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Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 231.
This is my appearance on Let’s Talk ETC! (Ethereum Classic) (Dec. 8, 2017), discussing the referenced topics. The audience is not really a libertarian one so I explained different approaches to libertarianism and some of my thoughts about libertarian activism, the prospects of bitcoin and other technology possibly aiding in the fight for human liberty and the battle against the state, and so on. The host was very good, the discussion very civil, and the audio quality is pretty good.
Let’s Talk Ethereum—Libertarianism, Anarcho-Capitalism & Blockchains
Stephan Kinsella and Christian Seberino
Let’s Talk ETC! (Ethereum Classic) podcast, Dec. 8, 2017
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Hello and welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk ETC. I’m your host, Christian Seberino. And today I have a special guest with me, Stephen Kinzella. Did I pronounce your name correctly?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: No, Stephen Kinsella, but that’s close enough.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay, Stephen Kinsella. And so I think you’ll agree he’s a will be an interesting guest for us. He is – let me read part of his Wikipedia page. So Stephan Kinsella is an American intellectual property lawyer, author and deontological anarcho-capitalist. He attended Louisiana State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in electrical engineering. So he does have knowledge definitely of technical aspects and a Juris Doctor from the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, and he also obtained an LL.M. at the University of London.
He was formerly an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, faculty member of the Mises Academy, and he also co-founded the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, C4SIF, of which he is currently the director. So wow. Welcome, and congrats on that very impressive resume.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Thank you very much.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: So the reason I thought it would be interesting to have you on the show, and I think the audience would agree – so a lot of people get into blockchain technology and Ethereum Classic, which is one of the main focuses of the show, because they have libertarian leanings. That’s not a requirement, but I do notice it attracts a lot of those people. And they were all – or most of us are technically minded, and so a lot of times people will say things and I’ll wonder, well, is what you’re saying really backed up by the people that know about the law and economy more than developers?
Would they agree with the things people are saying? And so that’s why I think you’re a very helpful guest because you bring that that side of things. We don’t usually discuss things with lawyers and people that know so much about the economy. So why don’t we – why don’t you start with – why don’t you describe from your website what a deontological libertarian is? Now, when I searched for that on Wikipedia, it came up that it was the same thing as a natural-rights libertarian. So can you kind of talk about that?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Sure. Well, keep in mind that I didn’t write that page, so that’s someone else’s description. I don’t strongly disagree with it, but I think what the person writing that was trying to get at was there are – there’s considered to be two basic types. Now there are some people that think there are three or more but two basic types of approaches towards, say, ethics. And to simplify it, they’re empirical/utilitarian and natural rights/deontological.
So the first would be kind of a consequentialist approach, which is basically, we’re in favor of rules in society and laws that lead to the greatest benefit for society in general. And that’s sometimes called utilitarianism. It’s an empirical approach that a lot of economists favor, like they try to say, should we adjust the tax code this way? Should we have this kind of law? Who’s it going to benefit? Who’s it going to hurt? And we sum this up, and we try to do the overall best good for society.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: All right.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: And then the deontological approach, and by the way, people that are familiar with the philosophical idea of ontology, which is the philosophical study of the types of things that exist, the word sounds similar. But they actually have nothing to do with each other. So deontology and ontology have literally nothing to do with each other. Deontological just means an approach that is more rule or principle-based, and that’s why it’s more geared towards the natural law. So the idea is that we’re in favor of rules that are right, no matter what the consequences, so that’s the kind of classical division.
Now, someone like me, I wouldn’t really – I don’t actually think there’s a division. I think that the rules that are right and good sort of blend with and complement the rules that lead to the best results for society on average. So I wouldn’t really distinguish between the two. I think people call me a deontological anarchist libertarian because I’ve written in the tradition of Ayn Rand, who’s sort of an Aristotelian natural-rights theorist, and Rothbard, who was in the natural rights tradition.
But I myself have been more influenced by Mises – Ludwig von Mises in economics, who’s an Austrian economist, and by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who is a German Austrian economist, who’s been influenced by Rothbard and Mises. But his theory of rights is sort of a blend of consequentialism and the natural rights approach. So we could get into that if it’s interesting, but basically I prefer to view my approach as logical and consistent and principled.
So you talk to other human beings that we live with, the ones that share similar values, basic values like peace, prosperity, cooperation. And we say, listen, if you apply the rules of economics and logic and consistency and honesty and evidence to these things, what would what would that lead you to conclude? So if we all are in favor of each other prospering and everyone doing better in life and we have some awareness of the laws of economics, the basic laws of economics, then what kind of laws would we be in favor of? What kind of legal policies would we be in favor of?
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay, so you want me to answer that? Okay, so two general classes of answers that I hear to your question is there’s the camp that says that we give everybody – we respect everyone’s freedom, and we leave people alone. That’s what I think of when I think of libertarianism. I’m a simple guy. I think in simple definitions. That’s how I would – your definition was obviously much more sophisticated than mine. But that’s like a broad category. And then other people seem to want to focus on taking care of people…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: What we would call the socialistic approach perhaps. And those are kind of the two big answers that I see, and they’re always in conflict, maybe not all the time. But those are the kind of the biggest, two divisions that I see. Would you agree with that?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I see. I think from the perspective that I come from, we don’t agree with all these bifurcations exactly because we see that there are loaded presuppositions in the way that these things are framed. And so it depends upon who or which audience we’re speaking to. But if I’m talking to someone that just is dabbling in this or hasn’t experienced the libertarian perspective on things, then that perspective that you just put out, so we would say that’s a false dichotomy that, first of all, there’s no conflict between rights, and there’s no conflict between the desire to help people and the desire to protect people’s individual property rights.
We think that those things go together. But there is a conflict between the idea of having, say, a legal right to be taken care of and a legal right to your property. They do run in conflict with each other because – and this goes into what libertarians sometimes emphasize, the distinction between negative and positive rights.
So basically libertarians tend to say that we believe in negative rights and the corresponding negative obligations, which means that you have a right to do whatever you want within your own territory basically, and your own property, your own body, as long as you don’t invade someone else’s rights, which is sort of what you stated earlier as the kind of rule-of-thumb way of looking at it. And that can be viewed as a negative right because the only obligation or duty that it imposes upon your neighbors is for them not to do something. All they have to do is not invade your property. They have to not hurt you. They have to not steal from you. They have to not invade your – so the only burden you impose upon them is to just not do something, to refrain from doing something.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: I see.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: But if you believe in positive rights, which is the right to be educated, the right to a house, the right to food, these kinds of things, that requires that someone else has to have an obligation or a duty to provide you with it. So if you have a right to an income, that means other people have the obligation to give that to you. But that means that you have a right to their property, so there’s always a conflict between the right that you have to your property and other people’s rights to try to get a piece of it
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay so…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: It becomes positive welfare rights.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay, so if understood you correctly, you – two of the points that you made were that you don’t like these – some of these words that get banded about because they come with baggage. And so we wanted – you sound like you’re obviously very precise on the language that you use, which is good. And then also you said that the conflict between the two major camps comes whether we’re obligated to do something or simply have a right to be protected from doing something but that it’s the duty – how much duty we have is the difference. Would that be a correct way to summarize it?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, or it’s the type of duty. Is the duty or the obligation to refrain from doing something, or is the duty to provide someone with something? So it’s easy to just mind your own business and stay within the borders of your own property. And if you want to cross the boundaries of someone else’s property basically and use their property, you need to get their permission. You can’t do it without their consent. So all you have to do is refrain from crossing their property borders without their permission. And you can think of it in the most basic case of human bodies. Human bodies are a type of scarce resource. And the basic libertarian axiom would be self ownership, so every person owns their body
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Right.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Which means the opposite of slavery because slavery means someone gets to own someone else’s body, or in the case of, say, sexual relations, can a man have sex with that woman’s body? Whose decision is it? Is it the woman’s decision, or is it the man’s decision? And so the locus of control has to be with the actor himself that controls that body. And then libertarianism is just an extension of that basic idea, the idea that we are self-owners, that we own our own bodies, that slavery is impermissible, extending that to other things in the world that we control and use as extensions of ourselves. So basically people have a natural intuitive opposition to slavery.
They have a natural intuitive belief in self ownership by and large, people who don’t want to dominate each other, people that think that it’s wrong to stab someone or kill them or mug them or attack them without their consent. We just extend that consistently to other scarce resources in the universe.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Right. Now, to be honest, I – so I don’t have an economics degree. So when I listen to the libertarian arguments, they sound the most compelling to me personally. And this isn’t an argument in support of socialism, but I do see on TV that there are people that have pretty impressive credentials that disagree with libertarianism. And so you would think that they would know better if indeed they are wrong, and so let me ask you this. Have you heard any good arguments on the other side, arguing against libertarianism? Because there are some smart people. I think you would agree that…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: So it’s not just a bunch of knuckleheads that – so what would you say to that?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, so I believe there are some positions that there are really no good arguments against so, for example, the drug war or intellectual property, for example, which are two of my libertarian positions. So I believe that all patent and copyright law should be abolished and all – so the drug war is completely illegitimate, and so is, say, conscription, the draft for war. I don’t think there really any good arguments for that. But for the state itself for a minimal state that does some functions instead of an anarchist position, which is what I hold, yes, I think there are some honest arguments for that.
And there are some decent arguments for that. I think they’re flawed, but I don’t think they’re crazy. So, for example, you could argue that if we live in a world as we do today where there are states like China and Russia and other states, if the US were to become anarchist, what would happen if China were to threaten us with nuclear annihilation? What would happen to this anarchist regime? Maybe they couldn’t defend themselves. So that’s a difficulty that anarchist theory has to grapple with, and there are other arguments like that.
So I don’t deny that there are some honest disagreements about the basics. But the farther you get away from a minimal state, say, the argument that Robert Nozick argued for, like instead of having anarchy, we should have a minimal state or an ultra-minimal state or what some libertarians call the night watchman state. The farther you get away from that and the more you get into the modern democratic welfare state, which has broader and broader powers and unlimited taxing power, the right to conscript people for war, the right to throw people in jail for smoking marijuana. The farther you get away from the core functions that you could argue for as a public function, the more indefensible those arguments become I believe.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay, that makes sense. Now, I’m glad you brought up the term. I think you said anarchist or anarcho-capitalist because that…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes. So there are different types of anarchists, and I’m an anarcho-capitalist or an anarcho-libertarian, but they’re different terms.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: I printed that Wikipedia page, so let me just – for the benefit of the listeners, let me say what the Wikipedia page said because I’ve heard this term and I really want to make sure to get it right. And then you tell me if you agree or if you want to add to it. So anarcho-capitalist advocates the elimination of the state in favor of self-ownership, private property, and free markets. And they believe that in the absence of law by centralized decrees and legislation that society tends to contractually self-regulate and civilize through the discipline of a free market. And what surprised me the most or what it was shocking to me was that they believe that courts of law will be operated privately.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: And then they talked about the history. Murray Rothbard was the first person to use the term. But the question that came to my mind, which I’d love you to elaborate on, is if the free market sets up a court system and somebody says, well, I don’t care what you say. I’m still going to do what I want anyway. How do you – who has that final authority to – so can you kind of elaborate on that kind of confusion that some people might have?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Absolutely. And to be honest, I do a lot of interviews, and I kind of didn’t realize I was doing. I didn’t realize this was not a libertarian show, which is fine with me. It’s kind of a pleasure. So I have to re-orientate – let me just maybe explain a couple of basics just to make sure the people listening, because if you were shocked by the private courts idea, I just dropped a while ago the idea of private – the idea of having no military and things like that.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: I mean I’m open to ideas. I just never heard that before.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Right, so let me explain – the territory is this. There are – you had these old – oh, the history is vast, okay. Brian Doherty’s book about the origins libertarianism is good. But basically you had the old right. You had the old liberals. You had all these strains of politics from the last 2-300 years. Say, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, and these radical free-market types emerged. And they sort of allied to some degree with the conservatives for various tactical reasons. And they’re seen as allied with them now, but in a way they’re very leftist and very progressive because they’re very pro-civil liberties, anti-drug war, anti-war, things like this. So they’re really not categorized into the left-right spectrum.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Yeah, they don’t fit into that so nicely. They don’t fit those categories too well.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Right. So we’ve come up with our own spectrum, which you can look up the Nolan chart. David Nolan, one of the early libertarians, came up with a two-dimensional chart, which has two axes. One axis is personal freedom, and one axis is economic freedom. And libertarians believe in the maximum amount of both, whereas we would simplify and say liberals or leftists believe in maybe a lot of personal freedoms like free speech and things like that but not a lot of economic freedoms.
And conservatives would be the opposite. They would believe in low taxes, but regulating abortion and religion, things like that, whereas we believe in high freedoms in both. And the original guys sort of harked back to the original founding fathers of the US, and they view the original founding, Constitution, that era, as more proto-libertarian because it was kind of a more minimalist government. They can only regulate a little bit. And these guys are what we now call minarchist, which means they believe in a very minimal state, a night watchman state.
But there’s emerged a more radical strain of anarchists who believe in – the government should not just be minimal but zero, or the state. I should say the state, not the government because we distinguish between those two. And – but there is a tradition of anarchist that has, long before the ‘50s and long before libertarians like the left anarchists, the syndicalists, the socialists, the communist anarchists. And they all say they don’t believe in the state, so you basically have different types of anarchists even today.
And they all disagree with each other. So the libertarian anarchists, of which I am a part, and we call ourselves anarcho-capitalists because we believe there should not be a state and there should be a private property order. And I’ll get to the court thing in a second, but we think that the socialist anarchists or the left anarchists are not true anarchists because the only way you could have socialism in a private system would be to have a state emerge to enforce those rules. And they sort of think the opposite about us, so they think you could only have capitalism with the state to protect the rights of the capitalist classes against the workers, etc.
So that’s sort of the landscape. Okay, now, so the idea, and I’ll put it as simply as possible, and by the way, because I’m a so-called deontological anarchist, my perspective on this is not quite the same as the other type of libertarians who are more pragmatic-minded. So they would just say the state doesn’t work. Therefore, it’s bad. So – and I kind of agree with that, but my view is more principled. And I would say that we have certain rights as human beings. We have a right to private property.
You have a right to do whatever you want with your body and with the things that you homestead or acquire by contract peacefully without hurting anyone. And anything you want to do within that sphere is fine as long as you don’t invade the equal rights of other people. That’s basically the core idea of anarcho-libertarians. And if you have that framework, then you basically oppose what we call aggression, and aggression means the use of someone else’s property, including their body, without their consent. Basically, it means hitting someone or walking on their property without their permission. So we basically favor peace and voluntarism and consent, and if you have that basic principle, then you apply it consistently.
Then as Bastiat, the great French thinker who wrote The Law in the 1850s, as he explained, just because – if something is impermissible for one person to do, it doesn’t become permissible when a larger number of people vote in favor of it. So if it’s wrong for me to come…
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Confiscate property.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: If it’s wrong for me to steal from you, it’s still wrong if 100 of my neighbors get together and we pass a law saying we can steal from you and give it to the poor, which is like welfare. So we think that you can’t make something right just by majority vote. And therefore, the state, by its nature, has to tax, which means take property by theft from people, and it has to outlaw competing agencies.
So it has to be the monopolistic provider of law and justice and force in a given community. And those two things combined, and actually either one of them implies the other – that’s far afield, but those two things are both acts of aggression. They’re basically acts of violence against innocent people who have done nothing wrong. And as libertarians, we say it’s wrong, so we say the state is inherently aggressive and criminal. That’s why we’re anarchist because we think the state is legitimate. Now, then the practical issue is people say, well, what would society look like if we abolish the state, right?
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Exactly. How you going to protect from invasion and bad actors?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: And the pragmatic and consequentialist-minded libertarians, they sort of start from that area. They say that, well, we would be better off if the government provided – if the private companies provided the roads and education instead of the government, and so therefore we favor it. But from my point of view, it’s the other way around. We say it’s wrong for the government to take money for me to build a road. It’s wrong for the government to steal my house to make a road. It’s wrong for the government to force my kid to go to school. It’s wrong for the government to tax me and to pay for public education.
So that’s the more deontological approach. It’s a principled approach. It’s like it’s just wrong. And then the question would be secondary to us of, well, then what would society look like in the absence of that? And from our point of view, this question would be similar to the abolition question of slavery during the antebellum south where, if you said we have to abolish slavery, not because it’s inefficient, not because it’s an inefficient use of resources. We have to abolish slavery because it’s wrong because you’re violating the rights of black slaves.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Right
STEPHAN KINSELLA: And if you said I am in favor of abolition of slavery because it is a violation of human rights—it’s wrong—and if someone said in opposition, but who would pick the cotton? You see, so to us that wouldn’t be a good argument.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: A valid argument. Yes, yes. Now…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: If they said who would pick the cotton, if it’s a genuine question, we can ask – we can say, okay, well, we can look into that. We can say, well, maybe. But if you ask the question rhetorically as to the abolition of slavery, if you say basically, listen, I know you want to abolish slavery, but I don’t understand who would pick the cotton, and we have to have the cotton picked, and the slaves are picking it now.
And so, therefore, until you prove to me that the cotton will be picked as well and as efficiently after slavery then as before, until that point in time, we’re not going to abolish it. The burden of proof is on you. You see, we don’t think that way. We think that the burden of proof is on them to justify slavery, and of course they can’t. And then if the question is, okay, we have to abolish slavery, and who’s going to pick the cotton? I don’t know. We have to wait and see and figure it out. We’re okay with that answer. So that’s the first kind of response. Now, of course, common sense will tell you who would pick the cotton. It would be you pay some laborer. He’d invent machines or whatever. So in the case of the court system, it shouldn’t be that shocking to you because there have been private court systems for all of history, and in fact, the entire…
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Oh, see, I didn’t know that.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, I mean, first of all, arbitration is private.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay. I’ve heard of arbitration, and I never had to go through it, but I – okay, I understand what you’re saying.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: And contracts are private because they’re agreements negotiated between people. And they’re like little legal systems between the people that are parties to the contract. And not only that, the entire western legal system that we’re used to now, the private law that we rely upon, was developed in two great legal systems in the world. One was the Roman law from, say, minus – so 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. roughly, that thousand-year period. And the other was the English common law, which started maybe 7-800 years later for about 1000 years too until today, and they were both basically decentralized systems.
They were not completely private, but they were not controlled by legislation and governments, as we think of today. They basically were – they resulted from two human beings who had a dispute, and they needed this dispute resolved. And they knew that fighting each other would result in social ostracism or penalties. And so they had an incentive to go to some arbiter, some arbitrator who would decide the case, a judge basically.
And they put their dispute before them, and the judge tried to find the just result or the right result and looked at precedent and tradition and expectations of the parties and natural law and common sense and made a decision and made an award. You get to own this, not you, whatever. And over time, these principles developed into the body of private law that we still rely upon today, private contract law, property law, tort law, things like that. So the idea is that this would – this is what would happen in a private law society. And let me mention one more thing and then – and that is that even in today’s society, we have roughly 200 governments in the world. So in a sense, we have anarchy right now between countries.
Now, they do have treaties between each other, but that’s analogous to private contracts. But here’s no overlord government that makes all the countries abide by the treaties, and we have transnational commerce. You will have a French company doing business with a Belgian company or whatever, and the contracts happen to be enforced. They find a way to do it through contract and through arbitration and through cooperation between the government’s legal systems. So it’s clearly possible to have anarchy in a sense.
And one more thing: There’s a great article from the early Journal of Libertarian Studies by Alfred Cuzan, who is not a libertarian, but it’s a great article. It’s called “Do We Ever Really Get Out of Anarchy?” And he points out that within a government, within a state, there’s no overlord enforcer that makes them comply with the rules of the government itself. So even within a government, you have a type of anarchy because, say, the US government. You have the Supreme Court issue a verdict, and Richard Nixon complies with it. He steps down because the Supreme Court said you have to turn over the tapes.
There’s no pistols being pointed at him. There’s just an interlocking series of understandings and social traditions and understand agreements that result in a web of law that binds the people within the government itself. I mean you see this playing out right now with all these – the things with Trump and Mueller and the Democrats. They’re all playing this dance, but they’re abiding by a certain set of rules that they respect, not that these rules are valid or just or natural, but that it’s possible to have a set of rules that do bind actors within a system. And we think that that’s possible within society at large. We just think that they should be just instead of arbitrary and based upon force,
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay. Now, if – now let me tell you a little bit about my simple introduction to libertarianism.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Sure.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: So I have mainly read Milton Friedman, specifically his great book, Free to Choose, which I’ve read twice and gone through with my – well, not the book, but I went through the series, TV series with my daughter. And I watched that twice. It’s on YouTube. I highly recommend it. I think he’s one of the greatest intellectuals in history. But would you say that that is a good starting point for somebody that kind of wants to jump into and learn more about this whole discussion? Because he, to me, seems like one of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever heard.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I think he was great and my personal sort of pantheon or list of works. I think his book, Capitalism and Freedom, is really the pinnacle of what he wrote in terms of libertarianism. Free to Choose is really good too. Now, he is more of a consequentialist and minarchist libertarian, but yes, he’s fantastic. And up there along with him would be Henry Hazlitt in his book. Economics in One Lesson.
I think if you read one of the Milton Friedman books, Free to Choose, or the series or his Capitalism and Freedom, and Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson, and the very short book by Frédéric Bastiat, that I mentioned earlier, called The Law, which is from 1850 or something, those three things will give you a very solid foundation, mostly in consistency and economic thinking and based upon kind of some simple principles of justice. But yes, I totally agree with you. Milton Friedman is great. He’s not quite an anarchist. But he’s great.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay. Now I’m going to put you on the spot because – or here’s – I didn’t have an answer to my own question that I thought of after I saw the Free to Choose series, which was, wow, this guy’s arguments are so amazing. You could almost see somebody believing everything he says. So then it occurred to me that I should probably see the flipside, and then I was trying to think, is there some communist/Marxian economist that maybe did a YouTube series as well that is equally articulate to just kind of get a balanced viewpoint or the other side? So can you think of – I couldn’t think of anybody that was the equal of Milton Friedman on the other opposing side. Can you think of somebody just to…
STEPHAN KINSELLA: No, and I hate these kinds of questions. I mean I don’t blame you for asking. The problem is if you don’t have an answer, it sounds like you’re not being objective. But I’m well known to anti – I’m a patent lawyer, and I’m against the patent system, and I do lots of talks and debates. And I’ll get asked all the time. Hey, Kinsella, we want to do – I’d like to do a debate instead of an interview. Could you recommend to me the top two or three people on the other side?
And unfortunately I think there are literally no good arguments for IP, so I’m always stumbling. It’s not – I’m not trying to sandbag it. I just can’t find anyone. And on the question you asked, as I said earlier, I think there are some respectable arguments for some kind of minimal state and some kinds of interventions, not an intrusive state. But if you want to go say communism or totalitarianism against some form of Western liberalism, some form of minimal or limited state that we have now, I think there are just no good arguments because just the empirical evidence alone there’s hundreds of millions of people killed and just impoverishment in the last century alone by communism and forms of socialism. And I just don’t – I mean I think that in 1991 or ’90, when communism fell, they basically lost their argument in an empirical sense. Now, in a more moderate form, like if you argue for the welfare state…
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Let’s do that.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I think that probably the best arguments would be something like, say, Francis Fukuyama. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he had this provocative article, which turned into a book in the – I think around 1991.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: The End of History.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes, The End of History and the Last Man. And they sort of argued that it’s sort of a neo-liberal view that modern liberal democracy is the ultimate pinnacle of humanism. And you have to have a balance between the desires of the masses, but you have to have capitalism in some form as the engine from – that provides growth and prosperity. But then you have to have a state that redistributes it too a bit. So I would say – and then John Rawls, of course, is the famous political philosopher. And I’m blanking on the name of his book.
He had a famous book in 1970 or something. I think it’s called A Theory of Justice. And that’s the book that Robert Nozick, the famous libertarian philosopher, argued against in his book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. So those sort of books are the antipodes of the two views, but they’re all rooted in the liberal tradition in the sense that, say, John Rawls, and these welfarists believe in some form of redistributionism.
But they don’t believe in ultimate communism. I mean you could look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and these guys. They don’t really oppose the free market and capitalism. They understand that you can’t have communism. You can’t have central command of the economy. They may go a little bit too far, but they understand that the essential essence of the Western liberal system is commerce, trade, private property rights, free markets.
They just think it has to be heavily regulated by other values. So the way I would pitch it is that, like a libertarian like me, I think that you should not commit aggression against someone. You shouldn’t steal from them. You shouldn’t invade their body without their permission. I wouldn’t say it’s an absolute, but it’s basically my principle. I think it’s just wrong. Whereas if you put it that way to the typical social democratic-type thinking person, which is what most people are nowadays, they would say, well, I think that aggression is wrong, but there are other values.
We have to balance and weigh and juggle these things against each other. So equality is also important and some kid starving in Africa being given food is also important. I think that a lot of those concerns would disappear if they had a better understanding of economics, like if they understood the incentive systems that governments have to come with. And basically the whole field of public choice economics, which explains why a lot of the grand schemes and projects that these idealistic, utopian, progressive dreamers want to accomplish, they just cannot be accomplished because once you set a program in motion, it has its own inertia. And the people inside that program want to benefit themselves, right?
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Right. Well, see, now – see, that’s a – okay, so just if I can try to reiterate some of what you said. So you believe in what you believe because you think it’s right and – but towards the end of your comment, you were also saying that not only do I believe it’s right, but it also provides the most benefit.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes. That’s why I said earlier I don’t think there’s a conflict between consequentialism and between deontological or principled approaches. I think they dovetail together, but yes.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay. So in the last part of our show, why don’t we move into talking a little bit about blockchains and like Bitcoin? So a lot of people involved with this technology I think have visions that it’s going to help promote a lot of the political and economic viewpoints that you share. And a lot of people don’t know if the government is going to eventually just figure out a way to kill it and that’s going to be the end of it. But what’s your experience with this technology? And kind of what are your thoughts on vigilante little activists?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, first of all, I’ll say that – so I’m of the Austrian, which is Austrian economics, which is like a hard money, pro gold, anti-Federal Reserve, anti-inflationary money tradition, and libertarian and suspicious of the government controlling money in the Fed. So just from that point of view, there’s aspects of just any kind of private money that attracts us. And there are some Austrians who think that Bitcoin is impossible because they think that money has to arise from a physical commodity. I’ve never believed that. I’ve always thought that this is – I think that Bitcoin is a new phenomenon the world.
I think the idea of the blockchain and aspects of – that it built upon Nick Szabo’s idea, are complete genius. And if we knew who Satoshi was, I mean he probably should get the Nobel Prize someday just for this new phenomenon. And we’re reaching a new stage of human evolution. There’s lots of things happening. I think we can’t predict what’s going to happen: artificial intelligence, 3D printing, encryption, what Doug Casey calls phyles, P-H-Y-L-E-S, people associated with each other not based upon their ethnicity or their regions but upon other affinities.
And I think Bitcoin could be extremely disruptive. Look, I’ll say that I was never skeptical of it in an economic sense like some of my fellow Austrians were. But I was skeptical that – I thought it might be a threat to the government if it ever became successful. And I thought the government would shut it down. I actually lost a bet against one of my friends in 2013 about that, and I learned my lesson. I paid him $100 in Bitcoin, which is now worth about $50,000, so I lost a $50,000 bet.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Wow.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: But I wised up, and I bought some in 2014, and so now I’m just watching what happens. And I think – my hope and my somewhat prediction is that it’s going to be something like Uber. Uber is something that got popular so fast that by the time it got popular enough to raise the ire of the protected industries, the cab companies, etc., it – who were going to lobby the government to shut it down, it was too late.
And I think Uber has escaped the clutches of the government because the government is slow and stupid, which is one thing we have in our favor. And I’m hoping that that happens with Bitcoin. By the time the government wakes up and tries to outlaw Bitcoin, it will be too late. And also it’s distributed around the world, so even if one or two or ten governments outlaw it, they’re just going to be left in the dust by the countries that don’t.
And there are lots of countries that don’t have the dominant world money, basically everyone except for the US, smaller countries that don’t – they don’t care if their currency is outmoded by Bitcoin. So it’s going to just prosper there. My guess is that Bitcoin could – if it emerges and gets more and more dominant, it could – if it replaces, say, gold and then starts becoming a haven for people to resort to – instead of the inflationary currencies like the dollar and the euro and others, that it’s going to severely limit the power of the government, number one, to inflate.
And that’s what funds government wars, so it could have a direct effect on the ability of governments to wage war. It could also impact the government’s ability to tax people and to regulate the economy, to have currency limitations, exchanges, and all that. So I think it could severely – it could end up being the thing that’s the silver bullet or the stake in the vampire, which is the state. It could kill the state. Now, this is an ambitious and utopian goal, but I’m hopeful, and I do think that there’s huge potential for Bitcoin.
My personal view is I’m leaning more towards the Bitcoiners, the ones that believe that there can only – there should probably only be one in the long run. It’s probably going to be Bitcoin because of its network effects and that – I think it’s going very, very high in the future, or I’m hoping that will. So that’s kind of my thoughts on Bitcoin, although I admit that I’m an amateur and an outsider observer.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: No, that’s good. No, that’s really good. What – if I could just add one other supporting data point to your optimistic hope that this technology will get popular so fast that nobody can shut it down. One, when people – when I get in discussions about this very thing, one thing I will remind people of is that think about Hollywood and how powerful Hollywood was and how hard they tried to basically re-engineer the internet to stop piracy.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: And they couldn’t do it, and even today, there’s still rampant, massive file sharing. And so freedom won out, and so I use that to try to encourage people to remain optimistic that it is true that a technology can take off. Go ahead.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: And so that’s – the key point there is that all these things are basically based on technology. So as I mentioned, I’m patent attorney and I’m a libertarian, but I’m – I think copyright and patent law are two of the worst laws that we have and should be totally abolished. But I do – but thankfully the advent of the internet and encryption and torrenting has basically made copyright almost obsolete. So even if you have strict laws against it, copying is going on at a rapid pace now, and as I think Cory Doctorow pointed out that the internet is a perfect copying machine.
And at this point in history, copying will never get harder than it is now. It’s only going to get easier. So basically technology has made copyright obsolete, and I think the same thing is going to happen with patents because of 3D printing. So when you have 3D printing become more sophisticated, and I think it might take 30 or 40 years, but when you have people have a copying thing in their basement or down the block, and they could get an encrypted file of a pattern for an object, they can make whatever the hell they want. They don’t need someone’s permission, right? So that’s going to kind of help circumvent patent law, which is a good thing, I believe.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: And also gun control as well.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Yes. It’s going to circumvent gun control and lots of things. It’s going to cause some problems too, but that’s freedom emerging. And I think that Bitcoin could do something similar with money. There’s a great article by one of my favorite philosophers, my favorite philosopher, Hans-Hermann Hoppe. He’s got this article called “Banking Nation States and –” I forgot the rest of the title. But it’s in his – it’s in one of his books. It’s on his website, hanshoppe.com. And he points out that there’s a systematic way that the state, over time, takes control of society. So it takes control of transportation, so like the Romans build the roads, right?
It takes control of the courts and law, which is kind of quasi-private, and it takes control of education. All the kids have to go to government schools, so it’s like an insidious way that it puts itself into society to get its tentacles of control. And finally, it gets control of money in banking like how the government took over money, and then they cut the tie to gold, and they have the Federal Reserve. So it has these ways of worming its way into control over society, but to my mind that means that if you break the government’s ability to control money, that’s going to be a key turning point.
I personally think that we are not going to have a libertarian or anarchist revolution. We’re not going to have people marching in the streets. We’re not going to have a victory by means of my fellow libertarians running around pinning up pamphlets to tell people to change their minds because we’re always going to be a small, intellectual, geeky minority. That’s not how you do things. But I think we’re going to win for the same reason that communism collapsed.
It just collapsed of its own weight and just because freedom is just more efficient. People are just not going to need the state. The state is going to – the state will wither away as Marx predicted but not in the way he predicted. It’s going to whither away in favor of freedom and capitalism, as people just have so much wealth and technology. They’ll have little robot nano armies around them and 3D printers and encryption and billions of dollars in Bitcoin, and the government will just become increasingly irrelevant. That’s kind of my utopian dream and hope.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Right, right. I wonder if we can close with this, if you could say something encouraging to people like me. So I’m a nerd who focuses on technology, and I don’t know as much about law and economics as you do. But it seems to me that, with this technology, people that believe in freedom agree with a lot of your program. We can almost use technology to make the same or even a more effective change in society than somebody that’s, say, a politician. You see what I’m saying? This is one of the first times I’ve seen that somebody that’s involved with technology could really make big political changes. What do you think about that?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, I hate to be a Pollyanna, but I am optimistic.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Feel free. Be honest. Be honest. Go ahead. Tell it like it is.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: I’ve always been optimistic, and I don’t like to be naive and to say the state doesn’t exist and that there aren’t great setbacks. But so I agree with that. I think that technology is the key to the future, and I think wealth is a key to the future. And we’re in a cusp on the Industrial Revolution curve. So you think about human society had about the same standard of living for, like, 5000 years until about 250 years ago. And then we started on this Industrial Revolution curve, which is an exponential curve.
And we’re accelerating even that now with potential AI, with 3D printing, with nanotechnology, with the internet, with mobile technology. We’re going to have telepathy pretty soon effectively with little things in our heads, and we can – and with this kind of money and this power, the state is going to go away. And I think technology is the key to the future. I don’t want to say it’s a given.
We could have gray goo and snuff ourselves out with religious ideology and with war and with bioterrorism or nuclear war. It’s possible, and I think even if we have nuclear war, it’ll be horrible and will just set back humanity for 300 years, and then we’ll finally reemerge or maybe 50 years. So it’ll be bad for us, but in the long run, maybe we’ll survive, so I’m hopeful. My only concern is that we – is it Freeman Dyson or someone who said – the physicist who said, well, where are they?
It’s not Dyson. It’s someone else. But it’s like we don’t hear any signals from outer space, so that implies that life is either very rare or it snuffs itself out. I’m hopeful that it’s very rare and that’s why we don’t hear from them. But no, I’m very optimistic about I think things are getting better. We’re richer. We’re healthier. We’re – and technology is going to enable us. We’re at the cusp of great things. We’re young gods I think – I hope, and our grandchildren will be gods.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Okay, interesting, interesting thought. Well, thank you. Thank you, Stephan, for sharing your thoughts. You’re obviously very educated, very talented person. And thank you, and maybe we’ll have you on the show again sometime in the future.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Be happy to do it
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: All right, any other last closing thoughts or comments you want to make?
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Well, I would just say one thing. I would say that – you mentioned like I sound like I’m educated on law and economics. And I would say this. I think that specialists – you don’t have to be a specialist to understand enough to understand a lot about the world. If you understand technology, that’s a key thing, and all the rest of that you need is a little bit of honesty and sincerity and consistency in your thinking and just a little bit of economic literacy.
And, like I said, if you just read Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, if you understand the law of supply and demand and a few basic laws of economics, that can help inform your thinking about higher-level political norms. You don’t need to have an economics degree. In fact, that might be a detriment with the way – the things they’re teaching in school. So it’s not that hard to self-educate yourself on a few basic things about economics and the basics of law.
You don’t have to go to law school. You don’t have to be an economist to know enough to have an educated opinion about these matters. And then the technology is what I would say is key, the technological information. Immerse yourself in technology, and I think just try to take advantage of it and buy some Bitcoin I would say.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: Yes. All right, and with that – well, why don’t we go ahead and we’ll stop there. So thank you again and best wishes to you this holiday season.
STEPHAN KINSELLA: You too.
CHRISTIAN SEBERINO: All right, bye.