Counter economics is not just for agorists

The former communications director of the LPUK, Ken Fergusson, writes:

I believe the correct libertarian response to democracy (and government) is to ignore it.

Ken is not only inconsistent, he is wrong. One should not simply ignore that which is being done to you constantly. Today is Tax Freedom Day, and yet is it nearly June. Nearly half a year of your life has been confiscated over the course of 2014.

It is simply irrational to do nothing in the face of such fractional murder, and all the more irrational to be resigned to fixing the problem through some kind of slow leakage into the culture, like water from your shower penetrating old grout and seeping down through your wall for months to make a small unnoticeable patch on your kitchen wall. The danger with such an ineffectual strategy is that someone comes along and re-tiles the bathroom, cutting off even that tiny trickle of ideas.

In the EU elections a “leave me alone” vote was possible – by holding your nose and voting UKIP – not so in other elections, unless something changes. If we do not want to make a libertarian party work, so as to be able to vote for it, then we must have an alternative strategy that goes further and faster than slow cultural leakage.

I propose such an alternative: building the world we want, and then shouting about it.

Imagine a scene:

Joey, down on his luck, is struggling to afford all the essentials he needs. He’s spent all his JSA money and there is a week until his next cheque. His only joy, an occasional overtaxed cigarette, is now in danger too. He must forego his weekly pack of ten in order to afford the potatoes and chicken drumsticks he has grown used to feeding to his family.

Then he sees a friend, Steve, who Joey knows is also down on luck, but he seems happy. He is carrying a bag labelled “Individual Rights Society Food Bank: helping you, respecting others”. In the bag are chicken drumsticks and potatoes, wow. Also in the bag are tinned peas, tinned carrots, dry biscuits, bog paper, soap, and a copy of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Steve has read all of Heinlein now, and offers Joey his copy, then – sniffing – offers him the soap too.

© Snohomish County

© Snohomish County

Joey goes along to the food bank (the address is stickered to the inside back cover of the book) and gets a bag for himself and – hugely grateful (even if it makes zero economic sense) – stops at a newsagent for some cigarettes and a newspaper. In the newspaper he reads about a new Individual Rights Society School opening and a new Individual Rights Society networking event. Joey is a plumber, so he goes along to the networking event and gets himself a job fixing the leaky bathroom of someone he met there.

Joey raves about the Individual Rights Society to members of his family, who tell him “be careful Joey, those guys would have us do without housing benefit”. He’s grateful for the food, and soap, and good reads for his children, but that scares him, and it makes him think twice about these people. He looks up who they are, and sees them explaining that whenever someone is taxed, they have to go without something themselves, something that may have benefited the economy, or even Joey personally, like the money for a plumbing upgrade. It could just be a holiday – they say – or a pack of cigarettes, but they earned the right to those cigarettes and should get to make those decisions themselves. His ears prick up when he sees that the IRS vows never to take taxpayers money, because the imposition of tax clouds the moral character of everything done with it. Then Joey sparks up a fresh cigarette from his pack, which the IRS helped him pay for with their own money, and understands that these guys aren’t as nasty as people say.

The next day he goes out – using money from the plumbing job – and buys his own cigarettes.




  1. It is simply not true that politics can make no difference. In the United States elections at State level often mean higher or LOWER taxes, higher or LOWER government spending, more or LESS regulations. Depending on who wins.

    The challenge is to transfer success (i.e. smaller government) in some States – to the Federal level.

    As for Britain – my own local council (full disclosure I am on it) has kept Council Tax frozen for years in cash terms (which has meant real terms cuts in taxation). Labour would increase Council Tax.

    Those who ignore politics get bigger government automatically – because giving up the fight means automatic defeat.



  2. Are we against fractional murder, per se, or only when it is “too big” of a fraction? Because all States necessarily engage in fractional murder, even (perhaps especially) democratic ones.

    Also, no voluntaryist denies that governments “get things done”. We deny they have the right to “get things done”. In other words, we oppose fractional murder.

    Interestingly – if we are concerned foremost with being practical – the first thing that a libertarian party should do upon coming to power is abolish elections and outlaw all other political parties. A night-watchmen state, a state that engages in the minimal amount of redistribution, can not offer a “better deal” to voters without ceasing to be a night-watchmen state. Competing parties must then offer a “better deal”, ie,.a greater amount of redistribution, to voters. Assuming men have not become angels, this offer will be eagerly accepted.



    1. Well Rocco, I’m an Objectivist and favour voluntary taxation of a single state, with minimal objective laws, if people do not pay into the state voluntarily then it reforms itself or dies, and we get to have a crack at anarcho-capitalism.

      You correctly point out that either system requires a cultural committment to its ideals or it will drift back to statism. I think this is true of anarcho-capitalism and every colour of minarchy. We do not disagree on that point. The alternative I suggested was building what we want and then shouting about it. Both steps are essential, but the order of steps in that plan is something we might disagree on.



      1. Indeed, though what do you think of the name? “Counter” means counter-government and implies the banned or persecuted activities of the disobedient civilian. What I have in mind is more positive.


  3. Boy, you guys (Marks & Gibbs) are sure back numbers. Don’t you know the latest greatest theme among the trendier “libertarian” profs is the “Rational Ignorance” doctrine? It tells you you don’t have to feel bad about not being politically informed, or aware, because you would have negligible influence on things if you did take the time, and besides you have better things to do. Things that are more important to you, I mean. Why, it’s rational for you to be ignorant!

    I can name names, if you want.

    Besides, anybody who has had dealings with Miss R.’s writings knows perfectly well that ignorance is never (almost never) a value. Information, that’s the ticket!

    I’m about to get into a rant here, so I’ll just say that Paul and Simon are absolutely right.

    Except about one thing. Taxation is NOT necessary in the minimal state. (Paul’s heard me on this, but he never said he agrees. But I’ll explain to Mr. Gibbs, sometime, if he wants. *g*) And Miss R. was not in favor of it.

    – – – –

    Also, a good posting. Thanks.



    1. Julie, I’d like you to name names. I’m a sucker for gossip!

      This taxation not being necessary in a minimal state thing, though. Assuming that it’s practical (and I’m not saying that it is unrealistic), isn’t a group of people providing a legal system, a police force, and an army, to everyone living in a given area, regardless of whether or not they receive payment that covers the cost of providing these services , well… just a touch altruistic?



    2. Julie if you’d like to explain something to me in writing, then why not make a blog post out of it?

      PS I’m all for voluntary taxation, and am more sympathetic than many towards the idea of private policing, but private law is something I’m less comfortable with.



  4. Well Julie one vote rarely makes a difference (political democracy is wildly inferior to the democracy of the supermarket – where each individual gets what they want). So it could be argued that political study makes no sense.

    However, then one gets tens of millions of people who (for example) vote for Mr Obama because he is “Cool” – whilst knowing nothing about his political background. I get really Grumpy Old Man when people give “he is a COOL” as a reason for voting for someone.

    On taxation – well the great cry of Feudalism was no taxation in peacetime (that the King should live off his own – the income from the Royal Estates). And in the Shire of Tolkien (or Sark – if people insist on a “real world” example) there was very little (if any) taxation.

    As for private law – well there used to be many forms of law (“Polycentric law”) with (in criminal cases) those who did not like the (savage) Royal courts, going for Church courts (contrary to what is thought now – the Church was far LESS savage in its punishments than the state, at least for ordinary crimes), And as or Civil Law – Law Merchant was not incorporated into the Common Law till the late 18th century (by Lord Mansfield). Before then private courts were the normal port of call in commercial disputes.

    Sadly what we have now is the government courts dominating Civil disputes (over damages and so on) – but the insights of private Law Merchant are being lost (especially in the United States – where, for example, Tort Law is radically irrational today).



  5. Oh rats, I hate when people call my bluff. 😦 😉

    I’ll see if I can write up something reasonably plausible, and worth a couple of paragraphs instead of two sentences. But I may not be able to get to right away.

    Although come to think of it, Rocco brings up the Free Rider “Problem.” That’s worth another sentence or two.

    Rocco, think Michael Huemer for just one. Prof. of philosophy, San Diego University (or U. of San Diego, whichever it is). You can see his TED talk, “The Irrationality of Politics,” at

    And to take it right down to the wire, people say “Why vote? A single vote never makes a difference.” Well, there’s a righteous rant of a weblog posting in here bursting to get out, but suffice it to say that’s simply not true. Paul himself has attested to a situation where a seat was lost by two votes. And the rather superficial (to say the least) Huemer, who used to post to the old a.p.o. usenet list, said flat out at that time that one vote never made a difference. Whereupon some others in the discussion proceeding to refute that with examples. Let’s see if I can find it…. Ah yes, here it is, from a 1996 discussion on the topic “Republicans Must Vote in the Primary.” The dear child (grad student at the time…today older, but IMO even less wiser [sic]. SNARK!) wrote:

    Voting is a waste of time, and everybody knows it. Don’t waste your
    time. Your vote will have no effect on the outcome of the election.
    When was the last time an election turned on one vote?

    Which elicited, among others, this response, by a John J. Amsler:

    Well, the 1993 (?) budget authorization bill (if that’s what it was called)
    certainly hinged on one vote: with the Senate tied 50-50, Vice President
    Al Gore cast the ONE vote that passed the then-highest tax increase in
    the history of mankind.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Amsler then said,

    As far as voting generically not making any differnce, there might be
    some validity to that assertion —

    Cf. “Votescam: The Stealing of America” by the Collier brothers.

    Now, I don’t know about the Collier reference, but I don’t know what he means by “voting generically.” I suspect he means that “generally speaking voting doesn’t make a difference,” but that comment is beyond false; it’s downright silly. (Why? Because we DO have elections that DO produce winners and losers BECAUSE of the proportion of votes that WERE cast.) The fundamental error in the whole thing is that it isn’t this or that or these or those votes IN PARTICULAR that matter: It’s the cumulative effect of all the votes cast for each candidate or each ballot initiative or in each referendum that makes the difference.

    Read on down for more examples:!topicsearchin/alt.politics.correct/authorname$3AHuemer/alt.politics.correct/slGBJQh4cXE

    Including — gosh! I missed this before! — this from somebody calling himself Paul Marks:

    Good point. Tax increases and bond issues (which mean the same thing
    [plus interest] in the long term) can sometimes be voted down. So people
    should vote.

    However what about when it is not an ISSUE that is up for the vote but a
    PERSON. Politicians do not tend to tell the truth (shock of the century),
    so what is the point of voting for them?

    Mr Reagan promised lower taxes and signed (for example) the Social
    Security tax increase, Mr Bush promised “no new taxes” and signed them
    into law, Mr Clinton promised tax cuts – and delivered tax increases.

    Not very encouraging.

    Paul Marks.

    (Actually, Paul knows exactly why voting for people is indeed sensible, and the reason is the very one Huemer and is ilk want to pretend doesn’t exist — it’s that it IS possible to become informed enough about most (for some value of “most”) candidates to judge their propensity for pernicious lying, that is, for conscious and deliberate intent to deceive, and also to have some idea of how they might behave in office–although this is tricky, because the fact is that high office often presents complexes of circumstances in which even the most honourable officeholder can’t find a definitely least-bad solution.

    (Had another what, 5% of the voters in 2008 taken the trouble to be aware of Obama, his history, his background, they and we would not at least have ended up with a Chicago-Machine-cum-totalitarian-wannabe as President. Not everything he said was a lie, however. For those who did believe there’s a point to non-ignorance, he said forthrightly what he was gonna do, and he’s doing it.)



  6. PS. Actually, I did end up in a rant, and furthermore, as is predictable, Paul had already said it. (Except the Huemer-specific part.)



  7. Also Julie, seeing as you have brought up the “free rider “problem”” (I very delicately tiptoed around it 😉 ) ,it seems to me that a government guaranteeing to provide courts, police and armed forces even if no one who receives the benefits of these services contributes to their provision, really does deserve to be filed in the box marked “free rider problems”. Surely such a guarantee guarantees there will be problems?



  8. As you know Julie – the key is to look at the record. Talk is cheap – so look to see if someone has actually supported (voted for) lower government spending in the past. If they have not – it is unlikely they will do so in the future. Of course if someone has been a State Governor one can actually look at what they have done – not just what they voted for.



  9. OOooops! I just realized — big error by yours truly. It’s Zwolinski who’s at San Diego. Huemer’s at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 😦



  10. Exactly, Paul. Of course, it’s always possible that somebody will vote Wrong out of informed, though misguided, conviction.



  11. Yes Z is in a San Diego – a fine city before unelected judges ruled that “public services” (read welfare and so on) could not be denied to illegal immigrants (now California is doomed – although even Texas was hit by a Court judgement, Federal not State, 1982 insisting that illegal immigrant children had a “right” to taxpayer funded schooling – no I have not seen the words “education” or “schooling” in the Federal Constitution either, although a School System is mentioned in the 1876 Texas Constitution).

    Like Gay Marriage. Free Migration seems fine (just a private matter – nothing to do with anyone else) – until one sees the details (then it becomes obvious that it is another Frankfurt School, “Critical Theory”, plan against Civil Society – which they call “capitalism” and wish to destroy). Unlimited government spending and ordering people about (making people bake cakes, take photographs, rent rooms, give money…..) is NOT what libertarians think “Gay Marriage” and “Free Migration” mean (it is only what they mean in practice).

    As for people who vote for evil knowing what they are voting for – yes they exist.

    Some people voted for the National Socialists knowing he would murder the Jews – and because that wanted them to do that.

    But most voters do not have evil convictions – they lack basic information.



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