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Hayekian Anarchism

Edward Peter Stringham

Trinity College

Todd J. Zywicki

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

January 20, 2011

George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 11-06

Should law be provided centrally by the state or by some other means? Even relatively staunch advocates of competition such as Friedrich Hayek believe that the state must provide law centrally. This article asks whether Hayek’s theories about competition and the use of knowledge in society should lead one to support centrally provided law enforcement or competition in law. In writing about economics, Hayek famously described the competitive process of the market as a “discovery process.” In writing about law, Hayek coincidentally referred to the role of the judge under the common law as “discovering” the law in the expectations and conventions of people in a given society. We argue that this consistent usage was more than a mere semantic coincidence — that the two concepts of discovery are remarkably similar in Hayek’s thought and that his idea of economic discovery influenced his later ideas about legal discovery. Moreover, once this conceptual similarity is recognized, certain conclusions logically follow: namely, that just as economic discovery requires the competitive process of the market to provide information and feedback to correct errors, competition in the provision of legal services is essential to the judicial discovery in law. In fact, the English common law, from which Hayek drew his model of legal discovery, was itself a model of polycentric and competing sources of law throughout much of its history. We conclude that for the same reasons that made Hayek a champion of market competition over central planning of the economy, he should have also supported competition in legal services over monopolistic provision by the state — in short, Hayek should have been an anarchist.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

Keywords: anarcho-liberalism, Buchanan, Bush, complexity, Constitution of Liberty, Glaeser, Hasnas, Hirshleifer, Hume, institutionalism, La Porta, Leeson, Leoni, Lopez-de-Silanes, Mayer, pluralism, Posner, Rechsstaat, Road to Serfdom, Rosser, Rowley, Sanders, Savigny, Shleifer, Stephenson, Tullock, Vishney

JEL Classification: B25, K10, P16, P51

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Date posted: January 24, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Stringham, Edward Peter and Zywicki, Todd J., Hayekian Anarchism (January 20, 2011). George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 11-06. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1744364 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1744364

Contact Information

Edward Peter Stringham
Trinity College ( email )
United States
Todd J. Zywicki (Contact Author)
George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8091 (Phone)
703-993-8088 (Fax)

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PERC - Property and Environment Research Center
2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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