Freedomain Radio FAQ Part 2

How can a society without a government pay for national defense?

Many people, when first hearing the concept of a stateless society, cannot imagine how collective defense could possibly be paid for the absence of taxation.

This is an important question to ask, but there is a way of answering it that also answers many other questions about collective action.

In any society, there are four possibilities that can occur in the realm of collective defense. The first is that no one wants to pay for collective defense. The second is that only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense; the third is that the majority of people want to pay for collective defense, and the fourth is that everyone wants to pay for collective defense.

Let's compare how these four possibilities play out in a state-based democracy:

  1. No one wants to pay for collective defense. In this case, voters will universally reject any politician who proposes collective defense of any kind.
  2. Only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, no politician who proposes paying for collective defense will ever get into office, because he will never secure a majority of the votes.
  3. The majority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, pro-defense politicians will be voted into office, and spend tax money on defense.
  4. Everyone wants to pay for collective defense. This achieves the same outcome as number three.

Thus, all other things being equal, a democracy produces almost the same outcome as a stateless society – with the important exception of #2. If only a minority of people want to pay for defense, they cannot do so in a democracy, but can do so in a stateless society.

In a stateless society, if the majority of people are interested in paying for collective defense, it will be paid for. The addition of the government to the interaction is entirely superfluous – the equivalent of creating a Ministry devoted to communicating the pleasures of candy to children, or sex to teenagers.

However, the possibility exists that people are willing to pay for collective defense only if they know that everyone else is paying for it as well. This argument fails on multiple levels, both empirical and rational.

  1. First of all, people tip waiters and give to charity, even though they know that some people never do.
  2. Secondly, there is no reason why, in a stateless society, people should not have full knowledge of who has donated to collective defense. Agencies providing collective defense could easily issue a "donor card," which certain shops or employers might ask to see before doing business. Names of donors could also be put on a website, easily searchable, creating social pressures to donate.
  3. Thirdly, when the money required for collective defense is stripped from taxpayers of the point of a gun, a basic moral tenet – and rational criteria – is violated. Citizens institute collective defense in order to protect their property—it makes no sense whatsoever to create an agency to protect property rights and then invest that agency with the power to violate property rights at will.
  4. Fourthly, when collective defense is paid for by the initiation of the use of force, there is no rational ceiling to costs, and no incentive for efficiency – thus ensuring that costs escalate to the point where they become unsustainable, leaving the country vulnerable.

Finally, if military might is to be used exclusively for the defense of a geographical region, extensive standing armies are scarcely required. The invention of nuclear weapons has rendered invasion of a nuclear power impossible – as is shown by the historical fact that no nation possessing nuclear weapons has ever been invaded. In a nation of, say, 300 million citizens, how much would it cost each citizen per year to pay for the maintenance of a few dozen nuclear warheads? It seems hard to imagine such a program costing more than $300 million a year. Even if we assume that only half the citizens are earning an income, this national defense program would then run about two dollars per year per paying citizen. People lose more than that annually behind their couch cushions.

What about education?

The question of education follows the same pattern as the question of collective defense outlined above. However, there are certain additional pieces of information that can strengthen the case for a free market in education.

First of all, it is important understand that state education was not imposed because children were not being educated. Prior to the institution of government-run education, the literacy rate of the average American was over 90% - far better than it is now, after hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent "educating" children. Before the government forcefully took over the schools, there was almost no violence in schools, there were no school shootings, no violent gangs, no assaults on teachers – and it did not take more than two decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a reasonably-educated adult. Most of the intellectual giants of the 18th and 19th centuries – Founding Fathers included – did not even finish high school, let alone go to college.

Government education in America was instituted as a means of cultural control, due to a rising tribal fears about the growing number of non-Protestants in society – the "immigrant issue" of the time.

There are a number of core reasons that government education cripples children's minds; for the sake of brevity, we will deal with only one here.

It is reasonable to assume that the majority of parents want to give their children a good education – and this education must necessarily include the teaching of values, of the relationship between personal ethics and real-world choices. In any multicultural society, however, a common curriculum cannot include any specific values, for fear of offending various groups. Thus values must be stripped from education, turning its focus to rote memorization, bland technical skills (geometry, sports, wood shop), and neutral and propagandistic views of society and politics ("democracy is good!" "respect multiculturalism!" "recycle!"). This effectively kills the energetic curiosity of the young, turns school into a mind-numbing series of empty exercises, creates frustration among those needing stimulation, and engenders deep disrespect for educational system – and its teachers – who remain hypocritically indifferent to the welfare of the students. Combine this hostility and frustration with the easy money available through drug sales, and the possibility of surviving on welfare, and entire generations of youths become mentally crippled. The costs of this are beyond calculation, since the damage goes far beyond economics.

Yes, but how will poor children get an education if it is not paid for through taxes?

This reminds me of the old Soviet cartoon – two old women are standing in an endless line-up to buy bread. One says to the other: "What a terribly long line!" The other replies: "Yes, but just imagine – in the capitalist countries, the government doesn't even distribute the bread!"

Whenever I argue for a stateless society, I say: "The government should not provide 'X'." The response always comes back: "But how will 'X' then be provided?"

The answer is simple: "Since everybody is concerned that 'X' will not be provided, 'X' will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence." In other words, since everyone is concerned that poor children might not get an education because it costs too much, those children will be provided an education as a direct result of everyone's concern.

Either you will help poor children get an education, through charity or volunteering, or you won't. If you will help poor children get an education, you don't have to worry about the issue. If you will do nothing to help poor children get an education, it is pure hypocrisy to raise it as an issue that you claim to be concerned about.

That having been said, there are a number of ways that a free society can provide education that is far superior to the mess being inflicted on children now.

First of all, poor children are not currently getting any sort of decent education. The perceived risks of a stateless society cannot be rationally compared to a perfect situation in the here-and-now. Those most concerned with the education of the poor should be the ones most clamoring for the abolishment of the existing system. The statistics for poor children are absolutely appalling – and this should raise the urgency or finding a solution. It's one thing to say "You should never cross a road against the lights, even if there is no traffic." It is quite another thing to say "You should never cross a road against the lights, even if you are being chased by a lion." Those who oppose a stateless society always ignore the existence of the lion, thus adding their intellectual inertia to the weight of the status quo.

Secondly, much like the question of collective defense, the cost of education will be far lower in a free society. The $10,000-$15,000 a year currently being spent per-pupil in public schools is ridiculously overinflated. As an example, it would be far cheaper to buy a poor child a computer and an Internet connection than bus him to an expensive school. (If socialization is desired, play-dates could be arranged at local parks.)

Similarly, year-round accelerated education could help the child graduate several years earlier – and with tangible job skills to boot! The resulting increase in earnings would more than pay for the education – and many companies would scramble to offer loans to such children, knowing that they would be paid off soon after graduation. Thus education would be more beneficial – and, since there would be no war on drugs or automatic "welfare" in a free society, fewer self-destructive options would be available.

As for higher education, it is either recreational or vocational. If it is recreational, then it is about as necessary as a hobby, and thus cannot be considered a necessity. If it is vocational, such as medicine, then additional earnings will more than pay for the costs of the education. Businesses need accountants – thus those businesses will be more than happy to fund the college expenses of talented youngsters in return for a work commitment after graduation.

Talented but poor children will be sought after by schools, both for the benevolence they can show by subsidizing them, and also because high-quality graduates raise the prestige of a school, enabling it to increase fees.

In a stateless society, a tiny minority of poor children may slip through the cracks – but that is far better than the current situation, where most poor children slip through the cracks. The fact that some non-smokers will get lung cancer does not mean that we should encourage people to smoke. A stateless society is not a utopia, it is merely a utopia compared to a government society!

Even if I agree with you, how on earth can we possibly bring a stateless society about?

There is absolutely no reason to believe that a stateless society is impossible to achieve. In fact, most of the hurdles have already been overcome. The efficiency of the free market is already well-established. The principle that violence is immoral is also generally-accepted. For many people, religion no longer has a monopoly on questions of ethics. Very few people believe that further expansions in the size and power of government will produce a substantially better society—in fact, very few people believe that the government is a moral agency at all. (People do still advocate for government programs – often couched in moral terms – but that is more because they know they can receive money from the state rather than as a result of the broad ethical approach.) Socialism is a moral ideal is dead; communism and fascism also; slavery has been rightly vilified and eliminated, and initiation of the use of force is in general considered immoral.

Thus many of the necessary agreements are in place to bring about a stateless society. How, then, can it happen?

The first virtue is always honesty; the second is always integrity. We must first tell the truth, and then we must live the truth.

The truth is that, in the most fundamental ways, we do not need the government's permission to be truly free.

The first thing that philosophers must do is lead by example. A key ingredient in the moral ideal of a stateless society is that there is no such thing as positive obligations. Being born in a country does create a moral obligation to pay taxes. Being poor does not create a moral obligation for others to give you money. Being successful does not make you a slave; failure does not give you the right to be a parasite. Having children does not create a moral obligation for others to give them an education. Getting old does not create a moral obligation for others to pay for your retirement.

And here is where we turn to the core of the Freedomain Radio philosophy: family.

Huh? What does family have to do with a stateless society?

The examples of religion and patriotism show that irrational ideals are easy to spread if the people who spread them are convincing. To free the world, it is not enough to know the truth – you must also convince others. Convincing others requires that you first convince yourself.

A doctor who fears to take the medicine that he prescribes can scarcely be considered convincing. A philosopher should not fear to live the values he espouses. If I believe that there is no such thing as positive obligations, then I must evaluate all my personal relationships using the same criteria.

We just examine our families first, since they are the least-chosen of all our relationships. We choose our wife, and our friends, but not our parents or siblings.

If no man has a right to my time and energy simply because he exists, then clearly my parents can make no such claim.

If my parents and siblings are wise, and moral, and good, then it is only just and reasonable – not to mention intensely pleasurable – to spend time with them. If, however, my parents are none of these things, then spending time with them is neither rational nor moral. I cannot legitimately advocate a stateless society while at the same time enabling and supporting unchosen positive obligations in my personal life.

This has both moral and practical dimensions. Our first – and most lasting – perception of authority is our parents. If our parents are unjust, abusive, negative, distant, unaffectionate, arbitrary, selfish and so on, then we cannot love them. Love is an involuntary response to virtue, and can only arise in the presence of vice as an empty and self-destructive label.

If we feel that we "owe" love to our parents for being born under their dominion, it is logically impossible to argue that we do not "owe" allegiance to our government for being born under its dominion. If our parents do not have to win our love through consistent virtue – as all love must be won – then neither must those in the government win our respect through consistent virtue. If we do not live the principle of voluntarism in our personal lives, it is nonsensical and pointless to advocate it in the realm of politics. If we owe allegiance to power with regards to our parents, we logically owe allegiance to power with regards to our governments as well. We cannot "love" power in the personal realm while despising it in the political realm.

We have no power over the government. We can defy it, at the cost of going to prison or being forced "off the grid." We do have power over our personal relationships – and it is in the application of moral theories to our personal lives that our greatest freedoms are to be found. I would rather pay 50% taxation and have a happy marriage than pay no taxes and have an unhappy marriage! The government can only take your money – unhappy relationships can drain your very soul.

If we consistently apply ethical principles to our personal lives, we gain enormous credibility when we advocate those principles to others in general.

But – the government is an agency of power – parents are not!

That is not true. Except in the most extreme dictatorships, parents have far more power over their children than governments have over their citizens. As an adult, you have many strategies to reduce the interference of government in your daily life – you can move, live off the grid, minimize your taxes, pay off the IRS and live free. As a child, because you could not leave your family, you were utterly dependent on the will and whim of your parents. As an adult, you will never again be as dependent on those in power as you were when you were a child.

Since parental power over children far outstrips state power over citizens, we must first free ourselves of bad parents before we can confront the state.

Philosophy is more about our personal relationships than abstract relationships like the state. The power of the state, in fact, is derived from the power of parents. A woman who demands freedom from state violence but then goes home to an abusive husband cannot be said to really understand the meaning of the word "freedom." Similarly, advocating some sort of abstract political freedom while suffering abusive, unpleasant, boring or negative relationships in your personal life displays similar ignorance.

If a plane depressurizes, you have to first place the oxygen mask on your own face before turning to help others. The same is true of philosophy.

The only way to free the world is to free yourself.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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May 2024

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