No one knows. L. Neil Smith estimates in the piece below we’d be at least eight times richer.
Unanimous Consent and the Utopian Vision
I Dreamed I Was a Signatory In My Maidenform Bra
by L. Neil Smith
The relative invisibility of Libertarianism after 40 years of backbreaking, heartbreaking labor, has little to do with any lack of money, ideas, personnel, or anything else Libertarians may occasionally whine about. It isn’t the fault of an evil northeastern Liberal conspiracy. Nor, as the more timid among us often recommend, is it reason to tone down Libertarian rhetoric, to soften principle or its expression, to make it more conservative or “practical” in approach. All of that has been tried, again & again.
What Libertarians lack, in their hearts & minds, what they fail to communicate to others, is a vision of the new civilization they intend creating. It may be sufficient motivation, for Libertarians, that America today, politically, economically, socially, is repulsive. It may be enough, for Libertarians, that what they propose is morally right. It is not enough for others. Most people require a fairly concrete picture of the future which will motivate them to learn what Libertarians mean by “right” & “wrong”, & inspire them to work toward its fulfillment.
It may appear contradictory that the achievement of practical ends relies on fantasy. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Libertarians need is a foot in the door. There’s no conflict between imagination & realism, any more than there is between “radical abolitionist” & “moderate gradualism”. Each has a role in the creation of progress. Neither can afford to try operating without the other. Division-of- labor is more than an abstract economic principle, it’s a matter of life or death for the cause of individual liberty. Utopianism, far from being a hindrance or embarrassment, is a vital, effective means toward that goal.
Libertarians take their own philosophy too much for granted. Their concept of what it can accomplish is too abstract. They wrongly assume others can see its potential as clearly as they do. They often fail to see it themselves. As a remedy, they must ask themselves, each day for the rest of their lives, certain fundamental questions. Why are we Libertarians? What do we wish to accomplish? What constitutes success? By what signs will we know we’ve won? What’s in it for us? What’s in it for me? What do I really want?
Their present answers range from the negative to the obscure. ‘Well, you know …” “Because I want to see that bastard (the idea’s to insert the bastard of your choice) get what’s coming to him!” “Because what’s going on now is wrong & I want to stop it” “Because I’m afraid civilization’s gonna collapse unless we do something”. A common variation noted by Dave Nolan is, “Because I know civilization is going to collapse — & I wanna be around to say ‘I told you so’!” The best of this rather unsatisfactory lot I first heard from English Libertarians who said, “Because, even if I were convinced my efforts would came to nothing, I can’t honestly imagine doing anything else.”
I’d like to share with you some of my answers. Before I began spreading them around through my novels, they were somewhat different from those of most Libertarians. To the extent that I’m a fanatic, they’re responsible. They’re what drive & motivate me. They’re the reason I’ll keep disturbing the peace until I’m hauled off to some 21st Century Super-Dachau & lasered to death, or the pigeons are paying respects to my statue in some private city park.
One, of course, comes from years of filling my head with “garbage”, pulp science fiction in which I watched cultures, societies, whole galactic empires created, tinkered with, torn down, & built all over again by talented (& some not-so-talented) yarn-spinners who, like me, were obsessed with finding out what makes civilizations tick. They taught me that the future is malleable, mutable, sometimes even by one person standing at a sensitive-enough leverage point. I’ve been looking for that leverage-point ever since. I have an idea what I want the future to look like. I want a principal role in its making. In short, I have my own Utopian dream, rooted in the Libertarian philosophy of Unanimous Consent. I want to see it come true soon enough to enjoy it myself. That’s what I really want.
Many years ago, Joan Baez commented smugly that there are no right- wing foIk songs. I’d noticed the same thing, but as a professional guitar player busily compromising his new-fledged Objectivist principles to the Goldwater campaign, I was disinclined to gloat about it.
There are no right-wing Utopias, either, no novels of the colorful Buckleyite future. The conservative view of heaven is the status quo ante — a dead, flat, black-&-white daguerreotype of a past that never existed. Any status quo will do, as long as it ain’t Red. If people are tortured in banana republic jails, it’s acceptable as long as they’re not Communist jails. If a long train of abuses & usurpations are visited upon individual freedom in this country, it’s fine, as long as they’re not left-wing abuses & usurpations, & even better, if they’re in the name of National Security.
Traditionally, Utopia is the territory of the left. Imaginative stories gave ordinary people images of what had previously been abstractions, & this had more to do with the progress of socialism than anything Marx, Engels, Lenin or Geraldo Rivera ever did. The dictionary, in a burst of candor, defines Utopia as “the ideal state where all is ordered for the best, for mankind as a whole, & evils such as poverty & misery do not exist”: not only self-contradictory in practice, but more than sufficient reason why Utopia is a province populated, almost exclusively, by the enemies of freedom.
However, the word “Utopia” only became synonymous with ”impossible dream” when the internal inconsistencies, the inherent cynicism, the utter failure of socialism became unmistakable to everyone. In some instances, its sterile, no-exit character was already visible in the pages of otherwise optimistic Victorian novels before it became political reality, & Utopia bored itself to death. Socialist victories in the real world became disasters, creating economic, social, & military devastation, smashing the Utopian promise along the lay.
Thus Utopian novels fell out of print when idealists on the left stopped believing their own fairy tales. Dispirited, disoriented, beaten in a way they never understood, reduced to petulant nihilism, they couldn’t dream any more. Rather than being exceptions, today’s few, sad, threadbare left-Utopias make the case. Read B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, for its constipated lack of scope. Examine Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed for its injured socialist perplexity. Try Arthur Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth. He’s peddling shopworn goods & he knows it. He ought to, he lives in Mrs. Bandaranaika’s Sri Lanka!
The great tragedy is that, when Left Utopia fell into dishonor, it took all the rest with it. Shattered socialist dreams have discredited any dreams at all of a rational, humane, social order. Libertarianism was born an orphan in an age of disUtopias like Brave New World, 1984, & Eugene Zamiatin ‘s We. Ayn Rand wrote disUtopias, Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, We The Living, admirably showing us the dirty, bloodstained underside of collectivism’s brilliant promises. But she & others like her made too few promises of their own. She pointed out a great deal to avoid, but very little to aspire to, which, I submit, is piss-poor motivational psychology.
Before I began writing, there were semi-Libertarian Utopias, glimmers in the works of Robert Heinlein & Poul Anderson, the short stories of Eric Frank Russell, brighter, more explicit pictures drawn by H. Beam Piper & Jerome Tuccille. But somehow they failed to stick to my philosophical ribs.
Nor were our “basic” Libertarian works much better. Where most Utopian fiction failed to be Libertarian enough, Libertarian non-fiction failed to be Utopian at all. Where was the glowing promise in John Hospers’ Libertarianism, Murray Rothbard’s For A New Liberty, Roger MacBride’s A New Dawn, or David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom? Where was the excitement in Paul Lepanto’s Return to Reason, Harry Brown’s How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World, or Bob Lefevre’s This Bread Is Mine? Where was the color in Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson? Where was the fire in any of them? Was it enough merely to be satisfied that most of our “beginner’s books” weren’t too boring?
If Rand had written The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, or edited its pessimistic ending, if Heinlein had written Atlas Shrugged, pacing it like Door Into Summer, Dave Bergland would be in the White House right now, auctioning off the furniture, because we’d have captured people’s imaginations. Their hearts & minds, money & votes would have followed faithfully behind.
People want Utopia. They’ve watched Star Trek until the emulsion wore off the celluloid & helped Star Wars outgross World War II, because Kirk, Spock, & Luke Skywalker assure them that there is a future, one worth looking forward to, in which human beings (& other critters) will still be doing fascinating, dangerous things. Having a good time.
It says here 84% of us got hooked reading Atlas Shrugged, which I’ve described as anti-Utopian. But it wasn’t just to watch civilization crumbling around my ears that I waded through that kilopage. Its fascination was in an all-too-brief glimpse of a small, working, slightly kinky Libertarian society. Atlas Shrugged is mainly disUtopian, but, in the end, every bit as cheery as Piper’s A Planet For Texans, & almost as delightfully bloodthirsty.
Those of you who haven’t read my novels may well ask what kind of Utopian vision I think Libertarians ought to communicate. Once, in a moment of mixed premises & moral depravity, I defined it in terms of “freedom, immortality, the stars”. No, I didn’t dig that out of the pages of The National Enquirer, I meant freedom in the Libertarian sense of society without coercion, immortality as a foreseeable extension of individual freedom into time, & the stars as an equally logical extension of that freedom into space, as human beings reach for what seems to me to be their evolutionary Manifest Destiny. For our purposes, Utopia might just be a place where people look forward to getting up in the morning.
I do have more specific desires, a more detailed dream. It’s expressed in the Covenant of Unanimous Consent which I first wrote as a kind of substitute for the Constitution & the Bill of Rights & later included in my science fiction novel of the Whiskey Rebellion, The Gallatin Divergence. The Covenant now circulates in more than forty countries, thanks, among others, to Dagny Sharon & Libertarian International. It has Signatories in a majority of the states & provinces of North America. I wouldn’t be surprised if the desire & dreams expressed in the Covenant are similar to your own. If we differ, it’s because I don’t believe it pays to be bashful about it. We must share the dream with others, so they’ll begin to work toward fulfilling it, too.
For practice, let’s try building a Utopia right now. You already know the rules. Morally, in this future society, each individual is free to live his or her life as an end in itself, & to defend it against anyone who would compel otherwise. Ethically, this is accomplished by adopting a single custom: individuals are forbidden (the specific mechanism, you’ll appreciate, is still being debated) to initiate force against others. Socially & economically, a voluntary exchange of values, rather than force, is the customary basis for human relationships.
H.G. Wells used to start with the premise “What if …?” What if you could travel to the Moon in a gravity-proof ball? What if you fell asleep & woke up 200 years later? What if you found a way to become invisible? I have a what if for you. What if one Commandment, “Thou shalt not initiate force”, became the fundamental operating principle of society, soon enough for all of us to see it?
For the moment, we’ll skip over how we got to Utopia from disUtopia, although it is the critical question. That’s not quite the cop-out it seems. We’re trying to envision a new society uncontaminated by a previous social order. In science, this is called a controlled experiment. In writing, this is called poetic license. On the other hand, our Utopian vision, what it says to us & to others, can be a major force, in itself, in getting us from here to there. So I guess that makes things even.
We’ll also skip over the possibility, some say inevitability, of thermonuclear war or a spectacularly unpleasant economic & civil collapse. There are reasons, as you’ll see later, why I’m unconvinced of the inevitability of it all. In any case, it’ll either happen or it won’t. If it does, we’ll either live through it or we won’t, & we’ll succeed in carrying off the Millennium, with or without an introductory catastrophe, or, in the long run, like John Maynard Keynes, we’ll all be dead.
A frequent error Utopia-builders make, understandably, is leaving items they’re unaware of out of their extrapolation. In the surviving Utopian mutation of the leftist repertoire, Doomsday predicting, Paul Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, the Ozone boys, & most science fiction writers make a mistake amidst their orgasmic cries of disaster: they aren’t figuring on Signatories to the Covenant in particular or Libertarians in general.
Before we get smug, remember I said this is our fault. Look how it happened: think of all those “Buy Gold, Buy Silver, Buy Irradiated Garbanzo Beans” ads, pamphlets, & seminars we’re so fond of. In our projections of the future, we’ve made the same mistake — we forgot about us! Aren’t we gonna affect the future? You bet your dried war-surplus fruit preserves we are!
The shape of the future is always determined, just like the present was, by two factors, almost exclusively. The first is the virtually unlimited power of the individual human mind, & of the free market system which is its most monumental achievement. The second factor, often forgotten, is no less important: the inefficacy of evil.
It won’t surprise anyone at this conference to hear of the power of mind & market. The human mind may inhabit what one cynic called “a sort of skin disease on a ball of dirt”, but its grasp encompasses the span from subatomic particles to the intergalactic void. The mind alone is the reason our species became dominant on this planet in a microsecond of geologic time. Yet, aren’t we confronted every day with the victories & gloatings of evil? How can it be inefficacious when it owns the world?
Let’s ask what condition humanity, its culture, technology, & economy would be in, if villains always won. Hasn’t there been overall progress in the human condition over the last several thousand years? Would there have been Scientific Method, an Industrial Revolution, a Declaration of Independence, a Non- Aggression Principle, or a Covenant of Unanimous Consent if evil were all that omnipotent? Despite the most hyperthyroid governments, the most pointlessly murderous wars, & the most disgustingly despicable badguys in all of history, 20th Century America offers the highest standard of living & the greatest individual liberty that has ever been available.
None of this is any testimony to government, war, or badguys, but to the human mind & the ineptitude of its enemies. The mind & market always find a way. The point liberals, conservatives, & many Libertarians always miss is that this isn’t any reason not to ask what kind of world a truly uninhibited human mind would create, economically, socially, technologically. The three areas overlap, but we’ll begin with economics.
The economic future will be as different from our times as ours are from pre-industrial eras. No one in 1687 could imagine freedom from the constant threat of death by starvation, exposure, or disease, which characterized those times. Few in 1987 can visualize a future of vastly greater wealth, world peace, & no bureaucrats to pry into every moment of their daily lives. Historical blindness works both ways, of course. Those born in the future will react with a mixture of embarrassment & amusement when we try explaining to them. The insane were once beaten, tortured, & chained, a practice that seems ludicrous & terrible to us. The IRS will seem equally barbaric to our grandchildren. We’ll try to tell them, but they’ll attribute it to senile dementia & never really believe us.
With taxation gone, not only will we have twice as much money to spend, but it will go twice as far, since those who produce goods & services won’t have to pay taxes, either. In one stroke we’ll be effectively four times as rich. There’s no simple way to estimate the cost of regulation. Truckers say they could ship goods for one-fifth the present price without it. Many businesses spend a third of their overhead complying with stupid rules & filling out forms. The worst damage it does is to planning. Since you don’t know what next year’s whim of Congress will be, how can you plan? Plans that require ten, twenty, fifty years to nature? Might as well forget them.
Let’s figure that deregulation will cut prices, once again, by half. Now our actual purchasing power, already quadrupled by deTAXification, is doubled again. We now have eight times our former wealth! What kind of world will that result in? Future generations won’t remotely grasp the concept of inflation, or that the State once imprisoned people for competing with its own counterfeiting operation. They’ll be used to a stable diversity of competing trade commodities, gold, uranium, cotton, wheat, cowrie shells, which will not only flatten a lot of wildly swinging economic curves, but give newspapers something to print besides government handouts: “Cowries sold late on the market today at 84. Oats & barley at 42. Uranium at 87.” 87 what? Sheep, gold grams, kilowatts, gallons of oil, who cares, as long as they’re free market rates, determined by uncoerced bidding, buying, & selling?
Hardly anyone, of course, will carry sheep, seashells, or barrels of oil around with them. 21st Century barter will be carried out on ferromagnetic media in electrical impulses. But I suspect a few of us surly old curmudgeons, having spent our lives being swindled with paper & plastic, will insist on something in our pockets that jingles. Young folks will look knowingly at us & wink.
The future, as I see it, canes in segments: first, continuation, for however long, of things as they are, counterpointed by our increasing success at convincing people of the necessity & desirability of Unanimous Consent.
Having sold people on freedom, we’ll make changes from whatever’s left of what we have now to a truly free society: degovernmentalization of culture & the economy characterized by an eight-fold increase in individual purchasing power, & an end to the importance of the State in our lives. Eight times richer, we’ll be free to do whatever we wish with our new wealth. Why stick with black & white when you can have color TV in every room? Why drive a ’77 Ford when you can afford a brand-new Excalibur? Why eat hamburger when you can have steak & lobster every night?
Increased spending appears in the economy as increased demand, leading, despite government economists, not to shortages, but increased production — somebody’s gotta make all those TVs, Excaliburs, steaks & lobsters — which creates other delightful consequences. With all that loose money, there’s new investment in established companies & zillions of new ones trying to satisfy everyone’s newfound consumer greed. New factories will spring up, old ones expand, obsolete machinery will be junked & new installed. More people will be working, producing goods & services demanded by a newly-rich population.
As labor becomes scarcer, wages will skyrocket, hours shorten, work- weeks truncate. “Headhunters” will flourish, not only stealing managerial talent, but bribing assembly workers to desert for even better wages, conditions, & benefits. Unable to figure out what happened, unions will dry up and blow away. Despite increased wages & benefits (leading to more buying, demand, production, & jobs), prices will plummet as demand drives industry to greater efficiency. Plants now standing idle half the time will operate fullblast around the clock. Society will be geared to operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Against a chronic labor shortage, capitalists will take measures like free training, day-care, occupational therapy. Everything socialism expected from government, the market will provide, as companies compete ruthlessly for workers. Companies desperate for our talents will have to change their petty, coercive manners. Restraints on your freedom, insults to your intelligence, will disappear, simply because, for once, they need you, not some anonymous, numbered, plug-in module, but you.
Oh, they’ll resist. They’ll try imports & foreign labor, but it’ll be their undoing, as living & working standards – & expectations — arise abroad. And free world trade will have another effect: increased demand, increased production, more jobs & lower prices. Monotonous, isn’t it?
They’ll try more automation, but that’s another trap because it always results in more — not less — employment. For every quill-pushing 19th Century clerk perched at his desk, how many computer designers, engineers, manufacturers, assemblers, installers, repairmen, number jockeys, & key-punchers are there today? For every buggy-whip maker, how many folks involved in automotive ignitions? And automation has another side-effect: it increases production, which lowers prices.
In a free society, the availability & quality of goods & services increases constantly while prices drop. Wages & living standards improve continuously. What we now call a “boom” is normal & permanent, &, with no government around bloating the currency, good times have nothing to do with inflation. The “forced draft” advances in technology we associate with war are a snail’s pace, when an entire people is free to pursue the buck with all ten greedy little fingers. Which is why them future whippersnappers’ll think we’re hallucinating about the bad old days of price-control, strikes, inflation, tariffs, & the IRS. And they’ll want to know why we didn’t buy out those pestiferous oil-sheiks with our lunch money.
Most problems are trivial, viewed in the proper perspective. The high-tech solution to our strange desire for flat clothes wasn’t a bigger, more complicated automated ironing-board, but simply clothes that stayed flat. The wrong perspective can lead to disaster. In the 1890s, according to Bob LeFevre, the government decided, Club of Rome fashion, that mere private corporations would never withstand the costs of prospecting, drilling, extracting, refining, & distributing petroleum. Therefore, oil should be a State monopoly. A book I have from the 50s opines that no single government could finance an expedition to the Moon & it would be done by the United Nations. (If you think Challenger was a mess, think what that would have been like.) These predictions should be kept in mind whenever we contemplate the inevitability of disaster or the impossibility of our dreams. The only prediction we can make safely about the future is that it will be far more fantastic than we can safely predict.
We now live in a cramped, narrow, depressed culture, largely unaware of its limitations simply because there’s never been anything better. Faced with sizeable problems, we mistakenly view them from the level to which we’re limited by this society. Solving our problems demands a vastly wider scope. We have to learn to think big, bigger than we’ve ever dreamed or dared.
Take the objection that firing 15 million bureaucrats would cause a depression. They’re unlikely to support us if it means doing away with their own jobs. LP candidates keep a low profile on this subject. But think big: as Hospers pointed out, millions of GIs were absorbed into the post-WW II economy without a ripple, despite less than free market conditions. We can get the Utopian message across, even to government workers, with a slogan like Australian John Zube’s “Vote Yourself Rich”. A booming free market has chronic labor shortages. No one will have to persuade bureaucrats to enter the private sector. They’ll desert in hordes. The State will shrink like the little dot when you turn off your TV, & vanish.
Other crises are amenable to the same sort of reasoning. I’m not a very enthusiastic catastrophist, although current government liabilities seem to spell doom for Western civilization. Social Security is short several trillion bucks, & it now looks like the early 21st Century will go down in a flourish of Molotov cocktails. In 1666, a great London fire wiped out a third of the total wealth of England, a catastrophic loss amounting to 10 million dollars. Could it be we’re using the wrong scale to assess our problems? Trillions seems like about as much money as there’ll ever be, but “seems” is a pretty conditional word. We still have enough time to create a market so vast & strong that several trillion dollars seems trivial by comparison. The Utopian vision will buy us time & hasten the day when a free economy straightens out the messes left by our predecessors.
Trade & automation will shoot living standards up dizzily. Those prone to Future Shock are in for a rough ride. New materials, production methods, life-styles & opportunities will arise by the myriad every day. Every hour. Already in our times, a manufacturing counter- revolution is occurring. Investment casting, laser & electron discharge cutting, detonic welding, computer- controlled machining, are decreasing the plastic & cardboard in our lives, increasing titanium, steel, & glass. There may be fewer stampings & spotwelds over the coming decades, more solid forgings. At the same time, plastics seem more like steel & glass every day, while cardboard gets stronger & longer lasting. As uranium was once thrown aside to get at lead & tin, we’re stumbling over untold sources of wealth, energy, & comfort. Nations won’t just emerge, they’ll splash like the over-ripe melons Marx mentioned, but in a different way than he intended, into the 21st Century. Marshall McCluhan’s one-horse Global Village will turn into Times Squared.
New territories opened by the free market will make over-population one of the future’s biggest jokes. Antarctica, Greenland, Northern Canada will feel the plow & deliver up their wealth. The floor, surface, & cubic volume of the sea, the Moon, Mars, the Asteroids, the rest of the Solar System, & open space itself will be subdivided. Even if total population reaches 40 billion — or 400 billion — we’ll have more elbow- room than we do now.
In the coming century, poverty & unemployment will be a dark, half- believed nightmare of the remote past. Elaborate discussion of private charity will be academic in a world where any basketcase who twitches once for yes & twice for no is desperately needed for production quality control. They’ll put chimps & gorillas on the payroll. Killer whales & dolphins will be buying split-level aquariums on the installment plan.
Pollution will be another dead issue. No competing industry can afford the waste of energy & materials. Without an EPA to “protect” us, individuals will sue polluters, because every square inch of the Earth will be private property. Not that there won’t be wilderness — when they auction off the National Forests, I’ll be right there, bidding with the other hunters & fishermen. Heaven is being able to fire a rifle in any direction from my front porch & not hit anyone but trespassers.
As with charity, our concern with police & security is a waste of breath. Peace will break out uncontrollably. Cops will be re-trained for office- jobs. With victimless crime laws repealed, cities populous & prosperous again, 99% of the crime we endure will vanish. Our descendents won’t understand how it became an issue. Middle-class values are market values. Wider respect for property, education, & long-range planning will mean less crime. A single mugging in Central Park will get four-inch headlines in New York’s several dozen newsplastics. In the absence of laws against duelling, people will be more polite to each other, less inclined to offer unwanted advice. Either that or, thanks to natural selection, they’ll soon have faster reflexes.
Lacking gun control to protect them, the few criminals left won’t live long enough to transmit their stupid-genes. The next century will give us a welcome look at the other side of a familiar paradox: people free to carry weapons usually don’t need them. Prisons will be abandoned when those who never did anything to hurt anyone are released. The rest will be out working to restore their victims’ property or health. Crimes against persons & property, including murder, will be civil offenses, with volunteer agencies acting for those without relatives or friends to “avenge” them. Restitution may even be possible for murder, given techniques of freezing corpses for later repair. Those who commit irrevocable murder will suffer the cruelest punishment of all: exile to a place where there’s a government!
Our opponents’ concern with conglomerates & monopolies is as misplaced as ours with charity & crime. Before the 19th Century government invasion of the market, super-companies had reached optimum size & were beginning to shrink. Today, although government keeps competition off their backs, huge companies must divide themselves into dozens of competing subsidiaries in order to survive. Increased competition will doom these dinosaurs, break up concentrations of wealth & paper frozen by securities & tax laws, & produce companies smaller than today’s. Survivors will be stuck with the boring old laissez-faire task of pleasing as many customers with the best quality goods & services possible at the lowest possible prices.
It’s possible you’re way ahead of me by now, & you may have noticed I haven’t been following my own advice. All these predictions have been pretty abstract & impersonal. Now it’s time to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” Basically, we’re all going to have our cake & get to say “I told you so”, too. Right off, the free market boosts our purchasing-power eightfold, & this, of course, is only the beginning, although I hesitate to risk your willing suspension of disbelief by estimating wages & prices several decades into a Unanimous Consent boom. So let’s just way we now have eight times as much disposable wealth. Even this modest multiplier offers us a range & choice of goods & services unimaginable today.
Your basic material well-being will be easier to maintain when a loaf of Grandma’s Automated Bread goes for a nickel & steak for 20 cents a pound. $2 shoes? Wristwatches at a dime a dozen? How about suits & dresses for ten bucks, disposable outfits for a dollar? The toughest decision may be durability versus disposability: an imposing 2087 Rolls- Rolex Fusionmobile good for generations, or a plastic Mattel- Yugo easily discarded when you’re tired of it; a Saville Row three-piece ironclad business suit, or a toilet-paper toga. Increased leisure-time & lots of loose money will mean what it always has, more emphasis on expensive, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind items. We all may wind up running second, third, or fourth businesses on the side, which means more jobs, more buying, & so forth.
How about spending two to four grand on a home that’s built to last, helped out by the slump in land prices when government holdings hit the market? The trend will be back to single private dwellings, on substantially larger lots, paid for in full out of this month’s paycheck. If you can afford a home in the city & another in the mountains or at the beach, why not? An unhappy note for Howard Roark. Higher Living-standards will encourage a most unRandish human vice for embellishment. They’ll bring back the Baroque, Roccoco, Victorian gingerbread, medieval gargoyles, & the new times will bring their own elaborate forms, as well. Aztec Modern, anyone?
Choose between a $500 automobile, a $2000 airplane, or some combination. Without government support for highways, we may all be soaring to work on rocket- belts, & Laissez-Faire Airlines will fly you anywhere in the world for twenty bucks. Highways & railroads will benefit from a free market. Speed, safety, & efficiency will improve. 60-lane, 300 mile-per-hour ribbons of plastic will power your electric car by induction, provide guidance if you want to read or watch TV, dissipate rain, fog, ice & snow. Or, as I predicted in The Probability Broach, highways may evolve into contoured swaths of grass for steam- powered hovercraft. Or both. Or something entirely different.
Our grandchildren will have a good laugh over the “Energy Crisis” of the last decade, which diehard Carterites are presently trying to revive, not just because the shortage was purely political in nature (which will puzzle them) but because free market technology will ultimately make fossil fuels obsolete. Fusion, using water for fuel, lasers or particle accelerators for sparkplugs, & producing, as its only by-product, clean, inert, useful, helium, will be running our civilization the day after government gets out of the way. Fusion is the thermonuclear reaction that powers the stars. Quasars are billions of times more energetic, & we don’t know what powers them. When science & industry are free of interference, we may find out, & energy will be practically limitless, virtually free.
I could go on for hours discussing miracles you can read about in Popular Science, Analog, or any of the 15 novels I’ve written. I’ve elaborated on them to this extent because I believe they’re only possible under free market conditions, which explains why we never got the picture-phones & flying automobiles which science fiction promised us in the 30s & 40s. Read those other publications with that caveat in mind, you’ll get the idea.
More important are the social, psychological effects of liberty. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be free, having never had a chance to try. I’d be up against the unpredictability of human action any Austrian economist or quantum physicist delights in lecturing about. Those few leftists who still believe in a static notion of how things ought to be, which they’re willing to impose at bayonet-point, work their butts off making society dull & boring. In Unanimous Consent Utopia, the one rule is that no one imposes his views on anyone else, which makes for an open-ended culture, impossible to describe in detail. There’s no single Libertarian future, but as many different futures as there are individuals to create them. For each Sunday-supplement guess I could make about who’ll take care of the street lights or paint the stripes down the middle of the road, coming generations will produce thousands of answers not even remotely similar to mine. Our future may be weird & confusing, but it’ll never be dull & boring.
So instead, try an experiment with me, one that’ll give you a clearer picture of the future than I could draw in another hour or another hundred hours. Lean back in your chair. Relax. Imagine now that you’ll never have to worry about money again. Never again for the rest of your life. You’ll never waste another golden moment of your precious time tearing your hair, biting your fingernails, or shredding the inside of your mouth over paying the bills. There is no limit to what you can afford. It’s no longer a significant factor in your plans.
Now say quietly to yourself: “All my life, I always really wanted ______ ”. Fill in the blank. Finish the sentence yourself. Only you know what it is you always really wanted. “All my life I always really wanted ______ ”.
You may be surprised. How many things have you denied yourself, never even acknowledged, because there wasn’t enough money? Because your dreams were consumed to feed the bureaucrats, build bombs, atomic submarines, & government office buildings? Unanimous Consent will change all that. Everything you always really wanted could be yours, if you were free. Retirement? Save it out of pocket change. Kid’s education? New home, car, boat, plane? All of the above? Nothing more than ordinary, easily-accessible dreams which will hardly dent the family budget. If you were free.
“All my life, I always really wanted ______ “.
Is it illegal? A machine gun to mow down beer cans on a lazy country afternoon? A nickel bag that really costs a nickel? An android sex- slave? A dynamite collection? A date with a one-legged jockey? Driving your car at 185? It’s yours, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. If you were free.
“All my life, I always really wanted ______ “.
The number of Signatories to the Covenant of Unanimous Consent is doubling every year. Everything you always really wanted can be yours before the 21st Century is three decades old. The only thing the Covenant can’t give you, the only goods it can’t deliver, is power. And through that one “failure”, that single “sacrifice”, we achieve everything else.
“All my life, I always really wanted ______ “.
That, my fellow Libertarians, is the promise of Unanimous Consent, an invention so fundamental, so potent, revolutionary & unstoppable, that Scientific Method & the Industrial Revolution pale by comparison. Now you understand why I’m a fanatic, why I must make you a fanatic, why, doubling our number every year, we must create an entire nation, a whole world of fanatics. I’m fighting for everything I always really wanted! That’s what’s in it for me! That’s what Unanimous Consent is all about!
Everything. You. Always. Really. Wanted.
To the traditional strategies of our movement, education & politics, add a third, Unanimous Consent Utopianism, which will break trails for the other two. While others teach & run for office, I’ll continue writing science fiction. Educators & candidates will find, as they’re already finding, that their students & voters came to them because of promises I made them.
That’s the only way our future’s going to happen. We’re going to win as soon as we recognize, as soon as we communicate, as soon as we act on one simple fact. In order to “capture the hearts & minds” of America & the world, in order to have the major part in determining what the future is going to be, we must first pull off a coup d’etat in the Province of Utopia.
“All my life, I always really wanted ______ ”.
It’s as simple as that. It really is.
The proceeding is the transcript of a speech given at the December 1987 Future of Freedom Conference held at the Pacifica Hotel in Culver City, California.
Copyright © 1987 by L. Neil Smith. All rights reserved.
Update: Unfortunately, despite how great and anarchist Smith is, he is pro-IP like too many old-timer Randian-influenced libertarians (and novelists) are, so he went kinda crazy a few years ago about people using his New Covenant as a model for a modified version: See Jock Coats on Cathy Smith and Copyright; L. Neil Smith on Anti-IP “Thieves”; Replies to Neil Schulman and Neil Smith re IP. Yeah, I understand novelists think they have a personal interest in copyright law, but so what. I think they’re largely wrong, but even if they do have a self-interest in copyright being perpetuated, so what?—I’m a patent lawyer for dog’s sake but I have the honesty and integrity to admit patent and copyright law are unjustified.
I agree with his criticism of libertarianism always taking the “negative” case rather than the positive, and tried to address this in my book by showing how much richer people would be in a libertarian society.