An Exchange with a Progressive Democrat

The following is an email exchange between me, a voluntaryist libertarian, and a progressive Democrat (PD), who shall remain nameless. It demonstrates the common threads of progressive and Democrat thinking. They clearly identify with the state and believe it to be a legitimate social entity, and them a legitimate part of it. Republicans very much believe the same. The difference between the two, however, is in what functions the state should perform. Absent is the question of whether or not the state should even exist, and how society would function without it. I am thoroughly convinced that products like this is the real goal of government schooling. It's self-evident, really. Enjoy:

PD: A group of individuals decide in order to help assure mutual survival they will venture out into the wilderness and build a fort. An agreement is made among the individuals that in order to live within the walls and enjoy the protection provided they will comply with the following:

1. All males between the ages of 14 and 50 must take a turn standing guard on the wall.
2. All adults over the age of 18 will supply a monthly allotment of fuel oil to maintain lanterns and be sold to pay for collection and penalties
3. All individuals who do not perform their duties will be punished and/or banished.
4. All individuals upon reaching the age of responsibility must agree or be banished
5. All individuals must perform any additional applicable future duties as deemed necessary from time to time to help assure mutual survival as set forth by a majority vote.

Define for me the following:
1. This agreement
2. The obligation to stand guard
3. The role of the oil collectors
4. The obligation to provide fuel oil
5. The role of the punishers
6. The role of the banishers
7. The role of the individual/group who employs the oil collectors and enforcers
8. The obligation of compliance upon those who reach the age of responsibility

After years pass a representative of another group comes and informs this group that the fort is built within the boundaries of another much larger fort and there exists an agreement made many years prior by their forefathers and that all inhabitants are also subject to this agreement if the wish to stay in their fort.

Define this agreement.

Me: 1. They've appropriated previously (assuming) unappropriated land and built a fort out of previously (assuming) unappropriated wood (assuming). Unless someone else has a better claim, ie. they're the real first appropriator, to this land and wood, they are the homesteading joint owners. It is now their privately owned property.
2. Rules of the property. As in any rules that an owner places over his property, observe them or leave (exit the boundary of what's been appropriated). When banishing, it must be done in the "gentlest manner possible". The more resistance they give, the greater amount of force may be used, etc.
3. See 2.
4. See 2.
5. See 2.
6. See 2.
7. See 2.
8. See 2.

Unless the land and wood was appropriated, ie. put to some use or planned use, not simply fenced off, it's still a part of nature and not owned by anyone. The fort builders have every right to appropriate it for themselves and to tell these latecomers to bug off, and of course to defend it by force. The latecomers' claim has no weight as evidenced by their actions in failing to appropriate what they are claiming to own. And yes, "ownership" is the correct term. Something is either owned (pulled out of a state of nature) or it's not. Who owns it, and how many owners is the next logical question to ask.

Since there are vast swathes of land supposedly "owned" by the Federal government all over the West, we would be justified (ethically) in doing the above. The Federal government does not really "own" the land, of course, and that is why it would be ethically justified to appropriate it for oneself and use it in any way one sees fit. Though ethically justified, it would be unwise.

I can't recommend highly enough Rothbard's "The Ethics of Liberty", found here in several free formats.

PD: Makes sense. However, in your statement "Unless the land and wood was appropriated, ie. put to some use or planned use, not simply fenced off, it's still a part of nature and not owned by anyone" , what constitutes "planned use". Can the joint owners plan for future inhabitants or offspring to occupy? Can they have future development planned. Can the joint owners subdivide the property and give individual rights to specific individuals now or in the future?

Me: As long as they post signs notifying the world of their intentions, and they must bring them to pass in a reasonable amount of time, eg. months, maybe 1-2 years, but certainly not decades.

Yes, they can subdivide and transfer title to others, all well within their right as owner. Once transferred, it's no longer theirs. They can't take it back unless it was a trade and the other party failed to deliver title to whatever property (or performance, which is a property in oneself) was promised.

As a side note, this is why "fraud" is technically an act of theft. What was promised is not delivered and unless the benefit is returned, it has essentially been stolen.

PD: Hard to follow this logic. Property rights are transferable through a variety of methods. Some are temporary. Some are conditional to use. Some require adherence to previous agreements. These agreements may follow the property through several different owners or users. Also by this logic any owned property not currently being used or posted for specific use within 2 years is free for the taking. Some plans take decades or more. Who sets these rules? What if a property owners feel differently.Your property rights are subject to adherence to a prior agreement made by or obligated to you.

Me: Who sets the rules? I don't know. Legislators? I don't like that at all. Common law precedent developed through dispute adjudication? I like that better. Common law precedent developed through free market dispute adjudication? I like that the best considering it's the most compatible with the "non-aggression principle".

What is the "non-aggression principle"? Only the "lynch pin" of libertarianism. See Block.

Further, if someone (or more than one) does not have the final say on the use of his (their) property, then they are not the true owner(s) of said property. They're merely stewards/renters/placeholders without the power of ultimate decision making.

PD: Placing a limitation on the timing and justified use of property before it becomes free game is not realistic. Does it have to be used for industry, farming or occupancy? Can it not be held for future best value use? Can it become more or less usable in time? Can it be held for future generations? Is the enjoyment of a park, a lake, a forest, a mountain or the grass in your front yard justified.

I may not like it either, However like it or not our property ownership or use is subject to prior societal agreement. An agreement that we by virtue of our choice to live here we are agreed to. We must pay for the fuel oil, take our turn on the wall and abide by the laws of our society. We can chose to leave or stay and try to change the agreement or comply with or face the consequences. These agreements are made with our communities, cities, states and nations. They are a contractual obligation. They have offer and acceptance. They have an exchange of goods or services. There is no need for written evidence to be a valid contract. As in the prior example we are subject to these agreements by being born here and choosing to stay.

Me: You are proving too much. By this logic, a tyrant need only survive one generation and his rule magically becomes legitimate. You are assuming that whatever agreement exists at the time of my birth was created with 100% voluntary consent. When has that ever happened? What nation in history ever began it's rule with complete "consent of the governed"? You're also assuming that property owners (original or traded for), once entering into an "agreement" for collective security, no longer have the right to exit said agreement, to secede. By what ethical principle is this so?

The government (supposedly) provides a service. Non-governments provide services too. Why is it that we only see these so-called "permanent" agreements applied to government services? What makes the individuals who make up what we call "government" special? Why are they able to enforce permanency on their demands and other service providers aren't?

By this logic, the American colonists had no right to secede from Great Britain. "Representation" or not, that's how things were at their birth. They had every right to leave, after all. If we are to be logically consistent, we must be fighting to re-unite with "the motherland". We must reject Federal rule and demand that our government be handed back to England. Right? (of course, even England used conquest and exploitation to create and extend it's rule, as all states have.)

PD: My logic was simply to draw a correlation between a fort in the wilderness and a state or country. All citizens are for practical purposes joint owners of all property found within its borders. When were born we become citizens and are bound by the agreements established by our fathers and their fathers before them. We benefit from the protection, infrastructure and privileges. We in turn are obliged to take our turn on the wall and pay for fuel oil. This contract is valid unless we chose to renounce and move outside the fort walls. If we own property it is subject to many conditions. We can not build what ever we want. We can not do what ever we want and we agree to sell it back to the people if necessary for the greater good. There is no time constraints on our individual use or the collective use of our common property. Would you seriously want to raise your family in city without these constraints. Of course the romantic idea of a remote farm with a lake and land for animals and farming sounds kinda nice. But even if it were realistic, I would chose this. I gladly pay my fair share. I do however, like to debate whats fair.

Me: You're still making a giant assumption. Did the US not push out via bloody conquest the original inhabitants of this land? Did Spain not do that in Central America? The land belongs to whoever first appropriated it, or their heirs. No nation in the history of the world obtained land legitimately. We must have a starting point of completely justified and legitimate land ownership, and THEN your scenario makes sense, for only then would it not be a "social contract", but rules that property owners have made over the use of their legitimately owned land. Nor would we be justified in using violence to force somebody to remain party to our rules. They may secede, and lose whatever benefit they had by remaining party to the agreement. This is assuming they were given a plot of land, full control, from the original appropriated area. If they were merely made tenant, with ownership rights still held by one or more people, then to secede they'd have to leave.

The biggest difference in our reasoning is our starting point. You're assuming a given nation has legitimate authority over a given area. I'm not. Hypothetically, I agree with you. As far as the world right now, citizens are not joint owners in any meaningful sense of the word. See Hoppe.

I too would choose to live within society. I submit for the time being because I can bear it. At some point, it may become unbearable, as evidenced by the Berlin Wall. It was used to keep people in, not out, as you know. They had every right to live as they pleased in their home land. What they lacked was the power.

PD: Agreed. History is filled with injustice. But you have to agree to start the clock somewhere. But for all intents and purposes we have to presume that the United States is a legitimate nation and we are its citizens. What is the alternative? The world recognizes it. I think its of no consequence if the citizens don't. With all your knowledge and thirst for more. Do you think you could accomplish more from within the system than from without? Would that be selling out?

Me: For the sake of argument, sure, we can assume it's a legitimate nation and we are it's citizens. The next logical question is, what is it's proper role, the proper role of government? This is where studying sound economic theory comes in. I've studied economics since 2005. Eventually, I discovered the Austrian School, so named because it's original pioneers were Austrians (Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises. among others). The Austrian School is unique because it puts economics in the social sciences, a subset of what Mises termed "praxeology" or the study of human action. Praxeology, like all "logy" begins with basic logical axioms, in this case, that "humans act purposefully". In other words, economics is an a priori science. You begin with irrefutable logical axioms, and move from there to defining economic laws. The Austrian School is criticized by mainstream economics because they don't base their claims on mathematics or econometrics. It is a logic-based discipline. See Hazlitt. On econometrics, see Murphy. See the Mises wiki on praxeology.

What the Austrian School shows is that government intervention in the marketplace, it's regulations and laws, distorts price signals, creates moral hazard, and protects privileged people and businesses. Mises showed why government intervention always begets more government intervention because of the damage the original intervention causes. He also proved why socialism, with it's absence of economic calculation, will always fail. And further, he proved why a mixed-economy, such as we have in the US, will continually move closer and closer to complete socialism (intervention begets intervention). See Mises.

One of the Austrian Schools greatest contributions to economic thought is it's work on the business cycle. The Austrian School has shown why fractional-reserve central banking creates economic booms via encouraging malinvestment, and with an inevitable bust which creates unemployment and the justification for the central bank to create more inflation, leading to another boom, bust, rinse, and repeat. It's the history of fractional-reserve banking. It's why the US dollar has lost 96% of it's value since 1913. The Austrian School has explained every economic boom and bust on these grounds, both in the US and out. See Rothbard. And see the Mises wiki on business cycles.

My point is, even if our government had any legitimate authority, it is incredibly foolish to give it any amount of power over people's lives and the economy. "Government is the negation of liberty". It quite simply CAN'T do what the people want it to do. It will fail at even basic roles, such as the protection of person and property.

So then, my ethical concerns with government aside, on purely consequentialist grounds, government is a bad idea. It is not the vehicle to happiness and prosperity. It's the vehicle to misery and death. I choose to deal with others on a voluntary basis. Coercion is wrong, and produces "bads".

And for what it's worth, here's 100 ways that Obama is Bush 3. Really though, there's very little substantial difference between Republicans and Democrats. Both believe in using coercion, ie. law, to mold society to their ideal. At least my idealism is based on voluntary human relations and mutual consent, not on violence, guns, and cages.

But really, take the time to read my links above. You'll learn something they never teach in school (for logical reasons).

PD: I am not by any means an authority on economics. I think there are countless individuals that have studied economics for there entire life and still don't agree. I believe that with so many variables in this hectic world economy, Theory is just that, And most of the time it is virtually impossible to determine with certainty the outcome of any policy or practice. In other words it is someones best assumption. Yours may be correct. Hover the only way to accomplish your goal is to recognize the legitimacy of our government and try to change its policies and practices from within.That is the shear beauty. If most of us are wrong we are for all intents and purposes right until the outcome proves different or the collective mind is changed.

Me: That's one strategy. How effective is it? I would say it's the least effective strategy for obtaining and securing freedom. The state must be de-legitimized in people's minds. This requires education, ie. reason, argument, and logic. Believe you are free, and the moment you believe that, it becomes true. Don't be evil, ie. approach others on the basis of mutual consent. Trade with anyone and everyone that'll provide you value, legal or not. Never force or vote to force anyone to do anything against their will. Be the change you want to see; model the behavior you want others to emulate. Be a force for good in the world. Help people, give service, starting with your wife and kids, and then your community. Promote your principles. Start a blog, write a book, whatever. I'm doing both. I have 4 websites. And I'm publishing a book, see here. And I've got ideas for others.

Yes, there are a lot of economic ideas, a lot of really crazy, illogical economic ideas. The Austrian School is grounded in logic, not history, and not experiment. It's on solid intellectual ground. You'll know that after you study it. I recommend Hoppe.

PD: Countless have tried to de-legitimize the state. They are seen by the masses as crackpots. Right or wrong, you would have more success with a revolution, which is all but none. It has been done before, but not without radical actions and bloodshed. Or in cases like the Berlin wall which required a total change of the collective mind precipitated by massive poverty. If you are hoping for such a condition for change you might accomplish a greater good from within. I know some people who want the world to be destroyed to validate their extreme beliefs. That's not who you are.

Me: Absolutely not. I couldn't call myself a libertarian, a voluntaryist, a Christian, or a Mormon if I were. The state is destined to fall under it's own weight, sooner or later. Every empire must and will destroy itself. There's no need for violence to bring it to that point. What's important is that we are prepared for it. What people need is to understand and believe that society flourishes when people deal with each other with respect, on the basis of mutual consent. Prosperity cannot happen any other way. That's why I do what I do, and enjoy doing it.

PD: Cool. Lets figure out away to prevent it. Think of all the lives we would save and heartache we would prevent. A nobler cause there ain't. You're smart, lets figure it out.

Me: I don't believe it can be prevented. A Ron Paul victory would slow it down, but not by much. I no longer believe that the state is the answer to any of the world's problems. On the contrary, I believe the state is the problem. I want it to go away. I want the injustice to go away. Abolitionists didn't try to figure out how to save an economy that used slavery. They wanted slavery gone, plain and simple. I want justice, peace, and prosperity. We can't have any of those things so long as we believe in using violence and coercion to shape and mold mankind. I'm an abolitionist. And I won't destroy my cause by advocating anything less than the complete abolition of injustice, ie. the state.

Rothbard wrote a powerful essay in defense of radical idealism, here.

PD: If we all give up and look only to unrealistic or impossible solutions, we are the problem. We have more justice, peace and prosperity than an other people in any other time or place. And we can make it even better. That's unheard of. To complain just to complain is just complaint. Kinda catchy huh?

Me: We have more justice, peace, and prosperity than ever? I'll give you the latter, but the two former, not a chance. War and injustice is at it's all-time high, in my humble opinion. Imagine our prosperity had they truly been non-existent.

Yes, it's catchy.

PD: Where and when would you have felt your family was more safe. Would that only apply to a specific race and class of people in that place and time? I can't think of where or when. Remember You must take into account if you were poor, black, a slave or any other class person of that place or time.

Me: I guess my family is all that matters? Sure, I feel safe. Utah isn't a heavy War on Drugs area, but many places in the US are, and are literally at war. I also choose not to do illegal things, so that I have no reason to feel unsafe. Of course, I do feel robbed every time I see SS and Medicare taxes taken from me. If I protested, I wouldn't feel safe.

I'm safe mostly of my own choosing. I choose to submit, and that's kept me safe so far. But as a libertarian, I'm now on the government's threat list.

PD: Still all in all, the safest time and place to live. I'm glad they are keeping an eye on you. It makes me feel safer.

Me: You have nothing to fear from libertarians. Reminds me of this.


Nicholas Hooton said…
"I'm glad they are keeping an eye on you. It makes me feel safer."

At what point during this lengthy exchange of you advocating peace, justice and liberty did he interpret you as a threat to his safety? I don't even understand. I don't get it.

No other person or entity has or could have murdered more people than coercive governments. No other person or entity has or could have stolen more property than coercive governments. No other person or entity has or could have lied and propagandized and brainwashed more people into more pitiful submission than coercive governments. Coercive government is the most violent, deceptive, anti-social institution the world has ever known...

... and he's afraid of you?