I Am a Voluntaryist

I am a voluntaryist.

Voluntaryism: the doctrine that relations among people should be by mutual consent, or not at all.

I am also an anarchist and libertarian.

Anarchy: the absence of rulers [from the Greek an- (not) archos (ruler)].
Libertarian: a person who believes in the doctrine of free will and upholds liberty as their principle objective.

I’m also an agorist and capitalist.

Agorism: social philosophy advocating for civil disobedience via voluntary exchange without government permission.
Capitalism: private property ownership and free enterprise.

I see all of these as compatible. The common thread is that people have natural rights and should not be slaves or slave masters.

You own your life. The philosophy of liberty is based on the principle of self-ownership and non-aggression.

The opposite of voluntaryism is statism (involuntaryism). Statists promote violence and control of peaceful people by those who claim state authority.

None of this means that I don’t support and advocate for people voluntarily organizing and cooperating to accomplish things. In fact, I’m all for it.

Frédéric Bastiat once said:

“Every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.”

There are legitimate, effective ways of accomplishing worthy goals without resorting to authoritarian control.

Common objections I hear usually go something like this:

“But total freedom would be chaos! There would be no consequences for people behaving badly.”
“Nature abhors a vacuum! What would stop warlords from taking over?”
“Who would build the roads/schools/hospitals?”

The answers to these and other common objections to liberty involve a clear understanding of things like natural law, mutual consent, private property, education, persuasion, and free markets. Rather than attempt an exhaustive list here, those links explain in separate posts how voluntary solutions to societal issues are not just more humanitarian and ethical, but also more practical than coercion.

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Voluntary Law and Order

People are not all the same, and they make different choices because they have different values, circumstances, and levels of understanding. Sometimes those choices are peaceful and wise; sometimes they are not.

So what are the best ways to promote good choices and cooperation while preventing and providing resolution for conflict?

In answering such questions, it is important to recognize that there are unavoidable limitations. The idea of a perfect society where there is no conflict and all outcomes are equal is an absurd utopian fantasy, and so is the idea of a deus ex machina that can magically swoop in to make everything right. Imperfect knowledge and ability, conflicting interests, transaction costs, and other collective action problems will always be barriers to a perfectly peaceful and productive society.

In economic terms, there are markets for law and order just like there are markets for food and clothing. They are composed of scarce goods whose supply is in demand and which must be allocated among competing uses. Economic analysis of governance mechanisms offers tremendous insights, not least of all because it accounts for the crucial impact of incentives and constraints on human behavior.

History and reason show that private governance does an excellent job of protecting property rights and facilitating peaceful exchange. They also show that government interference distorts and obstructs justice.

Principles of Justice

Justice is the preservation and restoration of rights under natural law, and is required for peace and harmony in society. Justice is also the foundation upon which mercy and charity must be built. Victims may choose to grant mercy to violators to appease the demands of justice, but denying justice to victims leads to perpetual conflict and misery.

True justice is based on protection and restitution, not revenge. Two wrongs can’t make a right. Retaliation tends to escalate conflict and waste resources, often at the expense of victims. Restitution compensates victims, eliminates desires for revenge, and provides contrite offenders with a path to redemption.

Violations of natural law are always violations of property rights. This is obvious with typical property crimes like theft, but even your life and liberty are based on self-ownership. This underscores the importance of clear property rights because without them, there is no basis for victimhood or restitution. No property, no victim. No victim, no violation.

Rights violations in a free society would be treated as torts. Many offenses currently considered “crimes” would still be illegal, but compulsory puritanism would be unlikely. Proponents of victimless crime laws (e.g. laws against drug use or prostitution) are rarely willing to bear the costs of enforcing them.

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.
Lysander Spooner

Read the entire essay at LivingVoluntary.com.

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What Poker Can Teach You About Life

I know a lot of people shun gambling and card playing, but there are some valuable lessons that can be learned from poker. I find that playing a few rounds can be rather educational.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people take their mortgage payments to Vegas in hopes of coming back rich. This is just a list of a few life lessons that poker (specifically No Limit Texas Hold’em) can teach to those who are paying attention.

In no particular order:

Emotional immaturity is a non-starter

If you can’t keep your emotions under control, you will fail. A good poker face requires checking your emotions at the door and staying cool under pressure. When someone does something to frustrate or aggravate you, do you take the bait? In an era of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”, do you let yourself get manipulated by those who understand that fear and distress preclude accurate observation and rational thought?

Experienced poker players often go in the tank to see if an opponent will tilt. If you raise your voice or splash the pot, you have ceded control to them. If you flip the table, you forfeit the game and risk ostracizing yourself.

Gathering information helps mitigate risk

There is risk inherent in every human action, but if you want to increase your confidence in making good decisions, gathering information is a great place to start. If you don’t know the difference between an ante and a blind, a straight and a full house, or the odds of getting a gut-shot straight draw on the river, you’re going to be at a considerable disadvantage.

Understanding statistics is an advantage

Knowing the rules, limits, possibilities, probabilities, etc of a set of circumstances improves decision making. Pocket aces aren’t a guarantee, but the odds pre-flop against a 2-7 offsuit are very significant.

You can only play the hand you’re dealt

Poker and life are about playing the cards you are dealt. Do the best you can with what you have. Of course, understanding how what you have relates to others under current circumstances can and should affect your perspective. Example: A position bet such as buying the blinds from the hijack seat with junk against nits can be a profitable strategy in the short run.

Luck ins’t always a lady, but she’s always around

Fate is a fickle mistress. One minute you hit a runner-runner, and the next you’re on the wrong end of a bad beat. In either case, be prepared to handle it with some dignity.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
– Ecclesiastes 9:11

Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy

To quote Jack Handy, “If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let ’em go, because man, they’re gone.” Throwing good money after bad is a classic poker and business mistake. Don’t risk resources trying to make up for a mistake. Each investment decision should be made on the information available, not on how much has already been spent chasing a goal that may or may not be worth investing in further.

In the games of poker and life, dwelling on the past is a distraction. Both games can only be played forward. Don’t feel committed to playing a hand when in the blind. Wisdom resists the urge to double down immediately when a bluff is called, and a crying call after a check-raise is an express ticket to the rail. A short stack beats a bust every time.

Don’t play games you can’t afford to lose

Losses hurt more than gains feel good, which explains why most people are risk averse. Games are only worth playing if they are fun, so don’t put money on the table if losing it will cause anxiety. This rule goes double for amateurs trying to out-game professionals. Like nuclear war, the only way to win that game is not to play.

 

Don’t be afraid to change your mind

Keeping your mind open will allow your strategy and decisions to be informed by new information. Pocket aces are nice pre-flop, but when there’s a flush draw on the table, you think twice before going all-in.

Patience is a virtue

Impatience is a sign of anxiety, and anxiety is a strong indicator of impaired judgment. Measured, deliberate action is a sign of thoughtful confidence. Haste makes waste. If you aren’t in the right conditions to assert yourself, wait. Cultivate a low time preference and treat the present as an investment in the future. Always be learning. When the right conditions come along, you will be ready to capitalize on them.

Things are different when you have skin in the game

People behave differently when the consequences of their actions fall on others. Playing games and making decisions with other people’s money invites malinvestment. People make more responsible investment decisions when their own resources are at stake. If choices in life had no consequences, it would be like playing poker without any kind of betting structure; there would be no compelling reason to play at all, or not to just go all-in on every hand pre-flop if you play out of sheer boredom.

Pick your battles

To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, knowing when to hold ’em is one thing. You also need to know when to fold ’em and when to walk away (and when to run!). The gambler also said that the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. Survivors don’t win at everything, but they know how important it is to live to fight another day (especially in tournament play).

Don’t get bullied by some pretender trying to steal the blinds, but don’t scare away all of the big game by overreacting, either. Value betting against a rock is better than wasting a made hand.

People skills are very valuable

Statistics speak for themselves, but so do people’s faces and actions. Of the two, people skills are more rare and valuable. Of course, those who can interpret both well will be at a distinct advantage.

In life and poker, there are patterns of behavior that range from aggressive to conservative to passive. Some people play loose, while others play tight. Understanding the tendencies of others and tailoring your approach to them is a valuable skill in poker, but it can pay even higher dividends in life. Recognizing when people are overconfident, flattering, compensating for insecurity, or lying will serve you well in both cases.

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So-Called Intellectual Property

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” – Thomas Jefferson

Property ownership is central to liberty and civilization. Property rights prevent conflict over the use of scarce resources. Ironically, the term “intellectual property” (aka “IP”) represents a hodgepodge of concepts that generally introduce artificial scarcity and needless conflict.

The term “intellectual property” is a biased overgeneralization that prevents clear thinking. The first step in untangling the conflated IP mess is to identify the distinct concepts that it represents. There are three main things commonly considered to be covered by the IP umbrella: copyright, patent, and trademark.

Copyright: A copyright is said to exist when a “work” is “fixed” in a “tangible medium of expression”. The creator of said “work” is granted exclusive rights of “distribution” of their “original expression”.

Patent: Patents are granted to exclude people from making, using, selling, importing, or distributing an “invention”.

Trademark: A trademark is a recognizable symbol that identifies the brand owner of a particular product or service.

“These laws originated separately, evolved differently, cover different activities, have different rules, and raise different public policy issues.” – Richard Stallman

Ideas Are Not Property

Ideas are not scarce and their use is not rivalrous (in most cases, it is actually anti-rivalrous). In a free society, people cannot claim the exclusive power to express, adapt, or implement ideas.

Copyrights and patents are legal fictions. They are monopoly privileges that create artificial scarcity, introduce needless conflict, and pretend to justify censorship and trespass against private property.

Rights are not conjured by governments. To say that people don’t naturally have the right to observe, think, communicate, and use their own resources as they see fit is to say that they have no right to see, hear, read, remember, learn, teach, share, trade, work, create, or improve.

In the absence of private ownership, demand for finite resources overwhelms supply. This is known as the tragedy of the commons. It causes conflict and removes the incentives and consequences that come with ownership responsibility. When people claim to own the expression and implementation of ideas, there arises another kind of cooperation breakdown known as the tragedy of the anticommons. In this case, others claim the right to control your property and peaceful behavior. They will use violence against you for being productive and cooperative. Patent thickets stifling innovation and patent trolls who seek to profit by preventing others from being productive are examples of this tragedy.

Fraud and Consumer Protection

“Trademark law, by contrast, was not intended to promote any particular way of acting, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying.” – Richard Stallman

Deceiving others for financial or personal gain is fraud. This includes mislabeling what you present to others. Seals and other identifying symbols for individuals and groups have been used for millennia to authenticate documents and packages. If someone is defrauded, they can sue the perpetrator for fraud. In a free society, registration and protracted use of a symbol would still be a wise way of establishing and communicating a brand.

Labels for Imaginary and Emotional Property

While we’re on the subject of false labels…

If you want to prevent manufacturing and knowledge sharing, you can start by calling it the activity of “pirates” (which is associated with killing, stealing, abuse, and enslavement). Never mind that those doing the manufacturing and sharing the knowledge are using their own resources to do it.

Making copies is not theft. It is just arranging property you own in a pattern of your choosing. It’s not really different from cutting your hair in the same style as another person. It does not affect their hair at all. Their feelings may be hurt, but that would only be reason to call style “emotional property” and fashion “emotional piracy”.

Such “imaginary property” mischaracterizations turn abundance and creativity into scarcity and stagnation. So-called “intellectual property” is a direct threat to actual property.

Emotional property “Intellectual property”: Thoughts you are not allowed to express or act on. Or my daddy will take your stuff and beat you up.

Creativity and Prosperity in a Free Society

In a free society, people do not need permission to take action with and on their own property, provided only that they do not infringe on the property of others.

So what can authors, musicians, and inventors do to make money without IP monopoly privilege? One might also ask how anyone gets paid for anything without monopoly privilege. How do cooks make money, since people are allowed to buy ingredients, share recipes, and even cook whatever they want? How do tailors make money, since people are allowed to buy materials, share patterns, and make any kind of clothes they want? If you can’t find a way to make a profit without resorting to controlling the property of other people, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Before I list some strategies, models, and tools for monetizing creative work without threatening people, I would like to summarize some practical problems with IP:

  1. IP wasn’t established to benefit creators, it has always been industrial protectionism for publishers and manufacturers (and by extension, lawyers) to best exploit the work of creative people. It is not in the interest of creative entrepreneurs to promote IP.
  2. The existence of IP law hasn’t stopped people from copying things anyway, especially in an increasingly global economy. Dealing with copying and imitation is something creative entrepreneurs have to account for in any case.
  3. In addition to international law issues, new technologies like 3D printing, cloud computing, and bio-engineering are rendering IP law even more difficult to enforce.
  4. Even more innovation would happen if the huge sums of money wasted on patents and lawsuits were spent on research and development.
  5. If IP monopolies were legitimate, then why should they be allowed to expire at all? Also, why aren’t so-called “fair use” exemptions considered infringement on IP? Not only is IP unjust, it is incoherent and absurd.
  6. Nobody profits from obscurity. There are plenty of authors, musicians, and inventors that don’t make money now, even with monopoly privileges. When creative people see digital content for what it is (advertising), they learn that in order to sell a physical product (book, painting, etc), live experience (in-person concert, live streaming, etc), or technical solution (website design, technical support services, etc) they must build a good reputation. Good reputations have always been built by viral marketing (previously known as “word of mouth”), and digital content has just made marketing easier than ever. Sharing digital work for free is a great way for a creator to get attention, as well as to expose an audience to other work they have done. Businesses pay good money for broad exposure to the market, and digital content sharing is an opportunity to get that exposure for free.

Still, it’s exciting to look on the bright side at some of the models, strategies, and tools for monetizing creative work in a free society. The variety of strategies for creative professionals continues to evolve along with new technologies. Of course, the most successful creative entrepreneurs employ a combination of strategies, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

First Mover Advantage
There is a first-mover advantage in all markets, and competitors are unlikely to risk investment in competing with an established producer unless the product or service is not reasonably priced or attractively presented.

Perpetual Creation
Profits are ephemeral, and when a first mover advantage wanes (under an IP system or otherwise), creators release new works. This natural incentive spurs innovation in every industry. If you need thought police to guarantee perpetual income from a single effort, you may want to take another look at your ethics and value proposition. European classical composers continually created outstanding music (some with compositions in the thousands) before the introduction of copyright.

Advance Payment
Writers can insist on payment in advance from publishers for completed work. British authors in the 19th century actually made more money from selling “first printing” rights to US publishers than they did under the copyright and royalty system in Britain. They also enjoyed more popularity in the US than American authors who relied on US copyright law.

Patronage / Sponsorship
Artists with great reputations have created great works with support from patrons and sponsors. Patrons could be wealthy donors, supportive family members, or corporate sponsors.

Self-Patronage
If artists don’t want to sell what patrons (or clients or large crowds) want, they can choose self-patronage. Self-patronage is when an artist pursues a different occupation as a primary income source and creates art during leisure time. While this option limits scheduling of creative time, it frees up the creator from the demands of others and allows for more authentic expression. If their work gains popularity, it is a bonus. If it does not, their lifestyle is not at risk and they can continue or adapt their approach as they please.

Crowdfunding and Collaboration
There are several popular platforms that allow people to pledge payment for development of products and services they want and collaborate with others. Examples include kickstarter, gofundme, indiegogo, patreon, flattr, and quirky. Optional services like escrow, phased funding for incremental deliverables, additional rewards for stretch goals, and limited edition or personalization opportunities make ideas like these even better for creators and their customers. A “guaranteed minimum market” through crowdfunding can also save what might otherwise be wasted effort (perhaps writing the first chapter of a story to see how popular it would be before deciding whether or not to finish it).

Donations / Pay What You Want (PWYW)
It may sound unreal, but asking for donations can result in even more money than threatening people for sharing. The band Radiohead got a bunch of attention for doing it in 2007 with their album In Rainbows, and they made even more money from the digital “donations” than any of its previous album releases despite plenty of people not donating at all. Another outstanding example is Humble Bundle, which offers bundles of software and other digital materials like music on a “pay what you want” basis. They even allow those who pay to name their own price and decide how their donation will be distributed, in addition to offering incentives like upgrades and additional content to those who reach pre-set contribution thresholds. This approach has been proven to work especially well with a charity component. It can also work well as a follow-on to prepayment/crowdfunding efforts for those who would like to “tip” creators after goals are reached and content is released.

Creator-Endorsed Marks
Creator-endorsed marks (similar to trademarks) could be used to endorse specific vendors, whether in exchange for a share of publication/distribution profits or not. They could also be used to endorse specific models, prices, value chains, and more. People are more likely to buy from a source that shares their values. It also can have value similar to authorized biographies and celebrity endorsements. These and other labels also empower cool things like social entrepreneurship, cross-provider reverse boycotting, and non-governmental industry accountability and regulation efforts.

“Let us stand on each other’s shoulders, not each other’s toes!” – Dennis Allison

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Psychoanalysis and Pathological Voting

Politics is just an ongoing Rorschach test. Government rulers and media puppets paint pictures of the world, and the great majority of people respond with their own insecurities and fears by supporting psychopaths who promise to slay the monsters from their nightmares.

Elections use the insecurities and fears of some of your neighbors as an excuse to force you to to obey a ruling class.

“But without government, who would slay the monsters in my head?”

If you step back for a minute, you can see that the images you have been presented with are designed to evoke emotional responses that prevent you from thinking clearly and acting responsibly.

Once you have seen a Rorschach test for what it is, it becomes obvious that there is no correct or consistent interpretation that can lead to principled action. Politicians use ambiguous phrases and images and let people fill in the blanks with their own unmet emotional needs and underlying thought disorders.

Examples:
Hope and Change
Make America Great Again
Building a Better Future
Moving Forward
Yes We Can
We Will Overcome
etc.

Of course, these work particularly well when patients (*ahem*, “voters”), are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly. The result is people projecting their own issues on other people without even confronting those issues themselves.

Are you able and willing to describe your thinking processes openly? Here’s a short political philosophy quiz to see if you are masking your emotional reactions and intellectual immaturity with political party affiliations and slogans.

1. Do right and wrong exist?

If you answered “no”, your position is based on moral relativism, solipsism, and selfishness.
If you answered “yes”, move to the next question.

2. Do all people have the same rights?

If you answered “no”, you’re thinking about permissions, not rights.
If you answered “yes”, move to the next question.

3. What is the source of those rights?

If the foundation for your position is something like “I just feel like…”, then you will be hard pressed to come to any consistent conclusions, and you have some thinking to do.

If you recognize natural law and support rights to life, liberty, and property, but are not yet a voluntaryist, then you have some thinking to do.

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Free Market Fundamentals

Property and ownership imply the right to trade with others. Market is a word people use to describe the conditions of trade. Conditions under which people are allowed to trade with each other without interference are known as a free market.

All exchanges between people in a free market are win-win. People only voluntarily trade when they value what they receive more than what they give. The market value of a good or service is determined by what people freely exchange for it.

When people are allowed to cooperate to satisfy their needs and wants, division of labor naturally results. People tend to specialize in producing things that other people want because satisfying the desires of others is the best way to satisfy your own desires. This encourages people to serve and cooperate with each other as best they can.

Capital and Enterprise

People sometimes use the words “capitalism” and “free market” interchangeably. This is because capitalism means that you can own things (“capital”), which means that you can decide how to use or trade them. Then again, some people also use these words to describe markets that are not really free and to promote cronyism and government interference in markets. Don’t let the labels confuse you.

In any case, complex products and services require investment in tools and materials. Investment requires saving. Entrepreneurs organize capital and effort to provide products and services. In order to do this, entrepreneurs must anticipate conditions and plan operations that will attract partners to cooperate with them for mutual benefit.

Risk and Regulation

“It constantly amazes me that defenders of the free market are expected to offer certainty and perfection while government has only to make promises and express good intentions.”
– Lawrence W. Reed

Free markets do not provide certainty; they simply provide opportunity. There is no guarantee that buyers will be willing to pay what sellers ask. There is no guarantee that every desire of buyers will be available for purchase when they desire it and at a price they can afford. However, competition for win-win agreements and the laws of supply and demand steer markets over time to the benefit of all.

Some claim that government interference is necessary to correct what they call “market failure”. They blame the very idea of trade itself for reality not aligning with their personal preferences. However, scarcity and risk cannot be wished away or eliminated by government edict. Those who advocate government interference in markets are quick to point out the externalities associated with markets, but quick to ignore the externalities generated by government interference. Negative externalities are best dealt with by clearly delineating property ownership, and demands for more trust, transparency, and efficiency are market opportunities in themselves.

Government interference is always win-lose, as it benefits some people, but always at the expense of others. Government interference is inherently wasteful, inefficient, and corrupt (“government failure”, you might say). It distorts markets and introduces shortages, black markets, high prices, low quality, and moral hazards. Government interference is not “regulation” at all; it is special treatment for and protection of special interest groups.

The Fairness of Laissez-Faire

Laissez-faire (pronounced “lay-zay fair”) is a French term for non-interference in free markets. The free market is the toughest and fairest regulator in the world. It cannot be bribed or emotionally manipulated. It has no delusions of grandeur. Even people with shady intentions fear a negative reputation in the market and loss of profit that comes with it. Not only will customers demand alternatives, but bad products and services represent higher risk to lenders, investors, insurers, suppliers, etc. The market is not a safe place for businesses that don’t respect customers.

Letting people peacefully cooperate and trade with each other is not just the fair thing to do, it is the most effective way for people everywhere to cooperate in satisfying their needs and wants.

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