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August 10, 2007



"In the face of obstacles that stand in the way of individuals’ ability to cooperate for mutual gain, individuals develop solutions to overcome these obstacles."
Precisley: what is government but a solution to overcome these obstacles? Leeson seems to imply that government is an exogenous institution; rather, it is often an endogenous institution that "individuals develop to overcome the obstacles" they encounter when there is none.


yes that is precisely the point of disagreement I think.
From an individualist point of view the libertarian position (that it is exogenous) is undoubtedly true. But I would have that was equally true in an anarchy from the point of view of (almost) any individual.

But as democratic institutions in sensible countries evolve, they are also undoubtedly endogenous. The argument should then be about subsidiarity, and how to address the border issues that arise from it.


Dani, I'm retired, so I probably have more free time than you, but even I won't waste my time to try to carry on a rational discussion with people at Cato (and their acolytes).

Right now I'm in the midst of two parallel discussions on Tyler Cowen's site and that is enough. When provoked the contributors fall back on insults and expletives. However one fellow finally got to the nub after my bringing up democracy repeatedly:

"As far as democracy, it can go [expletive] itself for all I care. Two wolves and a lamb voting for dinner and all that. "

That's what it all boils down to. Libertarians and anarchists think they are special and don't need to adhere to the laws set up by the majority. Yet they want a strong police state to preserve their private property. Their failure to see the contradictions in their positions is what makes discussions with them futile.

random african

it could be a petty comment to make. but Syad Barre got in Power in the early 70's, not since independance.
and by most observations, in un-recognized but de facto governed Somaliland, the situation is much better than in the un-governed South.

why don't serious people writing serious article check their facts ?

Ali Sohail (pakistan)

'On the contrary, peace overwhelmingly prevails between the world’s countries'
After reading such a statement, the human inside me precludes me from rationalizing a third perspective and having an open view towards an all sides considered discussion!
Such a self-in-focus, bubbled up, class room setting assessment by an individual of such an influential status, astonishes me! It reminds me of the old quote of the late queen, 'if they don’t have bread, feed them cake'!
With reference to what has been said, ask an Afghani, Palestinian, African, Iraqi, a Pakistani or an Iranian and many more in the making how peaceful there world and lives are!
To come forward and state such basic misinterpretations of life, without understanding what an average citizen of this world is living through in this day and age I feel it is an extremely naïve point of view and the writer does not provide justice to himself.
In addition, although trade on a global level has flourished, there are only a handful of developing countries who have experienced the unadulterated parallel, in general once again it has been the prime impetus for the developed world (which is very good), but I feel it is not justifiable to generalize such phenomena’s to a global level rather should be stated on a country specific level!
Somalia’s condition on paper has improved! but given the fundamentals and underlying factors leading to the improvement, do u really feel the recent directive is sustainable? (a previous blog presented my Professor Rodrik which compared the Asian and African growth factors outlined the dependency of aid in the African continent leading the growth in that part of the world, relative to the competitive, exchange rate maintained growth in the Asian continent).


You are very much correct in the first part of your analysis when you correctly point out that increasingly complex and impersonal transactions require the returns to scale that can only be offered by modern governments.

But here's where you lose me:
"Those societies in which markets work best are the ones where the reach of the state is longer—not shorter."

Common, with regard to that simple correlation chart you put up, the direction of causality almost certainly runs the other way: richer countries consume more government. Seriously, you can't just put that up and skip the direction of causality discussion, even in a short friendly essay such as this.

You need to make a clear distinction between the SIZE of government and GOOD government (i.e. between institutions and public policy). Certainly you would agree that making govt more effective while reducing its size and scope is first best.

Barkley  Rosser

Of course one explanation of the correlation, which has long gone under the name of "Wagner's Law," (that more developed economies have bigger shares of GDP in government), might be the Baumol service sector disease argument. Much of government is very labor intensive service activity. So, government per se may not be doing more, but it may be costing more because of the higher wages in the higher income countries.

random african

"So, government per se may not be doing more, but it may be costing more because of the higher wages in the higher income countries."

well if you can provide us a study, any study on the size of government (number of employees) in different countries, that would help.

and (beyond the number of public servants per country) as far as doing more, anyone who has visited develloped AND develloping countries will probably tell you that, well, we develloping folks dream of the day our governments will do something.

WB Reeves

I just want to make the point that the article in question addresses anarcho-capitalism, not anarchism per se.

Howard Gibson

I am fascinated by Peter Leeson's article "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization". I have seen this described on blog sites as proving that 17th century pirates had achieved an anarchic society. Libertarian philosophers and economists have determined for us that government is bad and that anarchy, no government whatsoever, is good.

In Leeson's defense, he does not quite tag pirate society as anarchic.

My first problem with the article is that Leeson identifies Captain Predation as the primary cause of piracy. This is based on statements by two different pirates who are about to be executed. By the same means, we can identify pornography as the cause of predation by serial killers such as Ted Bundy.

There are lots of reasons why people took up piracy. Some pirates were sailors genuinely mistrated by their captains. Others probably had problems with authority, no matter how reasonable. A lot of buccaneers were escaped slaves. Yet others were unemployed mercenaries, looking for a lifestyl‌e in tune with the‏ir skills. Lots of pirates were hired as privateers. An untimely end to the current war, or a lack of hostile victims drove them to attack everyone.

The real cause of piracy was the anarchy, in the precise sense used by Libertarians, that existed on the coasts of the New World. Any organized government has a strong interest in eliminating pirates and bandits. Piracy requires valuable cargoes sailing in the vicinity of unpoliced coastlines.

The rules of conduct worked out by the pirates are not nearly as original as Peter Leeson thinks they are. In his book "Chaucer's Knight", Terry Jones (that Terry Jones) describes similar rules that governed the conduct of vicious 15th century mercenaries. You have a group of heavily armed, violent men who must function as a team. Conflicts must not start. If conflicts start, they must not get out of hand. Weapons must be ready and in working order. The pirate rules of discipline must have looked very similar to ex-mercenaries, fresh from the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War.

The lack of top-down authority among the pirates makes perfect sense to anyone who has researched history and political science. Heriditary kings exist when you have a history of kings who pass power on to their sons. Captains with absolute authority exist when someone builds a ship, hires the captain and puts him in charge. Since these conditions do not exist in a pirate culture, they improvise.

Most importanly, claims about anarchy among 17th century buccaneers and present day Somalia, are based on the lack of a recognized government. The lack of an offical government does not mean that lack of authority. It certainly does not mean that everybody owns their own person, and that their property is respected.


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