Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Freedom: The New and Future Experiment

By Joel Bowman

This topic is particularly timely right now because, as you well know, a revolution of sorts is today under way in a place that used to be comfortable calling itself, proudly and with a straight face, “The Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.” Try asking any thinking individual who happened to be born within the United States borders today to claim that title without arousing a disquieting feeling of tragic irony. You might hear the words, but you’ll notice they are delivered with an empty conviction, with some embarrassment, a shame, almost, for remembering what was lost.

But before addressing the New and Future Experiment, let’s take a look at the Old and Moribund Experiment: Statism.

From the Pharaohs through to warlords, kings and queens, generalissimos, barbarians, emperors, chairmen, f├╝hrers, shoguns, sheiks, tsars, presidents, prime ministers and the rest of the dirty rotten scoundrels, nobody could say we humans didn’t give “The State” a fair go.
Statism exists in many forms. All, I will argue, are inherently evil. All end in eventual and painful demise.

Why do I say that all forms of Statism are evil? Surely there is an argument for some kind of “minarchist” arrangement of governmental oversight, the Praetorian guard, the night watchman, some kind of political structure to protect us against the aggressions of our neighbors who are always and forever waiting at our front gates, ever at the ready for the law to change or turn its back so they can come and pilfer our grains, raid our gold stockpiles and defile our daughters?

It is sometimes said that religion makes men do noble things. And that’s true. But religion also makes men do heinous, hellish things. Why else would anybody strap a bomb to themselves and run into a kindergarten, for example, if they didn’t think God was on their side?

I’m reminded here of that great skit from Scottish comedian, Billy Connelly.

“I want to go to one of these suicide bomber schools,” he says. “You can just imagine the instructor.
“Alright lads… I’m only going to show you this once…”

Statism is the new religion.

Men used to march off to war for “God, King and Country.” Now he marches off to war to “spread democracy” — the credo of the new religion.

How many people, we wonder, would feel compelled to battle on foreign lands, the whereabouts of which were heretofore unknown to them, to slay “the enemy,” to lay waste to husbands, fathers and brothers they have never before met, to Napalm fields, Agent Orange crops, to litter terrain afar with landmines, if they didn’t believe the patriotic claptrap with which their State ceaselessly indoctrinates them?

No. Statism, in any form, is wicked because it attacks us at our most basic human level. It undermines our dignity. It presupposes that we are incapable of caring for each other and ourselves without its continued and ever increasing invigilation. It tells us that we are not born free individuals, but servants of the State.

In this way, the State is not the preserver and protector of freedom, but anathema to it.
But perhaps most cruelly, most insidiously, the State tells us that we need it more than it needs us. Untrue. It is important here to remember that the State is nothing more than a collection of men and women who initiate force against everybody else, the very same citizens they purport to serve, to represent…and who (are forced to) pay their salaries.

I’m reminded of Doug Casey’s observation that during the Viet Nam War, peace protestors used to carry placards reading, “What if there was a war and nobody showed up?” to which Doug adds, “What if they levied a tax and nobody paid?”

Here we can see immediately that, contrary to what they would have us believe, it is the State that depends on our complicit support to exist at all, not the reverse. It is a form of mass, political Stockholm Syndrome, where the captors gradually come to accept the commands of their master as a demented kind of benevolence, eventually even feeling compassion for and allegiance to him.
That, in a nutshell, is the definition of patriotism: allegiance to one’s own gatekeeper, affection for one’s oppressor.

There are, of course, those who argue that without the State, we would be without the means to build and maintain roads and other critical infrastructure — that we would be without hospitals and schools, without the “safety net” the State is forever crowing about having provided for us.
But to hold this point, one must first admit that there exists, within society, the resources, the productive capacity to build and provide these goods and services in the first place. Those arguing for State intervention are merely saying that the State is the preferred method for delivery, for redistributing a wealth of resources that already exists, through its superior mode of governance.
A dear friend of mine shared with me recently a fantastic quote that addresses just this point. It comes from Allen Thornton’s excellent essay, Laws of the Jungle

“What do you think ‘govern’ means?” asks Thornton. “It doesn’t mean ‘suggest’ or ‘implore.’ It doesn’t mean two people sitting down, talking it over, and compromising. ‘Govern’ means ‘force’ and ‘force’ means ‘violence.’ When you advocate any government action, you must first believe that violence is the best answer to the question at hand.”

This is the Old Experiment.

Empires…their monies…their militaries and their promises. All these things eventually, invariably, die. You might even say it’s what they were born to do. Their death, in other words, is inevitable. Only the number of innocent individuals they take with them varies.

At this, we should not be surprised. But we should be prepared.

Ever since statists first cobbled together a collective of ruling people, the “rest” have been living under one form of tyranny or another. From tribal leadership structures to local council hierarchies, from Plato’s philosopher class to medieval monarchies through to the various “isms” of our modern times, there has existed one class of rulers — sometimes called guardians, other times tyrants — who have seen fit to exert their ways and rules on all others, usually, ultimately, on pain of death.
In the end, individual freedoms are surrendered to the precise degree that the State is permitted to exist at all.

Most people accept the State’s intrusions on their freedoms as minor grievances. They shrug and mutter something about the “best of a bad bunch” or the “lesser of two evils.” Nevertheless, for the vast majority of people, surrendering a little liberty (or a lot!) for a little safety or convenience is a pretty good deal. That, despite Benjamin Franklin’s famous call to caution that…
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

What if the "best of the States" is always on its way to becoming "the worst of States"?

It is true, of course, that certain forms of Statism are more overtly aggressive than others (though all seek to administer the ultimate punishment for political apostasy, one way or another). Some governments exercise control over their citizenry in subtle ways, like granting them the "privilege" of carrying an identifying document when said citizen chooses to exercise his natural right to travel freely.

Other regimes, however, are not so subtle in their use of coercion. They stone women to death for baring an inch of skin, force those of a certain race into internment camps, and/or execute political opponents at will...among many other atrocities.

This type of the State, according to most folks, constitutes the worst of all evils.
But what if the State, itself, is the "worst of all evils?" What if the State is genetically predisposed to malevolent mutations? What if even the "best State" -- the one that begins its life, nobly, as a constitutionally constrained republic, dedicated to protecting and promoting "life, liberty and justice for all" -- is really, at all times, on the road toward the most evil, militaristic expression possible?
What if force can only beget more force, in other words, coercion only more and greater coercion?
And, more importantly, where does that leave us, goose-stepping down the road to perdition?

Today, in the most powerful nation the planet has ever seen -- a mighty behemoth with military arsenal capable of exterminating the entire human population many, many times over -- more than 45 million of its own citizens live on food stamps, barely able to get by. That many again are supported directly by the State, that grand experiment we've devoted six thousand years to testing, but which we still don't quite understand.
And how is that experiment, however noble its genesis, working out? Well, take a look around.
I'd like to cite just a few troublesome data points that appeared as part of a much longer list in a recent Daily Reckoning.
  • According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of "very poor" rose in 300 out of the 360 largest metropolitan areas during 2010.
  • Last year, 2.6 million more Americans descended into poverty. That was the largest increase yet seen since the US government began keeping such statistics on back in 1959.
  • Today, 15.1% of all Americans are living in poverty.
  • The poverty rate for children living in the United States increased to 22% in 2010.
  • There are 314 counties in the United States where at least 30% of the children are facing food insecurity.
  • In Washington DC, the "child food insecurity rate" is 32.3%.
  • It is being projected that approximately 50 percent of all US children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives before they reach the age of 18.

  • And the situation is worsening at the other end of the demographic chart, too. One out of every six elderly Americans now lives below the federal poverty line.
  • More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid. Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid. Today, approximately one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid.
  • One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one government anti-poverty program.
  • The number of Americans that are going to food pantries and soup kitchens has increased by 46% since 2006.
  • The Old Experiment is faltering, even as we sit here today, surrounded by the picturesque landscape of "Doug's Gulch."                       
    I suspect it is for this very reason many of you are here today. You see the writing on the wall.
    So, where to from here? Can we discount the State entirely?

    There are, of course, those who argue that the solution rests in going back to a gold standard, or back to the constitution.
    What these people are really saying is that they want to start the Old Experiment over, an experiment that, demonstrably, has not only failed, but will end in absolute disaster for those who cling to its now baron promise of redemption.

    We had a gold standard. Did that stop the government from abandoning it the moment it needed to inflate the currency to pay for its military misadventures abroad?

    We had a Constitution. Did that stop the government from abandoning it, from circumventing the restrictions therein? Where is operation "Shock and Awe" in the Constitution? How about the authority to carry out programs like "universal medicine" or "cash for clunkers." Where is the amendment that empowers the Treasury Secretary to send billions of dollars to his former Wall Street employer?

    Do presidents consult their worn, dog-eared copy of the Constitution when they decide to march off to war or to effectively nationalize this or that sector of the economy?

    Of course not.
    Murray Rothbard, the man who coined the phrase "anarcho-capitalist," perhaps summed it up best in his work, For a New Liberty, when he wrote:
    "The idea of a strictly limited constitutional State was a noble experiment that failed, even under the most favorable and propitious circumstances." (And remember, this is from a book published back in 1973, almost forty years ago. Even then, the course of events was becoming obvious, if only to a few.)

    "If it failed then," he continues, "why should a similar experiment fare any better now? No, it is the conservative laissez-fairist, the man who puts all the guns and all the decision-making power into the hands of the central government and then says, 'Limit yourself'; it is he who is truly the impractical utopian."

    Meanwhile, back in impractical utopia...

    Protesters are arrested by the hundreds in New York and elsewhere across the country.
    Lemonade stands and bake sales across the nation are being shuttered and reams of rules and nosey-by-nature regulations are strangling small and medium businesses (and, along with them, any hope of genuine recovery).
    You're subject to indecent searches -- "gate rapes" -- at the airports and even now, I hear, on State highways and train systems.
    You are guilty until proven innocent. Due process be damned.
    The question, then, is how do we escape or avoid the State, this most vicious and insidious enemy to freedom?
    How do we begin the New Experiment?

    Well, first we must recognize that, like the monster under our beds when we're children, the State only exists to the extent that we permit it to.

    Without our continued support, both financially, through failing to protect our private property from expropriation at the hands of the State, the IRS, and politically, through our validating participation at the ballot box, the State ceases to exist.

    It NEEDS us.

    And it is up to us, therefore, to starve the monster, to take our own freedom back from the jaws of the beast.
    How best to do this?
    However tempting it might be to simply "lynch the bastards" (and, for the bloodthirsty among you, that might be coming anyway) we must realize that force and violence is not the answer, or at least not the best answer. You don't fight fire with fire, unless you want an inferno.
    In the same way, there's little point in fighting violence with violence. For one thing, it's stupid. It's a no-win game. Violence is the State's specialty. They have the guns, the jails, the cops, the first responders, the TSA goons, the DEA, SEC, FDA, EPA, IRS and all the rest.
    They have cornered the sociopath market, in other words.

    Fortunately, we can do much better than that. We can do better than to play right into their clenched fists.
    Revolution of the kind brewing amid the Occupy Wall Street camp and the Tea Party movement is probably not the answer either.
    What kind of freedom are we seeking if it may be only be granted by those who appoint themselves our masters? Are we really going to prostrate ourselves on the steps of Capitol Hill or in the foyer of Goldman Sachs like some servile zombie and beg for freedom? That kind of subservience only serves to strengthen and validate the perverse, master slave notion they want to perpetuate.

    Actually, revolution, in any form, is not the answer at all. We've tried that. We try it when any State begins to falter...then we go and erect another State to replace it.

    By definition, revolution simply means returning to the beginning, to the point of origin. No wonder they say history repeats itself, or that it at least rhymes...We've been running and re-running the same experiment over and over again, always expecting a different result -- the very definition of insanity.
    You'd think that, after 6,000 years -- and a body count in the hundreds of millions -- we'd give up on the State and try something different.
    We don't need to revolve, in other words, we need to evolve.

    But that takes courage. It's not easy to clap when everyone is booing. It's not easy to stand up when everyone around you seems content to live their lives on their knees.
    The good news is that the State is already falling apart. The bad news is that it will likely try to take you with it. That has been, and continues to be, the glaring lesson of history.
    In Europe and the United States, the people are beginning to see that their emperors -- and their empires -- have no clothes. The welfare/warfare State is broke, broken and fast running out of options.
    But these people, these occupiers and tea partiers, by and large, are not going after the State...they are going after each other! They are demanding more State power, not less.
    As such, you ought to expect higher taxes. Expect capital controls. Expect more and greater restrictions on the freedom of your movement.

    And expect riots, as we are already seeing, of growing intensity.

    It is not an exaggeration to say your window of opportunity is already closing. And one cannot stress that point enough.

    But there is a silver lining to this dark, statist cloud. And it comes, in large part, with the power of communication. It comes with the spread of ideas -- ideas of freedom and of ways to achieve it.

    In the same way that Gutenberg's printing press of the late 1400s acted as an "agent of change" in Europe, the Internet is today providing opportunities for the dissemination of ideas like we have never before seen.

    Love them or hate them, Internet-based, decentralized organizations like WikiLeaks and Anonymous are operating more and more brazenly by the day, exposing the lies and corruption of the State for millions to see.

    The idea, again, is not to overwhelm with force and violence, but to undermine with truth and ideas.
    It is true that the State has the guns, but we have the information and, with the advent of the Internet, the means to distribute it.
    We live in an age where a child in sub-Saharan Africa can access information published on the other side of the world almost instantaneously...where groups of likeminded individuals can coordinate and share ideas in real time across artificial borders erected by warring, small-minded politicians, where young entrepreneurs in South America can do business with start-up companies across the Pacific, trading cyber currencies well beyond the reach of their respective governments, thereby denying these criminal organizations the financial lifeblood they need to exist.

    Now, like perhaps no other time in history, we have a chance to spread the word of freedom quicker and further than any time before.
    And freedom, you'll notice by looking around the room, is a catchy tune. Once you've got that idea in your head, you can't shake it. And the world begins to look very different indeed.

    On a personal level then, what can you do, now...today.

    You should begin, immediately, diversifying yourself across borders. You should open a bank account in a foreign country. You should do that immediately. Uruguay, sometimes know as the "Switzerland of South America," is a reasonably good option that requires little paperwork. You can set up an account there in a few hours. Maybe that's not ideal for your own circumstances but, in any case, you should look into moving funds abroad quickly.
    You should also consider working towards obtaining a second passport.
    And obviously, you should be holding a significant portion of your portfolio in precious metals -- real money, in other words. They should be hard to get at. Not for you, but for anyone else, including, especially, anyone brandishing a government badge of some description.

    How much? That depends on your individual circumstances, but I'm inclined to agree with Byron King, who writes Outstanding Investments, when he says between 15-20% of your portfolio in precious metals, more if your individual circumstances warrant it.
    I'd also be looking at foreign real estate, mostly because it's difficult, if not impossible, for your government to get its hands on. Plus, it provides you with a "Plan B" if things really go awry...and I think there's a better-than-average chance they will, both in Europe and in the U.S.
    Other than that, you want some of what my friend and colleague, Chris Mayer, calls "dry powder." That's cash on the sidelines -- hedged across multiple currencies -- that you can liquidate quickly to take advantage of deep value, crisis investments. And I do believe there will be many such opportunities for geographically nimble investors in the next 3-5 years.

    And finally, a kind of quirky idea that I think is worth mentioning.

    Get some mates.

    I don't mean people you know from work or second cousins...I mean people who are similarly, independently minded, who are curious and who ask questions, who are not prone to imbibe the bread and circus sideshows they see on television.
    Get these people together and begin an informal meeting group where you can share ideas. They might be start up businesses ideas, investment opportunities or just good book recommendations. Doesn't matter. Find some kindred spirits. You'll see they are an invaluable resource during times of crisis.
    I'm part of such a group in Buenos Aires, founded, in large part, at Doug's suggestion and introductions.

    We have doctors, engineers, software technicians, artists, writers, energy consultants, entrepreneurs and a whole host of talented people all sharing ideas and trying to figure ways to live freer, better lives.

    You can do this at home, in your local communities, online, here in La Estancia, wherever...but I can't recommend the activity highly enough.

    It's sad to have to say that...but...
    In a world where violence is the norm, peaceful assembly and voluntarism have become extremist positions. I encourage you, in this respect, to become an extremist.
    In a world ruled by guns and brute force, ideas of liberty and freedom are indeed our greatest tools. It's time we started sharing them.

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