What Are You?


        STR Column by Jim Davies, published on  February 04, 2013

We are Root Strikers here, because rather than trying to trim the branches of the evil tree of government, we seek a way to destroy its roots. Some want a smaller or minimal government; we want none at all. It's a powerful analogy, a good name.

We are also voluntaryists, for we believe every human action should be uncompelled. That's explicit, and leaves not a cubic centimeter of room for government, for its entire business is to force or compel, by means of laws – definable as one-sided contracts. It's a good name.

We are also market anarchists, because while committed to such absence of rule (the etymology of the word “anarchist”), we like to clarify that we believe a free market will furnish every demand for goods and services that may arise. It's a good name.

We are also anarcho-capitalists, for pretty well the same reasons; we like to clarify that we think living standards are improved by the free use of capital by those who have saved it – in contrast to some who, while curiously using the term “anarchist,” also make it evident that they believe in a great deal of compulsion and confiscation of such savings and in their collective “investment” by a chosen élite. So it too is a good name.

And of course we are libertarians, in the correct and original sense of “not believing in the initiation of force, to achieve social goals.” Instead, we trust individual liberty. A good name.

So far I've used the pronoun “we,” and before someone calls me out on that, I'll correct the error; those five names above are what I am. Are you? Do you accept those labels?

Arguably, a label or group name is a bad idea altogether, it's said to smack of groupthink, or collectivism--even when the group explicitly rejects collectivism. Perhaps a classic example is the Objectivist movement; very insightful, but widely criticized as a cult around the personality of its founder, Ayn Rand. Such was the subject of Rothbard's hilarious satire here. So what can a person be called who refuses to accept any label name at all? A curmudgeon, maybe.

As my friends acknowledge and my adversaries deny, I'm pretty laid back, and don't mind how people label me, unless it's with some kind of government brand. All of the above are fine by me, including curmudgeon. A name isn't all that important, though it seems a lot nicer than a mere number, as in dystopian novels. The French have it a bit wrong, for one of their mild oaths is nom d'un chien! – name of a dog. Dogs need names, and enjoy them, so why should that be an oath? If its origin was to denigrate some person by likening him to a dog, it very likely misfired, for most of the dogs I know compare very well to a lot of bipeds. Jake, for example, whose chest I tickled at length recently: a most placid and amiable animal.

Most of our neighbors would not, unfortunately, be well named if we called them voluntaryists or Root Strikers, and they'd certainly not want to be known as anarchists of any stripe. They have been carefully nurtured to believe in compulsion, though part of the care taken was to disguise the dominant part played by that word. If a road is needed, let others be compelled to pay for it. If a shooter murders children, let everyone be compelled to go gunless. If a foreign country dissolves into civil war, let Americans intervene to compel them to make peace – even if they have a hard time exemplifying where that has ever succeeded. If some cannot make ends meet, let everyone be forced to contribute help, just as if “forced charity” were not an oxymoron. If their children need some schooling, let everyone be compelled to pay for it. If some of them get stoned, let all be compelled to abstain from drugs. And so on, ad nauseam.

They can be called collectivists, or socialists, or progressives, or compellers; libertarian, they are not. So which are you; a compeller or an anarchist? The name reveals the belief, see. “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). It's an interesting passage, that; the advice refers not just to “a man” but specifically to “him that hath an evil eye”--a deceptive person such as a ruler (v. 1). It means, don't trust someone like a politician just because his tongue is smooth; what counts is what he thinks, or believes, internally. An anarchist chapter, almost. All voters, employees, “officials”. . . believe in compulsion. They're force freaks.

So, what do you think and believe, dear Reader, deep down inside?

To get one's own way by compulsion is a principle drilled into us from our earliest days, and so it takes a deal of eradicating. The picture is complicated by the fact that fairly often, a young child has to be compelled, for his own safety – that ugly phrase being, in those early years, sometimes actually true. Children are by nature highly inquisitive, and long may it be so, but sometimes their curiosity can lead to great dangers of which they are quite unaware. Compulsion is then perfectly justified, though it should be followed ASAP by reasoned explanation. The trick is to reserve compulsion for when it really matters, and not to use it just because it gets the job (of raising a cooperative youngster) done faster. That as parents we often fail in that task compounds the compulsion ubiquitous at school, if we allow our child to be exposed to such a dreadful institution, with the result that a ten year old takes normality to mean all are expected to do what they are told. That's a lousy fit for the coming free society.

That poor fit means that before a free society can function, all its members must come to the correct understanding that to get what they want in it, they must use only persuasion, not compulsion; and because of the deep roots of the latter, that task is far from trivial. I've often written of the primary need so to re-educate everyone to understand the repulsive nature of government that they decline any longer to work for it (so producing its demise) but this is the other great need of that re-education: to be made ready to live in the quite different kind of society that will prevail once it has disappeared; one in which force must not be used.

“Persuasion” includes the exercise of sales skills, but primarily it means just offering someone an article or service he might want, in exchange for what you want. That means working out what he might want but doesn't have, and what skills and attributes you have, that match up. This is very simple, but for very many people today, very unfamiliar and neglected.

Scraping off the rust and practicing self-evaluation in those terms is possibly the most vital preparation many people need to take, to become ready for life in a free society. Millions in large organizations (even commercial ones, as well as governmental) work daily at almost wholly useless jobs, pushing pens and clicking mice so as to collect a wage. They hold the jobs so that the head of their department can look important, as measured by the numbers at his or her command. So long as there is no effective competition, this absurd waste continues. For such to look oneself in the mirror and ask, “What did I accomplish today?” is devastating. To prepare for freedom – in which no government protections will shield the firm from nimbler rivals – those millions must understand their own abilities and skills realistically and get in the habit of showing potential employers or customers what value they can bring them. One obvious and major business opportunity in that time of rapid change will be in counseling them in the art of self-presentation where they will find fulfilling work, and perhaps placing them for a fee; and no, they will not be unable to pay one. Such wage-slaves very often own a good slice of home equity, valid in terms of real money.

I'm not sure, but think that in the coming free society there will be many fewer “jobs” and far more enterprisers; people who sell their services (often in the form of products which they have used their skills to create or to buy in bulk) to many buyers instead of just one. There will be ample demand for skills like carpentry, plumbing, construction, electrical installing, etc., around the house and garden. Will the demand for programming skills be so strong? Not sure. I've made a few bucks by designing websites for local firms, but it's a tough sell with plenty of competition. Electronic stores, on the other hand, may form a major opportunity.

Training everyone to practice persuasion instead of compulsion is therefore vital, and gets emphasis in the Freedom Academy – possibly it needs more. The nature of the free market is presented, with its surprising key feature that, because different people value things differently, every exchange leaves two “winners,” not one. Under compulsion, there's only one winner: he whose order is obeyed comes out on top, satisfied. But under freedom, both win. This is a fundamental difference between government and liberty, and happens because value is subjective. When someone sends me some pictures of dead white presidents in exchange for a copy of my Liberty Trilogy, it's because he values those books more than the pictures; on the other hand, I have other copies of the books and so prefer (value higher) the pictures more than the books. That's not because they have any intrinsic value, but because I can exchange them for any of a very wide variety of other good things.

A free society – one operating by persuasion, not force – has no losers! Because every exchange is voluntary, completed only when both parties to it are satisfied, both win. Neither loses. There is (completely unlike a governed society) therefore no source of discontent. Now, it's true that afterwards one of the parties might regret it, change his mind; I might ship off my Trilogy and then reflect on the immense value of the priceless ideas it contains and wish, after the event, that I'd charged three times as much. But even then, the only one I could blame would be myself. I'd have no grounds for resentment against anyone else.

Another possibility is that neither participant is satisfied by a proposed exchange; the vendor values his wares more than the price offered, while the buyer values his money more than the goods or services offered. The deal aborts; there is no deal. Therefore (that day, that time) there are no winners. Are there any losers? No, there are not! Because each party drew back and departed with his own preference perfectly fulfilled and intact. Nobody lost. The worst that could be said is that some hopes were disappointed, a new or extra gain was not realized. One other factor applies in this case, however; when news of it circulates, the market (everyone) will know of a possible business opportunity, if some inventing can be done.

Today there is very little that any of us can buy or sell without compulsion playing some part. To fill a gas tank means paying tax to a third party, a parasite who did nothing to prospect for, drill, pump, transport, refine or distribute the product. To fill a back-yard BBQ propane tank means trashing the tank and buying a new one, if it is more than a certain age – even though the body and valve mechanism are in obviously perfect condition. To sell a container of food without government-mandated labeling in a certain form is forbidden – even though the buyer does not want the data so displayed, and neither reads them nor understands them. To fit a silencer to a gun (to reduce noise nuisance for neighbors, for example) requires a $200 stamp tax to be paid, even though the device is home-made out of a car oil filter. To manufacture anything at all for sale means being subject to such a raft of regulations as to raise costs (and so, prices) out of all recognition and hence preventing competition with rivals overseas where such regulations are largely absent--and the astonishing reaction of some is to propose not that the regs be scrapped, but that by some means the foreign maker be regulated too! This is the utterly bizarre outcome of operating in a governed environment.

So, what are you; are you a compeller, or a persuader? Are you satisfied with things as they are, or do you, like me, yearn for all the grotesque superstructure of force to be swept away so that a free market satisfies every demand, at its optimal price, in only win-win transactions?

If the latter, will you undertake a very light workload to help make it happen?

Back to Subject Index