Friday, August 01, 2008

A Stateless Society and Collective Defense

This is a chapter from the free book "Practical Anarchy" available in PDF and Audiobook versions at www.freedomainradio.com/free

Ideally, invasions should be prevented rather than repelled, just as illnesses should be prevented rather than cured.

The strongest case for anarchism is that a stateless society would by its very nature prevent invasion, rather than merely possess the ability to violently repel it.

First, before we figure out how to repel an invasion, let us look at what an invasion is actually designed to achieve.

Why Invade?

Let us imagine a land where there are two farms, owned by Bob and Jim respectively. Bob is a rapacious and nasty fellow, who wishes to expand his farm and make more money.

To the east of Bob is Jim's farm, which is tidy, efficient, and productive, with a wide variety of cows and chickens and neatly-planted fields.

To the west of Bob is an untamed wilderness full of bears and wolves and coyotes and mosquitoes and swamps and all other sorts of unpleasant and dangerous things.

From the standpoint of mere practical considerations, how can Bob most efficiently expand his farm and increase his income?

Surely it would be to invest in a few guns, head east, and take over Jim's farm. For a very small investment, Bob ends up with a functioning and productive farm, ready to provide him with milk, eggs and crops.

On the other hand, Bob could choose to go west, into the untamed wilderness, and try to cull a number of dangerous predators, drain the swamps, hack down and uproot all the embedded trees and bushes. After a year or two of backbreaking labor, he may have carved out a few additional acres for himself – an investment that would scarcely seem worth it.

If Bob wants to expand, and cares little about ethics, he will "invade" Jim's farm and take it over, because he will be taking command of an already-existing system of exploitation and production.

Thus, we can see that the act of invading a neighboring territory is primarily motivated by the desire to take over an existing productive system. If that productive system is not in place, then the motivation for invasion evaporates. A car thief will never "steal" a rusted old jalopy that is sitting up on bricks in an abandoned lot, but rather will attempt to steal a car that is in good condition.

This analysis of the costs and benefits of invasion is essential to understanding how a stateless society actually works to prevent invasion, rather than merely repel it.

When one country invades another country, the primary goal is to take over the existing system of government, and thus collect the taxes from the existing citizens. In the same way that Bob will only invade Jim's farm in order to take over his domesticated animals, one government will only invade another country in order to take over the government of that country, and so become the new tax collector. If no tax collection system is in place, then there is no productive resource for the invading country to take over.

Furthermore, to take a silly example, we can easily understand that Bob will only invade Jim's farm if he knows that Jim's cows and chickens are not armed and dangerous. To adjust the metaphor a little closer to reality, imagine that Jim has a number of workers on his farm who are all ex-military, well-armed, and will fight to the death to protect that farm. The disincentive for invasion thus becomes considerably stronger.

In the same way, domestic governments generally keep their citizens relatively disarmed, in order to more effectively tax them, just as farmers clip the wings of their geese and chickens in order to more efficiently collect their eggs and meat.

Thus the cost-benefit analysis of invasion only comes out on the plus side if the benefits are clear and easy to attain – an existing tax collection system – and if the costs of invasion are relatively small – a largely disarmed citizenry.

In a very real sense, therefore, a stateless society cannot be invaded, because there is really nothing to invade. There are no government buildings to inhabit, no existing government to displace, no tax collection system in place to take over and profit from – and, furthermore, there is no clear certainty about the degree of armaments that each citizen possesses (don't worry, we will get into gun control later…).

An invading country can be very certain that, if it breaks through another government's military defenses, it will then not face any significant resistance from the existing citizenry. A statist society can be considered akin to an egg – if you break through the shell, there is no second line of defense inside. Invading governments are well aware of the existing laws against the proliferation of weapons in the country they are invading – thus they are guaranteed to be facing a virtually disarmed citizenry, as long as they can break through the military defenses.

Invading Anarchy

Let us imagine that France becomes a stateless society, but that Germany and Poland do not. Let us go with the cliché and imagine that Germany has a strong desire to expand militarily. The German leader then looks at a map, and tries to figure out whether he should go east into Poland, or west into France.

If he goes east into Poland, then he will, if he can break through the Polish military defenses, be able to feast upon the existing tax base, and face an almost completely disarmed citizenry. He will be able to use the existing Polish tax collectors and tax collection system to enrich his own government, because the Poles are already controlled and "domesticated," so to speak.

In other words, he only has one enemy to overcome and destroy, which is the Polish government's military. If he can overcome that single line of defense, he gains control over billions of dollars of existing tax revenues every single year – and a ready-made army and its equipment.

On the other hand, if he thinks of going west into France, he faces some daunting obstacles indeed.

There are no particular laws about the domestic ownership of weapons in a stateless society, so he has no idea whatsoever which citizens have which weapons, and he certainly cannot count on having a legally-disarmed citizenry to prey on after defeating a single army.

Secondly, let us say that his army rolls across the border into France – what is their objective? If France still had a government, then clearly his goal would be to take Paris, displace the existing government, and take over the existing tax collection system.

However, where is his army supposed to go once it crosses the border? There is no capital in a stateless society, no seat of government, no existing system of tax collection and citizen control, no centralized authority that can be seized and taken over. In the above example of the two farms and the wilderness, this is the equivalent not of Bob taking over Jim's farm, but rather of Bob heading into the wilderness and facing coyotes, bears, swamps and mosquitoes – there is no single enemy, no existing resources to take over, and nothing in particular to "seize."

But let us say that the German leadership is completely retarded, and decides to head west into France anyway – and let us also suppose, to make the case as strong as possible, that everyone in France has decided to forego any kind of collective self-defense.

What is the German army going to do in France? Are they going to go door to door, knocking on people's houses and demanding their silverware? Even if this were possible, and actually achieved, all that would happen is that the silverware would be shipped back to Germany, thus putting German silverware manufacturers out of business. When German manufacturers go out of business, they lay people off, thus destroying tax revenue for the German government.

The German army cannot reasonably ship French houses to Germany – perhaps they will seize French cars and French electronics and ship them to Germany instead.

And what is the German government supposed to do with thousands of French cars and iPods? Are they supposed to sell these objects to their own citizens at vastly reduced prices? I imagine that certain German citizens would be relatively happy with that, but again, all that would happen is that German manufacturers of cars and electronics would be put out of business, thus again sharply reducing the German government's tax income, resulting in a net loss.

Furthermore, by destroying domestic industries for the sake of a one-time transfer of French goods, the German government would be crippling its own future income, since domestic manufacturing represents a permanent source of tax revenue – this would be a perfect example of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Well, perhaps what the German government could do is seize French citizens and ship them to Germany as slave labor. What would be the result of that?

Unfortunately, this would not work either, at least not for long, because slave labor cannot be taxed, and slave labor would displace existing German labor, which is taxable. Thus again the German government would be permanently reducing its own income, which it would not do.

Another reason that Germany might invade another country would be to seize control of the wealth of the government – the ability to print money, and the ownership of a large amount of physical assets, such as buildings, cars, gold, manufacturing plants and so on.

However, nothing remains unowned in a stateless society, except that which has no value, or cannot be owned, such as air. There are no "public assets" to seize, and there are no state-owned printing presses which can be used to create currency, and thus transfer capital to Germany. There are no endless vaults of government gold to rob, no single aggregation of military assets to seize.

Furthermore, if we go up to a thief and say to him, "Do you want to rob a house?" what is his first question likely to be?

"Hell I don't know – what's in it?"

A thief will always want to know the benefits of robbing a house – he is fully aware of the risks and costs, of course, and must weigh them against the rewards. He will never scale up the outside of some public housing welfare tenement in order to snag an old television and a tape deck. The more knowledgeable he is of the value of a home's contents, the better he is able to assess the value of breaking into it.

The German leadership, when deciding which country to invade, will know down to almost the last dollar the tax revenues being collected by the Polish government, as well as the value of the public assets they will seize if they invade. The "payoff" can be very easily assessed.

On the other hand, if they look west, into the French stateless society, how will they know what they are actually going to get? There are no published figures for the net wealth of the society as a whole, there is no tax revenue to collect, and there are no public assets which can be easily valued ahead of time. There is no way to judge the cost effectiveness of the invasion.

Invading a statist society is like grabbing the cages of a large number of trapped chickens – you get all of the eggs in perpetuity. Invading a stateless society is like taking a sprint at a flock of seagulls – all they do is scatter, and you get nothing, except perhaps some crap on your forehead.

Thus it is completely impossible that the German leadership would think it a good idea to head west into France rather than east into Poland.

We could leave the case here, and be perfectly satisfied in our responses, but I am always willing to go the extra mile and accept the worst conceivable case.

Let us say that some mad German who was beaten with bagfuls of French textbooks when he was a child ends up running the government, and cares nothing at all about the costs and benefits of invading France, but rather just wishes to take it over in order to – I don't know, burn all the textbooks or something like that.

We will get into the nature and content of private agencies in the next chapter, but let us just say that there are a number of these private defense agencies that are paid to defend France against just such an invading madman.

Well, if I were setting up some sort of private military defense agency, the first thing I would do is try to figure out how I could most effectively protect my subscribers, for the least possible cost.

The first thing that I would note is that nuclear weapons have been the single most effective deterrent to invasion that has ever been invented. Not one single nuclear power has ever been invaded, or threatened with invasion – and so, in a very real sense, there is no bigger "bang for the buck" in terms of defense than a few well-placed nuclear weapons.

If we assume that a million subscribers are willing to pay for a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent to invasion, and that those nuclear weapons cost about $30 million to purchase and maintain every year, then we are talking about $30 a year per subscriber – or less than a dime a day.

The defense agencies only make money if an invasion does not occur, just as health insurance companies only make money when you are not sick, but rather well.

Thus the question that I would be most keen to answer if I were running a defense agency is: "How can I best prevent an invasion?"

Let us assume that the French stateless society is a beacon of liberation in a sea of aggressive and statist nations. The French defense agencies would work day and night to ensure that the costs of invasion were as high as possible, and the benefits as low as possible. Were I running one of these agencies, I would think of solutions along the lines of the following…

Deactivated Money

If I were concerned that my subscribers might be robbed by an invading army, I would offer reduced rates to those willing to allow their electronic money to be secured so that it could not be spent without their own thumb print, or something like that. (Naturally, any system can be hacked, and people can be kidnapped along with their money, but the purpose here is not to prevent all possible workarounds, but rather to simply reduce the material benefits of invading France.)

Similarly, I might offer reduced defense rates to manufacturers that would be willing to allow a small GPS device to be installed in the guts of their machinery, so that if it was removed to another country, it would no longer work. This device could also be included in cars and other items of value, so that they would either have to be used in France, or they could not be used at all.

Given that the control of bridges is a primary military objective, in order to facilitate the movement of troops and vehicles, I would also encourage the installation of particular devices in domestic cars and trucks, which would automatically keep access to bridges open. Thus invading armies would find their access to these bridges much harder, which would again slow down the speed of their invasion.

Furthermore, if invasion seemed imminent, I would arm and train as many citizens as possible. Any invading army would face a quite different challenge in a stateless society. If Germany invades Poland, how many citizens would risk their lives fighting against just another government? Whether a Polish leader taxes you, or a German one, makes relatively little difference – which is why your average citizen does not care much about who runs the local Mafia. Citizens of a stateless society, however, would be resisting an attempt to inflict taxation and a government upon them, and so would be far more willing to fight the kind of endlessly-draining insurgencies that we see so often in the annals of occupation.

These are just a few admittedly off-the-cuff ideas, but it is relatively easy to see how the benefits of invading France could be significantly diminished or even eliminated, while the costs of invading France could be significantly increased or made prohibitive.

The objection could be raised that some lunatic group could simply detonate a nuclear bomb somewhere inside France, for some insane or nefarious motive – but that is not an argument against private defense agencies, and for a statist society, but rather quite the reverse.

The "nuclear madman" argument is not solved by the existence of a government, since no government can protect against this eventuality – however, a free society would be far less likely to be the target of such an attack, since it would have a defensive military policy only, and not an aggressive and interventionist foreign policy, and thus would be infinitely less likely to provoke such a mad and genocidal retaliation. Switzerland, for instance, faces no real danger of having airplanes flown into buildings.

It is my belief that over time, the need for these proactive and defensive strategies would diminish, since the only thing that would really ever be needed is a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent – and even the need for these would diminish over time, since either the world itself would become stateless, thus eliminating the danger of war, or the statist societies would continue to attack each other only, for the reasons mentioned above, and the need to continually defend a stateless society would diminish.

5 comments:

J said...

That sounds a bit like what happened in Somalia recently.

For two decades the Somalis had no tax collection at all, no gun control and relied only on vigilantism and traditional tribal, distributed court system for enforcing their almost-secular version of the Shariah. The country was litterally littered with AK-47 and there was no central power of any sort anywhere for years.

Then Ethiopia invaded. They crushed the feeble troops the Islamic Courts had lined at the border and ran for Mogadishu, which they reached almost effortlessly.

Then what ? Well, then they realized there was nothing handy to seize. They attempted to confiscate guns in a door-to-door operation but in a matter of hours word spread and the guns were hidden out of reach. Basically, they were stuck with just one realistic solution: seduce the Somalis back into a nation-state system. So far, it looks like they're failing badly.

At the moment, the invading force is basically waging war against all of Somalia's citizens at the same time, in an attempt to extract money and goods under direct threat of violence - I would say that's "taxation with the gloves and mask off". This extortion is conducted at a very low marginal rate, it's not even enough for covering the expense of maintaining the armed force itself, so I think that shows how right you are when you detail how economically inept an invasion of an anarchy would be.

Patrick said...

Stefan as usual, your ideas are truly inspiring... In response, I decided to write a blog regarding the issues in Georgia bearing the thoughts of your blog in mind..

http://xelentthoughts.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/i-have-a-dream/

J said...

"If we assume that a million subscribers are willing to pay for a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent to invasion, and that those nuclear weapons cost about $30 million to purchase and maintain every year, then we are talking about $30 a year per subscriber – or less than a dime a day."

I can hear the tagline already: "A dime a day keeps the madmen away !". I would subscribe, at the very least for the cool certificate or membership car that would read "This guy is a mean nuclear-powered motherfucker, so treat him good."

Rahul said...

Stef, you have left one very important part out.

Do you honestly believe governments around the world will tolerate an anarchic society actually working? What message does that send out to their people? That they're on a farm? I think it would be logical for every state in the world to attack at once and erase the existence of a stateless society from the history books. Do you think they want their people rebelling after they realize their government is just a parasite?

Skyler827 said...

Great post. Nice. To the last poster: The Stateless society needs to have a critical mass to exist. There is a ratio between the size of the stateless society and the state-run world below which a stateless society cannot survive. I think this ratio, be it .1 or .01 or .001 depends on how well defense companies can defend or make an invasion prohibitively expensive. But it doesn't disprove the existence of one, I think it means it just cannot exist until a critical mass of enough technically advanced people somewhere in the world need to end the state and defend themselves from as much aggression as the rest of the governed world can mount, before free societies can spring up, for the same reason agriculture was not possible in the neolithic until a critical mass of population density and temperature rise after the last Ice Age. For example, Switzerland was not invaded in WWII, even though it was obvious Germany wanted it.