|November 27th, 2009||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2009
Libertarian Strategy Basis: Idea that Government is Outmoded
Digits and Revolution
by Gary North
"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."
~ George Orwell
We are seeing the beginning of a social revolution. This revolution will spread to politics. It is happening under our noses.
A revolution involves five crucial elements: (1) a new view of sovereignty; (2) a new view of authority; (3) a new view of law; (4) a new view of sanctions; (5) a new view of the future. Any revolution that does not involve all five is more of a coup than a revolution: a substitution of new rulers for old, not a change in the system.
The battles for the hearts and minds of men are being fought today in all five areas. Points three through five are still up for grabs. These are intensely ethical issues. They are intensely religious. They will not be decided by technology. There is no group and no worldview that has a clear advantage in these three areas. But the outcome of the battle over points one and two is going to be decided in terms of digits: the digits of the Internet and the digits known as money. In both areas, the existing Establishments of the world are under attack. I am convinced they are going to lose.
National governments have controlled the flow of information and the money supply for centuries. But with the advent of digits, the cost of maintaining this control keeps getting higher. The cost of communications keeps falling. Therefore, the cost of maintaining control increases. This is the battle over legitimacy.
The battle over authority is funded on both sides – rulers and ruled – in terms of money. The world's central banks are keeping the banking system going by inflating the money supply. This is now creating a crisis of authority. I think there are two men who represent this battle in the United States: Ron Paul and Ben Bernanke. Obama is a minor character. If McCain had won, he would be a minor character. If the governments lose this battle, this will create a crisis of legitimacy.
Political Revolutions as Capture
Historically, political revolutions have involved a capture of the existing political order. The more centralized the national government was before the revolution, the easier it is to capture power. The classic examples are the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. France in 1789 was the most centralized nation in Europe. It was the richest country. Its government was bankrupt. It was the hotbed of propaganda and secret societies favoring democracy. Russia in 1917 was involved in a losing war. Its treasury was empty. Its ruler was distant. It was a massive bureaucracy. There was a growing ideological movement for democracy and socialism.
At the heart of every political revolution is an argument for the illegitimacy of the existing civil government. Without this, it's just another movement by another special-interest group – a fringe group too weak to get into the inner circle.
The crucial social revolution in Western history was the result of Christianity. It produced a non-violent political revolution. The church did not call for violence. It simply taught that the emperors were not divine. That was an assault on the Roman Empire's legitimacy. That was why some emperors oversaw the persecution of Christians. But the Christians were correct. The emperors were not divine. Then came proof: Rome went steadily bankrupt, destroying its currency, and was replaced by a new system of faith. The best book on this is Ethelbert Stauffer's Christ and the Caesars (1955).
Philosophy was involved in this social revolution. Law and ethics were involved. Theology was involved. Public ritual was involved. You can read about this in Charles Norris Cochrane's great book, Christianity and Classical Culture (1944). But, at bottom, it was a shift in legitimacy that caused the political revolution. That revolution was successful. Why? Because it was preceded by a social revolution that took three centuries.
No one could see in A.D. 33 that over the next 300 years, the Roman Empire would be replaced. There were revolutionary groups in Palestine and elsewhere. Of what importance was a dead ex-carpenter whose crazy followers said had risen from the dead and ascended into the sky? The correct answer was this: enormous.
Great oaks grow from acorns. Cumulative change eventually breaks the system. Jesus taught this: "And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish" (Luke 5:37).
We are experiencing a taste of new wine.
Jesus taught through the use of pocketbook parables: money. People understand money – not in theory, but in practice. I shall begin my discussion of the revolution with a discussion of money and alternative money: gold.
The Price of Gold
With gold above $1,100, a lot of public attention is now focused on the dollar. The price of gold has always been considered a vote of confidence or no confidence in the dollar. But it is not just the dollar that has depreciated against gold; almost all other currencies have done so over the last six months.
From the day Nixon ceased allowing the Treasury Department to deliver gold on demand by foreign governments and central banks, a rising price of gold has been regarded by government officials as a vote of no confidence against those officials and their policies. There has always been official hostility to gold, precisely because governments resent the fact that citizens are allowed to issue a vote of no confidence in their policies by purchasing gold. Americans could not legally buy gold bullion until January 1, 1975.
For decades, central bankers have systematically sold gold into the market in order to lower its price. They do not care about the price of any other commodity; they care only about gold. Gordon Brown a decade ago, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, sold half of Britain's gold reserves at less than $300 an ounce. By all standards, this was an act of economic stupidity. But Brown has never been criticized effectively in public for what he did. There was no public outrage. The man is now Prime Minister of Great Britain, despite the fact that he cost the British government something in the range of $10 billion.
The war between central bankers and gold is an old war. I have written about this in my ebook, The Gold Wars. It has to do with public perception. Gold's price is not rising because millions of people are attempting to take back control over the banking system. There is no thought by most investors that gold is going to be money anytime soon, or ever. It is merely a commodity which is expected to appreciate in relation to money. Its rising price is a vote of no-confidence in fiat money; it is not a mandate for restructuring the world's markets to function on a gold coin standard. I wish it were.
People who have been in the gold bug camp for several decades are tempted to believe that their ideological position is about to be justified. They want to believe that the public is finally coming to its senses. They want to believe that people who buy gold are implicit gold bugs, who are ready to pressure the government to set up a gold standard. Unfortunately, there is almost no awareness by the general public about what a gold standard would look like. At best, they imagine that it would be some kind of restraint on the expansion of government currency.
The reality is this: central banks run the economies in every nation, and have for almost a century. Central bankers are not about to surrender sovereignty over money just because a relative handful of investors accumulate gold as an investment. In the case of India, fathers purchase gold jewelry for their daughters' dowries. That constitutes no threat to the existing fiat money order.
Nevertheless, central bankers and politicians resent the fact that the public has the legal right to go into the marketplace and buy a commodity that is traditionally purchased as a way to protect people against the debasement of the nation's currency. Politicians and central bankers understand that when gold rises above traditional levels, the public is made aware of the fact that something is fundamentally wrong with the monetary system. If the monetary system were being managed properly, gold would bump along at a traditional price. But when it leaps upward, the public is alerted to the fact that something has changed in monetary policy. Gold may not be a very good inflation hedge in the near term, but over centuries, it has served as the most reliable single hedge against the debasement of currencies.
We are now seeing a change of perspective on the part of central bankers. When India this month purchased half of the proposed gold sale of the International Monetary Fund, it sent a message to central bankers in the West. India's finance minister actually told the press that he thought Western currencies are bankrupt.
In India, it is politically acceptable for the central bank to accumulate gold, even though gold pays no rate of interest. The fact of the matter is, the U.S. Treasury today pays virtually no interest on 90-day T-bills. So, the Indian central bank had a choice: buy a commodity that is appreciating versus a commodity that is depreciating, neither of which pays any interest. It did not take a rocket scientist to make the correct decision. It is a politically popular decision in India, and the central bank was admitting in full public view that the leaders of the country no longer fully trust the value of the dollar and the other Western currencies.
This was a major event. It was a major event because it was an open acknowledgment by a central bank that now has over quarter of trillion dollars of reserves in foreign currencies that it is no longer going to play the fall guy for the Treasury Departments and central banks of the West. It was an open admission by an Asian central bank against the United States, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan. It was unlikely that the Indian central bank was going to buy Chinese currency under the circumstances. So, in order to announce their doubts about the future purchasing power of Western currencies, the decision-makers in India's central bank decided to make a symbolic public act of defiance. It bought the traditional money which has always been popular in the history of India. It bought $6.7 billion worth of gold. This is chump change for India's central bank.
I grew up in a world in which India was poverty-stricken. The thought of India as a significant player in international markets was unthinkable. India was a basket case. Western foreign aid poured in India just to feed millions of Indians, in addition to far more millions of rats, who consumed at least half of the grain sent to India. The rats lived in the grain warehouses. India's economy was a joke. Yet here we are, a decade after India began to repeal the regulatory nightmare that had been the Indian economy, and is now sitting on top of a quarter trillion dollars worth of foreign debt certificates. The turnabout took place so fast that nobody noticed. The growth of the Chinese economy got all the headlines, but the growth of the Indian economy was also spectacular. In the history of economic affairs, India is second only to China in terms of the speed of economic growth of a large country.
Asia is beginning to break away from the Western alliance. Asian politicians have begun to smell blood in the West. The enormous deficits that the Western industrial nations are running have sent a warning signal to Asian politicians and central bankers. The message is clear: the West is beyond the point of no return. There is no way that Western governments are going to reverse these massive deficits, and there is no way that they're going to be able to pay off these deficits with anything except fiat money.
If the deficits are paid off through inflation, Western buyers will no longer be the source of profitability for exporters in China and India. On the other hand, if Western governments cease to sell their debt to their own central banks, or to foreign central banks, then there is going to be a dramatic rise in interest rates in the West. That is going to create a depression. Again, there is no particular advantage for large Asian nations to build up an export-based economy if the Western economies are going to be facing either mass inflation or else a depression, in which demand for imports from Asia will fall like a stone.
Asian central bankers now have to face reality. If they cling to the old mercantilism, exporting for Western currencies that can be used mainly to buy Western debt issued by Western governments, what is the point? What good does it do to export your country's wealth and exchange for promises that cannot be repaid by the governments that issued the promises?
The decision of the Indian central bank to buy half of the IMF's gold was a public announcement that Asian politicians and central bankers have begun to see the end of the road. They have begun to see that Western buyers of Asian products are not good credit risks any longer. The Indian decision-makers are beginning to sense that they are sitting on top of a pile of IOUs that are not going to be repaid. They have accepted hundreds of billions of dollars worth of IOUs, and these IOUs are payable in the domestic currencies of the nations issued the IOUs. This extension of credit is a loser's game. It has taken Asian politicians and central bankers two decades to figure this out. Now that they are beginning to come to their senses, people who want to hedge against the decline of their own nation's currencies are finding that they might as well get in to the deal. Why leave gold for central bankers to hoard? Why not buy it now, and take advantage of any future price increases?
The governments can break the gold market easily. All they have to do is cease inflating. Or, if this is not enough, they can begin to deflate. They can begin to sell debt certificates that serve as the monetary base. They can let private citizens hold these IOUs. The money paid to the central bank to purchase the government IOUs is then not put back into circulation. The fractional reserve process begins to contract, interest rates begin to go up, the economy moves back to recession and then plummets into depression. This is the price of breaking the gold market. The politicians and central bankers do not want to pay this price.
Central bankers have another way of driving down the price of gold. They can sell any gold reserves held by the central bank. The problem is, India's decision to purchase half of the offering made by the IMF indicates that the beneficiaries of such sales will be foreign central banks. The gold will not enter private markets, so the price of gold will not go down. All that the central bankers of the West will accomplish is to transfer the only really valuable long-term asset that Western central banks hold. This will not accomplish the goal of the Western central banks, namely, to drive down the price of gold in private markets. On the contrary, the decision of the IMF to sell half its gold to India's government drove up the price of gold. It sent a signal to gold investors, namely, that Asian central banks are willing and able to buy gold sold by Western central banks. That put a seeming floor under the price of gold.
I don't think that there is any magical number below which gold cannot and will not fall. But the decision of India's central bank to purchase all that gold did send a message: the bank may buy more gold if it falls below a price in the range of $1,000 an ounce. It may even buy gold at $1,100 an ounce. This has given a sense of confidence to gold investors around the world.
We now see a kind of mini-gold rush around the world. Most people still own no gold. Most hedge funds own no gold. Certainly the major mutual funds do not hold gold. Gold is still considered politically incorrect. As a result, conventional investors and conventional managers of publicly traded and publicly held funds avoid gold. But, at some point, if the price continues upward, these fund managers are going to have to face the threat of withdrawals of money from their funds if they do not compete and offer gold investments of some kind.
Conventional opinion is hostile to gold, but conventional fund managers are willing to buy some gold, if that is what it takes to keep investors in their funds from departing. The average investor does not know about gold coins, or ETFs for gold, or the commodity futures market. He doesn't yet know how to buy gold. He is going to find out when gold continues upward. I think gold is going to continue to move upward.
If bankers begin to lend even 25% of the money they hold as excess reserves with the Federal Reserve, the expansion of M1 is going to create serious inflationary effects. When those effects become obvious to people, they are going to go down to the local pawn shop, or local coin store, and by some coins.
Because of the thinness of the market for gold, a large-scale infusion of funds would drive up its price. Private investors are now competing against Asian central bankers to purchase IMF gold. The IMF will get a good price, which ought to be the IMF's only goal. We are going to see an increasing demand for gold by the general public until such time as it becomes clear that Asian central banks are not going to buy any of the gold that Western central banks or government-supported enterprises will offer on the market.
End the FED
Simultaneously, there is growing political awareness among the far Right fringe, meaning us, that the Federal Reserve for the first time in over 90 years is vulnerable to public criticism.
The resistance of the Federal Reserve to the House's proposed law to mandate an independent audit of the Federal Reserve has sent a message to those people who listened to Ron Paul a year ago, and who have now figured out that the Federal Reserve System is the enemy. The Federal Reserve System has always had enemies, but these enemies were confined to the extreme Right and the extreme Left, and therefore had no political clout. The Federal Reserve System is now front-page news. Its enemies, whether from the right or left, are now in a position to embarrass the FED, calling attention to all sorts of indiscretions, manipulations, and outright chicanery. Federal Reserve officials have never faced this before. This is altogether for the good.
As criticism of the Federal Reserve increases, which it will, Federal Reserve officials will have to justify their policies before Congress and before the public. It's not that Congress is going to set up some sort of independent Treasury that will take over the functions of the Federal Reserve System. That was done in the Jackson administration and Van Buren's administration. We are not going to return to that era. What we are going to see is attention being paid to the specific manipulations by the Federal Reserve System. The FED is going to come under the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes' magnifying glass.
The Federal Reserve System is not prepared to answer questions raised by the public. It has never had to answer these questions in the past, and so it grew arrogant. There is little likelihood that the public is sufficiently well-organized to dismantle the Federal Reserve, but The FED is being embarrassed continually. Bureaucrats resent this. They are poor at deflecting criticism. The FED hired a public relations firm for the first time a year ago. This indicates how much trouble the FED is having with criticism.
For the first time in my lifetime, the Federal Reserve has to defend itself in public. Never before has there been a well-informed audience willing to listen to detailed criticisms of the operations of the Federal Reserve. Ron Paul's candidacy in the 2008 and his new book, End the Fed, have combined with the technology of the Internet to create a growing audience of skeptics regarding the Federal Reserve. This is a tiny movement, and it is not organized in any sense, but it is capable of sending out e-mails with links to articles criticizing the Federal Reserve.
The spread of information is inexpensive today, and the power of YouTube videos is great. The Federal Reserve is not yet in a position to defend itself effectively. I have never seen a video produced by the Federal Reserve System that plausibly explains why the crisis happened in 2008, and that the crisis was not the fault of the Federal Reserve. In fact, I have seen no videos produced by the Federal Reserve. The public relations team is apparently unfamiliar with YouTube. In contrast, there are dozens of effective criticisms of the Federal Reserve that you can get on YouTube and other video sites.
Criticism of the central bank is criticism of the heart of the Establishment's control. Why? Because no other powerful institution has equal autonomy. No other institution controls the central economic lever in society: money. No other institution has been able to escape public observation, criticism, and reform for as long as the Federal Reserve has. In the last 18 months, an articulate critic of the Federal Reserve, Ron Paul, has been able to attract what appears to be millions of listeners who are aware of the fact that the Federal Reserve System is the enemy of sound money. This is a classic example of what Albert J. Nock referred to as the Remnant. The Internet has provided the Remnant with the ability to find information that had always been blocked in the past. Google and other search engines are enabling them to narrow their focus down to topics that were previously so obscure that almost nobody knew about them. Combine this with e-mail, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and you have the mobilization of the ants against the elephant.
Controlling the Media
Before we can have a political transformation, the public has to think about why the transformation is mandatory. Usually, the elitists are the effective promoters of political transformation. They have controlled the media in the past. They have hired the writers, producers, and the technicians to get across their idea of why a particular reform needs to be implemented. Today, however, low-cost communications technology, especially free videos, has placed in the hands of creative individuals the ability to create public relations havoc for the Establishment. The Establishment does not know what to do about this.
The fact that NBC television is about to be purchased by a cable company is indicative of the transformation. The broadcasting organizations have relied on Federal regulation and Federal laws against rival networks. The Federal Communications Commission has been central for over 80 years in controlling what gets broadcast to the general public on the airwaves. Now the Internet has launched a successful end run around the Federal Communications Commission. Furthermore, satellite radio and television have spread anti-Establishment information. The cable networks have eroded market share of the networks to such a degree that a major network is about to be swallowed up by a cable company. This indicates that the levers of ideological control that the Establishment has relied on for over a century no longer serve as levers. There are too many levers out there today.
For successful political reform to take place, there has to be an articulate leader or group of leaders criticizing the existing system. There also has to be an informed minority, even a small minority, of citizens who have decided that it is time to change the system. What is needed at this point is a crisis.
President Obama's chief administrator, Rahm Emanuel, has said that he doesn't think a government should waste a crisis. Like most Left-wing politicians, he thinks that a crisis offers an opportunity for politicians to centralize control over the public. In the past, this has been the case. But a crisis in the Federal budget, coupled with a rise in unemployment, has created a special kind of national crisis. This crisis enables critics of the government to spread doubts about the wisdom, competence, and morality of the politicians doing the centralizing. This crisis has called into question the entire political system. There is a growing group of citizens who are convinced that the system cannot be reformed, that it must be shut down, and that any further compromise with it will work against them. This is a very small group, but it is growing.
In the past, critics have not been able to communicate with each other on a cost-effective basis. This has kept them from sharing information, and it has kept them from mobilization. This is no longer the case today. We are seeing the development of an unorganized yet connected network of well-informed critics of the existing political and economic system. Half a century ago, F. A. Hayek called this the spontaneous order. We are now seeing the advent of an orderly yet unorganized network of critics of the existing political system.
This undermines the legitimacy of the system. Above all other factors in political life, legitimacy is the central factor. If a social order loses legitimacy in the eyes of those who participate in it, it is only a matter of time until that social order is transformed. It may be transformed from the top by an elite, or it may be transformed by a plague, or it may be transformed by a lost war, or it may be transformed by an economic collapse, but it will be transformed.
The existing American political establishment is facing a crisis of legitimacy. This has not happened in the United States since 1865. The expansion of Federal power that has taken place since the outbreak of the Civil War has been relentless. There has not been a single period in which this process has reversed. In every era, the expansion of Federal power over the economy and over social institutions has been like a ratchet. For a brief period it may not move forward, but it never moves back. This is why we are facing a Federal debt (off-budget and on-budget) in the range of $80 trillion. This is why the Federal deficit is increasing by a trillion dollars a year, meaning the on-budget deficit. The off-budget deficit is probably increasing in the range of seven trillion dollars a year. This is the unfunded Social Security and Medicare budget.
The system is going to break. The ability of Washington to send out checks to everybody to whom it promised checks is going to fail. The checks will not be sent out, or else they will not be for money that will buy much. The Federal government is going to default in some form. I believe that it is likely to default by raising taxes on existing workers and simultaneously cutting benefits to beneficiaries. This may be cuts in the income of existing beneficiaries, of whom I am an obvious case, or it may be a delay of the advent of the benefits to those who been promised the benefits. The retirement age for Social Security may be raised, or perhaps there will be some system of means-testing for Medicare recipients. But, in some form, there is going to be a default.
The Climate of Revolution
The classic situation that precedes a political revolution is when a government has promised benefits to large numbers of people, and then it reneges on the benefits.
For years, things seem to be getting better. The government takes credit for things getting better. Then things then get unprecedentedly worse. This happened immediately before the French Revolution. It happened immediately before the Russian Revolution. It happened a decade before the American Revolution. We forget about this.
The American Revolution began in response to relatively mild increases of taxation that were required to pay for British troops in the United States. The French and Indian War (1757–63) had eliminated the threat of the French, so the Americans assumed that they would be the beneficiaries. The British government decided that Americans should pay for the quartering of troops in the colonies, in order to defend the new western borders against any future incursions by the French. The Americans had thought it was going to be no taxes and lots of new land. The British imposed new taxes and restrictions on the westward movement of the population. Then came the Stamp Act of 1765. That was all it took for the beginning of the end of the British Empire in North America. It began to erode the legitimacy of the British Empire in the eyes of North American British citizens. As the legitimacy of the regime declined, the opportunity for Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and other anti-imperialists made possible the American Revolution.
Revolutions in the past have been through the centralization of power. The one exception to this was the American Revolution, but that exception only lasted for five years: 1783–1788. The Constitution centralized power enormously in comparison to the Articles of Confederation. After 1788, the process of centralization increased relentlessly. There is not a single period in American history from 1789 until this year in which there was any serious reduction of Federal power.
The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution centralized existing hierarchical systems that were already more centralized than other countries in the West.
A political revolution aimed at capturing power in Washington is inherently self-defeating. It will simply add to the existing process of centralization that has gone on since 1789.
A political revolution has to involve the transformation of the legal order. Without a transformation of the legal order, there is no revolution. There is only a coup. It does not pay to run a coup. A revolution favoring freedom must involve something like a return to what existed in the days of the Articles of Confederation. If this is not the direction of the revolution, then it will simply be business as usual.
It is not good enough to reform the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve System must be abolished. This is the proper approach of thinking about the revolution. Ron Paul has written a book called The Revolution. He has also written a book called End the Fed. This is the correct approach. We must not try to strengthen the system, or reform the system, or make the system more efficient. We must abolish the system, agency by agency.
Ultimately, this could mean secession. At the very least, it means decentralization back in the direction of what the Articles of Confederation provided. It is no accident that no high school history textbook or college history textbook has ever devoted much space to the Articles of Confederation. There is virtually no discussion of the details of that document. Almost no one, including people who have Ph.D.'s in early American history, has ever sat down and read the Articles of Confederation, let alone a volume of analysis of the articles. This is because the victors write the history books. The anti-Federalists did not win the state ratifying conventions in 1788. The Federalists won, and they and their heirs have written the history textbooks.
Because globalization has decentralized authority over production and distribution, it has led to a way of unifying individuals across nations. The international division of labor is a result of the development of globalization. With the spread of the free market, we have the possibility of reducing the power of national governments without causing an economic crisis at the local level. The difficulty is this: to reduce the power of the national governments in a period in which the Establishment is attempting to create an international government reduces the ability of locals to resist. So, for any long-term political transformation to be effective, there has got to be a reduction of sovereignty and legitimacy for both the national government and the international government. There has to be a realization that anything that concentrates power at the top is a threat to liberty.
This strategy is not yet understood in conservative circles. It is especially not understood among those traditional conservatives and all neoconservatives who believe the United States government has a moral responsibility to police the world by means of its military. Every time this nation extends the power of the military, it extends the power of the State Department. Anybody who thinks that the United States military should be funded to police the world ought to have a picture on his desk. It would be a picture of Hillary Clinton in a general's uniform. That is what the expansion of military power means. It means a transfer of authority to the State Department. We need images to remind us of this, and I think an image of Hillary Clinton with the general's uniform is just about right. It was bad enough when her husband was Commander-in-Chief.
Ron Paul is the first politician to get a national audience in favor of limited government since Grover Cleveland. Paul is the first politician to offer a systematic, integrated, Constitutional case for shrinking the Federal government. In the 1950s, Sen. Robert A. Taft and Congressman Howard Buffett of Omaha were articulate defenders of a government somewhat like that which is defended by Ron Paul. But Buffett was unknown, and Taft was a compromiser. Taft's voting record always testified against his ideological defense of freedom. Ron Paul's voting record is consistent with his ideology. That was also true of Howard Buffett, but nobody knew who Howard Buffett was. They know who Ron Paul is.
Compared to where Ron Paul was when I worked for him in 1976, this is a whole new ball game. It is a new ball game because of the Internet. Ron Paul and Matt Drudge are the supreme representatives of the threat posed by the Internet to every Establishment on earth. Matt Drudge was able to get a President impeached. Ron Paul was able to get the slogan "End the Fed" in front of hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of Americans. This could not have been possible without the Internet.
In my view, this is the greatest single irony in the history of big government. The Internet was developed by the U.S. Army in order to decentralize communications because of the threat of an atomic attack. It was the expansion of the military that made possible the development of the technological infrastructure which, more than any other invention in the history of man, now poses a threat to every Establishment in the world. This development has enabled the members of hard-core fringe groups to communicate with each other, and to get out the message that they most love: the incompetence and malevolence of the Establishment. It doesn't matter which Establishment we are talking about; every Establishment now has an unorganized but orderly audience dedicated to its overthrow.
Anyone who thinks we have not entered a new era is naïve. The central economic phenomenon today is price competition. Whenever any technological development undercuts the existing cost basis of any established sector of the economy, it poses a threat to that sector. Peter Drucker's rule is this: when a new technology sells for 10% of the old technology, the old technology is doomed. Think "handmade Swiss watches." There is nothing that the defenders of that technology can do to stop the destruction of their industry.
This is taking place daily in the field of communications. The newspapers are dying. The TV networks are dying. All of this is taking place because of the cost reductions involved in telecommunications by the Internet. There is nothing that the Establishment can do about this. It can try to regulate it. If the FCC does, Congress will get a firestorm of opposition. The ability of members of the Internet to get out communications to other participants about a looming Federal regulation is so great that the opponents can shut down Congress. They can organize call-in campaigns that literally will make it impossible for anyone else to phone Congress. They can flood Congress with e-mails. They can terrorize Congress.
There is no possible way today for any bureaucracy in Washington to fundamentally reverse the development of the Internet. Politically, it would be suicidal for any politician to take a stand against the expansion of influence of the Internet. Joe Lewis was right: they can run, but they can't hide.
There are very few areas left in American society today in which the Left is dominant in a field which has not been subject to tremendous competitive pressure by the Internet. One of these is higher education. The Left still controls the universities. Another is the production of movies. The barriers to entry here are very great. There are financial barriers. There are barriers associated with particular skills of production. There are barriers to distribution. But all these barriers will fall.
The enormous effect of price competition on technology is going to enable outsiders to do an end run around Hollywood and the theater system. This is already being done by DVDs. With the rise of YouTube and similar organization such as Netflix, the movie theaters are going to be limited to date night for teenagers. The movie theaters will not be crucial to the distribution of profitable movies.
We are on the cusp of a political transformation. The technology is on our side. The communications system is on our side. Articulate and even inarticulate critics of the existing political system have the ability to spread their message of discontent as never before in the history of man. The fundamental political fact of our era is an escalating crisis in legitimacy for the Establishment.
As the crisis of the economy becomes more obvious to more people, and as it becomes obvious that the government and the central bank are unable to reverse the effects of the previous Keynesian policies, the public is going to withdraw legitimacy from the central government.
There will be two competing strains of opinion, as there always are. One group will call for centralization. It will appeal to the fears of the general public about the immediate economic crisis. The public will respond to these fears. But, at the same time, there will be discontent with these proposed solutions by a growing minority of citizens who do not respond as citizens traditionally have responded, namely, to call for even more centralization. This is the great conflict politically in our time. This conflict is going to increase.
There is going to be a push for centralization nationally, as the crisis unfolds, and there will be resistance as never before. We are seeing already an attempt by the elite to expand their program, inaugurated no later than 1919, to create a one-world government. The failure of national governments to foresee the crisis in the economy in 2007 is being used as justification for the expansion of international power over the economy.
This appeal is beginning to lose steam. Even if there is additional power granted to these government agencies on an international level, the ability of these agencies to impose negative sanctions against countries that refuse to cooperate is limited. There is no method for imposing sanctions at the international level which will enable the internationalists to complete the centralization of the world economy. They waited too long. The new economy has developed without them. The growth of trade, the free flow of capital, and above all, the free flow of information have all combined to create a system of political defense that will not tolerate interference by unelected bureaucrats 5,000 miles away. The bureaucrats may think they can get away with this, but they will not get away with it. They do not have the level of control over communications comparable to what they had in 1945. They are never going to get it back.
If we take seriously the Austrian theory of the trade cycle, we know what lies ahead. There will be escalating monetary inflation, followed by escalating price inflation leading to hyperinflation, or else there will be a stabilization of money. If there is a stabilization of money, interest rates will rise, the Federal government will become essentially bankrupt, and the economy will fall into a depression.
In either case, whether hyperinflation or depression and a bankrupt Federal government, the division of labor is going to shrink. Our net worth is going to fall. Our productivity is going to fall. Our income is going to fall. But all of this is the price that must be paid for what is really important, namely, the removal of legitimacy from national governments around the world. What is required for anything resembling decentralization or even secession is a crisis that is beyond the ability of the central governments of the world to overcome. The crisis has got to be painful enough to remind the general population that the central government cannot be trusted to fix anything. The central government has got to lose its ability to influence the economy. This is what is going to happen. It is already happening. What happened in the second half of 2008 is indicative of just how close the central government came to losing control over the entire banking system and the economy.
No one has a comprehensive plan to reform the system. This is a good thing. The system is too complex. The whole idea of Hayek's spontaneous order is that no central-planning agency can assemble the information necessary to plan. No system of sanctions could enforce it anyway.
Who would be able to impose such a liberating plan without coercion? Let me give you an example I have used in the past. In the early 1970s, the man who was the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Arizona was able to get a course in the free market made mandatory in all public high schools. He was a friend of Leonard Read, who headed the Foundation for Economic Education. He called Read to tell them about the good news about the new course. Immediately, Read responded: "I see. You have implemented a compulsory course in freedom." That was all he had to say. That was all anybody has to say. We do not need a compulsory course in freedom in America's public schools. What we need is the complete de-funding of America's public schools.
We need to do what Andrew Jackson did with the Second Bank of the United States. He simply refused to recharter it. He pulled the government's money out of it. He let it compete in a free market. Within a few years, it was bankrupt. This is what we need to do with Federal Reserve System. This is what we need to do with the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and about everything else in Washington. We do not need to reform them; we need to stop funding them. We need to pull the plug.
What can we do? This: vote no on every local bond issue. I can legally do this, and I always do. I always have. That is the attitude we must have with every budget in Washington. People want to know what my plan would accomplish. My plan is for everybody to keep a larger percentage of his income than he does today. It may not be a very sophisticated plan, but given the spontaneous order of the free market, it is sufficient to enable individuals to regain their freedom.
I do not think all conservative organizations could or should get together to hammer out a plan, even if they wanted to. I don't think they should want to. Let each group focus on its most hated boondoggle in Washington, and then persuade as many people as possible for the boondoggle to be shut down. I believe in the division of labor. I believe in the specialization of the means of production. Let each group target a boondoggle and do everything it can to get the funding cut. That's my program for reform.
To do this, we have to begin to develop alternatives that can be used to substitute for the shutdown of each government boondoggle. We can't expect to beat something with nothing. Our job is to criticize existing system, but it is also to encourage the development of privately funded alternatives.
I believe we should shut down the public schools. I also believe that we should have competing curriculum materials on the Internet, some of them offered free of charge, to enable parents to teach their children enough, so that the children, by about the age of eight, can teach themselves what they need all the way through university. I really do believe in the division of labor. I really do believe in decentralization. I really do believe that maturity involves self-government. I therefore believe that the best high school and college curriculum that can be designed would be a Web-based curriculum adopted by individual students who teach themselves. This is coming, and there is nothing the public schools can do about it.
States are now beginning to offer homeschool courses to parents. There is a required curriculum, but the curriculum is delivered for free in the mail. The parents are not required to send their kids into the prison systems known as the public schools. This is an admission by the teachers' union and by the state's Department of Education that parents are capable of teaching their children, just so long as they use a state-sanctioned curriculum.
This is a surrender of monumental proportions. This is the exact opposite of what the public school bureaucracy has taught since the 1830s. Always before, the public school bureaucrats said it is mandatory that students be instructed by a tax-funded bureaucrat who has gone through a particular curriculum in a monopolistic, government-licensed institution of higher learning. Now states have begun to abandon this. In principle the old position is gone. They are now saying that if the parent is willing to use the curriculum materials approved by the state, the parent can legally keep the children at home. The parent can legally keep the children out of the environment of the public school system.
This is the beginning of the end for the public schools. All we need now is for better curriculum materials offered free of charge that parents can see lead to better results than the bureaucratic, state-approved materials that are being used in the public schools. It will be easy to beat something with something much better. If we use price competition, which means offering materials free of charge by way of the Web, we can tailor curriculum materials to whatever audience we are interested in persuading. Dozens and dozens of groups, even hundreds of groups, will be able to develop curriculum materials and offer them free of charge, or close to it, to parents around the country and around the world.
If the child is not required to go into the building that the bureaucrats have controlled since the 1830s, then the education game is all but over. The change in the rules has permanently tilted the game in favor of Web-based education. All the hoopla about the benefits of being taught by state-trained, state-approved, salaried bureaucrats is in principle over. The charter school system, now being extended into households, is an admission of defeat by the public school Establishment. This surrender may look innocuous to some of them, but it is the biggest defeat that I have seen for the public schools in my lifetime. It is a self-inflicted wound.
The Two Crises
We are seeing the crisis of legitimacy at exactly the time that we are seeing a crisis of the economic system. The main justification for the expansion of government power has not been the spread of democracy, or the spread of the American way of life, but rather the predictable expansion of the economy year after year. Economic growth has been the holy grail of every Keynesian government in the world. It has also been the holy grail of every socialist government in the world. This goal is now being called into question by the fiscal and monetary policies that the Keynesians have imposed on the public, all in the name of higher per capita income. The unemployment rate keeps going up. This is the soft underbelly of every incumbent government.
We do not know what is going to come out on the far side of this crisis. We only know the crisis is going to accelerate. Central government planning is going to be called into question. The legitimacy of the central economic institution of modern America, the Federal Reserve System, is being called into question publicly now by millions of people. This is a symbol of how far down the road we are to the breakdown of the existing political order. It will not be pleasant. There will be costs borne by all. It would be nice to believe that the breakdown will be as bloodless as the overthrow of the communist regime in Russia in 1991. But the Russians had lived through a rotten economy for 70 years. We have not.
If we look at the things that really matter to us, we need to look at how we spend our time. Most of the time that we spend is in our families or at work. Our entertainment is delivered to us digitally into our homes. It is essentially free. It costs us time, but it does not cost is very much money. Digits are cheap and getting cheaper. Digits are consuming more and more of our time.
That which is most important to us in our lives is getting less expensive. If we can shrink the government, thereby recovering the confiscated wealth that has been taken away from us, we will be able to lead more productive lives. We don't need to get rich; we need governments to get poorer. As this realization begins to spread over the next 20 or 30 years, the legitimacy of central governments will be called into question as never before.
Consider education. This takes lots of time when we are young. It should take time all our lives. Our educational materials are now delivered for free or close to it. Books, videos, workbooks, and every other kind of educational material are available at very low prices are even free on the Web. So, this constitutes another two or three hours a day of our lives.
Food has fallen as a percentage of expenditures in our budgets since about 1800. I think food costs are going to go up, but I don't think they're going to be anything like 50% of our budgets.
We have transportation costs, but these are fairly minimal in the United States. In any case, as we become more digital in our communications and production system, the need for transportation will be restricted, except for trucks on the highways, and except for trains. When Warren Buffett purchased the entire railroad, he pointed to the future. General Motors went bankrupt. Buffett did not buy General Motors.
When we think about how we spend our lives, most of our expenditures are fairly low, except for shelter. Even here, housing prices have been dropping. Rents have been dropping. This is as it should be.
This is why we are going to see the decline of the state. Jacques Barzun is correct in his book, From Dawn to Decadence (2000). Martin van Creveld is correct in his book, The Rise and Decline of the State (1999). The central governments of the world have overpromised on what they can deliver. As those promises fail to materialize, we will see the rise of a revolutionary situation. The thwarting of the revolution of rising political expectations is going to create a political revolution. My hope is that it will not create a revolution of central government reform. My goal is not to reform the FED; my goal is to end the FED.
To withhold legitimacy from the central government means extending legitimacy to local governments. Yet, in terms of the amount of time we spend studying local government, we care little about local government. Yet local government must keep order. This is especially true of local law enforcement. How can we fund it if Washington goes belly-up? Simple. If we can convince parents to shut down the public schools, we can fund everything we need at the local government level. In fact, we can all get tax reductions.
The great enemies of our liberty are the Federal Reserve System, the Internal Revenue Service, and above all, the local public school system. Nothing else is a greater threat to our liberty today than the local public school system, because the local public school system uses textbooks produced by the New York City liberal Establishment. It always has. My goal is not to reform the public school system. My goal is to de-fund the public school system. We don't need the reform of the major institutions of this country. We simply need to quit paying for them. This is the message that we must do our best to communicate to anyone we think is going to be receptive.
Years ago, my friend Robert Thoburn, the entrepreneur who developed Fairfax Christian School, was standing in line at the Post Office at Christmas time. The line was very long. He turned somebody next to him and said it would sure be better if the system were run by the government. He got an incredulous look; then that person smiled. Thirty years ago, that seemed like a fruitless observation. Yet, as it has turned out, we could lose the Post Office tomorrow and barely feel it. We don't use first-class mail to communicate any longer. We use the Internet. We use Federal Express and UPS and other delivery systems to deliver anything really important that we have to send. The Post Office in effect has gone senile.
We don't sense that it's gone. Yet the reality is this: we have replaced something with things that are better. Therefore, at some point, we will see the Post Office either go out of business or become simply a forgotten memory. Yet the Post Office is part of the Constitutional system. The Post Office has always been a way for the government to control the flow of information. As Robert Nisbet said in an autobiographical essay, in the year he was born, 1913, the only contact that the average American had with the Federal government was the Post Office. How much contact do you have with the Postal Service today? It delivers mostly junk mail to you. We ought to think of the U.S. Postal Service not as snail mail but as junk mail. It is the junk mail service for the junk mail industry. Even this is subsidized. It gets cheaper rates.
We have seen the demise of the Post Office operationally over the last ten years, yet we have paid almost no attention to this. There has not been a revolution in our thinking about the Post Office. There has simply been a kind of forgetfulness. We haven't paid much attention to the fact that we don't need it anymore. This has not taken any kind of an organized political movement.
The Post Office is sacrosanct. It is untouchable. But now it is simply ignored. This is the best way to have a revolution. Create a free-market alternative to a particular government institution, and then refuse to use the boondoggle anymore. At some point, we can simply vote to de-fund it. We can privatize it. Nobody will care, because hardly anybody is using the system any longer.
Here is my slogan for political reform: Replacement, not capture; then de-funding.
Let us take this slogan and begin to apply it to all the government institutions that we deal with on a regular basis. Apply it especially to the Federal government.
We are seeing the creation of a new economy in which we really do not need the Federal government, except for welfare services for the aged. It is going to go bust because of these welfare services. So, the primary objective that we ought to have is to create alternatives to the welfare system. We don't need to call for the shutting down of a particular government agency tomorrow, although in principle that would be the best way. But that would be an overnight political revolution, and I really don't believe in overnight political revolutions.
Overnight political revolutions always centralize power. That is what Frederick Engels taught, and that is what I believe. What I believe is best for the country is a quiet social revolution, which is marked by a shift of reliance away from all government money toward free-market and charitable funding. We will simply walk away from the system. When enough people walk away from the system, and the rest of them lose their shirts when the system goes belly-up, we will be in a position to have a real revolution, one in favor of freedom.
This revolution will be one of decentralization and some form of operational secession. I don't think states are actually going to break away from the union. I believe that the governors and mayors are not going to bother to get Federal grants, because the money is either not available or won't buy anything. When we get to that stage, we will be prepared for a new period of liberty. That day is coming. The government has shot his wad, and the Federal Reserve, in shooting whatever wad it has left, is going to debase the currency.
The transformation is taking place right under our noses. As George Orwell said, it is a constant struggle to see what is happening under our noses.
|November 29th, 2009||#2|
Join Date: Nov 2003
Blog Entries: 34
The great enemies of our liberty are the Federal Reserve System, the Internal Revenue Service, and above all, the local public school system. Nothing else is a greater threat to our liberty today than the local public school system, because the local public school system uses textbooks produced by the New York City liberal Establishment. It always has.
Great stuff. The public school is really the linchpin between ordinary whites and the system. We pay for it. Too many of our women work for it. It exists in every district in the country, soaking up money from white men, and dispensing unwisdom from Jew Central.
|November 29th, 2009||#3|
Join Date: Jul 2007
I understand and do not understand.
|November 29th, 2009||#4|
Join Date: Jun 2009
THE DEATH OF POLITICS
(Landmark anti-government article by Goldwater speech writer Karl Hess)
The following text was originally published in PLAYBOY, March 1969. It is also available as part of Karl Hess' autobiography, as available from Laissez Faire Books. This web edition is now completed with the readers' letters concerning this article, published in the June 1969 issue of PLAYBOY. Many thanks to E. for sending me this text. — François-René Rideau
"This is not a time of radical, revolutionary politics. Not yet. Unrest, riot, dissent and chaos notwithstanding, today's politics is reactionary. Both left and right are reactionary and authoritarian. That is to say: Both are political. They seek only to revise current methods of acquiring and wielding political power. Radical and revolutionary movements seek not to revise but to revoke. The target of revocation should be obvious. The target is politics itself.
Radicals and revolutionaries have had their sights trained on politics for some time. As governments fail around the world, as more millions become aware that government never has and never can humanely and effectively manage men's affairs, government's own inadequacy will emerge, at last, as the basis for a truly radical and revolutionary movement. In the meantime, the radical-revolutionary position is a lonely one. It is feared and hated, by both right and left — although both right and left must borrow from it to survive. The radical-revolutionary position is libertarianism, and its socioeconomic form is Laissez-faire capitalism.
Libertarianism is the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit: that all man's social actions should be voluntary: and that respect for every other man's similar and equal ownership of life and, by extension, the property and fruits of that life, is the ethical basis of a humane and open society. In this view, the only — repeat, only — function of law or government is to provide the sort of self-defense against violence that an individual, if he were powerful enough, would provide for himself.
If it were not for the fact that libertarianism freely concedes the right of men voluntarily to form communities or governments on the same ethical basis, libertarianism could be called anarchy.
Laissez-faire capitalism, or anarchocapitalism, is simply the economic form of the libertarian ethic. Laissez-faire capitalism encompasses the notion that men should exchange goods and services, without regulation, solely on the basis of value for value. It recognizes charity and communal enterprises as voluntary versions of this same ethic. Such a system would be straight barter, except for the widely felt need for a division of labor in which men, voluntarily, accept value tokens such as cash and credit. Economically, this system is anarchy, and proudly so.
Libertarianism is rejected by the modern left — which preaches individualism but practices collectivism. Capitalism is rejected by the modern right-which preaches enterprise but practices protectionism. The libertarian faith in the mind of men is rejected by religionists who have faith only in the sins of man. The libertarian insistence that men be free to spin cables of steel as well as dreams of smoke is rejected by hippies who adore nature but spurn creation. The libertarian insistence that each man is a sovereign land of liberty, with his primary allegiance to himself, is rejected by patriots who sing of freedom but also shout of banners and boundaries. There is no operating movement in the world today that is based upon a libertarian philosophy. If there were, it would be in the anomalous position of using political power to abolish political power.
Perhaps a regular political movement, overcoming this anomaly will actually develop. Believe it or not, there were strong possibilities of such a development in the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater. Underneath the scary headlines, Goldwater hammered away at such purely political structures as the draft, general taxation, censorship, nationalism, legislated conformity, political establishment of social norms, and war as an instrument of international policy.
It is true that, in a common political paradox, Goldwater (a major general in the Air Force Reserve) has spoken of reducing state power while at the same time advocating the increase of state power to fight the Cold War. He is not a pacifist. He believes that war remains an acceptable state action. He does not see the Cold War as involving U.S. imperialism. He sees it as a result only of Soviet imperialism. Time after time, however, he has said that economic pressure, diplomatic negotiation, and the persuasions of propaganda (or "cultural warfare") are absolutely preferable to violence. He has also said that antagonistic ideologies can "never be beaten by bullets, but only by better ideas."
A defense of Goldwater cannot be carried too far, however. His domestic libertarian tendencies simply do not carry over into his view of foreign policy. Libertarianism, unalloyed, is absolutely isolationist, in that it is absolutely opposed to the institutions of national government that are the only agencies on earth now able to wage war or intervene in foreign affairs.
In other campaign issues, however, the libertarian coloration in the Goldwater complexion was more distinct. The fact that he roundly rapped the fiscal irresponsibility of Social Security before an elderly audience, and the fact that he criticized TVA in Tennessee were not examples of political naïveté. They simply showed Goldwater's high disdain for politics itself, summed up in his campaign statement that people should be told "what they need to hear and not what they want to hear."
There was also some suggestion of libertarianism in the campaign of Eugene McCarthy, in his splendid attacks on Presidential power. However, these were canceled out by his vague but nevertheless perceptible defense of government power in general. There was virtually no suggestion of libertarianism in the statements of any other politicians during last year's campaign.
I was a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 campaign. During the campaign, I recall very clearly, there was a moment, at a conference to determine the campaign's "farm strategy," when a respected and very conservative Senator arose to say: "Barry, you've got to make it clear that you believe that the American farmer has a right to a decent living."
Senator Goldwater replied, with the tact for which he is renowned: "But he doesn't have a right to it. Neither do I. We just have a right to try for it." And that was the end of that.
Now, in contrast, take Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society. Writing in The Radical Papers, he said that his "revolution" sought "institutions outside the established order." One of those institutions, he amplified, would be "people's own antipoverty organizations fighting for Federal money."
Of the two men, which is radical or revolutionary? Hayden says, in effect, that he simply wants to bulldoze his way into the establishment. Goldwater says he wants, in effect, to topple it, to forever end its power to advantage or disadvantage anyone.
This is not to defend the Goldwater campaign as libertarian. It is only to say that his campaign contained a healthy element of this sort of radicalism. But otherwise, the Goldwater campaign was very deeply in hock to regular partisan interests, images, myths and manners.
In foreign policy, particularly, there arises a great impediment to the emergence of a libertarian wing in either of the major political parties. Men who call upon the end of state authority in every other area insist upon its being maintained to build a war machine with which to hold the Communists at bay. It is only lately that the imperatives of logic — and the emergence of antistatist forces in eastern Europe — have begun to make it more acceptable to ask whether the garrison state needed to maintain the Cold War might not be as bad as or worse than the putative threat being guarded against. Goldwater has not taken and may never take such a revisionist line — but, among Cold Warriors, his disposition to libertarian principles makes him more susceptible than most.
This is not merely a digression on behalf of a political figure (almost an antipolitical figure) whom I profoundly respect. It is, rather, to emphasize the inadequacy of traditional, popular guidelines in assessing the reactionary nature of contemporary politics and in divining the true nature of radical and revolutionary antipolitics. Political parties and politicians today — all parties and all politicians — question only the forms through which they will express their common belief in controlling the lives of others. Power, particularly majoritarian or collective power (i.e., the power of an elite exercised in the name of the masses), is the god of the modern liberal. Its only recent innovative change is to suggest that the elite be leavened by the compulsory membership of authentic representatives of the masses. The current phrase is "participatory democracy."
Just as power is the god of the modern liberal, God remains the authority of the modern conservative. Liberalism practices regimentation by, simply, regimentation. Conservatism practices regimentation by, not quite so simply, revelation. But regimented or revealed, the name of the game is still politics.
The great flaw in conservatism is a deep fissure down which talk of freedom falls, to be dashed to death on the rocks of authoritarianism. Conservatives worry that the state has too much power over people. But it was conservatives who gave the state that power. It was conservatives, very similar to today's conservatives, who ceded to the state the power to produce not simply order in the community but a certain kind of order.
It was European conservatives who, apparently fearful of the openness of the Industrial Revolution (why, anyone could get rich!), struck the first blows at capitalism by encouraging and accepting laws that made the disruptions of innovation and competition less frequent and eased the way for the comforts and collusions of cartelization.
Big business in America today and for some years has been openly at war with competition and, thus, at war with laissez-faire capitalism. Big business supports a form of state capitalism in which government and big business act as partners. Criticism of this statist bent of big business comes more often from the left than from the right these days, and this is another factor making it difficult to tell the players apart. John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, has most recently taken big business to task for its anticompetitive mentality. The right, meantime, blissfully defends big business as though it had not, in fact, become just the sort of bureaucratic, authoritarian force that rightists reflexively attack when it is governmental.
The left's attack on corporate capitalism is, when examined, an attack on economic forms possible only in collusion between authoritarian government and bureaucratized, nonentrepreneurial business. It is unfortunate that many New Leftists are so uncritical as to accept this premise as indicating that all forms of capitalism are bad, so that full state ownership is the only alternative. This thinking has its mirror image on the right.
It was American conservatives, for instance, who very early in the game gave up the fight against state franchising and regulation and, instead, embraced state regulation for their own special advantage. Conservatives today continue to revere the state as an instrument of chastisement even as they reject it as an instrument of beneficence. The conservative who wants a Federally authorized prayer in the classroom is the same conservative who objects to Federally authorized textbooks in the same room.
Murray Rothbard, writing in Ramparts, has summed up this flawed conservatism in describing a "new younger generation of rightists, of `conservatives' ... who thought that the real problem of the modern world was nothing so ideological as the state vs. individual liberty or government intervention vs. the free market; the real problem, they declared, was the preservation of tradition, order, Christianity and good manners against the modern sins of reason, license, atheism, and boorishness."
The reactionary tendencies of both liberals and conservatives today show clearly in their willingness to cede, to the state or the community, power far beyond the protection of liberty against violence. For differing purposes, both see the state as an instrument not protecting man's freedom but either instructing or restricting how that freedom is to be used.
Once the power of the community becomes in any sense normative, rather than merely protective, it is difficult to see where any lines may be drawn to limit further transgressions against individual freedom. In fact, the lines have not been drawn. They will never be drawn by political parties that argue merely the cost of programs or institutions founded on state power. Actually, the lines can be drawn only by a radical questioning of power itself, and by the libertarian vision that sees man as capable of moving on without the encumbering luggage of laws and politics that do not merely preserve man's right to his life but attempt, in addition, to tell him how to live it.
For many conservatives, the bad dream that haunts their lives and their political position (which many sum up as "law and order" these days) is one of riot. To my knowledge, there is no limit that conservatives would place upon the power of the state to suppress riots.
Even in a laissez-faire society, of course, the right to self-defense would have to be assumed, and a place for self-defense on a community basis could easily be imagined. But community self-defense would always be exclusively defensive. Conservatives betray an easy willingness to believe that the state should also initiate certain offensive actions, in order to preclude trouble later on. "Getting tough" is the phrase most often used. It does not mean just getting tough on rioters. It means getting tough on entire ranges of attitudes: clipping long hair, rousting people from parks for carrying concealed guitars, stopping and questioning anyone who doesn't look like a member of the Jaycees, drafting all the ne'er-do-wells to straighten them up, ridding our theaters and bookstores of "filth" and, always and above all, putting "those" people in their place. To the conservative, all too often, the alternatives are social conformity or unthinkable chaos.
Even if these were the only alternatives — which they obviously aren't — there are many reasons for preferring chaos to conformity. Personally, I believe I would have a better chance of surviving — and certainly my values would have a better chance of surviving — with a Watts, Chicago, Detroit, or Washington in flames than with an entire nation snug in a garrison.
Riots in modern America must be broken down into component parts. They are not all simple looting and violence against life and property. They are also directed against the prevailing violence of the state — the sort of ongoing civic violence that permits regular police supervision of everyday life in some neighborhoods, the rules and regulations that inhibit absolutely free trading, the public schools that serve the visions of bureaucracy rather than the varieties of individual people. There is violence also by those who simply want to shoot their way into political power otherwise denied them. Conservatives seem to think that greater state police power is the answer. Liberals seem to think that more preferential state welfare power is the answer. Power, power, power.
Except for ordinary looters — for whom the answer must be to stop them as you would any other thief — the real answer to rioting must lie elsewhere. It must lie in the abandonment, not the extension, of state power — state power that oppresses people, state power that tempts people. To cite one strong example: The white stores in many black neighborhoods, which are said to cause such dissatisfaction and envy, have a special unrealized advantage thanks to state power. In a very poor neighborhood there may be many with the natural ability to open a retail store, but it is much less likely that these people would also have the ability to meet all the state and city regulations, governing everything from cleanliness to bookkeeping, which very often comprise the marginal difference between going into business or staying out. In a real laissez-faire society, the local entrepreneur, with whom the neighbors might prefer to deal, could go openly into business — selling marijuana, whiskey, numbers, slips, books, food or medical advice from the trunk of his car. He could forget about ledgers, forms and reports and simply get on with the business of business, rather than the business of bureaucracy. Allowing ghetto dwellers to compete on their own terms, rather than someone else's, should prove a more satisfying and practical solution to ghetto problems than either rampages or restrictions.
The libertarian thrusts away from power and authority that marked the Goldwater campaign were castigated from the left as being "nostalgic yearnings for a simpler world." (Perhaps akin to the simplistic yearnings of the hippies whom the left so easily tolerates even while it excoriates Goldwater.) Goldwater's libertarianism was castigated from the right — he received virtually no support from big business — as representing policies that could lead to unregulated competition, international free trade and, even worse, a weakening of the very special partnership that big business now enjoys with Big Government.
The most incredible convolution in the thinking that attacked Goldwater as reactionary, which he isn't, rather than radical, which he is, came in regard to nuclear weapons. In that area he was specifically damned for daring to propose that the control of these weapons be shared, and even fully placed, in the multinational command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, rather than left to the personal, one-man discretion of the President of the United States.
Again, who is reactionary and who is radical? The men who want an atomic king enthroned in Washington, or the man who dares ask that that divine right of destruction become less divine and more divided? Until recently, it was a popular cocktail pastime to speculate of the difference between the war in Vietnam under "Save-the-world-from Goldwater" Johnson, or as it might have been under wild Barry, who, by his every campaign utterance, would have been bound to share the Vietnam decision (and the fighting) with NATO, rather than simply and unilaterally going it alone.
To return to the point: The most vital question today about politics — not in politics — is the same sort of question that is plaguing Christianity. Superficially, the Christian question seems simply what kind of religion should be chosen. But basically, the question is whether any irrational or mystical forces are supportable, as a way to order society, in a world increasingly able and ready to be rational. The political version of the question may be stated this way: Will men continue to submit to rule by politics, which has always meant the power of some men over other men, or are we ready to go it alone socially, in communities of voluntarism, in a world more economic and cultural than political, just as so many now are prepared to go it alone metaphysically in a world more of reason than religion?
The radical and revolutionary answer that a libertarian, laissez-faire position makes to that question is not quite anarchy. The libertarian, laissez-faire movement is, actually, if embarrassingly for some, a civil rights movement. But it is antipolitical, in that it builds diversified power to be protected against government, even to dispense with government to a major degree, rather than seeking power to protect government or to perform any special social purpose.
It is a civil-liberties movement in that it seeks civil liberties, for everyone, as defined in the 19th Century by one of Yale's first professors of political and social science, William Graham Sumner. Sumner said: "Civil liberty is the status of the man who is guaranteed by law and civil institutions the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare."
Modern liberals, of course, would call this selfishness, and they would be correct with intense emphasis on self. Many modern conservatives would say that they agree with Sumner, but they would not be correct. Men who call themselves conservatives, but who operate in the larger industries, spend considerable time, and not a small amount of money, fighting government subsidies to labor unions (in the form of preferential tax and legal considerations) or to people (in the form of welfare programs). They do not fight direct subsidies to industries — such as transportation, farming or universities. They do not, in short, believe that men are entitled to the exclusive employment of their own powers for their own welfare, because they accept the practice of taxing a good part of that power to use for the welfare of other people.
As noted, for all the theoretical screaming that sometimes may be heard from the industrial right, it is safe to say that the major powers of government to regulate industry were derived not only from the support of businessmen but actually at the insistence of businessmen. Uneconomical mail rates are cherished by businessmen who can profit from them and who, significantly, seem uninterested in the obvious possibility of transforming the postal service from a bureau into a business. As a business, of course, it would charge what it cost to mail things, not what is simply convenient for users to pay.
The big businessmen who operate the major broadcast networks are not known for suggesting, as a laissez-faire concept would insist, that competition for channels and audiences be wide open and unregulated. As a consequence, of course, the networks get all the government control that they deserve, accepting it in good cheer because, even if censored, they are also protected from competition. It is notable, also, that one of the most fierce denunciations of pay TV (which, under capitalism, should be a conceptual commonplace) came not from the Daily Worker but from the Reader's Digest, that supposed bastion of conservatism. Actually, I think the Digest is such a bastion. It seems to believe that the state is an institution divinely ordained to make men moral — in a "Judeo-Christian" sense, of course. It abhors, as no publication short of William Buckley's National Review, the insolence of those untidy persons who today so regularly challenge the authority of the state.
In short, there is no evidence whatever that modern conservatives subscribe to the "your life is your own" philosophy upon which libertarianism is founded. An interesting illustration that conservatism not only disagrees with libertarianism but is downright hostile to it is that the most widely known libertarian author of the day, Miss Ayn Rand, ranks only a bit below, or slightly to the side of, Leonid Brezhnev as an object of diatribe in National Review. Specifically, it seems, she is reviled on the right because she is an atheist, daring to take exception to the National Review notion that man's basically evil nature (stemming from original sin) means he must be held in check by a strong and authoritarian social order.
Barry Goldwater, during his 1964 campaign, repeatedly said that "the government strong enough to give you what you want is strong enough to take it all away." Conservatives, as a group, have forgotten, or prefer to ignore, that this applies also to government's strength to impose social order. If government can enforce social norms, or even Christian behavior, it can also take away or twist them.
To repeat: Conservatives yearn for a state, or "leadership," with the power to restore order and to put things — and people — back in their places. They yearn for political power. Liberals yearn for a state that will bomb the rich and balm the poor. They too yearn for political power. Libertarians yearn for a state that cannot, beyond any possibility of amendment, confer any advantage on anyone; a state that cannot compel anything, but simply prevents the use of violence, in place of other exchanges, in relations between individuals or groups.
Such a state would have as its sole purpose (probably supported exclusively by use taxes or fees) the maintenance of a system to adjudicate disputes (courts), to protect citizens against violence (police), to maintain some form of currency for ease of commerce, and, as long as it might be needed because of the existence of national borders and differences, to maintain a defense force. Meanwhile, libertarians should also work to end the whole concept of the nation-state itself. The major point here is that libertarians would start with no outstanding predispositions about public functions, being disposed always to think that there is in the personal and private world of individuals someone who can or will come along with a solution that gets the job done without conferring upon anyone power that has not been earned through voluntary exchange.
In fact, it is in the matters most appropriate to collective interest — such as courts and protection against violence — that government today often defaults. This follows the bureaucratic tendency to perform least-needed services — where the risk of accountability is minimal — and to avoid performing essential but highly accountable services. Courts are clogged beyond belief. Police, rather than simply protecting citizens against violence, are deeply involved in overseeing private morals. In black neighborhoods particularly, the police serve as unloved and unwanted arbiters of everyday life.
If, in the past few paragraphs, the reader can detect any hint of a position that would be compatible with either the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the National Association of Manufacturers, he is strongly advised to look again. No such common ground exists. Nor can any common ground be adduced in terms of "new politics" versus "old politics." New or old, the positions that parade around today under these titles are still politics and, like roses, they smell alike. Radical and revolutionary politicians — antipoliticians, if you will — should be able to sniff them out easily.
Specific matters that illustrate the differences would include the draft, marijuana, monopoly, censorship, isolationism-internationalism, race relations and urban affairs, to name a few.
As part of his aborted campaign for the Presidency, Nelson Rockefeller took a position on the draft. In it, he specifically took exception to Richard Nixon's draft stand, calling it "old politics" as contrasted with his own "new politics." The Rockefeller position involved a certain streamlining of the draft, but nothing that would change it from what it patently is — forced, involuntary servitude. Rockefeller criticized Nixon for having asserted that, someday, the draft could be replaced by a volunteer system, an old Republican promise.
The new politician contended that the Nixon system wouldn't work because it never had worked. The fact that this nation has never offered to pay its soldiers at a rate realistic enough to attract them was not covered in Rockefeller's statement. Nor did the new politician address himself to the fact that, given a nation that not enough citizens can be attracted to defend voluntarily, you probably also have a nation that, by definition, isn't really worth defending.
The old politician, on the other hand, did not present quite as crisp a position on the draft as the new politician tried to pin him with. Nixon, although theoretically in favor of a voluntary military, was — along with the presumably even more conservative Ronald Reagan — opposed to trying voluntarism until after the Vietnam war. Throughout the conservative stance one sees a repetition of this position. Freedom is fine — but it must be deferred as long as a hot war or the Cold War has to be fought.
All should be struck by the implications of that baleful notion. It implies that free men simply cannot be ingenious enough to defend themselves against violence without themselves becoming violent — not toward the enemy alone, but to their own persons and liberty as well. If our freedom is so fragile that it must be continuously protected by giving it up, then we are in deep trouble. And, in fact, by following a somewhat similar course, we got ourselves in very deep trouble in Southeast Asia. The Johnson war there was escalated precisely on the belief that southern Vietnamese freedom may best be obtained by dictating what form of government the south should have — day by day, even — and by defending it against the North Vietnamese by devastating the southern countryside.
In foreign relations, as in domestic pronouncements, new and old politicians preach the same dusty doctrines of compulsion and contradiction. The radical preachment of libertarianism, the antipolitical preachment, would be that as long as the inanity of war between nation-states remains a possibility, free nation-states will at least protect themselves from wars by hiring volunteers, not by murdering voluntarism.
One of the most medievally fascinating minds of the 20th Century, that of Lewis Hershey, sole owner and proprietor of the Selective Service System, has put this unpretty picture into perfect perspective with his memorable statement, delivered at a National Press Club luncheon, that he "hate[s] to think of the day that [his] grandchildren would be defended by volunteers." There, in as ugly an example as is on public record, is precisely where politics and power, authority and the arthritis of traditionalism, are bound to bring you. Director Hershey is prevented from being a great comic figure by the rather obvious fact that, being involved with the deaths of so many unwilling men, and the imprisonment of so many others, he becomes a tragic figure or, at least, a figure in a tragedy. There is no new or old politics about the draft. A draft is political, plain and simple. A volunteer military is essentially commercial. And it is between politics and commerce that the entrant into radical or revolutionary politics must continually choose.
Marijuana is an example of such a choice. In a laissez-faire society, there could exist no public institution with the power to forcefully protect people from themselves. From other people (criminals), yes. From one's own self, no. Marijuana is a plant, a crop. People who smoke it do not do so under the compulsion either of physiological addiction or of institutional power. They do so voluntarily. They find a person who has volunteered to grow it. They agree on a price. One sells; the other buys. One acquires new capital; the other acquires a euphoric experience that, he decides, was worth allocating some of his own resources to obtain.
Nowhere in that equation is there a single point at which the neighbors, or any multitude of neighbors, posing as priesthood or public, have the slightest rational reason to intervene. The action has not, in any way, deprived anyone else of "the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare."
The current laws against marijuana, in contravention even of all available evidence regarding its nature, are a prime example of the use of political power. The very power that makes it possible for the state to ban marijuana, and to arrest Lenny Bruce, is the same power that makes it possible for the state to exact taxes from one man to pay into the pockets of another. The purposes may seem different, but upon examination they are not. Marijuana must be banned to prevent people from succumbing to the madness of its fumes and doing some mischief upon the community. Poverty, too, must be banned for a similar reason. Poor people, unless made unpoor, will angrily rise and do mischief upon the community. As in all politics, purposes and power blend and reinforce each other.
"Hard" narcotics must be subjected to the same tests as marijuana in terms of politics versus antipolitics. These narcotics, too, are merely salable materials, except that, if used beyond prudence, they can be quite disabling to the person using them. (I inject that note simply because, in my understanding, there remains at all levels of addiction the chance of breaking or controlling the habit. This suggests that a person can exercise a choice in the matter; that he can, indeed, be prudent or not.)
The person who uses drugs imprudently, just as the person who imprudently uses the politically sanctioned and franchised drugs of alcohol or tobacco, ends up in an unenviable position, perhaps dead. That, rationally, is his own business as long as he does not, by his actions, deprive you of your right to make your own decision not to use drugs, to assist addicts, or, if you wish, to ignore them. But, it is said, by right and left today, that the real problem is social and public — that the high price of the drugs leads the addict to rob and kill (rightist position), and that making drugs a public matter, for clinical dispensation, would eliminate the causes of his crime (leftist position).
These both are essentially political positions and clearly inept in a society where the line between mind-expanders such as coffee or LSD is highly technical. By choosing the economic and cultural approach rather than a political one, the antipolitical libertarian would say, sell away. Competition will keep the price down. Cultural acceptance of the root ethic, that a man's life and its appurtenances are inviolate, would justify defense against any violence that might accompany addiction in others. And what is there left for the "public" to do? Absolutely nothing — except, individually, to decide whether to risk drugs or to avoid them. Parents, of course, holding the purse strings of their children, can exercise a certain amount of control, but only individually, never collectively.
Incidentally, it is easy to imagine that, if drugs were left to economics and culture instead of politics, medical researchers would shortly discover a way to provide the salable and wanted effects of drugs without the incapacitation of addiction. In this as in similar matters — such as the unregulated competition from which it is felt people need protection — technology rather than politics might offer far better answers.
Monopoly is a case in point. To suppose that anyone needs government protection from the creation of monopolies is to accept two suppositions: that monopoly is the natural direction of unregulated enterprise, and that technology is static. Neither, of course, is true. The great concentrations of economic power, which are called monopolies today, did not grow despite government's anti-monopolistic zeal. They grew, largely, because of government policies, such as those making it more profitable for small businesses to sell out to big companies rather than fight the tax code alone. Additionally, Federal fiscal and credit policies and Federal subsidies and contracts have all provided substantially more assistance to big and established companies than to smaller, potentially competitive ones. The auto industry receives the biggest subsidy of all through the highway program on which it prospers, but for which it surely does not pay a fair share. Airlines are subsidized and so protected that newcomers can't even try to compete. Television networks are fantastically advantaged by FCC licensing, which prevents upstarts from entering a field where big old-timers have been established. Even in agriculture, it is large and established farmers who get the big subsidies — not small ones who might want to compete. Government laws specifically exempting unions from antitrust activities have also furthered a monopoly mentality. And, of course, the "public utility" and "public transportation" concepts have specifically created government-licensed monopolies in the fields of power, communications, and transit. This is not to say that economic bigness is bad. It isn't, if it results from economic efficiency. But it is bad if it results from collusion with political, rather than with economic power. There is no monopoly in the world today, of which I could think, that might not be seriously challenged by competition, were it not for some form of protective government license, tariff, subsidy, or regulation. Also, there isn't the tiniest shred of evidence to suggest that the trend of unregulated business and industry is toward monopoly. In fact, the trend seems in the opposite direction, toward diversification and decentralization.
The technological aspect is equally important. Monopoly cannot develop as long as technology is dynamic, which it most abundantly is today. No corporation is so large that it can command every available brain — except, of course, a corporate state. As long as one brain remains unavailable, there is the chance of innovation and competition. There can be no real monopoly, just momentary advantage. Nor does technological breakthrough always depend on vast resources or, even where it does, would it have to depend upon a single source of financing — unless, again, only the state has the money. Short of total state control, and presuming creative brains in the community, and presuming the existence of capital with which to build even modest research facilities, few would flatly say that technological innovation could be prevented simply because of some single source enjoying a temporary "monopoly" of a given product or service. The exceptions, to repeat, are always governments. Governments can be — and usually are — monopolistic. For instance, it is not uneconomical to operate a private post-office department today. It is only illegal. The Feds enjoy a legal monopoly — to the extent that they are currently prosecuting at least one entrepreneur who operated a mail service better and cheaper than they do.
Politics is not needed to prevent monopoly. Unregulated, unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism is all that is needed. It would also provide jobs, raise living standards, improve products, and so forth. If commercial activity were unregulated and absolutely unsubsidized, it could depend upon only one factor for success — pleasing customers.
Censorship is another notable example in which politics, and politicians, interpose between customer and satisfaction. The gauge becomes not whether the customer is happy, but whether the politician (either singly or as a surrogate for "the public") is happy. This applies equally to "public" protection from unpopular political ideas as well as protection from pornography. Conservatives are at least consistent in this matter. They feel that the state (which they sometimes call "the community") can and must protect people from unsavory thoughts. It goes without saying who defines unsavory: the political — or community-leaders, of course.
Perhaps the most ironic of all manifestations of this conservative urge to cleanthink concerns the late Lenny Bruce. He talked dirty. He was, therefore, a particularly favorite target of conservatives. He was also an explicit and, I think, incisive defender of capitalism. In commenting that communism is a drag ("like one big phone company"), Bruce specifically opted for capitalism ("it gives you a choice, baby, and that's what it's about"). There is no traditional conservative who is fit to even walk on the same level with Lenny Bruce in his fierce devotion to individualism. Lenny Bruce frequently used what is for many conservatives the dirtiest word of all: He said capitalism. When was the last time that the N.A.M. did as much?
Lenny Bruce wasn't the only man to alienate conservatives by opening his mouth. In 1964, Barry Goldwater alienated Southern conservatives in droves when, in answer to a regionally hot question about whether Communists should be permitted to speak on state-university campuses, Goldwater said, flatly and simply: "Of course they should."
Even anti-Communist libertarians have no choice but to deny the state the right to suppress Communists. Similarly, libertarians who are aesthetically repelled by what they deem pornography have no other course than not to buy it, leaving its absolutely unregulated sale to producer, purchaser and no one else. Once again, a parent could intrude — but only by stopping an individual, dependent purchaser, never by stopping the purveyor, whose right to sell pornography for profit, and for absolutely no other socially redeeming virtue whatever, would be inviolate. An irate parent who attempted to hustle a smut peddler off the street, as a matter of fact, should be sued, not saluted.
The liberal attitude toward censorship is not so clear. At this point, it needn't be. Liberals practice it, rather than preach it. The FCC's egregious power to insist that broadcasting serve a social purpose is both a liberal tenet and an act of censorship. In the FCC canons, social purposes are defined so that a station can get good points for permitting a preacher free time but no points — or even bad points — for extending the same gift of free air to an atheist.
It is partly in the realm of air, also, that differences regarding nationalism between the old left/right politicians and the libertarian antipolitician show up. If today's conservative has his fervent jingoism for old nations, the liberal has just as fanatic a devotion to the jingoism of new nations. The willingness of modern liberals to suggest armed intervention against South Africa, while ignoring, even in terms of major journalistic coverage, slaughters in Nigeria and the Sudan, is a demonstration of interest only in politics — and in particular persons — rather than in human life per se.
Of course, conservatives have a similar double standard in regard to anti-Communist slaughter and anti-Communist dictatorship. Although it is not as whimsically selective as the liberal decision to be revolted or cheered by each particular blood bath, the conservative double standard can have equally tragic results. The distinct undercurrents of anti-Semitism that so obviously muddle many conservative movements probably can be traced to the horrid assumption that Adolf Hitler's anticommunism excused his other, but comparatively minor, faults. Somehow, anticommunism seems to permit anti-Semitism.
I have met in my time many anti-Communists who view communism as simply a creature of Jewish plotting for world dominion. The John Birch Society's separate chapter for Jewish members is a seriocomic reflection, I think, of such good old WASP anti-Semitism. The widely reported admiration of Hitler by the head man of the right-wing Liberty Lobby is a reflection, presumably, of the "you need a strong man to fight atheistic Communism" school of thought. There are, of course, notable Jewish anti-Communists. And there are many anti-Communists who condemn anti-Semitism. But the operating question for most of the full-time anti-Communists that I have met is simply: Are you anti-Communist? Being also anti-Semitic is not automatically a disqualification on the right, though it usually is on the left.
Conservatives and liberals alike hold in common the mystical notion that nations really mean something, probably something permanent. Both ascribe to lines drawn on maps — or in the dirt or in the air — the magical creation of communities of men that require sovereignty and sanction. The conservative feels this with exaltation when he beholds the Stars and Stripes. The liberal feels this with academic certitude when he concludes that Soviet boundaries must be "guaranteed" to prevent Soviet nervousness. Today, in the ultimate confusion, there are people who feel that the lines drawn by the Soviet Union, in blood, are better than the lines drawn, also in blood, by American foreign policy. Politicians just think this way.
The radical and revolutionary view of the future of nationhood is, logically, that it has no future, only a past — often an exciting one, and usually a historically useful one at some stage. But lines drawn on paper, on the ground or in the stratosphere are clearly insufficient to the future of mankind.
Again, it is technology that makes it feasible to contemplate a day in which the politics of nationhood will be as dead as the politics of power-wielding partisanship. First, there is enough information and wealth available to ensure the feeding of all people, without the slaughtering of some to get at the possessions of others. Second, there is no longer any way to protect anything or anybody behind a national boundary anyway.
Not even the Soviet Union, with what conservatives continue to fear as an "absolute" control over its people, has been able to stop, by drawing lines or executing thousands, the infusion of subversive ideas, manners, music, poems, dances, products, desires. If the world's pre-eminent police state (either us or them, depending on your political point of view) has been unable to protect itself fully behind its boundaries, what faith can or should we, the people, retain in boundaries?
It is to be expected that both liberals and conservatives respond to the notion of the end of nationhood with very similar shouts of outrage or jerks of reaction. The conservative says it shall not be. There will always be a U.S. Customs Inspector and long may he wave. The liberal says that far from ending nationhood, he wants to expand it, make it world-wide, to create a proliferation of mini- and micronations in the name of ethnic and cultural preservation, and then to erect a great super-bureaucracy to supervise all the petty bureaucracies.
Like Linus, neither liberal nor conservative can bear the thought of giving up the blanket — of giving up government and going it alone as residents of a planet, rather than of a country. Advocates of isolationism (although some, admittedly, defend it only as a tactic) seem to fall into a paradox here. Isolationism not only depends upon nationhood, it rigidifies it. There is a subcategory of isolationism, however, that might avoid this by specifying that it favors only military isolationism, or the use of force only for self- defense. Even this, however, requires political definitions of national self-defense in these days of missiles, bases, bombers, and subversion.
As long as there are governments powerful enough to maintain national boundaries and national political postures, then there will be the absolute risk, if not the certainty, of war between them. Even the possibility of war seems far too cataclysmic to contemplate in a world so ripe with technology and prosperous potential, ripe even with the seeds of extraterrestrial exploration. Violence and the institutions that alone can support it should be rendered obsolete.
Governments wage war. The power of life that they may claim in running hospitals or feeding the poor is just the mirror image of the power of death that they also claim — in filling those hospitals with wounded and in devastating lands on which food could be grown. "But man is aggressive," right and left chant from the depths of their pessimism. And, to be sure, he is. But if he were left alone, if he were not regulated into states or services, wouldn't that aggression be directed toward conquering his environment, and not other men?
At another warlike level, it is the choice of aggression, against politically perpetuated environment more than against men, that marks the racial strife in America today. Conservatives, in one of their favorite lapses of logic — States' rights — nourished modern American racism by supporting laws, particularly in Southern states, that gave the state the power to force businessmen to build segregated facilities. (Many businessmen, to be sure, wanted to be "forced," thus giving their racism the seal of state approval.) The States' rights lapse is simply that conservatives who would deny to the Federal government certain controls over people, eagerly cede exactly the same controls to smaller administrative units. They say that the smaller units are more effective. This means that conservatives support the coercion of individuals at the most effective level. It certainly doesn't mean that they oppose coercion. In failing to resist state segregation and miscegenation laws, in failing to resist laws maintaining racially inequitable spending of tax money, simply because these laws were passed by states, conservatives have failed to fight the very bureaucracy that they supposedly hate — at the very level where they might have stopped it first.
Racism has been supported in this country not despite of, but thanks to, governmental power and politics. Reverse racism, thinking that government is competent to force people to integrate, just as it once forced them to segregate, is just as political and just as disastrous. It has not worked. Its product has been hatred rather than brotherhood. Brotherhood could never be a political product. It is purely personal. In racial matters, as in all other matters concerning individuals, the lack of government would be nothing but beneficial. What, actually, can government do for black people in America that black people could not do better for themselves, if they were permitted the freedom to do so? I can think of nothing.
Jobs? Politically and governmentally franchised unions do more to keep black men from good jobs than do all the Bull Connors of the South. Homes, schools, and protection? I recall very vividly a comment on this subject by Roy Innis, the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality. He spoke of Mayor John Lindsay's typically liberal zeal in giving money to black people, smothering them with it — or silencing them. Innis then said that the one thing Mayor Lindsay would not give the blacks was what they really wanted: political power. He meant that the black community in Harlem, for instance, rather than being gifted with tax money by the bushel, would prefer to be gifted with Harlem itself. It is a community. Why shouldn't it govern itself, or at least live by itself, without having to be a barony of New York City Ward politics? However, I take exception to the notion of merely building in Harlem a political structure similar to but only separate from New York City's. And I may be doing Mr. Innis, who is an exceptional man, an injustice by even suggesting that that is what he had in mind.
But beyond this one instance, there is implicit in the very exciting undercurrents of black power in this country an equally exciting possibility that it will develop into a rebellion against politics itself. It might insist upon a far less structured community, containing far more voluntary institutions within it. There is no question in my mind that, in the long run, this movement and similar ones will discover that laissez-faire is the way to create genuine communities of voluntarism. Laissez-faire is the only form of social/economic organization that could tolerate and even bless a kibbutz operating in the middle of Harlem, a hippie selling hashish down the street, and, a few blocks farther on, a firm of engineers out to do in Detroit with a low-cost nuclear vehicle.
The kibbutz would represent, in effect, a voluntary socialism — what other form could free men tolerate? The hash seller would represent institutionalized — but voluntary — daydreaming, and the engineers would represent unregulated creativity. All would represent laissez-faire capitalism in action and none would need a single bureaucrat to help, hinder, civilize or stimulate. And, in the process simply of variegated existence, the residents of this voluntary community, as long as others voluntarily entered into commerce with them, would solve the "urban" problem in the only way it ever can be solved; i.e., via the vanishment of politics that created the problem in the first place.
If cities cannot exist on the basis of the skills, energy and creativity of the people who live, work or invest in them, then they should not be sustained by people who do not live in them. In short, every community should be one of voluntarism, to the extent that it lives for and through its own people and does not force others to pay its bills. Communities should not be exempted from the civil liberty prescribed for people — the exclusive enjoyment of all their own powers for their own welfare. This means that no one should serve you involuntarily and that you should not involuntarily serve anyone else. This means, for communities, existing without involuntary aid from other communities or to other communities.
Student dissenters today seem to feel that somehow they have crashed through to new truths and new politics in their demands that universities and communities be made responsive to their students or inhabitants. But most of them are only playing with old politics. When the dissenters recognize this, and when their assault becomes one against political power and authority rather than a fight to gain such power, then this movement may release the bright potential latent in the intelligence of so many of its participants. Incidentally, to the extent that student activists the world over are actually fighting the existence of political power, rather than trying to grab some of it for themselves, they should not be criticized for failing to offer alternative programs; i.e., for not spelling out just what sort of political system will follow their revolution. What ought to follow their revolution is just what they've implicitly proposed: no political system at all.
The style of SDS so far seems most promising in this respect. It is itself loosely knit and internally anti-authoritarian as well as externally revolutionary. Liberty also looks for students who rather than caterwauling the establishment will abandon it, establish their own schools, make them effective and wage a concerned and concerted revolt against the political regulations and power that, today, give a franchise to schools — public and private — that badly need competition from new schools with new ideas.
Looking back, this same sort of thinking was true during the period of the sit-ins in the South. Since the enemy also was state laws requiring separate facilities, why wasn't it also a proper tactic to defy such laws by building a desegregated eating place and holding it against hell and high water? This is a cause to which any libertarian could respond.
Similarly with the school situation. Find someone who will rebel against public-education laws and you will have a worthy rebel indeed. Find someone who just rants in favor of getting more liberals, or more conservatives, onto the school board, and you will have found a politically oriented, passé man — a plastic rebel. Or, in the blackest neighborhood, find the plumber who will thumb his nose at city hall's restrictive licenses and certificates and you will have found a freedom fighter of far greater consequence than the window breaker.
. . .
Power and authority, as substitutes for performance and rational thought, are the specters that haunt the world today. They are the ghosts of awed and superstitious yesterdays. And politics is their familiar. Politics, throughout time, has been an institutionalized denial of man's ability to survive through the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare. And politics, throughout time, has existed solely through the resources that it has been able to plunder from the creative and productive people whom it has, in the name of many causes and moralities, denied the exclusive employment of all their own powers for their own welfare.
Ultimately, this must mean that politics denies the rational nature of man. Ultimately, it means that politics is just another form of residual magic in our culture — a belief that somehow things come from nothing; that things may be given to some without first taking them from others; that all the tools of man's survival are his by accident or divine right and not by pure and simple inventiveness and work.
Politics has always been the institutionalized and established way in which some men have exercised the power to live off the output of other men. But even in a world made docile to these demands, men do not need to live by devouring other men.
Politics does devour men. A laissez-faire world would liberate men. And it is in that sort of liberation that the most profound revolution of all may be just beginning to stir. It will not happen overnight, just as the lamps of rationalism were not quickly lighted and have not yet burned brightly. But it will happen — because it must happen. Man can survive in an inclement universe only through the use of his mind. His thumbs, his nails, his muscles and his mysticism will not be enough to keep him alive without it."
|June 22nd, 2012||#5|
Join Date: Mar 2011
The Road to Freedom
The Road to Freedom
Column by Lasse Birk Olesen, posted on October 20, 2006
F.A. Hayek warned us about the road to serfdom, but he was also sure of the road to freedom: convince the intellectuals about the virtues of freedom and capitalism, and the rest of the people will follow. Hayek's strategy continues to be very popular among libertarians, but unfortunately it works so slowly that it leaves only little hope of liberty in our lifetime.
As the state gets more and more power over more and more parts of our lives, the task seems nearly impossible and you might even feel like taking the blue pill and quitting. However, what if only a small group of devoted people could make a huge difference by building a libertarian competition to the state? Not only would they be living in freedom themselves, they would also be a living example of a flourishing libertarian society to whoever might doubt the benefits of freedom. I have examined the different roads to freedom in our lifetime and finally found one that seems both realistic and attractive.
The most traveled road for those who try to attain political changes is of course through the established democratic system. Whether you vote for the main candidate who seems the least socialist or try to get votes for a third party, the advantages and especially the disadvantages of the democratic strategy remain the same.
This road has one big advantage: you can keep living where you live and you can keep your work, your neighbors, your culture, and your friends.
Of course, the disadvantage is that 120 million people must want to break their chains. If you are as optimistic as Jim Davies, 100 libertarians will each year be able to convince another 100, who in turn will be able to convince another 100, and so on. After 21 years, 209 million libertarians will be the overwhelming majority in the US . If, on the other hand, you prefer to look at things more realistically, you know that a lot of people never will buy into libertarian arguments no matter how good they might be: maybe this is because they are fed with socialist propaganda through the media every single day, or maybe because they have come to rely so deeply on government services and the generous nature of politicians that they cannot imagine a world, nor their personal finances, without them.
I believe that with so many people having a personal interest in increasing government budgets, we have passed the point of no return and the democratic strategy is very unlikely to succeed. Even if it can be done, the process is so very slow, thus not favorable for liberty in our lifetime.
Free State Project
The Free State Project also works within the democratic framework but makes use of the fact that voters can move to other democratic units. The goal of the project is to get 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire . Together, the 20,000 will have much more to say on the state level than they would have had if they were scattered all over the US . The advantage of this strategy is that you can introduce libertarian reforms a little quicker than with the purely democratic strategy.
On the other hand, is it worth sacrificing your house and living close to your family and friends for this tiny advantage? After all, at the time of writing, the FSP has only 7,300 members. Even if they reach their goal of 20,000, how big a difference will they be able to make in the New Hampshire population of 1.2 million?
If a Free State Project should really make a difference, and not just turn out to be a libertarian coffee club, the target state must be of such a size that the arriving libertarians will play a large role, if not the major one, in upcoming elections. Also, as the federal government gets increasingly more powerful, the advantage of having libertarians governing a state diminishes. This is why you would have to look outside of the U.S. to find ideal target countries for a Free State Project. European micro-democracies like Liechtenstein and Monaco with about 35,000 inhabitants, Andorra with a population of 67,000, or maybe even the Faeroe Islands with 47,000, if you are able to secede from Denmark , all seem more advantageous for a Free State Project. If you are in an even more exotic mood, you could even try the world's smallest democracy. Polynesian Niue seems quite easy to win over with only 800 voting citizens.
The larger a part of the population the libertarian newcomers make up, however, the larger is the risk of the native inhabitants rejecting such an enormous immigration. A lot of them will not at all be interested in having a libertarian society and even more will fear a boost in unemployment as the "foreigners take our jobs." Unfortunately, it is still a widespread misunderstanding that the supply of work does not follow the demand for work. The imminent risk of political regulation of immigration makes Free State projects in micro-democracies much less attractive.
A few loads of Kalashnikovs, some artillery, and maybe even a few kamikaze bombers should be more than enough to coup the state. The libertarian revolution has succeeded.
Many people claim, like the founding fathers and Henry David Thoreau, that it is not only man's right but also his duty to overthrow an unjust and corrupt state. If so, I guess we can safely begin with the American one.
The problem is that the power of any authority depends upon the consent of its subjects. We already know too well that the vast majority of Americans believe that government is the solution to our problems. That is, after all, what they are told every single day of their lives.
Without widespread public support for overthrowing the government, a libertarian revolution will inevitably end up like many other violent revolutions in history: with rebellion, counter-revolutions and violent conflicts. As Franklin Sanders wrote: If the current U.S. government were to suddenly disappear, "the present American slave mentality would only erect another system of slavery [read: government]."
Put a different way, the goal depends upon the means. If violent means are used in order to reach the goal, then the goal will also be violent. If we want a peaceful and libertarian society where all human interactions are voluntary, then the means must be of the exact same nature. As Gandhi said, "Our progress towards the goal is always in exact proportion to the purity of our means. This method may appear to be long, perhaps too long, but I am convinced it is the shortest."
Thus, the revolutionary strategy has the same disadvantages as the democratic one: it requires widespread public support. When you eventually have this widespread public support, the democratic way seems easier after all.
See also Voluntary Resistance.
Why not buy some small and uninhabited island and declare its independence just as Americans did 230 years ago, or as Danish hippies did with government property in the Seventies when they founded
The question is if whatever state that previously controlled the area will invade it and demand to remain sovereign. While it is against the very nature of the state to give up power voluntarily, politicians will not act in ways that will deprive them of votes at the upcoming election. Thus, the objective is to win over public opinion. By renouncing all government handouts as health insurance, education, and protection in return for nothing else but to live in peace, libertarians will seem harmless while the intervening state will seem ruthless and totalitarian.
Indeed, if you ask people if they will allow libertarians to live in any way they want to on an island, most of them have nothing against that. I once asked Danish semi-communist Member of Parliament Rune Lund the same question and even he saw no reason for the state to intervene. However, if the secessionists are to be taken seriously, they cannot consist of eccentric, tax-shunning millionaires alone (not that I can be said to be a millionaire). It must be a broader group of ordinary people willing to stand out and tell the world why they will not submit to the chains of the government.
No matter what, however, you never know what the state might come up with and you do have a serious problem when the entire forces of Leviathan are assembled outside your door, demanding back the sovereignty of the state. Furthermore, you have only scanty possibilities to enlarge the area as the population grows. The next strategy in my examination avoids both problems.
Make new land
While some maintain that a legitimate secession requires you not only to buy land from the owner, but also from the state, no state can rightfully claim ownership of newly developed land in the high seas. Technically, it can be done either by dumping large amounts of dirt, sand, or gravel in the ocean or by building stationary or floating platforms.
The drawback is that as of 1999, the state has control as far as 24 nautical miles (27 miles) from the coastline. And this might not even be enough because the UN has ruled that states have the exclusive right to the use of natural resources in the
On the other hand, you are not going to be paying any taxes at all. Furthermore, concrete is incredibly cheap, so building platforms is not very expensive. Floating platforms inhabited by one family or a small neighborhood has another very big advantage: they can be connected to each other, forming larger modules. This way the libertarian society can gradually grow bigger. Last but not least, every single unit can leave the community simply by floating away. Compared to today's cost of moving, this is incredibly cheap and easy.
Thus, if the state hunts you down, you just float to more peaceful waters. This applies to already existing states as well to states that might develop on board. The smaller the costs of moving, the harder it will be for a state to gain power. As David Friedman writes in his book Machinery of Freedom: "Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a house trailer and speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape; the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents."
To conclude this part: if you omit violating the state's "right" to ocean resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone, you can site new land on floating platforms 27 miles from the coastline and have the same advantages as with secession: complete freedom and independence, but still close to the rest of the world. Furthermore, the risk of the state intervening is much, much smaller; and if it still intervenes, you just float away. Moreover, you are not limited to occupy only a certain seceded area: after all, only 25% of the earth is occupied by states. The remaining 75 floating percent are just waiting to be homesteaded. To build new land seems to be both the most realistic and most attractive strategy.
Homesteading the seas is exactly what the Seastead project sets out to do. Wayne Grimlich and Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton, have made a plan for how to incrementally move from building swimming pool models to the first floating, seaworthy colossus. The current step is to finish the book, explaining in detail how the floating platforms will work. The objective of the book is to build interest and make contact with investors. The draft is about 100 pages and can be read online.
There have been earlier attempts to build new micro-nations at sea, but they have by and large all been extremely unrealistic. Take, for instance, New Utopia which is still waiting for some unknown billionaire to show up and fund the whole thing. The Seastead approach is different, incremental, and surprisingly cheap with an estimated cost of roughly $56/sq ft. of area on the first couple of small models. The seaworthy models will of course be bigger and therefore, all other things equal, cheaper per sq ft. The hexagonal design of the Seastead even makes it fit into larger modules, so that the free area can be enlarged spontaneously and gradually just like cities on the continent.
Unfortunately, the project seems to be in a bit of a lull with less than monthly updates on the blog. But that should not keep us from reading the book, learn from their ideas, and make them happen. Besides, the fact that several industries would have an interest in residing in a completely unregulated tax haven, rich libertarians do indeed exist. Maybe they would be no less than excited to invest in a seasteading project?
See also the presentation of Seastead at the University of Colorado on video.
Mark Twain, 1800's: "Buy land. They've stopped making it"
Seasteaders, 2003: "Memo: Production Resuming"
Pictures are copyright of Seastead.org