Thursday, October 29, 2009

A new chapter

On November 16, 2009, the first meeting of the Forum for a Free Delaware Valley will be held at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. Karen Emery of DelValley Silver, Inc., will be speaking about her new company and why she started it.

See the meetup here:

(Update, 12/11/09: I handed over "Organizer" responsibilities for the above referenced Meetup on 12/2/09, so I cannot vouch for anything that is now posted there, although I assume the 11/16/09 meetup info is still there.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Anarchies, and a City

It's been a little over five months now since I adopted the label "voluntaryist" (aka free market anarchist). Before that, I was a "social justice" type, highly tuned into the things in the bible that speak of injustice against the poor, and the responsibility of those who "have" to share with those who "have not". Sort of by default, and by my socialization, I voted Democratic from my 18th birthday through fall 2008. The reactions in my family to my going "libertarian anarchist" were varied, but mostly were some version of nonplussed or perplexed.

On the Christian front, several things happened. I pretty quickly became an amateur scholar on a statement by Paul in Romans 13, that appears to explicitly assert that the State receives it authority directly from God. I also developed a position on the famous "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" quote from Jesus, of which a facile interpretation is that Jesus was just fine with government and taxation. But more importantly I noticed that just as non-anarchist Christians are roughly divisible into "left" and "right", with radically different notions about how society should be ordered, and what role government should play, there is a similar division between anarchists.

I've spent a lot more time, over the last five months, in a property-rights anarchy echo chamber than talking to the "other side" of anarchy or reading their authorities, but I have picked up that there are anarchists who are more concerned with the injustice of moneylenders and landlords, backed by the full muscle of the government in the enforcement of their economic enslavement of the poor, than with the "looting" of the "industrialists" by government, that Ayn Rand ranted about in Atlas Shrugged. Kind of a different perspective, don't you think? Kind of like a polar opposite perspective.

And then, I began to realize that property-rights anarchists are almost always devout atheists, and that although the other anarchists are also more often than not atheists too, there is a little better representation by Christians on that side, than on the property-rights side. This is not surprising, given the historical emphasis of Christianity on helping the poor, which is not surprising, given how much the bible talks about doing right by the poor.

I started to see that the criticism I was hearing about voluntaryists not having a program, had some real validity. I also finally finished listening to Atlas Shrugged, and I realized that while Rand has some very piercing insights, the novel is, in the end, a "philosophical" one, a story about ideas, with people cast in the role of saying the ideas. The book is not a blueprint for a new society, or a revolutionary roadmap. And yet it seems that a lot of people hope that it is, think that once enough people "go on strike" against the government, the new violence-free society, ruled by reason and truth, will just "appear" when all the "good" and "powerful" people come back from their hideaway.

Anyway-- after all this stewed in my head for some time, and after I took in a few more mordant passages about economics in the Hebrew prophets, I came up with a very broadly outlined plan. For almost 10 years now I've wanted to start my own business, which would be all about building wealth in poor communities, in the Philadelphia region. Now, I want to do that more than ever, but I specifically want to use wealth from within the region itself, to make the poor communities economically productive. And I want to build a sort of economic wall around our region; I want to demonstrate how people-- neighbors-- can work together against outside exploiters. Our region shouldn't be owned and operated by people who don't live here.

I will build a business, a network of businesses, dedicated to rational and orderly redistribution of wealth from places (in the Philadelphia region) where it is piled up idle, to where (in the Philadelphia region) it could potentially be productive, and where there is not enough capital currently. I will do this without the use of force. I will do it using "force-ful" methods, but wealth will not be transferred under threat of violence by me or anyone I have anything to do with. I will build institutions that do not receive taxpayer funds, and I will ignore government to the extent possible, which I realize will not be nearly as much as some of my voluntaryist friends would like.

So you see, I am a free marketer who believes in the absolute necessity of redistributing wealth into a more rational and sustainable pattern, in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. I do not know exactly where to start, but I know I need to understand a lot better some raw facts about the regional market. And I need to find a few partners who "get it".

I will be writing more about this vision as it comes into clearer focus. But I can assure you, there is nowhere else for me to go, but toward this vision.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A question about "healthcare reform"

This is not a Philly-specific question, although Philly is a world center of healthcare delivery and education.

I was viewing a comment stream on a Facebook page called SBABG (Small Business Against Big Government), and I saw this contribution:
I have a newborn baby Becky[name changed]... went to the NICU on her first day of life. She was diagnosed with 22q11.2 DiGeorge Syndrome. She has life threatening heart disease: Tetralogy of Fallot, Pulmonary Atresia, MAPCAs and more. The cost of her healthcare may bankrupt us, even with the BEST healthcare coverage possible. We are extremely fiscally conservative, but still can suffer from problems like this. I am against the Obamacare plan, but we certainly need reform.
I think I know what answers I'm going to get, but it is safe to assume that this individual is a believer in a significant role for government in managing the healthcare industry? Otherwise, what would he mean by "but we certainly need reform"?

What are the responses of my readers, to this person's statement? How would "reform" help him out?

If I may be a bit indelicate, think of how we work through the wrenching problem of a pet who has a serious health condition. Say that the pet will live if it receives a $20,000 treatment, but if it does not receive that treatment it will certainly die. Depending on the economic situation of the owner of the pet, and the nature of the owner's relationship with the pet, there's a spectrum of likelihood that the owner will spend the money for the treatment, ranging all the way from "Of course! How could you even think of not doing the procedure??" to "Sorry, [pet name here], there's nothing we can do." Wealth alone wouldn't be the indicator-- two people who both have a sizeable savings account might have very different ideas of the importance of the pet's survival, relative to other possible uses of the money. (Example: "daughter's wedding next year, or another several years with the cat?")

Now-- the huge difference here, is that we can be sure this man's baby daughter is at the very very top of his personal financial priorities. But why does the bald fact of his daughter needing exorbitantly expensive care to remain alive, lead to the conclusion "we certainly need reform"? Is "reform" a code word for "more generous health insurance policies for people like me"? What kind of "reform" will make it good business for an insurer to fork over $[x] million dollars for one little girl, if it isn't good business now?

The guy could be facing bankruptcy in a few years for a variety of reasons. He may have reached his insurer's maximum payout amount, or the coinsurance costs may be bleeding him dry. What can he do? Well... if we really believe in the market, then our answer is-- "sell your daughter". Ok, I said that for shock effect, but I kind of mean it. Go out into the world, and convince individuals and organizations (churches, businesses, whatever) to contribute to the treatments that Becky(TM) needs to have a shot at making it to adulthood. Right? ('Cause, otherwise, you're getting those contributions anyway, via taxes, but without asking for them.) When all these people and groups are approached for contributions for Becky, and for Jimmy, and for Bobby, are they going to give equally to all three? Who knows? It'll be a complex decision, but a decision will be made. And the wider you cast your net, the more "votes" you can count. The market will decide whether to provide the resources you lack, for the purpose that you wish to use the resources for.

I feel I'm going to ramble if I go further. What do people think? I think we need to develop more sensible ways of talking about these emotional hot-button things. Just because we are very emotional about our own children, doesn't mean we should justify taking money from "society" by force.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Tree That Grows For Ages, Hurting No One

As I gear up for my second post on this blog, I'd like to share one of my favorite lines from any song, of any kind, that I have ever heard:
My longing:
Not to be a god or hero, but to change
Into a tree that grows for ages, hurting no one
(It is from a song called "She's All Heart", written by Terry Taylor of the band Daniel Amos.)

I have a root, that anchors me to the ground. That root is my wife. I've known my wife closely for going on nine years now, and I've never once heard her express a desire to leave the Philadelphia area. Ergo, I am rooted in Philadelphia. I am a voluntaryist, but I have no real desire to bring the light of voluntaryism to any place other than the Philadelphia region. I wish that everyone, all over the world, understood and lived out the principles of voluntaryism, but until everyone in the Philadelphia region can live free from the fear of government force being initiated against them, I leave the project of bringing "the light" to other places in the world, to the people who live in those places:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
When you see faulty reasoning being acted on, constantly, and everywhere you turn, it is very tempting to attack the faulty reasoning, to attempt to correct it. The instinct to reach outside of yourself, outside of the place where you live, is almost overwhelming. We want to take our sound reasoning, that is in our heads, and spread it. But the attitude of the passage above (a quote from Jesus, if you're not sure what Matthew is) is one in which we are extremely slow to point out faults in others, and very quick to examine ourselves for faults. If you adopt this stance, you will be always watching, always listening, and very occasionally speaking.

A lot of smart people have thought about how society can be made better. I've heard about strategies and tactics for undermining the State. I've heard about how evil the State is, how much violence it does, how badly it distorts the truth, etc. But here's a problem, with thinking that way: the people of the Philadelphia region are extremely divided. The State has exacerbated this over the years, but the fact is that people fear those who are different from them. We are divided by wealth levels, race, religion, and many other things. We need to meet each other, find out about each other, and forge deep and strong bonds with each other, which will allow us to weather together the storms that naturally buffet those who stand for the truth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let my people go!

(Update, 12/11/09: My political thinking was very much in flux when I wrote this; I am not anti-state, primarily, anymore. But a lot of what I said here, I still believe and feel.)

Almost ten years ago, I stopped seeing "the City of Philadelphia" and "the suburbs around the City of Philadelphia"-- I now only see "the Philadelphia region" or "the Delaware Valley". I won't try to give an introduction to the ideas of "regionalism" right here and right now, but suffice it to say that clearsighted people are now operating under the premise that the old city/suburb distinctions are no longer meaningful or relevant, when discussing "what must be done" in our era.

I certainly am nothing even approaching an expert on the subject of American regionalism, but my limited exposure has led to me to the belief that the field is utterly dominated by people who start from the assumption that the State must always play the primary role in coordinating all the actors who can solve the problems of a metropolitan region. (As opposed to the assumption that the State is the primary culprit for starting, and continually entangling and enlarging, the problems of metropolitan regions.) And that, basically, a new kind of State organization must arise out of the "dysfunctional" tangle of municipal, county, and state governments that we currently have to deal with, to wit: Regional Government.

I can hardly believe that I'm the only voluntaryist (free-market anarchist) who has a vision for the liberation of whole American metro regions from the thievery and violence of the State, but as of this writing I do not know of any others. I am very, very eager to meet others who understand regionalism and who reject the State. If they are residents of the Philadelphia region and plan to stay a long time, I am even more eager to meet them.

So, anyway-- until someone convinces me that I should give it up, here is my idea. Look up at the image in this blog's masthead. There is a darkened area, sort of like a big splotch of spilled ink, showing an area of significant population centered (roughly) around the City of Philadelphia. That continuous gray splotch has, according to a 2006 estimate given by the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 5.8 million people living in it. This group of souls is (*mainly*- I don't see that we need to include every single speck of population in this image) "governed" by the following coercive organizations, in the hierarchy shown:

- the United States federal government
- the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- the City and County of Philadelphia
- the County of Montgomery
- the County of Delaware
- the County of Bucks
- the County of Chester
- the State of New Jersey
- the County of Burlington
- the County of Gloucester
- the County of Camden
- the City of Camden
- the State of Delaware
- the County of New Castle
- the City of Wilmington

... plus a mind-numbing array of municipal governments, inside the counties. I would like to see the large majority of our 5.8 million people, free from all forced payments (aka taxes) to any of the above organizations. And yeah-- by "see" I mean in my lifetime. I'm 38.

How is this going to be done? I don't know-- my crystal ball is in the shop at the moment, and the dude keeps on telling me it'll be fixed any day now. In the meantime, I feel the need to assemble a vast amount of knowledge about just what the heck all these coercive organizations are up to at the moment, the history of their activities for the last two hundred years or so, and what kind of schemes they are currently cooking up for the foreseeable future. Also, I want to get a much better understanding of the voluntary associations (religious groups, private educational institutions, businesses, etc.) that are currently owned and/or operated by those 5.8 million people.

So, we figure out what services all these organizations purport to offer to the people of our region, and we form voluntary associations to take care of all necessary social services ("public safety", roads, schools, etc.), ourselves. Presto! The metropolitan Philadelphia region is free.

How do we get the gang in Washington to let this region that is so important to America in so many ways, and which is such a critical symbolic fixture in the civic mythology (propaganda) promoted by all the coercive groups, go free? Good question. I am open to suggestions. I personally think we should follow Moses' basic strategy for getting the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, a long, long time ago: make it so bothersome for the Feds to try to control us, that they eventually give up.

I have low-tech wiki software currently installed on my personal webspace, and I hope to soon start a wiki dedicated to this project. When it is underway, and properly secured, I will let folks know. I really need collaborators for this project, because (shh, don't tell anyone!) I occasionally get a little dispirited about the enormity of the challenge.

Oh, and just in case you think this is just a huge "master debater" exercise, I fully intend to run one or more venture capital or banking companies, some day, to help make all this stuff a reality.