Condotierri and Anarcho-Capitalism
In the book, itself, I take an almost retro look at the technological end of science-fiction. I find futurism to be difficult – not to consider, but to write about without become preachy. I mean, hell, I've got a blog to be preachy. I don't need to put it in my novels. And by retro, I mean that the technological infrastructure is basically the stuff we have today, just better. I don't, for instance, go far down the roads of transhumanism, or explore the significance of artificial intelligence.
However, socially, it's a little more up-to-date. I won't give away the mystery, but I will talk a little about where the background comes from.
David Friedman wrote a book, Machinery of Freedom, and I haven't read the whole thing but I did read Chapter 29, the text of which is online. I stumbled upon this by accident. I don't even remember what I was looking for but this excerpt really got to me. I continue to be absorbed by it, because it's so . . . stupid. I'm not even talking run of the mill stupid, but so deeply and profoundly stupid that it beggars the imagination. Go on, read it, if you want, but I'll break it down for you.
In this chapter, he proposes, seriously proposes, that there should be no state run law enforcement, or state criminal laws. Instead, what we'll have is security corporations. Law will be replaced by the policy of the security corporations. Courts will be replaced with non-binding arbitration between those corporations.
Think about that for a couple of minutes. I can wait.
I read this and several things occurred to me. The first was, “What about the poor?” Then I thought, “Fuck, what about the rich?” Lastly, “What about . . . corruption?”
The official anarcho-capitalist line, touted out by Friedman, is that corporations are honest brokers because dishonestly leads to decreased profits. Which is a proposition so absolutely stupid, contrary to facts and bizarre that I have trouble wrapping my head around it. Of course, in a world without laws, it took me a while to figure out what corruption would be – for employees of the security firm, it would be violation of corporate policy. But without a (theoretically) transparent government looking at corporations, well, wouldn't corporate policy be nothing but a PR trick? Corporations, with no transparency whatsoever, not beholden to anyone whatsoever, would internalize corruption. We don't have to imagine this. Just think of the big scandals in Enron and Chase Manhattan to get an idea of how this might work – but take away the possibility of them being caught (because there would be no one to catch them) or being penalized if they were caught (because there wouldn't be anyone to enforce anything). Getting freaked out, yet? I did when I started coming on this point.
And what about the poor? Let's face it. They're fucked. In our system, which gives at least lip service to the idea of equal rights, the amount of justice a person has is largely determined by their wealth. However, there are still limits. This sort of system would remove those limits. Poor people would be fair game for rich ones – why not? Even if they could afford police coverage, their coverage would be much weaker than a rich person's. Crudely, let's say I'm a billionaire and I get drunk, wander into the poor part of town and shoot a person with no coverage. No coverage, no crime, even if it was caught on camera and there were a hundred reputable witnesses and they had the gun that did the deed with my fingerprints all over it.
But what if they have less coverage? A lot less? Well, economically, how much effort is a corporation put into pressing a case against someone who can afford to stretch out the process for years and years? What they'd do is a risk assessment. They'd weigh the costs of the litigation process against the money lost through bad advertising and whatever – and if the cost of the litigation is more than the losses, fuck 'em. Rich people could even have, y'know, “murder insurance” clauses – they murder someone, the insurance kicks in and makes sure the process is dragged out, or resolved through other means (such as corruption, or finding a patsy for PR purposes – remember, there's no one checking these guys, who's to say what really happened?).
Let's get tricky, now. What if the victim and the murderer have the same insurance corporation. With whom does the security company arbitrate? Itself? I submit that how that goes – a living rich policy holder vs. a dead poor one – is pretty obvious.
Trickier, still. What's to prevent a rich person from having several policies? That way, the security corporation persecuting the case will always be the same one defending it, too.
Even tricker, yet. What does a rich person even need a security corporation for in the first place? Why not just make a little fortress. Let them try and come and get you. The risk analysis becomes much easier if to get the perp you've got to fight a mercenary army, especially if victory isn't assured.
The short answer: the rich can get away with murder.
Right now, of course, the state controls this by maintaining a monopoly on violence. Not even Bill Gates can afford to do battle with the US government. Not even General Motors. The government would stop them from developing the military infrastructure to fight the government long before it occurred. So, even if the people over at GM wanted to, they couldn't just . . . level a neighborhood regardless of who's in it because they know that the police insurance firms for poor people aren't capable much less willing to try to fight the GM security force.
The anarcho-capitalist answer is that, y'know, they wouldn't fight like that because it isn't profitable. Because we know that corporations haven't encouraged and fought wars before, or something. Let's face it, war is profitable if you can win it.
In Condotierri, the premise is that society has moved very far towards an anarcho-capitalist society in this fashion, and it explores the idea of corruption in such a society.