The door doesn’t open again on August 30th.
The door doesn’t open again on August 30th.
WHAT IF WE HAD NIPPLES ON OUR ELBOWS?
Dear Catholics and all people of good faith: Why aren’t you an anarchist? Have you ever thought about it? If that word – ANARCHY – conjures in your mind images of chaos, masked men breaking windows, scenes from The Purge, that might be the main reason. But nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchy is the only true order – the only true society.
Anarchy does not mean no rules. In Greek it means no rulers. And what is a ruler? What makes the tyrant, the president, or the congress different from any other leader? It is their perceived ability to control that over which they have no legitimate authority. You are not a slave. The rulers of the earth do not own you any more than your next door neighbor does. If your neighbor were to attempt to force you to do something against your will, you would most likely try to defend yourself. What more a claim over your personhood does a ruler hundreds of miles away have than your next door neighbor?
The difference between the leader and the ruler is the same as the difference between the customer and the thief, between the surgeon and the torturer, between the lover and the rapist. Consent, or more the point, voluntary cooperation, is the difference between society and the state of nature, it is what separates peace from violence.
And this goes to what the core of libertarian anarchism is: the Non-Aggression Principle – the position that it is immoral to initiate violence against a person’s life or property. Lots of people, especially Catholics, get too caught up in the bad things they think will happen if we free ourselves from the need for rulers. We allow ourselves to be duped by the stereotypes associated with libertarianism. I’m speaking now especially to orthodox Christians who hold traditional moral principles and societal ideals. Libertarianism is not “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”. It’s not a license for immorality, or unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage.
Libertarianism is not “fiscally conservative, socially liberal”. It’s not a license for immorality, or unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage. Do not confuse liberty with libertinism. It is not even an economic or political theory per se. No, Libertarianism has precisely one axiom, one tenet, one necessary belief: the Non-Aggression Principle – the 5th and 7th commandments, don’t kill and don’t steal. These rules do not magically disappear because a so-called “necessary” evil named government declares itself the only defense against chaos. Fundamentally, Libertarianism is an ethical position.
And furthermore, it’s a position which practically everyone in society accepts. Everyone knows that it’s wrong to hurt people and steal from them. Libertarians just apply this principle consistently. So this article is I suppose and invitation to Catholics and all people who believe in anything resembling morality. There are some members of society who are strict utilitarians, and really don’t care at all about truth and goodness. But you are better than that. You know that the ends never ever justify the means (Catholics, see the Catechism #1789). No amount of good intentions will ever make a morally evil action good.
So you see, what choice do we have but to be anarchists?
The government is the government because of its ability to initiate violence against people – to threaten to kill them or steal their property. If you support government, you are an apologist for violence. Period. But most of the people I know are above that. Most of us are taught by our parents and by school that violence is an appropriate solution to our problems, but deep down we know this is not the case. And all practicing Catholics know that we aspire to something greater. Blessed are the peacemakers. We welcome the return of the Prince of Peace.
Anarchism is simply the belief that we are all better off when we solve our problems without threatening each other and without hurting each other. For civilized, moral people, there is no other option. For those of us engaged in the culture war, this means we have to be better at our jobs. We don’t get to use the force of the government to get what we want. It will be harder, but we will be better off because, in the end, a social order without principles will never last.
So join us. Be consistent. Be an anarchist.
I did not become interested in economics until I was well-immersed in the liberty movement. I suppose even now my understanding of economics comes second to my political and philosophical opinions. If I had been more eager in my study of economics I might have made less of a fool out of myself for so many years, but unfortunately my mind was warped in my formative years like so many of my peers, and it took a slow process of readjustment to strip me of my misconceptions about the nature of economics.
Economic illiteracy is rampant in our society, and it might be the greatest impediment to the growth of the cause for human freedom. Scratch most people a little and you’ll discover they are almost always confused Keynesians of some kind. Usually this isn’t their fault. It’s all they’ve ever known. Occasionally you might find a crypto-Marxist. The message of free markets sans any coercion challenges assumptions most people are not even aware of harboring.
For example, almost everyone you might happen to talk to about prices takes for granted that goods and services have some kind of objective or intrinsic value – either based on the amount of effort involved in making a product, or the equality in value of the goods being exchanged (it absolutely blew my mind when I discovered this was not the case). Nobody knows why they believe this. For most people it is an unsupported axiom.
A lucky few react well enough to the logic of freedom that their economic foibles eventually resolve themselves, but many (rightly, perhaps) are too afraid that unregulated capitalism will lead to rampant unemployment, poverty, and abuses of human rights to think outside the comfortable box of government regulated “mixed” economies.
And why shouldn’t people be ignorant of economics? They’re ignorant because they have never actually studied it. And they’ve never studied it because, like mathematics or physics, they are profoundly and hopelessly bored by it.
Pick up a standard High School economics textbook and tell me that they’re wrong to be bored! They are bored because they have never discovered for themselves what economics really is, and basic (government-run) education reinforces this.
As a senior in High School I was forced by the State of California to take an economics class. I already styled myself an anarchist, but I had not yet signed off on the capitalist half of “anarcho-capitalism” nor become a full-fledged Austrian. During this time I flirted with Distributism and other so called “traditional” economic models. Needless to say, I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and was bored and confused the entirety of the semester. It wasn’t until I understood what economics actually studies that I became passionate about it.
If I Google the word “economics”, the first definition I read is “the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth”. This is fine as far as it goes, and the inclusion of the word “transfer” implies a certain truth, but it’s certainly not a definition which invites further inquiry from the average person.
Far more concerning is the Wikipedia definition, which is similar to the definitions in most High School textbooks: “a social science concerned chiefly with the description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services”. A definition like that, with grey, academic language like “social science”, “description” and “analysis” conjures up pictures of Beltway talking-heads on the television, congressmen writing incomprehensible volumes of economic policy, stuffed shirts bidding on stock options and other such dreary things.
Under such illusions, most people brush off economics as a pursuit for the obsessed few which they are free to ignore. This is tragic. Our teachers and prevailing wisdom have taught us to believe that economics is primarily a method for determining the best public policy which will maximize growth.
But economics isn’t about that. It’s not about policy or GDP or prices or supply and demand or fractional reserve banking. And it certainly has nothing to do with what happens in Washington, D.C. of all places. Economics is about the sovereign You. It is about You, a free individual, and the exchanges You make with other free individuals to maximize happiness. Economics is the mechanics, the logic, of human choice.
For this reason it is not primarily a financial question, nor even an anthropological one. Like scholastic theology, epistemology, and metaphysics, it is a philosophy – the love of wisdom. To contemplate the laws of economics is to contemplate the Truth, which Aristotle calls the highest of all activities. To know the Truth is to fall in love. What other choice do we have?
When I understood that economics was about the very nature of reality, and specifically my place in reality, and my own freedom of choice, it suddenly became a matter of vital importance. I understood that every aspect of my life was economic, not just the parts involving money. No longer was it the boring haunt of musty textbooks and compulsory government education; it was exhilarating. It was exhilarating because it was about Love.
All things worth pursuing are about Love. And yet those charged with teaching economics have turned it into a list of memorized vocabulary words. Imagine if we were all taught that music is merely the succession of differing frequencies of sound in time! Who would be interested? This is the message we need to promote if we want more people to support economic freedom. We need to break the conditioning, and let people see what economics truly is: life itself.
One of the most common arguments one hears from proponents of Intellectual Property laws, besides the claim that creators have a “right” to a legal monopoly over the fruits of their labor, is that IP laws are a necessary evil without which creators would have little incentive to create. A professor of mine once told me that IP is necessary because we no longer have an aristocracy to patronize the arts (Catholic university professors are always primitivists of some kind). What are we to make of this argument, that IP is the only way to incentivize creativity?
Of course, it is always helpful to point out that IP did not exist until very recently in human history, and creators (including artists, inventors, programmers, designers, pharmaceutical companies, cooks, etc.) have always done reasonably well. Certainly IP does not guarantee success, as the sad histories of impoverished artists of the 19th and 20th centuries should indicate. But, that was then, and this is now. Things may have changed.
You should see the looks on the faces of my fellow filmmakers when I tell them that since a film is an abstract idea in the mind assembled from a specific arrangement of light and sound waves and therefore infinitely reproducible and therefore non-scarce and therefore not legitimate property, and that this means one has no right to a legal monopoly over a film’s copying, reproduction, dissemination, or revenue. They are baffled that I, a starving artist like themselves, should sell myself out in such a manner. “How will you make money, then?” I respond with another, somewhat cheeky question. “Why do people pay for Netflix?”
This is a common issue one faces when discussing the ideas of liberty with people. They are so used to the way things are and always have been that they cannot imagine it being any different. Probably the most oft-parodied and widely mocked iteration of this impulsive fear of the unknown is that time-honored question, “But without government, who would build the roads?” (On the internet we call this the “Muh Roads” argument)
Libertarians love to mock this question, but it is a legitimate fear that many people have. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still cannot just trust that the market will allocate resources efficiently to as many people as possible. Of course, the market is always surprising us. When Napster threatened the music industry’s monopoly on the dissemination of music, the IP evangelists asked the State to intervene because, of course, without control of the distribution of their product how could they possibly make money? Napster was shut down, but Pandora’s box was opened. Positively NOBODY pays for music anymore. Services like Spotify and Pandora distribute free music to everyone, every song is uploaded to YouTube. Who even bothers with iTunes anymore? $1.99 for a song? Preposterous!
And yet amazingly, the music industry did not collapse. They simply had to adapt to innovation just like every industry does. Now artists make most of their money from live shows. This is competition. This is the free market at work. Have you noticed how much better and more artistic popular music has gotten in the last ten years? That’s because in order to make money off of concerts, you have to be really really good. The rising importance of live music also grants more autonomy to the musicians, rather than control to the studios and marketers, and the artists can therefore be more true to their artistic vision.
Which brings us back to: WHY DO WE PAY FOR NETFLIX?
To be honest, I don’t really have an answer, but follow me here. Unless one actually works in the entertainment industry (i.e., must be sensitive about “stealing” people’s ideas), IP is dead. Despite the studios’ efforts to destroy unauthorized copies of their products, for the average person, there is no especially logical reason to ever pay to watch a movie or TV show again. Case in point: a great software called PopcornTime. PopcornTime is a vaguely illegal torrenting service which offers copies of films and TV shows for absolutely free. All one need to do is download the file. Because PopcornTime is peer-to-peer and (obviously) doesn’t have contracts with studios and filmmakers the way Netflix does, virtually every movie or TV show you could possibly want has been uploaded. And if PopcornTime doesn’t have what you’re looking for, some other equivalent service will. If you know what you’re doing you can hunt down the individual torrents yourself. So the question remains, why on earth do people still pay for Netflix?
Almost everyone I know who uses PopcornTime also uses Netflix (myself among them). I know for me personally, I prefer to watch movies and TV shows on a large screen and not on my laptop or desktop computer. However, all I would need to make PopcornTime play on my television is an HDMI cord. Maybe it’s because the internet seems to work faster on Netflix than on PopcornTime, though certainly this is a problem time and innovation will erase. This issue raises the question, why does anybody pay to go to the movies still? Why do I still find myself buying DVDs and Blu-rays? What exactly are they selling me that torrents aren’t?
You see, there is much more to a product than the product itself (in the case of movies, an arrangement of light and sound). There is the experience of the product on the part of the consumer, brand recognition, etc. The destruction of IP affects none of these auxiliary properties of any creative product (and, according to my recent examination of conscience, I am inclined to believe that these things may be more important than the product itself as far as the price system is concerned). When I go to the drug store, I am always more inclined to buy the name brand drug instead of the generic, even though the generic is the exact same concoction at a lower price. When I’m driving through the boonies, I’m more inclined to go to Shell or Chevron than Smokey Joe’s Gas Barn. I will always drink bottled water instead of filtered tap. Why? I haven’t the foggiest. It’s probably irrational, but profits care not for my lack of self-awareness.
My point in all of this is: to all proponents of IP and all fearful artists – stop worrying. You will not be penniless. If you are creating something good, someone will value it and pay you for it. The market will not leave you destitute. It is up to you, not the consumer, either to make your product scarce or to offer some premium experience that the knock-offs and the remixes cannot. Stop expecting the State to come along and do your job for you. Not to fear. The world will be freer, and you will be a better artist for it.