… is from Bryan Caplan’s most recent blog post at EconLog, “Crazy Equilibria: From Democracy to Anarcho-Capitalism“:
The lesson: “Crazy” is relative to expectations. A thousand years ago, everyone was used to despotism. No one expected a defeated incumbent to voluntarily hand over power. As a result, refusing to hand over power didn’t seem crazy. Since it didn’t seem crazy, incumbents who refused to hand over power after losing an election probably would have managed to retain power. In modern Sweden, in contrast, everyone is used to democracy. Everyone expects a defeated incumbent to voluntarily hand over power. Refusing to hand over power seems crazy. As a result, refusing to hand over power would end not democracy, but the incumbent’s career.
Why bring this up? Because like the democrat of a thousand years ago, I advocate a radical political change: anarcho-capitalism. After we’ve privatized everything else, I think we should privatize the police and courts, and abolish the government.
History shows that the possibilities for peaceful and productive social orders to emerge spontaneously when people are freed from state coercion and from constricting superstitions are far greater than we can imagine – for we are always embedded in a particular time and place and culture that give us the lenses through which view reality. How many were our ancestors who seriously, deeply believed, say, that witches just had to be exterminated, else social order would be put in grave peril? How many smart, serious, and open-minded people in the past just knew in their bones – as every smart and serious person knew – that the absence of a state-enforced religion would lead to a chaos of contending creeds that made bloodshed inevitable? How many people today – in the industrialized west – just know in their bones that free trade with poorer people in developing countries will impoverish us westerners?
Of course, we (at least we who are at least reasonably well informed) know now that these beliefs are absurd. But they were once widely held by the bulk, or by large swathes, of reasonably well informed people.
Charles Murray was correct when he wrote, in his 1997 book What It Means to be a Libertarian:
Freedom regularly makes ridiculous anyone who thinks he has figured out the limits of what is possible.
Still the finest book on this topic, in my opinion, is David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom.