Even Anarchists Need Mayors

“Mayor ____ welcomes you to Atlanta.”

This sign greeted me as I left the airport for home. I kind of liked it.

Now as an anarchist, I don’t want any city governments, and I don’t give a damn about Mayor What’s-Their-Name, but I do give a damn about Atlanta. And like all cities I love, Atlanta has its own unique culture with unique values and customs.

Even if, God-willing, we managed to make Atlanta a city free from bureaucracies and governments, it would still help to have a figurehead for those values and customs.

We need someone who can cut ribbons, welcome people to town, organize volunteer events, and talk on important holidays. We need someone who can get up and say some nice things that more or less honor the shared values of a place. And we need them to have no constitutional or governing power over anyone whatsoever. Their power must derive from influence, respect, and earned authority from reputation and service, not coercion.

Look at the Queen: she doesn’t hold all that much constitutional power in England, but she traditionally has played a useful role in embodying Englishness – and serving as a role model for behavior, speech, dress, etc.

Mayors in a free society could do the same – and heck, we could even have mayors at other scales: whole regions. Mayor of Appalachia? Mayor of the Lowcountry? Mayor of New England? Heck, there are some folks who were destructive as politicians who would be fine as mayors of America.

Abstract values sometimes need a human face, and most humans want someone to look up to and to represent the best we have to offer. There are natural hierarchies, and there are some people worthy of honor and suited to serving (not ruling) large groups of people. So why not keep mayors around?

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Well Done, Billionaires

I ran into a neighbor on the street the other day and we chatted about life at home during COVID-19 and how we are all coping with social distancing. I mentioned how grateful I am that our nearby Whole Foods market seems well-stocked (except for toilet paper).

She made a comment about how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, which also owns Whole Foods, should really be less greedy and share their wealth. (She didn’t know that Bezos has donated $100 million to US food banks during the pandemic, but charity is beside the point.)

The dominant narrative that billionaires are greedy and big companies like Amazon are monopolistic, exploitative tyrants is not only misguided but deeply troubling for the future of prosperity and human progress. This rhetoric is nothing new. Successful businesspeople have long been smeared as robber barons who take and take, detracting from the “common good.” But this rhetoric and these smear campaigns fail to recognize just how much these billionaires give. And I don’t mean give in terms of charity.

They give by doing, by building, by creating, by inventing. They give by making products or offering services that people want to buy at a price they want to pay in pursuit of things they want to do, and employing thousands of people who choose to work for a wage they choose to accept.

They give by creating value for people, free of force and in an open marketplace of voluntary exchange. In the case of Amazon and Bezos, it got big and he got wealthy by building a superior product that millions of people freely choose to use because they can get goods they want at lower prices and faster speeds, freeing up their precious time and resources to devote to their own personal pursuits.

Amazon is a marvel of modern enterprise, and is one of the few companies keeping our emaciated economy from completely collapsing during this public health shutdown. Instead of disdain, the people who built these companies deserve our respect and appreciation. They are the builders and the creators, the thinkers and the doers. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reinforced this point recently in a virtual presentation to the Economic Club of New York. He said:

Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon, for example. The benefit of these corporations — which we love to malign — in terms of the ability to communicate … the ability to get information, is profound — and I hope people will remember that when this thing is finally over. So let’s be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now and have really helped us out. Imagine having the same reality of this pandemic without these tools.

Yes, imagine. In her classic book, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand did just that, showing what life would be like if we mistake success for greed, achievement for exploitation, and progress for oppression. Billionaires, like Bezos, who have built great companies contribute daily to the “common good”—not only through charity, but through human ingenuity and the progress and prosperity that produces for all of us. During this pandemic, Audible, an Amazon company, is offering hundreds of its children’s audiobooks, and many of its adult books as well, for free. Atlas Shrugged is one of them.

We can, and should, balk at attempts to corrupt the process of voluntary exchange when business and government become entangled. That isn’t capitalism, it’s cronyism and it poisons the promise of free markets.

Economist Dan Mitchell describes the difference as being pro-market or pro-business, with the former acting as a champion of free enterprise and trade while the latter relies on government handouts and business buffers in the form of subsidies and bailouts.

Government officials trying to woo Amazon with subsidies and preferential treatment to build additional headquarters in a particular city is an obvious example of being pro-business at the expense of a dynamic free market.

Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos assume enormous risk and invest significant time, energy, and resources into inventing products and services that people want and need. They spot an opportunity to create value for others, and build a business around that idea using their own originality and will. If they succeed in creating something that others value, they will be rewarded financially; but even Jeff Bezos isn’t as rich as you think. Most billionaire wealth is inextricably linked to the companies they built, continuing to generate value for others, continuing to give.

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Socialistic Policy Only Worsen Economy

I appreciate those who are making a heroic effort to keep the economy running; putting their health and lives on the line for our benefit.

They are trying to make sure food and supplies are available when needed.

This is important when everything is going well; it is absolutely essential in a crisis.

They are life-savers and deserve our thanks, respect, and support.

They provide a stark contrast to those who are working around the clock to shut down the economy and punish any who dare try to keep life and business running as normally as possible. Those who impose and enforce economy-crushing policies and orders, using the pandemic as an excuse, are making things worse. They may pretend it’s about saving lives, but their actions could cost lives in the long run.

When political officials — and government health officials are more political than medical — talk about the risk of deaths from COVID-19, they sometimes say some of those deaths will be balanced by the lives saved due to fewer traffic accidents and work-related deaths with more people staying home. This is all they consider when they discuss the net death toll of this pandemic. It’s an incomplete picture and hides a big cost.

They ignore the additional deaths an economic depression will cause. They sweep those deaths, which they will be completely responsible for causing, under the rug. These deaths could outnumber the deaths caused by the virus, itself. This is because the economic deaths will occur over several years rather than a few months. Perhaps over the course of a decade or more.

How many people died from the Great Depression? How many more died as a result of Franklin Roosevelt’s misguided socialistic policies, which stretched that depression years beyond its natural span? How many had their health ruined by the years of hardship? How many died of stress-related conditions due to economic disruption, business failures, and losing their life savings or home?

History doesn’t repeat, but similar conditions often have similar effects. If government policies manage to destroy or damage the economy, and then keep it from recovering naturally as quickly as it otherwise would — the way FDR’s programs did — people who would otherwise have prospered as the economy recovered are going to be dying from effects of a coronavirus Depression.

Worse, if the foolish “stimulus” being presented by politicians as a solution finally triggers hyperinflation, the result will be beyond anything you can imagine. Buckle up. It may get bumpy.

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Freedom of Association

Why shouldn’t you be forced to marry and have children against your will? Why shouldn’t you be forced to join and support a religious organization? Why shouldn’t you be forced into friendships to spend your leisure time with people you don’t like? Why shouldn’t you be forced to do unimportant and unproductive work for an abusive boss? Why shouldn’t you be forced to comply with the demands of politicians who steal your money and use it in unethical and counterproductive ways?

The answer is simple: nobody has a higher claim on your life than you do.

Argument against freedom of association constitutes a rejection of ethics. Politics is what you are left with after you reject ethics. It is the systematic violation of consent. It is an endless fight over oppressive control and stolen resources in which association must be either forced or prohibited.

When civilized people disagree, they don’t claim the moral high ground while violating consent to enforce their unprincipled demands on others. They respect the right of individuals to self-select into associations that seem most likely to result in their safety and happiness. If the internalized cost/benefit ratio is not satisfactory, they are free to disassociate.

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Government-Supremacist Assumptions

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass. Government-supremacists are easy to spot by the bad assumptions they naturally make and wave around in public.

They’ve always argued over how to spend “tax” money; they won’t consider the fact that “taxation” is theft.

They’ve argued over what should be taught in government schools, but never questioned government control over (and destruction of) education.

And now they argue over whether it was the right move to issue stay-at-home orders and cripple the economy, but they never consider that no one has the right to do so.

It’s not government’s place to decide to shutter the economy to “save” lives from coronavirus or anything else. They don’t have that right and they shouldn’t be allowed to have the power.

It’s never an “adult decision” to govern other people (the political means) rather than letting them work it out for themselves (the economic means/the market). It’s the most childish thing anyone can do. No one should be allowed to make those decisions and decide for you what you will be permitted to do with your own life.

They also substitute government-supremacism for thinking in other ways.

If you are making the dishonest argument that to fail to sufficiently cripple the economy on account of the coronapocalypse is going to kill 50,000 additional people (or whatever your number might be), without taking into account those who will die because the economy is being destroyed, you aren’t contributing anything useful.

You can’t know how many the virus will kill, nor do you know how many will die from the effects of a shut-down. The number of dead from the shut-down could well vastly outnumber those who die from the virus, making the “net deaths from coronavirus” being tossed around a completely fake number. Any discussion of “net deaths from coronavirus” without taking those a shut-down will kill into account is– as of now– a lie calculated to limit the discussion to government-supremacist answers.

To pretend that someone has sufficient information to make such a decision, or the right to impose it, is to be dishonest. It’s what makes one a government-supremacist.

Government edicts and orders are the opposite of responsibility. You have the responsibility to not violate the life, liberty, or property of anyone else. Government-supremacy is explicit irresponsibility and is shameful. No matter who exhibits it or what excuse they grasp at to justify their violations. I have no respect for government-supremacists; they deserve none. They’ve worked hard to prove that.

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Don’t Let Politicians Use Pandemic as an Excuse for Dictatorship

By invoking the Defense Production Act, which “authorizes the President to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders and to allocate materials, services, and facilities to promote the national defense or to maximize domestic energy supplies,” US president Donald Trump has declared himself America’s economic dictator.

He’s also moved to seal the nation’s borders, even as governors and mayors have banned public gatherings, ordered businesses to close or severely curtail operations, sealed off neighborhoods, and even in some cases — San Francisco comes to mind — ordered the entire populations of cities to remain indoors.

And we’re letting them do it.

Why? Because they say it’s about “public health.”

If this was about public health,  obvious vectors for the spread of COVID-19 like the Transportation Security Administration and its airport security screening lines would have been among the first things shut down.

Your neighborhood tavern, where people are seldom closely packed unless one is trying to sweet-talk another back home, is closed. TSA agents are still making airline passengers line up to be groped and coughed on.

If it was about public health, America’s non-violent prisoners would have been released to make more room for “social distance” between the remaining prisoners, reduce staffing needs, and prevent the virus from raging through captive populations.

Some prisons and jails are releasing some inmates or refusing to take in more. But not nearly as many prisoners are being released as Americans are being made prisoners in their own homes.

If this was about public health, government would be letting the market produce, and set prices for, essential goods instead of trying to seize control of production and suppress “price gouging.”

This isn’t about public health. It’s about political power. And things are getting very ugly, very quickly.

Vladimir Putin WISHES he had the power that American politicians have seized in the last couple of weeks.

Latin American dictators are green with envy at the enthusiasm with which Americans are surrendering our freedoms.

Pardon my French, people, but WTF?

A month ago half of us didn’t trust Donald Trump, half of us didn’t trust Nancy Pelosi, and many of us trusted neither. Now all of a sudden most of us seem to be practically begging both of them, and their henchmen, to order us around.

That’s not going to contribute to the public health. It’s not going to shorten the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s just going to crater our economy and leave us less free after than we were before.

If we force the politicians to knock this nonsense off now — by ignoring their orders until they run to the front of the parade by countermanding themselves — we might get off light. A short recession, maybe, and perhaps even some politicians who are scared into respecting our rights a little bit more, for a little while.

If we keep going along to get along, we’re more likely to end up thinking of the Great Depression and Stalin’s reign as versions of “the good old days.”

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