Friday, May 20, 2011

Will We See "Liberty in Our Lifetime"?

A few days ago, some of us were discussing whether the great majority of people are capable of being woken up to government's abuses of private property and civil liberties that outrage libertarians. At the same time, we were pondering this piece from the Economic Policy Journal, which discusses the many little battles that must (and can) be won on the way toward an ideal society based predominantly on respect for private property, individual liberty and privacy. Clearly, the two issues are connected: how will we ever get close to that ideal when it's so far away from the status quo, and so few Americans (particularly in California) seem inclined to change that status quo?

The problem for libertarians is more than just holding unpopular political views; every gay, pot-smoking, transfat-banning liberal in West Texas experiences that, to say nothing of every gun-toting, chain-smoking, steak-eating conservative in San Francisco. But those two groups have one thing in common: they both believe that the state has the authority to dictate how everyone can behave and what rights they have, and they have powerful political actors on their side. But libertarians deny that the government has this authority, and there's a contradiction inherent in trusting politicians to disempower the political system. So libertarians are left defending a priori rights against a large majority that doesn't grasp the existence of those rights. Of course, the idea of employing government force to advance one's interests (and, conversely, of attaining wealth and power by offering that service) is unlikely to become less appealing any time soon, and it's pretty much impossible to reconcile yourself to statism once you've seen the other side (as in The Matrix, there's no going back from taking the red pill). So what options are left?

At one end of the spectrum, there's the Off the Grid option. If you remove yourself completely from modern civilization - no address, no bank accounts, no tax returns, no bills, and so on - you're pretty much invulnerable to the government's whims. But unless you're prepared to abandon most of your life, build a cabin in an undiscovered valley, and grow your own food while you stockpile gold coins and ammunition, this option may not work for you. And honestly, it wouldn't be much of a life anyway.

Next comes the Simon Black option. Black, the author of the excellent Sovereign Man blog, is a stateless businessman who travels the globe looking for new opportunities and networking with the like-minded. You could also call it the Jim Rogers option, Rogers being the billionaire investment guru who relocated his family to Singapore. You can abandon your life for a faraway country if you think it offers more freedom. And honestly, if the American political and economic situation becomes significantly worse, this may be worth considering; we hear great things about places like Chile and Singapore these days. But to us, if you're not too rich or too poor to care about location, this seems like a way to drastically complicate your taxes without getting much in return.

There's also a domestic version: finding a corner of the United States that offers more liberty than the corner you're in. This isn't a new idea; you can see it in the Free State Project and Free State Wyoming, to give two examples. We'd also recommend this report from George Mason University's Mercatus Center, which ranks the States based on the soundness of their fiscal and regulatory policies and their respect for personal and economic freedom. (Overall results? New Hampshire, Colorado, South Dakota, Idaho, Texas good; Maryland, California, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey bad.) This doesn't help your situation to the extent that threats to your liberty come from DC. But again, if things in California get much worse, it's worth thinking about.

So what do you do if, like most libertarians, relocation doesn't work for you? Well, you probably do what we do: use things like blogs to get in contact with like-minded people nearby, and make the best life you can within whatever freedom-loving community you can find. Within that community, you may discover ways of working around the government to mutual benefit; this is what Tom Woods and others call agorism. (Here's a California-specific example.) It may not be libertopia, and it may not be an easy life, but any measure of freedom is still better than the alternative.


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