I killed libertarianism!

Arnold Kling suggests in TCS that the way to libertarianism is carefully structured civil disobedience. I think this is an absurd idea, as does Ken Silber. Bryan Caplan weighs in with a short post I totally agree with that ends:

Libertarian ideas have been ably defended by an army of smart, thoughtful people for decades. And yet only a tiny minority remains convinced. Clearly these ideas are not "compelling enough" to win out in political and legal competition

Ken Silber makes the absurd reply "My advice: try harder.", which is so wrong-headed I want to scream. It's like if your friend is complaining about not being able to knock down a concrete wall with his head, and you say "My advice: try harder".

Brian Doherty mentions the discussion on Hit & Run, which has some wonderful comments, like:

jj: We can't get 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire to promote freedom.
How are we going to get millions to act is ways that will get
themselves jailed?

ithaqua: "[W]e would be counting on a civilized society not to engage in severe repression." Two words: Waco, Texas.

But my narcissistically favorite part is a response to my reply on Caplan's post:

Patri Friedman writes:

And if they aren't compelling enough to win in public discourse, you
aren't going to get a social movement together to promote them via
civil disobedience. (And even if you did, the movement wouldn't work,
as Silber points out. So Arnold's strategy is doubly absurd).

Libertarians need to suck it up and accept that their case is
hopeless in existing large countries. They can either accept that
statism is inevitable, or get involved in a frontier (seasteading /
spacesteading / cryptoanarchy...)

greg newburn writes:

when future citizens read about that long-dead philosophy,
"libertarianism," they will be taught that the end began with patri
friedman's comment, above.

Look, I know it feels good to think you are fighting against the state, standing up to the man, even though the odds are long, you're gonna make a difference. It's a load of bullshit. Well, sort of.

What I mean is, if you enjoy doing that sort of thing, great. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that you are accomplishing something besides giving yourself enjoyment. That's a slight exaggeration - there is some value in keeping the dream alive, spreading ideas, etc. But inaccurately estimating the effects on the world of your actions will only hurt us. And most of what I see people do and propose are totally hopeless wastes of time.

Ron Paul is a perfect example of this principle. To the degree to which he increases support for libertarianism (or any of the individual, sensible ideas he campaigns on), his campaign has a positive impact on the world. But many of his supporters seemed to think he had an actual chance to get nominated, and made their donations of time and money on that basis. And that's just crazy. He never had the slightest chance, and any decisions made under the illusion that he did were bad decisions. And I think Arnold's proposal is similarly hopeless.

I think we should be very leery of hopeless efforts, and more self-aware of what we are doing and why. Yeah, it's good to keep the dream alive. On the other hand, it's brutal and wearying to keep fighting for a dream that never comes. I'm just saying, know when you're saving some embers and when you might actually be able to fan a flame. And know that it's almost always the former, unless you are at a really unusual leverage point. Think about how previous similar proposals may have failed and why before you put significant effort into something.

Yeah, it totally sucks that one vote doesn't matter, and one person can't make a difference in politics. But pretending it ain't so don't change 'nothin. The same theories which tell us why government sucks also tell us that it isn't worth our time to do anything about it. In fact, you might say that what the theory says is that government will suck because it isn't worth our time to do anything about it. It blows my mind that libertarians, the very group that ought to have the best understanding of this problem, still fall constantly prey to it and get mad when I point it out.

Arnold's proposal (like Ron Paul's candidacy) doesn't plausibly explain how it changes any of the sad facts about the world that make government suck. Contrast this with the Free State Project, Seasteading, or Anarcho-Capitalism. It's not clear that any of them are actually possible, but at least there are real reasons why each of them might substantially affect the systematic factors that lead to sucky government.

Sorry for the rant.  Really, I just view y'all as a potential market for floating condos, and so I get bitter about anything that distracts you from that prospect, especially if it gets you to cough up any cash :).  More generally, I deeply, passionately want to live libertarianism, not just talk about it, and so I get angry and frustrated about memes that I think reduce the chance of that happening.

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I only partially agree...

I only partially agree -- I'm not sure that starting a new country or finding a new frontier is practical either.

On a more serious (but only slightly more serious) note: I think that if someone is really serious about furthering libertarianism, what they should do is scientifically study both why libertarianism is unpopular and if there is any practical, self-sustaining (self-sustaining is key!) way to change that. Any such work must include experiments to validate their hypotheses. Failing that, we'll just keep spinning our wheels forever.

My working hypothesis is that a combination of badly aligned incentives in a democracy (the politically talented make more money opposing us than aligning with us) and raw ignorance in the bulk of the population combine to make the whole thing hopeless. I see no good way to fix that.

These days, I spend my time worrying about non-political means to improve the world through personal action, and not about ways to convince other people to do things they will never do. I think others are better off following the same course of action.

I'd say Michael Strong's

I'd say Michael Strong's FLOW movement (funded by John Mackey) is along that lines. It's trying to popularize libertarian ideas among the young.

I don't know if frontiers are practical. But I think they're our best shot.

Patri, I think this is your


I think this is your reasoning: Human behavior is governed by rigid laws--those rigid laws prevent the adoption of libertarian policies through the political process. Therefore our only hope is finding ways around the political process. Seasteading is one such means.

Where you and I differ, is this: I admit human behavior is predictably against libertarianism. But human behavior is not set in stone, however rigid it may be--it can be changed. That's a longshot, granted, but the chances of changing that behavior are on a par with the success of seasteading, which is also a longshot.

We disagree on the probabilities, I gather. Probably, either you think non-political libertarian projects are more likely to succeed than I do, or you think human nature is more rigid than I do.

If you think the

If you think the probabilities are on par, then we disagree strongly about them :).

At its root, the problems of seasteading are engineering problems. Look at history and see how amazing humans are at solving engineering problems.

At its root, the problems of human behavior and how they relate to politics are problems of human nature. Look at history and see how often human nature changes.

I'm not saying this is an ironclad argument. The argument that democracy was once inconceivable and is now common is a good one. Mindsets can change. But big government is not just about mindsets but about incentives - even if libertarianism became much more popular, I think we would still have big, wasteful governments. And the incentives are not going to change without moving to a radical new system.

The argument that

The argument that democracy was once inconceivable and is now common is a good one. Mindsets can change.

I don't think democracies arose because of changed mindsets. I think increased wealth made earlier forms of government untenable. I think wealth will contiue to increase and this will eventually make government untenable. People will be able to shop for the best packages of services they can get from competing governments, and which point governments cease to be monopolies and thus cease to be governments.

At its root, the problems

At its root, the problems of seasteading are engineering problems.
Look at history and see how amazing humans are at solving engineering

The problem I see is not creating economically efficient seasteads--that seems relatively easy. It's the connection between "1. Now we've got seasteads" to "2. libertarian government" that I'm skeptical of.

You've conceded the malleability of human nature, so the only difference here is how malleable we think that nature is. Who knows why our appraisals differ? Do you know more rigid people than me? I don't know. But again, nothing you've said and nothing I know leads me to believe that seasteading is the better option.

Human nature

I don't believe human nature has to change for libertarianism, quite the contrary, libertarianism claims human nature as its foundation. Claiming that human nature should change to bring a libertarian society is, in my opinion, anthitetic. What has to change though is the status quo, and preference for the status quo is whithin human nature. Spreading libertarian ideas is not about changing human nature to be  fit for a libertarian society, but changing it so that it is disatsified enough with a status quo to accept a radical change.

Turning around something with that much inertia is the problem, the stability of anarcho-capitalism ultimately depends on an hysteresis.

I think the point is that

I think the point is that collectivism is part of human nature. Sure, libertopia will work for a small group of like minded individuals, but for humanity in general, nature will cause them to demand collectivism despite all of it's problems.

Or this isn't the point.  But it's still a point worth making.


I don't think 'collectivism' is a problem

At least not in the way I think you're using it. You can have a lot more collectives and a lot more alpha males in a polycentric world.

I think innate biases, knowledge problems, and rational ignorance are much bigger problems.

I think it is naive to view

I think it is naive to view the problem as merely a status quo, as opposed to the inevitable result of human nature and the incentives of democracy. Libertarianism that claims human nature as its foundation is blind. Just look around at the world as it is, and you will see that a) most people prefer a large, meddling state, and b) democracy consistently produces a larger, more meddling state than its constituents want. (Because of human nature: rational ignorance, etc.)

The status quo will only change if human nature changes, or if the system which harnesses human nature changes. The former ain't gonna happen (and arguably we don't want it to - rational ignorance is rational, after all), which is why I'm focused on the latter.

I think it is naive to

I think it is naive to view the problem as merely a status quo, as
opposed to the inevitable result of human nature and the incentives of

How is it contradictory ? I am saying there are various equilibria, people want the status quo so deviation from the equilibrium is hard. The incentives of democracy mean we are in an equilibrium. If there were not such incentives, the status quo could drift away.

How odd, that seems like the

How odd, that seems like the easy part to me, while having them be profitable and economical seems like the hard part. I would replace 2 with "more libertarian government", though. I don't how know libertarian ocean cities will be, only that they will be more libertarian than on land. Or more specifically: have government which better serves the needs of its constitutents, whatever those needs might be.

Lower the barrier to entry, and you get more innovation. Lower the cost of switching, and you get better customer service. It's very simple.

How odd, that seems like

How odd, that seems like the easy part to me...

Well then, there's the difference.  I also don't think the situation or the extrapolation is "very simple," or at least, so far as it's asserted that it is "very simple," it loses persuasiveness. 

It's a trap!

Patri, I tend to agree with this. It seems pretty clear that we've reached, in a broad sense, some kind of equilibrium in the West, in which even the Left has made it's peace with capitalism to some degree because it needs the capital it generates to fund its welfare states. And taxpayers, meanwhile, are far less conserved with the taxes they pay when there is enough economic growth to make paying them less painful. We don't have to like that status quo, but it's pointless to ignore the trap we find ourselves in. If we want libertarianism, we're well and truly going to have to opt out.

Peter Thiel argues that this

Peter Thiel argues that this battle of ideas is basically working on the demand side of the government and believes more can be achieved by attacking the supply side. If you start replacing government institutions, make them obsolete, you won't make it disappear or shrink, but you will make it irrelevant. The frontier is not necessarily geographic, there are many areas where the territorial power of the government is weak enough do compete with it.

Libertarianism was already dead

Anarcho-capitalism doesn't belong on that list. It's not a project any more than minarchism is. The minarchists haven't been able to scale back the state and anarchists haven't been able to eliminate it.

You missed Patri's point, He

You missed Patri's point, He isn't saying that ancap is a viable project if by "project" you mean something that can be aimed at directly and realistically achieved from our current predicament. Rather, he was saying that ancap, once successfully reached, would solve the central political problem we are discussing; ancap would "substantially affect the systematic factors that lead to sucky government" by eliminating the perverse incentives of majoritarian democracy. Of course, the problems with ancap are (at least) twofold: getting there from here, and maintaining an ancap society in a world with majority aggressive non-ancap societies.

Incidentally, Micha just

Incidentally, Micha just gave two reasons I'm skeptical of seasteading.

Micha, stick around you glorious bastard!

We can be anarchists without changing the state at all...

Him it's Stef from Freedomain Radio - I don't believe that we have to change the state to gain all the joy and freedom of anarchism...

I did a video series on Ron Paul that might be of interest... http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=9B883EE065DC5B8C

Best wishes!


Sounds too good to be true

So how can I (without changing the State) pay no taxes, sell drugs, defend my stash with bazookas, marry all of my cousins and give unlicensed manicures all without getting locked up?


Ultimately competition is what has to destroy/fix the state if ideas can't. This is why I think seasteading, the free state project, agorism, and similar 'projects' are the most plausible methods of change.

The one thing that scares me is that competition works well when the competitors refrain from violent competition. A state does an excellent job of preventing that violence within borders. Across borders the situation is a bit different, especially when those who control the state can run a collectivist dictatorship and see their income go up while everyone within the state suffers and can't leave because of actual or de facto walls keeping them in.

Which is of course why Patri will say that seasteading is such a good option. I don't completely disagree (hell, I'm on the email list), but I'm not an a priori kind of guy; I need some evidence to really get my juices flowing. My biggest fear with seasteading is that right as it gains momentum, some hotshot politician takes notice and makes some nonsense claims about treason or something and gets the military sent in. It isn't unprecedented either.


Edit: line breaks. The comment system is full of underpants gnomes stealling all my line breaks. Seriously.

violent vs non-violent competition

The one thing that scares me is that competition works well when the competitors refrain from violent competition. A state does an excellent job of preventing that violence within borders. Across borders the situation is a bit different, especially when those who control the state can run a collectivist dictatorship and see their income go up while everyone within the state suffers and can't leave because of actual or de facto walls keeping them in.

I think a compelling a priori argument can be made that increases in wealth reduce incentives for violent competition. When wealth increases to a point that the cost of war greatly overwhelms the potential gains from war, rational agents will refrain from war. This is what David Friedman describes as the "right side of the public good trap". In the Western world, we have basically achieved this. The only wars we fight with each other these days are trade wars.

Measuring the return of the defense of libertarian ideas

Praising the defense of libertarian ideas as a
strategy or dissing it faces a big obstacle, the difficulty of
measuring the result. Since this strategy is being attacked, I'll
present to possible phenomenon in it's defense

- We measure absolute results but the returns of spreading idea is
relative to the number of libertarians, thus while an excellent long
term strategy it may seen unprofitable in the present.

- The defense of libertarian ideas is a skewed strategy, maybe once
every 20 years the conditions are right for the spread of an idea and
then the message will spread very efficiently, but it's impossible to
know when and thus the only strategy is to continuously advocate
libertarianism at an apparent loss.

- Spreading libertarian ideas has positive effects but they are
mitigated by a larger trend started by socialism / marxism more than a
century ago, the effect of the avant-garde of libertarianism will be
felt in a hundred years.

Ron Paul's campaign: desperate and comprised.

A “libertarian” candidate offers two possibilities. They can win and change policy or they can promote the “ideas” of libertarianism. A compromised, mixed candidate, like Paul, is excused by some libertarians because “he can win”. The argument is that by adopting anti-liberty views on some issues he increases his chance ot winning and can thus implement good ideas (as well as his bad ideas, which we ignore for some reason).

So libertarians poured money into Paul’s coffers, where much of sits unspent to this day, and helped promote an anti-immigration campaign all because “he might win.” (Surely that winning part is a reason to not support someone who would deport people.)

But Paul never could win. So the chance of implementing some unspecified amount of libertarian policies never existed with his campaign. That leaves one possible real justification for funding Paul. He could promote the “ideas” of libertarians. But how did he do that?

By mixing it with anti-immigration attitudes. By corrupting it with John Birch Society conspiracy theories about “North American Union,” and “NAFTA Superhighways” and lunatic “banking conspiracies”. Add his his combination of wanting to outlaw abortion (he proposed a constitutional amendment which would have that result), his “state’s rights” conservatism, and the rest. So the one thing Paul could do, promote libertarian ideas, was botched so badly because he associated libertarianism with fringe kook Right-wing ideas. And that’s without any mention of the racist diatribes Lew Rockwell wrote in Paul’s name.

In the end there was no excuse for supporting Paul except the naive hope of a “quick” win on something. I can only conclude that libertarians were so desperate for any kind of a “win” that they took the first shot at it that came along no matter how bad it was.

History is a spectator sport

For the vast majority of us, history is a spectator sport. Few individuals can even begin to credibly argue that they changed the course of history. The main complaint in this blog entry seems to be that, woe is me, though I have fine thoughts about libertopia I cannot change the course of history, all I can do is passively observe as history marches on. This is not a problem with libertarianism. This is a function of the mathematics of life. There are six billion people, and I am one person.

The alternative would be not much better. Suppose that libertarianism took hold of the imaginations of the masses. Even then, you and I as individuals would be superfluous. If libertarianism were so catchy, it would be catchy without you or me. Either way, the following complaint would hold true:

Look, I know it feels good to think you are fighting against the state,
standing up to the man, even though the odds are long, you're gonna
make a difference. It's a load of bullshit.

If libertarianism fails, that will be true. But even if libertarianism succeeds, that will also be true. The mathematics of life virtually guarantees that whatever the outcome, thinking you're gonna make a difference is a load of bullshit.


You haven't killed

You haven't killed libertarianism yet, but you're well on your way (not that it needs much help). There's little question that you and the rest of the seasteading weirdos represent the most embarrassing wing of whatever is left of the libertarian movement. I quit libertarianism a couple of years ago, so I don't care that much. However, I have friends for whom libertarianism is still quite important, and I'd hate to see their reputations tarnished because of some guilt by association with seasteaders.

I know it's hard to turn down half a million dollars to pursue some pet fantasy, but please, do the right thing. Give the money back and have Thiel buy some mosquito nets, or start a micro-lending organization.

Coming from Greg Newburn....

...that is the funniest comment ever. Embarrassment to libertarianism? Hahahahaha. Is there anyone more embarrasing than you Greg? Is there anyone in the movement who does not hate your guts? Is there anyone left who you have not insulted?

What is your contribution to libertarianism? What you done? What have you advanced? All you do is hide in cyberspace behind a computer and throw bombs at people. Embarrassment to libertarianism? Hahahahahaha. Hehehehehe. Please stop. Hohohohoho. Hah. Ahem.

I'm not sure how one "hides

I'm not sure how one "hides in cyberspace," but I'd bet it begins with anonymous blog commenting.

Surely everyone I've insulted deserved it, "David." As to whether or not anyone in the "movement" doesn't hate my guts ... I doubt it. But I think having my little black molly fish die would sadden me more than being despised by every libertarian on the planet (with about, maybe, 6 exceptions).

So good luck, libertarianism. You have my sympathies (if not my energy or time).

That's all from me. Cheers!

I've changed my mind a bit,

I've changed my mind a bit, so I wanted to update my comments, THEN I'll be finished with libertarian blog commenting forever (rejoice, libertarian hordes!).

Upon further reflection, I don't think the seasteaders are the MOST embarrassing wing of the movement.

If I had to rank them by most to least embarrassing (and recognizing that, at some point in my younger years I probably flirted with the majority of these), it would look roughly like this:

Tax Protesters
Survivalists/Privacy weirdos
Rockwellians/Mises Institute/Antiwar.com
Logan Darrow Clements

Then, further down the embarrassment scale:

The Libertarian Party

Not embarrassing:

CEI (except their relationship to Bureaucrash)
...other similar think tanks

And at the far end of the spectrum, totally not embarrassing:

Will Wilkinson

That's all, folks. Take care, libertarianism!!

I had my suspicions

Yet another reason to view Will Wilkinson with suspicion.

I killed

It's not true. I killed libertarianism!

That's cheating. You can't

That's cheating. You can't give your comment a subject that doesn't make sense just to make it look good in the sidebar.

No one's sexier than

I most certainly can.


me too