Anarchy, Preferences, and Robust Political Economy
We consider the relative robustness of libertarian anarchy and liberal democracy to meddlesome preferences. Specifically, we examine how the liberty of those wishing to engage in externally harmless activities is affected by people who wish to prevent them from doing so. We show that intense, concentrated meddlesome preferences are more likely to produce illiberal law in anarchy; while weak, dispersed meddlesome preferences are more likely to do so in democracy. Using insights from the economics of religion, we argue that anarchy is more likely than democracy to produce small groups with intense meddlesome preferences. Absent government provision of public goods, voluntary groups will emerge to fill the gap. Strict religious groups – ‘sects’ – are more able to overcome collective action problems and will therefore be more prevalent in an anarchic society. These sects are apt to instil intense meddlesome preferences in their members and have the ability to enforce them: anarchy produces the situation to which it is most fragile. Our argument reveals unresolved questions in the conventional understanding of institutional robustness.