The Fanciful Idea of Statist Efficiency

Article by David D’Amato.

The disastrous failures of energy facilities following Japan’s earthquakes once more testify to the calamities innate in statism. The state’s system of monopoly privilege — both in its public and nominally private sectors — is rigid, unresponsive to changing circumstances, and therefore brittle.

Important areas of the economy like power infrastructure are typically among those most concentrated in the fewest hands, the least competitive and sequestered from true free markets. They are the objects of enormous government subsidies, and their monopoly status allows them to demand from the consumer a high “restrictionist price” with no rational relationship to actual market forces.

It is these areas of infrastructure, so omnipresent and fundamental to daily life, that we’re supposed to think of as “too important to be left to the free market.” For services that virtually everyone uses, the public sector or ambiguously quasi-public companies are put forward as the prudent alternative to the market’s “cutthroat competition.” Markets are, it is said, unable to provide these important services safely, effectively and justly.

Anarchists often meet the instinctive objection that ours is an ideology hopelessly doomed to impracticability, unrealistic in its aims. Such arguments, though commonsensical on their faces, are only superficially so, taking for granted many claims that are far from clear. The declaration “unrealistic!” becomes a way to dismiss substantive arguments — ethical, utilitarian and economic — and to make apologies for the status quo as something that “works,” that “makes the trains run on time.”

But the spokespeople of the supposedly practical philosophy of statism, who shrug off anarchism out of hand, beg the question in at least a couple of ways. Since anarchism has never been implemented in full, they insist, it cannot be, or else it already would have sprung up. What the sources of these assertions may or may not know, however, is that historical examples of what we might call stateless societies belie their contentions.

Tribal society in Celtic Ireland existed, for a time, without any recognizable relative of the central state, functioning through a largely noncompulsory paradigm of familial relationships and direct democracy. Even assuming, though, that claims regarding the dearth of historical examples were true, it hardly seems a strong rationale for dispensing with the claims of anarchism as simply unrealistic.

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