Summer Rerun: Journey Into a Libertarian Future: Part I –The Vision

Yves here. Your humble blogger is a bit wiped out, plus the news offerings of the later part of this week feel like the real world analogue to Hollywood: too many warmed over franchises, not enough fresh productions. I’m already tired of Kamala Harris, for instance, and even the impasse over the next stimulus package is feeling old. Mind you, that’s become even more serious since the Senate has adjourned till after Labor Day. For instance, the Federal eviction moratorium has expired, leaving any respite up to states and cities. So how about a change of programming in the form of a NC classic, like Andrew Dittmer’s series on the implications of libertarian thinking?

By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.

First published on November 29, 2011. Simulposted at The Distributist Review

Recently journalist Philip Pilkington has interviewed authors with unconventional perspectives on economic issues, including Satyajit Das and David Graeber. I thought it would be fun to interview someone too – but the man I interviewed uses a pseudonym. This is a six-part series.

ANDREW: Some people say that you represent a fringe view, and so interviewing you is a waste of time.

CODE NAME CAIN: If people obsessed with inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom underestimate libertarians, so much the better.

ANDREW: Can you give any evidence that your ideas are taken seriously?

CNC: Well, people used to think that the financial crisis was caused by antisocial behavior in the finance sector. In September 2007, Tom DiLorenzo pointed out on the Lew Rockwell website that the crisis was actually the result of the government forcing banks to make risky loans to low-income borrowers. Although initially ignored, DiLorenzo’s thesis is now widely accepted among careful observers.

ANDREW: Is that your only convincing example?

CNC: Hardly. Did you notice how over the last year or so, everyone started to talk about how the threat of new taxes and regulations was making producers uncertain? And when producers are uncertain, the economy fails to improve? Well, the fact that worries about taxes and regulations cause uncertainty and so damage the economy is a key insight of Austrian economics that we have proclaimed for decades.

ANDREW: Wait, I thought people said that Obama was causing the uncertainty.

CNC: Obama is causing the uncertainty now. Before Obama, George W. Bush was causing the uncertainty. In general, democratic government causes uncertainty. Hans-Hermann Hoppe made all of this clear in his 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”

ANDREW: Are there things you have learned from the work of Dr. Hoppe that you had not found in the writings of other libertarians?

CNC: “Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard were great men, but they lived in a time when supporters of freedom needed to be careful about what they said. As a result, libertarians often fail to describe their ideal future society in clear detail. But, as the Cato Institute’s Patri Friedman has recognized, Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an exception to this reticence. He is willing to speak the truth, no matter how much it makes “politically correct” people squirm, and he is so logical and eloquent that I routinely quote from his classic book on the failure of democracy. Please color such quotes in red – I would never try to pass off my own ideas as if they were on his level.

ANDREW: Tell us now about the libertarian society you are working to make possible.

CNC: It will be a free society – no government, no coercion. People will have their rights respected. Everyone will be free to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights… why are you looking at me like that?

ANDREW: I was kind of hoping for less speeches and more details.

CNC: What do you mean?

ANDREW: In our society, the government is the only organization allowed to kill people. In the libertarian society, which organizations will kill people?

CNC: There will be no government that is allowed to use force against people and kill them.

ANDREW: Some people will be very rich, right?

CNC: Of course. Some people will always be stronger and more brilliant than others.

ANDREW: Will the wealthy people still be worried about people stealing from them?

CNC: Obviously – all property… is necessarily valuable; hence, every property owner becomes a possible target of other men’s aggressive desires. [255]

ANDREW: So who will protect property owners?

CNC: Insurance companies in a competitive marketplace.

ANDREW: So in your society, insurance companies will be sort of like governments. Can we call them security GLOs (Government-Like Organizations)?

CNC: Sure, as long as we stress that the insurance companies, as security GLOs, will be very different from the statist, coercive governments we have today.

ANDREW: Will security GLOs be different from governments because they will be small family firms?

CNC: No. One reason that insurance companies will be well-suited for the role of security GLOs is that they are “big” and in command of the resources… necessary to accomplish the task of dealing with the dangers… of the real world. Indeed, insurers operate on a national or even international scale, and they own substantial property holdings dispersed over wide territories… [281]

ANDREW: Will security GLOs be different from governments because they don’t use physical force against criminals?

CNC: You gotta be kidding, right? … in cooperation with one another, insurers [will] want to expel known criminals not just from their immediate neighborhoods, but from civilization altogether, into the wilderness or open frontier of the Amazon jungle, the Sahara, or the polar regions. [262]

ANDREW: So the security GLOs will be allowed to kill people, if they are known criminals?

CNC: The security GLOs will not kill people, they will just expel them to the Sahara or polar regions. What happens then is up to the criminals.

ANDREW: Can we say that the security GLOs will effectively kill them?

CNC: I really don’t like that choice of wording. You make it sound like the security GLOs will be committing aggression against the criminals. That’s backwards – the criminal commits aggression, and security GLOs will just defend people. They won’t violate anyone’s rights.

ANDREW: Maybe you would prefer that we say: the security GLOs will effectively kill people in a rights-respecting manner.

CNC: Yeah, that’s better.

ANDREW: Will everybody be able to get insurance from the security GLOs?

CNC: Of course – in a market economy, shortages are impossible. Anyone can get anything by paying the market price.

ANDREW: What if the market price of insurance for some people is more money than they can pay?

CNC: Don’t worry, competition among insurers for paying clients will bring about a tendency toward a continuous fall in the price of protection… [281-282].

ANDREW: In the future everyone will pay less for security than they currently pay in taxes?

CNC: Well, certain government-induced distortions would be eliminated. Government taxes more in low crime and high property value areas than in high crime and low property value areas. [259] Security GLOs would do the exact opposite.

ANDREW: So in rough neighborhoods, most people might not be able to afford security insurance.

CNC: Possibly.

ANDREW: Suppose there are people who aren’t covered by any security GLO – would it effectively be legal to kill them?

CNC: They would definitely be rendered economically isolated, weak, and vulnerable outcast[s] [287].

ANDREW: Then people are effectively forced to join a security GLO?

CNC: Maybe you haven’t realized it yet, but this will be a free society. The relationship between the insurer and the insured is consensual. Both are free to cooperate and not to cooperate. [281] No one will force people to buy protection, and no one will force insurers to offer protection at a price they think is too low.

ANDREW: What are some other ways that you think this would be a good system?

CNC: Well, every property … can be shaped and transformed by its owner so as to increase its safety and reduce the likelihood of aggression. I may acquire a gun or safe-deposit box, for instance, or I may be able to shoot down an attacking plane from my backyard or own a laser gun that can kill an aggressor thousands of miles away. [256] In a free society, security GLOs would encourage the ownership of weapons among their insured by means of selective price cuts [264] because the better the private protection of their clients, the lower the insurer’s protection and indemnification costs will be [285].

ANDREW: Let’s see if I understand. In poor neighborhoods, most people will not be insured, and it will be legal to kill them. The people that are insured will be encouraged by the security GLO to carry weapons that are as technologically advanced as possible. It sounds to me like this would be bad for the poor neighborhoods.

CNC: On the contrary – in “bad” neighborhoods the interests of the insurer and insured would coincide. Insurers would not want to suppress the expulsionist inclinations among the insured toward known criminals. They would rationalize such tendencies by offering selective price cuts (contingent on specific clean-up operations). [262]

ANDREW: Suppose that security GLOs, or private groups that they sponsor, are looking for criminals. When the enforcers catch the criminals, will they always transport them to an uninhabited area, or will they sometimes put them in prison?

CNC: Prisons like the ones we have? With basketball courts and televisions for the criminals? How would that be fair?

ANDREW: Maybe other kinds of prisons?

CNC: Look, it’s not about putting people in prisons. It’s about people getting what they deserve. And in the libertarian society of the future, people will get what they deserve. Security GLOs can be counted upon to apprehend the offender, and bring him to justice, because in so doing the insurer can reduce his costs and force the criminal… to pay for the damages and cost of indemnification. [282]

ANDREW: So they’ll have to do forced labor for the security GLO?

CNC: How can you possibly think this could be worse than our current system? Where instead of compensating the victims of crimes it did not prevent, the government forces victims to pay again as taxpayers for the cost of the apprehension, imprisonment, rehabilitation and/or entertainment of their aggressors [259]?

ANDREW: Still, as a libertarian, aren’t you against coercion?

CNC: Coercion? Obviously you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Coercion is only when someone interferes with rights someone else actually holds. Criminals can forfeit their rights through their own choices. When that happens, requiring them to make restitution for their actions doesn’t violate their rights.

ANDREW: Will there be any other people in the free society who will be slaves?

CNC: Slaves?! Don’t you know that the first condition of a libertarian society is that everyone owns themselves?

ANDREW: Sorry, I meant to say: effectively slaves in a rights-respecting manner.

CNC: Oh. Hmmm. Let me think about that.

ANDREW: For example, suppose someone signs a business contract and then, later, can’t fulfill the terms of the contract. What would happen?

CNC: In a libertarian society, sanctity of contract is absolutely fundamental.

ANDREW: Let me be a little more specific. Suppose some guy can’t pay his debts. Would he be allowed to declare bankruptcy and move on, or would he become, in a rights-respecting manner, the effective slave of whoever had loaned him the money?

CNC: That would depend upon the debt contract that the lender and borrower had together voluntarily signed. If they had chosen to include a bankruptcy proviso, then the borrower could declare bankruptcy.

ANDREW: Suppose that in the libertarian society, lenders would rather encourage borrowers to focus on repayment – and so they decide not to give borrowers an easy way out. Suppose that no lenders offer loans with a bankruptcy proviso. Would that be okay?

CNC: Economic theory tells us that loans without a bankruptcy proviso will be made at lower interest rates than loans allowing borrowers to go bankrupt. So if no loans contain a bankruptcy proviso, it will just mean that borrowers prefer low-interest no-bankruptcy loans.

ANDREW: I see some problems here.

CNC: Look, it sounds from your question like you think that the lenders should be coerced into allowing borrowers to be irresponsible and go bankrupt! That would effectively make them loan their hard-earned money in ways that they don’t want. How is that any different than forcing them to work at hard labor?

ANDREW: Obviously it would be better to have defaulting borrowers be effectively enslaved in a way that fully respects their natural rights.

CNC: Obviously. Now that we’ve cleared that up, can you turn off the tape recorder? I want to get started on my steak.

Now that Code Name Cain has indicated the promise of a libertarian society, in the next part of the interview he will give a step-by-step plan for how we can make this society a reality.

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37 comments

  1. BillS

    I couldn’t help but think about how the Libertarian “state” (GLO) is really a Mafia protection racket. If you pay, we don’t burn your shop down. If you don’t pay, you are exposed to anyone who might burn it down. Also, any mafioso worth his salt knows that “killing in a rights-respecting manner” just means that the Boss has sanctioned it.

    Reply
    1. jr

      Yeah, what planet do libertarians live on? How is it freeing to be at the mercy of a powerful neighbor? Do you think your powerful neighbor in Liberty Land is just going to sit contentedly and count his or her coin? Are these GLO’s going to say at some point “Hey, we have too much power and wealth, lets take it easy, tone it down. Enough is enough.”

      No, they are going to steal yours and keep on stealing. Power and wealth is premised on theft; by gun or by pen the rich want to rob and kill you. Even the nice ones. It’s what always happens and it always will until, if possible, it isn’t allowed to.

      Reply
    2. jrkrideau

      I was thinking that this would lead to poor people forming self-defence groups that in turn would morph into mafia gangs.

      A great, a failed state in action.

      Reply
    1. shtove

      The Purge has had five sequels. The premise is that all crime becomes permissible for a night, but mutatis mutandis and all that. The Hunt came out this year, which is about the Left taking revenge on the Deplorables – also confused, but you could see it as an acting out of social media rage. American documentaries, such as Robocop, used to be coherent.

      I refuse to discuss life, the universe and everything with libertarians until they repudiate the legitimacy of corporations and limited liability. Crickets.

      Reply
  2. d

    just a few observations. does property have any value without people? think we can use the following to show if that is true or not. there is property (real…as in land)…on mars or the moon. there are no people (that we know of anyway) on either. what is the value of the property? next, how do we know who owns the property? today its deeds or titles. issued by the government. no government, no documentation of ownership by a 3rd party (hopefully not biased). so how does that get solved? and if insurance companies are the ‘replacement’ for government, what happens when party a and party b, both have insurance, but dont agree on a resolution? now what? and how do you get other countries to agree to this scheme? and if they dont then what? who is the unbiased 3rd party who will resolve disputes? there is no government, no court. and arbitration is already questionable as it is. if party a kills party b, and party b has no insurance, who will keep the peace? and does an economy exist without people, and does it even work? think we can that on mars and moon. seem to have no gdp or economy at all

    Reply
  3. William Hunter Duncan

    I think I get why he goes by a code name. I’ve always wondered too how Libertarians would account for pollution, as in, Free Man pouring some carcinogen into a river, killing people down stream. Presumably if the people down stream are poor and can’t pay for protection, they don’t count as human? And all the worlds other creatures presumably because they can’t make money have no right not to be exterminated.

    I used to read Zero Hedge because they had some interesting scoops and perspectives. Then I realized most of them were aspiring land/biz barons, and the only rights anyone has in that world view are rights you can buy…from the most powerful/richest guy in the region.

    Reply
  4. d

    and how does any one pay for any thing? the currencies today are issued by governments, no government, those currencies go away. and gold might be an option, but then you have the legitimacy of it, as is in, is really gold? how pure is it? does the person that pays with actually own it? and how do you know they do? and with the dissolution what happens to the value that people and business placed on the currencies? and how does any one prove that any one who signed a contract, is the person they claim did? and how do they prove that it was voluntary?

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      Thanks, Yves, for re-running this. Helps to be reminded of what the “enemy of the people” has in mind, and how the ‘looting mind” works.

      Not that there are any clues in this series on how this long-game process might be derailed, short of a compendious Jackpot.

      Libertarians seem pretty uniformly to want to decimate government, but they do want just enough government to give legitimacy to the laws and constraints on bad behavior (as Libs define the notion) that the Libs find helpful to their system. Which, of course, is a capsule description of how the “representative form of government” actually works right now. And the Libs know someone has to enforce the contracts, at least until the end stage where the Smedley Butler precept reaches its apotheosis: “War is a racket.” Where the GLOs just simply run everything the way they have the simple force to do, without need for the protective shell of “legitimacy” they work through now (the electoral system, that “appears” to let the people have a say in how they are looted and ruled…)

      Reply
  5. The Historian

    I’ve had several conversations like this with libertarians. Montana and Idaho are full of them. If they will stand for your questioning long enough, it always boils down to: “I don’t care about you or anyone else. I only care about what I want”. Just more of that Selfish Gene.

    Reply
    1. jsn

      I agree, in my experience the more committed the libertarian, the more a little tyrant they are.

      They don’t so much dislike government as want it to work for them personally.

      But, like the Ds, they don’t want the responsibility of governing, just the benefits of power.

      Reply
  6. fred

    Oh God, I couldn’t finish this. For an antidote listen to any of Vivian Stanshall’s “Rawlinson End” episodes aired by the BBC in Another Era. Particularly “The Thing At Rawlinson End”

    Reply
  7. km

    I am not a libertarian, but our future is not libertarianism but even more cronyish crony capitalism, where the state will bend over backwards to protect and promote you and swaddle you and keep you from any harm, but only if you’re A Member Of The Club.

    If you aren’t A Member, then you are not even on your own. Rather, the state will actively keep you down, unless important people in The Club take a look at you and decides that that they see a new Member in you.

    Reply
  8. ShamanicFallout

    I always wonder if these so-called Libertarians actually know or have met an actual capitalist. If I’m a capitalist, the last thing I want is competition and a ‘free-market’! And if I am a big enough capitalist with a lot of resources, I will do everything I can to solidify my position and make sure I have no competition. If I’m a capitalist, I don’t care about Libertarian philosophy- I want to dominate and do away with competitors. And in order to eliminate competition, since I am a big enough capitalist, I actually love regulations and compliance regimes- I can afford them and easily absorb their costs because I am huge! The cost of regulation and compliance on the smaller players is much more onerous and often times too costly. And viola! No more competition.

    Reply
  9. eg

    Libertarians amuse me. Somehow it escapes their notice that Westphalian states now occupy every scrap of the globe — where do they propose to establish their Libertarian paradise such that one of these normally functioning nations just doesn’t crush them?

    It’s sophomoric folly that wishes away the social fact of human existence. We are pack animals.

    Reply
    1. flora

      Amuses you? Uh, the richest of the self-identified libertarians intend to take over functioning nations by means of buying up the major political parties. It looks like they’re making good progress along those lines… with both major US parties on sale to the highest bidder it seems. We see how that translates into public policy.

      Reply
      1. flora

        As FDR said, (no wonder the neolibs hate him):

        Government by organized money is as dangerous as government by organized mob.

        Reply
        1. flora

          Mises and Hayek thought too strong democratic governments were the problem. But it was too weak democratic governments that gave rise to the monsters they feared.

          Reply
  10. flora

    Thanks for re-running this series. Looking forward to the next posts in this series. Reading it the first time I thought ‘oh this is some selfish persons fantasy’, yet every year the US pols and their decisions get us closer and closer to this anti-democratic distopia. Good to re-read the playbook used by the anti-democratic forces.

    (As for “already tired of Kamela”, the minute she starts speaking in that low, nasal, whiny voice I mute the sound.)

    Reply
  11. Cuibono

    that this passes as some sort of intelligent chatter is really sad.
    The only honest Libertarian is an anarchist

    Reply
      1. flora

        to quote from the original post:

        CNC:”…. democratic government causes uncertainty. Hans-Hermann Hoppe made all of this clear in his 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.” ”

        So, markets are good, uncertainty roils markets, democratic govt causes uncertainty, therefore democratic govt is bad.

        It’s easy to laugh at this if one assumes only idiots would think democracy is the problem, except a lot of very very rich and influential people do believe democracy is the problem; they are big contributors to political campaigns and expect big favors in return. ( DeJoy wrecking the post office in the interest of deep pocket donors is the latest example.)

        Reply
  12. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    No wonder Utopia literally means ‘nowhere’. This sort of system could not even get started, let alone go anywhere. What did they do with all the weapons systems? Are they talkin a moon colony? The first person that puts together a horde of maniacs will be running it all in short order.

    Reply
  13. Phil in KC

    I’ve very seldom–in fact, I’ve never–found a poor person who espouses libertarian philosophy. Its always a crabby rich guy, eating a steak.

    Reply
  14. Chris

    I remember reading this series the first time. Worth reading again because libertarianism is what some people are proposing as an antidote to Trumpism.

    But what we’re going to get in this country are two different experiences regardless of who is elected in November. For the well off it will be crony capitalism run amok. And for everyone else there will be anarchy and pain.

    I’m really afraid of what we’ll see come November when it’s cold outside, millions have been evicted, the supply chain is kinked up, kids still won’t be in school, no sports to distract people, no promise of large holiday gatherings, more protests, more riots, possibly more war, and due to so many people having reduced or no disposable income – no holiday shopping to bolster retail. No holiday church visits. Colleges and schools closing that wanted to open. More boarded up small businesses. Few job options for students who graduated at any level the prior May or the coming December. Just pain and fear and nihilism as far as the eye can see. And we’ll be told our only hope is Joe Biden. God help us.

    Reply
  15. Synoia

    How do Libertarians handle Monopolies?

    Haw do Libertarians handle Pandemics, which by their nature create instability and short term actions?

    Reply
    1. Nick Alcock

      They quote Margaret Thatcher, “there is no such thing as society”. Then the problem goes away, as if by magic!

      Reply
  16. Radioactive Vampire

    Don’t call this bizzare cult libertarians, they are Social Darwinist market fundamentalists, they have nothing in common with 19th century classical libertarianism which is anti-establisment socialist philosophy

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agnotology, aka “making shit up” is a violation of our written site Policies.

      There is no such thing as “19th century classical libertarianism”. There is “classical economics” and “19th century liberalism”.

      Reply
      1. skippy

        Yeah been seeing a bit of this of late, total rebranding and now fighting for the little guy w/ a side of sound [tm] money too boot – although split on covid.

        Its like a PR marketing focus group with bi polar disorder.

        Reply
      2. Radioactive Vampire

        First learn something about originality of libertarian and socialist thought, because you seems to don’t have clue what I am trying to write here, I refer to specific political philosophy that advocates for the ability of people to directly control the institutions that control them such as schools, workplaces, community and culture.Libertarianism as a such is a socialist political philosophy which has its roots in the workers’ movements of the 19th century. It is especially associated with ideas that came out of the First International (IWA – 1864-1876), and especially those of William Godwin, Robert Owen, Henry David Thoreau, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin. It was upon these ideas, as well as some of those which came later like those of Peter Kropotkin, that the libertarian syndicalists in Spain formed the CNT union in the early 20th century, with the goal of creating a libertarian socialist and workers’ self-managed society. This means that managers will submit workers to rigid control in the workplace, cut corners and compensation, heap stress on them, etc., in order to maximize profit. For your information word “libertarian” was originally used in 19th century by revolutionary anarchists and anti-authoritarian socialists to describe their anti-establisment and freethinker philosophy before word became stolen by reactionary social Darwinist market fundamentalists and became having different meaning in U.S.A, because you Americans must fucked up all things, same with political terminology like “liberalism” and “conservatism” which today have complete different meaning than it’s have in 19th century so before accusing me of ignorance learn something for change

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Quite the misrepresentation, compounded by unwarranted ‘tude.

          Michael Hudson deigned to comment via e-mail:

          Wow, is this bizarre (including the grammar). The libertarian anarchists in the US were centered on Henry George, who was looked at as a nut-case even by fellow anarchists. They announced their opposition to socialism and Marx, and still are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, falling off the (right-hand) edge.

          None of the men he cites were viewed as libertarian in their time. Opposing a police state or public-sector corruption is not libertarian; socialists took the same policy (and still do). Libertarianism is an outgrowth of “anti-Bolshevism” (the Georgists became among the first to back the Nazi Party in Germany, from 1921 onward), but ideologically grounded in Austrian right-wing economics of the 1920s.

          Anarchism is not libertarianism. Kropotkin was for mutual aid, not selfishness.

          I would omit this nuttiness on the ground that it is ignorant disinformation. Libertarianism is pro-rentier, and hence anti-labor. It is basically the doctrine of kleptocracy. If you take away government planning power, economies will be planned by the criminal class (the most lucrative) and financial centers.

          Agnotology (aka “making shit up”) and attacks on the site are both violations of our written site Policies. I trust you will find your happiness elsewhere.

          Reply

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