Ambiguous Lesson on Law

by Don Boudreaux on September 2, 2005

in Law

I have defended the possibility of a stateless society – one emphatically not anarchic; one in which order and prosperity exist, and where law is discovered and enforced decentrally rather than centrally.

I admit, though, that this is an extreme position.  I am not at all sure that it’s correct.Perhaps minimal-state libertarianism is indeed the best that humans can possibly achieve.

Arnold Kling argues that the brutal anarchy now plaguing New Orleans is evidence in support of the minimal-state, as opposed to the no-state, position.  Post-Katrina New Orleans can indeed be interpreted in this way, and this interpretation is quite plausible.

But it’s not as clear to me as it is to Arnold that post-Katrina New Orleans points so unambiguously toward his interpretation.  The fact is that government there has failed.  Formally, government there exists – local, state, and national government, all part of history’s wealthiest society.  But government is not providing law.  Despite the existence of government that claims sovereignty over the city of New Orleans, it isn’t supplying law.

What law there is in the Big Uneasy now is sparse.

So while it’s also true that there’s little or no law supplied now by decentralized, spontaneous-ordering forces (Why would anyone suppose that such law would emerge instantaneously the moment government abandons the scene?), there’s no law supplied now by the very agency universally proclaimed as the only, or at least the best, source of law.

Update: Patri Friedman says more, in a post well worth reading.

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