State management of society is not only contrary to human liberty; it is also unworkable. It cannot achieve what it seeks to achieve, which is often all-round control of some sector of economic and social life. The attempt provokes a social backlash. People find loopholes and workarounds or just invent new ways to make progress possible. This is because people will not be caged. They struggle to be free and sometimes they succeed.
Over the last century-plus, the Leviathan State has gained the upper hand, sometimes through big periods of upheaval but mostly through a million daily nicks and cuts. What if this process is being reversed in our time? What if the apparatus of control is being undermined with a million acts of entrepreneurship that evade the State’s attempt to plan and command? There is a fundamental asymmetry between the structure of government and the structure of a networked people.
In our times, innovation has provided people with more tools. And often they use these tools to get around the barriers that politicians and bureaucrats have erected. Some of us take note of them every day. And while we may revel in their cleverness, we don’t take time to look at the big picture. Here is where this phenomenon of small ways to break out from and break down the system—which pop culture often labels “breaking bad”—gets really interesting.
Consider the post office. It has not been privatized. It’s just fallen gradually into disuse thanks to the advent of email, texting, and thousands of other ways of communicating. It may stick around for another decade or so, but as a kind of zombie. Surely its days are numbered.
This is the archetype. Government was supposed to provide but didn’t. Now markets are picking up the pieces and making new products and services that facilitate better living, which reduces the role and significance of public policy. Every time the State shuts a door or closes a loophole, people find and exploit two more doors, two more loopholes.
If this model of disruption and defiance is part of a larger trend, it provides a very revealing look at a strategy that liberty-minded people ought to intellectually codify, encourage, and practice. We’ve mentioned it before here when we’ve talked about “hacking Leviathan” and Kirznerian “alertness” to undiscovered methods and approaches.
Compared with politics or the slow road of mass education, the work of hacking Leviathan through innovation is a promising road forward. Something’s happening. It’s like the Singularity for civil disobedience. Pandora’s box. Perhaps a series of innovation tidal waves. A whole lot of people are participating in a great unfolding. And if you’re drawing up grand social engineering plans, throw them out. The world is about to get a lot more dynamic.
Here are just 50 ways people are working around State obstacles:
1. Airbnb: This service allows people to rent out their homes for a couple of days. It offers competitive prices compared to hotels and gets around the whole of the regulatory apparatus, zoning control, union monopolies, and other barriers to entry. Of course, in some states, hotel cartels aren’t happy.
2. Uber: Taxis have their licenses, which drive up fares. It’s a cozy and well-protected cartel. Uber lets you get around this system, finding great rides in clean cars for better fares—all while checking (gasp! unlicensed) chauffeurs with reputation ratings.
3. Bitcoin: Government ruined money long ago. The market has made an end-to-end crypto currency. It could mean death for the euro, the dollar, and other fiat currencies. The implications are awesome and inspiring.
4. Private power generation: Big companies like Google are tired of dealing with regulated utilities. They fear outages and need more reliable power. They’re generating their own power. There are only a few, but then again there used to be only a few rich guys using cellphones. That’s where innovation happens. Then, the price goes down and the quality goes up. Moore’s Law kicks in. Someday this trend could challenge the grid.
5. Concierge healthcare: Doctors are opting out of Obamacare and the third-party payer system. Pay them up front and pay them out of pocket. Get the care you need and go buy a catastrophic plan if you can (instead of taking whatever’s on the Obamacare exchanges).
6. Bitmessage: Want to evade the surveillance state? Bitmessage is the latest in crypto communications, poised to replace email. A few more tweaks on the user interface, and we are good to go.
7. Email: The process of destroying the USPS as a monopolistic provider of mail is pretty much a done deal. It took 20 years, but now email is the new first-class mail. Meanwhile, the government’s service loses billions each year. Such a moribund provider could go for decades as a tax-subsidized monopoly. But the market moves on.
8. Silk Road: This anonymous website lets you use crypto currency to buy illicit substances, including not-yet-FDA-approved drugs and food. You might find this alarming but consider: the site brings a beautiful peace to an unstoppable market that government has otherwise caused to become violent and deadly. (Shut down on Oct. 2. Remember Napster. The hydra lives.)
9. YouTube copyright rules: They were once simple, but as remixing, parody, and covers evolve, the exceptions to strict copyrighting are growing. Now a Miley Cyrus video released at sunup is covered 1,000 times before sundown. In effect, the initially imagined scenario of copyright—government confers monopoly status on every piece of art—is dying before our eyes.
10. 3-D printing: Not only will people circumvent unconstitutional gun restrictions (like Cody Wilson has), but people will be able easily to get around patents and regulations by printing their own high-flow showerheads. When everyone is a maker, no one is regulated.
12. Health coverage cooperatives: It doesn’t have to be just Christian organizations that set up health coverage coops. These groups cover catastrophic healthcare costs for members, bypassing—for now—Big Insurance and the government regulatory apparatus. (See also this group.)
13. The raw milk movement: The government has tried for decades to suppress this unpasteurized brew, but fans won’t be stopped. Buyers’ clubs are everywhere. The more the feds crack down, the more the demand for the product grows.
14. Private arbitration: If you have a dispute with someone, the last place you want to end up is in the thicket of the government’s court system. People are opting for private arbitration. Private arbitration may be nothing new, but the extent of reliance on it is. There are a zillion bricks-and-mortar arbiters. Online, Judge.me is now defunct, but Net-Arb is still working. Stay tuned.
15. Escrow: How do you guarantee that you will get what you pay for online? Escrow.com is glad to hold the payment and verify the transaction before rewarding both sides with the results. It is security for property that lives in the cloud—and no government courts (or even laws) are involved.
16. Space tourism/exploration: XCor, SpaceX, and lots of other groups are getting into the private space race. They’re doing NASA—only better, faster, and cheaper.
17. YouTube stars: People like Lindsey Stirling, Rebecca Black, and a thousand others are bypassing the old centralized system of getting an agent and begging a monopolistic record label to take control of your life. Lindsey has made sharp YouTube videos that have launched her into stardom, complete with lucrative tour dates. Such decentralization is happening in movies, music, and more.
18. TOR/Deep Web: This browser for the crypto web bounces your originating IP address all over the planet. That way you can surf anonymously—i.e., away from the eyes of the NSA panopticon. (What is acypherpunk?)
19. Universal publishing: At one point, a few people maintained the primary conduits of information. Blogging and Web publishing make it easier to express yourself. Censorship has become nearly impossible. The newspapers are finally staking out their territories online. But they are losing control of the primary conduits of information. Tumblr alone has 50 million unique publishers. (Liberty.me will offer a new, distributed platform soon.)
20. Death of prescriptions: You can order your inexpensive drugs from many countries now—safely, cheaply and securely (and with no prescription). No need to give your overpriced Obamacare doctor or Big Pharma a cut.
21. Medical marijuana/decriminalization: States are relaxing their prohibitions on marijuana. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the drug war is lost and that some drugs, like cannabis, have real therapeutic value. Regardless, prohibition is a fool’s errand and punitive measures are increasingly viewed as cruel and unnecessary. Even as the crackdowns continue, these are the first signs of the Drug War’s obsolescence and popular dissent.
22. Expatriation: Sometimes if you don’t like it somewhere, you just have to leave. It’s easier and easier to find better climes, whether for weather, taxation, or culture. Expatriation from the United States is reaching record levels in 2013. While this number is still only in the thousands, the option to leave is there and more people are availing themselves of it than ever.
23. Startup cities: People in developing countries are starting to understand that rich countries are rich for a reason. So poor countries are starting to import good institutions, or are “rezoning” for prosperity (all while the rich countries are going in the wrong direction). Outside of China’s special economic zones (SEZs), Honduran startup cities are a new experiment worth watching.
24. Seasteading: Blueseed is one of the earliest examples of entrepreneurial ventures that will take people to the sea in search of opportunity and superior rule sets. The Seasteading Institute has also successfully worked with a Dutch firm to design the first seasteading modules. The harder the tax and regulatory State pushes, the more viable the sea becomes as a place to live and do business.
25. Radicalization of media arts: Goodbye network television from the Cold War era and hello subscription-based content. The shows that are running (“Breaking Bad,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire”) sport themes of defiance, disruption, and the persistence of freedom in the face of regimentation. Not only is the a la carte model disruptive, the content is subversive.
26. Private schooling/homeschooling: If you don’t like the government schools, take your kids out. Millions of families are doing it. Some are even forming virtual coops and getting content from online sources.
27. Online education: Are you after a real education or a signaling mechanism? MOOCs and other online sources (like Khan Academy) are reducing the costs of education—away from the inflated guild of higher ed and publicly funded indoctrination camps.
28. Alternative nicotine delivery: From a revival of roll-your-own cigarettes to snus (smokeless tobacco) to e-cigarettes, people are responding to health concerns and ever-higher cigarette taxes—just not the way anti-tobacco zealots think they should. Cue increasingly shrill backlash.
29. Farmers market cooperatives/urban homesteading: Farmers market coops have people trading goods in kind. People barter and contribute their labor outside the auspices of government skimmers. Plus, people in big cities are growing their own food—USDA free. (Here’s a tip!)
30. Private neighborhood security: Check out new apps like Peacekeeper. It’s just one example of the ways local communities can reduce the cost of security and emergency services—and keep it local. (Here’s another in Detroit.)
31. Barter markets: If you are in business, you know the score. If you can trade services or goods directly, it’s best to forego the paper trail. You donate programming time, I’ll give you web space. You promote my product, I’ll promote yours. If money doesn’t change hands, you can avoid all kinds of problems with the government. Barter has become a natural response to the tax collector.
32. Email/social media swarming: With social media, it is possible to ignite popular outrage against the machinations of legislators. The outcry against SOPA/PIPA is a good example. The floods of protest against invading Syria had an effect on the pullback from that near disaster, too. Political activism will never be the same. It’s desktop democracy. Aaron Swartz lives forever.
33. Camera phones: One powerful weapon against the State is probably in your pocket right now. Consider Copblock and the Peaceful Streets project. They keep cops accountable through tech-enabled “eternal vigilance.” The more people who stand up in the face of intimidation (or simply film from their windows with a zoom lens), the better.
34. Private venture capital markets. There’s a problem with Fed-set interest rates. No one really wins. Since the policy of zero-percent interest rates began, a gigantic non-bank lending and borrowing sector has picked up where the banks left off. And its rates are set by the market.
35. P2P file sharing: The survival and persistence of file sharing through “torrents” shows that civil disobedience in the face of intellectual monopolies is alive and well, despite a 20-year war on the practice. The more the monopolists fight, the more file sharers win.
36. Speed: At a certain point, no one bothered driving 55 any more (not just Sammy Hagar). People speden masse until Congress decided to let the states set speed limits—higher. It’s a paradigmatic case: People disobeyed until the law was changed.
37. Crowdfunding: If you need startup money, you can pass around the virtual begging bowl. But it can’t be just any old thing. You have to convince the crowd to let go of their resources. But that might be a much lower barrier to get over than snagging the attention of venture capitalists or prying a loan out of your bailed-out bank.
38. Social entrepreneurship: The welfare State tends to make people dependent supplicants. Foreign aid does, too. But entrepreneurs with causes are creating better ways of helping the poor, from microfinance to the return of mutual aid societies like the Christian healthcare coops cited above. The social entrepreneurship sector is enjoying a tech-enabled renaissance despite the State. (See also young social entrepreneurs.)
39. Medical tourism/opt-out: For a while now, people have been taking their medical problems to other countries that offer comparable care more cheaply and without all the red tape. In fact, people used to come from Canada to get care they couldn’t get in the land of “free” healthcare. Medical inflation is so bad in the United States now that a lot more people are leaving to get treatments abroad, or opting out of the third-party payer healthcare cartel. Meanwhile, some people are leaving to get treatments the FDA hasn’t approved.
40. Self-managing organizations: Firms like Valve and Morning Star show that you don’t need formal hierarchies—“bosses”—for an organization to run well. These firms might teach us that the world doesn’t need bosses, either.
41. Tax sheltering: Value creators are tired of having their rewards raided by the people with the guns and the jails. Apple, for example, uses a multinational tax-sheltering scheme so complicated that mere mortals can’t possibly follow it. The result: extra capital to make the iPhone ever cooler. Politicians whine but consumers cheer. (Just when you thought Swiss privacy laws were finished, there’s no doubt that clever people will find new ways to hide their capital from the State.)
42. Supper clubs: Underground foodies are paying visits to chefs and great cooks outside the auspices of the public health nannies. Every home is a restaurant, every kitchen an income earner. Similar supper clubs sprouted up in Chicago when aldermen in that city banned foie gras (a ban that was eventually overturned thanks to popular outcry, civil disobedience and counter-special interests).
43. Offshoring and inshoring: Sometimes corporate taxes, union controls, and regulatory control are all just too much. U.S. corporations take their production elsewhere (currently the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, when state taxes are taken into account), even as foreign corporations venue-shop for the best production facilities in the United States (away from high taxes and cartelized unions).
44. Food trucks: Bricks-and-mortar restaurants love regulations because they can keep a boot on the necks of competitors. That’s why cities that tolerate food truck culture are giving these restaurants a run for their money. If you can stand to eat your tacos on a park bench, it might be worth hitting a food trailer—the ultimate in microentrepreneurship. They are often at the forefront of experimentation and variety.
45. Social networks and Skype: Millions of people from all over the world are interacting as if they were next-door neighbors. Subtly this blurs the lines created by nation-states and creates a far more cosmopolitan world—one that exposes the arbitrariness of jurisdictions that you may or may not happen to have been born in.
46. Driverless cars: The technology is here. It certainly changes the calculation for distracted or intoxicated drivers, and it fixes the problems with public roads the State won’t fix. Driverless cards will give us safe, automated travel and deny the State funds it gleans from hassling people for both major and minor offenses that result from bad infrastructure, human error, and poor judgment. It’ll just take one or two areas of the world to deploy them successfully to unleash the change.
47. Crowdsourcing private equity: Kickstarter and other online fundraisers were required by law to restrict their services to donations and not sell stock. But what about premiums for donations? How big can they be? The limits are being tested. In a few years, you will be able to buy startup equity with Bitcoin and the whole world will benefit. In any case, the loophole has been already been created.
48. Private conservation: You can be an environmentalist without agitating to have pristine lands given to the State for taxpayer management. Groups like the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited do great things when they don’t turn land over to the State. And private individuals are opting to conserve landrather than sell it.
49. Immersive environments: We’re in the process of creating the Matrix around us. From Second Life to immersive games, we may soon see linkages between the virtual world and the crypto economy that result in interesting new forms of order.
50. Twitter revolutions: Having troubles with a tinpot dictator or religious zealots? Organize, demonstrate and overthrow with Twitter—#overthrow. (But be careful you don’t end up installing a regime that’s worse than the one you helped overthrow.)
Now that you see the machinery in operation, step back for a moment. Imagine that the world spinning through time has been like an onion. Over the years human beings have wrapped layers of progress around our blue orb. First it was the Stone Age, then the Agricultural Age, then the Industrial Age, then the Commercial Age. Now we live in the Connected Age.
In this most recent era, a lot of interesting stuff is starting to happen—the most interesting of which is the increasing obsolescence of the State. It doesn’t know anything we don’t know, and the only thing it can do that we can’t is force everyone, at gunpoint, to fund its whims. Our knowledge is crowdsourced, and we never stop learning from each other. We are integrated as in one global, self-ordering city. A few people are starting to see that the circumstances of birth and culture are contingent and the lines are blurring. National boundaries are less tied to the people within them.
The cost of connecting with other like-minded people is going down. Each of us in our private spheres of activity can get on with the business of interacting without the need for terra firma or permission. It’s as if we’re creating communities in the sky and commerce in the ether. It’s nobody’s business because millions of us simply make it so. It’s the ultimate form of democracy.
There may be a technological arms race with “authorities” in the short term, but unless said authorities are willing to get really totalitarian, really fast, the pace of interconnection and creation will simply overwhelm them—even as they try to regulate it all away (with the best of intentions, of course).
This is the way bad laws and bad regimes die. Enforcement becomes impossible. Exceptions are made. Authorities get exhausted. People feel emboldened. It happened this way with anti-usury law in the Middle Ages. Eventually they became unviable in the face of modernization.
And in the days of Prohibition, the law meant every other neighbor was participating in the black market. Repeal came not because Al Capone and his competition were playing shoot-‘em-up. Repeal came because Americans learned the hard way that you cannot legislate morality—not easily, anyway. And the bootleggers didn’t have Snapchat, Bitcoin, and Tor.
Now, imagine not just alcohol, but 10,000 simultaneous products, services, and communities operating concurrently. And in each of these 10,000 products and services, imagine markets of millions.
It seems there are a few possibilities for the State given its largess and power:
- Grow rapidly along with these industries—metastasizing throughout this economy, creating millions of virtual gestapo-like agents that would have to cross national borders to track people down and keep them in line;
- Make examples of a few people in each of the 10,000 industries with punishments severe enough that it would frighten the rest and keep everyone else in line, causing many of those grayish industries to go out of business; or
- Skim a little bit off all of it, but tolerate it.
In any of these scenarios we can imagine cooperating international agencies, maybe coalescing into something that would be a big, rather rabid INTERPOL with the eyes of the NSA and the aspirations of the UN. It’s not inconceivable that this creature would come into existence. In fact, it seems rather likely. After all, these new communities and markets would be international.
But how long will the State be able to keep up with the dizzying pace of innovation, as this civil disobedience hydra sprouts two heads in the place of any one severed? Unless the State gets really repressive really fast (and we’re all prepared to let them), its functionaries will not be able to control the swarms and the gales of creative destruction those swarms bring with them. Fifty ways will become 50,000. This is our present. This is our future.
This article first appeared on the American publication, The Freeman, and can be viewed here.