Booing the Goose
STR Column by Jim Davies, published on August 17, 2010
Chapter 8 of my Transition to Liberty shows that I foresee the time--in the mid-2020s, for reasons it explains--when widespread civil disobedience will play a valuable part in hastening the end of the government era. It will be a period when around one in four of the population has learned what liberty means (and what government means) and so is eager to experience it and ready to quit any government job in disgust. Simultaneously and as a result of that great walkout, a staffing crisis will be crippling government. When the two come together, it's not hard to see that a lot of people are going to stop obeying all its zillions of silly laws, at the very time when the lawmakers lose the ability to prevent them. Freedom will then be only a couple of short years away; an ever-swelling "Boo!" from the long-intimidated population will increasingly shoo away those armed and dangerous squadrons of government geese.
Such civil disobedience is to be clearly distinguished from some other forms of protest, such as those against the income tax. Irwin Schiff's famous illuminated sign near the Las Vegas Strip enquired of one and all, "Why Pay Income Tax When No Law Says You Have To?" and the IRS' only answer was to get him inside a government cage for 13 years; the far simpler remedy of citing the missing law was apparently beyond its ability. Note, though: neither Irwin nor any of the others called for any law to be broken. They merely point out that none exist. Some years ago the IRS called them "illegal tax-protesters" but the rebuttal was only to move the hyphen; they are "illegal-tax protesters" and all of them would willingly pay any tax in obedience to law. The protest is not against tax, but against unlegislated tax. Accordingly, it's quite wrong to call this movement "civil disobedience." They are civil, but aren't setting out to disobey any law at all.
An example of true CD in such a context would be to refuse payment of local property tax, which (as far as I know) is always well and truly legislated. Recently in Tamworth, NH, Scott Finman has started to do just that, by declining to allow government agents inside his home for the purpose of inspection and creation of a taxable value. The "Tamworth Millionaire Program" relates what has happened so far in the story. It's a very modest house, but the Tamworth government's response was to assess it at $4 million--thereby transforming the owner into an instant quadrimillionaire. That multiplied by 40 the amount of tax claimed and billed, which of course he could not and did not pay, and so Tamworth Town has a basis for eviction. Finman publicly offered to sell the house to any member of the Town government for a "rock-bottom, bargain price of $3.5 million" so that the buyer could "flip" and sell it the next day for their own assessment of $4M and make a cool half-mill overnight, simultaneously getting this troublemaker out of town. So far, no taker. Stay tuned.
I'm not privy to the strategic purpose of these brave "Live Free and Comply" warriors, but the situation nicely illustrates the difficulty of booing the government goose at this early stage in the progression to liberty. We are too few, they are too many and too strong. If fleets of them don't fly in and SWAT the CDer, some other way will be found to nullify his action and unfortunately, at present his neighbors are going to cheer. Why should this freak refuse to pay his fair share of the Town's expenses, so making all of us pay more? We have to have good streets, and police and fire protection, and schools [sic] and trash disposal, and those all have to be paid for. Why should he be above the law? He isn't fit to be our neighbor.
I've been trying to imagine a strategy for near-term CD that would be more likely to help freedom come faster, but it's not easy. The components would have to include the following:
· the particular law being challenged and disobeyed must be unpopular
· government's retaliative ability against the CDer must be limited or hazardous
· the media must be sympathetic and ready to publicize success
All those conditions will be well met by 2025, after a decade or two of systematic re-education--but in the near term, they are hard to find. If any one of the three is missing, I fear CD will be wasted effort, for its purpose surely is to gain favorable publicity, to help ever more people see the vacuous, immoral nature of government along with the free-market alternative and encourage them to join in ignoring its decrees.
Another example from New Hampshire may meet them a bit more closely; in 2006, Russell Kanning offered handbills in the lobby of the IRS office in Keene, in exercise of his right to free speech. The bills suggested to IRS employees that they recognize what immoral work they were doing and take an early opportunity to quit. Russell was ejected and warned, but returned and continued; then he was arrested. He declined to travel to the government court, so was given free if sub-standard accommodation for nearly three weeks while awaiting his ("time served") sentence. The IRS is unpopular (Condition #1) and there wasn't a great deal the government could do against him (#2) and media reports were at least fairly neutral, if not actually positive (#3). And then, there exists the New Hampshire Free Press, of which 5,000 printed copies now regularly circulate in the State; to some extent such "Keeniacs" are building their own media.
There's no doubt that the aim is high, that such early-CD success would bring about a much more agreeable society while we necessarily wait for a complete evaporation of government. If Kanning had gotten through to IRS employees and in a fit of conscience many of them had quit, his brave example would have been quickly followed all over the country and the income tax would have fast become unenforceable. Major gain! Or if Finman succeeds in pulling the rug out from under the property tax, the same thing could happen; that other major heist would disappear, along with the youth indoctrination system that it largely funds --a huge benefit!
But unfortunately at this stage, I fear that isn't feasible. Ultimately the resolution will be in a government court, and as I suggested in "1789" recently, government courts will write on the fly whatever "law" will get government out of its pickle--exactly as always intended. There's no shortage of unpopular laws, and it may be feasible to attract favorable publicity, but that middle condition above is a killer. The only way around it I can think of is to give much more publicity to FIJA so that one (or more) in twelve of the local population gets to understand what juries are for. Such is the mindless prejudice of the voting public that even that would by no means ensure that juries acted to nullify objectionable laws, even when informed that they have the power to do so; but it would at least augment the wholly indispensable process of universal re-education.
That process of universal re-education is already rolling, so if you're not on board yet, today would be a good day to start. Without it, there is not the slightest hope of realizing a free society; whereas with it, there is not the slightest risk that government can survive the resulting walk-out of all its grunts. There is neither hope of nor need for any repeal of the forest of laws it wrote, for after losing its ability to enforce them, the resulting free society will be little other than a glorious, permanent feast of universal civil disobedience.
Come to think of it, that's not a bad definition of what freedom is.