Decentralisation and Libertarianism
In an application for a place at Mises Brazil Summer School, I wrote an article suggesting libertarians focus on decentralization. Decentralisation harnesses disillusionment with central government. It could result in the development of free societies.
People ask me why I think that libertarian societies will come into existence, given most populations’ acceptance, or even worship, of state power. And how can it ever come about?
The first thing to say is that the objectives of libertarians (no-state or ‘anarchist’) and Classical liberals (small state or ‘minarchist’) are not the same as those of statists.
STATISTS WANT TO CONTROL EVERYONE. LIBERTARIANS DO NOT
At heart proponents of big government are like caddis fly larvae. These are worms that conceal their ugliness and their vulnerability by camouflaging themselves with borrowed virtue. Underneath the gaudy carapace of ‘caring’ about ‘the planet’, ‘Ukraine’, ‘Covid’, and supposedly downtrodden ‘minority groups’, there is only a desire to control everyone.
Globalist elites are transhumanist technocrats, fascists, or communists. The last description works best because of their obsessive hatred of the ‘Middle Class’. The productive people, the ‘bourgeoisie’, represent human flourishing, liberty and progress. Their lives are an affront to those who crave the state’s bizarre legal privilege of robbing and bullying people at will. That’s why Marx hated them. The West is merely experiencing another attempted Communist takeover – God willing the last of its kind.
Lord Voldemort, in the highly successful Harry Potter franchise, is the fictional representation of these people. At the end of ‘The Philosophers’ Stone’ he sets out his stall:
‘There is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it.’
The point is, the only logical end game for the psychopaths infesting the upper reaches of the permanent state is control of everybody everywhere. And not as a means of increasing our wellbeing. Quite the contrary. But for libertarians, success means the chance to live in prosperous, undamaged societies based on complete equality before the (customary) law.
By definition, we cannot try to coerce people into being libertarians, and certainly not deploy the power of the state to engineer society in this or any other way. But we are the self-aware tip of an iceberg. Masses of people around the world just want to be left alone by compromised, selfish politicos and their crumby bureaucratic and corporate cronies.
A world where many can choose to live in big government societies, but where there are flourishing islands of freedom and prosperity, would be a win for Liberty. But it would be an unacceptable failure for authoritarian control freaks and profiteers at the WEF, Big Pharma the UN/WHO, and in the NeoCon and Green state departments and chanceries of the West.
DECENTRALSATION AS THE ROUTE TO LIBERTY
One has to accept that not all people are willing to adopt the libertarian philosophical outlook based on the Non-Aggression Principle. Most people are still instinctively protective of the state. They have accepted state narratives about its own indispensability. They even think they are better off with it despite clear historical proofs to the contrary. And very few people are sufficiently interested in political ideas to be open to pro-libertarian advocacy. Understandably most are interested in their own wellbeing. But they will react very positively to the chance to become more prosperous, once examples of successful implementation ideas become too flagrant to ignore. It is a chicken and egg problem.
Below I have included my Mises Brazil application text - here in its English version:
Qual Deveria Ser a Proposta ou Prioridade dos Liberais que Geraria a Maior Mudanca no Brasil? (‘What should be the Liberal proposal or priority that would bring about the greatest change in Brazil?’)
The best way to promote liberalism is to encourage radical decentralization as the antidote to overly centralized modern states. Brazil is a huge country containing cities and regions of quite different economic and cultural characteristics. If political tensions at the national level are not defused it may eventually break up, which would be a pity.
Centralization means little or no incentive in government to offer better services and lower taxes. It means uniform policies regardless of local realities, which often does not work well. Groups compete aggressively for subsidy from central government while it extracts wealth from producers.
Our proposal should be that nearly every area of policy, including taxation, justice, money and banking, should be delegated to the lowest level possible. Each local unit would have to meet its expenses out of local resources, if only because the central state would have fewer resources.
Brazilian states are often bigger than most of the World’s nation-states, which is too big. The lowest level possible should instead be the municipal level – the city, or part of a city. People should be free to vote to join another municipality, or separate from one and set up their own. Municipalities could agree to work together in some cases, if they wanted, or not. The result would be local authorities of a size that local people find acceptable.
Central government would be restricted to defense, immigration and citizenship. It would have no taxing powers, so it would depend on the municipalities to agree to fund it. That should prevent it from becoming too powerful again.
The practical advantages of decentralization are well understood by libertarians. It encourages competition between localities to attract productive people and investment. The only way to get rid of excessive regulation and taxation, and judicial and political corruption, may be gradually and locally. Local jurisdictions will have to govern better to attract more inhabitants.
There are also marketing advantages to decentralization as a way of promoting Libertarianism. Few people are really interested in political ideas. Worship of the state is deeply rooted nearly everywhere. On the other hand, most people do want to live their lives without much interference.
Decentralisation is an easier idea for most people to understand than Classical Liberalism, or no-state Anarcho-Capitalism. Proposing that everything be decided at the local level seems non-ideological and pragmatic. It is also consistent with local loyalties, and resentment of corruption.
Advocating for decentralisation means we abandon the dream of converting enough people to liberal ideas to take power at the national level. But that may be impossible anyway, especially against statist-controlled media and education systems. We have to accept that most jurisdictions in a radically decentralised system could be statist regimes – heavy regulation, high taxation and intervention - because so many people think that is what they want.
But a few liberal municipalities would also develop. And that is what we need. Successful examples of prosperous liberal or libertarian societies will attract and convince far more people. Think of all the ordinary people who emigrated to America when it was a libertarian society in the 19th century.
Obviously, the tens of millions of people who emigrated to the United States in the era of unrestricted immigration before the First World War were not clutching books written by Austrian School Economists or by advocates of Classical Liberalism. Nor were they for the most part fired by the dream of participating in the greatest practical demonstration of libertarianism the world has ever seen – the Anglosphere, as it used to be.
They left the poorer areas of Europe (which were, as one would expect, the less free areas) to live a much more prosperous life, although they often also knew that they would not be living in the kind of repressive police states so many had suffered from back home.
Unfortunately, Marxist ideas and Big Government proponents converted many migrants into supporters of anti-Liberty Progressivist or Social Democratic ideas. The great libertarian experiment that created the modern world went into reverse. Migrants are now as likely to be attracted by welfare benefits paid by put-upon indigenous taxpayers.
But, for a long time, competition between libertarian and non-libertarian jurisdictions clearly resulted in huge numbers of people uprooting themselves to choose Liberty.
DECENTRALISATION - WHETHER THE STATE LIKES IT OR NOT
Radical decentralization could help us in our political predicament. We are seeing growing radical polarization of populations into Red versus Blue camps (in US terms), or conservative/libertarian versus woke/statist authoritarianism. The greater the resources and control secured by metastasizing modern states, the more vicious the political competition to control them will be, and the greater the efforts of power-grabbers to centralise all power in their hands.
Decentralisation could enable people in the same formal political structures to coexist more easily by living in autonomous communities with other like-minded people. If this is not achieved then the result will be secession and/or civil strife. You may be thinking that the globalists who dream of a single world spanning surveillance state – the ultimate centralization – will not allow it. Well, I don’t think they will have a choice.
The globalists may cause enormous suffering on their way out. There could be tens or even hundreds of millions of deaths, given their desperate wish to foist WWIII on populations completely uninterested in it. Not to mention the attempt to close down energy and food production, allegedly to save the planet from a non-existent ‘climate change’ threat. We are the carbon they want to eliminate. They think the populations of ‘useless eaters’, as they see them, will knuckle under their control when faced with destitution.
But they are convincing fewer and fewer people. Anger is building over the sinister and crippling jabs the statists tried to force on everyone. Many disbelieve the ‘Victorious Ukraine’ narrative. More and more people don’t believe a word these people say. Wait until there’s no heating, little food, high inflation, and widespread industrial shut downs.
I think that in many places, and probably within ten years, only highly decentralized small, and correspondingly numerous, jurisdictions will have any credibility with their populations. Central governments will go from all-powerful creators of money, privilege and controls to bankrupt husks once popular support evaporates.
This is especially likely because we are approaching a general FIAT money breakdown. As readers of this blog will already know, there have been several historical experiments with FIAT money – money unbacked by any real commodity or value (for example by precious metals). It has never worked. Never, ever, ever. All such systems have collapsed utterly within a couple of generations, at most. There have been no exceptions.
People who can create unbacked money out of thin air cannot realistically stop. The resulting distortions and inequality always undermine stability, and always lead to more and more irresponsible intervention at the end of which all promises defined in money terms are broken. The regime is supplanted by a replacement based on sound money.
Since 1971, when the link between the US Dollar and gold was finally severed, all money in the world has been FIAT. We are approaching a singularity where most currencies evaporate and all the promises and payments which have lulled populations into compliant support of the state will disappear too. One of the little understood effects of hyperinflation is that states’ tax takes fall in real terms, making them print still more.
At that point central governments will have no money, literally. Not even the globalist Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC), as cumbersome and impractical as they are sinister, will make any difference. Once public confidence is gone, a new FIAT currency, which is what CBDCs would be, would collapse in months. A recent CBDC failure has occurred in Nigeria where an electronic Naira has lost out to cash and to Bitcoin. Bitcoin, and Crypto more widely, are truly radical technologies that are pushing the world away from highly centralized untrustworthy political and financial structures.
Clearly a penniless central government will be unable to prevent decentralization down to whatever size of local jurisdiction makes sense to local people.
HOW SMALL CAN A STATE BE AND STILL BE A STATE?
You could say this is all very well but most people will still believe in the state and will not be libertarian converts in any shape or form. Maybe so. But here is the question. What is the difference between a very small state, amongst many other small (city?) states and a purely voluntary or voluntarist ‘anarchist’ society?
As I point out in my Brazilian article, small states surrounded by other similar jurisdictions will be obliged to compete to attract investment and inhabitants. No micro-state will be able to survive without relying on substantially free trade. Any city state that introduces excessive taxation or regulation, or suppresses liberties, will find itself losing ground. This works even if most inhabitants are indifferent to libertarian philosophy.
This is only a development of the competition between, for example, US States. Even though US states have limited scope to compete because so much taxation and regulation is federal, population clearly flows consistently to more libertarian jurisdictions.
It seems to me that in practice, once there are enough decentralized jurisdictions in some regions, we will be much closer to an acceptably freedom-loving world.