We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Asking people a very basic question…

This worthy project is about trying to get folks to examine their underpinning meta-context… the unspoken ‘givens’ that we all use to frame our view of the world that almost always go unexamined: well if you think that, then surely this should follow, no?

… and if you manage to reach people on that level, you can change many of their conclusions about a great many things.

40 comments to Asking people a very basic question…

  • Jerry

    I can think of a LOT of people who should see this.

    Interesting, the comment made about how people are uncomfortable doing violence against ‘peaceful’ persons but do not mind if it is done by ‘authorities’.

    Ties in rather nicely with people who are not willing to defend their own lives ( gasp – take the law into their own hands !! ) but demand that someone
    ELSE ( a police officer ) put his or her OWN life on the line to protect the individual who is too much of a coward to do it himself.

    No, the police are NOT paid to do that (protect you), at least in this country, and the courts have ruled thus. However, people STILL expect that protection and look at you as though you have lost your mind when you tell them ‘Sorry, THAT IS NOT the polices’ job’
    ( despite the ‘PROTECT and serve’ slogan they proudly wave ! )

  • Ian F4

    Welfare is a bit contentious, but How would the question look if some other societal issue other than welfare was addressed, like defence.

    “A bunch of fascists are getting ready to invade and destroy our libertarian paradise, but George refuses to contribute for the defence expenses (although he wants to remain in a libertarian society), is it fine to use democratically approved violence to force George to contribute ?”

  • George Weinberg

    The Segways were a nice touch.

  • Jerry

    Totally different.
    In that case, George is getting something in
    return – protection.
    Use violence for that purpose – no
    HOWEVER – George should be required to LEAVE his paradise if he is unwilling to help DEFEND it.

  • “A bunch of fascists are getting ready to invade and destroy our libertarian paradise, but George refuses to contribute for the defence expenses (although he wants to remain in a libertarian society), is it fine to use democratically approved violence to force George to contribute ?”

    Actually no, not sure I do see the difference. If not enough people are willing to step up, then to quote Heinlein:

    I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don’t think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can’t save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!

    And much the same applies to funding said military. Personally I think defence is money well spent.

  • Ian F4

    George should be required to LEAVE his paradise if he is unwilling to help DEFEND it.

    “Leave” ? By force if he refuses, back to square one ?

    If not enough people are willing to step up

    That’s another argument, but assume enough people are stepping up, would it be libertarian to allow people to exempt themselves from participating in the defence of the society they benefit from ?

    Perhaps your Heinlein provides the answer, if you don’t want to defend it, you don’t get a vote (Starship Troopers).

  • There are many other, non-coercive ways to pressure George to comply: he probably is a party to all kinds of contracts and agreements for the provision of various services (such as utilities etc.). Some kind of contribution to the general defense can be easily stipulated as a condition in any such contract.

    Heinlein’s argument is indeed a separate one (although not unconnected), and a very good one at that.

  • George

    but the other side of this is that George needs the agents of the state to employ violence on his behalf to protect the property he claims as his own from others who have less.

    eg George is born into a society where a wealthy elite lay claim to 90% of the natural resources.

    Those not born into this elite must act as slaves to the elite if they wish to have access to food and shelter.

    The elite employs agents of the state to employ violence to protect their property rights.

  • Jamess

    Perhaps someone here can correct me: when the US was set up wasn’t it meant to have no standing army? Was the idea that individual states would have armies and they’d work together? Or how much was having an armed population sufficient for defence?

    I’d imagine that only a small army would be needed for defence if they were backed by a population that was 100% armed.

  • Eric Tavenner

    The idea was that, when needed, all able bodied males would assemble locally into companies, bringing their own weapons. It’s called a militia, and usually implies a small cadre of long service regulars, to provide a command structure and training, much like Switzerland.

  • the future

    Useful for reaching what Albert Jay Nock called The Remnant, perhaps. The West is bankrupt. Democracy got us into this mess; democracy won’t get us out of this mess.

    The real fight in the decades to come will be over what will replace Western regimes.

    On one side we have the progressives (EU, UN, IMF, World Bank, Universities, mass immigration, North American Union) and on the other side we have reactionaries (militaries, royal families, royalists, nation states, nativists, Christians).

    Want liberty? Empower royal families; when the beneficiaries of a well-run nation are the operators of the nation, there is more liberty. More free people means more prosperity means wealthier rulers.

    Or you can try to convince the masses to vote themselves poorer by slashing government spending or vote themselves out of the EU. Because that’s worked so well.


  • Verity

    I could only understand every third or fourth word of what that woman was saying. What kind of accent is that?

    Also, I Ioathe the whole concept of nursery school graphics that are supposed to make people feel warm and unthreatened by complicated concepts. Like David Cameron’s nursery school Big Society.

    Oh, shut up! Make your argument in the traditional way

    I also loathe the social engineering of making the commentator blue. And everyone else of a non-colour. The British indigenes and established immigrants, like Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, for example, must feel awfully patronised by this liberal cosh.

  • the future

    Who’s going to govern more nobly and wisely: the politician who acquired power through bribes, lies, blackmail, and mass propaganda or the King who was born into, raised for, and trained to the job?

    Barack Obama or Queen Elizabeth? David Cameron or Frederick the Great?

    There’s never been a stateless society and there never will be. Democracy means playing by the progressives’ rules. You play by their rules, they win – that’s why they invented those rules.

    We need new rules.

    Even if the EU is dismantled, whether by market forces, coercive forces, or something else, the institutions (democratic political systems, elite universities, UN, IMF) would remain to lead Europe to a new grand progressive experiment – perhaps worse than the EU. Same elites; same rules.

    We need new elites and new rules.

    US Tea Party, UKIP, True Finns are all merely delaying the inevitable. They can’t win, though God bless em.

    What’s the alternative to democracy/mob rule? Good luck defeating the progressives with voluntaryism. I’m sure Paul Krugman is terrified.

    Nigel Farage is fine, but we need Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

    Only democracy can bankrupt California. Put Steve Jobs or a competent King in charge of California and you’d see cost cutting followed by astounding prosperity that would stun even Samizdata editors!

  • Verity

    Also, why does only the woman have hair and all the men are bald?

    And the woman’s hair and mouth look Afro. In an ad/commercial (whatever) for British people, why is this? I’d like to read the reasoning that British people would trust a blue person with an Afro hairdo over one of their own people.

    The point is, the hidden, sly, semi-subconscious (not subtle enough to be subconscious) message is … multiculti. The message of the Left, no matter how it is encased.

  • Verity, these could well be the most inane comments you have left on his blog.

  • There’s never been a stateless society and there never will be.

    Really? There has never been an information society before either. Everything changes eventually. States as currently understood are not eternal.

  • Fraser Orr

    Regarding free riders and the military, my question would be “so what”? There are always free riders. Right now, here in the United States we have a massive military budget, and yet nearly 50% of the population pays no income tax at all. Aren’t they free riders too?

    Free riders happen in every economic system. Sometimes it is worth erecting barriers to exclude them, sometimes the barriers cost more than the free riders.

    One thing is for sure, if you erect a barrier like a tax system it is almost guaranteed to be more expensive than the free riders. And politicians? Vampires, every one.

  • K

    This little vid should be required viewing for every school child in civics class, on pain of the agents coming to take away the teacher.

  • the future


    Depends on your definition of a stateless society. In reality, power vacuums are filled – usually quickly. The salient point here is that the progressives’ apparatus (EU, UN, welfare states, universities, NGOs, MSM, public unions) will not be threatened (let alone defeated) by any strategy that aims to create a power vacuum, whether according to your definition that is equivalent to a stateless society or not.

    And that apparatus is to blame for the dismal state of our personal liberties. Oh, and the fact that we’re broke.

    Everything changes eventually.

    True dat, but in what direction? The progressives have been winning since the 1648 Battle of Preston. To be conservative/libertarian in a democracy is to walk eastward on a westbound ship.

    Every battle fought on behalf of smaller government since monarchies lost their de facto power have been lost eventually – usually quickly. Murray Rothbard, Ludwig Von Mises, and Sean Gabb cannot explain why this is, but Thomas Hutchinson (Massachusetts governor), Thomas Carlyle, and Klemens von Metternich perhaps can.

    Methinks that until voluntaryists understand why the BDH-OV conflict can be applied to virtually every Western nation, they won’t quite be capable of living in a stateless society in the real world. Perhaps this has something to do with the L.A. riots of the 1960s achieving more for their participants than the entire conservative movement has achieved since FDR.

    The Conflict:

    The rabbit hole is far, far deeper than Austrian Economics and ClimateGate, unfortunately.


  • Every battle fought on behalf of smaller government since monarchies lost their de facto power have been lost eventually – usually quickly. Murray Rothbard, Ludwig Von Mises, and Sean Gabb cannot explain why this is, but Thomas Hutchinson (Massachusetts governor), Thomas Carlyle, and Klemens von Metternich perhaps can.

    We must be looking at different planets. You want to see what a more autocratic system looks like? China. Africa, even. No thanks. You will search in vain for the future by looking for it the past.

  • “Who’s going to govern more nobly and wisely: the politician who acquired power through bribes, lies, blackmail, and mass propaganda or the King who was born into, raised for, and trained to the job?”

    Well, I’m open minded, but opting to be governed by a tampon manqué whose closest advisor is an organic tomato does seem rather a long shot, even in the current predicament.

  • the future

    Perry and/or anyone who’s still reading,

    Correction: Every battle fought on behalf of smaller government in Western nations since hereditary monarchies lost their de facto power have been lost eventually – usually quickly. This is a clear, general trend with a few temporary hiccups.

    Consider: a mainstream fiscal liberal in year X in American history is too conservative for his party in year X+40, while a mainstream fiscal conservative in year X in American history is too conservative for politics in year X+40.

    Imagine Andrew Jackson’s speeches & policies in 1880, Grover Cleveland’s in 1920, Howard Taft’s in 1940, Calvin Coolidge’s in 1960, or Ronald Reagan’s in about 10 years. Every one of these guys lost. Government spending as % of GDP, regulations as % of businesses per person, and bureaucrats as % of citizens all verify this trend overtime. Please also note that America has expanded voting rights to more and more people this time frame. Coincidence or chicken and egg?

    The Goldwaterites wanted to rollback FDR’s New Deal; the Reaganites wanted to rollback LBJ’s Great Society. They failed and now the GOP can’t even stop Obamacare, though the majority of Americans were and are opposed to it. This must be a sick joke.

    Looking for the future in the past isn’t wise – agreed. It’s worthwhile, though, to properly identify the cause of our current predicament, lest we repeat previous mistakes. If you have an idea of what has caused this trend towards statism, I’d be genuinely eager to read it.

    John Adams:

    “Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either… There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history.”

    The internet does change the game and it’s possible I’m completely wrong about things. We’ll see, but just because royal families had power in the past doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t in the future.

    This is almost certainly my last post on this thread. Thanks for not banning me and please know that beneath my sardonic/caustic remarks is a cynical idealist who’s on your team. Also, sorry about the length. And thanks mucho for Samizdata.

  • the future

    Damn, I just realized I meant someone else – NOT Sean Gabb in an earlier comment. I got him mixed up. My bad.

  • What Fraser Orr said.

    K: can we have the agents take away the teacher regardless?

  • Richard Thomas

    Democracy has problems, monarchy has problems. The problem is people. What seems to allow for the most freedom for the longest time is a set of strong laws, the less malleable the better. I suspect that if we start with that premise, it will help indicate the style of system that’s needed.

  • Jerry

    Minor point I suppose but I REALLY LOATH people calling the United States a democracy.
    Years, decades actually – I had some of them long ago, of teachers who simply didn’t know any better, or had been indoctrinated by college professors either too ignorant themselves or with an agenda!!
    The United States, TECHNICALLY, is NOT a democracy and never has been !!
    It’s a Constitutional Republic.
    But maybe that’s just too difficult to say to explain

  • Hi everyone. I’m Happy to see my ‘George’ animation leading to discussion here.

    I’m running a crowd-funding campaign to produce the follow-up. Please see: http://www.indiegogo.com/edgar-the-exploiter(Link) for full information.

    Your help in contributing, or in helping to spread the word would be greatly appreciated. There are only a few hours left of the campaign!

  • I liked this. I have only one significant criticism – the reference to “agents with guns”. To a British audience unfamiliar with libertarianism, that will seem unrealistic and breaks the line of argument the video wants to promote. What it wants to do is lead the audience to think, “gosh, that’s terrible – but now I come to think of it that is exactly what the government does!” i.e. to get them by gradual steps, each of which they separately agree with, to end up seeing the system which they have long accepted as being unacceptable.

    Only problem is that in Britain it isn’t exactly what the government does. There is not one case a year, perhaps not one a decade, where people with guns actually take you away for not paying taxes.

    It may seem obvious to this audience that state power is ultimately backed up by guns, but it is far from obvious to most people.

    If you have any influence with the makers of this video, consider asking them to delete those two words, or to change it to a more low-key reference to the agents making you pay by force, or saying that you end up in jail, or something similar.

    Sorry to harp on, but I think changing these two words would increase the effectiveness in reaching a non-libertarian audience quite a lot.

  • @Natalie Thanks for the compliment and suggestion.

    “the reference to “agents with guns”. To a British audience unfamiliar with libertarianism, that will seem unrealistic and breaks the line of argument the video wants to promote.”

    I’m not certain, but I believe that British police unusual, worldwide, in that they tend not to carry guns. But it’s a fair point.

  • @Bitbutter: I think the reason that the police rarely carry guns in the UK is the strongly negative public reaction whenever they are seen to carry them. Because the British very rarely (almost never) encounter guns in the real world, seeing a cop with one makes crystal clear the gulf in power between the police (the state) and the people. The problem is that they usually see this as a temporary gulf that goes away when the gun does.

  • Fraser Orr

    Jerry is completely correct. The United States was not designed as a democracy. Anyone who reads the musings the constitution writers knows this. In fact someone cited John Adams, above. I don’t know where the quote comes from but it is typical of the founding fathers. They loathed democracy, and they feared democracy, primarily because it would make America what it has made America. The US constitution is full of anti democratic features.

    What a state needs is a stable legal system, that is enforced evenly, predictably and swiftly. It almost doesn’t matter what the law is (within limits) as long as they don’t keep changing the damn thing all the time.

    I remember a number of years ago, the Senate Majority leader, Tom Daschle was re-elected. He said something to the effect of “this is the one hundredth and seventh congress, and we have a lot of work to do for the American people.” I remember my visceral reaction to that statement. “One hundred and times times you’ve been doing this, and your not done yet?”

  • For anyone who enjoyed this one, there are a few hours left to contribute to the crowd-funding campaign to produce a follow-up to George Ought to Help. All details here:

  • Tedd

    It may seem obvious to this audience that state power is ultimately backed up by guns, but it is far from obvious to most people.

    I second that, and I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with Natalie being in the UK. I’m sure a great many Americans would need some Socratic prompting to reach that conclusion, too. Most Canadians I know do. It could only improve the video to make that argument in smaller steps, especially given that it’s so crucial to the overall point.

  • Paul Marks

    The comment writer “George” claims that property owners depend on armed agents of the state to protect their property from the poor.

    Simply not true. For example even country police forces were not complusory in England till 1856 (and they were unarmed).

    Hard though it may be for “George” to understand – but most poor people (and I AM POOR AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN) do not want to rob and murder rich people. Nor go in for BS statistics about how 1% of the world own 90% of the resources (or whatever).

    Nor has this ever been so – a rich man might get robbed in a London backstreet, but so might a poor man. And, in both cases most people would be on the side of the victim (poor or rich) not the robber.

    This is the point the film is making.

    The vast majority of government spending is not on defence (or anything like that) it is on the Welfare State – it is taking money from George (the one in the film) and giving it to Oliver (minus the vast amount of money the state machine keeps for its own employees).

    Yet most poor people would not use violence ourselves against George – even if he was tied up and helpless, and we knew there would be no punishment for robbing and murdering him. And it would have to be murder as well (after all – let George live and he may take revenge, perhaps by putting petrol in via the letter box and then setting light to it….).

    So there is a contradiction.

    We allow the state to do things we would be disgusted to do ourselves – things we would never do ourselves.

    The only solution to this contradiction is to not let the state do these things either. Or, at least, not to take the money from activities that are clearly evil.

    For example, not apply for its benefits – including it so called “tax credits” (which are nothing of the kind).

    So I do not.

    That is the point of the film – it goes straight to a person’s own conduct.

    An evil person, such as George-the-comment-writer would indeed rob and murder (and I bet this “George” is not even poor) so he has no problem with the state doing it.

    But most ordinary people have just never had the question put to them.

    “Would you use violence to take money off someone?”


    “Then why do you let the state do it – in your name”.

    Real “Olivers” need to consider this.

  • nymaria

    Luckily for George the government does not take his money to pay for social programs so he can use his amassing wealth to buy material possessions, health care, and better schooling for his children at private, and superior schools. Disaster for Oliver, with an already low income and hard times has to take care of a medical emergency in the family. Unable to pay the costs associated with high priced, private, non-government subsidized medical bills Oliver falls further into poverty. With no social programs paid by taxes there is really no help for Oliver. No worries, he is old and his life is nearly over but his children are now in a situation where their father cannot provide for them (poor nutrition, poor education, poor health, limited opportunities). Oliver’s children, with no future prospects turn to a life of crime and while stealing a vehicle kill the owner who happens, just to complete the picture, to be George.

    Thank goodness George was not forced to give up a small portion of his salary to provide health care, quality public education, social services, and a litany of other wasteful programs that he will never use because his family would never have been able to afford the lavish funeral and gold-plated casket he wished to be buried in.

  • Laird

    nymaria, you must find it very satisfying to embrace a political philosophy which is founded upon the morality of theft.

  • nymaria feels that even though some people *are* willing to give charity to Oliver, nevertheless it is just fine to use force to take money from George. One can only speculate as to the moral calculus at work, presumably she is a utilitarian.

    Of course the truth is mymaria probably does not really give a damn about Oliver but rather want George to be coerced in order to fund, not Oliver, but rather ‘the agents’ and all the predatory apparatus of state that exists ostensibly to benefit Oliver. I wonder if she is a ‘public sector’ employee herself?

  • Paul Marks

    By the way the historic time line (above) does not work – not fully.

    For example, Grover Cleveland was more pro liberty (more anti statist) than Andrew Jackson – not less pro liberty.

    However, the general point is correct – govenrment has tended to grow and the modern American government has long past the lines of the Constution (it has become a cancer – destroying civil society).

    But it is common for all forms of government to grow – not just democractic governments. It is much harder to roll back government than it is to expand it. Roman Emperors who really did want to cut spending a reduce taxation, and some did, found it vastly harder to do than to increase spending and taxes – it was the same regulations. For each new bit of spending and each new regulation creates a group of people who benefit from it – whereas the costs are spread among the general Res Publica (classic Public Choice stuff).

    The elite went statist long ago – long before the people did.

    Indeed at every stage new forms of statism (the New Deal, the Great Society….) were thought up by an elite and then put into practice on a people who had NOT asked for any of these schemes.

    If anything elections and so on held up the process a bit – as the politicians delayed things and only pushed them into effect when they thought they could get away with them.

    The elite in the universities and so on always wnated to go faster – and further.

    If you want to look for the reason for the decline of liberty in America – look to the same reason as in Imperial China.

    The Mandarian Class – the ideas of the official intellectuals.

    As Bill Buckely may have said – I would rather trust my life and goods to a group of people selected at random (say from the telephone book) than to the academics from Harvard or most other universities.

    Indeed I would rather entrust my life and goods to the judgement of these 500 (or whatever) people selected at random from the telephone book than I would to the people they ELECT.

    That is because elections are about image (does this or that person “come over well”) and about (if things are thought to have gone badly) “getting the other lot out”.

    They are rarely about policy.

    Most people who vote for candidate X are astonished at the things they do if elected (should they ever find out – for the media does not tend to give a very detailed or truthful account of what is done by governments).

  • John B

    Hows about a system of 300 people randomly selected from the population who would have decision power over government for a month or two at most?
    Couldn’t be any worse than that now.
    And gently atrophy leviathan.
    Perhaps that could be the 300s main job?
    I haven’t thought it through but the ancient concept has merit?

  • They would soon find a way to manipulate it – by, for example, re-assigning the word ‘random’ a fresh new meaning.