There are lots of great ideas for expanding liberty. The most important is probably spreading the ideas of liberty through popular articles, lectures, books, interviews, and formal classes. For these things, we need a professional class of libertarian intellectuals. For those of us who are not quite scholars and who are fed up with politics, but are motivated to do something relevant, entrepreneurship beckons. Entrepreneurship is the peaceful, libertarian version of propaganda by deed. Entrepreneurship is the creative and productive form of direct action.
What is Libertarian Entrepreneurship? It is the creation of new institutions with the goal of advancing the cause of liberty. Examples, tried and untried:
Galt’s Gulch. Once fiction, Werner K. Stiefel tried to make Galt’s Gulch a reality at sea in the 1970’s. The Seasteading Institute is now giving it another shot, following other related efforts, such as The Republic of Minerva and the Principality of Sealand.
The Free State Project operates on the idea of geographically concentrating freedom-lovers in the state of New Hampshire. It was and is one of many libertarian institutions to successfully leverage the power of the internet.
Monetary Entrepreneurship. Re-establishing commodity money — or at least making commodity money possible again — is a tricky problem. Bernard von Nothaus established a warehousing-and-money certificate company in 1998 whose face values mimic those of contemporary US currency. Douglas Jackson and Barry K. Downey founded e-gold in 1996. While e-gold’s effort has been impressive, it still hasn’t broken into the mainstream. The Free Lakota Bank combines secession with monetary entrepreneurship, and is partnered with the AOCS initiative to re-establish silver coinage. Of course, PayPal also began as an effort to create a digital currency.
Adjudication. Arbitration and mediation are thriving business sectors, but quite rare in the area of personal torts. Victim-offender mediation arose through the simple suggestion of a youth probation officer in the early 1970s, and has grown to considerable size, but it is far from ubiquitous and not yet a replacement — as it should be — for criminal proceedings.
Firefighting. In 1667, after the great fire of London, Nicholas Barbon set up a fire insurance business, and in 1680 set up a fire brigade. By the 1700’s, insurance companies in London maintained their own firefighting companies. These institutions passed away for bad reasons.
Crime Insurance and Patrol. My own pet project is subscription patrol and restitution, an attempt to bring restorative justice and accountable patrol to the masses.
Identification. The state crowds out production of personal identification. There is a crying need for good non-state identification methods.
Libertarian Entrepreneurship Society. Maybe there needs to be one. More than one person has mentioned it to me.
Much has been done, but there is also much to do.
As Patrick Tinsley and I noted in our article on Subscription Patrol and Restitution, there are several good reasons to advance libertarianism through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs already sculpt the institutions that create social change: Henry Ford and his motorcar, Fred Smith and overnight letter delivery, J. C. Fargo and travelers’ cheques, Akio Morita and the Sony Walkman. Some might fear that being a libertarian first and an entrepreneur second might be bad for business, but Collins and Porras have shown that companies who succeed in creating major social change while trouncing their competition and beating the returns of the general market all share the characteristic of having a core ideology beyond just making money that guides and inspires people throughout an organization and remains relatively fixed for long periods of time, and that their less successful rivals lack this characteristic. Consumers do not tend to be ideological in their purchases of goods and services: they purchase what works. (This is partially because few people are temperamentally ideological.) But, entrepreneurs are and must be ideological, for they are creating a better way: they must have a vision of the good.
What we libertarians cannot do is “leave to the market” the essential task of sculpting libertarian institutions. The reason that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world is that they are focusing on creating institutions. We have met the market, and the market is us.
Gil Guillory [send him mail] is a libertarian entrepreneur, professional engineer, and project manager in Houston, Texas.