Laissons Faire!

Column by tzo.

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Many Voluntaryists expend much energy attempting to convince people that society can operate without a central coercive government organization, and this can be quite exhausting work for what sometimes seems like negligible results. There are also some Voluntaryists who take a slightly different approach: We don’t need to convince anyone of anything except to leave us alone. We don’t need to convince them that government is bad, and we don’t need to make them believe that society can be organized without it. We can leave them alone to their coercive devices and they can leave us alone (Laissons Faire!) to give it a shot without them.

I believe there are many, many people right now who would be amenable to “letting” individuals opt out of the governmental land monopoly claim and have a go at government-less society. But there are zero “representative” or any other type of government that will surrender any portion of the lands it claims, under any circumstances, and that state of affairs locks out 100% of all the available land on the planet that might be utilized for any Free Society R&D.

And if a government ever did agree to surrender a chunk of real estate, it would merely be a permission granted by a completely untrustworthy, powerful entity that could change its mind at any time.

Just imagine if Texas indeed agreed to surrender 100 square miles and people moved in and began a successful non-governmental society that began to attract businesses from Texas, reducing the tax-rolls, making people question the viability and necessity of government after seeing better solutions in action . . . . Well you can just stop yourself right there, ‘cause that ain't never gonna happen, son.

The problem is that the individuals who are open to the idea of ceding land to others right now are not willing to risk their place in society by ignoring/bypassing/defying their own government. Risking their very freedom—such as it is—so that you can do what you want? Not gonna happen much, and that shouldn’t come as any great shock. And so here we are.

I had an interesting exchange with a Dane via the Internet, and I would summarize this person’s attitude as somewhat typical. He is an individual who enjoys the benefits that he sees coming his way via his benevolent government and is more than happy to pay his fair share of taxes, but he is also willing to let people who do not want to participate, to be free to do their own thing. I really don’t think that this is such an uncommon mindset.

This particular gentleman believes his socialist system is fantastic and cannot understand why I—or anyone else—would not want to pay the necessary taxes to support such a system. But he also sees my point of view and thinks I should be able to select or create alternative services if I choose to do so and to not be forced to pay for what everyone else in such a society enjoys via public spending. He even acknowledges that such private institutions would no doubt operate more efficiently than public ones.

But alas, his government cannot allow this, not even for a single person. To dare compete with a government monopoly is to be punished. When I brought out this basic truth, he became a bit uncomfortable and shortly thereafter terminated the discussion with something like, “Well, we just see things differently, and that’s OK. I’m not going to force my way of thinking on you, but I am also not going to change my preferences to align with yours.”

And that is a reasonable way to leave things when two amicable people disagree on preferences and opinions. To each his own, and that’s fine.

But there is more to this than mere preferences and opinions: There is coercion and violence. The circuit-breaker in well-meaning State-supporters goes off when they begin to get the first glimpse of a whiff of a hint of the violence that is necessary in order for them to have the benefits that they value so much: The violence that coerces others who don’t want to participate, to participate or else.

They don’t want to admit that they are taking any part in such a nasty business. These are nice people and they are having a friendly conversation with another friendly person in a big, friendly world and so the only recourse is to derail the train before it gets too far on down this particular track that has the Town of Violence at the end of the line, and so the old “agree to disagree on opinions” card gets quickly thrown down in desperation.

Besides not wanting to admit to advocating a coercive system, I suspect that they also don't want to have to admit to themselves that they have necessarily devalued their own personal freedom and worth in order to be satisfied with the Collectivist status quo. Everyone likes the idea of a free lunch, and if people lowball the appraisal on their own personal freedom and worth, then everything they get in return for surrendering such cheap commodities is pretty darn near free-lunch status.

Free education! Free healthcare! Et cetera!

Which gets to the root of the whole “The Scandinavians have Socialist governments and are highly satisfied with their high quality of life” thing. When people undervalue their sovereignty (take a bow, public schools systems), they will be happy with just about anything they receive in exchange for their useless, worthless independence. Happy slaves are indeed happy. No argument here.

And hey, to each his own, right? Laissez Faire! Let them be happy in their slavery so long as they Laissons Faire!—they leave us alone in return. I mean, just listen to them—they say they don’t mind us doing whatever we want to do.

But well-meaning Collectivists of all stripes have this rather large log in their eye that creates a rather large blind spot just where their system’s rather large elephant stands in the room. This “invisible” elephant is the coercion that emanates from their strong central State organizations that control ‘uge tracts of land and claim jurisdiction over them through force of arms. And this is by no means strictly a Scandinavian visual disorder, as the entire planet is currently covered in a patchwork quilt made up of such States all sewn together at their borders.

So yes, many individual human beings who are content to run around on their own little State patches are also content to Laissons Faire!, but as citizens they have voluntarily sold themselves into Statery, and these State organizations are not so accommodating to alternative lifestyles.

And so we’re left with this: I’m perfectly happy to leave you alone, but my lifetime-membership organization that handles such matters may not like the idea. You’ll just have to take it up with them.

A slightly disingenuous offer, no? Well, not if the proper mental gymnastics and contortions keep the elephants invisible. Then it’s all good, bro.

So that’s the downside of the Laissons Faire! approach. It may work on individuals, but their governments ultimately have the last word and the biggest guns. But that is not to say that there is no upside to cultivating such popular underground support.

The good news is, when the governmental system crashes, then individual human beings have nothing to lose by ignoring/bypassing the nonexistent government, because it is no longer there, and when it failed, it caused them no small measure of suffering.

Will many demand a new government be installed? Sure. But just maybe there might be an opportunity to get enough people on board to try something new—or to at least allow others to try something new—something that can have enough support to be powerful enough to defend itself.

Just maybe, all those people who say they would be content to Laissons Faire! really do mean it, and after the crash, they truly would not press to force people into their preferred coercive systems involuntarily. And if those coercive systems then prove themselves inferior to the voluntary ones that would be up and running in parallel, then there is every reason to believe that the superior systems would create a mass mental exodus from the antiquated mindset to a new one.

So for now, Laissons Faire! Is a useful seed to plant, but those seeds cannot sprout while government shadows block the sun. But when the clouds finally do part—for even just a little bit—then those ideas can finally break out of the ground and grow and transform themselves into some concrete positive action.

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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


BrianDrake's picture

I think what you've hit upon is that a lot of people have this laissez faire attitude in casual conversation, but aren't willing to actually walk-the-walk. It's no different with the NAP. Very few people have the courage to say, amongst 'polite company', "yeah, I think violence should be used against innocent people", yet vote for and vocally support institutions that do just that.

The problem is these sentiments are mere lip-service. When the rubber meets the road, most of these people value other goals higher than consistency to these principles.

Your Danish friend is glibly an anarchist. Government by consent is anarchy, since consensual government is not monopoly government (respecting consent would result in allowing not only "opt-outs", but competition, since "opt-outs" wouldn't be bound by laws establishing territorial monopoly) and thus is not a state/ruler, but just another market offering. The problem is your friend is willing to support your "opt-out" right only as long as it doesn't cost him. He's not willing to make (his government) leaving you alone a condition on whether he continues to support his government. So as you rightly point out, without HEAVY public pressure, his government has no incentive to let people opt-out (and as the monopoly government, they assert the final authority to decide this).

In addition to the discomfort of recognizing the coercion involved, there's another moral cost your friend (or any other sympathetic statist) is unwilling to incur. That is the discomfort of acknowledging the fact that modern states are not "you get out what you pay in". But rather, as Bastiat pointed out, states are the great fiction where everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else. If states truly started to allow "opting-out", gradually those people who recognized they were net tax-payers would most likely start to emigrate/opt-out at such a rate that ultimately all that would be left would be the net tax-eaters. Clearly, relative impoverishment would quickly follow.

This is something that only takes a moment of thought to recognize for the average statist. If democratic states get their legitimacy from majority consent (as the cover story goes) then what need is there for a state at all? If a majority of people are willing to vote for (directly or indirectly) Social Program X, then in a state-less society, clearly the majority of people will still support Social Program X, and thus Occam's Razor tells us the state is unnecessary, right? Ah....but the realization that is apparent to all but the truly mentally impaired is that just because a majority are willing to VOTE for something, doesn't mean the majority are willing to PAY for something. Or even if they are willing to pay, they are not CAPABLE of paying (i.e, the pooled resources of those consenting does not meet the projected cost). Though they avoid thinking about it, each statist knows (or can be quickly shown) they are relying on utilizing the resources of the unwilling to pay for things that they want. If they let those people opt-out, suddenly their socialist utopia suffers a significant revenue problem.

How many statists, when faced with such a conclusion, are willing to maintain their laissez faire attitude? Or, is it not more likely, that the majority would prioritize the gains they see coming from the state over their sympathy for your right to refuse consent?

Jim Davies's picture

Another very fine one, Tzo.
"But just maybe there might be an opportunity to get enough people on board to try something new" does, though, seem to me too slender a hope. Just maybe, indeed. I favor something far more proactive.
BTW, do we have anybody French on board? I'm worried about "Laissons." The usual form - laissez faire - isn't strictly translatable (so it's not translated) but has the form, I gather, of a command: "Let [us] do!" or, as we'd say, leave us alone. The "us" is implied. But "laissons" as the first person plural would be to command ourselves to leave us alone... wouldn't it?

Glock27's picture

There are a lot of problems here--not that any are your fault for that is certainly not the case. It almost seems as if you have made a case for the impossible, the stuff dreams are made of. I grasp what you are saying but I am looking out across this country and seeing all the I, me, mines, and giveme's that pile up from one end of the globe to the other. To speak of freedom to a zombie is nearly impossible. They are caught up in their own lives and struggling to make it and all this just sounds like a fairy tale to them.
Freedom is a bitch and she ain't free.