Black Markets Are Not Free Markets

By Jack Neison

As many understand, I am extremely skeptical of what I call “libertarian bumper sticker slogans.”  I have criticized the popular internet slogan “taxation is theft” for being too broad and simplistic a statement to cover the preferences of all individuals.  Personally, I do not want to be taxed, and so if I am taxed against my will, then this taxation is certainly theft in my mind.  However, there are many individuals out there who believe that taxation is a net positive for society, and so they pay their taxes willingly.  While I disagree with these people, to them, taxation is certainly not theft.  Such a broad statement ignores the subjective preferences of individuals, and I do not believe that prescribing such assertions to others who might have a differing point of view is a very good practice for anyone who considers his or herself to be an individualist.

The above paragraph is me simplifying my argument against the use of said slogan as a rhetorical tool.  My full argument in regards to this topic is much more fleshed out and nuanced.  Thankfully, what I am going to discuss in this piece does not require such a complex and nuanced argument.

Recently, I have noticed a number of libertarians (most of whom at least claim to be agorists) claim that “black markets are free markets.”  One woman, who will remain nameless because she seems to seek out attention wherever she can find it, even went so far as referring to Latin American drug cartels as “free market cartels” because, under the existing socio-economic paradigm, they work within the black market.  While I believe that such a statement is absurd on its face and ought to be treated as such, I realize that there are a number of libertarians out there who actually believe that “black markets are free markets,” and so I will quickly dispose of such a ludicrous assertion.

First of all, in a free market, prices are determined via market factors such as supply and demand.  Many goods are scarce based upon resource availability, and so the more demand there is for a product, generally there is less supply.  Consequently, the less demand there is for a product, the more supply there generally is.  If you manufacture a lot of a specific product and very few people buy it, then you will be stuck with a large supply, and the typical solution to this for a firm is to lower the price in order to increase demand.  If you have a limited amount of a specific product that is very popular on the market, then you have a high demand and a low supply, and so prices can be raised in order to increase revenue without seeing much of a drop in overall sales.  In a free market, these things all occur naturally, and firms adjust their prices according to the market signals they receive based upon supply and demand.  In a heavily regulated market, these price signals are manipulated through state interventions, including taxation.  Although a black market does not fall into the same non-free category as a regulated white market, price signals are still heavily influenced by state interference; in many cases, these price signals are manipulated by the state more than in a regulated white market.

In order to understand this, one need only ask why illegal drugs have the street prices that they do when most of these drugs can be grown and/or manufactured by just about anyone.  The simplest answer to this question is risk.  The more risky a product is to produce, the more costs that are involved in producing it.  Any product that requires a high price for production is likely going to have a higher price on the market.  But even if risk doesn’t affect cost, for one reason or another, it still certainly affects the incentives of the distributor.  For instance, if I’m moving contraband that could get me ten or so years in a state or federal prison, I’m probably going to expect a little bit more for my troubles.

One of the major reasons that black markets are so profitable is because of the risks that are involved, and these risks are completely artificial and arbitrary; they’re based solely upon the fact that the product is illegal.  The difference between a white market and a black market is that the white market is state-regulated while the black market is banned by the state.  Everyone involved in the production and distribution of a black market good expects to be compensated more because they are risking their own freedom by being involved in it.  This drives up costs and lowers supply, as producers and distributors are needed for the market to exist, and these producers and distributors can’t produce or distribute if they are locked in a cage.  This is the very definition of state manipulation of price signals that the Austrian economists regularly point to in regulated white markets.  The only real difference is that in a black market this price manipulation is taken to its absolute extreme.

There is also the problem of “regulatory violence.”  From the perspective of Samuel Edward Konkin III, the founder of agorism, the Mexican drug cartels would more suitably be called red market actors rather than black market actors.  The difference lies in enforcement; while an agorist working in the black market might threaten the use of violence against someone who owes them money, these drug cartels are known to torture and behead anyone who “disrespects them” in any way.  These cartels are not simply looking to provide a product or service to people who want it, but they are looking to monopolize on a market share that they have already nearly cornered.  They act as their own mini-states in a highly profitable market with little competition.  This is, in no way, shape, or form, the way that any free market could ever work in reality; in a free market, there are simply too many competitors for it to be economically viable to try and kill ‘em all, and even if such an attempt was economically possible, it would be realistically impossible.
The pseudo-agorist response to this is that “people who work in black markets are working outside of government regulations.”  In a sense, I suppose this is correct.  Everyone who works in black markets is certainly breaking the law.  However, there is no greater government regulation than prohibition, and if prohibition drives prices up artificially, then a prohibited market could hardly be considered “free,” and if we are to be advocates of free markets, then I would certainly hope that we can come up with better examples than Latin American drug cartels.

It occurs to me that there are few limits to the rhetorical, nonsensical propaganda that many libertarians will stoop to in hopes of “conversion” of others.  Or maybe these libertarians who stoop to such levels are just looking for their fifteen minutes.  Either way, I love most libertarian ideas and hate most libertarians.  All libertarian philosophies (and there are many) existed before you were born, and they will continue to exist after you die.  I really don’t care if you want to gain popularity on the internet from a bunch of neckbearded fanboys using these ideas; however, when you are completely full of shit, I will call you out on it.

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Authority and the Fear of Death

By Jack Neison

It’s no secret that I have a healthy distaste for authority.  Rather than complain about authority, however, I find it far more productive to dissect and deconstruct authority in order to fully understand its effects on my own life.  Two questions come to mind immediately:  First, why do I dislike authority so much?  Second, what can I do about it?

The answer to the first question is simple enough.  I dislike authority because it is the imposition of another’s will upon me.  Although I do not think that there is proof either way, I do personally subscribe to the idea of metaphysical libertarian free will.  In contrast with metaphysical determinism, free will states that every individual is born free to make their own choices and determine their own ends.  This, of course, is the very basis for Sartre’s existentialism, and while I cannot prove this premise to be completely true beyond a reasonable doubt (as determinists cannot prove their ideas to be true beyond a reasonable doubt), I find it much more empowering than the opposing assertion.  What logically follows the assertion of libertarian free will is the fact that all of my choices, whether influenced by biology, environment, or any other factor outside of my control, are mine and mine alone.  In real-world application, such a foundation for thought and action is simultaneously liberating and crippling.  As Sartre pointed out, I am not only free to choose, but I am also condemned to live with whatever consequences my choices might lead to.  As I move forward here, this is a very important subjective truth to keep in mind.

The answer to the second question is both simple and complex.  What can I do about it?  Well, anything I want, of course.  The only limitations that exist in regards to my reactions to authority are self-imposed, and they are based solely upon whether or not I like the expected consequences of such a reaction.  If a cop pulls me over for a traffic violation, the only thing stopping me from physically attacking the cop is fear.  I will either willingly comply and bow down to the cop’s authority, or I will fight him to the death.  Now, there is obviously a huge grey area in between those two scenarios, and it is a grey area that I have partied in more than once.  This grey area tends to be reactions of passive resistance.  For instance, there is nothing in the law that states that I must roll my window down all the way in order to talk to the cop while he stands beside my car.  Because of this, I will crack my window just enough to where we are able to hear one another.  Not only do the arbitrary laws put into place by other people I dislike say that this is perfectly okay, but it also pisses the cop off, and if I am unwilling to fight a bully to the death for putting me into a corner, I am at least going to make sure that I annoy the shit out of him.

But this last scenario begs another question:  Why even practice passive resistance to begin with?  Fear, of course.  Passive resistance is a tactic used by people who reject authority but aren’t quite ready to die because of it.  If, as libertarians, we are to accept the idea that authority only exists based upon the threat of violence, then it must follow that the elimination of such a threat will essentially (if not actually) abolish authority.  If I were to hold a pistol to your head, would you be afraid of the pistol itself, or would you be afraid of the possibility that I might decide to pull the trigger?  If you are reasonable, it is likely the latter, as the gun is only a threat to you so long as it is in my hand and pointed at your head.  If the gun is no longer in my hand, then it no longer poses any threat to you, even if I still want to cause you harm.  In this scenario, I am the threat, not the gun; the gun is merely a symbol—a representation—of the threat that I pose.  The same can be said for the cop’s badge and gun.  The badge represents the threat of imprisonment, and the gun represents the threat of being killed.  It is, in many cases, these “threat-symbols” which cause people to comply with authority.

This is where political libertarian slogans break down—in the metaphysical and ontological realm.  “Taxation is theft” is a good one to begin with.  “Taxation is theft,” when translated into terms of phenomenological ontology, simply means “I fear death and/or imprisonment.”  Now, before I get accused of “victim blaming,” allow me to provide another scenario.  A mugger is holding me at gunpoint and telling me “Your wallet or your life.”  In this situation, if we are to assume that I do not have a gun, the mugger, being the one holding the gun, is the authority.  He has provided me with two choices, neither of which I like a whole lot.  I would prefer to not give him my wallet, but I would also prefer that he not shoot me.  Are these my only two choices?  Of course not, and if I accept these as my only two possible choices, that is a submission to his authority over me.  For me to accept these as my only two choices in this situation is for me to deny my own metaphysical libertarian free will in this circumstance, and it also means that I am ignoring the broad spectrum of choices that I actually have.  I could call his bluff and turn around and walk away, thinking that he’d have to be an idiot to shoot me in the back of the head in a public place.  I could lie to him and tell him that I left my wallet at home on the night stand, which would be assuming that he’s reasonable enough to refrain from killing a man over pocket change.  Or, better yet, I could use the little bit of martial arts training that I have to break his fucking arm and turn the gun on him.  Any of these “grey area” choices certainly come with the threat of death, but they also represent a refusal to submit to the choices that the authority provided.  Why should I submit to “your money or your life” if I don’t want to?

When I covered the APD protest in Albuquerque in March of 2014, which was before I even considered myself an anarchist, I asserted that if fewer people willingly funded this protection racket, then this protection racket would have fewer resources by which they harass, abuse, and kill people.  Such an idea is, to this day, rejected as “too radical” by anarchist political libertarians because an individual who refuses to pay the protection racket will be threatened by the protection racket, and then those threats will be acted out.  It is the same mugger-muggee lifeboat scenario that I just described, only it is then asserted that the fact that the mugger only gave you two choices means that only two choices exist.  If political libertarians feel this way, then we can create an argumentum ad absurdum in that the existing political paradigm really only gives you two choices.  Actually, if we are to examine the existing political paradigm, we will find that it actually offers a number of choices, but most people, including political libertarians, disregard them.

There is a great spectrum of ways in which to avoid taxation, but political libertarians will call them “unrealistic” simply because they do not want to deal with the chaos that would ensue were they to knock the mugger’s gun out of his hand and break his arm.  “Your money or your life” is an easy dichotomy for black and white, binary thinkers to digest.  This is not about blaming the victim, but empowering him against his aggressor.  This is not about denying the fact that the state treads upon people, but about giving people the fangs and snake-venom, by way of ontological understanding, to bite through the state’s boots.

So, what is the greatest threat that authority brings with it?  Is there any threat greater than the threat of death?  I think most would agree that the threat of death is the biggest threat authority has to its name, and so if this threat can be undermined, then authority suddenly has no authority.  If we, as humans, were to rid ourselves of our own fear of death, would we not also knock loose the peg-leg on which authority stands, wobbly?

I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone martyr themselves, particularly not for any ideology or dogmatic view of the way the world ought to be.  I’m merely suggesting that it is our own fear that makes this authoritarian world in which we live possible, and that by eliminating such a fear, we can eliminate all authority.  If you are unafraid of death, then you will be unafraid of any cop.  This does not mean that you ought to be willing to jump in front of any cop’s bullets in order to prove a point; it simply means that, should you be pushed to such a point, you are ready to fight to the death, and you, therefore, no longer see yourself as a victim.

It is not the state that enslaves you, but your own fear of death and/or imprisonment.  Although these threats are certainly real, it is only your fear of them that controls your actions and choices.  When that fear is eliminated, you become free, but only you can eliminate that fear.  The state is a monopoly on the use of violence, and the fear of violence by the people is what empowers the state.  Violence, of course, is part of human existence, and so if we were to abolish the monopoly on violence tomorrow, violence would continue to exist in smaller, less organized forms.  The anarchist platform ought to be that violence should exist in these smaller forms as opposed to the monopoly that currently exists.  An anarchist, then, should not fear violence at all, and if he does not fear violence at all, then he does not fear the monopoly.

“Passive resistance,” as I mentioned earlier, is the tactic of someone who wants to annoy the authority without provoking the authority into committing homicide.  If you are not ready to die today, this is still a fine tactic, and one that I embrace in my everyday life.  But abolishing the fear of death to begin with is the first step towards abolishing any authority in your own life.  Even if you don’t want to die today, you can embrace the fact that you will die one day, and you can use that to your own advantage against authority.  Authority, quite frankly, wants you to fear death, and that is why that is the fear that they play on more than any other.  Meanwhile, the man who resists the fear of death is the man who cannot possibly be controlled.

What is this?

This is me re-creating my own blog.  As time passed, “Firebreathers” had less meaning to me, and considering that this is what the fans of a horrible pop band call themselves, it was probably a cursed title from the very beginning.

So, I got fuckin’ rid of it.  Sue me, cunt.

I’ve also grown quite a bit intellectually, and I don’t agree with a lot of those old blog posts anymore.  I wrote that shit, so you can quote me on it, but I saw no reason to keep an active blog online when most of it professed ideas that I don’t particularly like anymore.

So, this is the new Neison blog.  I’m sure you’ll hate it worse than the first.

Fuck you,

Jack Neison