A Conversation With David Friedman - part 2: Natural Rights vs Consequentialist Anarcho-capitalism

Conversation with Dr. David Friedman about some of the solutions and potential issues of anarcho-capitalism, as well as possible ways of advancing ideas of free society and turning them into reality.  Part 2: Natural Rights vs Consequentialist Anarcho-capitalism.

Interview by Jadranko Brkic, Managing Director at Freedom and Prosperity TV: libertarian network of alternative media in Western Balkans.  Hong Kong, May 21st, 2014..

(see video at the bottom of transcript)


Freedom and Prosperity TV:

Major difference between the consequential anarcho-capitalism - which is a cost/benefit analysis of state vs no state – and natural law anarcho-capitalism is really in the reasons for each, not really in methodology of how it will work?

David Friedman:

That's a little complicated, because in practice, I think, people who try to derive their anarcho-capitalism from moral arguments tend to imagine that the way you get a law code is the legal philosophers figure out what the law ought to be and then everybody follows it. Whereas the model that I've described in 'Machinery of Freedom' is one at which the law itself is being produced on a competitive market, in which individuals are choosing the firms that will protect their rights. Each pair of forms is choosing a court that will settle disputes between its customers, so that they won't have to fight each other. The courts are then generating laws trying to have the legal rules that people want to live under, so that they'll be able to sell their services. And you therefore in that model have a legal system which itself is coming out of the market rather than derived by philosophers. There is no reason why somebody who believes in a natural rights argument couldn't be in favor of my system. But I think that in practice if you look at how the arguments have developed, there tends to be a sort of double division between anarcho-capitalists whose argument for anarcho-capitalism is it produces the kind of world that most people would want to live in, and those whose argument is that everything that government does is a violation of of rights, and therefore it is wrong to have a government.

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

Would it be fair to say that pertaining to laws in anarcho-capitalist society that a natural rights anarcho-capitalist state, they would end up with some laws that are written in stone whereas in the concequential anarcho-capitalism everything would be up to the market?

David Friedman:

Yes. That is the... I don't know what the natural rights anarcho-capitalism would end up with. After all, when the legal philosophers figure things out they might not come up with the conclusion that libertarians like. But I think they imagine such a system. They imagine a system where the basics of law are set by what's right, and then details, you know, how many signatures it takes for a witness to a contract or something, to have the negotiation. It's really two disagreements. One of them is how you imagine the society working. And the other is what the arguments are for it. In my view, … Let me give the other side. The natural rights argument people would say how can you have a consequentialist argument, because you need moral views to evaluate your consequences. How do you decide what are good consequences and bad consequences. And my answer to that is that in practice most people have enough agreement about what they see as good. And the anarcho-capitalist system is enough better by their standards of the alternatives, that if we could settle the question of how the system would work, of what outcomes it would provide, most people would agree and support it. So that if suppose somebody says that trouble with a libertarian or an anarcho-capitalist, argument really apply on how far you go, is that it doesn't redistribute in the favor of the poor. And one answer that a natural rights person would make is the poor are not entitled to have other people's money. But a different argument is: why you expect political institutions to help poor people when after all poor people are not very well politically organized, they don't have much money to bribe politicians with. And if you look in the real world, you observe that governments do buy the votes of the poor sometimes by giving them welfare money. But then they also do quite a lot of things such as having professional licensing, so that a poor person can't decide to be a barber, because in order to be a barber in many US cities you have to take several hundred hours of classes. And why do you do that? Because the existing barbers want to keep down competition. It is true of many many other professions. So there are whole lot of ways in which the state intervenes in order to help whoever at the inns at the expense of the outs. I suppose the very largest one of those would be restrictions on immigration, where there are many millions of people who would lead much better lives if they were free to come to the US, which in a libertarian society they would be, but are prevented by the US immigration rules. So in general, one argument is to say: what you want is immoral. Another is to say: you are imagining that not only do you have a state but you are running it, but you wouldn't get to run the state, any more than you would get to run the anarchist society. The state will do what the state will do, and such evidence as we have suggests that societies with strong states are not particularly good for the poor. I remember a long time ago I read one of Sozhenitsyn's novels, and what struck me about it was that the difference between the life of a physician in Soviet Russia, which is where he was, or at least what the character was, I don't remember the name …

Freedom and Prosperity TV:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich?

David Friedman:

Probably, yea. And the woman who cleaned his house. That the difference between them was much larger than there was between me and the people whom I hired to clean my house. I am richer than they are, I have a better life. Not very much better, but they you know live in the same kind of circumstances. They do in fact own a car, they own color televisions, and they are getting better and better off. Typically, people who clean my house are Mexican immigrants. Probably legal Mexican immigrants in our case, or they wouldn't have to be. But those people in a generation or so tend to sort of merge into the general society and be about as well off as other people. And that wasn't happening. In fact, one heard stories probably true in the US, of people who would have an arranged marriage in order to get permission to come to the US. One heard similar stories in Russia about people who wanted to come to Moscow. So that the difference in status between the elite in the Soviet Union who were largely in Moscow and the mass of the population was much larger than the difference between the people who lived in New York and people who lived in Idaho, say. In a way what Soviet Union was, was a third world country with a first world military and a first world elite. So it seems to me that it is more effective for libertarians, whether anarchists or not, to say that you will get whatever you want, almost whatever you want, you are likely to get more of it with less government rather than with more government. I think that's more effective than trying to persuade people you shouldn't go anarchy, if you want. Because moral philosophy is really not very advanced science. We haven't made a lot of progress in philosophy in the last few thousand years. And I don't think anybody has come up with a really convincing argument to show that you shouldn't enslave people, you shouldn't kill people. Most of us feel you shouldn't, I feel you shouldn't. But if somebody says, I want to enslave people, there is no way I can prove to him that he shouldn't. But if I say, look, if you have a society where people can be enslaved, you might end up as the slave. That's a pretty convincing argument for why you should be in favor of free society.



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