Facebook debate: does the state reduce violence?

Recent crazy Facebook debate (don’t you love those), here is the original link. Basically the debate had nothing to do with the original post, it devolved into a debate by one participant claiming that there is evidence showing how the establishment of a strong state over time has led to decreasing violence over time.

I and others called BS on this and then it got interesting. Since this is my blog I’m just posting my responses 😉 I’ve invited others to continue here if they wish. Enjoy.


Response 1: Violent death was an order of magnitude higher in non-state societies before the imposition of the state. This is fact.” – This may be fact but it is meaningless in terms of justifying the supposed violence minimizing effects of the state because all things are not equal. Violence is simply a tool that is a means to an end and it has an associated cost. Mankind’s ever improving level of technology (tools) makes our tools more efficient and less costly to implement, however violence always carries with it the same potential cost (ones own potential death or injury). In other words non-violent means to achieve our ends have been getting cheaper and cheaper over time when compared to violent means. So a couple of hundred years ago one could spend months farming 12 hours days or one could pick up a rock and bonk the local farmers over the head with it. Which one has a lower cost in terms of labor expended? 

Today initiating violence against someone for food would be absurd considering our efficient ability to create it means food is just about dirt cheap in comparison to what it was even a hundred years ago. Violence still occurs today but it is much more rare because it only occurs around those things that have a very high cost… so violent means are still “cheaper” means to achieve those ends. But the overriding fact is that as the standard of living goes up violence goes down irrespective of whether the society is state based or non-state based.

Response 2: @Jeff Cav – Why do keep bringing up Somalia? I didn’t bring it up at all… but if you must, Somalia is not at all an example of a stateless society nor is it even a good comparison if we were to accept that it is stateless. First you do have states there, that’s why there is so much chaos and disorder, because the nascent states within that region are all fighting with each other for dominance/control of the entire region. That is, the essence of what a state is is alive and well there – a group of self-appointed thugs that want to control and dominate the lives of others and skim their cut off the top from the populace in the form of “taxes”. There are just many of them all fighting within the borders leaving behind the chaotic landscape we see. Secondly, Somalia was poor and undeveloped when it had a state, it is still poor and undeveloped when so many now say it has no state… so how can you compare a poor undeveloped region to say the US and say “see clearly the US has a strong government and that’s why we are prosperous and Somalia now has no strong central government and they are poor and violence ridden because of the lack of that government” There is no ceteris paribus comparison here at all.

Moving on….although I will grant that it is at least theoretically plausible that a strong centralized authority (the state) could decrease incidence of violence within its borders (due to the “one gang to rule them all” effect), this is kind of pointless – it’s like saying we can eliminate all health care costs by simply killing all the sick people. As with Somalia, all organized violence stems from proto-states warring with each other… so yes, if one big proto-state comes along and crushes and kills them all (their leaders anyway) then that type of violence will disappear from within its borders. But to any extent where this is true it is completely more than offset by the enormous rise in violence made possible by larger organized states when they go to war against each other. ALL wars are only possible because of the existence of states, such organized killing on such a mass scale could simply never happen in a purely free and stateless society (what’s the point -it’s bad for business to kill your customer). So to the extent intrastate violence decreased, extra-state violence shot up orders of magnitude beyond that.

So what’s the solution? A stateless voluntary society. This solution does not assume everyone will be angels and there will be no violence, in fact it works just fine under the assumption there will continue to be bad people that will try to control others through violence. The response to such people is that everyone will have VOLUNTARILY joined insurance or protection agencies to keep them safe from those that would aggress against them (the precedent for this actually existed in Somalia and ancient Ireland: the clan system kept people in line VOLUNTARILY). These associations would not need to be held along geographic boundaries (just as people are members of disparate religions today all around the world side by side). Kind of hard to have a war if your members are mixed in with those you supposedly want to fight. The stateless society would of course not be perfect, it’s composed of imperfect humans… but it is far better than the state based society from an ethical standpoint and a consequentialist standpoint. The stateless society would eliminate war from this planet IF the entire planet adopted this system. I’m not saying this will happen today or even in a hundred years, merely that it should, that it is the ideal… and isn’t that the point, to strive for the ideal, to strive for the goal, even if unattainable today, we should always continue on that path until someday we get there, otherwise, what’s the point, we might as well just accept we are slaves and get back to picking the cotton for our master (the state).

Response 3: @Bruce – I don’t see where anyone in this thread said or implied that adherence to the ideal libertarian philosophy of a stateless voluntary society would _always_ bring about the ideal outcome and that a state-centered society will _always_ bring about the worst possible outcome. The argument for the libertarian ideal is from an ethical standpoint, not a consequentialist one. Theft is wrong – but it is also entirely possible a thief could steal and use those stolen funds for a better purpose than the original owner, perhaps to save a life, perhaps to start a new business that improves peoples lives – all of these things could and sometimes do happen. So in the same way as the blind hen sometimes find corn, sometimes the state manages to improve things on net. But that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t make it ok. That’s all that is being said. However the state does get things wrong or screwed up way more frequently than it ever gets things right so it is very very easy to poke holes in arguments in support of it. Even those things you cite as being obvious benefits of the state (codified property rights, stable courts, etc) that libertarians should be thankful for can easily be shown to also be provided just as well not by a monopoly but a range of suppliers of those goods. To deny that more one entity can provide those things is to deny the possibility of anything other than a single global government. If 250 countries can provide these things, then why not 2500, or 25,000? There is no non-arbitrary method to determine the “ideal” number of competing political units providing their own unique take on property rights or courts. Saying we should be thankful to the state for these things is like saying slaves should be thankful to their master… I mean the master after all provides his slaves with food, clothing and shelter, right? Without masters, how will the slaves feed, clothe and shelter themselves? Without the state, how will people solve their own interpersonal disputes. The statist answers: they can’t, it would never ever occur to any humans to peacefully solve disputes through a court based system… we need special super intelligent humans to show us these things and force us to engage in them, these wise overlords know better and will show us how to run our lives, for without the state we are as but children.

Response 4: @Bruce  Sorry, if your response was more tongue in cheek I guess I missed that… tone is one of those things very hard to discern sometimes in forums such as these (and even email as well!) As far as your response… I didn’t think nor did I intend to accuse you of an sort of absolutism (e.g. “always” do this or that)… my comments were meant to be more generic in nature (i.e. when some people say such things, this is my response).

I’m not questioning your or anybody’s right to voice their opinion and say they think Jeff’s comment have some merit… I’m just saying I disagree with anyone that would say the idea has merit… maybe I’m wrong, who knows, I don’t think so of course or I wouldn’t open my mouth, I’m just saying I don’t agree and it is because of X, Y and Z. Simply because a bunch of us all do the same thing is not evidence of some grand conspiracy by libertarians to denounce and keep out all dissenting opinions – it is exactly the same response you would see from any opinionated group about any topic they hold strong opinions on when someone proposes a dissenting opinion. Try going over to a paleo group and discuss the merits of non-paleo diet… you’ll see the same kind of fervor in the response. In other words this is not a unique libertarian trait – it’s a human trait. If actual good logic or data is used to support the dissenting view some will just ignore it and some will incorporate that information and change their view.. but in this case it is my view there is no such good data as the data presented is easily debunked via an alternate analysis that is much simpler (Occam’s razor approach here)
The parallel of fundamentalism you bring in is an interesting one and I think it helps me make my point here. I see that those that we libertarians (anarchists?) would label as statist as being the political functional equivalent of a religious fundamentalist. Those apodictic beliefs are based on faith alone, they believe X to be true because they believe it to be true. For that kind of knowledge nothing can ever prove it to be wrong (i.e. I love my children, no one can prove that is not true, science can’t prove God is not real, it may not require a God, but that is not the same thing as actually proving one does not exist). Unfortunately the statists hold this type of faith based belief over subjects that are subject to falsification through inductive or deductive reasoning. When confronted with proof of their errors they squawk and hurl epithets and ad hominem attacks while slinging supposed “studies” that prove their case with cherry picked data in order to bolster their faith.
Most of what the libertarian “believes” in is based on inductive logic (economics) or a logically coherent philosophy (self-ownership) and should not be up for debate at all but sadly is due to religious fervor of the statists of the Keynesian denomination who attempt to use empiricism to falsify inductive logical truths. In other words if someone could logically prove some of what we libertarians adhere to is incorrect, we would (as scientists) change our views (well the intellectually honest would anyway). But the statist is unswayed no matter how much who show them to be wrong or misguided.
So when people question someone who makes a claim that here is an example where the state has actually done good and thus this is justifiable reason for a state we have to call them on it because based on our knowledge of these things we know this interpretation can’t be correct – this is not “faith” it’s call understanding of the knowledge framework. It’s like if you understand the theory of evolution and a creationist says “oh we found this thing and it disproves all of evolution therefore our view must be correct” not only does one have a duty to point out to them that (a) no, that data fits in with the theory like so and (b) even if that data were inconsistent with the theory it means we modify the theory as needed to fit the data, we don’t just dispose of the whole thing. Statists do the same thing, they want to say “oh, see the state did this one good thing that we don’t think would occur under your system, therefore your entire framework is wrong and the whole thing must be discarded” We libertarians can’t even get away with that approach – we can point out hundreds of things the state system gets wrong and yet somehow that doesn’t seem to invalidate it at all in the mind of the statist… so it’s odd that the statist seems to think they just need to find one example where they believe the consequences of a state based outcome are superior to the perceived possible outcomes of a non-state based system and that will then disprove all of libertarianism.
Now you then said “You’re tacitly agreeing that Jeff was right in his assertions while decrying that outcome as irrelevant because it did not conform to the libertarian ethos. I.e., that may have been the outcome but the outcome is bad because it’s not libertarian.”
No, that’s not what I said, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I said his interpretation was not absolutely impossible, just that it was less likely to be the principal cause relative to the cause I outlined. But even on his own terms he’s wrong. Even if we said the state is responsible for 100% of all decrease in violence in whatever time frame is being discussed, the decrease in intra-state violence is completely overwhelmed by the increase in inter-state violence (tens of millions dead in the 20th century alone from wars). War being completely a function of the state we can then ascribe all those deaths to the existence of the state. But my secondary point was not as you say the “outcome is bad because it’s not libertarian” – I said the outcome could even be good – (the ends) – but the means are still invalid.
Maybe that is the the core of the matter, libertarians are very focused on the morality of the means, whereas the statist is totally focused on the ends. Some might say the moral statist tries to balance the two (the individual rights vs the collective good), but I’m sorry, I just have to call bullshit on that. No one is wise enough to balance those things, and no one has a right to choose how they are balanced. Maybe my organs will save 10 lives… does anyone except me have the right to “balance” my right keep to my organs and live against the greater good of saving 10 lives?