Why I Am a Panarchist

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A correspondent recently informed me about the Global Poverty Act of 2007. This bill did not pass Congress. It can be re-introduced in the current Congress. Obama favors this bill.

I have a negative opinion of this bill. I could explain why my opinion is negative. I’ve done that before with other laws that have been passed by the federal government. Instead, I will go to the root of the political matter.

Dozens of these bills are introduced into Congress and many get passed. Along the way, there are hundreds of groups that favor and oppose these bills. One can be fighting these fights 24 hours a day. This is not my idea of living. In my remaining years, I’d like to do a few other things. Still, I have to protect myself and my life from the impositions of others. One course is to fight with the pen. This has certain non-monetary benefits that I shall not go into. Either that or I find a way to go underground, insulate myself from all this nonsense, and become invisible. That too has benefits. At some point, I may do that. I may become a dropout. Then I’ll take up painting. I’ll have a machine shop and make myself a grease gun and fire it off out of anyone’s hearing. I’ll raise a few chickens or pheasants and ducks as my father once did as a pastime. I will not raise geese, however. They seemed to like to attack at will.

I find that I have no need for the federal government or the other governments for that matter. What do they do for me? They do negative for me. They take from me. They impose on me. They impose on my neighbors and prevent me from dealing with them as I might and they from dealing with me. Who needs the grief that governments bring? Every so often I must get my car inspected. I must kowtow to the state’s insurance regulations. I must get it registered every two years. God forbid I should ever have to get involved with a case in court and have to deal with the state’s justice system. I’ve never used marijuana, but maybe I’d like to try it sometime for medicinal purposes. I’m not about to hit the mean streets looking for sources who supply me with a product of unknown quality. I’d like to have my dad’s old Mauser pistol. In Maine, I could shoot it. In New York, I am a felon if I have it in the house. Who needs this grief? I spurn countless products in the supermarket because they contain high-fructose corn syrup. I don’t like it. I’d rather have sugar. If it were not for the government, they might have sugar. I will have to pay extra at some point for the privilege of having something with sugar in it. I will bake my own cookies.

If you want your government to ban marijuana, make you go through a lot of rigamarole to carry a pistol, tax sugar, and subsidize corn or ethanol, be my guest. But I get nothing out of it. I don’t see why I have to be made to do what you (I speak of the nameless others here, not you, my sympathetic reader) want. What claim do these governments have over me? Why am I their toady?

Why must I persuade everyone else not to pass a law that harms me? Why is the burden of stopping this placed on me? I am fighting off additional chains. Obviously I am unable to do so. My success rate at this is zero. Why am I a slave? Why are we all fish enclosed in the same barrel? I didn’t ask to be inside this barrel.

So, let others pass the laws that they want for themselves and their own clique. Count me out. I am not your slave. You go your way and I will go mine. Tax yourselves all you want to. That is your right. My right is to bow out of your impositions on me. Let me out of the barrel. Let everyone out of the barrel. Let them find other barrels to be in if they wish, or no barrel at all. Let those who want to stay in this barrel stay. I won’t stop them. Just let me out.

I believe that others are deluding themselves to want a government such as we have today that has the power to pass so many laws. They are making themselves into slaves. It’s their choice. I also know that others have been making the case for liberty for decades without measurable success. Some people want to be imposed on for whatever reasons at certain times in history and at other times they do not. Some people want to be in the barrel.

My problem is not so much that they are self-chosen slaves but that they have made me into their slave. They have no guilty conscience about this. They seem to think it is perfectly all right to confine me to their barrel. They regard this as the natural state of affairs. I am expected (by them) to kowtow to various governments.

Why? Why am I expected to bow down before others? Why should anyone bow down who does not want to? Why should I be ruled by others? Why should anyone be ruled by others who does not want to be so ruled?

If you ever hear a good answer, let me know. I have not yet heard a good answer. The force and power to make me bow down is not an answer.

The proposal that we each go our own ways and choose our own methods of being governed while living in America and other states of this world is the novel proposal of panarchy. It is really the proposal that we each have complete liberty. And if some of you wish to dispose of that liberty and choose a group of others to govern you, that is your business. It is your right. But it is not your right to include me unwillingly into your group. I am fighting you now and forever on that score. I am fighting you the best way I know how, which, at the moment, is with the pen. This is not an antagonistic variety of fighting, however, not at this time. I urge you to give up your urge to dominate me and others. Let us be. Let us go. Wherever my message is heard, if any government officials should happen to read it, I urge you only to let us go. Stop imposing on us. Impose on those who want to be imposed on, not on me. The end game if you do not accede is something I cannot foresee or imagine. Perhaps there will be multiple declarations of independence. Perhaps the number of dropouts will rise. Perhaps you will bring about your own demise. Perhaps we will band together and ignore you. We will stop paying taxes. We will hunt for your weak spot. We will embarrass you perhaps, jeer at you, and make fun of you. A political joke book may bring you down. Maybe we will parade you around naked. Maybe we will run you out of town or tar and feather you. I do not know.

I have no idea how to get from here to there. Such a social and political change is beyond my ken. People ask me how to get to panarchy. I don’t know. Turn your creativity loose. You will devise the ways and means. These things are works-in-progress. The loss of liberty under monopoly governments has been a work-in-progress occupying decades. Liberty might return in a flash, or it might be something that is built up step by step over time as we learn and as attitudes change and experience accumulates. I do not know. I have no game plan. I am not that smart or wise. I don’t know enough to say. I rely on many others who will carry this forward in the future and have carried it forward in the past before I ever heard of anarchy or panarchy.

Why expect someone to give you a plan anyway? Think for yourselves. Plan for yourselves as best you can. All I know is that fighting the government, bill by bill, is exhausting and does not get at the heart of the matter. It is not a matter of individual bills in Congress, bad as each one may be. It is a matter of there existing a government that has the power to pass these bills in the first place and to impose them on all of us, willy-nilly. That is why I am a panarchist (and anarchist). I personally do not want to live under such a power and such impositions, which is why I am anarchist. But I also recognize that others of you might wish to do so, which is one reason why I am panarchist. I do not want to abolish your government that you may want for yourselves, but I want to have my own means of governance for myself. This too is why I am panarchist.

I have no greater purpose than these expressions today. They are crude. They are personalistic. That is how I feel today. I speak from my stomach as much as from my brain.

Yet a thoughtful person has asked me about how defense will work or can work if there is panarchy; and I have an extended (but still incomplete) response because defense is always a major issue whenever the question of altering our political system comes up. His e-mail read:

"If I actually am able to opt out of government protection (thereby paying no taxes) and yet can stay in my place described in your u2018thought experiment’ below, am I myself not u2018looting’? What I mean by this is simply that I will be enjoying the protection of the army (provided by my taxed neighbors who opt-in for state protection) which goes to battle (say a defensive war against a foreign entity) and emerges victorious from this war. My liberty, freedom, and property remain intact, yet I foot no part of the war bill. Thus I still envision coercion for tax payments by my neighbors regardless of any previous understandings we might have had previously. Am I missing something here?"

This is the argument that defense is a public good, or that there is a positive externality in the provision of defense that necessitates joint action imposed by force on all.

Defense is not a uniform good. It is not a pack of Camel cigarettes. Even to say that defense is a public good is a meaningless statement. What someone in Harlingen wants for defense may be vastly different than what someone in Boise wants.

Nothing in the idea of several governments on the same territory prevents people in their own panarchies from associating and federating to produce joint defense. That is what the colonies did in pre-Revolutionary days. They did not have a national government but they constructed a common defense. History provides other examples.

If your neighbors defend themselves and you happen to benefit, does that give them a right to force you to pay? If your neighbors benefit you by any number of their actions, does that give them a right to force you to pay them? If so, they control your agenda and you. How do they justify that? If they cannot build a tank without your contributions, does that justify their forcing you to contribute? They will then have to know that they are helping you and by how much. They will have to know that better than you do. Can they ever know that? What if the shoe is on the other foot and you demand that they pay for building your Maginot line? That preference reflects your idea of knowledge of defense, and it differs from that of your neighbors. When you and your neighbors disagree over the worth of your respective defense products, they have no argument that can persuade you and vice versa. Either you agree to buy your own defenses, or else you will fight until one of you wins and enslaves the other. That basic choice is the issue here. If we choose no force in such matters, it creates a certain set of societal incentives. If we choose force, it creates a very different set of incentives.

The state forces its method of defense on many of us and makes us pay for it. We are the conquered. It makes our property less secure and defenseless because it can force us to pay for its product that we may not want. How can the state be defending us when it is attacking us? Suppose I refuse the state’s defense. Suppose I tell the state that its evaluation of the defense benefit it claims to be providing me is not worth the price I have to pay. The state does not listen to me. It claims its judgment is superior to my own. That is propaganda to keep the conquered docile.

Does the state know better than I do what is good for me? If we allow that conclusion for defense, then will we allow it for my education, my health affairs, my management of my wealth, my entertainment, my speech, my choice of mate, my guns, and my consumption of marijuana and alcohol and tobacco? These controls are already here. The slippery slope to a totalitarian society is already evident. The state talks people into their own slavery.

I value liberty for its own sake, because I am human and I conceive of being human as making one’s own decisions over one’s life while conceding the right of others to make theirs. Those who do not value liberty take other stances on what to be human means. In one case, they view the human being as a creature like a dog that they (in the state) train and keep in its place, that can do a number of things on its own, but that is actually contained and kept within the bounds that they, the superior beings in the state, set for it. They are dividing human beings into the superior rulers and those ruled. In another case, there are those who view the human being as a creature that is nothing without the state. Others view the state as inherently superior to the human being. There are many philosophies that support statism as against liberty.

Shall we protect ourselves by forcing others to pay tribute for what we conceive of as protecting them? Then we must logically accord others the same right of action. This means that we decide to rule them, and they decide to rule us by force of arms. We cannot make someone pay without force. We cannot take their property without force. If we choose that route, we will increase the costs of protection of our property because we will have to defend against everyone else who has a right of action against us for any reason that comes into their heads. If they purify their air and we breathe some of it, they will force us to pay. Which scenario do you prefer, uncertain and perpetual war in which property is insecure because everyone can trench on everyone else’s property at their own evaluation of external benefit and harm? Or a measure of peace in which we define property boundaries and use a criterion of not using force to extract resources from others?

The nations achieve uneasy peace, often broken by warfare, in which on an inter-national basis, there are defined territorial boundaries. The gains from war on an inter-nation basis often give way to the prospect of even greater losses, in which case peace occurs. Quite often, for a variety of reasons, wars break out. One reason is that states under-estimate war costs and rulers gain by wars even if the people ruled do not. On an intra-nation basis, within each nation, the predation and looting go on unabated within the nation’s political system. There is scarcely ever peace within a nation. Among nations there is anarchy, and there are periods of peace. Peace may even be the norm among nations. Within nations, where there is no anarchy but centralized rule, there is not peace. There is constant economic warfare and looting of property, one group by another. Quite often civil war breaks out to end intra-nation oppression. Anarchy and panarchy within the boundaries of existing nations look to reduce the problem of civil war and reduce the problem of internal economic looting, which gains the greater part of its strength from the existence of that nation’s monopoly government.

Panarchy envisions non-territorial governance. Society would discard government as we know it today in its territorial form for many and maybe all of its functions. Defense might be retained along the same lines as today, if that is what people in different panarchies want. It can be done through confederations. But defense as it looks today in the U.S. is highly unlikely if Americans were free to choose their own defenses.

The U.S. went beyond federation to amalgamation under the Constitution. The idea that was propagated was that a central government was needed to defend against European powers. This political solution had a big downside that was overlooked by the framers: The central power (the U.S.A.) could make bigger and more expensive wars by taxing the entire people under its territorial jurisdiction. All it needed was a majority in Congress. The Union lowered the cost of one or two regions combining to impose the costs of war on all the other regions. The result was an expensive military and more wars. This could never have happened under the Articles of Confederation. (The same process happens for all our political programs. Defense is just another program.)

With panarchy, if there happened to be regions (who knows?), each region might have its own defense and combine in a common defense only when it really paid to combine. Defense would become much more competitively supplied as a good, so it would become cheaper and more effective. The kinds of defenses used would be far different than the armed forces we now have. Offense would diminish because a given region would have to bear all the costs.

In the year 2008, we are living with an arrangement (the Constitution) that may have been a good idea for 1787 for defense, but has become very costly and downright bad for our times. The proof is the constant U.S. involvement in wars all over the world. Ever since U.S. government got big, starting at the outset of the twentieth century with roots going back to earlier days, the country has faced one large difficulty after another. If it hasn’t been wars, it has been economic and financial problems. If it hasn’t been those, it has been social and family decay. The problems are getting worse. The roots of them are political. We are not governing ourselves properly, and this is why we keep having these problems. We badly need to get out from under the monopoly federal government. This is another powerful reason why I am a panarchist.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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