THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 588, September 19, 2010
"They want our lives to be as miserable as theirs,
and they will stop at nothing to have their way."
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
This year at the Illinois state convention (on information and belief) founder of the Libertarian Party, candidate for the United States Senate from Arizona, and mensch David Nolan spoke at some length about his expectations for the future. He started with a question: what do an egg, a city like Chicago, and a spiral galaxy have in common? All three have a large central mass.
He then quoted from a book by William Irwin Thompson which he brought with him in much thumbed paperback. As I recall the book was Darkness and Scattered Light from 1978. In it Thompson points out that in ancient Egypt the illiterate were all out in the boondocks, whereas the elite with mathematics and writing and knowledge were concentrated in the centre, around the temple. (I have, in the past, noted that the surveyors of the Temple of the Pyramid cheated every land owner by marking their properties as 10% larger in east-west and 10% larger in north-south dimensions so they could collect 21% more taxes. The British survey of Egypt established this fact.)
I enjoyed David's speech. I do not agree with this idea that the periphery is all hicks and the centre is all clever. The notion that writing and information had to be centralised in order to obtain essential understanding, and therefore make intelligent choices, was certainly characteristic of Egypt. It is also clearly not characteristic of contemporary civilisation. Writing is widespreadthis can only be a blessing for humanity. Information is widespread, replicated endlessly, and available instantaneouslyagain a blessing.
What flows from the provinces into the cities is food, water, and power. But there is no evidence that centralisation of these things has been a blessing. It certainly has been useful to those who created monopoly on the city water utility, and a monopoly on electricity. Regulatory capture, of course, has meant that there is no limit to how much these fiends steal. If there were benefits from economies of scale, these benefits have been eaten by the bureau-rats and politicians.
The model of the Internet is robust. It is not merely a tool, but an analogy. Open source encryption and open source software and open source operating systems are built on the same distributed, decentralised model. The rest of civilisation is following suit.
We are watching the disintegration of an ineffective model? As L. Neil Smith has pointed out, the problem with mass transit is not that people don't like to use it, but that those in power refuse to let it go away. Centralisation does not work. Specialisation is a useful technique, but it is not the only technique. And when the benefits from division of labour and specialisation are consumed, entirely (and then some) by a bureaucracy and a ruling class, then who actually benefits from centralisation? Not the average person. Not the guy at the face of the mine doing the actual work.
Nor is it at all clear that centralisation is the only working model. There are lots of ways to structure things. Having all judgement in the centre of the city in a courthouse with a standing army of police to go out and find people doing things "wrong" and a coterie of legislators to declare new things "wrong" so they can be used to generate revenue is evidently not effective at producing justice. It feeds a huge prison industrial complex, but that only benefits a few parasites.
An alternative is an ad hoc system of justice, where anyone may be chosen by anyone else (victim or accused criminal or negligent party) to judge a case. The victim and the accused each choose a judge. If the two judges cannot reach a verdict, they choose a third. If the parties to the case cannot agree with the verdict they can appeal to a larger panel of the community. But when the case is settled, the court ceases to exist. And the judges go back to making an honest living instead of feeding off the people.
A centralisation model for community defence involves a standing army. But it is not the only model. There is also the concept of a militia, the people generally with their arms and ammunition. Since getting rid of the dictator in 1991, Somalis have raised their militias on many occasions to thwart foreign occupation of their country. Over two dozen efforts to impose a central state on Somalia have failed.
So you have to ask whether centralisation is a dream for everyone, or only for certain parasites. Is it a model that can sustain a technological civilisation? Possibly. There is certainly evidence that centralisation, with its attendant bureaucracy, hidebound rule enforcement, oligarchy, and economies of scale has been with us for many years. It is not clear that a system of distributed power production is unworkable, nor that distributed information is less trustworthy, nor that homeschooling and unschooling are inferior to central propaganda mills, nor that we are blessed by standing courts, nor standing armies.
The implication is that we have a choice between centralisation and decentralisation. And I think that's also a mistaken idea. We have centralisation, and we are not really given a choice about it. It is forced upon us by bureau-rats and politicians and law enforcers. Then we have hundreds of millions of choices for decentralisation, for growing our own food, for bartering for other things, for free market money which can be anything of value that persons choose to use as a medium of exchange or store of value, for generating our own power, for building self-extending wireless networks, for trade and commerce amongst free people.
If the system of centralisation were an effective choice, those in power would not need to use coercion to mandate its adoption. Because they use coercion to enforce the limited choices of regulated markets, it is clear to me that centralisation is a suboptimal choice. It was also clear to writers like Hayek and von Mises who noted that central planning fails, utterly, at finding market clearing prices. And because it has no effective pricing mechanism, it necessarily becomes tyranny.
We have many choices. Amongst the best of these, I believe, is withdrawing your consent to be governed and withdrawing any support you give to government, at all, ever, in any way.
Which is why I invite you to consider not voting this November. But if you must vote, don't throw away your vote by voting for some scum bag Republican or Democrat who does not represent your interests. Vote for principle, for someone like David Nolan, as a protest for the egregious corruption, mass murder, and coercion implicit in the legislative history of John McCain.