Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Anarchy and Poverty

What would be the impact of eliminating the state on poverty? What remedial processes, activities, or institutions designed to respond to the problem of poverty would be appropriate in a stateless society?

One way to begin getting at this is to ask how readers of this blog assess the impact of various factors in contributing to the incidence of poverty. (I have no burden to force a definition of this term on anyone. If you post, though, it might help to clarify what you mean by poverty.)

I can imagine a credible account of the dynamics underlying poverty incorporating some reference to each of the following factors:
  1. Natural disaster.
  2. Sincere, responsible choices marked by bad judgment.
  3. Irresponsible personal choices.
  4. Mental illness or serious personal pathology.
  5. Genuinely unpredictable individual market outcomes.
  6. Systemic consequences of market outcomes.
  7. Legal rules of various kinds which are clearly intended by those who institute them to funnel resources into the pockets of elites.
  8. Legal rules of various kinds which are sincerely intended to serve neutral social ends, or even to benefit poor people, but which in fact increase or perpetuate poverty.
  9. Redistribution to elites through the tax system (likely via subsidies)
  10. Collateral damage in the course of war.
  11. Acts of targeted violence (as in war).
  12. Theft of personal property
  13. Acts of legally sanctioned or tolerated dispossession.
  14. Acts of dispossession not, in fact, remedied by legal institutions but not sanctioned or tolerated by them
  15. Enslavement
  16. Prejudice and discrimination of various kinds.
By listing these possibilites, I don't intend to pass judgment on whether any of them even occurs, much less how frequent it is. I just want to highlight how many different factors might be thought to be in play as a way of sparking discussion (you may think of others).

Some of the best recent market anarchist work—e.g., that of Charles Johnson—has powerfully emphasized the role of the state in creating and perpetuating poverty (cp. factors 7 and 8 above). A market anarchist could also argue that factors 12 and 13 has played a key role in creating poverty (cp. Kevin Carson’s discussion of primitive accumulation). Absent state power to back up illegitimate claims, unjust dispossessions might be remedied in various ways. I have no burden to argue with Charles or Kevin that the state plays a significant role in impoverishing people. I just wonder (and this isn't a rhetorical wondering) how significant other factors are.

Absent subsidies to and protections of discriminators, a market anarchist might say, prejudice and discrimination (factor 16) might well be minized; and, of course, the private courts of some communities in a market anarchist society might award tort damages for employment discrimination (how these would be enforceable in such communities is a question that, per my earlier exchanges here with quasibill, I deliberately leave to one side). The absence of the state might make prejudice-based poverty less likely, and needn’t, in any case, increase it.

Further, the market anarchist could argue, factor 9 would not arise in a stateless society; and factors 10 and 11 would be less problematic, both because there would be fewer wars in the absence of states with tax-funded military machines and because insurance compensation for various kinds of harm from protection agency forces might be more readily obtainable than compensation from state military forces is at present.

Theft and enslavement (factors and 12, 13, 14, and 15) might well be effectively remedied by various non-state mechanisms, and neither poses any difficulty for the anarchist that is in principle insuperable.

The interesting questions, I think, concern factors 1 through 6. How significant are they in comparison with other factors in accounting for the existence of poverty? How significant would they be in a stateless society? Are they insigifnicant enough that removing the state would eliminate most causes of poverty, making it possible for something recognizably like today's private charities or the equivalent to address problems at the margins? Or are any of these factors likely to be sources of severe and persistent deprivation even without the state?

How relevant are the various factors I've listed? Are there others that should have been included? Which would still be significant absent the state? What remedial mechanisms for those that would would be most effective and appropriate in a stateless society? I'd like very much to hear your analyses.

1 comment:

Gawad Kalinga said...

Philippines - Gawad Kalinga is a nation-building movement and a unifying force of a people seeking to build a slum-free, first-class country by 2024.