Yup, you guessed it, the title of this essay parodies “The Economic Calculation Problem in the Socialist Commonwealth” by Ludwig von Mises. The following text doesn’t attempt to address that particular work, but a comprehensive debunking of the ECP by socialist economist Robin Cox can be found here.
Briefly though… Ancaps love to misconstrue that the calculation problem is somehow applicable to stateless socialism, even though Mises was quite explicit that it wasn’t:
As you can see from the quote above, this point is somewhat obscured by Mises insistence on referring to libertarian socialism as “workers’ capitalism”.
But enough of that! Our essay will instead establish why stateless capitalism could never be economically viable, and how attempts to make it so would dispel any notion of it being ‘anarchist’.
The statist implementation of property presently depends on control of cadastral maps and land registers, operating under state monopolies, and underpinned by state enforcement.
In the absence of the state, property rights would instead default to mutual respect and the natural desire for social harmony. This is termed “occupancy & use” or “possession property”, and is a fundamental tenet of anarchism. The rightful occupier/user is whomever is commonly recognised [see note 1] to occupy, possess, or use the asset in question. The onus being on establishing this by peaceful means, and not laying claim to assets that are commonly recognised to be occupied or used by someone else. Disputes can then be settled by negotiation, arbitration, or adjudication, rather than resorting to force.
[NOTE 1: “commonly recognised” infers that property is not automatically deemed to be abandoned the instant an occupier/user is no longer present.]
Laissez- Faire Capitalism
The political theory known as minarchism proposes retaining a minimal state and its related security force (along with the necessary taxation), primarily for the purpose of upholding abstract property rights. Anarcho-capitalism (ancap) is an economic ideology that takes this concept even further by seeking to marry the concept of a stateless society to those same abstract property rights.
Abstractions such absentee ownership would be straightforward where there’s an incumbent occupier or user (although if that person is not the owner but is instead a tenant, guard, or employee, then contractual terms would be prudent in order to deter them from assuming possession of the property, or vacating it without notice). Ancaps do however face another significant challenge in peacefully imposing their property norms.
Issues would still arise where a property was left vacant or unused, since it might not be recognised as having a rightful occupier/user.
In the case of an absentee landlord, it may well be that neighbouring occupiers are not in fact cognisant of the status of the property in question. They might assume that it’s been abandoned, may be unaware of the landlord’s identity, unwilling to get involved, or simply not prepared to lend assistance to someone they do not experience any meaningful social interaction with.
The presence of buildings, for rent signs, or passive security measures such as fences and private property notices are not reliable indicators of occupancy, and may degrade, collapse, or go missing due to erosion, natural ingress, or vandalism.
In order for capitalists to peacefully uphold abstract property rights within a stateless society, they must either:
A. Convince anticapitalists to voluntarily adhere to capitalist property norms. OK… so what on earth would possess anticapitalists to voluntarily adhere to capitalism? We’re all ears…
B. Persuade anticapitalists to enshrine abstract ownership as a universal human right. Anticapitalists simply aren’t going to agree to enable capitalism. This outcome is so unlikely that it amounts to little more than fantasy.
C. Institute a central register of property owners. The likelihood of anticapitalists consenting to this is extremely remote, given that have serious reservations around abstractions such as absentee ownership in the first place. Furthermore ancaps might even struggle to agree amongst themselves on how a centralised authority would be organised, controlled or funded.
D. Establish a network of private registrars who agree to share data. Since anticapitalists are not only distrustful of absenteeism but utterly detest private for-profit bureaucracy, it seems a bit of a stretch to assume that they would cheerfully participate in a private programme intended to facilitate land hoarding! Without their cooperation any register would lack legitimacy, rendering it utterly devoid of authority.
E. Resort to force to impose A, B, C, or D. This would of course establish that anarcho-capitalism is inherently authoritarian, and not anarchist.
Of course the obvious solution would be for ancaps to ditch the obsession with various abstractions and simply adopt occupancy & use, since provided that a property is recognised as being occupied (even if said occupant is a tenant, guard, or employee) then nobody else could peacefully establish occupancy of it without the prior consent of the recognised occupant.
It’s therefore worth examining what motivates ancaps to insist on universal adherence to capitalist property norms, when all they need do is install tenants or hire guards?
The problem is that much of the planet’s usable landmass is currently vacant but in private ownership. In the US some 59% of all land is in private ownership, most of it vacant, and this situation is upheld by the state. A vast army of tenants and/or guards would be needed to occupy that real estate, several orders of magnitude beyond those presently active in those respective markets.
The tenant/guard solution would therefore massively increase demand for both tenants and guards resulting in a chronic scarcity of both. Rental charges would plummet to the extent that landlords would be reduced to acting as social housing providers. It may even be that tenants could demand a wage, since they’d essentially be functioning as live-in security. And as for actual guards… well such high demand would push the market rate for those into the stratosphere. Ancaps would end up paying to hang onto property, rather than accumulating wealth from owning it, therein defeating their own economic objective. Ergo absenteeism simply isn’t cost effective without a tax funded state and cops to uphold it.
Even a blind monkey with a glass eye stuffed up its butt can see that stateless capitalism wouldn’t be feasible if landlords had to pay tenants to occupy/use their property. It appears most ancaps are of course fully cognisant of this problem, because why else would they be so shrill and insistent about abstract property rights and the NAP? Lets now examine what would transpire if their attempts to impose capitalist property norms were met with any sort of resistance…
Where an absentee landlord is unable to maintain their claim, then a reasonable view would be “well tough shit – that person is no longer entitled to that property”.
Some capitalists dispute this, and shamelessly suggest that any subsequent initiation of force against a peaceful occupier/user to retake the property would magically constitute self-defence by the absentee landlord. This is clearly delusional though since actual defence of property would never manifest as an assault on it!
Other capitalists have suggested that a neat way around this issue would be to booby trap absentee property with sentry guns, landmines, incendiary devices, poison gas, Semtex… you name it!
Trespassers? No problem they’d be shot to pieces and/or blown to bits! Tenants refusing to pay their rent? Just release the poison gas! Strikers equipped with gas masks occupying the workplace? Well set the damn building alight, or as a last resort blow it all to smithereens! All of this is fully compliant with the NAP, since the other party initiated the aggression!
Abstract ownership on a large scale would be rendered economically non-viable in a stateless society. We’re then left with the disturbing scenario, whereby if capitalists were unable to peacefully impose their property norms, then they’d instead aim to replace government with a dystopian hellscape.