Bruce supports the academic study of anarchy by saying, “By knowing where you would like to end up, you are likely to be able to make better marginal decisions along the road, even if the destination is never reached.” Then he presents a policy example that, as I see it, does not support that statement.
He talks about the efficiency gains from contracting out for prison services, but notes that if it’s cheaper to incarcerate people, we’re likely to put more people in prison — an anti-libertarian result from a seemingly libertarian policy of shifting production from the public to the private sector. This particular step toward anarchy (substituting private sector production for public sector production) actually results in a move away from the libertarian society Bruce would like.
It was unclear — especially in light of the sentence of Bruce’s I quoted above — whether Bruce was supporting the contracting out of prison services because it’s a move toward “where you would like to end up,” or whether he was against it because its immediate effect was anti-libertarian. But, Bruce’s office is right upstairs from mine, so I ran up the stairs and asked him! He’s against contracting out of prison services because of the anti-libertarian consequences.
In anarchy any prison services would be privately provided, so Bruce’s opposition to contracting them out appears to contradict what I quoted above. In fairness to Bruce, he made the clear distinction to me in conversation between privatizing prisons and government’s contracting out for prison services, but even with this distinction, purely private prisons in the current state-run legal system would still end up increasing incarceration rates. In addition to the cost argument Bruce made, private prison firms already lobby legislatures to increase prison sentences and require that a greater percentage of sentences are served. It increases the demand for their services.
So, Bruce’s example seems to contradict his point. If you’ll never reach your ultimate destination of anarchy, it’s really not that relevant to know what things would be like in that unreachable state of affairs. Academic research on anarchy is of limited policy relevance. Bruce and I both agree that a major benefit of the libertarian-anarchist literature is that it knocks down the argument that, in theory, government is necessary for an orderly society. Beyond that, advocates of smaller government can be more productive by examining programs and policies one at a time and suggesting concrete reforms, just as Bruce does with prisons.