“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 […]
Excerpts from an Interview with the Daily Bell:
Daily Bell: Give us some background on yourself. Where did you grow up?
Jeffrey Tucker: My family has generally lived in the Southeast region of Texas since 1830, when an idealistic son of a Congregationalist minister bailed out of his homestead in Massachusetts. He was seeking a better life, and he was willing to forgo roots and security to find it. So it was with this whole generation. Its best sons and daughters were handed fliers that advertised new land settlements in the West and South that promised that they would see and experience amazing things, just as their ancestors had when they first left the old world for the new world.
Demography and entrepreneurship went together. My ancestors reveled in how far from feudalism they had travelled. They could go anywhere, do anything, make a life for themselves. Whether they thrived or shriveled, lived or died, at least their fate was in their own hands and they obeyed no masters. Freedom was everything. It was not an abstraction. It was something that they lived and breathed every moment of their lives.
My own father had this spirit in his blood. He never cared for convention or the rules of any institution. In fact, he warned me often that institutions enslave the human spirit and one must always be prepared to walk away from them. He was a musician, historian, professor, preacher, sportsman, composer, camper, explorer, intellectual and all-around dreamer. He died young, and I think about him often and just how much I have inadvertently followed this same path.
He had me out working in some commercial field from an early age, as well as learning music. I worked as a roofer, well digger, carpet layer, piano mover, organ tuner, department store maintenance man, busboy, box crusher, dishwasher, jazz musician – and all before kids today are even allowed to work at all! Back then we just lied about our age and accepted cash under the table. Today, people are too afraid.
Daily Bell: Was this what drew you to economics?
Jeffrey Tucker: Music was my specialization, but one day I decided that to make it my profession seemed too scripted. I fell in love with economics, starting college early as an economics major at Texas Tech University and then transferring to Howard Payne University where I entered a full-paid honors program. There I was paid to study under private tutors, and I pretty much read what seemed like the contents of the library. It was the beginning of my real education, and it was there that I plunged heavily into the Austrian tradition.
I later took journalism classes, worked with Ron Paul when he was out of office, and enrolled in graduate school at George Mason University. I made good friends and had great professors, but I knew that academia was not for me. I had a hankering for journalism, institution building, and commercial endeavors. My love affair with the idea of liberty became everything to me. It still is.
Daily Bell: What about your ideological travels?
Jeffrey Tucker: My earliest political memory was of defending Nixon in the Watergate lynching, just because I was sick and tired of the schools hectoring me about how evil he was and how great his opponents were. My parents were reflexive Republicans when elections forced them to decide so I’m sure that had something to do with it.
Later I became a hard-nosed conservative of the Reaganite variety but I’ll tell you what changed that. I was whooping it up for war against the commies in Latin America and my Marine friend said that he agreed but he did have one major doubt: He felt bad about all the fungus.
I said, what are you talking about? He said that when you are in those wet climates, slogging through rivers, you start by getting athlete’s foot and then it spreads to become jock itch and pretty soon it hits your chest and armpits. There is no real way to stop it because you keep putting on the same shoes and clothes and they are wet all day, and the medicines are useless.
Apart from that, he said, war was probably pretty great. Well, somehow I recall this story well because it was the first major break I had with the idea that war was romantic and glorious. After that, I had a hard time pushing for troops to go to El Salvador and Nicaragua. I am aware that this is a stupid point but this image is very vivid whereas the number of dead seems to be more abstract.
It was only a few years later that I was devouring books by Noam Chomsky. He more than anyone absolutely broke whatever attachments I had to the US military empire. By the time the Cold War ended, I was a dedicated libertarian and anarchist.
Murray Rothbard’s personal influence had a lot to do with pushing me over the top here. His anarchism just seemed so normal, fun and freeing. Albert Jay Nock also had a big influence on me. I eventually ran out of excuses for the state to do anything at all. What the state does, the market could do better; and what the market can’t fix, the state only makes worse. The obvious conclusion: let’s just have the thing that works, namely liberty, be the thing that governs society.
Daily Bell: Tell us how you joined the Mises Institute and what you did there.
Jeffrey Tucker: I was attending a journalism program in Washington, DC, where the Mises Institute once had offices. It was like a dream when I saw the sign on the door. In those days, remember, there was no way to find out about the existence of anything unless you physically stumbled on it. I thought this was stunning: an institute entirely devoted to the ideals of Mises, an infrastructure both scientific and radical, rising above the fray to push what is true. I was in love even before entering the door.
I volunteered while finishing my program and eventually came to have a central role in publishing and website building and distribution of ideas. I would say that the best opportunity that this institution gave me was to liberate texts at the dawn of the digital age. We put everything online that could be put online. We attempted to harness the full power of the digital world on behalf of the scholarship and promotion of human liberty. It was a pioneering effort.
Daily Bell: You are now executive editor of Laissez Faire Books. What does that entail?
Jeffrey Tucker: Laissez Faire Books was founded in 1972 and served a gigantically important role in its day, mainly as a distributor and curator of ideas. It was profitable and exciting, probably the single most influential institution of liberty for 25 years. All the greats were involved in this project, especially Murray Rothbard.
As the libertarian movement matured, the usual fate befell the institution: factionalism. It seems to happen to many institutions in this world. They become far more concerned about differences among the true believers than about the bigger goal that drove the mission in the first place. As Life of Brian might put it, the activists of the Judean People’s Front spend all their time and energy hating the People’s Front of Judea – never mind the Romans.
I have a theory as to why this happens – actually, it’s not my theory. It belonged to St. Thomas Aquinas. It all comes down to the impossible goals that these movements set for themselves even as they fail to set the normal daily markers that push history forward and motivate people on a day-to-day basis. The original hope of revolution fades. The light dims and they find themselves in darkness.
People have a desire to make some difference in the world, and to be truly recognized for the difference they make, as Hegel would say. Since the impossible goal can’t be achieved (“that mountain should fall now!”), the activists despair and turn to doing bad things to each other, as a means of affirming their temporal significance on this earth. Ignored by the world, people in these institutions seek ratification of their importance by struggling with the only people who really care about what they are saying. This is why so many people in the “movement” turn on each other; it is a sign of despair that their work is otherwise not amounting to much.
This is why I advocate the unity of commerce and ideology. It puts together two forms of idealism: commercial success with philosophical advancement. It gives markers of success. It ratifies a job well done. It rewards cooperation and civility. It affirms and recognizes the significance of what we are doing. It enhances human well-being on a day to day basis.
Anyway, to continue with the story, the digital age was cruel to Laissez Faire Books, and the original sense that it was the go-to place for books had faded by the late 1990s. The institution passed from hand to hand for more than a decade.
Finally in 2010 Laissez Faire was purchased by Agora Financial, a Baltimore-based company that has long specialized in uniting a practical concern for liberty with a commercial model of distribution. It was a perfect match, since Laissez Faire needed nothing more urgently than the application of the peaceful and productive spirit of commercial competition and cooperation to enliven its mission.
I was tapped in October 2011 to come on board and use my experience in publishing and editorial work to start a new chapter in the institution’s history. It was an amazing thing: Doug Hill, Addison Wiggin, and I had a meeting of minds within minutes of the opening of discussions. I went to work November 1. I absolutely loved getting to know all the supremely talented people here. They have vast experience in this world, and I find myself drawing from my own commercial experiences in my youth.
There was only one thing missing. How were we going to make a go of a bookstore in the age of Amazon and digital downloads?
Daily Bell: So what are your plans for the future of this imprint?
Jeffrey Tucker: Well, it took some time to figure it out, but we found a solution by returning to the original mission of Laissez Faire as a curator of ideas. This is more necessary now than ever. Today, unlike times past, the world is absolutely flooded with text and content. This is great but it is overwhelming. I know people who have stopped reading because of it. They find the digital age so frazzling. After they finish looking at email, answering Facebook messages, trolling around their favorite websites, and watching their TV shows, that’s the end for them.
There is no time for serious cultivation of the mind. This is the path to intellectual death. The ability to think critically begins to fade and finally dies. This is the opposite of what we should desire! People say that knowledge is power, but it is better to say that knowledge is freedom.
So we wanted to find a way to tap into the meta-preferences that people have to become wiser, get smarter, feed their minds, be inspired to seek freedom in their own lives.
Our answer is the Laissez Faire Club. It is a curation service, but also more. We offer weekly ebook releases, with new introductions, prefaces, explanatory notes and more bells and whistles than you can get anywhere else. We offer video explanations of these books. We have forums to discuss them.
In other words, we developed a private literary society on a commercial model, complete with the delivery of actual books, and we are trying to do it all at a price that is barely even noticeable. So for $10 per month, you get a complete system of learning and inspiration. This is just incredibly cool. I have the sense based on floods of correspondence that it is doing a world of good in people’s lives.
I cannot describe to you just how satisfying this is. After struggling my entire life to inspire people to take these ideas seriously, it is really happening here. And it is happening in a sticky way: I can see that it is having this big impact on people’s lives. People are telling me that they have taken up reading again!
Here’s the key. We no longer face the struggle of getting enough to read. The struggle is for what we read and do to have meaning for us. The struggle is to become wiser, to really get serious in a way that improves our experiences right here and now. This is what the Club is managing to do, and doing it in a way that is economically sustainable. I know this is working because hardly anyone ever unsubscribes from the service, and people tell me all the time how fantastic the service is.
Of course, sustainability is everything. This is what enables us to make new texts available, material that would be otherwise unavailable, and to inspire the creation of new works. Already we’ve published some stunning books by Daniel Cloud, Wendy McElroy and Hans Hoppe. Long term, I see this model or something like this as the vehicle for reinventing the delivery of serious ideas. I’ve always believed that commerce is the font of all creative things. It is no less true in the world of libertarian ideas. We are taking a leap of faith here, but markets are friendly to those who take such risks with a rational plan.
Daily Bell: You compiled an annotated bibliography of the works of Henry Hazlitt, entitled Henry Hazlitt: Giant of Liberty, which is now in print. Tell us about Hazlitt and why you admire him.
Jeffrey Tucker: Wow, that was ages ago but, yes, he is a hero of mine. I was able to look through the notes he took on books he was reading as a teenager. Spinoza, Nietzsche, Wilde, Mill – it was amazing. Thinking was his work in those years. In fact, he wrote a book, his first book, on how to think. It’s a great work and still holds up after all these years.
Hazlitt was a classic case of a true American liberal. He was right with the times in the 1920s, reading all the latest literature and reviewing the books for big-time journalism in New York. He ran with the smart set. He was tireless, not just because he worked hard but because he never complained about his workload. To him, this is just the way life is, and life is grand! That’s how Hazlitt saw things.
He got his big break when he was tapped to become the literary editor of the Nation. It was a great position but he naively thought that being liberal meant that one should be against corporatist/statist power grabs such as the New Deal. When the publication came out for the New Deal, he bailed out and went to work as the successor to H.L. Mencken at American Mercury.
So on it went throughout his life. He never really changed his opinions. They only became more developed over time. He became the leading champion of Ludwig von Mises in the United States. Without his reviews and promotions in the New York Times, history for Mises would have been very different.
Hazlitt was independent, sweet, aristocratic, self-made, incredibly talented and brilliant, objective and hard working, and never once in his entire life did he go for the cheap shot. He knew that thinking and writing were serious business and he conducted himself this way. He was surrounded by bureaucrats in all of his jobs but he never paid any attention to them. He just moved on when he found that he couldn’t write what was true.
Of course, his literary legacy lives on in a gigantic way. He might still remain the most influential economist through his Economics in One Lesson. It was his least favorite of all his books! This is a good example of how authors can’t really know for sure what the results of their writing will be. Same goes for artists and composers. Ultimately, no one controls one’s own legacy. I wrote the preface for the Laissez Faire edition of this work, and this is an incredible honor for me.
Daily Bell: You are known for your witty and surprisingly insightful articles posted at Mises.org, LewRockwell.com, and LFB.org. Give us some samples and why you thought to write them.
Jeffrey Tucker: Well, I’ve often written about seemingly small things that really matter in people’s lives, things like faucets, lawnmowers, movies, showers, soap, smartphones, food, and other things we live with day to day. Most of the big lessons are best taught through small examples that people can understand – examples that I can understand. I used to be shy about how seemingly trivial my subject matter really is. But at some point I just thought: To heck with it; I’m just going to be myself. Plus, I’m pretty sure that readers connect better with things they live and experience themselves.
I write mostly so that I will stop obsessing about a topic. Something confronts me as a puzzle, and I try to figure it out in light of what I know. It is typical for me to become possessed by the problem or idea for a matter of days, though it can be just hours. I’m bugged by it until I can write about it. Then I sit down and get it out of my system to leave room for new thoughts.
I hardly even think about the articles I write after I write them. I’ve reread things I wrote last week and barely recognize the prose and thought process. I don’t know why my brain works this way, and it is probably a huge failing. It is certainly why I will never be able to write a systematic manifesto. But whatever: We have to go with the equipment we have.
It always interests me that people find me a funny writer and a funny speaker. I don’t think of myself that way at all. What I am is open and honest about what I’m thinking, and that probably comes across as a bit obsessive and then people find that puzzling and funny. Also, life is just amusing to me. Can’t help it.
I’ve had so many people come to me over the years and say that my work is the stuff that they give to people who are unconvinced of the case for liberty, and that my writing does the necessary work to roll people into a worldview. It pleases me so much to hear this. I really seek to show that liberty is real, practical, applicable, and that examples are all around us.
My only job is to draw attention to the reality that we too often overlook. Nothing more.
In other words, I don’t think you need to take recourse to the works of J.B. Say, William Sumner, or even Hayek, to understand human freedom. The case for it is all around us. I find it in everyday things. Even a simple conversation with a stranger can intrigue me because it takes place in a context of micro-anarchy and yet results in a form of wealth creation. I somehow never tire of noticing this and reflecting on its meaning.
Of course, people should read Say, Sumner, and Hayek but I will say this: I never really got what Hayek was talking about until one strange evening in San Paulo, Brazil, when I looked out over the city and thought, no one could design something this complex and extended. Then it hit me, finally, after many years, what Hayek was really talking about. I need examples and I need time for ideas to penetrate. A good example is the review I just wrote of the new Batman movie. It took me three weeks and two viewings to finally crack the code on that thing. But I’m very pleased about the article that resulted.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your latest book, A Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, and your forthcoming book, A Beautiful Anarchy.
Jeffrey Tucker: Jetsons tries to draw attention to the meaning of the digital revolution and how little we appreciate what it has done for us. I contrast this with the way the state is demolishing the physical world with its regulations, controls, mandates, taxes, and money manipulations. We used to be called the developed world. Thanks to government, we should be called the regressing world. All regulations inhibit entrepreneurship and block future development. They presume knowledge that the government doesn’t have.
As a result of all the central planning, nothing works right anymore, and I don’t believe this is the unintended result of regulation. This is the intended result. The ethos of government control has changed. They used to try to bring us material progress. Now they just want us to suffer. Our toilets are broken. Our appliances are terrible. Everything falls apart thanks to environmental controls. Our water is tepid, our paint discolors, and even makeup is degraded. Regulations are wrecking the world, and hardly anyone knows about this much less discerns the cause.
On the other end, the digital world is a world of amazing progress. And why? Because it is relatively free of the grip of the leviathan state. This is where I place my hopes.
So while Jetsons focuses on all the cool stuff and the logic of the digital world, A Beautiful Anarchy is really a hymn to progress, and a celebration of how technology has empowered individuals to overcome the controls placed on us. We can now create and recreate our own civilizations in the digital realm. It tries to draw attention to the sheer beauty of the uncertain future in a realm of liberty. This is the point of my new book.
The chapter I’m most happy with is the one that gives the sternest warning. It is called “How to Think Like a State.” I argue that the state is not only about coercion and compulsion; it is also about fundamental errors in thought. We can replicate those in our lives and make a real mess of things, whether in our careers, families or people we manage. The state fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the world. I try to ferret out those misunderstandings and delineate them as a means to a better understanding of how to think like a free person.
Daily Bell: It is ironic, isn’t it, that the libertarian community argues about the practicality of anarchy when the Internet is a powerful example of anarchy in action. What’s left to argue about?
Jeffrey Tucker: True enough! Anarchy is all around us. Without it, our world would fall apart. All progress is due to it. All order extends from it. All blessed things that rise above the state of nature are owed to it. The human race thrives only because of the lack of control, not because of it. I’m saying that we need ever more absence of control to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a paradox that we must forever explain.
Daily Bell: Give us some background on your theory of intellectual property.
Jeffrey Tucker: Well, it is an area that Austrians mostly overlooked in the past but that is for a reason. The digital age had not yet arrived so there was no need for a focus on this. We didn’t need a rich theory of central banking before their were central banks so it makes sense that this would be a hole in the Austrian edifice.
But all that changed with Stephan Kinsella’s writing. It took me six years to go from thinking that his theories were absurd to realizing that he was not only correct but that his theory had profound implications that extend beyond their obvious application to copyright and patent. His outlook implies a whole theory of learning in markets and society, and here is where I think there is a real deficiency in the Austrian literature. Market forces are not just about cooperation and competition but also emulation: copying successful behaviors and avoiding unsuccessful ones. Without that accumulation of copyable knowledge of the past, we would be starting over at square one every day. That knowledge is part of the capital stock of society.
I’ve argued that every capitalist act includes a communist giveaway to go along with it: capitalists give up a substantial portion of their secret to success when they market and sell. They necessarily invite competitors. They have to. That’s because of the nature of information as a non-scarce good, a good of timeless and infinite value. Without information, capitalism cannot work and yet information is necessarily part of the commons once it is made public. Every capitalist is a massive contributor to the common stock of knowledge capital. I don’t think this point has really been reflected upon enough. In any case, once you understand this point, the rest of the theory of intellectual property makes sense.
Daily Bell: Where do you differ with Stephan Kinsella?
Jeffrey Tucker: I think he might be more hard-core than I am on some issues regarding IP. I’m a bit more sympathetic with private attempts to restrict information flows, and he tends to see all IP-style complaints as pathetic whining. But I’m not sure about this really. I suspect that we pretty much agree on most all things. Mainly we are good partners in learning from each other. It’s a special relationship in that way. By the way, everyone in the world of ideas has colleagues from whom he or she learns. Kinsella is one of mine. I have others, and Douglas French, whom you have also interviewed, is another one, but there are so many more too.
Daily Bell: Since we find all this theorizing a bit above our pay grade, we came up with our own theory of intellectual property. If you want to enforce your claims, you go ahead and pay for it. Once the government is out of the business of enforcing copyright wouldn’t that pretty much be the end of it?
Jeffrey Tucker: You are mostly right but there are some people who imagine that copyright and patent could be reinvented by the market if the government got out of the business. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The very essence of patent and copyright is that they interfere with the property rights of third parties. It’s not just that I can’t copy from you; it’s that no one else is the world is permitted to come up with the same idea. IP forcibly privatizes the commons and coerces everyone else. Your rights are being interfered with. It should go without saying that markets do not have a system for licitly violating the property rights of everyone in the world. So this view that something like IP would exist in market freedom profoundly misunderstands the point of IP.
But you are right that if you can find the means to restrict your information, and do it privately, that’s great. Nothing wrong with technological means and market means of keeping information proprietary. But as Benjamin Tucker used to say, the only sure way to keep information to yourself is to never let it leave your brain.
Many people are still on the sidelines as regards this issue. This is completely irresponsible. IP is the path that the state is taking to destroy the Internet and thereby the digital age and the future. This is extremely dangerous stuff. And it is being done in the name of enforcing property rights. That any believer in liberty would decide to sit this one out is really telling. I know that this subject is hard and requires some rethinking of fundamental issues, and might even require people to read something and master the details of actual reality, but we have to take it on and fast.
Daily Bell: We are great believers in natural law and what we call private law. Do we really need elegant concepts of law or do we simply need to get government out of the business of enforcing law?
Jeffrey Tucker: Well, I think you answer your own question here. Libertarians too often get caught up in trying to centrally plan their own imagined utopias. It’s enough to just get power itself out of the equation and then watch the world reinvent itself. Markets always come up with things that are more wonderful than what individual rationality alone can invent.
Daily Bell: We tend to believe that private law is natural law. Any comment on that?
Jeffrey Tucker: There’s a lot packed into those terms but in general I would not disagree. Even Mises, the prototype of the utilitarian, made reference to human nature.
Daily Bell: We are big believers in vendettas, duels, etc., believing these were ancient forms of jurisprudence that were far more discussed than practiced. In other words, private justice used physical fear to induce people to sit down and talk to one another to come to a resolution. Your thoughts?
Jeffrey Tucker: That’s funny! I suppose that duels are better than wars. No disagreement with that. Too bad Bush and Saddam didn’t just draw pistols. But my temperament is of a 19th-century liberal. They all celebrated the end of the age of the vendetta and the duel — and, of course, they had no idea that the age of total war was right around the corner! Still, I abhor violence and (naively) hope for a world in which people find ways to get along. Commerce tends to bury conflict and grudges. This is its major contribution to world peace and human relationships.
Daily Bell: We don’t believe in British common law, but in pre-British common law, the laws of tribes and clans that were mostly natural law became canon. Your thoughts?
Jeffrey Tucker: Much of this is determined by technology. When you could only talk to people in your geographic vicinity, tribes made sense. Today we can communicate with anyone instantly the world over so our tribes are of our own making. This is what I call creating your own civilization. I’m very grateful to live in these times because I don’t like insularity and isolation. These things breed conflict and hatred.
Daily Bell: Any final thoughts on copyright? Where do you stand on the Kim Dotcom mess?
Jeffrey Tucker: This case is an incredible outrage and proof that the US is the evil empire. File sharing is the whole point of the Internet. The digital puts the infinite reproducibility of information to productive use in the most marvelous way. The state, meanwhile, is trying to end the digital age to an extent that it is body-bagging websites and trying to stop file sharing. It is extremely dangerous. I notice, by the way, that the streaming industry is going stronger than ever and that the shutdown of Mr. Dotcom made absolutely no difference in this regard.
Daily Bell: Let’s ask you some financial questions. We’ll start off with a quick trip around the world. What’s going on in Europe? Is the euro viable? The EU?
Jeffrey Tucker: I follow Philipp Bagus on this. The EU and the euro are institutions that embed a moral hazard. You can’t have real national unity without abolishing nations. Nations aren’t going away anytime soon, so, no, these artificial attempts to cobble together new forms of government and currency cannot work. So far as I can see, Europe is sunk. It would take radical decentralization, debt repudiation, abolition of welfare states, and the wholesale restoration of sound money to bring Europe back. That’s not likely to happen.
Daily Bell: How about the BRICS? Russia? India? Brazil? Give us an update on China …
Jeffrey Tucker: China’s transformation is a stunning achievement, historic by any standard. And while there are surely going to be bumps ahead, I foresee remarkable things for the future here. As for Russia, here again is a nation held in captivity for so long. The relative freedom of today is going to continue to surprise us. People always underestimate the power of the human imagination once it is free of authority. As for Brazil, I was so honored to be invited to spend a week with the Mises Institute of Brazil and I was completely astonished at how fantastic a people and a country this truly is. If the government loosens its grip, wonderful things can happen.
My interest in seeing continued growth and prosperity around the world is also selfish. I want to see the US empire shut down and for this country to become normal again. We are going to have to be outdone economically for that to happen. Fortunately, we only need to wait a few years to see this happen.
Daily Bell: Is America in a Greater Depression?
Jeffrey Tucker: It is in a seemingly permanent stagnation, and it didn’t begin in 2008. It’s been going on since 1972 or thereabouts. We’ve been getting poorer this entire time and this is obvious once you look at the long-range data. But I tell you, young people today are just panicked. I receive calls all the time from young people who are feeling desperate to get out of the country. I urge them to do so. That means: don’t buy a house, don’t take a dead-end job, don’t rack up debt, don’t count on your credentials to save you, and don’t get dependent on some institution from which they can’t get away. Leave the country while you can and enjoy the adventure. You can always come back when it is safe again. I personally think people in their 20s who stick around are selling themselves short.
Daily Bell: What do you make of the resurgence of paper money advocates … Greenbackers? Georgists? Social Credit?
Jeffrey Tucker: I don’t know about a resurgence, really. These people have always been with us. They are money cranks and they will never go away. I suppose they are mostly harmless, unless they manage to waste your time in some debate in which they will never concede defeat.
Daily Bell: Would Mitt Romney make a better president than Barack Obama?
Jeffrey Tucker: One never knows about politicians. People running for public office can and do say anything and what they say or do to get elected can have little or nothing to do with what actually happens when they get in office. These people only serve as the veneer for a deeper problem in public life that hardly anyone talks about. The actual government has very little to do with elections. Elections are just a giant moneymaking scheme. The actual state consists of unelected officers who are busy carrying out the wishes of politicians long out of office.
The business of government consists of enforcing regulations and rules that can date back a century or more, and these are hardly ever touched by the current crop of elected administrators. For the most part, politicians know and care nothing about the real business of government. They are too busy preening for cameras and worrying about the next election. How many people know this? Not that many. The myths of the civic religion are very sticky. I wish people would just stop showing up at political events.
Daily Bell: Does it matter who wins?
Jeffrey Tucker: Maybe, on the margin, but I’m not even sure about that. Counterfactuals are impossible in the social and political world. In other words, we will never really know whether we would have been better or worse off if this or that guy had won instead of lost. Lots of times we attribute trends and changes to politicians when really they are just along for the ride. This much I do know: No one will save us. We have to save ourselves.
Daily Bell: What’s your post-mortem on Ron Paul?
Jeffrey Tucker: I hope the people who were inspired by him now find productive things to do. They should start businesses, go to work in regular jobs, move abroad and do something wonderful, pursue graduate school, take up music or dance…anything but get involved in more political organizing. Politics leads to despair and does nothing to feed the soul. My fear is that the movement gave people a taste for politics and some will decide to make it their lives.
Politics is a dirty business, a ruse, an ideological cul-de-sac, a vast looter of intellectual and financial resources, a lie that corrupts, a deceiver, a means of unleashing vast evil in the world of the most unexpected and undetected sort, and the greatest diverter of human productivity ever concocted by those who do not believe in authentic social and economic progress.
Daily Bell: What’s going on with Rand Paul? Is he attacking reporters?
Jeffrey Tucker: I haven’t really kept up but it seems clear that he is more politically ambitious than his father. His newest book, however, seems to touch on some themes that are important to me, so I look forward to reading it. But, as I say, I mostly find politics to be a distraction from the real business of building liberty. You have to build liberty to possess it.
Daily Bell: Any other comments you want to make? Issues you want to broach?
Jeffrey Tucker: Let me say that I’m very excited about my new book, A Beautiful Anarchy. I think it’s the best of the four I’ve written. It is more coherent and integrated, and more challenging. I hope critics show up in droves! You can get it in early release by joining the Laissez Faire Club, and you also get the entire archive. I really try to make anarchy a habit of mind. That’s the goal. Embracing anarchism, which means throwing off the intellectual illusion that the state is anything but a drain on the social order, is the beginning of a wonderful intellectual and life adventure. I’m sad to think that many people will leave this world still believing in the state.
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us!