“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
I am told there is an Italian saying that translates as “It is raining again… PIG OF A GOVERNMENT!” The saying makes me wince because I can see myself raising a fist and shaking it in reproach at the drizzling sky. I spend so much time railing against statism that I risk defining myself by what I oppose. I risk taking the state inside me and allowing it to filter my approach to life.
This is another reason to Go Galt: to reclaim an unfiltered life and carpe the heck out of every diem. One of the ways to do so is deceptively simple. For want of a better word, it is “frugality,” by which I mean something quite different than most people.
For centuries, the North American way has been for people to work harder and earn more to ensure that their children had a better life. For centuries, the strategy succeeded. But today’s children are more likely to be crushed by debt than to inherit their parents’ wealth. Today, hard work is discouraged and punished. It is discouraged by a maze of regulations that police home businesses, for example. It is punished by soaring taxes and disappearing retirement funds.
Meanwhile, the political elites maintain power by draining productivity from society and funneling it into entitlements for the unproductive. As white-hot printing presses increase both the currency supply and prices, the average working person reaches out for some control of his own economic future.
Many people turn to frugality in response to economic bad times. That is, they view it as a necessary, but bitter pill they are forced to swallow, but would rather spit out. Viewing frugality as a form of poverty, they are driven to it through desperation, rather than a desire to increase control over their lives. To them, frugality must be a dreary thing, but in my life, the contrary is true.
A few years ago, my view of frugality changed due to an obvious realization that I had never fully grasped before. Material goods cost money; money is acquired in exchange for my time; my time is literally my life. If X costs $100 and I make $25 an hour, then X costs me four hours of life. Or rather, it costs four hours plus whatever time is consumed by the transaction costs of making money, such as the time and expense of a commute.
This was a paradigm shift for me. I ceased viewing possessions in terms of money and saw them in terms of time. And my time is a scarce good. The hours available can sometimes feel boundless, and it is easy to fall into the trap of valuing each unit as if it were part of an infinite supply. Of course, it is not. There are only so many hours left for me to live.
With no morbidity, I apply a version of “marginal utility” to those hours. This economic law says that a person values the first unit of a thing according to its highest use and values subsequent units less. For example, if you have one unit of water, then you value it highly for staving off dehydration and death. If you have a large number of units, then you value the last one for watering a house plant. You would be willing to spend far more for the first unit than for the last. I try to view my hours as though each one were a first unit and, so, highly valuable.
When I look in my closet, many possessions now represent wasted time: a dress I never wear, shoes that go with nothing… I won’t waste more time reproaching myself, but I need to learn a lesson from that closet. I traded irreplaceable units of my life for possessions I do not value; I call these possessions “the useless shoes of life.” They are things that are neither necessary nor worth the time I traded to acquire them. Instead, I could have been reading or writing, laughing with friends or watching movies with my husband.
And then there are the purchases I will never regret: books, DVDs, my sporty little econocar, our farm, the ingredients for a superb meal. Those items provide a utility that is well worth the cost. And yes, I include pleasure as a “utility.” Pleasure is one of the most useful things in the world. It makes you spring out of bed with energy in the morning; it makes you fall asleep with a smile on your face at night. But even pleasure should be balanced against the cost in time and purchased at bargain rates, if possible.
People respond to the idea of possessions representing units of their lives in different ways.
Some people redouble their efforts to earn more and so reduce the amount of time that any one purchase represents. This is a return to the traditional American dream: Work hard and prosper economically. I wish these people the best, but their choice is not mine. At this point, I find it difficult to understand why anyone would spend years at a job they don’t enjoy in order to own a bigger home than they can use, especially since the upkeep absorbs more time and cash. The trade-off doesn’t make sense.
Also, for the political reasons mentioned earlier, I no longer believe the American dream is functioning.
My choice is to earn and spend less in order to control my own time and to avoid fueling the State through more taxes. I have called this choice “frugality,” but some people are more comfortable with the term “voluntary simplicity.” The point of such simplicity is not to save every possible penny. It is to ensure that your time and money are expended on your goals. Voluntary simplicity can be viewed as a “business plan” for getting the most out of life. Ask yourself what your goals are and what is necessary to get there. Of equal importance, ask what is not necessary.
Every person will have a different answer. Some of my choices, for example, seem to run counter to frugality. For one thing, I live on a 40-acre farm, not in a small apartment. The choice is odd only if you equate frugality with cheapness, however. If you equate it with spending your resources to achieve your own values, then the farm is eminently frugal. An apartment would be cheaper, but it would also impoverish my life: no dogs, no walks down a gravel road, no garden, no privacy…
I look forward to my garden each spring and to cooking complicated ethnic meals so that the aromas of the world flood my kitchen. I intend to travel and experience the places that fired my fantasies as a child; someday, I will know what the stars look like in Africa and how a jungle smells. Rather than diverting time into “useless shoes,” I intend to live.
That is, after all, the purpose of freedom.