Friday, September 20, 2019

A Constructive Critique of the Libertarian Party's Platform and Messaging

     The following questions were written as part of the Libertarian Party of Illinois's vetting process for nominees. The answers were written on September 20th, 2019, as part of my application for the Libertarian Party's nomination for U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois's 10th Congressional District, for the election to be held on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.

     Q: Which plank(s) of the Libertarian Party Platform do you agree with, and why?

     A: I agree with the party's strong desire to protect civil liberties, and to achieve decentralized/localized government. I appreciate the party's understanding of the need to balance privilege with responsibility, while distinguishing privilege from freedom. I agree that economic freedom and social freedom go hand in hand, and that the government should stay out of both our bedrooms and our finances, and refrain from discriminating against us on the basis of our membership in any group. I agree that the Non-Aggression Principle should guide our economic morality to accept exchanges which are both voluntary and mutually beneficial. I agree that a person has a right to what he produces, and that most forms of taxation take away the incentive to produce by confiscating the product. I agree that both spending and taxation by government, and social and corporate welfare, are out of control, and need to be reigned in, and so do the size and scope of government in general, the size of the federal workforce, and the pay and benefits of elected and appointed officials. I agree with the right of self-determination and the right to alter or abolish our government if it becomes destructive of our liberties.

     Q: Which plank(s) of the Libertarian Party Platform do you not agree with, and why?

     A: I agree with the vast majority of the planks of the L.P. platform; the only areas of disagreement I might have at the nuts-and-bolts policy level, would be cases in which some proposed reform: 1) is extremely popular, or else optional; 2) is properly constitutionally authorized through the amendment process; 3) can be done as locally as possible; and 4) has a sunset clause. A proposed law which has all of these characteristics, would likely satisfy me, as long as it is a wise and necessary law. I would be willing to propose and pass new laws, but only while repealing several outdated laws for each new one enacted. I believe that most "taxation is theft", but I also believe that the least harmful taxes are those which are minimally detrimental to productivity.

     The issues I have with the Libertarian Party relate more to some of its messaging and rhetoric, than to its policy conclusions (which are nearly unobjectionable; their only flaw is that a variety of potential solutions is not articulated in each section). I consider myself an "open-borders", "free trade" libertarian, who supports "markets, not capitalism", and questions whether it is necessary for government to play a role in the recognition and protection of property claims and property titles. This puts me somewhat at odds with the libertarians who are more likely to describe themselves as capitalists than free-marketers, and as strong supporters of property rights and self-ownership.

     While I am a strong supporter of individual rights (such as bodily autonomy, the right to keep what you create, and the freedom from being forced to work), I do not see the rhetoric of "self-ownership" as a helpful or necessary way of thinking about our right of self-control, because I think it encourages us to see our bodies as mere pieces of property. I agree with the second sentence in Section 1.1 of the L.P. platform, but I don't think "individuals own their bodies" is either a meaningful statement, a clear statement, or helpful messaging to get people to understand our ideas, because some say self-ownership means the right to sell ourselves and destroy ourselves (which I would question, on the grounds that we didn't create ourselves). Some of the logic behind self-ownership theory is valid, but we must avoid misinterpreting it so as to suggest that our rights are based on how much property we own. But as long as Libertarians continue to value "life, liberty, and property" equally - and don't prioritize the need to protect physical property over the need to protect innocent human lives - then I will be with the L.P. one hundred percent.

     I should also note that, as a "markets, not capitalism" libertarian. I would caution the Libertarian Party to avoid designating "capitalism" as its preferred economic system, because I believe that "free markets" is not only a more popular term, but a distinct school of thought altogether. I agree with those who believe that America has never had totally free markets, not with those who believe we have free markets right now. I take the side of the "market anarchists" (but not the "anarcho-capitalists") in the debate between "minimal government" and anarchism, because I believe that government is unnecessary whenever voluntary association, direct action, mutual aid, and mutually beneficial exchange, are practiced freely.

     I support free markets, free trade (with no treaties being necessary), an open market system, free competition and free cooperation, and equal liberty through equality of opportunity. But I do not believe that being exploited, overworked, undervalued, or poisoned without one's knowledge, are among our rights or our freedoms. That's why I would be willing to support restrictions limiting the number of hours which can be worked consecutively, such as in the trucking trade (but I suspect that most LP members would have no issue with this, as long as such restrictions are properly authorized by the law, enforced by the most local level of government possible, and properly funded). While some foreign nations are plagued with labor abuses, I would not support increased tariffs, nor any other form of "economic punishment"; because that does not solve the problem. The solution is to unabashedly lower our own tariffs to zero, while achieving better labor standards domestically, setting a good example for other countries. Trade wars - and high tariffs and sales taxes - only lead to increased politicization of trade, and eventually to trade blocs, sanctions, embargoes, cold wars, and hot wars. The solution to unfree trade is more free trade.

     Some Libertarians may disagree with me on some of those points, but I am willing to engage them and entertain their ideas, while explaining why I think it would be better for the L.P.'s and the libertarian movement's principles and messaging strategy in the long term, if it maximizes its potential to appeal to everyone who has traditionally called themselves libertarians, including not only the classical liberals, but also the anarchists of 19th century Europe, with whom the term "libertarian" originated. I say this not as criticism, but as a way to suggest making the Libertarian Party into the biggest tent for libertarians possible.

Written on September 20th, 2019
Originally Published on September 20th, 2019
Edited on October 9th, 2019

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ten Reasons to Consider Bioregionalism

     Bioregionalism is a set of views regarding how our politics, culture, and ecology should be shaped by our environment and surroundings; in particular based on “bioregions”. Bioregional politics is the idea that governments should make reforms which reshape government according to the previously existing bioregions which are found in nature.
     Perhaps the most important set of reforms which bioregionalists support, have to do with borders and boundaries. Bioregionalists suggest using to our advantage the mountain ranges and watersheds with which nature has already gifted us, to determine where political boundaries lie.
     Mountain ranges form the perimeters of watersheds, funneling all rain water into river valleys and towards the sea. Basins have mountain ranges as perimeters as well, although they do not funnel water towards the sea. Mountain ranges and seashores already tell us a lot about where the boundaries of these bioregions lie, and mountain ranges form natural borders, forming a natural protection against military invasion. So why not use mountain ranges as our borders?
     Here are ten reasons why making every watershed or bioregion into an independent nation – and replacing all currently existing “straight line” and river borders with mountain range and sea borders – will create a legally simpler, more ecologically sustainable, and all around better, world.

     The major civilizations around the world grew out of river valleys, and most populations (large or small) are centered on river valleys. River valleys – and the watersheds which bound them – just group people together conveniently. Bioregionalism would thus lead to increased political simplicity, in terms of where borders, boundaries, and jurisdictions are drawn. We don't have to guess about where the borders should be, nor do we have to suggest our own, if they already exist.

     Using mountain ranges as natural borders is more military and financially defensible than using rivers and lines as borders, and erecting physical borders. For one: building walls and fences takes work, when nature already did all the work for us which was necessary to create mountain ranges. When mountain ranges already exist that we can use for free, to do any more work creating borders would be an unnecessary waste of money, effort, labor, time, and resources.
     Mountain ranges form a physical barrier against military invasions, while river boundaries and “lines drawn on the ground by dead men” are much more difficult to defend against a military attack. Additionally, building-up physical defenses – such as walls and fencing – would be difficult to justify if our borders were mountains, than if our borders were to remain rivers and lines (like they are at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders today), because the mountains already form physically huge barriers which are difficult for militaries to penetrate.
     Moreover, it is much more dangerous and difficult to climb a mountain range than it is to cross a river or a line on land; while people who are looking for a better and safer life for their families are much more likely to want to cross a river or a line than a mountain range (which means that people coming over a mountain range are much more likely to be attempting an invasion, than are people crossing a river or land boundary).
     Also, existing land borders are problematic for several reasons. Border walls unnecessarily restrict the flow of labor and capital, which has to move freely in order for trade to occur freely and without undue hindrance. Border walls are also unpopular, expensive, and sometimes resort to eminent domain takings. For those reasons, using the borders nature gave us - that is, mountain ranges - is just safer, more cost-efficient, and more labor-efficient, than making our own.

     By ending the practice of using rivers as borders, a transition to bioregionalism will result in reduced conflict over sources of fresh water. As long as political and ethnic minorities are adequately represented and see their freedoms preserved, ending river boundaries will end the need for tribes to worry about rival tribes sneaking across the river and attacking them, or crossing the river to gain control over it.
     Reducing conflict over rivers – and affording full and equal human rights and legal rights, in the same political entity, to people on both sides - will also help reduce wars, terrorism, and kidnapping of members of one tribe by another, while increasing rates of intermarriage between tribes. In a bioregionalist independent state, all those who live in a river valley would be free to access it, and to control access to that river valley.

     Grouping people together by river valley, can lead to increased political simplicity in terms of environmental policy and lawsuits, as well as in terms of borders. Water safety issues tend to affect people on the basis of the quality of “the local water supply”. So it only makes sense that political jurisdictions be broken down on the basis of which water supply affects which geographical community of people.
     Nowadays, watersheds are shared across multiple states; this state of affairs risks allowing the federal government to intervene in too many water pollution cases which could easily be resolved locally, within and by a single political entity occupying an entire watershed.
     Since mountain ranges funnel all water into a single river valley, anyone who is downstream of a water polluter will know that the tainted water came from the same jurisdiction (and the same watershed) in which they live. This will help people whose water is being polluted, track the source of their water pollution easily, because the source of water pollution will always be someone upstream who is in the same watershed. That means that in the vast majority of water pollution lawsuits, the plaintiff and defendant will be based in the same political jurisdiction, thus allowing the plaintiff to sue the defendant without creating a situation in which the outcome of the case could potentially affect the laws of two political entities. That helps bypass a potential conflict of interest between states, which only a higher authority (most likely a central government) could resolve with any finality.
     Bioregionalism will thus enable water pollution to be solved by the members of the community whom are most directly affected by it; whether as activists, as legislators on environmental policy, or as jurors in water pollution cases.

     Making watersheds self-contained in terms of environmental policy and military defense over borders, while using pre-existing mountain range borders to our full advantage, will increase the chances that an independent bioregionalist state could become
economically and financially self-contained.
     This could be done several ways: 1) through enacting clean water reforms, and then putting the state on a path to sourcing all water from within the state; 2) through enacting reforms to putting the state on a trajectory of becoming ecologically and financially sustainable at the same time. This could be done through “Agenda 21” and “Green New Deal” -type measures, which would involve “re-greening” and retro-fitting buildings to be environmentally sustainable. This will help ensure an equitable distribution of wealth across geography, without threatening encroachment upon animal habitats and lands in need of preservation.
     Perhaps fulfilling certain standards regarding environmental sustainability and economic equity could be used as a way to justify “fast-tracking” bioregionalist independence movements (such as Cascadia in the Northwest United States and Southwestern Canada) and securing their status as fully independent states.

     Determining borders based on mountain ranges, made by nature, will result in borders lasting longer –
much longer – than they do now. As it stands right now, borders exist – and change - because of political instability, military conflict, and the need to micromanage and control people.
     To resolve to permanently base all borders on natural geological features, on the other hand – and to do it worldwide say, in the U.N., in an international court, or via some other method – could help guard against the risk of military invasion, through permanently ensuring that borders will never change.
     Ensuring that borders will never change, will especially help guard against the risk of a violent invasion, if full rights to control one's share of resources are afforded to any and all people who come into the watershed peacefully. That's because guaranteeing full voting rights and full right to access one's share of water and other resources, will reduce the likelihood that foreigners will resort to using force or violence in order to invade, or else resort to invading with intentions of overthrowing the government. Doing such things would be unnecessary to guarantee their safety, freedom, and ability to control the resource they need to survive.

     As explained above, if borders were determined by mountain ranges, then borders would last a very long time. The only problem is what to do when there earthquakes take place, which drastically change the incline of the land and change the courses of rivers.
     Fortunately, however, earthquakes that make such significant change to the outline of the bioregion do not come around that often. Additionally – especially in the short term – earthquakes alter rivers' courses in a much less drastic manner than the manner in which they change the perimeters of bioregions (i.e., the general location of mountain ranges and seashores).
     But whether or not we experience geological events significant enough to affect and change borders during our own lifetimes, adopting bioregionalism will help put us on a track to being able to do that easily in case we ever have to. Bioregionalism is fundamentally about making sure that our ecology, culture, and politics follow nature's lead. “Taking nature's lead” in terms of what we do about borders and environmental policy is how we accomplish that, and basing borders on mountain ranges is the first step.
     But it's not as simple as just redrawing the borders; part of that first step has to involve planning for how to change borders in the manner which is least likely to result in conflict and competition over resources. Maybe when only earthquakes can change the borders, people will not only have a respect for nature's ultimate authority over our political affairs; maybe people will wonder whether God Himself is telling us when we need to change our borders.

     Re-focusing politics on bioregions and the needs of the ecology, could help restore attention to the need for improvement of environmental quality (such as our air, water, and land), and to the need to ensure that land can be distributed in an equitable fashion across the country and across the world.
Increased interest in, and popularity of, bioregionalism, could thus lead to increased attention to land reforms such as Land Value Taxation, and the representation of land in legislative branches and/or electoral processes. Land Value Taxation would reform landed property ownership, tenancy, economic rents, land allocation, taxation, welfare, and what to do about lands that fall into blight and unuseability; while representing land in legislative branches or electoral processes could help reduce the ability of elites in government to undermine the will of the people.
     The U.S. Senate (and the 100 votes in the Electoral College which represent it) exist because people are not supposed to be the only thing represented in legislative branches and elections. The Electoral College is structured the way it is – in an anti-democratic fashion – to make presidential candidates more likely to visit low-population states.
     However, in practice, the purpose of the Electoral College has lately been to balance-out the voting power of high-population states by giving power to elite superdelegates, often working in government, who choose our electors; while until the 17th Amendment the purpose of the Senate was to balance-out the voting power of high-population states by giving power to governors who appointed senators.
     Instead of using the power of the elite to balance-out the power of large populations, why don't we use land? Shouldn't we be more worried about making sure that people and the planet can co-exist, than about making sure that elites in government, campaign superdelegates, and elite landowners, have enough sway in policymaking?
     In the U.S. Congress, there is a Senate and a House of Representatives. Why not add a third house, to represent land area? Perhaps it could be comprised of environmental scientists, climate activists, environmental health specialists, food and agricultural scientists, etc.. Each state could decide independently whether those officials would be appointed or elected.
     A house representing land area could even replace the U.S. Senate, and probably should. Replacing the Senate with a literal “House of Commons” (that is, a house whose members represent not population, but parcels of “the commons”, i.e., common land) would not only reduce elite power in government; it could also help save operating costs. In particular, the entire budget of the U.S. Senate. Environmental experts would likely opt to receive much less than the $200,000 salaries to which senators are accustomed, so it's possible that such a “House of Commons” could even afford to have more than one hundred members (which could help represent land in Congress efficiently).
     Increasing the representation of land will hopefully also result in an increased attention to the needs of ranchers and farmers in large, low-population states, to use resources (including, possibly,
federal resources) to make the area habitable for population. Some farmers believe that the federal government should be paying ranchers directly to do the work that is necessary to make use of the land we have (without harming native species, of course).
     Increasing influence in Congress based on land area, will help represent
nature itself in the halls of Congress, while replacing the elite with nature as the only thing capable of bossing large populations around (as it should be).

     Adopting mountain ranges as borders, will show that river borders and land boundaries don't work nearly as well as the pre-existing borders which nature gave us. This will help reduce faith in the current set of borders, which by and large is composed of river borders that
enable competition over water instead of reducing it, and of “lines on the ground, drawn on a map by dead men, to mark the places where their armies decided to stop fighting”.
     There is enough conflict over resources in the world, without conflict being viewed as a struggle for territory itself; this “two-dimensional thinking” only compounds the level of conflict and competition for resources. Nearly all resources which are useful to us, are three-dimensional, not two-dimensional; water, air, foods, consumer goods, etc..
     But land area is not a resource which we can consume. We can make use of land area, but monopolistic, sovereign control over two-dimensional land territory is not necessary; neither to secure one's safety, nor to subscribe to the services provided by a government.
     Suppose that, in a small ten-story building, one family occupies each level; and each family for some reason wants to be part of a different political system. That is possible, as long as they are not stopped from leaving the building by the people at the bottom floor, nor by anyone else. As long as government employees can logistically reach a group of people who want to subscribe to and receive that government's services, then there is no reason to limit such a government from doing so. There is especially no reason to require a government selected by one family in that building, to force all other families in that building to subscribe to its services (based on the idea that if all ten families live on the same parcel of land, they must subscribe to the same government, because statist governments are territorial). Neither the family at the top of the building, nor the family at the bottom, nor any government, ought to be free to stop any household from choosing which government it wants to be a part of. If free travel throughout the hallways, staircases, and elevators of the building can be secured – and especially if helipads can be set up on the roof – then there will always remain the potential for free association between different governments and different households at that address.
     There is no reason for governments to run based on territorial boundaries. Granted, changing where our statist borders are, and changing what they're based on, will not end the territorial nature of statist government. That is to say that it will not change the operation of the state based on the definition “an entity capable of wielding a credible monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory” (“territory” being the operative word).
     But fortunately, reforming our borders will make more people question the set of borders which currently exists right now. And we can't envision the sort of “three-dimensional government” which I've described above, unless and until we see that the current set of borders isn't working.
     Fortunately, since bioregionalist reforms would likely result in adopting the kind of simultaneous ecological and economic reforms which I outlined in #6 above, mixed-use development (a type of zoning ensuring a mix of uses in a neighborhood) would probably become more popular and widespread. If areas practicing mixed-use development begin to devote different levels of buildings to different uses, then that will result in “multi-level mixed-use zoning” or “zoning with mixed use by level”. If that practice is successful and takes off, then in addition to having different economic uses on each level, more people would be able to conceptualize what “three-dimensional government” looks like, and communities could foster different political membership by each household or level of a building.
     “Three-dimensional government”, or “spatial government”, could mean panarchist proposals such as Functional Overlapping and Competing Jurisdictions, and National Personal Autonomy. These systems propose creating a sort of “government without borders”.
     Another thing that will help visualize three-dimensional government – as well as reduce conflict and competition over land area and territory – is “building up”. While making more efficient use of land area is important, making more efficient use of space is too. The most important way to do both of those (aside from to actually expand into space) is to build up and let people live on top of each other. “Building up instead of building out” will help us maximize the efficiency of use of the spaces which human settlements are already occupying, thus avoid the need to continue expanding outwards into surrounding areas. The fewer resources we want to devote towards the difficult process of economizing large amounts of land (all of which we might not need), the more we should focus on building upwards – that is, building on top of existing structures – without urbanizing any more land area (destroying forests and other environments in the process).

     I urge my readers to learn about bioregionalism, bioregions, the locations of the various watersheds and their mountain and sea boundaries, the movement for the independence of the Cascadia watershed, and the various bioregionalist and panarchist proposals which could potentially result in either the drastic reform of borders or else in their total abolition.
     I would also like to urge my readers to read my May 2013 article “Cascadia Proposal”, which contains a map and an outline of how a legislative body could be constructed for the bioregion. What I have referred to above as a “House of Commons”, is called a “Council on Natural Resources” in the “Cascadia Proposal” article. That 2013 article is available at the following link:

Written and originally published on September 2nd, 2019

Based on notes taken on August 31st, 2019