Anarcho-Capitalism vs. Market Anarchism

Kelly Vee
Anarcho-Capitalism vs. Market Anarchism

What’s the difference between “market anarchism” and “anarcho-capitalism”?

The difference between market anarchism and anarcho-capitalism is contentious, and somewhat semantic. Anarcho-capitalists choose to use the word “capitalism” because they believe it denotes a laissez-faire system of economics, free from government control. Market anarchists are far more critical of capitalism, as they believe the term “capitalism” does not denote a truly freed economic system. Market anarchists avoid using the word “capitalism” because it often refers to our current, unfree economic system, dominated by corporations and vast income inequality. Market anarchists say that “capitalism” places too much emphasis on capital, implying rule by the owners of the means of production, a form of oppression which market anarchists oppose. Many market anarchists believe that in a freed society, the world would look very different from how it looks now under state capitalism. They believe that freed markets would not result in corporate domination and hierarchical firm structure. If such firms did exist, they would be few and far between. As Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson write in Markets Not Capitalism, “Market anarchists believe in market exchange, not in economic privilege. They believe in free markets, not in capitalism.”

Adherents of anarcho-capitalism believe a capitalist, laissez-faire economic system is desirable for maximum freedom and human flourishing. Market anarchism does not seek to prescribe a desirable economic system. Instead, market anarchists recognize that not everyone in a free society will desire to engage in a profit-oriented market, and alternative voluntary economic systems, such as cooperatives, gift economies, and communes, may flourish. While market anarchists may prefer a system of voluntary exchange, pluralism and decentralization are far more important. As long as these different voluntary economic systems can peacefully coexist, market anarchists take no issue with such alternatives.


  1. My main interest here is in market anarchism. I have heard before of non-capitalistic forms of market society, but I have not seen the notion formulated like this before, so I am very glad to have read this article, and having followed (but not yet entirely read) the links provided, I have some initial comments.

    Market anarchism does appeal to my sensibilities, but one issue I have with it is the way that market anarchists seem to romanticise historic forms of non-capitalistic market societies, portraying them retrospectively as ‘freed’ societies and economies in a way that fits their present ideological viewpoint. I think this ignores the realities of history, political economy and human nature. Market anarchism is, it would seem, a property-based philosophy, and that being the case, it is likely that there would be a social hierarchy in the society – just as there was in the previous social systems that market anarchisms romanticise – and if not present in the early stages, such a hierarchy would develop in time.

    Market anarchism seems to be a species of libertarianism, of either the non-state or stateless variety. However, in common with most libertarians (at least in my experience), market anarchists do not actually define clearly what the state is. See, for instance, this FAQ: I think the problem for all types of market/capital-based libertarianism is that in any property-based system, you would need to have a state. The matter is one of enforcement and regulation of property rights, without which property (which is really a bundle of rights) does not exist. If you acknowledge that private property would exist in such a society (which seems to apply to market anarchism), then how would you be able to sustain such a society without an authority of some kind for enforcing these rights (i.e. a state)? How would these rights have meaning without the existence of a state?

    What also interests me about all this is whether a market anarchist society would simply reproduce the social relations of corporate capitalism. I suspect it would and that a market economy (or market society) cannot exist, even in principle, without capital and the accumulation and concentration of capital. At least, not for very long. There may be an intermediary stage of non-capitalist social production, but in time this would develop into capitalism. In other words, human nature would take over, not least because in market anarchism, society would remain competitive in the sphere of economics and resources. Or am I wrong about this?

    What would assist is some clarification as to whether market anarchists actually oppose capitalism per se. Again, the FAQ (same link as above), isn’t much help in this respect. It would also be interesting to know how a market anarchist society would prevent the development of capitalism from market anarchism.

    Anyway, based on my reading so far, I see market anarchism as a bit lightweight. It’s interesting, but it’s really nothing more than a novel rephrasing of anarcho-capitalism/minarchism, and I would, if anything, go further than the author of the article above. The difference between the two philosophies seems totally semantic. Where it all breaks down for me is in the fuzzy logic about the state. This seems to be the hallmark of most types of libertarianism, not just this one. Either the state exists or it does not. It’s a 1 or a 0 proposition. Libertarians skirt the issue. Why? For part of the explanation, I would point to the internal culture of minarchistic/market libertarianism. It seems to be the province of genteel, middle-class, educated (mostly white) Americans and the quaint, rather twee, ideas put forward reflect a ‘Daniel Boone’ picture of things more than reality, not to mention a rather romantic retrospective on pre-industrial Britain. Libertarian-capitalism is a product of the American imagination. They gave it a go in the early 18th. century, in the western territories, when minarchism was considered a serious philosophy, but they needed the state then, and they need it now. However, I would love for someone to come along and disabuse me of these conclusions. Failing that, any faith I would reposit in libertarianism would be vested in libertarian socialism, which is, in my view, a different proposition altogether and does have some substance.

  2. EDIT: A minor point, but five lines up from the bottom in the comment above, I meant to reference American minarchism in the early 19th. century, not 18th. century.

    • Hi Tom, late to the party I know.

      I believe I have similar concerns regarding Anarcho-Capitalism and Market Anarchism to you. They both will result in a situation where those who have accumulated the most property have the most power, which depending in your definition may not be very libertarian.

      That being said, they still appeal to me more than the collectivist alternatives such as anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian Marxism etc. I am not expert in these philosophies (or much else for that matter), but it seems to me that collective control of the economy will result in the individual likely having to conform to the collective will or face being disadvantaged. Tyranny of the majority one might say.

      Do you agree? How do you reconcile this with libertarianism? What does libertarian socialism mean to you?

  3. Yes, Adrian, I agree. I don’t see how the market/capitalist libertarians can get round the twin problems of capital accumulation and the necessity for some kind of legal authority for the enforcement of property rights. I suppose some of them get round it by denying that these things are a problem, but my point would be that if capital accumulation is allowed, and if force and coercion are allowed in the enforcement of property rights, then in practice all you have is a degenerate form of liberal-capitalism that would be libertarianism in name only.

    I suppose I could just about see a market/anarchist form of capitalism working in a homogeneous society, especially among northern Europeans, but the problems mentioned would still have to be addressed in some way. In a more diverse society, I don’t see how it could work. You can’t distribute capital evenly because of the inherent inequalities between human beings, so you would need to have a legal authority (i.e. a state) to enforce ‘equality of capital’. But isn’t the whole point of things like markets, freedom and capital that you have competitive access to resources and accumulation of capital and resources? And even if you tried a non-capital type of market anarchism, wouldn’t it degenerate into capitalism anyway due to the social relations underpinning it?

    It seems to me that such things as market anarchism/capitalism and Randian Objectivism represent an idealistic-rationalist vision of human beings templated on to an idealistic-rationalist form of capitalism. They’re also a product of the American imagination, I think. Philosophers who live and work in a huge geographical expanse like North America, where individuals can, if they want to, live fairly independently of state authority and grow to resent government intervention, can develop some pretty jaundiced ideas about any type of communal economics, especially if they are also European migrants from ‘Communist’ [state-capitalist] societies. It’s no surprise that these imaginery ‘free’ societies that market libertarians dream up are staple for deontological obsessives like Stefan Molyneux. It’s a nice – even useful – academic exercise, but I don’t see how it could work in practice.

    This is what leads me to an interest in libertarian socialism, albeit I come at this from a racial/national-socialist angle, so my perspective is heretical. Socialism can work in a libertarian way, and I also see socialism as much more practicable than capitalism. If you think about it, capitalism can’t work in any pure sense because of the inherent stabilities and contradictions mentioned above, and any attempt at a non-capitalistic form of market anarchism would quickly degenerate into capitalism, for the reasons given. As I see it, if we define socialism as the common ownership of resources, then some kind of self-directed system of that nature could work practically as it would be underpinned by co-operative social relations, so there would be no, or limited, possibility of individuals or groups accumulating capital in a competitive way, as they would have little or no incentive to do so. The difficulty for me is how to reconcile this with the realities of racial differences and tribalism, but I think a reconciliation of the two approaches is possible.

    As for individuals or small groups having to conform to the wishes of the majority, isn’t that already the case under the supposedly ‘free’ system that we have now? Anyway, if you could have some sort of ‘socialist’ system that was libertarian in nature and was self-directed, then you could have a situation where individuals and groups in effect did ‘own’ their own capital as ‘use capital’, if you like, in principle owned in common, but in practice used just by those groups. No doubt individuals and groups, especially those that are culturally and racially affiliated, would develop their own responses over time to ensure that they were able to retain their independent cultures while operating as part of a whole.

    That just sketches out a possible perspective on things. I don’t make any claim to coherence and this has not been fully thought-out, but I do think that, looking at the big picture, as a society we are edging away from hierarchies and towards more libertarian and autonomous systems. How to reconcile this with culture and human biological differences (i.e. race) could be one of the big challenges and might well be what we are seeing being worked through now.

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