Why I Am a Market Anarchist

In 1897, then well-known anarchist-without-adjectives, Voltairine de Cleyre, addressed the question of why she was an anarchist by answering “because I cannot help it.” In her honor, I seek to address the same question with my own personal reasons. It is our responsibility to honestly evaluate all sides of an issue, and to follow whichever path the truth takes us. This dictum motivated my transition from minarchism to anarcho-capitalism, and then finally to market anarchism.

Privatization Alone Isn’t Enough

“Privatize everything” seems to be the crux of the anarcho-capitalist view. There are some crucial weaknesses to this approach. Privatization may be a necessary condition for liberty, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. Cartels are an economic reality regardless of the state’s existence. Without the state, businesses would certainly be less able to use force and withhold supply off the market in an attempt to raise prices and enforce price floors. But even if the state were to collapse, optimal market conditions would still not be a given. We must recall Rothbard’s assertion that ending the state does not solve the problem of unjust property titles that have resulted from state privilege. Rothbard’s remedy for such remaining post-state inequities was libertarian re-appropriation guided by natural law.

Anna O. Morgenstern made what I believe is the best statement on this topic: “Goals sometimes lead people toward certain means, but it is the means that determine results, not the goals. And if the anarcho-capitalists follow anarchist means, the results will be anarchy, not some impossible ‘anarcho-capitalism.’ My take on the impossibility of anarcho-capitalism is as follows:

  • Under anarchism, mass accumulation and concentration of capital is impossible.
  • Without concentration of capital, wage slavery is impossible.
  • Without wage slavery, there’s nothing most people would recognize as capitalism.”

Not all self-identified anarcho-capitalists believe the same things, but those who do believe in private companies running everything might be challenged by this article. What changed my opinion the most was considering how different the economy would be without the State.

Some market anarchists advocate mutualism, which would remove barriers to capital placed in front of those who have been exploited by the state and state-privileged businesses (primarily the workers and poor). It would give them the to and opportunity to build, own, or be a part of managing the means of production. Depending on where a particular market anarchist’s sympathies lie, this transition could be made possible by various means: Peaceful market competition, direct action in one form or another, unionization, or some combination of these.

The concept of private property is, and always has been, hotly debated among anarchists. Many believe resources should be available to all, while others prefer they be in the hands of the most efficient. Anarcho-capitalists assert that those who most efficiently supply other people’s needs would and should command a higher market share relative to less efficient market participants. Market anarchists agree that those who use resources most efficiently should be allowed to use their justly obtained property to accumulate more, if that’s what they so desire. However, many of the wealthiest in today’s actually-existing economy would not only have a difficult time accumulating more, they’d have a hard time keeping much of what they have. Remedying the present unjust allocation would radically alter the economic landscape.

Market anarchists believe markets are powerful. We believe workers uniting can be a major economic force. Through direct action, united labor can begin to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs from the capitalist class. Anarcho-capitalists rightly respect the complexity of markets and their superiority over state intervention in the allocation of resources. They just don’t realize which side they’re on. All too often, they’re stuck defending CEOs as exemplars of the free market, instead of realizing them for what they often are — teammates with the state in the preservation of capitalism. We can support markets without becoming corporate apologists.

Anarcho-capitalists place almost exclusive emphasis on abolition of the state. Though it’s a worthy goal, I’m not convinced it’s sufficient to bury corrupt business interests. To really combat the re-emergence of the state through the capitalist class, worker-run businesses will have to become part of the resistance. Reliance on the capitalist class will become increasingly unnecessary; mutual aid and mutual banks will be a part of the shift. A reduced reliance on currency would mitigate the effects of monetary manipulation, benefiting the poorest the most. If money’s use as a medium of exchange is inevitable, its manipulation is equally likely. This is the case even without a state; currently we already have competition among currencies and manipulation abounds. The point is that competition alone isn’t sufficient to establish optimal market conditions.

Should We Embrace or End Capitalism?

Those of us who call ourselves “freed market anti-capitalists” are at odds with Ludwig von Mises and many Austrians regarding some fundamental terminology. In Chapter 15 of Human Action (page 269 in the Scholar’s Edition), Mises says:

Today, many businesses are no longer liberal in the classical sense of the term. Rather than preferring to operate in a pure market economy, many find themselves utilizing the power of the state to stifle competitors. But it is entirely misleading to say that the meaning of the concept of capitalism has changed… — is characterized by restrictive policies to protect the vested interests of wage earners, farmers, shopkeepers, artisans, and sometimes also of capitalists and entrepreneurs. The concept of capitalism is as an economic concept immutable; if it means anything, it means market economy. One deprives oneself of the semantic tools to deal adequately with the problems of contemporary history and economic policies if one acquiesces in a different terminology. This faulty nomenclature becomes understandable only if we realize that the pseudo-economists and the politicians who apply it want to prevent people from knowing what the market economy really is. They want to make people believe that all the repulsive manifestations of restrictive government policies are produced by capitalism.

I understand Mises’s point that allowing one’s ideological opposition to redefine a term allows them to skew the debate. But as C4SS’s David D’Amato recently pointed out, it seems more accurate that say that Mises redefined capitalism, which was historically considered not synonymous with free markets — but instead, thievery by the ruling class from labor.

Market anarchists are thus in keeping with traditional notions of capitalism, and are “speaking the same language” as other non-anarchist opponents of capitalism. Capitalism, for us, continues to mean the state-private ruling class’s self-interested manipulation of markets, not a laissez-faire, government-free market economy.

Konkin’s “Agorist Class Theory” correctly identifies the government, in tandem with its private, politically connected cohorts, as the oppressors. This connection blurs the line between anarcho-capitalists’ often simplistic Private = Good, State = Evil narrative. Konkin properly holds private enterprise accountable for its unique role as co-conspirator in the ongoing dispossession. It was Konkin’s class analysis and exposition of agorism which brought me to market anarchism.

There is no need for anarchists to hold the inconsistent notions of anarcho-capitalism. Market anarchism offers a nuanced approach to the state and privileged private classes, and maps out a different path to freed markets and a freed society. And we believe that world would look markedly different than today’s capitalist structure.

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Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory