Anarchy, State and Moore's Law

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Clark is an anarchocapitalist, a reader, and a man of mystery. He's not a neoreactionary, but he is Nrx-curious 'til graduation. All he wants for Christmas is for everyone involved in the police state to get a fair trial and a free hanging. Follow him at @clarkhat

31 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    That's more tacked on than worked in.

  2. GeekChick says:

    I love you Clark!

  3. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society says:

    More on this piece in a moment, but I think everyone ought to be conscious of the radical change Iteration places on The Prisoner's Dilemma. By itself, the Prisoner's Dilemma is a really nasty statement about the universe — basically, it says you're better off saying "screw you, I'm getting mine now!" as a general life strategy.

    What happens with Iterating it, though — that is, throwing the players back in the same game with each other over and over again — basically taking it from a narrowly defined academic exercise and putting it into a real world context, is enough to at least make you wonder about God.

    Because at this point, the whole thing turns itself onto its own head and, instead of "screw you, I'm getting mine" is no longer the best play. Instead, what you really wind up with is that The Best General Strategy for all circumstances is essentially almost identical to the Judeo-Christian moral ethos. You are free to argue chicken-or-egg, here as far as the natural inspiration for this vis-a-vis God, but it's… interesting. I recommend the Wiki article on it for those of you not familiar with it.


    I also note that another thing that comes out of it is that President Downgrade's foreign policy standard, "Be Nice, Always" is actually just about the worst possible strategy — the wolves will tear you apart… as anyone with a brain pretty much already knew.

  4. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society says:

    >>> that $200 and a lack of a front yard is a small price to pay to have the latest Twilight novel delivered to one’s front step on release day.

    Really? I was thinking of having to pay them a buck just to throw it into the nearest recycling bin….

    But then, that's just me, I'm not a thirteen year old girl, and I damned sure don't appreciate Vampire Chic.

    A villainous, evil thing that sucks the life out of those things around it… hey, sounds like real hero potential to me!

    There's something really wrong with society when it does that.

  5. Clark says:


    > I love you Clark!

    Unfortunately I've got to whip off my glasses, rush into a phone booth, and then emerge in costume to fight statism, so I've got no time for a relationship.

    Thanks, though!

  6. Clark says:

    re "crazy monkey sex" [ I presume ]:

    > That’s more tacked on than worked in.

    You're right.

    I'll strive to do better next time.

  7. Mick says:

    Bravo…I really enjoyed your writing and topic.


  8. Samsam von Virginia says:

    "…whip off my glasses, rush into a phone booth, and then emerge in costume to fight statism…" In this era of cheap computation, you just click OPTIONS:SKINS, then select from the drop-down menu. No phone booth required.

  9. cackalacka says:

    I'm not sure I can quantify the difference between a thoughtful, edifying essay and vapid meandering polemic, worthy of the comments section of a letter-to-the-editor at a small podunk paper in South Dakota, but I do know that the latter involves a very generous use of the word (insult?) 'leftist.'

  10. Clark says:


    > vapid meandering polemic worthy of the comments section of a letter-to-the-editor at a small podunk paper in South Dakota… involves … use of the word ‘leftist.’

    I entirely agree, and I support you in your writing an angry pissy letter to a podunk paper in South Dakota decrying Wikipedia for defining and using this term:

    In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist are terms generally used to describe support for social change to create a more egalitarian society

    Also, please pen a letter to the dons at Oxford, who define it in the OED as "an adherent of the 'left' in politics".

    This is clearly a word that only mouth-breathers and creationists use.

    Also, I entirely support you in your implicit argument that all the stupid unsophisticated people in the United States live in South Dakota. Sure, some may call us "biased" or "classist" for that, but we know the truth in that we've each been there and interviewed these morons.


  11. cackalacka says:

    While you're on wikipedia, Clark, you may wish to also research the words 'coherent' and 'interesting.'

  12. Clark says:

    > you may wish to also research the words ‘coherent’ and ‘interesting.’

    in·ter·est·ing – Adjective: Arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention

    Example usage: despite protesting that he/she found it very boring, cackalacka found the blog post so interesting that he/she read the whole thing and kept leaving comments on it.

  13. Ken says:

    P.S. Oh, right. Don’t want to lose that bet with Ken. Wait. For. It. “crazy monkey sex”.

    My lovely wife, who did not read your first post explaining the context for this, has an inquiry regarding this.

  14. eddie says:

    "cackalacka found the blog post so interesting that he/she read the whole thing and kept leaving comments on it"

    Not quite, Clark. He/she found your post boring. What he/she finds so endlessly fascinating is his/her own words.

  15. PLW says:

    I'll see your Coase and raise you a Williamson. How do we know that Moore's law is decreasing the benefits of government faster than it's decreasing the costs. It seems like something that helps us solving the contractability problem with our neighbors, may also help us solve the commitment/monitoring problem with government just as well.

    Igotbupkis: Tit-for-tat worked for a while, but actually a "collectivist" approach recently took it down (

  16. Hasdrubal says:

    Information costs are certainly falling, search costs probably are falling as well (though Moore's law has helped provide us with far more raw information, our algorithms are still limiting the actual valuable results. There is a lot of truth in Microsoft's Bing commercials, not just about Google but the world in general.) Traditional transaction costs are down, but humans being humans, better communication technologies allow us to create and increase new transaction costs just as quickly.

    But I think the biggest problem with anarcho-capitalism as you describe it is opportunity costs: Reducing transaction, information and search costs across the board naturally increase opportunity costs for self government. It is much more costly for me to spend my time reading over all the proposed roads and tolls and available education opportunities when I have just as many new job and entertainment opportunities to evaluate as well.

    Government is not just a method of enforcing coordination, it's also a method of delegating all that messy stuff that only marginally affects your life like garbage pickup and snow plowing. Without government I have to contract for EVERYTHING, and that's a serious resource sink.

    It's the same issue that other form of organizing activity addresses; the firm. Coase's work wasn't based on computational complexity, it's just as valid today as it was in 1937 and 1960. Start with this podcast and the listed references:

    In this world of multi core, multi gigahertz processing power and petabits of accessable data, it's still more efficient for firms to internalize some functions than to contract everything out. I have yet to see an argument that this is not true of governments as well. Sure we should consciously reassess which functions would better be served by the market, but you'll find that transaction costs haven't been reduced by our technological marvels as this post imagines.

  17. eddie says:

    Kudos to Clark on a splendid second post. By all means, keep it up.

    IMHO, the unsolved theoretical problem of anarchocapitalism is the geographic monopoly of force. David Friedman can have all the polycentric law and for-profit courts he wants, but when it comes time to make Alice pay for stealing Bob's TV set there's going to be exactly ONE security agency with the power to compel Alice to open her wallet in lieu of spending a month in the slammer, and that's whichever security agency has chased all the other agencies away from whatever defensible perimeter Alice lives within.

    Yes, yes… inter-agency negotiated agreements, blah blah blah. "Rather than go to war, we'll agree that if one of your clients claims one of our clients stole their TV then we'll decide the case using The Court Of So-And-So and both agree to abide by that courts ruling blah blah blah." That doesn't change the fact that Army A has practical jurisdiction over Alice, and if Aaron and Alistair and Aretha all pay the Legislatures, Courts, and Security Agencies of the Allied Area Association to make sure nobody smokes dope within a hundred miles of Auburn, Alabama, then it doesn't matter how much money Alice is willing to pay to the Bavarian Barristers and Batallions – she's stuck facing summary execution for her potted pot plant which, as a loyal and fully paid-in-full citizen of B, she would normally have the legal right to enjoy were she not an expatriot living within the geographic confines of Someone Else's Laws.

    Patri Friedman thinks the solution is for everyone to live on boats. I imagine TJIC thinks the answer is to live in orbit. Neither one works for me because my wife gets nauseous on boats, and I probably would too in space. My own crazy idea, not quite fully fleshed out yet, involves mutually-exchanged hostages.

    Here's to the future!

  18. TJIC says:

    > I imagine TJIC thinks the answer is to live in orbit.


    Now working on revising the first draft of my novel on that very topic!

  19. eddie says:

    Hasdrubal: "Government is not just a method of enforcing coordination, it’s also a method of delegating all that messy stuff that only marginally affects your life like garbage pickup and snow plowing. Without government I have to contract for EVERYTHING, and that’s a serious resource sink."

    All that messy decision-making that can be delegated to the Government can also trivially be delegated to ANYONE IN THE WORLD. I delegate my fashion decisions to my wife, my spiritual health to my pastor, my legal views to Popehat, and my blog reading to TJIC. More practically, instead of deciding on which plumber, HVAC guy, and electrician to use for home repairs, I just ask my handyman and go with whoever she recommends.

    Anyone who doesn't feel like choosing between different trash haulers and snowplowers can just use whoever their neighbor is using, or the first name in the phonebook, or whoever. But anyone who actually DOES want to bother putting in a little effort to pick someone better is going to be screwed when some government decides that they're going to decide for you – as my government did recently when they un-privatized all our trash pickup ("because it's more environmentally friendly" they lied).

    In this hyper-connected hyper-processing hyperworld that you and I and Clark are theorizing, eliminating the costs of having to make your own decisions – whether it's choosing a school or a doctor or a housepet – will be as easy as clicking the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google or taking the top recommendation from Amazon or subscribing to ThinkProgress' Liberal Life Management service for a very modest fee^W donation to a worthy cause.

    So tell me again what I need government for?

    "Government is not just a method of enforcing coordination"

    … oh, right. FORCE. That was it. I almost forgot.

  20. Hasdrubal says:

    eddie: Your "delegation" is contracting in an anarcho-capitalist world. And just like in our current world, there are transaction costs to forming contracts.

    To economize on transaction costs, you might contract large categories of related things with low marginal benefits to you under one contract, but, ta-da, you've just reinvented government.

    Trivial interactions can be relegated to Google's "I'm feeling lucky," but once you get down to brass tacks, there a huge range of nontrivial, idiosyncratic relations that we deal with every day which don't.

    Read up on Oliver Williamson, like PLW mentioned. That's exactly what I was getting at.

  21. Ben says:

    You make a good argument that certain things that Econ 101 textbooks claim are public goods are actually nothing of the sort. However, I don't think this actually supports your larger critique of government. The utilitarian argument for government intervention that you're invoking here isn't about public goods, it's about external costs and benefits. Public goods are one type of situation where these externalities are an important factor, but they're far from the only one. Education and transportation have large externalities associated with them, even though they're excludable, rival goods, and so the utilitarian argument for government intervention still holds up in these cases.

    (I feel kind of silly defending utilitarian arguments to someone who explicitly said he doesn't care about utilitarian arguments, and I'm curious what your actual objection is to this sort of intervention. Do you think liberty is inherently more important than happiness, or something?)

  22. eddie says:

    "you’ve just reinvented government"

    The difference between government and the an-cap-otopian bundle of contracted services that looks and smells a whole lot like a government is…

    … you can fire your contractors.

    If that's reinventing government, then I think we're well due for some reinvention around here.

  23. Piper says:

    Hi Clark, welcome (belatedly) to the blog. As one of the resident liberals/leftists/union apologists/what have you around these parts, I have one thing to say – tl;dr. I suppose I might work through it at some point, but just as with the other post I saw of yours, my eyes started glazing over partway through. I'm not sure why, but your writing style (at least for me) is interfering with your message.

  24. Rich Rostrom says:

    The idea of charging all road users by the mile (and ton) is quite plausible. But the value of roads is not just in the use, but the access.

    An actor may only use the road network occasionally, in small ways, and yet access to it may be critical to that actor. There may be situations where having access is essential, though it will never be used.

    I'll also throw a counter-example at you.

    The decline in transaction costs, and administrative costs of complex transactions, allows actors to create contract arrangements whose details are profoundly obscure and whose consequences are beyond comprehension.

    These arrangements may be immediately profitable, yet pose risks of catastrophic disruptions and defaults.

    That's what we've seen in the last few years. We've also seen a lot of failures to execute – i.e. mortgage-backed securities for which the mortgages are not fully documented.

    Enforcement of procedural standards is tricky, and even more when enforcement has no coercive power. The threat of future bankruptcy is not real to sociopaths who see immediate profit and expect to evade the consequences – people like, say, David and Branden Bell.

    The decline in transaction costs has enabled this increased complexity, and that has created great opportunities for such types.

  25. Dan says:

    @ Hasdrubal – There's a lot of free software programs out there. If I had to find, install and configure each of the ones I needed to change my PC from lump of metal and plastic into something useful, I'd be in a lot of trouble. Fortunately, there are large numbers of "distributions" I can choose among, which bundle various of these together – I just download and install a single thing. I imagine that in a world with significantly smaller or no states, third parties would bundle all sorts of things together for your convenience (perhaps a common client might be homeowners associations?). Choose the one you like best. I don't think we've reinvented government here, as I imagine there would be some choice among competitors.

  26. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Re: Assurance Contracts

    Anyone ever heard of Kickstarter?

  27. TJIC says:

    @Mad Rocket Scientist

    > Anyone ever heard of Kickstarter?

    If we hadn't already, we would have when we read this post, which linked to it (see the anchor text " been embraced by the hipster set ")

  28. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Ah, thanks TJIC, I missed that (there are a lot of links there).

  29. TJIC says:

    > Ah, thanks TJIC, I missed that

    I saw the word "Hipstr" and had to mouse over the link to see what it was referring to!

  30. John David Galt says:

    What your theory is missing, I think, is that "nuanced bottom-up coordination" is not just hard: most people, on some level, have chosen to be mutual enemies (for instance, the greens don't want enough roads and fuel to be available for me to drive as often as I'm willing to pay the real cost of the privilege; while I don't want enough of a welfare state to be available to support most of the people now receiving dole payments). One way or another, someone is going to win each one of these arguments. Either we call that winner "the state" and live with it, or we become a feud society, where everyone who has a beef with somebody and is willing to use force can.

    And this leads us to an effect of technology I don't think you have adequately considered. While Moore's Law may or may not improve the cost/benefit ratio of traditional government, it is very likely to improve the cost/benefit ratio to a particular individual of efforts on his part to bully other people and thus become, in some sense, a government. Cheap computing makes it all the easier to be the next Osama Bin Laden, and all the more difficult for the rest of us to defend against him. If the trend continues, the result may very well be a future like a cyberpunk novel, where a few people like Al Gore, George Soros, and Rupert Murdoch are never seen but are really giving the orders, and the rest of us have no security at all.

    This may have already happened. In which case government as we know it is a sham and a shell game.