Why Price Gouging Is Good

When a natural disaster strikes, it is almost guaranteed that there will be yet another uproar about price gouging. Media pundits will take to the airwaves to virtue signal against people who would dare to exploit disaster victims. Government officials will use the crisis to score political points by portraying themselves as defenders of the common people against greedy capitalists. But how accurately does this reflect reality? Let us explore the nature of price gouging to see the economics of such a situation and explain the behavior of journalists and state agents.

Economic Forces

In order to intelligently approach the concept of price gouging, one must first define it. Price gouging is a sudden, sharp increase in prices that occurs in response to a disaster or other civil emergency. Though this defines the act well, it does not explain the mechanisms behind it. When a disaster approaches, there are certain goods that people wish to acquire in greater quantities than normal, such as clean drinking water, non-perishable foods, wooden boards for protecting windows, and so on. If supply is held constant, then this sudden increase in demand for such goods will produce a sudden increase in their prices.

If left unhindered by the state, this upward pressure on prices will produce important benefits. First, it serves as a signal to producers and distributors of those goods that more supply is needed. The producers and distributors thus learn where their goods are most urgently in demand, allowing them to engage in mutually beneficial transactions with disaster victims. This is how free markets are supposed to function in order to meet the needs of customers.

Second, price gouging encourages proactive preparations. A potential business model for a firm is to invest in equipment that allows it to operate when a disaster would otherwise force it to close, and use the proceeds from price gouging to amortize the cost of the equipment. This helps consumers by allowing them to purchase goods at higher prices rather than be left without essential items during a crisis.

Third, price gouging provides an important benefit by conserving the fixed amount of resources which are present before more deliveries can be made to the disaster area. The higher cost of scarce goods disincentivizes people from buying up supplies that other people need, thus helping to keep the items in stock. This keeps scarce resources from being wasted on marginal uses, directing them toward their most valued uses and the people who most need them instead.

Markets And Malice

Unfortunately, not every instance of price gouging is so benevolent. Business owners who seek to exploit vulnerable people in order to make money do exist. But engaging in such behavior in a free market produces a short-term gain followed by a long-term loss. In a pure capitalist environment, reputation is everything for a business. Whatever profits may come from gouging disaster victims in the present will be more than outweighed by the sales that one will lose in the future because of the damage that this does to one’s brand. After all, most people would view such behavior as adding insult to injury and vote against it with their wallets. Though it is impossible to accurately count sales that do not happen, to dismiss this effect as nonexistent is to commit the broken window fallacy.

Enter The State

Most people are economically illiterate, so they tend to focus on the malevolent type of price gouging and be unaware of the benevolent type. In a democratic state, this has predictable results. Politicians and other government agents will frown upon price gouging and seek to punish anyone who they believe to be engaging in it. But it can be difficult to distinguish the natural effects of demand spikes and limited supplies upon price from the efforts of greedy exploiters of disaster victims, especially for government officials who are too far removed from the disaster area to be intimately familiar with the economic dynamics there. Thus, all price gouging is suppressed by the state, and while this may protect a few people from exploitation, it causes more harm than good by disrupting the market signals which would have informed producers and distributors that their goods need to be sent to the disaster area. The end result is that scarce goods are depleted and not replaced, leading people to once more blame the market for failing them when the actual cause of their shortage was a government failure.

Suppression of price gouging has several deleterious effects. First, by placing price controls on goods, the state deprives entrepreneurs of the profit motive to bring additional supply to the disaster area. Without state inteference, people who live outside of the disaster area and are willing to travel there in order to bring supplies could charge enough for their goods to recover their travel costs and be compensated for the inconvenience of spending time in a disaster area, all while making enough profit to make such a venture more attractive than other economic opportunities. Price gouging laws remove such action, leaving only state agencies and altruistic private groups to provide aid. Note that like all government regulations, price gouging laws are subject to regulatory capture by the largest businesses.

Second, removing the incentive for proactive preparations makes untenable the business model for operating during a disaster described above. Third, removing the conservation effect of price gouging forces business owners to sell goods below their market-clearing price. This incentivizes hoarders to buy more than they need and scalpers to buy goods for resale. The existence of scalpers also makes desired goods more difficult to find, as resellers will be more difficult to locate than established stores. Thus, laws against price gouging do not eliminate the practice, but rather shift it from primary markets to secondary markets and cause a different set of people to profit. Taken together, these effects result in artificial scarcity that makes conditions in a disaster area even worse.

A Pair of Razors

Given the clear case in favor of price gouging, one may wonder why so many people in positions of political power rail against it. Reece’s razor suggests that we look for the most cynical explanation when attempting to determine a motive for state policy. No other possibility prioritizes the self-interest of politicians and their minions over the lives and properties of citizens quite like the idea that government officials want to suppress the natural response of markets in order to make government disaster relief agencies look effective and necessary, thus justifying their existence and expansion, so Reece’s razor selects it.

However, it is not in the rational self-interest of elected officials to increase the suffering of disaster victims who are capable of removing them from office in the next election. A better explanation is offered by Hanlon’s razor, which says that one should not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. In this view, government officials are not trying to increase the harm done during a disaster; they simply know no better because they are just as economically illiterate as the electorate, if not more so. This razor is a better fit for the available logic and evidence.

Conclusion

It is clear that price gouging has an important economic role in ensuring that goods both go to those who need them most and remain available in times of emergency. Market prices are important signals that tell producers and distributors where their goods are most urgently needed. When the state interferes with this process by imposing price controls, it turns off the signal and incentives for market actors to send aid, encourages hoarding and scalping, and discourages conservation and farsightedness. These effects mean that laws against price gouging harm the very people that they are ostensibly supposed to help. Therefore, price gouging should not be punished by the state or demonized by the press.

A Critique of Libertarian Strategy

Lack of Action

Even the slightest familiarity with most libertarians will show the observer how much libertarians love to talk about the slightest philosophical disagreements, as well as how much time libertarians devote to libertarian literature and propagating the ideas of liberty on the Internet. However, even with that immense passion, most libertarians seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world. In fairness, some move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, some work on start-up societies, and there are gray market alternative products sold by libertarians. However, the amount of effort put into learning liberty does not seem to match up with the amount of effort actually spent on advancing liberty in the real world. Libertarian philosophy may win hearts and minds until the end of time, but if libertarians are not willing to go outside the statist quo, there can be no real world change.

Contrast this inactivity with the progressive movement that swept the United States in the early 20th century. The progressives opened public areas, worked on local communities, and did so in order to spread their progressive beliefs. It was a complete hands-on movement intent on creating actual change and composed of people who were willing to work, leave their houses, and participate in their community. If libertarians want to achieve any level of cultural advancement in a libertarian direction, there can be no expectation of it being created by arguing on social media about whether or not abortions or borders are libertarian, but rather by engaging in social activities in a voluntary manner to spread liberty. Recently, a man built a $100,000 dollar staircase for just over 500 dollars for his community, and this great act of voluntary improvement was removed by the state. There are examples over examples of how children have their lemonade stands shut down when they are trying to make some pocket money. There are constant news stories of how adults who do business on a very small scale without any harm and without selling illegal items get shut down due to the lack of a permit. Every time this happens it gets massive media traction. Imagine if all these people were devoted libertarians and used their platform as a way to spread libertarian ideas, how much more exposure libertarianism could get. If these people flew the black and yellow flag and wrote “taxation is theft” on the side of whatever they were making, they could spread the message of liberty. They may be censored or ridiculed, but it would demonstrate how the libertarian philosophy is practical and beneficial.

This does not mean organizing Libertarian Party caucuses or running for office. Rather, it means breaking laws and making sure that breaking those laws will improve the community in which the law-breaker resides. When there are attempts to combat the injustice of the state, there must be people willing to take risks, and some people must be willing to improve their own communities to make their own lives and the lives of their communities better. If there is no one willing to go against the state and no one willing to get arrested, fined, or subjected to other injustices, then mouthing off on the Internet becomes a waste of time. It is good to try to increase the presence of libertarian ideas virtually, in think tanks, or in politics, but real change comes from individuals acting locally to create a more libertarian society.

This need not be non-political; any libertarian could go out, talk to people, hand out fliers, and do whatever else is necessary for the principles of liberty to be spread in a physical manner. But if libertarians cannot organize a local club, cannot make and print out some fliers to hand out, and are thus unable to actually advance the principles of liberty, they will get nothing done. In fairness, there are libertarians in Cuba who build libraries and take action; there are libertarians in Europe who translate great libertarian texts into their own languages. There are many libertarians who already do such things, but nowhere near enough in comparison to the amount of people who are passive libertarian cyber-intellectuals.

Lack of Charisma

Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction. This is a problem which tends to arise when any ideology is based on abstract economic and intellectual arguments rather than arguments which are more relatable to the layperson. This means that libertarians must try to become more charismatic if there is to be a chance for spreading the principles of liberty without forceful imposition. Advocates of these principles cannot stay within a bubble of abstract arguments. Libertarians must become more sociable in order to recruit more people to become libertarians. It is easy to see how this has worked every time it has happened; Ron Paul brought more people over to the liberty movement than perhaps anyone else in the history of libertarianism. The intellectuals who have spent a lot of time being sociable (Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard immediately come to mind) have converted more people than anyone else who wrote some treatises but never personally taught anyone the principles of liberty.

Music and art are great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions, and it seems that everyone else, from communists to fascists, understands this. That is why Ayn Rand was so important to libertarianism and Objectivism; she made philosophy accessible through her works of fiction. Since libertarian philosophy can affect people deeply and show them truths that they never realized before, it is vital that libertarians focus on making free-market and property-based positions more presentable without corrupting the message. Having to read dozens of dry books and have hundreds of intellectual conversations in order to properly and fully understand libertarianism when some good works of fiction and a few bands could expose the philosophy to a much wider audience in a more effective manner is a travesty. Backwordz is one such exciting libertarian project, as they serve to make libertarianism more accessible, but libertarians cannot relegate an important task in spreading the message of the cause to a few projects. Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences. There are many people who lack artistic talents, but if one is blessed with these talents in even the smallest capacity, they could use their time more effectively by utilizing these mediums in order to create a more libertarian society and to make libertarianism more palatable.

This is also the case for the “meme war” that has been happening on the Internet. This is a tactic in which the far-right uses poignant viral images to create propaganda that spreads on its own. This can captivate people who might never be convinced by a logical argument. Libertarians have mostly failed at this and have not often demonstrated the humor necessary to make this tactic work. This is just one small factor of the whole picture, but when one considers the possibility of free viral marketing just by demonstrating a small bit of humor, it becomes very odd that there so little focus on this. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to have this one strategy of viral marketing. Libertarians tend to be individuals who are at least moderately wealthy, so it would be easy for them to buy billboards, put up posters, or purchase online ads that direct people to libertarian websites and beliefs that focus on property and justice. Most people have never been exposed to a true representation of what libertarians actually believe, seeing only the gross caricatures of the establishment press and other statist propagandists. Being able to make the movement and the cause more present and more public would greatly increase the number of people who identify as libertarians. One incredible example, simply for comparison, is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard. They are a much more fringe community with an obviously false message, and they still managed to generate enough money for a billboard that gained them at least a small amount of media traction. How libertarians have failed to engage in this method boggles the mind.

Ignorance of the Opposition

One more item of criticism for libertarians is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents. Many people may have memorized points and counter-arguments from reading Rothbard, Hoppe, and other libertarian theorists, but there is usually a base assumption that the opposition comes mainly from ignorance and not from differences in knowledge, ethics, and sources. All ideas come from somewhere and although most people with those ideas parrot them to others, this does not mean that we can combat these points properly without knowing their intellectual origins. What makes this even worse is that libertarians may have come from the cultural status quo where most people started and understand those arguments; some libertarians may even have had a phase of being socialist without knowing what that would actually imply. However, most libertarians are libertarians in their premises. It is not an intellectual decision to be a libertarian for most people; we all tend to have some degree of libertarianism within our basic assumptions.

It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from. It helps to be able to assume their perspective without prejudice and be able to dissect their premises and arguments. Of course, by some metric of self-satisfaction, libertarians are able to think that they did something productive by telling socialists that they need to learn basic economics while ignoring the hundreds of years of socialist economic studies. This argument may have worked when socialism was something that people adopted just to be edgy and to rebel against the capitalist status quo, but in the age of the modern intelligentsia, Austrian economic arguments are less prevalent than socialist ones. In essence, libertarians are the ones who need to learn what other people consider to be basic economics if they are to refute socialists.

Furthermore, libertarians assume that everyone who is pro-state would stop being so if the violence of the state was exposed for what it is. This is false, as many people are completely fine with the state being an institution of violence as long as it serves their own interests. No matter how much anyone talks about the state being immoral or violent and how much taxation is theft, there will be a great amount of people who think, in a Hobbesian manner, that without this violence human beings cannot have civilization. These moral arguments may be fine, but libertarians need to present more perspectives that are better suited for people who approach the world more pragmatically. This is especially true for many socialists and alt-righters; they know that the state is violence and a pure forceful institution. Their question about this is simply, “So what?”. Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.

Lack of Virtue

No matter the intellectual caliber of particular libertarians, there are a few problems that need to be solved with the ideology if libertarianism is to go forward. There are strategies and perspectives on how to create a libertarian society and what libertarians can do to approach the type of people who are ready to be libertarians. However, the overwhelming majority of libertarian theory focuses on how great everything would be if everyone already lived in a world where there was virtue, without providing methods of how to cultivate this virtue within the population that is to be made libertarian. The other minority focuses on how bad everything is while everyone is in an oppressive statist society, and other areas of concern are seldom talked about. Only in the past few years has there been even a start of sociological inquiry of these issues on a sustained and continuous basis.

Stefan Molyneux advocates peaceful parenting as an actionable solution for making the world freer. Many libertarians say that education is the best solution. Some propose economic solutions to show people how property benefits them. Some advocate violent revolution. But cultivating the sort of virtue that is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order is not so simple. Anyone can parent peacefully, yet still it can turn out that there is no virtue cultivated in the children within a society. People can educate a person who is not virtuous himself and he may not become virtuous when he knows all the facts. Libertarians can show people how property rights may benefit them, but they may still try to undermine it, provided they are not individuals who have the virtue of respect for property rights.

This needs to be a strong point of libertarian tactics; not only how to make people more receptive to a society based on virtuous behavior, but rather how to make sure that the people are sufficiently virtuous to maintain a libertarian social order. Libertarianism needs to come out of the value-free lull where the focus on intellectualism has left it and delve deeper into the fields of sociology, psychology, and other areas where further research is needed for how to increase the virtue within populations. As it stands right now, libertarians may have good strategies for libertarianism and how to create a more libertarian world when libertarianism already has this support, but far less on how to cultivate libertarian virtues within society.

Lack of Breadth

Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content when it comes to anything other than economics and philosophy. Though this is by design, in that libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make. Economics is never enough to run a whole society; there must be values and character traits beyond the economic. There cannot be a healthy society in which the only relations are that of material exchange; this kind of society would certainly fall apart as soon as it was revealed as the husk it is. Even though the intellectual side of libertarianism may call for a value-free economic analysis, a pragmatic and objective political strategy, and a philosophy that can create values beyond what people would consider moral, this is inapplicable to many people. Everyone has values, most people have morals, and people want to see these morals reflected in their societies.

This writer has proposed abandoning political libertarianism as a strategy and focusing instead on advancing local autonomy as much as possible. It would serve to make libertarianism more relatable and to show people how libertarianism can serve to bring their values into the world. However, there is much work to be done on this. Only now are the first efforts being made of a very deep examination and expansive practical project.

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

Felling The Oak Of Statism

Several years ago, I went on a vacation with my family to the mountains for a week. On the day before we returned home, a line of severe thunderstorms hit back home. We arrived the next day to find that a large oak tree near the house had been struck by lightning. Debris was all over the yard between the woods and the house, and huge chunks of bark that had been blasted off were looped around the branches. The strike killed the massive tree, and its continued presence posed a danger. It was large enough to fall onto the house from where it stood if left to its own devices, so it had to be felled. But due to these circumstances, it could not be cut down haphazardly and without regard for what damage might be done if it were to fall in the wrong direction. We called in professional loggers to remove the tree in such a way as to avoid hurting anyone or damaging anything. The tree was removed properly and all was well.

There is a useful lesson here for those who seek to end the state. The state is like that oak; large, weighty, and with great potential to destroy. A thunderstorm consisting of economic, social, and cultural decay masked by technological progress has come. A lightning strike of discontent with the status quo is charging up, and sooner or later the tree of statism will be fatally struck. But if we leave the tree to die and fall by its own weight and decay, immense and possibly irreparable damage may be done to the social order. Just like the oak, the method used to dismantle the state apparatus cannot be haphazard in nature.

Those who subscribe to ‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, are exhibiting a dangerous myopia that borders on political autism. There are certain aspects of government which, if abolished, would result in a potentially catastrophic outcome if other aspects were not also abolished beforehand or concurrently. There are other aspects of government which, if abolished, would leave people in a dangerous lurch in which they have neither a government monopoly nor a private alternative to provide them with service. There are also forms of privatization of state-controlled assets which could potentially be worse than leaving them in the state’s hands. Let us consider one example of each type to show what can go wrong if certain improper felling techniques are used on the oak of statism.

Improper Order

An example of abolishing government functions in the wrong order is that of open borders before welfare elimination. Many libertarians argue that state immigration controls should be completely lifted because they violate freedom of movement of immigrants, private property rights of residents, and freedom of association of both. But doing this while welfare programs are in place would encourage foreign peoples to flood a nation, displacing the native population while using the state to steal from them en masse. (Note that this also violates the private property rights and freedom of association of the native population.) The people who would be attracted to the country in this scenario would not be people who wish to be productive and make the nation better, but people who seek to exist parasitically upon those who have been forced to pay for the welfare state. Although this is a potential strategy for eliminating both state borders and welfare by using the influx of immigrants to crash the welfare state, this was originally proposed by leftists as a means of expanding the welfare state to the point of a basic income guarantee. (Notably, some people who call themselves libertarians actually want to expand the state in this way.) The likely outcome of all of this is not a freer society, but a loss of culture and identity to demographics which have a less libertarian disposition, the promotion of parasitism as a way of life, and the denigration of meritocracy.

Left in the Lurch

An example of leaving people without any kind of service would be the abolition of government militaries without any private replacement to protect people in their absence. This is the one part of the proverbial oak which is sure to fell the entire tree if it is cut, as a state without a monopoly on military force within its territory is a contradiction of terms. However, it is necessary to account for the Pax Romana problem. Students of history will be familiar with the time of relative peace and stability from the time of Augustus (r. 27 BCE-14 CE) until the time of Commodus (r. 177-192 CE). During this time, the economy, the arts, and agriculture flourished because the tribal battles that predated Roman conquests as well as the rebellions and riots that predated the Pax Romana were largely suppressed. But there was a dark side to this, particularly in parts of the empire which were much closer to the border than to Rome. With Roman forces in charge of law, order, and security, many peoples suffered losses in the ability to provide these services themselves. After all, societal organs tend to decay from disuse just as individual people do. When the Pax Romana ended, these peoples were without the stabilizing forces which they had come to rely upon and were out of practice in providing these services for themselves. The end result was that several of these peoples suffered raids, conquest, and murder at the hands of various barbarians and empires. Returning to our time, the restoration of the role of the militia in society as well as the development of privately owned military hardware (and perhaps a nuclear deterrent) are necessary prerequisites for an orderly elimination of government militaries. The only workable alternative to this (and only possibility before the aforementioned steps are accomplished) is a violent uprising by enough of the population living under a particular state so as to make that population ungovernable.

Soviet Dissolution

An example of improper privatization is that of handing control of state monopolies over to politically connected oligarchs. As Gustave de Molinari writes,

“Private property is redundant. ‘Public property’ is an oxymoron. All legit property is private. If property isn’t private it’s stolen.”

This is true, but the path from here to there matters. There are two proper methods of privatization of state-controlled property. One is to figure out the tax burden levied upon each person and distribute shares of state-controlled property accordingly. This is the most just method, as it attempts to compensate victims of state-sponsored theft for their losses. The other is for private citizens to seize control of whatever state-controlled property they can take and defend. This is not as just as attempting to return property to its rightful owners, but a person who takes property from a thief has a better claim to the property than the thief. For the state to hand over its monopoly over some good, service, or property to a particular private interest contributes to the creation of an oligarchical class which wields informal political power in promotion of its own self-interest to the detriment of everyone else, as happened in Russia during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These oligarchs can cause more damage than the state in certain situations, particularly if they use their ill-gotten gains to influence who gets to wield state power, as they invariably have throughout history.

Conclusion

As always, it is important to think strategically and play the long game. Enemies of liberty are certainly doing this, and failure to do so by libertarians needlessly puts us at a disadvantage. Considering the likely consequences of cutting one part of government before another, cutting a part of government before a private replacement is viable, or privatizing state-controlled assets in certain ways can help us to fell the oak of statism in such a way as to safeguard essential elements of the social order and avoid needless unrest.

The State Is Negan, Part I

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. The character Negan, who was mentioned throughout Season 6 of the show and makes his entrance in the season finale, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the first part of his character arc to see how Negan uses the cult of personality around him to influence others, as well as how he makes a first impression on those whom he wishes to subjugate. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned not only for those who would wield state power, but for those who seek its abolition. This part of the article series will cover the time period from the introduction of the Saviors (Episode 606) up to the conclusion of Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 701).

Introduction

The Saviors first appear in Episode 606, and Negan is first mentioned a few hours later in the storyline in Episode 608, when some of his underlings attack Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha. They claim that their truck and their guns now belong to Negan, then take their sidearms. In Episode 609, the leader of these underlings orders a subordinate to take Daryl to the back of the truck and inspect its cargo. The leader threatens to shoot Abraham and Sasha, but Daryl kills the gang with an RPG after fighting one of them behind the truck.

In retrospect, this incident shows that the first encounter that a group of free people have with a state apparatus is not substantively different from a first encounter with organized crime. Negan’s underlings act much like mafia members who carry out a shakedown, but unlike most targets of organized crime, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha are strong enough to militarily defeat them and are unaware of the larger context in which they are operating. As we will see, this sets in motion an escalation of force until one side dominates the other, as happens in real-world conflicts between groups of armed people.

Protection Racket

In Episode 611, Rick’s group learns of a deal imposed on Hilltop, a community with which his community in Alexandria is trading, by the Saviors. Negan wants half of what Hilltop produces in exchange for protection, which in reality means not attacking them. This works exactly like a protection racket; an extortion threat in which the criminals are paid not to cause the very problem that they claim to be preventing. Negan kills two Hilltop members, kidnaps another, and makes another go back to Hilltop to stab Gregory, the Hilltop leader, because they brought him too little.

Rick’s group intervenes, killing the man who stabbed Gregory and making an alternative offer: half of Hilltop’s supplies once in exchange for wiping out the Saviors. Jesus, the Hilltop second in command, informs Rick of Negan’s actions toward them, which included beating one of their members to death when they first met. Gregory, recovering from his wound, agrees to the offer because Negan is draining Hilltop dry.

This illustrates a possible means of dealing with organized crime through market protection services. There is no perfect solution in such a case, but giving up half of one’s supplies once to a friendlier organization is better than continually being coercively taxed at 50 percent by a much more aggressive organization. The problems in this case are information and power asymmetry; Rick’s group and Gregory greatly underestimate the Saviors’ strength, and this will be their undoing. A real-world private defense agency would have to be better informed about and prepared for the nature of the threats being defended against.

Pre-Emptive Strike

In Episode 612, Rick’s group strikes a Savior outpost. They use a decoy walker head that looks like Gregory to distract the guards, then kill the guards quietly to sneak into the base. Once inside, they see photographic evidence of Savior atrocities and kill several Saviors who are sleeping. One Savior manages to get to a fire alarm and pull it before Rick’s group can kill him, and a shootout begins. When all is done, at least two dozen Saviors have been killed without any losses on Alexandria’s side. But then they hear on their radio that two of their people have been captured by another cell of Saviors.

In Episode 613, the capture of Carol and Maggie by four Saviors who lived at the base but were not present for the massacre is shown. They are taken to a safe house where more Saviors will come, and Rick’s group must find this place before more Saviors arrive. The Saviors treat Maggie more favorably upon finding out that she is pregnant, and Carol pulls off a convincing ruse to get the Saviors to believe that she is far less dangerous than she really is. This shows that they do have a shred of humanity left despite their brutality, and can thus be emotionally manipulated. In a conversation about Negan, one of the Saviors says, “We are all Negan.” Carol and Maggie manage to escape their restraints and begin working to kill their captors. One dies from a gunshot wound that Carol inflicted before their capture, and they use his reanimated remains to bite another captor and finish her off. The remaining two saviors are killed in a fight with Carol and Maggie, then the other Saviors arrive. Carol lures them into a trap and kills them, after which Rick’s group arrives. One captured Savior that Rick brought along also claims to be Negan, and is promptly executed by Rick. Alexandria and Hilltop falsely believe they have won.

The combat operations shown are rather typical in nature (aside from the undead, of course). Just like in the real world, a small band of determined guerrillas can create a nightmare for a state apparatus, even defeating local branches of it. But this tends to do only enough damage to provoke a greater response by the state, as its leaders know that such behavior can abolish the governing apparatus if it is not stopped. More force is required to remove a state from power, as Rick’s group will soon learn the hard way.

The self-identification of the Saviors with Negan is the other important element here. Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. His top lieutenants identify with Negan to a perhaps greater extent than Negan identifies with himself, just as Malcolm X describes the house slaves of old. And just like the field slaves of old and the average person living under a totalitarian regime, most of the lower-ranking Saviors play along because they know that as bad as things are for them, not playing along or trying to escape would likely be even worse. The tactic of training people to identify themselves as Negan is used to protect the real Negan and create a sense of collective identity. This sense is so strong that Negan’s underlings come to behave as he would have them behave without him needing to be present, which is what every dictator wants from his administrators. What Negan provides (or at least pretends to provide) in return will be discussed in Part II.

False Normalcy Shattered

Episode 614 takes place one week after the raid, hostage situation, and rescue. But the threat is not ended; another group of Saviors kills an Alexandrian who is on a supply run and captures Eugene. The group of Saviors is led by Dwight, whose face has been disfigured since Daryl encountered him in Episode 606. Dwight demands that they let his group plunder Alexandria, but several members of Rick’s group who are present fight off the Saviors and rescue Eugene. After losing most of his force, Dwight signals a retreat. Shortly thereafter in Episode 615, Carol is stopped by several Saviors on the road, but she manages to kill all but two and leaves one for dead, with one still pursuing her. Rick finishes off the one that Carol left, realizing that the threat is greater than he thought. Dwight’s group manages to capture Glenn and Michonne, then captures Daryl and Rosita. Maggie has complications with her pregnancy and needs to see a doctor in Hilltop, setting into motion the events that will lead Rick’s group to meet Negan.

Most of the lessons here are better illustrated elsewhere, and the disfigurement of Dwight will be explained in Part II, so let us move on.

The Man Himself I

Episode 616 begins with another group of survivors from a library in the area being murdered by Saviors for trying to resist their rule. They capture and beat the last member of that group. The Saviors set up increasingly elaborate roadblocks as Rick’s group try to take Maggie to Hilltop. At the first one, Simon (Negan’s second in command) tells Rick to give up his supplies. Rick retorts in kind, and then leaves instead of fighting it out. The next roadblocks are larger with increasing numbers of people. At the last roadblock, the last member of the library group is hung by Simon as he verbally intimidates Rick.

Meanwhile, the surviving Savior from the attack on Carol finds and wounds her with a bullet. Morgan arrives and rescues her, then two men on horseback approach and offer help.

The Saviors herd Rick’s group into some woods where the rest of his group has been captured and taken. Negan finally appears, introduces himself, says that Rick’s group have killed more Saviors than he feels comfortable with, declares that Rick’s group works for him now, lays claim to half of their belongings, decides to kill one of them with Lucille (the name he has given to his barbed-wire baseball bat), and threatens to have Carl’s one remaining eye removed and fed to Rick if anyone resists. The season ends with a member of Rick’s group being killed, with the revelation of who it is being left as a cliffhanger.

There are several lessons here. First, the lead-up to this confrontation shows that try as one might to avoid the state, it will find those who run from it sooner or later. Trying to avoid it rather than submit to it or fight it only delays the inevitable and makes civilized life all but impossible. Second, just as statists found long ago that slavery is more profitable than cannibalism or genocide, Negan has learned that it is more profitable to take half of what people earn than to simply eliminate them. Third, Negan’s policy of killing one member of a new group that he encounters in order to make the point that he is in charge and that punishment for defying him is real is also a common theme among statists. This is a theme that may be termed ultraviolence, which may be defined as violence which is overly gratuitous, done for the purpose of being seen by others, used to make an example out of a problematic person or group, and utilized in the hope of subjugating an enemy so as to use a lesser amount of violence against them over the long-term. The penalty for disobeying Negan is always death if one resists to a sufficient extent, and the state is no different. Just like the real world, the Saviors find that this is not always effective; some people choose to resist to the death, and just like historical dictators, Negan and his lieutenants have no problem with exterminating such groups. Fifth, contrary to appearances, the lesson here is not that resistance is futile; only that resistance requires a critical mass of defensive force and should not be attempted when one cannot bring nearly that much force to bear.

The Man Himself II

Episode 701 picks up where the previous season finale left off, and we learn that Abraham, Rick’s second in command, was murdered by Negan. Daryl responds by rising up and punching Negan, who retaliates by murdering Glenn with Lucille. Rick declares that someday, he will kill Negan for what he has done. Negan takes Rick away to an RV for some one-on-one time. Along the way, Negan dares Rick to kill him with an axe but stops Rick with a rifle, ordering him to drop it. Rick complies and Negan starts driving the RV. Eventually, the RV gets surrounded by walkers. Negan throws the axe outside and demands that Rick go get it. Rick nearly dies in the process, but manages to retrieve it as Negan begins shooting walkers to save Rick. Negan drives Rick back to his group, informs Rick that he is no longer in charge, and hands Rick the axe. Rick still looks at Negan the same way, so Negan orders Rick to either cut off his son’s arm with the axe or watch his whole group die. Carl finally tells Rick to cut off his arm, and Rick starts to, but Negan stops him and says, “You answer to me, you provide for me, you belong to me, right?” he asks. Rick agrees, Negan says that this is the look that he wanted Rick to give him, and takes back the axe. Negan tells Dwight to take Daryl away and threatens that Rick will have to mutilate him if Rick resists further. Negan leaves Rick’s group a truck for gathering tribute, and says they have one week to collect an offering. After the Saviors leave, Maggie continues on to Hilltop, and the others take their dead for burial and return to Alexandria.

This episode illustrates how far an authoritarian ruler is willing to go in order to gain compliance. Negan tolerates no threat to his rule, shutting it down promptly with a second display of ultraviolence. Also of interest is Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick. He does this because it is difficult for a ruler to control a large number of people directly. In order to rule over Alexandria, Negan needs Rick to do so for him, so he goes as far as he must in order to make Rick subservient to him. This also explains why Negan saves Rick from being killed by walkers.

The matter of when and where to violently resist a state apparatus is another important consideration here. Up until this point, Rick’s group had been engaging the Saviors either at times and places of their choosing or on neutral ground. They had mixed results on neutral ground and favorable results when fighting on their own terms. But when David tries to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, David has almost no chance, as shown by the fruitless token resistances offered by members of Rick’s group when surrounded by Negan and a large number of Saviors.

Finally, let us consider the truck that Negan leaves behind. The truck will make it easier for Rick’s group to conduct their affairs, but its main purpose is to make their exploitation by Negan more profitable. Like everything that a government provides to its subjects, it is provided not for the betterment of the subjects, but to help the subjects to be more productive. Any betterment that occurs is only a beneficial side effect about which the state is apathetic.

Conclusion

The first part of Negan’s arc presents him as a mysterious figure who is not known to actually exist in physical form, much like the state. The individuals who believe in the state and act upon this belief exist, the buildings, vehicles, and guns involved exist, and so on, but there is no physical form we can point to or touch and say, “This is the state.” But it seems real enough for the people who are on the receiving end of the violence, which is all that matters for those who operate and benefit from the apparatus. Unlike the state, Negan actually does exist directly, which may make dealing with him a different challenge going forward. In the second part, we will examine the time period after Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 702) up to the decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).

The Political Autism of Anti-Protectionism

There is a certain species of policy analysis which exhibits many of the symptoms which are commonly found among high-functioning autistic people. Among these symptoms are an inability to understand context, a troubling need for routines, an obsession with particular topics, difficulty with abstract thinking, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, a lack of empathy, an inability to process social cues, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum, but it seems to come disproportionately from libertarian thinkers.

The rise of Donald Trump has brought a protectionist view of trade policy back to the forefront for the first time in decades. Naturally, this gives libertarians pause, as protectionism violates individual liberties, is economically inefficient, and gives more money and power to the state. In a textbook-style vacuum, free trade is both more libertarian and more beneficial than protectionism. But to stop there and fail to address the relevant current conditions would be politically autistic by way of context denial. Thus, it is necessary to examine how protectionist policies can make sense in certain contexts, as well as the problems with supporting a policy of free trade in all circumstances.

On January 26, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent import tariff on goods coming from Mexico as a means of funding a border wall. This prompted outrage from the establishment media, along with claims and analysis showing that Americans would pay the tariff rather than Mexico because Mexican products would be more expensive for American consumers as a result. This would be true if all else were equal, but this is not the case.

The Context

Mexico already has import tariffs which can be as high as 140.4 percent and average 13.97 percent. For Mexico to tariff US goods while the US does not tariff Mexican goods puts American companies at a disadvantage. While the libertarian may note that smuggling to evade the tariff would be a morally acceptable response, this is not feasible on the level necessary to conduct a national economy. Revolution to abolish the governments that impose the tariffs would also be morally acceptable, but this is likewise unfeasible, at least for the immediate future. Eliminating government interference in the economy that makes it harder to do business domestically is another option which is better than protective tariffs, but doing so to the extent and with the quickness which would be necessary is unlikely. The next best option, then, is for the US government to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating abolition of the tariff on both sides.1 Given that 81.2 percent of Mexican exports for a worth of $309.2 billion go to the United States and 15.7 percent of US exports for $236.4 billion go to Mexico, the threat of a trade war clearly gives leverage to the United States. Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council, said as much to CNNMoney:

“The tariff is not an end game, it’s a strategy…to renegotiate trade deals. Tariffs wouldn’t put U.S. jobs at risk.”

It is important to remember that much like nuclear weapons, the primary purpose of tariffs is not to be directly utilized, but to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons. A response to another nation’s tariff to gain leverage against it is the secondary purpose, as explained earlier. Those who fail to account for this are exhibiting political autism by engaging in context denial.

The Analysis

A 20 percent tariff would discourage Americans from buying Mexican products. This would also raise the cost of goods which are currently provided at the lowest cost by Mexicans. The increase would not necessarily be 20 percent; to illustrate this, let us consider a simple example. Suppose that avocados from Mexico currently cost $1 each, while equivalent avocados grown in California cost $1.10 each. The tariff makes it so that initially, the Mexican avocados increase to $1.20 while the California avocados remain at $1.10. Initially, the American consumer pays 10 percent more but switches to the California source as much as possible. This diversion of funds from Mexico to California allows the Californian producers to make investments to improve their techniques and expand their operations, which will lower the cost of their products over time, potentially even below the $1 level that consumers originally paid to Mexico.

Whether this is a superior outcome for the American consumer depends upon a variety of factors, such as the available farmland in each location, the weather patterns over the next several years, the intelligence of American agriculturalists versus Mexican agriculturalists, and so on. What is known is that as few Americans as possible will be paying the tariff to the US government, and as many as possible will instead pay only part of it to American producers. This will not create net jobs, but it will have influence over where jobs will be created, which will give some American consumers more money to spend. The inability to think abstractly to get beyond the basic free trade position is an example of political autism.

Rationalism, Not Empiricism

Many economists will attempt to argue for free trade on empirical grounds, but this is a flawed approach. Economics is not a science, but an a priori discipline akin to logic and mathematics. The logical truths of economics can be illustrated by using empirical examples, but the discipline itself is not data-driven.

Most empirical cases for free trade rely upon David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. But comparative advantage makes several starting assumptions which are not always true, such as non-diminishing returns, the presence of multiple trade commodities, inelastic demand, domestically mobile labor, and internationally immobile labor. Although the available evidence suggests that free trade raises living standards, increases purchasing power, and accelerates economic development, these studies suffer from both the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and the absence of counterfactuals for each case. This is not cause for dismissal, but it is cause for suspicion. A proper case for free trade must rest on logic, not observation.

Although free trade usually provides more net benefit than protectionism in the long run, people do not live in the long run; they live their lives and feel economic pain here and now. Furthermore, a net benefit does not mean that each individual person benefits; only that the sum of all benefits and malefits is greater than zero. It may be the case that a minority sees great gains while a majority suffers somewhat smaller losses, and this would explain why a democratic system would produce protectionist policies. Political autism manifests here in the form of the lack of empathy for those who are harmed by free trade in the short-term, the difficulty of understanding their perspective, and the inability to think properly about individuals versus groups.

Trump And Adaptation

The desire for protective tariffs among Trump supporters fits into a larger picture. Following Trump’s election, many leftists have criticized Trump supporters as being unwilling or unable to adapt to a changing world, and Trumpism as a reaction to that changing world. But an organism faced with a changing environment has three options: fail, adapt itself to the environment, or adapt the environment to itself. Most species are almost exclusively capable of the former two options, but humans are uniquely capable of the latter option. In seeking to reverse unfavorable societal trends, Trump supporters are doing something uniquely human and perfectly understandable. A libertarian may question their methods, but their motives make sense. Those who oppose Trump but express a desire to understand the other side would do well to consider this point.

Conclusion

There are good reasons to oppose protectionism in the abstract, but to simply state these reasons and fail to appreciate the context in which protectionism is advocated is an example of political autism. In theory, there are better courses of action, but these options are not always feasible. The threat of tariffs as a means to deter other states from imposing tariffs is an important tool for deterring trade wars, and a nation that refuses to consider such a deterrent is at a disadvantage against other nations that have no such scruples. The empirical case for free trade, while intriguing, is not true for all people in all circumstances, and does nothing to help those who have lost their livelihoods to foreign competition. In a perfect world, no protectionism would be justifiable, but that is neither this world nor the world of the immediate future.

Footnotes:

  1. Note that the use of barriers to free trade as a negotiating tactic is nothing new in US-Mexico trade relations. When Mexico tried exporting avocados to the US in the 1990s, the US government resisted at first, but gave in when Mexico started erecting barriers to US corn exports. The end result of using counter-barriers against barriers to free trade in this case was freer trade.

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!

Neoreactionaries Are Off Their Heads About Trump

In a November 11 article at Social Matter, Michael Perilloux analyzed the election of Donald Trump with respect to its meaning for the neoreactionary movement, speaking in the voice of all neoreactionaries. In this much, he is mostly correct. But there is much to be criticized about the goals discussed therein as well as the means of reaching them. Let us examine what is wrong with the neoreactionary project and their thoughts on Trump through a libertarian reactionary examination of Perilloux’s article.

Hailing Trump

Perilloux begins with a statement of support and hope for President-elect Trump which would not be out of place in a mainstream conservative publication. Though it is debatable whether a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would have been better for liberty and/or Western civilization over the long term, Trump has positioned himself as an enemy of many enemies of liberty and Western decline while showing a willingness to boldly engage issues that other candidates would not touch with a ten-foot pole. For those who believe that there is hope for working within the system, this view of Trump’s victory is understandable.

However, as Perilloux correctly observes, being “a good president in the current system…will not halt the decline of America, and it will not truly Make America Great Again. If just being a good president is his game, there is no reason for us to get excited.” The neoreactionaries have a much different vision of what they hope Trump can do. But as we will see, this is where they lose their heads.

Understanding The Problem

The neoreactionary diagnosis of the problem is much like the libertarian reactionary diagnosis: the way that power works in liberal democracies is fundamentally flawed. The notions of division of power and checks and balances are false because the power is divided not among different societal organs (let alone competing non-monopolized service providers in a free market), but among different branches of the same organ. Just as one would not let one’s legs quarrel with one another lest one fall over, those who run a state apparatus have a powerful incentive not to diminish the effectiveness of said apparatus by setting different parts of it against each other. The incentives in a liberal democracy are particularly damaging; whereas a king owns the capital stock of his country and has an incentive to leave a good inheritance to one heirs, an elected official with limited terms controls only the usufruct of public lands and has an incentive to take what he can while he can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, elected officials are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives in a democracy, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. The citizens can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

Of course, kings can be bad and elected officials can behave better, but the incentive structures favor good monarchs and corrupt elected officials. But in either case, it is in the interest of the state to grow, so long as it does not interfere with private commerce to a sufficient extent to choke off its supply lines of tax revenue. There is nothing counter-intuitive about this, but it does require an intuition which is outside the realm of modern mainstream political thought. When we see government tyranny and deliberate cultural destruction, one need not choose between thinking that state power is bad in and of itself or asking why it is doing such things. In fact, contrary to neoreactionary thought, a thorough study of the latter leads to the former conclusion.

Two Different Ills

While it is true that elites damage and/or weaponize the civilized structure of society because it helps them to acquire and maintain power, this problem is present in monarchies as well. A truthful and inquisitive press may uncover and report embarrassing details about the king’s activities. A powerful economy that provides great wealth and options to the citizenry while creating a strong middle class may cause the public to question the king’s necessity, as occurred with the classical anarchists of the 19th century. Strong communities with strong virtuous culture may also question the need for a king to rule over them, viewing him as superfluous at best and malicious at worst. Big old families and religious leaders may challenge the king’s power and lead a rebellion against him on secular or religious grounds, respectively. A strong belief in free association can lead to anarchy, as people may seek to stop associating with the state apparatus. A strong belief in law and order can also lead to anarchy, as people may seek to hold agents of the state to the same moral standards as everyone else. The most important difference, then, is that monarchists would be more inclined to damage these societal organs while democrats would be more inclined to weaponize them. But both monarchy and democracy produce these ill effects to one degree or another, so both are enemies of liberty and restoration.1

Overthrow The Crown

In his examination of absolute monarchy, Perilloux demonstrates a complete ignorance of how challenges to monarchical power occur and succeed. When people are denied a voice and are either unable or unwilling to exit, they effect change by revolt. The royal military is generally unfit to deal with a hostile populace, as it is meant to protect the realm from foreign centralized threats, not the sort of decentralized but violent revolution which could depose a monarch by rendering his lands ungovernable. As long as the dissidents do not make the mistake of attempting to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, they can create a nightmare for the Crown through the use of guerrilla tactics and disappear back into the general population before they present a target to the royal military. Though the royal military has powerful weapons which are denied to the public, the use of these weapons will destroy the lives and properties of innocent people, as well as infrastructure that the Crown needs. This will only anger the public and cause fence-sitters to side with the rebels.

There was a time period in which adept rulers could shut down or co-opt conspiratorial challengers, but technology has made this all but impossible, and further technological development is both unstoppable and more helpful to rebels than to the Crown. Should one king decide to crack down, his subjects will either seek to move to a less restrictive state or, if this option is denied them, begin to revolt. If a large interest of some kind gets out of hand and the Crown tries to nationalize it, the people in charge of that interest could resist in a multitude of ways. They could shutter their business and blame the Crown, thus denying people of beloved goods and services while raising their ire against the king. They could move their headquarters to another country, thus presenting the Crown with the option of banning their products, which again raises the ire of the public. If they were desperate, they could attempt to assassinate the king to protect their business interests. Though this option was rarely used in history, it could make sense if there is nowhere to run or hide.

Though it is true that the Crown could relax and let civilization flourish as long as it maintains a decisive lead in political power, it is also trivial because advances in technology and philosophy have made divine right monarchy impossible in all but the most backward of societies (e.g. North Korea, and even that is debatable). Therefore, the libertarian reactionary must ask, given that monarchists are at a structural disadvantage against democrats, what protects your shiny new monarchy from the next wave of democratic revolutions?

Historical Errors

Perilloux writes:

“So this is the king-pill: that power we shall always have with us, and that it is thus much better for everyone to kneel, hail, and do the King’s will than to wear ourselves out in endless political conflict at the expense of our civilization.”

It is important to be careful with the word ‘always,’ for it denotes a very, very long time. The king-pill is a poison to those who swallow it, trapping them in an outlook of historical determinism that lacks both intellectual courage and imagination. This is one of the most notable quirks of neoreaction; neoreactionaries frequently show great intellectual courage and imagination on other questions, but imagine that the future must be like the past and present with regard to the presence of state power. Though there are many reasons to prefer monarchy over democracy, both are inferior to the sort of stateless propertarian social order favored by libertarian reactionaries. This possibility breaks the false dilemma between kneeling to a king and wearing ourselves out in endless political conflict.

Perilloux responds to a likely objection by democrats by asserting that the eras of history in which power was consolidated and secure were eras in which conflict was eliminated and society was the finest. To the contrary, violent conflict was exported to the edges of the realm, which were in constant need of expansion in order to obtain the plunder necessary to sustain imperial growth. Inside the empire, violent conflict was replaced with less destructive forms of exploitation, such as taxation and conscription for public works, but these are a lesser evil rather than a good. The plunder from foreign conquests disproportionately made their way into the coffers of elites, resulting in public resentment and populist uprisings. Once those empires fell, they left many people in a condition of helplessness, as they had monopolized essential services and left their subjects unable to provide those services for themselves. Finally, it is quite strange to suggest that life was finer in the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire than it is in contemporary Western countries, at least in terms of knowledge, wealth, life expectancy, and respect for individual rights.

Bad Kings

Unlike the neoreactionary, the libertarian reactionary has no concern with a bad king, as a stateless propertarian society has no political power to accumulate, and thus no king to worry about. Instead, the power vacuum is artificially maintained through the continuous application of defensive force. 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, 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 separated and removed from the society, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber.2

Perilloux claims that a king should turn his will toward “the improvement of our race, the betterment of our civilization, and the glory of God” without any discussion of what that means. It is unfortunate that he does not dial this in because it could mean almost anything, as race is a social construct, betterment is partly subjective, and God is not proven to exist. Hopefully, the king would have a correct understanding of genetic differences between population groups, a proper sense of what betterment means, and an eutheistic concept of God. To his credit, Perilloux does understand that it is unlikely for elites who have gained power in the current system to meet these criteria.

Libertarian reactionaries agree with neoreactionaries that “[w]ithout democracy, [the elites] would either consolidate power and refocus on the problem of how to run a civilization, or they would find themselves replaced by someone who could.” The difference is that the replacement process in a neoreactionary monarchy or oligarchy is likely to be violent, while the same process in a stateless propertarian society need only involve people choosing to do business with different service providers who are more efficient and responsive to consumer demand, with mutually assured destruction between private defense agencies and the possibility of competitors gaining market share keeping the peace.

To leave the problem of whether a proposed king would have the right vision for future generations is not only a cop-out, but an impossibility. As Friedrich Hayek explained, no central planner can have the necessary knowledge and foresight to have a proper vision for the future because a central planner does not have access to all of the decentralized information in the market economy. All that could be hoped for is a king who would oppose degenerate behaviors and ideas while keeping his hands off the market. Unlike neoreactionaries, libertarian reactionaries would not consider Trump to be good enough in this regard. Much of his core platform was abandoned by other political factions many decades ago not because elites wished to bring about decline by moving in a different direction (though this certainly motivated many of their other actions), but because protectionism and welfare statism are bad economic policies. Also, should the king’s vision be sufficiently wrong, the neoreactionary project will come to a screeching halt as the king is overthrown and democracy restored by an angry citizenry.

Statist Pathologies

Though libertarian reactionaries may sympathize with the neoreactionary view of democracy as cancer, the libertarian reactionary view is that if society is an entire human body, then any kind of state apparatus is a malignant cancer. Cancer is a corruption of healthy cells and functions, it grows at the expense of healthy cells, it can kill the body if it becomes too prominent, and it can come back with a vengeance following an unsuccessful attempt at removal. All of these aspects are true of governments as well. The effect of democracy might be better compared to the effect of HIV in humans, in that it weakens a society’s natural defenses against mob chaos, correlates strongly with degenerate behaviors, and accelerates the course of other societal ills.

What Trump Can Do

Perilloux’s assessment of Trump’s potential is generally correct. Trump does not have the “very strong, sufficiently large, and ideologically conditioned organization to pull off any serious change in Washington,” if serious change is defined as fundamentally altering the system rather than just being a breath of fresh air within it. Given his loss of the popular vote, the historical antipathy of the American people toward monarchy, the rather desolate intellectual foundation of Trumpism, and the dearth of competent statesmen who could assist him in building a new governance structure and/or dismantling the current one, there is no way that Trump could elevate himself from President to King by normal means. Even if a crisis occurs and Trump is able to convince people to entrust him with singular executive power, the tolerance of the American people for a king would not outlast whatever crisis prompted them to grant him such power. Like the dictators of the Roman Republic, Trump would be expected to divest himself of such power once the crisis has passed. In sum, he will only be able to prepare the way for someone in the future. As Perilloux suggests, Trump can do this through his deal-making abilities as long as he refrains from kicking leftists too much while they are down and engaging in sideshows which have temporarily derailed his efforts on numerous occasions thus far.

What Trump Should Do

The libertarian reactionary view of what Trump could accomplish is much different from the neoreactionary view. The neoreactionaries seek to secure a responsible long-term elite coalition, and would have us make peace with leftists in order to accomplish this goal, even if it means “mov[ing] left on key causes like economics and health care.” The libertarian reactionary understands that no such long-term coalition is possible because the elites in a natural order will not be static and the current elites are too invested in the current system to make for useful allies in a transition to a new order. Making peace with the left is exactly what the right has done for decades, and anger at the resulting decline is what allowed Trump rise to power in the first place. If he does the same, it would signal to Trump’s supporters that he has abandoned them and is just another phony politician who will say anything to get elected. That, combined with the radicalization of the Democratic base carried out by Bernie Sanders and his fellow-travelers, would make Trump a one-term President and lead the right away from both democracy and neoreaction.3

While it is true that the left will be radicalized by an overzealous Trump administration, respond by “working overtime in the areas he doesn’t directly control” now, and create more chaos and division when they regain power, this is not necessarily a negative in the long-term. The neoreactionaries seek to have the cup of violent revolution pass from them, but the libertarian reactionary understands that liberty requires revolution. For it is not only the leftist elite which must be purged, but the rank and file as well. As Hoppe so wisely said,

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Better to let the leftists fully reveal themselves in opposition to Trump so that we have a better idea of who must be purged. The backlash is thus not something to be avoided, but something to be encouraged.

Perilloux’s other suggestions for Trump are to

  1. rebuild the Republican Party,
  2. expose, purge, and destroy all the crooks and radicals, including non-governmental actors like the foundations and Soros,
  3. strategically change immigration policy,
  4. deconstruct leftist ideological propaganda and disable their propaganda organs and speech controls,
  5. build the wall,
  6. get the universities and media to play nice,
  7. sow dissent among the enemy, and
  8. weaken democracy.

The second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth objectives are well worth doing and merit no critique. However, rebuilding the Republican Party is largely unnecessary at this point, unless Perilloux means to rebuild it in Trump’s image rather than being content with defending the significant majority of governorships and state legislators. Building the wall is largely infeasible and counterproductive; should matters get worse, such a barrier will be used to keep us in. There is also no way to make Mexico pay for it; the best Trump can do is to garnish their foreign aid, which means only that American taxpayers will be forced to fund one project instead of another. The immigration restrictions which are necessary to prevent Americans from being overrun by people who are demographically hostile to liberty can be accomplished through other means, such as E-verify, harsher penalties, and denying federal funds to sanctuary cities. Finally, the mainstream press and universities are never going to play nice with the right, as they are fundamentally left-wing institutions at present, and Trump has not the time or resources to alter this. All Trump will be able to do on the education front is to extricate the federal government from the student loan and grant business, encourage would-be college students to consider trade and technical alternatives, and possibly abolish the federal Department of Education. Trump can do more against the media, in the form of revoking media credentials of establishment news outlets and instead relying upon alternative media, independent journalists, and direct communication with the American people via social media to deliver his messages.

Conclusion

Perilloux writes:

“But whatever happens, it’s not going to be enough. Democracy and communism will not be defeated this time, and when Trump is done, if democracy still stands, all the worst of the modern world will come crawling back to us. …Trump will not end democracy and bring about the coming golden age…because no one was ready with a männerbund of a thousand virtuous statesmen with a full vision and plan. Therefore, if that’s going to happen, while Trump and company labor valiantly in the Potomac swamp, someone has to be building that intellectual and human infrastructure for the true Restoration in the future.

It is not immediate power we need for the long game, but wisdom, vision, virtue, and solidarity. We will not get these from Trump’s administration. These things can only be built without the distractions of power. The men of the Trump administration will be busy playing anti-communist whack-a-mole and thinking about a very different set of strategic considerations than a long-term Restoration-focused research team must be. Their work will be valuable I’m sure, but they will not have the time or attention to think about the long game.”

In this much, he is correct, but it is libertarian reactionaries rather than neoreactionaries who must build said infrastructure. We must build private alternatives to government services which succeed where governments have failed. We must create black markets to deprive the state of revenue and lessen its ability to harm the economy. We must infiltrate the halls of power to obstruct government functions from within. We must protest and practice jury nullification to obstruct government functions from without. We must educate people to understand the necessity of eliminating the state apparatus by any means necessary, as well as the need to rely on oneself and one’s community instead of the state. Perhaps most importantly, we must train ourselves to be competent in the use of defensive force and irregular tactics.

If we accomplish these tasks well in the coming years, we will be prepared for the task of defeating the current state and keeping a new state from filling a power vacuum. Nothing less than this will allow us to end democracy, monarchy, and every other parasitism upon innocent and productive people. The neoreactionaries, on the other hand, would restore the Crown, and much like the mainstream conservatives who would restore the Republic, will only condemn our descendants to re-fight our battles for liberty.

Footnotes:

  1. This may help to explain why democracies largely replaced monarchies through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as weaponized, less-damaged institutions have a combative advantage against non-weaponized, more-damaged institutions.
  2. Notably, libertarian reactionaries have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian reactionary can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarian reactionaries 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.
  3. This could provide the impetus for the necessary violent revolution, so perhaps Perilloux is accidentally correct on this point.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

Democracy, Violence, and Libertarian Social Order

In an October 20 article at FEE.org, Jeffrey Tucker discussed the media panic over Donald Trump’s potential refusal to accept the election results on November 8. His explanation of the reasons behind the horror displayed by the establishment is accurate, if incomplete. The powers that be sense that the public are waking up to the realization that the current system not only fails to serve them, but is designed to oppress them in order to benefit the ruling classes. Knowing from history what people are capable of when such sentiments become sufficiently common and bold, and knowing that the current system is ultimately unsustainable, the rulers and those well-connected to them seek to keep the system going a while longer so as to pass the ticking time bomb to someone else. Thus “the demand that all candidates join hands in a celebration of democracy” which is “nothing but performative piety.” Where Tucker goes wrong is in his defense of democracy versus the alternatives.

Democracy and Violence

Tucker’s next act is to explore why the talking heads made much use of the phrase “peaceful transition of power” in their commentary. He writes,

“Along with the spread of human rights in the late Middle Ages, the theory of government began to change. The king or head of state did not possess legitimacy as a result of divine right; instead, the legitimacy of rulers is derived from the support given to them by the people. It is the social usefulness, and not some mystical magic, that grants them power.”

In reality, neither of these are true, regardless of the former or current opinion of most people. In a universalizable ethical theory, the state cannot be legitimate by any means, as its agents invariably commit actions which are considered criminal for anyone else to commit. In practical terms, a government is legitimized by its ability and willingness to martially defeat challenges to its power.

Tucker continues,

“The end result of this way of thinking is, of course, democracy, which gradually came to dominate governmental transitions between the 16th and the 20th centuries. It was widely believed that the more democracy you had, the less civil war and violence would interrupt the development of civilization.”

This was the historical outcome, but it was not necessarily for the best. Though the transitions of power became more peaceful, the power itself grew far more destructive. This was partly due to the increased productivity brought about by capitalism, as a large bureaucratic state cannot survive upon the meager portions which were available in the Middle Ages. But democracy’s tendency to sanitize statism played a larger role, in that it makes crimes easier to commit and removes incentives for the people to limit government. To rob one’s neighbor directly, one must risk one’s life, liberty, and reputation in the community. To vote for a politician to hire a tax collector to rob one’s neighbor is a far less risky proposition. If a property owner kills a thief in the act, few would fault him. If he kills a tax collector, he will be almost universally condemned. If there is an unelected monarch and no path to the throne for the citizenry, then they know who wields power and that it is not and will not be them. They are therefore incentivized to seek restraints on the king’s power. But give them democracy, and each citizen can come to believe that they are the state and might wield its power. One is less likely to seek restraint of a power that one might get to use.

The Misesian case for democracy, which Tucker echoes, asserts that peace is a necessary condition for human progress. To believe this, one must ignore all of the inventions which were borne of necessity in wartime. The anthropological record shows that intelligence and innovation occur as a result of adversity, and humans experience no other adversity like that which comes from opposing humans. While it would be a broken window fallacy to ignore the progress which could have occurred without the destruction of warfare, it would also be fallacious to ignore the powerful incentive provided by the stark choice to either make technological progress or lose a war. Even if it were better for people to, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” one must remember that no revolution in that time period sought abolition of the state, but rather the replacement of one form of statism with another.

In that view of democracy, it was to limit government be allowing people to vote out rulers who attempt a power grab without subjecting the law or the type of regime itself to democracy. But this is a logical impossibility; one cannot vote for people to determine the nature of the state without voting on the nature of the state. When presented with a choice between a democratic response to peacefully “throw the bums out” and a revolutionary response to violently overthrow the system itself, people usually choose the former, and this knowledge has been weaponized by the ruling classes. They have discovered that all they need do is to make sure that one group of bums will invariably be replaced with another by controlling who gets to run for office, who gets campaign funding, who gets seriously covered and discussed by the press, who gets into highly publicized candidate debates, and so on. As Noam Chomsky observes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Democracy and Liberalism

The reason that classical liberalism and democracy went hand-in-hand is that the Enlightenment philosophers whose theories were brought into practice between the 16th and the 20th centuries were uniformly guilty of a contradiction. They started with what they claimed were self-evident truths (which were not, but that is another matter) which are incompatible with any form of statism. They then invented fallacious arguments using these premises to justify what is now called minarchism, or the belief in a state which only acts to enforce the universal ethics which are necessary for a free market. But rule of law, legal equality, private property, free association, peace, and justice cannot be provided by the state, as the state makes all of these logically impossible.

Over time, democracy has taken society further and further away from these ideals, and no other result should be expected. In a democracy, power is wielded by temporary caretakers who only own the usufruct of the country rather than the capital stock. Their incentive is not to take care of the country so as to leave a good inheritance to their descendants, but to loot and plunder while they can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, they are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. They can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

In fairness, Tucker does realize toward the end of his article that democracy in practice has not played out according to theory, although his reasoning is again incomplete:

“Democracy with a huge and entrenched permanent bureaucracy, a deep state that is impervious to election outcomes, a thicket of laws and regulations created by people long dead that still exist on the books, and spending commitments that do not change regardless of who is in charge, is not really providing peaceful transition at all. It becomes a veneer that the ruling class uses to entrench the status quo. In other words, the problem has less to do with the elected than the problem of the unelected. And this realization is a part of what fueled Trump’s rise and will continue to empower others like him in the future.”

Democracy and Revolution

While it is true that the historic alternative to democracy has been not liberty, but authoritarianism and violence, Tucker hastily generalizes by claiming that this must always be the case going forward. To the contrary, a thorough analysis shows that removal of state power in favor of a libertarian social order can only be accomplished through violent revolution followed by the continuous application of force to subdue common criminals, organized crime, warlords, terrorists, and foreign government agents. This is because all of the other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society fail to address the fundamental problems posed by the state apparatus, which are:

  1. The people who manage, run, and/or benefit from it have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society, and at least some of them will not stop doing so unless they are forced to stop.
  2. An institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it.

Note also that if we are to discount revolution as a method of ending the state because it has yet to succeed, then we must discount peaceful methods even more so, as people have attempted many more acts of nonviolent resistance than revolutions. It is for these reasons that political violence is a necessary step toward the goal of the anti-political democracy of the market economy.

Conclusion

While Tucker’s analysis of the current situation is generally correct, his view of the prospects of democracy and peaceful change are far too optimistic and his understanding of the phenomena at work leaves something to be desired.

Government Will Not Hold Government Accountable

Since the beginning of statism, rulers have sought to monopolize the provision of justice and criminal punishment for obvious reasons. Not only is it lucrative to do so, in the form of rulers taking for themselves in fines what should be given to victims in restitution, but it also allows for agents of the state to engage with impunity in activities which are criminalized for the commoner. Since time immemorial for those alive at the time of this writing, the nation-state has done so the world over. But when a government politician or enforcement agent is examined by government investigators or tried in a government court, this creates a conflict of interest. Government prosecutors and judges may be interested in promoting justice (or an illusion thereof), but they must also interested in maintaining the structure of state power, which may be endangered by indicting or convicting a politician or enforcement agent. And then there is the matter that the laws being used by said investigators, prosecutors, and judges are monopolized by the state, the common result of which is that a politician or enforcement agent is exonerated for what would land a commoner in prison.

While there is a long line of abuses and usurpations stretching back millennia, three well-publicized concrete examples of these problems have manifested themselves just in the United States in the month prior to the time of this writing. These are the non-indictment of Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified information, the overturning of Bob McDonnell’s conviction for political corruption, and the acquittal of Caesar Goodson in the Freddie Gray case. Let us consider each of these cases.

Hillary Clinton

While Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she used private email servers and mobile devices to conduct government business. On July 5, 2016, an FBI investigation found that “from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were ‘up-classified’ to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.” Three additional classified emails were found outside of the group of 30,000, one Secret and two Confidential. Evidence was found that Clinton or her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to FBI director James Comey, “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.” It was assessed that hostile actors could have gained access to Clinton’s email account and that they did gain access to email accounts belonging to people who corresponded with Clinton on classified matters.

Despite such a damning litany, Comey recommended that no charges be brought. Although the requirements for criminal charges under USC Title 18, Section 793, Subsection F were clearly met, Comey set up a straw man by claiming that there is not sufficient evidence of intent, even though intent is not part of the statute. This is for good reason because negligence in protecting classified information that can put innocent people in danger, and is therefore a malicious form of incompetence. Comey’s language concerning a “reasonable prosecutor” (whatever that means) was especially concerning, as it condemns as unreasonable anyone in the Department of Justice who might disagree with Comey’s recommendations. It is also noteworthy that Gen. David Petraeus and Maj. Jason Brezler were pushed out of the military in recent years for less.

The most likely explanations for this result are that Attorney General Loretta Lynch received her major career push from former President Bill Clinton, that Hillary could expose much deeper issues and many more violations in response to being indicted, that Comey lacks the fortitude to upset the electoral apple cart, and that Democrats care more about keeping power than accountability.

Bob McDonnell

In 2014, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted of accepting more than $175,000 in gifts, loans and other benefits from Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for the governor’s help in securing state testing of dietary product. Bob was sentenced to two years in prison for bribery and extortion, while Maureen was sentenced to one year and one day for corruption. He appealed his conviction, which was upheld by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and overturned the conviction on June 27, 2016.

At issue was whether Gov. McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts. An “official act” is defined as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit. The Court decided 8-0 that the prosecutor’s view of an “official act” was too broad, and that although McDonnell conduct was “tawdry,” it should not have resulted in a criminal conviction.

Jack Abramoff, a former congressional lobbyist who was imprisoned for fraud, corruption, and conspiracy, said of the ruling,

“I continue to be concerned by what seems to be a lack of understanding on the part of the justices that a little bit of money can breed corruption. When somebody petitioning a public servant for action provides any kind of extra resources — money or a gift or anything — that affects the process. People come to think those seeking favors and giving you things are your friends, your buddies. Human nature is such that your natural inclination is, ‘He has done something for me, what can I do for him?’ The minute that has crept into the public service discussion, that is a problem.”

Whereas the overarching theme of this article is conflict of interest, it is worth noting that the very Supreme Court justices who decided this case are themselves the recipients of lavish paid trips and gifts from private donors.

Caesar Goodson

On April 12, 2015, Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray for possessing what was alleged to be an illegal switchblade. While Gray had a prior criminal record, some of which was comprised of crimes against people and property, simple possession of a switchblade knife would not be criminal in a free society unless one were on private property whose owner disallows such armaments. While being transported in a police van driven by Officer Caesar Goodson, Gray was rendered comatose and was taken to a trauma center where he died on April 19. His death was caused by injuries to his spinal cord. It was found upon investigation that Gray was not secured properly in the van; he was handcuffed and foot shackled, but not buckled to his seat.

Goodson opted for a bench trial rather than a trial by jury. On June 23, 2016, Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Goodson of all charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder, second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicles (criminal and gross negligence), reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. These charges could have resulted in up to a 30-year prison sentence. Williams claimed that the prosecution lacked the evidence to prove its case. Williams acquitted another officer involved in the case in May 2016.

The Common Problem

The thread which ties together these seemingly disparate cases is that all of them involve certain or nearly certain misdeeds by government personnel. These personnel are then subject to what is essentially an internal review, as they are investigated by another branch of the same organization. The investigation predictably finds that no wrongdoing worthy of prosecution or conviction occurred unless the conduct was so egregious that it is simply impossible to cover up, and the bar for this is set quite high.

Government will not hold government accountable because it is not in their interest. The only way to solve this conflict of interest is to eliminate it. If we are to have justice for the crimes of government personnel, we must take direct action to end the government monopoly on criminal justice. The remainder of this essay will consider what forms this might take and address likely objections.

Solving The Problem

The first response of most people when confronted with a proposal to end a government monopoly on a service is that one must be objecting to any organized provision of that service at all. In other words, they assume a false dilemma between state laws, police, courts, and prisons, or a vigilantist free-for-all. There is something positive to be said for vigilante justice, in that it can be better than no justice at all, and no justice at all is what the government system tends to provide for those who are victimized by the state. Vigilantism can also demonstrate that an oppressed people have had enough, and that those in power should listen to their grievances lest they be removed from power by an angry mob. But vigilantism has a tendency to descend into directionless violence that accomplishes nothing in the long run. As such, it is necessary to construct competing criminal justice systems which can replace the government monopoly and provide the due process that a lynch mob cannot.

Laws

We must, of course, start with the law itself, for no good cider may be made from poisoned apples. Government laws have extended into every facet of life and have become so complex that most people run afoul of the law on a regular basis without even realizing it. Without a government monopoly on laws, people would have the freedom to choose their own legal codes by either choosing from a number of law service providers or going into business as such a service provider. This system in which only the laws that people are willing to financially support through voluntary means can be enforced would have the effect of shrinking the laws which are mandatory for every person to the bare minimum; no murder, slavery, rape, kidnapping, assault, theft, vandalism, and so forth. Any activity which does not constitute aggression against a person or their property would not be criminal unless one had agreed not to engage in that activity as part of a valid contract, which is a contract that all parties enter into without fraud or coercion and that does not demand the impossible. This would swiftly eliminate police confrontations with citizens over such issues as possessing a state-disapproved kind of weapon or drug, or engaging in a state-disapproved business venture.

Police

Next, we must consider the enforcers of the law. When the state has a monopoly on law enforcement, its agents can break the law with impunity to the extent that the statist system will not hold itself accountable. But in a system of competing private enforcers, the agents of one police company may be held in check by agents of all of the other police companies as well as a considerably more armed citizenry, as gun control laws would almost certainly be among the government laws which would fall by the wayside. Without the ability to enforce higher-order aspects of legal codes to which people have not consented and with the much greater probability that overreaching enforcers may be fired or martially defeated, non-government police lack the mechanisms that make government police so oppressive.

Courts

Third, we must consider private court systems. Without government laws and courts, every interaction between people of any complexity would need to involve a contract to specify how the people involved in the interaction agree to handle disputes which may arise between them. Individuals would likely hire insurance companies to co-sign their contracts for the purpose of ensuring that victims get restitution without having to wait for a contract breaker to provide it. Should one engage in criminal activity, one would be tried in a court specified by one’s contracts, with the appeals process also specified. Failure to abide by the ruling that one contracted to abide by would be economically crippling, as private defenders and dispute mediators would treat this as a risk worthy of raising a person’s rates significantly or even dropping them as a customer. Being without private defenders and dispute mediators would leave one in a difficult position, as one would have trouble buying, selling, entering into contracts, or even defending oneself.

Punishment

Fourth, we must consider how a private legal system will deal with punishment and restitution. While the libertarian theoretical limits of punishment are quite broad, there is no reason why these limits must be approached in every case. Punishment in a libertarian society would generally take the form of forced restitution in cases where an aggressor refuses to make restitution without being forced, with the possibility of “eye for an eye” punishments where restitution is impossible.

In a private justice system, prisons would be tailored to the purpose of helping criminals provide restitution by keeping them safe and in decent living conditions while they do so. Several incentives are at work toward this end. The private prisons are competing with each other to house prisoners, so they each must try to offer the best service for the least cost. The prisoners are paying customers of the insurance companies which are affiliated with the prisons, so they can take their business and transfer their prison time elsewhere if they feel mistreated or endangered and can find a better option. The insurance companies wish to reduce violent crimes for which they must pay claims, and so have an incentive to keep prisoners from harming or being harmed by anyone. Getting criminals to go to prison could be accomplished by making their continued coverage contingent upon going there and making restitution, with the alternative being life as an outlaw in the traditional sense.

Note that unlike a statist system with mandatory sentencing requirements, a private justice system may allow the victim of a crime to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution. One could even specify in one’s will what should be done to one’s murderer if one is murdered.

Additionally, there is one punishment that one may undoubtedly inflict upon anyone for any reason without any need for judicial oversight: ostracism. To be denied association with one’s fellows as well as with one’s trading partners by said fellows and trading partners can certainly meet all of the above definitions of punishment. Psychologists have found that the pain of ostracism is quite similar to the pain of physical injury in terms of the effect it has on a person. The long-term effects that an episode of ostracism has make it an effective way to enforce beneficial social norms without violating the non-aggression principle. The lack of government anti-discrimination laws in this proposed system makes the full realization of ostracism possible.

Objections Rebutted

Such a proposal typically meets three criticisms which were not addressed above. First, there is the “public goods” argument that this system may leave behind the poorest people who cannot afford to pay for it. Aside from the fact that “public goods” are a myth, the amount of productivity that could be unleashed by ending the government monopoly on laws should ensure that no one who does not wish to be poor would have to be. Even if this were not the case, the poor could still receive charity or form neighborhood watch groups while using the aforementioned newly legal heavy weapons, which would also be cheaper due to loosened restrictions on manufacture and ownership.

Second, there is the argument that competing private police forces will fight. The problem with this argument is that the incentives are all pointed in the opposite direction. Fighting will result in deaths for both private police forces, which makes it harder and more expensive for the surviving officers to serve their customers while hurting the public relations of the fighting forces. This creates an opportunity for other private police forces to step in and provide services more efficiently, thus sending the fighting forces into an economic death spiral. Note also that heavy area effect weapons cannot be used in such a fight without harming innocents and bringing legal claims and militant reprisals against the offending officers and companies. Failing all of this, such forces would still be less capable of destruction than nation-states currently are.

Finally, there is the contention that the state will not allow such a system to replace its monopoly. The state is quite profitable to those who run it and those who benefit from its influence, and they will not simply surrender this power. This would be the ultimate result of losing a monopoly on criminal law, as a private law system would treat government crimes committed under color of state law as though they were committed by private citizens. This is why liberty requires revolution, as the answer to the state disallowing a challenge to its power is to put it out of a position of being able to allow or disallow anything.

Conclusion

While government will not hold government accountable, the people living under it can, and it is they who must do it if they wish it done. The above market solution outlines an alternative to the statist criminal justice system, but it is up to the citizens afflicted by state crimes to build and operate such a system. The sooner this is done, the sooner all people can be held to the same basic standard of conduct and the crimes of the state can end.