While sometimes we think of ideologies in strict terms of left and right, more and more frequently we look at political schemas that incorporate a dimension for statism. Big government is possible for both conservatives and progressives; so, maybe, is minarchy. If minarchy is possible, and achievable, it must attain popular support less it be thwarted by revolution or contrarian voting. From this, maybe it makes sense that a minarchism utilize fundamental values from each side, in order to be pragmatic and achieve democratic (and thereby maybe stable) ends. Here there may even be room for an ultraminarchy.
In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nozick defended a minimal state slightly more restrained than traditional classical liberalism. This minimal state arises through natural market forces from statelessness, and serves to enforce contracts and produce monopolistic law. Nozick, although countering his fellow Harvard academic Rawls, was also responding to the natural law anarchists, who criticized coercive states for violating human rights — which, in the American tradition, often boil down to rights of property and self-ownership.
However, before arriving at the minimal, night-watchman state, Nozick articulates an ultraminimal state, i.e. a private protection agency that claims exclusionary right over the use of force for a given geographical area. It has its voluntary clients; the extension of coverage to others makes the agency a “state” as it introduces taxation.
In ASU the state is an entity formed from an invisible hand to produce heavily right-libertarian functions of government like protecting negative rights. Because of this, the minarchist state was a refuge for archist libertarians to claim as their own, relatively consistent with centuries of Western liberal thought. Accordingly, in response, the anarchists question the viability of a lasting minimal state — cue David Friedman in Machinery of Freedom:
“It took about 150 years, starting with a Bill of Rights that reserved to the states and the people all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government, to produce a Supreme Court willing to rule that growing corn to feed to your own hogs is instate commerce and can therefore be regulated by Congress.”
Government grows; modern government grows really, really fast. Minimalism hasn’t seemed to last. So the question is, what sorts of minimal governance could last?
The traditional ultraminimal and minimal state are concerned with, as stated, traditionally libertarian public functions such as police, the judiciary, and possibly roads and maybe even national defense. The problem with these utilities is that they feel wildly inadequate to the modern American used to entitlements, welfare, or, e.g., a president. The privatization of nearly all federal departments — even when their failures are widely acknowledged — is seen as wild enough for John Oliver to entertain millions of viewers, at the blight of Gary Johnson, and make hardcore eliminativism a losing electoral program. The contemporary world is too complicated, or our enemies are too powerful, or the market is too corrupt for the reinstitution of laissez-faire in the 21st century.
Nevertheless we want a smaller government, or no government, and losing to the tide isn’t a good death; we’d rather fight, and we’d rather win. A lasting minarchism satisfies the broad purposes of limited governance — basic liberty, protection, and preserving the benefits of the market — while sufficiently completing modern democratic demands, lest it erode into statism or collapse internally. (Keep in mind that statelessness, at least this week, is not a winning platform.)
Here’s what I think lies between anarchism and minarchism: the redistributive state. We can make a couple assumptions which I think are likely true: (1) every public service, including public goods, currently monopolized by the state could be provided (and, maybe, could be provided better) by the market and non-coercive communities instead, and (2) the entitlement theory of distributive justice offered by Nozick is correct, i.e. holdings are just if acquired by peaceful initial acquisition, voluntary exchange or gifting, or rectification of a previous unjust acquisition. Taking these assumptions, and leveraging the fact that the American populace will not currently settle for brutalist governance, the redistributive state (RS) seeks only to collect tax revenues and redistribute money progressively.
Instead of offering vouchers, EBT, or public options like housing, schools, security and roads, a RS would only tax its citizens and reallocate revenue based on some progressive variables like income, net worth or consumption. (These details are less important, for now.) The only administration is something like an Internal Revenue Service, Census Bureau, and investigation unit suffused together, with over ninety-five percent of the current staff eliminated, with tax escapees adjudicated through non-state means.
An RS violates rights based on a Lockean or Kantian conception; it also does something which sounds pretty socialist to right-wing circles. For this reason, though minarchist, it may not be libertarian. However, the pragmatic element is also very utilitarian and liberal, which may interest bleeding-hearts; and, being essentially one big welfare program, it may intrigue American leftists currently eyeing a state takeover of health care and socialized education. We would do well to keep in mind that Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were not averse to basic income either — a redistributive state operates a universal basic allowance and abandons the productive functions of the state. I think it is generally clear that, in a situation where we are already giving a person $X in the illiquid form of schools, transfer payments, utilities, roads, defense, firefighters, social planning, arts, retirement investing, mail service, etc., instead we should just give that person $X to spend however they see fit, to reap more competitive pressure from consumer exposure to prices and to align their dollars with their own individual values. If anyone disagrees, they might be too top-down to consider minarchism in any scenario.
The RS has many benefits over our current, vague understanding of contemporary government. In the first case, the reductionist perspective of right-wing anarchists, such as the stationary bandits theory, is validated, and a lot of the mysterious machinery and ivory-tower political philosophy is dissolved. Some of the bright spots of recent cameral formalist thought are validated, too, without the unpleasant baggage. (And armchair philosophizing about the Rousseauian general will is finally put to rest.) And, for the Marxists, their critique of the state as a tool of the capitalist class, which is true enough, is answered, since the state now greatly serves labor more than capital: some of the income of the upper classes is directly confiscated from them and allocated to the lower classes. Also, the state ceases to be paternalistic — it no longer chooses what food is available through SNAP, or issues health and safety warnings; it just straight-up hands out the money without assuming value for consumers. It doesn’t determine what is taught in schools, or what color the roads are, or which country gets bombed on Tuesday.
Perhaps most popularly, the RS has the potential to all but eliminate bureaucracy. With one small administrative branch which functions like a hyper-specialized agency, there is little room or need for massive proliferation and government by permanent staffers, where we find ourselves now. Likely, all seats will be elected positions along with some underlings, with the marginal tax brackets pre-established constitutionally and open to a similar amendment process. But, that can all be figured out later.
Now, there are some obvious flaws for an RS. First of all, the very wealthy, prima facie, have little incentive to stay in a redistributive state. Their money is seized and without tangible benefit for themselves, like roads or security. They have to buy those things on their own dime. The redistributive state is the antithesis of Galt’s Gulch. The primary answer to this I can think of is that, in a society with less state omnipotence (in contrast to today, where everyone’s first answer to a problem starts with a “g”) community ties will be closer — the rich will want to pay their “fair share.” This is the Hoppean trust in private charity, except that it’s now “forced private” charity. Also, taxes would be much, much lower than the current situation and hopefully tolerable. The taxes are also going directly to other citizens instead of politician’s wallets, oil tycoons, and potassium chloride. Furthermore, they’re paying to live in — the government still has a coercive and unjustified monopoly on land — the freest nation in the world. An RS is significantly freer than the other statist regimes, and less stressful. Government plays no role at all in everyday life.
One other flaw — maybe an inherent flaw of government brightly illuminated by a raw redistributive state — is what Murray Rothbard saw as an eternal tension between net tax-payers and net tax-consumers. To the extent that the RS administration is elected, and to the extent that politicians have platforms, a lot rests on whether or not taxes will be raised (read: redistribution will increase) or not. The left will continually be concerned with income inequality, regardless of whether or not everyone is well-off. The goalposts might keep climbing, to where taxation is no longer about fairness or the difference principle, but about punishment. At the same time, dialectically, the very wealthy will want to keep the maximum amount of their money and protect profit, regardless of my arguments above. Raw societal tensions like these probably require a dynamic form of governance, with fluctuations in party dominance, but the RS is too brutalist to feature such parties or other contrivances. The only hope here, I guess, is that the tension will be less than in the current system we have, where people openly talk about murdering the other party. And very likely it will be. (Also, the market will correct much of the gratuitous wealth disparity presently built upon rent-seeking — so it becomes an empirical question about what levels of inequality create what levels of tension, as there will be large inequality in any non-patterned system of holdings.)
In conclusion, a redistributive state would be baldly organized around theft (in a libertarian interpretation) and using people as means rather than ends. To that extent it is hardly libertarian. It achieves Nozick’s end of minimal government but distorts the typical functions we correlate with small government. Still, it’s ultraminarchical, preserves innovation, balances right-wing virtues like liberty and industry and left-wing virtues like equality and positive freedom, and, for a radical populace not quite keen on revolution, has the potential to be politically attractive. It serves welfarist functions demanded by 21st century citizens without the corporatist empire of the present. Also, no one starves. For all of this, even if a redistributive state is not perfection incarnate, it seems far better than the current system, and provides a culturally-celibate political framework to possibly achieve success in totally disparate societies from the United States. I think it’s a useful, radical place to look for bipartisan solutions to a complicated and overwhelmingly statist world.
I’m pretty sure I’m the first one to suggest a state organized baldly and singularly around redistribution of private income, either because it’s too stupid or it’s too grossly unattractive, so I welcome all feedback. But, if voluntarist alternatives are possible at all, this implies all the state is is a redistributor anyway. The idea of an RS just accepts this conclusion and makes it efficient. Keep in mind I haven’t elaborated on the many complications of UBI, which is an entire field to articulate more extensively, and which has its own numerous difficulties. For now the only question is would this form of government be possible.