Below, I reproduce my discussion from late 2010 with Anarcho-capitalists at Economics.org.au

The discussion occurred in the comments section of an article by Peter Hume titled Government is the Spirit of Conquest 

ARTICLE:

Looking at the Four Corners report on Secret Iraq, it is hard not be impressed by the desperate guts of civilians willing to fight the full panoply of the US army to the death.

While the US Marines were killing men, women and children by the thousands in Fallujah, the British, like the cat that swallowed the canary, were smug at how well they had done at pacifying the south. Until they started getting blown up badly, so they decided they’d better pack up and take their traveling death team to pick on … the goatherds of Afghanistan!

The sheer flagrant criminality of the State is so breathtaking. The ethic is always the same double standard: I have a right to be violent to you, you don’t have a right to be violent to me.

One of the marines explained, as if to a moron, “If you order a marine regiment to attack a city, they attack a city.” That’s as far as their ethics go. They don’t the question the ethics of orders to kill. They just kill and assume that the justification comes from the political process.

But what could possibly justify such high crimes on such a large scale? Obviously the pretexts given for war, the weapons of mass destruction and such, were lies and it was later proved that the politicians knew them to be lies at the time — but no prison for them.

What about democracy? Here we see the entire justification for democracy stripped bare. Could a majority vote of the American people justify such blatant mass murder against the Iraqis? No! Could a majority vote of the Iraqi people justify it? No!

That being so, how could democratic government be in any better position than that of a majority using force and threats to coerce the minority into obedience and submission?

In war we see the essence of the State. For all States originate from armies and conquest somewhere along the line: all democracies originated from monarchies, and all monarchies originated from conquest. Government is the ethic of conquest carried forward against the subject population, democracy or no. Government is the spirit of conquest, institutionalized.

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COMMENTS THREAD

Have made some minor changes to punctuation and formatting to make for easier reading, and have numbered the comments

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#1 PRODOS:

Peter Humes is impressed by “civilians willing to fight the full panoply of the US army to the death”.

What about those (many) Iraqis who want the US military to be there? (Some even appear to be fighting alongside the Americans). It could be useful to find out their viewpoint. Do you agree?

If the US military withdrew, what sort of political/social system would those “civilians” Peter is applauding seek to maintain and enforce within the region they control?

Would it be a non-coercive social/political system? Would it be a system that recognizes free speech? Freedom of worship? Individual rights in general?

Would Peter be troubled if these “civilians” succeeded in setting up a systematically oppressive system? For instance, one run along Theocratic/Totalitarian lines?

If Peter would not be troubled or concerned by such an outcome, then he can’t claim to be in favour of liberty.

If Peter would be troubled by such an outcome, then he would do well to check the motives, goals, plans of those “civilians” before praising them.

From where do these “civilians” get their weapons? Is it from another government? If so, does that other government have a pro-liberty agenda? Will Peter Hume condemn or criticise that other government?

Peter Hume says: “Government is the spirit of conquest, institutionalized”.

Would it be equally true to say that Anarcho-Capitalism [is] the spirit of conquest, privatized?

In any case, “institutionalizing” something doesn’t necessarily make it bad or good.

There are certainly models of government that derive from institutionalizing conquest and aggression.

There are other principles of government and models of government that have arisen from those who reject conquest and aggression and seek to protect themselves and others from it.

Best Wishes,

PRODOS
Melbourne, Australia

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#2 Benjamin Marks:

PRODOS, Anarchocapitalism is not the spirit of conquest, privatised. It is the spirit of self-interest under the division of labour, allowed.

No Iraqi, however willing, has the right to tax United States taxpayers to fund their defence. That would make the Iraqi victim of oppression an oppressor themselves. If they want to ask a voluntarily-funded defence organisation for assistance, then that would be a different story.

I agree that many people who support tyranny have good intentions, but when they endorse non-consensual methods to get their way, the ethic of conquest is an apt description.

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#3 PRODOS:

Good morning.

Benjamin: “No Iraqi, however willing, has the right to tax United States taxpayers to fund their defence.”

In Benjamin’s opinion, do the “civilians” Peter Hume praises have the right to incur costs on the citizens of those states who are supplying and training those Iraqi “civilians”?

To add to the problem, it seems that the sponsoring states may be of an oppressive nature – oppressing their own citizens, and even promising to destroy other states and kill or subjugate the citizens of other states.

Will Benjamin and Peter condemn those sponsoring states and those Iraqi “civilians” who are cooperating with those states?

Benjamin: “That would make the Iraqi victim of oppression an oppressor themselves. If they want to ask a voluntarily-funded defence organisation for assistance, then that would be a different story.”

Do such voluntarily-funded defence organisations currently exist? If so, can Benjamin (or Peter, or anyone else) point us to some examples of them?

Assuming they do exist, if I put myself in the shoes of an oppressed Iraqi, I wonder: how would I audition the applicants, how would I pay them, how would I fire them if I’m not happy with them, how would I enforce my contractual arrangements with them, how would I ensure that they don’t switch sides at some point, what would I do if they failed and my enemy succeeded in conquering me and my community, etc.

As an oppressed Iraqi, I’d also wonder how my volunteers would stack up against the might and skill of a state-sponsored military force, especially if that sponsoring state was of a brutal and fanatical nature.

Perhaps my questions are naïve and Benjamin and Peter have already thought through all this stuff?

Benjamin writes: “Anarchocapitalism is not the spirit of conquest, privatised. It is the spirit of self-interest under the division of labour, allowed.”

I don’t understand that last sentence – especially the way the term “allowed” is used. Could Benjamin (or anyone else) clarify, please?

In any case, it could just as easily be claimed that a Constitutional Democracy is the result and the expression and the implementation of the division of labour in the service of self-interest (for instance, in defence of the citizens’ life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness)

Best Wishes,

Prodos
Melbourne, Australia

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#4 Benjamin Marks:

Prodos: I condemn all those who violate property rights.

As for your practical question as to how an oppressed Iraqi is to defend their property rights: I haven’t a clue, but in expropriating the property of others through taxation to fund their defence, they are violating the property rights of others in order to save their own. That does not seem a justifiable or principled approach to me. Besides, the U.S. is hardly the pure do-gooder with a brilliant track record that you seem to imply. U.S. had sponsored two regime changes in Iraq prior to the war.

If you are into “celebrating capitalism”, you should add: “And celebrating state socialism when it comes to defence.” Here’s a question for you: Is there any limit to how much money you think government is justified in taxing its subjects to pay for defence?

How can a government-enforced monopolist of defence, as you endorse, be said to be an “expression and implementation of the division of labour in the service of self-interest”? Does that mean you would define the NBN scheme the same way? If not, why not?

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#5 PRODOS:

Benjamin Marks writes “I condemn all those who violate property rights.”

Therefore you would very strongly condemn those “civilians” Peter Hume praised in his article. It’s odd therefore that he views them with such admiration. Maybe he does not share your high regard for property rights.

Earlier, Benjamin wrote: “If they [i.e. the oppressed Iraqis] want to ask a voluntarily-funded defence organisation for assistance, then that would be a different story.”

I then asked: “Do such voluntarily-funded defence organisations currently exist? If so, can Benjamin (or Peter, or anyone else) point us to some examples of them?”

I put that question to Benjamin and to Peter Hume once again.

Please do your best gentlemen to provide readers with some sort of examples. Or inform readers that you do not know of any such organisation at present.

This is relevant, because if such an organisation does not currently exist, that may partly explain WHY those oppressed Iraqis have not advertised for it.

Meanwhile, Benjamin writes: “As for your practical question as to how an oppressed Iraqi is to defend their property rights: I haven’t a clue …”

I kinda guessed that.

As for those “practical questions” that I raised, if I were to ask those very same questions about a supermarket or a panel beater or a pet care service, I think Benjamin would be able to provide some basic answers.

Benjamin continues: “… but in expropriating the property of others through taxation to fund their defence, they are violating the property rights of others in order to save their own. That does not seem a justifiable or principled approach to me.”

The Iraqi people do not have the power to tax Americans. American citizens are taxed by American governments. If there is any expropriating of Americans going on, it’s not by Iraqis, even if it can be demonstrated that some Iraqis may be beneficiaries.

I also note that if Benjamin is arguing that Iraqis are (in effect) taxing US citizens, doesn’t that mean the Iraqis are opposed to those “civilians” which Peter Hume has praised?

I believe the Four Corners episode which Peter referred to is titled “Secret Iraq – Insurgency”.

These “civilians” are considered “insurgents”.

Large numbers of them have been foreigners. i.e. Not Iraqis.

Many of these foreigners have received military training and are commanded by other states. i.e. They are not really “civilians”.

I found this part of the description of the Four Corners programme curious: “A key C.I.A. operative explains how the decision to use private security contractors, instead of soldiers or police, also created massive problems for the Coalition”.

It would be interesting to learn more about that.

Benjamin: “Besides, the U.S. is hardly the pure do-gooder with a brilliant track record that you seem to imply …”

I have neither said nor implied any such thing. It is easy for the reader to verify that, by simply reading my earlier comments.

Nor does a people or a nation lose legitimacy or the right to be treated fairly because it is not “pure” or because its track record is not “brilliant”.

Not even Jesus imposed such a standard on nations.

Furthermore, my view of what is good or bad about the USA may be quite different from Benjamin’s.

Even if I agree in general terms, without specifics, that Americans or some group of Americans have done bad things – what I consider bad, Benjamin may consider good, and what I consider good, Benjamin may consider bad.

For instance, both a Social Democrat and a Classical Liberal would answer “yes” to the question: “Has America done stupid things in the last century?”

But the Social Democrat would be thinking about the lack of Universal Health Care, and the Classical Liberal would be thinking about Eminent Domain.

Even though they both answered “yes” to the same question, they are in fact in complete disagreement.

Benjamin: “U.S. had sponsored two regime changes in Iraq prior to the war.”

Many of those “civilians” which Peter Hume has praised, as well as their sponsors, seem to want regime change, even though the current regime has a higher degree of protection of life and property, and has a greater degree of “consent of the governed” than either the previous Saddam-led regime or the regime proposed being worked towards by Peter’s “civilians”.

Peter’s “civilians” and their sponsors actually seek regime changes, not just in Iraq, but worldwide.

At least that’s what they repeatedly say, and have been saying for a couple of decades now. Some of them reiterate this goal before, during, or after killing innocent people.

Benjamin: “If you are into “celebrating capitalism”, you should add: “And celebrating state socialism when it comes to defence.””

I don’t understand this line of argument.

When it comes to defending their geographic monopoly and their citizens against invasion, both a Capitalist state and a Socialist state would mobilise all resources to stop this happening to them. I don’t see much difference between them in that regard.

In a condition of War, the military leadership, including the Commander in Chief, of both a Socialist state and that of a Capitalist state would exercise extensive interventionist powers to repel and destroy their enemies.

I don’t see that a Capitalistic state becomes Socialistic in that situation any more than a Socialistic state becomes Capitalistic in such a situation, or in ensuring they are prepared for such an eventuality, which is what Defence basically is.

If a violent intruder breaks into Benjamin’s house and endangers his life or the life of his family, and Benjamin shoots the intruder dead, he hasn’t suddenly become a criminal.

We couldn’t say of Benjamin “he celebrates life and property but celebrates crime when it comes to his self-defence.”

Benjamin: “Here’s a question for you: Is there any limit to how much money you think government is justified in taxing its subjects to pay for defence?”

That’s a very odd question. It’s a question that has no meaningful answer. As it stands, the questions asks for a “yes” or “no” answer.

Even a totalitarian dictatorship might answer “yes” to such a question. Who would answer “no” to such a question? Other than a deluded psychotic, who would claim there is absolutely no limit?

Benjamin: “How can a government-enforced monopolist of defence, as you endorse, be said to be an ‘expression and implementation of the division of labour in the service of self-interest’?”

My complete statement, from which Benjamin has excerpted, was in response to Benjamin’s earlier assertion that: “Anarchocapitalism is not the spirit of conquest, privatised. It is the spirit of self-interest under the division of labour, allowed.”

This was an assertion without explanation.

What I replied, in part, was: “… it could just as easily be claimed that a Constitutional Democracy is the result and the expression and the implementation of the division of labour in the service of self-interest (for instance, in defence of the citizens’ life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness)”

I offered an equal but opposite assertion without explanation.

But here’s the difference. Whereas my statement is merely an observation drawn from history, Benjamin is proposing a new kind of approach to the defence of life, liberty, and property.

I’m not saying: “I believe the world should move towards a system of states wherein the coercive agent (government) will have a geographic monopoly on the use of force”. I am not proposing this because this is what we already have across the free and semi-free world.

Benjamin, on the other hand, is proposing something fundamentally different from what exists in the free and semi-free world, and claims that this will be an improvement.

I feel, therefore, the onus is on him to clarify his proposed model further.

If the citizens of America abandoned statehood and moved to an Anarchocapitalist model, would that make them less likely or more likely to intervene in the affairs of others?

What if Al-Quaeda set itself up as a private military service? Would this add to people’s liberty or not?

By virtue of it currently being a non-state actor, is Al-Quaeda closer to the Anarchocapitalist ideal of private property and liberty than, say, a country like Australia?

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on these issues.

Best Wishes,

Prodos
Melbourne, Australia

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#6 Benjamin Marks:

Thanks for your note.

You say, “As for those ‘practical questions’ that I raised, if I were to ask those very same questions about a supermarket or a panel beater or a pet care service, I think Benjamin would be able to provide some basic answers.” If the supply of food was a government industry, and you asked me what form privatised food supply would take, and I suggested, supermarkets, you would, I fear, be a little dismissive. But why should I tell you, who apparently believes in economic principles and the market process, what form a privatised industry will take in the market. I predict that insurance companies would become defenders of private property.

On the questions that I asked that you said had no meaningful answer to. What it showed is that defence is a scarce economic good. How can you defend central planning of an economic good, on grounds of efficiency or effectiveness? How does government know where to most efficiently put its resources? The answer is, as you ought to know, that economic calculation under government is not possible. This is a crucial point.

You say, “If the citizens of America abandoned statehood and moved to an Anarchocapitalist model, would that make them less likely or more likely to intervene in the affairs of others?” Less likely, since there is less accountability for governments than for businesses, and less incentive to lie and mislead the populace into war.

Non-government criminals are still criminals. It is amusing that you imply that anarchocapitalists support criminals, provided that the criminals are not state-sponsored.

Here’s another question: How many civilians has Al-Quaeda killed compared to how many civilians killed by U.S. forces in the name of eliminating the threat?

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#7a PRODOS:

Good afternoon.

Benjamin (correctly) quoted me from an earlier comment saying:

PRODOS: “… if I were to ask those very same questions about a supermarket or a panel beater or a pet care service, I think Benjamin would be able to provide some basic answers.”

Benjamin responded to this:

BENJAMIN: “If the supply of food was a government industry, and you asked me what form privatised food supply would take, and I suggested, supermarkets, you would, I fear, be a little dismissive. But why should I tell you, who apparently believes in economic principles and the market process, what form a privatised industry will take in the market.”

Benjamin is responding as if I had asked: “What form would a private defence service take?”

That was not my question.

(continued …)

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#7b PRODOS:

What I had written in an earlier comment was:

PRODOS: “Do such voluntarily-funded defence organisations currently exist? If so, can Benjamin (or Peter, or anyone else) point us to some examples of them?”

PRODOS: “Assuming they do exist, if I put myself in the shoes of an oppressed Iraqi, I wonder: how would I audition the applicants, how would I pay them, how would I fire them if I’m not happy with them, how would I enforce my contractual arrangements with them, how would I ensure that they don’t switch sides at some point, what would I do if they failed and my enemy succeeded in conquering me and my community, etc.”

If I were to ask most of these questions of any business – no matter what their form – and that’s the crucial point – and that’s why I provided several diverse “for instance” examples – the same answers would apply in all cases.

The reader can try it.

(continued …)

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#8 Benjamin Marks:

In the marketplace, organisations can arise that cater to services where there is newly increased or newly expressed demand. And there are already-existing defence companies, although I presume they are not on a scale you would find satisfying, but the principles that apply to small-scale defence services apply to large-scale ones too.

You talk of the importance of auditioning, paying and, if unhappy with the service, firing, the defence provider you hire. I can’t work out how these difficulties are in any way overcome by government. Have you ever tried firing the U.S. Army? Here is an article from the Washington Post titled “Most Iraqis Favor Immediate U.S. Pull Out”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti… . Considering that there is no evidence that any Iraqi actually hired the U.S. government, and that there is evidence that Iraqi’s want the U.S. out, your comment on the importance of being able to fire defence contractors you hire seems misdirected.

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#7c PRODOS:

i.e. Try answering most of the above questions for ANY type of business service (eg. Brothels, Airlines, Orchestras, Martial Arts Schools, Insurance brokers) and you will find you can, in broad terms, answer nearly all the questions quite easily, and that the answers will all be of a similar nature regardless of the specific type of business service. I’ll call this the Classical Liberal Scenario.

Now try to answer these same questions when the entities are private defence services (in a world where there is no geographic monopoly over the use of retaliatory force, controlled by a democratic government with constitutionally limited powers). I’ll call this the Anarcho Capitalist Scenario.

I’ve tried this thought experiment and have found that the Anarcho Capitalist Scenario does not pan out the same way as the Classical Liberal Scenario.

(continued …)

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#7d PRODOS:

There are several significant areas of difference between the CLScenario and the ACScenario which result in very different sorts of outcomes when it comes to dealing with the questions I asked, above.

These areas of difference relate to the manner in which coercive power is brought to bear or can be brought to bear when there is a dispute between parties.

BENJAMIN: “How does government know where to most efficiently put its resources? The answer is, as you ought to know, that economic calculation under government is not possible. This is a crucial point.“

It is not correct that economic calculation is impossible under government.

Can Benjamin (or anyone else from Economics.org.au) provide a reference to something written by Ludwig von Mises that supports this contention? I’m not an expert on Mises, but have studied a fair bit of his work and have not ever come across anything in the writings of Ludwig von Mises that supports Benjamin’s statement.

(continued …)

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#9 Benjamin Marks:

Mises says: “The fundamental objection advanced against the practicability of socialism refers to the impossibility of economic calculation. It has been demonstrated in an irrefutable way that a socialist commonwealth would not be in a position to apply economic calculation. Where there are no market prices for the factors of production because they are neither bought nor sold, it is impossible to resort to calculation in planning future action and in determining the result of past action. A socialist management of production would simply not know whether or not what it plans and executes is the most appropriate means to attain the ends sought. It will operate in the dark, as it were. It will squander the scarce factors of production both material and human (labour). Chaos and poverty for all will unavoidably result.” Source: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_c…

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#7e PRODOS:

I agree that the answer to this question is, as Benjamin says, “… a crucial point”.

BENJAMIN: “It is amusing that you imply that anarchocapitalists support criminals, provided that the criminals are not state-sponsored.”

It was not my intention to imply any such thing.

Again I ask: Is Al-Qaeda closer to the Anarchocapitalist ideal of private property and liberty than, say, a country like Australia?

(continued …)

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#7f PRODOS:

BENJAMIN: “Here’s another question: How many civilians has Al-Quaeda killed compared to how many civilians killed by U.S. forces in the name of eliminating the threat?”

Let’s say that US military activity has resulted in more civilian deaths than Al-Qaeda activity, what implications do you draw from this?

PRODOS: “If the citizens of America abandoned statehood and moved to an Anarchocapitalist model, would that make them less likely or more likely to intervene in the affairs of others?”

BENJAMIN: “Less likely, since there is less accountability for governments than for businesses, and less incentive to lie and mislead the populace into war.”

I disagree that there is necessarily less accountability for government than for businesses.

I mean that I don’t agree that government, by its nature, is less accountable than business, by its nature.

(continued …)

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#9 Benjamin Marks:

One reason there is necessarily less accountability for government than for business, is because, with government, the provision of service is completely separated from collection of payment.

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#7g PRODOS:

My question was about intervention. Benjamin’s answer focused on War, which is certainly one form of intervention. But there are many others: Slavery, Bribery, Rape, Assassination, Fueds, Duels, Revenge, Theft, Fraud, Spying, Censorship, etc.

Is Benjamin suggesting that a populace will only go to war or be more likely to go to war if it has been lied to and/or mislead?

If so, I don’t believe that is correct.

History has many examples of offensive wars that were started but not based on lies, as well as many examples of defensive wars that were started but not based on lies.

Best Wishes,

PRODOS

Melbourne, Australia

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#10 Benjamin Marks:

Yes, I believe that a populace is far more likely to go to war if it has been lied to and misled. One of my favourite books on this is How Diplomats Make War: http://www.archive.org/details/howdiplomatsmake00… . Here’s a quote from a long-time observer of American foreign policy:

“Wars are seldom caused by spontaneous hatred between peoples, for peoples in general are too ignorant of one another to have grievances and too indifferent to what goes on beyond their borders to plan conquests. They must be urged to the slaughter by politicians who know how to alarm them.” [H.L. Mencken, Treatise on Right and Wrong (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1934), p. 236.]

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#11 Molon Labe:

[Replying to] Prodos:

On defense in the voluntary market, I can think of militias composed of freemen and companies such as Blackwater (now XE Services), Dyncorp or Triple Canopy, off the top of my head.

Going to war is costly. Private warmongers bear the cost of raising an army directly. Public warmongers (politicians and the Military Industrial Complex) can externalise costs through conscription and taxation of the citizenry.

Also:

[Prodos wrote:] “… Benjamin Marks writes “I condemn all those who violate property rights.”

[Prodos wrote]: Therefore you would very strongly condemn those “civilians” Peter Hume praised in his article. It’s odd therefore that he views them with such admiration. Maybe he does not share your high regard for property rights.

Self defense (violating another’s property rights) against an aggressor is compatible with the non-aggression principle and ancap.

Also:

[Prodos wrote:] “… If Peter would not be troubled or concerned by such an outcome (Tyranny gaining a foothold through inaction), then he can’t claim to be in favour of liberty ….”

If you believe that the end justifies the means, then go right ahead and enslave a third party to intervene in a dispute concerning two other parties. I think Rothbard’s analysis of this issue would be helpful:

http://www.antiwar.com/orig/rothbard_on_war.html

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#12 PRODOS:

MOLON LABE: “On defense in the voluntary market, I can think of militias composed of freemen and companies such as Blackwater (now XE Services), Dyncorp or Triple Canopy, off the top of my head. “

Presumably, MOLON LABE is responding to the question I put to BENJAMIN MARKS earlier in this thread: “Do such voluntarily-funded defence organisations currently exist? If so, can Benjamin (or Peter, or anyone else) point us to some examples of them?”

The problem with referring to the Private Military Companies (PMC’s) listed by MOLON LABE is that they do not operate under an anarcho-capitalist model. Far from it.

They operate under the most advanced form of the nation state model.

Indeed, part of the competitive marketing of these PMC’s (“hire us because we’re better for the following reasons …”) includes providing proof to the public and to clients (and even to prospective employees) that they are at all times subject to the laws of the nation state of which the business owners are citizens.

Their actions over the years prove that they mean it. Did you know that? It’s very easy to verify what I’m saying.

Providing these PMC firms as examples of valuable service, reinforces the case for the nation state, in its Constitutional Democracy form, and comprehensively undermines many of the arguments for the anarcho-capitalist model. Perhaps that’s why Benjamin hasn’t refer to them.

Ironically, PMC’s have flourished as a result of recent United States “imperialism” – including America’s “war against terror”. This has done wonders for PMC business. Rather than diminish the scope of the nation state, PMC’s are effective agents in extending American power. The USA even refused to sign the “International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries”, which would have outlawed the use of PMC’s. Yet another reason to be cautious about invoking PMC’s when arguing the case for the anarcho-capitalist ideal.

Best Wishes,

PRODOS
Melbourne, Australia

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