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Posts tagged Libertarian Party

Ladies and gentlemen, the Libertarian Party candidate for the President of the United States of America

Here are some samples excerpted from David Weigel’s interview with Bob Barr in the most recent issue of reason.

reason: Some of what you’re talking about, though, you supported in Congress. You voted for the Iraq war.

Bob Barr: The Iraq war was presented as something that was based on sound intelligence: a clear and present danger, an immediate threat targeting the United States by the Saddam Hussein regime. We now know [sic] that the intelligence was not there to support those arguments. Many of us, including myself, gave the administration the benefit of the doubt, presumed that this would be an operation that was well founded, well thought-out, well strategized, when in fact it wasn’t. There was no clear strategy, and we’ve paid a very, very heavy price for that.

. . .

reason: What about the PATRIOT Act?

Bob Barr: This was presented to us immediately after 9/11. I took what might be called sort of a leadership role in Congress in marshaling a lot of different groups in opposition both to the PATRIOT Act generally and to specific onerous provisions in it. Several factors caused me to sort of go against my gut reaction and vote for the PATRIOT Act.

The administration did in fact work with us and agree to several pre-vote changes to the PATRIOT Act that did mitigate some of the more problematic provisions in it. The administration also, from the attorney general on down, gave us personal assurances that the provisions in the PATRIOT Act, if they were passed and signed into law, would be used judiciously, hat they would not be used to push the envelope of executive power, that they would not be used in non-terrorism-related cases. They gave us assurances that they would work with us on those provisions that we were able to get sunsetted, work with us to modify those and to look at those very carefully when those provisions came up for reauthorization. The administration also gave us absolute assurances that it would work openly and thoroughly report to the Congress, and by extrapolation to the American people [sic!], on how it was using the provisions in the PATRIOT Act. In everyone of those areas, the administration has gone back on what it told us.

— Bob Barr Talks, interview with David Weigel in reason (November 2008), p. 29.

In other words, Bob Barr is either an incredible sucker or a willfully ignorant fool, who supported two of the most infamous acts of a miserable and disastrous Presidency, because he spent years blindly trusting in absurd claims and ridiculous promises made by salivating Republicans in the executing branch of the government, which most people outside of the government, including almost all libertarians, already knew to be lies. He trusted in administration flunkies’ assurances over the warnings of civil libertarians, even though the assurances were empty gestures that would not hold back power grabs even for a second as soon as anyone in the DOJ or DOD or DHS decided that a power-grab is what they wanted. And he trusted in the government spooks’ and government flunkies’ claims of intelligence even though these claims were obviously absurd, and widely exposed as such at the time by anti-war writers, because in spite of all that Bob Barr would rather give his colleagues, the government spooks and administration flunkies, the benefit of the doubt.

In other news, Movement of the Libertarian Left veteran and Southern California ALLy Wally Conger has recently posted an online edition of the MLL’s Issue Pamphlet #5, Our Enemy, the Party, originally published in 1980 and reissued by Sam Konkin in 1987.

See also:

Summit crashing of the Libertarian Left: bringing market anarchy to the Twin Cities RNC Welcoming Committee

A call to action from Soviet Onion on the a3-discuss listserv:

Hello everyone, my name is Soviet Onion. I’m a big proponent of Agorism, left-libertarianism and market anarchism, and a partisan to liberty in general. I’m also a concerned one. Radical libertarianism, as a social movement, still barely exists. Our present state of affairs seems to be one of isolation and atomization, even at the local level. Whatever activism does take place mostly piggybacks on whatever political reformism the Libertarian Party or assorted small government conservatives are involved in (seen by partyarchs as the alternative to doing nothing). We’ve seen this recently with the Ron Paul phenomenon.

You’ll have to excuse this young anarchist, but this all seems terribly inappropriate. For a libertarians, and libertarian anarchists especially, political success is less of matter of directing the state toward certain favored ends and more a matter of blocking it from wreaking more evil. Directly and immediately. The point is not to scribble libertarian amendments into the Constitution but to make un-libertarian laws unenforceable, to make civil society ungovernable. With that in mind, and to kick start some much needed organization, I propose that we converge on the coming Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The anarchist Welcoming Commitee has been organizing a series of actions for over two years. Their primary of objective is to halt the convention before it begins by blockading the major streets and bridges around the Xcel Energy Center, sealing it off before the delegates arrive. A detailed account of this strategy, and the reasons for selecting it, can be found here. Those concerned about the residents’ welfare should note that the Feds are shutting down the city anyway, so a blockade won’t cost merchants and residents any business or block any movement that hasn’t already been taken from them by the Republicans. The only people we’d be impeding are the delegates.

Summit hopping has it’s secondary benefits, as the social anarchists have noted over the years.
One of which is that it allows activists from distant locations to meet and devolop a geographic sense of each other. As a currently dispersed and highly atomized tendency, there’s nothing we need more. The Twin Cities will make an ideal focal point for that, do our part beside other members of the RNC Welcoming Commitee in disrupting the political class, to distribute and disseminate agorist ideas at the convergence spaces, and as an opportunity for members of our currently far-flung milieu to meet and communicate face-face. Even if the proposed blockade fails, going there together would be a boon to ourselves.

Eight months ago, this call was placed on the LeftLibertarian2 listserve by William Gillis, exhorting us to join the opposition:

Hey folks, my name’s Will and I’m a big fan of Agorism, the Libertarian Left and Market Anarchism in general. I’m also founding member of the RNC Welcoming Committee (a broad, non-sectarian coalition of anarchists and anti-authoritarians in the Twin Cities working to give the Republican Party a Minnesota-nice welcome to our state).

For over a year now we’ve been working to facilitate a diversity of tactics by Anarchists in responding to and overshadowing the Republican National Convention being held next year in St. Paul. The convention is a big propaganda show and it’s important that anarchist voices are distinctly represented in the opposition. On the one hand whatever we do it’s a sure thing that anarchists from around the country will flock to the Twin Cities with the intent of pulling militant and dramatic direct action. On the other hand we have to live here and it’s not enough simply to disrupt the political class, we have to sustain long-term projects towards autonomy and self reliance in or communities. In part that means counter-economic organizing to create an infrastructure for the anarchist response, but it also means respecting every perspective and not trying to impose one set of solutions. We’re a diverse bunch of primitivists, insurrectionaries, individualists, class-war reds, cyberpunks and generally uncategorizable anti-authoritarians. (You can read our broad points of unity here <http://www.nornc.org/who-we-arepoints-of unity/> and be sure to check out the definition of capitalism.)

A recently formed national network called Unconventional Action has called for a specific strategy of Direct Action to block off the Convention on the fist day and ideally prevent any delegates from arriving. But regardless of whether we succeed in denying the Republicans access to our city (a city whose government has rolled over and coughed up millions of tax dollars and public property for this charade) it’s important that we eclipse the convention. The plan is to have plenty of events simultaneously and beyond direct resistance demonstrate to the world by example how a better world is possible. In doing both we’ll crash their little staged show!

Even if it’s Ron Paul at the podium instead of Giuliani, it’s vital that the political class is not afforded a moment or an iota of legitimacy.

Beyond direct action (whether it be conventionally non-violent & passive or involving the aggressive rejection of oligarchical property’s legitimacy) it’s important to use this opportunity to build our movement, both within and without. The Welcoming Committee has been doing serious work and the 08 RNC is gearing up to be a major event in activist history. That we Anarchists are the ones best prepared and most visible of everyone organizing for the RNC (while the various liberal and socialist groups are still floundering) speaks volumes.

While I can’t presume to personally speak for the Welcoming Committee, a Libertarian Left presence at the counter-convention would be fondly appreciated. Any support you’d like to individually or collectively (A3! ) contribute would be absolutely wonderful. Whether it’s just a statement, participation in the actions (agorist affinity groups?!), a separate project, setting up a symposium during the festivities, propping up a book cart in front of a convergence space, or lending some mutual aid and helping us build the infrastructure needed to feed, shelter (etc) the thousands upon thousands of anarchists descending on our fair cities. (Black Markets can also be Gift Economies… hint, hint)

When I was in Seattle in ’99 there was one loud guy shouting above the din of the crowd that the WTO was impeding Free Trade and globally raising cost-of-entry to the market, and that was it’s crime! That one crazy guy had something of an effect upon me. Imagine how great it would be if there was an entire bloc of them! ;)

This is our Call To Action: http://www.rncwelcomingcommittee.org/2007/09/30/crash-the-convention-2008-call-to-action/

Please take a look at it and consider participating however you feel comfortable. I guarantee you’ll have a friend in the committee.

-William Gillis

Transport and housing lists will available on the Welcoming Committe website, but won’t be fully fleshed out about until a month beforehand… sorry, that’s the best they can do. The good news is that for anyone under 25 and vaguely student-ish, Macalester SDS can provide literally unlimited space (bring a sleeping bag and maybe a tent, whatever you need to be comfortable). Registration is ongoing at http://minnesotasds.org/.

Those who are interested are invited to head over to this thread on the newly formed LeftLibertarian forums, where we’ll discuss the tactics, group organization and ideal placement within the greater range of activities. Even if you’re unable to come, you’re still welcome to drop by and help us plan.

Give it some thought. If you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass the message along to them. I’ll also be posting this message on some of the more public market anarchist venues.

I look forward to hearing from you all.

Soviet Onion

Update 2008-05-28: Soviet Onion adds some more notes on the action and some important links in comments below.

Goodbye’s too good a word, babe

In light of the late unpleasantness in Denver, the pair of ridiculous small-government conservative tools nominated, and the Party bosses running the convention, who saw fit to so transparently stage-manage the process of choosing a contemptible conservative drug prohibitionist and a contemptible conservative warhawk as their party’s mouthpieces, I think that congratulations and thanks are due to Aster for pointing out the perfect reply–and all that really needs to be said, at this point.

Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe,
If’n you don’t know by now.
And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe;
It’ll never do somehow.

When your rooster crows at the break of dawn,
Look out your window and I’ll be gone.
You’re the reason I’ll be travelin’ on;
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

. . .

So long, honey babe;
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell.
Goodbye’s too good a word, babe;
So I’ll just say fare-thee-well.

I ain’t a-sayin’ you treated me unkind;
You could’a done better, but I don’t mind.
You just kind of wasted my precious time;
But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

See also:

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.

In which I fail to be reassured

The other day, I posted some remarks on why the Freedom Train metaphor bugs me, and why I think that market anarchists should generally think about aligning themselves with, you know, anarchist organizations, rather than minarchist efforts like the Libertarian Party and Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. Brian Doherty kindly took notice of my post over at Hit and Run. Like most posts at Hit and Run, it provoked a lot of comments, mostly from the usual suspects, and mostly not going much of anywhere productive. (Several minarchist commenters apparently didn’t bother to read the post, as they would rather spend their time rehashing the minarchist-anarchist debate from the get-go. Did you know that anarchy might work on the small scale, but will never work in a big, industrialized society? Or that anarchy will never work in practice because people will have to recreate the State to keep the Mafia from running everything? Man, I never heard that stuff before. Sign me up for some of that limited government!)

However, there are a few that are worth some remark.

NoStar offers the following encouraging thought on anarchist-minarchist unity:

How about we both fight and defeat them before we then turn and fight each other.

Think of Mao’s communists and Chang Kai-Chek’s nationalists combining to fight the Japanese.

Once the common foe is gone, we can nitpick the details.

— NoStar, 25 January 2008, 8:35pm

Call me a nattering nabob of negativism, but somehow I fail to be entirely reassured by the thought of being Chiang Kai-shek to the minarchists’ Mao Zedong. Or, for that matter, vice versa.

Moderate or pragmatist limited government libertarian Nick has this to say:

The way to effect change is to build a coalition of people who are dedicated to the change you want to make and then work to convince the normal people in the middle. Ron Paul is a great example of getting a coalition together, altho his campaign could use some work in convincing moderates to his side.

— Nick, 26 January, 10:24am

Well then.

In the interest of diplomacy, I will just kindly suggest that if Ron Paul’s triumphant single-digit, third-to-fourth place primary campaign is your idea of a great example of getting a coalition together and making change through the power of numbers, I will be holding out for a better proposal.

Meanwhile, limited governmentalists are just full of suggestions for how anarchists can help the cause of anarchy by … not talking about anarchy, and spending their time and energy on building up limited-government organizations instead. Apparently wanting to work on promoting your own cause, rather than other causes with fundamentally different ideas about ultimate goals, is a sign of a self-destructive fetish for purity. Of course, the fact that this going-along-to-get-along in the name of political realism only seems to go in one direction — I don’t hear any minarchists talking about how they plan to swallow their love of small governments in order to sign up for going anarchist efforts, like, say, CopWatch — might lead one to be just a little suspicious of the motives behind the appeal. But, anyway.

Brandybuck, for example, is not an anarchist. But he’s sure that if he were an anarchist, he’d be perfectly happy to spend his time working on achieving minarchy rather than anarchy. He asks:

He is unwilling to compromise any of his political points. But such an unwavering demand for pure anarchy is going to net him only misery. Is this a man who would reject a 50% tax cut because it would leave the remaining 50% of taxes in place? I think it might be.

— Brandybuck, 25 January 25 2008, 9:38pm

Brandybuck’s got another think coming.

I would quite happily take a 50% tax cut, if I could get it; and I would consider a 50% reduction in Leviathan’s pirated wealth to be a massive step in the right direction. I would much rather that the whole thing were done away with, but in the meantime, I will take what I can get.

But what I would not do is waste my time trying to build up a think tank or political party that are devoted to the goal of cutting taxes by 50% and no further. That’s hardly the only way in the world to make concrete progress towards cutting taxes by 50%, and if you think that it is, you need to think harder about how social change, or even basic negotiations, actually work in the real world. (As for negotiations, if you start out asking for what you actually want, rather than what you think you can get, you’ll often end up getting less than you wanted in the end. But you’ll do a damn sight better than if you start out asking for what you think you can get, and then bargain down from there. As for social change, there are a hell of a lot more movements that have made substantial social changes than there are political parties or party caucuses. If you think that the only way to get things done is to jump into a political party, then your lack of creativity is a problem for you, not a problem for me.)

Brandybuck is also incensed that I would claim that limited government libertarians actually do believe in government:

Personally, I have no desire to join any movement whose members [minarchists] will turn around and shoot me in the end.

This is a vile mischaracterization of minarchists. Minarchists are not statists. They are anti-statists. What makes them different from anarchists is the pragmatic realization that anarchy is not viable. If a state is inevitable, then let’s see to it that it will be as small and as unobtrusive as possible.

— Brandybuck, 25 January 25 2008, 9:38pm

This is, to be blunt, complete nonsense. If minarchists believe in limited government, then they believe in the right to make anarchistic arrangements not viable by prohibiting at least some individual people from seceding or otherwise withdraw their allegiance from the minimal state in favor of competing defense associations, or in favor of individual self-defense. If Brandybuck believes that I have the right to tell his limited government to go to limited hell, and to withdraw entirely from it to make my own arrangements, then his imagined minimal state is really not a sovereign state at all, but rather one voluntary defense association amongst many, and Brandybuck is no minarchist, but rather an anarchist. (In which case, welcome, comrade!) But if he does believe that a limited government has some right to make me use or pay for its services, even if I would prefer to withdraw from it and make arrangements of my own, then, like any other government program, this one is going to take the use of force or the threat of force by limited government cops. In which case my characterization of the minarchist political platform as including a plank on shooting anarchists, whether vile or not, is an accurate one. There is no third option. (Of course, minarchists accept a right of free speech, meaning that they will not shoot anarchists who just talk about anarchy. But in order to maintain a minimal state, they have to be ready to shoot anarchists who actually attempt to do something about it. And I care about the latter at least as much, if not more, than I care about the former.)

A bunch of people seem to have misinterpreted my argument as an argument for not doing anything, or for anarchists never to work together with minarchists on issues of common concern. Thus, for example:

Great. The metaphor’s nonsensical. Let’s stop working together against the great breadth of government power.

— Vent, 25 January 2008 7:43pm

Of course, if I had made an argument to the effect that working together with limited statists was always and everywhere destructive to the cause of freedom, then replying to the argument this way would be about as sensible as saying Great. Let’s stop trying to put out this fire by pouring gasoline on it. Well, yeah, that’s what you should do. If working together requires you to make trade-offs that actively impede the goals you’re supposedly working for, then you should stop trying to work together. The primary goal of libertarianism ought to be freedom, not maximizing the number of self-identified libertarians working together. The two are not the same, and if latter interferes with the former, then the former is always more important.

That said, that’s not the argument that I made. I’m not proposing that anarchists sit around and do nothing; I am proposing that they choose different means in order to get things done. Nor am I proposing that anarchists never work together with minarchists on anything. I’m willing to work with all kinds of people. I am proposing that we reconsider the scope of the cooperation, and the terms on which we do the work. As I said in the original post:

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.

Here, as elsewhere, I’d argue that there’s a lot to be said for making things with small pieces loosely joined. There are plenty of times when it makes sense for anarchists to work together with statists of various stripes, as part of a common front for a common cause. But when we do, I’d suggest that the cooperation should be limited to fighting to win on the issue at hand — not spending years building up multi-purpose, long-term institutions or political parties whose goals have nothing in particular to do with anarchism. And I’d suggest that when we work in coalition, we do so through organizations of our own, on our own terms, and speaking for ourselves, not through centralized, non-anarchist smaller-government organizations that require us to spend our time talking about everything but, y’know, anarchy, in order to participate.

Probably the most common critical reply, though, is a claim that anarchists should work to build up minarchist parties because (1) in the current political climate, the practical differences between anarchistic and minarchistic politics are triflingly small (minarchists want to get rid of about 99% of existing government; anarchists want to get rid of the remaining 1% too); (2) where there are differences in ultimate goals, in the current political climate, the stuff that only the anarchists want to get rid of can’t realistically be gotten rid of, whereas some of the stuff that both anarchists and minarchists want to get rid of can realistically be gotten rid of (the war on drugs, or marginal tax rates, or whatever); and (3) once we have gotten rid of the 99% of stuff that anarchists and minarchists agree on, whenever that happens, then getting rid of that last 1% will be much easier for anarchists to pull off than it would be to get rid of that stuff now.

Thus Zeph, in comments here:

A minarchist system would have minimal ability to block the tracks, even if it had an interest in so doing.

Sisyphus old lad, would you rather push a pebble or a planet up a hill?

And Brandybuck, who, while a minarchist, is ever helpful to inquisitive anarchists:

I also suspect that it would be much easier to achieve true anarchy if you start from a minarchist state than from an maxarchist state.

On the train anarchist kerem tibuk:

Besides when the time comes when a minarchist government agresses against an individual it is much easier for that individual to fight back since the state would be much less powerless and the individual much more powerfull.


Ummm, when we get to a government that is about 1% the size it is now, this will become a relevant question. Not exactly holding my breath over that happening. Until we effing reverse the growth of government, the 0%ers and the 0.01%ers and the 1%ers and the 50%ers and even the 99%ers should all be pretty solid allies.

But accepting this argument would depend on my accepting a number of premises whose evidence is weak at best, or which are definitely wrong.

I would, for example, have to accept that a smaller, more limited government would have a harder time suppressing anarchistic activity than a larger, less limited government would. It might seem like this is obvious: bigger governments have more money, more hired thugs, more surveillance spooks, and more tyrannical laws that they can exercise in order to suppress anarchists than smaller governments do. But, on the other hand, bigger governments also have much more to do than smaller governments do. Under the present system, government cops fritter away time, attention, and energy trying to enforce all kinds of asinine laws. Under a minarchy, the government police forces would still exist, but they would have basically nothing to do with their time other than (1) dealing with small-time property crime, and (2) suppressing anarchistic activity. I think there’s very little guarantee that it would be easier to establish and sustain institutions that counter certain kinds of state power when the state is lean and mean, than there is now when it’s large, bloated, and corrupt.

In a similar vein, I would have to accept that the most likely way to significantly reduce the scope and power of government is to spend the next several decades working from within the state system in order to prune away this or that invasive policy — drug laws, abortion laws, immigration laws, the war in Iraq, especially stupid provisions of copyright law, egregiously high taxes, the most outrageous parts of immigration law, or whatever — and then only to go after the supporting pillars of state power — government policing and prisons, government courts, government military, government border control, the existence of even minimal taxation, etc. — once all the policy issues have been cleared out of the way. That may seem obvious, but actually it’s a substantial claim in need of defense, and I have not yet been given any reason to believe that this is true.

Of course, it’s true that if you have already committed yourself to making change through the vehicle of electoral politics, then partial reform on the particular policy issues is going to be much closer to being within your grasp than, say, abolishing government policing in favor of voluntary defense associations. But that’s only if you’ve committed yourself to electoral politics already; it certainly can’t be invoked as an argument for jumping into the Libertarian Party without assuming part of what it needs to prove. In point of fact, if options other than electoral politics are allowed onto the table, then it might very well be the case that exactly the opposite course would be more effective: if you can establish effective means for individual people, or better yet large groups of people, to evade or bypass government enforcement and government taxation, then that might very well provide a much more effective route to getting rid of particular bad policies than getting rid of particular bad policies provides to getting rid of the government enforcement and government taxation.

To take one example, consider immigration. If the government has a tyrannical immigration law in place (and, just to be clear, when I say tyrannical, I mean any immigration law at all), then there are two ways you could go about trying to get rid the tyranny. You could start with the worst aspects of the law, build a coalition, do the usual stuff, get the worst aspects removed or perhaps ameliorated, fight off the backlash, then, a couple election cycles later, start talking about the almost-as-bad aspects of the law, build another coalition, fight some more, and so on, and so forth, progressively whittling the provisions of the immigration law down until finally you have whittled it down to nothing, or as close to nothing as you might realistically hope for. Then, if you have gotten it down to nothing, you can now turn around and say, Well, since we have basically no restrictions on immigration any more, why keep paying for a border control or internal immigration cops? Let’s go ahead and get rid of that stuff. And then you’re done.

The other way is the reverse strategy: to get rid of the tyranny by first aiming at the enforcement, rather than aiming at the law, by making the border control and internal immigration cops as irrelevant as you can make them. What you would do, then, is to work on building up more or less loose networks of black-market and grey-market operators, who can help illegal immigrants get into the country without being caught out by the Border Guard, who provide safe houses for them to stay on during their journey, who can help them get the papers that they need to skirt surveillance by La Migra, who can hook them up with work and places to live under the table, etc. etc. etc. To the extent that you can succeed in doing this, you’ve made immigration enforcement irrelevant. And without effective immigration enforcement, the state can bluster on as much as it wants about the Evil Alien Invasion; as a matter of real-world policy, the immigration law will become a dead letter.

When anarchists participate in compromise efforts, such as the LP or the Ron Paul campaign, those efforts pretty much always only allow one of these two routes: the policy-reform-first route. They don’t allow for the evasion-first route because to set up and sustain the kind of resources that are necessary to enable evasion and resistance of government laws, you’re already trying to take the train to a station where the minarchist passengers don’t want to go: that is, you’re creating counter-institutions that are directly competing with, and attempting to undermine, precisely those state functions (law enforcement, the courts, military and paramilitary defense of the state against its declared enemies) that minarchists intend to keep. But why should we prejudge the contest in favor of the minarchist-friendly route? After all, which of these is the better strategy for getting rid of immigration laws? Well, as far as effectiveness goes, I don’t actually think that that’s a very hard question to answer. Look at all the practical success that the immigration reform movement has had in liberalizing immigration laws over the past thirty years or so. Here, I’ll make a list for your convenience:

Now, compare the success that illegal immigrants, state-side family members, coyotes, good samaritan ranchers, off-the-books employers, et al. have had in getting people across the border in defiance of immigration law, while avoiding or minimizing government interference:

Estimated number of illegal immigrants in the United States

Here's a graph showing 3,000,000 people in 1980; 3,300,000 in 1982; 4,000,000 in 1986; 2,500,000 in 1989; 3,900,000 in 1992; 5,000,000 in 1996; 8,400,000 in 2000; and 11,100,000 in 2005.

Source: Pew Hispanic Center, via CNN

From a practical standpoint, if I’m looking for a going concern, I’d say that the root-striking approach seems to be making a lot more concrete progress than the branch-pruning approach, at least on the specific issue of immigration.

Of course, there are concerns other than practical success. For example, many minarchists are likely to believe that there is a moral advantage to working from within the political system, and convincing those around you to change their votes, rather than consorting with criminals and making an end-run around the law. That’s reasonable enough, and may be a reason to stick to electoral reform — if you are a minarchist. But, of course, I’m not: I’m an anarchist; I think that government laws have no color of authority whatsoever; and I don’t think that people who evade or defy immigration laws are criminals in any sense worth caring about. And my earlier post was directed mainly towards other anarchists on a point of anarchist strategy; so if your counter-argument starts out by presupposing a certain level of respect for government law, then it’s going to be a non-starter as a response to my argument.

Setting moral concerns aside, there is a pragmatic concern that strategies that bypass legal reform in order to evade the law are more risky. Electoral reform campaigns may not get the results as quickly or as extensively as black markets do, but they’re also less likely to get you shot or thrown in jail by the government. That’s true enough. But, on the other hand, it’s easy to overestimate the risks of black market activities; the fact is that tens of millions of people get away with this stuff every day already, and the more talented and resourceful people turn their attention towards evading and resisting tyrannical laws rather than pouring their resources down the toilet of political reform campaigns, the more people will be able to get away with, and the more reliably they’ll be able to get away with it. Moreover, just as there is far more to political campaigning than just the act of voting or declaring a candidacy or lobbying or filing suit — there’s also fundraising, crafting and running ads, house parties, holding debates, canvassing, op-eds, buttons, bumperstickers, and the rest — there is also much more to an evasion strategy than direct participation in black market activities. There is also moral agitation and advertising aimed at convincing people of the legitimacy, or at least the unimportance, of so-called criminal activity, with the usual set of op-eds, buttons, bumperstickers, debates, etc.; there’s legal education and legal defense funds; there’s nonviolent civil disobedience; there are grey market activities that provide arguably or completely legal services that nevertheless help black market operators evade detection; and any number of other things, too. No doubt lots of us can’t or won’t take the risks involved in direct black market activity — because our circumstances or our temperament prevent us from taking it on — but if you can’t take on that much risk, you can still do plenty of things to concretely aid the broader strategy, without putting yourself in the path of the law.

Now, for all that I’ve said, it still may be the case that, for some other issues, the branch-pruning approach is more likely to be effective than the root-striking approach. But if you are an anarchist, then I think it would behoove you to think carefully about whether this really is the case, before you start putting your limited time and energy into a branch-pruning political campaign. Certainly there are plenty of examples I could cite other than illegal immigration. Compare the concrete progress of lobbying and litigation for liberalizing copyright law to the concrete progress of music and movie pirates in simply evading the enforcement of copyright law. Or compare the concrete progress of lobbyists at liberalizing drug laws to the concrete progress of drug smugglers and drug dealers at moving drugs to willing customers in spite of the laws against it. However many policy issues there may be that will be more easily addressed by the route of legal reform, rather than by the route of undermining the state’s capacity to detect and retaliate against law-breaking, I think there is every reason that they will be few enough, and far enough between, that it just doesn’t make practical sense for anarchists to spend their limited resources on open-ended, long-term commitments to building up smaller-government institutions. Not if the price is deferring talk about the illegimacy of the State as such, or about the right of people to evade its laws, or about the right of people to create counter-institutions to defend themselves against its law enforcement, in order to keep our outreach palatable to more or less limited statists. Anything that is worth getting through that kind of co-operation can be got through limited-scope, issue-driven coalitions. And we can do that kind of outreach and activism without signing onto intra-party Accords that sacrifice anarchist rhetoric or practical action in the name of taking one for the party.

Anarchism is about anarchy. The activism, agitation, and organizing that we do ought to reflect that. If it doesn’t, then you may very well be wasting your time and talents.

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