Threatened By Exit
Unfortunately, I had jaw surgery a week after Peter Thiel's response to my Cato Unbound piece came out, and so I spent the ensuing firestorm lying in bed taking liquid Vicodin, rather than vigorously debating. Which is sort of sad, because I love a vigorous debate, especially with people who are being stupid and mean, qualities which were on prominent display in the responses to Peter.
The weird thing is that the firestorm was not over any of the basic ideas, but a throwaway comment he made that one of many reasons why democracy in the US is unlikely to produce libertarianism is that women are a large, non-libertarian voting bloc, and so it is no surprise that the era of female suffrage is also the era of big government. (Although both are the post-Depression era, so as always in country-level trends it isn't like we have clean randomized data).
It is always very telling when people freak out over a simple statistical observation, and I think Jason Kuznicki has the best post pointing out the absurdity of the freakout:
The astonishing thing — the really embarrassing thing for the left-wing blogosphere — is that so many people concluded from these lines that Thiel wants to end women’s suffrage.
People, it’s just not there — he’s not saying it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Thiel isn’t interested in making any changes at all to American democracy. He wants to exit American democracy. Thiel wants to found a new government with people who share his own (admittedly very eccentric) political views. In other words, he wants to leave you and your suffrage completely alone. Just to repeat, he’s not recommending any change to American government at all, except to subtract himself from it.
There are a lot of things you can accuse a secessionist of, but disenfranchisement is not one of them! The whole point of seasteading is to create more choice among societies. How can that hurt anyone? Oh, wait, I was thinking of a just, libertarian world. I forgot about the parasitic world of the left:
I find it tremendously revealing how threatened the left seems to be at the prospect of a talented, successful individual leaving to found a new society. It’s not enough to say that he’s cooked up a wildly utopian scheme with hardly any chance of success. This might have been more than enough to dismiss him. But no — it’s got to be much worse than that. So out come the lies and the smears. Or maybe the blank incomprehension. (I’m trying to be kind.)
And he closes by mentioning how Atlas Shrugged-sian this is. Which it is! If you doubt that the reaction to Peter's essay is a display of the looting instinct, one of the earliest and highest-profile reactions from the left was entitled "Libertarian inadvertently argues for 90% marginal tax rate":
I think we all know what a combination of watching too many sci-fi movies (plus “Waterworld") and being completely shielded from reality by your money can do. You become either Kim Jong Il, or you become Peter Thiel. We can’t reach Kim Jong Il, but what we can do to help Thiel is to tax away most of his wealth. While that doesn’t initially seem like it’s helpful to take 90% of what someone makes over X million a year, what it would do is force Thiel to get out there and actually work for his money if he wants to be stinking rich. Right now, he’s obviously not getting out of the house much, and all that sitting around counting his money and not associating with the real world is breaking his mind. He needs something to do, and needs to associate with people. Ideally, he’d be in a situation where he had occasional exposure to people who don’t indulge his crazy fantasies. And with the amount of money shielding him from the world, that’s not going to happen. For his own good, that pile of money he’s sitting on needs a dramatic reduction.
Wow. I mean, it pretty much caricatures itself. If you had any doubt that there are people out there who consider all the value you produce to be theirs to dispose of, at whim, "for your own good", this should end it. (If this makes you feel depressed, go join The Seasteading Institute, and you'll feel better).
Now's a good time to note that while I've spent most of my career as a libertarian thinking of Objectivism as a subject for mockery, I am now reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time, and loving it. It hasn't changed my mind about any of the things I think are wrong with the philosophy, and I do get annoyed by things like her constantly equating certainty with strength/good and doubt with weakness/evil (sorry Ayn, but the world is Bayesian and posteriors are rarely 100%. Certainty may be sexy, but it is rarely correct).
But the good things about it are things that hardly appear anywhere else, and are needed now more than ever. The whole theme of how bad laws turn honest people into criminals and outlaws, into hiding from other men instead of taming nature, and what an awful reversal this is of how a good society should be, is just awesome. That's how I've felt my whole life - I just want to create value, not constantly struggle with stupid artificial constraints, and to live my life openly, not constantly have to hide my consensual activities.
The commonalities between Gult's Gulch and seasteading are actually pretty hilarious considering that I had only the vaguest idea of what GG was until a couple weeks ago. There are some key differences, of course, but some strongly overlapping themes.