Lately, I have been having endlessly frustrating debates with people who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” or “ancaps” and who seem to be stuck in the McCarthy Era as they still view libertarian socialism as some kind of “Red Terror.” Ironically, these people are about as fervent in their support of capitalism and their hatred of libertarian socialism as the very government they supposedly want to destroy. These debates generally devolve into ad hominem attacks as the people arguing for capitalism tend to lose their cool rather quickly, and like most people they do not want to hear opposing opinions, especially ones supported by facts. I strongly believe in anarchism and autonomy as I believe they are the only foundations for a truly free society, so I have joined many anarchist groups, but it seems like many of the them (in America anyway) are overrun by so-called “ancaps,” which is why I end up having these silly arguments, and it is sad because they don’t understand “anarcho-capitalism” is an oxymoron or a contradiction of terms that are diametrically opposed. People who believe in this contradiction of terms do not understand what anarchism or capitalism are, and so I hope they read this explanation and do their own research, (and read authors that do not just reinforce their own opinions) instead of reacting defensively or reflexively.
Anarchy means a system without rulers. The etymology of the word demonstrates that as its root Greek words are “an” and “arkhos”, which together mean “without ruler.” Yet capitalism inherently has rulers. It puts people with massive capital and monopolies on resources at a much greater advantage over people who don’t have such capital or resources. And those people didn’t get their absurd wealth through hard work. Many of them got it through inheritances generations old made from slaves and empires. Many others got their wealth from exploiting third world laborers and resources. The super rich also rely on state thugs and governments and their monopoly on violence and force to protect them. In a world without violent governments or police without the ability to use force, there would be no billionaires. Without police and governments that protect the rich and powerful, there is no way common people would allow a handful of incredibly greedy, misanthropic individuals to hoard billions while 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Capitalist managers rely on cops to break worker strikes and quell worker dissent; they rely on state armies to secure resources, and they rely on government subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, and bribes to politicians and judges for legislation that favors them.
“Ancaps” remind me of these Ron Paul “libertarians” who misunderstand libertarianism and anarchy as meaning a system with no rules where they think their freedom is defined by how much they can hoard and how much they can disregard other people. But our freedom is not defined by how much we can take away the freedom of others. That is a zero-sum equation (as is capitalism) and not true freedom. In this system, one person’s loss is always another person’s gain. For example, the loss of someone’s house due to foreclosure is a gain for the bank that lent the homeowner money, and it is also a gain for the person who buys the property from the bank because banks generally sell foreclosed homes for less than they are worth. We are not truly free unless everyone is free. As Martin Luther King said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
When economists talk about “free trade” they’re talking about the “freedom” managers and money movers have to do what they want, not the freedom of workers to negotiate wages or working conditions. Capitalists talking about “free markets” are like slave-owners talking about their freedom to own people. Some so-called “freedoms” impinge on other people’s freedoms. The freedom to drop bombs on civilians with impunity, for example, (a “freedom” which is enjoyed by many politicians) is not a good freedom. But when certain people see the word “freedom” or “free” attached to anything, they dogmatically support it without really giving it much thought. Because the relationship between employers and employees in unethical corporations is usually zero sum, what is in one’s interest is often against the others. Higher wages for workers means less income for employers and higher income for employers generally means lower wages for workers as the easiest way to make more money is to cut worker’s wages or lay them off.
The myths that the “market will sort out” all the problems of the world and that “capitalism works if you vote with your wallet” have so many inherent problems. Firstly, as mentioned 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day while the richest 1% own half of the world’s assets. That is hardly one man/woman, one vote, which is the principle the whole idea of voting is contingent upon. Secondly, the former group does not have the resources to “vote” with their wallets by buying what they need from the most sustainable, fair-trade, like-minded, ecologically conscious companies because the capitalist mass producers (the Wal-Marts of the world) use cheap labor and steal resources, undercutting all competition. When you barely have enough money to survive as a poorer person, you’re likely going to buy their products because they’re the cheapest, even when you would rather support the more ethical companies (that generally have more expensive products due to the costs involved in paying workers their fair share and sustainably and ethically acquiring resources). The poorest people end up shopping at companies they detest and that exploit people like them because they have very few options. What’s most profitable is not environmentally conscious or moral. It is the most selfish, short-sighted means of production (destroying the Earth, stealing resources, robbing people, forcing people to work) and that’s what capitalism rewards.
Anarchy doesn’t mean chaos or anything goes. Perfect anarchy can create widespread peace. Anarchy can have rules but only rules that everyone in a voluntarily created commune or group agrees to. The only hard and fast rule is respecting other people’s autonomy. In an autonomous or anarchic system, members can govern themselves, instead of electing representatives to “represent them” and having mindless police forces that just want to punish, harm, incarcerate, terrorize, steal, and rule over people.
Capitalists have the “freedom” to dig up resources like water from aquifers that should be considered parts of the commons and left alone for the health of the soil. They steal this water from the commons and sell it back to us at $3 a bottle and if you’re dying of dehydration and don’t have a cent, that bottle of water is still the same price and you will go to jail if you try to take it as an individual. What does that have to do with our freedom? Even in a society without government should corporate monopolies continue to exist, they would just replace every oppressive government institution. State and local jails would be replaced by private prisons. State armies would be replaced by private military contractors and mercenaries. Private police would replace state and local police and so on, and they would have no obligation to answer to the public. If they continued to make money, that’s all that would matter to investors. The “Revolution” brought to you by Boeing, Blackwater (now Academi), Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics would be no revolution at all. What guarantee would we have that they wouldn’t turn on us? They exist to make a profit. This means selling weapons and arming anyone and everyone with the money to buy them. This includes warlords, war criminals, terrorist groups, governments, police, and so on.
In a capitalist system, nothing is treated as a right: not water, nor food, nor health-care, nor shelter. “Ancaps” argue people must work to provide for themselves. But this wasn’t the case in the distant past and it’s not the case in areas of the world where people live off of the land. Unfortunately, in many places fishing, hunting, and foraging for your own subsistence are illegal on public land without costly licenses. So we are forced to work and the kinds of labor that are deemed valuable within a capitalist system are limited. If you are disabled, for example, the kinds of work you can do may not be valued in a capitalist system. There would be no social safety net that could protect people like this in purely capitalist system. If you couldn’t afford health insurance and you were to get very sick, then you may just die or at the very least be unable to work, which may result in your debt piling up and eventually homelessness. When work is not demanded from us, many naturally want to work and we generally work better, more creatively, and efficiently when we’re not just working frantically to survive on meager wages. As mentioned what is profitable isn’t always good for anyone, such as logging, fracking, drilling for oil, war, mountain top removal, use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, predatory policing, and so on and what is not financially profitable can be extremely good for people like non-profit social work, community outreach, trash pick up, planting trees, conserving biodiversity, environmental stewardship, and so on. Free markets don’t equal public interest. A libertarian, socialist economy (that does not use the state) wherein people collectively own the means of production in order to meet the needs of humans and our environment directly do. Thinking otherwise is like believing a “trickle-down economy” is more effective than simply taking money away from plutocrats and billionaires and giving it to the poor and needy.
If you have ridiculous sums of money, you get the “freedom” to be another exploiter in a capitalist economy. You will be able to post bail for crimes you commit, afford good lawyers, bribe judges, bribe politicians to pass legislation that favors you, have police on your payroll, and pay off anyone else who stands in your way or pay someone else to intimidate, beat, or kill them so they cease to be a problem. Without ridiculous wealth you can be stripped of all your freedom. You get a parking ticket and don’t have the money to pay it? Well, you can go to jail for that. The “free market” is an extremely effective propaganda term. It’s like the “freedom” politicians told us we were going to bring the people of Afghanistan and Iraq by bombing them back to the Stone Age. Put freedom, liberty, patriotism, and other political buzz words on whatever you’re trying to sell and gullible people will buy it without a taking a second to even consider what they are actually being sold. As John Steinbeck (or Ronald Wright) said (it’s a disputed quote), “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” People seem to be okay being slaves so long as they believe there is a chance they can become slave owners if they “work hard enough” but it’s not true. You can work as hard as you want but if you weren’t afforded major advantages like a large inheritance or a father with a monopoly, you will likely never become one of those masters. People have to stop wanting to be a part of the bourgeoisie 1% we are supposed to be fighting. If you read the writings of real anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin, (who also warned us about the potential for “Red Terror” and an oppressive, pseudo “People’s state” Marxism would bring) James Guillaume, Nestor Makhno, Kropotkin, Camillo Berneri, Emma Goldman, and Adhémar Schwitzguébel, you will see they say there is no anarchy without abolishing wage slavery and freeing ourselves from our economic masters who have far more power than politicians. Anarchism evolved in tandem with many revolutionary, socialist movements and that is the reason.
Why do ancaps believe market competition is the solution to everything? The more competition there is in the marketplace, the more incentive there is for lower wages, worse working conditions, more unethical practices, and so on as it becomes harder and harder to make a profit. Needless to say, not everything in this world should have a price tag. Cooperation, collaboration, and collective ownership are much more conducive to productivity, innovation, and well-being in our economic, social, and environmental spheres. Barter, resource based economies, ecological economics, gift economies, and cryptocurrencies work infinitely better than fiat currency, (capital). Libertarian socialism (NOT state socialism) is also useful as it promotes collective ownership of the means of production and distribution by need, as opposed to greed.
Politicians are just figure heads or puppets for the superrich. The regulations sensible people want on corporations don’t impede “mom and pop” small businesses. These regulations target the exploitative and ecocidal practices of multibillion dollar corporations. The only reason anyone should not want those regulations is because they profit from these corporations or they aspire to. And these types of regulations don’t require governments to enforce them so there’s nothing statist about wanting to reign in these massive, destructive corporations. These corporations would be put in check without governments. The starving populace wouldn’t put up with billionaires and their ridiculous bourgeois lifestyles if there weren’t armies and police to stop people from taking their ill-gotten riches. The banks robbed our economy and the American government bailed them out with $700 billion of taxpayer money. Corporations and governments are in bed together. They are natural allies because their goal is the same: economic and social control. There is nothing noble, respectable, or even fundamentally enjoyable (in the long-term) about hoarding ridiculous wealth accrued by the exploitation of others and the natural world while the rest of the world suffers.
It’s ironic to me “ancaps” associate all socialism and communism with the brutality of the Soviet Union, even while libertarian socialists point to the fact that there is an enormous difference between state socialism and libertarian socialism. Meanwhile, every criticism of capitalism is deflected by their claim that “that’s just state capitalism” or crony capitalism. In other words, they claim the state simply corrupted their beloved capitalism but when we say the state perverted socialism, they don’t seem to get it.
Some ancaps correctly recognize the danger of crony capitalism but they don’t see the danger of plain capitalism, which is strange considering it is corporations that coerce and have coerced governments from their inception to work for them. It is not as if the governments are corrupting the influence of corporations that would otherwise be so moral. Some say in a truly free market system with no government intervention, that the inequality would even out and that bloated, transnational corporations without government subsidies, tax breaks, bail-outs, and other forms of state protectionism would fail. But even if that is true (which it is not for reasons I will explain) why would we not punish or dethrone these economic masters who have collaborated with governments to commit countless crimes against humanity? Why would we just wait for the market to sort it out? If governments are destroyed why should those ill-gotten resources and riches made from government decree, coercion, violence, and exploitation remain the property of billionaires and the powerful 1%? It doesn’t make sense.
The reason inequality wouldn’t even out anyway in this scenario is because money is power and as I said every repressive government institution that helps keep corporations in power would be replaced by analogous, private institutions (private police, private armies, etc.) that would keep taking from the poor so the rich could get richer. When people vote with their wallets it is rarely because they have morality in mind. Generally, people buy what is most convenient and inexpensive. Many believe they don’t have the resources to consider the environmental or human impact of every purchase, so consumers reward businesses that use criminal business practices because their prices are lower as mentioned. Crony capitalism is the only kind of capitalism that can exist in the real world because there are already enormous discrepancies in the distribution of wealth and this influences just about every aspect of our lives. Even in a hypothetical scenario devoid of government wherein everyone started with the exact same amount of money, surely inequality and repressive institutions to maintain it would grow without any efforts to stop it. I often hear from ancaps that “people are not naturally good, which is why we need free markets.” But free markets blindly trust people’s wallets to do the right thing and fail to recognize the negative externalities that catch up to us all. Enslaving a populace might be financially profitable in the short-term but what about the externalities of the people hurt and killed? Even if you only care about money those externalities will come back to you financially as slaves rise up. We can’t keep destroying the Earth and pretending the costs will never catch up to us. The Earth is an interconnected web of living ecosystems and we are killing ourselves by destroying our environments.
Adam Smith, seen by many as a dogmatic supporter of capitalism, said “under conditions of perfect liberty, markets will lead to perfect equality.” But that is under conditions of perfect liberty, which do not exist when there is an unequal distribution of capital. Smith also wrote the free movement of labor was the basis of any free market system, which also does not exist today. Ironically, Smith further said “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” (Chapter IV, p. 448, Wealth of Nations.) And “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” This is kind of talk would likely be deemed “anti-business” in this vulture capitalist dominated culture, so he is hardly the capitalist king he is made out to be by modern proponents of capitalism. (This is likely due to the fact that most capitalists don’t like to read anything but econ books.)
I often hear from ancaps the refrain “jobs are voluntary, so capitalism is voluntary.” But first of all, without the efforts of individuals to stop some corporations from literally enslaving people, they do so. The slave owners in India, Mauritania, the Ivory Coast, and many other countries are capitalists by definition. Being a slave is not a voluntary “job.” Second, when wage-slavery is used, people often take jobs they don’t want because large corporations and governments have robbed them of all better opportunities and resources as they have claimed them as their own. An indigenous population living off the land for thousands of years with no formal land title could have their land taken away by logging companies or by water companies looking to drain all the water from aquifers (supporting the underground ecosystem) or from fracking companies seeking to drill and thereby poisoning the water supply or all three. With their land destroyed they may be forced to take jobs at one of these corporations as they can no longer live off the raped land. That is not voluntary and this has happened countless times in history and continues to happen. There is also inherent hierarchy and inequality in the employer / employee relationship, regardless of the circumstances. Employers control every aspect of their employees behaviors, much like governments, and the subsistence of employees often relies on their continued employment. Finding the time to get a better job can be nearly impossible when work and other responsibilities take up all of your free time (and in capitalist systems better jobs require better formal education at universities, which require more money). So as opposed to being voluntary and free, employers take advantage of the economic inequality and unfortunate circumstances their employees were born into to continue unfair labor practices.
A transaction can also be “voluntary” but tremendously exploitative. To provide an extreme example, an enormous food corporation could see a “market” of starving people and charge $500 for each grain of rice, which the people might “voluntarily” buy if there were no other options available and they had the means. Would ancaps praise the food distributor as a “life-saver?” When the conditions are life or death, there is no choice if we want to live. Ancaps scream “commie!” or “socialist!” when they hear anything other than praise for their beloved capitalism because they believe socialism is a system whereby people are forced to give up their private property and wealth. This is false and they fail to recognize the enormous differences between state socialism and libertarian socialism without the state wherein people collectively own and maintain the means of production. A single collective voluntarily formed can operate via socialist principles. The only time something is taken away involuntarily in a socialist system is when individuals have monopolies and vast ill-gotten riches. (The only reason anything is officially “your property” anyway is the state. Without the state, titles and deeds to land, houses, cars, and so on are just pieces of paper. This means “anarcho-capitalism” is a contradiction of terms and truly support for the state.) It is right and just that the economic masters and tyrants (the parasites) have their ill-gotten riches and resources returned to the people. They profit hugely from stolen resources and labor that isn’t theirs. But somehow some working class “ancaps” truly believe they will be targeted for expropriation, as if their meager salaries even collectively compare to the resources and wealth of the billionaire class tyrants. They do not. Ancaps must see they are part of the 99% like the rest of us, not “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” as Steinbeck (or Wright) put it and join us in our struggle for autonomy, true equality, and freedom.
(Featured image was created by Valendale.)