Today is the 40th anniversary of F.A. Hayek’s Nobel Prize. My article in The Freeman tells the story behind the so-called Nobel, the controversy around Hayek’s winning it (and sharing it with a socialist economist), and what the prize did for Hayek’s personal life, his reputation, and his impact on the fall of European communism.
This week Liberty.me adds Mike DiBaggio’s award-winning novella House of Refuge to the Library.
I was very excited by the opportunity to release a Liberty.me edition of this story, as my editorial preface should make clear:
Editorial Preface by B.K. Marcus
I became a devotee of seasteading — the creation of autonomous communities out at sea — during the summer solstice of 2014, while seated in the Austin Music Hall, surrounded by hipsters half my age.
We were at Voice & Exit, an event, “built around a simple idea: human flourishing.”
The hipsters were waiting, I suspect, for the liberty-minded lectures to end and the arts festival portion of the evening to begin.
I was there to hear about the end of the era of coercion. They were there for collaborative wall painting, group yoga, and the electronic violin of soundscape guru Govinda (né Shane Madden).
Maybe the alien setting made me more receptive to new ideas — or even some not-so-new ones. Seasteading, in particular, was not a new idea for me. Yet something opened me up to the visionary talk given by “aquapeneur” Joe Quirk, director of communications for the Seasteading Institute.
Joe talked about the technological benefits of seasteading and the untapped potential of the oceans for healing the planet and feeding the world. His focus, however, was on the unique opportunity uncolonized waters present for escaping the crippling strictures that land-based monopoly governments impose on both freedom and innovation.
The American Founders saw the future of freedom in the idea of federalism: small governments that would have to compete for citizens, akin to businesses having to compete for customers. It was, after all, such freedom of movement — of “voting with one’s feet” — that had allowed individual liberty to grow, however imperfectly, in late-medieval Europe. The Founders looked to the model of Greek and Italian city-state republics as a way to keep the state (coercive territorial monopoly government) from growing in America the way it had done in the Europe of their recent ancestors.
But federalism among territorial governments requires small political domains. As Sheldon Richman said in a recent session at Liberty.me U, the smaller the jurisdictions, the cheaper it is to vote with your feet.
It’s hard enough to uproot your family and move to the next town or county in the hope of lower taxes and fewer illiberal laws. It’s much harder when the laws and taxes become ever more centralized over ever vaster territories. As the enemies of freedom seek greater international “cooperation” on banking, taxation, and regulation, how do we recover the liberalizing power of exit?
Those of us with a fondness for science fiction — especially written science fiction — may see our salvation in the colonizing of space. While Star Trek has its Federation and Star Wars its Empire, author Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love) offered a different vision of the future, one in which new pioneers could push new frontiers to keep the option of individual liberty alive. Innovation, Heinlein understood, happens at the outer margins of coercive authority, not in the capital cities or central planets of interstellar governments.
But as Joe Quirk put it that solstice day in Austin, “First the ocean, then outer space.”
However unfamiliar, challenging, and even dangerous the oceans may be for 21st-century pioneers, they are far safer and more familiar than the irradiated vacuum outside our gravity well. And ocean colonization will be cheaper. In fact, it will be profitable. The seasteads will innovate both technology and systems of community, law, and governance. If you don’t like how your current ocean city is being run, just sail on to a more compatible arrangement. You can leave the government without leaving your home.
And knowing the tenuous grasp any floating city will have on its citizens, each government will finally face the appropriate incentives to serve the governed — to provide the legal infrastructure to allow maximum private innovation, the best environment for secure wealth creation, and a civic culture that is respectful of privacy and individual autonomy. Talk about human flourishing!
Why did this vision finally take hold for me that day? I’d heard about seasteading for many years. I read about it soon after Patri Friedman began to evangelize for the idea. So why hadn’t I caught the bug before Voice & Exit? Why am I now fired up by the potential for real human freedom offered by “voting with our paddles,” whereas before, seasteading was just one of the many topics buzzing around the liberty movement?
As I said, it might have been that the culture shock of Voice & Exit had disoriented me to the point where my mind was more open to radically different perspectives. But I’m not quite as excited about biohacking, smart drugs, 3D printing, or other disruptive technologies that were discussed that day.
Maybe Joe Quirk just found the right way to bypass my defenses. He is an effective speaker, and his quiet passion and deadpan delivery probably match my aesthetic better than the energetic enthusiasm of most evangelists.
But I suspect much of the credit goes to the science fiction story you are about to read.
“House of Refuge is first and foremost a fast-paced adventure story,” author Mike DiBaggio writes in his special introduction to the Liberty.me edition. “And I think it is fully capable of being enjoyed by those who don’t agree with its anti-war and anti-statist undercurrents, or for those who don’t care to look too deeply for lessons in their literature.”
I first read the ebook last spring, shortly after it won second place in the Students for Liberty/Libertarian Fiction Authors 2014 short fiction contest. After starting to talk with Mike about releasing a special edition to Liberty.me members, I very much had his story on my mind when I rediscovered seasteading in Austin. Had Mike’s fiction been my catalyst?
After the Austin event, my family visited the Houston space center on our way out of Texas. The visitors center exhibit that my eight-year-old son and I were most excited by wasn’t anything from the past, present, or future of NASA. It was Star Trek’s Galileo shuttlecraft, restored by fans and donated to the space center. Surrounded by a well-financed propaganda program to promote government funding for centrally planned space exploration, I found that the high point of my visit was instead this fan-restored TV stage prop from the original 1968 science fiction series.
It may seem inappropriate to include a television prop among the exhibits promoting real science and real exploration, but the connection between science fiction and the early history of NASA is an important one. I’ve heard more than one post-Apollo-era astronaut or NASA scientist say that it was Star Trek that turned their imaginations — and later their studies and careers — toward the stars. In the original Cosmos series, astronomer Carl Sagan had similar things to say about Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sci-fi pulp hero John Carter of Mars.
Science fiction captured hearts and shaped imaginations, making the idea of space exploration more and more mainstream — less and less, well, science fictional.
If a government agency can benefit so significantly from imaginative literature, why can’t the advocates of peace and freedom?
We have to help people imagine alternatives to monopoly government before we can hope for any popular support for those alternatives. Heinlein and other individualist science fiction writers have helped more than one generation of libertarians imagine long-term alternatives, but humanity’s future in space is too remote. Joe Quirk is right to point out that we skipped a step: before we leave the earth, we need to leave the land.
And if seasteading’s radical experiment in thousands of competing governments on myriad ocean cities succeeds, we may yet find the call of outer space less alluring.
Mike DiBaggio’s story of adventure and heroism, set entirely at sea, exemplifies the sort of fiction I think the freedom movement needs much, much more of — a tale that demonstrates the evils of force and the virtues of freedom without ever allowing an ideological agenda to distract the reader from the action and drama.
Enjoy House of Refuge and let me know if you agree. Will it draw you into the blue revolution, as it helped do for me, or is it just a ripping good yarn?
Mike and I are both available to continue the conversation on Liberty.me.
BK Marcus, Chief Bookworm
Tannersville, New York
Here at Invisible Order, we’ve been doing a lot of work for Liberty.me over the last 9 months. Now that the project has really come to fruition, here’s the Liberty.me bio interview of our own BK Marcus.
Today we’re introducing B. K. Marcus, “Chief Bookworm” of Liberty.me. Our Library and Liberty Guides are made available to you all thanks to him and his colleagues at Invisible Order.
One great benefit of traveling down to Texas for Voice & Exit was getting to hang out with some Texan heroes of liberty.
Before V&E with Albert Lu, host of The Power & Market Report:
At V&E with John Papola, creator of my favorite hip-hop video, “Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem:
Our founder, BK Marcus, has a new article up in the Freeman today, presenting a careful libertarian rethinking of “that paragon of armed social justice, that singular personification of class conflict: Robin Hood.”
As advocates of such voluntary exchange, we too often resist Robin Hood’s rob-from-the-rich morality, as we resist any talk of fundamental conflicts of interest between different classes. But the targets of Robin Hood and his merry men—like the targets of the Peasants’ Revolt—were rich from plunder, not production.
Like the radical liberals of the nineteenth century, the “peasant” rebels of the 1300s—when Robin Hood’s exploits fired the imagination of an oppressed people—recognized that their enemies were the tax collectors, legislators, and all other members of the political class.
Read the Freeman and enjoy.
PS: Which one is more libertarian — the Russell Crowe or the Kevin Costner Robin Hood? Comment below to take a side.
Peter C. Earle now has a fun, insightful, short book on the quirky, serendipitous, inspiring history of a briefly semi-stateless place: Moresnet.
Moresnet was, as Earle explains, “an unintended consequence of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) [c]reated as a triangle of neutral territory between Prussia and the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna.”
In essence, neither nation controlled the place, and the people were largely left to their own devices. As a result, Earle says,
Moresnet encapsulates the archetype of market anarchy. Hidden in its history we find privately produced, commodity-backed money; competing avenues for the administration of justice; negligible — and, it seems, entirely avoidable — taxes and fees; few, if any, regulations; a defense force without a standing military; open borders (however unintentionally); and an irrepressibly entrepreneurial spirit.
This is a very neat short history of a very neat place. The book is, of course, produced by Invisible Order, and it is available on Amazon.com for just $2.99. Go buy yours now.
We at Invisible Order are proud to announce our most recent publication: Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies, available in Kindle edition and paperback (and also as a free ebook with a Liberty.me membership).
Jeffrey Tucker calls it “an incredibly good guide to showing precisely what is nonsensical about political debate.”
How many times have you watched a public policy fiasco and been mystified as to how the politicians can believe their own rhetoric? They talk about how raising the minimum wage is going to make the poor better off, even though there is no mechanism in the nature of things to bring about that reality; about how some new war is going to rid the world of despotism, despite knowing that the history of war tends in the opposite direction; about how some new healthcare mandate is going to bring freedom from disease, and yet you know that legislation can’t actually achieve anything like this.
There always seems to be a missing step in the chain of logic. Politicians and pundits actually seem to believe that passing a law will generate a certain wonderful result, even though the relationship between cause and effect is nowhere present. It seems like a giant exercise in fantasy.
Galles has provided an outstanding tool for navigating your way through the sea of folly that is the politics of our time. There is no anger in his prose, and there doesn’t need to be. He has the arguments, the analytics, and the facts — those alone make the case.