David Friedman Isn’t a True Anarcho-Capitalist

This article argues that David D. Friedman is not a true anarcho-capitalist. I suggest Rothbard is a better fit for the prototypical ancap.

To be sure, this title and thesis are intended to generate shock. Anyone who’s read my blog knows I’m a huge fan of Friedman and I don’t think highly of Rothbard, so don’t take this thesis as a knock. I still think I have a substantial point here, so keep reading.


  • Anarcho-capitalist preserves the etymology of someone against government per se.
  • Being against the state is not the same as being against government.
  • However, as Friedman himself demonstrates via PDAs in the Machinery of Freedom, polycentric government is likely to emerge in a free market.
  • Friedman is therefore positively in favor of polycentric governance, which involves elimination of the traditional nation-state as a likely coincidental byproduct, not via necessity.
  • Friedman’s approach to economics is generally positive, while the Austrian approach in general and the Rothbardian approach in particular are negative, critical, and reactionary, rather than substantively or independently assertive.
  • Friedman’s approach to economics is empirical in nature rather than axiomatic. As a result, Friedman’s approach establishes that polycentric governance is likely to be a real thing rather than a theoretical possibility.
  • Rothbard’s axiomatic and moralistic approach tends to advocate for imaginary construct that actually exist nowhere.
    • In this vein, anarcho-capitalism is a better fit for Rothbard than Friedman.
    • That is because an anarcho-capitalist society is a free society with no government. While this may be coherent under an axiomatic system, it is empirically not plausible. Instead, a free market should be expected to generate polycentric governance, as demonstrated via PDAs by Friedman.

Conclusion: A positive, real-world approach to economics will tend to identify the efficient result in a market for law as polycentric governance rather than anarcho-capitalism. Sure, they’re mostly the same thing, but they are also subtly not the same thing. David Friedman may be better described as a polycentrist instead of an anarcho-capitalist.


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