The problem with “folk activism”

7. April 2009

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.

Kategorie anarchy, Big Head Press, comics, movies, Posts, Wyoming | 20 Kommentare »

20 Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag

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  greg schrieb @ April 8th, 2009 at 11:03 am

I have a simple idea to promote agorist economy, without promoting it, as such: encourage the practice of offering cash discounts.

I hope to develop this program in the future: every dollar withdrawn from the banks is a dollar liberated for more free and less coercive use – even if that ‘dollar’ is a Federal Reserve Note.

As people regain confidence in using cash instead of debt, they may choose not to pay taxes (though this need not ever be mentioned as a goal of the ‘cash discount’ movement). They may also begin to take more responsibility for personal security, to safeguard their cash – again a good thing for liberty.

Cash discounts are an easy win-win for buyer and seller: a buyer has incentive to gain if he offers a discount up to the amount he might otherwise loose in taxes, this puts downward pressure on taxes as enforcement efficacy falls.

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ April 8th, 2009 at 11:58 am

Cash discounts were once widely offered by gasoline retailers (major company franchises as well as independents), usually in the amount of 3 or 4 cents. This reflected the fees that credit card companies were charging the retailers (usually 1-3 percent of purchase plus a flat fee of 50 cents to a dollar per transaction).

Credit card companies didn’t like this and there were some rumblings about prohibiting the practice, but retailers stopped voluntarily because credit card customers felt they were being discriminated against, and shifted their business to retailers who didn’t offer the cash discounts.

Using credit cards is widely considered a convenience for the customers, to encourage sales, and businesses usually don’t want to inconvenience their customers.

Some cash discounting still goes on but retailers have to be careful about how they handle the practice, finding ways to reward cash customers without alienating credit card users.

[...] on Mars:The problem with “folk activism” Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Environmental ChurchSlow Learner, Fast [...]

  Curt Howland schrieb @ April 14th, 2009 at 8:52 am

Just wanted to say I greatly enjoy the color choices you’ve made in “Escape from Terra”.

[...] The Time Sink » Blog Archive » The problem with “folk activism”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. … [...]

  Dennis Wilson schrieb @ May 12th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Scott: “I am nominally a part of an 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.”

Dennis: On the other hand, there is more currently existing freedom; fewer taxes, regulations and zoning; more open space and fewer people per square mile in Wyoming than in the New England states. Consequently, FSW participants need be less concerned with immediate political action.

A case in point is the recent plight of the owner of horses who moved from Colorado all the way to New Hampshire, only to have a dozen horses confiscated by NH authorities shortly after completing what must have been an expensive move. Such action by “authorities” would be practically unthinkable in Wyoming.

Scott: “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.”

Dennis: A simple and incremental development of this concept would have any participants buy their own sea-worthy vessel and arrange to meet–probably in calm seas near Panama–and “tying up” with other such vessels into a floating city. A former cruise ship(s) owned by a more wealthy participant(s) might serve as a central shopping mall and office center.

The floating walkway/docks become the “streets” and are infinitely extendable–the construction of which might become an important source of employment. Eventually the more exotic structures proposed by Friedman would be experimented with and improved.

Secession becomes a simple matter of untying when disenchanted with the way things are going. This whole approach also becomes a prototype for eventual space colonization.

(And of course, as I have written elsewhere, the Covenant of Unanimous Consent would be an excellent “code of conduct” for participants.)

  psp games download schrieb @ June 17th, 2009 at 11:28 am

Why do you think Friedman’s fourth alternative, seasteading, involves developing floating cities which would float about the world’s oceans, outside of any current state’s jurisdiction?

  blackred schrieb @ July 1st, 2009 at 7:30 am

I have an question for you:

as an anarcho-syndicalist I fully support the Idea of Anarchy in the sense of “having no hierarchy”.

But I think your utopia doesn’t quit fulfill this role. For example the miners in your comic live in self-chosen, but existant boss – worker hierachy where orders are given.

How does a free market fit in a concept without hierachy?

(not debating morals just the conzepts)

But the englisch wiki does have a different definition of anarchy than me, more like a anti-government attitude (But still states that in anarchism “cooperation is preferable to competition”). Whats your definition of anarachy?

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ July 1st, 2009 at 10:07 am

My definition of “anarchy” is any form of social organization in which all relationships are voluntary, and the option of exit from any relationship is maintained.

An-archy dervies from “an” and “archos” and means “no rulers.” A ruler is someone who tells you how to live your life, and has the physical power to enforce his will over you.

A ruler is different from a boss, who is someone you make a contract with in agreement to work a given number of hours per day or per week in exchange for payment. So long as both sides honor the agreement, neither party should have any say in the other’s activities outside the employment arrangement.

The miners on the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” are mostly part-owners of the enterprise, although there are some who choose contract employee status. Contract employees work, and get paid, even during times the enterprise isn’t making a profit. They can take their money and leave. Worker-owners have their ownership tied up in the enterprise, and while they can also leave at any time, their shares in the company can only be cashed out under certain circumstances.

  redblack schrieb @ July 1st, 2009 at 11:25 pm

@ Scott Bieser:

Thats what I thougth… we have a fundametaly different definition of anarchy and because of that a totally different conzept.

In the German (and European?) dictionarys and thing like that it is accepted that anarchy is “without hierachy” and the thing without state and rules is anomie.

but that explains, why i never could understand most of the american anarchists^^

  Peter schrieb @ July 13th, 2009 at 8:44 am

Hi, I like your comic, but I feel that your comments toward politics are unrealistic. Anarchy as you are illustrating it is fine for a small community, but would never work in as large a society as America.

Community rules enforcement would break down, you would need a standing police force and criminals could not be effectively punished.

Also, how would a “society without rulers” provide for common items, such as interstate (or continent-wide) highways, multi-jurisdictional crimes, national defense, etc?
How would anything be paid for, if everyone objects to taxation?
How can their be “social goods” or “things done for the good of all” if people only care about themselves?
At first, there will be community-minded individuals who would look after the common areas but eventually their life will suffer and they will stop.
How would your “intelligent anarchism” solve “the tragedy of the commons”?

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ July 13th, 2009 at 8:53 am

Peter,
You ask some very good questions which would take a fair bit of time answering. We hope to address some of the specifics in upcoming story arcs in ESCAPE FROM TERRA but perhaps the best answer to practical questions about how a free society would work on a larger scale can be found in the book, _The Machinery of Freedom_ by David Friedman. Stefan Molyneux also addresses “social goods” questions in his book _Practical Anarchy_ which can be purchased or downloaded for free from his site, http://www.freedomainradio.com.

  Peter schrieb @ July 14th, 2009 at 8:29 am

Thanks for the information; if I have some time, I’ll check it out.
One last question, though: why are conservatives, and libertarians among them, always so angry?
They have had political, social and media power for almost 3 decades, and yet the things they complain about have only gotten worse.
Is it because they dont believe what they say and are only interested in squandering what opportunities come along in order to self-aggrandize and seize more power and control over our lives while blaming it on the “liberal elites”?

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ July 14th, 2009 at 9:25 am

You are lumping a lot of disparate groups of people together with that comment, and as a result I don’t think it’s very accurate.

Libertarians have never had political power, and the amount of social or media power we’ve ever had has been minuscule.

And there are many varieties of conservatives, but the most important is the distinction between the few “leaders” who get themselves into positions of power, and the many “rank-and-file” who work long hours at honest jobs providing for their families and retirements.

During the final years of the Bush Administration, the larger group of conservatives finally began realize the ways they were being betrayed by the few in power, and became disenchanted and demoralized. This is a large part (but not the only part) of how Democrats were able to win their majorities in Congress in 2006 and how Obama was able to win in 2008.

Now those disenchanted rank-and-file conservatives have become angry and at long last are starting to listen to libertarians. Conservative leaders (the ones still clinging to their power and seeking to restore what they had) are in disarray, and struggling to retain their relevance. I don’t know yet how long this trend will last or what will come of it.

  Peter schrieb @ July 18th, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Yes, I am lumping libertarians in with conservatives, because they always seem to self-identify that way. Conservatives who want to escape the “oh you’re just another Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity/Bill O’Reilly” label say ‘Oh, I’m not a Conservative, I’m a Libertarian’.
Libertarians want freedom to do whatever they want come come hell or high water, “and no gubermint aint gunna git in mah way” as long as what they want to do does no harm to other people of course.

Since the two underlying philosphies are incredibly similar (to an outside layperson, anyway) I lump them together.
I know you will probably disagree with the conflating of the two groups, but telling the difference is like trying to explain to “Joe Sixpack” the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. They both have “Star” in their name dont they?

The rank-and-file people you speak of arent necessarily Libertarian; they are just normal people who want to live their lives without the boot of government always being felt on their neck.
The problem arises when an interest group, who wants to grab some of the states power for themselves and their friends, comes along and tell these normal people (who may have legitimate grievance with the governing power) that “Government is the cause of all of your problems; elect us and we will solve all of your problems by reducing the size of government starting with taxes!”
So if government is the problem, why dont we abolish the FDA, the FAA, the the CDC, heck, even the military?

So it took 12 years for mid-level conservative thought leaders to realize they were being taken to the cleaners by those in power?
De-moralized they may have been but it was nice not having to sit through yet another election cycle of “The Government tells you to Be Afraid! Only the Government can save you from the Fear! You must re-elect us so we can save you from The Fear!” Bush fear campaigns got old quickly. Can you imagine faking a terror alert in the middle of Christmas just to remind people that they should Be Afraid?

If it takes de-moralized conservatives to have a decent election campaign, I hope they *stay* demoralized.

I think that Obama just had a better message after14 years of conservatism, and people were ready for a change.
McCain was hardly the picture of “Conservatism At Its Best”
A Libertarian could have beaten him.

Rank and file conservatives have never *stopped* being angry; dont you watch Fox News(the Conservative News Choice)?
Dont you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity? Conservatives havent stopped being angry for so long that if they were a single person they would have had a heart attack from all of the anger they have.

But Libertarians dont have any better answer.
How would these alternate market systems affect the average person? Or the average (or billion dollar) business?
Until you can tell normal people who arent poli-sci majors or economists why you’re system is better in the thirty seconds you have between Monday Night Football and 30 Rock, libertarians will remain “living on Mars”.

  Peter schrieb @ July 18th, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I appreciate your responding to my comments, Scott; I really would like to know more and am not trying to Troll, but…

I do have more questions. How would these alternate markets systems handle property rights? Is everything communal? Would that be communism(with a small “c”)? How would anything be invented, if the inventor could not be paid for their invention. More mundanely, how would entertainers get paid? Do crypto-anarchists like to be entertained? Would there be movie stars or authors, news reporters and web cartoonists?
Speaking of web cartoonists, how would your alternate market systems reward computer geeks who keep computers and the web running?

  Preston McConkie schrieb @ July 19th, 2009 at 2:36 am

Peter, I didn’t read super deep into your comments, because when an essay starts off with a flawed premise I lose confidence in the contents. I did read completely through your first post, but didn’t go past the first paragraph and some skimming of the second.

Conservatives haven’t held power for anything like the time you claim. The only time they held real power was during the early years of the Republican Revolution of 1994, when Gingrich was still conservative and the Republicans in Congress were still trying to pass the items on the Contract with America. They kept the rate of budget growth down, which was their biggest accomplishment, by acting as an opposition party against the executive.

The moment George W. Bush took office that all unraveled, as the only thing that could be called conservative that he accomplished was appointing a few constructionist Supreme Court justices and, depending if you’re paleocon or neocon, fighting an aggressive series of series of foreign wars to protect American interests.

Mistaking party affiliation for someone’s actual governing philosophy is the mistake of someone who is either a political novice or is deliberately trying to manipulate labels to mislead. It seems to me you’re the latter, since you admit it’s really just the politically ignorant — your Joe Sixpacks — who fall for this. I don’t blame Scott if he doesn’t bother to answer any more of your questions, because I think you’re here to just stir up trouble and waste people’s time.

Hey, I just looked up at your second-to-last comment and got confirmation of my theory. You’re an Obama partisan. So your third post is just as insincere as your first. You couldn’t fluster Scott with your grade school-level rhetoric, so now you’re pretending to have substantive questions. Please, sir, do this forum a favor and piss off.

  Peter schrieb @ July 21st, 2009 at 12:11 am

“You’re an Obama partisan.” Nice attack there, Mr. Bush Partisan.

Libertarians are the worst kind of idealist. They want all the fruits of civilization, but none of the hard work.
It must be nice to sit back on the backs of all the people who labored and struggled to bring us where we are today and say, “its not good enough.”

I did try to keep a civil tone in my comments, but some of the ideas are just too out there.

In a crypto-anarchist society, who will do all of the things no-one wants to do?

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