Want a Better World? Make a Profit


A few days ago, I noticed a post on Fast Company's Co.Exist titled, "Is Working on Wall Street Actually the Most Ethical Career Choice?"  The post is about a project called 80,000 hours that is trying to get people to think about how best to spend the average 80,000 hours they will be in a career.

Somewhat refreshingly, the project encourages people to consider going into high-income careers rather than the non-profit world.  It describes the outsized impact you can have by funding several causes vs. working in one.  But the premise remains: to do good, it's nonprofits that provide the boots on the ground.  You might have to bite the bullet and take a high-paying job so that you can support such efforts, but it's very clear that aid and charitable organizations are what make the world a better place.

What's so odd about this perspective is that all the evidence in world history reveals just the opposite.  There has not been a single, massively transformative development driven by charity work.  But millions upon millions have seen the end of poverty, disease and plague; we've seen lifespans extended, air and water cleaned, culture, art and beauty preserved and enhanced, and lives saved by profit-seeking enterprises.

Working for profit is, in a free-market, always a win for others.  Profit is a signal.  It reveals when value has been added to society, as measured by the subjective values of those in society.  Resources are purchased for a price.  That price is what the resources are valued at for their next best use.  Profit-seekers then do something to the resources.  They apply ideas, time, other resources and labor.  What comes out the other end is sold.  If consumers willingly pay a price high enough to cover the cost of inputs plus some, profit is made.  What does that profit signify?  It signifies value created.  It shows how much more valuable the resources are after the transformation than before.  It shows, in dollars, how much better off people are because of the enterprise.

Of course dollars are not a perfect measurement of value.  And of course economic value is subjective and changing.  But there is no perfect measurement, and there is none clearer, cleaner, or fairer.  You can ask people what they value, but when they willingly trade their dollars for it, it speaks volumes.  Any uncoerced exchange that generates profit should be hailed as a wonderful benefit to the world.

Sure, you can make a bunch of money so you can give lots away to causes you believe in.  That's a wonderful thing.  It feels good.  It can help some people in tangible ways that are fulfilling to be a part of.  The truth is, whether you like it or not, you're doing more good for the world by the activity that makes you the money (so long as it's not subsidy, tax, or regulation supported) than by the activities you support in giving it away.

I highly recommend this excellent article by F.A. Harper on "The Greatest Economic Charity".

When to Tame the Snark?


If you use social media and you like to consume and communicate ideas, there will be times when a funny one-liner pops into your head as a representation of your thoughts on an issue.  Do you post it, or refrain for fear of coming off as dismissive?

The best snark comes from being the opposite of dismissive.  When you really dive into an idea, read some books, discuss with friends, and ponder it, you begin to form coherent responses.  They begin as big gnarly beliefs about the idea that would be hard to communicate without a long treatise.  The more you think about it, the more you can pare it down.  At some point, you have an epiphany, and a short phrase pops into your head as a summary of the entire idea and your beliefs about it.  If it's an idea that you find lacking, it's probably a snarky comment.

When you post your thoughts for the world to see, you know the denizens of world have been doing thinking of their own behind the scenes, just as you have.  They've been thinking about other things.  They don't have the context you have for your snark.  Those who are inclined to agree with your position instinctively find it hilarious.  Those who take the idea more seriously are apt to be offended.  No one is going to understand everything that you imagine to be so brilliantly wrapped in that little bit of wordsmithery.

You can deal with this by posting the entirety of your thoughts on everything rather than or in addition to a short quip.  You can pack it with links and references.  "If they don't read it, at least they'll know I know what I'm talking about, damnit!"  Oddly, this approach does not prevent misunderstanding, but often generates more.  It also reduces the number of people who pay any attention at all.

Another approach is to not post anything snarky.  Stick to safe wording or mundane topics, and reserve your thoughts on complex or controversial issues for forums where you have better opportunity to engage in meaningful back and forth, show you care, etc.  This is a way to reduce the stress of haters hating your Facebook posts.  It's also a way to be boring.  That moment of epiphany, when you think you have a clever way to sum up an idea, is actually pretty energizing and fun.  It feels good to test it out.  Social media is perfect for that.  Not posting things that may come off as too glib will take a lot of the fun away for you, and for those who follow you.

Know yourself.  Will you be able to handle being misunderstood?  If not, practice.  Get used to it.  Don't be threatened by it.  Try to actually have fun with it.  Find a way to be content even if someone says, "So let me see if I get what you're saying", and proceeds to describe nothing remotely close to what you mean.  Can you let it go unexplained?  Learn to.

There is value in explaining yourself.  There is value in being sensitive to how your words may sound to others.  There is value in being thoughtful about how to best communicate an idea without offending.  But it's certainly not the highest value.  Don't be afraid to put your ideas out there.  Your own ideas are subject to change with time and information, so if you're going to put your stuff out there, you'll also need the freedom to publicly change points of view.  As long as you see social media not as a way to present your Magnum Opus to the world, but as a way to have fun exchanging ideas - even those you're only toying with - I say bring on the snark.

Protect Us From ‘Consumer Protection’


Back in 2007, I wrote a short piece for the Mackinac Center that showed, through a hypothetical story, how occupational licensing laws come about. It was published in a few local newspapers, and elicited its fair share of responses - primarily because shortly after I wrote it interior designers, who I chose for my example, began lobbying for exactly the kind of thing I discussed. Good timing I guess.

I responded to several angry emails, and I recently rediscovered one of my responses. I probably would say a few things differently today, but I still thought it was a fun exchange and I was reminded of it after discussing a current effort afoot in Minnesota to require interior designers to be licensed. The idea is as stupid now as it was then, no matter what state it's in.

Below is the original article, followed by the response letter and my reply. The names have been changed to protect the innocent interested.

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Article originally posted here.

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation when it comes to occupational licensing, with 116 different occupations requiring state approval, according to a recent Reason Foundation report.

Michigan even has a license for reptile catchers. You’d think with only one native venomous snake, the Massasauga Rattlesnake — and a relatively benign one at that — we might not need to rank so highly in this area of policy. Apparently not.

So, why do we have all of these licenses? Who comes up with them? Here’s a hypothetical example of how such policies come about:

A lawmaker meets with lobbyists representing an association of interior designers. The lobbyists say interior designers contribute $10 million annually to the state economy and provide more than 10,000 good paying jobs. Interior designers work hard to have a good reputation, say the lobbyists, but all of that is in danger. Rogue designers who are not members of the association have been undercutting prices and providing shoddy workmanship that damages all designers’ reputations. The lobbyists tell of one such designer who made a cheap shelving unit that collapsed, injuring the customer.

To remedy this, the association proposes requiring all interior designers to be registered with the state. They propose a course of study (provided by the association, to members only) and a test administered by a state panel of design experts (largely representatives of the association). Applicants must pay a $500 fee to cover the cost of the course, the test, the panel and all other related activities. Fee money would also be used to investigate and prosecute any unlicensed designers — including levying a $500 fine for first time offenders and $1,000 for repeats.

The lawmaker likes the idea of "protecting" his constituents and introduces a package of bills, mostly drafted by design association lawyers. The legislation passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor with little fanfare, as the association lines up members to testify in favor of it and the media reprints their supportive statements on this "consumer protection" package.

That’s the side of the story that is easy for everyone to see. Here’s another side:

Jane Citizen works 40-plus hours per week to sustain her family, and because of her interest in it, started her own interior design business. She has no formal training in design, and neither time nor money to pay for it. Her customers are happy, and her business has been steadily growing by word-of-mouth. Jane has never been a member of any design associations and doesn’t have time to attend conferences or read their publications, nor does she have extra cash to pay their dues.

The new "consumer protection" act goes into effect without Jane’s knowledge. She is soon approached on the job by a bureaucrat asking to see her registration. He informs her that she is violating the law and must pay a $500 fine and cease plying her trade immediately. She must become registered or face additional fines and/or legal action. Jane doesn’t have the extra $500, nor does she have the time to take the state-required course or the money to pay for it. She has unknowingly violated the law and must cease earning her living.

Lawmakers received short-lived but positive press for "protecting consumers." But who was protected? Jane and those depending on her income were not protected by the new law. Her happy customers who lost her skills and competitive prices were not protected. The design association was the only party protected. They eliminated competitors who drove down prices. They protected their monopoly and damaged the marketplace.

Under such a law Jane and her willing customers are "protected" from an honest and mutually satisfactory transaction. Free exchange ceases to be a natural right protected by government; instead it becomes a privilege bestowed by government. No longer can market competition ensure the best services at the best price; instead a trade monopoly, using the force of government, ensures the highest price for their service. No longer do free people choose what constitutes a fair price, a fair wage and good design; instead a government panel decides for them.

The next time you hear about "consumer protection" legislation that requires yet more licensing, check to see who it really protects. When government uses force to create and protect industry monopolies for "public safety," it subverts our natural rights. That’s more dangerous than a room full of collapsing shelves.

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Dear Mr. Morehouse,

I am writing in reference to your Thursday, December 13, 2007 article "Consumer protection often isn't". It seems to me you have on [sic] idea what a [sic] educated Interior Designer has to learn before they should be able to call themselves a professional. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree from Michigan State University and almost a second degree in Art History. All of these I paid for myself working two or three jobs while taking a full load of course. I have no sympathy for your Jane Citizen!

There are university extension classes and night sessions available. She obviously wants a free ride. Thank God she didn't want to be a BRAIN SURGEON!!!! I believe you should visit two or three of the fifteen colleges or universities in our state with Interior Design programs before you ridicule a profession. May I suggest M.S.U., Wayne State, Eastern Michigan or Kendall. All have excellent programs. If the educational aspects of a profession do not concern you why haven't you gone after Attorneys, Architects, Doctors, Plumbers, Etc? They are all licensees.

All Interior Designers want is the recognition of time spent getting the proper credentials for practicing their profession so they can serve their clients properly thus protecting their safety and welfare.

Mr. Doe

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Dear Mr. Doe,

Thank you for your comments on my article. It seems, however, that you have misunderstood its very simple point. I made no attempt to single out any one profession in occupational licensing (I could’ve used anything as an example), nor was I attempting to besmirch the hard work and training many interior designers go through.

I have no doubt that you have worked hard, and are very talented at your profession as a result; and I have absolutely no problem with occupational licensing or certification that is voluntary. What my article warned against is licensure by force. Whenever the state acts, it backs up its laws with force.

I do not believe anyone should be forced or threatened with the use of force for choosing to not get a certain amount of training in a profession. If Jane citizen wants to offer her services, that is her business. Consumers should be free to hire whomever they choose. I have no doubt that voluntary certifications would (and do in some professions) abound, and many consumers would choose only to hire those with a consumer report stamp of approval (for example). However, the choice should be up to the individual, not for the state to impose upon individuals by force.

All state-forced occupational licensing is in effect a barrier to entry for entry-level workers and a protection for well-entrenched industry lobbies. I have no doubt that your design skills can stand on their own in a free-market, and I do not believe you need the blunt force of government to coerce customers into hiring you over a less qualified competitor. I wish you had as much confidence.

Sincerely,

Isaac M. Morehouse

Review: Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers


Any book that uses an Oxford comma in the title is immediately in my good graces. Add the nicely designed cover, the slim size, and the intriguing topic, and Edward Lopez and Wayne Leighton would have had to commit heinous rhetorical or logical crimes to turn me off of their new book, Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers. Fortunately, they commit no such crimes but present a sweeping and readable examination of the forces that generate social change.

I have long been obsessed with the question of how to change the world. In my personal life, this question took me from humanitarian mission trips, to politics, to policy advocacy, to education, to developing educators, to raising support to develop educators. To borrow the old adage, I found I could do more in teaching a man to fish than giving a man a fish...then I took it further: Now I raise the capital to build the factories to make the rope to produce the nets to give the teachers to teach people to catch millions of fish.

This doesn't mean I've discovered once for all the secret of changing the world; far from it. Every day my approach changes as I gain experience and learn new ideas. Madmen is, in many ways, a clear articulation of many of the ideas I've come to hold about social change. It details how Public Choice Theory reveals that governments have all the wrong incentives for positive change. It discusses the role of ideas, and how they are able to overcome the vested interests that Public Choice makes seem so insurmountable. It lays out Hayek's description of social change coming from intellectuals, and spreading through the general public. But Madmen adds a new dimension, one I have not been able to integrate into my worldview until recently: the bottom-up role of culture, and the circumstance of time and place.

It is not only coherent, conscious ideology that determines what institutions will be tolerated, and therefore what incentives exist and what outcomes result. The conscious beliefs of individuals in society do play a major role, and are something we focus on perhaps because we feel capable of altering them through education and persuasion. But there is also a role for bottom-up, experiential, subconscious or tacit knowledge. The kind of knowledge that culture carries from generation to generation, passing on when it produces better outcomes.

Often no one is aware the valuable function of such cultural trends or norms. Economist Peter Leeson has done research on a variety of bizarre superstitions and practices embedded in various cultures; memes that seem to have no value. If you asked the members of that culture what the purpose was, they would likely provide an answer steeped in their religion or mythology. Yet time and again, the practices have proven efficient means of achieving desirable ends, at least compared with the known alternatives. Such cultural norms needn't be recognized for what they are even by the people that benefit from them in order to have influence over institutions, incentives, and outcomes - good or bad.

I've come to believe that, when it comes to bringing about a better world, valuing freedom because we've experienced it and consider it normal is just as important as valuing freedom because it makes sense in the moral or utilitarian abstract. A generation that believes in the power of voluntary cooperation because they take part in it every day is no less valuable than one that reads libertarian theory.

Madmen integrates the top-down flow of ideas from intellectuals to the general public with the bottom up influence of learned cultural memes, and uses the combined forces to explain where the ideas come from that shape the institutions in which (as Public Choice reveals) incentives will lead to predictable outcomes. To create this integrated view of social change, Leighton and Lopez ask and answer three questions:

1. Why do democracies generate policies that are wasteful and unjust?

2. Why do failed policies persist over long periods, even when they are known to be socially wasteful and even when better alternatives exist?

3. Why do some wasteful policies get repealed (airline and telephone regulations) while others endure (sugar subsidies, tariffs)?

They offer answers in less than 200 pages, yet somehow manage to work in an expansive history of economic and political thought, beginning with the earliest philosophers and ending with the most current economists. This is an excellent tour of political economy as a discipline: what questions it asks, what personalities populate the field, and what competing and complimentary theories they present. There is enough detail to satisfy the wannabe economist in me, and enough colorful storytelling to sate my inner layman.

The book opens with a story of the shot-clock that saved basketball, and closes with a story of hybrid wheat that saved millions of lives. It is full of examples of social change, both good and bad, and the authors' thoughts on why it happened when and how it did. If you are interested in how the world works from a ten thousand foot vantage point, I cannot recommend Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers enough.

Waking Up


I never saw before
Or felt the awe before
I never knelt before
I never felt before

I am waking up

I never slept before
I never wept before
I never knew before
Was never you before

I am waking up

I never dreamt before
I never meant before
I never burned before
I never learned before

I am waking up

How the World Will Change


(Originally posted here.)

When the world becomes free it will not be by the creation of new laws, or the removal of old, or new political leaders or any election result. It will not be because of a change in government, but because of a change in attitude toward government. It will not be because of legislation, but because of disregard for legislation.

Genuine change will come when the state is ignored, not reformed. It will come not when politicians are better, but when they are irrelevant.

When state-made law is no longer deemed necessary or important it will not be respected. When it is not respected it will not be enforced because it will not be enforceable.

This is how the world will change.

Evidence in the Face of Disbelief

The world can become free of the barbarous relic called the state. The state is a dangerous fiction whose power rests entirely on people’s belief in its necessity, or inevitability. Belief in the state is not insurmountable. It is not hard-wired into the human mind. It is not a given that a state must or will always exist. The state, like so many other superstitions now thought to be outrageous, inhumane and inefficient, can be left in the ash heap of history.

Many once laughed at the notion that an institution as old as humanity itself, the institution of slavery, would or could ever be removed. The prevailing wisdom for centuries, even among those who had discovered the moral repugnance of slavery, was that it was just a part of human nature. Reformers argued the best thing was to work for a more humane version of slavery.

Slavery was an institution that, however evil it may sometimes be and however utopians might imagine a more perfect world without it, was here to stay. Some embarked on efforts to improve the institution, to teach masters to be “good” to their slaves. Some setup rules and mores designed to limit the nastiest outcomes of the institution. But the institution itself was as unavoidable as scarcity and death.

The fatal flaw in this thinking is that slavery and government, unlike scarcity and death, are human institutions. They are, above all, mental constructs. Their physical manifestations are not physical realities humans simply encounter in nature, but realities we create, and humans only create by first imagining. An idea does not become an action unless the individual actor believes that the idea is worth acting on. To subjugate another human being, or to condone or allow the subjugation of one by another, one must first have the idea of subjugation and must believe that acting on it is preferable to ignoring or condemning it. Scarcity and natural death need no such human consent. The old saying about death and taxes turns out to be only half true.

If the state, like slavery, is the result of the ideas held by people it is not inevitable. Some day humanity could look back on the institution called the state with the same sense of shame and wonder that we now have about slavery. How could so many people – many of them good people – live their lives day in and day out surrounded by an institution so inhumane, so nakedly violent and demeaning? Did they really think it was necessary? Did they not understand how degrading it was? It will be hard to understand how so many humans thought the state was inevitable, tolerable and even good. As sure as slavery became a hated relic, so can the state.

How It Happens

When slavery ended it was not by changes in rules or laws or political leaders. Such changes often quickly follow changes in belief and mistakenly receive the credit, but they are never the cause. Slavery ended as people’s ideas about it changed. People began to believe it was not only an evil, but an unnecessary one. People began to believe it so evil that they were willing to tolerate the short-term sacrifices of ending it in order to reap the long-term improvement in the human condition.

The calculation of cost and benefit changed as people’s sense of morality trumped their sense of conservative institutional stability. The unknown outcome of ending slavery became an acceptable risk when considered against the known evil of the institution, which became an unacceptable reality.

Political Reform

Political reform can never bring about liberty. It can on rare occasion expand a bit of liberty for a few, but as long as that expansion occurs via political methods, it means bargaining that often takes away freedom in some other arena, or the long-term furtherance of trust in the state. The political game is about reshuffling and re-enforcing the necessity of the state.

The political game attracts great attention, and as such many suggest using it as a means of educating people about the power of liberty. Politics as education is only valuable in the long term to the extent that it educates people that politics is at bottom bad and government cannot ever be good. If it merely inspires people to advocate that the state do to things better, it is not, in the end, going to make society more free. It is disbelief in politics and in the state that leads to freedom.

The Chinese army fired on their fellow citizens in Tiananmen Square. This massacre was not caused by political leaders and generals saying, “Shoot”; but by men in the Chinese army deciding to shoot. It was not caused ultimately by bad leadership, but by a belief in the necessity of obeying orders. There will always be people with a will to power; a desire to control. Only when the rest don’t believe that power to be necessary and therefore do not obey does freedom reign.

Shift Focus

Humans want to solve problems in the most immediate and direct way possible. We want to know where the problem of restricted liberty begins. We discover the source in a gradual progression. First the focus is on people – the wrong political leaders. This quickly generalizes to political parties or groups, then to policies or laws, then to agencies and institutions, and finally to the state itself.

Here it seems we’re at the core of the problem: the state itself. Not any of the personalities or parties or bureaus or laws under its aegis. But a further shift in focus is required. The state is not the root of the problem. The real problem is not an institution, but an idea. It is the idea that government is necessary. That’s the culprit and final basis for every bad thing the state has ever done.

To a small degree, a shift in focus is happening now. A great many people don’t believe that a particular politician will solve the problems created by the state. An increasing number don’t believe one party is more likely than another to do so. It is more common to hear institutions or the incentives built into the system of government blamed. This is progress. It is, however, still rare to hear the existence of the state itself blamed, and rarer still to hear blame placed on the idea that a state is necessary.

The belief in its necessity gives rise to the state, which by definition is full of bad incentives that attract and nurture bad people in bad parties. To say the people, parties, or policies are the problem would be like blaming the sidewalk for breaking your leg after you walked off a tall building because you were ignorant of the staircase and elevator. Frustration with the sidewalk is useless and ignorant. The proper response would be to question the necessity of walking off the building; perhaps in so doing you would discover other less painful methods of achieving your goal and reaching the ground floor.

There is no form or arrangement of a state that can guarantee liberty. The answer is always peace, markets, and voluntarism. The ring of power cannot be wielded for good, but must be thrown into the fire before it uses good for evil.

Changing Lives and Changing Life

I do not wish to downplay the possible outcomes of attempts to reform the state. By such efforts lives can be changed. A court decision can save an individual or a whole neighborhood from being bulldozed by the state. The removal of a regulation can change the life of an entrepreneur and allow her to pursue her dream. These activities are analogous to disaster relief or soup kitchens; they can genuinely change lives and offer welcome relief. They can change lives, but they cannot change life.

Disasters will still come and go. The conditions that brought about hunger are not ameliorated with the appetite of the person receiving soup. The liberty-crushing actions of the state do not cease when it ceases to crush one neighborhood or regulate one industry for some period of time. The state will – must – continue to seek its own expansion, and it will push at every weak point it finds to do so, ensuring that an endless stream of lives will remain to be helped, but that the conditions of life itself will not be fundamentally altered. Treating disease is noble, but it is different than eradicating disease.

Changing lives is good and fulfilling work. But for those courageous enough to dream, changing life itself is bliss, and can only be done by undermining, not improving the state.

What to Do?

The only tactic worth pursuing is enlightenment. Enlightenment of self and of others, and both continuously. This does not mean telling people what to believe or what to do. It is more akin to discovery than education. A teacher may help you discover truth by providing information, but the discoverer has to have curiosity and openness. It is the discoverer himself who chooses to discover.

Become a free person, and your freedom will be a beacon to others who are searching. Create liberty in your own life, exchange ideas, be open to the power of human creativity. Free your own mind and you will begin to help others to free theirs not by telling them what to believe, but by demonstration and discussion.

The market does not produce new innovations and technologies because smart people tell others what to design; instead it is a constant dynamic give and take, show and tell, creation and imitation, trial and error, the greatest ongoing play of economic exchange.

The building of a free-society needn’t wait until the state is limited or absent; indeed the state will not wither until the free society is first built to replace it. The explosive power of ideas will destroy the foundations of the state as free people continue to live and breath those ideas and demonstrate the life, energy, fun, progress and fulfillment in freedom.

This does not mean everyone who wants liberty must do the same thing. Demonstrating and discussion the ideas of a free society is such a broad and evolutionary task that it opens endless doors. The differences we have in ability and interest lead to numerous efforts, and enlightenment leaves ample room for differentiation.

Our differences will manifest in which “others” we exchange with, and what methods and mediums we use. But it must be an exchange of ideas and the building of a free society. It cannot mean deceiving, cajoling, “nudging”, forcing, bribing, or dictating. These, in the end, will only lead to less freedom.

Liberty not inevitable, but it is possible. A state that does not trample liberty is not possible. So long as the state is deemed necessary it will exist, and the state will always grow beyond its originally desired limits. The state will prey upon society until it destroys it, and then destroys itself. But if the belief in the necessity of the state remains, the deposed state will soon be replaced by a new one and the process will begin again.

The only foundation that society can be built on without collapse is a belief in statelessness.

It must be belief. Consequential (practical) and deontological (moral) arguments against the state miss the point. People will accept an inefficient and immoral system if they believe it necessary. Once they find it unnecessary, they will abandon it and give moral or practical reasons for doing so, but the belief in the necessity of the state must go first.

Imagine Liberty

Ludwig von Mises described three preconditions to human action. An individual must have dissatisfaction with his current condition, a vision of something better, and a belief in the ability to achieve that vision.

Everyone has dissatisfaction with government. Almost no one has a vision of something better. People have visions of a differently structured “necessary evil”, but their lack of imagination makes them keep the modifier, “necessary”. The Proverb says that for lack of vision people perish.

If we open up our imagination there is abundant evidence of order without the state. Non-state norms and institutions produce the majority of the world we see around us. Historically, society precedes the state, and there is ample evidence of stateless solutions to problems we are taught to believe only the state can solve.

Beyond past or present evidence, an application of our knowledge of human potential can also help us envision what could be. Science fiction writers imagine unheard of technologies by looking at technological advances in the here and now. They extrapolate and predict where human ingenuity, if it continues on its present course, may go. The best social thinkers do the same with society.

Some advocates for liberty do have a vision of something better. They can imagine multifarious social arrangements without the state. But most still lack the third condition of human action; a belief in the ability to get there. After so many vein attempts at revolution and political activism it seems there is no answer. But in some ways, the second condition of action is the answer to the third. If enough people can imagine a better solution, they will cease to support an inferior one (even in the face of the unknown, if they believe it to hold promise) and cease to prohibit new experiments. People with imagination too small to envision an automobile may very well accept restrictions on road building. But people who can’t envision the specific manifestation of the automobile, but can imagine human progress and invention capable of surprising them will be reticent to restrict the construction of something with unknown promise.

This is why we needn’t all share the same, or even a very specific, vision of a stateless world. We must, however, be brave and broad-minded enough to see in human relations the potential of order without the state.

For those who can imagine such a world, the task is to open others up to the same possibility. Show them, intrigue them, inspire them. Where imagination is wanting, so is liberty.

When It Happens

Perhaps the beginning of the end of the state will be gradual. Maybe state efforts to restrict minor activities will be increasingly ignored. Bans on food and drink may be laughed at and become unenforceable. Perhaps it will slowly extend to ignoring bigger and bigger restrictions.
Perhaps it will start with a bang. The prohibition of drugs may simply come to an abrupt end, and sooner than anyone expects. Public schooling may suddenly become so little used and so uncompetitive in the face of educational innovation that it disappears.

It may happen without a big production. The visage of the state may not even die with its function. The royalty of England still exist, but they are longer relevant in regulating daily life. They exist as reflection or memory of what was once believed. Some Native American tribes perform rain dances not because they believe, as they once did, that they will bring rain, but as an homage to their past. The state may transform similarly. It may never “go away”, but it may cease to have meaning except as a tradition. Parades and pomp may remain while power over our lives withers.

Fast or slow, big or small, conscious or unconscious as it may be, the world will change. The state can be a relic of the past, harder to understand as time moves on, like slavery in America today. In so many ways the trend is well underway and we are already in a mostly stateless world, though it is little appreciated or understood. It may be a matter of merely realizing what is already true: the state is not, and never has been necessary.

Realistic and Radical

The dissolution of the state doesn't rely on people to become better or morality to change, or for the next step in evolution. It is a fallacy that government is inevitable and necessary. It could wither away in no time. It is only a matter of us changing our beliefs, paradigms, and theories of world. It only requires that we realize that it is not necessary. I say only, but the power of imagination necessary to see that the state is not is no small thing. Opening our minds to this possibility is the greatest and most promising intellectual and practical adventure.

Rhetorical Martyrdom, or Self-Defense?


Let's say someone aggresses against you. You've done no wrong and are morally justified in defending yourself with force. You are also morally justified in choosing not to resist, and possibly become a martyr for your non-aggression. Both responses are morally acceptable, but which is more effective at achieving your goals?

If your goal is self-preservation, it might seem defense is the obvious choice. Upon further reflection, the case isn't so simple. If someone says, "Your wallet or your life", non-resistance might actually improve your odds of walking away unharmed, even if a little poorer. Even when the aggressor wants your life rather than your money, it is possible a passive countenance might protect you better than defense. If you're outmatched, firing a few shots in defense only makes your attackers bolder and more aggressive - now you've put them on the defensive and they can kill with clearer conscience. Non-resistance, on the other hand, puts the full weight of the action on their shoulders. They must decide to kill a peaceful human being. They may not be able to go through with it. Of course there is no guarantee that willingness to be a martyr will protect you better than self-defense: many times it may be the opposite. It requires reflection and it's not an easy call.

If your goal is not self-preservation, but changing the world, the decision is no less difficult. Resistance movements and rebellions have played a major role in history. So has martyrdom. Consider the early Christians who peacefully succumbed to torture and death. Consider the peaceful activists in the Jim Crow South. Arguably, nothing did more to further the spread of their ideas than their refusal to defend themselves from physical force. When you are willing to suffer or die for your beliefs, rather than stoop to the level of physical violence, the world takes notice.

Let's move away from the high stakes realm of life and death and into the world of words.

If you face an unjust rhetorical attack, how do you respond? Defending your ideas may be perfectly acceptable but not always effective. If you watch professional football you sometimes see a player get in a cheap shot after the whistle. If the other player responds with a cheap shot of his own, it is almost always the responder, not the initiator, who gets a penalty. If there is no response, the penalty may go unnoticed, but often the passivity of the victim provides a contrast that makes the perpetrator's action stand in high relief. He is revealed for the immature thug that he is.

When someone launches an ad hominem against you, or unfairly attacks your ideas in words, you have a choice. Certainly a well-reasoned defense is in order at times, and it can be very effective and very powerful. But perhaps we undervalue the power of non-resistance and even rhetorical martyrdom. Refusing to respond can make the verbal aggressor look like a fool and undermine their credibility. It can make your ideas stand out all the more, and cause observers to wonder why you seem so unshaken; they may want to know more about your beliefs. It can also bring personal peace.

It's worth considering martyrdom over self-defense from time to time.

The Worst Protection


You feel safe in your neighborhood, but worry about the small chance of a break-in or act of vandalism. To protect yourself from these risks, you pay a security company to look after your house. It costs a little more than you’d like, but you determine it’s worth it.

They put an unarmed guard in front of your house at night, just to keep an eye out. It seems a bit unnecessary, but you rest easier knowing he might deter would be thieves. The guards start coming earlier and staying longer. It seems silly to have them there before sundown, but you ignore it. Soon, they’ve got someone there almost around the clock. Then they send you a bill with a new higher rate for their services. You suggest going back to night only guards, but they assure you this is necessary to protect you, and also tell you the neighborhood is getting a bit more dangerous. You pay.

The next week, not only do they have a guard around the clock, but he’s armed. Then there’s two or three patrolling at a time. Rates go up again. You’ve been hearing more stories about how dangerous the neighborhood is, so you pay. Before long, they have a constant cadre of armed guards patrolling not just your sidewalk, but the whole neighborhood. They start randomly knocking on your neighbors’ doors and searching their houses for anything they might use against you. They set up permanent stations throughout the area, manned 24/7. Guards constantly patrol and conduct random searches, without permission, and occasionally they cage or kill someone. They assure you; there was reason to believe these neighbors had it in for you. It’s a jungle out there. They raise their rates.

Some of your neighbors object. Some devise ways to protect from being searched or bullied. All become suspicious of you, and a little angry. After all, the guards are invoking your name when they do this. The more the neighbors resist or lash out at the guards, the more the company explains just how unsafe you are unless you purchase the latest upgrade. You do. They deploy more street walkers. They pre-emptively kill and cage more neighbors. It seems a fight breaks out every day. Bands of neighbors form for the sole purpose of combatting you and your security team. Their children grow up afraid of you and they hate you, and your children, for it.

The company says more is needed; threats can come from anywhere. Now guards are groping your guests and your children each day before they enter or exit your house. They search your house on occasion, just to be sure your conspiring neighbors don’t have an inside man. They treat you like a suspect on your own property. You pay the new fee with the only credit card you haven’t yet maxed out.

Every day you wake up scared of your neighbors, suspicious of your guests, leery of your own children, and irritated by the guards who may or may not rummage through your belongings. You juggle money around just to keep the lights on, meanwhile the guards roll around in tanks, thanks to your borrowed money. You remind yourself that they’re here to protect you from an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. It’s worth it. Sure, they could cut some costs, but it’s a struggle to convince them of anything, and it’s a little intimidating to try. Besides, what’s a few dollars overspent compared to the imminent danger you’d face if they scaled back too far?

One day it hits you: you’re not safer. You’re paying a lot of money, not to insure you against unlikely violence, but to stir it up. You’re paying to create enemies, not defend against vandalism. You’re paying to be treated not like a customer, but a criminal in your own home. You’ve been ripped off. You have fewer options when it comes to social circles, since you’ve made a lot of enemies. You can’t travel down certain streets, because there your name has become a byword. You’ve learned to fear your neighbors and you’re not really sure why, or what threat they pose except to the guards that harass them.

You fire the company and begin the long task of putting your life back together.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in the real world. You can’t fire those that provide supposed security. You have to pay, and you have to obey, or else. Don’t be mistaken: just because it’s done on a grander scale and wrapped in a lot of fuzzy feelings and national myths, doesn’t make it different from the neighborhood story above. States are supposed to provide protection; instead they poke people with sticks and incite them to violence.

The United States has enemies. I do not have enemies. There is no one in a far flung place in the world looking at a map and saying, “Here, on the Atlantic coast where the Cooper and Wando rivers come together. The people who have chosen to live on this bit of land are terrible. Let’s invade them. Let’s kill them.” Every international threat to me is a threat to me because I am associated, whether I like it or not, with the United States government.

Acts of terrorism and war are strategic acts. They are intended to pressure the state into changing its policies, or to make it pay for previous policies. Attackers know that the state ultimately responds to the views of its people and the interests that form around it. They attack civilians because they believe it creates impetus for the state to do what they want. We are the pawns in the game of states. We are at risk because we are seen as leverage with which to manipulate the political class.

The state is often defended as necessary to secure individuals against foreign aggression. Yet foreign aggression has no target if there is no state. The state does not make us safer, it makes us less safe. It kills in our name, with our money. It harasses us in our own country in the name of protecting us. It makes us suspicious of people we’d otherwise never know, or know only through Tweets or peaceful commercial interactions. It makes us hated.

The sooner we can forge an identity separate from the states that claim to protect us, the safer we will be. If the state is a kind of security provider, or insurance against international aggression, it’s the worst form of protection I can imagine. You wouldn’t stand for a company that marauded through the neighborhood in your name; you shouldn’t stand for a nation that does either.

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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The Ever Moving Goalposts of Arguments for College


 

You have to go to college to get a good job and make money

Actually, college grads have an average of $35,000 in debt and 60% of them have no job or jobs that don't require degrees.  Those silly earnings statistics have the causation backwards.

 

But you still need to learn skills for the real world!

Actually, employers report that college grads are completely unprepared for what's needed in the real world.  You can learn all the skills you need better, faster, and cheaper through an apprenticeship.  College tends to foster all the worst skills; the type that make humans dull rule followers, easily replaceable by machines.

 

You can't be so one-dimensional and materialistic.  The liberal arts are important to becoming well rounded person.

Precisely why you shouldn't go to college.  Student knowledge of liberal arts is the same when they exit as when they enter school, and none of them like going to class anyway.  Anyone who is interested can read books and articles or take classes for free or incredibly cheap and get a far better liberal arts education.

 

It's not about the knowledge, it's about the network!

College networks are incredibly limited and uniform.  Anyone can build a rich, diverse network through work, travel, social clubs, or any number of ways that don't cost six figures or take five years.

 

It's not about the specific job, skills, knowledge, or network, it's about the glories of the unique campus environment, the parties, the football, the four year escape to live and grow up!

Anyone can move to a college town and have all that and more without ever paying tuition or registering for classes.

 

Employers still need a degree as a signal of hireablility!

Actually, fewer and fewer require it and even those that do care far more about things that actually signal value creation.  A degree is one of the weakest signals on the market and the most expensive.  There are more ways than ever to get great jobs and stand out without wasted time or wasted dime.

 

Some jobs have mandated legal requirements for a degree!

Yes.  Yes they do.  And they shouldn't.  Of course, many of those jobs are "prestige" careers that students don't actually enjoy but feel like their parents need them to pursue like law or medicine.  Even there, opportunity to innovate and work in those industries as an entrepreneur without the costly credential exist and are growing rapidly.

 

But old people and parents might look down on you if you don't do it!

Yep.  They look down on just about everything young people enjoy, create, and do well.  They'll adjust.

Whether People are Good or Bad…


I posted a quote by C.S. Lewis to Facebook about decentralized power being valuable not because everyone is so good they should have some, but because humans are imperfect and no one should have a lot.

An interesting discussion ensued in the comments.  It's easy to misunderstand what I take to be the core insight of the quote; that freedom doesn't depend on the moral goodness of people.

Here's my own take:

Markets and freedom work and benefit all whether people are good or bad.

Government control, on the other hand, is unnecessary if people are good and deadly if people are not.

Whatever your views on the goodness or badness of human nature, government is an unnecessary evil.

I happen to think people are self-interested, which is neither good nor bad.  When you try to force them to be good, they become worse.  When you let them freely pursue their own self interest, they become better.

76 – FwTK: Politics Sucks, Flexible Schedules are Hard, Fringe Theories are Great


Today we discuss why you have to be free before you expect the world to, not the other way around.  We talk about why politics is disempowering, why it's so hard to not let your job get in the way of your work, and why fringe theories are great for society.

Recommended in the episode: But What if We're Wrong, Patterson in Pursuit, Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes.

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

It Took Me Ten Years to Launch…and I Don’t Regret It


My brother and I started a business when I was 19, but is was never the business or anything I was really passionately committed to.  After that failed, I worked for other people for the next decade before Praxis, which had been a rough idea I had since age 17, was actually launched.

This wasn't a bad thing for me, and there's no way I would have accumulated the knowledge, network, skills, confidence, and experience needed without it.

Today I share 3 reasons you should work at a company before you launch your own.  Check it out, and relax a little.  As long as you're not doing stuff you hate, you're probably moving closer to your dreams.

If You Hate This Post You Hate Truth


Just about every argument for school is actually an argument for the value of education that proves nothing about the value of school.

Just about every argument for law is actually an argument for the value of order that proves nothing about the value of law.

Just about every argument for welfare is actually an argument for the value of compassion that proves nothing about the value of welfare.

Just about every argument for the military is actually an argument for the value of security that proves nothing about the value of the military.

Just about every argument for regulation is actually an argument for the value of safety that proves nothing about the value of regulation.

Doublespeak is alive and well. Those who succeed in making the name of their pet policy linguistically interchangeable with a basic universal value always get to play offense.

Name it and claim it!

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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