The Pugsley Plan

Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

Prior to Harry Browne's first run for US President in 1996, his friend John Pugsley wrote him a passionate “open letter” urging him not to. As far as I know, Harry didn't reply, but he did continue his campaign – and repeated it four years later. He got few votes more than the LP normally receives, but his platform and campaign were the best ever. If politicking could crack this nut, Harry's would have. It didn't, so it can't. The LP hasn't got that yet.

The letter is magnificent, and is well worth reading now. Pugsley reasons that to engage in politics is morally inconsistent and in any case is useless or worse. It's powerful, perhaps unanswerable; perhaps that's why Harry didn't answer. But he went further: He outlined what opponents of government can do to end its existence other than by running political campaigns. He provides 15 suggestions, which I'm calling the “Pugsley Plan,” and it's my purpose here to examine them. I'll consider (a) the merits of some of them individually – does it help or hinder the great task of ending the government era? - and (b) the merits of the set as a whole – does it form a credible, coherent plan for that purpose?

In this STRticle, I've already pointed out that by offering these 15 points, Pugsley proved he was fully committed to the task of re-forming society by eliminating government; in writing his open letter, he was questioning not the need to do so but just the particular method Harry Browne proposed to use. Do read them in full for yourself, but in short summary, his 15 points are:

  1. Improve yourself. Don't use government to attack your neighbor.
  2. Stop subsidizing your enemy. Stop loaning the government money.
  3. Stop doing business with your enemy. Don't provide products to the government. Don't accept government contracts. Don't do business with government employees. Don't cash government checks—with the possible exception of tax refunds. If you're in business, don't cash them for your customers. Don't take government money. Don't take government subsidies. Don't be a willing, eager beneficiary of political theft.
  4. Stop doing business with people who support your enemy. Boycott...
  5. Support private alternatives to government services.
  6. Create parallel mechanisms to replace government functions.
  7. Expose the enemy among us.
  8. Master the issues. Explain and persuade others.
  9. Have the moral courage to confront others.
  10. Get involved in campaigns designed to...enrage the public (NUT, FIJA, etc.).
  11. Engage in civil disobedience if you are prepared for the consequences.
  12. Find ways to avoid taxes. Make life miserable for a tax collector.
  13. Pamphleteer. Tell it like it is. Inundate the talk shows.
  14. Write free-market novels and produce free-market movies.
  15. Consider becoming an expatriate. Vote with your feet.

Except for #3 (which is why it's quoted fully, and see below) each of these is admirable, and can only help the task of abolishing the State. Many of us are already practicing them, or many of them. It's very hard to do so consistently; even #1 for example, runs up against the ugly fact that if one is swindled or damaged, the only recourse is to use a government court, for government has monopolized courts. So does that mean we have to lie down and take it, let swindlers wipe their feet on us? If so, the cost of quarantining the state like the diseased organism it is (which is evidently what the Pugsley Plan sets out to do) is very high.

#2 is easier – don't buy government bonds – but even there, suppose one is invited to take part in a company pension plan, whose managers invest partly in such bonds. Does that count? I make no judgment, just the point that boycotting all contact with government is complex as well as costly. Impossible, actually.

#4 is creative and potentially powerful – this could really make business people think twice about cosying up to politicians. But wait: Suppose they get the point and want to draw away from them; how exactly can any of them avoid “supporting” our enemy? There is a truckload of laws they have to obey and taxes they must collect and licenses they must obtain, as conditions of continuing in business; flout those obligations by withdrawing such support, and the premises will be padlocked in the blink of an eye. What looks like “support” might really be a form of protection money – a campaign contribution could insure the donor against even heavier regulation. It's unwelcome, of course – but it's a cost of doing business. That's how the political mafia works.

I'll not comment on all of them, for each is generally very fine; by #12 John explains that he means by “avoid taxes” to take maximum advantage of loopholes including the use of offshore vehicles where possible – hence also his #15. He spent some of his life on yachts outside the US, so perhaps put this very much into practice. But evidently he did not mean to confront the tax collector directly and refuse to pay. Why not? Why be so diligent as not to soil one's hands by avoiding government in so many small ways, yet to hand over buckets of money through its tax system? There are thousands of tax rebels who make life tiresome for the IRS by trying to hold it to the laws under which it supposedly operates, yet who are by no means as anarchist as Pugsley. Some of them haven't paid a dime in years.

The one item I think he got wrong is #3, and even that starts perfectly well: “Stop doing business with your enemy.” Avoid jobs (yes!) and contracts with the state. “Don't be a willing, eager beneficiary of political theft”--excellent. But Pugsley also advises “Don't cash government checks—with the possible exception of tax refunds.” There are two problems here. First, and as above, he evidently considers that doing business with the Feds by paying them vast sums in tax is okay, as is cashing any refund check (which is merely an accounting adjustment). It's really not okay, though this serves to show that in practice it's simply not feasible to separate oneself altogether from government. Second, and that apart, the general tenor of his 15 points says not to pay government whenever possible, but in Item #3 he says not to accept money from it! This is contradictory and silly. If it's useful (and to a small degree it is) to deprive the state of money by not paying in, it must also be useful to deprive the state of money by drawing it out, whenever offered. Both effects will be very tiny from any one individual, but it's flat foolish to favor the one and condemn the other when both of them have the identical arithmetic effect.

So much for some of the individual elements of the Pugsley Plan, and I apologize to any who think I should have written more about each. But I want to consider their value in total, as a set or plan, for the purpose of eliminating the state in short order.

As a plan, it fails even to get airborne. Good as each may be individually, when the 15 are put together as a strategy, they fail even to come close to a systematic plan. Certainly, trying to isolate or quarantine government won't hurt – and to the extent that more and more people practice these principles, they will certainly help; but there is nothing here to recognize as a coherent plan to end the state.

Refer if you will to my What a Time To Be Alive! and note the essential components of a proper strategy, recognized wherever businesslike plans are made, for any purpose. Not one of them is present in the Pugsley Plan!

There is no clear statement of the objective to be achieved. What exactly is the purpose of the project, crisp and unambiguous? Without that, it's a non-starter.

There is no identification of the method to be used to meet that objective; the 15 points are named but not quantified, it's all qualitative. How many are needed, to practice which of the 15, for how long, to complete the objective by when?

So there is no timescale named, nor milestones to be met to allow progress to be measured. It's more “do this, and hope.” Sometime, maybe, with luck.

No required resources are listed.

No key dependencies are named, though the need for them screams out loud.

The “test for credibility” miserably fails, because there is nothing quantitative about the Pugsley Plan, no criterion by which success or failure could be tested. Will it succeed (whatever is meant by “succeed”) if 100 people practice the 15 principles? 1,000? 100,000? More? Why, or why not? There is simply no handle at all which one can grab hold of and consider. It's a classic example of fuzzy thinking, and for a businessman of Pugsley's caliber, that is very surprising. But it's a fact. This “plan” has to be graded “F.”

In contrast, How We Can Get There From Here spelled out a highly coherent plan, which answers to all six of the strategic plan criteria above, and it's already in operation, and it's fully consistent with Pugsley's 15 principles for those who wish to practice them--though it does not depend on any of them except part of #3 (to abstain from holding a government job) and part of #8 (to master the issues). It costs nothing, except a clear focus of the mind and a firm engagement of the brain and will.

As far as I know, so far it's the only strategic plan out there for ending government in about a single generation (that's its objective). Perhaps others will appear – good, the more the merrier. But for now, it's the only show in town. Join it, use it, support it – or kwitcherbellyachin.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Samarami's picture

It's good you linked to and recommended John Pugsley's letter, Jim. I think I saw it a year or so after Harry Browne made his first "run" with the capital "L" Libertarians for US "president". I would have been categorized as a "struggling anarchist" at the time, and was perplexed at Harry's about-right-face in getting involved with political action.

    "...Pugsley reasons that to engage in politics is morally inconsistent and in any case is useless or worse..."

That sez it all.