from We the Individuals link Jan 20, 2015
[This article is the 2nd part of a 2 part essay. The first part is “If Only We Had the Right People in Charge!” which can be read here.]
“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.” -H.L. Mencken
Whether you are an anarchist or a Constitutionalist, the one debate you will definitely come across is which route is better for reducing the state (voting vs. outside the system). Let’s face it, the state has grown far beyond what was intended, any libertarian can tell you this. In my previous article, I addressed what I find the flaw with having the “right people in charge” to be. That is, if we were to have an electorate (in both Congress and the White House) full of anarchists, that it is worse than just governing ourselves and eliminating the middleman; politicians and government would be obsolete. Yet, before we can discuss this, the challenge is how to get there. How do we dismantle what our founders started as a minimalist state that has been trending toward omnipotence ever since, and is currently the biggest state in the history of mankind?
When it comes to achieving a stateless society I have argued before that I find one of the core concepts of liberty is to allow for maximum innovation from as many actors as possible, allowing each individual to decide how s/he spreads freedom in the world. Some do social media, some do organic farming, some do political activism, some do writing, and so forth. That there are niches to be filled everywhere for each individual and that it is somewhat counter-productive for an alleged proponent of the free market to be so keen on attempting to dictating a one-size-fits-all solution. While I do firmly believe this, it doesn’t mean that I do find voting to be as workable of a route, which is what I aim to address.
Many libertarians, including anarchists, think the only obstacle to implementing our political ideology is just having the right mix of people in place. In other words, because we don’t have enough people like us is why the state is not shrinking and the solution is if we vote in libertarians like us we can chip away the system (slow down its growth) and return to a republic such as the founders intended or even a stateless society. The problem here though is simply that “slowing them down” is a poor plan. It’s like having the exact solution — to stop supporting them — and then not using it. Makes no sense. The last thing we need is to slow that stuff down. Let them go hog wild with it. It will suck obviously, but the less they make life suck the longer we’ll have them around. You can’t make a compelling enough argument to convince a skeptic, empirically, without something big enough to eliminate alternative explanations. For example the minimum wage debate is never going to get anywhere as long as they keep just inching it up every few years, because the results get lost in a sea of complicating factors. Just like my example of a minimum wage, when the state fails, the blame is placed upon “obstructionists” and the free market. We hear things like, “If only policies had been pursued even more ambitiously,” and the expansion of the state is thereby excused. Having a state that sucks less works against getting rid of it. Plus, those who libertarians label as “statists” who are currently in power and “represent” the consensus have strong incentives not to be persuaded, or only to be persuaded enough to make the state more efficient, never to reach the radical changes we want. We don’t want to be mere efficiency experts for the state.
I am reminded of Hayek and his knowledge problem here. Hayek’s work examined a plethora of concepts, one of the most significant of those was the argument that the central economic challenge to society is the coordination of actions and plans among actors in an economy, all of whom have different ends and make choices based on their own private knowledge. The knowledge problem has implications for numerous issues, which I would argue apply to voting. The State has little to no access to the knowledge that it takes to accomplish any socially beneficial goal — and it lacks this knowledge in every way and at all levels. The data is just not available and the means to accomplish the goals are out of reach. The State simply mucks up the social system, which itself functions because it’s established on decentralized information originating from very limited knowledge of individual human minds. Voting, as an imposition of one “winner,” falls short for all the same reasons central planning will.
If you are a politician whose purpose is to end the State then you have a couple options: You can get voted in, à la Rand Paul or Cruz, and get little done except a few minor and unnoticeable changes, or you can lie about your goals in your candidacy and then once in office try to go all gung-ho and eliminate it all. The problem with the latter is that you would still get little done as pointed out, but also once re-election comes, all the people that helped you get in want little to do with you. As a matter of fact, nobody does once it is discovered that you cheated, lied, and stole your way to get in. The extent to which one can achieve anti-establishment goals in office is pretty constrained either way.
Assume for the sake of argument that all politicians enter office fully intent on serving only the “public good,” whatever that is, or whatever they think it is, even if it conflicts with their own interests. I actually figure this is mostly the case. Then they’re going to be faced with actually setting aside their interests, turning down campaign contributions or whatever. They’ll have little trouble justifying it to themselves: to do any good, they have to be in office; to be in office they have to get elected; to get elected they have to campaign effectively; to campaign effectively they need money; to get money they have to satisfy their campaign contributors. Politicians can’t just say, “I’m eliminating all welfare.” They’d lose a lot of their voting base. They have to appeal to those on welfare, as well as those who think welfare is a good idea. Therefore they’re always appealing to the populace just to get voted into office before they can even do what they claim they want to do. So, if the majority of people were for welfare, then they would have to appear to be for welfare just to get elected to eliminate welfare. Politicians always have to pander to the popular opinion to get elected despite their personal convictions.
Now, let’s even say we’ve got superheroes (Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Justin Amash, Gandalf) in there who are able to resist this temptation when faced with it. What will they say when my lobbyist approaches them to support a new regulation which they say will protect consumers against shoddy or unsafe products, incompetent practitioners or whatever, when my real agenda is to have laws that protect my company against new competitors who will find it difficult to comply with the law? There is never any shortage of plausible public-good arguments for any law anybody would like to see enacted for their own benefit. Politicians are not economists, and so we see this kind of successful lobbying for bad laws all the time without having to stipulate that the politicians supporting it are necessarily corrupt. Politicians can’t do much because laws are usually bundled. For example, if an anarchist who vowed to eliminate all victimless laws were elected, he would still have to deal with compromises. Should he vote to pass a bundle that makes online poker legal but at the same time criminalizes marijuana? Should he vote to raise taxes if it means prostitution is legalized? Should he vote yes or no on a bill that would eliminate the Federal Reserve but put Congress in charge of the supply of money? Politicians cannot escape this bundling of laws and it forces (in many cases unwanted) compromise if you want to get anything done at all.
Let’s look at a prime example, Ron Paul. Let’s forget for a moment Ron Paul’s statements that he accomplished very little and the state grew in size, but the hypothetical of if he had won the election. I had a hunch what would happen under Ron — massive growth of government, not because he wanted it but because the state would push back against him to make a point. This happened with Reagan. As for Rand, Cruz, Amash, I’m not so sure. I’m pretty sure that the state itself will always defeat any attempt to merely cut it back, as politicians can only expand, because if they try to cut, the whole apparatus swings into action to defeat the enemy and teach him a lesson. Under someone like Rand and co., I would guess there would be some cosmetic victories; a few agencies curbed, new legislation that would seem to cut red tape, some lowering of tax rates, etc. Beyond that, I can’t really imagine much. They are seriously interested in being epic figures in history. There is really only one way to do that in government and that is to be loved by the people in a position to make you in a position of power. The real question is, why do people keep thinking that a white knight politician is necessary to save them?
Everything these people want to tear down, I also want to tear down, but they’re all propped up by massively invested self-interest. Maybe people like Rand would bring the troops home and slash the size of the military. In which case unemployment would temporarily skyrocket and everybody would lose their belongings. Maybe he’d shut down the department of education, in which case individual districts would keep paying fat salaries to their bureaucrats but we’d have pay cuts and layoffs among teachers, letters from schools telling parents they’ll have to buy their kids’ books this year and the buses won’t be able to run, and people would lose their stuff. Maybe he’d abolish the USPS, and we don’t even know what “going postal” means until we have a million postal workers a couple of years from retiring on a fat pension suddenly faced with this possibility. It would all blow up right in his face, and a century from now we’d still be hearing, “Naw, we tried freedom back in 2016 and it didn’t work, remember?”
We must also keep in mind that no politician truly represents their constituency, nor do they have much accountability should they make a mistake. Compared to a politician, if an entrepreneur makes a big mistake — either on his own accord or by having hired experts who aren’t really expert — the entrepreneur suffers a loss and loses capital. Do this often enough, and you run out of capital and go out of business. As a result, a) bad entrepreneurs tend to lose influence over the market, and b) good entrepreneurs tend to obtain more influence. By contrast, the government can make endless mistakes and lose literally trillions of dollars, because there is no market feedback. Political feedback is much more crude and sluggish. If you make a bad business decision, for instance, you can ask the accountants, who will point out that your costs of production exceed revenues. They can drill down and tell you that product A is the culprit, while products B and C are earning profits. Politicians, on the other hand, cannot rely upon anything like this to give such exquisite feedback. They don’t suffer until somebody loses an election. By that time, half the voters are alienated. An entrepreneur would not wait until half of his customers disappear in disgust; 5% would be enough to say, “Something is seriously wrong here.”
Let’s say I voted for Liberty Joe because he is anti-war and against regulation but someone voted for him because he is pro-life (despite this voter also wanting businesses regulated), who will Liberty Joe listen to when a bill comes across his desk that is for more regulations? You can change the price of gas or groceries in a short period of time, but you can’t change anything delivered by the government without waiting 2-8 years and going through the process of voting, petitioning, and so on. On top of that, lobbyists are much, much better at it than any normal person, so the idea of the government having the right incentives is unlikely. Even if you could somehow re-vote at any time, it still wouldn’t work because only one guy wins the election and that’s it. The issue isn’t simply replacing them but there is no dynamic choice between alternatives to degrees commensurate with the knowledge of individuals. A business, for instance, will seek ways to incorporate the relevant knowledge of those whom it doesn’t serve in order to expand its consumer base. As long as a politician has a majority, they don’t care.
We all know the saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely, and if you’re going to create a job that says you’re going to have a salary without producing anything, you’re going to have the authority to affect institutions in major financial ways, and you’re going to have influence over people and businesses, then there is no doubt that the readily corruptible will pursue these occupations. I don’t question that some pure-hearted ideologues will pursue office as well, but the advantage will always go to the lying and compromising, making it incredibly uncommon for a virtuous politician to actually hold office (I think it can be argued it has happened, but not extensively enough to actually effect change positively). If people are 100% good, we don’t need government. If people are 100% bad, it’s too dangerous to have a government. And if people are a mixture of good and bad, it is completely naïve to assume that positions of power will attract anything but the latter group; it’s only natural that less ethical people will be drawn into positions in which they can use power as a substitute for production.
It all comes down to the illusions woven by democracy. People just don’t seem to understand the State and how it works. Here’s the thing about politicians: their whole life is dedicated to winning within the world of statecraft, the judge of who won is really the State. So all gravity is drawn to power and government. The State is the winning side, always. So a politician dedicated to being a winner will always favor that side. A politician who is “anti-government” makes as much sense as a CEO of a company who is dedicated to driving down the stock price. In other words, it’s just not what the job cries out for. It’s a curious thing to watch the education of politicians who get into the business in order to cut the government. They are systematically schooled at each stage. At what point do they become cynical? It happens gradually. The point is that there is no reward for any politician who wars against the powers that be. There is no payoff, no fame, no notoriety — and probably no prospect for lasting success either. Once you put people in charge, you have very close to zero control over what they do, how much additional/ unauthorized power they will seize, and so they will always take “more”, the results of their previous handiwork not being very good. Take any government that has ever existed. We point out actual implementations of socialism, for example, and the socialists complain that wasn’t “real” socialism. But that’s just the problem: socialists were put in charge, their expected results didn’t appear, so they did unsocialist but very totalitarian things to fix/tweak it, plus whatever the hell they wanted to do. You can’t set up a damn omnipotent state and then blame the politicians or system rather than your ideology when things don’t behave the way you want, any more than a serious economist gets to blame “greed” when his favorite policies produce bad results.
When it comes to the reduction of the State there are a few routes. One is that you can beg and plead for politicians to do the right thing. Even if you are lucky enough to get the candidate you wished for, even if you were lucky enough to convince him/her to not grow government further, even if they were able to convince others and not pass a law (because stopping growth is easier than repealing the powers they already possess), then you are still in jeopardy of all that time and effort being wasted when they try to pass whatever bill again (and they will keep trying until they succeed, see CISPA) or when that particular politician loses office. This is what I would argue is chipping away, but we have been doing that for decades now.
Affecting hearts and minds is the only chance liberty has so I propose the alternative. Instead of begging and pleading for the politicians to do the right thing, I think we need to take action that has impact. There is one main thread that runs throughout all of government, throughout all their abuses, all their spying, all their invasiveness, and all their violations of property rights; money. Soldiers won’t invade other countries without a paycheck. Police won’t arrest for victimless crimes without a paycheck. Regulators will not enforce without a paycheck. The government is a bottomless pit of insatiable hunger to consume more and more money to fund its own power and to take ours away.
Education is the most important. A public campaign like Ron Paul’s presidential bids are fine for marketing purposes and to get the attention of the politically inclined (that was many people’s gateway drug), but seeking office for the sake of actually attaining the office makes no sense. Actions taken need to be on a large scale. Ron Paul was an educator first and foremost and this is only possible with education: Getting new people exposed to the ideology. Getting their feet wet. This is where I see minarchists playing a big role. They are the gateway drug, so to speak, to exposing people to the concepts. They can more easily attract current partisans than convincing them to jump head first into advocating statelessness; exposing them to the current injustices committed by our government.
The next step is exposure to what the government is doing today. And yes, this includes pointing out the pro-government tendencies of allpoliticians. It should be made known that the solution isn’t getting the right angels in place to rule over us and that if we glorify one of them and demand that support be paid, then in essence, that is the message we are sending.
Taking them to the next level is another factor. This is where the more hardcore of us come into play. We take the minarchist and get them comfortable with the ideas and concepts of statelessness. We expose them even further and ask questions of them that get them to think, “Why can’t we have a society without institutionalized coercion?”
Next is education on what actions are effective to starve the beast such as counter economics or simply showing individuals the beauty of the market in things such as entrepreneurship, and then educating them as to what consequences government policies result in. By showing individuals the beauty of the market, they will lose faith in the State. Buying goods and services on the grey & black market would cut off tax revenue. Hell, even withdrawing into a bit of self-sufficiency works toward this goal. Participate, whenever feasible, in markets outside just the white markets. Be self sufficient. If you want to go the illegal route, don’t pay taxes whenever possible. Growing a garden, for example, helps towards the goal of not paying taxes and reducing farm subsidies. I’ll admit that, currently, this option may not have a huge impact, but this is where education comes in. The more participants we have, the greater the impact.
The government has three ways to get money. It can tax, borrow, or they can print. Regaining control of our currency tackles the last point, printing. The banks are, in reality, nothing more than an extension of the government control over our finances. This is to me, why bitcoin is so exciting. Never before has something been available to the masses that easily allows relatively anonymous transactions to occur instantaneously worldwide all while remaining out of the hands of the government. Over enough time, without funding, government would cease to exist, plain and simple. Why not focus your energy on the lifeblood of the problem? We shouldn’t need to convince an extraordinary number of people as the government has already put itself on a path of unsustainability. For example, the current interest rate, artificially held down by the Fed, can not be maintained at this level indefinitely. The problem is, at the point that they need to raise it, it will be catastrophic just for the amount of interest the government will have to pay every year.
Finally support every bit of dismantling of the government, no matter who it comes from. Every repeal of a tax, every shutting down of an agency, every sequester, every government layoff, every repeal of a regulation or legislative law. This is different, however, than supporting a politician. With politicians, you get a package deal. Some things you might like, but many, many more you don’t. This is equivalent to taking one step forward and two steps back.
In conclusion, I know there are many that will disagree with this route. That I am being a defeatist or “ignoring the state.” Quite the contrary. Why would I engage in a less effective proposed solution? Being a “defeatist” and recognizing that there’s a better way to solve a problem are two entirely different things. While some might not like my “solutions,” that doesn’t mean I’m advocating inaction. I’m not predicting that some glorious anarchist revolution is right around the corner. I am not interested in taking over the government, nor really in even destroying it, per se, but rather in abandoning it, being free of it, and letting it wither on the vine when enough people decide they’ve had enough of it and see those of us who preceded them living better than they do. Before anyone would be convinced to vote our way, they need to be convinced of our way, but by then voting will have become obsolete. No politician can bring us freedom, but through changing minds and showing the beauty of the market — the nexus of exchanges by humans with rational thoughts about means and ends — we ourselves can.
Special thanks to the following who shared their thoughts and helped inspire this piece throughout the years: Nathan Goodman, Jason Lee Byas, Matthew Tanous, Chris Calton, Dan Sanchez, Heather Hurst, Natalie Danelishen, Tony MX, Jeffrey Tucker, Rocco Stanzione, Thomas J. Michie VII, and all the politicians in power.