There is a “South Park” episode (season 9 episode 2) where hippies start to take over the tiny animated mountain town in Colorado. As the hippies begin to form the second Woodstock, they convince the protagonists, four fourth grade boys, that “the corporations” are the source of all problems in the world. The boys want to do something about it, so they hang with the hippies waiting to take action. Finally the boys get the hippies to describe their vision for a utopian society.
Stan: So it seems like we have enough people now, when do we start taking down the corporations?
Hippie: Yea man the corporations, right now they’re raping the world for money.
Kyle: Yea, so where are they, let’s go get them.
Hippie: Right now we’re proving that we don’t need corporations, we don’t need money. This can become a commune where everyone just helps each other.
Hippie: Yea we’ll have one guy who like, who like makes bread, and one guy who like, looks out for other people’s safety.
Stan: You mean like a baker and a cop?
Hippie: No, no can’t you imagine a place where people live together and like provide services for each other in exchange for their services?
Kyle: Yea its called a town.
Hippie: You kids just haven’t been to college yet…
This exchange perfectly exemplifies the difference between a fairly tale, and a truly obtainable “utopia” if you want to call it that. There are two ideas that are basically on the opposite end of the political spectrum, but are actually pretty similar in the desired outcome. Communism is the end game for what some imagine to be a perfect society based on cooperation and togetherness, but lacking incentives that would make the society function absent of force.
The problem is that communism would require an interim dictatorship, and dictators never give up power. Instead this interim government would never hand the reigns back to the people, but continue to use force and “righteous ideas” to promote and extend their own power. Even if they did hand the control back however, not enough would be produced to sustain the society. We know this from examples like Plymouth Plantation where people starved working together, until they adopted an every man for himself philosophy. Then the colony thrived.
The second idea could attain a very similar society to what communists dream of, but include incentives for production, and exclude force, or a regulatory authority or government. Anarcho-capitalism is the idea that everything in society for which there is a market or demand would be provided by those seeking to profit, even absent an organizational authority. So when the hippie talks about his ideal commune having, like, some guy that bakes bread and some guy that looks out for safety, he is thinking of these people as willing volunteers, not expecting any reward, other than what everyone else gets.
The obvious problem is that if everyone gets the same reward for different amounts of effort, the effort people put in will quickly diminish, and not enough will be produced to provide for the entire society. Anarcho-capitalism doesn’t depend on people doing things out of the goodness of their heart, it depends on people specializing in a skill in order to trade that skill for the products of another person’s labor. So everyone doesn’t have to bake their own bread, and provide their own security, they can specialize in baking bread, and trade that bread for security. Money just streamlines this process so that you don’t have to trade a physical loaf of bread, instead using a placeholder.
But the hippies imagine a society where no one goes hungry and everyone is taken care of. In an anarcho-capitalist society there would be so much extra that everyone would in fact be taken care of. How do I know this? Simply from studying the most free markets that have existed, and extrapolating from there. Right now enough extra is produced in America so that “poor” Americans now live the life that “the rich” once lived. Cell phones, heat, electricity, air conditioning, vehicles, alcohol, material comforts, free time, and access to healthcare are all things that the poor enjoy in the United States. Not because the government magically provides these things, but because there is enough extra produced from a free-ish market.
If these things were simply provided by government, then why is there so much more poverty in some parts of Africa and Central and South America where governments have no problem mandating generous redistributions of wealth? The answer is that stability provides incentives to produce more. If you know that when you grow a field of wheat, almost all of it will be taken, you are much less likely to grow that wheat. In America, there is a relative guarantee that you can keep (part) of what you produce, so we have incentive to produce more. This incentive decreases with every tax hike, every bailout, and every dollar borrowed or printed by government. As the incentive fades, so does the production. This happens on a continuum, which is why our economy is slowly bleeding to death with every government intervention.
So it makes sense that if the closer we got to a free market, the more extra there was, that in the most free market possible with nothing being taken by force, more would be produced. Why not grow more wheat if you know that you get to trade every single grain for your benefit? But don’t take an individual’s benefit as negating others’ benefits—after all there is a field of wheat where a dirt lot could have stood.
So instead of a government that automatically takes 40-50% of your labor, and the products of that labor, you have a society where each individual controls where his or her extra labor and production goes. The fact that there is no siphoning body like the government provides two-fold benefits, they aren’t taking the extra product, and because they are not taking it, the population produces more. So now the government is not there to take anything from the laborers, and this leads each laborer to make more of whatever they make.
The control in this society would be with the individuals, and that is what does not sit well with those who want a communist utopia. Many people cannot stand to think that a person could be greedy if they chose, and instead prefer a body which can use force to control producers. The inevitable effect of this force is less being produced, and therefore less to go around. When this production is not confiscated however, that extra will find its way into the hands of those who need it, instead of into the hands of government cronies like corrupt corporations, and unproductive bureaucrats.
So if the hippies could just let go, chill out, and give up their desire for control, we could get pretty damn close to their utopia. After all, aren’t communists really interested in freeing the laborer? What could be better than allowing an individual laborer to keep the entirety of what he or she produces? What could be better than freeing the individual from being forced by the government to give money to corporations in the form of bailouts, grants, and subsidies?
And guess what, no one’s going to let the wheat they worked hard to grow wither in the fields. Tomorrow I will discuss how that wheat (or whatever necessities) will get to everyone that needs it in an anarcho-capitslist society, therefore obtaining the utopia of which communists can only dream.