My fellow anarchists, please stop this yellow-red, ancap-ancom, East-West-rap feud nonsense. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Many anarcho-capitalists (and voluntaryists) and anarcho-communists (and mutualists) claim to be the only true anarchists. This claim is unhelpful, divisive and unfair. They claim the ideas of the other side would lead to a mere rearranging of capitalist property relations or rehashing old, failed communist policy. These claims are unlikely to be true, as, whether you can admit it or not, all anarchist theories are revolutionary. If you do not see that, it is unlikely you have spent much time trying to understand them.
This feuding is, in fact, typical of people who do not expect to succeed in their missions. The main political parties in any country work together, at least on some issues; the weakest are constantly bickering among themselves. It is possible governments place agents provocateurs among anarchists and other minorities to keep them divided. I do not know how to tell such a person online. Suffice to say, it is easy to make a guy feel he is right and you (and your whole team) are wrong: just dismiss his argument without appearing to consider it. We can resist these divide-and-conquer tactics by committing to unity of principle and purpose while encouraging diversity of opinion. But it tends not to work that way in practice.
Stupid anarcho-communists still don’t understand that we have to have property rights to have a free society. Damn anarcho-capitalists want to maintain hierarchies and classes by allowing property and bosses. They are not even anarchists! Anarchists are what I say they are. Well, are you against rulers? Then you are all anarchists. The debate rages, while the stateless society is still a glint in the revolutionary’s eye. Is there nothing more laudable on which we could be spending our time? Many anarchists spend hours a day arguing over the minutiae of what a stateless society should look like. They get angry and fall into disunity over questions that do not matter at present. The common goal is the removal of the state. The target is clear. It does not matter how many feathers are on our arrows. Work together. It is not as hard as you are making it.
I have a problem with anarcho-capitalists who claim a kind of absolute right to property. What if some people do not have anywhere to stay and want to squat on land you have claimed? What if they want to drink from a river or a part of a river you call your own? Anarcho-communists would say that is aggression. They also point out there is possession, distinct from property, which means you can hold on to something. But simply because you had more money or got there first is not a good reason that you have permanent and complete power over it.
Green anarchists would also point out though homesteading may not mean stealing from another human, it may destroy the environment and steal from other living things. Build homes, but do not shoot anyone who steps on your lawn. Build farms and factories, but not so big they flatten the landscape. At an extreme, property is illegitimate to someone who believes aggression is immoral.
My problem with anarcho-communists is the likelihood that a society without any ownership at all leads inevitably to the tragedy of the commons. Not all property is legitimate, nor does it need to be in the hands of individuals when it could be held by communities; but it seems necessary to me that someone consider it their property in order to take care of it. Property is useful because in a world of scarcity and anonymity, all resources are contestable and many of them will be contested. We can assign property to the person and people with the best link to the resource, thus making conflicts far easier to resolve. See chapter 3 of my book for further discussion of property in a stateless society.
So I disagree with you but I disagree with everyone on something. That does not mean I am not the right kind of anarchist and should be insulted and cast aside. It means I have something different to contribute.
Until you convince another few million people, your ideal society will be little more than a dream. You might need to work with others–especially those whose ideals are actually pretty similar to yours–to achieve it.
“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?” – Murray Rothbard
The worst thing the British ever did for India was to unite it. India is a vast country of a billion people with nothing in common. As many as a million people died and 12m were displaced when India was partitioned. Today, an insurgency in the east of the country started and continues because of a central government stealing their land in the name of “development” that the people are not interested in, and 100,000 farmers have committed suicide. India has gone to war with Pakistan several times and approached nuclear war over a border clash. None of these things would have happened if India had followed Gandhi’s vision.
“The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy,” said Gandhi. He believed India should comprise independent enclaves that were not subject to violence by powerful governments. His idea of swaraj, which means self-rule, was how to avoid domination by foreign rulers. It meant continuous effort to defend against subjugation. “In such a state” of swaraj, said Gandhi, “everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour”. Swaraj is not just about throwing off shackles but creating new systems that enable individual and collective development. Unfortunately, the forces of power prevailed, and India became ruled by rapacious Indians only marginally better than foreigners.
Many statists believe we need national organisations and associations. But I do not understand why. Most decisions could easily be taken on a personal level, and the ones requiring collective action could come on the community level. As I have made clear on this blog, voluntary collective action is realistic and preferable to coercion. Democracy cannot be said to offer true freedom to the individual without freedom from the government’s every edict. In Democracy: the God that Failed (p81), Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains “[w]ithout the right to secession, a democratic government is, economically speaking, a compulsory territorial monopolist of protection and ultimate decision making (jurisdiction) and is in this respect indistinguishable from princely government.”
Let us go further into justification for secession. Here is Scott Boykin on the subject.
“Modern political thought has produced three main types of argument for the state’s legitimacy. One, found in Kant, grounds the state’s authority on the purported rightness of its institutions and aims.” By whose judgement? If the individual is the judge of what is right and wrong, the individual who deems the state’s institutions and aims wrong has the right to secede; at least, the individual who practices non-aggression.
“Another, found in Locke, holds that consent, whether explicit or tacit, is the source of the state’s authority. A right of secession challenges this-position in maintaining that consent may be legitimately withdrawn in favor of an alternative political arrangement.” If democracy is based on the consent of the governed, does that mean one can withdraw one’s consent?
“The third, found in Hume, bases the state’s authority on its usefulness in producing order, which facilitates the individual’s pursuit of self-chosen ends.” The modern state, in a variety of legal ways, destroys order and limits the individual’s choices. Therefore, you have the right to secede.
You, an individual, and your family and friends, can opt out of a system based on violence. No, I do not mean you can leave and go somewhere else. All countries, by definition, have governments, and government, by definition, is force. I mean you have the right to end a relationship with those who threaten you with violence.
To start, however, I recommend secession on a community level. The only reason I advocate community secession is that no political entity will recognise an individual who secedes until the right to do so is itself recognised, which might not be for a long time. It may be just as true that national governments will not recognise local secession either; the history of secessionist movements is, after all, the history of central states’ making war on separatists.
As I have written elsewhere, anarchy exists and has existed in numerous places throughout history. It often arises during or after a war, revolution or other crisis. Those things may be coming to democratic countries, as they have in Greece and to a lesser extent the US with the Occupy movement. Think how hard it is for the people to change everything from how bad it is now. As a result, many are realising they can make a better society on a local level. They are leaving the state and the banks and the big corporations behind and making a new start.
Thus, we can start sovereign communities. The sovereign community is not subject to the authority of any state besides a local one its members have all willingly signed on to. Naturally, the “community” could be as big as it wants, provided positive consent is granted. It would enable everyone who wants to escape the state to do so, while not dismantling it for those who still want to live under a state system.
I propose entire communities separate, one by one, from the state. They might use legal means and go through the courts, as law is how things get done in a statist society. The sovereign community would not be cut off from all other communities; there is no doubt people would still visit each other. They would just not pay taxes or consume government services. They would make their own rules.
How to break away
Breaking free of the state could be undertaken bit by bit, as in these communities.
–The town council of Sedgwick, Maine, unanimously passed a law exempting the people of the town from all external laws related to food. Federal laws prohibit the growing and selling of certain foods; these people do not care. They have declared food sovereignty.
–Some places are moving away from fiat currency imposed by central banks. Greece’s current situation of lawlessness is leading many to adopt a cashless economy. Barter exchange has become the norm for many Greeks.
–That said, the Greeks may have been forced to act this way with the collapse of the Greek economy. Other communities are taking similar measures without being forced by circumstance to do so. Pittsboro, North Carolina, issues its own currency. It already had the US’s largest biodiesel cooperative, a food cooperative and a farmers’ market. Now it has taken a further step toward self sufficiency. According to Lyle Estill, a community leader, the currency has experienced no inflation. And Pittsboro is not the only one. Cities and towns around the US are rejecting Federal Reserve notes for circulation.
–Other communities are passing laws that refuse to recognise federal laws regarding corporations, such as corporate personhood. More than 100 municipalities in the US have passed ordinances prohibiting multinational corporations from dumping or spraying toxic chemicals, building factory farms, mining, fracking and extracting water.
–The Free State Project aims to make New Hampshire the first state to secede (successfully) from the US. The idea is for libertarians to congregate in order to have the biggest impact. (Not all anarchists agree on this strategy, incidentally.) New Hampshire is not the only state hoping to secede, with independence movements in California, Texas, Wyoming, and presumably other states I am unaware of.
–Keene, New Hampshire, has become a kind of centre for anarchist activism, encouraging the liberty-minded to flock there. It has not seceded from the US but might do in the future. Its people engage in all kinds of agorism, mutual aid, outreach education and civil disobedience. Learn more here and here.
–Like Keene, anarchists and socialists gather in Exarcheia, a part of Athens, Greece. It houses many organic food stores, fair trade shops, anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist activism.
Such piecemeal changes can be steps toward freedom and independence for one’s community, but they could just be a declaration of sovereignty over one particular thing members of the community do not want controlled by someone else. Alternatively, people could break away entirely from the state in one fell swoop. Has anybody done that?
–The Lakota nation, an American indigenous group, seceded entirely from the United States of America. It canceled all treaties it held with the state and its members renounced their citizenship. They hope to reverse the enormous harm 200 years of incorporation into the US has caused.
–Seasteading is an option that becomes more viable every year. Seasteading means building new homes on barges, ferries, refitted oil platforms or islands out in the ocean. Most have been unsuccessful, succumbing to natural disasters or lack of support. That is no reason to write off the whole idea. The real challenges are in construction and, as with all sovereign communities, escaping the violence of the state. Seasteading might not only mean building homes, but also resorts, casinos, aquaculture, deep-sea marinas and even universal data libraries free from copyright laws.
–Freetown Christiania, is an enclave of Copenhagen with just under 1000 residents. It is a self-governing and self-sustaining community which, though officially part of Denmark, is de facto largely independent. It began in 1971 and has become a kind of sanctuary for outcasts such as single mothers and drug addicts. The people make rules by consensus and have banned hard drugs, though marijuana and hashish have been sold openly.
–As mentioned in previous posts, the Yubia Permanent Autonomous Zone in California is an example of a community that has broken away from the state and established communities based on the non-aggression principle. “The most important thing to understand about Yubia,” says its website, “is that it is not only a place — it is a way of being.”
–These things could happen on a much wider scale. One goal of anarchism is to reduce our vulnerability to repression by the state. We can develop alternative economic and security organisations and decision making. People have already started decentralising the internet, making it harder to implement a kill switch. Hackers, who were once mischievous teenagers, have grown up and have launched satellites to enable a free internet outside of the state’s reach.
–Similarly, in an economy based on a single currency that is regularly debased by a central bank, a new form of online currency known as bitcoin has emerged. It has the chance to revolutionise global finance. One article explains its significance: “There’s decent incentive for small businesses to use it—it’s free to use, and there aren’t any transaction fees. At the moment you can buy the services of a web designer, indie PC games, homemade jewelry, guns, and, increasingly, illegal drugs. If the internet is the Wild West, BitCoin is its wampum.”
–Or we could eliminate money. Setting up a resource-based economy based on the vision of the Venus Project and Zeitgeist holds wide appeal. Some people call their ideas idealistic. Who knows until they try? For those who are interested in building such a society, let them do it. People will join if it shows signs of success. Set a time and a place, get together and make it happen.
–Though difficult without the support of those around, breaking free does not have to take place at a community level. Business and professional associations might decide to stop following pointless laws and paying taxes, while nonetheless continuing to act responsibly. Schools can ignore federal and state laws regarding curriculum or the hiring and firing of teachers, instead making those decisions in concert with parents and perhaps students.
Unfortunately, these things are only possible when enough people, let’s say a critical mass, agree and are willing to fight for these rights against the state they are compelled to obey. The biggest danger inherent in secession is the same one sovereign communities have had throughout history: the state does not give up control over anyone easily. But people are showing more and more that they are fed up of statism, and are doing something about it. Find more about breaking free at www.secession.net.
“The future social organization should be carried out from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, starting with the associations, then going on to the communes, the regions, the nations, and, finally, culminating in a great international and universal federation. It is only then that the true, life-giving social order of liberty and general welfare will come into being, a social order which, far from restricting, will affirm and reconcile the interests of individuals and of society.” – Mikhail Bakunin
The movie Bowling for Columbine showed a headline about a town in the US requiring everyone to own a gun. Naturally, most people in the theatre with me shook their heads. What a bunch of ignorant townspeople, right? But if you are in a place where you know everyone has a gun, how likely are you to break into someone’s house? Wouldn’t be a very sensible idea, would it? But even if you think it is a stupid idea, is it right for you to impose your beliefs on others?
I don’t know why it needed to be a government decision, but at least it was local, which makes it easy enough to move to the next town if you don’t like it—far more reasonable than expecting someone to move to another country or go live in the woods. In a stateless society, no one would be expected to move, because the possession or non-possession of firearms would have been a stipulation of the rules one would have already agreed to to be permitted to live in the community in the first place.
Now, in every democratic country, we have a race, a fight—always of image over substance—to see who will take the reins of power, so that the winner can impose his or her beliefs on the entire population by force. Would it not make more sense to have smaller groups in which people could live by the values they want? If abortion is murder, disallow it in your community; but why should millions of people who disagree with you be forced to follow your values? The option—the right—should exist to secede. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, in Democracy: the God that Failed, points out that “[s]ecession solves this problem, by letting smaller territories each have their own admission standards and determine independently with whom they will associate on their own territory and with whom they prefer to cooperate from a distance.” (p117)
In my last post, I suggest a variety of ways of using privately-produced law, such as arbitration, dispute-resolution organisations and insurance, to get the benefits of ideal state services without being subject to the wayward decisions of the elite. This post goes into detail on another, related idea of anarchists: the community based on a contract. This and the next post propose seceding from the state and building stateless, or sovereign, communities.
The sovereign community
When moving somewhere new, people are usually subject to certain by-laws passed down by the municipality, if such a level of government exists. Such laws might include not letting one’s grass grow too long or driving under 30kph in a school zone. In general, the lower down the level of government, the fewer people it represents, the more accountable it is. A government that presides over only a few thousand people, in fact, is barely a government. Unlike any other government, it would have little or no bureaucracy, few powerful lobbies and people would not need to rally en masse to make changes. A group of a few hundred people who make decisions on consensus is not a government at all, as there is no one imposing decisions on others.
The ideal unit of human organisation is not the nation or the race but the community. Dunbar’s number, the number of individuals the average human can maintain a stable relationship with, is between about 100 and 200, most likely because we evolved in communities of this size. In a community, people grow up around each other and share a culture. They know and learn from and trust each other. True communities make only minor distinctions between family and friends. Their members will defend each other and the community. Rules (or laws) are best made on the community level, because it is much easier to come to a consensus and ensure that the rules represent the wishes of everyone. Rule enforcement, too, would be far easier, because the enforcers would know the offenders. Shaming, ostracism and reconciliation are all much easier. And we do not need to get rid of professional enforcers and prisons for the truly recidivist criminals; we just would not pay unrepresentative and uncaring institutions to do it for us.
The exemplary sovereign community would counter the objection that statists have that anarchy can only mean killing each other wantonly. People who believe in this nightmare scenario not only do not read anarchist ideas on preventing that possibility; they disregard the enormous differences between the modern world and the stateless world of old.
-First, we are used to peace. Many hunter-gatherer societies are used to war. We are accustomed to diversity of culture, language, skin colour, ideas and ways of living. We no longer react toward people we have never seen before as members of other tribes who are likely hostile. We are used to peaceful interactions with all the thousands of anonymous people we meet over our lifetimes and get into intractable conflicts with maybe twenty of them. People who like peace will defend and build on it, just like people who appreciate their freedom will not give it up easily.
–Even in the past century we have become more peaceful. The decades leading up to World War One were marked by militarism in Europe. War was seen as salutary for a nation and a man. This feeling is now accepted far less widely. One can see evidence for this claim in the statistics alone: people are killing each other less now (relative to population) than any time in history. See Steven Pinker’s the Better Angels of Our Nature for statistics on and possible reasons for this development.
-Second, we can communicate with those members of other tribes in town hall gatherings, dispute-resolution organisations, or just over the phone in ways that even one hundred years ago was impossible. World War One was caused in part by poor communication among the warmakers. Unsure of each other’s intentions and lacking the easy long distance calling we take for granted, part of the march to war was, in fact, a blind stumble of guesses. We no longer suffer from the same lack of communication. Equally importantly, stateless societies would not have vast war machines at their disposal.
-Third, where most people see the inevitability of war, a better understanding of the causes of war reveals that states have, for hundreds if not thousands of years, nearly always been the initiators of war and the causes of terrorism. They make war to enlarge the power and wealth of the people on top. Through taxation and debt, they force their subjects to pay for it. Without the apparatus of legal plunder and the build up of militaries, war is far less likely.
-Finally, we have all the ideas necessary for peaceful and prosperous living, from ideas of stateless, democratic decision making to how to take care of each other through mutual aid.
I conceive of “community” in very broad terms. It could mean cities or something even larger, if they can somehow be managed, as well as towns; cooperatives of farmers or workers; or whatever other associations they want to put together. Individual communities’ making their own rules would mean anyone’s kind of anarchism can be attempted. You could try a propertyless commune or a Galt’s Gulch (let’s hope the capitalists and the communists don’t engage in a Cold War); whatever you think makes the most sense.
I use the word “rules” to differentiate what I am talking about from “law”. “Law” has a number of definitions but this blog goes by that of law as an imposition by uncaring elites on a populace, which is what most laws are. “Rules” here mean the things people have decided to follow, not just to make others follow. They are what people agree to when going to a new place and can be changed when they no longer serve the common good.
Some sovereign communities will have leaders of one thing or another, as do most or all communities. Leaders are great, but it is hard to lead hundreds of thousands of people without an urgent, common cause (which is why a sense of urgency and a flat hierarchy are important for large corporations to stay ahead of the competition). But leading on a smaller level is not a problem. Small groups are more flexible and can act like teams more easily than big ones.
If a community decides on a code of rules, it can institutionalise them by having those who want to live there sign a contract. The contract would say that the people living there would adhere to those rules if they wish to remain there. Some stipulations in the contract might read
–adhere to the non-aggression principle. It is possible to build a community entirely on this premise, with very few other rules. Freedom would be maximised, though there would be other consequences as well.
–join the mutual aid network, or certain aspects of the mutual aid network, such as neighbourhood watch, health insurance, pensions for old people, and so on.
–no private property. People who believe property is theft would probably want that in writing.
–no violence whatsoever. This one is for pacifist communities. I would not want to take away someone’s right to defend him or herself, but pacifists have a different point of view, and if they want to organise on that basis, they should be free to do so. (The problem is, of course, the danger from outsiders; living high in the mountains may eliminate this risk.)
–immigration rules. As good as immigration can be for an economy and for opening minds, for one reason or another, it is possible that a community would not want too many newcomers. Perhaps it would put a strain on the local environment. Perhaps they just do not like Paraguayans. I do not like racism, but I do not force others to accept my beliefs. Let immigrants go where they are welcome, where they can improve their lives and the lives of those around them.
–the minimum drinking or drug-taking age, and which drugs are prohibited.
–no parental abuse or neglect of children, or else the community intervenes and adopts them until the parent is rehabilitated.
–no Walmart. If communities want to protect local business and even foster infant industries, they can erect barriers to trade as selective as they like. No to big box stores’ setting up in this neighbourhood (or even no buying from such stores and bringing it home). Nowadays, we have the ability to trade with millions of people around the world. A community that makes its own rules does not need to be hampered by one-size-fits-all laws, tariffs and sanctions over whole nations written for minority interest groups.
—Communities and individuals would be able to decide with whom, anywhere in the world, they would trade. Hoppe again: “Consider a single household as the conceivably smallest secessionist unit. By engaging in unrestricted free trade, even the smallest territory can be fully integrated into the world market and partake of every advantage of the division of labor, and its owners may become the wealthiest people on earth.” (p115) Secession promotes economic integration to the extent independent units want it.
—Sovereign communities would likely form confederations with others, as was the case in pre-British-ruled Ireland, with no violence involved in leaving the group. They may prefer to trade with others of similar values. This principle is similar to the idea of buying fair trade, supporting small businesses over big or boycotting companies that abuse their workers.
–how to make decisions, and when not to. Not all decisions need to be made collectively. A man is free to the extent he does not have to follow decisions he disagrees with. But for those decisions that are made collectively, such as building a road or a school, the rules should specify a decision-making mechanism. The process most respecting of the individual is consensus. Consensus is, of course, rejected as a way of making decisions on the national level, but that is why it is preferable to do it on a lower level, where important things like new rules and punishments can be discussed by the people they will affect. The higher the level, the less representative decision making is and the easier it is for a majority to trample on a minority.
—If the community is too big for consensus, let the decision-making apparatus split and different people can choose which to join without moving. “Community” does not have to be an exclusive territory. As long as they agree not to impose their policies on others, they can live next to each other in harmony. Given what we know about polycentric law, such an arrangement is possible.
–rules for arbitration. My last post propounded a free market in dispute-resolution, arbitration and enforcement. But it is possible that a single community will have a single organisation in charge of arbitrating disputes among members. It may have an authority figure charged with ensuring decisions are enforced. The village policeman is often a friendly, respectable, trusted, admired member of society. It is not necessary to do away with him just because we do not like the FBI.
–penalties for non-compliance. These might start with simply talking to the violator for breaking smaller rules once or twice. Next could be public reprimand—singling out the person for criticism at a community meeting, and asking him or her how he or she will address the problem. A larger offense might require monetary compensation, perhaps working to pay off one’s debt to the victim. As a major punishment for something the community considers very offensive, probably after one or more chances to reform, the community could kick out the offender (or put it to a vote). If the offender is irretrievably violent and the people believe he or she requires deterring or punishing, they can lock him or her up. Of course, a society based on polycentric law would deal with these things equally well.
Whatever codes of ethics communities decide on, there is likely to be a great deal of similarity among them. Free communities will probably agree on some variation of the NAP, participating in a neighbourhood watch or sharing the costs of policing the streets, and so on. Some might be more entrepreneurial or socialist or fearfully protective than others, but most will probably still adhere to common norms. And when they share best practices, people get better ideas. Anything is possible when millions of people are free to decide.
Freedom, including the freedom to build and trade and innovate, is the natural state of humanity (as agorists will tell you: see the principles underpinning agorist theory here). If the state is meant to protect us from the bad people (it is not, but that is its perpetual justification), it follows that, if we are peaceful people who do good things for ourselves and others, we have the right to ignore the state. If one must ask permission, one is not free. Agorism is voluntary exchange without asking permission; taking one’s freedom back and using it to make people better off.
Monopolies enable and encourage abuse. In Markets Not Capitalism (pp68-74), Charles W. Johnson explains that the state has a monopoly on huge swathes of the economy. It has a monopoly on security, and trillions of dollars’ worth of security apparatus to use as it likes. It owns land and natural resources, fabricating land titles, instituting complex land-use and construction codes, and the capture of others’ property by use of eminent domain. It controls the money supply, enriching bankers and criminalising alternative forms of currency that people could use to avoid inflation. It grants monopoly privilege to patent and copyright holders. It has a monopoly on the building of infrastructure, artificially lowering fees of transportation at the taxpayers’ expense, instead of turning it over to the private sector where it can save money and save lives (see here). It has a monopoly on regulation, which largely protects big business at the expense of small, creating new monopolies. Finally, it decides everything that crosses its borders, from the amount of goods and the fees for them to the movement of people. This blog has outlined the problems with most of these monopolies already. The question at hand is, how do we challenge them?
In the New Libertarian Manifesto, Samuel Edward Konkin glances at how libertarians have tried to end the state, from violence to collaboration to spreading the word. He concludes from their overall failure that the answer is to stop feeding the state, and outlines his vision for an agorist society, and the counter-economic method of getting there. Counter-establishment economics, or counter-economics, is simply peaceful action that the state forbids. It exposes the unnecessary and damaging role of the state in the enforcement of its monopolies.
Agorism has much to do with self sufficiency, shaking off dependence on the state and doing things for oneself and one’s community. In addition, while it means avoiding taxes, it is at least as much about starving the state of funds. If a person, or much better, community, opposes the state, he or it can set up businesses or co-ops that are unlicensed, unregistered, unregulated and illegal. They can provide goods and services cheaply and without needing to feed the beast.
Agorism means that one by one, people will stop supporting the state and start supporting each other instead. Agorists will be at the forefront of the building of a new society, and they provide an example for those who are interested. (More on the logic of agorism here.)
To make clear, drug barons are not agorists (as they do not believe the state is immoral) or counter-economists (as they use violence). It is unfortunate that it is necessary to use violence in drug markets, but that is a natural consequence of the criminalisation of something so many people want. But not all black markets are violent.
As the Movement of the Libertarian Left shows, counter-economists come in all shapes and sizes. They could be
–Tax evaders (how-to);
–Smugglers (of humans looking for opportunities, drugs to people who need or want them, banned books, cigarettes subject to high taxes, and so on);
–Midwives whose positions have been eliminated by state health care systems;
–Doctors working without belonging to government-approved national medical associations;
–Gun owners who disobey firearm restrictions;
–Gamblers who gamble with friends instead of in registered casinos;
–Unregistered taxi drivers;
–Publishers and consumers of illicit art, literature and newspapers;
–Pirate radio operators (how-to);
–Farmers who grow and sell things the state prohibits, from hemp to raw milk;
–Cooks who make and sell food, perhaps to friends and neighbours, by mail order (like Stateless Sweets) or by the side of the road;
–Unlicensed contractors (how-to);
–Employers who pay under the table and employees who are paid under the table;
–People who pirate drugs or entertainment subject to intellectual property laws;
–People selling things at garage sales, roadside stands or on Craigslist;
–People who give sanctuary to others on the run, such as whistleblowers and runaway slaves;
–People feeding the homeless despite prohibitions on it;
–And anyone competing with a government monopoly, like Lysander Spooner did. Looking at all these illegal (but victimless) activities, are you a counter-economist?
In the twilight years of the Soviet Union, just about everyone was. The state had proven itself utterly incapable of providing more than the bare minimum of all manner of goods that were, in fact, available on the black market: food, repairs, electronics, exit papers and favours from the powerful.
Occupiers, you are counter-economists. Occupy movements were entirely voluntary, working on consensus, anticapitalism, mutual aid, equality and solving their own problems. They established clinics, schools, libraries, kitchens and security teams. They showed everyone that we can have a voluntary society, that we can build a new society, based on compassion and helping each other, out of the shell of the old. It is called prefigurative politics. These values also inform the philosophy of the sovereign community, meaning new communities outside the reach of the state. Voluntary institutions show not only the morality of non-aggression, but also that we can solve the world’s problems without force.
“The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.” – The Dalai Lama
Until we achieve freedom, we need to lay the groundwork. The state is best done away with by making it irrelevant. The groundwork is in the work we do, the planning and organising to separate from the state entirely, but it is also inside our minds.To become free, we must free ourselves. My term for those for whom only oneself can decide what is right is sovereign individuals.
To a sovereign individual, the supreme authority is the self. Only the individual can decide what is right for him or herself. Of course, he or she takes others into account. When driving, one takes care not to run into other cars. A sovereign individual lives the non-aggression principle because he or she believes in the silver rule: not doing to others what he or she would not want done to him or herself.
The sovereign individual believes in self ownership, meaning that the individual owns his or her actions and their consequences. A man owns the fruit of his labour and no one has the authority to dictate what any proportion of it can be used for. He enters into whatever voluntary associations and voluntary exchanges he likes, but would only be forced into them when he has no choice.
Sovereign individuals might also let others take responsibility for their own lives. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Helping each other is great, but when we try to force virtue, which might just be our opinions of what is right and wrong, others lose the chance to experience the freedom to figure those things out, and take no responsibility for the consequences.
Think about what we do with children: Not letting them play with knives and firecrackers, helmets for virtually every activity where they might get hurt, lying to them about the dangers of cigarettes and other drugs, hauling them to jail for starting food fights, or whatever universal rules for creating the ideal humans parents in a particular culture believe they have discovered. All these things are producing irresponsible and spoiled people who are easier to scare into giving up their freedom. We could just let them decide what they want to do on their own, giving them the freedom to get hurt and the responsibility to learn from it.
Most people think they know what is right for others, which I believe is why they participate in politics and want governments to control people. But do we know what is right? Do you like it when others tell you what to do, or argue with you about the right way to do it? If people want to work it out themselves, let them. Changing people is hopeless and unnecessary. People are affected more by others’ examples than by their words. If people decide that they want to be unplugged, take them with you. If not, leave them in the matrix where life is more comfortable.
Voting and other participation in politics is a way of trying to control others by force. Sovereign individuals avoid it. They also do not like taxing people because taxes are taken without asking and spent on repressing people. It may be possible to avoid paying taxes by various means: buying directly from manufacturers such as farmers, working under the table, and so on. It is easier when done with like-minded people, as they can use alternative currencies that are not subject to central bank manipulation, buy and sell from each other without government interference into markets or move toward a gift economy (all of which will be outlined in a future post). Suffice to say, supporting local businesses and farmers and boycotting businesses that receive favours from the government are worthwhile principles to live by.
Many people who consider themselves sovereign individuals are engaging in mutual aid and counter-economics. It can be hard to come by reliable reports because what they do is often illegal, and naturally they wish to remain under the radar.
But be careful about avoiding taxes, and about defending yourself against state aggression. IRS special agents are armed. They have been told that sovereign individuals are terrorists. And if you are known to owe back taxes, you cannot leave the US legally. Careful about living “off the grid”, too. People attempting to live outside the state’s reach are finding it impossible. An estimated 1% of Americans are attempting to escape the long arm of the state but are getting raided by thuggish police. Read some examples here. Peaceful people who want to be free are getting shut down by a state that looks to squeeze every drop of tax milk it can from the cattle it rules.
But it may still be worth doing. You may prefer to find somewhere with less zealous police and a government less focused on destroying individual freedom than the US. There is plenty of world out there where we can be free. A pirate’s life for me.
(For more on how to be an individual, read about my friend Dave.)
A common fear statists have of a free society is that a corporation, or some other large entity, would one day take up arms and attack and control people. In effect, this fear is the same as the fear of a government: that a small group will get together to take money and power away from a larger population. I agree that we must remain vigilant about such things, which is why free communities have many options for dealing with such a scenario.
As I explain in my post on human nature, humans have a sense of reciprocity: you help me and I will help you. The good guys, and good businesses that provide value to their customers, are the ones that succeed over time. That is why the image of the free market as the “law of the jungle” is erroneous. The law of the jungle is where the powerful come to dominate others, which is what a state enables. A free market means businesses would need to provide value, or they would not make money.
There are some psychopaths out there. We do not want to give psychopaths the means of violence, which is the main reason we should deny them access to the levers of the state. But they may also have access to large amounts of money through a corporation on the free market. They will lose from any customers who consider their actions illegitimate, but it is possible those customers will not know. That is why we have the media.
The huge variety of media in our society, from Democracy Now to Fox News to our friends and family, are one way to tackle organisations that act immorally, because consumers will withhold their dollars if they are deeply opposed to a business’s actions. Many consumers make choices based on their impressions of the companies they buy from. There have been a number of successful boycotts, which give more credence to the fact that businesses a) are beholden to the market and b) can be pressured by small numbers of ordinary people into changing for the better. Business groups such as the Better Business Bureau ensure that ethical businesses get certain benefits of belonging to clubs and the unethical ones get shunned.
All manner of organisation can use boycotts, along with public shaming of people involved, if their rules for ethical behaviour are broken. Shaming can actually be a powerful weapon, as we see when we see a man’s bad cheque on the side of a cash register. It can be used against those who violate the non-aggression principle, as has been suggested regarding police who use pepper spray on unarmed protesters. We need good reputations in life to be able to sign contracts, and we sign many of them in our lives. (Two people who have thought and spelled out the problem well are Stefan Molyneux on dispute resolution and David Friedman on private law.)
Since the people who own and run corporations would no longer have limited liability or other legal protections, the same rules apply to them as to corporations themselves, and anything I say about corporations must apply to the people who make them up. Through private law, people would be able to sue individuals working in the businesses who perform acts of aggression, rather than just suing the corporation. No corporate personhood, no bailouts and other transfers from taxpayers to corporate executives, no regulations preventing small businesses from entering the market: corporations would be far weaker without the state.
They would also have no legal mandate to make a profit, though it is more accurate to say that at the moment they must do what their shareholders want. As not all shareholders of all corporations are purely interested in making money, and others believe ethical behaviour is a way to make money, some of them have taken to shareholder activism, and have made positive changes in the corporations they own that way. Here we have yet another check on corporate power, and I see no reason to believe it would disappear without a government.
The idea that we should worry about private armies is misplaced. Whom does the national military serve? The elite control the state. The state and all its institutions serve the elite. A national military is the private army of the elite. It is paid for by the taxpayers, rather than the elite. In fact, the elite would probably not make money if they needed to pay for their wars themselves.
Some businesses benefit when a state goes to war, but not many. It is usually only the select businesses whose executives and shareholders belligerent governments are beholden to. But the question people who fear a corporation might go to war fail to ask is, who pays for modern war? Taxpayers gain nothing from war; they only lose. Businesses only profit when they get someone else (ie. taxpayers) to pay for it. If Halliburton had armed itself and gone into Iraq for oil, the costs would have far outweighed the benefits. It could have just traded with free people for it and saved millions on weapons. (See my take on the case of Iraq here.)
At the moment, some big corporations, usually oil companies, do attack people indirectly. They move into an area of people with no means to defend their land and the local government defends them against possible peasant unrest. It is possible to blame the corporations that bribe the state to use violence against these innocent people. However, if the state did not exist, the means of violence would not be paid for by the taxpayer. It would be paid for by customers, who would pay higher prices, and employees, whose wages would be lower. In effect, the tax would shift from individuals who do not benefit to those who do, and the prices might be exorbitant.
Moreover, bad PR costs a lot. People of conscience who find out that corporations are employing violence can boycott the corporations. All these things hurt sales. But we cannot force the people in the state who use violence to pay for it themselves, nor can we boycott the state. If a corporation stops caring about making money in the marketplace and only extracts it by force, it has become a state. Thus, the argument that if the state no longer existed, corporations would be just as able to commit violence does not follow. One way or another, anarchists oppose the initiation of force when done by anyone, be it a government, corporation, gang or otherwise.
But even with all this evidence corporations would not have unchecked and indominable power, it is still possible that corporations would commit overt violence, as if they were a government or a mafia, because they would probably still be disproportionately commanded by psychopaths, have lots of money and struggle for dominance. That is why the problem is not government per se, but the initiation of force. I do not care if it was a government or a corporation or just one person who killed 100 peaceful people; the problem is that they were killed. It could be hard to check corporations, like it is hard to check them and governments and other groups today. Not all information would reach everyone affected; not everyone would join in every boycott; not everyone would change due to public disgrace. So we need more ideas.
A stateless society would not be a completely peaceful utopia. How could it? When will we end aggressive behaviour? Few anarchists I know would even try. A lot of them believe that communities should separate from the state and become autonomous. Suffice to say, communities of free people would defend themselves against an aggressive corporation in the same way that they would defend themselves from any state or empire. That is something they have been doing for thousands of years. They or any anarchic society would need to have some kind of protection. That protection could come from the free market, as corporations competing for business would provide their customers with the protection they need. I understand the worry that those corporations could just turn on their customers and steal from them. However, businesses in a free market will provide enough customers with what they want that their owners will not want executives to start killing people. As Robert Murphy explains in detail, there is a market for security, and it could work very well against a corporation or any other organisation that wishes to harm people.
If a security company (or any other company that depends on repeat customers and good reputations, which is all successful ones not receiving state protection) kills or steals from or even enslaves a bunch of people, there are two problems. First, they will have less profit. I don’t think greed is necessarily bad: it depends how it is channeled. If you want to maximise profit, the rational solution might be to be a highly ethical corporation. In theory, and usually in practice, wherever free markets have existed (today’s markets are not very free), people are far wealthier, partly because they can pursue their self interest, partly because their motivation and creativity are higher, partly because they are forced to compete with others if they wish to remain profitable. If corporations want money, they are better off being good businesses and providing what the customers want, and if they do, the customers will come back.
Likewise, most corporations find that being good to their employees pays dividends in employee loyalty and motivation. If they start killing employees, or even just thwarting their attempts to unionise, employees must make a decision: stay here and risk getting bullied or murdered by this corporation, or quit and find another way to make a living. That is their decision. But as competition for workers grows, corporations need to provide better wages and working conditions. A major reason the vast majority of businesses do not regularly cheat customers and shoot employees is that it is not in the interest of their owners to do so.
Communities would still have rules, just like all societies have rules, and they could decide one of those rules would be no Walmart. That could mean no Walmart stores, no Walmart goods, and even no Walmart employees if they felt that strongly, would be allowed in the town. Every community that shunned Walmart in this fashion would mean that much less money, and thus power, for Walmart. Of course, we might not be able to get every community to push away our hypothetical violent or otherwise unethical corporation, but surely we should not force them to believe what we believe. If we are right, people might see it in time; and if they do not, they probably cannot be saved anyway.
The second solution to the problem of protection against a violent corporation is for people to defend themselves. Attempting violence against free people would probably lead to anyone sympathetic’s helping them out in the name of ending injustice, just as abolitionists used to attack slave owners in attempts to free slaves. People should really be able defend themselves anyway, at all times, whether there is a government or not, because violence can be committed whether there are 1000 police on the street or none. History shows that people band together in times of crisis, which include villages or cities allying to repel aggressors. And if they did so and had any chance of winning, where would this leave the business? It would need to reconsider any kind of violent campaign, and if a business is supposed to make money, waging its own war is clearly not the answer.
People could defend themselves, of course, but they could also have competing private defense agencies. If there is no central authority with a monopoly on the means of violence, a variety of organisations would have those means. They already exist to provide security guards, cameras, and so on. If one of them tried to attack people, the people could hire one or more of the many other organisations to defend themselves. If for some reason one turned belligerent, people could call another, or several others. And if worst came to worst, they could take up arms themselves.
In sum, it does not follow that corporations would make things much worse without a coercive state. Corporations would have far fewer unearned benefits without the state. Oversight is provided by journalists and consumers, and is spread by the innumerable media we have at our disposal and by word of mouth. There are already rules of ethics that would continue to govern the actions of consumers and executives, and when the people make rules for themselves and their communities, they can back them up by defending themselves from greedy outsiders with force if they need to.
How does one define morality? Do we all have different morals? Is there universally-preferable behaviour, or is all moralising just opinion? These are difficult questions, and will likely be debated for centuries to come. Philosophies of liberty are based on the idea that freedom of the individual and his or her property are universal. The prevailing idea among anarchists is the non-aggression principle, or NAP.
According to the non-aggression principle, all aggression, or initiation of force, is illegitimate. It prohibits the threat or actual use of violence or force against people who have not initiated force against others, and are unwilling to be forced. It is encapsulated in the golden rule, do to others as you would have them do to you.
The NAP is a simple, universalist standard of morality. Not everyone adheres to or even agrees with it, but it is the moral basis for a stateless society. It is a law based not on the calculations of a politician but on the ideals of peace and self defense, property, justice, freedom and responsibility.
The NAP grants property rights. By property, I mean the money one has been given through legitimate (voluntary, peaceful, as opposed to forced) means, the property he has acquired by spending that money, and the products of his own labour. One’s body is also one’s own property, which means he decides what gets done to his body. If he wants to get a tattoo, he should be free to do so. If he wants to smoke marijuana, or even crack-cocaine, again, he should be free to do so. If he harms other people because he is intoxicated, the crime is not the taking of intoxicants but the initiation of violence against others.
According to the NAP, forcing someone, even one’s sister, to wear a headscarf is immoral. Forcing her to take it off is as well. Forcing someone to eat or drink something is immoral, because it is a violation of one’s ownership of one’s own body; forcing them not to take drugs likewise violates the principle.
Products of one’s own labour are one’s property. Things acquired illegitimately are not. By way of example, imagine Tom walks into the wilderness, builds his own home and starts a farm. He has transformed the land into something useful and valuable. He deserves it; it now belongs to him. Then, imagine Derek comes along and seizes an acre of his land. What claim does Derek have to that land? Tom, in fact, has the right to defend his property, as he does himself.
Derek claims that property is theft, because Tom is forcing Derek off his land. However, the land would have been useless without the labour Tom put in. Labouring in a factory brings money that can be used to buy food. Labouring on a farm brings the food. Derek is trying to force Tom to give up property previously unowned and useless to anyone, which Tom transformed into something useful. He is trying to steal that something. Tom is merely protecting the fruits of his labour.
If theft is defined as taking another’s property without that person’s consent, and one’s property includes anything one has earned (including money) or made useful through one’s own labour, Derek is stealing from Tom. Tom, on the other hand, has not stolen from anyone, because no one had any legitimate claim over the land before he came along.
Likewise, if Tom is willing to sell Matt his land and Matt is willing to pay his asking price with money he attained through voluntary transactions, Tom’s property can become Matt’s. Tom’s labour created the property and Matt’s labour brought the money to buy it legitimately. Thus, property is not theft.
If there is a child playing on the train tracks and a train is coming, is it wrong to save the child? Of course not. Non-aggression is about consent. If the child would, at some time in his or her life, thank you for initiating force, it is not immoral to have helped him. If his parents thank you, it is not immoral. (Of course, this brings up questions of whether a child is property, in what respects and until what age; it also brings up the question of the morality of preventing suicide. These are details this blog does not go into.)
It is not immoral to govern a population that gladly and willingly consents to being governed. If people want to live under the gun, they should be allowed to. However, what if even one person is both peaceful and unwilling? What if he is unwilling to give his property to support a system he disagrees with? What if one person wants to opt out of a system under which he does not want to live? Is it right to disregard this person? Is it right to let the collective decide for the individual against his will? Not if the non-aggression principle holds.
An individual, or any other minority, is equally deserving of universal rules of morality. Morality must be universal, because all humans are equally deserving of the basic rights to live according to what they see as right, provided they do not harm others. In fact, morality can scarcely be said to be moral if it applies double standards, affording some people certain rights over others. If a system privileges the majority, giving them rights to deprive the minority of its life, freedom or anything it acquired through voluntary means, it is immoral. As Gandhi (himself an anarchist) once said, “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
The myth of the social contract
For the past three hundred years, man has heard the suggestions of a wide variety of philosophers. One influential idea was that of the social contract. The social contract states that the people in a given territory submit to the will of the state; and in return, the state provides protection to the people.
But what is a contract? A contract is an agreement consciously and willingly entered into by two or more parties. No one signed a contract agreeing to submit to the laws passed by politicians. It is irrelevant whether the politicians were elected or not, or by how many votes. Democracy or dictatorship, if an individual is not willing to submit to this so-called contract, there is nothing moral about forcing him into it.
The book No Treason: the Constitution of No Authority by Lysander Spooner (available in full here) spells out with expert logic the irrelevance of the social contract as a contract. “The Constitution [of the United States] has no inherent obligation or authority” he begins. And he is right. After all, I have never even been asked if I would like to follow any law, nor have I ever seen this contract apparently signed on my behalf. For this contract to be moral according to the NAP, every single citizen of every country would have to consent to living under the country’s legal system. It is null for everyone who does not sign it.
And yet, because a small group of men wrote a document over 200 years ago, 300m people are subject to the violence of every single law passed by a small clique of decision makers. The notion of the social contract suits the state, because there is no chance to opt out of and end the contract. But it does not suit the dissenting individual or persecuted minority. And it is clearly not a contract.
Taxation is the initiation of force. If any person being taxed is unwilling to pay taxes or is unwilling to pay as much as he or she is paying, taxes are force. Thus, the manner in whichever a government acquires its funding is force. (See my post on taxation for a fuller discussion.)
To say that everyone should be forced to pay taxes, or else they should not be allowed to use the services government provides, has things backwards. The people who initiate force are the ones committing the immoral act. Thus, the onus is on those forcing others, and those supporting the forcing of others, to explain to the people why they should be willing to be forced.
Likewise, it does not follow that someone who does not like the system should just move. The analogy of paying rent does not follow, because neither the government nor the population own the country and the citizens are not tenants. If a man built or bought his house, he has already paid and has no further rent to pay. Telling someone he should move if he does not like it is akin to saying he should be charged rent at a house he already owns.
Some anarchists consider voting the initiation of force. If I vote, I attempt to force my preferred electoral candidate, along with his or her policies, on the population at large. People who follow the NAP would not want to force policies on any peaceful person. (Find more on this subject here.)
Anarchism means no rulers, no overarching force that can legitimately initiate force against entire populations. It means that people are free to engage in any actions that do not initiate force against others. Anarchists thus oppose any person or organisation that attempts to impose its will on others by force, be they a controlling husband, a gang or a government.
Self defense is legitimate. A world where at least one percent of humans are psychopaths requires vigilance to defend one’s life, liberty and property against those who would attack, steal and kill. It is also right to defend other innocent people against the same forms of aggression, provided they have not given and would not give their consent to the aggressors.
Naturally, there are difficult questions, to be answered case by case, as to when violence is aggressive and when it is defensive. The history of Israel is a tale of tens of thousands of deaths at the hands of people who thought they were only defending innocents. Is it right to steal from a thief? Is it right to kill a murderer? Revenge is understandable, and even rational (to prevent further attacks), though as a moral question, again, it depends. (I write more on the subject of Israel and the policy of revenge here.)
It has been said that libertarianism (within which anarchists can count themselves) is the radical notion that other people are not your property. What is meant by that? It means that no one can decide what is right for a peaceful person of sound mind except the individual him or herself. Not violating the life, liberty and property of innocents is a moral duty. Obedience to laws and orders is not.
The rule of law is, do whatever the political class tells you to do or risk violence. The rule of freedom is, initiating violence against unwilling and peaceful people is immoral. Some communities, such as Grafton, Keene and Yubia, are built around strict adherence to the NAP. As an anarchist, I believe society should put non-aggression at the centre of its philosophy.
The ultimate straw man for a statist to use against an anarchist is Somalia. “If you don’t like the government, go to Somalia! You can be a pirate!” And then they laugh, as if that was a clever trump card. I don’t think so. First, no anarchist who knows what he is talking about advocates an immediate or violent implosion of government, like what happened to Siad Barre’s government in 1991. Anarchism is also called voluntarism or voluntaryism, because anarchists want to see voluntary institutions arise over time to replace the coercive ones of government. Life was not good, or voluntary, under Siad Barre.
Second, the violence in Somalia is committed by groups fighting each other in order to form the government and control the levers of power. This violence has been exacerbated by well-meaning westerners who think they know which group should rule the country. Anarchists believe that the initiation of force is wrong, which is why government is wrong, and no one should be allowed to form the government. A variety of warlords fighting for control of the people is hardly a voluntary society. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia to shore up its proxy army there did not help much either.
Besides, many countries with governments are worse off than Somalia, so government is obviously not the answer. To say the reason places like Canada and Australia and Germany are peaceful is purely because of the existence of government is simplistic because it is divorced from history. Among other reasons, one could point to the political culture. A lot of our rules come from people’s simply deciding that certain things are right and wrong. Some rules are in place because government put them there, though many of those rules are based on natural laws like no killing or enforcing contracts. If those rules, if the government superstructure went away over time, would we stop following all rules? Of course not. We already believe that certain rules are right. For example, one day when I was living in Canada, the traffic lights near my house broke down. What do you think happened? Do you think everyone started racing through the intersection, and there were dozens of fatal accidents? Actually, there were no accidents. Everyone simply behaved as if there were a stop sign there instead. The stop sign rule was one they were all already familiar with and agreed with. It was a custom, and we adhere to customs unthinkingly. They didn’t need a traffic light there, just like they didn’t need a policeman handing out tickets to enforce compliance.
But back to the Horn of Africa. Under Siad Barre, Somalia did not have rules accepted by the people; it had rule by one man (so kind of like a majority government in Canada). Siad Barre killed and tortured thousands of people. There was no civil society because everything was forced from the top down. How could they have expected the collapse of his government to have led to a voluntary society? Anyway, Somalia outside Mogadishu is not as bad as people seem to think. After 1991, things began to grow more peaceful, and by the late 1990s, most of Somalia was at peace. There is sporadic fighting among rival gangs, but there is not so much violence against civilians. (1) (Sounds a bit like Los Angeles.) There is no question a humanitarian crisis afflicts Somalia (given that some of the refugees I teach in Cairo come from Somalia, I would have to be blind not to know that), though violence is not the only factor. The militant group al-Shabab, styling itself as government, has decided to prevent food aid to millions of Somalis. Nevertheless, the people are more healthy and prosperous, and obviously far more free, than they were under Siad Barre (2), which means that they are better off now than they were. (That is partly due to the existence of humanitarian aid groups, who were not allowed during Siad Barre’s time.) Telecommunications have improved as well. A variety of companies are operating with no government regulation, and as a result, Somalia has more phone lines and internet access than most of the rest of Africa. (3) Water and electricity are provided by the private sector, and social insurance comes from remittances and the expansive clan-based family structure. Somalis have access to private healthcare at low costs. Somalia now has universities it didn’t have under statism. Somalia has made decent economic progress since Siad Barre, and some major multinationals like Coca-Cola, DHL and affiliates of General Motors and British Airways have investments in the country. Somalia’s financial sector is doing well, and Somalis lend and borrow a lot of money. Because there is no central bank, inflation is low. Somalis have access to the latest electronic gadgets, too, thanks in large part to the Somali diaspora. (4) In fact, even in Mogadishu things are a lot better. Rapid construction of hotels and restaurants and a light manufacturing industry are developing. (5) If you think things are as bad as they were during the disastrous US “Black Hawk Down” intervention, you might find there is more to Somalia than meets the eye that hasn’t done its research. Of course, if you are going to compare Somalia to Canada and Australia and Germany, fine, it is far worse, but that can hardly be a fair comparison, can it?
Civil society crept back after Siad Barre, and with it returned Xeer [ħeːr], the traditional Somali legal system. Xeer is a functioning legal system that nonetheless has no single authority. Rather than a body that endlessly makes laws to regulate every aspect of life like we have and change with the whims of the powerful, elders mediate disputes based largely on natural human rights. Dispute resolution is a lot faster and cheaper than the average national justice system. (6) Waddaya know? There can still be law and order, even when there is no national government.
Then people talk about piracy as some kind of inevitable consequence of Somalia’s lawless society. However, anyone who reads beyond the headlines knows that the real reason some—not as many as you might think—Somalis have turned to piracy is that rich-country fishermen, with no respect for Somali property rights, went there, poached all the fish they could, dumped their waste and destroyed the fishing industry. Piracy is not only understandable but also, in effect, payback.
Unfortunately, attempts by outsiders (Barack, I’m looking at you) to battle the small al-Qaeda presence in Somalia are likely to lead to the deterioration of a country doggedly building itself up from the bottom. It certainly did not help the first time. Perhaps they should just leave Somalis alone to figure things out for themselves, which seems in fact to have been working so far, and stop trying to impose their statist dreams on everyone.
Adam Kokesh, Adam vs the Man: What do you have to say to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [LEAP] who would say that ending the War on Drugs would lower the rate of deaths of law enforcement officers unnecessarily in the line of duty?
Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States: I don’t think that’s right.
The logic of the War on Drugs died at birth. Prohibition has never even begun to achieve its stated objectives. How could it? As the astute Pat Buchanan puts it, “There are two sure ways to end this war swiftly: Milton’s way and Mao’s way. Mao Zedong’s communists killed users and suppliers alike, as social parasites. Milton Friedman’s way is to decriminalize drugs and call off the war.” Governments around the world have tried a watered-down, somewhat less totalitarian version of Mao’s way, but they are not achieving his results. What results are they achieving instead?
(I have written extensively on the War on Drugs elsewhere. Find my historical analysis of it here.)
Does the criminalisation of drugs help drug users? Why not ask the millions who have been jailed, some for 20 years or more, whose families have been torn apart, because they disagreed with the government’s laws? Joanne Page of the Fortune Society says this is “not a war on drugs; it’s a war on poor people with drug involvement. And the casualties are terrible.”
$1t has been spent enforcing drug laws, with no resulting decrease in drug use. 40m people have been arrested on drug charges since Nixon declared war on drugs 40 years ago. And over 50% of people in overburdened jails in the US are there on drug charges. And yet, in the words of Neill Franklin, executive director of LEAP, “drugs today are more available, more potent and cheaper than ever.” In 2009, the US federal government spent over $2b housing drug-related prisoners. Every 19 seconds, someone in the US is arrested for a drug law violation, 82% of which are for possession. (One estimate asserts that 800,000 a year are arrested on marijuana-related charges alone!) In other words, you are paying so that the government can lock up people with things in their pocket that will never harm you or your children.
Despite the irriting 10th amendment, the US federal government does not recognise all laws passed by states. One type of them is their drug laws. Most states have either legalised medical marijuana or hemp or otherwise decriminalised sale of the plant. The Drug Enforcement Administration regularly raids medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have passed laws legalising them. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here…you know what? Just google it.) Along with the product, it takes the computers and collects the files of people who have bought pot there, apparently holding them so they know who needs to get nabbed next for something they are legally allowed to do. Is it any wonder more and more people are coming to see that the government does not have to care about us? That our safety is the last thing on their mind? That the rule of law lies in tatters? And that this is not what Jesus had in mind? We have a federal government interested in prolonging this devastating war on non violent (and some terminally-ill) people with a middle finger to the constitution. How can this take place in a free society?
Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that legalising all drugs would bring in some $40b in tax revenues at all levels if the drugs were taxed at rates similar to alcohol, and we would save another $40b in incarceration and court costs. But as he points out, this might not make much of a dent in the colossal US government budget deficits; and the real reason to legalise drugs is that “all the people who want to use drugs are being somewhere between mildly inconvenienced and grossly harmed by the policy of prohibition. We are not helping drug users in any way, shape or form.”*
Would drug use skyrocket if drugs were legal? Well, why don’t you do heroin? Because it is illegal? (For that matter, why don’t you kill and rape? Because they are illegal?) When the government tells you what you can and cannot put in your own body, it is claiming ownership over you. Protecting you from yourself is not only a misguided idea, because you know better than any government could about what is right for you, but it is demonstrably false. The government would need to destroy all guns, cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, cars, Coca Cola and Big Macs if it wanted to keep you healthy. Maybe it should ban all those things. But in the words of Lev Timofeev, a former Soviet mathematician and analyst of the shadow economy,
Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it. Prohibiting a market means placing a prohibited but dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporations. Moreover, prohibiting a market means enriching the criminal world with hundreds of billions of dollars by giving criminals a wide access to public goods which will be routed by addicts into the drug traders’ pockets. Prohibiting a market means giving the criminal corporations opportunities and resources for exerting a guiding and controlling influence over whole societies and nations. [Find more on the effects of prohibition here.]
Mexico is the newest of those nations. In his book the Lucifer Effect, psychologist Philip Zimbardo explains that our actions and our character depend to a great extent on our situation. If we are placed in a situation where we have power over others, we will probably use that power. Drug lords like Pablo Escobar were not necessarily bad people before they took to drugs. But they saw big opportunities to make big money because of the laws that existed. They needed to protect themselves against the long arm of the law, so they started their own militias, and criminalisation became a war. If there is no possibility to engage in commerce through voluntary transactions, but the demand still exists, the trade will continue but it will become dangerous. That is true of any criminal enterprise in the world. As a result, some 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006, not to mention Colombia, Peru and elsewhere in the past 40 years.
The US government has made things worse and killed its own agents. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) sold some 30,000 guns to Mexican drug lords that were used not only to kill innocent Mexican civilians, but eventually US government agents. (See a video that brings the war to your eyes here.) Thousands of Mexicans have protested the War on Drugs, which is fast becoming a civil war brought about by powerful governments that do not have to listen to their people.
Since the War on Drugs guarantees high prices for any illegal drug, it is no wonder poppy farming has become so common in Afghanistan. Supply is in the east but demand is in the west. When the west criminalises drugs, farmers in the east stand to profit. The Taliban now it encourages poppy farming as a way to make money to kill foreign soldiers. Corruption is rampant in Afghanistan. It is the most corrupt country in the world, in fact, according to Transparency International, which said the following: “In poll after poll, Afghans don’t rank the Taliban, terrorism or the economy as their highest worry. Corruption is their top concern and tackling it, their main need.” Not only does government enable high drug prices through prohibition, corruption would not exist without a government because no one would have the power to force people to pay bribes. Not only does the US military now target drug traffickers as part of this ill-conceived war, how is the ISAF supposed to win hearts and minds when its main partner sprays crops in Afghanistan and destroys farmers’ livelihoods? The criminalisation of drugs by the powers that are supposedly at war with the Taliban is shooting oneself in the head to cure one’s headache.
Back on the domestic front, the War on Drugs places huge burdens on the legal system. The backlog of drug cases that divert billions of dollars from the protection of property, the use of expensive courts and trial lawyers to prosecute people for selling a few dollars’ worth of cocaine, the loss of civil liberties, the corruption of law enforcement; these are corollaries of a legalistic approach to prohibiting drug use. Neill Franklin of LEAP explains that most police officers that prosecute the War on Drugs consider themselves soldiers, given orders, expected to uphold the law. But they do not usually spend the time to look at the facts of this pointless war, and as such do not question the criminalisation of drugs. More and more police officers are killed in the line of duty in the US, and you can guess what laws most of them are trying to uphold when they are killed. And yet, because of the law, because the politicians in the back pockets of the pressure groups are in charge, because we put them in charge and then turn our backs to them, the police are under pressure actually to put themselves in harm’s way. LEAP is made up of brave police officers who defy their political masters and stand up for what is right.
With all these obvious reasons to end the War on Drugs, why does it continue? Does the government care about your health? Is that the reason drugs are illegal? The reason the War on Drugs is so difficult to end is that the government is beholden to—even controlled by—special interest groups. Contrary to what some democrats seem to think, presidents and congresspeople do not wake up in the morning asking what they can do for their country or their constituents. They ask what they can do for their patrons, the lobbyists. Who do you think might benefit from the criminalisation of drugs? Certainly not those looking for treatment. Many laws give rise to new pressure groups. The drug laws have their own. Let’s meet some of them.
Illegal drugs are major competition for legal ones. Tobacco and alcohol companies have no interest in seeing any more drugs on the market. Perhaps that is why they were, for a while, the top funders of Partnership for a Drug Free America. (Now, big pharma contributes the most to Partnership.) Partnership tends not to mention that more than 400,000 people die every year in the US from smoking, 75,000 from alcohol and some 370,000 died from FDA-approved (thank God the government protects us from the market) pharmaceuticals in the past decade (or possibly even more), while the number who have died from marijuana is zero. The government is under pressure from the mighty tobacco and alcohol firms not to legalise their competitors, and has no qualms about killing to keep them happy. If you have ever wondered why lobbyists are so powerful, consider that 80% of those employed as lobbyists by the beer, wine and liquor industry, and 78% of tobacco lobbyists, are former government employees.
Pharmaceutical companies, too, have no interest in letting any other drugs than their own become mainstream. They already face considerable competition from alcohol and tobacco. Their drugs are so high priced (because they can be) that theft from pharmacies is skyrocketing. No less than the pharmaceutical firms, everyone from clothing manufacturers to paper companies would face steep competition from hemp if it entered the marketplace. But we must protect the public from the stalk of the cannabis plant.
Another reason drugs are still illegal, and one reason the War on Drugs is prosecuted so harshly, is that it pays for a politician to look tough on crime. Crime is only crime because lawmakers say it is, and as such, the more laws there are, the more chances politicians get to look like people who get results. It is the same reason money to protect against terrorism flows like water: the more of your money they spend, the more ability politicians have to appear to be doing something.
Other politicians preside over constituencies that benefit from the prison-industrial complex. With the steady expansion in the number of prisons came the increased number of correctional facility corporations and jobs that rely on them. The special interests driving the increased prison population are one reason why privatisation without a reduction in government power to reward the new industry might not be a good idea. Judge Jim Gray calls the prison guard union California’s strongest lobby group. It oversaw the building of 21 new prisons in the state and encouraged tough new laws (such as the 1994 “three strikes” law) that today have California’s prisons brimming over at almost twice capacity. No wonder they have an interest in full prisons: the average guard makes more than $70,000 a year.
Not all lobby groups are in the private sector. The drug war grants police and prosecutors bigger budgets, which gives them greater power vis-à-vis the public whose money they are spending. The DEA and the ATF receive ever-bigger budgets as well, enabling them to buy cool new equipment to help them do a job they should not be doing in the first place. As their budgets increase, the profits to be made off drugs and the desperation of the groups selling them, the ones created by drug prohibition, increases proportionally, so more people will fight on either side, catching thousands of innocents in the crossfire.
The police have the incentive to steal. In 1970, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, also known as the Forfeiture Act. It was expanded in 1978, and then again in 1984. According to Jarrett B. Wollstein, “[c]ivil asset forfeiture is based upon the medieval doctrine that when property is involved in a crime, the property becomes ‘guilty’, and can be “arrested” and forfeited, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the property’s owners.” You do not need to be tried or convicted. Thousands of people other than the police have made money informing on their neighbours, even when their neighbours have been found innocent. And anything is fair game. Even the car you drove to try to buy drugs can be seized when you get arrested for it. The court makes money off the fine you have to pay; the police keep the car. Not surprisingly, “the level of seizure activity has exploded since 1984,” says Prof. Bruce Benson of Florida State University. Police can seize cars, jewelry and all the money they can find (even if they only say they suspect it is connected to drugs). Many local police drug units are partially or wholly funded by the assets they seize. And since it is easier to catch the little fish than the big fish, the petty criminals, like buyers and sellers, are the ones who lose most.
The military, too, long involved in South America, has its hand out, too. The long-running turmoil in Colombia has given the US military a pretext to plant military bases there. Protecting its citizens is a great excuse for a government to go to war. The empire thanks you for your understanding.
Finally, just like in so many government-connected corporate scandals, the banks are here too. Money laundering is big business, and banks all over the world have cashed in. (See here, here and here.) Governments could regulate the business, but why would they harass their close friends? All of these groups would lose if drugs were legalised, or if the drug war were won.
Make no mistake: the War on Drugs is not simply a failed policy: it is an understandable, even predictable, result of statism. It started in 1970 when a politician (Richard Nixon) wanted to squash his peaceful enemies (hippies) and distract from his foreign policy agenda (the bombing of Laos and Cambodia), and has accelerated thanks to every other politician who has stood to gain from it. In the end, the War on Drugs is a symptom of big government. Big government is the reason your tax dollars are going toward killing and jailing people for victimless crimes, creating and funding drug cartels, and bringing violence to the streets of your hometown. Big government requires a steady flow of votes and campaign contributions in return for rewarding special interest groups with tax dollars. As such, it will not reverse until enough people threaten to withhold their votes for the party that does not end the drug war. However, the reality of the criminalisation of drugs has not hit most people, and will not unless they understand it.
No more excuses
Not only us crazy anarchists understand the logic against prohibition. The Global Commission on Drug Policy reported that “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world…billions of dollars are wasted on ineffective programs,…millions of citizens are sent to prison unnecessarily,… [and] hundreds of thousands of people die from preventable overdoses and diseases.” The report was endorsed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—and 16 other notable names, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Some of these thinkers have said they are not strictly in favour of the outright legalisation of drugs. Fine. Adopt half measures and you will get half results. Alternatively, we could commit to the full legalisation of drugs and stop having to worry about all this nonsense.
I heard someone say that legalising drugs would not make a difference to the gangs because then they would engage in different activities to survive. But that ignores the fact that the economic incentive of gang membership is the very lucrative drug trade itself. If gangs switched to, say, stealing cars, they would be running far greater risks than running drugs for less money, and their membership would shrivel. Until that happens, expect many more dead everywhere. The most dangerous, most addictive drug is not crack or heroin but laws that create black markets and reward special interests.
It is also said that only the less harmful drugs, like marijuana, should be legal, because legalisation amounts to sanction. But that argument misses the point. All drugs should be legal for two reasons. First, on a purely cost-benefit analysis, there is every reason to believe that legalisation would save money and lives, including through overdose. It would drastically reduce the influence of criminal organisations around the world, reduce the corruption of law enforcement and politicians, reduce harm done by unregulated black market substitutes for drugs whose harm has much to do with their illicit nature, stop tearing families and lives apart, and reduce the incidence of police destruction of property through break ins.
But an even better reason is that no one has the right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body when the consumption of that substance does not affect anyone else. Our bodies are our property, and no one can take away a free man’s property. Unless we are irresponsible children with no judgment, all drugs should be legal.
*Moreover, as economist Walter Block points out (and I second), giving more money to the government would not be a good thing. “It is sometimes argued that one of the benefits of legalising addictive drugs is that they could be taxed, and the government revenues enhanced,” he says. “From this perspective, this would be the only valid case against legalisation.” How about we legalise drugs and do not tax them?