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Just heard about this via AntiWar Radio:
(I'll link to the radio show archive as soon as it's up).
h/t George Donnelly
Advocates Civil Disobedience
Paul then calls for people to join in Opt-Out Day at airports around America on 24 November. Opt-Out Day is a project of George Donnelly--a voluntaryist activist who has commented on Distributed Republic in the past.
The speech struck me as another milestone that has been passed. Not only are the ideas of academic anarchists (like Rothbard) influencing events, but today's breed of libertarian anarchists are shaping the future.
Here are links to my posts and comments on war following the release of the "Collateral Murder" video:
For those who had lost faith in the ability of the empire to sow the seeds of its own destruction, consider what the effect of their latest weapon of choice will be.
Drones--whether aerial, terrestrial or aquatic--are cheap, intelligent mobile platforms. And because the intelligence is on the same technology curve as computing equipment, they will be ubiquitous in a matter of years. Where today they are being used as surveillance platforms to track enemies of the state, within a year or two they will be covering protests and traffic stops (like this or this), streaming live video to the Internet to record the activity of state agents for the protection of their victims. And where today, they are being used as platforms to deliver deadly force by state agents, in the future they will take the place of suicide bombers by replacing the targeting and evasion capabilities of a human with hardware costs similar to a laptop computer.
Though the initial use of drones by the state brings martial uses to mind, the market will no doubt find thousands of peaceful applications. Since seeing this demonstration a few years ago, I have imagined using a drone to locate sheep on my hilly 40 acre farm or to check the state of fences regularly. Where Skycams or helicopters cover professional sports events today, drones will cover high school cross-country meets in a few years. Lineman in cherry pickers will be replaced with pole climbing maintenance robots.
It has been about fifteen years since the Internet was commercialized, and agents of central planning are still trying to understand and respond to the resulting power shift from the collective to the individual. They will no doubt play catch-up to the genie they are unleashing by pouring resources into cheap, expendable platforms. They should stick to their nuclear bombs and battleships if they want to maintain a monopoly of weaponry.
My working definition for individualism is
- The recognition that human action is based on the individual.
- A social order based on the independent action of the individual.
Because (1) implicitly assumes that individualism is a fact of nature, this leaves me with defining collectivism in opposition to (2):
A social order based on centralized social and economic control.
Because this social order must be constructed in opposition to human nature (insofar as human action really is independent), the "control" of this definition requires extortion, psychological programming, or elimination of individuals who do not comply with the central plan.
If collectivism runs against human nature, why is it so common? The idea is maintained not only by a ruling class of central organizers, but appears to be accepted by those who do not benefit from centralized control. I believe it is due to the way our minds work to form general concepts.
Individual experience is limited by location, time, and intellectual framework. Through human language, we can share experience with other individuals. But our minds are too limited to hold the totality of the objective world, so we try to extract essential rules by which we can understand our observations and predict future events.
Thus, we will say things like, "The French eat cheese and drink wine," even if we find counter examples of residents of France who do not consume either. We are taking mental and linguistic shortcuts to explain the prevalence of wine and cheese consumption by individuals in France. This is appropriate for casual language only and is not rigorous.
My working definition of crime is
An action intended to harm another individual.
I was given this definition by an Objectivist once in conversation and have stuck with it. If anyone can point me toward a better definition from libertarian literature I would appreciate it; I am not certain that intent plays such a simple role.
But intent is immaterial to the point I am making about crimes. By virtue of them being an action, crimes are committed by an individual. By virtue of being the object of harm, the victim of a crime is an individual.
An armed conflict between collectives.
To stretch the talk of guilt or innocence or victimhood to cover collectives is as sloppy as talking about "the French drinking wine". We should not use such terms when discussing war, unless it is with the caveat that we are discussing, for example, historical wars in intentionally vague terms. If someone identifies a guilty collective who must be punished through war, they are either simply wrong or intentionally trying to manipulate you.
This leaves me with the conclusion that war is never legitimate. Defensive use of force is legitimate, and individuals may coordinate their defense or hire specialists to assist in defense against one or more aggressors. But individuals cannot escape responsibility for their actions simply because they belong to a collective. Likewise, individuals cannot justly be the targets of force simply because they belong to a collective. War is not a legitimate use of force because it is by definition collective.
It points out yet again how Statists can get things exactly backwards. Contrary to their slogans about service being a sign of responsibility, the Statist who supports war is actually claiming that soldiers can escape responsibility for their actions by belonging to a collective. They will maintain that the collective is supported by sufficient force of arms to protect those who serve it from any repercussions for their actions. But though they may provide some physical protection for those who serve, they cannot protect against the moral judgment of others or even the self-judgment of those who serve. Short of killing each individual who perceives reality differently than the sanctioned collective view, the Statist cannot provide escape from the fact that aggression has consequences.
A useful planning exercise is to consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your business. Your SWOT Analysis depends, of course, on how you estimate the broader business environment will develop.
So let's consider four scenarios for the future of the United States economy. The scenarios make some very different assumptions, yet I believe each incorporates themes drawn from anarcho-capitalist literature. The idea is not to try to guess which scenario is the most likely, but to consider different ways to position our businesses so we can adapt. How will your market be affected? Your financing? Your suppliers or personnel? Will your production methods be able to fulfill your orders? Can your business scale up or down as required to meet customer demand? Will you be able to openly promote your product or service without being a target for extortion?
The market is not monolithic, but highly varied. Your local business environment will be different from any broad description of the "US economy", and during this exercise, you should consider what those differences could be. Given the relative size and reach of the US economy throughout the world, it will likely affect you, even if you are on a different continent.
In this scenario, the federal government has extracted all the taxes it can from the economy without risking riots and large scale non-compliance. It has borrowed as much as the bond market can bear; buyers don't believe that the government will be able to extract enough future wealth from its tax base to pay off its loans. The only means for finding the dollars necessary to meet government promises is for the Federal Reserve to create money out of nothing. The new dollars are distributed as the government sees fit and the recipients use these to bid up prices for the limited goods and services in the economy.
At first, new or existing suppliers work overtime to increase production to chase the higher prices. But soon, all suppliers hit the physical limit of what they can produce, and are bidding against each other for whatever factors of production they need. Still, the government is issuing huge payouts in an attempt to command the economy to do the impossible. If it were a monolithic entity, "government" might recognize what is happening and perhaps act intelligently and decisively to correct the problem. But despite its rhetoric, government is nothing more than a collection of individuals, each with their own agendas and spheres of influence. The political game gets more ruthless as each power broker tries to grab more before the whole system collapses.
As the realization sets in that the economy is at capacity, and that many projects underway will never reach the stage that generates revenue, various actors scramble for more newly created money to outbid competing buyers in a zero-sum game for control. Prices begin to rise significantly; market participants lose faith in the ability of fiat money to hold any value over time. They trade whatever dollars people will take for hard assets, and cautiously save these, waiting for sanity to return to the market. Production is lowered, unrest increases, and government feels ever more pressure to either outbid in the market, or directly seize by force, the resources necessary to gain control. In a matter of months, the situation spirals out of control, ending with complete loss in faith of the currency.
How can faith be restored in any fiat currency at this stage? Will people who have never touched a gold coin accept it in trade for their goods? Will people be willing to run hospitals, generate power, and deliver train- and truck-loads of goods without knowing how they will get paid? How can they manage their companies productively if even the pricing structure has broken down?
If doctors are dedicated enough to work in their communities without pay and survive from donations of food, how long will they have the supplies and support services to continue? How effective can they be when each day batteries, perishable medicine, office supplies, vehicle parts, or communications could be missing?
As lenders see the prospect loom large of being repaid in worthless currency, how drastic will they be in repossessing equipment or foreclosing on properties? How much political pressure will they bring to bear to have contracts unilaterally rewritten to suit them? How secure can property titles be in such a world?
What happens to local police who don't get paid? Will even honest police understand what is happening? How will they deal with housebreakings, repossessions, the collection of outstanding fines, family violence from mounting stress, lesser police gone rogue or simply run away--when the number of cases that used to occur in a year are now happening weekly? What about the rest of the bureaucracy that supports government? Will each DMV clerk or health inspector try to support themselves by bribes? When murders are going unsolved, what are the chances of getting caught for petty corruption?
In short, this scenario presents a rapid disruption to existing institutions. New organizations can be introduced to fill the gap, but they will be judged quickly and harshly if they are not perceived to be effective. Not only Austrian Economists, but every school of thought that predicts a cataclysm will be claiming vindication and proposing bold new solutions. People will find it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, and will settle for solutions that feel familiar, even if flawed. It will not be a time of tolerance and exploration. There is a danger that people will accept any authoritarian that can make the trains run on time.
Ron Paul for President
The second scenario considers what unfolds when a libertarian reformer takes the reins of government. Simultaneously aware of the urgency of avoiding hyperinflation, of the folly of introducing solutions by decree, and of the political backlash that awaits anyone closing down entire departments of government immediately, the reformer has little room to maneuver.
Ending foreign interventions would yield the largest boost for the economy--it simultaneously improves both sides of the ledger by saving hundreds of billions of dollars per year and yielding improved trade relations in return. But it would require huge amounts of political capital to disrupt the military-industrial-aid complex that infiltrates every corner of society: not just military contractors, but politicians, media companies, banking, education, energy companies, and telecommunications. It is not enough to win the presidency; the reformer must be accompanied by legislators that dismantle major portions of the State. The obvious source of the reformer's political capital would be popular support, but could this be achieved in time for the 2012 election cycle? Could the current monetary system survive until the presidential elections in 2016? If this minefield proves too difficult to navigate, will Liberty be discredited as a solution?
Domestically, the wisest course for the reformer may be to open all government functions to competition. As private and home schools now compete with federally subsidized government schools, and express delivery services compete with the US Postal Service, the government may grant permission to establish private monetary systems or pharmaceutical testing. If so, the market could begin immediately and openly to serve the demand for these goods and services without waiting for government departments to be dismantled. But, politically and legislatively, government monopolies would have to be dismantled department by department. Can competing businesses afford to wait until they are given permission to start their venture?
The Federal Reserve may take concrete action to restore faith in the dollar. Certainly, holders of US Treasury Bills will bring whatever pressure they can bear to maintain the purchasing power of future Federal Reserve Notes. Interest rates could rise significantly for an extended period, say between 10%-20% for several years as they did in the US during the 1980s. A rescued (and less malleable) dollar would put pressure on the federal government to return significant tax revenue to bond holders--perhaps by cutting spending, perhaps by increasing taxes, perhaps both.
Suppose the reformer manages to bring us back from the brink of monetary disaster, make significant cuts to government spending, and introduce new government enforced checks and balances on the growth of government. What will happen when he leaves office? Will individuals who believe they have been set free by their ruler change their minds when the next ruler tells them otherwise? Will they be satisfied with the freedoms they are allowed, or will they demand others and inspire a government backlash? Will the market have developed its own checks and balances on coercive government? Will the gains in individual wealth and productivity make coercive control of markets impossible? Or will central planning creep again into every transaction, bleeding value from the market and using it to build yet another empire?
The Road to Serfdom
While the previous two scenarios were driven by sudden events, these next two are gradual. This one supposes that we endure a long, steady decline of freedom and prosperity.
What if the US experiences economic stagnation for years, as in the Great Depression or Japan's "Lost Decade" of the 1990s? Each year brings more government Keynesian plans; whatever wealth is created in the voluntary economy that could be used for growth is transferred instead to inefficient, politically-connected organizations via "stimulus" plans. Some analysts predict disaster with each new bailout, but they underestimate the initial wealth and resilience of society. As another wound is inflicted, somehow the host limps on, using up every last bit of reserves to find another way to compensate as parasites suck the life from him.
As new ideas emerge, they are censored. As political reformers step forward, they are jailed. Before new businesses can open, they must wait months for licenses, worker approval by government labor boards, and connection to municipal services. Older people see options closing down; the young are never introduced to the ideas that could save them. The "brain drain" and "capital flight" by which individuals once escaped the State have been stopped by border patrols and currency restrictions. Prices become more meaningless each day as they are set by coordinating committees instead of negotiated by individuals.
How can we preserve wealth and knowledge under these circumstances? What tools can we prepare now, when communication is still possible, which could help us escape from this death spiral? How have pockets of resistance communicated and sustained themselves under totalitarian regimes in other places and times? If the best hope for survival is escape, what services will develop to help people realize this hope? What will the escapees be able to offer in return? Where will they escape to?
Stumbling Toward Utopia
This scenario is more optimistic. It posits that a free society emerges as if of its own accord, molded into shape by the invisible hand.
Although each human has their own unique flaws and perspective, they seek out those who help them most effectively fulfill their goals. They may hold ideologies that are radically different, but over time a trend dominates showing people avoid those who abuse them and deal with those who cooperate with them. Decision making genuinely is distributed at the individual level in the world, and this natural sovereignty of individuals, over centuries and millennia, reveals that central control by a separate ruling class of humans is an unworkable fiction.
Suppose, for the most part, we are good people trapped in a bad system. That when we realize where our authoritarian institutions have brought us, some of us--not all, but enough of us--decide not to act as cogs in a machine, but as human beings: teachers who refuse to indoctrinate children to submit to authority; judges who set free a youth rather than ruin her future; Guardsmen who do not follow orders to disarm their neighbors.
As we accumulate wealth, each individual becomes further empowered. As more people have access to the knowledge of the world's cultures, past and present--as they adapt the best inventions to serve their own goals--as they communicate ever more widely and precisely--they use this power to entrench individual sovereignty. The world becomes a tangled mesh of billions of actors negotiating how to meet their own ends; so complex that no nano-sized eavesdropping device, no supercomputer, no authoritarian ideology, no weapon of mass destruction can coerce it under control. The cost/benefit ratio for violence grows ridiculously large. It is only the rare criminal that risks losing the opportunity to trade with a globally diverse selection of suppliers to instead attack nothing but well-protected targets.
How could we connect with this urge to become more than boxes on an organizational chart? How can we insulate our customers from the State, so they not only imagine life without it, but look forward to it? How will our suppliers insulate us? Is our business flexible enough to do things on our customers' terms, rather than the way things always have been done? Can we offer people a richer life, full of possibilities denied by the institutions they were trained to take for granted? Are we prepared to operate in a hyper-competitive world where we either meet our customer's unique need or refer her to someone who can?
Anarcho-capitalist entrepreneurs, by definition, recognize that their direct impact on the world extends no further than control over their life, liberty, and property, and cooperation with others who freely associate with them. They introduce change into the world by arranging factors of production into new, unproven ventures and offer these to the market to accept or reject. They are not so ambitious to imagine that they can control the weather, or interest rates, or command the people of the world how to think.
For this reason, we need to consider how our ventures will adapt when they meet with the larger forces of nature outside our control. We can construct a few scenarios to anticipate how society might develop, but this exercise is only to help us better plan our ventures. When events unfold, they will be a combination of these scenarios, perhaps similar to one for awhile until some exogenous event suddenly makes another dominant. Perhaps different scenarios develop in different regions, or in different market sectors, before they interact in some larger area. It is impossible for any one human mind to contain the wonderfully complex and subtle ways events will play out in the real world. Your venture should be ready to adapt to the various ways the market could shift.
As an agent of change, the ancap entrepreneur views existing institutions not as fixed structures defining acceptable thoughts and actions, but as human inventions; chosen perhaps unconsciously, but chosen nonetheless, by individuals one at a time. The ancap entrepreneur can search for principles of human culture, and use these to offer better ways for us to interact with each other.
Freedom Industry Eyes China
Having successfully stared down the US Empire, America 2.0 businesses look for growth in Asian market
American Brides for Chinese Men
Why be lonely? Millions of exciting girls looking to emigrate--many already speak Mandarin!
Trevor Lyman has a new project.
A few days after hearing about the Peace Blimp, it occurred to me how a strong protest against the war could separate the Liberty movement from the neocon elements of the Tea Party movement. Is there a better issue at making the distinction between the two camps?
It may even have the added benefit of dividing the anti-war Democrats from the Obama administration.
It will be interesting to see how the project plays out...
Cross-posted from a comment at George Donnelly's blog:
Agorism may sound complicated, but it’s just extra-governmental trade. Anyone can do it.
I was in South Africa in the '90s when the National Party (who had run the apartheid political machine) and the ANC were negotiating the future rule of the country. The two parties were highly antagonistic to each other, yet each had lost the backing of their cold-war benefactors (US support exclusively for the Nats crumbled with the sanctions program and the Soviet Union had simply evaporated) who could have helped one dominate the other. Each party attacked the other's bad ideas: the Nats wouldn't allow the ANC to nationalize the mines, the ANC wouldn't allow the Nats to continue the agricultural control boards. The Zulus, the DP, and dozens of other parties were doing whatever they could to avoid domination by the two major parties. More than gridlock, this was actually shrinking the political pie. As a result, the country was on the brink of complete freedom. Laws were deleted from the statute books, entire government departments closed, and people ignored what unpopular laws were left in the expectation that they would soon be overturned. Finally, the negotiators realized they better start agreeing or they would lose everything. The future was with the ANC--individual Nats either left government or finally merged with their "archenemies" to stay in the power game. It took the ANC the better part of a decade to reimpose the restrictions on the country; to make sure no matter what you wanted to do with your life, first the government had to get its cut.
But in that period of crippled government, the country bloomed like a desert when the drought finally ends. Office buildings turned their underground parking lots over to managers to rent out as flea markets on the weekend. Traders could rent two parking bays for the weekend (though competition was fierce for spots and most were tied up with long-term commitments). Sometimes a food court would be built in a cul-de-sac. Traders would chat during the day--which markets were doing well these days? Have you got an "in" there? Can my brother share your cousin's stand until we get our own?
I was doing contract work (mostly scientific data analysis for mining houses), and my wife was running a goat dairy. Milk is highly perishable, and your animals' production varies wildly from a maximum after newborn kids are weaned to nothing in the last few months of pregnancy; the name of the game is to figure out how to deliver a steady supply of products. We sold pasteurized, frozen milk to regular shops and made cheese during the peak times. We had big wheels of Gouda that needed to be matured for anywhere between six months and two years, we had soft cheeses that could be sold within a month, and we had a processed cheese made from the wheels that cracked open or otherwise didn't pass our QC test (taking a plug from the side and tasting it) at the end of a six month production process.
We wanted to know what customers like, so we would pack up everything for our stand: cheeses and some frozen milk (using a broken chest freezer as a big cooler), the cheeses of other suppliers (some ran their own stalls at different markets, some were busy enough with just cheese-making), tables and shelves built to fit in our two parking spaces, table cloths, packaging, scales, and cleaning supplies. We'd tie it all on the back of a pick-up truck, and try to be early in line when the market opened for traders at 06:30. If you were early, you could drive in and unload in 15 minutes; the later it got, the more difficult it was to drive out around the other stands; if you didn't get in well before 08:00 when the market opened to customers, you had to hump in all your gear on your back. Then, the music would start being piped in, signaling that opening time had arrived.
I loved the buzz of the marketplace! Indian traders with spices, Boere with biltong, undocumented black immigrant peddlers with blankets, east-ender type English with pirate CDs, Pakistanis with carpets, car parts, books, clothing, art work, fish, balloons, candy, jugglers, musicians, puppet shows--the place was all color and sound and smells and desire swirling together. It was the glorious integration of hundreds of individual wishes being negotiated and satisfied. As a trader, you had to learn to manage your focus. At once, you had to keep an awareness of everything around you, and make personal eye contact with your customer. You had to keep the line moving or people would leave, yet you had to make enough time to swap pleasantries and stories with whoever was trading with you, for you were selling the market experience as much as your product. You had to invite opportunities and yet protect your goods against thieves and cheats.
The best times were when the whole family worked the same market together. Our two sons were probably between six and ten during this period, and my wife and I would coach them in how to serve customers and run the till. It was amazing to see our eight year old offer up samples for tasting, then slice a piece of cheese that came to within 5g of the price the customer wanted, wrap it, ring it up, and bid the customer well on their way. As they became comfortable with the routine, my wife and I would excuse ourselves to go to the food court for a schwarma, or satay, or boerewors. We wouldn't tell the boys that one of us had our eyes glued to them while the other bought food; that the topic of discussion while we ate together rarely strayed from pointing out to each other the skills they had developed. The boys would get paid as soon as the morning rush was over so they could go buy treats and toys from the other stands.
I can remember only two interactions with government people during this time. One was 40-ish Xhosa woman in expensive western business dress and speaking in a condescending tone that confirmed she was from some child welfare bureau. She asked lots of pointed questions to our eight-year-old about how many hours he was working, and gave him a card with a help-line number before she left. My son gave me a puzzled glance--I explained to him that if he was unhappy working on the stand, she could use the police to remove him from us and put him in the care of an institution or another family. He rolled his eyes and threw away the card. The other government worker was a 20-ish white girl from the health department, new enough in her job to take things seriously. She gave me a lecture about how we needed running water on the stand in order to keep selling cheese. She didn't seem to be worried that this would be impossible in the middle of an underground parking lot. It was a slow day, and she was kind of cute, so I kept asking her help for how we could bring things up to her standards. I think we got 20 minutes into designing a portable water storage tank above the stand with a gas heater before she got creeped out by the middle-aged married guy having such an interest in her. Never saw her again.
This system worked in layers of government legitimacy. There were those, like the building owners, with assets that couldn't be easily hidden and were easy pickings for tax collectors. Then, there were the market managers, who had offices in the buildings, but made private contracts with traders. They would have to show some income on the building owners' books to justify their position, but it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to track their transactions.
Finally, there were the traders. They were doing business in cash and turning over a handful of bills to the market manager. They could disappear at the end of the day, if they wished, leaving nothing behind but a pay-as-you-go cell phone number on the manager's application form.
The market exists everywhere there are two people who can satisfy each other's needs. A free market exists anywhere they can do so without interference.
FR33 Agents includes chat and private messaging features, allowing DR members to communicate more directly. However, membership at FR33 Agents is moderated by people outside of our control (to layer several collectivist errors on top of each other).
Since I'm a long-time, but not founding, member of Distributed Republic, I'm not really sure what decisions I should be making about the DR "brand". I just went ahead and did this. It seemed like a nice compromise between trying to create something unique to DR, and floundering around trying to find and use each other's email. If anyone has better ideas for extending the conversations here, have at it in the comments below.
In a conversation with my wife this weekend, I was complaining about some new acts of regulation that emerged from the sausage factory of government. I framed these as the unintended consequences of stupid politicians, and in this case, she took the opposing side of that age-old debate and suggested that they were the intentional consequences of malicious politicians.
I was suddenly reminded of a passage from Murray Rothbard's "Conceived in Liberty" (Volume 3, p. 272):
Suddenly America erupted again, and now the British saw that the colonial problems had never been really quieted. They also began to see something more: that generally only the "extreme" poles are logical or viable, and that in-between states are logically self-contradictory and unstable mixtures that impel persistently toward one pole or the other. And so the British began to realize that continued drift and repeated near conflicts with Americans were unworkable, and that Great Britain must finally choose—either to pursue appeasement and go back to the salutary neglect and colonial quasi-independence of the pre—Seven Years' War era, or to take the hard line and crush the colonists and impose absolute British rule. The choice was appeasement and peaceful co-existence on the one hand, or maximum force for total victory on the other. In keeping with its nature, of course, the Tory imperialist ruling clique opted unhesitatingly for coercion and the mailed fist.
It made me consider the following idea. There are two stable social systems--central authoritarian control, and distributed individual action. A mix of the two is inherently unstable. When a solution is sought for a problem, the system incrementally moves in one of the two directions--either towards central control or distributed individualism. Someone who believes in authoritarian control, when faced with an unstable situation, will suggest to impose greater control, and incrementally move a step closer toward totalitarian government. Someone who believes in distributed action will act individually, and reinforce the distributed system. As the system reaches one of the two equilibria points, it is more difficult to move toward the opposing point.
Social systems are difficult to isolate. Previously, there may have been many independent societies separated geographically, but they are becoming ever more interlinked. As they come into contact with one another, either similar systems coalesce, or opposing systems display turbulence until they resolve.
Personally, I think the jury is in. The Internet shifted power toward individual control. The central planners are trying to shore up their system, and reaching totalitarian conclusions that may sound workable within the DC Beltway, but would take a near infinite amount of resources to implement. As Kevin Carson suggests in this C4SS paper (albeit discussing a more specific social structure--the Alternative Economy), we have passed a singularity.