.

      The Naked Capitalism link is really good and made me think of the inherent Catch-22 of a anarchist private security world. As crime is linked with poverty, poorer areas have the highest crime (in terms of both perpetrators and victims). However, poorer areas are the ones least able to afford private security. So the market would be severely imbalanced in a classic Catch-22.

      The article does a great job pointing out the contradictions in the argument. Let me add one more, how can a private security system that necessarily involves far more security guards be cheaper than current taxes? There’s efficiency savings and then there’s wishful thinking.

      I had heard the daft parody strawman Krugman before. I had presumed it so ridiculous that it would be unfair to mention it. I didn’t want to use an extremist to make a cheap shot. Do people really take Hoppe seriously?

        1. I don’t care whether Rothbard was ‘right or wrong’ about Keynes’ personal character, as it has no relevance to his ideas. Personally I think Keynes was elitist and his views of Marxism were uninformed and pitiful. But Rothbard’s approach gets us nowhere.

          Two things about the gold standard link:

          – His historical account of the origins of money is just wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard of David Graeber’s work on debt; the basic fact is that evidence suggests it was credit relations rather than barter that came first.

          – As usual for libertarianism, half of his arguments are simply based on circular assertions about how the market will sort everything out.

          1. This is Rothbard’s bibliography: http://mises.org/rothbard/Bibliography1.PDF. I put it here not because I expect you to read any of it, but to give you an opportunity to understand that a single, 35-page examination of Keynes’ character is microscopic in the context of his overal corpus. Rothbard was both historian and economist. You simply can’t sum up his approach to economics on the basis of one his very minor historical works.

            Feel free to provide evidence that credit relations came before barter. Graeber apparently believes that there was a “virtual credit money” which predated barter. Sounds fascinating. I’m all ears.

            1. I don’t doubt Rothbard was prolific. My rejection of him is not based just on his ‘Keynes, the Man’ work but on reading some of his other work (e.g. his rejection of the LVT, him on a “free market” for children, him on Reagan, etc.) He seems unable to write without resorting to personal attacks and reducing his opponent’s positions to absurdities.

              I’m not sure what you mean by “virtual credit money;” I said ‘credit relations.’ The point is that, pre-modern society, communities were quite small and instead of directly exchanging people would do favours for each other and owe one another. Anthropologists have known this for a long time but economists prefer their own stories. Graeber gives a brief overview here:

              http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/08/what-is-debt-%E2%80%93-an-interview-with-economic-anthropologist-david-graeber.html

              It’s not only the evidence for Graeber’s position; the lack of evidence for the “double coincidence of wants” is overwhelming.

  4. Really excellent article, Robert! A funny and withering criticism. I laughed outloud at “Derp.” Keep it up.

  5. Thanks again for taking this bullet for me. Now I don’t have to ponder whether to read this “work.” Even the moral philosophical foundations are Libertarianism based Locke are suspect, so it is no wonder that no reliable structure can be built from this base. And until these people can provide a stronger argument than Natural Rights for property ownership they’ll never have secure footing.

  6. First, all property is private. “Public property” is an Orwellian term meant to obscure the fact that the state is a small group of people who can murder at will and get away with it via intimidation, threat, and physical violence. State-controlled (by some bureaucrat) property sometimes tolerates public use to keep up the veneer of legitimacy. Because the state property is stolen from the taxpayers and original owners, the state has less incentive to care for it than one who acquires property by honest labor. The optimal system is recognition that all property is private and that individuals live among others and prosper by peaceful exchange with them. It’s really simple, people. If you acquire wealth by theft and murder, your racket will fall amid much pain when it is uncovered. Better to live honestly and peacefully by free exchange and enabling a culture of restitutive justice for those victims of theft and murder.
    You wrote: “libertarian or anarchist state” this demonstrates your obscene level of ignorance about the peaceful society. An “anarchist state” is like saying a murderer who never murdered anyone.

    1. Near me there is a public forest. It is owned by the state and open to everyone. It is not the private property of some bureaucrat, but the state. If the state originally steals land, how do individuals? Isn’t all private property in America based on theft from Native American?

      “your obscene level of ignorance”
      Are insults really necessary? When I say anarchist state I mean the state in an anarchist utopia, which of course is one that does not exist.

  7. Robert, I finished reading Bruce L. Benson’s book “The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State” yesterday and highly recommend it to you. I promise you its much better than Friedman’s book and as an economics student you will likely enjoy it a lot and learn a lot. Peace.

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