Strategies for Advancing Liberty


I just read an excellent article by Murray Rothbard (circa 1989) called, "Four Strategies for Libertarian Change".  Strategies for social change have long fascinated me. (I ran a student colloquium on the topic when I was with the Mackinac Center's Students for a Free Economy)

In the article Rothbard describes four approaches with four historical examples and discusses the pros and cons of each.  The piece is entertaining and well worth a read on its own, but coupled with the response by my current colleague Steve Davies (starting on page 13 of the linked article) it is especially savory.  Davies largely finds Rothbard on point but happily advances the discussion further.  He corrects a few of Rothbard's historical characterizations (Rothbard's histories are always engaging, but often portray events and figures as more libertarian than they probably were), and adds a dose of Public Choice realism. Most interesting to me, however, is the addition of other potential strategies.

Davies mentions the seldom attempted but often fantasized strategy of letting things get so bad they eventually get better (which I briefly address in this Liberty Magazine Reflection, "Story Time"), and wisely warns against it.  He mentions the possibility of violent revolution and rightly dismisses it out of hand.  He mentions the libertopian approach of a mass defection from current societal arrangements but, Seasteaders not withstanding, considers this highly impractical if not fundamentally flawed.

The final strategy that Prof. Davies mentions is to me the most promising and intriguing, and probably has the best track-record historically, though it often goes unnoticed.  That is the idea that existing coercive institutions can be toppled not primarily by direct attack, but by subterfuge.  Rather than convincing people they should give up the status quo, which means convincing them to drop the perceived security of the known and embrace an unknowable future, or overturning it by force or via an elite cadre, instead create the alternative.  Convince the world that non-coercive institutions and solutions to social problems are preferable by showing them.  If this is done well the act of formally removing state institutions becomes almost a foregone conclusion or a mere formality.

Though Hayek espoused a more ideas-based view of social change in The Intellectuals and Socialism, the Davies approach is quite Hayekian in that it is more of a spontaneous than a planned order.  That makes is somewhat unsatisfying to us as libertarian "elite" intellectuals.  It's messy, slow, unpredictable, and nearly always lacks that single climactic moment when freedom defeats statism.

Illustrative of how unsatisfying it can be, consider that we may be witnessing an example of this approach unfolding before our eyes in mail delivery.  Public Choice realities being what they are, the likelihood of toppling the state postal monopoly with any amount of education, policy paper publication, or direct civil disobedience is very slim.  (Ask Lysander Spooner.)  These efforts are not futile and, as Davies points out, work to compliment and aid the undermining process, but ultimately they cannot win the day alone.

We've seen the Post Office's monopoly weaken with the advent of UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.  We've seen it's importance wane with new technologies like email.  Sure, policy battles have played a part in this process, but the real impetus was self-interest on the part of parcel delivery entrepreneurs.

It is likely that the Post Office will die a slow death - or maybe never even completely disappear on paper - but one day we will be so used to other methods of delivering goods and information that we will forget it ever existed.  I would not be surprised to see the public education system undermined in the same way.

The beauty of this method is that it does not require the agents of change to themselves be libertarian, only self-interested entrepreneurs.  Libertarian ideas still play a key role, as do policy and legal efforts, activism and education, but the real change comes when the alternatives to state programs are implemented rather than just talked about as possibilities.

Now a little twist.  This approach can be very powerful on an individual level when combined with Rothbard's first strategy, a sort of Taoist retreatism.  In order to make society a happier and freer place, it helps to make oneself happier and freer first.  (This is the nut of an argument I made against worrying about elections and reading the news.)  We ought to focus less on what makes us unhappy and thwarts our freedom, and more on how to be as free as possible as individuals.  Just like UPS undermines the Post Office, we can undermine our own oppressive mindsets and internal institutions by building up freer alternatives underneath them.

I do not mean to be cute or self-helpish.  I genuinely believe that a social movement led by unhappy or internally unfree people is doomed to failure.  Occasionally retreating from the things we wish to change in the world and realizing that true freedom is not contingent on other people not only improves our own quality of life, but makes us much more attractive to the freedom philosophy's would-be converts.

First free yourself.  Then work towards societal freedom by creating competing solutions to those offered by the state.  Simple, right?

Interview on Capitalism, Freedom and the Future


An interview where I am asked some nice open-ended softballs on liberty, regulations, and the future.  The blog where the interview is posted is apparently supporting a particular politician, but I do not personally support or endorse any politicians, and the fact that the interview is posted to this blog should not be interpreted as support.

Oh, and I am referred to in the post as an "economist" and "Dr. Morehouse", neither of which I am.  Full text of the interview below.

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Josiah Schmidt: Thank you for agreeing to talk with us, Dr. Morehouse!  Tell us how you came to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy.

Isaac Morehouse: I grew up in a typical Midwestern conservative home and I was taught responsibility, hard work and initiative.  In high-school, my brother told me about this book he was reading called “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman.  I liked the ideas in the book, since I was sort of predisposed towards free-markets.  As I began to read more I eventually (after a long road and lots of rabbit trails) realized that, at bottom, government is force, and everything it does is backed by force.  It made me realize that so many things I wanted done in the world–good things–should not be done by force, but peacefully and voluntarily.  Not only did it sit right with me from a moral standpoint, but I learned through studying economics that voluntary actions have better results than centrally planned attempts by government to make the world a better place.

Josiah Schmidt: How would you define capitalism, in short?

Isaac Morehouse: Technically, capitalism is simply an economic system where individuals own the “means of production”, rather than government.  In popular usage however, capitalism has come to mean a lot of different things, some of which I support (property rights, free-markets, etc.), some of with I do not (bailouts, subsidies, regulations against competition, etc.).  I’m careful how I use that word, since people give it different meanings.  To me, it means simply free-markets.

Josiah Schmidt: Why, fundamentally, does capitalism work?

Isaac Morehouse: Capitalism works because without private property and the right to reap the gains and losses of our own efforts there is little incentive to produce or to innovate.  Property and free-trade also allow prices to form, which provide some of the most valuable information on the planet such as where demand and scarcity are and where surpluses are.  Prices, which form spontaneously as a result of free-exchange, allow for the most impressive coordination in the history of man; billions of people and resources constantly adjust their individual behavior in a way that benefits society, not because they are trying to or would even know how if they were, but because they are responding to signals sent through the price system.  No “rational” system of central planning can even come close to replicating that.

Josiah Schmidt: Is it meaningful to advocate a “mixed economy” of capitalism and socialism?

Isaac Morehouse: No.  Any coercion in the peaceful, voluntary and spontaneously coordinating market reduces it’s efficiency, not to mention it’s a violation of individual rights.  An only partly “planned” economy may be degrees better than a fully socialist one, but a free economy is magnitudes better than both. [For more on "mixed" economies see this article.]

Josiah Schmidt: How does capitalism, as opposed to socialism, accept human nature as it is, accounting for the flaws and fallibility of man?

Isaac Morehouse: It avoids what F.A. Hayek called the “Fatal Conceit” by recognizing that no one has enough knowledge to know where to put all the resources in the world all the time.  It recognizes the dignity of each individual by allowing anyone to justly obtain and use property, but it recognizes the limits of each individual by not allowing any one person to control all others by force.  If people are corrupt, the last thing we want to do is give a small number of them monopoly control over the rest, which is what government is.

Josiah Schmidt: Do government “consumer protection” measures actually protect consumers?

Isaac Morehouse: What is called “consumer protection” is almost always a special privilege or protection for some politically favored business or industry over their competitors.  Since government hands out favors and makes regulations, instead of competing in the marketing place by trying to better serve customers, many businesses go to government and lobby for regulations that they can afford, but that will cripple their smaller competitors.  The result is higher priced products, fewer choices, less competition, corruption in government agencies, and often times less attention to safety by consumers and producers who believe the government will do the work for them.

Josiah Schmidt: What is one of the most egregious examples of “consumer protection” measures that actually harmed consumers, in your view?

Isaac Morehouse: Oh boy, there are so many.  It’s hard to say which is the most egregious, but certainly some very silly examples that really bug me are things like requiring decorators, hair stylists, yoga instructors or lemonade selling kids to get state licenses and pay fees just to offer their goods and services.  These examples all exists in at least some states, and in every instance the laws were passed at the behest of some industry lobby that didn’t like lower priced competition.  It’s very sad for the people who just want a chance making a living by offering their skills to consumers.  They aren’t forcing anyone to buy, yet government is forcing them not to sell.

Josiah Schmidt: What advice would you give to libertarians reading this interview?

Isaac Morehouse: Take heart.  It’s too easy to see all the violations of liberty around us and feel things are always getting worse.  If you keep the big picture in mind and study some world history you will see that, in so many ways, freedom has advanced tremendously and there is no reason it cannot continue to do so.  Don’t follow the news too closely or you’ll be angry all the time, and angry people are rarely good advocates of the ideas they believe in.  Be optimistic and never stop learning about and fighting for freedom.  It’s worth it.

Josiah Schmidt: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Isaac Morehouse: Sometimes it helps to remember that really, liberty is all around us.  We often feel that it would require such a radical change in our everyday existence if government were not so invasive.  While I do not want to downplay the destructive effects of government meddling, it is instructive to stop and think about what really makes the world tick.  Why don’t people run through the shopping mall naked?  I’ll give you a hint: it is not because they are afraid of indecent exposure laws.  That may play some very small part, but it is primarily because they would be embarrassed.  They are afraid of the social consequences.  This is just one example of how society remains orderly without the use of force; without government mandates and rules and regulations.  In fact, nearly all of the order, cooperation and coordination we see around us is not the result of government edicts, but of the forces of spontaneous order that emerge in a voluntary society.  In many ways, government is less important than even libertarians think.  The message we need to send to our big-government friends is not that government is so bad (even though it often is), but that society voluntarily produces so much good that we don’t need to use the blunt instrument of government.

Josiah Schmidt: Very insightful thoughts.  Thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule to answer some of our questions.

Worldviews Matter


This is an article I wrote during the last presidential election for the Western Standard Shotgun Blog.  The election-specific parts are really not the crux of the post, so I think it's still relevant.

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A colleague sent me this article by Michael Knox Beran for the City Journal, titled, “Obama, Shaman”. The article is fantastic, not because it is a critique of one candidate from one party, but because the insights are far broader and can be applied to nearly any political or cultural folk-heroes of today. Beran draws upon strains of thought throughout ancient and classical literature and philosophy to highlight two very different worldviews.

America has a strong tradition of the worldview that sees man as fallible and existence as including pain and discomfort. Indeed, this worldview sees any life without some form of pain being a life without cause and effect, without choice; a robotic reality that would really be no existence at all.

The other worldview, the author points out, has surfaced in various forms throughout history and is the impetus for movements that nearly always result in a great deal of concentrated power. Since man need not be fallible, giving “the right person” unlimited power to do what is good for all is not viewed as dangerous, but rather necessary. From Machiavelli to Saul Alinsky, strategists have created a playbook for an ascent to power by those believing pain can forever be alleviated if only they are given the absolute power to enact their reforms. But the strategists only lay the plan; the philosophy that engendered the belief that such a plan could (or should) actually work came first. In the article, Beran describes many of those who have championed a paradigm which makes this belief possible.

As I’ve written before, paradigms are powerful, and hard to change. The lens through which one views the world, especially the human world, will determine the conclusions drawn from any set of data. Data, sensory perceptions, are completely devoid of actionable meaning without a theoretical framework through which to interpret them. For this reason, establishing and continually re-evaluating one’s framework becomes the constant task of the honest intellectual.

All good political philosophy and economics is essentially an effort to synthesis data and extract some kind of meaning from it – to create from observations a viable paradigm of human action. Knowing human nature is the most important and foundational element of ethics, political philosophy and economics. As the old adage goes, “knowing thyself” is the best place to start. I submit that the best way to know thyself is to find out what your worldview is (you have one, whether you know it or not).

What kind of lens do you look at the world through? What are the assumptions you take with you into every situation? Know your worldview, analyze it for logical consistency, test it against observation, discard or reform it if need be; this is the most difficult, rewarding and necessary task of human understanding.

Some snippets from the Beran article below should whet your appetite to read the entire piece:

“In his unfinished treatise Economy and Society, Max Weber defined charisma as “a certain quality in an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Weber was able to do little more, before he died in 1920, than give a pseudoscientific élan to an idea that had been kicking around for centuries. Most of what he said about charismatic authority was stated more cogently in Book III of Aristotle’s Politics, which described the great-souled man who “may truly be deemed a God among men” and who, by virtue of his greatness, is exempt from ordinary laws.

What both Aristotle and Weber made too little of is the mentality of the charismatic leader’s followers, the disciples who discover in him, or delusively endow him with, superhuman qualities. “Charisma” was originally a religious term signifying a gift of God: it often denotes (according to the seventeenth-century scholar-physician John Bulwer) a “miraculous gift of healing.” James G. Frazer, in The Golden Bough, demonstrated that the connection between charismatic leadership and the melioration of suffering was historically a close one: many primitive peoples believed that the magical virtues of a priest-king could guarantee the soil’s fertility and that such a leader could therefore alleviate one of the most elementary forms of suffering, hunger. The identification of leadership with the mitigation of pain persists in folklore and myth. In the Arthurian legends, Percival possesses an extraordinary magic that enables him to heal the fisher king and redeem the waste land; in England, the touch of the monarch’s hand was believed to cure scrofula.

It is a sign of growing maturity in a people when, laying aside these beliefs, it acknowledges that suffering is an element of life that sympathetic magic cannot eradicate, and recognizes a residue of pain in existence that even the application of technical knowledge cannot assuage. Advances in knowledge may end particular kinds of suffering, but these give way to new forms of hurt—milder, perhaps (one would rather be depressed than famished), yet not without their sting. We do not draw closer to a painless world.”

And…

“The danger of Obama’s charismatic healer-redeemer fable lies in the hubris it encourages, the belief that gifted politicians can engender a selfless communitarian solidarity. Such a renovation of our national life would require not only a change in constitutional structure—the current system having been geared to conflict by the Founders, who believed that the clash of private interests helps preserve liberty—but also a change in human nature. Obama’s conviction that it is possible to create a beautiful politics, one in which Americans will selflessly pursue a shared vision of the common good, recalls the belief that Dostoyevsky attributed to the nineteenth-century Russian revolutionists: that, come the revolution, “all men will become righteous in one instant.” The perfection would begin.”

America’s Great Depression


Murray Rothbard's seminal but often overlooked work, America's Great Depression, is especially enlightening since the 2007 financial crisis.  If you want to read the entire 400 page book (which I highly recommend), here it is.  If you're short on time, here's a 12 page summary of the main arguments in the book with some additional context.  Enjoy.

Was Adam Smith Wrong?


Here's an article I originally wrote for the Prometheus Institute.

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Disagreeing with a man whose face appears on the necktie of many a freedom-lover is perhaps dangerous, but sound reason can’t be sacrificed on the altar of great men – and Smith was a great man.

Indeed, Adam Smith, in his depiction of the division of labor in a pin factory and his timeless prose on the invisible hand and the self-interest of the butcher, offers some of the greatest explanations and defenses of capitalism ever written, even some 230 years later. I consider Smith a great thinker, and a hero of liberty. That doesn’t mean he was never wrong; particularly when it comes to the question of value.

Smith’s thoughts on the derivation of value in his Wealth of Nations laid the groundwork in this area for later thinkers like David Ricardo (another brilliant mind who was right about many other things) and eventually Karl Marx. In the case of the latter we have clearly seen how bad ideas can have horrific real-world consequences. As John Maynard Keynes famously remarked,

“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

I might add too the bad ideas of otherwise good economists.

Smith essentially, though somewhat confusedly, argued that the value of any good was ultimately derived from the amount of labor it took to produce. Money or commodity prices reflected only the nominal but never the real value of a good. In this way he described the different prices of different goods as a simple formula:

“If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labor to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer.” (The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VI)

Smith elaborated further by describing other costs of producing a good, including the role of the entrepreneur and capitalist and the profits they require. Unlike Marx, Smith never denigrated the role of the capitalist or the profits they earned, but his conception of value resulting from the cost of production (ultimately labor) opened the door for the idea that anything charged or earned above the cost of real inputs is unnecessary; excellent fodder for anyone anxious to obtain power by appealing to an envious middle class.

The problem with Smith’s analysis is not that the cost of production has no link to the value or money price of a good – indeed, the two are closely connected. He merely had the relationship backwards.

In reality, prices reflect the money equivalent of the value a buyer places on a good. That is to say, an individual who wishes to have a good places an entirely subjective value upon that good as compared to other goods, and the difference is typically expressed in terms of money. If in Smith’s example no one cared for beavers, the cost of killing a beaver wouldn’t matter; the beaver would sell for little or nothing. There is no one value of a good, but each individual values each good differently, as compared to other goods. It is the same for Smith’s supposedly changeless measure of value, labor. An hour of the same kind of labor may be valued (or disdained) to different degrees by different people.

It is for this reason that price is merely the reflection of the amount of money an individual was willing to give up to obtain a given good in the most recent exchange.

However, Smith was correct in seeing a relationship between the cost of production and price: Once a producer or entrepreneur has an indicator of what someone was willing to pay for a good, he can speculate how much others will be willing to pay in the future. He may be incorrect, but he will start with an estimate based on past experience and hope to get an equal or higher price. It is the estimated price (which reflects the value others place on the good) that will dictate how much he can spend on production. If a producer expects a good to sell for $1, he will be willing to spend up to $0.99 to produce it. (This is obviously a simplification, as he may be willing to take short term loss if he expects long term gains, he may want more than a $0.01 profit, etc.) In other words, the amount of labor and other costs of production flow from the expected sale price of the good, not the other way around. No one will spend more to produce an item than they believe others will be willing to pay to buy it.

Smith correctly saw that the various costs which go into production must be paid by the sale price of the final good. What he failed to see is that the costs of production do not create the price of the final good or imbue it with some objective value, but that the subjective value that each consumer places on the good sends signals backwards to producers and tells them how much they can expend on production without suffering a loss.

That Smith saw the factors which go into the production of a good as the cause of the price, rather than the effect, may seem like a small error. But economics, like all attempts to study the behavior of human beings, is a subtle science which requires great attention to the correct logical progression of actions. A misunderstanding between cause and effect can be fatal.

A slight adjustment to the angle of a satellite signal can, when extrapolated over thousands of miles, result in a beam nowhere near its target location. Likewise, looking at an economic phenomenon, such as the price of a good, from an even slightly incorrect angle can result in consequences far greater than imagined when spread over time and by different minds in different cultures. I would never single-handedly blame Adam Smith for the horrors of socialism. But his backwards theory of value contributed, over time and space, to a set of ideas which laid the theoretical groundwork for socialism – a philosophy completely contrary to the views of Smith.

I still admire and respect Adam Smith as one of the world’s great minds and a positive force in the battle for liberty. His conclusions and prescriptions were correct, even though his methodology was sometimes flawed. However, the lessons to be gleaned are to never let admiration for a great mind blind you to areas in which they are in error; and that even correct conclusions, if based on incorrect reasoning, can be dangerous.

Published in Libertarian Papers: Milton’s Areopagitica and Economic Freedom


My paper on John Milton's Areopagitica was just published in Libertarian Papers: An Online Journal for Libertarian Scholarship.

Abstract: This article draws general economic arguments against central planning, state licensure and regulation from Milton’s Areopagitica, a 17th Century pamphlet on free-speech. Though Milton’s work was written primarily as a defense for moral man and a warning against religious encroachment by government it provides some of the best and most foundational general arguments, both moral and practical, against government intervention in any field. Milton’s accessible and persuasive style and his ability to combine practical and moral arguments made his work a monumental case against censorship. However, the work has more to offer than a defense of free-speech. Libertarian economists can find in Milton many compelling arguments against central planning, licensure and regulation which have been and should continue to be reiterated.

Check it out.

The Problem of Paradigms


Here's an old and dusty blog post on paradigms.  Recent events brought it to memory so I'm posting it here.  Also see this post on worldviews.

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Johan Norberg wrote a brilliant and devastating critique for the Cato Institute on Noami Klein's recent book, The Shock Doctrine.

Norberg's article is well worth a read.  It reminded me of the immense importance of the long-term battle of ideas.  The practice of teaching political ideas on a simple continuum of left to right, with fascism on one end and communism on the other, has resulted in all manner of untruthful re-interpretations of history, philosophy and economics.   This book is probably the strongest example of the major problems this simplistic and inaccurate paradigm creates.

Klein is unable to see the world through any lens besides the left/right paradigm.  Because of this, she is forced to make everything fit into this vision.  She crams big government Republicans, fascists, despots, corporate welfare leeches, bureaucrats, militarists, and libertarians all into one bizarre category.  No matter how strongly reality disagrees with this view, and no matter how impossible it is to fit these different shapes together, she still tries and apparently believes she’s succeeded.

The paradigms we form early in our intellectual endeavors can prove incredibly hard to shake.  Seeing the world as merely a left/right world is the root cause of almost all of Klein's inaccurate, and frankly stupid, conclusions.  It seems glaringly apparent that libertarians and neoconservatives are not even close to the same thing - scads of books, websites, essays and debates are widely available which make this overtly clear to even a casual observer.  Yet Klein holds so firmly to her left/right paradigm that she fails to see these distinctions, and sometimes even offers critiques of government and calls them critiques of free-markets.

If we are to analyze policies and philosophies on their moral and practical merits, it is imperative that we learn to break out of overly-simplistic paradigms, and allow each argument to stand on its own rather than be mashed together in unnatural associations that are easier to label and fit on our continuum.  (Though also simplistic, here's another at least somewhat better way to view political ideas - one that allows for more deviations and does a better job of explaining the world that we actually see.)

Paradigms are important and necessary mental tools that help us understand abstractions and put them into a broader and more meaningful context.  However, they are only mental tools – the paradigm should never be confused with the truth itself.  When reality does not fit into our paradigms, we need to explore new ones rather than bend and twist reality and deceive ourselves into believing it fits.  Paradigms should be checked against logic; a sometimes difficult task that would've saved Ms. Klein from a great deal of error.

Klein's book should serve as a reminder that the current left/right political spectrum is one of the least useful or explanatory paradigms around, and adherence to it in the face of divergent realities can be dangerous – to freedom and to truth.

Elections Don’t Matter


This was written for the Shotgun Blog during election season.

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“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.” - Milton Friedman

Amidst the din surrounding the U.S. presidential elections there is much debate and discussion over which candidate can best lead the nation in the right direction. The right direction to me is towards greater freedom. Which candidate can move us there?

None of them.

This is not because of the specific field of candidates we have to choose from this election; this is always the case. As Milton Friedman pointed out (quote above), the nature of politics is such that a politician will only be able to do as much as he or she can get away with. No president, no matter how much he or she wanted to, could enact reforms more radical than what the general populace finds acceptable. In the end, all governments – monarchies, autocracies, democracies – can only do what the majority of the populace allows. Even a powerful tyrant, in the long run, cannot resist the will of the majority of people if they are motivated enough to oppose him. It is the ideas that they hold which determine their motivation.

Ideas, not people, run the world.

In a system like ours with democratic elections, government leaders are particularly sensitive to the mood of the public. Relatively frequent elections, recall threats, loss of fundraising from would-be supporters, and constant media coverage create a high price for unpopular decisions. Even the ability to change policy after being elected without sufficient popularity is limited – since multiple branches of government are needed to enact policy an unpopular leader will have little luck convincing congressional colleagues to go out on a limb for him.

Why then have we moved away from freedom in many areas? Because in the battle of ideas, temporary comfort, promises of impossible “equality”, lack of self-respect and responsibility, and a desire for the state to impose our tastes upon others by force have had too many victories.

Freedom will not keep without constant maintenance. Freedom is an idea. Ideas must be continually re-stated, defended against the trends of the day, taught and passed down, communicated and re-communicated in ways relevant to each generation. If we give an inch, the deceptive lures of state-sponsored “comfort”, “equality”, “fairness”, “niceness”, etc. will quickly creep in and gain a mile.

The ideas we hold, the value we place on freedom, our understanding of why it matters, our interpretation of history and the warnings it provides against statism – these are what determine the policies of the nation. Indeed, choose the candidate that seems best. Choose the one that you believe can best restrain the urge to take more power and trample more freedom. But know that in the end it is what you believe, and what others around you believe and how strongly we believe it that will determine what the politicians do.

Is freedom your passion this year, or is it the candidate of the month? The former can truly transform the world forever; the latter can only follow our mood swings. Don’t expect your vote or candidate to change the world - nothing worth having can be had so easily. I hope to change the world with ideas; the candidates will follow.

“I am really sorry to see my Countrymen trouble themselves about Politics. If Men were Wise the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not Wise the Freest Government is compelled to be a Tyranny. Princes appear to me to be Fools. Houses of Commons & Houses of Lords appear to me to be fools, they seem to me to be something Else besides Human Life.” - William Blake

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Put Your Education and Life In Good Hands…Yours


I had an awesome email conversation with a young lady named Hannah who's busy building the life she wants and realized there is no prefabricated, standardized educational path that will cut it. Here's an excerpt:

"I originally thought I was on a college path, because I loved academics so much and because everybody told me college was the obvious choice for me, but when I started actively exploring schools I was really unimpressed. I knew from my homeschooling experience that, academically, I could learn pretty much anything I wanted to on my own. I also feel pretty sure that I can learn it better, because I can follow my own instinct and interest and learn it in the way that perfectly suits me, not the one-size-fits-all system. I was horrified by the price tag, felt like four years was a long time to waste in school, and I didn't have a formulaic career path picked out for which a degree would be a logical first step. I didn't want the life of any young college graduate I knew, definitely wanted to avoid the college culture, and felt underwhelmed by the curriculum and unimpressed by every professor I'd ever met. At this point in my life, I can't think of anything I really want to do for which I actually need a college education. The icing on the cake was the moment when I realized: right now I'm free. The moment I commit to a semester of college I become shackled in debt -- something I'll have to shape my life around paying off, rather than exploring interesting projects and developing and growing, which is what I'd rather be doing."

Check out her blog.

If this resonates with you, check out Praxis.  It's for people like you and Hannah.  And whether or not Praxis is a fit, you can email me anytime if you're itching to do your own thing but need someone to talk to!

Taking a Walk as a Revolutionary Act


Here's a really fun article TK Coleman and I wrote for a new publication called Design 4 Emergence.  Check out the beautiful layout on the original!

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Isaac’s Take: The Mind a Blender

It was cliché. I took a walk on the beach and my life changed forever.

I like to imagine ideas as tiny physical objects sloshing around in my skull. The heavier ones sink to the bottom and the rest separate based on weight and viscosity. They mostly find their resting place and stay put, or at least in the same stratum.

Yet in order to create, make personal progress, discover who we are, and do what makes us most alive we need ideas to bump into each other. We need more than prefabricated plans and processes. We need disparate concepts to pair in unlikely, unpredictable ways. We need ideas to not stay in their place.

The rhythmic jostling of a good walk is like a blender. All the layers of ideas begin to move and shake and mix and mash. Walking is like a stirring up of the brain and the soul. Just 20 minutes into a quiet walk and you’ll begin to notice weird things happening. Seemingly random thoughts and thoughts about thoughts will move up and down, side to side, from the back to the front of the mind.

Back to my story.

I was frustrated, restless, and in a rut. Even though it was inconvenient and disruptive to my busy day, I made myself drive 15 minutes to the beach and go for a walk. I needed that endless horizon. I had no specific goal for my walk, which is kind of the point.

Five minutes in and I looked up at the horizon and saw in my mind’s eye a word floating in all caps just above the water.

PRAXIS

The bouncing of my steps had shaken this word loose and on its way to the front of my mind it had bumped into a bunch of other ideas long dormant. My decade-long dissatisfaction with the higher education system. My personal knowledge of dozens of entrepreneurs who were hungry for young talent. Recognition of my own skillset and network. It was too perfect. How could I have failed to see this for so long?

Within minutes an entire business model came into view, crisp and clear. I ran to my car, drove home, sat at my laptop and typed for a few hours straight. What is now my business and my passion was born.

Looking back, it all makes sense. I disliked my own college experience and envisioned a radical new model some 12 years earlier. I didn’t know where to go next with my idea so I put it on the shelf and pursued other things. In the dozen years that followed, I mostly pursued whatever was interesting to me personally and professionally with no long term plans. I managed to accidentally accumulate a near perfect mix of knowledge, skill, experience, outlook, and a network to launch what eventually became the higher ed. alternative I once dreamed about.

But I didn’t know any of this stuff was in there. It was all hiding in its own layer. Some nestled deep in the subconscious. Some associated with entirely different aspects of myself. I could never have purposefully made the connections necessary to see what I was capable of building. It had to emerge.

I took a walk. It’s the best way I know of to create the space for emergence in your own life.

You live much of life on a conveyor belt. It’s a structure created by others beginning with school and following you even onto the Internet as your newsfeed is curated based on assumptions about what’s important to you. But you’re hatching ideas and ideas about ideas all the time, whether you know it or not. The trick is accessing them and giving them space to mingle.

All the networks and technology at our fingertips is amazing. But it cannot on its own bring about the great epiphanies and acts of creation.

You can’t deliberately plan emergence. But you can remove obstacles. You can create conditions conducive to it. For me, that’s the simple act of walking. An act as old as our species.

Let your steps stir up your soul.


T.K.’s Take: The Mind an Ocean

One of the concepts that radically changed my life is an idea called “noble boredom.”

According to Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man noble boredom means, “No anticipation of action. It means having the ability to be present without needing something to happen.”

You don’t need to live very long to discover that busyness is the bearer of many luxuries. Being busy makes you look important. It gives you a good excuse for avoiding unwanted commitments and helps you deal with guilt, inadequacy, and the belief that you’re not working hard enough. Busyness protects from messy confrontations with the thing you fear the most: boredom.

When you consider the primary form of expressing boredom (“I don’t have anything to do”), it’s no wonder that we seek salvation in the experience of perpetual preoccupation. We dread running up against the fact that we often have no idea where we’re going and why we’re traveling in relation to all the stuff we do. If we stop being busy we’ll be bored. And if we become bored, we’ll see how uninteresting and uncreative our lives really are.

But inactivity need not be boring. The stillness and solitude that we look at as evidence of us not being creative enough is the very source of creativity.

Our subconscious mind is like the ocean. Our everyday waking-state consciousness is like the surface of that ocean. The activities of the mind and the external events that demand our attention are like the wind and the waves. Go to the shore of an ocean on a windy day and what do you see? You see the waves on the surface but what lies beneath is invisible.

The ocean is teeming with life, filled with all sorts of exotic and interesting forms waiting to be discovered. But as long as the wind is blowing and the waves are doing their dance such things remain hidden to the observer.

What if you return to the ocean on a quiet and calm day? The ocean doesn’t change but your experience of the ocean would be profoundly different. When the surface waters are still you see into the depths. You encounter astonishing things. You can reach for things that you previously didn’t know were there.

This is a metaphor for the relationship we have to our own  interior depths. As much as we hail the marvelous powers of imagination, that power is often drowned out by all the external noise and busyness of day-to-day life. Our souls are not empty. They only seem to be because we haven’t learned how to look beyond the surface.

The simple act of taking a walk creates a bridge from busyness to stillness that allows us to penetrate the depths of our mind without completely disregarding our strongly conditioned need to “do something.” Some teachers of meditation describe walking as a mantra for the body. The purpose of a mantra is to get our reactive thinking and the incessant activities of the reptilian brain out of the way. It’s like giving a dog a bone. The dog ceases to make noise and it has something to do. This allows you to get on with your work.

Walking allows you to get into a rhythm or a groove that makes it easier for your reactive mind to settle down and open itself up to deeper insights and creative ideas. Many people try various forms of meditation only to find themselves uncomfortable, bored out of their minds, or quickly falling asleep. This is often the case because we’ve come to associate meditation with making the body still. The essence of meditating isn’t, however, about being in the lotus position or bragging about your ability to close your eyes and sit still for an hour. The true purpose of meditation is interior stillness.

You could say that walking is nature’s meditation hack. By involving your body in the act of meditation through casual walking you create a gentle transition to inner stillness. This kind of walking is different from the kind of walking you do when you’re trying to get somewhere. This is the walk of noble boredom. It’s a form of boredom because you’re not doing anything in the typical sense, yet it’s noble because this simple act of non-doing holds the promise of offering greater meaning, creativity, efficiency, and substance to all you do.

I’ve spent many years studying and practicing various forms of meditation. From Osho’s First & Last Freedom to Jean Houston’s The Possible Human, I’ve experimented with many different ways of exploring my own consciousness. All of the methods I’ve tried have been useful to some degree. As a student of philosophy, I love approaches to contemplation that emphasize the importance of taking a break from the world and sitting in silence. As an entrepreneur who enjoys the pressures and challenges of creative life, however, nothing has provided a better balance of satisfying both my need to relax and my impulse to be on the move than the fine art of walking.

When I played basketball in grade school my coach would often say “walk it off” in response to one of the players catching a leg cramp. That advice stills rings true. When I have a problem or puzzle I need to resolve, I walk it off. When my thinking is cramped, I walk it off. It’s never failed me yet.

The Ridiculousness of the “I’m Not Impressed” Facebook Comment


Facebook can be a...uh...special place.  People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh.  I don't think this is good or bad, it just is.  Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.

The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:

"I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.

We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.

I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.

We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get."

Cool, right?  It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.

It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:

"This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I'm supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I'll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something."

I couldn't help but laugh.  So many hilarious thoughts went through my head.  I don't normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I'd post something to stick up for her just a bit.  I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:

"I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has "arrived", whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you're pressured into.

Anyone who's not just bobbing in the current deserves respect."

There was so much more to say about the comment though.  Here are some of the other responses I considered...

Thanks for your comment!  Maybe, just maybe, you aren't the intended audience. Maybe you don't need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren't supposed to be inspired by her.  Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her.  Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet...

Thanks for your comment!  I wonder what "done something" means?  Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section?  What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them?  To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?

Thanks for your comment!  You're right, no one is really inspiring who hasn't succeeded.  Then again, what's the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments?  If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring?  She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she's happy.  Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?

Thanks for your comment!  FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side.  But that's not relevant.  What's relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you.  Sorry about that!  In the future I'll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you're not the intended audience.  I'll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.

Thanks for your comment!  Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary:  You're upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn't inspire you.  Your post could be shortened a bit to, "I'm not impressed."  Got it.

Thanks for your comment!  Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me.  So you're all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger's story on Facebook, and you're not dead yet.  What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision?  Please.  Call me when you've, you know, done something that piques my interest.

I decided not to post any of those.  It seemed like it would have been mean.  Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they're not impressed anyway.  That would have been crushing.

Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:

Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture

 

Episode 60: Quitting Your Job and Biking the Country, with Anna Loehing and Peter Neiger


This episode sponsored by Praxis, a one-year apprenticeship with an entrepreneur for those who want to stop being boring and do awesome stuff!

There is a world of difference between driving a car and riding a bike when it comes to experiencing the world around you. A chapter in, "Why Haven’t You Read This Book?" was written by one of our guests today, who join me to talk about why they chose to quit their "normal" lives and embark on a nationwide journey by bicycle.

Both Anna and Peter are employed and are working while traveling and we talk about how they manage it all, problems that they faced, as well as about their experiences and impressions about human nature.

I asked them for their recommendation on podcasts and books, as well as who could try such extensive biking tours.

You can follow them up on their Facebook profiles and their page Shifts and Higgles.

This and all episodes are also available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Good Thing We Don’t Know What It’s Really Like Haiku


It's harder than you

Think it will be when you first

Think it will be hard

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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