If you attend a lot
of libertarian gatherings, you will start feeling like everything
talked about is very repetitive. Every argument being made sounds
familiar and if someone new might show up you can predict what their
objections are going to be. Nevertheless, I am not really getting
tired of them for a number of reasons. There is the psychological
aspect of feeling sane and understood. I know a lot of libertarians
who come to meetings for this reason alone, as it is an experience in
contrast to what they are experiencing in their normal environment.
And sometimes you might actually come across an interesting viewpoint
that you have not heart before. So despite all the repetition, you
might actually learn something. In any case, arguing a lot, even if
repetitive, certainly trains you in making your points in other
debates. In the end it helps spreading libertarian ideas.

But there is a
series of talks that come up fairly regularly that annoyed me from the
first time I attended one of them. It is a series that I would like to call ‘Let’s do something’. The ‘Let’s do Something’ talks follow a
common structure. Whoever gives the talk will start by saying that he
or she has observed that libertarians are arguing too much and spend a
lot of time with books. That is all nice and well, but he or she has
decided that now the time has come to stop this childish complaining
and take real action instead.

The proposal to ‘do
something’ is always presented as some kind of fantastic new break
through idea that obviously a lot of libertarians could not come up
with themselves. And the moment the words ‘Let’s do something’ have been
uttered you will find some libertarians getting overly excited. From
this moment, they do not let any argument count, as arguing looks
like falling back into the childish complaining status. As a result,
any proposal following these words will be seen as worth supporting
and superior to talking.

Don’t get me wrong,
I am all in favor of taking action. So are most if not all
Libertarians. One topic that is reliably discussed on every
libertarian gathering is, how do we get to a libertarian society or
at least, how do I get the state out of my life. Libertarians are
spending a lot of time trying to figure out a solution to the state
problem. However, this problem, not surprisingly turns out to be a
very difficult problem to solve. If the power of the state was so
fragile that all it needed to topple it was for some people to get
together and ‘do something’ it would have gone away a long time ago.

Having said that,
there are some strategies that libertarians have come up with that
actually might get us to a libertarian society in the long run. However, the
remarkable thing about the ‘Let’s do something’ talks is that they are
consistently disappointing in coming up with persuasive solutions.
People who start their talks with ‘Let’s do something’ will usually
not tell you about strategies like agorism, how to reduce your tax
burden, how to use alternative currencies or stop the state from
spying on you. No, none of that. People who start their talks
dismissing debate and demanding action fairly reliably will give you
the proposal to get involved in politics one way or another.

The most common one
is to propose a new libertarian party. “Hey guys, a lot of you are
just sitting around debating. But a few of us have decided to grow up
and we have founded this new libertarian party that will change things in this
country”. Sorry mate, but this is not new. It has been tried many
times with not very persuasive results. So why come up with the same
old non solution?

The last talk in
this series that I attended and that inspired me to write this piece
was from an MEP of the Tory party who somehow is sympathetic to
classical liberalism. Becoming an MEP I guess was his idea of doing
something. I could not quite figure out how this action is helping,
but then again if I were to fight MEPs I should probably start with
the less libertarian ones. At least he seemed like a sincere guy. Although, he did have this typical talking style of a politician of being deliberately vague to please as many listeners as possible.

He thought one of
the big problems of libertarianism is that they don’t have a good
answer to the problem of poverty. They are just assuming that the
poor will be better off in a free market, without delivering any proof
for it. That is why people do not understand the libertarian
solution. So instead of talking, libertarians should practically show
how the market helps the poor. He proposed going into the community and help poor
people run their own businesses. An example he gave was, how he
helped a drug dealer using his entrepreneurial skills to now run a
sandwich shop instead.

This proposal is odd
on many levels. First it smells a lot like central planning for
politicians to go around and tell people how to run their businesses.
It does not need the guidance of the state to run businesses. Maybe
the drug dealer is now better off selling sandwiches, or maybe not. I
don’t have a principal problem with either one of those businesses.
But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how getting him into the
sandwich making business is helping Libertarianism. No tax has been
reduced, no regulation has been abolished. The structural problem of
the state remains. I told him that, but his answer was that
regulations, while nasty are not the main problem. There are still
many entrepreneurs who succeed in a statist environment. So the problem has to be the attitude of people.

True, people in
state education are systematically educated to be irresponsible. But
then again, that is a structural problem of state education and the
welfare state. To say that regulations are not the main problem, is a
dangerously wrong analysis of why the standard of living of so many
people is going down. True, there are successful entrepreneurs in this
statist environment. Some people are so productive that even after
all the taxation and regulations they still are able to run a
profitable business. But these are strong people. This is exactly not
a solution for the poor, who tend to be a little bit less skilled.
The less skilled a person is, the more likely every stone you put
into his or her way will kill his or her ability to run a profitable
business. It is exactly the poor who are most dependent on us solving
the structural problem of the state, for they are the first to suffer
under it. And btw isn’t ‘not letting you being put off by regulations’
exactly what drug dealer are doing? Here you can see, how regulations are helping the strong. They get even richer than they
deserve to be, because the state has killed the competition.

It is indeed
unfortunate, that economics can be counter intuitive, as one needs to
understand that a lot of consequences are not directly visible. And
to be honest, my suspicion was that the MEP did not fully understand
that himself. He seemed to suggest that poor people really are benefiting from the state. Of course it is not intuitively clear why poor
people are better off if the welfare state stops giving them money.
But it is nevertheless true and therefore there is no alternative to
spreading this idea. If you do not spread the idea, whatever actions
you take could still produce non libertarian results.

Which brings me to
the biggest fallacy of the ‘do something’ philosophy. Ideas are not
useless chit chat. They are the most powerful weapon this movement
has. Therefore, spreading propaganda very much qualifies as doing
something. And it is probably the best thing most people are able to do. If we
look throughout history we see the powers of ideas everywhere. For
example, how did democracy or socialism become so powerful? They
started out as ideas of a few nutters. These ideas slowly started to
grow before their time finally had come. That is why you cannot just
implement a democracy in countries that never had any democratic
process. People do not yet understand the idea.

Because ideas are so
powerful, you will find strong forms of censorship in every
dictatorial system. The reason why a country like North Korea is so
cut off from everything is not because they fear the nice consumer
products from the rest of the world. Their real fear is that ideas
will come over and topple the regime.

Ideas are also the
foundation of actions. If someone acts against the state he first
needs to identify the state as a problem. There might be some people
out there who are really able to do something great against the
state. But first they need to understand that the state is a problem. Whoever invented the block chain for example certainly was
influenced by libertarian thoughts. With these ideas in mind, he then realized that he had some skills that could be turned into action. If it was not for libertarian propaganda, this might have never happened.

In my experience it
is not that libertarians are too lazy to act. They are more than
willing to do so. But that does not mean they have big opportunities
to do so. Most people find small opportunities to increase the amount
of freedom in their lives. Few are capable of inventing something big
like Bitcoin. I certainly could not have done that. But I don’t have
to. The division of labor also works for Libertarianism. The best thing most of us can do is to spread ideas, so that
those with the exceptional skills to act on it can be influence by
libertarianism.

The problem with
ideas is that they don’t show immediate results. You will not step in
front of a crowd of statists, explain libertarianism to them and see
them collectively saying ‘I was blind, but now I see’. Whether people
are listening to you depends on many things like their motivation,
their age, intelligence, personality etc. Not everyone can be
persuaded and it is a slow process. That makes ideas very annoying
for impatient people. They start concluding that spreading ideas is a hopeless exercise. It also makes you feel like you are not in
control of the process. However, there does not seem to be a real
alternative to ideas if you want social change.

If your ideas are
correct and attractive, they will sooner or later win followers. The
good thing about ideas is that once they pick up steam, they can grow
exponentially. We also don’t need to win over everyone. A lethal
doses of ideas for the state is far below the threshold of persuading
everyone. We just need a significant number of the right people. So
let’s not complain about people not doing anything. Everyone does what they can do best, just like in the rest of the economy. But one thing that really everyone can do is to continue spreading ideas.