November 2014

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Unless the book is very different than the Putting the Con in paper, I have a hard time seeing this as cooperation without command or a Smithian solution to a Hobbesian problem. In return for protection, prison gang members appear to give up much of their liberty, including the liberty to change their minds about membership. Because our government does not protect their life, liberty and property once they are in prison, they create their own government. Because the Mexican Mafia did not provide effective protection there was an opportunity for Nuestra Familia to create a rival government. Its organizers create rules that established a more effective government. These governments provide some security of property rights and facilitate voluntary transactions, drugs for money, but the creation of the government sounds like pure Hobbes to me. And, ultimately, they rely upon the threat of force, which they claim the sole legitimate right to use. The economics of gangs is certainly interesting, and I look forward to reading Skarbek's book, but I don't seem to be seeing the same thing in the story that you do.

Brad,

I would argue that private governance is a slightly different beast than public government. This is about the contracting of governance even in situations where we should expect such contracts to be very difficult to conclude.

As I said, it isn't pretty, but it also didn't require an external (3rd party) enforcer. And what is interesting in the documentary is the discussion about how inter-group cooperation is reached. Again not pretty, and not without some very real ugliness, but not non-existent as theory might predict given the circumstances.

Order without command is indeed possible.

BTW, David's book is very much more developed from that original JLEO paper --- please do give it a serious look. And judge on its own merits, not necessarily my interpretation of the project.

Pete

I echo a lot of Brad's thoughts here but draw somewhat different conclusions from it. I don't think the mistake is in identifying this as Smithian per se, it's in identifying it as "anarchy". This is how government (as in the state) as a specific form of governance emerges. Thankfully it's often prettier than prison gang institution (though not always!). It's precisely an understanding of the emergence of government as a part of an unplanned social order that should lead us to question some of the more simple-minded dialectics associated with concepts like anarchy.

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