Monday, November 21, 2016

Ideas on National Defense

David Henderson at EconLog has posted on Semi-Private Production of National Defense. Thus he adds to the discussion which we hosted in the Free Nation Foundation (FNF) during our active years. He stimulates me to post this update.

Proceedings of the Forum on Security now Available Online

During 1993–2000 FNF held 13 semiannual forums. Each forum focused upon a topic which seems critical to the creation and survival of a new free nation. The first two topics were Constitutions (October 1993) then Systems of Law (April 1994).

David Henderson’s recent post would have contributed to the third forum topic. While planning for that third forum we announced:
... we will study insurance. We will try to understand how, and to what extent, the inhabitants of a free country, with no government regulation (strangulation) of insurance, might be able to rely upon private institutions of insurance to satisfy their needs for security, both domestic and national. (Formulations, Vol. I, No. 4, p. 2)
So national defense was included in that broad topic which we named Security in a Free Nation. After that forum met (October 15, 1994) we published the proceedings, mailing a copy to each FNF member. Now I have gotten the originals of the proceedings scanned into a PDF file and posted here in the FNF Archive. This 61-page document contains papers by Roderick T. Long, Scott McLaughlin, Bobby Yates Emory, and myself. It also contains a section by Robert LeFevre as an appendix to Scott McLaughlin’s paper.

I want to add a few ideas about national defense which have taken shape for me during the decades since that forum. But first to prepare the ground:
  • I will outline the FNF Work Plan;
  • then I will sketch the historical context in which we (who work within the FNF work plan) should probably understand our work.

FNF Work Plan

We in FNF aim to advance creation of a new free nation by clarifying the vision of the critical workings (institutions) of that new nation. We want the institutions to be as libertarian as possible and we welcome theoretical inputs which remind us of our values. But we must also work with our feet on the ground to create an image which can attract a critical mass of investors. To particular investors our image has to seem within reach in this world.

The Historical Origin of National Defense

In The State (1908) Franz Oppenheimer tells a sociological history of development of the state. Perhaps this book should be required reading. All who would participate in the FNF effort should, I believe, either accept Oppenheimer's view or be prepared to argue from an educated stance (in light of Oppenheimer's view) for an alternative view. Here I will give a short summary from my memory, parts of Oppenheimer's view that pertain especially to national defense.

In the human history of a geographic region, before any states have developed there may exist tribes of people, some tribes which live by agriculture and other tribes which live by herding nearby. I will call these two populations the farmers and the herders. The herders discover that they can raid and steal parts of the crops of farmers. The raiding is often accompanied by violence, at first, as the farmers try to defend their baskets of harvest.

Herders, as a consequence of their usual occupation, are more skilled than farmers in movement and use of weapons. The farmers realize they cannot completely defend against the raiding, and that they often suffer casualties when they try to fight off the raiders. So after passage of some time the farmers start to leave out some baskets for the herders to take without a fight. The herders accept this, realizing that if their raids are too successful then the farmers will die off and the herders would thereafter get nothing. The herders and farmers fall into an uneasy sort of truce with minimal violence.

Up until this time the herders have been living out in the sticks and moving with their herds night after night to new camps. But after some time, with regular input of food from subjugated farmers, the herders realize they can settle down in a location near the farmers.

First Hint of National Defense
Early in this developing history the farmers were subject to raids from any nearby tribes of herders. But at about the time when one tribe of herders settles down near a group of farmers, then those herders have an interest in defending those farmers’ crops from other raiders. This is the birth of national defense, I propose. National defense starts as raiders defending their territory.

But it is not quite that simple. Some mingling of the two groups occurs after the herders settle close by the farmers. Intermarriage joins some of the families. And some among the farmers take intermediate roles. They manage for the ruling class, collecting transfers, and thereby come to have interest in the subjugation, in the continuance of both classes. The whole may be viewed as a feudal estate or a little nation state.

This History is Forgotten
After passage of enough generations this arrangement becomes taken for granted. The historical origin in plunder, with one group robbing from the other group, is no longer remembered. Those who occupy privileged positions in the state create a different, self-serving view of history in which the raiders become benevolent.

Perhaps almost every member of this whole may feel some interest in defense of the whole from outside raiders. Even the farmers, or their descendants among the subjugated class, may appreciate the defense insofar as they probably suffer less violence in the settled arrangement than they would suffer at the hands of raiders from the outside, at least during a possible invasion. But of course, on the question of which class will feel most interested in national defense, it seems the rulers more than the farmers would feel threatened by outside raiders.

Here are the points that I hope a reader of Oppenheimer will understand:
  • The state originated in raiding.
  • The purpose of national defense is to defend the income stream of the founding raiders, to keep outside raiders distant from the spoils.
  • Most people in most national populations have lost sight of the above two points and have come to believe the contrived history which portrays the state as necessary and good.
  • National defense serves at best to minimize plunder.

Additional Ideas on National Defense

  • I have argued that for us to proceed in the given world we probably need to aim for creation of what most outside observers will perceive as a nation, standing as a peer among other nations. This perception may require some sort of national defense. 
  • We should not lose sight of the fact that in the present world there exist many little nations which could easily be overrun by any of the major powers, but which carry on with a measure of neighborly amity enabled by treaty or friendship with one of the major powers. Our envisioned free nation should be able to establish one or more such protective friendships.
  • We need more clarity about what we suppose would exist at the border of our free nation. It worries me somewhat that a completely open border, which we are apt to advocate, would be easily crossed by an invading army which entered one person at a time, each individual traveling under peaceful disguise, then to organize a threat once inside.
  • In The Art of Community, Spencer Heath MacCallum suggests the model of a hotel as provider of all services needed by a community. Being privately owned, a hotel hires guards and polices the corridors and entrances. This model of a business providing defense on behalf of its customers needs further development.
  • Our vision building work has barely begun.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Wake Up, Judge Napolitano!

Judge Andrew Napolitano sounds alarm: Wake Up, America!  But I wish he would wake up. His mind and passion could advance the free nation movement – if he would pay attention to what happens in the longer sweep of history.

The good Judge seems to believe that America may be saved from downward spiral into tyranny – if only more citizens will work to rein in abuse through the Constitutional, democratic process. The first step is education – 51% of the electorate must learn to vote responsibly.

I used to believe that too during the first decade of my conscious libertarianism, during the 1980s. But my own personal education, along with experience running for elective office as an unabashed libertarian, weakened my hope that liberty might be achieved through education of the majority. Most of us must remain rationally ignorant, after all, of most of the mechanisms that improve our lives.

In 1993, I founded the Free Nation Foundation to work on the plan that we libertarians could achieve liberty for ourselves – not through teaching others – but by completing our own educations.

Look at the history of states with an eye to see the sweet spots of prosperity and liberty. I assume prosperity and liberty go hand-in-hand because prosperity only grows where there is considerable freedom of trade, as even statist economists seem to agree. The US for the past 150 years has certainly been one of these sweet spots. Note however I do not claim that the US has been as free as libertarians would prefer; only that it has been very good when compared with the norm of states.

Here is a critical step in my argument. The US sweet spot was not planned or designed by liberty lovers. Rather it just happened. It grew as a spontaneous order in an environment where such growth was possible. The same is true of other sweet spots in history. They all grew as a consequence of human action but not of human design. (For more detail see my 2003 paper.)

We scholars and builders start there. How and why did sweet spots of liberty grow? Which of those circumstances, which gave rise to the sweet spots, can we influence? Which, when we gain better understanding of the process, can we shortcut around?

Teachers of math at the level of calculus normally insist that the students in their class start out with an understanding of math at the basic level, such as algebra and trigonometry.

I insist, for the Free Nation Foundation such as it was and may continue, that participants in the discussion be already educated at the basic level – that participants be already libertarian. If we start with libertarians we avoid the impossible task of educating the electorate. We avoid the impossible task of the interested 2% trying to educate the reluctant 98%. We can make progress if we libertarians face each other in this project.

We got a start during 1993–2000. See the archive. Much more needs to be done. A great man such as Judge Napolitano could encourage us, if he wakes up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A challenge to Ludwig von Mises and his followers on the history of political economy

In a blog post on July 20, 2015, Peter Boettke quotes Ludwig von Mises with this sentence from the closing paragraph of Human Action:
The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built.
I learn a lot from Mises about the impossibility of socialism. But Mises goes too far in this sentence concerning what has been accomplished with economic knowledge.

We (who study economics from a viewpoint which emphasizes spontaneous order and market process) tend to believe that we understand why some nations have grown prosperous, in contrast with other nations which have remained poor. We see differences in the institutions of property rights and law. We know enough, we believe, to explain what has happened. But we cannot claim that our knowledge has yet founded any successful, prosperous nation, as I described more fully in this 2003 paper. (I will allow however that some of the progress in China during the past 30 years has probably been encouraged by knowledge such as ours.)

Contrary to a literal reading of the Mises quote above, nothing much outside academia has been built upon our economic knowledge. We have too few followers among the rich and powerful.

There have been sweet-spots of prosperity in human history. But these have happened spontaneously — guided by an invisible hand which we are only beginning to perceive and describe. The need for perception and description of the institutions which make free nations possible encouraged me to start the Free Nation Foundation back in 1993. It is still a worthy project.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lessons in the Reformation

Last night I watched Martin Luther: The Reluctant Revolutionary*. The story contains precautionary lessons for free-nation activists.

Caveat: I am no authority on this history.  I see only that a person better educated in this history might have valuable insights pertaining to the dismantling of a social order which, although corrupt, was long established.

Civil law broke down after Luther's preliminary accomplishment in discrediting particular aspects of law which emanated from the Church in Rome.  There were massive uprisings.  These followed, I would guess, from individuals' suppositions that most of their unsatisfactory bonds were now open to challenge.  Luther opposed the bulk of these uprisings.  Brutal suppression of the uprisings came from local political authorities and cost 100,000 lives, as I recall the video.

I am struck that this unexpected revolution in civil order might be partially explained by Timur Kuran's book,  Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. Kuran tells how people have private preferences which often differ from their publicly-expressed preferences.  Social pressures influence an individual's publicly-expressed preference.  But these social pressures are themselves a consequence of publicly-expressed preferences.  The consequence is that an entire population can be near a tipping point without this nearness being evident to anyone in the population, assuming I have understood Kuran.  Private Truths, Public Lies gives valuable insights.

Sequence matters.  I often think of a change-of-law scenario which seems to work: a cruise ship or an airline.  When you enter onto a ship or an airline, you understand that you are entering a different environment of law for the duration.  You understand that the Captain sets the rules, but usually you are happy enough with this arrangement.  You can see that it makes sense.  Normally, you willingly defer to the judgment of the Captain and the Captain's representatives, the crew.

On the scale of a tiny free nation, I propose that a similar change-of-law scenario might play out.  When the bulk of the population have picked themselves up from their prior situations and voluntarily moved themselves into a new environment, I suppose that they enter with an expectation that they do not yet know all the new local laws, that they will need to be cautious till they have learned the new local laws.  I sketched this further in Why Not a New Hong Kong?  But of course this is only one conjecture.  Spencer MacCallum's The Art of Community offers another useful view.

We need much more respectable and scholarly work in this line.


* A 110 minute video produced in 2002 by PBS, in its Empires Series.  I got it on DVD from Netflix.  But apparently it is also available for free in streaming format on the PBS website.

Statement of Purpose

This blog will offer occasional posts which continue the work of the Free Nation Foundation.

The focus is the FNF work plan, as first sketched in the founding prospectus Toward a Free Nation. I also intend to admit a blurry area around the focus, as appropriate for the FNF antechamber. But the intended audience is definitely limited to people who are already libertarian.

A few others, who are unfamiliar and unsympathetic with the FNF work plan, will probably find and read this material. But, if I succeed, my awareness of those other readers will not tempt me to address them in my writing here. I aim to host a discussion on an advanced level. Participants should have previously mastered some basic material.

Comments are moderated and will be held to this standard.