Stateless Dictatorships: How a Free Society Prevents the Re-emergence of a Government
By far the most common objection to the idea of a stateless society is the belief that one or more private Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) would overpower all the others and create a new government. This belief is erroneous at every conceivable level, but has a kind of rugged persistence that is almost admirable.
Here is the general objection:
In a society without a government, whatever agencies arise to help resolve disputes will inevitably turn into a replacement government. These agencies may initially start as competitors in a free market, but as time goes by, one will arise to dominate all the others militarily, and thus impose a new state upon the population. The instability and violence that this civil war will inflict upon the population is far worse than any existing democratic state structure. Thus a stateless society is far too risky an experiment, since we will just end up with a government again anyway!
This objection to an anarchic social structure is considered self-evident, and thus is never presented with proof. Naturally, since the discussion of a stateless society involves a future theoretical situation, empirical examples cannot apply.
However, like all propositions involving human motivation, the “replacement state” hypothesis can be subjected to logical examination.
The basis of the “replacement state” hypothesis is the premise that people prefer to maximize income with the lowest possible expenditure of energy. The motivation for a DRO to use force is that, by eliminating all competition and taking military control of a geographical region, a DRO can make as much money as possible, with the lowest possible expenditure of energy.
We can fully accept this premise, as long as it is applied consistently to all human beings in a stateless society. To make the “replacement state” case even stronger, we will also assume that no moral scruples could conceivably get in the way of any decision-making. By reducing the “drive to dominate” to a mere calculation of economic efficiency, we can eliminate any possible ethical brakes on the situation.
Let’s start with a stateless society, wherein citizens can voluntarily choose to contract with a DRO for the sake of property protection and dispute resolution. Each citizen also has the right to break his contract with his DRO.
There are essentially three possible ways that a DRO could gain military control of an entire region:
- By secretly amassing an army, and then suddenly unleashing it upon all competition.
- By openly amassing an army, and then doing the same thing.
- By posing as a voluntary “Defense DRO,” amassing arms supposedly for the legitimate defense of citizens, and then turning those arms against the citizens and instituting itself as a new government.
There is one additional possibility, which is that a private citizen can try to assemble his own army.
Let’s deal with each of these in turn.
The Secret Army
In this scenario, let’s say that a DRO manager called “Bob” decides that he is tired of dealing with customers on a voluntary basis. He decides he is going to spend company money buying enormous amounts of armaments and training an Army. (For the moment, let’s assume that Bob can make this decision all on his own, and does not need to submit it to any sort of Board, bank or investor review.)
Let us assume that Bob’s DRO has annual revenues of $500 million a year, and profits of $50 million a year.
The most immediate challenge that Bob is going to face is: how on earth am I going to pay for all of this? Given that, in a free society, there is no way of knowing how many citizens are armed – or what kinds of weapons they have – it would be necessary to err on the side of caution and assemble a prodigious and overwhelming army to gain control of an entire region, otherwise the investment would be totally lost in a military defeat. Such armies are scarcely cheap! For the purposes of this argument, let’s say that it is going to cost $500 million over five years for Bob to assemble his army – surely a lowball estimate! How is he going to get the money to pay for this?
The most obvious way for Bob to raise the extra $500 million is to charge his customers more. The $500 million Bob needs represents more than 10 years of his DROs annual profits of $50 million a year (reinvesting the $50m for 5 years at 10% yields $805.26m). Thus, in order to pay for his army within five years, Bob is going to have to more than double his prices. Since we have already assumed that it is Bob’s greed that makes him want to create a new government – and that this greed is common to all citizens within the society – we can also assume that his customers share his motivation. Thus, just as Bob wants to have an army so that he can maximize his income, his customers just as surely do not want Bob to have an army, for exactly the same reasons! The moment that Bob informs his customers that he will now be charging them more than double for exactly the same service, he will lose all his customers, and go out of business. No army for Bob!
Perhaps, though, Bob recognizes this danger, and plans to keep his customers by telling them that he is raising their rates in order to fund an army. “Help me fund an army by paying me double the price,” he tells them, “and I will share in the plunder I’ll get when I take over such-and-such a neighbourhood!” Even if we assume that Bob’s customers believe him, and are willing to fund such a mad scheme, Bob’s secret is now out, and society as a whole – including all the other DROs – become fully aware of Bob’s nefarious intentions. Clearly, all the other DROs will immediately cease doing business with Bob’s DRO. Since a central value of any DRO is its ability to interact with other DROs – just as a core value of a cell phone company is its ability to interact with other cell phone companies – Bob’s DRO will thus be crippled. In other words, Bob will be more than doubling his rates for many years – while providing far inferior service – for a highly uncertain and dangerous “profit.”
In addition, Bob’s bank would immediately cease doing business with him, rendering him unable to pay his employees, his office rental, or his bills. Bob’s electricity company will cease supplying electricity, he will find his taps strangely dry, his phones would be cut off, and many other misfortunes may arise as a result of his desire to become a new dictator. It is hard to imagine him lasting five days, let alone retaining all of his paying customers at double the rates for the five years required to build his army!
Even if all the above problems could somehow be overcome, it’s also hard to imagine that Bob’s customers would be happy to arm Bob in the hopes of sharing in his plunder. Unlike the government, which can tax at will, DROs must actually protect their customer’s property in order to retain their business. Given that those who contract with DROs are those with the most interest in protecting their property, it makes little sense that they would fund Bob’s DRO army, since they would have no actual control over that Army once it was created, and thus would have no way of enforcing any “plunder contract” created beforehand. In a free society, people would not try to “protect” their property by funding a powerful army that could then take it away from them at will. That sort of madness requires the existence of a government!
Perhaps Bob will try to fund his army in other ways. He may try and borrow the money, but of course his bank would only lend him the money if he comes up with a credible and measurable business plan. If Bob’s business plan openly states his desire to create an army, his bank would cease supporting him in any way, shape or form, since the bank would only stand to lose if such an army were created. If Bob took the money from the bank by submitting a fraudulent business plan, the bank would be aware of this almost immediately, and would take the remainder of the money back – and impose stiff penalties on Bob to boot! Again, no army for Bob!
What if Bob tried to pay for his army by reducing the dividends that he was paying to shareholders? Naturally, the shareholders would resent this, and would either have him thrown out, or would simply sell their shares and invest their money elsewhere, thus crippling Bob’s DRO. Perhaps Bob would try paying his employees less, which would only drive his employees into the arms of other DROs – also destroying his business.
It’s safe to say that it is practically impossible for Bob to get the money to pay for his army – and even if he got such money, his business would never survive such a dangerous transgression of social or economic norms. There are other dangers, however, which are well worth examining.
The most likely threat would seem to come from “Defense DROs,” since those agencies would already have weapons and personnel that might be used against the general population. However, this would be very difficult for two main reasons. First, “Defense DROs” would require investment and banking relationships in order to grow and flourish. Given that investors and banks would not want to fund an army that could steal their property, they would be certain to insert myriad “failsafe” mechanisms into “Defense DRO” contracts. They would make sure that all arms purchases were tracked, that all monies were accounted for, and that no secret armies were being assembled.
“Defense DROs” would also be subject to the same kinds of funding problems as Bob’s DRO. Let’s say that Dave was the head of a “Defense DRO,” and was also one day seized with the desire to assemble his own army and pillage society. First of all, citizens would be unlikely to contract with any “Defense DRO” that would not submit to regular audits of its weapons and accounts to ensure that no secret armies were being created. If Dave decides to bypass this contractual obligation, and start secretly funding his own army, how is he going to pay for it? The moment that he raises his rates without increasing his services, his customers will know exactly what he’s up to, and withdraw their support. Bye-bye army. Dave’s funding would also be subject to all the other problems raised above.
It can thus be seen that there is no viable way for any DRO to pay for an army without destroying its business in the process. Armies are only really possible when the government can force taxpayers to subsidize them.
Perhaps, instead of Bob or Dave, we have a privately wealthy individual named Bill, a multibillionaire who decides to raise an army and institute himself as a new dictator. Due to his immense wealth, he is not dependent on any customers, employees, or shareholders. Let’s say that he can pay for an Army out of his own pocket, immediately.
Bill’s challenge, of course, is that in a free society, he cannot go and pick up a complete army at his local Wal-Mart. Armies are fundamentally uneconomical, expensive overhead at best, and thus it seems likely that geographical defense in a free society would be limited to a couple of dozen nuclear weapons, to deter any potential invader. Thus even if he could get a hold of one, buying a nuke would not help Bill very much, since he would not be able to use it to overwhelm all of the other “Defense DROs.”
What about more conventional weapons? Part of the service that “Defense DROs” would offer to subscribers would be a guarantee that they would do everything in their power to prevent the rise of an independent army – either of their own making, or of anyone else’s. Thus arms manufacturers would have to provide rigorous accounts of everything they were making and selling, to be sure that they weren’t selling arms to some secret army, probably in the foothills of Montana. If people were really worried about the possibility of someone creating a private army, they would only do business with “Defense DROs” that guaranteed that they bought their arms from open and legitimate arms dealers – subject to independent verification, of course.
Thus when Bill came along trying to buy $500 million worth of weapons, and hire an army of tens of thousands of soldiers, one question would be: where on earth would they come from? Arms manufacturers would not be sitting on $500 million of inventory, due to the limited demand for such products. Thus the arms manufacturers would have to really crank up their production, which could not be hidden from the general population, or the Defense DROs that such extra production would directly threaten. In order to make all the extra armaments, manufacturers would have to borrow money to expand production. Where would they get this extra money from? Their bank would surely not fund such a dangerous endeavour, and would immediately notify any Defense DROs it had contracts with, and drop the rogue arms manufacturer as a customer. Defense DROs would also never to do business with such a dangerous arms manufacturer ever again, thus driving it out of business.
Secondly, even if Bill could somehow get his hands on the necessary weapons, where would these tens of thousands of new troops come from? The military would not be exactly the same kind of “in demand” career that it is today. In order to assemble an army of tens of thousands of men, he would have to advertise, recruit, pay them, train them, etc. This would be a pretty hard thing to hide. Since it would be completely obvious that he was assembling an army, what could people in society conceivably do to stop him?
First of all, if this were a conceivable risk, his bank would have a clause in its service agreement giving it the right to refuse to honor any payments clearly designed to fund a private army. Secondly, no DRO would do business with Bill – or his soldiers – the moment that it became apparent what he was up to. This would mean that none of Bill’s soldiers would have any guarantees that they would get paid, grocery stores would not sell them food, electricity companies would cut them off, gas stations would not sell them gas, etc. When society as a whole wants to stop doing business with you, it becomes very hard to get by!
The Question of Profit
Let’s say that DRO Bob can somehow get his army – the question is: can he make that army pay? The initial premise of the “replacement state” argument is that people prefer to maximize income with the lowest possible expenditure of energy.
Remember, it costs Bob $500 million over five years to assemble his army – let’s say that it costs another $1 billion over the next five years to subdue a reasonably-sized region, due to the loss of life and equipment involved in combat. What kinds of financial returns can he expect?
If you know that Bob’s Army is going to be at your house in two weeks, and there is no way to stop it, you would just pull a “scorched-earth Russian defense” and leave, right? You would take everything of value with you, and destroy everything that you could not bring. Thus what would Bob’s Army end up getting control of? Not much.
However, let’s imagine that Bob’s Army could somehow seize assets that would be worth something. How much would they have to seize in order to make a profit?
Well, let’s look at the alternatives. Bob has to invest $100 million each year over five years to assemble his army – what does that cost him overall?
We know that if Bob invested $100 million back into his DRO, he will likely get 10% ROI. In five years of compound interest, that translates to $832.61m.
Then, Bob has to invest another billion dollars over the next five years invading a series of neighbourhoods. How much does that really cost him? $1,665.22m, or $1 billion invested at 10% over five years. But that’s not all – the $832.61m above would also have gained 10% per year over the remaining 5 years, resulting in a total of $1,340.93m.
Thus Bob’s five years of preparation and five years of military rampaging have cost him over $3 billion. Given the enormous risks involved in such an endeavour, investors would likely demand at least a 10:1 pay off – similar to the software field. Thus Bob would have to steal well over $30 billion, given that he would likely want to keep some money for himself.
Where would this $30 billion come from? The burned-out houses? The abandoned cars? It’s hard to imagine that anything Bob got his hands on would be worth very much at all.
The evidence of history tends to support this conclusion. Economically, imperialism is a disaster for everyone except those intimately connected to the coercive power of the state.
What if Bob wanted to spring an attack on citizens and start taxing them? Again, all the other DROs would stand to lose all their customers in the event of such a situation, and would take all necessary steps to prevent that from occurring. They would have to provide innovative “checks and balances” solutions to potential customers, to win them as clients.
However, even if all of the above problems can be somehow overcome, and the creation of a rogue army in a free society became both possible and profitable, the solution is simple. Any “Defense DRO” would simply buy the trust of its clients by promising to pay them a fine in excess of any potential military profits if that DRO was ever discovered to be assembling an army. DROs would simply put ten million dollars in trust, payable to any customer that could find evidence proving that a rogue army was being assembled. Problem solved.
When we look at a series of steps required to make the creation of a private “rogue” army economically profitable, we can see that it becomes so unlikely as to be functionally impossible. If we assume that the economic incentive of maximizing profit would drive anyone to consider such a course, we can easily see that the fears of inevitable private tyrannies are merely imaginary. The “replacement state” mythology is just another ghost story invented to keep us in cages whose bars are merely fictional.
Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.