Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 419, May 27, 2007

"What is ad hoc government?"


NONE OF THE ABOVE Always Gets My Support
by Jim Davidson

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

People persist in asking me for whom should they vote. I strongly believe that if you are voting for any incumbent, you are making a grave error, which is likely to be deadly to many, disastrous to private property, and beneficial only to graft and corruption. In the case of nearly every challenger I've ever scrutinized closely, the same is true. There are a few exceptions, but they are indeed rare.

So, for whom should you vote? I think the Libertarian Party has an excellent idea. In every election, for every office, a legitimate candidate to consider is "None of the Above." If you vote for "None of the Above" in a Libertarian Party primary, and that choice wins the most votes, then the party runs no one for that office. Where allowed by law, they place "None of the Above" on the ballot for that office. So, you would have the opportunity to elect no one to that office, and, in the event that any jurisdiction allowed such a vote to be credentialed, no one would serve in that office.

Isn't that a fine idea? Wouldn't you be better off? Can you think of any office at any level that would not be improved by sitting empty for a year, two years, four years, or six years—depending on the relevant term?

I cannot think of any politician at any level of government who has ever done more good than harm. So, I think each office would be better filled by none of the above. Nobody should govern me, other than myself. Carried to its logical conclusion, that government which is governed by no one is the government which governs least, and, necessarily, best. Or, as Henry David Thoreau noted in his 1848 speech on civil disobedience, that government is best which governs not at all.

Why is that? Well, what do you believe? Do you believe that you are an idiot? A fool? Lazy? Incompetently educated? Unwilling to fend for yourself?

Or, on the other hand, do you believe that you are fairly intelligent, or very intelligent? Hard working? Well read, erudite, and able to learn new things? Able to make ends meet?

If you are the first sort of person, perhaps you should find some help in governing your life. Maybe you need someone to show you the ropes, be around to take care of you, and look out for your interests. I doubt it. I think even the most foolish, lazy, ignorant, and shiftless person is better suited to governing himself than anyone else simply because he necessarily knows more about his own situation. But, if you are the second sort of person, or if you even aspire to be the second sort of person, then you ought to govern yourself.

Some years ago, Etienne de la Boetie wrote that tyranny exists because good people support it. The tyrant doesn't have enough eyes to watch all his people, so he recruits spies and finks to watch for him. The tyrant has not enough fists to beat all those who resist his rule, so he hires police, an army, a navy, and dungeon masters to brutalize the people he thinks he owns. The tyrant doesn't have enough money for all these spies, finks, police, soldiers, sailors, and torturers, but people are always willing to pay taxes—even taxes they do not owe. So, Etienne wrote to his countrymen that they should not bother to resist, they need not throw down the tyrant, all they need do is stop supporting him. Declare yourself free, he wrote, and the tyrant won't have the support he needs to oppress you. You need not topple the tyrant from his pedestal, if only you would stop holding him up.

That's why none of the above is the best candidate for president. That's why you should seek the election of none of the above for every office. You don't need to be governed. You don't benefit from being governed. Externally imposed government is always coercive. It is always a bad deal. It is a bad deal for you. It is bad for the economy. It is bad for your family. It is bad for your neighbors.

A standing government is a bad idea. Thoreau addressed this issue, as well. He pointed out that the same arguments against a standing army also apply to a standing government. Just as the standing army is going to be sent into other countries to do mischief, as, in 1848, was the case with the USA Army in Mexico, so, too a standing government is going to get into your affairs to do mischief.

Let me point out two examples of how this works in actual practice. Right now, there is a city in an eastern state where there is no police force. The city government enthusiasts are trying to generate support for hiring a police force. So far, the city isn't even organized as an incorporated city, so it has no city hall, no municipal courts, and no police. The city government enthusiasts want to take all these steps. Happily, the people in that community are against it.

What do they lose by having no city government? Nothing. The county sheriff provides more than enough deputies for their community. The county courts provide a system of justice. By adding municipal courts, they would add another collection of standing judges, bailiffs, and clerks. How would those people be paid for? By adding police who would find infractions, and a city council to generate new ordinances to make existing behaviors illegal. Then the police would stop speeders, ticket parked cars, hassle businesses, peek over fences and in through windows, and generally find all kinds of "crimes"—actually nothing wrong in itself, nothing mala in se but things wrong because they are, often newly, prohibited or mala prohibitum—and bring these newly minted miscreants to court. The new city council would create new laws to make existing behaviors unlawful so the new police would have bring people in front of the new municipal judges so that fines could be levied and bonds seized in order to pay for the new courthouse, new city hall, new police cars, new judges, and new clerks.

Another example of how this works in actual practice is in Somalia. I spent many months in Somalia over a period of several years, and stay in touch with friends over there. In 2005, my friend Michael van Notten's book The Law of the Somalis was published. In it, Michael, who passed away in 2002, describes the Somali concept of an ad hoc government.

What is ad hoc government? It is simply a government which comes together as needed, but is otherwise not around to bother you. Suppose there is an attack on your country? The militia comes together, the elders of the clan elect a war leader, and the militia goes and does battle. For hundreds of years, Somalia remained a widely recognized territory with stable borders using militia only as needed. Having no standing army, the Somalis were good neighbors—they traded with their neighbors and did not invade them.

What of crime and tort? When a dispute arises, the parties to the dispute call on their respective judges. The criminal has a judge, the victim has a judge, and if these two judges cannot resolve the conflict, they may call in a third. They hear from all the witnesses, they make a judgement, and the judgement may be appealed to the other elders in the community. But, when they are done, they go home. The judges stop being judges and go back to being herdsmen, or merchants, or farmers, or technicians.

When the militia is done defending the territory of the clan, the elders call the war leader before them and praise him for his assistance. Then he goes home. The militia goes home. The guns go back into closets, the technicals go back to being pickup trucks, and the machinery of warfare is again distributed in garages and under tarps.

If the war leader won't quit, he is killed. As recently as the mid-1990s, the same guy the USA Army Rangers was chasing all over Mogadishu, Mohammed Aideed, declared that he would form a new national government. And his clan elders issued a death warrant. The guy that all those Rangers and Delta Force Operators couldn't find for three years was killed two weeks later by his own bodyguard. The Somalis don't want a king. (They also don't want a central government to tax them and pay the international debt of the former dictator, Siad Barre, who borrowed about $2.6 billion in order to torture and massacre his own people from 1969 to 1991.)

So, in the case of that community back east, and in the case of the Somalis for several hundred years, people are able to govern themselves well enough. Most people, most of the time, just want to be left alone. Most people are capable of keeping and bearing arms, respecting the property of their neighbors, and looking out for their own interests.

A very tiny percentage of the population ever commits a violent crime. Statistics from people who are highly motivated to over-estimate the problem, such as the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation, indicate that as little as 1.8% of the population ever commits a violent crime against another person—rape, murder, robbery, battery. So, how many police do you need? How do you come to need a city government, if that community back east can do without—has done without for decades?

None of the above is the best choice. Choose none of the above if you choose to govern yourself.

I am not talking about anarchy. I am not in favor of the rule of none, but, rather, of self-rule. I am not promoting communism—the seizure of all property by the state. I am against anarcho-syndicalism and communism and other anti-property programs. I am for the spontaneous order of the free market.

I do not know how to govern you best. I do not believe that anyone else knows how to govern you best. I certainly believe that I know how to govern myself best.

Which is why I want you to vote for "none of the above." Unless the option to govern yourself by voting for none of the above is on the ballot, you should excuse yourself from voting. You should demand that your political party of choice give you the option of self-government. Or switch to the Libertarian Party, or one of the other parties that offers this choice.

Until the election in your community, or in your country, offers you the choice of none of the above, you aren't being given the option to govern yourself. And you should have that choice. You should take that choice. You do a better job choosing for yourself how to behave, what to refrain from doing, how to assist your family and neighbors, and how to take responsibility for your life.

If you aren't convinced by these philosophical and societal arguments, consider the economics. You cannot afford the amount of government for which you are now paying. War is inflationary. The national debt is over $9 trillion and growing. The state and local governments, and the various government regulatory agencies, impose a burden close to 50% of the gross national product. About 52% of all Americans are on some form of government assistance. Every product you buy includes a tax burden, a regulatory burden, and the tax burdens of all those who invest capital or provide labor to make it. You would probably be about sixteen times as wealthy if you had no national, state, or local government imposed upon you.

Look at your annual income. If you are about average, you make about $42,000 a year. If you had half as much national government, your existing income would have the purchasing power of $84,000. If you had no national, state, or local governments, you'd have the purchashing power of $672,000. You'd have more of the money you earn, you'd pay less for the products you buy, and more people around you would have more money to invest, to spend, and to enjoy.

Vote for peace. Vote for prosperity. Vote with your pocketbook. Vote for none of the above.

Or don't vote.

Jim Davidson is an author, newsletter editor, gold enthusiast, entrepreneur, and computer whiz. He's involved in business enterprises in several different countries. His favorite today is First published at Rational Review.


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