Saturday, May 16, 2009

Peaceful Anarchy: My Vision for a Free World

For years my political beliefs were defined by what they were not:  

  • I could not support Democrats because I know the free market is more efficient than any government. 
  • I could not support Republicans because they promote fear to justify violence and spending even more than Democrats;
  • I could not support Libertarians because they do whatever it takes to get elected just like all other politicians; and
  • I didn't think I could support anarchy, because anarchy is unknown, and unknowns are scary.  

My friends who are Democrats agree that government is inefficient. These friends ask me:  "Do you want all the government you pay for?" My answer, "No! But I wish I didn't have to pay taxes."

My friends who are Republicans agree that government is too involved and spending too much on wars. These friends ask me, "How else are we going to protect ourselves?" I was stuck not being able to answer this question for many years. 

Fortunately, learning more about unknowns makes them less scary.  Over the past few months, I've studied a few examples of anarchy in action and some ideas on how it might work. Throughout this post are links with references to some of my study materials, and the links on the left side of my blog provide additional information.

In the process of learning more about anarchy, it has become less scary. I've met some great friends who've argued with me and inspired me to imagine ways we could make anarchy work. Through these studies and discussions, my vision for a free world has become clearer.

Free Trade: Is it Enough?

In a stateless society, we depend on each other rather than government. A commonly proposed mechanism to facilitate stateless interaction is free trade. Free trade is clearly the best mechanism for allocating resources and maximizing everyone's potential. However, a world in which all interactions are based on contractual relationships falls short of my vision for the free world I want to live in. 

When I think about free trade as the only mechanism governing interactions, I see a cold hard world where every relationship is contractual. And I worry about tyranny of the rich over the poor and disabled. But one of my core beliefs leads me to reject this world view as incomplete:  I believe in the fundamental goodness of human beings. 

I believe I am not alone in wanting to live in a community that would voluntarily support the disabled or ill people among us. I believe that when we are free to pursue our own interests, those interests will include helping each other even in the absence of contracts.

Volunteering is in My Best Interest

Our work is one of our most precious assets; it requires investments of time and energy. In many cases we are rewarded for these investments through trade or equity in future profits. When I see people volunteering their services to make the world a better place, I admire them, and sometimes I choose to join them. 

The following preferences are fundamental to my reasons for joining them:

  • I prefer to be moving forward. When I find myself complaining, I either accept what I'm complaining about or I do something that I believe will help fix the problem; and
  • I like feeling powerful, and I will do many things to avoid feeling helpless.

Following are some personal examples of volunteering despite (in some cases) the government's best efforts to thwart my efforts:

Volunteering to Help a Government Agency

For the past three years I've volunteered to help maintain a so-called county park near my house three mornings a week. 

Volunteering for a government agency like this has some consequences and risks:

  • It may mask or enable poor performance in county employees and enable growth of unproductive park staff and taxes in future;
  • It may be dangerous:  I may hurt myself or be mugged, especially on dark winter mornings;
  • If there is too much to do (e.g., garbage in hard-to-reach places), it may drain my energy and render me too tired for other work later; and
  • In order to obtain the keys to open the park and avoid arrest for my work in the park, I was required to allow the county to take my finger prints. Of all the things listed here, this one gave me the most pause.

Despite all these barriers, there are more park volunteers in my community than the county can use.  The fact that the county regularly turns volunteers away fuels my faith in the fundamental goodness of people. 

I choose to volunteer at the park despite these barriers, because:

  • Exercise gives me energy, and having a responsibility to my community inspires me to get my butt off the couch at least three days/ week;
  • I prefer walking in a clean park, and the natural beauty of the park makes me happy;
  • When my neighbors see me volunteering in the park, they often stop and talk to me or join me rather than walking on their way. This makes me feel happy and connected with my community; and
  • I am the kind of person who picks up trash rather than complain about it. Doing something makes me feel powerful, and that is a better feeling than feeling helpless or worse, dependent on government to solve my problems.

What about Companies?

Companies typically use contracts for most interactions; however, they also facilitate volunteering without contracts. I currently work for a global technology company. One of the most difficult issues we face is recruiting talented scientists and engineers. It costs my employer a lot of money to recruit talented scientists from other parts of the world and it costs even more to help those employees develop their talent after they begin work.

The problem has become worse in recent years, after the No Child Left Behind Act became law, requiring students in US schools to undergo standardized testing in order for their schools to receive federal government funding. As a result, schools have abandoned or scaled back many programs that don't appear on these standardized tests, including science, arts and PE. 

Among other things, this law leads high school graduates to choose non-scientific majors in college, which in turn causes a dearth of talented college graduates ready to work in technology. Critical and creative thinking are not measured on the standardized tests required for federal funding, yet these skills are vitally important to the profitability of technology companies.

Technology companies respond to these challenges in a variety of ways. Many complain to schools and lobby the various levels of government to change their policies. However, smart companies including my own employer recognize that this method has limited effectiveness.

Another action many companies take is supporting employees volunteering on work time to facilitate experiments, arts or music workshops and lectures in local schools. My employer supports and encourages these activities by allowing employees to volunteer on company time and by facilitating and recognizing accomplishments of employee groups who organize volunteering opportunities. This type of company-sponsored volunteering program benefits the community, employees and employer and is a good example of creating value by working together.

Sweat Equity

Sometimes I volunteer my time because it's fun to collaborate with others toward a common and compelling goal. For example, my friend Dan is working on solar energy technologies, and he invited me to collaborate with him because we share a common goal of leaving our planet a better place for our grand-children's grand-children and so on. 

Dan and I have collaborated as colleagues and co-inventors through our work with a prior common employer. Our work there was so much fun and made such a difference in the world that if I were independently wealthy, I would do it all again without pay. 

In the case of the solar energy initiative we've undertaken, our efforts may never pay off financially, but it's fun anyway and maybe we'll make the world a better place again through our work. In the process, we might build a profitable business, but that's not our primary incentive. The initiative is in early stages and fun enough to do without any expectation of future profit or fear of future loss. 

Ideas come easily to me, but reduction to practice is difficult. My best wish is for someone to run with my ideas and invest the funding and work required to make them happen. If at any point our work on this solar initiative becomes difficult for either of us or other collaborators, we will establish a contractual relationship. Until then, we re happy to collaborate as friends, voluntarily.

What about Protection?

Smart people have outlined ways in which dispute resolution organizations (DROs) and insurance companies might work to protect people in a stateless, free trade system. One such work is the Market for Liberty by Linda and Morris Tannehill. Another is Chaos Theory: Two Essays on Market Anarchy by Robert Murphy. 

After studying these works, I believe DROs and insurance companies play important roles in protection and could become much more important in future. I also believe that free trade would provide checks and balances required to preclude any one of them monopolizing a region, thereby becoming a government. However, these types of organizations aren't necessarily the only possible actors for providing protection in the absence of government. We can help each other.

For example, I recently offered to help protect my friend George's rights for free. He replied that he wouldn't accept a sacrifice from me, only a contract. I rejected this idea, because it seemed ridiculous to enter into a contract with George for something I would volunteer to do without any expectation for reciprocity. I wouldn't force my protection on him, but neither would I charge him for my services.

The important thing in this example is that it is in my self-interest to protect George's rights. George's writing helps me think, and I enjoy our discussions. I value George's contributions; whether or not he would choose to reciprocate in kind or otherwise, his freedom is important to me.

Penn Jillette helped clarify my vision for protection in a 2007 interview that I watched recently on YouTube. He said: 

Although I use guns in our show, I hate being around them. My feeling about gun control is that everyone in the country should have a gun except me, because I hate to carry things.... If everybody else has a gun, you're OK because the overwhelming majority of people are good. And so if they all have guns, the bad guys are outnumbered, automatically.

Penn's comments reminded me of the advice I was shocked to receive back in middle school PE from a self-defense expert who volunteered to speak with us that day. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of this wise man, but I remember his advice very clearly. Specifically, he advised us that if we ever find ourselves in trouble, we should run toward places where there are people and yell for help. One of the kids in my class asked whether he meant we should talk to strangers, and the expert's reply (paraphrased) was: "Yes. DO talk to strangers, because most people are good, and they're your best chance to escape."  Now, over 20 years later, I teach the same thing to my kids.

What about Emergencies?

If a child ran up to me in the street and said he needed my help, my first response would be to drop everything and help him. If it turned out to be some kind of prank, I'd figure it out soon enough and send him on his way, perhaps also with a story about the Boy Who Cried Wolf. But my first instinct would be to help him.

Helping a child in need is in my self-interest in the following ways:

  • I have a lizard-brained instinct to help children in need, and fighting my natural instincts would likely take more energy than providing the help.
  • I like to believe I live in a community where most strangers would help and not turn away from a child in need. If I had reason to believe that most people in my community would refuse to help in emergencies, I would move.
  • I am the kind of person who would help a child in need. This is part of my identity, and my actions under such circumstances speak louder than any words I may say or any contracts I may sign. Taking actions that are consistent with my identity gives me strength and confidence.
  • I would feel proud that the child placed his trust in me by asking for my help. The flip side of my pride is responsibility to show him that his trust in me is well-placed.


Volunteering is an important part of my life. If we study examples of sustained volunteering around us, we will likely find that volunteers are concurrently taking care of their own self-interests through doing so.

If you disagree with anything I've written here, I look forward to knowing your comments. I enjoy learning, and different perspectives help me refine and clarify my vision. Please also let me know if I've inspired you through my words here; your support helps motivate me to continue blogging and tweeting.

Join me in the good fight toward a free world!


  1. Hey - great post - you might want to check out my free book 'Practical Anarchy,' if you're interested, at

  2. @PongGod
    Glad you like it!

    Thanks for the link to "Practical Anarchy". I've watched several of your videos on YouTube and look forward to reading and watching more of your work.

  3. Greetings,

    Like you said...

    Thank you

    mongol Doc Ellis 124

  4. you can find me here:


  5. @Doc
    Thanks~ Good to 'meet' you! :)

  6. Great stuff! When I was on my "retreat" for 40 days after publicly "coming out" as a voluntaryist, I thought long and hard, on different days, about what to do next, and about "problems" such how "law and order" works without government, and how roads can be privately maintained, etc.

    What I came up with is that a new breed of business venture needs to come into existence, one in which asset valuations and "shares" are all denominated in gold (for example). I mused about the possibility of trashing all of these "corporation types" that are defined in terms of how they will be taxed. Everything, but everything can be a joint stock company.

    Even non-profits! You talk about volunteering, and that's a critical thing, but I envision that that volunteer work would be given a concrete value, and if you weren't paid in gold, you would be "paid" by increased ownership in the enterprise you were volunteering for. And each enterprise would decide for itself, upon formation, what percentage of the "owners" would be needed to "carry" any decision. Some might be 51%, some 60%, whatever. The people forming the enterprise would decide that.

  7. @Joel
    Those are some great ideas! I look forward to learning more about them and trying them out. Keep me posted.

  8. Oh my, you *volunteer* to help the government, Libby?

    Great stuff. :)

  9. Oh, no, George. I volunteer to help my neighbors, *despite* the government's interference.

    Thanks for your comments and for reviewing an earlier draft of this post.