L. Neil Smith's

Number 12, August 14, 1996

Questioning Authority Too

by Victor Milan

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Since a) Yiing cleared me to be a repeat offender; b) TLE is going to a biweekly format; and c) by the time you read this, it might be illegal -- promulgating "anti-government hate on the Internet" and all that -- I'll go ahead and lay out some more questions we'll need to answer to achieve a free society.
         1) What about gas and electricity?
         2) What about water?
         In the long run, these questions have been answered over and over by libertarian authors: people will compete to provide these goods on the free market, same as they will shoes or roads or health care, and they'll do so with a fairness and efficiency governmentally-run or regulated concerns cannot approach.
         It's the short term that's sticky. We may be facing a precipitous collapse of government, as I believe. It may not happen that way -- but the likelihood is surely great enough that we need to be prepared.
         In many if not most places, power and water are provided either by government entities or government-ensured monopolies, which amount to the same thing. What do we do when government goes poof?
         Just handing the power plant or water works over to a "private" owner is no answer. You will also be handing over a de facto monopoly on the means of production and distribution to somebody. Do we just have to trust them?
         Sure. Just the way we trust the government -- and, with control over literally vital services, that's exactly what they'll be.
         Owners of these resources will be positioned to block competition. Trying to start a rival electric company, or sign up with an upstart water service? Pow, you're cut off. There's not much room to maneuver here; in parts of the North, go without power for a few days and you're a Popsicle. In the southwest where I live, if your water's cut off too long your cats eat you.
         So, do we give the facilities to joint owners, in hopes they'll police each other? A joint monopoly is called a "cartel;" no joy. To a council of workers and customers? That's also called a "soviet." Been there, done that.
         It's just not convenient to maintain a Permanent Standing Libertarian Commando to go close-assault the power plant every two weeks and Throw the Rascals Out, Again. So what do we do?
         I should mention I have a vested interest in answering these questions, beyond my passionate desire to live in a free society -- the "free State" to which the 2nd Amendment actually refers. I'm working on a trilogy about the transition to a free America, and ultimately a free world, entitled overall The War for America [defensive only, folks]. These questions hit me as I was thinking about the project at breakfast one noon. I realized I couldn't answer them. So if you can come up with workable answers, you'll not only be helping free your future, you'll be helping me write the books. Thanks in advance; you'll be fulsomely credited in the acknowledgments.
         The first two questions lead to a more general:

3) How do we prevent "privatization" from being a shuck, i.e. transference of ownership from the overt government to what amounts to de facto smaller governments?

         The governor of New Mexico giving the gas and electric monopoly to his brother-in-law does not constitute meaningful "privatization." Just such corrupt conniving is a large part of why the former USSR is such a shithole today, along with the fact that the State hasn't really given away any actual power or anything, and also the Communist Party infrastructure, now operating as "organized crime" in name after having been so in fact for seventy-odd years, still actually runs everything. Indeed, the erstwhile Minister in Charge of Giving Away Government Assets to Cronies of Government Bosses, Anatoly Chubais, was recently welcomed back into the administration of Bombing Bob Yeltsin as advisor and chief of staff.
         We should all realize that, Republican faddism apart, "devolution" of power from the federal government to the state, local, or county level will not make us freer. Anarchist as I am, I remain convinced that it's only fear of being led away in chains by federal marshals that restrains our own mayor from sending forth his minions to bust down doors and bring him a rich plunder of consumer electronics and beauteous maidens [insert own Bill Clinton joke here]. How do we guard against creating new fiefdoms -- the Duchy of Cibola National Forest -- under the guise of devolution?
         And while we're on the subject...

4) What do we do to prevent our governors, county councils, or mayors from setting themselves up as dukes, counts, and barons and yelling, "Serf's up!"? Ours in NM would try, no question. Do you trust yours not to?

         Oppression on a human scale is likely to be both more efficient and more pernicious than the impersonal, essentially random oppression we have now. The use of asset forfeiture laws by county sheriffs and local cops to seize goodies that catch their eye -- fast cars and beach houses -- shows us that particular slice of future all too clearly. How do we deal with Tyranny As If People Really Mattered?
         These questions -- and any others asked in this column -- are not intended to cast doubt upon either the realizability or the desirability of a free society; those are taken as given. They're just real. We will not achieve a free society without solving them. Let's start facing them now, before we need the answers now.

Prometheus Award-winner Victor Milan is the author of over 70 novels, including the just-released CLD from AvoNova and WAR IN TETHYR from TSR.

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