by Ian Tartt
Despite constant political activism from liberty-minded people since the ratification of the Constitution, we still have to deal with unending wars, millions of nonviolent people in prison, ever-increasing debt, money that’s almost worthless, government involvement in nearly every area of our lives, no privacy from federal agencies, a chunk of each of our paychecks taken out and sent to Washington whether we want it to happen or not, and more. While there have been changes over time with regard to taxation, spending, and regulations, many of these changes have been for the worse rather than for the better, and the mechanisms that enable these activities still exist and therefore can still be abused by politicians. Further, as older generations who remember having freedoms that no longer exist die off and younger generations grow up never having experienced those freedoms, the tendency for the current trajectory to continue mostly unhampered is likely to remain. This indicates that political action at the national level is largely ineffective at reducing government and advancing liberty.
People who support political campaigns as a way to change the federal government make several assumptions about what their actions will accomplish. They assume that their candidate will get the nomination they’re seeking, win the election, succeed in getting their ideas passed, garner enough popular support so that their ideas will be accepted once they’re passed, and that those ideas would work in reality as they were expected to work on paper. Political activists take a big gamble by working on or donating to political campaigns, a gamble which they lose far more often than they win.
Even if all of that happens, the political process is painstakingly slow. Any given piece of legislation can take years to become a law, and a law typically takes at least a year to go into effect once it’s passed. Add to this the time involved in the campaign from the moment it starts to the moment the candidate gets elected and this becomes an incredibly inefficient way to get anything accomplished.
Though no less time-consuming, local political action has generally proven to be more effective at advancing liberty than national political action. This is partly due to the sheer amount of political power available to federal officeholders; because of this, those who are the most desperate to control others head for the highest offices in the country, meaning that there are more opportunities for less corrupt people to run for state and local positions. Additionally, there is often greater attention given to the federal government as whoever can get the president or Congress to pass their agenda can affect change across the entire country. This tends to be more appealing to activists than changing a state or local policy, which would affect far fewer people.
The case for forgoing political action in an effort to change the federal government is further strengthened by the fact that there are some freedoms which are respected by lower levels of government despite being rejected at the federal level. Marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes in a handful of states and for purely medical purposes in over a dozen states. Several states have passed measures to protect their inhabitants against federal gun control laws. Gay marriage was allowed by the majority of states before the federal government allowed it. These examples demonstrate that if one wishes to engage in political action, their best chance for success is at the local level.
Decentralization offers opportunities for greater freedom. Suppose country A has more restrictions on freedom than country B, and someone in A wishes to move to B. It would be extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming to accomplish that move. Now suppose that there is a region within A that has fewer restrictions. The difficulty, time, and expense of moving to that region within the same country would be far less, and thus more people could take advantage of voting with their feet and have an easier time doing so. This was originally how the US was arranged under the Constitution. There was to be a federal government in place to provide a handful of functions, and everything else was left either to state governments or the people in the states. If someone dissatisfied with their state government couldn’t garner enough support to make the change they wanted to see, they could as a last resort move to another state with policies they preferred. Over time, this ability has been significantly reduced due to the increasing centralization of power in Washington, DC, and the accompanying policies that bind people in every state under the same national laws. This has resulted in less competition between governments in the US and fewer places for liberty-minded people to go.
While decentralization should be brought back, it shouldn’t be limited to only the state level. Just as it’s much easier to move between states than it is to move between countries, it’s even easier to move between cities than it is to move between states. The same applies for moving between counties, neighborhoods, and so on. The greater the level of decentralization and the more competition among governments, the more opportunities there will be for freedom.
Can political action accomplish this? It might be useful at lower levels of government, but, as discussed above, it’s been shown to be ineffective on the federal level. A big problem with trying to use political action to reduce the size of the federal government is the fact that so many people are dependent on federal money. This includes politicians, government bureaucrats, road workers, businesses that get subsidies or bailouts, and welfare recipients. How many of these people would willingly vote themselves out of a job or a paycheck? Most of those people think they’re currently getting a tangible benefit, and asking them to give that up while offering them something better in return without having a real-world example to show them right now has repeatedly failed to get them on board with reducing the size and power of government. Instead, why not directly show them how liberty would benefit them? The remainder of this article will focus on some possible ways to do this.
The first step should be to take care of those who need help and are willing to receive it. This will be easier than one might initially think, as Americans already give hundreds of billions of dollars in charitable donations every year. St. Jude, which provides healthcare to children at no cost, is an excellent example of an organization that has proven itself to be worthy of receiving support. Pointing people toward direct primary care, in which healthcare providers bypass insurance and can therefore charge much lower prices, is also important. Directly helping people and contributing to charitable organizations are both extremely important, but there is another option as well. Mutual-aid societies were how people took care of one another prior to the welfare state. These can be brought back through getting to know one’s neighbors and creating neighborhood communities; it would then be a simple matter for the people in those communities to support each other during hard times. Websites such as Gofundme and apps such as Square Cash can be used to create virtual communities so that one’s location won’t be an obstacle to obtaining needed aid.
The goal should be to create such a strong system of private aid and mutual-aid societies, both of which are effective at getting people out of poverty and keeping them out, that demand for government welfare programs shrinks to the point that it’s practically non-existent. Libertarians can lead the way in all of this by taking the time and money they would normally spend on political campaigns and using those resources to buy food, tuition and supplies for those in school, clothes, housing, etc. for people who need it. They can also lead the way in bringing back mutual-aid societies by starting local and virtual communities. This way everyone will see what private aid looks like rather than just hearing about how it might work.
One important but often overlooked example of private aid is providing support to people accused of violating laws which do not involve violations of contract or trespass against the life, limb, or property of anybody else. Even if a person charged with violating such a law is ultimately found guilty, they would still have faced enormous expenses on the way to getting that verdict. Some of those expenses include bail, lawyers, money they lost due to being away from work, and sustaining any family they have who depends on them. There should be efforts through crowdfunding or charitable organizations to provide quality legal representation, support for dependents, and securing a job (in the event of a not-guilty verdict) for those charged with violating a law criminalizing behavior which is nonviolent and creates no victim.
In conjunction with the last paragraph, let’s now look at a way to reduce the number of guilty verdicts for violations of unjust laws. This can be done by spreading awareness of jury nullification. While most people typically think the role of jurors is simply to judge whether or not the defendant broke a law, jurors can also judge the law itself. A historical example of jury nullification can be found in resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required those who came across runaway slaves to return them to their “owners”. Some who refused to comply with the law were found not guilty by jurors who believed the law to be unjust. Thus, jury nullification is a legal, effective way for civilians to challenge and even reject laws. This may be why those who share information about jury nullification outside of courthouses can be arrested and charged with a crime. Because of the potential to prevent peaceful people who haven’t hurt anyone else from going to prison, information about jury nullification should be spread as far and wide as possible through every available medium.
Something that would make a huge difference in society in the long run is peaceful parenting. In short, peaceful parenting involves refraining from spanking or yelling at children and instead makes use of negotiations, persuasion, and other peaceful strategies. Though many people get defensive about matters related to parenting and some claim that spanking was “necessary” for them or their children, decades of research into the subject have instead revealed it to cause a number of negative effects. Some of these effects include increased aggressive behavior, anti-social behavior, and mental health problems.
In addition to these issues, parents who raise their children in a violent fashion are teaching them that violence is an acceptable tool to get what they want. As such, and because children are more influenced by the behavior of their others rather than their words, children raised in such a fashion are more likely grow up believing that violence and intimidation are normal and acceptable in human relationships. If raising children violently causes these problems, then raising them peacefully would reduce the prevalence of them, diminish the likelihood of people using violence to get their way, and ultimately lead to a more peaceful society.
On the subject of children and parents, homeschooling can provide a lot of great benefits for everyone in the family. Children can learn useful skills that are no longer taught in conventional schools, parents can customize the curriculum so that values they approve of are taught rather than the values of a school board, lesson plans (such as those found in the Ron Paul Curriculum) can be based on the needs of each student instead of resorting to a one-size-fits-all plan, and the additional time together would strengthen family bonds and lead to more trust of one another. And since children who are homeschooled don’t spend their formative years sitting in a government school classroom, they will be more inclined criticize government programs where they fall short rather than blindly trusting them.
The advantages of competition between different levels of government were discussed earlier in this article, and this section will discuss the benefits of competition between governments and private activities. One of the greatest examples of this is Lysander Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, which competed against the Post Office from 1844 to 1851. In addition to delivering mail in both a more efficient and less costly fashion than the Post Office, Spooner was able to get the Post Office to lower its own rates which, even after his company was forcibly shut down by the government, remained lower than they were before he started his company. As a result, everyone benefited from the existence and operation of Spooner’s company whether they used his services or the Post Office. Over a century later, Patricia Brennan started her own mail delivery company. Her customers appreciated being able to get same-day delivery, which they couldn’t get through the Post Office. However, just like Spooner, Brennan’s mail company was shut down by the government in the late 1970’s. Though their enterprises didn’t last, they showed that private enterprise can provide a useful service than a government monopoly. Further, they helped pave the way for competition in the delivery of packages through such services as UPS and Fed Ex. Private competition should be started for as many government services as possible to give people more options and to force governments to improve. At the same lines, private donations could be solicited to replace federal funding wherever it’s used. This would greatly reduce the federal government’s control over state and local governments, which would then make it easier for freedom to flourish at those levels.
On average, the time it takes the police to arrive when called is ten minutes. That is more than enough time for anyone intent on hurting someone to do so before the police appear. As a faster alternative, militias, neighborhood watch organizations, and private security guards should be the first line of defense against violent criminals. This way, if the police don’t get there in time to stop a crime in progress, they’ll be less likely to find an injured or dead victim when they arrive. If this results in fewer violent criminals in society, then everyone will become even less dependent on the police to keep them safe or recover their stolen property. Those who wish to avoid government courts as much as possible can instead make use of private arbitration to settle their disputes.
Most people are probably familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This next idea is similar but focused on a different area. A way to stifle government overreach could be through peaceful occupation of government offices, which would make it much harder for politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs. The main focus should be on those who tend to accomplish a lot while they’re working. If there are government workers who do little to nothing, they can be ignored as they already limit themselves. Creating obstacles for local politicians and bureaucrats will reduce the strain they put on the lives of nearby inhabitants and make it easier to create alternatives to government programs.
Much of this could be accomplished more easily by focusing on small towns with populations which are already inclined to support freedom. Libertarians could move to such places and gradually turn them into communities based on the freedom to live as one desires as long as one doesn’t prohibit others from doing the same. At that point, federal and state orders would be almost impossible to enforce in those communities since any local government mechanisms for enforcing such orders would instead be devoted to protecting the people in them. Individuals looking for even more freedom could raise money to buy undeveloped land from state or local governments and build freedom communities from the ground up. This could act as a final check on government by offering a place for those who are fed up with the system or don’t think it’s changing quickly enough.
What if one or more levels of government try to put a stop to all of this by seizing the bank accounts of those involved? A simple way around that is to withdraw all money from those accounts and then close them afterward. This will also weaken the fractional reserve banking system and accelerate the movement toward alternative currencies. Investing in precious metals, cryptocurrencies, and valuable commodities will offer competition against government money, show the advantages of hard money and the disadvantages of fiat currency, and provide millions of people with access to valuable money they can use when the dollar loses what remains of its value. For those concerned with how to get money if banks no longer have enough to loan out, Kickstarter can be used to fund entrepreneurs, homeowners looking to improve their property, and others who need additional money right away.
If a fraction of dedicated libertarians did one or more of these activities, the world would look vastly different than it does now. Instead of being thought of as lunatics who live in some fantasy world, indifferent to anyone’s suffering other than their own, and supportive of ideas which aren’t in practice anywhere, libertarians would be seen as supporters of the needy and defenders of everyone from tyranny. They’d be able to point to actual real-world examples of communities and societies which haven’t existed for hundreds of years (if they ever existed at all). Because of the diverse nature of the activities described above, the failure of any one activity wouldn’t automatically bring failure to all the rest. Those who are more inclined to pursue one type of activity could do so without feeling pressured to do anything that made them uncomfortable, and the positive benefits that would come from the success of even just a couple of activities would be immense. Could it happen? Absolutely, and if it did, everyone would be much freer and better off because of it.