A Book Review of LOOKING BACKWARD 2162-2012

By Carl Watner

This exciting book written by Beth Cody and published in 2012, is well worth reading. One can only wonder what would happen if Donald Trump and his advisers were to read it, and put some of its strictures into practice. Cody describes a society whose members value their liberty and realize the importance of spiritual freedom. It is a society of individuals who are working toward voluntaryism, but who are not quite there, yet.

The basic  purpose of LOOKING BACKWARD  is to describe a libertarian society (with a very limited government) as the author imagines it might exist in the year 2162. This is accomplished by the use of a time capsule framework, which projects the main character, Professor Julian West, into the Free States of America (a group of mid-western states that have seceded from the United States of America sometime after 2037).

The author begins with a description of how the United States of America breaks apart, and survives as a much smaller political unit, and how a number of distinctive republics, each with their own statist characteristics, emerge from the rubble of a country formerly governed from Washington DC. The discussion of how smaller, less centralized, states might come about is a topic unto itself.

The basic political philosophy of this minarchist society is outlined on page 52 (my comments appear in brackets):

  1. Federal and state governments cannot levy taxes or fees though local governments can do so. On page 69, the author adds that “A basic principle of making government as ‘good’ as possible is keeping government as local as possible.”

[The author denies the federal or state governments of the Free States of America the power to tax its citizens, but allows municipal governments to do so, believing that competition at the local level will prevent excessive taxes from becoming a threat to the liberty of the citizenry. On the question of whether a ‘good’ government could exist see Robert LeFevre. GOOD GOVERNMENT: HOPE OR ILLUSION? (1978)]

  1. No government at any level can raise money through issuance of debt.

[The central and state governments must be voluntarily funded and are limited to receiving donations. They cannot sell government bonds, even to willing buyers.]

  1. No government at any level can print or issue money or regulate any bank that does. The author adds, at page 53, that “Allowing government to control the money supply was one of the most dangerous mistakes” made by the Founding Fathers.

[The author presents a brief discussion of money and banking in the Free States of America. It would be interesting to know the author’s views on crypto-currencies and gold. She does note that private insurance of bank deposits would exist and that insurance companies would probably curb fractional reserve banking by charging higher rates to banks that engage in “high-risk” lending. (page 255)]

  1. There cannot be a national military, only state volunteer reserves and militias.

[The author notes the importance of individual weapon ownership in a free society (as the ultimate defense against tyrannical government). She also observes that individuals in a free society may own tanks, artillery, satellites, and heavy weaponry, but notes that private ownership of biological, nuclear, and chemical weapons has been constitutionally outlawed. See pages 91-92 for an elaboration.]

  1. No government at any level can fund, regulate, or provide education. Compulsory attendance laws are constitutionally forbidden (pages104-5).

[The author makes the point (several times) that education is too important to become the responsibility of government. One must ask: Is not the provision of law and order just as important as education, and if so, why should its provision devolve upon government?]

  1. No federal or state government employee may receive any compensation from public money

[Government employees are all volunteers. See the extended discussion, pages 64-66.]

  1. The federal government cannot make any additional laws restricting the freedom of individuals, businesses, or states other than already empowered in the Constitution. States may do so pursuant to their own constitutional restrictions.

[The author does not furnish drafts of the federal or state constitutions. It would have been helpful for her to have done so. She does refer to two provisions in all state constitutions: 1. No state may pass a new law unless it first gets rid of an old law; and 2. “Any representative, state or federal, who votes for passage of a bill that  is later judged to be unconstitutional will spend five years in jail and be fined a very large penalty.” (page 78)]

I urge readers of this review to read the book itself. The author has a wide understanding of free market economics and how individuals could live peacefully together in the absence of coercive government. For example, some of her astute observations are:

Page 82: “People are more trusting of each other …, and consequently happier” when they rely on themselves and voluntary arrangements and do not have an all-powerful government to solve their problems.

Page 176: Paying taxes makes people less generous in the long run.

Page 190: The best way to destroy something is to get government to pay for it.  [One must ask why this stricture should not be applied to government provision of law and order.]

Page 218: Government spending in one area crowds out private spending in the same area.  [One must ask why this insight does not apply to government provision of law and order.]

Page 250: Free markets are not perfect but other alternatives are usually worse.

Pages 279-280: Individuals who are free to live their lives without outside coercive interference exert a positive influence on others to live in liberty. The author refers to this as the cascading effect of freedom.

Page 282: Trade is the voluntary exchange of goods and services between individuals and trade is what is responsible for the success of the human race.

The author plainly states that the society she describes would still be an imperfect one. The individuals in such a society will still suffer from the same weaknesses that have visited mankind since the beginning of time: some people steal, murder, and physically harm others. (page 80) However, the people in such a society accept that freedom is their most important cultural value (page 174) and “believe that freedom from government control is prerequisite to every other good thing that [they] can achieve.” (page 99)  As the author writes, Freedom means that the inhabitants of her world “are free to go about the hard work of deciding for [themselves] how [they] can strive to lead virtuous lives.” (page 207) “In order [for them] to lead a good life [they] must have the freedom to choose between [the] good and the bad,”  and it is “the possibility of choosing badly [which] is what gives [their] good choices meaning.” (pages 203-4)

When it comes to the issue of taxation it is clear that the author understands that taxes are “morally wrong, unnecessary and certainly don’t help the poor.” (page 161)  Although this libertarian republic uses taxation on a local government level (though some localities rely on voluntary funding) the author still understands that it is wrong to force people to pay for law and order. “It’s not wrong to ask people to share the expense of law and order or helping the less fortunate, but it is wrong to force them to so. We pay for these things without coercion.” (page 130) Forcing others to pay would be wrong. “We can only control our own actions,” not that of others nor can we force them to contribute. Putting up with a few non-contributors is the cost of avoiding a coercive society. “[T]olerating a few freeloaders is a pretty low price for the freedom and prosperity that we enjoy.” (page 148) For more insight on the issue of voluntary taxation and the funding of coercive government see Issue 140 of THE VOLUNTARYIST, K.I.S.S.! – Anarchist or Minarchist? For more insight on the private provision of law and order see John Hasnas, “The Myth of Law and Order, Issue 123, and Hans Herman-Hoppe, “The Private Production of Defense,” Issue 120.

There are many other facets of this book which deserve attention, but there are also some omissions which ought to be mentioned. Just to list a few in both categories:

The author:

  1. describes how a widespread pandemic is handled in the absence of any coercive quarantine mechanism.
  2. briefly discusses how roads are privately owned and operated but fails to observe that automobile liability insurance could be made a contractual requirement for use of the roads.
  3. mentions various examples of how private insurance would be developed in a free society. For example, she discusses health status insurance, poor outcomes insurance, birth defect insurance, crime insurance, and fire insurance. See pages 122-124, and 133.
  4. discusses the benefits of an open immigration policy, although there is no mention of how people would be identified. Would there be birth certificates and identification papers issued by private organizations?
  5. fails to recognize that intellectual property should be owned and that data banks could exist which would pay royalties on such properties.
  6. discusses the role of arbitration agencies (page 87), but does not consider what would happen if large numbers of individuals patronized private defense services. Might competing, private insurance companies begin to provide the services offered by the local, state, and federal governments in the Free States? Would any of these ‘limited’ governments try to exert a territorial monopoly of control and outlaw the competition?
  7. does not provide an index, which would make it much easier to find discussions of specific topics, nor does she have any footnotes to support her interpretations of such historical events as Love Canal, the regulation of the meat-packing industry, and environmental concerns such as climate change.

As should be obvious, this volume presents plenty of food for thought. It ought to be fodder for anyone interested in voluntaryism. It would be an excellent addition to Jim Payne’s TAKE ME TO YOUR GOVERNMENT and his PRINCESS NAVINA VISITS VOLUNTARIA. This book is highly recommended and can be ordered from The Voluntaryists for $15 postpaid to US addresses. It is also available on amazon.com in a kindle version.