Yup, you guessed it, the title is a parody “The Economic Calculation Problem in the Socialist Commonwealth” by Ludwig von Mises. The following text doesn’t deal with that, but a comprehensive debunking of the ECP by socialist economist Robin Cox can be found here.
Our essay will instead establish why stateless capitalism could never be viable, and how any attempts to make it so would dispel any notion of it being ‘anarchist’.
Anarchism is the political theory of how to bring about anarchy: a society governed by respect for individual autonomy, wherein the initiation of force is only valid in response to anything that poses an existential threat, either to said autonomy or to the overall integrity of anarchy itself.
In this particular context “autonomy” is defined as “freedom that does not significantly negate the freedom of others” (Spencer’s Law of Equal Freedom). This truism is encapsulated in the term “anarchy” literally meaning “no rulers”… therein identifying rulership as being that which poses an existential threat to both autonomy and anarchy.
Rulership is where social, political, economic, or physical dominance is leveraged to engineer consent for some form of structural authority, which then proceeds to impose restrictions and limitations on individual autonomy.
Social dominance occurs when a subset of society institutes supremacy based on arbitrary divisions such as race, sex, nationality or gender, usually with the intent to subjugate.
Political dominance is established by way of social pressure and fait accompli, perhaps under the guise of democracy, and typically with the aim of imposing political authority over a territory in order to establish a municipality or even a state.
Economic dominance occurs when individuals secure assets that essential to life and productivity, enabling them to accumulate wealth by charging others for the use of that stuff, and thereafter proceeding to establish a loose class monopoly over land, real estate, natural resources, and the means of production.
Physical dominance presents in the form of a coercive gang, who resort to the threat of violence (or blackmail) in order to elicit compliance, occasionally evolving into an authoritarian dictatorship.
These scenarios seldom occur in isolation to one another, and rulership more often arises from some combination of those, along with the ruling class assuming control of both the popular and historical narrative.
Hence anarchy is inherently stateless, classless, and antiauthoritarian.
Anarchy is not however inherently communist, collectivist, mutualist, or individualist.
The Statist Solution to Property
The existing statist implementation of private property depends on controlling cadastral maps and land registers, operating under state monopolies, and underpinned by state enforcement. The political theory of minarchism proposes retaining a minimal state and its related security forces (along with the taxation needed to fund that), mainly for the purpose of upholding those private property rights.
Property Rights without a State
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 classical anarchism that’s logically derived from autonomy. The rightful occupier/user is whomever is commonly recognised [see note 1] to occupy, possess, or use the asset in question. The onus is on establishing the right to occupy and/or use property by peaceful means, as opposed to seizing assets that are commonly recognised to be occupied or used by others. Any property disputes could then be settled peacefully by negotiation, arbitration, or adjudication.
[NOTE 1: “commonly recognised” infers that property is not automatically deemed to be abandoned the very instant an owner ceases to actively occupy or use it.]
Absenteeism without a State
Anarcho-capitalism seeks to marry a stateless society with quasi-statist property rights.
Clearly this wouldn’t be much of an issue where there’s an incumbent occupier since the rights are implicit. In the scenario where the incumbent is actually a tenant or guard, classical anarchists would perceive that person to be the rightful occupier (rather than the absentee landlord), and so refrain from attempting to establish a right to said property. Clearly it would be prudent for any such landlord to contractually forbid their tenant/guard from simply assuming rights to the property or vacating it without notice.
Problems would instead arise where an absentee landlord left property vacant or unused, since any rights depend on being recognised as the rightful occupier/user. It may well be that neighbouring occupiers are not aware of the existence of a landlord, or simply aren’t prepared to stick up for the rights of someone they haven’t had any meaningful social interaction with.
The presence of buildings, fences, private property notices, and for rent signs are not reliable indicators of abandonment, and may go missing, collapse, or degrade due to erosion, natural ingress, or vandalism. For ownership of vacant property to stand any chance of being respected, said property must at least be well maintained, which incurs ongoing expense. However, in the absence of any recognition, there would be little to discourage a third party from peacefully establishing occupancy or use, irregardless of signs or fences.
Advocates of anarcho-capitalism therefore face significant challenges to peacefully upholding absentee ownership of vacant property. In order for ancaps to successfully implement their private property rights within a stateless society, they must either:
A. Peacefully convince everyone else to adhere to their rules, which is unrealistic given their rules would lead inexorably to class privilege.
B. Convince everyone else to enshrine incontestable absentee ownership as a universal human right, which is also unrealistic.
C. Somehow agree to establish a universal register of property owners (either a by way of a centralised repository or via a distributed network). This is unlikely to probe achievable, given that classical anarchists flat out reject absenteeism. Furthermore ancaps might also struggle to agree on how such an authority would be organised, controlled or funded.
D. Establish a working network of privately regulated private registrars who agree to share data. Again this seems unachievable since other anarchists would pointedly reject any such authority, thereby undermining any attempt to create a universally recognised and respected register.
E. Resort to force to impose A, B, C, or D… thus rendering anarcho-capitalism inherently authoritarian and not anarchist.
The Issue Around Occupancy & Use
Of course the obvious solution would be for ancaps to ditch private property rights for occupancy & use, which by their own account would appear to negate most of their concerns. Where a property is occupied (even by a tenant or a guard) then nobody else can peacefully establish occupancy of it without the consent of that existing occupant. In other words commies aren’t going to seize property that is recognised as being occupied/used by someone else (even where that occupant is a tenant/guard).
It’s therefore worth examining what motivates ancaps to seek an incontestable right to absentee ownership of vacant property, when all they need to do is install a tenant or hire a guard. The problem is that around 70% of the planet’s usable landmass is presently vacant but in private ownership. The tenant/guard solution would massively increase demand for both tenants and guards. Rental charges would plummet to the extent that landlords would be reduced to social housing providers. It may even be that tenants could demand a wage, since they’d essentially be functioning as live-in security. As for actual guards… well such high demand would push the market rate for those into the stratosphere. Ancaps would therefore end up paying to own property, rather than accumulating wealth from owning it, therein defeating their own economic objective. Ergo absenteeism simply isn’t cost effective without tax funded state and cops to uphold it.
Where a landlord is unable to maintain their own absentee property rights, then a reasonable view would be that the property has been abandoned, and any entitlement to it is forfeit. Ancaps dispute this, and cynically claim that any subsequent initiation of force against a peaceful occupier/user would constitute self-defence against squatting. This view is clearly invalid since defence of a property would never present as an assault on it, and such action would be a clear breach of the ancap non-aggression principle.
We’re left with the disturbing scenario, whereby if anarcho-capitalists are unable to peacefully impose either adherence to, or at least recognition of, their property norms upon the rest of society, then they’ll attempt to do so by force, which would violate the core principle of anarchism, which is respecting individual autonomy.