Robert Vroman: The Jim Bell System Debate Introduction
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As I write this article on July 3, 2002, I am already hearing out my window the occasional pops of micro-explosives enthusiasts getting a head start on their annual excuse to play with things that go bang and supposedly celebrate their freedom. Tomorrow, libertarians across the country will use the holiday as an opportunity to grouse to disinterested relatives around the barbecue grill about how little freedom we actually have left, or really ever had. LP lifers often say there is no magic bullet to get the kind of society we want, and it will take decades of hard work in the political trenches, and of course, many many donations to the party, before we ever see progress. Conversely, I propose that a nutty guy named Jim Bell has already designed the magic bullet; it just needs to be forged and we will start seeing dramatic positive change immediately.
**The following article is an opinion piece written in 2002 by the libertarian author Robert Vroman. This is the first part of the Jim Bell System debate series and the revisited version written by Vroman can be read here. Vroman is well known for his editorial work writing for anti-state.com. ‘The Jim Bell System’ first published on anti-state.com on July 11, 2002, in response to the assassination politics (AP) debate. Bitcoin.com is not responsible for or liable for any opinions, content, accuracy or quality within the Op-ed article.**
Since this is a fairly controversial topic, I will start with a psychological self-analysis as a disclaimer.
My primary long-term goal is to live forever. I’m convinced that the exponential improvements in medical technology will curve upwards to infinity within the next century. This means surviving the relatively primitive period between then and now is the major stumbling block. As an atheist, I am faced with the conclusion that this is the only life I have. Therefore I have an enormous incentive to minimize risks to my health and well being, just as a Christian has incentive not to sin; we both would be gambling our presumed eternal life, an unacceptable wager. One such risk I will choose to decline is taking up arms against the United States government. Thus the powers that be who may read this article can rest assured that I will be exhibiting more or less cowardly behavior for the next 75 years or so, and present no security threat whatsoever.
I am simply predicting what will happen and am no more responsible for the outcome than an astronomer who reveals that an asteroid is on course to wipe out DC. Hopefully, the destruction of this particular doomsday rock will be localized around the tyrants.
With that said, I present the following dangerous idea.
My secondary long-term goal is to live free. By that I mean living in a stable, secure, anarcho-capitalist society. The obvious obstacle to this goal is the existence of the State. The problems I face generally in eradicating this persistent pest are that:
- The State is actively retarding the progress of science, thus making my immortality timetable more and more dicey.
- There aren’t a whole lot of capital resources or individuals enlightened enough to be on my side.
- If I die in the process, either from fighting a revolution or from allowing the state to last too long, stalling out science, it will all be for naught (from my perspective anyway)
The challenge then is to devise a plan to remove this obstacle, balancing the considerations of speed, cost, and safety.
In a recent article John T. Kennedy made the excellent point, using the example of a porcupine, that in order to avoid being eaten, one need not necessarily be anywhere near as powerful as the predator, only become an overpriced meal. The historical example of Switzerland in WWII comes to mind. Clearly, with a concentrated effort, the Nazi war machine could have decimated the small neutral country. In fact, Hitler boasted early on in the war that he would “be the butcher of the Swiss.” However, the Swiss militia system was able to mobilize a half million trained riflemen within 48 hours of that pronouncement. Once entrenched in foreboding Alpine terrain, they were ordered to defend the border “to the last cartridge.” The Fuhrer decided to pass on that challenge and instead waltzed through Denmark and France, countries with little to no civilian gun culture.
For our purposes, the State is the predator, and we are the prey. Kennedy mentioned (with appropriate caveats) that Assassination Politics would be one possible method to grow some quills, and raise our price beyond the power monger’s ability to pay. Briefly, the AP system, as I envision its probable implementation, would operate something like this. You come across, say, “www.jimbellsystem.com” and see a long list of names next to dollar amounts. You are then invited to select a name and then submit a guess as to the exact date this person will expire, in exchange for some standard betting fee, like $1, via some as yet undeveloped digital cash scheme. Your dollar is then added to the total on the master list. You can repeat this process as many times, on as many names as you like, or even submit a new name. Strong cryptography protects your anonymity in all cases.
Then when someone on the list inevitably is reaped, the site operator examines all the winning bets (if any) and divides the prize evenly among them, after taking a small percentage as commission. The prize money is then forwarded to anonymous digital cash accounts that the winning bettors indicated when they submitted their entries. In other words, it’s just a standard betting pool system except with paranoid security, and a rather macabre theme. However, the catch is that once a particular name gets some serious cash associated with it, say $1M+, there will be a strong motivation for an unscrupulous bettor to tip the odds dramatically in his favor via direct intervention in the subject’s death. The further catch is that many of the average, non-homicidal bettors will be aware that such unscrupulous opportunists exist and will play the game without any real ambition to randomly pick a correct date, but instead place bets to drive up the prize on persons they despise. The theory goes that politicians will be high on everyone’s shit list, and be the first to rack up attention-getting prize pools. To be wildly optimistic, it is proposed that there will be so many people with a pet peeve against a specific politician, whether they are consciously anarchist or not, that the system will foster a niche industry in assassination, and the collective actions of the market will thereafter make it incredibly dangerous for anyone to seek positions of power. Thus, the people who currently constitute the entity known as government will either die or fearfully resign en masse, and the State will disintegrate.
The fully idealistic conclusion is that this will result in permanent, defensible anarchism, since AP can be just as easily applied to any neo-statists who show up afterward, or any foreign aggressors, assuming there are any states left lacking sufficient internet connectivity to have previously ousted their own rulers.
That’s the summary, I will now debunk the many criticisms of the system, which fall into three broad categories:
- Practical failures
- Moral failures
- Strategic failures
In the first category are objections along practical lines for its basic operation. First of all, is it technically feasible? I am not a programmer, nor even done much homework in the area of encryption/digital cash, however, there are people out there who are certainly experts who seem to think that both of those concepts have a very strong future. For further information on relevant technical matters, I direct you to J. Orlin Grabbe, who does not to my knowledge endorse any form of AP, but does treat the reader to some creative selections of soft porn.
Since I am under-educated in this field, I, unfortunately, will have to pass on any specific technical objections. Logically, though, it seems reasonable to compare the operation of this system to something like a drug cartel. South American drug lords are well known for having top-notch computer systems to keep track of their own affairs, as well as keep tabs on what competitors and Federales are up to. Such cartels are historically very good at surviving against ever increasing law enforcement budgets and political pressure. Since AP’s main business is in computers, and it will most likely be very profitable, it leads me to think that electronically evading cops by similar means may not be a hopeless task.
The second practical objection I will cover is a worst-case scenario, where, in its desperation, the state retaliates against AP by banning non-governmental digital cash entirely. Feds shuts down Paypal and anything like it, and only allow e-cash that’s connected to the magnetic stripe on your National ID, and every transaction monitored.
This unfortunate news bulletin can be handled several ways by AP’s patrons. To go back to our drug cartel analogy, keep in mind that many millions of people around the world flout the law daily to buy, sell and consume illegal pharmaceuticals. Distributors of drugs are everywhere if you know where to look. It is not so hard to imagine an identical network of underground suppliers could meet the demand for anonymous currency, for any number of purposes, not just AP. This could take the form of cash servers completely off the fed grid, or front companies that accept government e-cash and launder it for discreet uses. Depending on the exact nature of whatever new authoritarian legislation gets handed down, any number of solutions could present themselves, and those same millions of current lawbreakers will no doubt solicit them just as eagerly. And the added bonus is there is no physical evidence to be unconstitutionally searched and seized, as is the threat in the drug trade. A few kilobytes of data are probably easier to hide than a trunk full of plant extracts.
In the same vein, the State might get extremely paranoid, and attempt to ban all encryption lacking FBI backdoors. Assuming that civil libertarians are not sufficiently “concerned” to prevent this, more important is the basic impracticality of enforcement. Analogy: It is 2050 and in an understandable appeal to public safety, the Feds outlaw recently invented personal invisibility cloaks. Stormtroopers arrive at my apartment building and question my neighbors. “We have a warrant for the arrest of Robert Vroman for the alleged possession of an illegal invisibility cloak. Have you seen him? No? Hmm.”
Again my technical ignorance may get in the way, but if I can hide the content of my message, how hard is it to hide the source and destination? Internet-savvy outlaws will undoubtedly provide encryption services under the Gestapo’s nose, just like their outlaw digicash cousins, and their outlaw drug peddler ancestors.
But then what if the State, facing imminent destruction, lashes out blindly and tries to shut down the whole friggin internet? Or what if they establish martial law in the scariest uber-polizei-stadt since Adolf was dancing jigs? These and other Orwellian nightmares are possibilities. However, one must consider that any path to anarchism will eventually take us to a point to where the State is cornered and crazed, and thus this is not the fault of AP. On the bright side though, if it is AP that takes us to that juncture, any measures the State take will be short-lived and futile. While they may be able to hold off an armed rebellion or mass non-compliance and make our lives miserable for an indefinite period, AP will march along inexorably chowing down on their human resources and scaring them off, until there’s simply no one left to give orders or receive them.
The third practical objection wonders if anyone will actually put money into AP, above or below ground. Clearly, there will have to be a significant and constant cash flow to keep the wheels turning and the heads rolling. Finding customers is probably the least of our worries. First, on the list are the usual suspects of political extremists.
Hardcore lefties in all their myriad flavors: commies, left-anarchists, eco nuts, feminazis, etc.
Then your hardcore righties: militia psychos, pro-life zealots, Klansmen, dirty cops, uber-moralists, etc
Following with miscellaneous baddies: well heeled foreign terrorists, cultists, sleaze corporations, garden variety sociopaths, drug lords, etc
And that’s just the fringe. I propose that humans as a whole are not very good people. If they were, surely we would not be in the prevailing unacceptable state of affairs. Fortunately one of the main selling points of libertarianism is that it’s the superior system given any level of general morality. In the short term though, AP is well served by the relatively low level evidenced by reality. I predict that given a consequence free chance to hurt someone they despise at low monetary cost, a large percentage will sign up. American citizens donate many millions to political parties every year; clearly they take this stuff seriously. How bad do they want their guy to win? Remember, no one will ever know if you place that bet. You can protest the senselessness of it all in public, wring your hands over the latest poor public servant killed in the line of duty, and then go home and secretly sign the death warrant of that Congress asshole who wants to cut your kid’s daycare. Seriously, look at the kind of people around you, who wouldn’t jump at the chance at that kind of power?
Practically anyone with any political opinions at all can name some office holder they’d rather see gone. It should be no challenge to get enough people with the same name in mind to bet a few bucks and reach a tempting pot.
These people may not be betting against the worst statists in the order an Ancap might prioritize them, but the point is, it doesn’t matter who they bet on, as long as they hit any power holders, because most likely the success of AP will not come from systematically executing every politician, but instead drive them into hiding from fear of their name rising on the list. No matter what direction the fire is coming from, it will keep everyone in Washington’s head down.
But just to drive the point home, forget about Americans who might unexpectedly turn uniformly patriotic and override their petty partisan proclivities. For an easier challenge, let’s toss AP into the mix of some stormy banana republic below the equator. Giving AP to practically any 3rd world country would be like letting the rival faction leaders duel with grenades in a shower stall. Every wannabe El Presidente will openly encourage their followers to bet against the competition and undoubtedly receive the same in return. If you find Somalia encouraging, imagine the entire developing world forced to go the same route.
So I think I’ve established that there will be sufficient demand, the other side of the coin is of course supply. Again, we are well stocked. Last I read, the home of the brave here has some 2 million people imprisoned, 40% of which are deemed ‘violent’. Furthermore, approximately 1% of all violent crimes result in a prisoner. This says to me that there is an abundance of dumb mean folks in this country. One characteristic of the violence prone is they tend to be poor. I imagine that few such criminals actually enjoy risking their life and freedom day after day in robbing random people for watches and wallets. How many would gamble on that One Big Score, if payday were a sure thing?
To name a few, we’ve got the obvious examples, Mafiosos, Hell’s Angels, Islamo-fascists, McVeigh acolytes, etc, plus a virtually bottomless supply of standard small time thugs and starving junkies.
In other words lots and lots of people who wouldn’t think twice about killing anyone for the right price or cause, all being simultaneously offered heaping mounds of cash with no names being mentioned, no questions asked, and no one to have to trust. All guaranteed and anonymous. And the best part is, there’s no need for the ideologically pure to go fling ourselves against leviathan in some ill conceived revolution. I’m sometimes disturbed by the martyrdom complex some Ancaps seem to exhibit; holing up with their favorite rifle and apparently just waiting for the JBTs to show up someday and take down as many with them as possible. Much safer to just pay otherwise worthless people to do the dirty work instead.
To wax poetic, the great melting pot of human society has got scum floating on the top, and scum settled on the bottom. It sure would be great if we could let them thin each other’s ranks, with minimal bystanders getting plugged.
Then again, why count on the competence and boldness of American crooks? Watch the experiment unfold south of the border and see who takes the gamble. In parts of the world where life is cheap, AP might be a chief industry, and provide an excellent test pad for its 1st world conquest.
If there are other practical failures I have missed, I will have to address them in a follow up article. On to the alleged moral failures.
I do not think my audience will contest the notion that tax is theft, enforced regulation is aggression, and basically everything the government does, from bombing foreign kids, to propagandizing local kids, is wrong. Libertarian logic goes on to say that you have a basic right to defend your person and property from aggression, and that if a given level of force is insufficient to deter that aggression, you may justifiable escalate without bound until the aggression is so deterred. Furthermore, you are fully within your rights to contract out your defensive needs to other parties. If the aggressor you are facing is so overwhelming that you can neither personally defend yourself nor openly seek protection services, then it becomes necessary to devise clever systems like AP.
Still, some are concerned that indirectly paying someone to preemptively kill a politician is dangerously close to initiation of force, even if the institution he represents is admittedly oppressive.
First of all maybe you hate the state and have a T-shirt to prove it, but bear no ill will to the lowly 9-to-5er in the local bureaucracy with no real decision making power. Surely that misguided paper shuffler does not deserve to get axed along with the household name tyrants. Fear not, because AP only recognizes the power of the dollar, and unless someone, somewhere is willing to part with a small fortune in order to doom the government peon, he is probably just as safe as every other person listed in the phone book.
The stronger complaint is that no politicians deserve to die, and we should instead get the backing of legions of converts and politely present our leaders with one way tickets to somewhere far away and leave them be. If that were plausible, I’m all for it. Since its not, there’s no reason to protest the forceful alternative.
I am not obsessed with justice or vengeance. I would be perfectly happy to let every reigning politician resign without further punishment, even those that knowingly ordered or caused innocent deaths. For example, I have no desire to expend energy exhuming FDR’s corpse and dragging it around the town square, as my grandfather often insists should be done. In other words, out of sight, out of mind. The only thing that matters is that the rulers leave power, their offices dismantled. Going back to my earlier criteria, I will back whatever method of eviction is the quickest, cheapest, and safest (for me), regardless of the consequences said method brings down on the evictees. If AP is the Q, C, and S, then I shed no tears over however many leaders get snuffed before the rest discover their positions cannot protect them. If any of you have a soft spot for some politician who is “really an ok guy deep down, he just doesn’t get it yet” then hopefully he will be among the first to ‘get it’ and work his damnedest to disappear from public consciousness as fast as possible.
Imagine this scenario: You just went to considerable cost to move into a nice new neighborhood. The day after you move in, you receive the following note in the mail:
Your options are A) pissing away your down payment and leaving, only to find Vroman’s relatives run similar scams in every other neighborhood B) coughing up the 2 grand every year, and futilely trying to convince your sheeple neighbors to petition Boss Vroman to leave you all alone C) killing a few thugs and eventually going down in a hail of lead, D) spend your 2 grand hiring someone to snipe Boss Vroman when he least expects it.
So which will it be, Ex-pat, LP, Waco, or…AP?
Whether you buy that as sufficient excuse or if instead, you buy into Bob Murphy’s pacifism plan, is actually quite irrelevant. Here is the clutch argument. Why Ancaps should not oppose AP is that the fate of anarchism and AP are inextricably entwined. It is obvious that if the system works at all, it will be very profitable to the operators. In Ancapland there will be no law enforcement per se to crack down on a proposed AP operation. Thus it is inevitable that some profit-seeking anarchists, with no fear of state reprisal, will eventually start one or more AP servers.
No matter what route is taken to anarchism, peaceful evangelism or other, the end result will be a society devoid of central authority, and with an AP system in existence, due to simple profit motive.
Furthermore, even if the consequences of AP are a hell on earth comparable with the worst examples of grotesque statism, that is also irrelevant, because AP is unstoppable. Even if we all converted to minarchism so that we could have the benefits of pseudo-libertarianism, while still having a violence monopolist to counteract AP, that changes nothing. AP can destroy any state, minimal or monstrous. No matter what the ultimate outcome wrought by AP, there are no steps we can take that will avoid it. Even embracing the current police state, if that were a serious option, would not provide significant long term resistance to the looming threat of AP. There is nothing short of 100% popular refusal to participate that will prevent AP from tearing down every political office in the world, and given human psychology, that 100% won’t materialize.
Thus the only question is whether AP is useful enough for transition purposes that someone develops it now, or uses other methods to destroy statism first, and wait for AP to show up on its own.
It’s like this. Person A is holding person B hostage at gunpoint. You, being a pacifist, would like to save person B, without killing bad guy A. Unfortunately for your humanitarian plans, person B is a part time ninja, and as soon as the immediate threat of the gun is gone, he is going to snap A’s neck instantly. You also have a gun. So whether you shoot A yourself, or somehow non-lethally disarm him and unleash B’s hands of death, A will die. Thus given the certainty of A’s death (and deserved at that) the primary concern should be the other two people in the equation. If you attempt to disarm A, you could get shot, leaving B still trapped and you dead. Or you could just easily shoot A, saving both yourself and B, but troubling your conscience.
That’s all I have to say about moral issues.
Lastly, there are the criticisms that claim that AP will successfully kill politicians, moral or not, but the real problem is that the system will result in something no better than the current regime. There are common cries that AP will get ‘out of control’. I see two ways this could happen. Foremost is that the operators of AP will somehow appoint themselves de facto rulers in the resulting power vacuum and twist the tool to assassinate their personal enemies at will. This is clearly impossible because if they were able to operate their servers despite the pressure of a state, clearly someone else can operate a competing server despite the pressure of the rogue AP-ists, and if said rogues build themselves a personality cult in a bid for world domination, they make themselves ridiculously easy targets for AP v2.0.
The better reason this is impossible is because ideally the AP system would be so well designed that it would run autonomously, so as to avoid there being any actual operators for the state to arrest. Thus there are no operators to go bad in the post-state world either.
The other possible unintended consequence, opposite that of crypto-dictatorship, is the Randian fear about war of all against all, i.e. ‘bad’ anarchism ala Mad Max. I see little reason to worry about this possibility. If society degenerates to the point that putting a $100 bet on someone dying tomorrow results in a very real possibility that you will be right, then this would imply that AP players are so widespread and killing so unremarkable, that you might as well just whack the person yourself and save the C-note. At this point, AP will fall into disuse for being an unnecessary middleman in the homicide business, except for those rare hard to find targets, as was its original purpose.
Therefore, AP has a feedback loop that prevents it from being practical as a means of facilitating petty murders.
In conclusion, AP is pragmatically sound, ethically justified, and strategically prudent. The only question is when. Watch out State, you’re on a collision course with an extinction level event. I have foreseen it.
Check out the second editorial about this subject written by Vroman here.
What do you think about Robert Vroman’s predictions? What do you think about this subject? Let us know what you think about this opinion piece in the comments section below.
**The article above is an opinion piece written in 2002 by the libertarian author Robert Vroman debating ‘The Jim Bell System’ with Adam Young and Bob Murphy. Vroman is well known for his editorial work writing for anti-state.com. ‘The Jim Bell System’ first published on anti-state.com on July 11, 2002, in response to AP debate.**
Op-ed Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Bitcoin.com is not responsible for or liable for any opinions, content, accuracy or quality within the Op-ed article. Bitcoin.com is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any information in this Op-ed article. This article is a reprint of an archived editorial that was originally published on August 15, 2002.
Image credits: Shutterstock, anti-state.com archive links, Pixabay, Fair Use, and Wiki Commons.
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