Category: Stateless Society

I listened to the Agora I/O talk today on seasteading. It was delivered by Patri Friedman, founder of The Seasteading Institute. In it he made some comments about the problems of numbers and of secrecy in agorism—it’s simply hard to form vibrant markets when activities are underground and market players (agorists) are few in number and scattered around the world. He then claims that creating communities in “unclaimed territories” (“Frontierism”) by taking advantage of legal loopholes in international law (i.e. seasteading) is the solution to these problems. Is it?

Putting aside the fact that playing by someone else’s rules is no way to attain freedom, and ignoring the real possibility that such legal loopholes are likely to be filled as soon as they are taken advantage of, let’s note that there are no unclaimed territories on Earth. Every part of the world we live in comes under the jurisdiction of either some state or some collaboration of states (i.e. International Law). Unless Mr. Friedman chooses to plant his flag on Mars, then he will have to admit that his seasteading pseudo-anarcho-capitalist society will have to contend with foreign powers attempting to regulate, police, or otherwise interfere. To his credit, he does make a marginal concession in this regard.

However, Friedman claims that the U.S. will maintain a hands-off policy towards his anarcho-capitalist seastead so long as no one is “harboring terrorists, laundering money, working on weapons of mass distruction, or exporting drugs to the United States”. He then amends this to include “anonymous banking”. Even if we naively accept this, he fails to note the motives and policies of other foreign governments. He also says that, otherwise, anyone on the seastead would be free to “use drugs locally, have prostitution locally, … have very low barriers to entry for entreprenuers, … have the rights to your own genome, have different regions with different copyright laws and patent laws.”

Firstly, I suspect his list of what is verboten is a little short. What about so called “Intellectual Property”? What about small-arms manufacture? What about the acquisition of and rights to natural resources? What about the right to associate and trade with anyone who would voluntarily do so? If you think about it for a moment you will realize that there is a huge litany of activites that foreign powers will either be desirous to control or find threatening.

Despite his heritage, Friedman seems wholly unfamiliar with the beast, Leviathan. Institutions—and government is one of humanity’s oldest—are self-serving; desirous, first and foremost, of maintaining their existence and strengthening their power. Governments take or control what they believe they need for their survival. The U.S. has not been entangled in the Middle-East for nearly a century because of “terrorism”. It has been so because of the region’s strategic oil reserves. Friedman also fails to learn the lessons of Cuba, a half-dozen South American countries, and much of south and east Asia. Governments are also notoriously paranoid—especially in this age of preemption. To suppose for a moment that they will not try to influence or interfere with a seasteading community is to ignore the entire history of U.S. interference with nearly every nation on earth.

But suppose for a moment that he is right—that members of his society will be free of foreign intrusion so long as they do not engage in any of the activities he lists. What prohibits anyone from doing so? And what are the consequences to individuals who do?

Suppose his fellow seasteaders are violating copyrights and patents, perhaps only within their community. Something like this goes on in Russia and China, much to the dismay of U.S. lawmakers and the industries which profit from such artificial scarcity. Economic and political means are brought to bear to “correct” this problem, to little effect. More direct means of coercion are not utilized because these are heavily armed states. Mr. Friedman’s seasteading society is not.

Now suppose, for instance, that I, a seasteader, manufacture weapons (nothing fancy or WMD-like) and one of my clients is in the small country of, Yoyotania, which does not object to the sale. A neighboring state, Meanistan, is at odds with Yoyotania and is not happy about this. Does Mr. Friedman still think that obeying his off-limits list will keep us safe? Will he try to set up laws, courts and police to restrict this and other market activities which might antagonize someone,… somewhere. Or will he defy all the states of the world … from his little boat? The first destroys the freedom he is seeking, the second invites its destruction.

And even if he and his fellow floaters obey every edict of international law, does he think he’ll be free from intrusive inspection and regulation? Does he think that governments like the U.S. with powerful corporate interests at the helm will not act to contain or limit an econonomic competitor?

There is a serious flaw in this exogenous strategy of founding an anarcho-capitalist society, and that is that you can never really be out of reach of foreign powers that want to control you. To simply bow to them is to be a subject again—not truly free. This was the essence of a comment I made, which Mr. Friedman so flippantly dismissed.

What Friedman really wants is another American Revolution, without all the fighting and other such unpleasantries. He wants “98% of the grab-bag of rights”. He wants more freedom than the founding documents gave us, to be sure; but his solution is yet another half-measure—one which will ultimately follow the same path so long as a founding-flaw, those 2% of rights, are missing. Humanity has spent far too much time, energy and blood reinventing the square-wheel. No, Mr. Friedman, I would not rather “…never have freedom than get a certain limited amount of freedom”. What I would rather do is invest my time, energy and blood in a strategy that doesn’t require compromise; a strategy that will actually deliver us a genuine anarcho-capitalist society; a strategy that will end statism and free humanity, without strings attached; a strategy that doesn’t free us from one state only to enslave us to the whims of a hundred other states; a strategy that isn’t self-defeating from the outset.

If I was unwilling to live with “a certain limited amount of freedom” as he claims, I wouldn’t be an agorist. As agorists, we enjoy some of the freedoms of an anarcho-capitalist society now, but are still limited in many ways by the existing statist system. However, agorism is a path to complete freedom from the state. It has an endgame strategy for the dissolution of the state that seasteading seems to lack.

I see only 2 probable endgames to Friedman’s seasteading venture, depending on one’s choice to remain subject to foreign powers or reject them:

1. The seasteads attempt to obey International Law and conform to the desires of neighboring states.
1.a They restrict the freedoms of their members in order to enforce these foreign laws so as not to raise the ire of a foreign power. They degenerate into mini-states, which gradually decay to the statist nightmares we have today.
1.b They fail to police their own and so become policed by foreign powers. They essentially degenerate into satellite states or simply dissolve.

2. The seasteads oppose foreign restrictions and intervention. Because they are doing so out in the open, unlike agorist black-marketeers, they must continually fight for their survival, both economically and physically. They ultimately lose to the superior forces arrayed against them.

Granted, the failure of #2 is not a sure thing. With a sufficient number of skilled people and resources, a private defense force could be mustered to protect seasteads from foreign intervention; but again, this mirrors the numbers problem Friedman was so critical of in regards to agorism. The failure of #1, however, is guaranteed from the get-go. Taking this route surrenders all sovereignty to foreign powers, and errodes the freedoms enjoyed in this now anarcho-capitalist-society-in-name-only.

Mr. Friedman raises a lot of good criticisms of the agorist approach which need to be answered, but his seasteading solution is no solution at all—not yet anyway. He makes an analogy about being obsequious to a cop so as to be treated like a well-behaved serf,  instead of a badly-behaved serf. Well, I want a world without statist cops; and I intend to work toward one. If he wants to play nice (and subservient) so that neighboring governments don’t burst the little bubble-society he wants to live in, then I wish him all the best in his oceanic folly. But like many others, I don’t want to live in a bubble at the mercy of every statist breeze, so I’m staking my future and my fight against statism here on terra firma.

Originally posted here
Beginning at the End
(or, How Not to Change the World)
by Robbie Revenant
Many of us have been watching the events in the Middle East and North Africa with great enthusiasm and hope. Some have even asked, “When will this happen here? When will revolution come to America/Canada/etc.?” Others responded, “Why are you asking and not doing? If you want it now, take it now!
But is that what we want now? Let’s take a look at Egypt. What has all this sound and fury wrought? The 30 year-long reign of American puppet and despot Hosni Mubarak is now over. He has allegedly fled the country. The decades of anger from the abuses suffered under this man’s regime finally spilled over into an insurmountable wave that has cleansed that nation of … exactly one tyrant.
The nation is now in the hands of the military. Political pundits the world over are innundating the media with demands for “new leadership” and a move towards “Egyptian democracy.”
In all probablility, this situation will tend to one of two outcomes:
  1. The old despotic regime will be replaced with a new despotic regime, either civilian or military. The people, having paid such a heavy price in this revolution and getting only more of the same, will lose hope in changing it. We won’t see another uprising like it again for a generation or more.
  2. The old despotic regime will be replaced with a democracy. Whether or not it is merely another vehicle for Western political theater is irrelevant. The protestors will be placated for a time. Eventually, as with all democracies, they will turn to political-infighting. They will identify with collective interests they believe are at odds with the collective interests of others. In short, they will fight each other, rather than the system. Again, we won’t see another uprising against the State for quite some time.
Either way, the Egyptian people will still be trapped in the statist paradigm. They will endure another 30 years as tax-slaves and cannon-fodder. After thousands of years of statism, little will have changed but the name of the system which oppresses them.
We, as agorists, see much to admire in the revolutions sweeping Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and numerous other Middle Eastern and North African states. The people there became acutely aware of the injustice of the Egyptian regime; and, despite fear and oppression, they resisted the police-state and demanded something better. We saw a largely leaderless, spontaneous, bottom-up organization to the protests. As government services shut down in an attempt to stymie the protestors, vendors sprang into action to provide food, water, and communications. People banded together to provide impromptu protection forces for neighborhoods as police all but disappeared—no doubt deployed entirely to guard “State property”, protect bureaucrats, and attack protestors. These impromptu forces could, in time, have formed the seed kernal for private protection forces—a free market alternative to State police.
But, alas, this will all die in its infancy.
And we know this, because we also see the weakness of revolution before its time. We all long for a state-less society; but when revolutions come they inevitably replace one state with another. Why? Because the vast majority of people do not see an alternative. They still cling to the lie that democracy, “the God that failed” as Hoppe puts it, is the ideal form of social order. It is a kind of cultural idée fixe that has gone global. Until that delusion is shattered, through education or through sufficient example, then revolutions will only be a revolving door to yet more statism.
So, to those anarchists who demand “Revolution Now!” and chide those of us who advocate education in state-less alternatives to police, courts, and all the other functions that governments have usurped in order to make us dependent on the State, I say, “Do you understand now?
Agorism is about living as state-free a life as possible now; starving the State of the products of our labor, both mental and physical, now; and also laying the foundation for an alternative to statism when the State does finally collapse in the future—through both education and implementation of free-market alternatives.
Through counter-economics and libertarian principles, we live as freely and richly as we can in the present statist society. And while we long to rid ourselves of the State completely, we know that to be the last step in the devolution of statism—not the first.
To the agorist, protesting in the streets en masse, driving out the bureaucrats and their enforcers, is the final stage of the collapse of the State. We seek to lay the foundation for a successful end of the State; which is to say, the end of this State in such a manner that it is not replaced with another. Impatient agorists and non-agorist anarchists who would like to see an Egyptian-style revolt here and now may actually do more harm than good if there isn’t a likelihood that a state-less alternative will replace the current system.
True anarchists seek not revolution, but dissolution—dissolution of the State in its entirety. We cannot settle for less.
Originally posted here
The World Wide Agora: a proposal
by Robbie Revenant
I had originally considered entitling this article “iAgora”, in parody of Apple’s endless stream of “i”-products, but after saying it aloud, judiciously decided against it.
Thus, “The World Wide Agora”: a more descriptive—though certainly less humorous—title. This is the topic of my article; however, before I get to the meat of it I would like to justify it. So let me start with the bones.
There seems to be some debate going on—a schism of sorts—between those who propose that our practice of radical free-market left-libertarian anarchism (agorism) be done in the open, and those who counsel that it be done in secret. Unquestionably, both arguments have merit.
The open-door-agorists (if I may call them that) argue that by self-identifying they encourage others to learn about agorism and join the underground free-market, to their benefit and the state’s detriment. The closed-door-agorists argue that antagonizing the system and operating out in the open will only lead to fines, incarceration, and the eventual death of the movement. Furthermore, it may discourage practitioners from participating fully out of fear of reprisal from the state. 
As I see it, this is a conflict between the two main problems agorists face when attempting to practice what they preach. How do buyers and sellers find each other? And how do they trade black- or grey-market commodities without being caught? The first requires that agorists be open and public about what they do and what they are offering. The second requires that they be clandestine and secretive. How do we resolve this seemly unresolvable dilemma?
Let’s first consider the case of a small, rather homogeneous, agorist community. Suppose I make widgets. These widgets could be anything. They could be something the government deems impermissible for us to own or sell (drugs, weapons, happy meal toys, etc.). Or it could be something heavily regulated. Or it could be that neither party wants to pay taxes on these items. Maybe we just value our privacy and don’t want the government snooping on our purchases—what right do they have to know you buy widgets! Maybe they are a white-market item, but because I buy the component parts on the black-market and then sell there, I am able to keep costs down and provide a perfectly legal product at a price that is superbly lower than the same item under government-scrutiny (due to the fact that I’m avoiding sales tax, income-tax, tariffs, and a host of licensing fees, oversight, and other regulation in the production of my wonderful widgets).
In short, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hand-grenade or a hat-rack. I’ve got it; you want it; and we both agree on a price. Now, in our little local agorist community such a transaction is quite feasible. We can assume that every agorist knows every agorist (or that someone knows someone who knows someone, etc.). The information problem is no problem at all. Buyers can easily find sellers. Sellers can easily find buyers.
So too, the problem of making the transaction without being apprehended by the police is of little concern. Yes, some Nosy Nancy could observe and report us (and this is becoming a growing threat given the recent drive to deputize the public into a national Snitch-Corps). However, this can easily be circumvented by making the transaction discreetly in a secure location. If Nancy doesn’t “see something”, Nancy won’t “say something”. (Thank you, Janet Nazi-tano!)
Now, this idyllic community of agorists has several shortcomings. The first is that all our buying and selling options are restricted to what is local, thus limiting our options. The second, of course, is that such communities are still very rare. So let us move on to the real world, the one in which agorists are scattered across the country—nay, the world.
Now suppose I live in Tucson. And you live in Keene. We suddenly have some major problems arise. You really want a widget, but how do you know I sell widgets? One simply can’t put up a website that says, “Buy Bob’s Bazookas, Basement Bargain Prices!!“. That will no doubt attract significant unwanted attention, not to mention a lengthy jail sentence. You couldn’t even sell home-made jam without the FDA shutting you down, or the IRS seizing your bank accounts and threatening imprisonment.
What’s an agorist to do? Well, here is my vision (and it’s not at all revolutionary, merely the next logical step). You log onto the WWA. Your account has a profile. It may be anonymous, containing no pertinent data about the real-life you; or it may contain enough information to identify you as, well, you. It’s your choice.
Others would also have profiles on the WWA and be able to interact on a minimal level (no stalkerish Facebook-like feeds here). You would have a credential-rating based on an algorithm that takes into account who has verified that they know you and to what degree. Having 2 people certify that they know you in person would result in a higher credential-rating than 20 people who just know you from some other virtual meeting-place. The algorithm could also take into account the “connectedness/distance” from a “trusted” or known agorist (the agorist version of an Erdös-number). The idea is to give others a sense of how well they can trust this person, who may very well be anonymous, and to weed out law-enforcement. Anyone would be able to see your credential-rating.
The WWA, in its complete form, would have 3 sections: the Market, the Forums, and the Lyceum. (Although it’s the Market that is the heart of the matter, since the Forums and Lyceum already exist in some form or another elsewhere on the web.)
Entering the Market, you see something very akin to or other online stores. There would be a searchable database of items for sale by third-parties. Any user can set up a shop if they have a good or service to sell. Much like Amazon’s third-party sellers, they would each have a seller-rating, letting potential buyers gauge whether or not to trust a particular seller. Likewise, each user would have a buyer-rating, although only potential sellers when contacted by a buyer would be able to see his rating. This is to protect the buyer’s privacy. (No one need know how many times you’ve made purchases or trades in the marketplace, or at all!)
Communication in the WWA is done via PGP-like encrypted messages between buyer and seller, passed via secure http (and perhaps even a third layer of encryption) from seller to server to buyer and back again. The servers and mirrors for the WWA would only keep such messages long enough to pass them to the client (buyer or seller). In this way, it acts like a mail-server in which email is deleted off the server when read. The buyer and seller would, of course, have a record of these messages on their local machines, which could be purged also for security purposes if necessary. Notice that even the server hosts cannot read these encrypted messages, nor do they persist on them. These are private conversations between buyer and seller alone!
Such messages would allow buyers to place orders, work out the details of custom orders, make inquiries, and arrange payment (trade, cash, credit, gold, silver, BitCoin, money held in escrow by a trusted third party until the transaction was completed, etc.)—all beyond the scrutiny of prying eyes.
Digital-signatures would be used to verify that an agreement had been reached. This would provide some measure of accountability in the event of a dispute. Both buyers and sellers could be removed for fraud or multiple failures to live up to their contracts. The rating system would have to suffice at first. Later, trusted arbitration groups may pop up to which both sides would voluntarily present their unencrypted agreement, and any other evidence that one lived up to the agreement and the other did not. The WWA would then abide by the ruling of the arbiter and act accordingly on the buyer’s or seller’s account.
Sellers would be permitted to sell anything that did not violate the NAP. Anything that does (stolen goods, slaves, etc.) would be removed and the seller banned.
The Forums would allow users to communicate at length on various topics in the usual threaded conversation format. Various discussions could be completely open, or restricted to certain users, or restricted to users that meet a certain credential threshold. In this way, you could start a conversation on a topic and have anyone join in, just a few associates, or anyone who is likely to be an actual practicing agorist and not a cop.
The Forums would work differently than most you may have encountered. Nothing would reside on the server for very long in restricted rooms. They would only persist long enough to pass to the other users in the conversation. In fact, it may be possible to design it in a strict peer-to-peer fashion, with the server functioning only to let others in the conversation know who has what pieces of the thread available for download. As with all messages in the WWA, the thread would be encrypted with a PGP-like session key—in this case, unique to the participants and the thread. Only participants in the thread would be able to read it. Even the server hosts and mirrors would not have access to this information.
The Lyceum would be an open area where more theoretical discussions about the history of economic and political thought, as well as the development and current state of agorism could be taught. Unlike the forums, this area would be directed by lecturers familiar with agorism and the particular topic at hand.
The World Wide Agora would then be a kind of super-discreet hybridization of, Facebook, and an online university. It would have fewer bells-and-whistles to be sure; but it would, in turn, make protecting your privacy it’s highest concern. This is the reason for all of the encryption and non-persistence of data—to secure the privacy of participants in the agora should the servers be compromised by law-enforcement.
Note that some agorists could choose to remain completely anonymous. Others could self-identify, tying their profiles to their real-world persona. They could thus proclaim to be agorists, promote freedom of the individual and the starvation of the state, help educate others, and at the same time, their actual transactions would be secure from scrutiny. We would have achieved openness without sacrificing privacy.
There would also be other less tangible benefits to having a secure-but-open electronic marketplace. We could get an instant summary of the size and scope of the underground market. If people begin to realize that hundreds, then thousands, then millions of their fellow citizens are participating in counter-economics, they may be more inclined to follow suit. The social-stigma of the counter-economy will wash away and the agora will thrive!
*Technical Note: This is merely a call to action. I confess that I do not personally possess the requisite knowledge to make such a system work. My programming knowledge is in C, C++, Java, and high-level packages like MATLAB. I know nothing about secure PHP or MySQL programming. There is certainly incentive to create the WWA, though. Aside from helping out the movement (promoting a genuinely free market), one could make a nice profit by either charging a small fee for each transaction (which might not be desirable due to privacy concerns), or by charging sellers a fee for setting up shop (much like charging a fee for a booth at a swap meet). Either way, much work would need to be done on a design level first. What I have outlined is merely a rough sketch. Great care would need to be taken to design the protocols necessary to ensure that the three top priorities of such a system would be met: Privacy, Privacy, Privacy!
So, to any enterprising agorist computer-geeks out there: Go to it!
Agora! Anarchy! Action!