Before we start talking about how to achieve a stateless society, I think that it is important to spend some time talking about how not to achieve a stateless society.
For the past several hundred years – really since the late eighteenth century – intellectuals, priests, philosophers, academics, and activists of every stripe and hue have been striving with all their considerable intellectual and moral might to place theoretical and practical limits upon the power of the state.
The original American experiment was at least intellectually founded upon the ideal of creating a government by and for the people, with the express knowledge that the state was a dangerous servant and a terrible master.
It is hard to think of other examples in history where so many checks and balances were placed upon centralised political power – and it is also impossible to think of a more dangerous and powerful government than the modern American leviathan.
The abysmal failure of such a noble experiment should give all moralists pause.
If the smallest possible government has grown into the largest conceivable government – within a few hundred years – it is hard to imagine what kind of theoretical system could conceivably control state growth in the future.
Traditionally, three approaches have been taken to reducing the power and size of the state. The first is political action, the second is academic education, the third is religious partnership.
This approach takes as its fundamental axiom the idea that if the general citizens were educated enough, motivated enough, and insistent enough, then the natural democratic process would shrink the size and power of the state. Candidates such as Ron Paul would gain enough of a popular mandate to stride into Washington, wrestle the entrenched special interest groups, flush out the sewage of accumulated corruption, and take back the government for the people!
To this end, libertarians of all persuasions have either directly participated in or supported the pursuit of political action, usually from a grass-roots level. The political process is considered either to be a practical way of gaining – and thus diminishing – political power, or at the very least a “bully pulpit” from which to communicate to a wider audience the libertarian ideals of small government.
This second approach – often allied with the political approach – is based on the belief that if knowledge about the efficiency and virtue of the free market can be researched, peer-reviewed, published, and communicated clearly and widely enough, the general population will forsake their desire for statist solutions to complex social problems in favour of voluntary and free market solutions. In a similar manner to the political approach, the growth in state power is perceived to result from a deficiency in knowledge among the general population about the free market – just as the political approach assumes that state power increases as a result of a deficiency of political knowledge among the general population, such as a detailed understanding of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, and so on.
At the true heart of the libertarian movement, however, sits a well-worn altar. Religious faith is the very bedrock of the anti-government movement – in particular, the anti-Federal movement. Ron Paul is a fundamentalist Christian who rejects evolution, the Mises Institute is specifically Catholic, Bob Barr is also a fundamentalist Christian...
It is not exactly that the libertarian movement is populated by fundamentalists, but rather that libertarianism can be considered an off-shoot of Christian fundamentalism.
What these three approaches have in common, of course, is money. Political activism raises tens of millions of dollars in an election cycle – while free-market academic economists take home an income in the six figures, along with tenure, months off in the summer, plenty of travel, and extended sabbatical leaves.
However, the real money in libertarian circles comes from religion. Religious organisations raise billions of dollars a year, and are happy to spend that money funding compatible causes. Americans gave an estimated ninety-three billion dollars to religious organisations in 2005. A large proportion of that money is dedicated to the pursuit of religious goals – one of which is the shrinking of the Federal government through libertarian activism.
The only way that this money can be gotten a hold of is through the perception – well reinforced by libertarians – that not only are these three approaches effective in reducing the power of the state, but they are in fact the most effective approaches.
The Track Record
It hardly seems premature to compare the goals of libertarianism to its actual achievements. This scarcely violates the basic principles of libertarianism, as it claims to be a logical and empirical approach to determining truth and value in the world.
One of the central libertarian arguments against statist solutions is that they promise endless benefits, but deliver endless disasters. “Look at the welfare state!” libertarians pontificate. “It promised to reduce poverty, but since it has been instituted, poverty has only gotten worse!”
Similarly, libertarians say, governments claim to protect their citizens, while in fact continually attacking their persons and property.
Thus libertarianism rejects theoretical proclamations in favour of tangible, real world empirical evidence.
To be sure, this is not the only criticism that libertarians level toward statism – what I call the argument from effect – they also use the argument from morality, rightly condemning the use of force by the state to achieve its ends.
However, since an enormous amount of libertarian literature exists criticising the “law of unintended consequences,” or the ill effects of state power – the ever-growing gap between what is promised and what is achieved – I think it is more than fair to take the criticisms that libertarianism applies so liberally to everything else and apply them to libertarianism itself.
Libertarianism does not present itself as a philosophy or activist approach that is designed to merely slow down the potential growth of the state. Libertarianism has as its stated goal the reduction of the size and power of the state.
The formal modern political libertarian movement was founded in the early 1970s – but we can go a lot further back in terms of anti-state activism. In the late eighteenth century Adam Smith argued strenuously against tariffs, the manipulation of currency, and the interference in trade that was a staple of the government programs of the day.
In the nineteenth century, we saw the rise of classical liberalism, which was even more assertive in its goal and expectation of reducing the size and power of the state.
Starting in the 1920s, Ludwig von Mises wrote powerful tracts against socialism, and was the first to detail the calculation problem, which is that socialist economies inevitably fail to optimise because the absence of the free market mechanism of price always results in disastrous errors in resource allocations.
In the 1950s and 1960s, libertarianism received significant boosts on the academic, political, and artistic fronts through the rising popularity of several star economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, politicians such as Barry Goldwater – as well as through the novels of Ayn Rand, which introduced millions of people to the philosophy of liberty.
On the fringes, Murray Rothbard published important academic works on the causes of the Great Depression, thundered powerfully against the irrationalities and predations of state power, experimented with various political alliances with leftists, and spearheaded the examination of how a modern society could function in the complete absence of the state.
The rise of the Chicago School of economics provided a significant academic boost to our theoretical understanding of how free markets work, and why they are so effective.
Tens of millions of people have devoted staggering amounts of time, money, and energy to the goal of reducing state power. This goal has been pursued for hundreds of years, has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars, and has received significant intellectual support from religious leaders, academics, and popular writers.
What has been the net result of centuries of strenuous effort to reduce the size and power of the state?
The largest and most powerful governments in the history of mankind.
Is it entirely unfair to take the charges that libertarians hurl at statist bureaucracies, and turn them against the effectiveness of libertarianism itself?
If a statist bureaucracy should be roundly and endlessly condemned for achieving the exact opposite of its stated goals – and refusing to change its approach despite that basic reality – can we not reasonably level that same charge at libertarianism as well?
The age of the modern welfare state can be measured in decades – the history of libertarianism goes back centuries – and yet libertarians condemn the welfare state for failing to achieve its goals, while creating endless excuses for their own failures.
Show Me The Money
Libertarians also condemn the state for using moral principles as a mere cover for base money-grubbing. “The government says that it wants to help the poor, but really it just wants to increase your taxes!” The use of ethical arguments to bamboozle money out of the gullible is considered a vile crime by libertarians – yet their consistent failure to achieve anything even remotely close to their stated objectives is not considered cause enough to rethink their three basic approaches.
As I will show in this book, rethinking our approach to achieving a stateless society will necessarily harm the direct financial and career interests of those who currently profit from the unholy trinity of libertarian addictions – politics, academics, and religion.
Free market economists constantly tell us that people respond to incentives. Whatever you subsidise increases – and whatever you tax decreases. Libertarians also tell us that statist bureaucracies will never solve the problems they are created to solve, because if the welfare state were to actually eliminate poverty, it would have to disband, throwing everyone within it out of work. It is to the advantage of the welfare state, libertarians and economists tell us, to actually increase the numbers of poor people, since that results in increased funding for anti-poverty programs.
It is interesting to note that these esteemed thinkers do not say that everyone except libertarians responds to incentives – thus we can reasonably assume that libertarian organisations are subject to the same economic principles as every other group. If the funding of libertarian groups increases as the size of the state increases, then we can reasonably assume that those who run libertarian groups are actually being paid to increase the size of the state – just as the heads of welfare agencies are paid to increase the numbers of the poor.
I understand and accept that these are not conscious motives – any more than some welfare czar wakes up every morning, rubs his well-oiled moustache, and giggles with glee at the reality that creating more poor people expands his political empire. It is not through the malevolence or bad intent of any particular individuals that such things come to pass, but rather it is an inevitable law of economics, since people respond to incentives.
I do not speak theoretically here – without a doubt, the largest political campaign in libertarian history was the Ron Paul candidacy, which raised over twenty million dollars, at a time when the growth of state power was considered the most dangerous. As the size and power of the state grows, so does the money and attention rolling into libertarianism.
Perhaps you feel that this charge is unreasonable, or even shocking?
Perhaps. However, there is a simple empirical test.
Libertarians would be able to easily destroy any charge of corruption by simply and honestly reviewing and examining their catastrophic failures over the past few decades – let alone the past few centuries. Sadly, however, not only is such self-criticism and self-examination not part of the movement – it is actively avoided and attacked if it ever dares to raise its head.
If libertarians genuinely believe that they themselves are immune to financial incentives, then they are saying that they are excluded from a founding principle of economics. If libertarians can pursue their primary goal in opposition to economic incentives, then surely this would be possible for statist bureaucracies as well. If those who inhabit statist bureaucracies always follow their economic incentives, then surely that same law must apply to libertarians as well.
When an organisation consistently achieves the exact opposite of its stated goals, refuses to examine or change its strategy, continually takes in more money the worse things get, and attacks anyone who questions its fundamental approaches, then by any reasonable standard that organisation has become irredeemably corrupt, and must be abandoned by the sane and rational – or at least those to whom the reduction of state power is a real goal, and not just a bait for income.
I have always believed that it is not particularly productive to criticise without providing an alternative. I have never wanted to be an “armchair quarterback” who complains about the decisions and actions of others, and yet remains unwilling to rouse themselves to create a reasonable solution.
I have strong opinions about how we can truly begin to build a road to a better and freer future – but first I know that the political, academic, and religious addictions of libertarianism must be shed in order for us to begin down that road.
You have to clear the rubble before building anew.
Libertarianism claims to be a true, rational, and empirical discipline. “We should oppose state power, and believe in the virtue and efficacy of the free market not as articles of faith,” sayeth the libertarians, “but because these tenets have been proven both theoretically and empirically.”
As an empirical discipline, libertarianism fully recognises the reality that theory must bow to evidence. Material facts trump theoretical perfection.
It is strange – and generally seems almost inevitable – that empirical disciplines, particularly in the social sciences, seem to be virulently opposed to their own standards. Libertarians say that socialism is illogical in theory, and disastrous in practice – and also preach that anything which is disastrous in practice must by definition be illogical in theory as well. In other words, it is equally valid to predict disastrous consequences by proving that a theory is illogical – as well as to derive the illogic of a theory by starting with its disastrous consequences.
It is not unreasonable to apply the term “disastrous consequences” to a movement that has not only failed to achieve its stated goals over several centuries, but has watched the exact opposite of its stated goals come to pass, despite a titanic expenditure of labour, money, and time. If the illogic of socialism can at least in part be proven by the disasters of its application, then surely we must admit the possibility that there might be something wrong with libertarian tactics – the approaches of politics, academics, and religiosity.
As any entrepreneur knows, the great temptation when wooing potential investors is the desire to over-promise results. In my own business career, I was constantly fighting to ensure that the information that we presented to potential investors was a reasonable appraisal of our capacities and prospects, while other executives sometimes seemed more prone to the temptation of inflating expectations.
Entrepreneurs who over-promise almost always end up under-delivering relative to the expectations of investors. The sleazy fall-back position when this inevitably occurs is to mumble something about “market positioning,” and say that the money was spent not in the generation of immediate profit, but rather in the general “education” of the potential market about the value of the product and/or the company. However, when investors press the entrepreneurs to provide evidence of this “market education,” only vague generalities and baseless assumptions can be heard.
In the recent Ron Paul campaign, two general arguments were used to get as much money as possible out of potential donators, which followed the same sleazy pattern described above.
When potential donators were contacted, it was with the promise that their donations would pave the way to potential electoral success. Various scenarios were put forward as to how Ron Paul could gain the presidency.
When the practical impossibility of this was pointed out, the fall-back position was that the Ron Paul candidacy was effective because of its opportunity to educate the general public. There is no podium like a presidential race, it was said, and no better way to get libertarian messages across in the general media.
Libertarians constantly criticise state agencies for failing to create predictable tests for success, to track progress, and to produce measurable results. If the goal of the Ron Paul candidacy was to get him elected to the White House, then that goal utterly failed. Short of spontaneous combustion, a worse failure could not be imagined.
If, however, the goal was to educate people to a greater understanding and appreciation of libertarian ideas and ideals, then we have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not this goal was achieved, because no “before and after” surveys were conducted.
It would be relatively easy – and inexpensive – to set up phone interviews with randomly-selected American voters before and after the campaign, to figure out how their general perception of libertarian ideals changed as a result of the Ron Paul candidacy.
This was never done – by a group that endlessly attacks the government for its “lack of accountability.”
Of course, endless anecdotal “evidence” is trotted out to “prove” that the candidacy resulted in an increase in the number of libertarian devotees, but that means about as much to a sceptic as a government commercial “proving” the virtue of the welfare state by talking to some people who have benefited from its largesse, and interviewing a department head.
Libertarians – particularly those enamoured by free-market economics – constantly talk about the need to keep our focus on the “hidden costs” rather than the “visible benefits.” If the government promotes a job creation program by showing a number of happy workers talking about how they got jobs through this program, the first thing that the libertarian will do is loudly proclaim that we should really focus on the many jobs that were lost as a result of increased taxation, rather than the few jobs that were created by the government program!
In exactly the same situation, when the silly anecdotes about Ron Paul “converts” are trotted out, and a reasonable person mentions that we should also think about the number of people who were turned off libertarianism by Ron Paul – by his religious fundamentalism, his opposition to evolution, his hostility towards and desire to deport “illegal immigrants” – well, suddenly the entire principle is reversed, and no, we must focus entirely on the positive anecdotes, not the negative possibilities!
It is truly, truly sad – but also inevitable, when dogmatic assertions are substituted for reason and evidence.
It is also inevitably the case that when people are afraid that they have failed, they tend to resist testing. Libertarians constantly rail against the fact that public schools refuse to submit to objective measures of success – and then, when someone suggests that they should measure the objective success that is claimed for the educational power of the Ron Paul candidacy, well, that is absolutely wrong, and a waste of resources, and not to be allowed!
Truly the strangest beast in the libertarian landscape is the free-market academic – the person who endlessly praises the ethics and quality of the free market, while themselves staying as far as humanly possible away from it!
Such a creature will always tell you that they have joined academia – despite its entirely statist and unionised nature – because they want to help the world achieve freedom by preaching free-market economics to impressionable students.
“Someone has to teach these kids about economics, and it is better for an Austrian economist to hold the position rather than some hideous statist or Keynesian. At least when I am up on the podium, these kids get exposed to some free-market ideas, which they can then further study, discuss, and understand on their own for the rest of their lives. Also, some of the kids that I teach will end up going on to become economics professors themselves, which will further spread free-market ideas to other impressionable youngsters. And so, the world will become freer over time...”
This compelling fairytale is exactly the kind of self-serving propaganda that you would expect coming out of the head of any government agency.
Why is this position so ludicrous?
This argument rests on the belief that great good can be achieved from within the bowels of corrupt privilege. The position of “professor” can only be obtained by joining a state-sanctioned and state-protected union, an enforced monopoly with high and violent barriers to entry. The university system itself is highly subsidised by the state – a less free-market environment can scarcely be conceived outside of pure communism.
If a free-market economist can achieve great virtue and do wonderfully good deeds despite being embedded in a violent and corrupt environment, then surely the same can occur in any government agency, or any state-enforced or state-subsidised monopoly. Violence and corruption can lead to great good, if only the right people can be put in place – is that not the fundamental delusion of statism?
Free-market economists dislike statist monopolies because they are immune from market forces, which they claim results in poor quality, shoddy service, endless inefficiencies, and the wholesale destruction of physical and intellectual capital. Also, because such a monopoly does not rely on its customers for its income, but rather upon its political connections, economists recognise that its real “customers” are not the end consumers of its products or services, but rather the political masters who control its fate.
Since free-market economists do not gain their salaries from their students, but rather from the approval of other academics, bureaucrats and politicians, we can assume that the universal principles that they apply to other statist monopolies also apply to their own. In accordance with their own free-market principles, an academic economist dooms themselves to a life of pitiful quality, shoddy service, endless inefficiencies, and the wholesale destruction of intellectual capital – in this case, the tender and trusting minds of their students.
If this rule does not apply to themselves – if they can provide quality and do good despite their coercive monopoly – then they have no right to criticise other coercive monopolies, but rather should abandon such principled objections, and say that such systems can work beautifully, if only they can be populated by the “right” people. In other words, it is not the system itself that they are criticising, but rather the inhabitants of that system – thus falling prey to the endless delusion that some people are immune to the economic absolute of responding to incentives, and so it is those people who can productively use the power of the state to benefit the world.
Actions Versus Words
It has been my strong and direct experience that people do not in fact judge what you say, but rather what you do. Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal.
What is your average uninformed student to make of their free-market economist professor? Let us call this tender student “Bob,” and his professor “Doug.”
When Doug endlessly expounds upon the evils and inefficiencies of statist monopolies, what is Bob to think? Is Doug saying that he, Doug, is both evil and inefficient? If Doug is not evil and inefficient, then statist monopolies cannot by definition be evil and inefficient, since Doug belongs to one.
What about when Doug talks about the loss of quality that arises from artificial and violent barriers to competition in trade and services? Does not Doug’s state-protected union at least imply an artificial and coercive barrier to competition? Does that mean that Doug’s teaching is of a pitiful quality, as a result of these barriers to competition?
When Doug praises the efficiencies and virtues of the free-market, what is Bob to make of these assertions? Would he not feel similar to how he would feel if one of his professors endlessly praised the virtues of tolerance and multiculturalism, and then withdrew in the evening to a gated community where minorities were not allowed?
Even more fundamentally – and importantly – what does Bob really think will happen if he brings these perfectly valid and sensible questions to the attention of Professor Doug? If the criticisms that our friend the free-market academic brings to bear on others can be even more directly applied to himself – since he claims to possess such great knowledge about these matters – what will happen if Bob persists in applying the same criticisms to Professor Doug?
All students who are not functionally retarded understand exactly what will happen if this matter is pressed. The pettiness and vitriol of these foolish professors will erupt like a vicious and acidic geyser. Professors are widely considered to be touchy, superior, evasive – and emotionally volatile, as are all fundamental hypocrites.
Free-market academics will often say that they did not invent the system they are forced to inhabit in order to teach economics. This is true, of course, but it is hard to see the relevance of this obvious fact. First of all, the same argument could be made for every single other special interest group that free-market academics oppose.
Secondly, the whole point of a peaceful revolution of ideas is to teach people to voluntarily forgo the evil material advantages of state power. Academics have all the power that they need to overturn their own unjust privileges – they merely have to get together and decide to voluntarily cancel all of their own statist contracts with the universities.
If this turns out to be impossible, or impractical, then all that these free-market voluntarists have to do is go on strike until the universities cancel those contracts for them.
If we see those who most love and understand the free market recoil from giving up their unjust government privileges, then we can at last understand that education alone breeds neither virtue nor integrity – but, almost inevitably, stimulates only the corrosive spectacle of pompous hypocrisy.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
When a someone screams at their child, “Never scream at others!” they are in fact giving good advice, but are utterly discrediting that advice through their own actions.
When libertarian academics say that they are largely driven by the motive to teach the principles of freedom to their students, it is reasonable to ask two questions:
- Are they in fact communicating the value of freedom?
- What is the evidence that decades or centuries of using statist institutions to teach people about the free market has increased society’s respect as a whole for the free market?
There is no more subtle and powerful way to discredit an idea than to teach its value in theory while rejecting it in practice. This “credibility gap” is easy to see in politicians, who sometimes rail against homosexuality while cruising for gay sex in airport bathrooms. Can you imagine receiving a lecture on the evils of gay marriage from a married gay couple? Would this not be a form of absurdity rather than education?
Even if we consider it somehow reasonable for pro-market academics to teach the virtues and efficiencies of open competition while hiding behind the black walls of state privilege, should this not be a topic that they openly address up front? If a gay married couple lectures you about the evils of gay marriage without even mentioning the completely obvious fact that they are both gay and married – would this not be baffling and annoying beyond words?
You may have heard the old saying, “I cannot hear what you are saying over what you are doing” – and it is hard to imagine a situation it applies to more than state-protected academics teaching students about the evils of state protection, and the endless moral and practical values of the voluntary free-market.
The Price Of Academics
Economics is all about empirical measurement and rational theorising – primarily, it is about the empirical measurement of price, as reflected in voluntary transactions.
Since free-market economists base the value of their field on the primacy of empirical measurement, it is hard to understand why studies of students who have taken economics courses regularly show that they actually do worse on economics questions a year after their course than people who have never taken a course on economics.
An economist bases his professional credibility on avoiding arbitrary claims, and building his theories from empirical evidence.
When free-market economists constantly trumpet their own wonderful abilities to teach students about the value and virtue of the free-market, it is hard to understand why studies prove the exact opposite. I do not have a problem with people making baseless claims, as long as they are willing to at least look for the evidence to support those claims – even after the fact. Economists have been saying for decades that they enter into academia in order to teach students the value of the free-market. However, I have never seen one study – credible or otherwise – which even remotely supports this claim.
Once again, we see arbitrary, self-congratulatory assertions combined with a relentless avoidance of proof. Priests will tell you that prayer works, but will endlessly evade and reject scientific proof to the contrary. Libertarians will endlessly tell you that political action works, but will endlessly evade and reject empirical proof to the contrary.
Free-market academics will tirelessly repeat the mantra that they effectively teach students about the virtue and value of the free-market – yet no libertarian academic study has ever been performed to discover whether this is, or is not, the case.
Free-market economists will study the most arcane and ridiculous subjects – yet mysteriously avoid testing the efficacy of the claims they make about their own profession. They rail against politicians who make wild claims that are unsupported by empirical tests – and then, they tell us that they effectively teach the virtue and value of the free-market, and study every conceivable topic under the sun except the validity of that claim.
Empirically, free-market economists do not effectively teach people about the free-market – in fact, empirically, quite the opposite is true. They actually teach people that free-market values are irrelevant, because they do not live what they preach.
All free-market economists fundamentally teach students is that only hypocrites are drawn to promoting the free-market. Like the gay married couple who tour the country railing against gay marriage, all they do is confuse, frustrate, and alienate those with the misfortune to hear their speeches.
Kiss The Ring
Libertarians – and free-market economists – roundly condemn politicians for handing out gifts that are not theirs to give. When a politician “grants” a subsidy to a corporation, these lovers of the free-market are very quick to point out that the money is not the politician’s to “give,” since it has been taken from the taxpayer through the threat of violence. We all fully recognise the degree to which those who flock around politicians with the hope of gaining some illicit goodies flatter the vanity and pomposity of those politicians in order to gain their favour.
Ahhh, but how things change when the free-market economist is the one with the gifts to give!
People generally go beyond introductory courses on economics because they want to become professional economists – and many of them want to become professors.
If Bob wants to become an academic professor, he knows the degree to which people have to flatter, bow, and scrape before Professor Doug – since without a “mentor,” he will be unable to make his way up through the ranks toward the Holy Grail of tenure. Bob will have to get research assignments, good grades, recommendations, TA positions – all of the goodies that professors can bestow upon “worthwhile” students.
Someone who is given an unjust privilege very quickly begins to mistake that privilege for their own virtue. Politicians, kings, and bureaucrats are all surrounded by flatterers, toadies, and hangers on – all clamouring to grab a wet meal from the bloody buffet of state power.
And what a tasty meal academia is! Six figure salaries, no shortage of time off, a dozen or so hours of classes a week is considered overtime, it is almost impossible to get fired – it is a wonderfully sweet deal for those who can get a hold of it, assuming that they do not mind selling their souls for the privilege of feeding their bodies.
The reason that professors have any power over their students is because those professors hold the key to a golden door – a key that is not given to them voluntarily, based upon the quality of their teaching as judged by their students, but rather because they have weaselled and toadied their own way up the slick rope of unjust privilege.
Free-market academics hold this unjust and bloody privilege in their hands, and dole it out to the meek, eager, and compliant – spurning and rejecting the strong, the sceptical, and the critical. They thunder their criticisms at politicians for handing out their unjust privileges to a grasping and greedy crowd – and then turn and lord it over their own students, imagining that it is they themselves who are so valuable, rather than the unjust privileges that they can bestow upon those who suitably abase themselves.
For free-market economists, you see – just like everybody else – the trials, stresses, and joys of the free market are always and forever for others – not for those who praise the free market while hiding in the statist monopolies of their ivory towers – but for everyone else, who really should use the productivity of the free market to generate the wealth that can be unjustly “appropriated” by free-market economists.
It could be argued that becoming an elite educator was at least to some degree very hard to achieve prior to the Internet. Free market economists could not teach in high schools, since there were few if any classes on economics – and it would be very hard to set up a school of economics and try to get paid by offering voluntary lessons to those who were interested.
Free-market economists like to think that people sign up for their classes and submit to their evaluations, because those people love economics, knowledge, and their way of teaching – rather than because they are hoping to use them to gain their way up another rung on the ladder to the riches of tenure. Since these free-market economists love to preach that entrepreneurs should submit their goods and services to the iron discipline of the free market – that value cannot be ascertained in the absence of price, and price cannot be ascertained in the presence of a coercive monopoly – then surely these economists should be eager to learn their true value in the free market.
Since professorial tenure is the unjust privilege of a statist monopoly, it cannot fundamentally be a potential value that an economics professor brings to their students – if this is the case, we must call politicians brilliant entrepreneurs for having so much money to “invest” in businesses.
An economist who truly believes that they are worth their six figure income, short work week, and months off in the summer should be eager to submit their theory to the free market – especially since they insist that everyone else should do just that! When a state monopoly is facing privatisation and open competition in the free market, they applaud such a transition, because it will bring efficiency and reduce coercion – and will thus create much greater value. They tell people who tremble before such a precipice that they should be eager to leap off it to a better, more productive, and more efficient environment. “You will be happier!” they cry. “These transitions are difficult, but they are the inevitable progress of the free-market, the creative destruction inherent to capitalism – and you should be eager and happy despite your fears!”
Well, fortunately, I myself have proven that you can stimulate people’s interest in higher education without holding aloft the false and unjust prizes of marks, reference letters, and tenure!
I have gotten tens of thousands of people interested in philosophy, economics, art, religion, and psychology – and I cannot offer them any career advancement (or even tax receipts)! I cannot offer them a degree, or tenure, or anything else of that sort! In fact, some of the ideas that I talk about can be actively uncomfortable for people, since I aim to take philosophy out of the ivory tower and put it into action in people’s lives, which can be enormously difficult.
So – free-market economists who believe that voluntarism is a virtue, and monopoly is an evil – I invite you to join me on the Wild West of the Internet, the ultimate capitalist frontier! Take your theories out of the tower and let them loose in the streets! Preach from home, preach to your computer, speak your truths to a hungry and waiting world – light up people’s minds with your passion, your knowledge, your wisdom, and your virtue!
It is a simple thing to accomplish. All you have to do is resign from your unjust privilege, and submit the quality of your teaching to the test of the free market you so admire and praise! It costs only a few dollars a month to set up a website and charge people for your lessons. Without the ability to hand out stolen goodies, you will finally see the true value of what it is that you are doing – in the free market, which you say is the sole final arbiter of real value!
You can charge students what they are paying you now – maybe thirty dollars or so for a forty-five minute lesson. It is cheap to set up a payment scheme over the Internet – I will help you for free, all you have to do is contact me through my website. Instead of reaching a few dozen students, over the Internet you can reach thousands, tens of thousands – or more! If you really want to spread the word of the free market to others, and if you are genuinely worth six figures a year for teaching a few dozen students, then imagine how many millions of dollars you can make by teaching tens of thousands of students! Furthermore – now, your lectures evaporate into thin air like water in a desert – with the Internet, your lectures can exist in perpetuity, and people can pay you for lectures that you did last week, last month, or last year!
You can reach tens of thousands of listeners (I have had millions of pod-casts and videos downloaded in a little over two years). Thousands of listeners interested in philosophy talk to each other on the Freedomain Radio board and live chat window. I started the website with virtually nothing, and it cost me maybe fifty dollars a month to begin with – if you charge thirty dollars a lecture, which is what you are charging now, you will be able to make back those monthly costs with less than two students in one class!
When you talk to other people who are nervous about the free market, you always tell them that although the transitions can be difficult, great happiness and productivity lie on the other side of privatisation. When the Soviet Union was going through its wrenching free-market transition, many academic economists went over there, or wrote articles, proclaiming the virtue in struggling through this transition in order to achieve the efficiency and productivity of the free market on the other side.
Academics – free-market academics – surely you understand that it is now time to take your own advice. Surely you have the integrity to live by the standards that you inflict on others. Surely you have not preached a false doctrine for your entire career. Surely you have not “pooh-poohed” other people’s fears of submitting themselves to the discipline of the free-market – only to surrender to your own fears of submitting yourself, your value, to the free market. Surely you have not trumpeted so loudly from the top of your ivory tower that the transition to freedom and voluntarism is a noble goal, and then when such noble action is offered to you, slither down to hide in the bosom of state monopoly protection.
So – this is my encouragement, if, as you say, you really care about transmitting the virtue and value of the free market to impressionable youngsters. You do not want to be the foolish spectacle of the man who says, in matters of extreme importance, “Do as I say, not as I do!” We all recognise that such inveterate hypocrites have been the scourge of society since its inception. You do not want to practice the opposite of the virtues you preach. We have all seen such big-haired monstrosities on the pre-dawn television evangelical hour – you do not want to inhabit such polyester hypocrisy.
No, although it is frightening, as you have constantly pointed out to others, it is a great virtue and a great service to step out of statist protection and submit your goods and services to the discipline of the free-market.
I have paved the way for you, at least. I left a successful entrepreneurial career, and a salary of one hundred sixty thousand dollars a year, to build Freedomain Radio, which was at the time making less than thirty-five thousand a year. And I can tell you that you are completely right – the transition to an even freer market, while difficult, is entirely rewarding.
I listened to your advice.
Will you do the same?
If you genuinely believe that you are worth twenty or thirty dollars an hour per student, then you should leap at the chance to garner your wages from a far wider audience – because people respond to incentives, as you have constantly told us.
If, however, you reject the free market in practice, in your life, and cling to your unjust statist privileges, your oh-so-light work week, your months off in the summer, your paid travel to exotic conferences, your pension, your job security, your unjust prestige – if you tremble to take the medicine you prescribe to others, though you suffer from exactly the same disease, then by all means, sit where you are, enshrined and entombed in your ivory tower – but can you do the rest of us, those of us who are actually trying to educate people in the free market you praise – can you do the rest of us a small favour? Please – shut up about the free market.
You are an embarrassment.
The Contradiction Of Academia
The academic approach to libertarianism is founded on the premise that if people know enough about the free market, they will reject statist solutions and pursue free market solutions.
The very existence of free-market academics utterly destroys this premise. We can assume that such academics know the most about the free market – and yet they explicitly reject free market solutions to the problem of higher education!
If someone who has spent most of their life studying the free market wants no part of it when it comes to their own career, then the argument that increased knowledge leads to a desire for more freedom is proven false.
If you want to sail from a city on one continent to a city on another continent, and your course is initially off by only one or two degrees, you may end up not just in the wrong city, but on the wrong continent!
The grand ethics, great strategies, and life arcs of any organisation – or any individual, for that matter – are all determined by the little decisions made at the very beginning of things. It is possible to break free of the fate of prior decisions, but it is a hellish and humbling process.
Modern political libertarianism is almost exclusively a US phenomenon, and the reason is that since its inception, it has been tightly wed to – and dependent upon – the financial support of fundamentalist Christian religious organisations. The United States is the most religious Western democracy – and since libertarianism is an offshoot of fundamentalist Christianity, it is only in the United States that libertarianism has gained any prominence at all.
This was neither innate nor inevitable to libertarianism. Some of the greatest “libertarians” in history have been agnostics, Deists, or outright atheists. Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, George Washington – most of the Founding Fathers were scarcely even Christian, let alone “born again” or fundamentalists. Ayn Rand – the writer who brought millions of people to libertarianism – was a strong atheist, as was Murray Rothbard.
However, the great challenge of activism is money. New ideas in particular have trouble gaining financial traction, for the obvious reason that they do not serve anyone’s existing agenda.
People give money to intellectual activists because they agree with the goals of those activists. When libertarianism began, who was it going to get its money from? It did not have the income of an Ayn Rand, or the inheritance of a Rockefeller, and a group of professors do not have the capital to found a sizable political movement.
Fundamentalist Christians believe that the government should be limited because there is no authority but God – the synergy between Christianity and libertarianism in this regard was a terrible temptation, because Christians have a lot of money, which is exactly what libertarianism needed to get its start.
The temptation to join together with groups whose philosophy is oppositional, but whose goals are similar, is an idiotic pit that philosophical movements seem forever willing to pitch themselves into. In other sciences, we can easily see the foolishness of this approach. A scientific agricultural expert would scarcely benefit from “joining forces” with a Native American rain dancer, although both claim to have the goal of producing better crops. Would we counsel an oncologist to join up with a witch doctor, since both have the “goal” of healing people?
Such advice seems ridiculous, of course, but what if the witch doctors have all the money?
If you have a new idea, you can either attempt to merge it with existing ideas – thus compromising it, but gaining easy momentum – or you can attempt to carve out a new market for your idea. Those who are impatient for “results” will always choose the former; those who are dedicated to the truth at all costs will always choose the latter.
Libertarians were enormously impatient – and we can all surely understand this impatience – and so did not want to take the long, slow, and hard road of carving out a new market for a rational philosophy, but rather took the easy “catapult off a cliff” by joining together with the superstitious irrationality – and deep purse – of Christianity. In so doing, they subverted the movement completely, turning it into just another special interest group.
Premises And Conclusions
People are emotionally drawn to conclusions, but intellectual integrity must draw us toward reasoning from first principles. Everyone is drawn to the moral conclusion that “murder is wrong,” because we feel so instinctively that it must be the case. Intellectual integrity demands, however, that we attempt to derive this ethical conclusion from first principles and rational arguments. To take an extreme example, if the wind blows some sand dunes into the shape of the equation “e=mc2,” we do not grant it a degree in physics. If we imagine an athlete who plays for a team called the “Atoms,” who is asked what matter is composed of – but who mishears the question as “what team do you play for?” – he will reply with the correct syllables, but in no way will have the correct answer.
Libertarians – and other thinkers of course – rightly deride the public-school practice of “teaching the test,” because the regurgitation of rote answers is worse than mere ignorance, since it provides the illusion of knowledge which does not in fact exist. If a teacher instructs her students to write the symbol “4” to the right of the symbols “2+2=” we would not perceive her as having taught the children any knowledge or principles at all.
In the same way, the statement “a smaller state is better” does not indicate any particular knowledge at all, since it is a mere conclusion, rather than an argument from first principles.
In general, if you can teach a parrot to say it, it cannot be considered knowledge.
Coming to the conclusion that matter is composed of atoms as a result of rigorous scientific experiments represents the acquisition of valid knowledge about reality. Blankly stating that matter is composed of atoms because God says so only represents bigoted superstition, and is worse than professing genuine ignorance, since the illusion of an answer almost inevitably prevents further exploration of the question. When a new, fledgling movement is struggling to gain momentum the temptation to merge with an enormous, well-funded, and well-established movement can be overwhelming. The desire to make a “big splash” and quickly add to one’s numbers and income seems like a perfectly sensible strategy at the time. In a similar manner, a man with a toothache may well think that heroin is the answer – and in a way, with regards to his immediate pain, it certainly is! Unfortunately, the heroin only masks his discomfort, while allowing the rot in his body to fester. Sadly, by the time he realises that his drug addiction – while it masked his symptoms in the short run – has only added to the disease he was originally trying to combat, he is very likely in “too deep” to stop his compulsive behaviour.
For any cause, money – and its attendant power – can be just such a drug.
Libertarianism claims to be an empirical and rational discipline – the metaphysical and epistemological opposite of any religion, and in particular of fundamentalist Christianity. The fact that both cliques want smaller government has about as much relevance as the fact that both Adolf Hitler and my Indian neighbour like dogs – and gives them about as much in common.
When a supposedly rational movement merges with its opposite based on a shallow similarity of goals, it undermines its own rationality. When the oncologist joins forces with the witch doctor, no one imagines that the witch doctor has suddenly become a scientist – everyone understands that the oncologist has simply become irrational. When the oncologist who has joined up with the witch doctor lectures everyone about the necessity for rationality and empiricism, every sane human being in his audience feels the mad contradiction down to his very toes.
Libertarianism did not make Christianity rational – Christianity simply made libertarianism irrelevant. Libertarianism did not turn Christianity into an empirical science; Christianity turned libertarianism into an irrational superstition.
The Tragedy Of Compromise
The true tragedy of compromise is that it only benefits the least rational – always at the expense of that which is higher, more logical, more noble, more honourable, and more true.
A noble woman who marries a corrupt and vicious man does not elevate him; she only debases herself – or rather, reveals her own unconscious corruption.
“Compromise” is a standard that is held aloft by the base, as a way of snagging that which is superior and dragging it down.
Impressively rational thinkers like Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard would laugh out loud at a student who handed in a paper on economics which derived its “proofs” from the Holy Bible, ending with the flourish, “...and so we know that my argument is proven because God says so!” I am sure they would be hard pressed to know even what to say about such a mad submission.
Can we imagine either of these two esteemed thinkers – to take mere examples – clamouring to add their name to such a paper, to be sure that they could share the credit?
Of course not – they would move heaven and earth to avoid association with such madness!
However, when the thesis is “small government is better” – and when millions of dollars are in play – why then, religious bigotry suddenly achieves the holy glow of sublime intellectualism! Suddenly, scholars like Murray Rothbard spend time rooting around the bowels of Christian madness, scrabbling to find superstitious support for free market ideas – as if those ideas are so pitiful and unsupportable that we need to canvas ghosts and goblins for supporting quotes! “My thesis is true because my invisible unicorn Pam has snorted twice in my head!”
This kind of pitiful, money-grubbing desperation is truly stomach-turning, and lies at the real foundation of why libertarianism has had so little effect, and why it stands idly by, communing with ghosts and counting its money, while the world slides towards slavery.
The Goal - And Soul - Of An Organisation
Libertarians fully understand, when looking at statist organisations, the difference between stated goals and actual motives.
For instance, when looking at the war on drugs, libertarians are comfortable saying that although the stated goal is to get rid of drugs, the actual motive is quite the opposite, since actually getting rid of drugs – were this even possible – would end the careers of everyone involved. No man works tirelessly to destroy his own income – and no organisation is populated by careerists endlessly dedicated to ending their own careers.
When an organisation continues to do that which “does not work,” it is a fairly simple intellectual exercise to understand that no organisation ever consistently does “that which does not work.” If an organisation seems to be continually failing to achieve its stated mission – but refuses to alter its actions – then clearly it is simply achieving another, non-stated mission.
When examining the “evil uncle” of libertarianism – the Federal Reserve – free-market theorists are both gleeful and scathing in puncturing the illusion that it has any interest in actually achieving its stated goal. The stated mission of the Federal Reserve is to create stability both in currency and in the economy as a whole – yet, since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913, the US dollar has lost over ninety-five percent of its value, and the United States has been wracked by recessions, depressions, and artificial booms. The political complicity of the Federal Reserve has been proven time and again, as it performs a variety of essential services for its political masters, such as pumping up the money supply before elections and so on.
Libertarians repeatedly point out that although the Federal Reserve's stated goal is to stabilise the currency and the economy, it continues to do neither without changing any of its actions – and therefore its stated goal must simply be a “cover” for its actual goal.
Exactly the same criticism can be more than reasonably levelled at libertarianism itself.
What is the goal of modern libertarianism? Clearly it cannot be to win elections, since it consistently fails at that, and has not changed its strategy. It also cannot be to educate the general public, since it has never measured – to my knowledge – the effectiveness of any of its educational campaigns. Any “goal” which has never once been measured in over forty years cannot be considered a “goal” at all.
Is the goal of modern libertarianism to communicate the rational value of empiricism and working from first principles? That is impossible, because it allies with Christianity, which is based on the exact opposite of such philosophical principles.
When examining the true goal of any organisation, all we have to do is look at what has been consistently achieved, rather than what is proclaimed as a purpose. We all understand this in the case of the Federal Reserve – the reality is that the Federal Reserve allows the politically-connected to gain massive wealth and power through the manipulation of currency.
The one goal that has been consistently achieved by modern libertarianism, of course, is a money grab, largely from Christians.
If the goal of libertarianism is to grab Christian money with both hands, then that goal has been consistently achieved. Since that goal is the true goal of the movement, and since it has been consistently achieved, then there is no reason to change strategies.
What is the goal of free market academics? Is it to teach people about the value and power of the free market? Of course not! They could reach far more people by abandoning their tenured positions and teaching over the Internet, or in some other manner. They would also be far more effective as supporters of the free market if they actually deigned to dip their toes into the market system itself, and submitted their value to the arbitration of voluntary price, as they lecture everyone else to do.
No, the goal of such academics is to increase their incomes and live comfortable and secure lives by avoiding the free market as much as possible.
By their actions shall ye know them.
Unfortunately, the enormous corruptions of middle age are bred from the petty compromises of youth – just as the mortal tumours of later life are bred from little cigarettes.
At present, libertarianism has created an income and infrastructure that is utterly dependent upon fundamentalist Christian largesse. Like a corrupt cop with a summer home and a yacht, they have formed their entire lifestyles around a predictable amount of income that flows in from the bulging coffers of the superstitious. This income is a drug that they dare not question, let alone stop taking...
The cracks in the thinking have become the crack in the veins.
Like all addicts, the first defence of libertarianism is denial, the second is hostility. The growth of profitable and self-sustaining intellectual endeavours over the Internet has centrally threatened the moral choices of libertarianism.
I shall mostly speak of my own endeavour here – the philosophy show Freedomain Radio – since that is the one that I am most knowledgeable about. The power of the Internet to facilitate communication and education has rendered the essentially medieval institution of the University largely redundant – even counter-productive – in the dissemination of new and challenging ideas.
Free market economists know this perfectly well, when they talk about the counter-productivity of laws that make it difficult to fire people. “If you pass a law that makes it difficult to fire someone, all that will happen is that fewer people will get hired.” They point to the high unemployment in France, where termination is very difficult and expensive legally.
If you restrict exit, you also restrict entry – that is a fundamental reality in economics, well known in the profession.
It is also a well-known principle that state controls always lead to more state controls – price controls inevitably lead to subsidies, which inevitably lead to more price controls, and so on.
In the same way, tenure was originally instituted – so the story goes at least – to “protect” professors with radical ideas. Of course, the only reason a statist protection scheme like “tenure” was needed at all was because professors with radical ideas were not already “protected” by their appeal to their students!
A very talented actor can show up to work late and unprepared, and will still get hired, because of his or her appeal to the audience. Laurence Olivier had to put up with Marilyn Monroe being up to six hours late for a movie shoot! Sean Penn can be difficult to work with, but he is popular with audiences, and so his “job security” does not rely upon him being a bland and pleasant person to work with.
In the same way, any “radical” professor need never fear for his job as long as he remains popular with students – assuming, of course, that it is the students who actually pay his salary, as should be the case in the free market.
However, because students do not pay the salaries of their professors – at least, more than a few percentage points, anyway – professors do not maintain their job security by actually being good and popular instructors, but must find some other way to hang onto all the goodies they have come to depend upon.
It is highly instructive that even free market economists did not hit upon the solution of eliminating government funding for universities – thus placing the students at the centre of the economic equation, and guaranteeing that it would actually be the consumer who called the shots, not political connections. No, instead, additional government regulations and controls were called for, just as free-market theory predicted – and which a knowledge of free-market theory in no way impeded.
Since it became almost impossible to fire a tenured professor, what happened was not that radical professors got to keep their jobs, but rather that no more radical professors were ever hired – an inevitable consequence that would be well-known by any competent economist in advance. Department heads in universities obviously do not want to hire difficult, challenging, and annoying colleagues, since they will have to live with that decision – and with such an ogre across the hall – for the next thirty-odd years.
Professors do not have to appeal to their students – I am sure they would experience that as an unbearable humiliation, like any sheltered lords of privilege – but rather they have to appeal to department heads, and other colleagues. This means that no one can really become an economist who challenges other economists to actually live by the values they preach. Such a position would be considered a shockingly rude “attitude,” and would be inevitably punished accordingly.
In this way, the fertility and creativity of free market, consumer-driven competition vanishes from academia, leaving in its wake many who are petty, narcissistic, hyper-political, sneering, vain, insufferable, untouchable little minds, obsessed with minutiae, quick to temper and judgement, emotionally retarded, loftily arcing above the “common people,” congratulating themselves and others for a lifestyle they do not deserve – smug lords of a wealth they have not earned, who spend their waking hours preaching the virtues of voluntarism and discipline while they stuff their soulless bodies with goods and prestige bought and paid for by the blood money dripping from the tables of their political masters.
Unjust privilege corrupts and turns rancid the conscience, which regularly erupts in fits of self-righteous anger against those who have found the strength to make more honourable choices, who have struggled through the close darkness to live a life of sunlit integrity in the mountains above.
Methodology Versus Conclusions
Those who have consistently advocated a methodology are in a far better position to sustain and grow from criticism than those who have confidently advocated a conclusion. The scientist always does better than the dogmatist, because science is a methodology rather than a conclusion, and the dogmatist is only interested in their own conclusions.
Dogmatists are drawn together as a result of their common rejection of methodology. This is why academics, political activists, and fundamentalist Christians all gather together in libertarianism – because all of them fundamentally reject methodology, and instead trumpet conclusions.
Academics reject market review in favour of peer review, which is a fundamental rejection of free-market principles – what Ayn Rand used to call “social metaphysics.” No competent economist would argue that the true value of a product is determined by whether other managers think it is valuable or not – rather, the value of a product is determined by the free exchange of value in a market system.
The value of ideas is determined in the free-market, through the voluntary exchange of value. Ideas have no intrinsic value – since economics rejects the concept of intrinsic value, because value is in the eye of the beholder. Gold only has value because people want it – prior to the rise of humanity and the preference for currency, it was just another metal lying in the ground.
Free-market economists virulently deride the assignment of price by bureaucratic managers in a socialist planned economy, calling it a mere arbitrary assertion of value. However, the same economists praise as noble and scholarly the assignment of value by bureaucratic managers – in other words, peer review – and reject the true free-market assignment of the price of their labour, which would be what students would voluntarily pay them for their knowledge – not for their ability to grant degrees and entrance into academia, but for their knowledge, and the value of their teaching.
This contradictory conclusion – that value is determined by market forces, and yet value is also determined by peer review – is just another one of the endless series of hypocrisies generated by modern academia. The methodology for determining value is free exchange – trade. However, this is steadfastly rejected within academia, because such crass materialism is only for you and me, not for these lords of the intellect. They must be judged by loftier standards, which are the congratulations and conformities they are willing to bestow upon each other.
The methodology of price is thus both affirmed outside academia and rejected within it – the conclusion that academics live by is that their work just has value, damn it – and so they should be paid for it, by any means necessary, including statist protection and subsidies. This is one example of rejecting a methodology in favour of a conclusion.
Clearly, theology utterly rejects methodology in favour of a conclusion – which is that God exists, and priests must be paid.
Religion is so clearly a virus transmitted by culture that no sane person alive would ever imagine that they would grow up to be a Catholic, or a Baptist. or a Protestant, if they had grown up in the wilds of Borneo, among the pygmies, on a desert island – or in a Muslim family, for that matter.
Religion is fundamentally the scar tissue of emotional trauma – a form of post-traumatic stress disorder – which forms around the fears of abandonment and punishment that children experience if they dare to question the superstitions of their elders.
The conclusion is that God exists – and that is the entire methodology, it would seem. Christians sometimes do create enormously convoluted arguments to “prove” the miraculous nature of Christ’s existence – but it does not really matter in practice what reasons are put forward for the existence of God, since whenever those reasons are disproved, more “reasons” are simply generated on the fly.
In ancient times, all roads led to Rome – in the ancient times that have survived to modernity, all “reasoning” leads to God.
If the superstitious were at all interested in truth – which is a process, not a conclusion – then they would begin their questions from first principles, with reference to sense-reality, strict logic, and empirical evidence, just as every other rational pursuit of truth demands.
Of course, this approach is forever rejected, because even the slightest regard for logic and evidence leads one to at least agnosticism. Any reasonable regard for such standards leads one directly to strong atheism, or the explicit rejection of even the possible existence of such things as ghosts, goblins, genies, gods, and gremlins.
The conclusion is the entire point – the “reasoning” (such as it is) is all ex post facto – invented after the fact. Prayer is considered to be efficacious, claim the religious – when scientific evidence repeatedly proves this to be pure nonsense, the story is simply changed, and the requirement for evidence altered or removed.
This pitiful intellectual dishonesty and manipulation – all these pious and smug lies – is the exact opposite of the empirical and rational pursuit of truth. The idea that any scientific or rational discipline can productively unite with this fog of scabrous falsehoods only shows the capacity of the human soul for self-delusion and base greed.
When you wish to achieve something unprecedented, it is almost never a good idea to choose from existing “solutions.” If you want to attain a goal that has never before been attained, the only thing that all existing approaches have in common is that they have all failed.
The libertarian goal of attempting to reduce the size and power of the state is an objective that has never been peacefully achieved throughout history. Governments follow the same growth and demise patterns as virulent cancers. First, they mimic the body’s self-defence mechanisms – analogous to initial government offers to “protect” the citizens – and then they quickly gain sufficient strength and power to resist any attempts to contain or control their growth. Eventually, governments – like cancers – metastasise, and grow so rapidly that they overpower the body politic.
Fortunately, society is not the body of a single person, and so when governments grow to the point of virulent self-destruction, their collapse does not end life as a whole, but rather usually – through financial predations and wars – merely bleeds society to within an inch of its life. Throughout human history, the goal of reducing the size and power of the state has almost always been pursued through either political or military means. Since politics is merely polite violence, this essentially translates into the proposition that we should use violence to reduce the growth of violence.
Voting Away The Post Office
The political strategy basically runs like this:
If we educate people enough, they will vote for politicians who will get into office and use the power of that office to reduce or eliminate government coercion.
What is almost never mentioned in this formulation is the question of how these libertarian politicians will enforce the reduction of government coercion.
To take an example, imagine that a libertarian politician becomes President and decides to privatise the Post Office. Let us also say that he has a sufficient mandate from the voters to achieve this, and enough congressmen and senators to sponsor the bill and push it through the legislative process.
It does not take much imagination to understand the sequence of events that will be set into motion.
It takes a fair degree of emotional maturity to recognise the basic reality that other people have their own agendas, and will often work hard to maintain their privileges. Libertarians often view the process of privatisation as metaphorically akin to opening a jail – they seem to imagine that the prisoners will cheer and stampede out the front gates, sprinting with all their might to the new horizons of liberty!
Quite the opposite is true, particularly with regard to state industries. Those in state industries view their incomes and careers as just rewards for a life of service and dedication. For them, privatisation is a prison sentence which they will fight with all their might.
The moment that privatisation is even whispered about, the public-sector unions – all of them, since they will recognise the principle in play – will immediately stage massive protests and work stoppages. They will mount legal campaigns to retain their privileges, block major highways, and strangle the provision of essential services. Schools will shut down, power will be interrupted, roads will close – parents will have no place to send their children during the day, and thus will have to take time off work – society as a whole will shut down.
How will the libertarian President deal with this strangulation? Let us say that he wants to open a particular highway that public-sector unions have shut down by parking trucks in the middle of the road. Chanting union workers – men and women, and possibly children as well – ring the trucks. How can this be dealt with? Will he order the police to break through the ring of chanting workers? If they do not use force, then there is a complete stalemate, and the highway remains closed – thus blocking the passage of essential vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances.
The media will have a field day, playing endless images of people dying in stretchers because ambulances are trapped. Photos and videos of riot-geared police squaring off against chanting unarmed workers arm in arm will be spread all over the newspapers and the Internet, under the caption of “Libertarianism in Action.”
Even if all of this mess can somehow be bypassed, the basic reality is that public-sector unions have very strong contracts in place to ensure the maintenance and increase of their pensions and salaries and job security. Does a libertarian political leader tear up those contracts? If so, is he saying that the rule of law does not apply, or that all contracts with the government are effectively null and void?
If all contracts with the government can be voided on a whim, then he will very quickly find that institutional lenders will be reticent to extend credit to his government, and will call in their debts, as per the details of the lending arrangement.
Now, our libertarian hero is in quite a predicament. Society has ground to a halt, tax revenues have declined catastrophically, since the economy has taken a massive blow as a result of him threatening to privatise the post office – and now he finds it much harder to borrow money to make up the shortfall. Governments are very often on the razor’s edge of bankruptcy, sustained in general only by massive amounts of foreign lending. What happens when his new libertarian government runs out of money?
If he is unable to pay the police, or the military, or send out welfare checks, or pay off foreign lenders – what happens to society as a whole? How will people perceive the “success” of this brave new libertarian experiment?
People are rational animals who respond to incentives, and they generally prefer food and shelter in the moment to the achievement of some potential distant ideological objective – and no reasonable person can blame them for this – particularly not libertarians, who make exactly the same choice every day.
Thus people who want to have their children educated, who want to use roads, and receive a pay-cheque, do not have the luxury of waiting for months or years for the problem to be resolved.
Furthermore, the endless images of the violence that will be required to break the power of state unions – just to look at one example – will truly shock and horrify people. Of course, the violence is inherent to statism as it stands, but it is rendered effectively invisible through near universal compliance to the edicts of the rulers. It does not really feel like slavery until a slave tries to escape – and then, most of the other slaves will blame the resulting violence on the one trying to get away.
Finally, since libertarianism is founded on the moral axiom of the non-aggression principle (NAP), can it not be said that a libertarian political leader is initiating the use of force against people who are trying to enforce their legal public-sector union contracts? Certainly a worker who goes on strike is not initiating the use of force; a worker who relies on a legal contract for their pay, pension, and job security is not initiating force when they expect that union contract to be legally upheld – even a worker on a picket line is not initiating the use of force, and neither arguably is the worker who parks their truck on a highway as a protest, since by libertarian standards public roads are essentially unowned, and thus cannot be subject to trespassing rules.
A libertarian leader who uses force against such people is actually violating the NAP, which creates an insurmountable paradox if this leader wishes to claim that he is acting against government power on the basis of the NAP. The initiation of force against non-violent people – particularly when there is no requirement for self-defence – is a violation of the most basic libertarian tenet.
Using the initiation of force to counter the initiation of force is an obvious moral paradox, and one that I have never seen any examination of or solution to in libertarian literature, in almost a quarter-century.
Now, it can well be argued that successful privatisations have occurred throughout history, and this is true to some degree, however they tend to either occur in companies that have a prior history with the private sector, and are populated by usually white collar professionals, such as telecommunications companies – or in dire situations where the government has simply run out of money, as was the case with the Soviet Union. I cannot think of a single example of a successful proactive privatisation of a long-established, largely blue-collar public-sector organisation.
The net result of any libertarian attempt to use the power of the state to reduce the power of the state would be a total loss of confidence in the current government, a sudden election, and a complete, permanent discrediting of libertarian ideals.
A Libertarian Majority?
It could easily be argued that by the time a Libertarian president is in office, the majority of society will be pro-libertarian, and so will understand and support even the aggressive and violent actions that will be required to shrink the power of the state.
However, this argument fails at a number of levels. First of all, it does not require a large minority to cause untold havoc within society – even if only forty percent of the population is anti-libertarian, we can assume that this large percentage is concentrated in sectors, industries, or unions that are directly or indirectly tied to state power. For instance, a significant majority of public school teachers would very likely be anti-libertarian, since according to free market economists, people respond to incentives, and teachers would stand to lose a lot of unjust benefits should their profession be privatised.
The same would be true with regards to all the other public-sector unions, the military-industrial complex – and all industries dependent to a significant degree upon state largesse.
Not to mention the police.
Just as libertarian academics believe that they can use state power to do good – retain the violent privilege of tenure in order to teach the ideals of voluntarism – so does every other special interest group believe that it can use the power of the state to bring greater virtue to society. Attempting to reason special interest groups out of using state power for material advantage is like attempting to talk a poor person out of cashing in a winning lottery ticket.
Anti-libertarian sentiments tend to be concentrated in those areas where people could do the most damage to society. Thus the fact that a Libertarian President was voted in would in no way ensure that the same percentage of pro-libertarian citizens would be even remotely similar in the public versus the private sectors of the economy.
A Millenial Catastrophe
If such a program of privatisation were undertaken, libertarianism would become an utterly discredited philosophy for at least several hundred years. For the average non-philosophical population, image trumps argument. The graphic memories and images of the “violence of libertarianism” would remain, for all intents and purposes, permanently embedded in the consciousness of the society.
To take an obvious example of this, just ask the average citizen what he or she thinks of the Industrial Revolution. Almost inevitably, citizens will respond that the Industrial Revolution was a terrible, polluting, child-exploiting time of grim and ever-increasing human misery, which was caused and exacerbated by the greed of the capitalists, and which was only restrained and controlled by the virtues of government.
Or, you can ask people about the Great Depression – and hear a similar reply, which is that the Great Depression was caused by inherent instabilities in the capitalist free market, and was only cured or solved by intense government intervention, climaxing in World War Two.
The fact that all of these perspectives are false – in fact, they are quite the opposite of the truth – has been proven to be completely irrelevant. Libertarians have been attempting to rehabilitate public perceptions of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression almost since they occurred, with functionally zero success whatsoever. Once a potent myth becomes embedded in a social environment, it appears to be virtually impossible to dislodge. It seems interesting to me at least that libertarians spend a lot of effort attempting to dispel social mythological falsehoods about economic matters, while completely accepting the social mythological falsehood of religion. This is just another example of how intellectual compromise leads to complete ineffectiveness and moral blindness in practice.
The violations of the non-aggression principle that would be necessary to curb and reduce state power would be endlessly held aloft as examples of the inherent violence in libertarianism. Attempting to resurrect the virtue and value of libertarianism in the future would be about as easy a task as gaining popular acceptance for fascism or Nazism.
As I have argued in a series of videos on Ron Paul, the government exists fundamentally as a social mechanism for the easy and efficient – though of course morally unjust – transfer of wealth and power. The government does not exist to do good, the government does not exist to keep the peace, the government does not exist to protect the citizens, the government does not exist to stabilise the currency, manage the economy, or anything like that.
As libertarians constantly point out – and rightly, I think – that the government exists to grant favours to the friends of those in power, and to punish their enemies.
Attempting to gain control over this evil and violent mechanism, and get it to work against its original and intended purpose of transferring wealth from the productive to the manipulative, is based upon the assumption that it is possible to infiltrate an organisation, and turn it against its core and fundamental purpose.
Surely, if this is proposed as a theory, the best place to practice the theory would be in smaller and more accessible organisations first, rather than attempting to take over the largest, most powerful, most violent, and most mythologised institution in society, which is the government.
Just as we must test medical treatments on mice and rabbits, before putting some vaccine into the water supply for an entire population, we should attempt to prove our theories in more localised and testable environments before attempting near universal application. Even the makers of cereal understand this, and do not launch products into mass consumption without asking smaller and more select groups if they like the taste.
We can only hope that the brilliance of libertarian organisers can at some point in the future begin to approach the marketing knowledge of your average cereal producer – or even your average infant, who seems to be instinctively aware that they must crawl before they can win a gold medal at the Olympics.
Working on more localised groups to establish – or disprove – the viability of a theory that an organisation can be infiltrated and turned against its core purpose would be a huge leap forward in basic empirical rationality for the libertarian movement. This movement, which claims rational empiricism as the basis for its theories, should at the very least – or, to be more precise, as the first order of business – submit its own activist plans to the same rational empiricism.
A Modest Proposal
If an evil organisation can be infiltrated and turned towards goodness – which is the fundamental libertarian proposal with regards to political action – then there is absolutely no need to “start at the top” and attempt to infiltrate and control the vast, lofty, and endless power of the modern state.
Instead, the theory can be far more effectively and efficiently tested in a local environment.
For instance, libertarians could join the Ku Klux Klan, and attempt to turn it from a racist and white supremacist organisation into an organisation that embraces and promotes multiculturalism.
Alternatively, libertarians could infiltrate the Minutemen, who love to grab guns and patrol the southern borders of the United States, and attempt to turn the organisation into a group that promotes open immigration.
If this is not to the taste of your average atheist libertarian, he could very easily join a local church – surely happy to accept atheists – and attempt to turn it into a secular organisation that promotes atheism. He could join a local Wiccan group and attempt to instil a respect for the scientific method, and a rejection of mysticism and superstition.
What about joining an organisation of psychics, water diviners, and Tarot card readers and getting them to abandon their irrationality and become rational sceptics who speak out against such exploitive silliness?
Conversely, if libertarians prefer to stay within their own sphere, why not join a Christian libertarian group and attempt to turn their members into rational sceptics, who speak out against the primitive superstition of worshipping immortal Jewish zombies?
Clearly, this list could go on and on, and we could have quite a lot of fun promoting a variety of grass-roots approaches to proving the theory that an organisation can be turned against its core purpose – but the reality of course is that we fully understand that all of the above programs would be completely and utterly impossible, and would be a total waste of time, and would achieve nothing except frustration and alienation.
If a rational sceptic joins a group devoted to the pursuit of ghosts and conversations with the dead, they have every right, in a way, to turn to them with surprise, wonder, and more than a little hostility, and ask them what on earth they are doing there!
“If you are so utterly opposed to psychic phenomena, why are you joining a group devoted to the exploration of mind melds with the undead? Surely, instead of attempting to use rational arguments to talk us out of our obviously irrational theories, you should simply join a group that already respects and understands the value of rational empiricism.”
Finally, if you wish to really put this theory to the test, you can take an even more immediate and productive approach, instead of wasting your life trying to turn hateful people in bed sheets into colour-blind lovers of genetic and cultural diversity.
If you truly believe that libertarianism – specifically, political libertarianism – is all about achieving real world results, and that its approach is based upon rational empiricism, why not stand up at the next libertarian meeting, and say something along the lines of the following:
“Dear libertarian brothers and sisters – I am highly concerned that we are pursuing a path which has not been validated according to the rational and empirical methodologies that we value so highly. Instead of attempting to gain control of this massive apparatus called the government, and attempting to turn an organisation that we call fundamentally evil towards goodness, I would like to propose that instead, we attempt to prove and refine our theories by taking over smaller and more local organisations which we call evil, and attempting to turn them towards goodness.
“For instance, we call the government a criminal enterprise, but we believe that we can infiltrate this criminal enterprise and turn it towards more virtuous actions. I would like to test out this theory, and I’m sure that since we all recognise the value of rational empiricism, I am not alone in this belief – and so I propose that we infiltrate our local Mafia, rise up through its ranks, and then, when we are in charge of the Mafia, we can turn it into an arm of the United Way. If this seems like too ambitious a program – and I can tell by the looks on your faces that some of you believe this to be the case – then we do not have to aim quite so high. We believe that we can infiltrate the government and cause it to reduce its use of violence – thus, if we do not believe that we can turn the Mafia into a charitable organisation, we must by our very theory be able to infiltrate the Mafia and cause it to reduce the amount of violence that it inflicts upon the innocent, right? Since we truly believe that we have the power to infiltrate evil organisations and reduce the amount of violence they inflict, we should at least be able to gain control over the Mafia and cut its murder rate in half, say – or reduce by some significant percentage the numbers of kneecaps it breaks. By taking this approach, we shall be able to both prove and refine our theory that an evil organisation can be infiltrated, controlled, and turned against its foundational purpose.
“Now – with the knowledge that we gain by taking over the Mafia, and reducing or eliminating the violence it inflicts, we shall be that much more effective in taking over other institutions within society, that are far more accessible to us than the federal government – institutions which do not rely upon us having to convince tens or hundreds of millions of people to accept our position! Even if we retain as our goal the eventual democratic takeover of the government, imagine how much greater our credibility will be with the average non-libertarian citizen if we can show how effective we are at taking over evil institutions and turning them towards goodness! If we can take over dozens or hundreds or thousands of evil criminal gangs and turn them against violence, we shall gain so much credibility through this process of virtuous reform that we shall be swept into office at the very next election!
“We always tell those in the government that they should attempt to deal with their own problems, before trying to deal with everyone else’s problems. The late great Harry Browne used to say that the politicians in Washington should attempt to at least control and reduce the prevalence of violence within their own city, before telling other cities and other states and other peoples how to live.
“I think that we should take Harry’s advice, and attempt to reform institutions that we have far easier access to than the government, in order to gain credibility and traction and instil confidence in the general population that we have great experience and empirical success in turning evil organisations towards goodness. Once we have proven our power and amazing abilities in these smaller, less evil, and more localised gangs, people will genuinely be able to rationally trust us to take over the government, and turn it towards virtue and goodness. Just as we tell the government to prove its competence and virtue in smaller and more localised settings – particularly those of us who are pro-states rights – so we should also take our own advice, and prove our competence and virtue in reforming evil institutions in smaller and more localised gangs that are infinitely easier to infiltrate and take over, before asking people to trust us with the greatest and most powerful criminal gang the world has ever known!
“I can see by the looks on your faces that you do not think that this is a wise approach, and perhaps you’re right, it could be considered very dangerous, and perhaps we are not quite so confident in our ability to infiltrate and overturn the evils of a criminal gang as we are in our ability to infiltrate and overturn the evils of the largest government in history. No matter, I did anticipate this as a possible objection – though I do think that it shows scant faith in the abilities we claim to possess – and so I have an alternate proposal, which is guaranteed to be virtually risk-free.
“All of us here support the privatisation of the Post Office, and believe that we can achieve that by taking over the evil institution of the government and turning it to more virtuous actions – or at least less evil actions.
“Since we believe in that possibility, and our power to achieve it, I have a far better proposal, which gives us the power to work on privatising the post office without having to muck about with the political process, or rely on tens of millions of people accepting our position, and which will not require a single violation of the non-aggression principle, and which we can start working on today, now, this minute!
“All that we have to do is infiltrate the postal workers Union, take it over, and turn it into an organisation that advocates the privatisation of the post office!
“Can you not feel the thrill of that immediate possibility? We can begin to work towards infiltrating a corrupt organisation and turning it against its core purpose – changing it from a gang dedicated to providing unjust benefits to its members to a noble brotherhood aimed at liberating its workers from the shackles of state power!
“In this way, my brothers and sisters, we do not have to wait for what seems like an eternity for the general social tide to change in our favour, which does not seem to be happening any time soon. Since we already claim to possess the power to infiltrate evil organisations and turn them towards goodness, we do not need to take control of the government in order to privatise the post office, because we can simply infiltrate the post office union directly, and turn it toward goodness!
“Naturally, once we have proven our abilities in this area, there is no end to the amount of virtue and good we can achieve within society – again, without having to wait for the general voting public to catch up with our brilliance and virtue! After we have privatised the post office by using its union, we can move on to the teachers union, and privatise public education using exactly the same methodology! As our successes continue to mount, we will gain a staggering momentum that we can only dream of at the moment. More and more liberty lovers will flock to our successes, since we have broken the paralysis of waiting for the general consensus of democracy! We can set up branches of the movement to infiltrate, take over, and reverse the positions of the unions of road workers, energy workers, welfare agencies – even the police union can be infiltrated, and come out against the enforcement of the Patriot Act, or the seizure of illegal drugs – we can even cause the police union to compel its members to refuse to arrest anyone who violates the tax code – thus effectively ending taxation – all based on our power to reverse the evil tendencies of monopolistic organisations!
“Let us draw up an action plan, and start now! Leap to your feet, brothers and sisters – who is with me?”
What do you think the general response to your proposals will be? Do you think that people will be electrified, leap to their feet, and cheer your proposal, because they genuinely believe that they have the power to turn evil institutions towards goodness?
Of course not.
No matter how stirring your words, and no matter how rational your proposal, your speech will be looked at as a complete non sequitur – in fact, you will be revealed as someone who is unable even to turn the Libertarian party towards a more productive, virtuous, and rational plan. Not only can the Libertarian party never take over the government and turn it towards goodness – you cannot even influence the Libertarian party towards taking a more productive and virtuous path!
We all understand the scornful, frightened, and hostile stares we would receive should we ever stand up at a libertarian gathering and suggest a path of action perfectly consistent with its core principles, but which would actually put those principles to the immediate test.
Making such a speech would be the exact equivalent of attempting to pay a counterfeiter with their own fake bills. They would be trapped, caught, hostile, silenced, and resentful. They would not be able to speak out about the forgery they were forced to accept as a real value, because they were responsible for the forgery in the first place.
This counterfeiter only presents their fake currency to others to bamboozle real values out of them in exchange. However, the moment that they have to act as if their fake currency has real value, they are caught in their own contradiction, but must generate a sickly smile and pretend otherwise.
The moment that you present to libertarians real and practical ways to achieve the goals that they claim they are capable of, all they will do is stare at you in resentment, quickly change the subject, and refuse to talk to you again. Some of them will actually giggle and laugh at your naivety, understanding that you really and fundamentally just do not “get it.”
Why would a group which claims to be so dedicated to turning evil into good recoil from actually putting its abilities to the test? Why would a counterfeiter who claims that their currency is real recoil from actually accepting it as payment?
Why would you get that resentful stare when you propose to political libertarians an easy and effective way to test the theories they confidently proclaim as proven to others?
Well, it is for the same reason that a priest will stare at you resentfully when you bring to them evidence that prayer does not work. A priest will tell you that prayer works because their God listens to you, likes you, and will give you goodies, blessings, and positive outcomes. In other words, they claim to be bestowing a real and tangible benefit upon you in return for the money that you give to them. If you order a book online, and receive only an empty box, and call up the bookseller to complain, and they tell you that the book is in fact there, but you are just having trouble seeing it for some reason, perhaps you should go and see an eye doctor – and they refuse to refund your money, but instead offer to sell you another “book,” is it really so very hard to understand that they are not at all interested in selling you books, but rather only in taking your money?
It is the same way with priests of course. They claim that they can “sell” you the tangible benefits of prayer, but whenever those benefits are proven to be illusory, they reject the evidence, or come up with some other untestable “benefit” that they can provide (entrance to heaven, eternal life, or other such nonsense).
The one constant in religion is not the benefits that are promised, which can change from time to time, but rather that money is always collected. Unlike the capitalist, the priest does not say, “Here are the tangible benefits I will give you in return for your money,” but rather, “What do I have to promise in order to get your money?”
In the same way, libertarians do not say, “I have proven my ability to turn evil organisations towards goodness, and so I ask for your support to expand my powers to include the government.” This would require tangible proof of this miraculous ability, just as promising the benefits of prayer would actually require that those benefits be proven empirically and scientifically, which is quite the opposite of the truth.
When someone sells an unproven “benefit,” and then specifically rejects any empirical proof of this benefit, they are just another petty and vicious con – though in the case of religion and libertarianism, they do not only steal your money, but they also steal the real hope and achievement of freedom in the future that we as a species are capable of.
Failure To Act
No rational moralist can demand of others that which they are not willing to do themselves.
Libertarians constantly demand that others give up the financial benefits they receive from the state in order to live with greater integrity. Libertarians, however, consistently refuse to give up the financial benefits they receive from religion in order to live with greater integrity. Libertarians demand that others give up their illusions about the state, in order to live with greater rationality.
Libertarians, however, continually refuse to give up their illusions about religion in order to live with greater rationality.
Moral hypocrisy always and forever discredits the ethics being preached. This becomes even more true the closer that the ethics are to rational morality. Like a hand approaching a light bulb, the closer a philosophy is to the truth, the greater its hypocritical preachers block and darken the spread of light.
In its current state, libertarianism discredits rational morality more than any other creed.
If you doubt my argument that libertarians avoid proof because they know they cannot provide what they claim, you can easily reproduce this in another scenario. Open up your Yellow Pages to the section on “psychics,” call any one of them up, and offer to pay them one million dollars to prove their psychic ability statistically. There is absolutely no doubt that they will refuse your offer – which naturally makes no sense at all, since they advertise an ability that they claim to possess, and the Amazing Randi has a standing offer to pay one million to anyone who can prove their psychic abilities in a scientific and statistical manner.
If I put an advertisement in the Yellow Pages offering my services as a Greek translator, and someone calls me up and offers me one million dollars if I can prove my ability to speak Greek, surely I should leap at the chance!
If libertarians bring in tens of millions of dollars by claiming they possess the ability to infiltrate evil organisations and turn them towards virtuous actions, and then someone comes along with a practical and immediate proposal to prove their ability to do so, and they steadfastly refuse this test, and feel resentment and hostility towards such a proposal, and then return to promising freedom from the government in return for donations of money, we can all basically understand that this is just a vicious and exploitive con, a false promise of illusory freedom in return for cold cash.
Just as religion promises untestable rewards in the hereafter – and steadfastly avoids any rational tests of its promises – political libertarianism promises a magical future liberation from state power through its ability to infiltrate and overturn the evils of powerful organisations – yet steadfastly resists any rational tests of its promises.
The reason that libertarianism and Christianity are so united is because fundamentally, they are the same. Both cults exploit people’s desire for freedom and virtue for the sake of money, saying whatever is necessary to get that money, changing whatever story they need to change in order to get that money, lying through their teeth, and avoiding empirical tests – claiming the truth and steadfastly evading the requirement for evidence – continuing to claim efficacy despite ever-increasing failures. The whole mess is a disgusting and virulent virus that uses the worst kind of fraud – moral fraud – to sell the hope of real freedom in the future for the sake of petty riches in the present.
It is time that those of us interested in real freedom grew up and stopped believing in pathetic, ridiculous, and exploitive fairy tales. There is no God. There is no heaven. Jesus is not coming back to save you. Satan does not live in your bedroom closet. We are not evil because a rib-woman listened to a talking snake – and Jesus, if he even existed, was nothing more than an insane epileptic with delusions of grandeur, the product of a primitive and brutal time in our history when endless child abuse, infanticide, and mental illness was the norm.
Gods, ghosts, gremlins, and goblins do not exist.
And political, academic, and religious libertarianism stands in the way of real human freedom. Modern libertarianism is not a hard-to-open door that leads us to a higher mountain of human freedom, but a petty con-game of simple-minded exploitation, a door to a cliff edge that only drops us onto the distant rocks below.
So - Why Does Libertarianism Exist?
Once we begin to understand how not to be free – and how freedom will never be achieved in such a manner – we can begin to understand why people endlessly charge off these cliffs – and we can begin to design a better path, a more productive, rational, and empirically proven path toward human freedom.
We must first understand that we are heading in the wrong direction. When we understand that, we can stop going in the wrong direction, and look at a map. Once we understand the map, and where we actually are in reality, we can begin to plot a path in the right direction.
Libertarianism And Exploitation?
Unlike religion, libertarianism is not usually inflicted upon helpless and dependent children. It is generally adults who are drawn towards libertarianism – at least from the teenage years onwards.
It cannot be pure propaganda that swells the ranks of political libertarianism, but rather those who get involved in this nonsense must be gaining some benefit.
In other words, when someone donates to the Libertarian cause, what are they really buying?
Are they buying political success? Of course not. Libertarianism has been pathetic in terms of electoral success. Call me a crazy entrepreneur, but I cannot imagine spending tens of millions of dollars on a plan for decades, failing completely to achieve anything even remotely close to my stated goal, and calling it any kind of “success.”
Are they buying the dissemination of libertarian ideals, with the goal of achieving freedom through greater knowledge? Of course not! Not only has this failed, but even the libertarian free-market economists steadfastly reject the freedom of a market economy in favour of clinging to unjust privilege – so even if everyone in the world got a doctorate in free-market economics, the world would only become less free, since an advanced degree in Austrian economics only promotes the pursuit of state unions and the evil protection of an unjust monopoly.
So – what are they buying? When someone donates their time, money, and energies to libertarianism, what do they actually receive in return?
Progress And Illusion
Why would a priest be able to offer someone the illusion of the love of God that does not exist?
If someone is truly loved, what use would they have for the pretend love of a pretend ghost? That would be like the richest person in the world repeatedly responding to Nigerian email offers of inheritance “payouts” – they already have real money, so why would they want to spend time pretending that fake money was real?
If someone is truly loved by a virtuous companion, and is surrounded by affectionate and trusted friends, what on earth would some otherworldly imaginary ghost have to offer them? People who have enough to eat do not respond to promises of fictitious food; a thin person does not get their stomach stapled, and happy people do not take antidepressants.
A prerequisite for the pursuit of religion is the feeling of being unloved – but we can go even further than that.
If someone feels unloved, but believes that they are lovable, then they are like someone who is currently poor, but believes that they can achieve riches – such a person will not become a thief, because they genuinely believe in their ability to earn money.
A person becomes a thief because they no longer believe they have the ability to make money through the exchange of real value. They steal because they totally lose faith in their ability to earn.
A person becomes interested in the love of ghosts because they feel fundamentally unlovable as they are – the reality is that they cannot be loved, and so it is only through fantasy that they can attempt to replicate the illusion of “love.”
If someone feels that they are unlovable, it is probably for quite a number of good reasons. They may be a liar, or they may be abusive, or addicted to drugs, alcohol, or hyper-sexuality. They might be vain, insecure, self-hating, pompous, creepy, hypocritical, misogynistic, nihilistic – they might be any random handful from the grab bag of human iniquity.
If someone feels that they are unlovable, they have one of three choices.
First, they can accept that they are unlovable, give up their desire for love, and retreat to a life of bitter solitude.
Second, they can change their actions to become more lovable.
Third, they can refuse to either change themselves or give up their desire for love – they can continue to lounge in the squalid pit of their bad habits, but pay someone to pretend to love them.
Given the difficulties of the first two options, most people will pay a lot of money for the third option.
This is the foundation of a good deal of hypocritical and ugly economics in the world.
The desire to gain the fruits of virtue without actually having to go through the trials of becoming virtuous is at the root of massive amounts of financial transactions in the world. The hundred billion dollars a year donated by Americans to churches is just such a payment for approval and “affection” without the necessity of achieving true courage and virtue.
Academics want to have their six-figure salaries without actually having to go through the hellish challenges of submitting their value to the free-market.
Religious addicts want to feel “loved,” needed, and “special” without having to go through the highly challenging process of psychological individuation.
False approval is the emotional heroin of the lazy.
Going to a church for love is like going to a prostitute for love – all it does is make you less lovable – and so more in need of religion.
The purchase of unjust rewards is common to all the three spheres of libertarianism that we talk of here – it is obvious in the religious sphere (“God loves you!”) – how does it show up in the academic sphere?
Academics And Theft
Psychologists use the term “entitlement” to describe people who strongly believe that they are entitled to that which they are not willing to earn. A mother who does not earn her son’s respect – yet still demands his obedience – feels “entitled” to her authority. Someone who has become poor through laziness feels “entitled” to an income.
Academics feel “entitled” to a six-figure income – and all the other goodies that come with their position – yet strenuously oppose the free market test of value that they so strenuously insist that others submit themselves to.
People steal value when they give up the belief that they can earn it. The academic’s desire to hide behind the high walls of unjust state privilege arises from their certain knowledge that they are decidedly not worth a six figure income, let alone all the other goodies. They know this truth deep in their very bones, in the very bedrock of their soul – yet they refuse to consciously accept it, and so implicitly pursue and support the stolen privilege of state protection.
It is certainly possible for an educator to make six figures or more by teaching people, but that requires a submission to the free choices of their potential consumers. If someone believes that their teaching is economically valuable, they should go and make their fortune on the free market – however, it is a very difficult and sometimes humiliating process to bring that which gives you the greatest joy – and which you believe you are good at – to the general indifference of potential consumers.
A central reality of a free economy is that consumers really do not care about you at all. They do not want to visit your blog, they do not want to download your podcasts, they do not want to interact with you at all – they have their own full lives, with their own self-interests, and they do not care one little bit about you, and what you want. I do not say this as any form of criticism, of course, as there are doubtless ten million entrepreneurs the world over who would love for me to pay attention to them. I simply do not, because my time is limited, and I already have enough of what I want in almost every area.
In particular, it is very humbling to attempt to create a new market – especially in the field of education. If you decide that you want to open a restaurant, then you already know that people have to eat, and often like to eat out, and there are plentiful business models and oodles of information on how to run a successful eatery.
If you are an accountant, and want to set up your own business, you at least know that people need accounting services, and that it is merely a matter of competing with the next person. The same goes for any other traditional profession you could name.
It takes a rather special strength of character to attempt to create a market in an entirely new medium, in a format that people are not used to paying for – and with endless competition from other free media to boot!
Like any artistic medium, attempting to educate combines a deep and personal emotional investment with a near-universal indifference to your product. For those who have not developed much of a strong hide, and the ability to withstand and surmount the humiliation of that indifference, the prospect would seem overwhelmingly daunting.
In particular, the fragile egos of hothouse academics, who have endless students clamouring for their approval, and who cannot be fired, and who barely feel even the slightest whiff of a breeze from the free market – submitting their vanity to the general indifference of market forces would – I am sure – be entirely unbearable.
Thus, why did free-market economists endlessly pursue state protection? Why, in order to avoid puncturing their puffed-up vanity by actually submitting their products to the general indifference of the free market!
Protectionism makes industries weak, economists are always telling us.
The same goes for economists.
Libertarianism And Theft
Now we can more clearly see what a libertarian adherent is really paying for when they give money to the cause.
What are they really buying?
First of all, we can be certain that your average libertarian is concerned about liberty. At some level – most likely emotional – they do not feel free.
Let us be as generous as possible and assume that this lack of liberty is not psychological in origin. It certainly is more than probable that our libertarian-to-be is not exactly free in their own personal life, and is choosing to project their lack of freedom onto society as a whole, but that is a topic for another time.
Concern about the state of the world, and the future of society, initially shows up as anxiety. All of us in the freedom movement began our journey at least to some degree with a sense of unease about the current state and future direction of the society and world that we live in. Anxiety is certainly not a universally negative state – we have all felt it in our cars when we fear we might be lost, which is actually a very good thing, because it allows us to turn to our partners and ask which way we should go. Anxiety is an early warning system, designed to help us avoid upcoming dangers, and so should be listened to, respected, understood, and rationally acted upon.
For instance, if someone feels lonely, and unworthy of love, but still wishes to have love in their life, they are going to feel anxiety. That anxiety is going to propel them – if they listen wisely to themselves – into action. A woman who wishes to have children, but remains single in her early thirties, may wake up one day, look in the mirror, and realise that she needs to change something significant in order to get what she wants. This may propel her to look more critically at her own relationships, and the types of men that she gets involved with, and her own history, and her own deepest desires – it can launch her into an entirely productive journey of self-discovery, enriching and deepening her experience of life.
The libertarian-to-be looks at the world and feels growing anxiety at the growing lack of freedom.
In the world as a whole, there exist a large number of organisations that circle the world at low altitude, so to speak, sniffing for pockets of anxiety. When they catch the delicious scent of growing unease, they slowly waft down, perch on the shoulders of the nervous, and whisper a terribly dangerous offer:
“The unease you feel is very real. The world is in a bad state, and it really needs to be fixed,” they murmur seductively. “Give us your money, and we will fix it!”
We can easily see this kind of predatory behaviour on the part of churches – the difference is that churches generally get hold of children, and actively and abusively inflict the unease that the children – as they grow into adulthood – will spend the rest of their lives paying to be “cured” of.
The two ingredients that such corrupt organisations offer to the anxious are (a) a predefined external path of action, and (b) a bill.
If a lonely person comes to a church, the priest will doubtless tell them that they are lonely because they have not accepted God, or Jesus, or Baal, or Allah, or the Seven Shining Paths, or other such fictions.
The priest will then tell the person that in order to cure their loneliness, to alleviate their anxiety, they need to give the priest money, and to do what the priest tells them to do. The priest holds the key to solving their problems – and their obedience and cash will open the door.
This is a mere ritual, which does nothing to actually deal with the underlying anxiety, but distracts and exploits the lonely person, by offering them the comforting illusion that their problem is being dealt with.
If you have a toothache, and you go to a dentist, and he provides you a powder to sniff which will solve the pain of your toothache, and you go home, sniff the powder, and feel wonderful, will you not feel grateful to the dentist for solving your problem without any bloody, unpleasant, and painful surgery? Even though you have friends who repeatedly tell you that painkillers do not solve infections, and that you really need a root canal, you make the choice to “deal” with the pain without having the surgery.
In fact, after making this choice, you start to preach that anyone who submits to dental surgery is an exploited fool who is unnecessarily taking the hard road, probably due to some kind of masochism.
As time goes by, though, you find that your tooth begins to twinge unpleasantly, and so you go back to the dentist, who gives you more white powder, and tells you to sniff twice as much. Magically, your pain goes away – and so you roll your eyes even more when you hear of someone who has undergone painful surgery to correct a toothache.
Unfortunately, as time wears on, your teeth really do begin to hurt, to the point where sometimes even a dangerous amount of powder does little more than blunt the growing pain. The people you know who had the surgery you so scorned are actually doing fine: they are not addicted to medication, and their teeth are healthy.
So you go to another dentist, who examines your teeth and says that half of them are rotten, and a series of very difficult and unpleasant surgeries need to be performed. They also tell you that you will have to stop taking your pain-killers for at least two months before they can operate, otherwise they will interfere with the anaesthetic.
So you go home with good intentions, and throw out all of your white powder. However, in the hours that follow, the most terrible withdrawal symptoms slam repeatedly into your body – vicious migraines, nose bleeds, endless vomiting. The physical pain of withdrawal combines with emotional eruptions of your long-repressed anxiety to produce a physically agonising panic attack, and you literally feel like you are dying. Pale, shaking, you dig your medication out of the trash and snort some sweet relief. Immediately, the pain subsides and you feel somewhat better...
However, you never are quite able to stay off the cocaine for the two months required to clear it from your system in order to get your teeth fixed. Your life devolves into an endless spiral of pain, decay, and addiction.
This is what happens when you go to a priest rather than a philosopher.
This is what happens when you go for libertarianism rather than self-knowledge.
Sophists will only treat the symptom, not the cause – and so you end up addicted to the treatment, while the underlying cause gets continually worse.
Even more sadly, after a certain amount of time in this addictive spiral, it becomes practically impossible to stop treating the symptoms, because the underlying cause has become too painful.
Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence
When someone joins libertarianism, they are gaining a predefined and seemingly-credible path to liberty. If they give the Libertarian Party money, and follows its rules, then they will be taking the most certain, most effective, and most productive steps towards freeing the world.
As the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – to say that giving money to a political organisation is by far the best and most productive way to free the world is an extraordinary claim when you really think about it. The whole world over, citizens who are interested in controlling the power of the state constantly try to use political activism to reduce its power – and consistently, that power continues to grow.
To put this claim in context, libertarians say that communism will never work, and cite as evidence for that claim the empirical reality that communism consistently fails both economically and politically. If a communist system were found to have high economic growth and great personal liberty, the anti-socialist theories of libertarians and Austrian economists would be entirely thrown into question, since this is considered to be impossible.
However, when the track record of libertarianism itself is subjected to the same scrutiny, you hear the endless excuses from libertarians that you still sometimes hear from Marxists and socialists. When judging an opposing political and economic theory, the consistent failures of that theory are considered proof of its errors. On the other hand, libertarianism must never ever be judged by its universal and consistent failures. Socialism is proven wrong because it never works in practice, because it never achieves the goals it claims – libertarianism, on the other hand, must never be judged by its absolutely abysmal track record of constant, universal, and perpetual failures!
Marxists will always blame factors external to the theory for its consistent and persistent failures. The failures do not indicate fundamental flaws with the theory itself, but rather with specific environmental variables. Communism was supposed to be implemented in an advanced industrial country, Stalin took over communism and corrupted it, Western powers worked against the success of communism, things weren’t as bad as they were portrayed, the system never had a chance – endless excuses are invented to explain away the endless practical failures.
Time and again, with irrational and bigoted ideologies, we see a constant refusal to examine or accept the evidence of failure. Libertarians have the truly astounding gall to criticise government programs for their endless failures – and take those failures as certain evidence of the corruption of the state – yet endlessly ignore and excuse their own endless failures.
Libertarian: “The government fails everywhere and forever because statism is irrational in theory and evil in practice.”
Philosopher: “If perpetual failure indicates the irrationality and impracticality of a theory, does that not indicate that libertarianism is an irrational and impractical theory, since it perpetually fails?”
Libertarian: “Libertarianism does not fail – how can you say that? We educate people!”
Philosopher: “Well, that is like saying that the government does not fail because it educates children in public school – it does not matter whether you educate people or not, it only matters whether or not you achieve your stated goals, which is a significant reduction in the size and power of the state.”
Libertarian: “Well, that is a very difficult task, because the government educates the children, and controls the media, and has all this money, and controls the currency, and has all these weapons, and so on and so on.”
Philosopher: “Ah, but you do not state that government programs fail because of environmental causes, but rather you cited those perpetual failures as evidence of a corrupt and immoral theory. If you can excuse your failures due to environmental reasons, then you cannot condemn government failures for moral or philosophical reasons.”
This is a central reason why libertarianism and statism are locked in an eternal and doomed embrace, because they are identical in the avoidance of responsibility for failure. This externalisation of responsibility is common to all immature and exploitive ideologies – just as it is common to all immature and exploitive people.
Just as governments always blame outside causes for their own failures – capitalists, the free market, the evil Muslims, the nasty drug dealers, and so on – so do libertarians always blame outside causes for their own failures.
A Private Sector Example
If we look at the Ron Paul campaign, we can see that over twenty million dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours were spent for the ostensible purpose of getting a Libertarian into the White House, or at least creating positive responses to libertarian ideas in the general population.
I would like you to picture working for Microsoft, and asking for twenty million dollars to launch a new product into the American market – let us say that it is a robot called “Paulbot.” Clearly, since you are asking for money from a highly demanding private corporation, your business proposal would have to contain a wide variety of market studies, consumer analyses, and competitive research. You would have to make empirically verifiable predictions about the degree of market penetration you would achieve through your product launch – and you would also have to provide Microsoft detailed and verifiable projections about the return on investment they could expect from the money that they were spending.
The more unusual and novel the product, the more conservative Microsoft would be in its initial investment. You would never get the entire twenty million up front – you would first have to prove your business case in a far smaller environment. You would perhaps get one hundred thousand dollars – at most – to prove the appeal of the product in test markets. Assuming that you were able to achieve your stated goals within that smaller test market, you would begin to slowly get additional funds to expand the marketing program.
If you did not build into the budget of your product release plan any methodologies whatsoever for testing the viability of your initial claims, Microsoft executives would laugh you out of the room, as a rank and foolish amateur who has no idea whatsoever how business actually works. In fact, they would not be entirely amiss to suspect you of nefarious and dishonest motives, by asking for an enormous amount of money that you could spend as you please, without even thinking about providing objective feedback on the success or failure of your program.
This is how things work in the free market. It is enormously telling that a political organisation entirely devoted to the virtues and efficiency of the free market did not do any of the above when raking in tens of millions of dollars for the launch of their own product called Ron Paul.
Those who resist standards of proof are those who know their claims are false. This is the root of the dishonesty at the base of political libertarianism, just as it is in academia and religion. Academics resist the proof of their value by avoiding the free market like the plague; religion avoids the endless proofs against the existence of God; and political libertarianism – that worshipper of the rational discipline of the free market – avoids any proof or measure of the success of its claims.
This is how we know with complete and serene certainty that academics know they are virtually worthless, the religious know that God does not exist, and political libertarianism knows that it is a con-game which can never provide the values it claims.
Of course, we can only really call libertarianism a “failure” if we accept the premise that libertarianism is fundamentally about reducing the power of the state, rather than accepting the truth, which is that libertarianism is fundamentally about promising to reduce the power of the state in return for money – or, to be even more precise, about selling anxious people a way of alleviating their fears without actually having to deal with the root causes.
We will now turn to an examination of the root causes of anxieties around freedom, so that we can begin to build the case for a rational and productive approach to freeing the world.
- At a purely anecdotal level, I have also co-hosted dozens of libertarian talk shows, and almost every caller has been a fundamentalist Christian.
- Although it is true that several prominent libertarians are atheists, they regularly praise religion for its contributions to freedom, or avoid the topic in general. For an example of this, please see: http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block103.html
- In this book, I will be using the word ‘libertarianism’ to apply to the three central strategies described above. Where I wish to be more specific, I will attach an appropriate word or phrase, such as “political libertarianism.”
- It is true that libertarian organisations are not specifically statist in the way that, say, the Department of Education is, but I shall argue in this book that two of the approaches that are taken require the state. This is easy to see in the realm of politics – there is no candidacy in the absence of a state – but I will also make the case that statism is the essence of academia as well. Religiosity will be dealt with in a subsequent chapter.
- For more details on this, please see: http://www.robert-h-frank.com/PDFs/ES.9.1.05.pdf
- My solution to this problem is detailed in my free book “University Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics,” which is available at: www.freedomainradio.com/free
- Only the first syllable is really relevant in that word!
- “Would people have gone to their deaths if they had not witnessed miracles?”
- Given the involvement of organised crime in these unions, it is scarcely surprising that politicians do not wish to risk their lives and families by attempting privatisation.
- I certainly do not mean to imply that libertarianism is morally equivalent to statism; libertarianism does not violate the NAP, while statism is based on such violations.