Building Liberty in Minecraft

The defining feature of this time period is the Internet, which provides unprecedented freedom of speech and access to information. But the more things change, the more they remain the same. Millennials have suffered from the same steady march against economic freedom. We understand much about social media and relatively little about free markets. But a new generation can know about a free society right now, and this led me to build Liberty Minecraft.

Prior Developments

For the past quarter century, the Internet has generated emergent digital economies in which people exchange digital items for analog items, usually fiat currency. These economies offer pay at any rate, avoiding minimum wage laws that remove low rungs on the economic ladder. Digital economies also exist in massively multiplayer online games.

In 2007, more than one hundred thousand people were employed as gold farmers in World of Warcraft for as little as thirty cents per hour.[1] A gold farmer is a person who plays multiplayer games to earn in-game currency for the purpose of selling it for real-world currency. Earning in-game wealth takes time and effort. Because online games can be accessed all over the world, people can earn a competitive wage in relatively low-wage markets by selling in-game currency to players in high-wage markets. Gold farming uses server bandwidth in exchange for money that players wish to spend on the game, and this costs game developers. It was once typical for game developers to ban gold farmers, but in recent years they have turned toward economic freedom as a solution to rising costs due to gold farming.

Today, players of Runescape and Eve Online may exchange in-game wealth for tokens called Bonds or CCP, respectively. These tokens are purchased for cash by one player, traded in game to another player, and may be used to pay for membership services that would otherwise cost $10-$15 per month. Game developers like play-to-pay business models because they can sell membership services for a 30% premium and use their own players to regain market share from gold farmers.[2] For gamers, play-to-pay models can provide dollar-equivalent hourly wages of less than $1, but highly skilled players can earn $5 or more. One may earn a wage during the least productive periods of their daily lives, producing at least some value instead of none.

Transactions are not always small. For example, a player of Entropia Universe spent $2.5 million to purchase virtual real estate in 2012. This was done because in the game, land owners share the revenue generated by player-to-player transactions, and this revenue is directly convertible to US dollars. This speculative bet may have yielded annual returns of 27 percent.[3] By their nature, speculations infrequently generate a profit, but one develops ability by trial and error.

Digital economies make it easier to learn about economics. Many capitalist acts between consenting adults are illegal in the real world,[4] but such barriers are rare in online games. Digital exchanges execute billions of trades per month for any of a thousand virtual commodities. Players of all ages can make thousands of equity decisions in those markets without having to file capital gains taxes. People can lose a digital shirt and learn real economic lessons.

Experiencing economic freedom in games is all well and good. This may partly explain why millennials were so attracted to Ron Paul’s “End the Fed” movement. However, organizing society by libertarian principles is about more than economics. Non-aggression and private property require freedom from the state. No such freedom presently exists in the real world. The lack of such empirical examples may help one understand why those same millennials support Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump just four years later. We do not understand freedom from the state, and this has not changed. Because a libertarian society is foreign to our experience, people ask questions like “who will build the roads?” The answer is actually simple. Without a state, people who want roads and are capable of building them do so. I have seen this in action because of Minecraft.

Original Conditions in the World of Minecraft

Minecraft is a sandbox game. Play is self-organized within a block building, 3D world. Players may select one of three basic game modes. In Creative, one may access a menu with infinite resources. In Survival, one must gather and consume resources to live but will respawn if they die. Hardcore mode is like Survival, but death is final.

Minecraft worlds are large by default. From an origin, a player may travel 30,000 kilometers along any axis and may build 256 meters to the world’s zenith. This is roughly half the size of Neptune by surface area (if it were a terrestrial planet) or seven times the surface area of Earth. Each Minecraft world has three dimensions of this size and depth. Each world is generated algorithmically from an 8-byte seed, a string of numbers. There are 264 possible 8-byte strings, leading to over 18 quadrillion possible Minecraft worlds.

The Virtual State of Nature

Online, Minecraft is lawless. Before modifications of any kind, the only rules which govern player behavior are physical laws. You have exclusive control over your player character but anyone may attack and try to kill you, thereby gaining access to resources that you carry or protect. However, in such large worlds with abundant ‘natural’ resources, violent conflict is relatively rare because it is simply easier to work for what one wants.

Competition among Minecraft servers is unfettered and meritocratic. Engagement is high; Minecraft is the best-selling computer game at present. The barrier to entry is low: a Minecraft server can be created or copied in minutes, deployed online at low cost, and operated by anyone. In less than one minute, a player may select and visit any of thousands of servers. Participation is voluntary; players always have the option to leave a Minecraft server at once.

Minecraft servers have diverse rule sets. An infinite number of server configurations are possible with server plugins that modify the game. Within commercial use guidelines and technical limitations, server operators establish rules according to their preference. These rules need not and often do not conform with existing laws in the real world. These rules can be and are often enforced by computer code. In this way, all Minecraft servers are new principalities which may or may not be governed by smart contracts.

Social orders are spontaneously created within Minecraft. Players develop institutions that are optimized to solve problems. Users build means to produce, distribute, and trade valued goods, especially food and building materials. They create farms, roads and shelters, and also chests to organize and store items for later use. Players create and promote their own social norms. If a player does not fill in potholes or replant trees to replace those that they have felled, other players may try to change their behavior. This may take various forms, from warning them in the game’s chat to attacking problematic players. Those who share values and aesthetics build their own communities and exclude (sometimes by violence) others with opposing values. Spontaneous order thus develops with or without an explicit ethical framework.

In Minecraft, people experience social orders with arbitrary rules. So, what happens if one creates a Minecraft server that defines rules by libertarian ethics and Austrian economics? In my case, the result is Liberty Minecraft.

Long Experience in a New Order

Liberty Minecraft is a sandbox for freedom. The goal was to establish a practice environment where people may test ideas within a digital free society and may learn about freedom by playing it. For over nine months, this goal has been achieved. Play is ordered spontaneously within the physical laws of Survival Minecraft. In a number of other ways Liberty Minecraft is different.

Liberty Minecraft is not as large as a default Minecraft setting. As before, there are three dimensions but their size has changed. The Overworld is seven kilometers on a side; just under nineteen square miles in surface area. This is roughly the size of Manhattan.[4] The Nether, another region, is just as large. The End, a place devoid of most resources, is ten times larger.

Some resources in Liberty Minecraft are renewable, while others are not. Resources must be gathered in order to be used or exchanged. Products are either created by the players or discovered in scarce structures that are native to Minecraft worlds. Liberty Minecraft could someday run out of trees, water, or soil, among other things.

Liberty Minecraft has few rules. Only one rule constrains player behavior; resolve nonviolent disputes nonviolently. Players of Liberty Minecraft must seek nonviolent solutions to the problem of scarcity. Two other rules further specify conditions that permit a player to use my server: read and understand the rules, and do not hack the server. The fourth rule is followed by myself and by the server itself. This rule does not bind the players, but rather provides them with an option and a promise: everything you claim is yours; if someone else claimed it first, then it is not yours. Private property rights within Liberty Minecraft are enforced by smart contracts.[5]

To claim property, a player may use a claim tool on unclaimed land and must spend claim blocks to create a claim. Claim blocks cost $20 each. A player may also purchase land from an existing claim holder. In both cases, smart contracts are optional and available to execute these transactions. Smart contracts also enforce all other forms of property on the server. This applies to player characters.

One may engage in combat with others provided that each player turns on the ability to do so. In Liberty Minecraft, a player character is protected from other players by default. This protection is optional. A player may disable these protections and enter player-versus-player mode. By entering this game mode, a player consents to be attacked at will by other players. This allows for combat between two or more people to take place, but only if all parties involved agree to enter into mutual combat.

Competition within Liberty Minecraft is unfettered and meritocratic. In under one minute, anyone who owns Minecraft for PC can join the server and begin to act within a libertarian social order. Player interactions are voluntary, with complete freedoms of association and discrimination. No one is required or forbidden to provide for others.

Liberty Minecraft uses Diamonds, one of the in-game commodities, as money.[6] At present, Diamonds are used to create the best tools and armor in Minecraft. They are also scarce, durable, and fungible. Within Survival Minecraft, diamonds cannot be farmed or produced synthetically. To obtain a diamond, one must search for hidden chests in scarce structures or dig underground for diamond ore.

Minecraft players seem to have freely chosen Diamonds as the medium of exchange. Thus, I have chosen Diamonds as money. However, a Diamond is indivisible. This problem was addressed by creating a Diamond Exchange to split a Diamond into $1,000. The value of a dollar is measured to fifteen decimal places, so there is plenty of room for revaluation if money becomes too valuable to perform ordinary transactions.

Engagement is strong so far; since the official launch in March 2017, players have engaged in more than 100,000 trades using our shop system. A single trade may consist of anything from one item to more than a thousand items, all player created. More than 8,000 hours have been logged by the players at the time of this writing. Liberty Minecraft is also cash flow positive and profitable.

Some Problems with Liberty Minecraft

There are four clear problems with Liberty Minecraft. First, the money is inherently disinflationary. Land claims as private property can only be traded when players have a “claim blocks from play” value that is larger than the size of the claim being traded, which is a technical limitation. To provide a real estate market with existing smart contracts, players must somehow accumulate claim blocks from play. To achieve this, players accumulate 20 claim blocks per hour, which is an arbitrary amount. All players receive the same amount per hour of play. Claim blocks are worth $20 each, so players currently receive a universal basic income of $400 per hour of play. Universal basic income is an obviously anti-libertarian element, but it does present the opportunity to solve this problem and observe what happens when a libertarian society eliminates universal basic income.

Second, within Liberty Minecraft, power is centralized in a single, flawed operator. I, Nathan Dempsey, make mistakes and correct them. Both types of actions can cause problems. For instance, when I created the world border in The End, I incorrectly calculated the area. The End was roughly ten times larger than I intended, and if I had left it that way, our world would become far too large for me to economically perform regular backups. I recalculated and changed the world size. This changes the availability of resources that are found in The End. I will make more mistakes as time goes on. However, if any player decides that my choices are intolerable they may (with some work) use software to download the world and their property. Then, they may put their version of the world online with server software and compete with me for players. This functions somewhat like a hard fork of a cryptocurrency. Following a land dispute, a player decided that absolute property rights are intolerable and left after downloading the world, which proves both that new competitors may enter my line of production and that I cannot be an ultimate decision maker.[7][8]

Third, the conditions of the game and server make theft and assault impossible. A player might create a death trap, but these can only be made on one’s own property, on unclaimed land, or on land in which they have been granted permission by the claim owner to create such hazards. Because property claims are impossible to violate (unless I chose to or a hacker managed to alter the server status), Liberty Minecraft does not provide a model for dealing with aggressors against property rights aside from having the server owner (me) remove someone from the server.

Finally, the Terms of Commercial Use prohibit anyone from selling soft currency for hard currency. Therefore, I cannot offer the play-to-pay model described in the opening without violating the Terms of Commercial Use. The terms provide a narrow range of ways that I can provide value to players in exchange for money. This even applies to affiliate marketing (which is not permitted), such as with Amazon. The consequence is that I must innovate within these narrow terms, which creates an interesting problem but deviates from a libertarian order. And ultimately, Mojang, the company that developed Minecraft, is regulated by the state, so Liberty Minecraft still operates within a statist framework to some degree.

Conclusion

Minecraft spontaneously generates social orders. Liberty Minecraft is an effort to create such an order based upon Austrian economics with libertarian ethics. Within Liberty Minecraft, players operate in an unfettered free market and experience social freedoms that are opposed by state aggression. This experience sharpens one’s thinking about economic and social affairs. Experiencing economic freedom online without freedom from the state has led people to reject the Federal Reserve System but favor the state at large. The goal of this project is to test libertarian ideas in a simulated environment and lead people to reject the state in favor of private property rights and non-aggression, which one experiences within Liberty Minecraft. Liberty Minecraft has some important problems that may be solved in future updates, and represents nothing less than a proof-of-concept for exploring social orders in games.

References

  1. Valdes, Giancarlo. “Jagex Wages War against Gold Farming in RuneScape 3 with Bonds” VentureBeat, 25 Sept. 2013. http://venturebeat.com/2013/09/25/jagex-wages-war-against-gold-farming-in-runescape-3-with-bonds/
  2. Dutton, Fred. “Entropia Universe player spends $2.5 million on virtual real estate” Eurogamer.net, 4 Apr. 2012. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-04-04-entropia-universe-player-spends-USD2-5-million-on-virtual-real-estate
  3. Block, Walter. “Fake Economic News | Walter Block” YouTube, Mises Media, 4 Aug. 2017. www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiwhlU4d-nY
  4. Dempsey, Nathan. “How The World Works” Liberty Minecraft, 14 Oct. 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-the-world-works/
  5. Dempsey, Nathan. “How Private Property Works” Liberty Minecraft, 4 June 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-private-property-works
  6. Dempsey, Nathan. “How The Money Works” Liberty Minecraft, 4 June 2017. www.libertyminecraft.com/how-the-money-works/
  7. Dempsey, Nathan. “Free Market Update: Land Disputes” Liberty Minecraft, July 2017. https://www.libertyminecraft.com/free-market-update-land-disputes/
  8. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 21.

Eliminate The Debt Ceiling

The United States debt ceiling is a limit placed on the amount of money that the federal government can borrow. This is done by placing a cap on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the US Treasury. About 99.5 percent of the debt is covered by this ceiling, but $238 million in United States Notes and $74 billion owed by the Federal Financing Bank as of September 2016 are not covered.

Because the ceiling applies to the total national debt rather than to annual deficits, and expenditures are authorized by separate legislation, the debt ceiling does not directly limit government spending. As the Government Accountability Office explains, “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”

When this occurs and the ceiling is not increased by legislation, the Treasury must resort to “extraordinary measures” such as suspending investments into federal employee retirement funds or exchanging Treasury securities for non-Treasury securities. Should such measures be exhausted before Congress agrees to raise or suspend the ceiling, a default on at least some of the national debt would occur. Most mainstream economists believe that this could cause an economic depression as well as a financial crisis.

Whether the nature of this ceiling should be altered and whether such a limit should exist at all are subjects of debate among economists and political commentators. This article will overview the history of the debt ceiling, make the case that it should be eliminated on both practical and moral grounds, and deal with common objections to elimination.

History

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress sole authority to borrow money on national credit. Between 1788 and 1917, Congress would pass legislation to authorize each bond issue by the US Treasury, with the particular amount specified in each legislative act. This would authorize specific loans in some cases, while in other cases the Treasury would be given discretion over which type of debt instrument to issue for specific purposes. Except for a short time in late 1835 and early 1836, the federal government has continuously had a national debt. Although there were parliamentary procedural rules concerning debt limits, there was no debt ceiling in the current form until 1917.

In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act both became law, which greatly expanded the taxing and spending capabilities of the federal government. As originally defined, the Federal Reserve was not allowed to purchase debt instruments from the US Treasury because members of Congress understood the fiscal danger that could arise from granting such permission. The desire for financial flexibility regarding American involvement in World War I led Congress to pass the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917. This Act allowed the Treasury to issue bonds and take on other debt without specific Congressional approval, and allowed the Fed to purchase Treasury instruments. The debt ceiling was created as part of the deal to pass these changes, and took the form of limits on the aggregate amount of debt that could be accumulated through each category of debt, such as bills and bonds.

In 1939 and 1941, Congress passed the Public Debt Acts, which establish an aggregate limit on nearly all federal debt. Since then, the mechanism for raising the debt ceiling has been to amend these acts. The 1939 Act consolidated the separate limits from the 1917 Act into one limit, while the 1941 Act raised the debt ceiling to $65 billion, eliminated the tax exemption of interest and profit on government debt, and consolidated almost all government borrowing under the US Treasury. The Act was amended to raise the limit in each of the next four years, then the limit was reduced from $300 billion to $275 billion in 1946. Increases resumed in 1954, and there have been 72 increases and four decreases since then, with no decrease since 1963. As such, the debt ceiling has usually been a mere formality. After the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 created more opportunities for Congress to hold debates and hearings on the federal budget, the debt ceiling became less useful as a budgetary tool.[1] From 1979 to 1995, the Gephardt rule was in effect, which was a parliamentary rule that deemed the debt ceiling raised whenever a budget was passed, effectively nullifying the debt ceiling during that time. This rule was removed during the resolution of the 1995-96 government shutdown.

Treasury first implemented extraordinary measures on December 16, 2009 to avoid a government shutdown. Due to the lack of normal annual budgets during the Obama administration, Congressional Republicans used the debt ceiling as leverage for deficit reduction in 2011. This nearly caused a sovereign default, with Standard and Poor’s downgrading the United States credit rating and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 2,000 points in late July and August. The Government Accountability Office estimated that this incident raised borrowing costs for the government by $1.3 billion in 2011, and the Bipartisan Policy Center extrapolated this estimate to $18.9 billion from 2011 to 2020. The debt ceiling was reached again at the end of 2012, which led to the Treasury adopting extraordinary measures again, as well as far more absurd measures being proposed.

On February 4, 2013, President Obama signed the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013, which suspended the debt ceiling for the first time. This lasted until May 19. During that time, Treasury was authorized to borrow to the extent that “is required to meet existing commitments.” On May 19, the debt ceiling was raised to $16.699 trillion to accommodate borrowing performed during the suspension and extraordinary measures were resumed. In order to avoid a default when extraordinary measures were exhausted on October 17, the debt ceiling was suspended a second time until February 7, 2014. On February 12, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act suspended the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015, at which Treasury used extraordinary measures yet again. The debt ceiling was suspended again on October 30, 2015 until March 2017, and the suspension has been extended until the time of this writing.

Before And After

To begin making the case against the debt ceiling, let us consider the effect that having a debt ceiling has had on the national debt, which will show the effectiveness of the debt ceiling at reducing government spending over the long-term. Records begin in 1790, with the debt at the beginning of that year at $71 million. The debt grew to $127 million in 1816 from the War of 1812, then was steadily paid off until reaching zero in 1835. It would never be paid off again, growing gradually starting in 1836, then up to $68 million in 1851 as a result of the Mexican War. The next low was at $29 million in 1857. The Civil War caused an unprecedented debt, going from $91 million in 1861 to $2.77 billion in 1866, an increase of 2,962 percent. The next low was $1.55 billion in 1894, just before the Spanish-American War and other expansionist endeavors. The gradual growth during the early 20th century was accelerated by World War I, going from $3.06 billion in 1915 to $27.39 billion in 1919, an increase of 796 percent. Recall that the debt ceiling was instituted in 1917, with a national debt of $5.72 billion. The debt would be gradually paid off during the 1920s, reaching the next low of $16.8 billion in 1931. The debt grew again during the 1930s to fund government programs aimed at curtailing the Great Depression, reaching $48.96 billion in 1941. World War II ballooned the debt to $269.42 billion in 1946, an increase of 450 percent from 1941. The debt would never go below $250 billion again, gradually increasing past $300 billion in 1963. The Vietnam War accelerated the debt to $620.43 billion by 1976. In 1982, the national debt exceeded $1 trillion and has grown every year since 1958. On September 8, 2017, the debt passed the $20 trillion mark. Note that these figures do not include unfunded liabilities, which in recent times have become much larger than the official figure.

From 1790 to 1917, the debt increased by 7,946 percent, or 7.34 percent per year. From 1917 to 2017, the debt increased by 3,398 percent, or 8.5 percent per year. By this measure, the debt ceiling appears to be somewhat counterproductive for restraining spending, as the national debt has increased an additional 1.16 percent per year since its inception. However, one must be wary of cum hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. National debts are influenced by a great multitude of variables, and attributing this change to a single cause would be fallacious. The larger role played by the United States on the world stage, with the attendant expenditures on military presence and foreign aid, contribute a great deal to the debt, as do social welfare programs, which were nearly nonexistent before 1917.

Now And Later

To make a stronger case, we must consider the current effects of having a debt ceiling versus the likely effects of eliminating it. In the process, we will make use of the neoreactionary concept of formalism. This is the idea that in human affairs, official reality should match actual reality, the underlying power dynamics should be brought into the open, and accounting practices should be honest.

The recent history is that the debt ceiling is always raised to avoid running into it. Starting in 2013, the practice has become to suspend the ceiling entirely. It goes without saying that a ceiling which is always raised and can be made to disappear is not really a ceiling at all. The effect of this is for the state to continually take on more debt rather than pay its bills properly. This is politically convenient, as it allows politicians to bribe voters with the fruits of the labor of their unborn descendants while avoiding the backlash that inevitably results from austerity measures. To call this a Ponzi scheme is an insult to Ponzi schemes, as all of the beneficiaries and victims in those scams are willing investors. A private sector Ponzi scheme involves no inter-generational debt slavery or other forced participation.

Although even the most ardent deficit hawks are loathe to be blamed for a sovereign default, the threat that a default will occur in this manner spooks investors needlessly. As mentioned earlier, the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points in response to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. If investors are convinced that a default may happen in spite of the apparent unwillingness of politicians to cause a default, then the markets will be sent into turmoil for no good reason.

Eliminating the debt ceiling would be a change that moves official reality closer to actual reality on several counts. First, the opponents of fiscal restraint know that those who would use the debt ceiling as a tool to reduce government spending will always cave before a default, even if they do cause the occasional partial shutdown of government functions. For this reason, their bluff is always called and they lose the hand by playing the debt ceiling card. Removing this card from the deck not only takes away an ineffective option, but forces reformers to seek out other methods which may be effective.

Second, eliminating the debt ceiling would signal that the federal government has no interest in paying off its creditors. It should be obvious enough that an entity which increases its debt burden every year for 60 years does not have fiscal responsibility as an objective, but the Treasury seems to have no shortage of lenders, especially because the Federal Reserve serves as a lender of last resort. Note that because the federal government monopolizes law, declares itself immune from suit, and has the firepower to repel those who would seek to collect by force, it is not accountable for the national debt in an absolute sense. Accountability thus becomes an indirect, external affair which would be aided by the consequences of signaling the aforementioned truth to the world.

The admission of no intention of paying off the debt, which is essentially an admission that a default will eventually occur, would make interest rates rise. This would be necessary in order to compensate investors for the fact that they may lose their principal, or at least take a haircut on it at some future date. Aside from the obvious benefit to savers, who would see financial progress for the first time in over a decade, the increased spending on interest on the national debt would force a combination of tax increases and spending cuts in other areas. This would make current supporters of government programs pay more for them up front through taxation and inflation, constrain the pathologically undisciplined federal government, and reveal the true priorities of the power elite when decisions about whom to tax more and which expenditures to cut are taken. As such, it both brings the underlying power dynamics into the open and makes accounting practices more honest.

Objections

At this point, let us consider some likely objections. First, there is the possibility that having no debt ceiling would cause the debt to grow even faster. The above examination of the history of the national debt suggests that this objection is ill-founded, as the annual percentage increase has been higher with a debt ceiling in place. But even if it is true that eliminating the debt ceiling would accelerate the growth of the national debt, this is not necessarily bad. The faster the debt accelerates, the sooner the events described in the previous section will occur, meaning that the current unsustainable dynamics will be replaced earlier than they otherwise would.

A second objection is that this course of action may cause an economic collapse. This is entirely possible, but again, not necessarily bad. The end of the United States dollar would result in either a monetary reform and/or the replacement of government fiat currencies with something more sound, such as a gold-backed currency or a cryptocurrency. Because the US dollar is the world reserve currency, the US government can abuse its economic system more than other governments can. Losing this status would be another step toward forcing the government to behave more responsibly, as it would curtail the amount of debt that can be issued by reducing foreign demand.

The resulting collapse of the bond market leads to the third objection that this would cause a great amount of hardship. However, one must remember that the investors in government bonds have bought instruments which are funded by extortion and debt slavery. From a moral standpoint, those who lose on such investments deserve to lose. That being said, this course of action does not actually cause the collapse; rather, it makes the inevitable collapse occur more quickly.

Conclusion

The debt ceiling was created with the intention of limiting the ability of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to behave irresponsibly as they were allowed to provide more liquidity to fund World War I. But over the past century, quite the opposite has happened. The national debt has grown significantly faster than it did previously, and is now on a path toward default which is not reversible given current political realities. Eliminating the debt ceiling may seem like a counterproductive maneuver, but it would do much to formalize the true nature of the American fiscal situation. The only real debt ceiling is that established by lenders and creditors. When they deem a borrower to pose too much of a default risk, they stop lending and call in their debts, thus forcing the debtor to behave responsibly. The sooner this happens to the United States government, the better.

References:

  1. Kowalcky, Linda W.; LeLoup, Lance T. (1993). Congress and the Politics of Statutory Debt Limitation. Public Administration Review. 53 (1): p. 14.

Book Review: The Art Of Invisibility

The Art of Invisibility is a book about methods of maintaining privacy and anonymity in an age of surveillance by American hacker and cybersecurity analyst Kevin Mitnick. The book gives advice on every aspect of modern technology which could expose one to nosy neighbors, identity thieves, law enforcement, and other sources of unwanted attention. The book is divided into sixteen chapters which advise the reader about various measures that can be taken to improve security.

The introduction begins with the revelations made about the NSA’s activities by Edward Snowden, then discusses the information that is publicly available about most people with very little searching required. The first chapter is about password security and security questions. Tips are given for choosing a strong password, using a password manager, creating answers for security questions, and using multi-factor authentication. The second and third chapters cover surveillance of email and phones. Mitnick covers the concepts of metadata, encryption, and social engineering. He explains how the Tor browser and MAC addresses work. He discusses several current and historic methods of wiretapping phone conversations and pinpointing the location of a phone, then explains how a burner phone may be used to obtain some privacy.

Chapter 4 is about the functionality and use of encryption to thwart eavesdroppers. This is discussed in the context of text messages, cell phones, and computers, each of which is remarkably vulnerable without it. The next chapter begins with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is now being used to prosecute anyone who deletes browser history that federal prosecutors wish preserved. Mitnick makes the obvious recommendation of not collecting such history in the first place, then instructs the reader on how to do so. He then discusses how Internet browsers track a user’s location and how this may be countered. The chapter concludes with the dangers of connecting devices and cloud storage.

The sixth chapter details various tactics that websites use to track users, such as scripts, single-pixel images, cookies, and toolbars, then offers advice for stopping them. The chapter ends with a basic overview of Bitcoin for overcoming some current legitimate uses for tracking. The dangers of sharing an Internet connection make up the seventh and eighth chapters. Mitnick teaches the reader how to set up an Internet connection that is difficult for malicious users to find and use. Next, he discusses several cases in which webcams were used to spy on people, including underage students. The phenomenon of ransomware, in which a user’s files are encrypted by malware and can only be decrypted by paying an extortionist, concludes Chapter 7. After this comes the pitfalls of public computers and Wi-Fi connections. Lessons on avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks, using virtual private networks, resetting one’s MAC address, and more are found in the eighth chapter.

The second half of the book opens with examples of photo metadata being used to locate people, then tells how to delete such information and prevent it from being created. Mitnick then gives advice on how to get unwanted photographs of oneself removed from websites, though it may not always work. The dangers of posting sensitive personal information on social media or otherwise sharing it with strangers is discussed. The extent to which corporations track commentary on social media is detailed through examples of students found publicly discussing standardized test material. The absurdity of minors facing criminal charges for possessing nude photos of themselves is used to illustrate the potential dangers of Instagram and Snapchat. The chapter finishes with privacy problems that can come from using dating sites and mobile apps.

Mobile device tracking is the subject of the tenth chapter. Mitnick writes about the third-party accessibility of information recorded by fitness-tracking devices as well as the trackability of people through the GPS features of their devices. He also shares an interesting episode of social engineering combined with tracking in which he surprised a careless driver who almost killed him with a stern warning supposedly from the DMV. The use of drones and facial recognition to erode privacy come later in the chapter, along with some prototypical countermeasures. The next two chapters detail how cars and home appliances can be used to track people, then show people how to turn off many of these features. Doing so will deprive users of some convenience, but that is the general cost of privacy and anonymity.

Chapter 13 applies the information discussed in previous chapters to the workplace. The insecurity of copiers, printers, and other such office appliances is highlighted so as to warn readers not to use them for any purpose that one would not want one’s employer or any hacker to see. Videoconferencing and remote file storage systems are covered in the last part of the chapter, with advice given for increasing security on them. The fourteenth chapter details the myriad ways in which government agents violate privacy and interfere with private electronics and communications, then advises readers on how to protect themselves while being aware of the laws in various countries. Also included here are the privacy concerns with hotel keys, supermarket cards, and airline boarding passes should they fall into the wrong hands.

The fifteenth chapter is mostly about the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, describing the mistakes that led to his capture. Devices that masks geolocation, and could thus have hidden Ulbricht from law enforcement had they existed in 2013, are mentioned. The final chapter lays out a step-by-step guide to achieving as much anonymity online as possible.

From beginning to end, Mitnick shares a wealth of information with just the right amount of personal anecdotes and other stories to keep the reader engaged. The Art of Invisibility is an excellent reference that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all who care about online privacy and personal security until enough time passes to render the information within obsolete, which may be on the order of decades.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Are Libertarians A Joke? A Rebuttal to Milo Yiannopoulos

In an October 16 interview with TheNation.com, Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos was asked whether libertarians are an acceptable alternative for right-wing voters who are tired of voting for establishment Republicans who flatter them with words but act the same as always. This led to the following exchange:

What about the Libertarians?

What about them?

Are they not an acceptable alternative?

No. They’re a joke.

Why?

Libertarians are children. Libertarians are people who have given up looking for an answer. This whole “everybody do what they want” is code for “leave me to do what I want.” It’s selfish and childish. It’s an admission that you have given up trying to work out what a good society would look like, how the world should be ordered and instead just retreated back into selfishness. That’s why they’re so obsessed with weed, Bitcoin, and hacking.

I always thought those were the most attractive things about them.

Maybe so, but that’s why you can’t take them seriously. It’s all introspective and insular and selfish.

Is this true, and if so, to what extent? Let us see.

Looking for an Answer

In order to say that libertarians have given up looking for an answer, it is necessary to be either ignorant or dismissive of massive volumes of literature produced by libertarians. But Yiannopoulos has somehow managed to do one or the other, if not both. It is not the case that libertarians have given up trying to work out what a good society would look like and how the world should be ordered, but that many of us are weary of being treated like Cassandra and saying “I told you so” to the mainstream body politic in response. In other words, withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.

Doing What One Wants

Libertarianism is not about doing whatever one wants. One has no right to initiate the use of force against another person or their property. This does not change when people gather together, wear certain costumes, claim certain affiliations or job titles, or hold a vote. Respect for individual liberty is the difference between civilization and barbarism, between progress and subsistence, between peace and destruction.

Selfishness and Childishness

Yiannopoulos, like many critics of libertarianism (and Objectivism) before him, uses the common meaning of selfishness rather than the meaning used by libertarians (and Objectivists), which leads to his confusion. In the interest of avoiding confusion, libertarians commonly speak of rational self-interest and the drive to do what will maximize one’s own happiness and well-being. The freedom to pursue one’s self-interests without interference as long as one does not commit acts of aggression, to the extent that it is present, has led to the innovations that make Yiannopoulos’ life as he knows it possible, so it is rank hypocrisy for him to deride this as childish. In cases in which the pursuit of self-interest by each individual results in adverse outcomes for a group or the self-interest of a person is to game the system to one’s advantage, the state offers no solution and is frequently the cause of the problem. All too often, those who accuse libertarians of selfishness are committing the opposite sin; that of conspicuous compassion. Forced philanthropy is a contradiction of terms, and the result is frequently worse than the result of doing nothing to help those in need, especially when viewed through a Darwinian lens.

To be fair, libertarianism could be considered a childish idea in the sense that “don’t hit people and don’t take what is theirs” is simple enough for a small child to understand. The nuances that arise when responsibility is obfuscated, rights come into conflict, or aggressors must be stopped can be properly deduced by an older child unless adults fill their heads with falsehoods or neglect to educate them in the proper use of logic. But this is not what people generally mean when they call an idea childish.

Weed, Bitcoin, and Hacking

There are some libertarians who promote vices as though they were virtues and believe that decentralization alone can bring down the state apparatus without ever being used for evil purposes, but a significant part of the libertarian movement is not so foolish. While marijuana use tends to result in political cuckoldry, Bitcoin and hacking are causing real inconveniences for the powers that be. Bitcoin (or a superior successor) is capable of destroying the system of central banking and fiat currency that is financially oppressing the average person in order to benefit the politically connected wealthy. With releases that have exposed illegal behaviors by the national security state as well as the Clinton campaign, Wikileaks has proven to be a headache for both sides of mainstream American politics. There is good reason for libertarians to be obsessed with these anti-political methods of action, given that political methods have generally failed them.

Introspection and Insulation

Yiannopoulos seems to believe that introspection and insulation make a philosophy unworthy of being taken seriously. But introspection and insulation are healthy, even essential at times. If adherents of a philosophy do not come together among their own and do this, they cannot refine their beliefs or make important human connections with each other. If individuals do not do this by themselves, they cannot have the necessary focus to examine their lives properly.

There is a certain irony in this view coming from Yiannopoulos. “The unexamined life is not worth living” is a famous quote from Socrates, described by Plato as being uttered as part of his defense when he was tried on the charges of “corrupting the youth” and “not believing in the gods in whom the city [of Athens] believes, but in other daimonia that are novel.” Socrates was ultimately convicted and forced to commit suicide. If such charges still existed today, Yiannopoulos certainly would have been brought up on them by now.

Taking Libertarianism Seriously

In a sense, it is hard to fault Yiannopoulos here, given the cesspool of degeneracy that the Libertarian Party has become. This is a problem caused by leftist infiltration of the libertarian movement and the libertarians who allowed it to occur, and it is a problem with people rather than a problem with libertarian philosophy. Although Yiannopoulos is sufficiently intelligent to figure this out, he seems unwilling to do so. The works of Rothbard, Block, and Hoppe are no less valid just because people call themselves libertarians while doing their best to undermine the practice of libertarian philosophy.

Conclusion

Yiannopoulos calls himself a cultural libertarian, though this seems to be just another attempt to corrupt the message of libertarianism so that people can fake being a libertarian for their own personal gain. The joke is on him for rejecting liberty in favor of right-wing statism. He has shown his true colors, and libertarians should shun him.

Cut Puerto Rico Loose

On May 2, the Puerto Rican government missed an interest payment on bonds it has issued to an extent of $422 million. Worries of default on the territory’s general obligation bonds are continually rising, as it appears that a $2 billion payment due on July 1 will also go unpaid.

Of course, the usual suspects are calling for intervention to “save” the island from its financial woes. Some Democrats are openly clinging to Keynesian ideas of bailouts for troubled financial instruments, despite the abject failure of such measures to repair the mainland U.S. economy since 2008. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan has made the statement that “[o]ur primary responsibility is to protect the American taxpayer and to help bring order to the chaos that will befall Puerto Rico if the status quo continues going in the direction it’s going,” which is contradictory because attempting to rescue Puerto Rico will require victimizing not only the American taxpayer, but everyone who holds U.S. dollars.

That such a bailout would be funded by money gained by the state through extortion and currency debasement is terrible enough, but rescuing Puerto Ricans from the just consequences of their actions also creates a moral hazard. If Puerto Rico, then why not Detroit? Chicago? California, even? If $72 billion in debt plus $44 billion in unfunded liabilities for a outlying territory, then why not more for the U.S. mainland? Rewarding and subsidizing bad behavior only encourages more of it, not only from some irresponsible actors, but from all of them.

It must also be noted that in the current political climate, Republicans will be demonized by Democrats and the lapdog media regardless of what happens, and the Republican rank-and-file will be given the shaft. If there is no bailout, then Democrats will accuse Republicans of being too stingy to help people in need, especially ethnic minorities. If there is a bailout and trouble continues, which it will under such circumstances, then Democrats will blame Republicans for not using enough stimulus and/or for allocating the funds poorly. If one will face accusations regardless of one’s actions, then one might as well get one’s money’s worth and do the right thing. And what is the right thing?

Do not only abstain from bailouts; cut Puerto Rico loose.

Let us face facts; Puerto Rico has never really been a part of America, not in terms of economics, culture, language, or identity. In fact, it was not a part of America at all until 1898, when the United States gained control of it from Spain (along with Guam and the Philippines) under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War. For four centuries prior since being claimed by Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony. The people there used the Spanish language, but developed their own sense of culture and national identity. (This commonly occurs upon islands, as the ocean makes for a clear barrier between in-group and out-group.) That they may call themselves U.S. citizens is only a matter of law.

The economic well-being of Puerto Rico is not on par with the rest of the United States. If it were an independent nation, it would rank between 60th and 62nd in GDP, with a similar economic output to Angola, Morocco, and Slovakia, none of which are exactly paragons of economic development. If it were a U.S. state, it would rank 37th out of 51. The difference is far more pronounced when considering other measurements. In terms of public debt to GDP, Puerto Rico has a debt of 66 percent of GDP, while no U.S. state exceeds 25 percent. The per capita public debt of Puerto Rico is $19,486.60, which exceeds that of every U.S. state but is lower than that of the District of Columbia. The per capita income in Puerto Rico is $11,241, placing it just above half of the worst U.S. state (Mississippi, $21,036) and far below the best (D.C., $45,877; Connecticut, $39,373).

While cutting Puerto Rico loose is a matter of rational self-interest for mainland Americans, it is also a way to end their victimization at the hands of central bankers and the investors who react to their pernicious policies. While a free market would have much higher interest rates and no currency debasement, central banks like the Federal Reserve have kept interest rates artificially low and have greatly expanded the monetary supply. Savers who are used to getting a reasonable rate of return in a savings account thus have to seek riskier alternatives. Those who have enough capital to access hedge funds, high-risk sovereign debt becomes an attractive option. Those who are poorer either sit on fiat currency as it loses value or venture into precious metals and cryptocurrencies, which can pose even more risk and volatility. While Puerto Rico would likely form a central bank and issue its own fiat currency if it were cut loose, this would keep the Federal Reserve from imposing an economic system which encourages booms that favor foreign investors at the cost of busts that burden Puerto Ricans. A problem of this sort has already been seen in Greece, and the mistakes made by the European Central Bank should not be repeated.

Resolve To Understand The Struggle

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two were argued against here, and the third will be argued against here.

To begin his case for revolution, Reece declares that the definition of the concept “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.”

I do not simply declare that the definition of revolution leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism. Oxford’s definition clearly does this.

The issue is that this “anti-political revolution” and “culture of resistance” are only a path to ongoing conflict and mass chaos.

A competent debater must consider the alternatives, then compare and contrast them. The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. Static means that the state continues, which leaves us in a world of ongoing conflict and mass chaos. This leaves the option of peaceful change, but as argued in “Liberty Requires Revolution,” all methods for peaceful change either lead to failure or to violent revolution. Underhill attempts to argue otherwise in his third counter-rebuttal, but does not succeed in making the case. The remainder of this response will explain his failure on a point-by-point basis.

At this point, Underhill leaves a powerful argument unchallenged, so we may regard it as valid:

“The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. …[T]he state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure.”

He also leaves unchallenged my arguments that cryptography, seasteading, education, and peaceful parenting are helpful but insufficient to end the state.

Reece starts off with criticizing non-violent means of resistance to the state. On many of these, particularly electoral politics, he may have a point.

Either I have a point or I do not; the law of excluded middle forbids any other possibility. Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here for neither accepting my points nor arguing against them, except as noted below.

But he fails to understand the power of other options. In particular, I will note his arguments on agorism and civil disobedience as being very wrong-headed.

I understand their power very well, which is why I described them as helpful non-solutions. These options are capable of weakening the state and growing the number of libertarians, but they will not bring down governments on their own.

He contends that there are “limitations of scale” to agorism; that “there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye”. Now, while it is true that, for instance, starting up a car factory would fall under the risk of government action, it is not inherently true that government is magically aware of the activities of even large scale anti-state endeavors, nor is it true that there is necessarily a central point of failure.

This does not refute the point being made. I have argued that X exists, and Underhill’s response is not to argue that X does not exist (as a proper refutation must), but to argue that the opposite of X exists.

Reece cites the case of Ross Ulbricht as evidence the state can react to agorism quickly, but seems to utterly fail to understand the power of decentralization and removal of central points of control here. Ulbricht may be in jail, but hundreds of copycats and better alternatives have taken his place.

Underhill seems to utterly fail to understand the fact that these operations are not fully decentralized. There is still a buyer, a seller, an exchange operator, and a manufacturer. If government agents can figure out who these people are (and they still do sometimes), those people will be violently victimized by the state.

We also see into the mind of Reece here, when he declares that “a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death.” Here it seems he would rather people die in the face of the state than work around it to survive and even thrive. How perverse is such a sentiment!

We also see into the mind of Murray Rothbard here, who made exactly the same point against Samuel Konkin, although in slightly gentler terms:

“It is possible that the Soviet black market, for example, is so productive that it keeps the entire monstrous Soviet regime afloat, and that without it the Soviet system would collapse. This does not mean, of course, that I scorn or oppose black market activities in Russia; it is just to reveal some of the unpleasant features of the real world.”

The reality is that people will die in the face of the state regardless of whether they revolt against it, and it is better for them to die fighting and damaging the enemy than for them to be farmed and slaughtered like animals. Far from perversity, the idea that people should make present sacrifices in order to secure future gains is the foundation of all meaningful progress.

He continues, stating that:

Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

But is this the sort of “violent revolution” being defended here? For Konkin’s approach did involve violence, but it was strictly that of self-defense and well after a libertarian society had been almost fully established.

Yes, it is. Underhill seems to be unaware that the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, and is therefore subject to logic in the form of consistency. To act aggressively against people and property, make no restitution for doing so, and refuse to stop aggressing is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle. Thus, the non-aggression principle does not apply to such a person, and the use of force against such a person is acceptable. Government agents fulfill this description, therefore using force against them meets the standard of self-defense.

Neither of these things are true in a “storm Washington and rout the bastards” type argument that seems so prevalent when actually discussing the concept of revolution.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that we should “storm Washington and rout the bastards.” (While the article picture for “Liberty Requires Revolution” depicts this, it was chosen solely for its pleasing aesthetic. Never is what it depicts actually advocated in the article.)

Nor does such an action seek to “replace” the current power structure – only resist its imposition upon people who choose to defend themselves. (In this sense, how can it really be called a “revolution”?)

Oxford’s definition says that a revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. In this case, the new system is one of a stateless society with individual sovereignty and private property. The current government and social order are overthrown by a sufficient number of people defending themselves from their imposition to end their functionality.

Moreover, this is – of necessity – in an environment where people are generally accepting of such anarchic society, not the current society where resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front.

This depends upon the meaning of “generally accepting.” This term could mean anything from enthusiastic support to inactionable hatred. If 95 percent of the people want a state but 5 percent do not, and the 5 percent are able and willing to impose anarchy by force but the 95 percent are not able or willing to impose statism by force, then there will be no state despite the fact that people are not generally accepting of anarchism.

Resistance to the state by Apple has not been demonized on nearly every front. Many people have voiced concerns over privacy and abuse of state power that are in line with Apple’s position.

On civil disobedience, Reece claims that:

multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience.

It’s true that civil disobedience carries with it risk of suffering violence. But in many ways, it is far superior to risk that violence without retaliation than it is to escalate it with further violence.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

In the February Revolution in Russia, the revolt was obtained mostly through non-violence because the military men whose task it was to subdue the populace refused to fire into a crowd of non-violent protesters, many of whom were women. On the other hand, escalation to levels of significant violence most often lead to protracted war – where the result is incalculable.

This is true, but irrelevant to the discussion. The point is that civil disobedience stops being civil when government agents decide to use force.

To reiterate the quote from Doctor Who I included in my original article:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

Refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

Reece carries on with a comparison of the existence of the state and “power vacuums” to those of physics. Here he simply makes a categorical error. While talk of power vacuums constitutes a common analogy, it is also an inherently false one based on a sociological determinism. From this, Reece draws many erroneous conclusions about the use of force to defend a “partial vacuum”.

A categorical error is a logical fallacy in which one ascribes qualities to a noun that cannot possess those qualities. For example, the statement “that idea is the color red” is a categorical error because concepts in the mind do not reflect particular wavelengths of visible light. As no such quality was attributed to power vacuums, no such error was committed in the analogy between power vacuums and physical vacuums. Underhill then commits a straw man fallacy by invoking sociological determinism, which was not the motivation for the vacuum analogy.

He also notes that “the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states”. This is precisely true, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.

This is exactly wrong. The number of people enforcing the edicts of rulers is an important factor for estimating the number of people needed to thwart them.

These people will not come in with pistols to match the pistols libertarians might possess, but with tanks and military aircraft and missiles. There is no chance of any sort of determined minority resistance prepared to use violence leading any sort of peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

One could argue that technological superiority of states in other fields makes nonviolent resistance useless as well, but let us tackle the argument at face value. Using military hardware against the revolutionaries will cause many civilian casualties, especially if the revolutionaries are blended into the general population. This will cause more people to join the revolutionaries in order to avenge their fallen family members and friends, just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today. This would also result in damage to infrastructure that the state needs to keep operational in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Underhill seems to believe that military vehicles are invincible juggernauts that no resistance movement could hope to stop. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform those tasks, and someone must deliver the resources for those tasks and for the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves. Failing this, military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the revolutionaries present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build.

The point is not to lead a peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead. The point is to eliminate the threat.

His case is briefly summarized in this paragraph:

The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

This summarizes only the part of my case that describes the end goal of such a revolution.

He claims the revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret. I don’t know here if he is unaware of the spying operations of modern states, uncomprehending of the amount of force needed to bring to bear to resist a state military operation, or whether he is just too drawn in to the fantasy of taking up arms against the oppressor, but the scenario described here is almost laughable.

Underhill may be unaware of the potential strength of cryptography, unaware of how fragile the nation-state model of security really is, or just too much of an intellectual coward to think this through.

Further, he talks about a conclusion of this “decentralized revolution”, as if there would be any such conclusion outside of the annihilation of the armed resistance.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

By creating this long-term “culture of resistance” and relying on operation in secret to engage in guerrilla combat, he’s consigned this group to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all.

We are all consigned to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all. What revolution does is to allow innocent people to be something other than perpetual victims.

Any attempt to form a peaceful society based on market anarchist principles would be impossible – lives would instead be devoted to engaging in a fruitless violent resistance that could only lead to massive innocent deaths without any achievement of the goal of liberty.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

He answers the charge of the technologically superior military by pointing to the idea of guerrilla combat as well as blowback.

A more detailed answer may be found above.

But this only approaches the problem from the point of view of the anarchist revolutionary. The people would not be so kind as to side with the terrorists in their midst.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which interpretation is held by the people of the anarchist revolutionaries depends on how numerous they are, how successful they are, how oppressive the state is, how popular alternative media is versus the establishment lapdog media, and so on.

No worries, Reece claims, we will have the “actions of revolutionaries .. carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands”. Certainly. But is he aware that the death of military members and police officers and other government agents, will be viewed as this “collateral damage”.

This also depends on the variables listed above.

The public does not take kindly to “cop-killers” now. Why would this suddenly change because the action is framed as self-defense by some apparent (to them) sociopaths?

This would not suddenly change, nor would it need to. The revolution is not to take place until there is a critical mass of people who are willing to participate. At that point in time, the public perception of those who kill government agents would be more favorable, as explained later.

Next, he arbitrarily claims that “the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets”. He provides no reason to believe this is true other than that they do not “vote with bullets”. He goes on to say that “[i]f the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves”.

There is nothing arbitrary about this claim; it is clearly in agreement with the observable facts. People vote on ballots to get politicians to use state power to give them that which they could not obtain themselves without directly committing crimes against people and property. Most people find it impractical to directly commit crimes not only because being productive is less risky and the state punishes (non-government) criminals, but because their would-be victims may use force to stop them. I then linked to an entire article devoted to explaining this point.

I can’t think of anything more likely to lead to an acceptance of an authoritarian state than rebels forcibly preventing democratic means of government in a nation where the vast majority believe wholeheartedly in democracy. Not only is this proposed “revolution” by Reece historically a bad idea, he seems from the outset trying to design something that will purposefully incense the state-loving populace to the point of cheering on the destruction of any and all libertarians or anarchists.

This is an argument from incredulity; just because Underhill cannot figure out how this will work does not mean that it must fail. Again, the majority of people can believe whatever they want, but if they will not use force and a minority who think differently will, then the minority will win.

In his response to the question of “what protects your revolution from the next one?”, he presents a simple answer: we’ll kill anyone who would resist our system and attempt to reimpose a state. (Presumably, if the rhetoric of Cantwell is any guide, also any leftists or anyone else who disagrees with our values.)

A person who would resist anarcho-capitalism and attempt to reimpose a state would necessarily be user of aggressive violence because doing so would require one to initiate the use of force against people and their property. The use of defensive violence to stop an aggressor is always morally justifiable. Perhaps the answer is simple, but it is also a priori true.

It is not necessary to kill anyone who disagrees with anarcho-capitalism, but it is necessary to keep them from acting upon that disagreement within an anarcho-capitalist society. This may take the form of anarcho-capitalists being too powerful to aggress against, the use of force in self-defense, or physical removal from the society.

This sounds like it would quickly devolve into the chaos of the “anarcho-statists” of Spain to me.

This sounds like Underhill cannot comprehend the case being made.

At the very least, it depends on a perpetually violent populace dedicated to the principles in question… which means it is very likely to fall to another revolution based on other ideas that people have accepted.

Any civilization that wishes to maintain its form must have some group of people who are able and willing to use force to defend that form against threats. The artificial vacuum of state power maintained by a culture of resistance is actually least likely to fall to another revolution; as discussed above, it has advantages that other forms of security do not.

Similarly, he denies the Iron Law of Oligarchy in his call for a “truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership.”

This is not a denial of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Each small cell of revolutionaries will likely develop a natural leader who is better than others at organization, strategy, martial skills, or some other important attribute. The idea is for no such leader to be allowed command and control of anything beyond the small cell.

While I completely agree that a revolution headed by “a charismatic leader against the state … will yet again fail to solve the problem”, a decentralized resistance is inevitably going to ignore all those special caveats and contentions about “collateral damage” and the like that Reece has already noted would be necessary for his ideal to even work.

The caveats are not necessary for the ideal to work; they just make success easier and shorten the conflict. If a certain group does ignore good strategy and attack innocents needlessly, then they can be disavowed as fakes. This would not be a no true Scotsman fallacy because they would be fake libertarians by definition.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely to ever get started.

Perhaps, but its success is more likely than any non-violent method.

Finally, he claims that it will be “time” to start when “enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution … more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end.” It seems that this would require a lot of people. Almost as many people, one might think, as would be necessary to simply refuse to cooperate with the state and force it to its knees without violence.

This is where the fact that the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states is far from “absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.” A quick strike by 1 percent of the population could subdue another 1 percent of the population with nothing more than revolvers. More realistically, it would probably take between 2 and 5 percent of the population to forcibly end the state and form a culture of resistance. That number of people could certainly disrupt the state through civil disobedience, but this disruption will result in state violence against the disobedient, which brings us back to the choice of either defending oneself with violence or being victimized while giving the state a victory.

We all agree that “[t]he state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper.” Where the disagreement lies is in the idea that resistance without violent revolution constitutes a “position of weakness”.

When aggressors are willing to escalate the use of force beyond the level to which their intended victims are willing to escalate the use of force, the intended victims are in a position of weakness.

Rather, the state is dependent on the people it oppresses for resources, both via taxation and via the acceptance of state-backed money. Remove these two aspects of the state’s power, and it cannot stand. The power of the state is only derived by the people who support it. In the words of Étienne de la Boetie:

How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

[…]

From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

This is not in dispute. What Underhill cannot seem to understand about this struggle is that the state will not magically disappear if the people it oppresses stop handing over resources. When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long. Even if he cannot get more arms to beat us with and feet to trample down our cities from us, he already has many. Even if we resolve to serve no more, this resolve means nothing if the masters are more able and willing to escalate the use of force than we are. Yes, we must resolve to serve no more, but we must also resolve to understand the struggle and do what is necessary to physically resist and defeat the enemy when it moves against us.

Liberty Requires Revolution

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. It was then republished at Liberty.me in a column by people who, judging by their other articles, should know better. In this rebuttal, I will argue that revolution is not only an appropriate method, but the only possible method.

Underhill’s Case

Underhill begins by denouncing the stereotype of the bomb-throwing, omnicidal anarcho-communist, and rightly so. He then notes that some right-libertarians, such as Christopher Cantwell, also advocate violent revolution. (His dig at Cantwell for supporting Donald Trump is ill-informed, though better-informed criticism on this point is valid.) Most of the rest of the article denounces the tactic of armed rebellion on the grounds that it has historically resulted in a greater degree of statism.

Underhill begins with the English Revolution (better known as the English Civil War), and the use of this term to refer to the execution of Charles I and rule of Oliver Cromwell is a Marxist historical revision. Contrary to Underhill’s claim that a great part of the property in private hands was seized, Austin Woolrych[1] notes that “painstaking research in county after county, in local record offices and family archives, has revealed that the changes in the ownership of real estate, and hence in the composition of the governing class, were nothing like as great as used to be thought.” While Cromwell was generally more oppressive than Charles I, Charles II was generally less oppressive than either Charles I or Cromwell.

Underhill’s description of the French Revolution is quite incomplete, and this leads to inaccuracies such as treating the rise of Napoleon as part of the French Revolution when in fact, he had to engineer a coup against the French Revolution in order to take power. Underhill also neglects to mention Napoleon’s positive achievements, such as the Napoleonic Code, the first abolition of the Spanish Inquisition, promotion of equal rights under law, and hastening the end of feudalism.

In his description of the Whiskey Rebellion following the American Revolution, Underhill actually undermines his argument by citing an example where a failure to engage in violent revolt led to a more powerful state. Had the rebels at their greatest extent marched against Washington’s forces, they stood a decent chance of defeating him in battle, which would have dealt a major blow to the power of the United States government, perhaps even a fatal one. Underhill also commits a factual error; the Whiskey Rebellion was not a non-violent affair. Some tax collectors were whipped, tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Three or four rebels were killed, along with two neutral civilians.

Instances like these are indeed why revolutionaries must seek to abolish state power rather than to wield it. Underhill attempts to rebut this idea with several fallacious arguments. First, he says that revolution against a powerful state historically does not succeed. The idea that something which has yet to happen must be impossible is a logical fallacy. If this idea were true, then there would be no innovation whatever and we would still be in the same state of affairs as our primitive ancestors. This sort of historical determinism is a sign that one lacks courage and imagination, especially the former. This argument is also a straw man because anarchists are not calling for revolution against a powerful state, but against weak states which only appear to be powerful. And even if this were not so, the idea that “peoples never rebel against a power which squeezes the life out of them and grinds them underfoot” is exactly wrong. The truth is as stated in the Declaration of Independence:

“[A]ll experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Until conditions become such that survival demands revolution, most people are not in the proper mindset to overthrow a government. Notably, famines were precursors to both the French and Russian revolutions.

Speaking of the Russian Revolution, Underhill misunderstands this as well. Once again, he conflates two revolutions into one. The February Revolution deposed Tsar Nicholas II and established Menshevik rule, then the October Revolution deposed the Mensheviks in favor of Vladimir Lenin. While the original communist ideal is a stateless society, it is much different from the sort of anarcho-capitalist society that is the desire of those who truly seek liberty. Note also that anarcho-communism is only the final step, and although Karl Marx and Lenin did speak of violence, the elimination of the state in communist ideology was not universally understood as a violent transition. Friedrich Engels writes[2],

“The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’; it withers away.”

Underhill fails to mention instances of violent political revolution which work against his argument. The Irish War of Independence neither increased the power of the British state in Ireland nor led to an Irish state more oppressive than the British state. The Romanian Revolution overthrew the despotic Ceausescu regime and led to much greater economic freedom. The case that historical revolutions result in growth of the state is further weakened by the fact that the state has generally grown regardless of whether revolutions occur.

A Different Revolution

With Underhill’s empirics refuted, let us consider the nature of a libertarian revolution. The word ‘revolution’ is defined as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” Historically, this new system has been another government, but this need not be the case. This definition leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.

The Nature of the Problem

The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. In sum, the state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. In particular, various libertarians propose using electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting to end the state. Let us explore the faults of each of these methods.

Helpful Non-Solutions

Properly understood, libertarianism is antithetical to any kind of statism, but is particularly opposed to democracy. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, democracy promotes shortsightedness, capital waste, irresponsibility, and moral relativism. Whereas a monarch (or any other private property owner with allodial title) owns the capital stock of the property, elected officials serve as temporary stewards. This means that while an allodial title holder is incentivized to care for property to preserve it as an inheritance and capital good, an elected official is incentivized to plunder property while he or she can. Democracy encourages moral relativism by replacing objective ethics with an appeal to the masses. The results of the electoral process are all around us, and they are unquestionably disastrous. To quote Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we (or our forefathers) used when we (or they) created them. Democracy as a strategy for libertarians either requires uncomfortable truths to be more popular than comforting lies, or for hundreds of anarcho-capitalists to win elections under false pretenses. Even if the matter could be reduced to a simple referendum on the continued operation of the state apparatus, it would still require a majority of voters to support it in order to be successful.

Agorists and crypto-anarchists have the idea that using black and gray markets instead of state-approved markets can starve the state of funds and cause its demise. This method ignores limitations of scale; there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye. Perversely, a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death. We have also seen that the state is faster to react to agorist and crypto-anarchist activity than Konkin thought; the example of Ross Ulbricht is instructive here. Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

Some libertarians believe that escaping to the oceans will save us from statism. (The far more starry-eyed idea of colonizing space for libertarian purposes also belongs here.) The idea is to colonize the oceans by building permanent dwellings on the high seas outside of the territory claimed by any government. This would create an anarchist control zone that allows anyone to make an effort to live there, escape the state, and build a better future for oneself and one’s descendants. This is all well and good, but it fails to account for the response of governments. Governments do not have a track record of going gently into the night or of tolerating existential threats. If history is any guide, then the response by governments to seasteads that are brain-draining, talent-draining, youth-draining, and investment-draining their territories will be to initiate the use of force against them. When a government warship approaches a seastead and makes demands, the residents will have three options: they can give in, which defeats the purpose of the seastead; they can refuse and be sunk, which also defeats the purpose of the seastead; or they can defend themselves against the warship, thus resulting in a violent revolution.

Another method of resistance is civil disobedience, in which people refuse to obey laws until force is brought to bear. Civil disobedience is a better option than democracy, in that less than a voting majority could stop a government. But the historical examples frequently cited, those of the struggle for Indian independence from the British and the American civil rights movement, were anything but civil. In both cases, multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience. As taking civil disobedience to its logical conclusion requires the protesters to tolerate lethal violence being used against them while not fighting back or fleeing, most large attempts at civil disobedience result in either a defeat of the disobedient or an escalation to violent revolution.

Lastly, the strategy of relying upon education and peaceful parenting to defeat the state is essentially a surrender. To fall back upon this option is to write off a solution as impossible in our lifetimes, thus passing the problem on to our progeny. While it is true that if children were raised to initiate the use of reason rather than the use of force, the state would cease to function due to a lack of people willing to act on its behalf, statists will also be breeding and raising their children violently while libertarians try to raise a better next generation. This is also the worst solution in terms of the number of people required for success. Long before this strategy alone would succeed, a democratic effort would be successful, and the other methods all work before voting the state out of existence would.

None of this is to suggest that the above methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort. In preparation for revolution, the electoralist should seek to elect politicians who will obstruct the passage of laws and budgets. The agorist or crypto-anarchist should find ways to sell illegal goods and services that directly target the state, such as forbidden arms and political assassinations. The seasteader should research ways to sink government warships and down government aircraft. The protester should plan events which can cripple infrastructure that is vital to the state but not to the general population. The educator should show people why the use of self-defense against government is no less legitimate than the use of self-defense against a common criminal. The peaceful parent should raise children to view the state as an alien parasite worthy only of destruction.

An Artificial Vacuum

Those who study physics will learn that nature abhors a vacuum. This is often said in politics as well; when a powerful leader is overthrown or a state fails, other actors seek to take for themselves the power that those people and institutions once had. Another lesson from physics is essential to understand what must be done in order to end the state. While it is true that no perfect vacuum exists, it is also true that a partial vacuum which is sufficient for practical purposes may be artificially maintained by the continuous application of force. The political equivalent of this is the goal of a libertarian revolution. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents (as well as warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals) to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically removed from the society by the continuous application of defensive force, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber. Notably, libertarians have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarians can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.

This method has advantages over the methods described above. Whereas peaceful parenting requires a vast majority, democracy requires a majority (or at least a plurality), and the other methods require large minorities, the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states. There are many historical examples of larger forces being defeated by smaller forces, so defeating the enforcement classes may not even require 1 percent of the population. Whereas the other methods either fail when force is brought to bear or deteriorate into violent conflict, a libertarian revolution deals with the problem of state aggression directly by not only defending against it, but by subjecting aggressors to a taste of their own medicine. Whereas the other methods require peacefully convincing a large number of people to support a movement, a libertarian revolution only requires convincing them not to oppose it so strongly as to bring overwhelming force to bear against it. The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

Objections

Naturally, such a bold approach will invite criticism. Let us address some of the most common objections to libertarian revolution.

The enemy is too technologically superior to defeat militarily.

For most high-tech attackers, there exist low-tech defenses which can be effective. Proper uses of terrain and stealth can blunt the advantages of government forces, as can hiding among the civilian population. If government forces resort to their usual methods, the result would be a large amount of civilian blood on the state’s hands, and if abroad examples of blowback are anything to go by, this will motivate surviving relatives of the dead civilians to join the effort to end the state. The most destructive government tactics, such as weapons of mass destruction and large-scale carpet bombing, are out of the question if statists care about winning because these destroy their own infrastructure and sources of sustenance. Also, a domestic deployment could endanger family members and friends of the soldiers, leading to loss of morale, disobedience of orders, and defections to the anarchist cause. Finally, a soldier who fights overseas hardly ever faces reprisals after the war by those who were victimized. But if a government fielded its military domestically, it would be much easier for the details of a person’s military service to be recorded and publicized by alternative media, resulting in a soldier having to watch out for revenge-seekers for the rest of his or her life even if the revolution fails.

Engaging the enemy on their terms will certainly end in disaster, but engaging them on our terms has a much more favorable outlook. Note that one could also argue that the enemy is too technologically superior to defeat peacefully. The whole argument reeks of nihilistic laziness.

Libertarians will be viewed as terrorists.

This is a concern to a certain degree. The actions of revolutionaries must be carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands. The side that is viewed as terrorists and oppressors, as well as the side that is viewed as heroes and saviors, are determined mostly by who wins. Might does not make right but it does make outcomes, and history is written by the victors.

The public is likely to resist a libertarian revolution.

This is not nearly the concern that it appears to be. While electoral results may make it seem like there is strong opposition to libertarian anarchism, the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets. If the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves, and their current behavior shows that they fear the latter.

If you force liberty upon people, they are not really free.

The only time that force can legitimately be used within the non-aggression principle is in an act of defensive violence to stop aggressors, reclaim stolen property, make criminals perform restitution, etc. Thus, forcing liberty upon people would only occur when people commit aggressions and are met with defensive force. As such, forcing liberty upon people is compatible with the non-aggression principle. Furthermore, let us remember that because the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of consistent application. In the case of statists, anarchists may impose liberty upon them because statists impose statism upon anarchists, thereby estopping themselves from complaining that force is being used to impose a way of life upon them.

If libertarians can do this, then so could someone else, like a group of statist communists.

This is true, and it demonstrates that the nation-state model of providing security is woefully inadequate. This is actually an argument in favor of ending the state monopoly on military defense in favor of market competition.

What protects your revolution from the next one?

The only thing that can; a population that is willing to fight, die, and most importantly, kill in order to defend its way of life against anyone who would try to establish any kind of new dominion over them.

How will co-option be prevented?

This is certainly a concern, as intelligent statists know that the best way to defeat opposition is to lead it themselves. The only way to be sure is to have a truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership. If libertarians look for a charismatic leader against the state, then we will get him, and we will yet again fail to solve the problem because we will demonstrate a lack of understanding of the problem.

Why don’t you start shooting?

The personnel and resources necessary for victory are not yet assembled. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands. A losing revolution will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism.

How will one know when it is time?

It has been time since the first states began. But the meaning of this question is more likely to be, how will one know that the personnel and resources necessary for victory are available? If enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution, then more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end. The signs of the times will therefore be obvious.

Conclusion

The state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper. It makes war upon us, regardless of whether we make war upon it. While some of its agents can be reasoned with, others speak only the language of force, and they must be communicated with in their native tongue. If our enemies will use force and we will not, then we will lose conflicts and negotiate from a position of weakness. If we are to negotiate, let us negotiate from a position of strength. If we are to resist, let us do so boldly. If we are serious about ending the state, let us do what is required for success.

References:

  1. Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 794.
  2. “Withering Away of the State.” In The Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2015 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2015 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

In December 2014, an assassination of two NYPD officers prompted many libertarians to signal hard against the use of force against agents of the state. I decided to argue the opposing case. The harassment of the Meitiv family by Child Protective Services prompted another such article. Julian Adorney resolved that good government police exist, and I responded by explaining why this is impossible. I used another NYPD incident to argue that when government agents and common criminals fight, we should pull for no one. When Tremaine Wilbourn killed a police officer during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn, I wrote a list of observations on the event which mostly follow the aforementioned articles.

Many libertarians praise decentralization, and rightly so. But it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good or evil ends, and I explored the latter.

On Burns night, I observed that a proper haggis was unavailable in the United States and found that as usual, the state is to blame. Staying on the subject of food, economically illiterate researchers blamed Walmart for causing obesity, and I explained why this is fallacious.

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz gave cause to examine how such an atrocity could be carried out without the state. The answer, of course, is that it would be all but impossible.

Entering February, I allowed my cynicism to wax to the point of formalizing it as a razor. It could use more detailing and strengthening, which is a project for a later time. I used the razor to explain why the Obama administration might want to disarm elderly people.

Alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht was convicted on February 4 and sentenced on May 29. I made lists of observations on both of these occasions. Some people were none too happy with the state’s treatment of Ulbricht, and their displeasure got them in hot water. This occasion also merited a list of observations.

The movie American Sniper did well at the box office, but a metaphor therein was left incomplete. I decided to complete the analogy of sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves by adding farmers of human livestock to the mix.

A video by Stefan Molyneux about two different types of statists compared them to warriors and wizards. I made the case that countering the state requires libertarians to be both character classes at once.

Ron Paul made a video appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference, but some attendees decided to interrupt this by reading an open letter to him which was filled with leftist entryist nonsense. I wrote an open letter against them which gained wide recognition and helped run some of the people involved out of libertarian circles. It remains one of my proudest moments as a writer.

At the end of February, Republicans tried to use brinkmanship to force spending cuts, which failed miserably due to their track record of caving at the last minute. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

On March 9, I published my most popular article to date, which is also one of my most shallow, choir-preaching works. The correlation between the two can be most depressing at times. At any rate, here are 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals.

Several commenters have told me that I am at my best when I provide a sound defense for an idea that most people find to be outrageous. I did this several times in 2015, defending the killing of innocent shields in certain circumstances, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, letting Iran develop a nuclear deterrent, and the replacement of democratic elections with jousts to the death.

I went on a rebuttal streak in the spring of 2015. President Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory, and I argued the case against this. Michael Eliot argued that a violent revolution is not the correct strategy for creating a free society, and that the use of methods such as seasteading will be more successful. I explained why this is false. Walter Block argued in favor of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, and I demonstrated why he is not a good choice. Austin Petersen effectively made a case against libertarianism itself, and I rebutted it.

Paul Krugman delivered some rather standard talking points about public goods, and I showed why they are wrong. I revisited the subject later in the year.

Rolling Stone decided to go ahead with a completely false story about campus rape, and did nothing beyond wrist-slapping to those involved in creating and editing the story. They also defended the ideas behind the story, with which I took great issue. Another sex-related story occurred on April 21 when the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration resigned due to a prostitution scandal that occurred on her watch. I explained why we should not be surprised, and should actually expect more of such behavior. The purity spiral of campus feminism has grown to such an extent that even left-wing feminist professors are not immune. Rape accusation culture struck once more at Amherst College, and the victim took the university to court.

Baltimore police officers arrested Freddie Gray, who died one week later as a result of injuries sustained during the arrest. Riots ensued, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Charles Murray published a book detailing a novel strategy for fighting the regulatory state: overwhelm it with civil disobedience, create a legal fund to defend victims of regulation, and start treating government fines as an insurable hazard. I argued that this would fail, but that it needs to be tried anyway.

The prohibition of excessive bail and fines, as well as cruel and unusual punishment, is a much-revered part of the United States Constitution. I argued that it should not be.

Dylann Roof carried out a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Late June is Supreme Court season, and they delivered at least two bad decisions in 2015. First, they ruled very narrowly in favor of raisin farmers, but left the rights-violating practice of eminent domain intact. Then, they crammed same-sex marriage down the throats of all Americans.

Litecoin exchange rates suddenly spiked in early July. I took an educated guess at why, but it ended up being pure speculation.

Turmoil in Greece threatened to boil over into a default or even a Grexit. I took a deep look into the situation and concluded that only anarchy can fix the problems there.

Two seemingly disparate stories concerning Planned Parenthood and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine had a common thread: there is no such thing as non-lethal aid to an organization that conducts lethal operations.

I wrote a three-part series about fascism and communism in America, as well as how a nation can be both. Although I lated discovered that Lawrence Britt does not appear to be a real person, I found the 14-point list of fascist characteristics to be sound, so I did not revise the article.

A problem which is frequently cited as a reason why we must have a state is the problem of pollution. I dealt with the issues of water ownership and pollution in order to show why the state cannot solve the problem of pollution.

In one of my more controversial articles, I argued that Vester Flanagan, the man who murdered a reporter and a cameraman in Roanoke, Va., was a model social justice warrior. Examiner decided to pull it for offending their audience, but you can find it here.

Everyone knows that the Libertarian Party is not exactly a bastion of excellent strategic thinkers. I decided to offer them help, and a response to my essay advocating an alternate strategy is also worth reading.

Liberty Mutual created a series of advertisements that air regularly in my area, and they are full of economic fallacies. They annoyed me enough to dedicate an article to debunking them.

Reservation scalping occurred at Disney World restaurants, which outraged many people. I applied Walter Block’s reasoning for defending ticket scalpers to argue against the outrage.

September 11 always brings about discussions on security. I argued that there can be no such thing; only temporary and imperfect protection from particular dangers.

The term ‘cuckservative’ arose from alt-right circles to describe those who are insufficiently conservative, selling out their constituents, and/or acting against their own rational self-interests. I created the term ‘cuckertarian‘ to describe a similar problem among libertarians. Another problem with the libertarian movement that I addressed is the embrace of hedonism when libertarianism only requires that we not use aggressive violence to stamp out non-violent degeneracy.

After several years in prison for tax resistance, Irwin Schiff passed away. I wrote a list of observations on the event that gained praise from his son Peter.

I belatedly refuted Matt Zwolinski’s six reasons for rejecting the non-aggression principle. I had meant to do so when he published his piece back in April 2013, but other work took precedence and it languished in development hell. Next, I dealt with Youliy Ninov’s arguments against anarcho-capitalism in what is my most verbose article to date.

Islamic terrorists attacked Beirut and Paris on November 12 and 13, respectively. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Many libertarians misunderstand immigration and borders, so after several pro-open-borders articles published in quick succession by other authors, I tried to set them straight.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I explained why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Robert Dear attacked a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and wounding nine others. I made the case that although the use of force against Planned Parenthood is defensive in nature, it is frequently impractical and counterproductive.

The success of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, as well as growing support for it in libertarian and reactionary circles, led me to examine the phenomena. I concluded that Trumpism is not a libertarian form of reaction, though we may have some common enemies.

My final article of 2015 addressed the common phrase ‘give back to the community.’ In short, it is communist nonsense that must be rejected.

I began work on another case against a constitutional amendment, but it was not completed for publishing before the end of 2015, so it will appear first in next year’s review.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2016 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!