The New Underground Railroad

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I was chatting with my son tonight whilst reading Hucklebery Finn, when we came to the part where Huck and the slave Jim are trying to get to the Free States. My son mentioned that they could use the underground railroad.

It got me to thinking. The underground railroad “was an informal network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th century Black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists who were sympathetic to their cause”–was a network of people helping slaves to escape, to get away from oppressive regimes.

Now, slavery means legal ownership of another person. Legal ownership means the legal right to control. Although the antebellum form of slavery has been abolished (in the US at least), the state still maintains legal ownership over us: it claims some ownership rights in our bodies when it claims the right to conscript us, regulate us, jail us for using drugs or evading taxes. So there is still slavery, of another form. It’s partial slavery, perhaps, but it’s slavery–bureaucratic, inescapable, cloying, repressive, democratic slavery. (For more on this see my What Libertarianism Is.)

So, given that there is a modern analogue to chattel slavery, namely state taxation, fines, jail, conscription, regulation–what would the modern analogue to the underground railroad be? Maybe we ought to use that as a modern metaphor: refer to institutions and ways of fighting taxation as a modern Underground Railroad, or try to design a more carefully orchestrated one designed to help people evade state taxes, etc. For example, imagine a data farm on a little island nation, or some kind of banking secrecy system, that we promulgate as The New Underground Railroad–heping you escape tax slavery. Something like that. Any legs? I’m all for it. Maybe we need… The Underground Railroad Party…

Update: from readers:

  • You may want to take a look at Tim May’s Cyphernomicon, which he wrote in 1994; an adaption appeared in Vernor Vinge’s “True Names.”
  • The underground railroad ends in New Hampshire: that’s where liberty is taking its last stand. If it (the freestateproject) doesn’t work there, then all hope is lost.
  • It’s called expatriation, Stephan. That’s about the only route out of this Leviathan legally.
  • I brought an idea like this up when I attended [a libertarian seminar]. I said that there should be networks of nonviolent, civil disobedience that help conceal and defend tax evaders, etc before and after capture, respectively. I don’t know if the libertarian movement is strong enough yet to have an effective network, but that’s how the ball will role when the game really gets going.
  • Thank you for this excellent post and your suggestion for a new, modern Libertarian analogue. Well done! I’d like to recommend a companion analogue / battle cry: in the words of Butler Shaffer’s two year old grandchild, “let’s break the cage.” – Onward and upward!

10:34 pm on August 18, 2009