The not-so-scary implications of arguments against open borders

On February 16, Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, such as advocacy of censorship, voting restrictions, eugenics, internal migration restrictions, etc. In this rebuttal, I will address these implications and show 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.

“Closing borders is in the first instance a form of economic protectionism. When we close borders, we forbid people from making willing, mutually-beneficial trades with one another.”

Not necessarily. People can engage in economic activity with one another without crossing a border by either having someone else ship goods between them or having some neutral location in which economic activity may take place.

“At first glance, it looks like we’re violating a right of freedom of movement and a right of freedom of association. Perhaps such restrictions can be justified, but we need a good reason.”

Such restrictions can be justified, and a good reason is that forbidding such restrictions violates private property rights as well as the freedom of association of the property owners who do not wish to associate with immigrants. The only exception is for immigrants or refugees who are going to a place where they are welcome but must pass through territory where they are unwelcome in order to get there. In this case, the right to life must be weighed against the right to property. The right to life is clearly superior to the right to property; the exercise of property rights requires one to be alive, and that which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. The result is that immigrants may travel through territory where they are unwelcome if it is impossible for them to get to the destination where they are welcome without traveling through territory where they are unwelcome. This right of emergency easement is subject to some restrictions which can easily be deduced from the above:

  1. If there is any other path, they must take it and avoid the territory in which they are unwelcome.
  2. While in the property of those who do not welcome them, they must not threaten in any way the ability of the property owner(s) to stay alive, as their rights to life cannot overrule the property owner’s right to life.
  3. The immigrants must show as much respect as possible for private property by moving as fast as possible through territory where they are unwelcome and using no more resources from the property than they must in order to stay alive.

“But now look at the reasons people give, and ask whether these reasons imply not merely that we should close borders, but that we may do a whole host of other illiberal things. Consider:

We need to close borders to maintain a liberal culture. If you think so, then to maintain a liberal culture, you should also in principle be willing to censor certain points of view, or forbid or ban certain religions. You might also favor forced indoctrination into liberal ideas.

We need to maintain our distinctive culture. Again, if that’s a good reason to close borders, why is it not also a good reason to censor certain ideas, ban certain forms of music, or ban certain religions? Why not mandate that people support and participate in certain cultural practices? Why not require people to speak certain languages at home, or read certain books?”

Clearly, using illiberal means to maintain a liberal culture is inherently contradictory. But the goal of a libertarian should be the maintenance of a libertarian social order, not a liberal one. Therefore, let us address the objections with this goal in mind.

Maintaining a distinctive culture is a good reason to restrict immigration. A society does not exist in and of itself; it is a mental abstraction and grammatical shorthand to refer to each person within a certain geographical area. Adding people of a fundamentally different disposition to an area will make the society there have a greater resemblance to the place where the immigrants originated. It is amazing that so many libertarians fail to understand this, given the effort to change the culture of New Hampshire in a libertarian direction by increasing the number of libertarians there. By the same reasoning, importing communists or Islamists will change the culture of a community in those directions, and those directions are anti-libertarian.

The implication that certain ideas should be censored, or that certain cultural practices should be required, is consistent with a libertarian understanding of private property. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains in Democracy: The God That Failed, a community established for the protection of libertarian values (self-ownership, liberty, property) cannot abide the promotion of ideas which are fundamentally opposed to these goals. This means that no right to unlimited free speech exists because like other liberty rights, it should not be used to violate private property rights and freedom of association.

We need to prevent domestic wages from falling. If so, would you (if the facts turned out the right way) also forbid women from entering certain jobs?”

There is no need to do this. In a free market, egalitarian nonsense will be defeated by rational incentives which respect inherent biological differences between the genders, such as the greater standard deviation in intelligence test results and the greater average physical strength for males versus females. The result that fields which require high intelligence and/or great physical strength will be male-dominated (though not male-exclusive) will be understood as natural rather than demonized as sexist.

“Immigrants won’t vote the right way. If you find that persuasive, then in principle you should be open to forbidding certain parties, banning certain people from voting, or engaging in political censorship.”

Properly understood, libertarianism is antithetical to any kind of statism, but is particularly opposed to democracy. To quote Hoppe, democracy promotes shortsightedness, capital waste, irresponsibility, and moral relativism. Whereas a monarch (or any other private property owner with allodial title) owns the capital stock of the property, elected officials serve as temporary stewards. This means that while an allodial title holder is incentivized to care for property to preserve it as an inheritance and capital good, an elected official is incentivized to plunder property while he or she can. Democracy encourages moral relativism by replacing objective ethics with an appeal to the masses. A libertarian strategist would be wise to seek to ban certain people from voting, as the perverse incentives of democracy grow as democracy becomes more inclusive. As discussed above, censorship is consistent with a libertarian understanding of private property.

Immigrants will cause crime. Isn’t this also an argument for eugenics or for internal migration restrictions? For instance, should New Hampshire ban young black men from Washington, DC [statistically more likely to commit crime than the average New Hampshirite] from moving there? If banning rap music reduced crime, would you favor that?”

People have a right to defend themselves from aggression, and they may do so by politically incorrect means as long as those means are consistent with libertarianism. Eugenics as historically practiced by states flagrantly violates the non-aggression principle, but passive forms of eugenics (aka allowing people to suffer the consequences of their poor decision-making) are permissible. The state of New Hampshire should not ban people based on race or censor rap music, but a private property owner or covenant community thereof should be free to do so within their private property.

Immigrants will eat up the welfare state or consume too many public goods. Is this not also an argument for restricting births, or forbidding internal migration, or even requiring some people to give birth?”

No, this is an argument for ending the welfare state and privatizing all public goods.

We have a right to self-determination, and we may choose to exclude people. Is this not also an argument that ‘we’ may choose to exclude some people from having children?”

This is only true in a certain sense. The rules of a covenant community may include anything from prohibitions to requirements concerning childbirth. As long as everyone who formed the covenant agreed to it voluntarily, the penalty for violating it could be expulsion from the property or any other punitive measure that does not violate the right to life of the parents or children.

We collectively own our institutions and may exclude people, or dictate the terms on which they associate with us. If so, doesn’t this also license us to do pretty much whatever we want, including censoring people, forbidding some from having children, and so on?”

This argument assumes that a collective exists and has ownership of the government, which is another collective. To exist is to have a concrete, particular form in physical reality. To say that abstract objects exist is to beg the question of where they exist, to which there is no answer because there is no empirically observable entity. To say that collectives exist is beg the question of what physical form they take, as all available physical forms are occupied by the individuals which are said to comprise the collective. Thus, there is no “we”; there is only you, I, and every other individual person. By the same token, the government does not exist; each person, each building, each gun, etc. exists. Additionally, to own something is to have a right of exclusive control over it. Part and parcel of this right is the right to physically destroy that which one owns. As governments use force to stop citizens who attempt to physically destroy the state, the citizens are not the de facto owners of a government.

“Now, perhaps the defender of immigration restrictions can come up with plausible accounts of why immigration restrictions are permissible, but then explain why they are not committed (at least in principle) to these other illiberal policies.”

This is unnecessary because there are good reasons to commit to other illiberal policies, at least within the confines of one’s private property or a covenant community.

“But one thing I’ve noticed, when reading the various arguments philosophers and others have put forward for immigration restrictions, is that they almost never bother to explain why not. They make broad arguments that have scary implications, arguments that do not specifically show that we may close borders, but arguments that, if sound, imply all sorts of illiberal things. But the authors of these arguments just don’t notice where their arguments lead.”

To conclude, such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order. Libertarianism requires borders, as private property cannot exist without them. Private property may be used in an illiberal or even tyrannical way by its owners, but the alternative of embracing open borders is not freedom; it is totalitarian statism.

The Decline Of Twitter (And What To Do About It)

Since its launch in July 2006, Twitter has become the go-to online short message service and has broken into the top ten websites by traffic amount. The site grew rapidly over the next five years, going from 5,000 tweets per day in 2007 to 140 million tweets per day in 2011. But the growth would not last. The company reached a peak of around 300 million users in early 2015 and has failed to grow past that point. The company fired its chief executive, Dick Costolo, in June 2015 and replaced him with Jack Dorsey, its founding chief executive who had himself been fired in 2008. Its share price has tumbled from $44.90 at its IPO in 2013 to $15.89 on Feb. 12, 2016.

Several incidents have occurred recently that are clearly harming Twitter’s reputation. Censorship of content that is inconvenient for government officials has long been a problem on Twitter. With the migrant crisis in Europe, Twitter policies against hate speech have been used to censor reports of sexual assaults by migrants against European women. In 2015, Twitter installed content filters that censor the news feeds of users without their consent. More has been done to protect social justice warriors than to keep terrorists from using Twitter as a recruitment tool. More recently, Twitter has targeted conservatives by unverifying Milo Yiannapoulos and locking Adam Baldwin’s account for what are apparently political motivations. Finally, the new Trust and Safety Council contains many of the prominent leftist enemies of free speech and full rational discussion, along with a few promoters of general discord and derangement. Among them are the Anti-Defamation League, Beyond Blue, the Dangerous Speech Project, Feminist Frequency, GLAAD, Hollaback, and the Wahid Institute. Notably absent are any conservative, pro-white, pro-Christian, or pro-male groups.

Many of these problems are not unique to Twitter, but are merely examples of the rise of the social justice warrior and the inevitable reaction to them. The persecution complex, lack of social skills, sense of entitlement, desire to engage in counter-oppression, and desire to avoid responsibility for one’s actions that social justice warriors typically exhibit has manifested on Twitter through the equivocation of simple disagreement with threatening harassment; the positive expression of personal preferences and identities as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism; and the statement of uncomfortable truths as all of the above. The Twitter Rules are written in a such a sufficiently vague way as to allow their interpretation to further the aforementioned actions. In sum, what has happened is in accordance with Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics, specifically the second; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. The result is such an obviously contradictory position as was enunciated by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for which most commenters correctly castigated him:

“Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety.”

This brings to mind Conquest’s third law; the simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of the enemies of the stated purpose of that organization.

Before discussing what to do about this problem, there are some objections worth addressing. First, although Twitter is a private corporation, it is not a free market institution. Free markets require anarchy, and we are far from that. Second, like all other companies at present, Twitter is mostly operated, used, and financed by people who have been indoctrinated in government weekday prisons to believe in statism and leftism. As a publicly traded company, Twitter is subject to a multitude of regulations that do not affect privately owned companies and is influenced by investors. For example, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns over 5 percent of Twitter, and his influence increases the likelihood that criticism of Islam or Muslims will subject a Twitter user to disciplinary action, even if unwarranted by the rules. Third, within a libertarian framework, Twitter has the right to engage in censorship, but people are free to take action against it that is within the non-aggression principle, such as criticism and ostracism.

With the problem described and the caveats addressed, let us examine some possible solutions. The first and most obvious solution can be implemented by Twitter itself. As Bretigne Shaffer notes, there is no singular proper balance between free expression and protection from abuse. As such, multiple balances must be made available. This would involve having several modes of interactions, ranging from a mode that is safe even for young children all the way up to a mode that only excludes clearly illegal behavior. A user would choose which mode in which to operate and posting content beyond that mode would get that user pushed into a more mature mode, perhaps permanently. This is how a free market institution with rational actors would work to solve the legitimate issues on Twitter. Unfortunately, as described above, this is not what we have. Therefore, let us consider some other options.

The next three options can be carried out by Twitter’s users. The alt-right community on Twitter has had success in its efforts to flood the platform with politically incorrect hashtags, to the extent that #ISaluteWhitePeople, #BringBackThePatriarchy, #AbolishDemocracy, and #FeminismIsCancer all trended in the second half of 2015. A mass revolt by Twitter users could keep content of this nature (or any other politically incorrect nature) atop the trends faster than Twitter staff could react. Another option is to use the cashtag $TWTR in such a manner, which can put such activity in front of investors who use the tag to look for news about the site and its stock price. A large enough action of this type could even have the same effect as a denial-of-service attack. Of course, these methods are likely to get many users banned, but this is not much of a problem. The prevalence of Islamic State-affiliated accounts on Twitter shows that it is also possible to create new accounts faster than Twitter staff can ban them.

Investors can play a role in fixing Twitter as well. As the stock prices fall, people are necessarily buying and selling stock. This provides an opportunity for investors who oppose leftism in general and social justice warriors in particular to gain influence in the company, and perhaps even seats on the board of directors. This influence could be wielded to reverse the recent disturbing changes in policy, or even to oust Jack Dorsey (again).

If all else fails, there is always the option to create a rival platform and drive Twitter out of business. If Twitter’s leadership is intent on turning the platform into a safe space, then other platforms will be available to cater to the castoffs from this policy. If this happens, then Twitter’s stock will continue to plummet and its user base as well as its value to advertisers will continue to decline. To quote Shaffer,

“The company does not have to decide whether all of its users get chocolate or whether they all get vanilla. It can allow users to choose their own flavors. And if it’s going to survive, it’s going to have to.”

The Libertarian Case Against Trump

On Jan. 24, Christopher Cantwell published an article arguing that libertarians should support Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis how the case for supporting Trump is flawed.

It is true that democracy is a terrible system of governance. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, it is a soft variant of communism, and only rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else. But because this system is almost certainly not going to be abolished before November 2016, someone will almost certainly be elected President of the United States. According to Cantwell, this leaves a libertarian with four options:

  1. Support a candidate who will do things which are unlibertarian, but is less harmful than the other candidates.
  2. Support a candidate who will do things which are so unlibertarian that society will be irreparably harmed and the government will collapse that we might rule the wasteland.
  3. Support a libertarian candidate who has absolutely no chance of winning.
  4. Renounce elections as unprincipled, wield zero influence, and remain in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism.

Cantwell argues for the first option, and expresses contempt for the latter three. There is another option, but let us deal with these four first by exploring the problems with the first option and the benefits of the next three. By engaging in the political process to support a candidate, one helps to legitimize the political system in the eyes of onlookers as a means of affecting libertarian change. Supporting Trump as the best of a bunch of bad candidates, or as the best candidate with a reasonable chance of winning a presidential election, is just typical “lesser of two evils” nonsense extended to a larger number of candidates. Also, any money donated to or effort expended for Trump’s political candidacy is money and effort that cannot be put to another use. In other words, focus put on politics is focus lost to anti-politics. Who knows what innovations that increase liberty by creating a way to ignore or fight the state will be lost because the efforts needed for those innovations were instead put toward the Trump campaign?

On the other hand, supporting a candidate whose policies are so bad that they will collapse the system could make the necessary revolution more likely. To quote from the Declaration of Independence, mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. While this may seem to be a pernicious deed in the moment, electing the worst candidates over a period of time could be the best long-term use of the political system by libertarians if it makes the revolution occur sooner. There is also the matter that states always collapse in time because people inevitably fall victim to their perverse incentives and steer the system toward ruin, so this outcome will occur eventually regardless of election results absent a libertarian revolution.

Supporting the Libertarian Party candidate in 2016 is not necessarily a worthless endeavor, especially if the election results are favorable enough to ease ballot access efforts in 2020, when a well-known anarchist activist plans to run. Even though victory would still be nearly impossible, such a campaign has the potential to convert more people to libertarian thought than even the Ron Paul presidential campaigns, and that is the most useful role that the Libertarian Party can play.

When one votes, one is helping to impose violent rulers upon peaceful people and give the appearance of legitimacy to institutions which deserve none. Voters are effectively asking a particular person who seeks to violently dominate society to command government agents to commit actions on their behalf which would be considered criminal by any objective standard, and which are considered criminal if an ordinary person commits them. The idea that voting can be an act of self-defense is false because voting harms bystanders who are not innocent shields. Also, renouncing elections as unprincipled need not result in wielding zero influence and remaining in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism. It depends upon what one does instead of voting on Election Day. If one sits at home and rants online in a libertarian chat room, then this will occur. But if one goes out to the polls not to participate in the election, but to protest against statism in general and democracy in particular, then there is an opportunity to engage with and convert new people to libertarian thought.

Finally, there is one more basic option to consider:

  1. Use force to shut down polling places and repel voters from them.

Because voting is an aggressive act, using force to stop it is morally justifiable. But it is tactically unwise on three counts. First, given the number of polling places, the manpower and resources needed to shut down each one, the possibility of alternative polling places, the length of early voting periods, and the possibility of voting by mail, it is safe to say that the election will continue despite any such efforts. Second, if libertarians actually had the means to stop a presidential election by force in just some parts of the nation, then it would be far more effective to use force to expel government agents from our lands and continue to use force to resist any government agents, terrorists, warlords, mafiosos, or common criminals that attempt to cause trouble afterward. Third, using force against voters and election personnel is likely to bring people into the fight between anarchists and statists on the statist side, as they will view the revolutionaries as an existential threat which must be quashed rather than a movement which they could join.

On the issue of dealing with aggressors, it is necessary to use both force and reason. One has a right to defend oneself by escalating the use of force as far as necessary to subdue the aggressors. After this is done, one should ready one’s argumentation ethics and denounce the aggressors as moral criminals in order to justify one’s use of force to one’s peers. The same must be done regardless of whether the aggressors consist of a lone common criminal, all government agents in a geographical area, or anything in between.

The crux of Cantwell’s argument for supporting Donald Trump is that years of arguing for revolution have proven fruitless because there are prerequisites for revolution which have yet to be met, and Trump will help to meet those prerequisites, the most important of which is the suppression of the political left. While it is true that left-wing influence is threatening the very survival of humanity, we must not be blind to threats to liberty from the right-wing. Ludwig von Mises wrote of European fascism in 1927, “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Immediately afterward, he wrote, “But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.” Mises would learn the hard way just what a fatal error this was, as it was ultimately fascists who forced him out of his academic position in Vienna and away to America to basically start over at the age of 60. He would go on to write Omnipotent Government in 1944, which remains one of the best anti-authoritarian works ever penned.

While the desire to do something besides making calls for revolution that land on deaf ears is certainly understandable, the installation of reactionary figures atop the democratic statist apparatus has been similarly fruitless. All historical examples have ended in failure for a variety of reasons. The reactionaries can over-correct, taking society backward beyond the point at which they believe mistakes were made, causing needless damage in the process; they can take society off of one wrong path and put it onto another, even worse path; or they can make changes only to lose power and see their changes reversed by a counter-reactionary movement. Most importantly, as Cantwell correctly recognizes, democracies inherently move leftward over time. The deep state is generally impervious to elections. Never has there been a reactionary movement that could achieve its goals and maintain them against attempts at reversal. The aforementioned failures also suggest that supporting Trump could be the second option listed above rather than the first one.

A useful metaphor for the appeal of a figure like Trump among anarcho-capitalists may be found in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While Tolkien always strongly held that his works should not be seen as a metaphor for anything, there is scarcely a better metaphor in all of literature for state power than The One Ring, and Tolkien self-identifies as an anarchist in his letters. What Sauron expected was for a champion of men to wear the Ring in battle against him, and he knew that his vast military might could overwhelm the forces of men, take the Ring, and restore his full power to him. He could not foresee that the forces of good would have Frodo Baggins to sneak the Ring into Mount Doom to destroy it there until it was too late. But this almost did not happen. Had Faramir chosen to take the Ring from Frodo when they met in Osgiliath, the former outcome would have eventually occurred. Those who seek to wield state power against the leftist enemy through Trump are playing the part of Faramir, and they risk making the terrible mistake that Faramir avoided. The state itself is the primary problem; to instead try to use its power against the leftists who currently use it does nothing to prevent its power from eventually falling back into their hands, as it always has.

Cantwell mentions several behaviors as social negatives; drug use, sexual promiscuity, feminism, homosexuality, and racial and cultural diversity. But for many centuries, these behaviors were discouraged not by the market, but by theocratic states and the religions enforced by them. There are many examples of other societies throughout history where such behaviors were common, although one could argue that such societies experienced turmoil more frequently on average. Free markets would not necessarily discourage such behaviors; they would only prevent them from running rampant, as there would be no entity that could force people to associate or integrate against their wills or force the economic consequences of unbridled degeneracy onto the rest of society, as states do. This would mean that people would either have to learn to handle their vices or be destroyed by them, which would have a positive effect on a civilization.

While Donald Trump does offset leftist influence to a greater extent than anyone else in recent memory, this has been accomplished solely by his presence as a presidential candidate and public figure. He need not win the presidency in order to do this. Now that he has proven that the politically correct media machine is a paper tiger and the cuckservative and cuckertarian establishment has been repeatedly discredited, other candidates and public figures can and do speak uncomfortable truths without fear.

It is true that absent a democracy, we are left with a choice between anarchism and unelected government. But as Cantwell previously recognized, “A 17th century British monarchy may seem preferable by comparison (to democracy), but we can look at countries like North Korea to get our measure of liberty in a modern dictatorship, and cross that option off of our list.” This is because there are two factors of importance in citizen response to government: voice and exit. The reactionary seeks a system of no voice and free exit, and a world full of micro-nations operating in this manner would certainly be preferable to the current system of democratic nation-states, which offers only an illusion of voice coupled with significant barriers to exit. But this is not the likely outcome of a collapse of democracy that does not also collapse the statist system. The likely result of no voice and no exit is the worst of all possible worlds. At least in a stateless world guided by the likes of Cato, Reason, and C4SS, the market could sort out their nonsense and return us to better practices. To quote Cantwell, “Anarcho-capitalism does not require any number of people to agree with it, only that the system of coercion impeding it be rendered ineffective. Remove the systemic coercion, and economics will take care of the rest.”

The idea that the left should face political opposition from a true right-wing movement is appealing on its face, as this would make leftists deal with a political threat rather than focus their attacks solely upon libertarianism. But state power need not be used for this. A resurgence of right-wing libertarianism would be sufficient to repel the toxic influence of the new crop of left-libertarians, and Cantwell’s own efforts on this front have been quite valuable. Also, the danger of the right-wing movement coming to power and inflicting its own brand of statism upon us cannot be ignored.

To conclude, the struggle for liberty is a local, anti-political effort. Looking for a strongman to save us will only lead to further ruin, even if that ruin is of a different sort. Bleak though the outlook is at this point, the path to a free society is revolution or bust.

The Free Rider Benefit

A common defense of the state made by statists is the public goods argument; that there are certain non-excludable and non-rivalrous goods and services that a person can consume without reducing their availability to others, and that these must be provided by the state. Examples include military defense, infrastructure, and legal systems. The obvious retort is to ask a statist to prove that a certain good or service must be public and monopolized by the state, as this amounts to an inexhaustible proof by exhaustion; every other possible method must be examined and proven not to work. The usual method of demonstrating uniqueness, that of positing a second solution and showing that it equals the first, does not work in this case because a government monopoly is unlike any other arrangement.

But suppose we do not make this move. What argument will the statist make next? If there must be public goods, then there is a possibility for a tragedy of the commons. A person acting on rational self-interest will realize that one can benefit from a public good without contributing to its provision. This leads to what is called the free rider problem, where some people either consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good. This situation is frequently taken to provide a rationale for government intervention, but the case for this is fallacious. Let us examine why.

If we wish to have a rational discussion, it is essential to define terms. A problem is an undesirable situation which can be remedied. This is because a situation which is not undesirable presents no problem to solve, and an undesirable situation which has no remedy is just a fact which must be tolerated. The free rider “problem” is a situation of the latter type, as it is impractical to make sure that everyone pays exactly what they should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume. That government monopolies destroy competition, and thus the market price system, makes the free rider “problem” impossible to solve, as the information needed to determine how much each person should pay for the amount of public goods that they consume is destroyed beyond repair.

The concept of the free rider problem also proves too much. If taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good means that the state should be eliminated, as the very presence of a state means that some people are consuming more than and paying for less than their fair share of the total wealth in the economy, as states are funded by coercive means which violate private property rights. Those who receive government welfare payments, bailouts, grants, or any other form of government funding are free riding upon the backs of taxpayers and anyone else who uses currency printed by a government’s central bank. The latter group of people are forced riders who are required to pay for public goods from which they receive insufficient benefit. Charity would also be unjustifiable if the concept of the free rider problem is taken to its logical conclusion, as those who receive charity are not paying the full cost for what they are using.

But suppose we ignore this as well. If we accept for the sake of argument that there are public goods and that no one should be able to consume more than or pay for less than their fair share of a public good, then the result will be a massive distortion of the economy, as both the state and private charity must go. While the demise of statism is nothing to lament, the absence of any form of private charity would lead to the very sort of Hobbesian war that statists fear and think that they are preventing. It must also be noted that the money for payments for public goods which are now being made was once being put toward another purpose. Whether that purpose was spending on other goods and services or investment (which is really just another form of spending), the diversion of spending away from these purposes and toward public goods will eliminate some other economic activities that were occurring. To ignore this, as most people who argue for the free rider problem do, is to commit the broken window fallacy.

It is clear that the idea that free riders are a problem is fallacious at every level. But how can free riders be beneficial? There are two ways in which free riders can be beneficial. Some people will argue that free riders are responsible for higher costs, but they are actually signalling that a good or service is overpriced. While degenerate freeloaders do exist, most free riders who are aware of their free riding are willing to pay for what they are receiving but believe that said goods or services are overpriced. In the state-enforced absence of another provider, they choose to “pirate” the public goods rather than pay the cost which they believe to be too expensive. If there are rational, knowledgeable people in charge of a public good that has many free riders, then they will respond by lowering the cost to convince more people to contribute, which can actually raise the total contribution.

The above result is rare, of course, as rational, knowledgeable people tend to be productive rather than become part of the state apparatus. The more useful role of free riders is to crash government programs which cannot be ended by normal political means. Most government programs help a few people by a large magnitude while harming a much larger number of people by a much smaller amount. This means that an irate and tireless minority will work to keep their sacred cow from being gored, while the majority is not being harmed enough to take action to end the harm. Thus, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, and it is politically impossible to abolish entitlement and welfare programs. While the strategy of overloading such programs was first proposed by leftists who wished to replace them with far more expansive redistributions of wealth, it could also be used by libertarian-minded people who wish to replace such programs with nothing. The potential to roll back or even eliminate state power by causing a hard crash and reset is the free rider benefit.

Why Charles Murray’s Strategy Is Bad, But Should Be Tried Anyway

On May 12, Charles Murray released a new book called By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. In it, he makes the case that government has greatly overstepped any legitimate functions it may have had, has grown too powerful to fight, and cannot be reined in by normal political means, such as voting and court challenges. While technological advances are helping to return some liberty to the people, there is still a burdensome regulatory state that holds back economic growth and does little (if anything) to actually protect people.

His strategy for dealing with this problem is to overwhelm the enforcement means of the state through large-scale civil disobedience. Examples could include becoming part-time Uber drivers, routinely making deposits of $9,999, or parents including cupcakes in their schoolchildren’s packed lunches. It could also mean people continuing to live life as they have, even though doing so is now in violation of government regulations. To aid in such efforts, Murray proposes a legal defense fund and an insurance against regulatory action. He calls the former the Madison Fund, which is to be an organization that will defend individuals and small businesses against government regulations which would be too costly and time-consuming for them to fight on their own. The latter is to be an effort to treat government fines for regulatory non-compliance as an insurable hazard like other natural or man-made incidents that can lead to financial losses. To aid in such efforts, he proposes that only regulations which are arbitrary, capricious, and lacking in public support be targeted. His goal is to “make large portions of the Code of Federal Regulations de facto unenforceable” and return the United States government to the constraints outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

While this strategy is better than nothing, it leaves much to be desired from a philosophical libertarian perspective. Let us see why this strategy is bad, but should be tried anyway.

The first thing to note is that this is not a strategy for harm elimination, but for harm reduction. Even if Murray’s proposals come to fruition and everything goes as planned, this tactic does nothing to end the source of the problem. His ultimate goal is merely to repeat the experiment of 1787, and we already know how this experiment plays out. The government will stay small for a time, but eventually people will figure out how to buy influence, vote themselves money from the public treasury, and use state power to get protections for themselves at the expense of others. In another century or two, our descendants will face the same problems all over again if Murray has his way. His strategy will also send the message that keeping and using the statist system is the path to liberty, despite the fact that the statist system has caused the erosion of liberty in the first place. There could scarcely be a more detrimental idea to the pursuit of liberty. It must also be noted that while the resisters are gaining inches through their acts of disobedience and court challenges, the state will continue to take miles behind their backs, just as it always has.

Another problem is that when such cases go to court, the courts are not an impartial forum for dispute resolution, as starry-eyed progressives would have us believe. The courts are monopolized by the state and presided over by judges on a government payroll. The prosecutors are also on a government payroll, and any jury members present are there because the state has summoned them. This degree of conflict of interest would not be tolerated in any situation not involving the government. It is thus in the rational self-interest of prosecutors to get decisions that favor the expansion of state power, judges to make such decisions, and both to nudge jurors in that direction. In short, the scofflaws will not get a fair hearing. There is also the matter that politicians will use the sudden clogging of the courts as a pretext for expanding the power of government by creating more courts.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in Murray’s presentation is that he does not fully consider the likely response of the state to his plans. The state will respond to challenges to its power as it always does, with violence, threats, fear, and intimidation. While Murray recognizes that many regulations are arbitrary and capricious, he does not seem to account for the fact that the penalties for violating said regulations can also be made arbitrarily severe to counter the influence of his proposed Madison Fund and insurance companies. Another likely response by the state will be to pick a few high-profile cases, preferably with defendants viewed unsympathetically by the public, and make examples of them, ruining their lives and livelihoods for daring to stand against the almighty colossus of state power. One should also expect to see the IRS and other agencies target the Madison Fund and any insurance company offering policies to protect against regulatory actions. The insurance companies may simply be banned by law from offering such policies, while the Madison Fund could be harassed out of effective operation by civil asset forfeitures and SWAT raids. The Madison Fund and the insurance companies will likely find no relief from this abuse in the courts for reasons explained above, and their manpower and resources would be too busy defending themselves to be able to help those it is intended to help.

There is also the matter that civil disobedience is something of a misnomer. Given that governments are institutions of force, its agents will respond uncivilly to those who practice civil disobedience. In the American civil rights movement and the struggle for Indian independence from Great Britain, the two most common examples used by advocates of non-violent resistance, many demonstrators were assaulted, kidnapped, and murdered. The leaders of these movements were both rewarded with assassination for their pacifism. Non-compliance until force is used risks sending a message to the public that government violence is the solution to the problem of dealing with lawbreakers, regardless of the nature of the laws being broken.

Clearly, this strategy has some serious flaws. But why should it be tried anyway? Murray correctly notes that civil disobedience can succeed where democratic voting cannot. Fewer people are needed to nullify regulations through mass non-compliance than are needed to vote out those who created the regulations, if such people are even subject to elections. More important, however, is the fact that the manpower and resources to resist the state more forcefully are not yet available, and perhaps the only way to gain them is to try more peaceful methods like those advocated by Murray and demonstrate their inadequacy. After all, most people are empiricists to the point of being anti-rational, depending mostly upon their own experiences with some influence from the experience of others, but with very little a priori logic involved. They will not be swayed by reason (otherwise the fight for liberty would have been won long ago!) and must therefore learn by observation and bitter experience. If we are to form a culture of resistance and end the state in our lifetimes, we must recognize that people tend to do the right thing once they run out of other options and do everything we can to test those other options and show their shortcomings as soon as possible.