"As for adopting the ways which the state has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways." ~ Henry David Thoreau
Creating a Calculated Revolution--in Your Neighborhood
Exclusive to STRA
September 8, 2006
The libertarian strategy for rolling back the State and reestablishing individual liberty and natural rights seems to divide the movement into two main factions. There are those who sincerely believe in slow progress through political means, that the State's powers should be abolished one by one and at a slow pace. And there are those revolutionaries who are utterly disillusioned with politics as a means; change, they say, has to come about in one giant blow at everything that is evil.
Both strategies have benefits, but I would say they are both wrong. Neither one could ever work. I don't mean this in the sense that they are not sufficiently efficient or effective, I'm simply saying that both strategies will lead to utter failure to bring about what they are supposed to accomplish. Their shortcomings are too severe to ever be successful strategies.
I would even say that both of these strategies, let's call them the party politics method and the speedy revolution method respectively, are destined to backfire and cause harm to their common objective: liberty.
The party politics method effectively wears down libertarians' principled position on liberty through the impossibilities of politics. Party politics necessarily means compromises, and the compromises necessary to get majority support for libertarian proposals are huge. There is simply no way a Libertarian party proposal would even resemble the original libertarian idea when it has been pushed and pulled through the political apparatus.
But the chief problem of the politics approach is not the fact that good ideas are compromised through political finagling. The real problem is the degeneration of the very people in politics. We know that power corrupts, but the political system is even worse: it forces people to play the game of petty politics ' focus is necessarily on the details rather than the ideas, on favors rather than change, and on protecting power rather than representing voters' interests.
Not only will libertarians in Congress gain only marginal influence, they will also eventually lose interest in the libertarian idea. First priority must always be to stay in power ' without it there is no reason at all to do political work. Once you get stuck in the system, you cannot be libertarian, you become a power-centered pragmatist. Sure, this wearing down process is slower for some, but it always comes out victorious on those who manage to cling to power.
But the political approach does realize that it is not possible to change society overnight, which the speedy revolution strategy does not at all seem to understand. A society can only continue to exist if a big enough, or sufficiently influential, part of the population supports ' actively, or passively through not actively opposing ' the status quo. A society where a significant part of the people opposes the rule will not exist for long.
This is true even if the revolution is orchestrated by libertarians with the sole purpose of gaining liberty for everybody. If people don't want it or don't understand it, it will not and cannot survive long. Such effort is all in vain, especially since nothing will be left of the libertarian movement after a large-scale failure. And the chances of regaining the people's support for the ideas of liberty will be minimized ' if they will exist at all.
What I suggest is simply learning from the failures of both strategies: politics doesn't work, and radical change without public support doesn't either. The logical conclusion must be to avoid both as much possible: to quit and stay as far away as possible from politics, and to progress slowly through convincing people one at a time. This can all be done through education, perhaps by everybody taking on single students and thereby teaching people the benefits of liberty.
But I am personally in favor of another, more radical and activist-friendly idea: counter-economics. It takes about as much time and energy as would any other strategy, but with the substantial difference of creating real freedom for you and doing it now. To me, this makes more sense than any long-term liberty-bringing strategy. I want freedom and I want it now. I don't really care whether my neighbors get freedom too and I certainly don't feel I have a responsibility of liberating the whole world before I free myself.
Counter-economics as a strategy simply means you move your resources and efforts from the taxed and regulated State-controlled market to the non-State controlled 'black' market. Through establishing networks of like-minded libertarians for the exchange of goods and services, one does not have to feed the beast. This is a pretty great deal since you don't only starve the State, you get to keep more yourself too.
Of course, simply trading in the black market might make you rich but it does not necessarily make you free. Well, you are much more likely to experience freedom if you have sufficient funds ' only rich or influential people can avoid State taxation and State regulations. In a way, through keeping the product of your labor instead of paying it all in taxes, you get the same benefits of wealth as the political class holds ' without having to degenerate to their level of (im)morality.
Also, as the 'black' market network grows, the State loses more and more of its funding. It also loses a lot of its support since people will indirectly get educated through exercising the free market, and even more people will join. Reaching a certain size, the demand for other kinds of services will make people offer such things as: arbitration services, in order to solve disputes in the most efficient way; insurance and protection services, so that the 'members' of the network don't have to risk their valuables; stock exchanges, to gain investment capital; and so on.
The black market functions just like a free market, except for the fact that the risk premium is severely greater due to the threat of State sanctions. This might limit the number of services and the effects of competition slightly, but it is still much more like the free market than the State-controlled 'market' will ever be. But even though 'counter-economists' will learn about the most profitable strategies in the marketplace, there are two especially important consequences of this approach, and they solve the problems of the common libertarian strategies discussed above.
Firstly, it does not involve politics at all. There is no reason whatsoever to accept a 'half bad' compromise instead of being true to your principled, libertarian conviction. Contrarily, actively taking part in the counter-economy one will gain an even greater understanding for the free market and how liberty truly works. And others will learn through the same process, and will by doing it gain personally both financially and morally.
Secondly, it is a radical and revolutionary process rather than a speedy revolution. It replaces the functions of the state one at a time and relies solely on market forces while doing it. Eventually the State is undermined and will crumble to pieces, but this will not lead to the chaos a revolution might bring about. Instead, the necessary functions will already be there ' as established and well-functioning, competitive service providers in the marketplace.
Of course, this strategy might fail if it is exposed to State oppression too soon, i.e. if the State identifies the threat for what it really is. This risk should be very limited, especially since the people entering the network are likely to be libertarians ' and all of them benefit from not exposing it. The incentives are not for squealing on the counter-economic network but to join it and take as much advantage of it as possible.
Also, the chance of success must be considered much greater than the alternatives: to engage in politics or direct and speedy revolution. The beauty of this idea is that it is so simple: you only have to live your life in the way you already tell people you want to live it. It does not involve politics, compromises or force, yet it is essentially a controlled revolutionary process towards a much better world.
Counter-economics is a very simple and powerful strategy for creating a truly libertarian world, starting with yourself and your neighborhood. It is a mystery that libertarians do not embrace it, especially considering the alternatives.