Papers given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019.

Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?

(1.) “Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security”. A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019 [Full paper HTML and PDFSlidesHandout ]. See the abstract of the paper below.

Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat

(2.) “Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat”. A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, NYC, 21 Sept. 2019. [Full paper in HTML and PDFSlides ] [ ScreenplayIllustrations ].

Abstract: When thinking about the problems a filmmaker faces when trying to make a “movie of ideas” I was struck by the relevance of the works of two economists, that of Ludwig von Mises’ theory of “human action” and Frédéric Bastiat’s theory of “the seen and the unseen,” in helping the filmmaker think about the problems of depicting economic ideas and economic actions in a visual medium like film. It made me think that perhaps we should develop an “Austrian theory of Film” to help us do this. If there can be a feminist theory of film and a Marxist theory of film, why not an Austrian theory of film?

Mises is relevant because according to his theory of human action people act upon the ideas they have about what their interests are (in many cases these are economic interests), what their alternatives might be, and how best they can attempt to satisfy those interests given their scarce resources and other options. In essence then, human action is based upon the ideas people hold. Bastiat is relevant because the ideas people hold in their heads are a textbook example of what is invisible to outsiders, in other words they are “the unseen” perhaps even the unseeable, yet the actions which people take based upon the ideas they have about themselves, their interests, and the world around them can be “seen” in the actions they take.

A few questions I pose and attempt to answer are: can the filmmaker use these theories about economic behavior to make an interesting film with economic themes? can the ordinary film viewer correctly infer the ideas which lie behind a person’s choices and actions as depicted in a film? and how subtle should a screenplay writer or director be in giving the viewer hints (or what I cake visual “nudging”)? I use the screenplay I have have written about Bastiat’s activities during the revolution of 1848 and the Second Republic, called “Broken Windows”, to discuss these and other matters. See the screenplay, “Broken Windows” and the accompanying “illustrated essay” of the life and times of Bastiat.

Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?

As part of the bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Gustave de Molinari, the world’s first true anarcho-capitalist, I wrote the following paper: “Was Molinari a true Anarcho-Capitalist?: An Intellectual History of the Private and Competitive Production of Security” a paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, New York City, 28 Sept. 2019.>]

The paper explores two topics relating to Gustave de Molinari’s pathbreaking article “De la production de la sécurité” (On the Production of Security) (JDE, Feb. 1849). The first is an exploration of the intellectual history leading up to this theoretical breakthrough, that private insurance companies in a competitive free market, or “les producteurs de la sécurité” (producers of security) or “entrepreneurs in the security industry,” can and would be able to supply protection of life, liberty, and property, in other words police and national defense services, to private individuals, or “les consommateurs de la sécurité” (consumers of security), by voluntarily charging premiums for their services in a competitive market. The deeper roots of Molinari’s idea lay in the work of Destutt de Tracy and J.B. Say in the 1810s on the question of whether or not government activity was “productive” and if so, in what way. Closer to his own time, the conservative politician Adolphe Theirs and the socialist publisher Émile de Girardin in the late 1840s both likened the state metaphorically speaking to an “insurance company” which provided services to taxpayers/shareholders who paid taxes/premiums to that company.

Molinari’s contribution to the debate was to see how the metaphor could be turned into reality, where actual private property insurance companies (“les compagnies d’assurances sur la propriété” (property insurance companies) ) would contractually and voluntarily provide protection services to their policy holders. Molinari first developed his ideas in a series of articles and books written between 1846 and 1855 (the article “Le droit électorale” Courrier français (July, 1846); the article ” in JDE, Feb. 1849; Soirée 11 inLes Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare(1849); scattered references in several articles he wrote for the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53); the chapter on “Public Consumption” (Douzième leçon, “Les consommations publiques,” in his treatise Cours d’économie politique (1855)), and then returned to the topic again later in the 1880s and 1890s (the chapter Chap. X “Les Gouvernements de l’avenir,” in L’Évolution politique et la Révolution (1884); his book on Esquisse de l’organisation politique et économique de la société future (Sketch of the political and economic organisation of the future society (society in the future)) (1899); and the late article “Où est l’utopie?” (Where is Utopia?) (JDE, 1904).

The second topic to be explored is the question of how much of an “anarcho-capitalist” Molinari really was and whether or not he remained one over the course of his long life. The term itself is anachronistic to use about Molinari as it was coined by Rothbard to describe his own views which were emerging in the 1950s and 1960s under the influence of Molinari’s original 1849 article, along with the writings of other members of the Paris School of economists, such as Charles Dunoyer, Charles Comte, and Frédéric Bastiat. Molinari himself referred to his views as “la liberté de gouvernement” (the liberty of government, or free government) or “la concurrence politique” (political competition, or competing governments). I will argue that Molinari was a “true” or “hard” anarcho-capitalist when it came to the question of the private production and provision of police and defense services (“la sécurité) – for which he used the very “capitalist” expressions such as “producers of security,” “consumers of security,” the “security industry,” “entrepreneurs in the security industry,” etc – until he reached his seventies when he “backtracked” slightly during the 1890s. He was also a “true” or “hard” anarcho-capitalist when it came to the question of the private production and provision of justice by means of competing law courts which charged “fees for service” and remained one for his entire life. He had several insights about how law might evolve privately but he did not develop it as far as he did with the private production of security. My conclusion is that he came came very close to being an early (perhaps the first) “Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist” but did not go all the way there. This fact in itself was quite extraordinary for his day and age and his achievements should be duly recognized by historians and economists.

Celebrating the Bicentennial of the birth of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)

3 March 2019 will be the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Gustave de Molinari, the “founding father” of anarcho-capitalism. To celebrate this event I have put together an anthology of his key writings on the state which will be published by Institut Coppet (Paris) next year. A draft of the book is online and contains a detailed biographical essay on his life and work (in English), 24 extracts from his writings between 1846-1911 (en français) with brief introductions to each one (in English) , and an updated bibibliography of all his works (still a work in progress).

For more information about Molinari see the updated main Molinari page.

The table of contents of the the anthology:

I. Molinari’s Political Credo: “la Liberté, la Propriété, et la Paix” (Liberty, Property, Peace)

  1. His “Spartacus speech” (1849). [Les Soirées, 1849, S12 pp. 348–63.]
  2. Molinari’s Credo: “la Liberté et la Paix” (1861). [“Introduction”, Questions d’économie politique et de droit public (1861), vol. 1, pp. v-xxxi. ]
  3. “Programme économique” (1891). [Notions fondamentales d’Économie politique (1891), pp. 381–96.]

II. The First Formulation of the Theory of Anarcho-Capitalism (1846–1849)

  1. “Le droit électoral” (1846). [Courrier français, 23 July 1846; reprinted in Questions d’économie politique (1861), T. 2, pp. 271–275.]
  2. ”La Production de la sécurité” (1849). [JDE, T. XXII, no. 95, 15 fév., 1849, pp. 277–90.]
  3. “On Government and its Function” (1849). [Les Soirées, S11, pp. 303–337.]

III. Molinari’s Theory of the State I

  1. “Le Despotisme et les mangeurs des taxes” (1852). [Les Révolutions et le despotisme envisagés au point de vue des intérêts matériel (1852), pp. 81–152.]
  2. “Nations” (1853). [Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, T. 2, pp. 259–62.]

IV. The Further Development of Molinari’s Theory of Pure Anarcho-capitalism (1852–1863)

  1. “Les consommations publiques” (1855, 1863). [Cours d’économie politique (1855, 1863), T. 2, pp. 480–534.]
  2. ”De l’administration de la Justice” (1855). [L’économiste belge No. 11, 5 Juin 1855, pp. 1–3.]

V. Molinari’s Theory of the State II: The “Tempered” (strengthened, hardened) Republic (1873)

  1. “La République tempérée” (1873). [La République tempérée (1873), I, pp. 5–14; II pp. 15–25; V, pp. 59–77; VI. pp. 79–90.]

VI. Molinari’s Gradual Retreat from Strict Anarcho-Capitalism (1880–1908)

  1. ”La théorie du progrès et l’évolution économique” (1880). [L’Évolution économique du dix-neuvième siècle (1880), “Conclusion,” pp. 439–69.]
  2. ”Les gouvernements de l’avenir” (1884). [L’Évolution politique et la Révolution (1884), Chap. X “Les gouvernements de l’avenir,” pp. 351–423.]
  3. ”La liberté de gouvernement” (1887). [Les Lois naturelles de l’économie politique (1887), pp. 238–77.]
  4. ”Projet d’Association pour l’établissement d’une Ligue des neutres” (1887). [The Times, 28 juillet 1887. Republished in La morale économique (1888), pp. 431–38).]
  5. “La décadence de la guerre” (1898). [La Grandeur et decadence de la guerre (1898), selections from pp. 113–72.]
  6. ”La constitution libre” (1899). [Esquisse de l’organisation politique et économique de la société future (1899), pp.69–93.]
  7. “Le problème du gouvernement individuel” (1900). [JDE, S. 5, T. 44, N° 3, décembre 1900, pp. 321–39.]

VII. Last Words on the Matter (1901–1911)

  1. Summing up the liberal successes and failures of the 19th Century (January, 1901). [“Le XIXe siècle”, JDE, Jan.1901), pp. 5–19.]
  2. Predicting the Catastrophes of the 20th Century (January, 1902). [“Le XXe siècle,” JDE, Jan. 1902), pp. 5–14.]
  3. “Où est l’Utopie?” (1906). [JDE, S. 6, T. 3, N° 2, août 1904.]
  4. “Le vol et l’échange” (1908). [JDE, S. 6, T. 19, N° 1, juillet 1908.]
  5. “La crise et la décadence” (1908). [Économie de l’histoire. Théorie de l’évolution (1908), pp. 219–257.]
  6. Molinari’s “Last Words” (1911). [Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage (1911), “Préface,” pp. i-xvii.]

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) and Rethinking Classical Economics in the mid-19th Century


Talk given to a Conference on “A Brief History of Economic Thought,”
Institute for Liberal Studies, The University of Toronto, Bahen Centre
Friday 29 September, 2012

Online here

Abstract: The decade or so 1845-1856 saw a major re-thinking taking place in the nature of classical economic thought in France. The first generation of 19th century French political economy had built upon the legacy left by the Physiocrats of the 18thC (Quesnay, Turgot, et al.), and was comprised of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), Charles Comte (1782-1837), Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862). They were active in the period between the appearance of Say’s Treatise in 1803 and the appearance of Dunoyer’s magnum opus De la Liberté du travail which appeared in 1845. A new second generation of French political economists emerged in the early 1840s under the umbrella provided by the Guillaumin publishing firm and the founding of the Political Economy Society and the Journal des Économistes in 1841-42. This younger generation was made up by Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), Charles Coquelin (1802-1852), Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil (1813-1892), and Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912). They made important contributions in the ten years between 1846-1856 which transformed the way economics was thought and done. Some of their innovations included the following: the appearance of a more radical radical libertarianism view of political economy in the areas of free banking (Coquelin), and the theory of plunder, subjective value theory, free trade and peace (Bastiat). They also began to challenge some of the key principles of the orthodox classical school of Ricardo, Malthus, and Smith, with new ideas about rent, value theory, and Malthusianism (Bastiat) and the private provision of public goods ( Molinari), and also free competitive banking (Coquelin). Some of these new directions in French political economy are discussed, with an emphasis on the work of Bastiat.

Gustave de Molinari and the Future of Liberty in 1901: ‘Fin de Siècle, Fin de la Liberté’?


Online here

Abstract: This paper examines Molinari’s assessment in two articles he wrote at the turn of the 20th century of the achievements of liberty in the 19th century and his prognosis for liberty in the coming 20th century. Concerning the latter, he successfully predicted two related things: firstly, that anti-liberal policies being introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries would inevitably lead to a long period of economic crisis and political oppression brought about by war, imperialism, socialist revolution and government intervention in the economy; and secondly, that once this dark period of “statism” had run its course, the benefits of individual liberty and the free market would be rediscovered and the classical liberal reforms the classical liberals had advocated in the 19th century would be introduced once again. His successful predictions need to be seen against the unsuccessful predictions of socialists of all kinds made in the same period. Whether democratic socialist or revolutionary (Marxist) socialist, the predictions of inevitable socialist revolution bringing about peace, prosperity and freedom for the mass of people have been proven to be hopelessly wrong by the extraordinary events of the 20th century. The paper also includes three appendices of Molinari’s writings (in French) from this period.