Why are you a Market Anarchist?

colourful spices in a french market
Image by GavinBell via Flickr

In recent posts I’ve been arguing a lot with various strands of Free Market Anarchists on the benefits of using such a free market approach and on trusting in them to achieve a better result for the society. The more I discuss, the more it dawns to me that there is a fundamental distinction between them and it basically relates to the reasons why one embraced Free Market Anarchy as a social theory.

The way I see it, there are two different reasons why one can end up being a Market Anarchist.

  1. Free Markets are the best way to achieve liberty.
  2. Liberty is the Free Markets.

Proponents of the first type are generally the ones who are far more interested in achieving the most personal liberty rather than in the specific system they will use to do so. This is the utilitarian perspective which considers that the best result for humanity as a whole is by maximizing each person’s individual liberty and are under the belief that free markets facilitate exactly that. I generally have no problem with this type of Market Anarchist as sooner or later they will come to the conclusion that the best way to maximize individual liberty is by achieving egalitarianism as well and thus turn socialist. This seems to be the way most Mutualists I’ve spoken with think of it at least.

In short, for the first type, Liberty and by necessary extension Equality are the most important part, the end goal. The Free Markets are merely the best way they believe we have to achieve this result. Such a perspective is open minded. Given enough arguments and solid criticism showing that the free markets cannot, in fact, achieve this goal, that person will discard this belief and embrace something that can. That is not to say that all will, but the fact that they are open about it is what will facilitate dialogue and constructive discussion.

It is the second path to Free Market Anarchism that I find flawed.

The latter type are nominally for liberty as well but they have a very distorted view of it. One seems to start again from questing for the best way to achieve liberty but then somehow is quickly immersed in Free Market rhetoric from the likes of the Austrian school of Economics. Using theoretical proofs of “working (propertarian) free markets” based on pure logic and unrealistic assumptions, the concept of liberty is conflated with the concept of propertarian free markets. It becomes dogma.

The original question of “what maximizes liberty?” is forgotten. All arguing commences from the position “Libertarianism is the Free Markets” which ends up misrepresenting the position of anyone who argues against this as authoritarian and easily devolves into flamewars. Even worse, when the logical consequences of such a perspective are pointed out as non-libertarian, an extreme rationalization kicks in to turn black into white. “It’s libertarian as long as it’s voluntary“, “It’s libertarian if no fraud or violence is involved.” etc etc. It is through such a distortion that the clear, authoritarian nature of a hierarchical relationship such as the one between boss and wage-worker can be rationalized away as “libertarian”, even though the worker maintains no freedom while working. It is through such a distortion that voluntary slavery can be defended as “libertarian.”

If the original question is brought up again, if the original economic assumptions are challenged, I very often receive a fallacious responses of a religious fervor. The most common being an argument from authority, most usually the authority of the Austrian school of economics naturally. When that fails, the most common fallback arguments I see is either the abstraction of the free market to the irrelevant or the trounce card of arguing for private property rights (and by extension Free markets to control distribution) via the Natural Law concept.

So the main difference between these two paths to Market Anarchism can be separated between Utilitarian and Ideological perspective. The Utilitarian perspective starts from the trying to achieve a utilitarian result, discovers that maximizing liberty is a necessary part of it and considers that free market anarchism is the best way to achieve this. The ideological perspective on the other hand starts from various asserted axioms, eg “Private Property rights are an objective reality”,  “The Non-Aggression principle leads to greater liberty”, “Free Markets are Pareto Efficient” etc and finds that Free Market Anti-Statism is the ideology that brings them all together in one package.

Thus, whatever the practical result of such a Free Market Anti-Statism might be is irrelevant as it has already been defined to be “Libertarian.” And it is this exact reason why I often find it so frustrating to discuss with (or even read) the latter type of Market Anarchist, as something that is obviously authoritarian or exploitative in nature is ignored at best (“It can only happen via the state”) or defended at worst (Slave Contracts).

But there is one particular argument I hear from the ideological market anarchist. When I point to a very possible authoritarian result of propertarian markets, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, crypto-feudalism or simply widespread wage-slavery, a common response (right after defending it as “voluntary”) is to claim “Oh that would probably never happen without the state anyway”. But then I have to ask: Why do you care about that? Whether that comes to be or not should not matter at all as long as it is the result of the “free market” should it?

In these market anarchists I see a strained dualism, where that person really wants to have a generally libertarian society, where hierarchy and authority are minimal if not abolished but at the other hand, just cannot bring themselves to consider discarding the propertarian free markets concept as all. It manifests itself in expressions such as “Certainly the worker has to sacrifice his liberty as a wage-slave and certainly sweatshop wage-slavery is not a good result but in a truly free market, the increased competition would give all workers such a competitive advantage that sweatshops could never exist and most people would be able to be self-employed if they really wanted to.”

If you would not like to see widespread wage-slavery, propertarian feudalism, hierarchy from 3rd institutions etc then why do you not start from this position in the first place? Why don’t you start by considering a socioeconomic system which would make such possibilities systematically impossible. Perhaps this will be possible via the free markets. Perhaps you’ll have to abolish private property. Perhaps you’ll have to move away from the markets altogether. But as long as your basic results are achieved, you shouldn’t care anyway, right?

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