Friday, June 15, 2007

Stateless Dictatorships: How a Free Society Prevents the Re-emergence of a Government

By far the most common objection to the idea of a stateless society is the belief that one or more private Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) would overpower all the others and create a new government. This belief is erroneous at every conceivable level, but has a kind of rugged persistence that is almost admirable.

Here is the general objection:

In a society without a government, whatever agencies arise to help resolve disputes will inevitably turn into a replacement government. These agencies may initially start as competitors in a free market, but as time goes by, one will arise to dominate all the others militarily, and thus impose a new state upon the population. The instability and violence that this civil war will inflict upon the population is far worse than any existing democratic state structure. Thus a stateless society is far too risky an experiment, since we will just end up with a government again anyway!

This objection to an anarchic social structure is considered self-evident, and thus is never presented with proof. Naturally, since the discussion of a stateless society involves a future theoretical situation, empirical examples cannot apply.

However, like all propositions involving human motivation, the "replacement state" hypothesis can be subjected to logical examination.


The basis of the "replacement state" hypothesis is the premise that people prefer to maximize income with the lowest possible expenditure of energy. The motivation for a DRO to use force is that, by eliminating all competition and taking military control of a geographical region, a DRO can make as much money as possible, with the lowest possible expenditure of energy.

We can fully accept this premise, as long as it is applied consistently to all human beings in a stateless society. To make the "replacement state" case even stronger, we will also assume that no moral scruples could conceivably get in the way of any decision-making. By reducing the "drive to dominate" to a mere calculation of economic efficiency, we can eliminate any possible ethical brakes on the situation.

Starting Point

Let's start with a stateless society, wherein citizens can voluntarily choose to contract with a DRO for the sake of property protection and dispute resolution. Each citizen also has the right to break his contract with his DRO.

There are essentially three possible ways that a DRO could gain military control of an entire region:

  1. By secretly amassing an army, and then suddenly unleashing it upon all competition.
  2. By openly amassing an army, and then doing the same thing.
  3. By posing as a voluntary "Defense DRO," amassing arms supposedly for the legitimate defense of citizens, and then turning those arms against the citizens and instituting itself as a new government.

There is one additional possibility, which is that a private citizen can try to assemble his own army.

Let's deal with each of these in turn.

The Secret Army

In this scenario, let's say that a DRO manager called "Bob" decides that he is tired of dealing with customers on a voluntary basis. He decides he is going to spend company money buying enormous amounts of armaments and training an Army. (For the moment, let's assume that Bob can make this decision all on his own, and does not need to submit it to any sort of Board, bank or investor review.)

Let us assume that Bob's DRO has annual revenues of $500 million a year, and profits of $50 million a year.

The most immediate challenge that Bob is going to face is: how on earth am I going to pay for all of this? Given that, in a free society, there is no way of knowing how many citizens are armed – or what kinds of weapons they have – it would be necessary to err on the side of caution and assemble a prodigious and overwhelming army to gain control of an entire region, otherwise the investment would be totally lost in a military defeat. Such armies are scarcely cheap! For the purposes of this argument, let's say that it is going to cost $500 million over five years for Bob to assemble his army – surely a lowball estimate! How is he going to get the money to pay for this?

Raising Rates

The most obvious way for Bob to raise the extra $500 million is to charge his customers more. The $500 million Bob needs represents more than 10 years of his DROs annual profits of $50 million a year (reinvesting the $50m for 5 years at 10% yields $805.26m). Thus, in order to pay for his army within five years, Bob is going to have to more than double his prices. Since we have already assumed that it is Bob's greed that makes him want to create a new government – and that this greed is common to all citizens within the society – we can also assume that his customers share his motivation. Thus, just as Bob wants to have an army so that he can maximize his income, his customers just as surely do not want Bob to have an army, for exactly the same reasons! The moment that Bob informs his customers that he will now be charging them more than double for exactly the same service, he will lose all his customers, and go out of business. No army for Bob!

Full Disclosure

Perhaps, though, Bob recognizes this danger, and plans to keep his customers by telling them that he is raising their rates in order to fund an army. "Help me fund an army by paying me double the price," he tells them, "and I will share in the plunder I'll get when I take over such-and-such a neighbourhood!" Even if we assume that Bob's customers believe him, and are willing to fund such a mad scheme, Bob's secret is now out, and society as a whole – including all the other DROs – become fully aware of Bob's nefarious intentions. Clearly, all the other DROs will immediately cease doing business with Bob's DRO. Since a central value of any DRO is its ability to interact with other DROs – just as a core value of a cell phone company is its ability to interact with other cell phone companies – Bob's DRO will thus be crippled. In other words, Bob will be more than doubling his rates for many years while providing far inferior service for a highly uncertain and dangerous "profit."

In addition, Bob's bank would immediately cease doing business with him, rendering him unable to pay his employees, his office rental, or his bills. Bob's electricity company will cease supplying electricity, he will find his taps strangely dry, his phones would be cut off, and many other misfortunes may arise as a result of his desire to become a new dictator. It is hard to imagine him lasting five days, let alone retaining all of his paying customers at double the rates for the five years required to build his army!

Even if all the above problems could somehow be overcome, it's also hard to imagine that Bob's customers would be happy to arm Bob in the hopes of sharing in his plunder. Unlike the government, which can tax at will, DROs must actually protect their customer's property in order to retain their business. Given that those who contract with DROs are those with the most interest in protecting their property, it makes little sense that they would fund Bob's DRO army, since they would have no actual control over that Army once it was created, and thus would have no way of enforcing any "plunder contract" created beforehand. In a free society, people would not try to "protect" their property by funding a powerful army that could then take it away from them at will. That sort of madness requires the existence of a government!

Alternative Funding

Perhaps Bob will try to fund his army in other ways. He may try and borrow the money, but of course his bank would only lend him the money if he comes up with a credible and measurable business plan. If Bob's business plan openly states his desire to create an army, his bank would cease supporting him in any way, shape or form, since the bank would only stand to lose if such an army were created. If Bob took the money from the bank by submitting a fraudulent business plan, the bank would be aware of this almost immediately, and would take the remainder of the money back – and impose stiff penalties on Bob to boot! Again, no army for Bob!

What if Bob tried to pay for his army by reducing the dividends that he was paying to shareholders? Naturally, the shareholders would resent this, and would either have him thrown out, or would simply sell their shares and invest their money elsewhere, thus crippling Bob's DRO. Perhaps Bob would try paying his employees less, which would only drive his employees into the arms of other DROs – also destroying his business.

It's safe to say that it is practically impossible for Bob to get the money to pay for his army – and even if he got such money, his business would never survive such a dangerous transgression of social or economic norms. There are other dangers, however, which are well worth examining.

Defense DROs

The most likely threat would seem to come from "Defense DROs," since those agencies would already have weapons and personnel that might be used against the general population. However, this would be very difficult for two main reasons. First, "Defense DROs" would require investment and banking relationships in order to grow and flourish. Given that investors and banks would not want to fund an army that could steal their property, they would be certain to insert myriad "failsafe" mechanisms into "Defense DRO" contracts. They would make sure that all arms purchases were tracked, that all monies were accounted for, and that no secret armies were being assembled.

"Defense DROs" would also be subject to the same kinds of funding problems as Bob's DRO. Let's say that Dave was the head of a "Defense DRO," and was also one day seized with the desire to assemble his own army and pillage society. First of all, citizens would be unlikely to contract with any "Defense DRO" that would not submit to regular audits of its weapons and accounts to ensure that no secret armies were being created. If Dave decides to bypass this contractual obligation, and start secretly funding his own army, how is he going to pay for it? The moment that he raises his rates without increasing his services, his customers will know exactly what he's up to, and withdraw their support. Bye-bye army. Dave's funding would also be subject to all the other problems raised above.

It can thus be seen that there is no viable way for any DRO to pay for an army without destroying its business in the process. Armies are only really possible when the government can force taxpayers to subsidize them.

Independently Wealthy?

Perhaps, instead of Bob or Dave, we have a privately wealthy individual named Bill, a multibillionaire who decides to raise an army and institute himself as a new dictator. Due to his immense wealth, he is not dependent on any customers, employees, or shareholders. Let's say that he can pay for an Army out of his own pocket, immediately.

Bill's challenge, of course, is that in a free society, he cannot go and pick up a complete army at his local Wal-Mart. Armies are fundamentally uneconomical, expensive overhead at best, and thus it seems likely that geographical defense in a free society would be limited to a couple of dozen nuclear weapons, to deter any potential invader. Thus even if he could get a hold of one, buying a nuke would not help Bill very much, since he would not be able to use it to overwhelm all of the other "Defense DROs."

What about more conventional weapons? Part of the service that "Defense DROs" would offer to subscribers would be a guarantee that they would do everything in their power to prevent the rise of an independent army – either of their own making, or of anyone else's. Thus arms manufacturers would have to provide rigorous accounts of everything they were making and selling, to be sure that they weren't selling arms to some secret army, probably in the foothills of Montana. If people were really worried about the possibility of someone creating a private army, they would only do business with "Defense DROs" that guaranteed that they bought their arms from open and legitimate arms dealers – subject to independent verification, of course.

Thus when Bill came along trying to buy $500 million worth of weapons, and hire an army of tens of thousands of soldiers, one question would be: where on earth would they come from? Arms manufacturers would not be sitting on $500 million of inventory, due to the limited demand for such products. Thus the arms manufacturers would have to really crank up their production, which could not be hidden from the general population, or the Defense DROs that such extra production would directly threaten. In order to make all the extra armaments, manufacturers would have to borrow money to expand production. Where would they get this extra money from? Their bank would surely not fund such a dangerous endeavour, and would immediately notify any Defense DROs it had contracts with, and drop the rogue arms manufacturer as a customer. Defense DROs would also never to do business with such a dangerous arms manufacturer ever again, thus driving it out of business.

Secondly, even if Bill could somehow get his hands on the necessary weapons, where would these tens of thousands of new troops come from? The military would not be exactly the same kind of "in demand" career that it is today. In order to assemble an army of tens of thousands of men, he would have to advertise, recruit, pay them, train them, etc. This would be a pretty hard thing to hide. Since it would be completely obvious that he was assembling an army, what could people in society conceivably do to stop him?

First of all, if this were a conceivable risk, his bank would have a clause in its service agreement giving it the right to refuse to honor any payments clearly designed to fund a private army. Secondly, no DRO would do business with Bill – or his soldiers – the moment that it became apparent what he was up to. This would mean that none of Bill's soldiers would have any guarantees that they would get paid, grocery stores would not sell them food, electricity companies would cut them off, gas stations would not sell them gas, etc. When society as a whole wants to stop doing business with you, it becomes very hard to get by!

The Question of Profit

Let's say that DRO Bob can somehow get his army – the question is: can he make that army pay? The initial premise of the "replacement state" argument is that people prefer to maximize income with the lowest possible expenditure of energy.

Remember, it costs Bob $500 million over five years to assemble his army – let's say that it costs another $1 billion over the next five years to subdue a reasonably-sized region, due to the loss of life and equipment involved in combat. What kinds of financial returns can he expect?

If you know that Bob's Army is going to be at your house in two weeks, and there is no way to stop it, you would just pull a "scorched-earth Russian defense" and leave, right? You would take everything of value with you, and destroy everything that you could not bring. Thus what would Bob's Army end up getting control of? Not much.

However, let's imagine that Bob's Army could somehow seize assets that would be worth something. How much would they have to seize in order to make a profit?

Well, let's look at the alternatives. Bob has to invest $100 million each year over five years to assemble his army – what does that cost him overall?

We know that if Bob invested $100 million back into his DRO, he will likely get 10% ROI. In five years of compound interest, that translates to $832.61m.

Then, Bob has to invest another billion dollars over the next five years invading a series of neighbourhoods. How much does that really cost him? $1,665.22m, or $1 billion invested at 10% over five years. But that's not all – the $832.61m above would also have gained 10% per year over the remaining 5 years, resulting in a total of $1,340.93m.

Thus Bob's five years of preparation and five years of military rampaging have cost him over $3 billion. Given the enormous risks involved in such an endeavour, investors would likely demand at least a 10:1 pay off – similar to the software field. Thus Bob would have to steal well over $30 billion, given that he would likely want to keep some money for himself.

Where would this $30 billion come from? The burned-out houses? The abandoned cars? It's hard to imagine that anything Bob got his hands on would be worth very much at all.

The evidence of history tends to support this conclusion. Economically, imperialism is a disaster for everyone except those intimately connected to the coercive power of the state.

What if Bob wanted to spring an attack on citizens and start taxing them? Again, all the other DROs would stand to lose all their customers in the event of such a situation, and would take all necessary steps to prevent that from occurring. They would have to provide innovative “checks and balances” solutions to potential customers, to win them as clients.

However, even if all of the above problems can be somehow overcome, and the creation of a rogue army in a free society became both possible and profitable, the solution is simple. Any "Defense DRO" would simply buy the trust of its clients by promising to pay them a fine in excess of any potential military profits if that DRO was ever discovered to be assembling an army. DROs would simply put ten million dollars in trust, payable to any customer that could find evidence proving that a rogue army was being assembled. Problem solved.

When we look at a series of steps required to make the creation of a private "rogue" army economically profitable, we can see that it becomes so unlikely as to be functionally impossible. If we assume that the economic incentive of maximizing profit would drive anyone to consider such a course, we can easily see that the fears of inevitable private tyrannies are merely imaginary. The "replacement state" mythology is just another ghost story invented to keep us in cages whose bars are merely fictional.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Freedomain Radio FAQ Part 2

How can a society without a government pay for national defense?

Many people, when first hearing the concept of a stateless society, cannot imagine how collective defense could possibly be paid for the absence of taxation.

This is an important question to ask, but there is a way of answering it that also answers many other questions about collective action.

In any society, there are four possibilities that can occur in the realm of collective defense. The first is that no one wants to pay for collective defense. The second is that only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense; the third is that the majority of people want to pay for collective defense, and the fourth is that everyone wants to pay for collective defense.

Let's compare how these four possibilities play out in a state-based democracy:

  1. No one wants to pay for collective defense. In this case, voters will universally reject any politician who proposes collective defense of any kind.
  2. Only a minority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, no politician who proposes paying for collective defense will ever get into office, because he will never secure a majority of the votes.
  3. The majority of people want to pay for collective defense. In this case, pro-defense politicians will be voted into office, and spend tax money on defense.
  4. Everyone wants to pay for collective defense. This achieves the same outcome as number three.

Thus, all other things being equal, a democracy produces almost the same outcome as a stateless society – with the important exception of #2. If only a minority of people want to pay for defense, they cannot do so in a democracy, but can do so in a stateless society.

In a stateless society, if the majority of people are interested in paying for collective defense, it will be paid for. The addition of the government to the interaction is entirely superfluous – the equivalent of creating a Ministry devoted to communicating the pleasures of candy to children, or sex to teenagers.

However, the possibility exists that people are willing to pay for collective defense only if they know that everyone else is paying for it as well. This argument fails on multiple levels, both empirical and rational.

  1. First of all, people tip waiters and give to charity, even though they know that some people never do.
  2. Secondly, there is no reason why, in a stateless society, people should not have full knowledge of who has donated to collective defense. Agencies providing collective defense could easily issue a "donor card," which certain shops or employers might ask to see before doing business. Names of donors could also be put on a website, easily searchable, creating social pressures to donate.
  3. Thirdly, when the money required for collective defense is stripped from taxpayers of the point of a gun, a basic moral tenet – and rational criteria – is violated. Citizens institute collective defense in order to protect their property—it makes no sense whatsoever to create an agency to protect property rights and then invest that agency with the power to violate property rights at will.
  4. Fourthly, when collective defense is paid for by the initiation of the use of force, there is no rational ceiling to costs, and no incentive for efficiency – thus ensuring that costs escalate to the point where they become unsustainable, leaving the country vulnerable.

Finally, if military might is to be used exclusively for the defense of a geographical region, extensive standing armies are scarcely required. The invention of nuclear weapons has rendered invasion of a nuclear power impossible – as is shown by the historical fact that no nation possessing nuclear weapons has ever been invaded. In a nation of, say, 300 million citizens, how much would it cost each citizen per year to pay for the maintenance of a few dozen nuclear warheads? It seems hard to imagine such a program costing more than $300 million a year. Even if we assume that only half the citizens are earning an income, this national defense program would then run about two dollars per year per paying citizen. People lose more than that annually behind their couch cushions.

What about education?

The question of education follows the same pattern as the question of collective defense outlined above. However, there are certain additional pieces of information that can strengthen the case for a free market in education.

First of all, it is important understand that state education was not imposed because children were not being educated. Prior to the institution of government-run education, the literacy rate of the average American was over 90% - far better than it is now, after hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent "educating" children. Before the government forcefully took over the schools, there was almost no violence in schools, there were no school shootings, no violent gangs, no assaults on teachers – and it did not take more than two decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a reasonably-educated adult. Most of the intellectual giants of the 18th and 19th centuries – Founding Fathers included – did not even finish high school, let alone go to college.

Government education in America was instituted as a means of cultural control, due to a rising tribal fears about the growing number of non-Protestants in society – the "immigrant issue" of the time.

There are a number of core reasons that government education cripples children's minds; for the sake of brevity, we will deal with only one here.

It is reasonable to assume that the majority of parents want to give their children a good education – and this education must necessarily include the teaching of values, of the relationship between personal ethics and real-world choices. In any multicultural society, however, a common curriculum cannot include any specific values, for fear of offending various groups. Thus values must be stripped from education, turning its focus to rote memorization, bland technical skills (geometry, sports, wood shop), and neutral and propagandistic views of society and politics ("democracy is good!" "respect multiculturalism!" "recycle!"). This effectively kills the energetic curiosity of the young, turns school into a mind-numbing series of empty exercises, creates frustration among those needing stimulation, and engenders deep disrespect for educational system – and its teachers – who remain hypocritically indifferent to the welfare of the students. Combine this hostility and frustration with the easy money available through drug sales, and the possibility of surviving on welfare, and entire generations of youths become mentally crippled. The costs of this are beyond calculation, since the damage goes far beyond economics.

Yes, but how will poor children get an education if it is not paid for through taxes?

This reminds me of the old Soviet cartoon – two old women are standing in an endless line-up to buy bread. One says to the other: "What a terribly long line!" The other replies: "Yes, but just imagine – in the capitalist countries, the government doesn't even distribute the bread!"

Whenever I argue for a stateless society, I say: "The government should not provide 'X'." The response always comes back: "But how will 'X' then be provided?"

The answer is simple: "Since everybody is concerned that 'X' will not be provided, 'X' will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence." In other words, since everyone is concerned that poor children might not get an education because it costs too much, those children will be provided an education as a direct result of everyone's concern.

Either you will help poor children get an education, through charity or volunteering, or you won't. If you will help poor children get an education, you don't have to worry about the issue. If you will do nothing to help poor children get an education, it is pure hypocrisy to raise it as an issue that you claim to be concerned about.

That having been said, there are a number of ways that a free society can provide education that is far superior to the mess being inflicted on children now.

First of all, poor children are not currently getting any sort of decent education. The perceived risks of a stateless society cannot be rationally compared to a perfect situation in the here-and-now. Those most concerned with the education of the poor should be the ones most clamoring for the abolishment of the existing system. The statistics for poor children are absolutely appalling – and this should raise the urgency or finding a solution. It's one thing to say "You should never cross a road against the lights, even if there is no traffic." It is quite another thing to say "You should never cross a road against the lights, even if you are being chased by a lion." Those who oppose a stateless society always ignore the existence of the lion, thus adding their intellectual inertia to the weight of the status quo.

Secondly, much like the question of collective defense, the cost of education will be far lower in a free society. The $10,000-$15,000 a year currently being spent per-pupil in public schools is ridiculously overinflated. As an example, it would be far cheaper to buy a poor child a computer and an Internet connection than bus him to an expensive school. (If socialization is desired, play-dates could be arranged at local parks.)

Similarly, year-round accelerated education could help the child graduate several years earlier – and with tangible job skills to boot! The resulting increase in earnings would more than pay for the education – and many companies would scramble to offer loans to such children, knowing that they would be paid off soon after graduation. Thus education would be more beneficial – and, since there would be no war on drugs or automatic "welfare" in a free society, fewer self-destructive options would be available.

As for higher education, it is either recreational or vocational. If it is recreational, then it is about as necessary as a hobby, and thus cannot be considered a necessity. If it is vocational, such as medicine, then additional earnings will more than pay for the costs of the education. Businesses need accountants – thus those businesses will be more than happy to fund the college expenses of talented youngsters in return for a work commitment after graduation.

Talented but poor children will be sought after by schools, both for the benevolence they can show by subsidizing them, and also because high-quality graduates raise the prestige of a school, enabling it to increase fees.

In a stateless society, a tiny minority of poor children may slip through the cracks – but that is far better than the current situation, where most poor children slip through the cracks. The fact that some non-smokers will get lung cancer does not mean that we should encourage people to smoke. A stateless society is not a utopia, it is merely a utopia compared to a government society!

Even if I agree with you, how on earth can we possibly bring a stateless society about?

There is absolutely no reason to believe that a stateless society is impossible to achieve. In fact, most of the hurdles have already been overcome. The efficiency of the free market is already well-established. The principle that violence is immoral is also generally-accepted. For many people, religion no longer has a monopoly on questions of ethics. Very few people believe that further expansions in the size and power of government will produce a substantially better society—in fact, very few people believe that the government is a moral agency at all. (People do still advocate for government programs – often couched in moral terms – but that is more because they know they can receive money from the state rather than as a result of the broad ethical approach.) Socialism is a moral ideal is dead; communism and fascism also; slavery has been rightly vilified and eliminated, and initiation of the use of force is in general considered immoral.

Thus many of the necessary agreements are in place to bring about a stateless society. How, then, can it happen?

The first virtue is always honesty; the second is always integrity. We must first tell the truth, and then we must live the truth.

The truth is that, in the most fundamental ways, we do not need the government's permission to be truly free.

The first thing that philosophers must do is lead by example. A key ingredient in the moral ideal of a stateless society is that there is no such thing as positive obligations. Being born in a country does create a moral obligation to pay taxes. Being poor does not create a moral obligation for others to give you money. Being successful does not make you a slave; failure does not give you the right to be a parasite. Having children does not create a moral obligation for others to give them an education. Getting old does not create a moral obligation for others to pay for your retirement.

And here is where we turn to the core of the Freedomain Radio philosophy: family.

Huh? What does family have to do with a stateless society?

The examples of religion and patriotism show that irrational ideals are easy to spread if the people who spread them are convincing. To free the world, it is not enough to know the truth – you must also convince others. Convincing others requires that you first convince yourself.

A doctor who fears to take the medicine that he prescribes can scarcely be considered convincing. A philosopher should not fear to live the values he espouses. If I believe that there is no such thing as positive obligations, then I must evaluate all my personal relationships using the same criteria.

We just examine our families first, since they are the least-chosen of all our relationships. We choose our wife, and our friends, but not our parents or siblings.

If no man has a right to my time and energy simply because he exists, then clearly my parents can make no such claim.

If my parents and siblings are wise, and moral, and good, then it is only just and reasonable – not to mention intensely pleasurable – to spend time with them. If, however, my parents are none of these things, then spending time with them is neither rational nor moral. I cannot legitimately advocate a stateless society while at the same time enabling and supporting unchosen positive obligations in my personal life.

This has both moral and practical dimensions. Our first – and most lasting – perception of authority is our parents. If our parents are unjust, abusive, negative, distant, unaffectionate, arbitrary, selfish and so on, then we cannot love them. Love is an involuntary response to virtue, and can only arise in the presence of vice as an empty and self-destructive label.

If we feel that we "owe" love to our parents for being born under their dominion, it is logically impossible to argue that we do not "owe" allegiance to our government for being born under its dominion. If our parents do not have to win our love through consistent virtue – as all love must be won – then neither must those in the government win our respect through consistent virtue. If we do not live the principle of voluntarism in our personal lives, it is nonsensical and pointless to advocate it in the realm of politics. If we owe allegiance to power with regards to our parents, we logically owe allegiance to power with regards to our governments as well. We cannot "love" power in the personal realm while despising it in the political realm.

We have no power over the government. We can defy it, at the cost of going to prison or being forced "off the grid." We do have power over our personal relationships – and it is in the application of moral theories to our personal lives that our greatest freedoms are to be found. I would rather pay 50% taxation and have a happy marriage than pay no taxes and have an unhappy marriage! The government can only take your money – unhappy relationships can drain your very soul.

If we consistently apply ethical principles to our personal lives, we gain enormous credibility when we advocate those principles to others in general.

But – the government is an agency of power – parents are not!

That is not true. Except in the most extreme dictatorships, parents have far more power over their children than governments have over their citizens. As an adult, you have many strategies to reduce the interference of government in your daily life – you can move, live off the grid, minimize your taxes, pay off the IRS and live free. As a child, because you could not leave your family, you were utterly dependent on the will and whim of your parents. As an adult, you will never again be as dependent on those in power as you were when you were a child.

Since parental power over children far outstrips state power over citizens, we must first free ourselves of bad parents before we can confront the state.

Philosophy is more about our personal relationships than abstract relationships like the state. The power of the state, in fact, is derived from the power of parents. A woman who demands freedom from state violence but then goes home to an abusive husband cannot be said to really understand the meaning of the word "freedom." Similarly, advocating some sort of abstract political freedom while suffering abusive, unpleasant, boring or negative relationships in your personal life displays similar ignorance.

If a plane depressurizes, you have to first place the oxygen mask on your own face before turning to help others. The same is true of philosophy.

The only way to free the world is to free yourself.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Freedomain Radio - Frequently Asked Questions Part 1

What is Freedomain Radio?

Freedomain Radio is a philosophical conversation based on empirical logic and the Socratic method, designed to help you bring the maximum freedom and happiness into your life.

Philosophy? Really? Isn't philosophy kind of, well – useless?

Post-modern philosophy, in general, yes. In terms of how you can make sense of your life, and make the kinds of decisions in the here and now that will make you happy in the future, absolutely not! Philosophy is the most extreme sport known to mankind. It is intense, grueling, exciting, challenging, ennobling and occasionally utterly terrifying. Here at Freedomain Radio, we do not focus on philosophy as an abstract science, but as an immediate, personal and tangible methodology. Philosophy will certainly help you understand politics and history, economics and epistemology, but most importantly, it will help you make rational decisions in your life – decisions that you know are correct.

What approach does Freedomain Radio take?

Freedomain Radio takes a simple and common sense approach to philosophy. Clearly, reality exists independent of your mind. You exist independent of me. Truth in your mind is fidelity to reality. Logic and evidence are the only ways of separating truth from opinion, consistency from conformity, fantasy from fact.

What about morality?

Morality is one of the most challenging sciences in human thought. Morality is a concept within the human mind, and as such does not exist in external reality, in the same way that gravity or rocks do. This does not mean that morality is subjective, or imaginary, or arbitrary. Numbers do not exist in external reality either, but that does not mean that mathematics is a subjective discipline.

Any moral theory must pass a number of scientific and rational hurdles in order to be considered potentially valid. It must be universal, logical, consistent, reversible – and it must both explain history and have the capacity to predict the future. Anyone who proposes any form of "preferential behavior" for humanity as a whole must submit that theory to a rational and scientific examination. If you are not interested in proposing any form of preferential behavior, that's no particular problem – however, you are then excluded from any debate about ethics. For more on the Freedomain Radio approach to morality, click here.

But – aren't you an anarchist?

Yes, I am an anarchist. Unfortunately, the term has been degraded through mythology to mean "a world without rules" – usually garbed in post-apocalyptic outerwear and riding a well-armed motorbike. This is nonsense, of course. "Anarchy" is merely the logical application of the moral premise that the initiation of the use of force is wrong. If violence is a bad way to solve problems, then the government is by definition immoral, since "government" always means a group of individuals who claim the right to use violence against everyone else, in the form of taxation, regulations etc.

But if there is no government, how can the inevitable conflicts in human society be resolved?

The most important thing in philosophy is to consistently question the premises of propositions. For instance, embedded in the above question is the premise that conflicts within human society are currently being resolved by governments. This is also pure nonsense. Governments are agencies of force – governments do not persuade, governments do not reason, governments do not motivate, governments do not encourage, governments do not resolve disputes. Governments have no more power to create morality then rape has to create love. A gun is only useful in self-defense; it cannot be used to create virtue.

For somebody who is an anarchist, you sure do sound like a politician! Wasn't that just a complete dodge of the question?

Excellent catch! Here is as good a place as any to introduce you to the concept of Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs). This concept cannot answer every conceivable question you might have about dispute resolutions within a stateless society, but rather is a framework for understanding the methodology of dispute resolution – just as the scientific method cannot answer every possible question about the natural world, but rather points towards a methodology that allows those questions to be answered in a rational manner.

DROs are companies that specialize in insuring contracts between individuals, and resolving any disputes that might arise. For instance, if I borrow $1,000 from you, I may have to pay $10 to a DRO to insure my loan. If I fail to pay you back your money, the DRO will pay you instead. Obviously, as my credit rating improves, the cost of insuring my contracts will decline.

The DRO theory can be as complex as any other free market theory – and a lot of intellectual effort has gone into resolving how particular transactions might occur, such as multimillion dollar international contracts. Credible DRO theories have also been proposed that solve problems ranging from abortion to child abuse to murder to pollution. For more on DRO theory and practice, click here.

But – what about the roads?

The most important thing to understand about anarchism is that it is a moral theory which logically cannot be over-concerned with consequences. For instance, the abolition of slavery was a moral imperative, because slavery as an institution is innately evil. The abolition of slavery was not conditional upon the provision of jobs for every freed slave. In a similar manner, anarchic theory does not have to explain how every conceivable social, legal or economic transaction would occur in the absence of a coercive government. What is important is to understand that the initiation of the use of force is a moral evil. With that in mind, we can approach the problem of roads more clearly.

First of all, roads are currently funded through the initiation of force. If you do not pay the taxes which support road construction, you will get a stern letter from the government, followed by a court date, followed by policemen coming to your house if you do not appear and submit to the court's judgment. If you use force to defend yourself against the policemen who are breaking into your home, you will very likely be shot down.

The roads, in other words, are built at the point of a gun. The use of violence is the central issue, not what might potentially happen in the absence of violence.

That having been said, roads will be built by housing developers, mall builders, those constructing schools and towns – just as they were before the government took them over in the 19th century.

Okay – here's a scenario for you: a guy builds a road that completely encircles a suburban neighborhood, and then charges $1 million for anyone to cross that road. Isn't he holding everyone who lives in that neighborhood hostage?

This is fundamentally impossible. First of all, no one is going to buy a house in a neighborhood unless they are contractually guaranteed access to roads. Thus it will be impossible for anyone to completely encircle the neighborhood. Secondly, even if it were possible, it would be a highly risky investment. Can you imagine going to investors with a business plan that said: "I'm going to try to buy all the land that surrounds the neighborhood, and then charge hugely high rates for anyone to cross that land." No sane investor would give you the money for such a plan. The risk of failure would be too great, and no DRO would enforce any contract that was so destructive, unpopular and economically unfeasible. DROs, unlike governments, must be appealing to the general population. If a DRO got involved with the encircling and imprisonment of a neighborhood, it would become so unpopular that it would lose far more business than it could potentially gain.

All right smarty-pants – what about this: the company that supplies water to a neighborhood suddenly decides to increase its rates by ten times – people are going to be forced to pay the exorbitant price, right?

First of all, if you are so concerned about people paying increasingly exorbitant prices for services, then it scarcely seems logical to propose the government as the solution to that problem. Taxes have risen immensely over the past 30 years, while services have declined.

However, even if we accept the premise of the problem, it is easily solved in a stateless society. First of all, no one will buy a house in a neighborhood without a contractual obligation that requires the supply of water at reasonable rates. Secondly, if the water company starts charging exorbitant prices, another company will simply move in and supply water in another form – in barrels, bottles or whatever. Thus raising prices permanently costs the water company its customers. Investors will quickly realize that the water company is shooting itself in the foot, and will align themselves with shareholders, resulting in a hostile takeover of the price-gouging water company. Given that this result will be known in advance, no CEO would be allowed to pursue such a self-destructive course. The consumers are perfectly safe – it is only when a government exists that can be manipulated by corporations to prevent competition that the consumers are truly in danger.

Okay – what if two DROs have different rules – isn't that just going to result in endless civil war?

No. First of all, it is unlikely that DROs would have wildly different rules, because that would be economically inefficient. Cell phone companies use similar protocols, so that they can interoperate with each other. Railroad companies tend to use the same gauge, so that trains can travel as widely as possible. Internet service providers exchange data with other Internet service providers, passing e-mails back and forth. Like evolution, the free market is more about cooperation than pure competition. If a DRO wants to create a new rule, that rule will be fairly useless unless other DROs are willing to cooperate with it – just as a new e-mail program is fairly useless unless it uses existing protocols. This need for interoperability with other DROs will inevitably keep the number of new rules to the most economically efficient minimum.

New rules will also add to the costs for DRO subscribers—and if it costs them more money than it saves, the DRO will lose business.

But – won't the most successful DRO just arm itself, violently eliminate all the other DROs, and emerge as a new government?

First of all, if the potential emergence of a new government at some point in the future is of great concern, then surely the elimination of existing governments in the present is a worthy goal. If we have cancer, we go through chemotherapy to eliminate it in the present, even though we may get cancer again at some point in the future.

Secondly, unlike governments, DROs are not violent institutions. DROs will be primarily populated by white-collar workers: accountants, executives and so on. DROs are as likely to become paramilitary organizations as your average accounting firm is likely to become an elite squad of ninja death warriors. Given the current existence of governments that possess nuclear weapons, I for one am willing to take that risk.

Thirdly, if a DRO tries to turn itself into a government, the other DROs will certainly act to prevent it. DROs would simply refuse to cooperate with any DRO that refused to submit to "arms inspections." Furthermore, DRO customers would also not take very kindly to their DRO becoming an armed institution – and their rates would certainly skyrocket, because their DRO would have to provide its regular services, as well as pay for all those black helicopters and RPGs. Any DRO that was paying for goods or services that its customers did not want – i.e. an army – would very quickly go out of business, because it would not be competitive in terms of rates.

Are there any examples of anarchic societies being successful in the past?

There are, but that is not the essential question. Again, the essential aspect of anarchic theory is the moral rule banning the initiation of the use of force. Anarchists advocate a stateless society because governments are evil. When slavery was abolished for the first time in human history, there was no example of a successful slave–free society — if that had been a requirement, then slavery would never have been abolished.

That having been said, I can absolutely and confidently point towards a nonviolent society that you're intimately aware of – you. I am guessing that you do not use violence directly to achieve your aims. It seems likely to me that you did not hold your employer hostage until you got your job; I also doubt that you keep your "girlfriend" locked in the basement, or that you threaten to shoot your "friends" if they do not join you on the dance floor. In other words, you are the perfect example of a stateless society. All of your personal relationships are voluntary, and do not involve the use of force. You are an anarchic microcosm – to see how a stateless society might work, all you have to do is look in the mirror.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Statism and Moral Responsibility

One of the most horrendous aspects of the government is the degree to which it dilutes, undercuts and destroys moral responsibility within society. Old women who would never rob their grandchildren at gunpoint feel perfectly entitled to cash their Social Security check. Gentle mothers who would pale at the thought of spanking their children will march self righteously for "free" daycare. Corporations who would never imagine assaulting their customers assiduously lobby for legal benefits – or to escape regulations.

Sadly, the worst effects of the state are not always domestic. Overseas Imperialism creates generations of guilt-ridden sociopaths who, having murdered whatever foreigners their commanders pointed at, bring that moral horror home and spread it through their friends, family and children. Having been lured to the military with promises of honor and noble self-defense, they find themselves in positions that are hard to morally distinguish from your average hitman, who asks no questions when pulling the trigger.

The gaping wound at the heart of our culture – why have we murdered? – creates a violent antipathy to basic truths that only leads to further lies. In a recent episode of "60 Minutes," a father was asked why he and his son enlisted to go to Iraq. "Because of 9/11," he replied. The reporter – obviously uncomfortable – could only ask: "So you make that connection?" The obvious response – "Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11" – is hard, because when people have killed and died for a cause, questioning the moral validity of that cause becomes more and more difficult. The alternative to the fantasy of "patriotic defender" – the reality of "gullible murderer" – becomes increasingly volatile as more and more blood soaks through the verbal defenses of society. When people kill for a lie, they also murder the truth.

The connections required to link the tangible benefits of receiving state monies to the abstract violence that makes it possible are lengthy and complex. Expecting the average man to understand the violence at the root of the pleasant kindergarten he drops his child off at is like expecting the average Christian to understand the translation difficulties between Aramaic, Greek and the King James Bible. In moral philosophy, just as in nutrition and medicine, we need experts to make the causal connections for us. Asking society to learn the truth about statism from its disastrous effects is like asking people to learn about the dangers of smoking by getting lung cancer. Experts need to isolate the variables and make the causal connections clear.

In the absence of expertise, human nature works against the truth. Achieving and maintaining good health requires knowledge – only eating whatever tastes good and exercising when you feel like it inevitably results in disaster. We respond positively to sugars and fats, which were rare in the infancy of our species, and prefer inactivity to activity, as an evolutionary means of preserving energy. Short-term gratifications – when pursued exclusively – lead to disaster. We cannot be expected to know this in advance, which is the only time it will do us any good. Thus we need experts to show us negative consequences before we experience them.

It is exactly the same with the state. The pursuit of short-term gratification inevitably leads to disaster. As experts in philosophy, politics and economics, we must fight against the tendency of people to pursue short-term interests by pointing out the long-term consequences of their actions. In many ways, ethical instruction is as simple as: "eat candy, get cavities."

This means that we must show people that we as philosophers practice what we preach – that we are willing to abjure short-term comfort for the sake of long-term gains. As moralists, we must display the very behavior we wish to inculcate. This means repeatedly pointing out uncomfortable truths to people, despite the inevitable and negative consequences. Some such difficult truths are:

  • Going to Iraq to shoot Iraqis is murder, since it is not violence for the sake of immediate self-defense.
  • US foreign aggression is responsible for the hatred that foreigners bear towards the US.
  • Muslims do not "hate America for its freedom." Americans were far freer in the 19th century, and suffered no Muslim attacks. Switzerland is also free – and far closer – yet suffers no Muslim attacks, because the Swiss keep their guns inside their own borders.
  • The US government is by far the world's largest arms seller. The idea that your government exists to protect you from foreign enemies, while assiduously arming foreigners, is too ridiculous to be believable.
  • Like the institution of slavery, the state is an agency of violence, evil to the core. It cannot be reformed, but must be abolished.
  • Almost everything you were told about society in public schools is propaganda, directly detrimental to your own self-interest.
  • Policemen are not primarily there to protect you, but to threaten you if you do not pay your taxes.
  • Our existing system is utterly unsustainable, and will collapse within 10 to 15 years at the outside.

These are all bitter pills for most people to swallow, of course – but there is an even worse one, which overarches all of these issues, which is:

  • There is nothing accidental about the fact that you were – and are – told all these lies.

It is very hard for the average citizen to realize that, in his relationship with his government, he is little more than a cash cow for taxation, a breeding animal for future taxpayers, and cannon fodder for war. People point to minor successes in the fight against the government, such as specific relaxations of regulations, slight tax cuts and so on – but that is all pure nonsense! A farmer who finds that his cows are dying because they don't have enough room to move will certainly increase the size of their cage – but that is so he can continue to exploit them, not because he dreams of setting them free! The low birthrate of many Western countries—the inevitable result of the fact that mammals do not breed well in captivity – is currently prompting the return of some money to taxpayers in the form of breeding incentives, but that is scarcely a victory against the government!

Naturally, it is very hard to get the average citizen to understand the danger he faces at the hands of his government. Doctors face the same issue when trying to get their patients to drop unhealthy habits. Too many people only listen to their doctors after they have had a heart attack – and only because their doctor predicted that heart attack. This is an essential aspect of what we are up to as libertarians. We must openly and repeatedly tell people that the system will self-destruct, that it is evil and rotten to the core, that the army and police are not noble, that currency is an illusion, debt is real and the countdown is almost at zero. There is no possibility that we can prevent the coming crash – it's far too late for that – but because we can accurately predict it, we are more likely to have credibility after the fact.

This is the paradox of the current system. The government – and the citizens they rule – are nothing but individuals, but individual ethics don't really matter when the cultural belief systems as a whole are corrupt and false. Morality is a form of science, and requires knowledge, logic and empirical testing to validate. Currently, people have no idea what is good for them, any more than a caveman knew about the heliocentric solar system. In the absence of rational philosophy, the hedonism of the moment is the only possible "guide." If you know nothing of cavities, weight gain and diabetes, what is to stop you from eating candy? If you know nothing of the elemental evils of the state, what is to stop you from grabbing whatever you can whenever you can? And really, who can blame you for trying? If you don't pick up that hundred dollar bill lying on the sidewalk, it's not going to stay there forever.

This is where I find sympathy for my fellow citizens. I happen to love philosophy – particularly ethics – but that is my particular fetish. I cannot expect everyone else to be as fascinated by the subject—and that is entirely as it should be! I study philosophy, you study medicine. You cannot philosophize, I cannot prescribe – neither of us can be condemned for our respective lack of knowledge, since every choice involves an infinity of opportunity costs.

But I do expect you, as my surgeon, to tell me the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be for me.

And we, as philosophers, must tell the truth to our world, no matter how unpleasant it is for others. A doctor who lies, who covers the truth to provide false comfort—for his own comfort really—is worse than no doctor at all.

If you pick up a scalpel, you must be prepared to cut.