The Market for Liberty

Linda & Morris Tannehill

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Karl Hess

The most interesting political questions throughout history have been whether or not humans will be ruled or free, whether they will be responsible for their actions as individuals or left irresponsible as members of society, and whether they can live in peace by volitional agreements alone.

The fundamental question of politics has always been whether there should be politics.

Morris and Linda Tannehill, in this book, which has become something of a classic even while being (until now) out of print, answer that politics is not necessary, that the ancient and ongoing contrivance of the marketplace can be substituted for it with ennobling results.

Advocates of state power will of course recoil from the idea and point out that it is all idle dreaming, that the state has always existed and must always exist lest brutal humans descend into, horrors, ANARCHY.  They are correct, of course.  Without the state there would be anarchy for that is, despite all of the perfervid ravings of the Marxist Left and statist Right, all that anarchy means—the absence of the state, the opportunity for liberty.

As for the direction that a world headed for liberty would be taking (descending or ascending) the Tannehills and many others have reviewed the record of the nation state and have discovered a curiously powerful fact.  The nation state has never been associated with peace on earth.  Its most powerful recommendation and record is, as a matter of fact, as a wager of war.  The history of nation states is written around the dates of wars, not peace, around arms and not arts.  The organization of warfare without the coercive power of the nation state is simply unimaginable at the scale with which we have become familiar.

Having shown no capacity whatsoever to bring peace to earth, then what is the claim of the state on our allegiance?  In closely reasoned arguments, the Tannehills maintain that there should be no claim at all; that the state is not needed at any point in our lives and that other, volitional, arrangements can be substituted for every single state function.  They see these arrangements operating in the framework of a truly free market and they carefully explain them.

The benefits, they argue, are as numerous as the problems that now plague us.  Pollution is more easily opposed when it is seen sensibly as an aggression against property rather than as a political cause or licensure.  Monopoly is less likely in a laissez faire world than in a regulated one.  Crime is less likely in communities responsible for their own protection than in those which are simply precinct outposts of the state’s police forces.  And so on and on throughout the entire, dreary record of state activity and through the exciting possibilities of libertarian activity.

Much of what the Tannehills have to say has become familiar to libertarians since the book was first published in 1970.  It is their proposition that it will become familiar to more and more people as the myths of the state topple under the weight of reality.  It is also their proposition that the changed order that will ensue from libertarian ideas will be enduring and beneficent, unlike the changes that have occurred in the past as the result of violence.

Supporting their contention is an analysis of the state which even if it seemed fanciful to some in 1970 must seem almost modest today.  The free economies of the world, the so-called underground economies, are growing at an astonishing rate.  In Italy it is the underground economy that keeps the country afloat.  In America it is the least inflation-prone and probably the fastest growing part of the economy, having elicited from President Reagan the wistful comment that if the underground paid its taxes (tribute) to the state then he could balance the budget.  In the countries of the Soviet police-state the underground economy is at one and the same time a powerful force in keeping people alive and also a powerful force in keeping alive their hopes for freedom.

Meantime, the economy of the least free state, the Soviet, continues to sputter along at a rate so depressed that the subjects of the state tyranny cannot even feed themselves adequately.  And the economy of the most free state, America, drags itself deeper and deeper into state-related debt and depression.  Only, in America at least, a renewed sense of entrepreneurial possibility keeps anything moving ahead.  Seeing such activity should remind us all that the entrepreneurial shine in a state society could become star-bright brilliance in a fully free society.

The importance of re-issuing the Tannehills’ book at this time, it seems to me, is in the probability that it will inspire and enlarge the horizons of young entrepreneurs who may enormously enjoy what they are doing but may not fully appreciate the larger implications of a free market world.  Some will appreciate, from reading the Tannehills, that not only can they make money but that they can help make a new world as they do it.

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Forward to the 2008 Foreword

Foreword © 1984 by Fox & Wilkes

All Rights Reserved

I’ve provided this free online-text of the Tannehills’ book, despite the copyright status, because it is, in my opinion, such a great primer on the functions of the stateless society.  I felt comfortable making this forward available in as the Ludwig von Mises Institute has already made it available here.  If the copyright-holder contacts me with the demand I remove this chapter from the site, I will comply.