Posts tagged Tom Knapp

Libertarians Against Property Rights and Freedom of Association, Unabridged Edition

The other day I mentioned an exchange that I had with regular R.-J. columnist and occasional libertarian Vin Suprynowicz, over an ill-tempered blog post he wrote on so-called illegal immigration. Since my most recent comment on the post was deep-sixed into a moderation queue and shows no signs of reappearing, I offer this post as a way of recording the conversation so far in full.

Vin’s original article, Speaking in code words to disguise what they really mean,, is an extended complaint about a recent immigration freedom rally in Vegas — not the 1 May marcha that I participated in, but a more recent rally by Reform Immigration for America, focused on family reunification. Suprynowicz reacted with a polemic against the alleged euphemisms being used by those radicals (his word; he says it like it’s supposed to be a bad thing somehow) who would dare propose even the smallest rollbacks of government constraints on voluntary migration. One of these euphemisms, he says, is calling people who move to Nevada without a permission slip from the United States federal government undocumented immigrants, or even immigrants at all; instead, we are told, they should be called trespassing illegal aliens. We are also told that fewer government restrictions on immigration would lead to the swarming and bankrupting of our current [state] socialist policies like government-run schools and hospitals. And he tells us that anyone who does not support the most rigorous and aggressive enforcement of the Fugitive Alien Acts by federal police agencies is promoting amnesty, which is, apparently, supposed to be a condemnation beyond any hope of appeal:

These radicals [sic] can use all the euphemisms they please to avoid the word, but anyone who believes illegal trespassers should not be deported — or imprisoned and THEN deported — is promoting amnesty, and needs to answer the question: How does giving amnesty to a couple million knowing law-breakers not encourage the next set of knowing law-breakers, inviting them in no uncertain terms to Come on in and enjoy all the free stuff; after a few years you can get amnestied, too!?

— Vin Suprynowicz (2009-06-14): Speaking in code words to disguise what they really mean

Well, I wouldn’t know; but one of the advantages of being an unterrified radical is that you don’t have to live in fear of boogey-words, or waste time defining down your goals to suit the status quo. (On which, see GT 2007-11-12 Sin Fronteras.) I don’t know all the details of what Reform Immigration for America stands for, but, in any case, I’ll be your huckleberry: sure, I’m for amnesty — immediate, complete, and unconditional amnesty, without any penalties and for every single criminalized immigrant in this grand old country. I’m promoting amnesty, and I’m promoting open borders, too, so I don’t care how many people show up in hopes of the next amnesty. If I really had my way, there’d be no next amnesty — because there’d be no government border laws left for anyone to violate.

So here was my first reply. (In which I chose, for rhetorical reasons, to use Vin’s own terms, using socialist to mean state socialist, and also illegal immigrant, for undocumented immigrants, a phrase that I would never choose for myself in conversation, because I think it’s dehumanizing and brutal. But in this context, I chose to use the phrase rather than criticize it, because part of the basic problem here is the underlying notion that there’s something morally wrong with breaking government laws.) Anyway:

The people to whom Ms. Arguello-Kline refers as immigrants aren’t immigrants, by that sensible definition, at all. They’re trespassing illegal aliens,

A trespasser is someone who intrudes on another person’s property against the will of the property-owner.

Let’s pretend I’m an illegal immigrant renting an apartment, working for a meat-packing plant, shopping at the local grocery store, et cetera. Presumably my landlord is willing for me to live on his or her property: if the owner didn’t want me to live there, he or she wouldn’t have signed the lease. Presumably, also, my boss is willing for me to be inside his or her plant; otherwise he or she wouldn’t be paying me to do it. Presumably, also, the stores I shop at are willing for me to be inside their stores: otherwise, they wouldn’t welcome my business.

So just whose property, exactly, am I trespassing on?

How does giving amnesty to a couple million knowing law-breakers not encourage the next set of knowing law-breakers, inviting them in no uncertain terms to Come on in and enjoy all the free stuff; after a few years you can get amnestied, too!?

You say knowing law-breakers like it’s supposed to be a bad thing to knowingly break the law. Coming from someone who so vocally praises the American Revolution, this seems odd.

If the radicals who gathered downtown on June the first want to demonstrate in favor of a mass amnesty — for open borders, over which hundreds of millions of the world’s poor and oppressed would be invited to come here and swarm our free public schools and free hospital emergency rooms until our current socialist policies drive us finally, completely, bankrupt — let them at least say what they mean.

That sounds like a problem with the socialist policies, not a problem with free immigration.

Why exactly do you want to save socialist policies like government control over schools and hospitals?

— Rad Geek, June 15th, 2009 at 12:48pm

(For more on conservative welfare statist arguments against immigration freedom, see GT 2007-12-13: On the dole.)

Vin’s reply:

So, presumably, if I wrote warning people not to let their children swim in the river because there are crocodiles, Rad Geek, hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, would ask:

Why exactly do you want to save the practice of crocodiles eating little children just because they go swimming in inappropriate places?

Signing my name, standing tall and risking the consequences, I have fought a radical, no-compromise battle for the complete shutdown — not some kind of half-assed reform, but the literal dynamiting (once the children have been removed to a safe distance) — of the government schools, and every government income redistibution bureaucracy, for more than 15 years.

Warning of — heck, simply observing — the consequences of allowing unlimited millions of people to violate American immigration laws, arriving here to flood the government welfare schools and enormously expensive tax-subsidized hospital emergency rooms every time they come down with the sniffles, means I want to save these evil redistributionist schemes?

How does acknowledging a reality of which we disapprove indicate we want to save it? By this logic, if you believe the Constitution forbids government agents from restricting your right to carry a loaded firerarm into a federal courthouse (as it most certainly does), you MAY NOT leave your firearm in the car; you MUST carry it into the courthouse in defiance of the orders of the armed guards there, lest you stand accused by Rad Geek of wanting to save all their unconstitutional gun laws.

You must, in short, PRETEND that all current conditions of which you disapprove DO NOT EXIST.

In the real world, this is a good way to quickly get yourself killed. But Rad Geek will accuse us of wanting to save any current condition that we merely acknowledge as currently existing.

Do the illegal aliens stand up and declare We reject your laws, here we stand with our guns, we’re willing to risk death to proclaim that your laws have no dominance over us, like the patriots at Lexington and Concord?Are they fighting to free us, as well as themselves, from unconstitutional tyranny? I haven’t noticed them doing that. What I notice them doing is walking away from car crashes and hospital bills and orders to appear in court to answer for their crimes, refusing to take any responsibility for the damage they cause.

Yes, if there were no tax-funded commons, and none of us were numbered or taxed, the arrival of a million strangers seeking work would do me little harm, provided they maintained reasonable sanitary safeguards. When Rad Geek, hiding in the shadows of anonymity, has managed to accomplish goals to which courageous Libertarians have been unable to win over even 5 percent of our casually socialist neighbors in 40 years of effort, I hope he’ll let us know.

Meantime, since he wants to speak in hypotheticals, let’s pretend Rad Geek is a landlord or an employer, telling all applicants who speak poor English, I’m not going to rent to you or offer you a job, because I think you may be an illegal immigrant and I don’t want to become an accessory to your crime. Do you think our brave federal bureaucrats will congratulate him and back him to the hilt, demanding the applicant prove he or she is here legally?

Those employers and landlords soon find themselves in an Alice-and-Wonderland world, threatened with fines by the EEOC and other alphabet bureaucracies, you simpering innocent. Presumably my boss and landlord are willing? Go talk to a few of them, before you go presuming too much, you ivory-tower twit.

Why do you suppose Barack Obama declines to put E-Verify into widespread use?

Yes, I would prefer no Social Slave number or internal passport were necessary to go about my business. But if we WERE allowed to take one state of 50, and make it a Libertarian state, hasn’t it occurred to you that we’d have to require new immigrants to forswear socialism, under oath, and upon penalty of immediate exile, before granting them the right to vote? Otherwise, we’d be swarmed by socialists fleeing their own dysfunctional enclaves, who would immediately vote to tax their wealthier neighbors for their own sustenance, at which point we would have accomplished nothing at all.

— Vin Suprynowicz, June 16th, 2009 at 11:47am

My reply, from behind that cloak of anonymity:

“Rad Geek” is a pseudonym, but it’s hardly a “cloak of anonymity.” If you spent a minute searching for it on Google, you’d find my website, which (among other things) talks at length about what my views are, who I am, where I live, what my real name is, and what I’ve published under my name. I don’t usually post comments on the Internet under my given name because it’s a common name, which happens to be shared by at least one prominent blogger with radically different views from mine, so that “Rad Geek” actually provides you with a more reliable way of finding out who I am and what I stand for than Charles Johnson would.

Not that your sniping about pseudonyms as against big manly signatures, or your thuggish anti-intellectual sniping at “ivory-tower twits” has anything to do with the argument; these are simply textbook examples of argumentum ad hominem (abusive form).

Warning of — heck, simply observing — the consequences of allowing unlimited millions of people to violate American immigration laws, arriving here to flood the government welfare schools and enormously expensive tax-subsidized hospital emergency rooms every time they come down with the sniffles, means I want to save these evil redistributionist schemes?

The question is simple. If you don’t want to save government welfare schools and tax-subsidized hospitals, then why in the world do you care whether or not they are flooded? Are you normally in the business of advising government bureaucrats about how to keep their unsustainable socialist schemes running?

By this logic, if you believe the Constitution forbids government agents from restricting your right to carry a loaded firerarm into a federal courthouse (as it most certainly does), you MAY NOT leave your firearm in the car; you MUST carry it into the courthouse in defiance of the orders of the armed guards there, lest you stand accused by Rad Geek of wanting to save all their unconstitutional gun laws.

Well, no. All that I think you MUST do is refrain from cheering on government agents when they go to arrest, exile or kill those who DO choose to exercise their rights.

If you stand by government police when they do try to enforce tyrannical gun laws on innocent people exercising their rights, then yes, you are trying to save tyrannical gun laws. Otherwise, no, you aren’t.

Of course, the problem here is that you ARE explicitly calling for bigger and more aggressive government when it comes to monitoring, policing and punishing illegal immigrants. Even though you haven’t anywhere stated who they are trespassing against by living in the U.S. without a permission slip from the federal government. And one of the reasons you give for this is the alleged effects of free immigration on cockamaimey socialist schemes that you yourself consider wasteful and foolish.

Yes, if there were no tax-funded commons, and none of us were numbered or taxed, the arrival of a million strangers seeking work would do me little harm, provided they maintained reasonable sanitary safeguards.

It’s true that when you combine something basically moral (free immigration) with something completely immoral (government subsidies for education and medicine) you may get bad results from the combination. But why spend your time attacking the moral part of the combination, instead of the immoral part?

Are they fighting to free us, as well as themselves, from unconstitutional tyranny? I haven’t noticed them doing that. What I notice them doing is walking away from car crashes and hospital bills and orders to appear in court to answer for their crimes, refusing to take any responsibility for the damage they cause.

I don’t care whether or not illegal immigrants fight to free me from tyranny. A little help is always appreciated, but I don’t think that fighting for everybody else’s freedom is necessary for people to be justified in breaking unjust laws. Do you think the American Revolutionaries should have been expected to fight not only for their own freedom but also to free the Irish, the Scots, the Welsh, the English commoners, or any number of other victims of tyrannical English government? Do you expect Ford to make cars for GM?

As for those fighting their own freedom, maybe it’s a matter of who you know. I know plenty of undocumented immigrants who are actively engaged in pro-freedom politics and against the bordercrats’ Papers please police state.

And as for irresponsibility, I’m sure there are some individual illegal immigrants who are irresponsible. So what? I hear some native-born Americans are irresponsible, too. In a free society, institutions work to hold individual people responsible for what they do. They don’t launch massive collectivist campaigns to hunt down and exile whole populations regardless of whether or not they have ever actually done any of the things you mention.

But if we WERE allowed to take one state of 50, and make it a Libertarian state, hasn’t it occurred to you that we’d have to require new immigrants to forswear socialism, under oath, and upon penalty of immediate exile, before granting them the right to vote?

No. I don’t believe in using government to police political thought.

I also don’t know how you intend to enforce these immigration restrictions you plan on implementing without exactly the sort of Officially Permitted Citizen, Papers-please documentation requirements that you claim you would prefer to abolish.

Those employers and landlords soon find themselves in an Alice-and-Wonderland world, threatened with fines by the EEOC and other alphabet bureaucracies, you simpering innocent.

Oh, please. If you think that Tyson wouldn’t be hiring any illegal immigrants but for the nefarious manipulations of the EEOC, I think you probably need to think about this harder.

Of course, in specific cases where a landlord would like to exclude illegal — or for that matter legal — immigrants from renting apartments, or a boss would like not to hire them, I think that he or she ought to have the right to do so, and that if the EEOC tries to interfere, the EEOC is violating the rights of that boss or landlord. But of course this doesn’t answer the question of who illegal immigrants are trespassing against. If the landlord doesn’t give a damn where the tenant comes from as long as she pays her rent — and many landlords don’t — and if the boss doesn’t give a damn where the worker comes from as long as she does her job — and many bosses don’t — then just who the hell is left for this trespasser to trespass against?

— Rad Geek, June 16th, 2009 at 5:09pm

(For more on how border laws necessarily entail police state measures, inflicted on immigrants and natives alike, see GT 2009-04-17: Death by Homeland Security #3: The Disappeared and GT 2008-01-27: Someone must have slandered Thomas W…..)

Vin’s reply:

Rad Geek asserts:

The question is simple. If you don’t want to save government welfare schools and tax-subsidized hospitals, then why in the world do you care whether or not they are flooded?

Vin replies:

Because I am taxed to pay for them. I am given no choice in the matter. If I refuse to pay the (ever-increasing) taxes to fund these things, the government will (it has, since I have fought these battles for real, not merely as a let’s pretend intellectual exercise) ) seize(d) my paychecks. It will eventually seize and expel me from my house.

Illegal immigrants, who are trespassing because they come where they have no legal right to be, violating the laws of the place to which they travel , tend to vote socialist, because they are looters. Ask those charged with collecting hospital bills how many illegal aliens make good faith efforts to pay their bills. Those who would amnesty them will guarantee the continued spread of socialism, bankrupting us all.

There IS a theory that this is a good thing: Let socialism be overburdened and collapse. Then we will build a better, more Libertarian society on the ruins.

Interesting theory. It can be argued, for instance, that a society more respectful of the Rights of Man [sic] was built on the ruins of Rome, once Rome fell.

It was. The only problem is … it took about a thousand years.

If there is no right to exclude looters from our midst; if we must allow free entry of anyone who wants to come to our community — and the smallest community is my house — and then allow them to decide how my stuff shall be redistributed by majority vote, then freedom of a family of three can last only until four guest workers break down their front door and vote on how to divvy up the food in the refrigerator.

This is the current reality. Rad Geek supports it, apparently under the delusion this is some kind of admirable conscientious objection., whereas organizing a campaign to track down and punish lawbreakers is inherently collectivist. I rarely find myself supporting the existence or activities of the FBI, but I fail to see how it’s despicably collectivist for them to try to catch and punish runaway rapists, murderers, and stickup men.

Or those who violate our perfectly constitutional immigration laws.

I would wish him a happy life in the Looters’ Carnival he prescribes for all of us … if only I were not forced at gunpoint to share it with him.

— Vin Suprynowicz, June 16th, 2009 at 6:18pm

I have no idea how an open demand for the abolition of all existing border laws constitutes supporting the current reality, but whatevs. In any case, my reply was posted to, and appeared publicly in, Suprynowicz’s comment section, on the next morning, but within a day it was deep-sixed into the WordPress moderation queue. Of course, Vin’s blog is his place, and he can choose what to print or not to print; but if the unabridged version of the conversation won’t appear there, I’ll publish it here, as a matter of record, and to keep things open for further discussion and comment:

Vin Suprynowicz:

Because I am taxed to pay for them.

This is pretty rich, coming from someone who vocally insists on the right of tax-mooching immigration bureaucrats and a jackbooted federal police agency to reach their hands into the tax slush fund to enforce immigration policies that I never asked for and don’t want, and then tax me to pay for it against my will.

In any case, in a welfare statist system, it is true that government forces to pay for everyone—and that it forces everyone to pay for you. But this is true regardless of immigration status. Every time some pair of Officially Approved Citizens send their Officially Approved children to government schools, the government spends money which is ultimately extracted from your pockets and mine. I have no idea why you would blame this on people who could not possibly have shaved one cent off of your taxes by refusing to accept government hand-outs — do you suppose that if government doesn’t spend tax funds on schools, it’ll give the money back to taxpayers? ho, ho, ho — rather than blaming it on the people who are actually taxing you.

But in any case, if you are going to blame the people who reclaim government-seized money, rather than the government that seizes the money in the first place, then you do realize, don’t you, that illegal immigrants aren’t special in any particular way on this count? That you could use this argument just as easily to justify government force against just about anyone — government-enforced population control (since children receive big tax subsidies for education, healthcare, etc.), internal passports (since immigrants from poorer states tend to move to richer states and take advantage of the more plentiful welfare benefits), summarily jailing and exiling everyone over the age of 65 (seeing how they mooch of Social Security and Medicare, usually far in excess of what they paid in when they were working), or any other collectivist horror you might dream up.

Perhaps, rather than creating a police state in order to hunt down, round up, and punish those who take receive welfare payments funded by taxation, the thing you should be doing is focusing on the real problem — the welfare state and confiscatory taxation?

Illegal immigrants … tend to vote socialist, because they are looters.

Dude, what you are talking about? Illegal immigrants don’t tend to vote at all in the U.S., because illegal immigrants can’t legally vote.

Maybe you’re worried about what would happen if currently undocumented immigrants were able to become citizens, and then to vote. The fact is that right now, in the real world, immigrants from California pose a much bigger threat to freedom in Nevada than immigrants from Mexico do. And the real threat is not immigrants from anywhere, but rather from unlimited majoritarian democracy, which is always going to have these problems regardless of who can or cannot immigrate. Maybe you would be better served by focusing on the real problem, rather than on trying to get government to police political beliefs (!) or on getting government to inflict punishment on all members of a population for the bad thoughts or bad behavior of some of them?

Ask those charged with collecting hospital bills how many illegal aliens make good faith efforts to pay their bills.

You know, as it turns out, there are already perfectly just laws against refusing to pay your bills, without getting the federal bordercrats involved.

Surprisingly, it turns out that the appropriate punishment for this is not exile from the country.

Also, surprisingly, they don’t take a federal police state or “Papers, please” checkpoints to enforce.

Also, as it turns out, the laws against running out on your bills generally only allow for you to go after the individual person who actually defaults on the bill, or occasionally close family members — in any case, not against complete strangers and entire populations on the collectivist premise that everybody in that population can be held to account for the bad behavior of a bunch of perfect strangers who just happened to come from the same country as they did.

I have no idea what the hell you think this kind of collective guilt-by-association smear, let alone your proposal for addressing it by means of collective punishment of both the innocent and the guilty, has to do with the politics of individual liberty.

If there is no right to exclude looters from our midst;

You have a perfect right to exclude anyone you want from your private property, for any reason, or for no reason at all. What neither you, nor the United States federal government, has any legitimate right to do, is to go around excluding people from my private property, let alone inflicting a massive system of “Papers, please” documentation requirements and checkpoints on me in order to do so, without my permission and indeed against my will.

So, please, exclude whoever you want from your midst. But who’s “we”, kemosabe? Keep your preferences on your own property.

if we must allow free entry of anyone who wants to come to our community

You have a perfect right to evict trespassers from your own property.

The problem is, you see, that “the community” as a whole is not your private property. Or the United States federal government’s. Sorry.

… and then allow them to decide how my stuff shall be redistributed “by majority vote,” then freedom of a family of three can last only until four “guest workers” break down their front door and “vote” on how to divvy up the food in the refrigerator.

This is of course a ridiculous strawman of my position. I explicitly argued above that private property owners should have a right to exclude anyone they want from their own private property.

It’s also pretty rich, hearing this stirring defense of the sanctity of the family home and private property, come from someone who is so angrily insisting that the federal government has a right to send federal police agencies around and stage stormtrooper raids on my private home or workplace, if some elected government passes a “perfectly constitutional” law that says that I can’t invite who I damn well please onto my own damn property.

Or those who violate our perfectly constitutional immigration laws.

Your immigration laws, maybe. Not mine. I wasn’t asked, I didn’t pass them, I don’t enforce them, and I don’t support them; they are inflicted on me and on people I care about without my permission, against my will, and over my explicit protests. Keep that “our” to yourself.

organizing a campaign to track down and punish lawbreakers is inherently “collectivist.”

It is when the laws you’re trying to enforce are collectivist.

Illegal immigrants, who are trespassing because they come where they have no legal right to be, violating the laws of the place to which they travel ,

Again. Trespassers against whom? You can only trespass against the will of an aggrieved property owner; that’s part of the meaning of the word “trespass.” But the laws you’re talking don’t come from the owners of the property on that illegal immigrants live on, or work on. They are passed by government.

Staying somewhere in the U.S. that the United States federal government doesn’t want you to stay is “trespassing” only if you think that the United States federal government is in fact the rightful owner of all the land in the United States. Do you?

I don’t. My view is that the government is not the rightful owner of my home or my business. I am. If I want to invite anyone to peacefully move in on my land (for love or money), or to work for me in my shop, that is exactly none of the government’s business, and the fact that people have not gotten a permission slip from the federal government doesn’t make them “trespassers” on my land — when they have permission from me.

As for whether or not It’s The Law, who gives a damn? Seriously? So’s tax evasion; so’s nonviolent drug use; so’s owning an unlicensed fully-automatic AK-47; lots of things are Against The Law that government actually has no legitimate right to prosecute or punish people for doing. When that happens, the problem is with the government law, not with the law-breakers.

—Rad Geek, June 17th, 2009 at 10:46am

On which, see also GT 2006-04-09: Freedom Movement Celebrity Deathmatch.

Elsewhere, Tom Knapp stages a tough love intervention against border-creep libertarians. And while I’ll thank him for the support, I can’t agree with Justin M. Stoddard (2009-06-18) that I completely owned Vin Suprynowicz. Inalienability, you know.

See also:

Friday Lazy Linking

  • Winter Soldier: Just Another Tuesday. From Ryan Endicott, formerly a United States government Marine stationed in Iraq.

    Via Clay Claibourne, L.A. I.M.C. (2009-05-13): Winter Soldier Southwest on YouTube #1

  • The regulatory State versus freed markets and the human future: A quote from Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, via B.K. Marcus at Mises Economics Blog:

    To expect the government to prevent such fraud from ever occurring would be like wanting it to provide cushions for all the children who might fall. To assume it to be possible to prevent successfully, by regulation, all possible malpractices of this kind, is to sacrifice to a chimerical perfection the whole progress of industry; it is to restrict the imagination of artificers to the narrow limits of the familiar; it is to forbid them all new experiments; it is to renounce even the hope of competing with the foreigners in the making of the new products which they invent daily, since, as they do not conform to our regulations, our workmen cannot imitate these articles without first having obtained permission from the government, that is to say, often after the foreign factories, having profited by the first eagerness of the consumer for this novelty, have already replaced it with something else. … Thus, with obvious injustice, commerce, and consequently the nation, are charged with a heavy burden to save a few idle people the trouble of instructing themselves or of making enquiries to avoid being cheated. To suppose all consumers to be dupes, and all merchants and manufacturers to be cheats, has the effect of authorizing them to be so, and of degrading all the working members of the community.

    — Turgot, Éloge de Gournay (1759), translated by P.D. Groenewegen

Outrage

Think.

Left-Libertarianism

  • On dialectical jujitsu: Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-05-19): How to annoy a conservative

  • Ownership failures, not market failures Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling (2009-05-01): Markets, the poor & the left. Dillow makes two really important distinctions: one of them the familiar left-libertarian distinction between freed markets, on the one hand, and actually-existing corporate capitalism, on the other; the other a less familiar, but very important, distinction between market processes and patterns of ownership. Quote: In many ways, what look like ways in which markets fail the poor are in fact merely ways in which a lack of assets fail the poor. Exactly; and the many cases where there are not really market failures, but rather ownership failures, have everything to do with feudal, mercantile, neoliberal, and other politically-driven seizures and reallocations of poor people’s land, livelihoods, and possessions — and nothing to do with genuine market exchange.

Counter-Economics

Movement

Communications

On crutches and crowbars: toward a labor radical case against the minimum wage

First they taught us to depend
On their Nation-States to mend
Our tired minds, our broken bones, our failing limbs;
And now they’ve sold off all the splints,
and contracted out the tourniquets,
And if we jump through hoops, then we might just survive.

— Propagandhi, The State Lottery

There has been some interesting discussion among Jim Henley (2008-02-21), Tom Knapp (2008-02-29), and Kevin Carson over left-libertarian political programmes, strategic priorities, gradualism, and the welfare state. The debate began with an argument over Knapp’s World’s Smallest Political Platform for the Libertarian Party, and Henley’s worries that the platform, as expressed, doesn’t allow much room for gradualist approaches to repeal, or nuance in strategic priorities. Now, I don’t have much of a dog in that fight, because I’m not a gradualist, but I’m not in the least bit interested about limited-statist party-building or political platforms, either. At the level of moral principle, I have a very simple approach to taxation, government welfare programs, regulation, etc. If I had a platform, it would be three words — Smash the State — and the programme I favor for implementing that is for each and every government program to be be abolished immediately, completely, and forever, whenever, wherever, in whatever order, and to whatever extent that we can, by hook, by crook, slingshot, canoe, wherever the political opportunity to do so presents itself. Political coercion is an evil against which it may sometimes be prudent to retreat, but with which there can be no negotiated compromise. (All such compromises, so-called, are really just conditional surrender.)

In other words, on the one hand, I am an ultra-immediatist, in the sense that I believe that everything’s got to go, and that libertarians and anarchists should make no bones about saying so; and, on the other, I also — unlike certain gradualist anarcho-statists like Noam Chomsky or Ursula K. LeGuin — am an ultra-incrementalist, in the sense that I don’t think that we ought to put our efforts to abolish anything on hold until we’ve somehow (how?) managed to abolish just about everything.

I’m not actually sure whether Henley really is advocating gradualism in the sense that I oppose it; there’s a difference between gradualism in ideals and incrementalism in strategy, which language makes unfortunately easy to overlook. Defending immediate and complete abolition on principle, and the abolition of any coercive program you may get the opportunity to abolish, doesn’t entail any particular order of priorities in terms of the scope or order in which you might concentrate your own limited resources towards making opportunities for abolition that didn’t previously exist. And that’s where I think the interesting part comes in, and where there is a lot of room for interesting discussion about freedom, class, and strategic priorities when it comes to government interventions with distinctive class profiles. Here’s Henley:

… I have a sequencing objection. Figure the state as Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s novel, Misery. She wants to help the patient so much she’ll never willingly let him go. To a libertarian, much of what the state does looks like providing crutches or shackles. To an anarchist, I suppose everything the state does looks like that. Crutches are actually important for the injured. If you’re to completely heal, though, you have to give them up at the right time. And some badly injured people are never going to be able to do without them - e.g. my mother with her walker.

But the crazy nurse wants you to keep your crutches whether you need them or not, and she’ll chain you to the bed, if necessary, to keep you in her care. If she has to, she’ll cut off your foot, for your own good. … So we want to remove most or all crutches and shed most or all shackles, depending on how, for lack of a better term, anarchistic we are. But which shackles and which crutches when? The liberal libertarian answer is: first take the crutches from those best able to bear their own weight, and remove the shackles from the weak before the strong. So: corporate welfare before Social Security before Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Drug prohibition before marginal income tax rates.

Most libertarians would agree that it’s a messed-up state that:

  • Creates a massive crime problem in poor minority neighborhoods with a futile, vicious and every more far-reaching attempt to prevent commerce in popular, highly portable intoxicants that leaves absurd numbers of young men with felony records, making them marginally employable.

  • Fails to provide adequate policing for such neighborhoods.

  • Fails to provide effective education in such neighborhoods after installing itself as the educator of first resort.

  • Uses regulatory power to sharply curtail entry into lines of business from hair-care to ride provision, further limiting the employment options of people in such neighborhoods.

  • Has in the past actively fostered the oppression of said minority, up to and including spending state money and time in keeping its members in bondage.

  • To make up for all of the above, provides a nominal amount of tax-financed welfare for the afflicted.

But it’s a messed-up libertarianism that looks at that situation and says, Man, first thing we gotta do is get rid of that welfare!

— Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings (2008-02-21): Ask Me What the Secret of L—TIMING!—ibalertarianism Is

Kevin Carson takes sympathetic notice of Henley’s metaphor of crutches and shackles, quoting an earlier passage in which he’d used quite similar language to make the point:

If the privilege remains, statist corrective action will be the inevitable result. That’s why I don’t get too bent out of shape about the statism of the minimum wage or overtime laws—in my list of statist evils, the guys who are breaking legs rank considerably higher than the ones handing out government crutches. All too many libertarians could care less about the statism that causes the problems of income disparity, but go ballistic over the statism intended to alleviate it. It’s another example of the general rule that statism that helps the rich is kinda sorta bad, maybe, I guess, but statism that helps the poor is flaming red ruin on wheels.

— Quoted by Kevin Carson (2008-03-03): On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

I agree a lot with the broad point that Henley and Carson are both making here. In setting strategic priorities, we have to look at which forms of government coercion do the most concrete damage, which forms of government coercion has intended victims who are most vulnerable to it, which forms have intended victims who can more easily evade or game the system on their own, and, perhaps most importantly, which forms serve as the real historical and ideological anchors for establishing and sustaining the distorted statist social order, and which forms are relatively superficial efforts to stabilize or ameliorate the effects of those anchors. I think that on all these counts, a serious look at how calls the shots and who takes the bullets will show that the welfare state, such as it is, is a fairly small and superficial effort to ameliorate the effects of deep, pervasive, and incredibly destructive economic and institutional privilege for big, centralized, bureaucratic state capitalism, and (as much or more so) for the class power of the State itself over the poor folks that it beats up, locks up, institutionalizes, bombs, robs of their homes and livelihoods, and so on. Moreover, it’s a fairly small and superficial effort which doesn’t violate anybody’s rights per se; it’s the coercive funding of government doles, not their mere existence, that involves government violence, and in that respect, while I think they should be abolished, they’re on quite a different footing from things like the warfare state and the underlying government monopolies and privileges that the welfare state is intended to correct for, which involve coercion both in funding and in the very things that the funding is used for. All this tends to support strategic priorities in favor of (as Tom Knapp himself originally put it) cutting welfare from the top down and cutting taxes from the bottom up.

That’s all well and good. But I want to sound a note of caution. When we’re setting our strategic priorities, one thing that we need to keep an eye out for is the fact that not all of what the government passes out as a crutch really is one; the enemy we’re fighting, after all, is a consolidated mass not only of force, but also of fraud. Lots of so-called crutches really have a secret shackle attached to them — welfare per se is a crutch, but remember that welfare comes with a professional busybody social worker attached. Moreover, lots of so-called crutches are themselves crowbars; they’re the tools that the State uses to break your legs, and then have the supreme impudence to claim that they’re helping you to walk by doing it. As I said to Kevin (internal links added for this post):

Broadly speaking, I agree with your and Henley’s point about strategic priorities. It’s an odd form of libertarianism, and a damned foolish one, that operates by trying to pitch itself to the classes that control all the levers of power in both the market and the State, and to play off their fears and class resentment against those who have virtually no power, no access to legislators, are disproportionately likely not to even be able to vote, and who are trodden upon by the State at virtually every turn. It makes just about as much sense as trying to launch a feminist movement whose first campaign would be to organize a bunch of men against their crazy ex-girlfriends.

But … Aren’t there a lot of so-called social programs out there which the government fraudulently passes off as crutches, when in fact they are crowbars? Since you mentioned it, consider the minimum wage—the primary effect of which is simply to force willing workers out of work. If it benefits any workers, then it benefits the better-off workers at the expense of marginal workers who can less afford to lose the job. Or, to take another example, consider every gradualist’s favorite program — the government schools — which in fact function as highly regimented, thoroughly stifling, and unbearably unpleasant detention-indoctrination-humiliation camps for the vast majority of children and adolescents for whose benefit these edu-prisons are supposedly being maintained.

Or for that matter, consider phony pro-labor legislation like the Wagner Act, the primary function of which is actually to capture unions with government patronage and bring them under greater government regulation.

Aren’t there a lot of so-called crutches, usually defended by corporate liberals and excoriated by conservatives, which really ought to be pressured and resisted and limited and abolished as quickly as possible, precisely because, bogus liberal and conservative arguments notwithstanding, they actually work to shackle the poor or otherwise powerless for their own good?

— Rad Geek, in comments (2008-03-03) on On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

Really, to keep my metaphors straight, I should have said cripple the poor or otherwise powerless. Oh well. In any case, Kevin agreed, and added some quite true and important points:

I agree entirely. That’s why I think the setting of priorities for dismantling the state must be combined with educational efforts and building counter-institutions.

Frankly, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps is at the very bottom of my list of priorities. My guess is that when the landlord and banking monopolies are eliminated, along with intellectual property, Taft-Hartley, and all the regulatory barriers to mutual insurance, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps will be a moot point because it will be so hard to find anybody on them.

But I also advocate vigorous ideological struggle to counteract the matrix version of reality parroted by the vulgar liberals at Daily Kos, and to expose the role of the state capitalist ruling class in creating the regulatory-welfare state.

And that’s especially true in the case of crutches that play a central role in serious exploitation, like professional licensing and safety codes whose main purpose is to enforce the power of cartels to bleed consumers dry and shut workers out of opportunities for self-employment.

— Kevin Carson, comments (2008-03-03) on On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

But while I agree with him on almost all the details of his reply, I think there’s an important distinction that it misses:

I agree with you on food stamps, but not on the minimum wage. In fact it’s laws like the minimum wage which I especially had in mind when I mentioned crowbars being passed off as crutches. While I agree that a free market would almost certainly result in substantial increases in real income and substantial decreases in cost of living for virtually all workers — to the point where they would either be making well above the current minimum wage, or at least where fixed costs of living would have dropped enough that it amounts to the same — there’s also the question of what we should be pushing for in the meantime in-betweentime, when there aren’t fully free markets in labor, capital, ideas, and land. In that context, the minimum wage law is, I think, actively destructive. Conditional give-aways, like foodstamps, are one thing; the program itself doesn’t violate anyone’s rights (it’s the tax funding that’s the problem), and people can always choose not to go on foodstamps if they decide (for whatever reason) that it’s doing them more harm than good. Not so with minimum wage; the only way to shake off this so-called protection is to seek out someone who’ll let you work under the table, and hope the government doesn’t catch on. The result is forcing one class of workers out of work in favor of another, more privileged class of workers. Hence, I’d argue we should treat abolition of the minimum wage a lot differently, in terms of strategic priorities, from how we treat government welfare, food stamps, etc.

— Rad Geek, in comments (2008-03-04) on On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

Here’s Kevin’s response to the distinction in treatment that I wanted to urge:

I’m not sure the minimum wage really has that effect (and again, my purpose is not to defend the MW, but to move its abolition to the bottom of the priority list).

I know the arguments on how they reduce employment, but they all carry an implied ceteris paribus; and most of the polemicists at Mises.Org and the like strenuously advoid any suggestion that things might not be equal.

It’s most likely that, in an industry that employs minimum wage workers, there is little or no competitive pressure to minimize wage costs because all the local employers in that industry are paying the same wage. And if there’s a high elasticity of demand for fast food, etc., it will probably be passed on to customers unnoticed, as one small component in the price of a Big Mac.

In addition, the argument assumes a competitive labor market and cost-minimizing firms, and neglects the possiblity that minimum wage increases may come out of quasi-rents and simply reduce profit. That’s unlikely to be the case for minimum wage employers per se, which tend to be small businesses with narrow profit margins; but it’s more likely to be true in better paying employers who peg wages to the minimum wage plus some differential.

— Kevin Carson, comments (2008-03-05) on On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

I didn’t mean to suggest that Kevin was trying to defend the minimum wage, and I’m sorry if I inadvertently gave the impression that that’s what I’m arguing against. I take it that he’s not trying to defend government welfare, either; just suggesting that libertarians re-order their strategic priorities in terms of which evils to first and most intently put their limited resources towards combating. The point I’m urging is in a similar vein; I’d like to encourage left libertarians, in particular, to make a further distinction of priorities, and put minimum wage laws higher up the To-Agitate-Against list than they put government dole programs. They’re both objectionable, and I’d argue that both should be abolished (immediately, completely) at the first opportunity. But they’re objectionable in different ways, and shouldn’t be considered as part of a single welfare state package when anarchists look at what kind of opportunities to try to drum up for ourselves. The bare existence directly coerces individual workers, and for the most part tends to hurt the most economically vulnerable workers the most, in ways that the existence of welfare state programs (where the problem is not the program per se, but the coercive funding) do not.

I’m not sure I understand Kevin’s argument when he says, And if there’s a high elasticity of demand for fast food, etc., it will probably be passed on to customers unnoticed, as one small component in the price of a Big Mac, and I wonder whether he meant to write low elasticity of demand. If there’s a high price-elasticity of demand for fast food, then that would mean that quantity demanded is highly sensitive to price increases; in that kind of industry that bosses should be more likely, not less, to try to make up the difference in labor costs by stopping new hires, firing workers, reducing hours, and instituting work speed-ups.

And this isn’t just at the level of ceteris-paribus theory. There is that, and it’s important, but on this one, I can speak from the shop floor. I was working at a pizza joint in Michigan when the governor pushed a minimum wage bill through the state legislature, hiking the state price floor on labor to $6.95 per hour — with a tiered plan that raised it again to $7.15 per hour last July, and will raise it to $7.45 per hour this year. I was an inside cook at the time, and most of us already made above minimum wage, except for a couple of high schoolers.

In our shop, the main issue was the drivers. They got the minimum hourly wage for non-tipped employees on their paycheck (mainly so that the corporate office could invoke some plausible deniability on not reporting and paying FICA tax on their tips). When the increase went through, one of the immediate results was that corporate sent their know-nothing goons down from the office to start chewing out our GM over the hours for our regular late-night driver, who worked about 20 hours of overtime every week, because it’s hard to find other drivers who are willing to regularly work a 5:00pm-4:00am shift.

The other immediate result is that corporate forced our store to institute a $1.00 delivery fee — and to change the compensation structure for drivers. Drivers used to get $1.00 per run plus a commission based on the size (in dollars) of the order; after the change-over, they got a higher hourly wage and a flat commission of $0.75 per run, no matter what the size of the order. The result was that if you took more than four deliveries in an hour — or if you took just about any large-order deliveries — then you actually made less money that hour than you would have before Jennifer Granholm gave us all her government-mandated raise.

The delivery fee might make it look like a significant part of the cost of the minimum wage hike was being shifted onto customers, rather than onto workers. But (1) most of it was taken out on workers; the change in compensation for runs reduced pay to drivers, especially lunchtime drivers, by far more than the price increase increased store revenue. And (2) the fact is that customers usually just deducted the cost of the delivery fee from they would normally give as a tip to the driver. I know from questions that a few of them asked me after the delivery fee was instituted that a lot of them were under the mistaken impression that the delivery fee went to the driver. Thus the total costs to the customer didn’t budge; they just got re-allocated so that more would go to the boss instead of to the driver.

So at our store, at least, we could thank Jennifer Granholm’s raise for imposed hours-reductions, reduced tips, and providing management with the pretext for a really massive screwjob on effective pay for those who were working at the minimum hourly wage.

In other shops, there aren’t always the same opportunities for chiseling workers on non-hourly pay in the way drivers at our shop got chiseled. But in a broader sense, I don’t think our shop’s experience was atypical. Any retail or food service company, even if all pay comes from fixed hourly wages, can use hours reductions, halting new hires, and death-march speed-ups for those still on the crew. And that they will do that sort of thing, rather than adding cents onto meal specials that already focus on 99-cent deals and nickel-and-dime savings, seems like a perfectly predictable pattern that a lot of bosses in the low-wage service sector are going to follow, as long as there’s a lot more of us looking for hours than there are of them dangling the hours in front of us.

Of course, that last bit there is the root cause of the problem — government-imposed distortions of the markets in labor, capital, land, and ideas (inter alia) artificially constrain opportunities for people to make a living for themselves, distorting the labor market to keep disproportionate power in the hands of a small and privileged class of rentiers. Without those market distortions, a law against paying workers $4 an hour would matter about as much as a law against selling pork-chops in Mecca — objectionable on principle, but mainly negligible as a strategic matter, due to a dearth of identifiable victims. But as long as those coercive distortions are substantially in place, we do have to keep in mind how bosses will predictably react to additional coercive counter-distortions that are piled on top to correct for the predictable effects of the first distortion, without actually changing anything about the root causes. And with the predictable patterns of reaction in mind, and their current position of power within the labor market, I don’t think we have to turn into a bunch of vulgar Friedmaniacs or Misoids to agree with them that the effects of keeping, or worse, raising legally-enforced price floors on labor are going to be generally quite destructive, and most destructive to those who need most badly to find a place to sell their labor.

Now, when it comes to workers in my position, who were already working at above minimum wage, I agree that they might well see some wage increases from a minimum wage increase, by way of pegging and ripple effects. I never did, but maybe others might. There are some cases in which minimum wage increases might benefit relatively more privileged workers, but it’s the marginal workers — the ones who are working right at, or right above, or would be willing to work below the current minimum wage — who I’m most concerned about, because they are the ones whose backs it’s taken out on. Usually not in the form of firing existing workers — which is highly visible and has a significant marginal cost for the boss — but very often in the form of hours reductions and by simply not making new hires — which call much less attention to themselves and have much lower marginal costs, but can effect just as much in the way of ratcheting down labor costs.

I have lots of other strategic priorities that are higher on my list than the minimum wage. It’s enough work for me trying to take on war, government policing, international apartheid, the American Stasi, government schooling, institutional psychiatry, violence against women, gay-bashing, trans-bashing, government regimentation of healthcare, land-grabbing and privateering, government-enforced licensure cartels, the IRS, and the Wagner-Taft-Hartley framework, and trying to sell all of this to Leftists who mostly get only about half of it and libertarians who mostly get only the other half, without adding yet another windmill-charge at the pet notions of ACORN types and the corporate liberal consensus! But I do think that there’s a big asymmetry between government relief projects like TANF or food stamps, on the one hand, and the minimum wage and other coercively protective labor legislation, on the other.

I agree with Kevin more or less completely on the former. But the point I’m trying to stress is that, in spite of fact that the anti-minimum-wage argument has mainly been promulgated with a vulgar libertarian tone, the thing for left libertarians to do in response is not to kick it back down to the bottom of the priorities ladder, but rather to take it up themselves and re-conceptualize the debate — to treat minimum wage laws and the rest of coercively protective labor legislation as of a piece with government licensure cartels, zoning laws, the health and building codes favored by the Public Interest and Private Property Values racket, etc., as an integral part of the corporate liberal system of coercive power, which coercively ratchet up poor folks’ fixed costs of living while coercively ratcheting down their opportunities to scratch up a living.

Lazy Linking of the Libertarian Left

  • If you’ve decided that you’re not interested in helping limited-governmentalists make the trains run on time, one of the first replies you are always going to get from minarchists and minarcho-enablers is some snide remarks about how you must advocate doing nothing out of a prissy or sanctimonious concern for ideological purity. Of course, this reply is usually plain nonsense, since it depends on the completely unargued, and in fact easily refuted, principle that the only alternatives on the table are (1) partisan politicking in government elections, or else (2) doing nothing. Of course these are not the two options, and the only reasons that you would act as if they are is (a) if you are wearing the conceptual blinders of statist political analysis, or else (b) you don’t have a clear or concrete enough conception of what someone might put down for option (3). I tried to make my point clear about problem (a) in my follow-up post; but for a more straightforward approach to the problem, see also this great post tackling problem (b) from Francois Tremblay at Check Your Premises (2008-01-22): Eight ways you can personally help to smash the State: One of the problems with Anarchism is that, unlike other political ideologies which rely on the system, the courses of actions one can take are not obvious. People who are convinced by the arguments are discouraged by the notion that there’s nothing I can do, and new Anarchists, not seeing any way out, turn to political means as the only solution. … So what can we do to resist? Not as a movement, but personally? There are a number of things that a single individual can do that brings concrete, if small, change. Read the whole thing, and note especially numbers 5–8.

  • Thomas Knapp, a market anarchist and sometime Libertarian Party activist, who has used the freedom train metaphor often in the past (and who I quoted in Take the A-Train), has a lot of thoughtful remarks in reply to my criticism, in KN@PPSTER (2008-02-01): Train kept a-rollin’, part 1 of ???. There’s some good points here, both by way of objection and by way of agreement, which I should have linked some time ago, and which provide a lot of great discussion-fodder and deserve a reply when my brain is a bit less fried than it is right now. I’m not especially convinced by some of Knapp’s rejoinders — e.g. I think that the claim that it’s easier to get from Anarchotopia once the train has already pulled in at Minarchistan is refuted by, or at least faces an as-yet unanswered challenge from, precisely the points that I raised in my follow-up post. But while I unfry my brain enough to talk at more length, you should definitely read the whole thing.

  • Mutualists and counter-economists alike may find something of interest in Michel Bauwens’s mention of the unMoney Convergence - a conference on money, liberation and systems change, to be held in Seattle April 14–16. The convergence will discuss the emergence of alternatives to government money (community currencies, Internet currencies, open currencies, etc.); the development of open, peer-to-peer infrastructures for gifting, sharing, and exchange; and efforts to move to open money systems over the next ten years. (The convergence will no doubt include plenty of crankery and rubbish along with plenty of genuinely good discussion and perhaps even mildly thrilling developments. But that’s par for the course. Again, more stuff that I’d be interested to talk about and hash out — e.g. the tensions between genuine mutual money and community exchanges, and progressive Monopoly-money deliberately obstructing non-local use — once back in a post-brain-fried state.) Anyway, read the whole thing and follow the links.

  • Finally, for a change of speed, we have the latest Radical Healthcare Reform proposal from New York Times humor columnist Paul Krugman (2008-02-04): Clinton, Obama, Insurance, in which it is revealed that the most significant policy difference between Hillary Rodham Clinton’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies and Barack Obama’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies is that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan would force everybody to buy health coverage from a big corporate insurer, whether it’s in their financial best interest or not; whereas Barack Obama’s plan, although forcing everyone to subsidize other people’s use of big corporate insurers through taxes, would at least give each individual person some choice over whether or not it’s in their own best interest to buy corporate health insurance for herself. Krugman then suggests that reveals a major defect in Obama’s plan and a major virtue of Clinton’s plan. Because, apparently, the purely statistical achievement of universal coverage is an obvious good, regardless of what that coverage amounts to or what the cost of achieving it is, whereas the notion that a bug-government-mandated captive market for big, bureaucratic insurance companies might not always be the best way for each and every one of 300,000,000 very different people with very different needs to get their healthcare costs covered, is an idea that could only be advanced by the dupes or hirelings of the same insurance firms that stand to massively profit from this subsidy program (!).

    This is, apparently, what passes for Leftist economics among the professional statist-blowhard class in America. Libertarian mutualists, i.e. the genuinely Leftist alternative to the corporate liberal managerialism and progressive statism fraudulently passed off as Leftism today, know that radical healthcare reform would mean something very different — the abolition of government obstacles in healthcare and the emergence of grassroots networks and institutions for mutual aid among the working class, not a massive effort by the policy elite to universalize and ossify the existing boss-and-bureaucrat model of third-party healthcare coverage.

Take the A-Train

Back in 1974, the newly-formed Libertarian Party adopted what’s now called the Dallas Accord. The Dallas Accord was intended to make the LP platform compatible with both minarchism and anarchism by keeping the LP officially silent on whether or not governments should exist, in the end; hence the platform focused mainly on what ought to be repealed, and where it suggested any positive action by some level of government, it qualified the plank with conditional phrases like Where governments exist, ….

I think that it was foolish for anarchists to sign on to the Dallas Accord. Partly because I’m a self-righteous ultra and I dislike that kind of calculated compromise in the name of political expediency. But also because of the very practical effect that it has had in constricting the range of subjects that market anarchists are willing to talk about or work on over the past three decades. Avoiding points of conflict between anarchists and minarchists means either studied silence or mumbling prevarication on issues that ought to be absolutely central for any anarchist worth her salt — among other things, the right of (state, local, neighborhood, individual) secession, the moral illegitimacy and practical futility of appeals to the Constitution, the arrogance and abusiveness of monopoly police forces, the illegitimacy of any and all forms of taxation, the fundamental problem with any form of government military or intelligence apparatus whatsoever, etc. Devoting your time and energy to a political organization whose messages are specifically adapted to be compatible with the minarchist program on these issues means frittering away a lot of energy fighting what goes on in the palace — while leaving untouched the pillars that hold the damned thing up. I would certainly agree that market anarchists should be willing to work together with coalition partners on particular issues of concern — the drug war, corporate welfare, the war on Iraq, etc. — whether those coalition partners are minarchists, or state Leftists, or whatever else. But who you’ll work with in issue-based coalitions is a different question from whose movement you’ll participate in, or what formations you’ll make the primary venue for your broader organizing and activism. I think it is long past time that we stop shelving our anarchism and indefinitely deferring our explicit anti-statism in order to fit in with limited statists in organizations like the Libertarian Party or Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution.

Libertarians who favor a more conciliatory approach often use the metaphor of sharing a train as it heads toward the end of the line. For example, here’s Mike Hihn, paraphrasing Steve Dasbach:

There are fundamental differences in what our members see as a proper role for government — original constitution, much less than that, or none at all. Yet, we manage to co-exist and work together. That is precisely why we shall prevail.

Steve Dasbach, National LP Chair, describes our party as a Freedom Train. We’re all on that train together, heading in the same direction. But we’re not all going as far. Some will get off the train earlier than others. Eventually, the anarchists will be riding alone.

That’s not just an analogy. It’s a strategy for eventual governing [sic!]. As we’ve expanded from a tiny band of idealistic anarchists and minarchists, we’ve been forced to refine and expand our original coalition. We succeeded, by becoming a minority in the party we had founded — as we’d intended. (Well, some of us.)

— Mike Hihn, Washington Libertarian (August 1997): The Dallas Accord, Minarchists, and why our members sign a Pledge

And here’s (market anarchist) Tom Knapp:

I am an anarchist. I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know that will find it surprising. I believe that, ultimately, government always does more damage than it does good; that that’s its nature. Eventually, I hope that we will arrive at the point where we can choose to shrug it off entirely.

I also recognize that we aren’t there yet; therefore, unlike some anarchists, I choose to involve myself in the political process. Limited government is conducive to minimal government; minimal government allows the question to be raised, in an environment where it can be considered seriously: do we really need this institution at all? I don’t expect that to happen within my lifetime, nor do I feel the need to pursue it as an immediate goal.

The Libertarian Party is a train that is going in my direction. I recognize that the bulk of the passengers will be disembarking at stations somewhere east of the one for which my ticket is stamped.

Some will get off the train when we’ve reached their notion of limited government. Others will keep their seats until we arrive at their conception of minimal government. At each stop, those disembarking will have the opportunity to urge their fellow passengers to join them. At each stop, those hanging on for the whole ride will have the opportunity to urge those getting off to buy another ticket and go a little farther down the track.

I will personally welcome anyone into the Libertarian Party who wants more freedom and less government. In return, I expect those among them who want more government and less freedom than I do, having purchased a ticket on the same train I did, to refrain from throwing me from that train.

My presence does not stop them from reaching their destination (indeed, it could be argued that my ticket purchase helped make it possible for the train to run at all). Their presence does not stop me from reaching mine.

All aboard.

— Tom Knapp, Rational Review (2003-01-01): Time for a new Dallas Accord?

This metaphor has bugged me for a long time. Let me try to say why.

The image of political factions hopping onto a train, and getting off at different stations, might work well enough if you’re talking about factions within a party all of whom agree on the legitimacy of an electoral process. Say, for example, you’re talking about Constitution fundamentalists and principled minarchists; people get on the smaller-government train because it’s headed towards the political outcome that they want, and if the train reaches a point beyond which they don’t want to go, they hop off and try to find another train (i.e., another political party) that will take them there.

O.K., fair enough. But does the same image work for the relationship between minarchists and anarchists? I don’t think it does. The basic problem is that when we imagine the minarchists getting off the train, we imagine that they are simply done with going where they want to go, and, while they prefer to stay at the minimal-government station, we will be free to go on past that station to the anarchy station. They’re off the train, and that’s the end of working with them. But it’s not quite that simple. Once you’ve reached minarchism, you’re at the end of the line, as far as a process of reform through electoral politics goes. Moving from minarchism to anarchism isn’t like moving from Constitutional originalism to radical minarchism. It’s not one more reform down the line of electoral politics; it’s a qualitative change that involves chucking out the whole structure of electoral politics in favor of something different, specifically secession and individual sovereignty. Once the minimal State has been reached, there is nothing left to reform by further work from within; the only options left are (1) to attack the remaining minimal State; (2) to try to ignore it and get yourself attacked by it; or (3) to capitulate to it and give up on anarchy entirely.

So if minarchists simply hop off the train and leave the anarchists in peace to go on towards the anarchy station, then they are no longer acting as minarchists. Once we’re down to the minimal State and the anarchists start trying to withdraw and set up their own competing defense associations (or withdrawing in favor of individual self-defense, or whatever), the minarchists have only two choices. They can allow it to happen. But then what you have is government where any subject can choose to refuse or withdraw her allegiance at any time, and give it to a different government, or to no government at all. But that wouldn’t be a minimal government, or any kind of government at all; it would just be one voluntary association amongst many in a state of anarchy. Or they can try to forcibly suppress anarchists’ efforts to withdraw from the minimal State, and to move from limited government to no government. If the minarchists really mean it, then in the end they are going to be turning their limited-government cops and limited-government military on us, just as surely as any Bushista or Progressive.

So the appropriate image for anarchist-minarchist compromise really isn’t a train ride where minarchists hop off at the next-to-last station, and let the anarchists ride on towards the anarchy station. Statist politics don’t work like that. Rather, what will happen on this ride is that once the train pulls into the minarchy station, the minarchists will get off the train — and then they will try to block the tracks and threaten to open fire on the rest of us if we try to take the train any further towards the end of the line. That’s what being a minarchist means: government always comes out of the barrel of a gun, and that’s true whether the government is unlimited or limited, maximal or minimal. If you try to move, in any concrete way, from minarchy towards anarchy, those minarchists you spent so many years working with are still going to try to shoot you.

Personally, I have no desire to join any movement whose members will turn around and shoot me in the end. I am a market anarchist, and as I see it, as market anarchists, our primary allies shouldn’t be minarchists. They should be other anarchists, and it would be wise to make it so that that’s reflected in the organizations and causes that we spend our time and energy on.