A tip of the hat to Perry Metzger for alerting me to the essay by Patri Friedman on the Cato Unbound site, “Beyond Folk Activism.”
Friedman provides a cogent theory for why electoral politics and what we normally think of as “political activism” cannot achieve libertarian goals. Rather than restate that theory here, I invite readers to peruse Friedman’s essay.
Friedman also highlights a quartet of alternative strategies, which he denotes as “Free State Project,” “crypto anarchy,” “market anarchism,” and “seasteading.” He examines what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of each, and seems to regard seasteading most favorably.
“Free State Project” here refers to the movement seeking 20,000 libertarians to relocate to New Hampshire, so as to provide a sufficiently large concentration of activists to wield political clout at the state and local levels. As Friedman himself notes, this is really a variant on traditional activism, and the only really “alternative” aspect of this strategy is that it’s a response to the libertarian movement’s failure to develop the massive following necessary to change national policy.
(I should note here that I am nominally a part of an alternative to this alternative, the “Free State Wyoming Project,” promoted by Boston T. Party, attempting a similar strategy in Wyoming. Boston felt that FSP chose the wrong state, and I was inclined to agree with him. So far, FSW appears to only be a tenth the size of FSP, and is currently focused on just getting libertarians here and so far has had zero impact on Wyoming politics at any level.)
The second strategy, “crypto anarchism” refers to employing the Internet and encryption technology to carry on economic activities outside the state’s purview. So far, this strategy has not had much success either. PayPal was reigned in by the state and now reports cash flows to the IRS. E-gold’s principals have been arrested and are being prosecuted on money-laundering charges. Other digital-currency schemes simply don’t have the kind of widespread participation needed to liberate its participants from the Federal Reserve-run economy. I can’t spend e-money at the grocery store, or the gun shop, or the furniture store. However, this strategy yet holds some promise, when combined with other strategies, as I’ll explain in a moment.
The third alternative Friedman lists is “market anarchism,” which he lauds mainly as a promising “ecosystem” with the sort of institutions and incentives built-in to serve a free society. And I agree. The problem, according to Friedman, is that there seems to be no path from here to there. Contemporary state institutions have formidable inertia and a strong tendency to preserve and propagate themselves. Market anarchism as developed by, for example, Murray Rothbard or David Friedman, lacks a cogent strategy for establishing itself.
But it is here that Friedman is mistaken. For one variant of market anarchism, developed by Samuel Edward Konkin III and denoted as “agorism,” does have such a strategy. In a nutshell the strategy is for libertarians to withdraw from the legal economy as much as possible and participate in the black and grey markets, and in the appropriate times and places to develop alternative institutions which will replace the state’s monopoly on such things as dispute resolution and law enforcement. SEK3, who died in 2003, outlined his theory of revolutionary change in his book The New Libertarian Manifesto, currently available in print from KoPubCo and in PDF form at the agorism.info site. Konkin’s other book, An Agorist Primer, also available from KoPubCo, presents a more general outline of agorism, including his theory of how-to-get-there.
I note here that this is an area where “crypto anarchism” may be employed to enhance the development of alternative institutions, while the state is still strong enough to otherwise suppress them. In this sense, agorism might be regarded as a combination of market and crypto anarchism.
Agorism is a relatively under-developed branch of market anarchist theory, but also a very promising one. In fact, novelist J. Neil Schulman wrote a science-fiction story, Alongside Night, dramatizing how agorist theory might someday rescue civilization from a future crisis — a crisis which looks alarmingly similar to what we face presently. Schulman has developed a screenplay adaptation of his story and is endeavoring, with the aid of activist Jim Davidson, to raise the capital needed to produce a feature film.
(I have also been asked to produce a graphic novel version in the event the screenplay is green-lighted.)
Friedman’s fourth alternative, seasteading, involves developing floating cities which would float about the world’s oceans, outside of any current state’s jurisdiction. Currently various technologies are in development which promise to create stable floating platforms which could be linked together, (or un-linked, where appropriate) to form stateless communities. Friedman notes the principal weaknesses of this approach: 1) the dangers of the ocean environment (think hurricanes and tsunamis); and the likelihood that states will interfere either to prevent establishment or to destroy or enslave these communities after the fact in the name of “fighting terrorism” or closing tax havens or what have you.
This suggests a rather more fanciful fifth alternative — space colonization. If some technological breakthrough or breakthroughs can allow inexpensive access to space, then we have a “new frontier” similar to that which eventually birthed the United States. Colonies on the moon, Mars, the asteroids, etc., could be established beyond the easy reach of existing governments wherein stateless societies may develop. This of course is an idea my writing partner Sandy Sandfort and I explore in our adventure web-comic, Escape From Terra.