Liberty Minecraft Quarterly: Winter 2019

Introduction

…it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things…” –Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Anarchists and libertarians frequently debate three topics concerning a free society: how to establish a free society, how to prevent its decline, and how to provide infrastructure. One might infer that the goal is to prepare by identifying and overcoming barriers to reduce the probability of failure and minimize start-up costs. These questions are often approached by extrapolating from areas where freedom exists, by engaging in thought experiments, or by trial and error.

When asked how institutions will function, anarchists like Michael Malice and Jeff Berwick often point out that most human interactions already take place in a state of anarchy.[1,2] Austrian economists sometimes explain markets with fictional stories about the island of Robinson Crusoe.[3] While these stories are useful, such thought experiments consider the actions of imaginary people with imaginary preferences. Neither approach can reveal a black swan event, the unexpected extreme consequence.

Rather, ideas must be tested in reality to discover events that appear obvious in hindsight, but here the costs and risks are high. People will make huge and often avoidable mistakes. Changing social and economic systems will risk human lives, freedom, and valuable capital. An opportunity to test ideas at significantly lower cost and risk is a valuable way to protect life, liberty, and property. Virtual worlds provide this opportunity because the people involved and their preferences are real.

Liberty Minecraft is a profit-generating[4] demonstration of a free society, where real people with real preferences act without state intervention. This article is the second in a quarterly series of updates on the Liberty Minecraft project, and it will explore four topics: specialization at the level of town management, developing land conflicts and their origin, the costs and benefits of culture building, innovation and it’s appearance in market prices. The goal is to demonstrate that a digital world is a rich environment for exploring a free society.

The New Stockholm Purchase

On Aug. 31, 2018, a player named Heronproject started to acquire land in the west end of Scar City. If one judges by initial investment, his plan was ambitious. In our first month he accumulated more than 12,000 square meters of high-value property. It was called New Stockholm. One could see in New Stockholm the expression of a preference to organize one’s own affairs in a new way, but development came to a halt just days after it began. Heronproject was and remains a busy Swede. Someone with greater ability, more time, or both would have to take over. To achieve his goal, Heronproject decided to sell New Stockholm.

On Nov. 10, a player named Haksndot purchased this land package for an undisclosed eight-figure sum. Heronproject sold everything except for Ruby Tower, making a tidy fortune and a calculated bet: Haksndot has experience. He is the owner and creator of Hrafnia, the largest estate in the Old World. He is the monopoly owner of Origo Station and The Netherway, the first and largest transit system in the New World. He also founded the Terrain and Agricultural Restoration Project, a free market initiative from the Old World.

By Nov. 12, New Stockholm was gone. In its place, Haksndot has created an opportunity to try again with a few iterations. Unlike other districts in Liberty Minecraft which sell management privileges (where Haksndot would remain the property owner) he has split the land into plots which may be purchased outright. The plots are intersected by privately owned streets and squares.

By Jan. 18, 2019, Haksndot had sold at least seven houses in New Stockholm for a total price of $9.06 million. Of the five players to buy claims, Heronproject was one of the first. Investing in land at a flat rate of $10,000 per square meter represents a considerable challenge for these new buyers. One plot has been converted into a market for trading and producing Nether Wart. Nether Wart is primarily used when brewing potions, but it is inexpensive to produce and represents a small part of our world’s economy. It is hard to imagine how any of these new buyers will return their cost of capital and earn a profit, but one need not imagine. Whether and how these buyers will profit will be discovered in time.

Developing Land Conflicts

Some players of Minecraft engage in an activity called griefing; they join a Minecraft server and damage unprotected property. Liberty Minecraft deals with this in two ways: players may purchase land using Claim Blocks which use computer code to protect the land, or they may invest in land which the rightful owner has intentionally left unprotected. Digital security is necessary to protect digital property because aggressors may use digital means like proxy servers and aliases to rejoin our world after they are banned. With property rights hard coded into the world, our players are free to do everything they are able to do, provided they do not break the server rule.

Even so, when players invest in land they do not own, this often ends in conflict. This scenario has been playing out underneath New Stockholm. One of the new denizens, named Aewheros, decided to core out the underground and build roads. Colloquially, this new area is being called Underholm. In time, claim owners will extend their land claim and interrupt Aewheros’ plans, settling the conflict over who owns what. The rightful land claim owners retain the option to protect any land beneath their claim. Until their land claim is extended into the ground, the area remains unprotected land which anyone may use.

Aewheros has also permitted a player named illdeletethis to build on his own claim. The plan was for illdeletethis to start building a home and then purchase the land, but now the house appears to be finished and still no sale has been made. illdeletethis has even built a second house which was not part of the initial plan. In this way, Aewheros will experience both sides of a conflict over land by investing in land he does not own and permitting another to invest in land he does own. This produces a remarkable opportunity to see how one person will navigate both sides of a difficult conflict over scarce resources.

The first conflict has already occurred. A visitor named shortanglewinner discovered Underholm on Jan. 9, and immediately started digging up the unprotected roads. Aewheros, who was present at the time had no means to protect his investment. He decided to complain that shortanglewinner was being unfriendly. In time, perhaps Aewheros will be grateful that the flaw in his design was exposed quickly because after his flaw was clearly demonstrated it was quickly solved. Haksndot, the proper land owner, exercised the option to extend his claims. Today, the main roads of Underholm are protected property belonging to Haksndot. He has also granted Aewheros permission to continue building the roads, a privilege which Haksndot is extending to the claim owners of New Stockholm. This demonstrates how exercising exclusive control over private property is a means to end conflict.

Culture Building, Warning Signs, and Dealing with Aggressors

Beginning in 2017, I decided to research and develop a new custom for Liberty Minecraft. This custom was developed with the aid of scientific research on attrition rates as presented by Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code.[5] When players join the New World, I attempt to perform three tasks: 1) bring them food to share, 2) engage with them to learn what they are best and worst at, or what they like about Minecraft, and 3) present them with the symbol of Liberty Minecraft and the tool which players use to claim land, a Golden Axe that bears their name.

When I succeed in performing all three tasks, this custom has produced incredible results which seem wildly out of proportion to their cost. Players who have joined since the launch of our New World and participated in this welcoming custom have been far more content and secure in their social status and more willing and interested to participate in group activities. This success has been encouraging, so I will develop an in-game player networking system which will prompt our community to perform these tasks.

Attempting and failing to perform these three tasks has come to represent a warning that the new player or players may not integrate into our community easily. In December 2018, a group of five new players joined Liberty Minecraft. Within ten days, three of these players rejected my one rule and were banned. A fourth left while being investigated for using hacks. I was unsuccessful in sharing food with this group. Four of the five did not offer an opportunity and the other one walked away when I attempted to share food. None of the five responded when I asked questions about them. None were presented with Golden Axes.

Other warning signs were present. The players were dressed as Klansmen or as Hitler. For completeness, a fifth player wore a Belgium flag, but the significance of this is lost on me. Also, when players asked them to not swear this new group simultaneously claimed that swearing is against the rules (it is not) and continued to swear, choosing to violate a rule which they claim exists. This shows both a denial of reality and a willingness to violate perceived rules.

Liberty Minecraft’s one rule is to resolve nonviolent disputes nonviolently. Anyone who rejects or violates this rule will be banned. On Dec. 9, one of the group of five advocated that communism is a better way to organize society than anarcho-capitalism, and was banned. Another player rejected my one rule in regard to political matters and was banned. The remaining three players immediately started responding all at once to claim their friend was banned for arbitrary reasons. For nine minutes they spammed the game’s chat with the same inaccurate statement. This group was organized. One hour later, a third player admitted that he would not accept my one rule and was banned from Liberty Minecraft.

Lessons and Observations

Hostile players will use the good will of our community to build up arms. The group asked where they could purchase gunpowder and other materials to create TNT and fire-starters. Unclaimed land was later destroyed or burned with items they purchased. This is not a violation of my rule because there is no dispute. Unclaimed land in Liberty Minecraft is my unprotected property. I permit the players to use it or purchase the land from me.

In my absence, players of Liberty Minecraft will protect the natural landscape and impose social norms by acquiring land and raising prices. Aewheros and a player named K9us teamed up to purchase land surrounding the group’s land claim, protecting it from further damage. A player named Remixster was granted permission to replant the burned forests. K9us granted this permission at no charge and Remixster was given saplings to begin restoring the forest. One of the group who had destroyed land also requested permission. K9us offered to sell them permission for $30,000 per block which is the highest price ever demanded for access to land in Liberty Minecraft.

Rule breakers may be prepared. The group used mass messaging to claim that their group members were banned for arbitrary reasons. They invested at least three days of their time to build up supplies. They may have been using hacked game clients but left before I could make this determination.

Developing Private Health Care

In Survival mode, a Minecraft player will die when their 10 heart icons run out. A Minecraft player can lose health in many ways, for example; when they are struck by a monster, by drowning or falling a great distance, or by walking into a Cactus. Health can be restored by eating food, by consuming Health Potions, or by standing within range of a Regeneration Beacon. Over the last four months, players of Liberty Minecraft have reduced the price of Beacons by 96 percent.

To obtain a Beacon, Minecraft players must find a Nether Fortress and battle tens or hundreds of Wither Skeletons until they recover three skulls. Next they must summon The Wither, a very powerful monster. Players must defeat the monster to recover its Nether Star. Finally, with a Nether Star in hand, they can craft a Beacon. When Liberty Minecraft’s New World opened, there were no Beacons. First players had to remove the greatest obstacle to one’s use of a product: its nonexistence.[6] Haksndot and a player named Cardano_ff were both early developers in The Nether, one of Minecraft’s three dimensions. Each player created a Wither Skeleton farm and each farm made the task of producing skulls more efficient and less hazardous. This demonstrates that capitalists in a digital free market will eliminate hazards as a means to protect their digital capital.

On Oct. 11, Cardano_ff offered a Beacon on the market for $10 million, representing between ten and twenty hours of Diamond mining. The next day Haksndot listed one for $5 million. Cardano_ff matched his price, but it was unclear what price the market would support. The price fell to $3 million, then $2.5 million, then $2 million. At every step Haksndot and Cardano_ff offered the same price. It is unclear how many sales occurred during this time. Haksndot has expressed that most of his early Beacon sales were transacted “off the books.” This occurs whenever players trade without using a ChestShop. This is a common practice when an item is in short supply and/or is traded rarely.

After one week on the market, two Beacons sold for a total of $4 million on Oct. 18. It seems that these trades were enough to produce a shortage because the market price started fluctuating higher. The price rose to $2.5 million, then $3 million, and by Oct. 20 it had reached $5 million. That day, a third supplier entered the market when K9us offered to sell a Beacon, matching Haksndot’s price of $5 million. By Oct. 24, the price had fallen to $2 million, and once again two more Beacons were sold. By Nov. 11, the price had fallen by another 25 percent, and two more buyers purchased three Beacons. The price moved back to $2 million. The market remained shallow and a low volume of trading was causing quite a splash. Whenever new buyers entered at a lower price, the price rebounded.

A Market Shock

On Dec. 1, a fourth supplier appeared. A player named freakdown shocked the market by offering Beacons for $1 million each, cutting the market price in half. Two new buyers appeared. One of them was K9us, a former seller. As before, new buyers appeared at lower prices and the market moved, except this time the price fell. On Dec. 7, freakdown’s price was $600,000, another 40 percent decline. At first it appears to violate the old adage: “this time is [never] different.” In fact this has happened before, a month earlier when a player named Shahayhay cut prices on Blaze rods for the second time. The cause in that case was innovation. What about now?

A significant, unidentified event had occurred, and it was changing player behavior. Players started buying out of convenience, buying in bulk, and buying for the first time. A player named TheScrubJay decided to purchase a Beacon simply because it was easier than going home to fight a Wither. After all, he would want more than one. On Dec. 23, Aewheros bought three more beacons at the bulk rate of $483,333 each. Then on Jan. 7, freakdown cut his price to $400,000 or ten Beacons for $250,000 each, another decline. A player named NorraLigan entered the market to purchase her first Beacon at the new low price. In four months our players have provided over $18 million in value to each other, cutting the price of Beacons by 96 percent. A player named Mr_Digs now provides free health care at Ivory Tower, simply for stopping by.

The Nether Factory

It is clear that Beacon prices have fallen, but at least one big question remains: what was the cause? Our market experienced a spike in demand after an 80 percent decline. Then the price fell by half, and then it fell by half again just for good measure. How did freakdown do it?

Supply increases with falling prices only happen in a couple of ways. Either the cost of materials has dropped, or the process has become more efficient, reducing the time to deliver the end product. For Beacons, the most expensive producer good is a Nether Star, which requires three Wither Skeleton skulls. Obtaining these skulls started as a dangerous and labor-intensive task. Players entered The Nether and traversed an uncharted, inhospitable landscape of lava lakes and strong monsters in search of a Nether Fortress.

The risk of death is rarely higher, and the cost of dying can set players back hundreds of thousands of dollars. Armor, weapons, and tools which players carry and use while exploring The Nether can range in price from $50,000 to over $1 million. Better gear is often more costly. For example, a fully enchanted Diamond Sword is longer lasting, hits harder, and increases the probability of dropping valuable loot. However, in Oct. 2018, this sword was trading for $250,000. On the other hand, a successful return trip may take five hours, resulting in an opportunity cost of $4–5 million. A failed expedition represented millions in losses. Players have to balance risks to maximize their expected return. Both Cardano_ff and Haksndot overcame these obstacles to produce the world’s first Beacons. Today, rail lines connect directly to both farms, and the risk of death is practically zero with a round trip time of less than one hour.

To increase production, freakdown had to do something different. He searched for hours to find and prepare the perfect Nether Fortress, which allows him to spawn monsters in a relatively concentrated area. The farm produces enough Wither Skulls to create more than 200 Beacons per day. The materials used in construction are worth less than $100,000, but his opportunity cost brings the total investment to nearly $25 million. Today, the entire farm can be operated automatically and produces gold, coal, and bones as byproducts.

Conclusion

Liberty Minecraft provides an opportunity to protect life, liberty, and property by examining a free society at low cost and low risk. Players spontaneously organize their affairs to build competing roads and towns. Conflict over unowned land occurs regularly. Innovating in cultural development provides a way to welcome new group members and identify troublemakers at an early stage. When aggressors enter into the community, the members will band together to enforce norms and protect the natural landscape. Finally, the presence of innovation can be observed in prices when a spike in demand is met with a sustained increase in supply and decline in prices. These and many other lessons are experienced in Liberty Minecraft.

References:

  1. Malice, Michael; Rogan, Joe (2017, May 23). “Joe Rogan Experience #963 – Michael Malice.”
  2. Berwick, Jeff (2019, Jan. 15). “Regulation vs Anarchy: A Last Chance to Free Humanity.”
  3. Calton, Chris (2018, Jan. 24). “Minecraft and Crusoe Economics.” Mises Institute.
  4. Dempsey, Nathan. “Fiscal 2017 Donor Report.” libertyminecraft.com.
  5. Coyle, Daniel (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. New York: Bantam Books.
  6. Mises, Ludwig von (1958, Sept. 9). “Liberty and Property.” Mises Institute.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2018 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 2018 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.

Benjamin Welton and I began 2018 by addressing some leftover matters from the end of 2017. He explored the quick decline of Nepal from monarchy to democracy to communism in less than a generation, while I responded to a thoroughly misguided attack by Bill Wirtz on Hans-Hermann Hoppe and other right-libertarians.

The left’s warfare on language and the dangerous potential thereof is important to understand. I began exploring this phenomenon by examining common shortcomings among leftist popular authors, looking for the origins of their follies, and showing how these factors can cause a civil war if left unaddressed. In a follow-up essay, I contemplated how the innovation of language becomes stunted and weaponized in political struggles, as well as what may be done to counter such tendencies.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, and 2018 was no different. I read and reviewed less books than in 2017, which included Robert Taylor’s Reactionary Liberty, Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, Surjit S. Bhalla’s The New Wealth of Nations, James Ledbetter’s One Nation Under Gold, and Insula Qui’s Anarcho-Monarchism.

I began a new series called “Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons”, in which I consider how government policies which seem terrible at face value can be exploited to achieve liberty and/or undermine statist goals. This was loosely inspired by Morrakiu’s series “Agreeing With Liberals For The Wrong Reasons”, in which he showed how progressives unwittingly help the alt-right. The subjects covered in this series in 2018 included cryptocurrency bans, conscription, anti-discrimination laws, minimum wage, and impeaching Donald Trump. More episodes will come next year.

Insula Qui presented a grand project called “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” to lead into her book Anarcho-Monarchism. The introduction discusses other schools of thought and makes the case for why a libertarian theory of statecraft is necessary. Part I explains the folly of political activism. Part II explores the implications of property rights in a libertarian social order. Part III deals with the differences between states and governments, as well as the basics of private defense. Part IV explains the necessity of governance, what form it might take, and who will govern. Part V considers the effect that trust levels in society may have on the form of a libertarian social order. Part VI explores the relationship between authority and liberty. Part VII uses social contract theory to expand libertarian philosophy. Part VIII considers the nature of the natural elite. Part IX explores the role of trust in society. Part X examines the role of time preference in forming a libertarian social order. Part XI considers the role of externalities that go beyond strictly material concerns. Part XII explains how greed is frequently overrated by libertarians. The series may or may not have more entries.

In 2017, I argued that the United States debt ceiling should be eliminated. However, the debt ceiling is only part of the problem. Another part is the practice known as a government shutdown, and I argued that this practice should also be ended.

On March 9, right-wing activists Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone were detained and deported while attempting to enter the United Kingdom to give speeches and interview other rightist personalities. A similar fate also befell Lauren Southern on March 12. I wrote a list of observations about these events.

Following the Parkland shooting, a student movement to restrict access to firearms became prominent. I deconstructed this effort to show how it is orchestrated by the political establishment using tactics common to other such movements.

My glossary of social justice warrior terminology is the most popular article ever posted at Zeroth Position. After two years of continued craziness from radical leftists, I decided to revise and expand it to create a second edition. This is likely to need continual updating, and two years is a proper amount of time between editions, so look for the third edition in 2020.

I began an article series called “The Color Theory of Conflict”, in which I attempted to provide a grand unified theory of conflict. Part I defines the various colors and defends those definitions against likely objections. This was unfortunately put on the back burner, but more parts will come next year.

In human discourse, logical fallacies are quite common. But when opposition to these fallacies goes too far, further fallacies and sub-optimal behaviors can result. I examined the most common examples of this behavior in an effort to counter such second-order problems.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2017 about the concept of degeneracy, so I published a revision in which I considered the possibility that civilization can be degenerate.

Welton returned with a case that American intervention in Syria is not only not right; it is not even wrong.

My poetic side suddenly came out in May, resulting in song lyrics critical of elected politicians in general. It resurfaced in September with song lyrics about Bitcoin, in November with an anti-election song, and in December with a Bitcoin Christmas song.

Libertarians have mixed views about capital punishment, but no one else seems to have considered the value of forming communal bonds by working together to execute the worst offenders. I did this at great length through the lens of ritual magick. Later, I used the problem of pedophilia among Catholic clergy to consider the limits of capital punishment, and found that there is a strong case for executing child molesters.

Welton offered an excellent history of the rise and fall of the Boy Scouts, along with the characteristics that a replacement organization should have in order to prevent a similar leftist takeover.

Doxxing has long been a problem in political circles, but it became worse in 2018. I reasoned through the limits of its acceptable use, then proposed a comprehensive solution for reining it in to those limits.

Since the beginning of recorded history, a teleological element has been present in historical narratives. I argued against this practice, promoting instead an agnostic historiography.

An incident on cable news over Trump’s immigration policies provided an opportunity for examining useful tactics for making leftists look more unhinged than usual. I showed how Corey Lewandowski’s treatment of Zac Petkanas was a master class in this regard.

I attempted to find the ideal amount of force that a civilization should use to maintain itself, coming to the conclusion that, contrary to mainstream liberalism and libertarianism, the bare minimum is not ideal.

Welton took on an important issue that has long been waiting for a proper reactionary response: the undue reverence given to the Magna Carta by liberals of all stripes.

In 2017, I argued the case for reining in censorious technology giants by threatening the revocation of their incorporation. I followed this up with an argument against the corporate form itself as a creature of statism that would almost certainly not exist in a free society. Continued problems with corporate censorship that touched me personally led me to formulate a holistic approach to solving the problem.

Qui returned with a thorough survey of the producerist school of thought, which has both significant overlap with and significant difference from libertarianism.

On July 23, Social Matter published an article by Mark Christensen in which he argued that conservatives should favor larger government. I welcomed Darien Sumner, the fourth additional writer at Zeroth Position, in August to rebut Christensen’s arguments point-by-point. A September 25 article by Henry Olson that criticized libertarianism from the right merited a more measured response.

Welton and I figured that if libertarians and rightists are going to be slandered as fascists and Nazis no matter what, then we have nothing to lose by examining real Nazis and seeing what can be learned from their example. The result was an excellent piece on the rise and fall of the Sturmabteilung (SA).

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 and reactionary thought. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus, as well as what one can learn from those who resist his rule and ultimately overthrow him. The third part was released in 2018, covering the second half of Season 7. The fourth and fifth parts, covering Season 8, were planned for 2018 but will instead appear in early 2019.

In 2016, I wrote a guide to political autism as it pertains to libertarian commentators. I followed up that effort with a similar overview of autistic conservatism.

On September 4–7, the United States Senate held hearings on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. I wrote a list of observations on the events. After Democrats launched an unprecedented smear campaign, I wrote another list of observations.

Nathan Dempsey returned after an 11-month hiatus to begin a quarterly series of updates on his Liberty Minecraft project, the first of which ran on October 24.

Clashes between different strains of political universalism, as well as proselytization into territories ruled by non-universalist governance structures, led to the unprecedented losses of life and property in wars and genocides during the 20th century, and is capable of doing much more damage going forward. I examined the history and practice of universalism, its pathway to genocide, and what libertarians may do about it in a sweeping essay.

Welton offered a history of imperialism and colonialism, considering the bad name it has unjustly acquired, the joint-stock and free state models, and how colonialism might be used to create a libertarian social order.

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

My final think piece of the year will continue into 2019, but the first part offers a detailed explanation of the concept of immaterial technology.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2019 bring more and better!

Book Review: Anarcho-Monarchism

Anarcho-Monarchism is a collection of 30 essays by libertarian author Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective, all of which factor into a synthesis of anarchy and monarchy.

The introduction sets out the purpose of the book, which is to synthesize liberty and authority in such a way as to avoid the apparent contradictions in doing so. According to Qui, this is done through careful nuance. She recommends an alternate order in which one may read the book, but this is only necessary for those unfamiliar with any libertarian reactionary thought. She includes here a disclaimer that the work is not professionally edited, which unfortunately is more glaringly obvious than in her previous book.

In What is Anarcho-Monarchism?, Qui offers an extended introduction. She proposes that the non-aggression principle is necessary but not sufficient, and that property rights will lead to natural hierarchies that culminate in monarchs. These monarchs are different from the absolute rulers of history, in that they rule based on merit and ability rather than coercion.

The Contradiction of Freedom explores the limitations of freedom as pertains to the mutual incompatibility of each person being free to do as one will, which naturally leads to people violating each other’s freedoms. The differing conceptions of freedom offered by competing political ideologies motivate further conflicts in this regard. She summarizes these conditions thus:

“To fight for freedom qua freedom is to fight for other people to be able to impose their vision of freedom onto you. To fight for freedom is simply to fight for the dominance of an unspecified party, and as such if you fight for freedom you fight for subjugation. However, there is still the slight hope that you will be the one doing the subjugating.”[1]

She resolves this problem by advocating as a pragmatic matter that there must be a pursuit of autonomy to avoid needless conflicts in which people seek to impose their vision of freedom upon everyone else. Qui concludes the essay by denouncing the egoism of Max Stirner as the worst combination of freedom and autonomy.

In The Final Arbiter, Qui deals with the problem of final resolution of disputes. She considers various possibilities for how such a final arbiter may exist outside of a monopolistic legal system. Unfortunately, she accepts the opponent’s framing of the question and spends all of her effort in trying to answer it rather than rejecting the concept of a final arbiter as either nonsensical (in that no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review) or guaranteed by nature (the dead cannot dispute and every person eventually dies, so the Grim Reaper is the final arbiter).

The fourth essay is The Centralization of Defence, and it argues against the contention of Robert Nozick and others that market anarchy would eventually be undone by centralization of defense agencies leading to the re-establishment of states. Qui admits the advantages of centralizing defense, such as volume discounts and the reduction of transaction costs. But as she explains,

“[P]eople do not constantly need viable alternatives. Rather, what is necessary is the possibility of alternatives emerging.”[2]

In other words, the mere threat of competition can inspire existing companies to provide better service. But more importantly,

“[T]he system of law enforced by the agencies of defence is independent from those agencies that provide physical protection. There is no one agency that should have control over both law and force, and these industries would always be separate. If these industries are not provided by different agencies, the defence agency would become a dictator and would become what it was supposed to defend against.”[3]

The separation of law creation and law enforcement into entities that are not under the same umbrella would be absolutely necessary to avoid the tyranny of modern nation-states. Finally, there is the problem of a powerful defense agency simply conquering a territory and declaring itself a new state. Qui admits that this is possible but not certain, which while less than ideal, is better than the certainty of the current system.

Pro-War, Anti-Nation offers a strong case for the incompatibility of nationalism with warmongering, noting the dysgenic effect of sending the best men to die, the economic ruin brought by wartime destruction and production diversion, and the loss of moral foundation. Qui argues that true nationalism has been corrupted by imperialism, and restoring non-interventionist thinking is the path back to sanity. To her credit, she recognizes the possibility of restoration of martial virtues in a defensive war.

In The Necessity of Force, Qui argues against the utopian ideas of some left-libertarians who advocate a goal of universal nonviolence. She writes,

“ There will always be people who use force and there will always be people who need to respond to force with force to ensure that the original initiator of violence can be brought to justice. …If there are no people who are willing to use force to secure relative peace for people who do not want to use force, then people who are willing to use violence for personal gains would always achieve unjust outcomes for the sake of themselves.”[4]

She also demonstrates that this need not devolve into a state, as the incentive structures involved give advantages to defenders over aggressors.

Qui considers the corruption of libertarian philosophy for the purpose of appealing to leftists in Brutal Freedom. Here, she considers the flip side of full personal responsibility to its logical conclusion of social Darwinism, though she does not use the term in this essay. Though charity may mitigate brutality somewhat, Qui argues that some brutality will remain, as these charities will only help those who are willing to help themselves and just need a temporary step up.

All Men Are Created Equal is a brief essay that addresses that all too common liberal fiction. As usual,

“Definitions change and juxtaposing a modern notion with a classical one results in a misunderstanding of much thought in the classical tradition.”[5]

As such, she compares modern notions of equality with the classical liberal idea of getting rid of titles of nobility and other such birthrights. This classical idea of human biological diversity and meritocracy is contrasted with the modern idea of equality of outcome. But Qui commits an error at the end, arguing for classical equality instead of natural inequality.

Social Darwinism is given direct treatment in the ninth essay. Qui argues that far from trying to deny such an accusation, capitalists should embrace this sort of thinking. She illuminates the difference between actively killing and passively allowing death, showing expectation of survival to be a revolt against nature. But then she makes a dubious assertion:

“If a system allows people to gain unearned advantages, that system ceases to be a social darwinist [sic] one. This is because it starts to encourage parasitism and negative qualities instead of the advancement of all individuals.”[6]

Left unsaid is what constitutes an unearned advantage. There is also the problem that one does not earn one’s own genetic code, and that parasitism and other negative qualities are part of the evolutionary process. However, she correctly recognizes that a Darwinian process applies not just to who can survive, but who will occupy each station in life. She argues that social Darwinism will prevent charity from being wasted on those who will never become productive members of society, with resources instead flowing to those who prove themselves best at managing them.

In The Rule of Law, Qui briefly contemplates the impossibility of any political system securing the rule of law, as any such system places someone above the law. She argues for a separation of law and state:

“The only solution to this is to remove the managerial position when it comes to law from being legitimized by the coercive use of force and to put law on the same level as every other industry. We can have the managerial position of law be put onto the free market where each person is able to patronize the providers of law and where each person is also free to not do so. Thus the people who are in the position that is traditionally one of governance become reduced to the level of every person who is not within the system of governance. In that manner, it is possible to create a situation where there are no privileged positions and there is real equality before the law.”[7]

Of course, this raises the usual objections of the wealthiest patrons ultimately deciding the law by which enforcers they will hire for which purposes, the free rider problem, and the possibility of re-emerging states, none of which are adequately addressed in the essay.

Against Taxes is the first long essay of the book, and approaches the case against taxation in economic terms rather than the usual moral arguments. Qui uses opportunity cost, price mechanisms, the lack of market accountability of the state, the cost of collecting taxes, the cost of prosecuting tax resistance, wealth transfer from competent stewards to incompetent stewards, and the impossibility of creating a taxation scheme that does not disproportionately harm the poor to make this case. She concludes the essay by debunking the idea of public goods.

In High Trust, Qui provides an overview of various types of individualism, settling on ethical individualism as most conducive to a libertarian social order. She also considers the role of homogeneity in strengthening trust. Unlike mainstream libertarians, Qui accepts the impact of genetics:

“Due to evolutionary pressures in different ecosystems and climates, genes change in humans when they are in different areas of the world. [T]hese genes affect the culture and they create the basis for culture. Furthermore, even if a member of a genetic group comes into contact with the culture of another, they still have the genetic incentives of their original culture.”[8]

The essay concludes by explaining why high trust is important. Where Qui goes astray is with her insistence on nonviolent means of enforcing social norms; violence has almost always entered into this process and will likely continue to do so. There is also no mention of the possibility for technology to reduce the need for trust.

In Liberty, Property, Society, Qui argues against critics who accuse libertarians of being anti-social because they reject coercive institutions. Defining liberty as self-determination and explaining property as a rational method for allocating scarce resources, she concludes that this allows for social interaction to be maximized. She explains the difference between capitalism and corporatism, which critics of libertarianism (and many libertarians as well) frequently confuse. The essay concludes by exploring the reversal of the argument, that a lack of liberty and property will undermine society.

With The Family in Capitalism, Qui begins addressing the relationship between libertarianism and the far-right. She addresses the far-right contention that capitalism is anti-family. Unlike left-libertarians, many of whom view the breakdown of traditional family structures as a positive, Qui argues that the state and the corporatism it enables has done this to everyone’s detriment. She shows that both states and corporations are incentivized to destroy the family as a challenger and impediment to their power. She understands that capitalism is an amoral process; garbage inputs result in garbage production, while good inputs result in the production of virtue. The ending deals with women in the workforce, and bears quoting at length:

“[T]here is the…point that capitalism pushes women into the workforce…so there is a need for fascist economics to avoid this phenomenon. This argument has a compelling point. Capitalists are directly benefited by there being a surplus of labour to make those who own capital able to lower wages in the economy. This would eventually correct itself and, given enough time, the supply of capital would reach the demand for capital. But capitalists hold political power in an unfree market. We can say that when the capitalists hold both political and economic power, capitalism has inherent forces that destroy the family. This cannot be achieved with economic power alone. There would be no way to force women into the workforce and keep profits from increasing the size of the workforce. However, in a free market, the capitalists cannot prevent additional capital from entering the market and cannot alter the amount of labour in the economy by incentive structures.

Furthermore, it is simply profitable due to the division of labour for women to stay home and take care of the children while the father works. This is for multiple reasons, usually men earn more since they are more productive and more willing to work longer hours. Women are more apt at taking care of children and more emotionally attached to the process of child-rearing. Thus, if a couple aims to produce healthy children in a good family with enough wealth, that couple needs a division of labour that would fit the strengths of all people in the family.”[9]

The Case for Tradition argues against “libertine hedonihilism,” as Qui terms it. This is the left-libertarian view of liberty as freedom to engage in any degenerate behavior whatsoever as long as no one else is aggressed against. She argues that the family is the bedrock of society, therefore a stable libertarian order will be undermined by anything that erodes family values. She writes,

“Every society is organized along some lines, even a society with no coercive power system creates a system of exclusion, rules of interaction, and other norms to stabilize social life under the system. These social foundations may be implicit or explicit, however, they will always exist and thus we should make sure that the everpresent [sic] organizational principles result in a society that produces the best quality of life for the people involved. The libertine recoils at this statement as he firmly believes that all people should be left alone to be as degenerate as they want to be and no person should be bothered by any sort of moralism. But even the libertine must function within a society and that society will have organizational principles.”[10]

Qui explains the difference between individualism as isolation and individualism as independence. She then describes tradition thus:

“[T]radition is not to be understood as the corrupted american [sic] concept of tradition. So-called family values, military histories, and constitutions do not constitute a historical basis for organizing society. Rather, tradition is the all-encompassing concept of the cultural heritage and the knowledge of all people involved in those traditions. Tradition is the manifestation of the cultural group that created the traditions. …Simply put, tradition is the spontaneous historical order of a nation and to not respect tradition would be to not respect proper social structures.”[11]

She urges libertarians to appeal to rightists instead of leftists as a more natural fit, much as Murray Rothbard did in his 1992 essay Right-Wing Populism. She finishes the essay by thinking of tradition as a collection of best practices through the ages, which while imperfect, was good enough to bring people this far.

In Community, Tradition, Liberty, the same matters are approached from the angle of community as a mitigating factor for the degeneracy that can result if people regard themselves as atomized individuals. The role of social capital as an economic factor is also discussed, along with lower transaction costs and better economic calculation as people form tight-knit communities. She then considers the problems of implementing traditional values absent liberty.

The Two Laws of Nature begins a streak of five controversial essays, in which Qui attempts to bridge the liberty-authority divide. She describes her undertaking as follows:

“In the niche sphere of radical politics, you find two very contrasting American intellectual traditions with their own notions of what is the natural law. American white nationalists and fascists occasionally claim that the law of nature forms a brutal order of self-defence and racial animosity. Radical libertarians interpret the law of nature as something that guarantees rights to each person. I would propose a synthesis of these two laws of nature to combine them into a proper set of moral values. This could form a social order that is a combination of libertarian and extreme traditionalist-nationalist values. Furthermore, this synthesis is highly similar to classical concepts of natural law which combine both personal morality and rights.”[12]

She considers fascist ethics as being rooted in animal behavior and adapted to take account of the differences between humans and lower animals. This sets up hierarchies as the natural form of organization, while egalitarianism and democracy are revolts against nature. By contrast, Qui views libertarianism as constructed from reason, from which the non-aggression principle and private property rights emerge. But curiously, she refers to libertarian theory as “empty tautologies.” She describes her proposed synthesis thus:

“Each person ought to value their tribe, know their place in society, attempt to form a family, and defend themselves. This is not to say that each person can succeed at all of these, there are certain inherent limitations. [H]owever, these things should be required for living a perfectly moral life. The tribe does not have to be a race or a nation, the tribe would rather be the community in which you find yourself.”[13]

The next essay is National Socialism and Libertarianism, and it deals with common premises shared between libertarians and national socialists, which are commonly believed to be diametrically opposed. Qui believes these to be that society should emerge organically, opposition to parasitism, recognition that the state is an institution of force, and intolerance of communism. The manifestation of each of these differs greatly; is the parasite the state or Jewry, are parasites best removed by the market or the state, and so on. She closes with a warning:

“[I]t is very easy to become disillusioned with freedom when one realizes for which purposes freedom is used. Because there are overlaps in the general worldview of fascists and libertarians, it becomes easy to simply remove the seemingly problematic aspect of freedom that leads to various ills within libertarianism.”[14]

“However, this does not mean that libertarians are similar to fascists or that it is necessarily libertarian to intermingle with fascists.”[15]

Authoritarianism Versus Libertarianism deals head-on with the central issue of the book. Qui argues that liberty and authority are incompatible in the political realm, but can come together outside of politics. Again defining liberty as self-determination, she finds the enemy of liberty to be not authority but coercion. She writes,

“When strong command structures and a social order predicated upon a strong focus on authority can defeat coercion at large in society, then authoritarianism is more libertarian than perceivedly unauthoritarian structures. This may seem impossible. After all, when there are strong structures of command it seems like there could not be any room to exercise liberty. But this ignores human action and psychology. These strong command structures do not liberate people from command structures but rather give them the liberty to decide what they do outside authority.”[16]

This kind of liberty under authority comports well with both traditional and neoreactionary thinking. Qui also has an explanation for why this is poorly understood among libertarians:

“But the people who want to be left alone to practice their liberty are also the people who are viscerally opposed to being constrained by command structures. This means that they often overlook how these seemingly oppressive structures can actually benefit the ability to exercise control over your own life. A government that makes a few demands in a very authoritative manner should always be preferable to a government that makes many demands in a democratic manner.”[17]

She spends the remainder of the essay considering the benefits of non-coercive command structures over coercive ones as well as a lack thereof.

Qui’s flirtation with neoreaction continues in Strong and Small. Here, she argues that an ideal state exercises hegemonic control and strong political authority, but does not needlessly involve itself in every facet of society. She uses public choice theory to show that states are inclined to grow, either by becoming stronger or larger (or both). She contends that a strong state will primarily look after its own interests, while a weak state will do the bidding of various special interests. But this contention is dubious because a strong state can have special interests and factionalism internally rather than externally, leading to similar problems. Her conclusion is that a state can either function as an anarcho-tyranny (as many currently do) or as a liberal autocracy, a strong state that does very little.

Libertarianism and Fascism began as an article here at Zeroth Position, though the version in this book is significantly different. Qui compares the spectrum between libertarianism and neoliberalism that leads to left-libertarianism to the spectrum between libertarianism and fascism that can lead to a type of libertarian reaction. She provides a history of the various fascist movements, though this history is not exhaustive. Next comes an overview of fascist ideology, which Qui explains as placing the advancement of the nation above all else. Of a potential synthesis of libertarianism and fascism, she writes,

“Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take both nation and property as ultimate goals. This is because the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.”[18]

She concludes that although fascists and libertarians are incompatible in the long-term, they can work together against common enemies by setting aside their incompatibilities to deal with common enemies.

Conversely, the lengthy essay Producerism was later adapted from this book into a Zeroth Position article. Qui’s contention that efficiency is the base value of libertarianism is questionable at best. She describes producerism (differently from most sources) as trying to increase production in general, both of material and immaterial goods. Her claim that producerism is the only metaphysically consistent form of political philosophy requires more support than is given, as she does not prove uniqueness as needed. Much of the rest of the essay repeats material from earlier in the book. This essay would have benefited greatly from exploring the dangers of overproduction as a source of degeneracy instead of containing so much repetition.

Communitarian Libertarianism deals with yet another possible synthesis between libertarianism and another school of thought. Qui blames the strategic errors of Friedrich Hayek for the top-down focus of political libertarianism, which has so far failed to convince elites to be more libertarian for entirely predictable reasons. Though she correctly notes that warfare against the state would be required for the masses to implement libertarianism, she does not contemplate the possibility of a rogue elite leading the way to liberty, as neoreaction does. Qui instead focuses on building communities as a bulwark against the leviathan state, as this is what worked in pre-modern times.

The provocatively titled The Final Solution to the Banking Question argues for a fundamental reform of banking systems. Qui begins by explaining what is wrong with contemporary banking, which essentially functions as a globalist system of debt slavery. Before proposing a solution, she describes a conflict between two sets of critics of banking:

“Our approach to banking should not be about turning a blind eye to unethical action, rather it should wholly be a method of critique and instituting a market solution to a state problem. And there are plenty of people who critique banks from an anti-market perspective. They propose different solutions as they feel that banks are unethical by nature and not by circumstance.”[19]

She provides a standard free-market defense of interest as a measure of time preference. Her proposed solution is quite similar to the Banking Act of 1933 (better known as Glass-Steagall), in that she would separate savings and loan banks from investment banks, disallowing any institution to practice both. Strangely, there is no mention of cryptocurrency and its potential to eliminate the need for banks as we know them.

Familism refers to primacy of the family rather than the individual or any larger collective. Qui argues that families cannot be separated into discrete sub-units in economic analysis, as the income and spending of the individuals is too intertwined. More broadly,

“In cultures that have not been subject to American cultural imperialism, there is often no such thing as individualism divorced from the family. In most of the world, individualism does not imply that the individual should be independent from the constraints of the family, but rather that individuals should be focused on their own family. However, due to the increasingly westernized [sic] nature of the world, this is not a commonplace meaning.”[20]

She contends that unless families consist of degenerate and/or aggressive people, alienated individualism and non-familial collectivism are less optimal than familism. According to Qui, one redefines one’s family through redefining oneself, and advancing one’s family by giving rise to the next generation is the purpose of economic action.

Neo-Feudalism explores the common ground between libertarianism and feudalism, which is quite rich despite libertarianism’s origins in anti-feudalism. Qui makes the case that a natural landed aristocracy will arise out of libertarian standards for property ownership, but the absence of coercion would allow for more turnover of incompetent landowners. Second, the defense structures of anarcho-capitalism greatly resemble that of feudal lords, but Qui again hand-waves the issue of potential re-establishment of states. Even so, the destruction wrought by modern nation-states dwarfs anything under feudalism. She also notes the benefit of using mercenaries for lessening “my country, right or wrong” sentiments.

The Case for Guilds argues that trade unions are a statist corruption of the older system of guilds, which should be reborn and adapted for the future economy. Qui highlights the issue of guilds being run by the best in their line of work, while unions are run by the best at rent-seeking. The means by which guilds ensure quality in ways that unions, trade schools, and universities do not are also discussed.

In Greatness, Qui contemplates the conflict between modernity and potential for excellence. She blames the Enlightenment for abandoning the virtues of previous eras:

“Rationalism became replaced by populism, religious tolerance became replaced by institutional secularism, human advancement became replaced by anti-traditionalism, and an opposition to absolute and tyrannical monarchs became an opposition to monarchy. This was not helped by the opponents of the enlightenment [sic] as they were not staunch traditionalists, but rather simply anti-rationalists and similarly opposed to greatness. They only helped create the monsters of the enlightenment and the popular philosophy that started the downfall of the world.”[21]

This assessment of the Counter-Enlightenment is only partially accurate; for example, Joseph de Maistre opposed a rational foundation for governance because he believed it would only lead to arguments devolving into violence over whether this or that particular government was legitimate. Qui goes on to expose the contradiction between popular democratic will and eternal values. She then describes the progression from Enlightenment values to progressivism:

“Without equality, liberty, fraternity we would have never reached egality, entitlement, collectivity. It is a logical progression from wanting to abolish institutional privilege to wanting to abolish every kind of privilege. The same is true with wanting the ability to be undisturbed by other people and the ability to be undisturbed by the fundamental realities of the world. Respect for your fellow man can easily lead to demanding that the focus of each person be on their fellow man.”[22]

In Kings by Merit, Qui advocates authority as the means for creating virtue, which she believes liberty cannot do on its own. Why this would involve removing authority from economics or politics is left an open question, as degeneracy is especially prone to manifest there. She describes the libertarian king as a societal patriarch who is followed voluntarily for his leadership skills, which she believes is necessary for most people to avoid being led astray by the various demagogues that arise from time to time. Qui views the king’s function as combating parasitism and embodying virtue. She writes,

“The king would logically then be the person in society who has the highest degree of virtue and the highest degree of merit, voluntary monarchy is the ultimate meritocracy as the most qualified person would have the most power. The…person who is the most righteous and most capable would be the king. …Monarchy in any other way and democracy in all ways results in situations in which the rulers are people who do not embody virtue, although this happens far more with democracy than with monarchy. It does not mean that involuntary rule will always necessarily be against virtue, but we need exemplary kings to embody virtue and we only get exemplary kings through voluntary monarchy”[23]

The final essay, For an Anarchist Monarchy, closes the book on its central theme. Qui discusses the failures of combining monarchy with democracy, then proposes a synthesis of monarchy with anarchy by retaining the best principles of both while mitigating the potentially destructive aspects of both with a voluntary monarchic system.

The book ends with a single page advocating further reading of her series “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” here at Zeroth Position.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘unfinished.’ The grammatical constructions and punctuation are awkward throughout. A book of this many essays should be categorized into sections of similar subject matters, and the table of contents lacks page numbers. Each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography, as there are many important points which are simply asserted without proper support. The essays are also somewhat disjointed, in that they do not refer to each other to save space. That being said, the thoughts expressed in this book are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 3.5/5

References:

  1. Qui, Insula (2018). Anarcho-Monarchism. p. 22.
  2. Ibid., p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 40.
  4. Ibid., p. 57.
  5. Ibid., p. 66.
  6. Ibid., p. 71.
  7. Ibid., p. 80.
  8. Ibid., p. 104.
  9. Ibid., p. 123–4.
  10. Ibid., p. 127.
  11. Ibid., p. 129.
  12. Ibid., p. 146.
  13. Ibid., p. 153.
  14. Ibid., p. 162.
  15. Ibid., p. 160.
  16. Ibid., p. 168.
  17. Ibid., p. 169.
  18. Ibid., p. 189–90.
  19. Ibid., p. 224–5.
  20. Ibid., p. 232.
  21. Ibid., p. 257.
  22. Ibid., p. 259–60.
  23. Ibid., p. 268–9.

The Economic Fallacies of Black Friday: 2018 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 164 million customers will be shopping between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday. This estimate is unchanged from 2017. The actual result from 2017 was 174 million between Thanksgiving and Monday. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2018 would mean 174 million actual shoppers.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion, up from $687.87 billion in 2017. This would be an annual increase of 4.3 to 4.8 percent. The estimate for 2016 was between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2018 may be closer to $727.09 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 585,000 and 650,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 582,500 they hired during the 2017 holiday season versus an estimate of 500,000 to 550,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 685,000 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

Per capita spending is predicted to be $1,007.24 in 2018, up from the 2017 estimate of $967.13. The above problems get even worse if people use credit cards to spend money that they do not currently have. With a current credit card interest rate of 17.58 percent and a minimum payment of 4.0 percent, a debt of $1,007.24 would take 5.75 years to pay off and would cost $1,468.05. This is $460.81 wasted on interest payments that could have been kept in one’s accounts or put toward a productive purpose. Multiply this by the 174 million shoppers predicted earlier, and the result is that as much as $80.18 billion could be spent on interest payments. In 2017, the credit card interest rate was 16.72 percent, and the average debt of $967.13 took 5.5 years to pay off with a total cost of $1,372.85.

When people purchase unwanted gifts and/or buy gifts with money they do not currently have, their choices encourage malinvestments. A malinvestment is an investment in a line of production that is mistaken in terms of the real demands of the economy, which leads to wasted capital and economic losses. The holiday shopping season contains a subset of shopping which creates systematic and widespread mistakes in investment and production. Although the effect is not as severe as what occurs during an Austrian business cycle bust and is both caused and resolved in fundamentally different ways, there is a noticeable hangover effect on the economy. A look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500 shows that while the worst month for investments is September, the next three worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could have a better economy if the burst of economic activity in late November and December were spread throughout the year and people did not spend money they do not have on items they do not need.

Liberty Minecraft Quarterly: Autumn 2018

At the end of the 20th century, digital economies emerged on the Internet. Today, they also exist in virtual worlds. These economies offer freedoms which are suppressed by state violence. Virtual worlds can employ arbitrary rule sets which may or may not impose subsidies, taxes, price controls, respect for private property or self-ownership, among other norms. Virtual worlds may be operated as socioeconomic experiments in a cost-effective manner; a few hundred dollars instead of tens or hundreds of thousands. Experiments of this variety may be conducted ethically because participation is voluntary. In a virtual world, participant activity can be recorded easily, which offers a more complete data set for empirical analysis. In this way, virtual worlds offer a means to explore the adverse effect of state policies without risking large amounts of capital or human lives and freedoms.

To achieve this goal, one must first establish a control condition as a baseline for comparison. In December 2015, I decided to create a demonstration of Austrian economics with libertarian ethics using the world’s best-selling computer game, Minecraft. Following two beta tests which failed to generate a profit, Liberty Minecraft’s official launch was in March 2017, and today it is a profit-generating proof of concept. In November 2017, I wrote “Building Liberty in Minecraft” for Zeroth Position in which we explored digital economies, Minecraft, and liberty. September 2018 marked the launch of a new world that offers several technical improvements. This article will be the first in a quarterly series of updates on the Liberty Minecraft project, and will explore three topics: is Liberty Minecraft a valid demonstration of Austrian economics and libertarian ethics, the differences between the Old World and the New World, and what has happened there so far.

Is Liberty Minecraft Valid?

Minecraft is not the real world. Minecraft items have familiar names; “Cooked Chicken” will satisfy “Hunger” and restore “Health,” but these names and their association to objects in the real world is completely illusory. Rather, in-game items offer some utility as a means to achieve goals, and this means that items in Minecraft can produce real incentive systems. Liberty Minecraft is not and is not intended to be a simulation of reality. However, the players involved and their freedom to express preferences are completely real. When real actors compete to acquire scarce means that satisfy ends, a real economy and society develops, even in a digital world. Liberty Minecraft is a game world which implements Austrian economics with libertarian ethics using smart contracts. Self-ownership, private property, commodity money, and trade are offered via computer code which executes on our game servers. The ‘physical laws’ of Liberty Minecraft are also enforced by computer code.[Footnote 1]

The Rule of Liberty Minecraft

A society will enjoy liberty whenever it abides by this rule: resolve nonviolent disputes nonviolently. This is the primary rule of Liberty Minecraft. Our players “must solve difficult problems without resorting to violence or threats of violence.”[1] I enforce this rule. Here, it is common for people to suggest that I have violently centralized power, that this decision abandons the free market for enforcement services, and therefore that Liberty Minecraft does not represent a libertarian society. Let us see why this is false. First, a person who rejects this rule cannot argue against being banned from Liberty Minecraft without committing a performative contradiction. Second, property owners are free to decide who can use their property, and I have decided that everyone who rejects my rule is not allowed to use my property. Third, I compete with thousands of server operators, and player participation on a Minecraft server is voluntary. Thus, I am accountable in the free market and will put valuable capital at risk by performing my functions poorly. This rule and its enforcement exist in a highly competitive market and are consistent with libertarian ethics and Austrian economics.

In addition, there are two Terms of Use which are implied but stated in answer to common questions. The first term of use is “Read and understand the rules.” No one can abide by a rule which they have not read and do not understand. The second term is “Do not hack the server.” Hackers can change the rules, and permitting hacking would defeat the purpose of setting rules. Here I also list a promise: “Within Liberty Minecraft, I promise to protect land which is claimed using Claim Blocks.” This brings us to a second criticism of Liberty Minecraft.

The Function of Claim Blocks

In Liberty Minecraft, Claim Blocks are applied to the world in order to claim land as property. In the New World, Claim Blocks are available for purchase at a fixed price of 100 Claim Blocks per Diamond, one of the in-game commodities. Here people often argue that I am engaging in arbitrary price-fixing, therefore Liberty Minecraft is not an implementation of Austrian economics. However, unclaimed land within Liberty Minecraft is my property, and I am free to sell it at the price of my choosing. One may respond that I cannot own all the land within the server, as I have not homesteaded it. These people beg the reader to reject reality as a means to produce a more realistic demonstration: because Liberty Minecraft did not exist before I created it, and all land within Liberty Minecraft exists within Liberty Minecraft, its unclaimed land is my property. Furthermore, I work in order to pay for the proper maintenance and service of the server hardware on which Liberty Minecraft exists.

I have decided to sell land protection services within Liberty Minecraft for our in-game currency because the Terms of Commercial use for Minecraft preclude me from using other, more preferable options. I have developed a reputation by protecting the property of individuals, and in their absence for a period of years. Failing to perform this service in a professional way will result in the destruction of my project. The value of my offer is determined in the free market because I compete with other services for the protection of (digital) life, liberty, and property.

Once a player has bought land, they are free to sell it at any mutually agreeable price. Within Liberty Minecraft, all landowners hold an estate in land which is similar to fee simple except that there are no taxes, eminent domain powers, police powers, or escheat. Landowners are free to make their own rules and terms of enforcement. Ownership is conditional because players must follow my rule to play on my game servers. However, players may retain unconditional ownership by using server software to download a copy of their property. Land which is claimed can only be used with the authorization of the owner or a person to whom they have delegated that right. Land claims expire by default if a player leaves for 60 days. In escheat, property without an heir would go to the State. In my case, Claim Blocks are returned to the player and the property becomes unprotected. However, I am now investing to develop a better option: an auction system where the proceeds will go to the departed player. If this causes currency to become more scarce over time, then the remaining supply will have a higher purchasing power which will serve to attract former players, among other benefits.

Currency

Within Liberty Minecraft, Diamonds are used as currency. Minecraft’s Diamonds are durable, portable, fungible, and scarce. Thus, Diamonds have many of the monetary qualities which gold offers in the real world. There is one notable exception: Minecraft’s Diamonds are indivisible. Liberty Minecraft offers a solution where players may subdivide their Diamonds into 10^18 sub-units which may be transferred securely within Liberty Minecraft. One may object that my decision is arbitrary; it prevents the free market from solving this problem, and this abandons Austrian economics. These people seem not to understand that the currency is Diamonds even once they are told, because otherwise such a criticism amounts to the difference between 100,000 centimeters and one kilometer; that is, no difference at all.

Minecraft players have always used Diamonds as a standard of value and medium of exchange, which is why I have selected it as currency. Diamonds are produced by mining or may be discovered in the world’s ‘natural’ structures. In Liberty Minecraft, the supply of Diamonds is finite. Still, this is the only game item for which I am offering money services at our ChestShops. This intervention picks Diamonds as the winner instead of allowing for free market competition among in-game items in Liberty Minecraft, which is the result of an unfortunate technical limitation. At present I cannot offer money services for all game items. However, even if I solve this problem, game items suffer from the same vulnerability: I am an imperfect central point of failure. Therefore, Liberty Minecraft’s Diamond money is a game commodity which must be discovered and produced by mining, which had already been in use as money for many years across Minecraft servers, and which is subdivided in Liberty Minecraft to add an important characteristic of money: divisibility.

Liberty Minecraft is a valid demonstration of Austro-libertarianism for the reasons discussed above. The players of Liberty Minecraft, their preferences, and their freedoms are real. Scarce means may be secured to achieve desirable goals. Our one rule and its enforcement are consistent with libertarian ethics. The sale of land and protection services within Liberty Minecraft are consistent with Austrian economics. Until human incompetence or enmity changes this virtual world, Liberty Minecraft is a valid demonstration of Austrian economics with libertarian ethics.

From Old World to New World

Compared to any other Minecraft server, Liberty Minecraft’s New and Old worlds are nearly identical. Both are played in Survival Mode. They both offer Diamond currency, private property, trade, and self-ownership with smart contracts. They are both exactly the same size, roughly as large as Manhattan. They both subject players to one rule: resolve nonviolent disputes nonviolently. Differences, which remain to be discussed provide an opportunity to demonstrate by example some of the ways in which a virtual world may be altered to test social and economic policies.

Put simply, Liberty Minecraft’s Old World suffered from arbitrary rewards while the New World does not. (This characterization is rather too simple because Minecraft itself contains some arbitrary rewards, but I will offer it as a general rule which rarely fails.) Over the first 9875 hours played across two years, Old World players received Universal Basic Income which created Diamond money from thin air, because otherwise it was impossible to trade land. This technical limitation was discussed in the previous article published here. I solved the problem at the end of November 2017, and my players experienced what happens when a subsidy program is eliminated. To pay for the money printing in the best way I knew how, I mined an amount of Diamonds somewhat larger than those which were printed and blew them up, returning them to the thin air whence they came.

Following this correction, players spent less time idling on the server. Most players who subsisted on UBI either stopped playing Liberty Minecraft or developed new skills, but over 90 percent of the people who have played Liberty Minecraft have stopped playing; our active population is approximately 60 players but more than 600 players have visited. Therefore, one cannot claim by this evidence alone that ending UBI probably caused players to idle less due to the size of the initial population and proportion of surviving players. Furthermore, I do not presently have a research budget to investigate research questions in a formal way. Nevertheless, players in the New World do not suffer from arbitrary rewards and punishments as a consequence of money printing. All money is earned by providing value in exchange to another player or by discovering and mining ‘naturally’ generated Diamonds.

In the Old World, a player ranking system provides arbitrary rewards in exchange for playing an arbitrary amount of time on the server. This ‘solution’ was selected in an attempt to achieve three instrumental goals: 1) I wanted people to play and enjoy Liberty Minecraft, 2) I wished to offer a secure way for players to trade in-game property of any type, including resources which exist but cannot be extracted in Minecraft, and 3) I intended to do this without a development budget.

Distributing new abilities with player ranks in exchange for an arbitrary amount of play time seemed like a simple and inexpensive way to achieve those three goals. However, this incentive system has the undesirable effect of attracting players who are rewarded without producing anything of value. I expect that this has a negative impact on our digital society in the Old World because the system is not meritocratic. In a sense, the New World is a test of this hypothesis because I have removed the arbitrary ranking system and its rewards. In the New World, all of the value a player accumulates is directly attributable to their merit. The New World now competes in real time with the Old World. If the New World makes significantly more money than the Old World, then it is a better product.

Operational Constraints

Both the New and Old Worlds are subject to the Terms of Commercial Use for Minecraft. Among other things, the terms prohibit me from selling digital items for hard currency. For instance, I cannot offer a secondary market where active players offer real-world value for the assets of inactive players. Without access to the free market, the property of inactive players is left in limbo. In common law, the State takes this property for itself. Liberty Minecraft is building a better option.

When Liberty Minecraft began in 2015, land claims could be configured in two ways which are relevant to this discussion. One could define an arbitrary duration of player inactivity that specifies when a player’s land claims will expire, and an arbitrary amount of wealth invested in Claim Blocks which permanently stops that player’s land claims from expiring. In the Old World, I work within these technical limitations. Niccolo Machiavelli held Cesare Borgia in high regard, and observed that the Romagna waited for more than a month while he was sick and dying.[2] Likewise, I hold my players in high regard, so land claims expire after 60 days. Furthermore, in the Old World, a player who owns 1000 Diamonds worth of Claim Blocks has permanent land claims. This system fails in at least two important ways. First, it punishes value providers who are busy and lose their property. Second, active value providers are punished because I invest resources to maintain the property of people who no longer play Liberty Minecraft.

After three years of operation, I can now turn my attention to these problems. In the New World, I will not work within these technical limitations. First, I wanted the duration of land ownership to be non-arbitrary. Last month, I designed and funded the development of a system which delays claim expiration for Donors and Subscribers. This new option permits an individual to decide how long to hold their property in their absence. By charging donations in exchange for persistent land claims, I may benefit from better earnings, active players may benefit from a server which is better funded, and donors expect to benefit because otherwise they would not donate. The actions of free individuals are a demonstration of their preferences. Second, I wanted a non-arbitrary way of paying the former owner of an expiring Land Claim. This month I created a budget and then designed an automated auction system where expiring land claims are put on auction. The proceeds will go to the former owner and will be available to them if they decide to return.

One Month of Freedom

The New World launched on August 31, 2018. At the time of this writing, Liberty Minecraft’s New World has already earned more than one year of operating expenses. 115 players have logged over 7700 man-hours within Liberty Minecraft’s New World. For comparison, my goal in the first year (beginning March 2017) was to provide 10,000 hours of experience in free markets and liberty. Roughly 13,000 hours were played that year. At the present rate, the New World will reach 10,000 hours by the end of our second month.

Liberty Minecraft’s players have engaged in more than 25,500 free market exchanges using our ChestShop system. More than 2200 shops have been created by the players. Roughly 500 of them exist at present. The money supply is completely unregulated, and has been expanded from $0 to more than $281 million (28,135 player-produced Diamonds exist as cash or claim blocks). Roughly 85 percent of that money is invested in Claim Blocks. More than 940 parcels of land are privately owned by the players. The market price for a number of items was recorded by me after one month of economic activity to be compared with market prices in one year hence.

In addition to this explosion in economic activity, a number of landmarks were established before the first month of play had ended. The players commissioned, designed, and built a house to surprise me with a wonderful gift for operating Liberty Minecraft. Also, a player named __Wildfire_ has constructed a city-wide rail system with lines that pass through the property of at least seven different land owners. The mine cart rail includes terminals in at least five different locations which provide no-fee access to three shopping districts and more than one hundred land claims. Two other owner/operators have agreed to connect their private rail lines to produce a transportation network which is both operated and owned by a distributed network of players.

Another player named Haksndot has become the monopoly owner of a no-fee railway system that spans the world using “The Nether”, one of the game’s three dimensions. Origo Station, which lies in the center of his rail system, includes roughly twenty ‘Portals’ that are native to Minecraft and which connect all around the world’s first populated area, sometimes called Spawn Town or Scar City. Origo also has the world’s second most active shop district called Hellmart. There, Haksndot is crowdsourcing the construction of materials for building his Netherway rail system by purchasing raw materials, automatically processing these materials, selling their products, and buying back the blocks which players may produce for profit and which are used in the construction of The Netherway. These places and many others may be visited by joining Liberty Minecraft which is free to anyone who owns Minecraft for their home computer.

Two clans have established themselves as significant social and economic forces in Liberty Minecraft: the Emerald Clan and Mein Kraft. While each one has their own story to tell, one cannot avoid discussing them by contrast. Emerald Clan has been with Liberty Minecraft for nearly one year and are a cornerstone of our community, but the name ‘Emerald Clan’ did not arise until last month, after Mein Kraft established themselves as a Clan. Mein Kraft joined at the launch of our New World and are still being integrated into our community. Machiavelli observed that there are difficulties when groups differ in language and customs, but the greatest help is if one resides there and sends colonies.[3] Emerald Clan and Mein Kraft differ in language and customs, but they share a love of freedom which is respected in Liberty Minecraft.

At present, the Emerald Clan is mainly involved in the production of goods that are obtained by trading Emeralds with villagers (which is an arbitrary trading feature native to Minecraft). Sharonclaws, who leads the Emerald Clan, is the operator of Emerald Tower, located in Scar City near Spawn. Spawn is the location where players first appear when they arrive in Liberty Minecraft. Mein Kraft is led by K9us, who owns $tore, which is primarily involved in the sale of goods obtained by ‘auto-fishing’ or by raiding End Cities (naturally generated structures that contain valuable goods). Another member, Frozenhammerz, owns Ivory Tower, which is also located in Scar City.

Emerald Clan is more socially invested and less hostile than Mein Kraft because they do not swear in conversations and communicate the purpose of their actions. For instance, they offer to use their property as a means to develop communities based on mutual trust. Mein Kraft has logged more man-hours, and is more productive and collectivistic; at the time of this writing, they have more shops offering items for sale and their clan’s members are trusted on all of the most valuable property owned by their members. Price wars between these two clans have reduced the price of tools and other high value goods by 50–90 percent over the course of one month despite the extraordinary growth in our free market money supply.

Conclusion

Liberty Minecraft’s New World is a technical improvement on my original offering. It is a valid demonstration of Austrian economics with libertarian ethics. The New World is actively testing a hypothesis that abandoning arbitrary rewards and subsidies will create a more profitable world. Since the launch of the New World, more things have happened than I can possibly describe. Our players build transportation infrastructure, establish communities according to their own customs, and have improved the standard of living among our players by direct competition among producers.

Footnote

1. One qualification must be added in every case because the game’s servers are not hardened against hacking or human fallibility. While I do perform regular backups to prepare for inevitable failures, I will ask that the reader mentally append all game rules and ‘physical’ laws with the qualification “…unless a hacker, operator incompetence, operator malice, or any combination of the above causes this to change.” I am the server operator.

References:

  1. Woods, Tom (2018, June 26). “Ep. 1187: Private Property vs. No Private Property: The Results”. The Tom Woods Show.
  2. Machiavelli, Niccolo, and W. K. Marriott. The Prince (ch. 7). Project Gutenberg, 2017.
  3. Ibid, ch. 3.

Henry Olson Misunderstands Libertarianism

On September 25, Social Matter published an article by Henry Olson titled “The Death and Tragic Rebirth of Libertarianism”. While this article raises several important issues for libertarians and gets some points correct, it also has major theoretical problems. Whereas Olson’s misunderstandings are more commonly distributed and believed than correct libertarian theory, and this is a primary reason for many rejections of libertarianism, let us explore them and offer corrections while also noting where his essay is accurate.

Abstract

Olson begins,

“Whatever their partisans claim, political ideologies rarely succeed in describing some timeless truth about the world. More often, their existence is entirely contingent on the events around them. They serve as gathering points for similar personality types to consider the important issues of their day. When the issues change, most partisans move somewhere else, and the ideology goes stale.”

This is mostly correct, though libertarianism (in the Hoppean sense) does succeed in providing a rational proof that self-ownership, non-aggression, and respect for private property form the basis for how people should act, even if it is not how they do act. Though a political ideology can become stale when partisans leave, it can also lead to renewal as those who would use (and abuse) the ideology for their own purposes go elsewhere and take their corruptions with them.

Olson views the rise of political libertarianism through Ron Paul and its recession away from Rand Paul in favor of Donald Trump and the alt-right as an example of this staleness. He describes the passing of the “libertarian moment” in favor of Trumpism and the alt-right as “the sadness of a vanished childhood, where we realized that the dreams we once believed so deeply were only dreams”. But as we will see, this view rests upon a foundation of misunderstanding, as does the mainstream corporatist libertarian position that Olson criticizes.

Libertarian Theory

Olson attempts to provide the reader with a brief overview of libertarian theory, but offers a deeply flawed version of it. He writes,

“The central tenet of libertarianism was always simple. It was based around the so-called ‘non-aggression principle’ (or NAP), which held that anyone may do whatever he pleases with his own property so long as he respects other people’s rights to do the same with theirs. Since the boundaries on what it means to encroach on someone else’s property rights are not always clear, the NAP was typically understood as a prohibition on the initiation of force.”

While it is odd to read of even a former libertarian referring to the “so-called NAP,” the issue here is that self-ownership is the central tenet while NAP and private property are corollaries thereof. Though the definition of “encroachment” is not always clear in the abstract, it usually is clear in practice because people negotiate agreements in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts. The exceptions to this tend to be caused by state interference that inhibits the ability of private actors to negotiate such matters between themselves. Olson’s footnote about zoning laws, which suggests that libertarians have no answer to the objection that zoning laws “make communities nicer for nearly everyone and do not significantly harm the few cranks and outliers they inconvenience” suggests an unfamiliarity with libertarian theory. Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s theories on covenant communities resolve such problems, as does the work of many other libertarians on the subject of contracts. If one wishes to prevent “transforming the Vermont village green into a strip mall,” for instance, the charter of a covenant community may provide that this space is never to be developed. The residents of the area may also band together to make socioeconomic life so difficult for anyone who would develop a particular plot that no one would want to take the risk. “Using force to preserve something that nearly everyone appreciates” is not “defined as immoral from the outset”; it simply requires that the proper private legal structures be put into place and that the proper forces be arranged toward that purpose.

Olson raises the canards of Murray Rothbard’s case for letting children starve, Walter Block’s less palatable chapters in Defending the Undefendable, and the apparent love affair that the Mises Institute has with Ebenezer Scrooge. For the former two, it must be said that even the greatest thinkers can be dreadfully wrong on occasion. No philosopher should be followed exactly on reputation alone, but neither should the rest of their canon be rejected without further cause. Defending Scrooge, however, makes far more sense, especially from a Social Darwinist perspective, which a person moving from libertarianism to neoreaction could reasonably possess and retain. Even so, Olson praises libertarianism for giving “the right answers to the most pressing practical issues of the late 2000s,” even if its adherents occasionally wished for a past that never was (also common among reactionaries of all types). However, his history is slightly off. The Austrian School began in 1871 with Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics; those working in the early 20th century (e.g. Ludwig von Mises) were the second generation of Austrian economists.

The Moment Passes

Olson’s initial description of the passing of the “libertarian moment” on the right is poignant:

“As the defections of former libertarians and Tea Partiers to Donald Trump and the alt-right showed, a lot of the libertarians from the Ron Paul years fundamentally did not believe in libertarian theory as much as they thought they did. They flocked to it at the time because it offered an intelligent critique of the Left and the mainstream Right that was otherwise lacking in a time when Sean Hannity and Karl Rove were leading right-wing luminaries. But when a meatier opposition arose—based on nationalism, immigration restriction, and economic protectionism—many libertarians saw no problem in dropping their old beliefs for contradictory ones.”

These people never were libertarians (or Tea Partiers, for that matter); they were anti-progressives and anti-cuckservatives who saw no other political movement that opposed both camps. He then identifies himself as being in this category, which is glaringly obvious by the analytical mistakes in his next paragraph. Olson writes that his “libertarian dream died with the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri.” His description of events is saturated with exactly the type of political autism of which reactionaries tend to accuse libertarians. It is true that within context, the police and National Guard forces imposed order upon a rioting mob that was attacking innocent bystanders and destroying their property. But who created that context? For the past century, all levels of American government have worked tirelessly to suppress militia groups that once performed the legitimate functions of the National Guard. Many cities once had racial zoning ordinances that created segregated ghettos where none had existed previously. The welfare state provides perverse incentives that have destroyed black families and grown the criminal element, and government education has failed to prepare them to lead a life outside the criminal justice system. Legal protections for the press dating back to the Constitution itself keep them from facing proper consequences for inciting people to riot, loot, and burn. Wherever one looks, the state is at fault, and expecting them to clean up their own mess is the least that one can ask. It is fair to criticize “the libertarian theorists pontificating on how the best solution would be to privatize the roads, abolish the police, or legalize pot” for not addressing the problem at hand with the implements at hand, but they did far more than “offer only platitudes in the face of real life-and-death problems”.

On the left side, Olson is closer to the target:

“Certain aspects of libertarianism insisted on drug legalization, open borders, and the right to all kinds of weird sex, in what was then an even more aggressive manner than the mainstream Left. But as the ‘mainstream’ Left adopted increasingly radical positions in the culture wars, such that, today, elected Democratic politicians demand that we ‘abolish ICE‘ while Democratic voters nominate transgenders as their gubernatorial candidates, there is little reason for cultural leftists to stick with libertarianism. Why buy the knock-off when the real thing is just as accessible? So these people left too, and joined the freakshow known as liberalism circa 2018.”

His errors here are minor. First, there has always been a degenerate, hedonistic element in majuscule, political Libertarianism. These people come into libertarian circles because they seek a safe space for the practice of their vices, whatever they may be. Leftist elements within libertarianism provide them with this safe space because doing so is an easier way to grow the movement than authentic proselytization. This also gives them occasion to attack right-libertarians for opposing the adulteration and degeneration of their political movement. Second, they are not leaving the Libertarian Party in sufficient numbers to turn it rightward, as many of them know that they lack the talent to perform in a major political party and would rather remain as big fish in a small pond, fighting over worthless scraps of non-existent power.

A Tragic Rebirth?

We now reach the purpose of Olson’s article: to make the case that libertarianism is an enemy in the fight against corporate censorship. He describes the importance of this struggle thus:

“The most important battle of our time is now shaping up to be the battle against the tech monopolists. Whereas issues like changing demographics, non-white immigration to the West, and the glorification of sexual deviancy and hedonistic consumerism over traditional Western norms all pose existential threats to our civilization, the threat from the tech world presents an even more fundamental problem. It challenges whether we will even be able to talk about these other issues at all. By excluding dissident websites from Google search results, by preventing rightists from using Facebook or Twitter to spread their messages, or by banning the Right from online payment processors, private tech monopolists have every bit the same power to silence critics as the old Soviet Cheka.”

Once more, Olson is poised to ignore how the current context was formed. He continues,

“In fact, their power may even be greater. The secret police of the twentieth century communist regimes had to rely on glaringly primitive and brutal tactics like the gulag, the torture chamber, and the firing squad. While a force like the Cheka was obviously able inflict much more pain on individual people than Google can, its obvious brutality could not help but stir up popular resentment; thus, the common refrain that by the fall of the Berlin Wall the only people still believing in communism were American university professors. Therefore, the fact that modern tech companies have given up primitive methods of control for more sophisticated ones is an evolutionary improvement in managerial totalitarianism, not a weakness. The goal of the gulags was rarely to hurt individual people; it was to make the cost of opposing the system prohibitive to others. If Google, Twitter, PayPal, or any other company can silence dissent just by changing search algorithms or banning dissidents from using a service, then it has achieved in the same results in a less intrusive way. And because their methods are less obviously evil, they are also less likely to engender popular disillusionment or revolt.”

That soft power frequently faces less backlash than hard power is important to remember, as is the fact that private enterprise working hand in hand with the state typically results in the worst of both worlds: the evil of the state combined with the efficiency of the market. It is important to remember that the market is fundamentally amoral; it is not a thing but a process. If the inputs are corrupted, so will be the results. Just as markets “find solutions that the government misses” for good, so can they for evil. As Hoppe writes,

“Moreover, free competition is not always good. Free competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free competition in the torturing and killing of innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad.”[1]

Olson accuses libertarianism of “rush[ing] to the rescue of the establishment censors,” defending them as “private companies [that] can set whatever terms of service they want.” While some prominent libertarians are saying this, proper libertarian theory says no such thing. Instead, it recognizes that corporations are not private companies; they are legal fictions created by the state to shield business owners from full financial liability and ease the enforcement of laws upon those businesses. It is impossible to create a corporation without involving the state, as attempting to do so without chartering or registering the corporation with a state will have no effect. The closest one could come would be to negotiate recognition of a business entity with limited liability with each customer of that business, but this would not be identical to a state-recognized corporation in terms of its interaction with the state or with bystanders. Corporations as we know them are therefore incompatible with libertarianism; they should be replaced by other forms of business organization, such as common-law partnerships and cooperatives.

Olson quotes Rothbard on the matter of freedom of speech:

“Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate ‘right to free speech’; there is only a man’s property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.”

What both Olson and Rothbard neglect is that, as explained above, corporations exist on the backs of taxpayers who are extorted to fund the government that allows them to incorporate. It is not trespassing for those taxpayers to enter the property of the social media companies, payment processors, etc. and make use of their services against their wishes because their incorporation is a benefit of property rights violations. Therefore, their exercise of private property rights by denying service to people and trespassing them is estopped as long as they remain incorporated.

Olson correctly points out that (misunderstood) libertarian theory serves the progressive leftist establishment, and that they will use the part that serves their interest while ignoring and discarding the other parts and implications, such as the right to discriminate racially. But as shown above, his descriptions of libertarians who do oppose the technology giants are false:

“They range from an acknowledgment of the problem but a refusal to find a solution (e.g., ‘a free speech social media alternative will come eventually, so we can ignore the problem for now’) to a half-baked rationalization that government tech regulation really is not regulation at all (e.g., ‘tech companies get lots of government subsidies, so it really does not aggress against their property rights to regulate them’).”

The consistent libertarians really are not “the tech apologists,” nor are the effective opponents those who would “rally government force to stop them.” If the NAP really said that “we are not allowed to stop them” from “silenc[ing] dissent to aid our ruling class’s efforts to turn America into the Third World and destroy the civilization that we inherited,” then one could reasonably say “to hell with the NAP.” Fortunately, it says no such thing. Government force is the ultimate cause of the problem because it provides the means to destroy Western civilization and empowers the technology giants to become giants that serve as tools of oppression in the first place. Though it may be necessary to break up the near-monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, this alone will not be sufficient. Nor will regulating them as public utilities, as this will both stifle innovation and incentivize regulatory capture.

Conclusion

Olson’s article is most interesting for its dueling political autisms; he correctly chastises mainstream libertarians for their inability to understand and deal with the current situation, all while remaining blissfully unaware of how his beloved state created the current situation. The solution to censorious technology giants will likely require taking the reins of power, but only for the purpose of setting parts of the Cathedral against other parts in order to hasten its demise. If the Right, per his suggestion, “learn[s] to be unapologetically statist,” it will only retread a predictable course that ends in failure, more robust leftism in the long term, and the abandonment of liberty.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 87.

Book Review: One Nation Under Gold

One Nation Under Gold is a book about the role of gold in American economic history by James Ledbetter. The book details how gold has shaped the American psyche and played a role in many debates and power struggles from the founding of the United States until the current age.

At the beginning of the book, there is a helpful timeline of many of the most important events that Ledbetter discusses. A short preface states the case to be made: that monetary gold has many qualities that good money should have, but cannot fulfill the ultimate hopes of its advocates. The introduction begins with both positive and negative contemporary commentary on the California Gold Rush, then briefly discusses the history of gold and the human relationship to it in the New World, particularly the United States.

The first chapter begins with George Washington’s woes with paper money during the American Revolution. Ledbetter uses this example to show how the Founding Fathers came to hate paper money. The role of debt in encouraging states to ratify the Constitution is mentioned. The search for effective currency in the 18th and 19th centuries is discussed at length, which included foreign coins, gold, silver, and paper currencies theoretically (but sometimes fraudulently) backed by metals. The correlation between monetary views and one’s opinion concerning the size and scope of government (which continues to the present day) is noted, with centralized paper money being associated with big government and decentralized metallic money being associated with small government. After discussing Andrew Jackson’s battle to defeat central banking and the Panic of 1837, Ledbetter returns to the California Gold Rush and its implications, including environmental and human exploitation as well as the Panic of 1857. With the Civil War and the issuing of greenbacks to fund it, a great failure of the gold standard is demonstrated that will echo through the rest of the book: it would stop wars and expansive social programs if it were strictly adhered to, but political leaders will always find some workaround.

Chapter 2 covers the time from Reconstruction to the Gilded Age. Ledbetter begins with the market manipulations of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, alongside President Ulysses Grant’s role in the affair. The differences in opinion between North and South over paper money and compensation for the Civil War are also highlighted. Ledbetter notes an important lesson from these years: a polity that values multiple currencies will create a market of exchange between them, and huge swings in those markets will eventually cause social unrest. The debate over the monetization of silver and its role in financial downturns for the rest of the 19th century are discussed next, but the decade of the 1880s is skipped over. The chapter concludes with the Panic of 1893 and the near-disappearance of US government gold reserves in 1895, which was resolved with the help of J.P. Morgan.

The third chapter deals with the agrarian populist response to these events as well as events up to the Great Depression. The role of William Jennings Bryan and other silver advocates occupies much of the first half, along with their defeat as a result of gold discoveries in Yukon Territory and South Africa. Ledbetter includes the popular but controversial interpretation of The Wizard of Oz (1900) as an allegory for 1890s politics. Next, the lack of monetary liquidity and an attempt to corner the copper market as Fisk and Gould tried to do with gold in 1869 are cited as causes for the Panic of 1907, which was used as a pretext to create the Federal Reserve System in 1913. With World War I and its financial aftermath, Ledbetter again shows that when forced to choose between adherence to sound money or engaging in warfare, politicians abandon the former. The only problem here is his blaming of the gold standard for causing the Great Depression.

The Roosevelt-Truman era is the subject of the next two chapters. Ledbetter details the steps that Roosevelt took to outlaw private gold ownership for Americans and transition to a managed currency, a clear step toward centralization. The ending of Chapter 4 details the coalition against FDR’s actions that persists in some form to the current era; paleoconservatives and some business interests opposed his moves for partisan reasons, pro-gold economists believed that decoupling money from metal would cause economic and political problems, and a fringe of conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites railed against pernicious minority power and influence.

The fifth chapter explores the legal fallout from Roosevelt’s policies, as well as the establishment of Fort Knox as a gold storage facility. The debate over gold clauses, by which creditors sought to hedge against inflation, is highlighted. The argument that devaluing money is a soft form of sovereign default made at this time is still advanced by sound money advocates. The Supreme Court’s ruling on gold clauses in Perry v. United States (1935) is shown to be coerced by the circumstances; any less convoluted ruling would have suffered a run-around by Congress and FDR. The role of gold in World War II is discussed somewhat briefly. The formation of the Bretton Woods system, a quasi-gold standard that lasted until the early 1970s, is covered in greater detail. Ledbetter concludes the chapter with the postwar populism that was in many ways the opposite of 1890s populism in terms of its views on gold and inflation.

Chapters 6–8 take the reader through the Bretton Woods era. This section begins with a description of the balance-of-payments problem, which steadily grew through the postwar era and eventually brought down the Bretton Woods system. That foreign creditors gained the ability to effect a bank run on US gold supplies became increasingly alarming through the 1950s. The crisis in the London gold market in 1960 is discussed next, followed by the closing of loopholes that let Americans own gold overseas. The extent to which Americans disobeyed the law to own gold is explored, including an amusing case of a golden rooster that publicly showcased the ridiculousness of such prohibitions.

The seventh chapter is an in-depth examination of Operation Goldfinger, a set of attempts by the US government to find more gold that would seem like jokes to a reader today. The role of the French government in threatening to destabilize the global monetary system is discussed here as well. Ledbetter mentions the possibilities of cutting spending by withdrawing US forces from Germany and Japan in the 1960s, but once more, gold went up against foreign policy and lost. Another important lesson from this chapter is that price controls, such as that of gold set at $35 per ounce despite rising demand, will always collapse eventually.

The eighth chapter picks up where the sixth chapter left off, with airlifts of gold from America to shore up the British pound. This is followed by the frustrations of the Johnson administration in dealing with Vietnam and gold balances. The end of Bretton Woods is foreshadowed with a 1968 speech from Sen. Jacob Javits (R–NY). Ledbetter explains the two-tiered gold market that was set up for the final few years of Bretton Woods. The final ten pages are devoted to critics of what was happening at the time (Murray Rothbard, Alan Greenspan, Neil McCaffrey, William F. Rickenbacker) as well as those who sought to profit from it (Harry Browne), but Ledbetter annoyingly uses the “goldbug” slur here and for the remainder of the book.

Chapter 9 deals with the birth of the current system of fiat currencies and the end of gold-backed government money. Yet again, Ledbetter shows that there were ideologues and pragmatists in government, and the latter won out. The rivalry between Fed chairman Arthur Burns and the rest of the Nixon administration takes center stage here. The relative aloofness of Nixon himself on monetary policy may surprise a reader unfamiliar with the history. The chapter concludes with the beginnings of the modern precious metals investment market, the legal aspect of which started with silver coins in the 1960s and later expanded into gold. The fraudulent activities of the Pacific Coast Coin Exchange are used as an example of the all-too-common unscrupulousness of precious metal investment companies.

The tenth and eleventh chapters explore the legalization of private ownership of gold in the US and the first years of the legal market. Ledbetter illustrates the backdoor methods by which gold ownership was partially and then fully legalized for Americans. As is typical of American politics, the most consequential legislative changes were ultimately passed as riders on other, more mundane bills. The beginnings of Fort Knox conspiracy theories is mentioned, then the role of the Krugerrand and its eventual banning to pressure South African apartheid is discussed. Chapter 11 begins with the 1970s debate over restoring gold clauses in contracts, which ultimately passed but had no real effect. The middle of the chapter covers the Gold Commission under Reagan, which led to the minting of American gold coins but little else of substance. The damaging environmental impact of new methods of gold extraction are briefly mentioned, then the chapter finishes with more scam gold companies in the International Gold Bullion Exchange and the Bullion Reserve of North America.

The final chapter begins with the Great Recession and the gold investment promotions immediately thereafter. Yet another fraudulent company, Goldline, gets a mention here. A connection is made between current-era gold advocacy and the seemingly insincere gold-standard rhetoric of the Republican Party in the Reagan years, as well as between the groups in coalition against FDR and his gold policies. Though Ledbetter is correct to point out the obstacles to restoring a gold standard and the empirical case that it would not do what its advocates claim it would, the supply objection is not as strong as he seems to believe. Even so, Ledbetter’s stated estimate of a gold price of $10,000 to $50,000 per ounce agrees with my own calculation of $12,616.75 per ounce as of 2015. He mentions E-gold and Bitcoin as technological advances that seek to emulate aspects of the gold standard, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of the latter. Ledbetter claims that no serious politician offers a vision of a world without global financial institutions, failing to realize that any serious movement of that type will be anti-political and/or revolutionary in nature.

Overall, Ledbetter’s history is mostly sound, though a bias against gold advocates that reaches beyond the evidence against them is persistent throughout. The book offers a strong challenge to the idea of a gold standard, not in theory, but in practice. The case is well-made that advocating for governments to institute sound money policies is what this publication would call politically autistic, but the potential of digital currencies to take over the global economy and bring back the good aspects of the gold standard while mitigating the drawbacks thereof is left undiscussed. Details about the monetary policies of the colonial period, the 1880s, the 1990s, and the early-mid 2000s are also noticeably missing. That said, the information that is present and the quality of bibliography makes this book well worth reading.

Rating: 4.5/5

Song Lyrics: Bitcoiner Blues

The chord progression is the same for all parts: C, Am(add11), G7, C7, C, Dm, Em, C.

The acoustic guitar solo also follows these chords. The tempo is such that performing the entire song takes 3:45–4:00.

Verse 1:
Sometimes buy high
Sometimes sell low
Never quite know
Where the market winds blow
But one man’s loss
Is another man’s gain
Here in cyberspace
Liberty shall reign

Verse 2:
The mining is hard
And it takes lots of juice
But that’s to make sure
That the spending’s no deuce
Once it’s in hand
They can’t steal away
The wealth is all yours
Just keep your private keys safe

Chorus:
Bitcoiner Blues
The song of the hour
Sing along and
Fight the legacy power
Buildin’ from scratch
A new paradigm
Savin’ the world from
The state and its crimes

Verse 3:
Roads made of silk
And markets for death
That’s the landscape
In this new Wild West
The first they took down
But they’ve been replaced
Thank Dread Pirate Roberts
For leading the way

Verse 4:
As for exchanges
Only trust if you dare
Your coins aren’t safe there
Let the user beware
Decentralize transactions
You’ll be better off
Or HODL your coins
And play some rounds of golf

Chorus

Acoustic Guitar Solo

Verse 5:
Investors are coming
With new ideas to try
Driving their Lambos
The limit’s the sky
SEC may stop some
IRS may stop more
But someday we’ll stop them
And show them the door

Verse 6:
New coins are programmed
And old coins bite dust
Let markets decide which
Currency to trust
Maybe someday
Bitcoin will fade away too
But ’till then I’ll sing
These Bitcoiner Blues

Chorus

Outro:
Bitcoiner Blues
The song of the hour
Sing along and
Fight the legacy power
Maybe someday
Bitcoin will fade away too
(But ’till then I’ll sing
These Bitcoiner Blues)x2

The Myth of Tremendous Government: A Reply to Mark Christensen

Everyone please welcome Darien Sumner, our fourth additional writer at Zeroth Position.

On July 23, Social Matter published an article by Mark Christensen titled “We Need Tremendous Government: Why Conservative Mythology Must Be Disrupted”. His contention is that modern conservatism has long been dominated by libertarians who want to shrink government purely for its own sake, with no attention paid to the costs or consequences. Conservatives, therefore, should rebel against this negative influence and get back to what he contends is the root of conservative thought: Making America Great Again. To do so, it is necessary to embrace the power of the state as a tool for advancing conservative interests. Unfortunately for Christensen, his quest to disrupt conservative mythology runs aground on three major flaws, which we will explore below.

What Christensen Gets Right

Christensen is far from wrong about everything. Indeed, he is highly perceptive on the subject of President Trump. He writes:

“The political leader of Republican America is a man with a very different message. In his journey to the White House, the words from Donald Trump’s mouth rang very different. Something like this: ‘I am a successful businessman. I have built great things and hired great people. The U.S. government is not successful and does not build things right now, but it used to. When I am in charge, I will use my tremendous ability to make it a success which builds great things once more. I will Make America Great Again.’”

This is a fairly accurate assessment, and it is a point that most commentators miss amidst their own axe-grinding: contra the wishful thinking of many libertarians who really ought to know better, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” platform has nothing whatsoever to do with limiting the scope of the power of the federal government (and, of course, contra the left, it has nothing to do with racism and Nazis). Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” is all about “America”—read: the United States government—building “great things.” It is not merely compatible with big government; it positively requires it.

In this, Christensen is exactly correct, and his own views appear to be entirely in sync with those of the president. Indeed, were his article merely about how Trumpian American greatness is a big government philosophy, there would be no problems with it. Sadly, he attempts to position this philosophy as the One True Conservatism, and thus goes astray.

Flaw #1: Historical Knowledge

Christensen does not appear to be very knowledgeable about the history of conservatism, which is a significant problem. Indeed, the opening of his article reads:

“Since the days of Reagan—and perhaps those of Buckley’s then-new conservative movement—conservatism has been plagued by a false doctrine about government, which shapes both ideological theory and electoral slogans.

It goes something like this: for a variety of social and economic reasons, government is incompetent, inferior, and a necessary evil insofar as it must exist at all. It’s bad. The grand vision of the conservative movement is to roll it back and restrict it in future by whatever means necessary.”

The idea that conservatism owes its origins to William Buckley is patently absurd, and we need not engage in murky attempts to attach anachronistic political labels to the Founding Fathers in order to demonstrate this. It is sufficient, rather, to point out that the origins of conservatism lie in a reaction against what was arguably the first major “progressive” movement: the French Revolution. The true father of conservatism (though, as far as is known, he never used the word) is widely regarded as Edmund Burke, and as good a summary of his thought as can be found comes from his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“But is it in destroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? Your mob can do this as well at least as your assemblies. The shallowest understanding, the rudest hand, is more than equal to that task. Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years. The errors and defects of old establishments are visible and palpable. It calls for little ability to point them out; and where absolute power is given, it requires but a word wholly to abolish the vice and the establishment together. The same lazy but restless disposition, which loves sloth and hates quiet, directs these politicians, when they come to work, for supplying the place of what they have destroyed. To make every thing the reverse of what they have seen is quite as easy as to destroy. No difficulties occur in what has never been tried. Criticism is almost baffled in discovering the defects of what has not existed; and eager enthusiasm, and cheating hope, have all the wide field of imagination in which they may expatiate with little or no opposition.”[1]

The essence of conservatism at its birth, then, was restraint upon the power of man to destroy that which exists and replace it with that he imagines to be superior. Even Joseph de Maistre, whom one may reasonably suspect of being more sympathetic to Christensen’s cause, called not for stronger or more dynamic government, but for stable and orderly government that certainly did not attempt to create “great things”:

“If perfection was an attribute of human nature, each legislator would speak only once: but, although all our works are imperfect and the sovereign is obliged to support political institutions with new laws to the degree that they become tainted, yet human legislation draws closer to its model by that intermittency of which I was just now speaking. Its repose honors it as much as its original action; the more it acts, the more human, that is to say fragile, are its achievements.

What a prodigious number of laws has resulted from the labors of three French National Assemblies!

From July 1st to October, 1791, the National Assembly passed 2,557

The Legislative Assembly passed, in eleven and a half months 1,712

The National Convention, from the first day of the Republic until 4 Brumaire year IV [October 26, 1795], passed in 57 months 11,210

TOTAL 15,479

I doubt if the three houses of the Kings of France have spawned a collection of such magnitude. Reflecting on this infinite number, two very different emotions are felt successively. The first is that of admiration or at least of astonishment; one is amazed, with Mr. Burke, that this nation, whose frivolity is a byword, has produced such obstinate workers. This structure of law is so huge that it takes the breath away. But astonishment must quickly change to pity when the futility of these laws is recalled, and then one sees only children killing each other to raise a house of cards.”[2]

Maistre was a monarchist, to be sure. However, he supported the monarchy not because he wanted a strong, dynamic leader with plans and visions for society, but because he believed, with quite a bit of evidence, that the monarch would keep things on an even keel:

“[T]he restoration of the Crown would weaken suddenly the whole machinery of the state. The black magic operating at this moment would vanish like a mist before the sun. Kindness, clemency, justice, all the gentle and peaceful virtues would suddenly reappear and bring back with them a certain general gentleness of character, a certain cheerfulness entirely opposed to the somber rigor of the revolutionary regime. No more requisitions, no more legal thefts, no more violence.”[3]

Modern American conservatism arose as a reaction against the rise of American Progressivism, which in turn was spawned by the revivalist movement of the mid-nineteenth century. As Murray Rothbard writes,

“The pietists were those who held that each individual, rather than the church or the clergy, was responsible for his own salvation. Salvation was a matter, not of following prescribed ritual or even of cleaving to a certain fixed creed, but rather of an intense emotional commitment or conversion experience by the individual, even to the extent of believing himself ‘born again’ in a special ‘baptism of grace.’ Moreover, the outward sign—the evidence to the rest of society for the genuineness and the permanence of a given individual’s conversion—was his continuing purity of behavior. And since each individual was responsible for his own salvation, the pietists concluded that society was duty-bound to aid each man in pursuing his salvation, in promoting his good behavior, and in seeing as best it could that he does not fall prey to temptation. The emphasis of the pietists was on converting the maximum number of persons, and in helping them to become and to remain sound.

Society, therefore, in the institution of the State, was to take it upon itself to aid the weaker brethren by various crusading actions of compulsory morality, and thus to purge the world of sin. The secular and the religious were to be conjoined. In the second half of the 19th century, the pietists concentrated on agitating for three such compulsory measures on the state and local level, to save liturgical ‘sinners’ despite themselves: Prohibition, to eradicate the sin of alcohol; Sunday blue laws, to prevent people from violating the Sabbath; and, increasingly toward the end of the century, compulsory public schooling to ‘Americanize’ the immigrants and ‘Christianize the Catholics’, and to use the schools to transform Catholics and immigrants (often one and the same) into pietistic Protestant and nativist molds.”[4]

We see in the pietists, then, the impulses that characterize a progressive: the desire to use the power of the state to compel everyone to live a moral life, and thus to “perfect” society, and, of course, the drive toward great “public works”. Indeed, it was the progressives who sought to “Make America Great Again” in the 19th century. The conservatives, meanwhile, were the poor liturgicals who mainly wanted those nosy Methodists to mind their own business. As Rothbard shows (drawing on the work of the late historian Paul Kleppner), the voting results line up exactly along those lines; in the regions of the country dominated by Catholics, high church Lutherans, and old-style Calvinists (the liturgical faiths), the laissez-faire, mind-your-own-business Democrats consistently come out on top, whereas the pietist regions predominantly elected busybody Republicans. Prior to the election of 1892, the expected party roles were reversed; it is no coincidence that Theodore Roosevelt, the first progressive president, came out of the Republican Party.

It takes but a cursory glance at history to determine that the conservative skepticism of big government does not originate from Ronald Reagan’s stump speeches, and the conservative movement altogether does not owe its origins to William F. Buckley, the man who arguably more than any other, is responsible for turning it into progressivism with a cigar and a monocle. Rothbard writes,

“[T]ake one of Buckley’s early efforts, ‘A Young Republican’s View’, published in Commonweal, January 25, 1952. Buckley began the article in unexceptionable libertarian fashion, affirming that the enemy is the State, and endorsing the view of Herbert Spencer that the State is ‘begotten of aggression and by aggression.’ Buckley also contributed excellent quotations from such leading individualists of the past as H.L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock, and criticized the Republican Party for offering no real alternative to the burgeoning of statism. But then in the remainder of the article he gave the case away, for there loomed the alleged Soviet menace, and all libertarian principles had to go by the board for the duration. Thus, Buckley declared that the ‘thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union’ imminently threatens American security, and that therefore ‘we have to accept Big Government for the duration—for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged . . . except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.’ In short, a totalitarian bureaucracy must be accepted so long as the Soviet Union exists (presumably for its alleged threat of imposing upon us a totalitarian bureaucracy?). In consequence, Buckley concluded that we must all support ‘the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy,’ as well as ‘large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington—even with Truman at the reins of it all.’ Thus, even at his most libertarian, even before Buckley came to accept Big Government and morality laws as ends in themselves, the pretended National Review ‘fusion’ between liberty and order, between individualism and anti-Communism, was a phony—the individualist and libertarian part of the fusion was strictly rhetorical, to be saved for abstract theorizing and after-dinner discourse. The guts of the New Conservatism was the mobilization of Big Government for the worldwide crusade against Communism”.[5]

This was the Buckleyite doctrine from the very beginning: a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. Surely the idea that Buckley’s ‘conservatism’ was just too small-government is patently absurd.

We see, therefore, that there is no merit to the claims that small-government philosophy somehow infiltrated conservatism during the Reagan years or through the work of Buckley. Indeed, the very origins of conservatism were in push-back against activist government attempting to “build great things” and produce “virtuous people”. If we jettison the historical errors and, with them, the pretense that the drive for a super-state is somehow going to return conservatism to its roots, we are still left with an article making the case for big government in a conservative guise. There are, however, flaws more grave than the historical errors cited above that sink the entire project.

Flaw #2: Philosophical Confusion

Christensen writes,

“Let’s first reframe the concept of competent government. After all, the concept depends heavily on one’s concept of a good society. Precluding the debates of moral philosophy, let’s state that a society is good when it produces virtuous people, cultural genius and beauty, and economic prosperity. By extension, a government is good when it provides the support for society to achieve such things. Now let’s ask the pertinent question: is it big government or small government which best achieves these things?”

This question cuts right to the heart of the matter. Christensen assumes a set of criteria for determining whether or not a government is “good”, which I will grant for the purposes of this rebuttal. He then asks whether big or small government is most likely to be “good”. Granted, his very next sentence—“[o]f course, the question is ridiculous”—almost throws the entire thing away; not only is that question not ridiculous, it is the entire core of the argument! If big government does not do a better job of being “good”, then what on earth would be its purpose? Surely a smaller, less expensive government capable of achieving the same or a greater level of “goodness” would be preferable; why would one not choose the less expensive means of identically achieving one’s ends?

Having thus thrown away most of his cards, Christensen is left in the unenviable position of having to argue that, while big government may not be more “good” in general, it is obviously more “good” in certain specific circumstances:

“The United States achieved domestic development in the 19th century with relatively free trade within and protectionist tariffs without—a policy mix which would alarm both libertarian Republicans and Clintonian Democrats. On the other hand, China is achieving it through massive government involvement via state-owned enterprises. We can find examples of government which failed: for example, American alcohol prohibition. We can also point out many circumstances where the problem has been a lack of competent government: here we have the border crisis and a heroin epidemic.”

Notice how slippery this is. The phrasing “lack of competent government” is carefully chosen to suggest that what is needed is more government; after all, if one lacks good water, the solution is to get more water, but if one’s yard is full of garbage, more garbage will exacerbate the problem. A cursory glance at these examples, however, should be enough to demonstrate that neither of the success stories is a tale of positive government action, and none of the failures would be solved by adding additional government.

While it cannot be denied that domestic development occurred in 19th-century America, no clear connection between that development and the protectionist tariffs is apparent. This is not to say that it is in any way odd that development would occur with tariffs in place; no serious argument has ever been advanced claiming that the existence of any tariff somehow prevents all economic development, merely that the existence of a tariff hampers economic development relative to what it would have been without the tariff. As Robert P. Murphy explains,

“In the long run, a country pays for its imports by exports. If the U.S. government makes it harder for Americans to buy Japanese cars, this will boost employment and production in Detroit. But if Americans spend less on Japanese cars, then the Japanese have fewer dollars with which to buy American exports, such as wheat. Thus, the U.S. government tariff doesn’t boost industry or create jobs on net but merely rearranges production and employment patterns. What’s worse, the rearrangement leaves Americans and Japanese poorer, on average, because labor has been diverted in both countries into lines where it is less productive, all things considered.”[6] [Emphasis original]

While the tariffs certainly benefited some people and some industries in the United States—those who were facing direct competition from cheaper or superior imports—they were a net harm to the development of the nation, even notwithstanding the fact that a disastrous war would eventually be fought over them.[7]

The example of China is often given to support the notion of state-created prosperity, but this example, placed into any type of context, is highly perverse. China is saddled with a “tremendous government”, and that government intervenes mightily into the economy, but China has also recently emerged from total communism—surely the move to the current “state capitalism” model represents a radical reduction in the level of government economic control! The fact that Chinese prosperity has increased alongside the move toward economic freedom is hardly shocking, though it should also be noted that the China boom has a number of serious problems caused explicitly by the government’s involvement; from the centrally-planned development of hundreds of empty cities[8] to the creation of a giant lake of radioactive poison[9], it is not hard to come by examples of truly grotesque mismanagement. Chinese prosperity is also highly overrated; to a great extent, it is built on a vast pile of debt, as China’s debt-to-GDP ratio now exceeds 300%.[10] In all, there are many signs present that the vast government China does possess is smothering the life out of the emerging prosperity.

We covered alcohol prohibition earlier in discussing the origins of American conservatism, though the border crisis has something significant in common with it: it is a problem that literally would not exist in the absence of government, and one does not need to be an open-borders advocate to see this. In a libertarian social order with fully privatized borders, immigration decisions would be localized to the greatest extent possible. Those who wished to allow open immigration could do so, but only onto their own property, and those who wished to forbid it could defend their own property precisely as they would against any other invasion. There would be nothing mystical about immigration that would make it any different from any other border crossing, of which number our daily lives are absolutely full. The only factors that complicate the border situation and turn it into a crisis are the one-size-fits-all border control approaches dictated by remote bureaucrats and the vast array of aggressions they will commit against the existing citizenry on behalf of the incoming immigrants. Those are problems of the state and by the state.

The heroin epidemic, on the other hand, is a genuinely perverse example; if anywhere there is a case of maximal government, the heroin epidemic is that case. The US government prohibits the sale, possession, or consumption of heroin and provides truly draconian penalties for violating this prohibition: up to thirty years of imprisonment and $50,000 in fines per count.[11] Not only this, but it is itself the world’s leading possessor, seller, and manufacturer of the drug:

[I]n Afghanistan…the first local drug lords on an international scale–Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abu Rasul Sayyaf–were in fact launched internationally as a result of massive and ill-advised assistance from the CIA, in conjunction with the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. While other local resistance forces were accorded second-class status, these two clients of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, precisely because they lacked local support, pioneered the use of opium and heroin to build up their fighting power and financial resources…

CIA involvement in the drug trade hardly began with its involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war. To a certain degree, the CIA’s responsibility for the present dominant role of Afghanistan in the global heroin traffic merely replicated what had happened earlier in Burma, Thailand, and Laos between the late 1940s and the 1970s. These countries also only became factors in the international drug traffic as a result of CIA assistance (after the French, in the case of Laos) to what would otherwise have been only local traffickers…

In this same period the CIA recruited assets along the smuggling routes of the Asian opium traffic as well, in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Italy, France, Cuba, Honduras, and Mexico. These assets have included government officials like Manuel Noriega of Panama or Vladimiro Montesinos of Peru, often senior figures in CIA-assisted police and intelligence services. But they have also included insurrectionist movements, ranging from the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s to (according to Robert Baer and Seymour Hersh) the al-Qaeda-linked Jundallah, operating today in Iran and Baluchistan…

Perhaps the best example of such CIA influence via drug traffickers today is in Afghanistan itself, where those accused of drug trafficking include President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai (an active CIA asset), and Abdul Rashid Dostum (a former CIA asset).[12]

Given that the US government is the producer and trafficker of the heroin, and the institution that prohibits, polices, and punishes private use and distribution of the heroin, it is difficult to see what possible further role there could be for government in the heroin epidemic. This is another case of government run badly amok, and the solution, once again, is to eliminate it.

Christensen has one more example to point to in his attempt to show the folly of small government, and it is a doozy:

“We can even point to the financial crisis of 2008 as a perfect storm of incompetence: government was involved in the worst places (like encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them), while failing to govern precisely those areas which needed it (deregulation of a variety of financial devices and a pathetic bailout deal in the aftermath).”

The only part of this that is at all correct is the statement that “encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them” was in fact a failure of government. Everything else here is almost entirely counter to reality. Deregulation, as commonly understood and clearly as intended here, played no role in the financial crisis; the repealed portion of the Glass-Steagall Act, that piece of repealed legislation generally pointed to as the “deregulation” that brought on the financial crisis, did nothing but prohibit investment banks from taking demand deposits, and vice-versa.[13] Clearly this had nothing whatsoever to do with the financial crisis. Indeed, the only type of deregulation that was involved in the crisis was the type that allowed banks to take greater investment risks with a guarantee that the taxpayers would be forced to absorb the losses. In other words: the deregulation that led to the crisis was nothing more than a restatement of “encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them”—an action that certainly was not caused both by too much and too little government involvement! As Thomas Woods explains,

“Commercial bank deposits are insured by the federal government up to $100,000 (and, temporarily, up to $250,000). Any ‘deregulation’ of the banking system that permits the banks to take greater risks while maintaining government (that is, taxpayer) insurance of their deposits is not genuine deregulation from a free-market point of view.

When the moral hazard of deposit insurance is combined with the ‘too big to fail’ mentality, which will not allow large institutions to fail, the result (a conclusion compelled by common sense and bolstered by recent research) is that banks will take on considerably more risk than they would if they were subject to genuine market pressures.”[14][Emphasis original]

And what to make of the complaint of the “pathetic” bailout deal? Note carefully its inclusion under “failure to govern”; are we to conclude that the $700 billion in taxpayer money spent to preserve the monthly bonuses of a handful of bankers was insufficient? Is Christensen somehow reaching the madcap conclusion that, if only the government were more involved in the banking sector, the bailout never would have happened?

The remaining error in the above passage underlines the final large pothole in which Christensen finds himself.

Flaw #3: The Nature of the State

To recap:

“We can even point to the financial crisis of 2008 as a perfect storm of incompetence.”

We can do that, yes, but to do so is to look directly away from the truth. There was no incompetence involved whatsoever. The American financial sector, with the help of the federal government, had spent almost a hundred years building itself a rigged casino in which it literally could not lose. The financial crisis, far from reflecting any incompetence, demonstrated the amazing competence with which the system was designed. Everything went wrong—the wheels fell completely off—and the bets paid out anyway on the backs of the taxpayer, and even in the face of overwhelming, nearly-unanimous taxpayer opposition.

“[The] alleged threat to millions of policyholders was a beard—behind which stood the handful of giant financial institutions which had purchased what amounted to wagering insurance from the AIG holding company.

To be sure, AIG’s giant financial customers like Bank of America or Société Générale had not reached their tremendous girth due to their prowess as legitimate free market enterprises. They were lumbering wards of the state and…products of the cheap debt, moral hazard, and serial speculative bubbles being fostered by the Fed and other central banks. Not surprisingly, therefore, they were now desperately petitioning the treasury secretary for help in collecting their gambling debts from AIG.

Needless to say, Paulson did not hesitate to throw the weight of the public purse into the arena on behalf of these gamblers, because it resulted in an immediate boost to the stock price of Goldman Sachs and the remnants of Wall Street. Hank Paulson thus desecrated the rules of the free market, and for the most deplorable of reasons: namely, to make Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and the rest of the banking giants whole on gambling claims which had been incurred to carry out an end run around regulatory standards in the first place.”[15]

Surely there was no incompetence about this; there was only cold, calculated evil. This was not a series of innocent errors, but an intentional and callous plundering of the American people. Yet this is hardly an isolated example; it is not through incompetence that the government roads are terrible, but by design: only if the roads are unsatisfactory and lethal can the road bureaucrats increase their share of the power and pelf. It is not merest happenstance that the government schools are constantly becoming more expensive and less educational. It is not due to a lack of resources that the government’s wars drag on into eternity. “Incompetence” is the cover the government hides behind to obscure the fact that its very nature is to fail; the roads are terrible, the schools are terrible, the wars are a loss—why, they must all need more money and a greater priority in civic life, then!

One could surely advance the argument here, and not without merit, that these problems are a feature of democracy, and would be put to rest under a monarchic government. While I surely concede, following Maistre and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, that a monarchy would be far less damaging than a democracy, it would still suffer from the same problems, merely to a lesser degree. Any command activity—any action undertaken by the state—will of necessity be arbitrary and bureaucratic, as it cannot be guided by market incentives and the profit motive. Bureaucrats will rule in a monarchy as they do in a democracy, though likely to a lesser extent. No king can change this, for as Ludwig von Mises writes,

“As he lacks ubiquity, he must delegate a part of his power to subordinates. They are, in their districts, his deputies, acting in his name and under his auspices. In fact they become local despots only nominally subject to the mighty overlord who has appointed them. They rule their provinces according to their own will, they become satraps. The great king has the power to discharge them and to appoint a successor. But that is no remedy either. The new governor also soon becomes an almost independent satrap. What some critics wrongly assert with regard to representative democracy, namely, that the people is sovereign only on election day, is literally true with regard to such a system of despotism; the king is sovereign in the provinces only on the day he appoints a new governor.”[16]

Falling into the trap of believing that the government suffers from insufficient competence, and that this competence deficit can be cured by more government, is the means by which virtually all people throughout history have acquiesced to tyranny. At first it works; “great things” are built. The strong man makes the trains run on time. That is the bait; the initial “fix” one gets for free. Beyond this point lies nothing but an endless cynical game in which we are not the players—we are the prize.

Policy Proposals

Having thus cleared away the underlying philosophy, it may seem unnecessary to rebut Christensen’s policy ideas as well, but for one thing: the possibility remains that Christensen, though his premises are faulty, has nonetheless arrived at the correct conclusion. His proposals therefore still need to be dealt with on their own merit. He writes,

“The lesson is clear: big versus small government ranges from inaccurate to useless as a metric for policy-making. The bias either tilts toward government involvement in unnecessary areas or its absence in necessary ones. This is even true if we are considering things in purely economic terms. A pure devotion to free markets ignores political questions such as preserving cultural sovereignty and maintaining good relations between social classes. Meanwhile, the opposite tendency interferes with the ability of productive people and companies to work without the restraints of red tape; this is why modern Chinese socialism has taken advantage of policies such as special economic zones while preserving the state’s active role. We must demand a more substantive metric: competent government.”

It is odd to see the line “big versus small government ranges from inaccurate to useless as a metric for policy-making” in an article entitled “We Need Tremendous Government”. How can one assert both of these things? If the size of the government is truly so meaningless, why claim that we need it not only to be significant, but “tremendous”?

Notwithstanding that, the language of the rest of this passage is exceedingly slippery. It is tacitly asserted that “preserving cultural sovereignty and maintaining good relations between social classes” is a function of the state, and that those who wish to have less of the state are therefore unconcerned with culture and social peace, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Far from ignoring such questions, we argue that the state is the wrong answer to them. Social peace and cultural sovereignty are best served by the minimization (or absence) of the state: that institution that preserves its own power by debasing the culture with its bread and circuses, and by destroying social peace through the divide et impera strategy—pitting the people against each other to keep them distracted and disorganized.

It is similarly perverse to describe the effects of socialism—the opposite of devotion to free markets—as “interfer[ing] with the ability of productive people and companies to work without the restraints of red tape”. This glib phrasing makes it sound as though a century of socialism had produced a handful of minor inconveniences for businessmen; so many forms to fill out! The reality of it is considerably less pleasant: impoverishment on a truly unbelievable scale, environmental catastrophes vastly worse than anything seen in the “free world”, and over 100 million deaths.[17] Christensen continues,

“Ironically, the conservative disdain for government has often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is that much of American government truly has become inept. But being a dominant power between two oceans, America has perhaps failed to check if this holds true elsewhere. In fact, there are many examples of competent government to be found. We need not even limit ourselves to the small-state powerhouses like Singapore and Switzerland. In a matter of decades, the Chinese state has achieved massive industrialization, the establishment of political norms and institutions after a chaotic era, extensive geopolitical power, and the lifting up of two hundred million souls from poverty. We can point to Poland, which has achieved tremendous economic growth that it has effectively translated into political clout within Europe, pursuing its own vision informed by Polish and Catholic values, rather than those of Brussels. Not just competent but even (dare we say?) dynamic and accomplished government is eminently possible. So why has it so often failed at all levels of American life: city, state, and federal?”

We have discussed the case of China already, and Christensen mentions but looks past the examples of Singapore and Switzerland, so we are left with Poland as his exemplar of big government being beneficial. But this example contains its own refutation; Poland, as Christensen acknowledges, is asserting its own interests against those of the European Union. This is a secessionist act. This is a smaller, more localized political unit asserting its independence from the super-state that allegedly rules it. Far from being an example of big government leading to competence and greatness, the case of Poland at most illustrates the principles of federalism—a smaller, more local government is pushing against the unwanted behavior of a larger government. The analogy is not to the United States government expanding its power in the world, but to one of the individual states deciding to go its own way. Indeed, one could argue that the reason efforts like this have so often failed in the United States is exactly because of the large, powerful federal government.

The case of Poland is remarkably similar to the Nullification Crisis. On November 24, 1832, the state of South Carolina adopted the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring that the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were null and void inside the state of South Carolina. This is quite of a piece with Poland’s recent rejection of EU mandates that run counter to the interests of Poland, with both South Carolina and Poland asserting their own local interests in the face of the “greater good” being dictated to them by bigger governments. As Thomas Jefferson wrote earlier of this idea,

“[T]he several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes—delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force…”[18]

If this is not a rejection of “tremendous government” to achieve “great works”, then nothing is, and this describes the current behavior of Poland precisely.

Not long ago, different states had different legal drinking ages, different speed limits, and a whole host of other local rules and customs that varied across the nation. Many of these are now uniform. This happened not as the result of reasoned discourse and competent evaluation, but as the result of naked force applied from Washington. It is surely not outside the realm of possibility that the different circumstances in different states warrant different rules; driving in Alaska is a different experience from driving in Nebraska. If we accept that government should set rules for driving in the first place, does it not stand to reason that the state of Alaska is more competent to establish rules for driving in Alaska than is the federal government, thousands of miles away? It would seem once again that bigness of government and competence of government are at odds with one another. Christensen writes,

“American political life has long suffered from a focus on means to the exclusion of ends. The most obvious example of this is the privileged position of the U.S. Constitution in moral and political life. Of course, many countries have great respect for their constitutions. But few if any treat theirs with the sheer awe and sacral emotion with which American conservatism treats that of the United States. Progressives have always seen the Constitution more as something to be expanded and fleshed out with the changing of the times, which is perhaps why they have managed to cement so many more of their political victories in law. It is easier to change society by writing new norms than by trying to repeal them.”

Actually, conservatives everywhere traditionally regard constitutions with a great deal of respect, if not veneration. A constitution, properly understood, is not merely a paper containing the daily whimsy of the ruling class. To quote Maistre:

“Modern philosophy is at one and the same time too materialistic and too presumptuous to see the real springs of action in politics. One of its follies is to believe that an assembly can constitute a nation, that a constitution, that is to say, the totality of fundamental laws which suit a nation and should give it a certain form of government, is an artifact like any other, requiring only intelligence, knowledge, and practice, that the job of constitution-making can be learned, and that, the moment they think about it, men can say to other men, Make us a government, as a workman is told, Make us a fire engine or a loom

If a man of goodwill, relying only on good sense and rectitude, asks what the old French constitution was, the straightforward reply can be given: ‘It is what you felt when you were in France: it is the mixture of liberty and authority, law and opinion, that made the foreign traveler in France believe that he was living under a government different from his own.’”[19] [Emphasis original]

The primary reason that few people nowadays hold constitutions in much regard is, of course, precisely because of the desire for political expedience championed here by Christensen. As Maistre understood it, a proper constitution was not a bill enacted by a legislative body, nor was it a fiat declared by a king. Rather, a constitution was an organic outgrowth of the culture and the society, and it defined and delineated what form the government should take. As such, it was not subject to breezy legislative overwriting; indeed, in Maistre’s view, a constitution should not even exist as a written document, since to write it down is to invite amendments devised by the minds of men.

The notions that the constitution should be given only symbolic value, and that it should even be conceivable “to change society by writing new norms”, are the essence of progressivism. Writing new norms is nothing more or less than the old pietist drive to perfect man through the power of the state. Christensen continues,

“Even for such fundamental questions as demographics, the nature of marriage, and the involvement of money in elections, the question of the common good appears to have often been absent. What was important was whether the policies around these issues aligned with the Constitution or not, the moral worldview behind them being of little consequence.”

It is one thing to suggest that the goodness of one’s means is irrelevant if said means fail to achieve a desirable end, but it is quite another to suggest that the goodness of means is irrelevant as long as a good end is reached. Yet:

“Conservatives have traditionally been so devoted to ideas like property and markets that they have aided their most ardent enemies in the process. For example, conservative voices rallied during Citizens United to protect independent spending from corporations and unions on political speech. This, despite the fact that many of America’s largest corporations back globalist free trade agreements and HR-mandated progressive norms that would make Hillary Clinton raise an eyebrow.”

If we are to abandon respect for property and markets, what is there to fear from “globalist free trade agreements”? I suspect the forest is being lost for the trees. Surely it is preferable to live under a government that enacts crony state capitalist deals but otherwise does not interfere with property and markets than it is to live in a society in which property and markets are abrogated. We need not even speculate; this is the precise situation in modern China, which was earlier being celebrated as a grand success.

Recall Christensen’s definition of good government given earlier: a government that enables “virtuous people, cultural genius and beauty, and economic prosperity”. I trust it has been sufficiently demonstrated that economic prosperity depends on property and markets. The other two conditions do as well.

“Cultural genius”, if the term has any meaning, no doubt refers to high art, sophistication, and refinement. Which societies in history have produced the best art and culture—those with relatively high respect for property and markets, or those with relatively low respect? Sparta certainly produced a highly efficient, effective government, but produced so little cultural genius that the word spartan is present in the lexicon meaning “marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort”. Athens, meanwhile, is still today considered a high point in the history of world culture. I trust the reader knows which of these states respected property and markets and which did not. With no art and no culture, the only beauty that can exist is the incidental; the beauty of a rainbow, or of a sunset. Man can encourage or develop beauty only by encouraging and developing culture.

How are we to define a people that is virtuous? Plato, of course, filled volumes attempting to answer that very question. For our purposes, I propose a very simple, basic definition: people are virtuous who respect the rights of others and the norms of their society. A society that denies property rights, however, puts those two conditions in conflict with one another, as Rothbard explains:

“[T]he concept of ‘rights’ only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard…

In short, a person does not have a ‘right to freedom of speech’; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a ‘right to freedom of the press’; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra ‘right of free speech’ or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case.”[20] [Emphasis original]

There is no means of understanding rights that does not reduce to property; any other way of defining rights leads to unresolvable conflicts. As such, if one lives in a society that does not respect property rights, one cannot, by definition, respect any rights of one’s neighbors without violating cultural norms. It thus becomes difficult to see how one can jettison property and markets while retaining Christensen’s “good government”. Christensen writes,

“Red and blue America began with two different ideologies, each with a different agenda in the legal realm. Red America from the 1970s onward became committed to a philosophy of negative rights and the shrinking or decentralizing of government.”

Is this truly the case? If so, it becomes impossible to view Red America as having had any impact whatsoever on the country. The government has ballooned and centralized at an alarming rate over that period. If Red America means the Republican Party, then clearly there is no truth to the claim. However, the Republicans are responsible for some of the most outrageous expansions and centralizations of state power, from the closing of the gold window in 1971[21] to Medicare Part D and the USA PATRIOT Act. The idea that Republicans are the party of small government is laughable.

If not the Republican Party, then are we referring to the ordinary people in “flyover country”? It seems a severe stretch of credibility to describe such a broad swath of people as being committed to any particular philosophy. Christensen continues,

“Blue America was committed to the pursuit of positive rights and an activist government pursuing social issues (although we should note that by Clinton’s era it had abandoned economic ones). These translated into competing moral visions. Ironically, both are quite grounded in a version of individualism and freedom from coercion. But for the former this is a civic individualism and economic freedom, while for the latter this is a social individualism and moral freedom. The former subverts the political state while the latter subverts the moral community. America will not survive either tendency.”

This is the final argument raised, though it is merely asserted; neither logic nor evidence is provided to support the idea that America will not survive the subversion of the political state, which seems a bit difficult to accept when one considers that political states are subverted on a fairly regular basis, yet I am at pains to identify the last nation that failed to survive it. Indeed, America itself was born from the subversion of an existing political state!

The nation itself and the people taken as a whole are resilient. What is fragile is a given cultural order, and, indeed, the biggest threat American culture faces comes not from enemies in the Middle East, nor from some type of causeless malaise, but from active government programs specifically designed to disrupt it. From the welfare system and its destruction of the black family[22] to ceaseless militarism, from the constant attempts to push new sexual perversions into the mainstream to the CIA’s deliberate destruction of American art and culture[23], the federal government is that agency most likely to destroy the social order. Conservatives—who are meant to care about culture and tradition, after all—should be standing against this, not celebrating it.

Christensen’s next passage reads eerily like Theodore Roosevelt, a man who had no fondness for the Constitution when it interfered with his political goals and often declared that the federal government must intervene to mobilize resources and put them at the service of the people:

“American political life must regain a vision of the common good which the legal and political structures are tools to achieve. In other words, it must embrace a standard against which to judge the Constitution… America is a country of wealth with a huge population. It deserves a political order which can properly mobilize these resources and put them at the service of its families and its visionaries.”

Now Roosevelt:

“The object of the Government is to dispose of the land to settlers who will build homes upon it. To accomplish this object water must be brought within their reach.

The pioneer settlers on the arid public domain chose their homes along streams from which they could themselves divert the water to reclaim their holdings. Such opportunities are practically gone. There remain, however, vast areas of public land which can be made available for homestead settlement, but only by reservoirs and main-line canals impracticable for private enterprise. These irrigation works should be built by the National Government. The lands reclaimed by them should be reserved by the Government for actual settlers, and the cost of construction should so far as possible be repaid by the land reclaimed. The distribution of the water, the division of the streams among irrigators, should be left to the settlers themselves in conformity with State laws and without interference with those laws or with vested fights. The policy of the National Government should be to aid irrigation in the several States and Territories in such manner as will enable the people in the local communities to help themselves, and as will stimulate needed reforms in the State laws and regulations governing irrigation.

The reclamation and settlement of the arid lands will enrich every portion of our country, just as the settlement of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys brought prosperity to the Atlantic States. The increased demand for manufactured articles will stimulate industrial production, while wider home markets and the trade of Asia will consume the larger food supplies and effectually prevent Western competition with Eastern agriculture. Indeed, the products of irrigation will be consumed chiefly in upbuilding local centers of mining and other industries, which would otherwise not come into existence at all. Our people as a whole will profit, for successful home- making is but another name for the upbuilding of the nation.”[24]

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, was America’s first truly progressive president. Christensen concludes,

“In order for the healthiest segments of the conservative movement to move forward, it is vital that they embrace the power and institutions of government. They must be seen not only as a necessary evil, but as a positive good. The shocking paradigm shift of 2016 will be of little use if national and sovereigntist forces refuse to use the very tools which they now control. They can rest assured that the forces of neoliberalism will not.”

Shorn of its philosophical underpinnings, having failed to provide any evidence linking big government to the creation of the good society, our final policy proposal devolves into a purely defensive move: conservatives must use the power of the state to the maximum extent in a simple attempt to counterbalance progressives doing the same. I would suggest that it does not work that way; increases in government are cumulative, not competitive. When the Democrats controlled the government during the Obama years and granted unprecedented new powers to themselves, those powers did not dissipate when the Republicans took back the reins. Similarly, if conservatives now embrace big government and grant it a whole plethora of new powers, the progressives will inherit those same powers the next time they are in charge. A much better idea if one wishes to defend against progressive overreach is to work to reduce—even to eliminate—those very powers. That way, one does not hand one’s ideological enemies the ammunition they need.

If history is to be any guide, it shows us that no dynasty lasts forever. Even if the progressives are vanquished forever, are we to assume there will be no new enemies to guard against? Are we to assume that future generations of great leaders will be wise and incorruptible? This was not the assumption made of the monarchs of which Burke and Maistre wrote fondly. They wrote of kings who were a source of stability—whose personal interests were served by the maintenance of justice, peace, and tradition, and who, as such, kept society insulated from would-be great men and their utopian visions.

Conclusion

“Unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.”[25]

In writing the above words, with their strong echoes of Edmund Burke’s rebuke of the French revolutionaries, Frédéric Bastiat puts to rest the notion that “we need tremendous government”. The more force society places at the disposal of the unscrupulous, the more the law will become perverted. The more the law becomes perverted, the more we are all at the mercy of those who see us as nothing more than chattel. The drive to repose more and more power in the hands of strongmen in the hope that they will use it to create a “good society” is antithetical to conservative principles and doomed to fail.

References:

  1. Burke, Edmund (1790). Reflections on the Revolution in France.
  2. de Maistre, Joseph (1796). Considerations on France. (Jack Lively, trans.)
  3. Ibid.
  4. Rothbard, Murray N. (2017). The Progressive Era. Mises Institute. Ch. 4.
  5. Rothbard, Murray N. (2007). The Betrayal of the American Right. Mises Institute. p. 158–9.
  6. Murphy, Robert P. (2015). Choice. Independent Institute. p. 282–3.
  7. DiLorenzo, Thomas J. (2006). Lincoln’s Tariff War [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.mises.org.
  8. Mallonee, Laura (2016). “The Unreal, Eerie Emptiness of China’s ‘Ghost Cities’”. Wired.
  9. Maughan, Tim (2015). “The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust”. BBC.
  10. Durden, Tyler (2018). “China’s Economy is Held Together by Capital Controls. If Those Fail, the Whole System Fails”. ZeroHedge.
  11. LaMance, Ken (2018). Heroin State and Federal Penalties. Retrieved from http://www.legalmatch.com
  12. Scott, Peter Dale (2010). Opium, the CIA, and the Karzai Administration”. The Asia-Pacific Journal, volume 8, issue 14, number 5.
  13. Pearlstein, Steven (2012). “Shattering the Glass-Steagall Myth”. Washington Post.
  14. Woods, Thomas E. (2009). Meltdown. Regnery. p. 46.
  15. Stockman, David A. (2013). The Great Deformation: the Corruption of Capitalism in America. PublicAffairs. p. 9.
  16. Von Mises, Ludwig (1944). Bureaucracy. Yale University Press. p. 40.
  17. Courtois, Stéphane, et al (1999). The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press. (Mark Kramer and Jonathan Murphy, trans.)
  18. Jefferson, Thomas (1798). The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Rothbard, Murray N. (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press. p. 113–4.
  21. Foss, Paul-Martin (2016). “Today in 1971: President Nixon Closes the Gold Window”. Retrieved from http://www.mises.org
  22. Chiles, Nick (2014). “7 Ways the War on Poverty Destroyed Black Fatherhood”. Atlanta Black Star.
  23. Saunders, Frances S. (1995). Modern Art was CIA ‘weapon.’ Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk
  24. Roosevelt, Theodore (1901). State of the Union address.
  25. Bastiat, Frédéric (1850). The Law (Dean Russell, trans.).

Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons: Minimum Wage

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Since its first enactment in New Zealand in 1894[1], minimum wage laws have interfered with the market process of determining the price of labor. Such laws now exist in most countries. Proponents claim that a minimum wage improves living standards and worker morale while reducing inequality and poverty.[2] Libertarians and conservatives have tried ad nauseum to oppose the existence or increase of the minimum wage,[3,4] to little avail. It is therefore necessary to try a different approach. Let us see how minimum wage hikes can undermine the legacy economic system, and thus why one might agree with statists for the wrong reasons.

A minimum wage law makes it illegal to hire laborers for less than a specified rate of payment per unit time. In order to justify paying an employee a given amount, the employer must be getting at least that much value from the employee. (In practice, an employee must be more valuable due to the overhead cost of running a business.) Raising the minimum wage thus renders unemployed anyone who cannot be sufficiently productive to be worth paying the higher wage. Laissez-faire advocates tend to consider this effect as a negative, but perhaps it is not. The people left unemployed by a minimum wage hike can be the types of people that statists claim to want to help, but they also can be political enemies of liberty as well as foreign migrants. Raising the minimum wage can protect domestic workers from competition and demographic displacement while depriving leftist activists of their day jobs. This will shift the political landscape away from socialism.

That being said, other humans are not the only competition around. Automation of jobs that were once performed by humans has long been occurring and is poised to continue. Minimum wage laws can give robots an advantage by pricing all humans out of the market in certain occupations. This frees people to engage in more fulfilling activities, at least until the silicon hordes come for those too. Some people may not find another occupation, but this presents its own opportunity for the anti-statist. The lower the percentage of labor force participation, the more people will sign up for state welfare programs. Contrary to mainstream libertarian thinking, this is a good thing. It is politically impossible to reform or abolish such programs because voters will remove from office anyone who tries to keep them from living off of the public treasury. What can be done is to overload and collapse the welfare state, and one method of doing this is to raise the minimum wage high enough to leave vast numbers of people unemployed. Though such an overload was originally a leftist plan to initiate universal basic income, there is reason to believe that such a program would be even worse for society over the long term. The civil unrest that would eventually occur once that program fails as well is an opportunity that libertarians can utilize if they prepare for it properly.

For people who can still find work with a higher minimum wage, there is another effect that harms the establishment. The long march through the institutions performed by leftists, followed by their use of academic power to push their agenda, is recognized as a serious problem by all of their opponents. One way to combat this problem is to present would-be university students with more attractive options. For intelligent people, higher entry-level salaries can make bypassing a degree and going straight into the workforce the best option, which would deprive Marxist professors of young people to indoctrinate. Additionally, the student loan crisis can be mitigated by not creating as much debt in the first place.

Many critics of minimum wage laws point to the price increases that must result, as a price floor on wages is an additional cost of production which must be passed on to the consumer. While this may make life more difficult for the poorest people, it would also discourage degenerate consumerism in favor of low time preference behavior. Production would thus be oriented toward eucivic goods rather than crass desires. The increase in saving could be used to fund investments, and the rising price inflation would encourage this rather than hoarding fiat currency.

Last but not least, if people cannot make ends meet in the state-sanctioned economy, then they will look for alternatives. A ban on employing people for less pay than a legal minimum is also a ban on workers selling their labor for less than that amount. But as with any other law that criminalizes a good or service that is in demand, the trade is not stopped but driven underground. This would be a boon to the informal economy in general and the cryptocurrency movement in particular. Raising the minimum wage to push people in this direction would reduce tax revenues, which in turn would increase national debts to the point of forcing spending cuts or hyperinflation. Again, the system is pathologically incapable of being reformed, so change must be imposed by external means of this sort. Either outcome would hasten the demise of the current system and usher in a new economic and social order.

Minimum wage laws are one of the most onerous statist interventions into the market economy, but like many other government programs, they usually achieve the opposite of their stated purpose. However, the aforementioned effects will be more destructive to the establishment than to the cause of liberty, so let us support raising the minimum wage to absurdly high levels for the wrong reasons.

References:

  1. American Academy of Political and Social Science. “The Cost of Living”. Philadelphia, 1913.
  2. “Should We Raise The Minimum Wage?”. The Perspective. Aug. 30, 2017.
  3. Black, John (Sep. 18, 2003). Oxford Dictionary of Economics. Oxford University Press. p. 300.
  4. “The Young and the Jobless.” The Wall Street Journal. Oct. 3, 2009.

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