At a recent discussion of Ed Stringham's Anarchy, State and Public Choice with graduate students led by Nick Snow, the question was put to Pete Leeson and myself as to why in the early 1970s the public choice analysis of anarchism did not talk more about the positive political economy of self-governance. The response --- that sort of work didn't exist at the time. The work of Anderson and Hill, the work of Landa and Grief, the work of Ellickson and Benson -- all would appear in print after those discussions. Instead, what existed was primarily normative analysis of a pure individualist society. Of course, there was Friedman's Machinery and a few empirical studies of ancient societies that operated without a centralized state. But there was not an accumulation on evidence that could disasuade a political economist from the necessity of the state to provide the framework of law and order that would permit the flourishing of economic activity and the creation of wealth.
But then the conversation moved to a more substantive discussion. The weighing of the costs and benefits of mechanisms to curb private predation. It is because of the threat of private predation that the state is called upon to curb the proclivities of mankind to cheat, steal, and act in general in an opportunistic manner with guile. By creating a "geographic monopoly on coercision", however, the opportunity for public predation becomes a reality. Public choice economists certainly understood the problems of public predation. So what are the tacit presuppositions in their political economy?
First, they must believe that the costs of private predation are prohibitive to economic activity (e.g., the Hobbesian jungle). Second, they underestimate the benefits of mechanisms of self-governance to permit social cooperation under the division of labor to exist even outside the realm of a formal framework of law and order (e.g., the governing of the commons through community based rules). Third, they overstate the benefits of constitutions to curb the predatory capacity of public actors (e.g., freedom in constitutional contract). And fourth, they understate the costs of public predation (e.g., the churning state).
If you recalculate given this new cost-benefit configuration, then public choice analysis of anarchism would shift in a different direction than the analysis contained in those early 1970s work. You don't need normative analysis about rights, instead all you need is positive economic and political economy analysis.
What do you think?