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Archive for the ‘Agora! Anarchy! Action!’ tag

The Glories of Central Planning

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Socialists often criticize the market for allowing people to starve. They often say it’s unfair that somebody with surplus food is allowed to keep it while others starve to death. They also lambast the idea of property rights because the concept allows a person with a surplus of food to defend it against a starving thief. These are valid criticisms, mind you. But they also ignore an important fact. Markets and private property rights may allow some people to starve but you really need a centrally planned economy if you want to starve everybody:

The fight for food has begun in Venezuela. On any day, in cities across this increasingly desperate nation, crowds form to sack supermarkets. Protesters take to the streets to decry the skyrocketing prices and dwindling supplies of basic goods. The wealthy improvise, some shopping online for food that arrives from Miami. Middle-class families make do with less: coffee without milk, sardines instead of beef, two daily meals instead of three. The poor are stripping mangoes off the trees and struggling to survive.

Venezuela is an epitome of centrally planned economics. Much of the market has been “nationalized” (a fancy word for stolen by the State) and the Venezuelan government dictates a great deal regarding production and prices. Like the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed and now people are starving.

In what must seem a twist of irony to proponents of central planning, there is hope for salvation. When the economy of the Soviet Union collapsed the thing that saved countless lives was the black market:

Everyday survival here requires of everyone – from childhood to old age – a street savvy that makes life in the inner cities of the West seem innocent by comparison. Many older Soviet people say the situation is much like it was after World War II. Survival is a degraded art form requiring such skills as knowing under which bridge the black-market gasoline dealers operate on Tuesdays and what sort of Western chocolates to give a schoolteacher on a state holiday so that a child can get decent treatment in the coming semester.

Anatoli Golovkov, the resident expert on economics at Ogonyok magazine, said, “There is nothing to buy through ordinary channels, but you can get anything you need if you are willing to play the game and pay big money. The whole process makes all of us cynical about the law and ourselves. It degrades us. But what’s the choice?

“For example, say I have guests coming, and I need a cut of meat, a couple of bottles of booze and a carton of good cigarettes. There’s really just one option. With a fistful of money, you go to one of the city markets. The state-run stalls are nearly empty. But you explain what you need to someone. He nods, and never saying a word, he writes down a price on a slip of paper and says, `Come back in an hour.’ When you come back, the package is all wrapped up in a copy of Pravda and off you go.”

When central planning begins starving everybody the market is there to save lives. It happened in the Soviet Union and it’s happening in Venezuela:

But in Maracaibo, the black market is an actual place. The contrabando, as sellers call it, sits on tables out in the open.

The odd part, to an American, is that this contrabando is available every day at Aisle 3 in my local Safeway: flour, rice, coffee, Tylenol. I went in with fixer/translator Yesman Utrera and photographer Jorge Galindo, on a specific mission: to find infant formula for our driver’s baby. By the time we found two cans to compare prices, both were sold.

The very thing that socialists accuse of starving people is the only thing that keeps people fed when socialism starts to starve them.

There are no perfect solutions. Every solution has pros and cons. The cons of the market and private property rights is that some people do indeed starve. But that is far less of a con in my book than the con socialism, which means everybody starves when the State can no longer keep the centrally planned economy propped up. When a centrally planned economy begins the collapse a major pro of the market comes into play: the incentive of personal gain spurs market actors to provide the goods people desperately need. Many will point out the high prices of dealing with these black market actors as a con of the market but they fail to understand that the high prices exist because the risks are so high. When a centrally planned economy begins to collapse it’s not unusual for the State to blame the very thing keeping people alive: the black market. In the hopes of keeping the economy propped up just a little bit longer the State sends agents to hunt, assault, kidnap, and/or kill black market actors. So the high prices aren’t the fault of the black market actors but the State that is trying to maintain its control over the ashes of the civilization it burned.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Black Market Prevails

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When people think black markets the image of drug deals shooting it out over gang wars often comes to mind. But the black market is far more than that. Like the white market, the black market is composed of both savory and unsavory sorts. How many people have paid somebody in cash so both parties could avoid the additional burden of taxes? Don’t answer that because such activity is illegal. But anybody who has done that has also participated in the black market.

As the burdens of operating in the white market continue to grow so does the black market. For example, a recent article points out that Canada’s black market is thriving:

Canada’s underground economy is still thriving, according to a new report from Statistics Canada, in spite of efforts to cut down on the number of transactions that “escape measurement because of their hidden, illegal or informal nature.”

The value of Canada’s underground economy in 2013 totalled $45.6 billion, or about 2.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

That’s pretty much exactly where the numbers were in 2012, give or take a few billion dollars, and where they’ve been hovering since 2002.

Agorism, unlike political action, works as a strategy for weakening the State because it relies on activities people do already. While the State can increase its efforts to stop unapproved transactions it is still an organization of a few people trying to outwit the entirety of humanity. Needless to say, the odds of the State effectively thwarting the black market are approximately zero. And as the State increases the burden of operating in the white market, those people it is attempting to extort will use their creativity to find ways of avoiding those burdens by moving their activities into the black market.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 am

My Story Was Accepted Into The Second Agorist Writers’ Workshop Competition

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The winners of the second Agorist Writer’s Workshop competition were announced yesterday:

Bridge at Adelphia by Lela Markham

Einstein & FDR by Peregrinus

Janus Doctrine by Calvin Mickel

Letters from Home by Cara Schulz

Marilyn Reimagined by Bokerah Brumley

Redfeather by Lyssa Chiavari

Runnymede Rebellion by Tim Walker

Teppichfresser by Mark Johnson

That Holy Anarchist Experiment by Justin Fowler

The Guard and the Crane by Heather Biedermann

The Invading Storm by Matthew Tanous

The Liberi by Christopher Burg

The Six-Sided Cabin of Calhoun County by Joseph Knowles

The Sixth Republic by Richard Walsh

The Vacant Chair by Diane L. Anderson

Warsaw by Eric Nies

Don’t let the fact that they accepted my short story worry you. The other authors are actually good. But my short story will deliver pirates, which should count for something. You’ll be able to pick up a copy of the collection when it’s released at AgoraFest in September.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 7th, 2016 at 10:00 am

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A New Hero Arises

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Setting aside my general hatred of intellectual property, I want to discuss an especially heinous abuse of intellectual property laws. A lot of research done in the United States is funded by tax dollars. We’re told this is necessary because the research wouldn’t be done if it was left to the market and that we shouldn’t complain because the research benefits all of us. But the research fueled by tax funding seldom benefits all of us because the findings are locked away being the iron curtain of publisher paywalls. We may have been forced to fund it but we don’t get to read it unless we’re willing to pay even more to get a copy of the research papers.

Aaron Swartz fought against this and was ruthlessly pursued by the State for his actions. Now that he has left us a new hero has risen to the call. Alexandra Elbakyan is the creator and operator of Sci-Hub, a website created to distribute research papers currently secured behind paywalls:

But suddenly in 2016, the tale has new life. The Washington Post decries it as academic research’s Napster moment, and it all stems from a 27-year-old bioengineer turned Web programmer from Kazakhstan (who’s living in Russia). Just as Swartz did, this hacker is freeing tens of millions of research articles from paywalls, metaphorically hoisting a middle finger to the academic publishing industry, which, by the way, has again reacted with labels like “hacker” and “criminal.”

Meet Alexandra Elbakyan, the developer of Sci-Hub, a Pirate Bay-like site for the science nerd. It’s a portal that offers free and searchable access “to most publishers, especially well-known ones.” Search for it, download, and you’re done. It’s that easy.

“The more known the publisher is, the more likely Sci-Hub will work,” she told Ars via e-mail. A message to her site’s users says it all: “SCI-HUB…to remove all barriers in the way of science.”

I fear many libertarians will be quick to dismiss Alexandra because she espouses anti-capitalist ideals. But it’s important to focus her actions, which are very libertarian indeed. She is basically playing the role of Robin Hood by liberating stolen wealth from the State and returning it to the people. The money has already been spent so it cannot be retrieved but what it bought, research, is still there and should be returned to the people as compensation for the original theft. That is all freely releasing tax funded research is and for her part Alexandra should be treated as the hero she is.

Another Hero Becomes A Political Prisoner Of Uncle Sam

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Anybody who has been paying attention to the depravities of the State won’t be surprised by this post. It is a post about another hero who has been turned into a political prisoner by the State. This hero worked to reduce the violence in the drug market by keeping both buyers and sellers anonymous. He did this in spite of the fact that the last person who followed this path ended up imprisoned for life. Unfortunately the fate of his predecessor likely convinced this hero to plead guilty and suffer a reduced sentence rather than be railroaded by the State’s courts:

Last week, a federal judge in Washington formally accepted the guilty plea of Brian Farrell, the 28-year-old who had been accused in 2015 of being the right-hand man to the head of Silk Road 2.0, the copycat website inspired by the infamous Tor-enabled drug website.

In a 2015 press release, the Department of Justice said that SR2 had generated approximately $8 million per month since it began in November 2013.

While the State was busy sending Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams to people’s houses at oh dark thirty to kick in their doors, shoot their dogs, and kidnap them because they were in possession of a plant, Brian Farrell was helping run a service that kept those psychotic law enforcers away from both buyers and sellers. After all, neither drug buyers or sellers actually commit actual crimes. There is no victim in a mutually agreed upon transaction.

Due to the illegal nature of the drug trade violence often does creep into the mix though. Most of this violence occurs between competing dealers but sometimes it occurs when disagreements arise between buyers and sellers. Since the State has declared the drug trade illegal, claims a monopoly on dispute resolution services, and ruthlessly pursues anybody who creates a dispute resolution service for drug market actors there are few places for a wronged seller or buyer to go. Silk Road and Silk Road 2 acted as both a marketplace and a dispute resolution service. Through escrow, mediation, and user reviews both Silk Roads allowed wronged parties to have their disputes resolved peacefully. In fact there was no way for wronged parties to resort to violence since all parties were anonymous.

Online drug marketplaces are considered illegal by the State. But the vast majority of crimes perpetrated in relation to these marketplaces are those committed by the State as it uses its capacity for violence to terrorize and punish anybody involved in the drug trade.

Brian Farrell, like Ross Ulbricht before him, should be remembered as a hero who tried to stem the tide of government violence.

Libertarians Need To Embrace Their Radical Goal

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I’ve said it before and I will say it again, libertarians are bad at politics. It’s not our fault. Politics is the art of aggression and libertarianism is a philosophy built on non-aggression. But many libertarians refuse to accept this fact so they end up doing stupid shit like starting Libertarians for Trump.

If you read through the post a lot of time is spent by the author, Walter Block, trying to argue what Donald Trump is the most libertarian mainstream candidate currently running. His arguments ring hollow though since his logic would just as easily lead one to compare who is more libertarian amongst Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot. While one can technically compared the three for the purposes of determining which is the most libertarian, in the end you’re still comparing three individuals who are fundamentally anti-libertarian.

But his article falls to pieces before he even gets to his justifications for supporting Trump. He immediately falls into the same trap many libertarians fall into by assuming only two options exist:

Let me just say that there is nothing, nothing at all, incompatible between libertarianism and voting, or supporting political candidates. Both Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard can be considered political junkies, and you won’t find too many better libertarians than those two.

Suppose we were all slaves, and the master said we could have a democratic election; we could vote for overseer Baddie, who would whip us unmercifully once per day, or overseer Goodie, who would do exactly the same thing, but only once per month. We all voted for the latter. Is this incompatible with libertarianism? Would this make us worse libertarians? Anyone who thinks so does not really understand this philosophy. For a remedial course, read this book: Rothbard, Murray N. 1998 [1982]. The Ethics of Liberty, New York: New York University Press.

Between the two options presented he makes a valid argument. However, there are options outside of voting for either the really evil slave owner or the slightly less evil slave owner. You can instead attempt to escape or overthrow the slave owner. In fact this is exactly what Lysander Spooner proposed when most people were arguing over electing politicians who supported the Southern views of slavery or the less harsh Northern views of slavery.

People like to divide libertarians into right and left. If we’re going to collectivize, err, categorize individual libertarians into two groups though I’d much rather divide them up into neophobes and neophiles. Both groups recognize the system of slavery they suffer under and express a desire to create radical change. But the neophobes act inconsistently with their stated goal whereas the neophiles embrace their radical goal.

Walter Block belongs to the Rothbard tradition of libertarianism. I would classify them as neophobes. While they do want to bring about change by moving society towards libertarianism they want to do it without radical changes. They want to utilize the already existing political system to elect the already existing politicians to the already existing political offices. By doing that they hope to legislate libertarianism into existence. Well, at least some libertarianism. Many of them also want to ensure certain already existing political creations, such as government borders continue to exist. But that’s beside the point. Neophobe libertarians fail to embrace the radical nature of their stated goal and that leads them to take ineffective political action.

Agorists such as myself belong to the Konkin tradition of libertarianism. The Konkin tradition falls into the neophile category. We want to bring about radical change and see the already existing political system as a hinderance. After all, how can a fundamentally anti-libertarian system be used in a fundamentally anti-libertarian society to bring about libertarianism? Incrementally over decades? To that I will point out that Rothbard and his followers were working on that decades ago and the only result has been a continuation of the slide towards totalitarianism. We recognize that libertarianism cannot be legislated. Furthermore, we want radical change. The currently existing political creations? Destroy them and salt the Earth they once occupied.

By failing to embrace their radical goal neophobes artificially limit themselves to a course of action libertarians have never been good at (because, after all, it is a course of action created by the opponents of libertarianism). This leads them to do incredibly anti-libertarian things such as support Donald Trump. Neophiles, by embracing our radical goal, are able to act in a way that is consistent with our stated goals. This allows us to avoid anti-libertarian actions such as supporting politicians who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

You are free to join Block’s little club and help continue the system of oppression that exists today. But realize that doing so will require you to participate in a system that libertarians have never been any good at. Furthermore, it will require you to support somebody who is fundamentally anti-libertarain. Or you could not join his little club and enjoy the clear conscious acting consistently with your stated goal brings. As always, the choice is yours but you will be graded based on your decision.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 17th, 2016 at 11:00 am

No Matter Who You Are, No Matter Where You Are, The Black Market Has Your Back

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What is the enemy of tyranny? Is it the ballot box? Is it the bullet box? No! It’s the black market:

North Korea’s isolation from most of the world is not just economic and diplomatic, but technological too. Only about 3 million of its people have access to its domestic telecommunications network, which does not permit access to outside countries. Its internet, meanwhile, is accessible only to the nation’s elites.

But some North Koreans have been able to circumvent these restrictions, thanks to the spread of illegal black market phones into the country. A new report from Amnesty International explains that these smuggled devices—referred to as “Chinese mobile phones,” even if they’re not actually from China—have become an important tool for North Koreans looking to connect with loved ones who have left the country and want to stay in touch.

If their relatives or friends at home don’t already have a “Chinese mobile phone,” the report explains, “often the person who has left will try to send them a phone, for example one bought in South Korea, Japan, or China.”

North Koreans who obtain one of these smartphones can connect with people outside the country by installing a Chinese SIM card in their device. They then must go to a part of the country close to the Chinese border, where they might pick up signal from a neighboring Chinese network.

No matter how repressive of a regime you suffer under the black market is there to provide you the goods you want. Are your overlords preventing you from communicating with the outside world? Never fear! The black market is here to provide you unrestricted telecommunications. Do your overlords prohibit you from owning the most effective means of self-defense? The black market is here to provide you with guns and ammo. Is there some government agency that artificially restricts your access to medication? The black market is here to provide you the medications you need.

The black market has been and continues to be the single greatest enemy to tyranny. By flagrantly providing illicit goods the black market shows that the emperor wears no clothes.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Private Surveillance

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Although public surveillance is more frightening to me because the consequences are generally more dire, I also don’t shy away from criticizing private surveillance. This is where I often part company with other libertarians because they often instinctively say private surveillance, because it’s voluntary, is entirely acceptable. Of course this attitude is overly simplistic. First, private surveillance often turns into public surveillance. Second, the market manipulations performed by the State have raised the consequences of private surveillance even when it doesn’t turn into public surveillance.

Consider health insurance. For most people their health insurance is tied to their employment. This practice is a holdover from World War II, where the State manipulated the market in such a way that employers had to find forms of compensation besides pay to attract employees:

There is no good reason for any of this, aside from historical accident. During World War II, federal wage controls prevented employers from wooing workers with higher pay, so companies started offering health insurance as a way around the law. Of course, this form of nonmonetary compensation is still pay. When the war ended, the practice stuck.

I doubt the long term consequences of this marriage were realized by the employers who first used health insurance as a means to attract employees. Fast forward many decades later and we have a relationship so tight that employers are surveilling their employees’ health data:

Employee wellness firms and insurers are working with companies to mine data about the prescription drugs workers use, how they shop, and even whether they vote, to predict their individual health needs and recommend treatments.

Trying to stem rising health-care costs, some companies, including retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are paying firms like Castlight Healthcare Inc. to collect and crunch employee data to identify, for example, which workers are at risk for diabetes, and target them with personalized messages nudging them toward a doctor or services such as weight-loss programs.

One of the downsides of employers providing health insurance is that they front a lot of the costs. Employers, like everybody else, have an interest in keeping their costs down. Now, instead of minding their own business, employers are trying to snoop on their employees’ health care information.

Health care information is something most people see as confidential. It can reveal a lot of potentially embarrassing things about a person such as having a sexually transmitted disease or mental illness. Unless your health is preventing you from working it shouldn’t be the business of your employer and most likely wouldn’t be if your health insurance wasn’t tied to your employment status.

This is why I respect Samuel Edward Konkin III more than most libertarian philosophers. His philosophy, agorism, argue for the death of wage labor. Instead it encourages everybody to be an entrepreneur that contracts directly with others. This is a stark contrast to many libertarian philosophers who seem to encourage wage labor.

The more independent you are the more free you are. By moving away from wage labor an individual becomes more independent and therefore more free. If you’re your own employer then you are free from worries of being surveilled and possibly fired for simply being too expensive to insure.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 19th, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Black Market Prevails

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Anybody familiar with the Soviet Union probably knows black market trading was pervasive even though the communist government tried tirelessly to ruthlessly crush it. Black markets spring up anywhere a government is trying to restrict trade. Even the totalitarian government of North Korea can’t shutdown black market trading:

Although short, this video echoes a lot of ideas expressed by agorists. Namely that market forces are capable of undermining government regimes. The new generation in North Korea doesn’t remember the founding of the current regime. As is common in such situations they a proving to be less loyal than the previous generations.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 26th, 2016 at 10:30 am

You Can’t Change The System From Within

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Gods help me, we’re in an election year. That means every uneducated wanker in the country is spewing endless streams of bullshit and calling them facts. Worse yet, they want to use their bullshit to inflict their will upon everybody else through the political process. Even libertarians get caught up in this frenzy. And to make matters even worse (and it’s rather impressive that we can make it worse) libertarians involving themselves in the political process have a delusion even greater than most politicos because they believe they can actually destroy the State by becoming the State. The problem with that idea is that the State has contingencies built in to guard against such lofty people of principle:

Getting yourself into one of the branches of government is a process that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to do. Actually, you could wake up one day and decide to do it, but it has the same effect as deciding to be a banana. The process that you go through to get elected will destroy your anarchist/libertarian credibility (*cough*Rand*cough*). Even more if you are going to get appointed to your position. You will have to make promises (lie), fight politically (cheat) and get funded (steal) to get into that that office.

And once there?

Now you have promises to fulfill.

Now you have enemies to ward off.

Now you have debts to repay.

“But wait!” you say. “I am a principled anarchist/libertarian! I won’t play those political games! I won’t fulfill those promises (that would make government bigger). I won’t repay those debts (with government contracts) Now I’ve achieved my goal of bringing down the state from within! Now I’m going to launch my state-ending policy agenda! Muahahahaha!”

At least I have no cape1Good for you, Super Anarchist Politician (SAP). How are you planning to get your government limiting bills to the Floor for a vote? Might be that you need a co-sponsor or some other champion to help you out. Who have you got? The senior members from your State want nothing to do with you. In fact, nobody does after they found out you lied, cheated and stole your way to get in. And you didn’t even have the common courtesy to pay back your campaign contributors (tsk! tsk!). Do you really think anyone is going to jump on your bandwagon?

Getting into office requires mortgaging your soul. Once your in office getting anything done requires refinancing your soul. Ron Paul is living proof of this. He held office for quite some time and during that time the State didn’t shrink one iota. That’s because he mostly kept to his principles, which meant he was unable to broker deals with his fellow politicians. They wanted more power so they weren’t going to cooperate with a man who wanted less.

The article goes on to make other important points. If you believe the system can be changed, or even slowed down, from within then I recommend you read the entire article. But the conclusion explains the actual root of the problem:

The State exists and has power because people believe it does. People believe that the government should rule over them and society. People believe we need a group of rulers to keep us safe. People believe that voting grants special rights, powers and privileges to the elected that don’t exist for everyone else. People believe lies.

Democracies favor the majority and the majority believe in the State. The people themselves will push back against your attempts to free them because they want to be serfs. They believe their lord is the only thing that protects them from the barbarian hordes. By extent they believe anybody attempting to slay their lord is a barbarian trying to kill them.

What you can do is get together with other anarchists and try to create a community of likeminded (but not too likeminded) individuals. Much like the Christians under Roman persecution, anarchists need to keep as much of their business amongst each other as possible. By bolstering one another we can at least create a community of people we can rely on when the State inevitably collapses under the weight of everybody’s good intentions.

Those wanting to change the world for the better should focus on education. If the people you’re talking to decided what you’re selling sounds pretty good they’ll come into the community and help it thrive. Everybody else can continue living as they have been. It’s about as close to a win-win situation as we’ll likely get.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 21st, 2016 at 11:00 am