Russell Brand made an audacious call for revolution in his New Statesman editorial. I share many of his concerns for the current state of affairs and see that if unchecked we will unfortunately have a revolution. However, I do not see his proposed solution as an effective one. It will lead to a greater tragedy within any society that adopts his well intentioned action. His interview with Jeremy Paxman is informative and entertaining to watch.
Brand makes two calls: first that our past doesn’t matter and that only our pursuit of utopia is important, second that we need to enact a policy of massive wealth redistribution as a just policy for our utopia. He echos much of the idealism of Nicholai Bukharin. There are many other points that he makes. I chose these because they allow the easiest deconstruction of his argument.
Brand makes a very popular appeal reminiscent of Lenin’s “Peace, Land and Bread”. In case you are not familiar with “Peace, Land and Bread”, here is a cartoon produced by Warner Bros for the Hysteria! series in 1998:
I had a difficult time watching that video. Lenin was not a singing and dancing sort. In this November 1918 Hanging Order, he directs as a P.S. “Use your toughest people for this.” So much for “Peace, Land and Bread”. Just because Brand echos Lenin’s call for revolution to unlock the miss allocated wealth, doesn’t mean the results will be the same. The methodology of massive centralization needed to achieve such a redistribution of wealth guarantees a similar outcome. Ludwig von Mises in his 1922 novel “Socialism” describes how such tragedies of humanity develop.
Holodomor was Stalin’s attempt at starving a country into submission. If you have any doubts about how horrible communism actually is please watch this video. This is the result of Lenin’s “Peace Land and Bread”. Stalin just borrowed from Lenin’s playbook, there just is not enough left to show Lenin’s handiwork.
Pining for a return to communism is like an addict jonesing for the next high. Yearning for the euphoria of the high of a “just” revolution to make those who took form us pay for their greed. Followed by having a new master, a pusher, demanding you prostitute yourself as you expend every last bit of saved wealth and have nothing left to sell.
As a recovering socialist, I understand the thinking, where giving all power to a central beneficent group to oversee everyone’s welfare is what we want. The world is a bad place and greedy people take from those less advantaged and need to be held accountable. We want society to function so we must have a strong government to do this. We need strong government to make the world safe from those who would see harm done to an innocent.
I call this “stinking thinking”. Like an addict it absolves the individual of responsibility in their lives, “It’s the fault of _______ that the world is this way (that my life has gone to hell).” It justifies the revolution. It removes other people’s right to their own lives. They are to live to serve the addict. Replacing a bad master with a more onerous one, is not a path to recovery.
Recovery begins by admitting that there is a problem–that no conscious creation of human intellect can save us. The socialist believes that we can create a government that will protect us. P. J. O’Rourke wittily summarizes von Mises critique of socialism in one sentence, “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are the legislators.” If we create a government structure to protect us, that structure creates the special interests that seek to influence it. This is Bruce Yandle’s “Bootlegger and Baptist” where the socialists like Brand are the baptists and those seeking to gain power and control (Lenin, crony capitalists, etc) are the bootleggers. Jeremy Paxman asks Brand (4:57) how is the wealth redistributed, Brand is unable to respond other than by bluster (“We have to pass [it] so that you can find out what’s in it”). The baptists encouraged by the bootleggers incite change, then the bootleggers set what will benefit them.
In other words, we cannot think our way into right acting. What if we act our way into right thinking. This brings us to the libertarian approach. The structure of a society is not in the legislation that governs it. The structure exists with in the law that evolves from with in it. Law cannot be fully codified. It is known in bits and pieces by individuals, but the sum of it is unknowable to anyone. The law is an evolved structure. The affects of the law can be observed and it exists at the societal level. This internal structure of society is affected by legislation. Legislation is a constraint that does not evolve from within, it comes from outside society, government. Government is a construct of society. It can provide useful services. It can also be influenced by certain portions of the society to their benefit. It is when government interferes with the right of contract of individuals, that we have problems.
Brand recommended nonparticipation in the current political system. Here, he is on to something. He must have read Ayn Rand and thought the idea of “going Galt” was good. The trick is how to fight without fighting. No, this is not some esoteric Zen koan. It is the principle of non violence. Our economic action is transferred between us through currency. Our action adds value to the currency. This value is extracted through seigniorage and outright quantitative easing to fund and support the entire system. Our collective action funds the government and its policies. If you don’t agree with the government stop using it’s legal tender. There is an open letter to Russel Brand suggesting this very approach.
If the government is to tax you, then you have to pay the government for that tax. Inflation is the broadest tax of all.
By not using a government’s currency, any payment to the government has to be done consciously and with the consent of the individual taxed, or the government has to use force if the individual does not agree. I use bitcoin and the choice of whether to pay my taxes is patent. I choose to pay my taxes. However, I am free from is the tax of inflation for which I do not consent. This is my protest.
All action begins with the individual.