Saturday, December 16, 2017

The dangerous dream of secession

A fundamental requirement for lasting peace and prosperity is to reject government by coercive monopolies such as we have had for all of human history.  How anyone can expect a government invested with a monopoly on violence to restrain itself from bullying people whenever it can get away with it is difficult to understand.  Most people apparently refuse to explore alternatives to statism and hope their particular government doesn’t go the way of Zimbabwe or Venezuela — or Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  

As I’ve detailed in my book The Fall of Tyranny, The Rise of Liberty we have two strong trends working in our favor: the inevitable blowup of state finances, coupled with the exponential growth of digital technologies.  The result of these forces — state bankruptcy and exponential tech growth — will put individuals and voluntary associations front and center in everyday life.  

Recently, and paradoxically, mankind’s number one futurist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that nation states will become the horse and buggy of our future, while assuring the world a universal basic income (UBI) will emerge from the sick beds of declining states.  Come again?  Kurzweil and his billionaire pal Mark Zuckerberg, who’s also touting a UBI and saying “People like me should pay for it,” ought to look more closely at their positions.  

The exponential pace of technology is evolving into a merger of humans with their technology as miniaturization on an atomic scale enables an enhancement or replacement of our biological substrate.  As Kurzweil notes in The Singularity is Near, “all of these technologies quickly become so inexpensive as to become almost free.”  Humans enhanced with nanotech won’t need a UBI even if states were able to provide it.  

Count us out

There is an age-old means to free people from coercive states rather than wait for them to implode from gangster-driven economics — secession.  It amounts to a public declaration that a certain group of people no longer considers themselves subject to their state’s jurisdiction.  It’s quite possible a tidal wave of secessions will occur as states grow more debt-drenched, bureaucracy-laden and weaker.  

The only problem with secession is the state.  States survive by bleeding its subjects, literally (wars) or figuratively (taxes).  Fewer subjects means less blood.  A state that loses too much blood imperils its survival.  Plus it’s a sign of weakness if it can’t check the bleeding, and no state can afford to look weak among the community of like bullies.  

Arguments about the legality of secession are so much noise.  The most important issue is whether or not the state will allow it to happen peacefully, which is not much of an issue historically.  As we’ve seen recently, Spain crushed the Catalonia declaration of independence with a combination of force, lies and political double-talk.  And other states have rallied in support of Spain.

Americans celebrate their 1776 secession once a year, but almost no one calls it that.  “Independence Day” — great.  “Fourth of July” — certainly.  “Secession Day”?  Politically incorrect.  Yet, if the Declaration of Independence is not a declaration of secession, nothing is.  It is the source of American pride.

In the U.S. the legitimacy of secession as such was not an issue for the first 71 years of its existence.  Instead, the issue was debated in terms of its appropriateness under certain conditions.

In the introduction to Secession, State, and Liberty, David Gordon notes that opponents of secession will sometimes concede that 
secession is to be allowed should the government violate individual rights, but not otherwise. A group may not renounce duly-constituted authority just because it would rather be governed by others. 
Gordon asks the obvious: What is the justification for making secession dependent on violations of rights?  The judge and jury of the decision to secede is the seceding group, whether their grievances are well-founded or not.  The decision may be unwise but it is theirs and theirs alone.   Besides, what government would ever acknowledge they’re violating the rights of their citizens?  Who will determine whether secession is “allowed”?

Allen Buchanan, who Gordon describes as the most influential philosopher on secession, argues that any group that violates individual rights has no right to secede.  For this reason Buchanan rejects the legitimacy of Southern secession in 1861.  Again, Gordon asks, why did slavery in the South make secession illegitimate?

To many contemporary abolitionists the Southern threat to secede was a gift from God because it would no longer require enforcement of fugitive slave laws, without which slavery would eventually end.

Secession as the foundation of the American republic

In The Real Lincoln author Thomas DiLorenzo tells us about constitutional theorist William Rawle,
who, in 1825, published a book, A View of the Constitution, that would become the text for the one course on the Constitution taught at West Point to virtually all the top military leaders who would later participate in the War between the States. . . . 
In addition to being one of the most distinguished and prominent abolitionists of his time, Rawle was an articulate proponent of a constitutional right of secession. He believed that there was an implied right of secession in the Constitution and that this right should be enjoyed by the individual states.
The implied right came from the 10th Amendment.  Sine the Constitution did not prohibit secession, it was legal under the law.   In Rawle’s words: “The states may wholly withdraw from the Union . . . .  The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of such state.”  

A proposal to outlaw secession was presented at the constitutional convention but was rejected after James Madison convinced members that “The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.” [quoted in The Real Lincoln]

As it happened the slave states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia remained loyal to the Union until April 15, 1861 when Lincoln called for a 75,000-man militia to “suppress” the Deep South states that had already seceded.  South Carolina had taken Lincoln’s bait and bombarded Fort Sumter three days earlier, giving Lincoln the appearance of defending the Union from an aggressor.   

As John Denson argues in The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, the most important question to ask was not “Why did the South secede?” but rather “Why did the North refuse to let the South go?”  The war on Southern secession was a war on liberty, even though the secessionists were slave states.

Northern newspaper editorials before Fort Sumter often supported the legitimacy of the southern states to secede (source: Howard Cecil Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession, quoted in The Real Lincoln, pp. 107-109):
Bangor Daily Union (11/13/60) - A state coerced to remain in the Union is “a subject province” and can never be “a co-equal member of the American Union.” 
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11/13/60) - “ . . . let them [the Southern states] go.” 
Kinosha (Wisconsin) Democrat (1/11/61) - Secession is “the very germ of liberty . . . the right of secession inheres to the people of every sovereign state.
Detroit Free Press (2/19/61) - “An attempt to subjugate the seceded states, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil . . .” 
New York Tribune (2/5/61) - Lincoln’s latest speech contained “the arguments of the tyrant—force, compulsion, and power.”  If the southern states want to secede, “they have a clear right to do so."
With sentiment in the North open to secession, why did Lincoln pursue war?   The un-American American System of high tariffs, corporate welfare, and a central bank Lincoln had championed all his political life was in jeopardy if the South were allowed to leave the Union.  The favors dealt to one group had to be funded by another, and the South had been on the short end of that arrangement.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery,” he explained to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1862.  But he wasn’t saving the Union — not a union of free and independent states.  He was destroying it.  

In his address to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, calling on the colonies to declare their independence, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proclaimed “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."  The seceding southern states were clearly united in their determination to be “absolved from all allegiance” to the federal government.  Their connection was dissolved but not the political entity known as the United States.  Had it been otherwise the South would have seceded unopposed.

The seceding South posed no threat to the Union.  What it threatened was the Union’s unconstitutional usurpations.  I wonder how many of those favoring Lincoln’s “object” understood that the object was to destroy the fragile American republic.


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Thursday, December 14, 2017

AlphaZero for President

From KurzweilAI:
Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of DeepMind, announced at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference (NIPS 2017) last week that DeepMind's new AlphaZero program achieved a superhuman level of play in chess within 24 hours. 
The program started from random play, given no domain knowledge except the game rules, according to an arXiv paper by DeepMind researchers published Dec. 5. 
“It doesn't play like a human, and it doesn't play like a program,” said Hassabis, an expert chess player himself. “It plays in a third, almost alien, way. It's like chess from another dimension.”
I started programming IBM machines in the late 60s, and at the time there was talk about the possibility of a computer someday beating a competent human at chess.  Though the first programs stumbled along like children learning to walk, slowly, over the years, they improved, thanks in part to Moore’s Law and the genius of certain computer scientists.  In February 1977 Chess 4.6, the only computer entry, won the 84th Minnesota Open against competitors just under Master level; it later defeated the US chess champion. [source]   In 1988, Deep Thought became the first computer to defeat a grandmaster in a tournament.  IBM bought Deep Thought, pumped it up and renamed it Deep Blue, and beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.
Today, the chess prowess of Deep Blue is available on our laptops, or even in our pockets, on handhelds. The seven foot tall mainframe towers that housed Deep Blue’s “mind” are gone, and strong computer chess is a commonplace . . .  [source]
These programs were essentially “taught” chess by human experts.  They were one-trick ponies: great at chess but nothing else.  The next step was to develop an algorithm that could learn from first principles (rules), enabling it to play chess and other challenging games at a high level.

The London-based DeepMind researchers pursued this goal and developed AlphaZero:
Instead of looking at games like Chess and Go as search problems, [the creators of AlphaZero] treated them as reinforcement learning problems. Reinforcement learning may sound vaguely familiar if you took an Intro to Psychology class in college; it’s precisely the way humans learn. . . . 
The mathematical basis of how we apply reinforcement learning as humans has been painstakingly worked out over the last 30 years. That brings us to AlphaZero. By simply playing against itself for a mere 4 hours, the equivalent of over 22 million training games, AlphaZero learned the relevant associations with the various chess moves and their outcomes. . . . 
Deep reinforcement learning is nothing less than a watershed for AI, and by extension humanity. With the advent of such ├╝ber-algorithms capable of learning new skills within a matter of hours, and with no human intervention or assistance, we may be looking at the first instance of superintelligence on the planet. [emphasis added]
In a paper presenting the AlphaZero algorithm, the developers claimed that “Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess) as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.”

What will AlphaZero be doing in three years? Five? Will we be carrying AlphaZero around in our pockets? Our brains? Will some other AI be the new king of the hill? Will AlphaZero be regarded as quaintly primitive by then? Will Ray Kurzweil's 2029 prediction (and bet, with Mitch Kapor) of a computer passing as human in a Turing test arrive earlier than expected? 

And what will humans be like in 2029? Here's a guy working from the other end:
Bryan Johnson isn’t short of ambition. The founder and CEO of neuroscience company Kernel wants “to expand the bounds of human intelligence”. He is planning to do this with neuroprosthetics; brain augmentations that can improve mental function and treat disorders. Put simply, Kernel hopes to place a chip in your brain. . . . 
It may sound far-fetched, but Johnson has a track record of getting things done. Within his first semester at university, he’d set up a profitable business selling mobile phones to fellow students. By age 30, he’d founded online payment company Braintree, which he sold six years later to PayPal for $800m. He used $100m of the proceeds to create Kernel in 2016 – it now employs more than 30 people. 
But Johnson, 40, says he is about more than money. He was raised as a Mormon in Utah and it was while carrying out two years of missionary work in Ecuador that he was struck by what he describes as an “overwhelming desire to improve the lives of others.”
Are politicians out to “improve the lives of others”?  Their report card for the last 120 years tells us they’ve been heaping misery on those they didn’t murder.  Today they’re still at it, working anxiously to obliterate the planet in a nuclear firestorm.  The political class absolutely, totally flunks the humanity test.

When will that sink in?

The next time you feel nauseated after ingesting the latest political sewage, remember Kernel and DeepMind.  Not everyone is corrupt.  Not everyone acts like an idiot.  If you had to bet on who would take us to a better place, I would recommend putting your money on the researchers and entrepreneurs.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Living with the Exponential - I

Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology— which will be indistinguishable from ourselves— will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the growth rates will still be finite but so extreme that the changes they bring about will appear to rupture the fabric of human history. That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, September 26, 2006  

Massive debt is sealing the fate of governments and central banks.   As the cards collapse, radical developments in diverse areas of technology, combined with free market entrepreneurship, will destroy and rebuild the existing social order.
Smith, George Ford. The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of LibertyJanuary 21, 2017 

My purpose in "Living with the Exponential" series is to get our thinking oriented to the supercharged future that awaits us.  One sample of this future has already arrived when it was reported a month ago that AlphaGo Zero defeated AlphaGo in the game of Go, 100 games to none.  A few months earlier AlphaGo had topped the best human player.  Unlike AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to play Go.

In 2011, IBM's Watson computer defeated the two best Jeopardy! players.  Watson has since gone to medical school to assist doctors in their diagnoses.

Chess programs that run on desktop computers or even smartphones routinely beat human grandmasters.

The tech industry has spawned billionaires by selling to the masses.  Tech titans aim to eliminate disease itself, including aging

But the radical future isn't limited to digits, as we're seeing with Brexit and Catalonia.  

The world is changing fast, and it will change much faster in the years ahead.  Let's try to stay on top of it.


Medicine

Gene Editing

“We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending,” said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. “It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life.”

It’s like sending a mini surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

Signs of whether it’s working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

See AP Exclusive: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body  (11-15-2017)


Surgical Training using Virtual Reality (VR)

We wiil need to double the number of surgeons by 2030 to meet the needs of the developing world.

Dr. Shafi Ahmed wants to train them simultaneously using VR.

"Ahmed made a splash back in 2014 when he reached 14,000 surgeons across 100 different countries by using Google Glass to stream a surgical training session. In 2016, Ahmed took this a step further by live-streaming a cancer surgery in virtual reality that was shot in 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient."

He also streamed Twitter's first live operation.

Ahmed: “Forget one-to-one. My idea is one to many. I want to share knowledge with the masses.”

See Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment (11-12-2017)


Treating babies born with jaundice

About 60 percent of babies are born with jaundice—a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes.

The color is a sign that the baby’s blood has too much bilirubin—a byproduct of the body replacing old red blood cells.

The liver normally flushes bilirubin out of the body, but a newborns’ organ often can’t get the job done efficiently.

Newborns being treated for jaundice must often lie naked under therapeutic blue light for hours at a time.

New light-emitting pajamas could give parents a more comfortable, portable option for their babies. 

See Light-Up Pajamas to Treat Babies With Jaundice  (11-8-2017)


Reversing Aging

A team led by Dr. Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine pinpointed a critical source of aging to a small group of stem cells within the hypothalamus.

Like fountains of youth, these stem cells release tiny fatty bubbles filled with mixtures of small biological molecules called microRNAs. With age, these cells die out, and the animal’s muscle, skin and brain function declines.

However, when the team transplanted these stem cells from young animals into a middle-aged one, they slowed aging. 

In a groundbreaking paper published in 2013, Cai found that a molecule called NF-kappaB increased in the hypothalamus as an animal grew older. Zap out NF-kappaB activity in mice, and they showed much fewer age-related symptoms as they grew older.

The animals also better preserved their muscle strength, skin thickness, bone and tendon integrity.


See Breakthrough Stem Cell Study Offers New Clues to Reversing Aging  (8-6-2017)


Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: 

[When] a girl in Africa buys a smartphone for $75, it counts as $75 of economic activity, despite the fact that it's literally a trillion dollars of computation circa 1960, a billion dollars circa 1980. It's got millions of dollars in free information apps, just one of which is an encyclopedia far better than the one I saved up for years as a teenager to buy. All that counts for zero in economic activity because it's free. So we really don't count the value of these products.

Technology is always going to be a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food, and burned down our houses. . .   It's only continued progress particularly in AI that's going to enable us to continue overcoming poverty and disease and environmental degradation while we attend to the peril.

I'm a believer that the Turing Test is a valid test of the full range of human intelligence. . .  I've been consistent in saying 2029 [will be the year an AI passes the Turing Test].

See Ray Kurzweil on Turning Tests, Brain Extenders, and AI Ethics  (11-13-2017)


Integrated Circuits

Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These have limited compatibility with the skin, are damaged when washed, and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

University of Cambridge researchers have developed a process that is scalable and according to the researchers, there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices — both in terms of their complexity and performance.

The printed components are flexible, washable, and require low power — essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics.

The technology is being commercialized by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization arm.

See Integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric for the first time  (11-10-2017)


Government

The United States was founded upon the concept of secession. Not once, but twice. First, in 1783, when colonies seceded from the British Empire. Second, in 1788, when states seceded from the United States. 

Within eight years of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first secession movement arose.

It flared up, again, in 1800 when Jefferson was elected the third President of the United States.

And, again, in 1803 when President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

New England States would seek secession from the United States again in 1811 over the admission of the State of Louisiana into the Union, and again in 1814-1815 over “Mr. Madison’s War.”

In the 1850s, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, called “the middle states”, represented 40 percent of the U.S. economy. A powerful secessionist movement arose in these states calling for them to form a separate country.

When the seven “Deep South” states seceded in 1860-61, many Northern newspapers upheld their legal right to secede and advocated a peaceful separation.

Secessionist movements continue in the United States to this day.

See Secession is as American as apple pie  (11-6-2017)



Thursday, November 9, 2017

When will free markets emerge?

If someone asked you to define “free market,” could you?  Could you do it on the spot without recourse to dictionaries or other crutches?

There’s an old tale about the origin of the term “laissez-faire” that gets to my point.  Here’s the write-up in Wikipedia:
The term laissez faire likely originated in a meeting that took place around 1681 between powerful French Comptroller-General of Finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of French businessmen headed by M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants and help promote their commerce, Le Gendre replied simply "Laissez-nous faire" ("Leave it to us" or "Let us do [it]," the French verb not having to take an object).
Given the meeting with a known mercantilist, Le Gendre probably intended his comment in a restrictive sense, meaning he was refusing the state’s offer of protection from foreign competition.  In later years others have expanded “laissez-faire” to mean the state should be restricted to “upholding the rights of private property and individual liberty.”  In Human Action, Mises defined a laissez-faire economy as one unhampered by state interference; it means upholding “the individuals' discretion to choose and to act.” [Mises, The Meaning of Laissez Faire, excerpted from Human Action]

Most libertarians would agree with this broader interpretation.  The problem is any state that actually took a hands-off policy towards the economy wouldn’t be a state.  States are, by design, predatory and parasitical.  They exist for the purpose of accruing power and pelf.  Libertarian visions of domesticating the state are fantasies.  

Besides which, states work for certain people — they enable politicians to buy votes and other support needed to keep the racket going.  As for voters, who needs freedom when you can get free handouts?  Though citizens gripe about taxes and corrupt politicians, they’ve grown comfortable with the devil they’ve always known.  They’re okay with the state’s willingness to assume responsibilities they refuse to accept.  They want the state to pave their roads and educate their kids.  They want the state to pay for their health care.  They want the state to pay for the safety nets of life.  Who better to do the paying than the state, which will never run out of money?  Even a failed state like socialist Venezuela has yet to flatline because of its grip on power and propaganda, even as its people descend into cannibalism and prostitution for survival.

Where did states come from?

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, in writing about the “race of kings,” far from having an honorary origin, considered the first of them “nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang” whose purpose was to plunder the defenseless.  Eventually, as Murray Rothbard tells us, the gangs realized the “time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”

If a conquered people is the garden from which we expect free markets to grow we’re deluding ourselves.  As painful experience has taught us, attempting to bind a state to the terms of a constitution is another exercise in folly.  States have allies, none more important than the opinion makers, the intellectuals.  Intellectuals, in return for “a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus,” as Rothbard notes, will provide the needed rationale for the state’s predations.  Thus, to pick examples at random, we have “court historians” and others providing the necessary cover for the blood-bath known as World War I, a famous Keynesian telling us the debt explosion of World War II ended the Great Depression, a “political cross section of prominent economists” expressing their opposition to the Paul-Grayson Audit the Fed bill (seven of the eight of whom have Fed connections), and the wholesale lying that characterizes national elections. 

Most states, being parasites, have learned to park their depredations somewhere between freedom and despotism.  Paine recognized this when he wrote,
The portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.  [Rights of Man]
In a “full state of freedom” there would be no government “so formed.”

In 1939 Albert Jay Nock published an essay expressing astonishment at the surprised reaction of “all our institutional voices” over the barbarism and betrayals of various foreign States.  As he put it,
The history of the State being what it is, and its testimony being as invariable and eloquent as it is, I am obliged to say that the naive tone of surprise wherewith our people complain of these matters strikes me as a pretty sad reflection on their intelligence. Suppose someone were impolite enough to ask them the gruff question, "Well, what do you expect?" — what rational answer could they give? I know of none. 
Polite or impolite, that is just the question which ought to be put every time a story of State villainy appears in the news. It ought to be thrown at our public day after day, from every newspaper, periodical, lecture platform, and radio station in the land; and it ought to be backed up by a simple appeal to history, a simple invitation to look at the record.... 
Also, in order to keep down the great American sin of self-righteousness, every public presentation ought to draw the deadly parallel with the record of the American State. The German State is persecuting a minority, just as the American State did after 1776; the Italian State breaks into Ethiopia, just as the American State broke into Mexico; the Japanese State kills off the Manchurian tribes in wholesale lots, just as the American State did the Indian tribes; the British State practices large-scale carpetbaggery, like the American State after 1864; the imperialist French State massacres native civilians on their own soil, as the American State did in pursuit of its imperialistic policies in the Pacific, and so on. 
The headlines from Nock’s day to ours — to say nothing of previous history — suggests he’s been overwhelmingly ignored.  States are not mankind’s benefactors.  With nuclear technology at their command they could end up turning the planet over to the insects.

How do we End the State?

There are few voices calling for an end to the state — a reflection of its propaganda prowess — but this doesn’t mean our future is bleak.  On the contrary, most people will see major improvements in their lives in the coming years.  

There are two unmistakable trends working in liberty’s favor: Massive government debt and exponentially advancing technology.   You won’t have confidence in this claim unless you read the essay at the link, Ray Kurzweil’s seminal The Law of Accelerating Returns.  It would also help to have an understanding of the acronym TANSTAAFL as well as a grasp of monetary fundamentals.

As I wrote in an earlier essay,
Technology is ripping a hole in centralized social control and its Keynesian underpinnings, bringing power and freedom to individuals the world over.  
Both Keynesianism and technology are on a cusp. One is on a road to collapse, while the other is about to kick into high gear. . . .
[With a fiscal gap in excess of $200 trillion,] government promises will be broken. The bill for the Keynesian free lunch will come due, and the government check will bounce. 
Where will that leave us? With a weakened and discredited government, and the bogus Keynesian ideas that supported it, we will have to become more self-reliant. The cry of “Do something!” to the government will be answered with an echo. Free markets will emerge where they’ve been suppressed because much of government will be ineffective or no longer exist. A free market in combination with a revolution in technology will remake our world. [The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty]
We need to do with the state what we’ve done with slavery.  We can govern ourselves without a coercive sovereign.  Truly free markets will emerge when the state is gone.  




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An outrageous proposal — or not

A cry could be heard from somewhere in the room.

No one was surprised.  This had been an unthinkable outcome for those in attendance, and a sense of quiet shock had overtaken everyone.  This was not a G7 or a G20 summit.  It was a meeting deliberately without a label.  It would never again happen.  It couldn’t.

The leaders of the world’s states had gathered to find solutions to the problems they feared were threatening human life on earth.  They were reminded of the incessant wars, the likelihood of a recession far worse than the last, the enormous levels of family, student, and government debt, the increasing deterioration of the world’s currencies, the immigration problems, the reciprocal relationship between money spent on eradicating problems and the results obtained, the vast, increasing corruption of government officials and the mainstream media, the failure of the public schools, the various racial, ideological, and religious hostilities, the increasing vulnerability to the planet from end-of-days scenarios, and so many more a sudden outbreak of headaches postponed further discussion.

Later, when the subject of solutions came up, they were reminded that without solutions that worked governments would eventually have no one to govern.  With no one to govern their laws and decrees would be meaningless.  With no one to govern governments would have no source of revenue.  With no one to govern it would be pointless to debauch the currency.  With no one to govern the vast bureaucratic arrangement of government would churn to a halt.  

“With no one to govern our problems would be solved,” added one, to the amusement of the others.

Immediately another replied, “Could it work the other way?”  All heads turned to him.  “What if we removed our institutions from society?  What if we closed shop, as the Soviet Union did in 1991?  What if we eliminate government from the face of the earth and leave people free to deal with the mess we’ve made?  It’s their future that’s at stake.  I think they’ll find ways to fix things peacefully.”

And after debate that raged for six hours, this is what they — incredibly —agreed to do.  Some no doubt had visions of instituting even stronger governments after the peons grew tired of robbing and killing one another.

The preceding was a fantasy intended to raise a critical issue.  We do need government.  But do we need what we've known as government, i.e., government as a coercive monopoly? 


The long history of slavery — and government

Robert Higgs opened his scholarly Crisis and Leviathan with these words: “We must have government.”  Higgs, a libertarian, went on to document how crises, especially war, excused the rapid expansion of the federal government — never mind that the crises developed because of government meddling.  When the crises ended the government retained some of the new powers it grabbed during the emergency.  Next time you look at your pay stub and see the taxes withheld remember that withholding was passed as a “temporary measure” as well as an alleged benefit to taxpayers to fund US involvement in WW II.  (See Rothbard’s comments here.)

Later in life Higgs moved ideologically from a minarchist libertarian to an anarchist libertarian, explaining that 

"I believe it is wrong for anyone – including those designated the rulers and their functionaries – to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me – or you or anyone – to do as a private person."

He also brought attention to the long history of slavery and the even longer history of government “as we know it,” meaning “the monopolistic, individually nonconsensual form of government that now exists virtually everywhere on earth.”  Proponents of slavery once had a list of arguments that went virtually unchallenged.  Today almost no one respects those arguments.  Yet they would be offered any day of the week in defense of government “as we know it.” Higgs:

Slavery is natural.
Government (as we know it) is natural.

Slavery has always existed.
Government (as we know it) has always existed.

Every society on earth has slavery.
Every society on earth has government (as we know it)

The slaves are not capable of taking care of themselves.
The people are not capable of taking care of themselves.
etc.

Jim Powell in Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery offers these comments on slavery:

"It had been around for thousands of years, hardly anybody had opposed it in all that time, and powerful interest groups—including established churches—supported it. . .  The very idea of emancipation was widely viewed as a threat to the social order."

Substituting “coercive government” for “slavery” fits perfectly.  Almost no one opposes it, it's supported by powerful interests, it's been around for thousands of years, and its abandonment would be viewed as a threat to the social order.

Chattel slavery and coercive government have much in common.  There were brutal slaveowners.  There were also slaveowners who treated their slaves decently, almost as if they were family members.  Today's coercive governments vary in their treatment of citizens as well.  Some tolerate conditions of relative freedom, while others will murder or imprison anyone or any group perceived as a threat.  Still, “kinder, gentler”coercive governments have sent millions of young men to their deaths after conscripting them into the military.  And they stand ready to do it again.  Those same governments lose little sleep imposing on other states sanctions that cause civilian deaths, including the slow death of children.

Political scientist R. J. Rummel has estimated that governments in the 20th century killed 262,000,000 people under their rule, with most of those occurring in Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nationalist China, and Nazi Germany.  So-called democracies, where citizens exert a degree of control on government policies, are far less likely to murder its citizens.  Democracies commit most of their murders against foreigners.

Whether democratic or otherwise, government as we've known it has two defining traits: It claims a monopoly of rule over a defined geographic area, and it secures this monopoly with the threat of violence.  Within its domain it allows no competitors.   

With a superiority of force, governments as we’ve known them have secured their revenue through extortion, though under different names.  When obedient citizens pay their taxes, it's not an exchange for services in a market sense.  Governments may say they will do certain things with the revenue collected but that’s as far as it goes.  There is no contract with the taxpayers.  They are not customers government works hard to satisfy.  There is no need to. 

Throughout history coercive governments have always supplemented their tax revenue by debasing or counterfeiting the currency.  In modern times government central banks have made this process almost impenetrable, while the Keynesian-dominated economics profession has deluded the public into believing it’s in their interest.

So, at base we have an institution that is violent, a monopoly, an extortionist, and a counterfeiter.  It’s also a murderer, kidnapper, and a liar.  And it’s running our lives. 

We ought to be able to do better.

The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.” 
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part Second





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