Hi, my name is Zeno Izen and I am running for President of the United States of America. I have developed a simple plan to restore freedom, peace and prosperity to America. Here is that plan:
Step 1: Every U.S. citizen with a Social Security number will receive, by U.S. Postal mail, an unactivated plastic debit card. The details of the accounts that these cards will access are a technical matter that will be worked out before this plan is implemented.
Step 2: Citizens will have a short period of time to activate these debit cards, and the accounts that they access.
Step 3: At an appointed moment, which may or may not be revealed in advance, each citizen’s account will be credited with a sum of money. The amount of money is a technical detail that will be worked out before this plan is implemented. Hypothetically, the amount is mostly irrelevant, though it will need to be significant enough to qualify as a windfall for the average citizen. Numbers between $10,000 and $100,000 are probable.
Step 4: The U.S. federal government will cede power to the States, and declare itself dissolved.
Step 5: A period of adjustment will ensue.
The benefits of this plan will be many. The velocity of money, and the vitality of the economy will increase dramatically as citizens will be motivated to spend what money they have as soon as possible before its value drops to zero. All sides of political debate will be satisfied by this plan as well, as redistributionists on the left will be directly compensated and minarchists on the right will see their domestic agenda implemented in full.
At the same time, the results of this plan will be unpredictable to the degree that manipulators of the economy, along with entrenched totalitarian interests, will not be able to fully retain their power. Prices and currencies will swing to extremes as the results of this plan ripple across the globe. Innovators and small time players will find themselves knee deep in opportunities, which will disrupt society and make resources newly available in the fairest way possible: according to wit and competitivity.
My plan will initiate a new global golden era based on merit and voluntary association. This is what everyone wants, perhaps excluding those deeply invested in the status quo.
So vote for me for President of the U.S. or whatever other office you want. I ain’t on the ballot and my budget is zero, but I’ve got a slogan and it is thus:
“Vote for Zeno Izen motherfuckers! He’s got the Plan!”
It’s Sunday morning on the day before Halloween 2011. About a week and a half ago I wrote a vampire story that I thought might be good to post here for Halloween day, but then I realized two things. 1. The story isn’t ready. It reads like an actual short story, but compared to what I was trying to create, the thing is more like an outline. 2. Halloween is the worst time to post a vampire story. The world is glutted with horror fiction on Halloween day.
So, instead I’ve decided that I’m going to post a few paragraphs of economic/current-history musings (or ramblings, as the case may be) and follow it up with some old material that I posted at another blog many many years ago.
What the hell is taking so long with this decline of civilization? Hyperinflation, totalitarian government, grand-scale urban rioting and other Really Bad Things seem to be always looming in the distance. No one, of course, can really be sure what the future holds, but I think most observant people can agree that major changes are afoot. Just the simple fact that there isn’t any money left to maintain U.S. and European governments indicates that adjustments need to be made. Adjustments that are being drawn out in an excruciating way by politicians and central bankers who seem to think there’s any kind of fix to sovereign debt problems. (There is a fix, yes. It’s called “time.” The balm of time, though, is perfectly counteracted by picking the scab off over and over again.)
Here in America, I think there is a great debt of suffering that the general population owes. We don’t owe this suffering for any moral reason, or spiritual or mystical. I’m talking about simple cause and effect. For many years, our way of life has been like a tissue-padded bra. Our abundance was false, our voluptuousness prosthetic. Pyramids of perfect fruit in every supermarket, a thousand varieties of breakfast cereal, glittering richness of entertainment options, a robust, complex national infrastructure, military dominance of the globe, cars, bars, restaurants, movies, blue jeans, handbags, paid time off, pensions, dependable emergency services, single family homes, clean white sheets and drive-through service have all been part of our lives and lifestyles because of credit. Visa cards and Treasury bonds provided the liquidity that kept this cruise ship afloat. That liquidity has receded, but we still try to find ways to live as though it hasn’t. As long as our central banks and the consumer herd keep forestalling the inevitable–a much lower standard of living–we all risk the acute pain of a rude surprise.
These are not novel concepts. There are hundreds of other people, across all media, saying the same thing every day. My point is that this is taking too long. I certainly don’t want to suffer, or see others suffer. And I can always use more time to prepare. But, the slowness of all this is an additional agony.
The wisest thing of all our choices, collectively, would be to institute a nationwide policy of personal restraint. For instance, a spartan Christmas season would help a lot. What if we all just gave each other handmade cards this year? Don’t spend a dime? Just for this year? What would happen? I don’t know. It could make things worse for the economy, but that might actually be a good thing. Running the ship aground once and for all would show us what we have left to rebuild with. And in any case, it might have psychological benefits for the U.S. population. It feels good to be proactive, even when the proactivity is imperfect. Also, our consumer culture has been driven in a large way by feelings of smallness and disatisfaction at the level of the individual. The world is too big, and we are too small, so we distract ourselves with buying and spending. Feeling some amount of historical control might feed the soul hunger that has been a major motivation for all of this borrowing.
Something like this will never happen, though. Humanity takes the path of least resistance as predictably as water finds the lowest ground. This is easy to see in the very synthetic Occupy Wall Street assemblies. Lots of people may show up because it seems like something to do, but that’s as far as it will ever go. In the long run, collectivism never works. Individuality is far more powerful. Agreement is scarce, cooperation rare. Mass movements do erupt, but not often with long term agendas. It’s easier for the crowd to express inarticulable anger than to create something. To create requires the individual.
That’s why I really believe that a global market-based anarchy is the best thing for us all. But that isn’t happening any time soon, either. No, nothing great will be happening for a while. First we have to slog our way through this slow motion disaster.
This was posted at another blog in October of 2007. Even back when I wrote this, I thought the idea was somewhat obvious. As far as I know, though, I’m the only one that’s ever vocalized the idea seriously. Probably because the idea offends too many basic cultural values. Oh, if we could only get past that kind of crap.
A Solution to the Steroid Problem
Steroids have been a part of sports for years now, and they are here to stay. Not only that, but steroids are just the beginning. Soon enough we will see robotic and genetic enhancements to the human body that will let athletes perform at many times their natural capabilities. As science marches on, records will be smashed over and over again. Are you ready for the 200-mph fastball? How about the 1500-home-run career, or the two-minute mile? Not even science fiction is the limit in the world of athletic competition, because whatever can be engineered will be put to quick use on the playing field.
The only uncertainty is how the rulemakers of the various sports leagues will treat these advancements. The current trend is to prohibit technological ability-boosters, to banish them into a hidden sphere. With steroids prohibited, honest players must compete against cheaters, standards of achievement become skewed and sports fans can no longer be sure who is a true winner and who is a juiced-up manbeast taking advantage of an unbalanced situation.
It’s as true in sports as anywhere else, prohibition is terrible mistake. The difference is that, in sports, to ban enhancements is twice the error. Drug users tend to fail in the real world, but the opposite is true in sports–at least over the short term. Steroid users will always win against their more honest opponents, and those who follow the rules will never break the records set by more-than-human competitors.
But while prohibition is a foolish policy, it is clearly necessary to exert some sort of control over these substances–not to mention whatever else might be on its way down the research pipeline. Whatever is allowed will become an immediate standard. If one man quadruples the size of his pitching arm with stem cells, then everyone else will have to do it just to keep up. In competitive situations, what is not prohibited becomes obligatory. It would be terribly unwise to ask our up and coming athletes to destroy their bodies just so that they can play a game.
The best solution then is to partition our sports. There is no reason we can’t have separate leagues in each sport, one that allows any possible enhancement, and one that allows no enhancements at all.
The benefits of a system that separates sports into enhanced and non-enhanced leagues are plain.
A main improvement under this system will be that performance enhancement will come out of the closet. No parent will have to lecture their children on the dangers of steroid or amphetamine use because these risks will be openly illustrated by the scores of sports heroes who will suffer from brain cancer, abnormal hair and sudden coronary explosions.
As cyborgenics become available, we will also see athletes with robotic limbs and bits of facial circuitry. Admittedly, the fact that these physical upgrades will be introduced to us by famous sports figures may actually add an element of romance to the technology. However it’s also an undeniable fact that when once these things are invented, there will be no way to stop their infiltration into our culture. It is better to have the gear tested in full public view under high-performance conditions than to have them sold to us “as is” by less-than-honest marketing hacks.
Wearable computing and cyborgenics are things of the near future. As a species, we have lived through the introduction of many new technologies, and it’s about time we began to get this process right. Consider the automobile. How many years, and how many lives, passed us by before we saw the invention of seat belts and air bags? Or take an additional example–genetic engineering. The citizenry tend to fear this technology and clamor for regulation that is much more dramatic than necessary. In either case, the legislation on these innovations has been either too late or too quick.
But in the case of re-engineering the human body, we have the luxury of a class of people who will willingly test these things and do it at their own expense. Considering the entertainment value that comes as a bonus, why not let them?
There are many more possible benefits of this idea, but I will add just one more. When performance enhancement is brought out in the open through league partitioning, we will no longer have to suffer the heartbreak, or witness the disgrace, as our beloved athletes are inevitably caught cheating at their games. Episodes such as our ongoing suspicion of Barry Bonds, and our shock at the downfall of Marion Jones will no longer haunt us, and we will be free to enjoy the diversions of sport once again.
War ration books are fairly common items in antique stores and on eBay. But, because they are printed on cheap paper, they tend to be in terrible condition and they also often have many of their stamps removed.
There’s a premise that I’ve accepted as true since I was in high school. The premise’s survival in the face on many years of new information tends to suggest that the premise has some validity.
The premise is this: The human system, as a whole, is anarchic.
Yes, we have nation-states. Yes, we have corporations. Yes, we have elites. Yes, there are people in charge. But, try as they might, there is no single entity that has absolute control over humanity.
At the very top of the global social ladder, there are opposing interests, offsetting forces and competing entities. And, as this is the top of the pyramid, with nothing governing it, the churn here is subject to the laws of emergence and market dynamics.
And as above, so below. From the yacht clubs of Massachusettes to the black hole of Calcutta, governance exists in pockets. Control exists in finite zones that emerge within an overall system of anarchy. And if these zones are seen as discreet bodies within the anarchic system, we can see that they emerge and behave according to the laws of the system that they inhabit.
In other words, a government is the product of a free market.
Empires rise and fall. Kings are as subject to economics as a business owner. Certainly, a king may control the money supply in his realm, but he can’t violate natural law. A king can’t print money indiscriminately and avoid the consequences any more than he can hover in midair.
Between kingdoms there are natural laws, too. As von Clausewitz said, war begins when diplomacy fails. Between individuals a fist fight might result from failed negotiations at a tavern. Of course, there are laws pertaining to that. But what law stops one nation from invading another? Only alliances, quasi-influential international bodies and other artifices have any effect on international relations. These artifices are the product of an anarchic system.
So, seen from the moon, we realize that we already live in a free market system. When anyone talks about, or lobbies, for market freedom they are doing it on a local basis. To work for free markets is a dismantling process, an uncovering of human layers to reveal what lies below.
But let’s remember that these zones of control are temporary. They may last for a long time. Just as an overfunded business can operate at a loss for years on end, a government with faulty financial policies can run for a long long time. But in the end they will fail. No entity, coporeal or corporate, can evade the laws of its environment.
“Nature Bats Last” says the bumper sticker. It’s really true. And if we believe that market forces are natural laws, then the agorist has already won. His only struggle is with his local situation.
Here’s something I don’t get. Maybe someone can explain it to me.
As a generalization, both scientific atheists and Abrahamic monotheists tend to be inconsistent when it comes to their preferences of socioeconomic organization. Most of your central planners in history seem to have been atheists–Marxism and communism are definitely atheistic systems. And most of those who still stick with these concepts in the modern era also seem to be atheists. Your Christian left-anarchist is an anomaly. Liberal Democrats I suspect–I haven’t looked up the stats–have more atheists, or at least agnostics among them. And it’s my perception that Liberal Democrats tend to be more liberal in their religious belief and believe that evolutionary theory is true. I base this perception on the fact that Liberal Democrats take the non-religious side of the abortion discussion. That alone indicates a liberality in religious belief. But yet, Liberal Democrats tend to be less friendly with free market ideas, more open to state programs, and generally more on the central-planning side of the economic discussions.
Meanwhile, more conservatives (whether Conservative Republicans, or otherwise) are religious, and conservatively so. I’d point to the abortion discussion again to support this assertion. And, again, conservatives have a greater tendency to be free market oriented, rhetorically if not in actual fact. This can be seen in a rough sort of way by comparing various elected persons’ party affiliation with their position on the funding of various governmental (and non-military) projects, such as universal health care, welfare programs, student loans and so on.
I’ll skip over the rest of the logical development and give you my central point: in America, a substantial number of non-religious people have faith in centrally planned civilization while a substantial number of religious people are opposed to central planning, and presumably believe in the power of emergent market processes to create an organized society.
This seems inconsistent to me. To be religious, by which I mean to believe in a single scriptural god, tends to deny the emergent processes of nature. If God is the decision maker for all reality, and evolutionary theory is not true, then emergent market processes are anomalous. Why would markets be able to find equilibrium, and develop into non-planned organization when the rest of nature does not do the same thing?
And to be non-religious tends to accept evolutionary theory–a concept which describes a natural world full of life that has come about without intent or central planning. Why in a world where life emerges in the absence of a supernatural director would we insist upon fallible human beings to design and execute our economy?
To my point of view, and regardless of your religious beliefs, I would expect that you either believe in orderly emergence or you don’t. I can understand believing in a perfect God that micromanages reality and how that is consistent with free market beliefs, but I don’t see how you can then throw out evolutionary theory. And I can see how you can see the natural world as a beautiful orderly accident without a god, but I don’t see how you can then allow imperfect and corruptible human beings take charge of an economy, which is often as complex as any ecosystem.
I was thinking about writing a post about agorism, when by improbable coincidence a couple of related chunks turned up in my media consumption.
Firstly, the always fun Dave Emory covers seasteading and Patri Friedman in episode #744 of his For The Record radio program. This chunk of media doesn’t relate directly to agorism, but seasteading is a concept out of what you might call SciFi Libertarianism, which is the same ground as has spawned agorism. Making the connection more resonant is the fact that Patri Friedman runs a PUA blog.
(PUA, if you don’t know, stands for Pick Up Artist. The PUA community/industry is an outgrowth of a new, loosely associating Social Tactics movement that claims to have good advice about convincing women to have sex with you. More often than not, though, things labeled PUA are rackets for breaking cash off of sexually frustrated men. Recession-proof, that.)
The reason why Patri Friedman’s activity as a Pickup Artist is resonant is complicated. You may want to break out your Illuminati! deck to follow along. These PUA guys are the hucksters of the Social Tactics movement, separating out Game–the sexy part–and repackaging it for resale at inflated prices.
(Game, as with Social Tactics in general, is available for free. All you need to do is figure out the right books to read and get them from the library. Meanwhile, you get out there and talk to people. It’s all really no more than a more self-conscious method of Growing the Fuck Up. You know, put down the controller and get involved in life.)
The thing about Game, though, is that it becomes political because it must consider feminism. Feminism is a constant specter for players because feminism wants to make bad Game illegal–literally. Good Game is invisible. Bad Game is harassment, or so it would be if feminists succeed. This means that any player’s game must be flawless %100 of the time. Otherwise he’s a harasser.
The place where Game butts up against feminism is quite a busy one. There you’ll find a rich array of men who question the wisdom of feminism’s mission and premises. And out of this grows an increasing suspicion of leftism, Marxism, postmodernism, multiculturalism and… governmental social programs. So then, a minarchist, if not completely anarcho-capitalist sensibility pairs very well with the study of Game, and especially well for the PUAs who have decided to turn Game into a business (as shady as it may be).
While agorism doesn’t require anarcho-capitalism theory–any illiterate thug can become an agorist–anarcho-capitalism does provide a theory to support agorism. And here is where criticism of Patri Friedman gets weird for me. To some degree, Friedman and myself are fellow travelers. I think seasteading is a brilliant idea, and I’ve written mediocre science fiction exploring the topic. Also, I study Social Tactics. For a long time I’ve been frustrated on a handful of fronts, not just with women, but in earning a living, excercising my creative impulses, and keeping the Other People from fucking up my day to day. Being kind of nerdy I’ve turned to reading to see if I can’t find some insight that could help me break through. After an excruciatingly long time I’ve come to realize that it’s eye contact and conversations that determine our lives, and that social competence is the most important skill. Meanwhile, the unfolding of history has made me realize that I can rely on neither government welfare nor corporate employment to take me where I want to go. The only way I’m going to fund my adventures in this life is through my own entrepeneurial spirit. Hence agorism. Because agorism is the methodology of the proletariat capitalist in the belly of the corporate plutocracy.
So Friedman and I have similar views on some things. The difference is that he’s a high roller and associates with people like Peter Theil a major investor in Facebook. Facebook is of course a data mining operation for the government. There is no arguing against this fact, because at the very least these two statements are undeniable: 1. Facebook has lots of data about lots of people. 2. Facebook will comply with practically any subpoena.
So, we’ve rounded the corner of our ass and our elbow looms on the horizon. The point is that my interest in agorism, not to mention a few other ideas I carry around, have been linked to fascism. That is, after all, Emory’s greater premise–that the Third Reich did not collapse after WWII but went underground, and that it is now making a gradual comeback.
Secondly, idle web surfing lead me to this sentence at The Exiled:
“I did a brief check on what sort of “libertarian anarchists” were at Hunter College in the early 1970s, and discovered this: some libertarian hack named J. Neil Schulman waxing nostalgic about his libertarian youth, including some forgettable “libertarian anarchist” lectures at Hunter College in the early 1970s.”
Interesting. Schulman is the author of the 1979 novel Alongside Night, the preeminent work of literary agorist illustration. In the tradition of Moore’s Utopia, Skinner’s Walden Two or Ayn Rand’s novels, the book paints a fictional picture of what well-developed agorism looks like. The book is more than 30 years old, but Schulman is still alive and active publishing a blog at http://jneilschulman.rationalreview.com/
As part of a longer pastoral that excortiates libertarianism as a faux-radical movement that plays to the needs of the existing hegemonies to the degree that the FBI has consciously passed on infiltrating it, the Exiled article portrays Schulman as an establishment stooge with a–oh no!–pro-gun point of view. The piece is idealogical but written well enough to give a thoughtful person pause.
Fortunately, though, Schulman actually comments on this Exiled article, resulting in a dialectical clash that spills over to his own blog. The comments section of Schulman’s blog entry becomes an excellent back and forth addressing differences between Marxist and market anarchisms.
Yeah, it’s a big convoluted mess. I’m relieved, though, because I’ve been reading about agorism for a few weeks now and finding myself comfortable with the practical aspects of it–counter-economics and so on. As the agorist story goes, capitalists have consolidated their wealth and power all these years by hamstringing the little guy via governmental regulation. This seems true enough in the United States. International corporations can operate the different facets of their businesses anywhere in the world, according to profitability. Labor costs and taxation are the clearest examples of this. For years manufacturing has thrived in countries with the weakest labor laws. Meanwhile, income has been streamed to nations with the lowest tax rates and stashed in the countries with the most discrete banks. Middle-class Americans, though, can’t usually skirt the law by changing locations. (And I’ll skip the opportunity to point out how these facts contribute to the lack of productive growth in the United States.)
The agorist solution to this is to ignore the law and operate under the radar. Agorism in action, called counter-economics, includes black market and grey market business. A meth lab is counter-economical, but so is a bake sale. While these are radically different types of operations, they are the same in that they are motivated by a desire for cash income, and not by a desire for political change. Agorism gives sub-market business a political underpinning and provides points of solidarity for those who want them.
It’s a heartening set of ideas for hustlers of all types, but it’s also viable and relevant. Claims that agorists collaborate unknowingly with the establishment are launched from confused minds.
Maybe you’re aware of the recent federal raid on Gibson Guitars. There’s been a lot of talk about this around the internet. It’s sad, sick, wrong, etc. etc. that a job-creating American manufacturing company has been crippled by the federal government for hazy legal reasons.
There’s something that’s been bothering me about the discussion of this situation though. Several times I’ve heard that Gibson is anomalous in this day and age, an American manufacturing company making a profit.
And it’s great. Manufacturing is the basis of a healthy economy. That so little is actually made in the United States is a fantastic proportion of the reason that we are in decline. Wealth comes from creation. Turning raw materials into something a person can use is the most direct way of creating wealth. Importation, marketing, retail, service and all of the other activity that comes between the creation and consumption of a product are important to the economy, but without the manufacturing none of it is possible. And the more we allow manufacturing to take place outside of our country, the less self-sufficient we become. For years we have been the world’s customer, and recently we’ve been borrowing the money needed to buy the world’s goods. By creating money instead of wealth we’ve allowed the world’s economy to become balanced on the tip of a needle.
So any manufacturing that happens in the United States is something to be celebrated. But it strikes me that the success of this particular company is kind of perverse. They are making guitars, a recreational product for sale to persons with disposable income.
Other paragons of American manufacturing are similar. Harley Davidson makes a lifestyle product. Apple products are useful for industry, but the company’s success is a result of addressing identity concerns in its marketing. Philip Morris makes a fairly useless product. The list goes on.
Certainly there are lots of American companies that make things that have little to do with entertainment, lifestyle, recreation or rely on their customers having disposable income. Caterpillar comes to mind. Case IH and Marlin Wire make products that are truly necessary for the ongoing interests of civilization.
Any manufacturing is good for America. And a diversity of manufacturing is even better. But as the decline goes on, it’s the companies that depend on disposable income that are going to fail soonest. There are only so many people on the earth that truly need a new guitar. The rest of Gibson’s customers will fall off as their money loses value and their incomes wear thin. Meanwhile, the guitar heroes of the world will be selling fewer records.
There’s a parallel universe where things are simpler and more honest. In that universe the citizens of the United States all take turns at opposite sides of the bar. Six hours mixing drinks, six hours drinking drinks, six hours drunken slumber, and six hours nursing a hangover. Repeat.