Repost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’


As an economist, Friedman has explored the idea of what transferring functions of the State to private agencies might look like.  In the video he presents an outline of his thinking about what would happen if the legislature, the courts, and the police (drafting, legislating, passing and enforcing laws) would all be handled by private agencies instead of government.  You would become a customer of a private enforcement agency amongst other agencies competing for your patronage in areas now covered by the criminal and civil law.  There would be no more State, or perhaps just a Nozickian “night-watchman” State overseeing the National Defense.

Friedman argues the following in the video:

1.  As a consumer and customer of an agency, you would have more say than when you vote now, because you have the freedom to vote with your feet and choose a different agency.  Your agency would be more responsive to you than the government is now (if you’ve paid your dues, I presume).

2.  You would have more access to information about the performance of an agency, because more agencies would be able to compete and offer alternatives, and presumably have more incentive to provide information about their performance for consumer choice.

3.   Criminals aiming to make their own agency (having the freedom to do so if not incarcerated by an agency) would find themselves unable to stay in business because of the overwhelming market forces that victims’ agencies would create.  The harm done the victims and the right to be free from violence would still be central, but handled by the market.  Friedman also makes the argument that there may be less crime overall because certain moral reasoning that has led to, say, the War on Drugs (drug use he considers a victimless crime) actually creates more crime, much as Milton Friedman argued that State welfare programs creates poverty by restricting access to the market (e.g. via minimum wage laws).

4.  The National Defense is a public good for which Friedman’s thinking doesn’t fully have answers, but he does go into charities, the U.S. militia system (as back when we organized to fight the British) and because of the our wealth, the possibility of not maintaing a standing army.  He rather naively (in my opinion) suggests letting people play and practice war games as they saw fit, but overall having a more martial, Spartan approach to play (a little totalitarian, and he points to Kipling).  He suggests that because of our numbers and GDP, when the threat to our Sovereignty appeared, we would then organize and respond to it.


I do wonder how far the free-market will go and how legitimate moral authority is possible on this view.  Justice, and the feelings of fear, anger, mistrust revenge etc. that grip victims of the wake of many crimes (especially violent crimes) would be handled by those working for a paycheck, a promotion, or the incentives offered at a private firm without a Federal structure (though these are all are incentives for cops, lawyers and judges now).  How fierce would the competition get between agencies?  Would it be up to consumers themselves to form agencies to oversee the agencies and maintain private property rights? What other social institutions would unite Arizonans under agency B with New Yorkers under agency A?  Would a form of soft despotism with a ring of price-fixing, oligopolic agencies develop?

A Hobbesian reponse might highlight that the rational interests of man in Nature given the State of Nature that would compel individuals to eventually declare their loyalty to one entity, compelling the creation of one large, authoritarian structure anyways, especially for security from within and without.  There are many concerns in abandonding some of the rich heritage of British empiricism found within the common law for another set of principles that are assumed to be universal.  Life liberty, and property might be harder to secure.


Also mentioned:

Friedman asserts that people who once identified as classical liberals are now closer to ‘classical libertarianism.’  Most libertarians I know, as well as many conservatives, believe they are observing something similar:  Modern American liberalism seems much more comfortable with many forms of collectivist political philosophy and principles of political organization (partially on the backs of postmodernism and moral relativism) that can lead to Statism and great intrusion into the lives of individuals. It has meant more freedom for some (especially against the injustices of slavery), and morally there are deep reasons and much good done as a result of these ideas, but it is not clear at what cost these changes have had on our educational, social and political institutions as well as our political stability and the dynamism of our economy.  It’s up for debate.

Of course, all people aim to draft law according to their own principles while claiming their preferred laws and policies will serve the common good.  On this view, though, modern collectivist liberals are pursuing their own self and group interest and overlooking what classical liberals once maintained, and what libertarians are maintaining (and being attacked for maintaining, often by liberals), namely the autonomy of the individual, the importance of open markets and an open society and a small government in maintaining liberty.

I’ve often wondered if the libertarian attempt to resuscitate classical liberalism isn’t chimerical from the conservative point of view, as some conservatives I know see libertarianism as a continuation of the Straussian slide into hedonism and relativism under the pursuit of post-enlightenment Reason alone (away from Natural Right), others see a slide away from from Natural Law, and others still simply an excessive pursuit of freedom that libertarians share with liberals, away from the doctrines of the Church and the clubs, associations, families, and institutions which maintain civil society.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Libertarianism link here.  CATO also has a post.

Related On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Anarcho-capitalism:  Pro-market, anti-state, anti-war…paleo-libertarian: Link To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader…Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of KnowledgeTwo Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

New liberty away from Hobbes…rule-following punishers?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Covering the law and economics from a libertarian perspective: Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution Journal: ‘Three Cheers for Income Inequality’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘Death By Wealth Tax’

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6 thoughts on “Repost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’

  1. On the general question of moral and emotional reactions to private substitutes for government, I recommend the novel _Oath of Fealty_ by Niven and Pournelle. Part of its theme is that the private substitute will become the focus of the same sorts of emotional commitments that now focus on governments—hence the title.

  2. David, thank you for the book recommendation. It’s a very enjoyable read and raises some great issues for discussion. I am going to recommend it for the bookclub. If it’s chosen would you attend?

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