Commerce Has Been Polluted

I am a long-time advocate of free markets. Voluntary commerce is more or less the only moral way for humans to cooperate on a large scale; everything else involves coercion. And as a bonus, free markets work better than anything else.

That does not, however, mean that free markets deliver perfection, or that private businesses can’t be criminal. Private businesses can be abominable, and sometimes are. Understand this, please:

Markets are neutral structures. The only morality they have is the morality we bring to them.

What I want to talk about today are the three ways commerce has been polluted over the past century or so. Commerce has never been perfect, of course, simply because we aren’t perfect. (See that passage above once more.) But we’ve had three major pollutants over the past century, and I think they should be specified.

Pollutant #1: Mega-Government

Bureaucrats offering favors for money goes back to the very first bureaucrats, of course, but under the mega-governments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, this trick has reached astonishing proportions.

Consider Obamacare: The legislation was written by fronts for the biggest companies in the medical and insurance businesses, who have made huge profits while most Americans are paying far more for worse coverage.

Consider also the innumerable “free trade agreements.” Actual free trade involves governments getting out of the way. Modern “free trade” means government consortia writing deals that favor their friends and donors.

The public goes along with the charade, of course, but it’s pollution all the same.

And for today I’ll overlook the immense corruption of the war industries. Eisenhower warned everyone about that back in 1961 but still pretty much no one wants to hear it.

Pollutant #2: Mega-Corps

Back in World War I, as I’ve been told by businessmen older than myself, American companies made a killing in war production. Once that wound down, however, things got painful for them, and the biggest of them decided that they had to increase demand artificially. And so the bright lights of the era decided that they needed to turn the American people into a flock of suckers, perpetually buying things they didn’t need.

Here’s the signature quote, from Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers, writing in the Harvard Business Review of 1927:

We must shift America, from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America; man’s desires must overshadow his needs.

To put it succinctly, these corporate chieftains started using the weaknesses of their fellow men and women to extract money from them. And bear in mind that Sigmund Freud’s son-in-law, Edward Bernays, was the leading strategist for them. Here’s one of his thoughts:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society…

Understand what Mazur, Bernays et al, did: They waged a purposeful campaign to take advantage of human weaknesses. That, obviously, is also a pollution of commerce.

It would be illuminating to know what percentage of American spending is more or less needless. I’ve yet to see a good study, but I’d guess that it’s in the range of 20 or 30 percent. That’s an abomination. Commerce should bless the world, not drain it dry with status symbols, excess for the sake of excess, and empty trinkets.

Pollutant #3: Surveillance Capitalism

A lot of people don’t want to hear this, but it’s true all the same: Facebook, Google and the rest have used the oldest scam in the book – “Look little boy, I have free candy in the car” – to suck them dry.

These companies are malicious, vampire parasites. And if I had stronger words to use that didn’t involve profanity, I’d use them. They are stealing the essence of people’s lives (I could almost say stealing their souls) and are now bringing in hundreds of billions of dollars per year from it.

Many people still don’t want to see it – they’d have to admit their past errors, and they haven’t the guts for that – and so they’ll be manipulated all their lives. They’ll buy whatever beer the pretty, televised people are drinking, vote for candidate A or B, soak in the stories their manipulators give them, and walk toward the grave with “all of their thoughts mis-given,” as Led Zeppelin used to sing.

What To Do?

We all know what has to be done, but I’ll specify it anyway:

  • Stop accepting anything that’s “free.” Just don’t.

  • Treat status markers as signs of weakness and desperation, because that’s what they are.

  • Stop treating government as necessary until it proves itself so, empirically.

  • Aggressively do not buy anything thrust at you.

Commerce is essential to us. It’s time to clean it up.

And if you don’t think anything you do will matter, start building afresh in the crypto economy. Most everything matters there.


If you want a deeper understanding of these issues, see:

FMP issue #59
FMP issue #80
The New Age of Intelligence

Paul Rosenberg

How to Fix Detroit in 6 Easy Steps

Abandoned automobile factory in Detroit.

The news is full of stories of Detroit, and understandably so. It’s an unmitigated disaster. But I know how to fix it.

Seriously, I do!

I have a plan that would cost the state of Michigan nothing – not a cent. It wouldn’t cost DC anything either, and it would turn Detroit into the most thriving city in North America. As a bonus, it would give the remaining property owners in Detroit a financial windfall.

Here’s the plan:

  • The federal government (in writing) forbears taxes, regulations, laws, and impositions for a hundred years to the area of the current municipality of Detroit and to all persons and commercial entities resident there.
  • The government of the state of Michigan forbears taxes, regulations, laws, and impositions for a hundred years to the area of the current municipality of Detroit and to all persons and commercial entities resident there.
  • All municipal government agencies within Detroit are disbanded.
  • All state and federal offices within the city of Detroit are disbanded.
  • The federal government guarantees that entry and exit to/from Detroit will remain unchanged from the current conditions, and that no obligations will be placed upon residents of Detroit in any other place.
  • Federal and state governments immediately cease all payments to residents of Detroit. (They may resume payment to those persons if and when they are no longer resident in Detroit.)

The final legal document would be more complex than this, but those are all  the main points necessary.

What this plan does is to return Detroit to its natural state – to the way it was managed when the first settlers arrived. (In other words, not managed at all.)

And think of the money that will be saved by Michigan and the feds. Billions per year.

And Then…

And then we have a free for all… and a good one. Think of Hong Kong, but easy to get to.

Businesses would begin to relocate the next morning. Hundreds of them, thousands of them. The people who still owned and lived in their homes would be offered lots of money for their properties.

Libertarians and conservatives, disgusted by the gang in DC, would load up and drive to Detroit. Productive former residents would return. Thousands of opportunity-seekers, anarcho-capitalists, and pot-smoking hippies would be gathering their money and buying property.

Detroit would, within only a few years, become the coolest city on the planet – by FAR.

But, But…

“But there won’t be any police!”

“There won’t be any courts!”

“It will be non-stop murder, death, and mayhem!”

You wanna bet? Do ya? (And you don’t think Detroit has non-stop mayhem already?)

The people who come to Detroit would be coming to escape from their chains and to be productive. These are precisely the kinds of people who clean up a town. And with no taxes to pay for a hundred years, they’d have plenty of extra money to spend on whatever services (security or otherwise) that they wanted.

The Truth

The truth, of course, is that the state and fed guvs will never agree to a plan like this one, for a single reason:

Because they fear it would succeed.

They’ll let every last person in Detroit rot before they’ll let a group of producers live free of their chains.

Detroit returned to its natural state would expose the great lie of the government game – that we can’t survive without them.

Paul Rosenberg

Featured image courtesy of Albert duce,

Commerce: The Permanent Rebellion

commerceCommerce, by its very nature, is born free. And more than this, it forever fights to remain free. At almost every time and place, commerce evades regulations and controls; it serves its own will, not the wills of rulers. Markets spontaneously emerge at every opportunity, even when they are outlawed and punished. Commerce seems to have an existence of its own, like an independent organism.

Even under the worst oppressions recorded in history, commerce continued. This was true in the USSR and it was true in Nazi Germany, and it remains true now, even as the Western world runs headlong into a surveillance-state abyss.

All that said, please don’t imagine that in referring to commerce, I am including the mega-corps that seek to dominate the Earth in partnership with states. That is not at all what I mean, as I will explain below.

I’m going to start this issue by explaining the depth of this rebellion, which is permanent; it continues in our time as in all others.

Opposing Models

Commerce does not rebel against regulation because of excesses. Rather, it is contrary to regulation by its very nature.

Commerce is a productive strategy. Strategies that exert control over commerce are oppositional – they restrain production. The two are inherently opposed: on one side are people struggling to produce, and on the other are people struggling to either slow production or to skim it away.

In 1908, Franz Oppenheimer, a German physician and sociologist, published a book entitled The State. In it, he made the very important observation that there are only two primary modes of survival upon planet Earth: The Political means and the Economic means. Oppenheimer says this:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.

This stark statement is crucial for understanding how men live in this world – and how they have always lived in it: Men survive by either producing or by taking the goods of others. However many layers of publicity and complication there may be, every act by which men feed themselves can be broken down into one or the other of these two.

The great problem with the above statement has never been a question of its truthfulness but that so many people are uncomfortable facing such a truth directly.

The statement that commerce and regulation are eternally at odds is merely a restatement of Oppenheimer.

Acts of Will

Both commerce and control involve acts of will.

  • Commerce involves individuals choosing to perform productive actions, such as growing food, making shoes, and so on.
  • Control involves individuals choosing to allow or disallow the willful acts of the productive, or to remove the fruits of production from the producers.

Commerce is an effect of active will. Commercial controls are the implementations of contrary wills, seeking to restrain the commercial will. The two are eternally at odds.

It is worth explaining here that the controllers of the Earth (that is, the various state rulers) are always forced to undermine independent will. They do this, not because they are all inherently cruel, but because their enterprises become nearly impossible if they don’t suppress individual will.

Ruling men by force alone is expensive; far too expensive to support rulership over a significant area. People who are ruled in that way quickly learn to hide their produce before it can be taken, or simply to run away. You cannot cage intelligent beings like you can beasts – it doesn’t work; they adapt.

To rule humans effectively, you must subvert their wills. You must make them believe that their wills are flawed and that using them is wrong. This is, of course, precisely what has been done since several millennia BC.

The will behind commerce, however, is born of the desire to survive, and that is not something that can be trained away. The survival instinct is permanent, and commerce endures as its great tool. Even though people have been deeply conditioned to surrender their wills to the state, they remain able to use their wills for survival, and that leads directly to commerce.

And since survival is hard-wired into us, commerce always pops back up, no matter how hard it is put down. However much it may be punished or repressed, it will forever rebel and return. Commerce is a permanent rebellion.

Because of this, nearly all arguments against it – certainly from the ruler’s side – are based on the need to restrain freedom. As economist Milton Friedman once wrote:

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

[Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our flagship newsletter Freeman’s Perspective – Issue #29: Commerce: The Permanent Rebellion. If you liked it, consider taking a risk-free test drive. Not only will you gain immediate access to the rest of the issue (which shares fascinating examples on how commerce thrives in some surprising places), but you’ll also be able to enjoy the entire archive – more than 520 pages of research on topics of importance and inspiration to those looking for freedom in an unfree world. Plus valuable bonus reports and all new issues as well. Click here to learn more.]

Paul Rosenberg

The Forbidden History of Smuggling

history of smugglingSmuggling has been one of the most common economic activities of all time, yet it is all but absent from the historical record. Smuggling has fed the poor and provided a half-decent living to the workers of the world when they faced no other choice but grinding poverty. It was the one way to get affordable goods.

Smuggling was the one and only ‘discount store’ at nearly every place and in every period of history. It made life bearable. One of the very few historians to acknowledge smuggling writes this:

“Smugglers and their customers probably outnumber legal traders in many societies around the world; this is nothing new, they always have.”

Most of the products that have been smuggled were not the usual fear-inducing things like drugs, weapons and slaves. In most cases, the forbidden commerce involved salt, wool, fabric, tea and brandy.

Cooperation: Humanity’s Norm

Humans cooperate. This has been true as far back as we can see and it remains true. Left to their own devices, most people tend to get along. One of the great proofs of this – and one that I’ve never seen presented – is the fact of ancient trade.

Like smuggling, long-distance trade is also mostly absent from the history books. Some references do exist, of course, but grossly out of proportion to trade’s importance.

Humans always trade – at all periods of history and with every reachable group. People trade without ceasing, reaching out to distant peoples who look different, speak differently, live differently and worship different deities. And they have done this since long before the dawn of history.

Cooperative trading began thousands of years before there were states, treaties, or any other such institutions to “protect property rights.” For as long as humans were humans, they gathered up valuable goods, figured out how to transport them, and took off to find far-off strangers to trade with. On the other end, strangers were welcomed. They were not routinely robbed (though that did sometimes occur). The people on the far end took their goods, asked about other goods that could be obtained, and made deals to exchange their surplus goods in return. Soon enough, young men were making the trek in reverse. Trade flourished and life on both ends improved.

This is ubiquitous in the archaeological record. These traders are the real heroes of history. Their lives and work contributed to human happiness far more than that of any king or prince. No one told the traders that they should go and seek others and no one authorized them; they simply went and traded because it was beneficial and natural to do so.

The Forbidden History of Smuggling: The Obsidian Traders

Let me establish this point with the case of obsidian, a naturally-occurring volcanic glass. Here is a photo of obsidian:

History of Smuggling: The Obsidian Traders

When broken, obsidian leaves a very sharp edge; so sharp, in fact, that obsidian is still used for surgical scalpels. This characteristic made it highly useful for knives, scrapers and arrowheads.

The great thing about obsidian, from an archaeological standpoint, is that its source can be determined by its chemical makeup. By sampling the hardened lava from ancient volcanoes, the point of origin for obsidian can be clearly determined. So, we know where it comes from, and, of course, we know where we find it.

Obsidian tools can also be very accurately dated by a hydration process. That is, by measuring the absorption of water into its cut surfaces. This can be done with a simple light microscope, and the process has been refined with multiple experiments.

So, we can tell where obsidian came from, where it ended up, and how long ago it was cut or broken for use as a tool. In combination, these things allow us to map and date ancient trade routes.

The resulting maps of ancient trade are so surprising that they still have not made their way into the common mind. For example, the map below shows the near-East obsidian trade routes of approximately 8000 BC, and there are others going back to 14,000 BC.

History of Smuggling: Early Trading Map

As you look at this map, consider this: This trade was conducted five or six thousand years before the Great Pyramid was built. There was no Egypt, no Sumer, no Babylon or any of the other famous “first civilizations.” Egypt and the rest are closer in time to us than to these obsidian traders.

And, of course, these maps show only the ancient obsidian tools that have been found so far. There remains much more to be discovered.

This obsidian trade – which covered modern-day Cyprus, Turkey, Armenia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, an arc of approximately two thousand miles – was conducted by individuals who simply loaded up, went out and found ways to cooperate with strange and distant peoples.

If you refer back to Freeman’s Perspective Issue #6, you’ll find a detailed report on Ötzi the Iceman, an experienced trader who lived in the Alps in about 3,300 BC. He also came before Sumer, Egypt, and the rest.

Another example: Even though trade was looked down upon by the agricultural Romans, the trade in and out of Rome was immense. As Professor Lionel Casson reports:

The Roman man in the street ate bread baked with wheat grown in North Africa or Egypt, and fish that had been caught and dried near Gibraltar. He cooked with North African oil in pots and pans of copper mined in Spain, ate off dishes fired in French kilns, drank wine from Spain or France… The Roman of wealth dressed in garments of wool from Miletus or linen from Egypt; his wife wore silks from China, adorned herself with diamonds and pearls from India, and made up with cosmetics from South Arabia… He lived in a house whose walls were covered with colored marble veneer quarried in Asia Minor; his furniture was of Indian ebony or teak inlaid with African ivory…

Everywhere we look in history – if we are capable of gaining an unobstructed view – we find traders improving human lives: motivated by their own desires and cooperating with strange people, far from home, and with no powerful organization threatening to punish those who might mistreat them. Again, these are the true heroes of history.

Paul Rosenberg

Editor’s Note: This article – The Forbidden History of Smuggling – is an excerpt from our flagship newsletter Freeman’s Perspective – Issue #20: The Forbidden History of Smuggling. If you liked what you read, consider taking a risk-free test drive. Not only will you gain immediate access to the rest of this issue, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the entire archive – more than 500 pages of research on topics of importance and inspiration to those looking for freedom in an unfree world. Plus valuable bonus reports and all new issues as well. Click here to learn more.