Case Studies in Anarcho-Capitalism

After reading Bob Higgs’ latest piece on Self-governance. Stephen Bates (one of my former students) commented:

“Stateless societies are wishful thinking. Although the article says, “The alleged absence of significant [or any] historical examples of large [or any], stateless societies during the past several thousand years …” no examples are provided.
And, the tough part isn’t mentioned .. a plan on how to create an organized society without a state apparatus.

I was much more impressed with Higgs’ piece than Stephen. He mentions a few examples of anarcho-case studies (The Indus Valley and Somalia). And he’s modest and humble that they are but a few. I would argue that are body of case studies is larger than we like to give credit. We’ve gotten so accustomed to saying “yeah yeah ancient Iceland, but that’s about it.” We have failed to update our perceptions about how many case studies of functional statelessness we have discovered and explained.
Higgs does a great job alluding to the fact that the other side of the debate has jack in terms of historical support. Historians of primitive societies and lost civilizations (a very small group of examples) rarely if ever blame a lack of statism for observed chaos, violence, or downfall. The strongest implication they make is that the move to statism is a conscious and preferred choice by people throughout society. They would never claim that order or trade was impossible without the state. Yet Locke, Hobbes, Madison, Olson and a slue of political theorists are all quick to assume that states are preferred and necessary to have any stable wealth.
The front of the debate has shifted to a comparative question. The question is not can anarchy work (the answer is yes)? The question that remains is: work at what? What will the self-governed society look like? Will it function better or worse than it’s state counter-part? Better a twhat? Higgs is right on track pushing us forward in comparative economics.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of case studies in anarcho-capitalism. I do not include case studies of ordinary goods like roads, firemen or lighthouses. This list covers laws, contract enforcement, and the protection of social order. If anyone knows of more publications please send them to me and I’ll try to keep the list up to date:
Leeson, Peter T. (forthcoming) “Trading with Bandits” Journal of Law and Economics. available at:
The American Frontier:
Anderson, Terry and P.J. Hill (1979). “An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West,” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 3 No. 1 pp. 9 – 29. Available at:
Anderson, Terry and P.J. Hill (2004). The Not So Wild Wild West. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. For sale on
Benson, Bruce L. (1991). “An Evolutionary Contractarian View of Primitive Law: The Institutions and Incentives Arising under Customary Indian Law,” Review of Austrian Economics. Vol. 5 pp. 65 – 85. Available at
Stringham, Edward (2003). “The Extralegal Development of Securities Trading in Seventeenth Century Amsterdam,” Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance. Vol. 43 No. 2 pp. 321 – 344. Available at:


Friedman, David (2006). “From Imperial China to Cyberspace: Contracting Without the State,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Policy. pp. 349 – 370. Available at:
Benson, Bruce L. (1998a). “Evolution of Commercial Law,” in P. Newman (editor) The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law. London: Macmillan Press. For sale on
Benson, Bruce L. (1998b). “Law Merchant,” in P. Newman (editor) The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law. London: Macmillan Press. For sale on
Benson, Bruce L. (1990). The Enterprise of Law, Justice without the State. San Francisco, CA: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, pp. 224 – 230. For sale on
Benson, Bruce (2002). “Justice without Government: The Merchant Courts of Medieval Europe and Their Modern Counterparts,” printed in Beito, Gordon and Tabarrok (editors) The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute pp. 127 – 150. For sale on
Davies, Stephen (2002). “The Private Provision of Police during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” printed in Beito, Gordon and Tabarrok (editors) The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute pp. 151 – 181. For sale on
Greif, Avner (1989). “Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders,” Journal of Economic History, pp. 857 – 882. Available on JSTOR.
Milgrom, Paul, Douglass North, and Barry Weingast (1990). “The Role of Institutions in the Revival of Trade: The Medieval Law Merchant, Private Judges, and the Champagnes Fairs,” Economics and Politics. pp. 1 – 23. Reprinted in Anarchy and the Law.
Friedman, David (1979). “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law – A Historical Case,” Journal of Legal Studies. pp. 399 – 415. Available at
Long, Roderick T. (1994). “The Decline and Fall of Private Law in Iceland,” Formulations. Available at:
The Indus Valley:
Thompson, Thomas J. (2006). “An Ancient Stateless Civilization: Bronze Age India and the State in History,” The Independent Review. Vol. 10 pp. 365 – 384. Available at
Peden, Joseph R. (1977) ” Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 1 No. 2 pp. 81 – 95. Available at


Clay, Karen (1997). “Trade without Law: Private Order Institutions in Mexican California,” Journal of Law, Economics and Organizations. pp. 202 – 231. Available at Ideas.
Leeson, Peter T. (unpublished) “Laws of Lawlessness.” Available at
Coyne, Christopher J. (2006). “Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign Intervention and the Nirvana Fallacy,” Foreign Policy Analysis. Vol. 2 pp. 343 – 360. Available at
Higgs, Robert (2004). Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute. pp. 374 – 376. For sale on
Leeson, Peter T. (unpublished) “Better Off Stateless Somalia Before and After Government Collapse,” Available at:
Powell, Benjamin, Ryan Ford and Alex Nowrasteh (unpublished). “Somalia After State Collapse: Chaos of Improvement?” Independent Institute Working Paper Number 64. Available at

There’s nothing left for the rest of us.

While reading Pete lay out the fundamental question of political economy (how do we get the benefits of protective governance without the losses of the redistributive state) on The Austrian Economists over the last few days, I followed a link to Robert Higgs upcoming Journal of Libertarian Studies piece “If Men Were Angels.” Higgs hits the nail so on the head I thought about packing up my office and calling it a victory on the side of liberty. Read this piece now!

The suburbs under fire?

Take a random group of social outcasts, and thrust them into an extremely wealthy suburb and you’ve got yourself a hit TV series.
Supporting points of data:
1. The Sopranos: The mafia in the suburbs.
2. The Riches: Gypsies in the suburbs.
3. Weeds: Potheads and dealers in the suburbs.
4. Desperate Housewives: Horny middle aged women in the suburbs.
5. Six Feet Under: Undertakers in the suburbs.
6. Big Love: Polygamists in the suburbs.
What’s going on here?

Coolest paragraph I read all week.

This comes from McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues:

…if you adopt an Aristotelian criterion, then most people after capitalism are more fulfilled as humans. They have more lives available. The anthropologist Grant McCracken has written of the “plentitude” that the modern world has brought. He half-seriously instances fifteen ways of being a teenager in North America in 1990: rocker, surfer-skater, b-girls, Goths, punk, hippies, student government, jocks, and on and on. By now the options are even wider. “In the 1950s,” he notes, there were only two categories. “You could be mainstream or James Dean. That was it.” I was there in the 1950, and agree–though in places like California, richer and fresher than Ontario or Massachusetts in the 1950s, the options were richer, too. The plentitude has come from free people sifting through the cornucopia, making themselves in their music and their clothing (ibid., p. 26).

Libertarian paternalism is still BS.

I read the Sunstein and Thaler paper on libertarian paternalism for Mario Rizzo’s ethics and economics class this past semester. I hated it. They describe libertarian peternalism where someone has the potential to make changes that (presumably) improve social welfare without inhibiting anyone’s liberty. The example they use is a cafeteria where people buy dessert rather than fruit or vice versa depending on the layout of the food. When dessert is put first in the line no one buys fruit. To curb the problems of over eating or eating unhealthy food, the owner of the cafeteria manipulates the food layout to get preferable food eating habits.

Continue reading “Libertarian paternalism is still BS.” »