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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: February 2015

5 - Efficient Plunder*


No governance arrangement can preclude perfectly the prospect of stronger persons using violence to steal from weaker ones. That, of course, includes government. There always remain situations when stronger persons find it profitable to plunder weaker ones and so do. Here I consider an extreme case of such a situation under anarchy – one in which profitable opportunities for plunder are ubiquitous and, at least temporarily, there's no chance of significantly reducing them: war.

This case is instructive not because it characterizes the usual state of affairs under anarchy, but because its extremity in opportunity for, and frequency of, profitable plunder provides a chance to examine the question of just how violent and destructive – how “Hobbesian” – even a Hobbesian jungle can become. In this essay, then, the central problem that persons under anarchy confront isn't how to prevent plunder, which is already an inescapable feature of the social landscape, but rather how to limit plunder's social cost.

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