Why Not "Opt Out" of Government Control?

From bootlegging to working off the books, we've done it many times before, and it's getting ever-easier to exit the system.


Exit sign
slimmer_jimmer / / CC BY-NC-ND

Balaji Srinivasan, a Stanford Universty instructor and genomics entrepreneur, recently offered some radically individualistic advice to aspiring tech innovators. Speaking at at this year's Startup School, sponsored by tech "seed accelerator" Y Combinator, he warned members of the audience that, despite (or maybe, because of) the liberating and enriching qualities of technology in people's lives, the tech industry faces a backlash from old-line power centers. In response, he said, technological innovators should publicly state their case, but also be prepared to exploit a market opportunity to help people escape government control, no matter the law. Their innovations, he suggested, should allows fans of the old order to "enjoy" the rules and structures to which they're attached, but offer the rest of us a means of exiting an increasingly authoritarian system. In other words, to hell with arguing for more freedom, let's take it.

That's good advice for all of us—if we can break with old attitudes and embrace a willingness to defy authority.

"I believe the ability to reduce the importance of decisions made in D.C., in particular, without lobbying or sloganeering, is actually going to become extremely important over the next ten years," Srinivasan told his audience. His goal, one he wants tech entrepreneurs to share, is "giving people the tools to reduce the influence of bad policies over their lives without getting involved in politics; the tools to peacefully opt out."

An opt out from the political system and the burdens it imposes on us is a tempting thought. In many ways, life has never been more tolerant, cooler, safer (for kids and those trying to avoid crime), or richer. It's more possible than ever to work from where you want to live rather than where an office is located, to be gay and safe (if not fully accepted) in ever-more locations, to enjoy cultural tastes from punk music to opera to porn without having to seek rare venues, to communicate with people and access information far and wide. But weighing on all of this like the world's wettest blanket or a Handicapper General of joy is the institution of government, its smothering regulations and intrusive controls over our lives.

In the United States, despite our enormous prosperity and real freedom compared to much of the world, governing institutions have been slipping in their respect for freedom in recent years.

Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. calls the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 a "watershed" that catalyzed explosive growth in the security state and hostility on the part of politicians toward independent scrutiny. Downie authored a scathing 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, writing, "Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists."

Which is to say, Downie is probably on a couple of lists, right now.

That growing security-state encouraged Internet surveillance, erupting into a scandal this year after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on massive NSA international and domestic spying operations. In response, Freedom House cautioned in Freedom on the Net 2013 that, while the U.S. "has a robust legal framework that supports free expression rights…a series of U.S. government practices, policies, and laws touch on, and in some cases appear to violate, the rights of individuals both inside the U.S. and abroad."

The U.S. has slid on two key measures of Economic Freedom in those same years, too: the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, and the Economic Freedom of the World: 2013 Annual Report (PDF), compiled by Canada's Fraser Institute. Fraser points out:

"Throughout most of period from 1980 to 2000, the United States ranked as the world's third-freest economy, behind Hong Kong and Singapore…By 2005, the US rating had slipped to 8.21 and its ranking fallen to 8th. The slide has continued. The United States placed 16th in 2010 and 19th in 2011."

So, while it really is an interesting and rich world around us, it would be so much better if we could only "peacefully opt out" of the control freak policies imposed from above.

And there are a lot of us who potentially could find the opportunity to opt out very tempting. The 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that seven percent of Americans are "consistent libertarians" and another 15 percent "lean libertarian." Add in others who want to be left alone on a case-by-case basis, and you have tens of millions of Americans who might choose to "reduce the importance of decisions made in D.C." in their own lives. That's a minority of the population, voting-wise, but certainly a big community of support for fellow opt outers who have given up on election results, as well as a market for whatever tools and services Balaji Srinivasan and his friends develop.

But that community can only develop if its potential participants actually opt out of political control in ways great and small. That means embracing not just new technology, but old-fashioned scofflawry—what Herbert Spencer once described as "the right to ignore the state." In 1884, the control freak-tweaking philosopher wrote, "we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state—to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying toward its support."

Now that so much of the state's "protection" consists of no-knock raids, phone taps, cops boldly going where only the best of friends (if anybody) ought to go, and the gentle cupping of your crotch at the airport, a choice to "relinquish its protection" seems like a mighty fine idea to many of us.

There's not yet a "thanks anyway, but go to hell" checkbox on the 1040 form, though maybe that'll come along in a year or two, but we can opt out on our own. Srinivasan specifically name-checks Bitcoin, 3D printing, telepresence, and other technologies as methods for escaping government control without the state's consent. But those are just tools. The real key is the willingness to live life as you please, without treading on your neighbors' rights and without knuckling under to authoritarian laws or majority preferences.

This is a land of bootlegging, weed-smoking, defiance of gun control, shrinking tax compliance, and even underground restaurants. Given some cool new technology, I have no doubt we're up to the challenge.

NEXT: Prosecutors Ask for Two Life Terms for Whitey Bulger

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  1. Can I tell the IRS that I want to opt-out?

    1. Not really.

      Sure, people may say, “If you want to, you can just leave, crazy libertarian!” But, as soon as you do, they have a lot of specific taxes targeted just for people like you, who want to leave.

      So, apparently, no, you can’t “just leave.” Even though being able to leave is an excuse for whatever they want to do to you. Go figure.

    2. You can, but it’s a long hard road. But what you may be able do is become more creative in reporting income. Resistance is not futile; neither is it easy.

      1. BS to both of the above.

        You can leave pretty easily without paying taxes. People do it all the time. You’re working out of the country? You don’t pay taxes on that work. Students and young people do this all the time.

        If you’re richer and/or have investments in America, that’s a different story. Of course you have to pay American taxes on things that are still in America.

        And of course renouncing your citizenship is another story, but reasonably so. We have to make sure it’s actualy filed to avoid running into any problems.

        But for the most part the ability to leave is one of the few freedoms still protected in the supposedly-free Western countries.

        People ought to stop throwing out that canard, Americans will start buying. Other countries are a lot more free-market in a number of sectors (education, anyone? Try being an actually-skilled creative type who can’t stomach “COLLEGE!” in America vs. let’s say Germany). Not to mention they’re a lot beter on the social front, other countries probably have better marriage laws, and our cultural mish-mosh has just created a cultureless environemnt where people are social orphans.
        MRAs and PUAs have been saying for years you’ve got to go foreign if you want a family life.

        1. People may “do it all the time” but you are still legally obligated to pay taxes to the IRS on money you earn outside the US. And sometimes they get a bug up their butt, decide collect and can fuck you up financially.

          If you plan on returning, dropping your citizenship or keeping any assets in the US then you should be aware that this double taxation is legal, expected and enforceable.

      2. There was that cute little question I saw here and there when I first got online:

        (To paraphrase)Which of the following countries goes outside its borders to pursue taxes:

        Russia, China, North Korea, United States?

        I believe the U.S. is the only country that pursues people outside its borders for unpaid taxes.

    3. Welcome to the Hotel California.

  2. The real key is the willingness to live life as you please, without treading on your neighbors’ rights and without knuckling under to authoritarian laws or majority preferences.

    You can become homeless – that is, become NO ONE’S cash-cow. Then nobody will bother you.

    1. Aside from the occasional roust by the gendarme.

    2. There is a moment when the Giant Gov’t thumb is pushing you to the ground, when you have reduced your financial blueprint enough, they have no more use for you. And the pressure on your back stops but for a moment. There are still going to be opportunities for the Thumb to return. The freedom it brings far out weighs the sacri-vices you have to give up to be invisible.

  3. I’m sure millions of Americans will scramble to opt out of government controls, as long as it doesn’t effect their welfare benefits.

    1. Si, welfare es muy bueno

    2. That is when it’s worst of all. And they don’t even know it.
      You don’t live under a bridge just to get out of the rain. Gov’t bridges are built well enough to protect you from their own oppressive freedom mashing Thumb!
      Being dry IS nice though.

  4. to hell with arguing for more freedom, let’s take it.

    I love this quote, because this is where I increasingly stand on the issue of liberty– especially in our permission-based society.

    Don’t ask for freedom, take it!

    1. “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

  5. In 2008 Mike Gogulski, who’s active on the bitcoin forum, managed to actually opt out, becoming truly stateless. He now lives in Slovakia.

    Adventurer to make first ever bitcoin transaction from the South Pole

    It’s either Antarctica or Luna

  6. Except for the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Give me that.

    1. Nah fuck that too.

    2. Fuck IP.

      1. Riiiight. Screw creators, with their desire to get paid for work. That’s oppression, man.

        Personally, I think IP should be non-transferrable from the creator of a work, aside from a 10-year window from death where it belongs to their estate.

        1. “Screw creators, with their desire to get paid for work.”

          If only this were what IP were about. You’ll notice patents almost never pay any mind to man hours of labor, resources consumed, means of production, capital expenditure, market viability, etc., etc. Instead, it’s a byzantine legal tyranny of ideas; the conceptual antithesis of libertarian property rights.

          Yes, screw creators, Dennis Ritchie actually invents the fucking internet and Steve Jobs steals and regurgitates the same half baked ideas that have been around for decades. They both die within a week of each other, guess who gets the cover of every major magazine and guess who gets none?

          Got a great idea? Good so does everybody else. Have a dozen, make them all profitable. If you happen to choose the wrong ones and someone else invented or even copied one that you should’ve chosen? Stop crying and try again like the rest of us.

  7. “Why Not “Opt Out” of Government Control?”
    Havel made a similar suggestion prior to the collapse of communism Czechoslovakia; he proposed that the only way to deal with the stifling government was to ‘live as as if one were truly free’.
    ‘Natch, his government didn’t like it either and stuffed him in jail for various terms.

  8. Speaking of the “increasingly authoritarian system”, it is also the increasingly huge, bloated Leviathan that is increasingly in need of being fed tax dollars as it increasingly oppresses the private sector thus diminishing that sector’s ability to keep feeding it.

    For a unique view of the aforementioned Leviathan, see

    Leviathan seems oblivious to federal debt; the GSA recently built its largest project ever, a new headquarter building for the US Coast Guard which will eventually become the home of DHS of which the USCG is now a department:http:

  9. Remember when this guy took a ton of flack for renouncing his US citizenship? Singapore is starting to sound really nice…..…..e-ipo.html

    1. Husband is already looking to New Zealand and Australia. Go ahead and spend my kids’ money, we’ll raise them somewhere else.

      1. Just limit your tax contribution. You can work off the books. Run an off the books business from home. Auto mechanic is a good one. Cabinet maker and becoming a small time farmer is pretty rewarding too. People will buy the hell out of your produce and eggs if you tell them it’s all organic. For obvious reasons you don’t want to advertise publicly or actually tell people you’re not paying taxes. Also, buy second hand to avoid sales tax. Craigslist is great, you can find almost anything. I’m to the point I always make sure I get back more in taxes than I give.

        1. Then you’re one of those.

          1. Effing A. The NSA might intercept my emails, but they’re not doing it with my money.

      2. I’ve lived in both countries, and they are both nice places to live … though the statism is still present, but in more avoidable, and dare I say, acceptable forms.

        I believe New Zealand actually scores higher on the economic freedom index than the US.

    2. OMG! Forget the tax rates, I’d be rolling in the durian and amazing southeast asian food. NOM NOM NOM NOM!

  10. I started by dropping my coercive power over others – left the State’s Attorney, then retired from the Armed Forces… so I guess I am moving toward taking freedom, too.

  11. Mmmm…I’ve always thought that if serious conservatives simply stopped taking a tax refund (ie: don’t let them take more from your check than they are legally entitled to) in the name of being conservative, we could drive progressives to their knees. The problem is getting people to stop talking and start taking action. To me fighting for liberty looks like herding cats right now.

  12. Slightly OT: Again with the BitCoin. I’m not knocking the idea as such but here’s my question. One way to get them is by “mining”, that is using a computer to calculate something (hashes, I think) in exchange for BC. I got this from the official wiki, but they weren’t clear on one thing: What is it that’s being calculated? Are bitcoin users unwittingly creating Skynet?

    1. The “mining” is how all the transactions are processed. When you want to send somebody bitcoins, you broadcast a transaction (basically a from here to there of amount all signed by your private key). These transactions are collected by the people running the software into blocks. The hashing algorithm requires processing power to find a valid block, so only one block is found every ten minutes. Whoever processes the block gets to keep all the transaction fees from the transactions they processed, plus an additional amount (25 btc right now) which helps put bitcoins into circulation.

      1. Thank you 🙂 To tell the truth, I was kinda hoping for Skynet…

    2. The actual calculation is they take a block (previous block identifier, all the transactions, a timestamp, and a nonce) and run it through a hash function to give essentially a random number. If the resulting number is below the target then the block is valid. If the number is too high, they change the nonce and try again, a typical miner will go through millions of these calculations each second.

      So they are just generating random numbers, but they are also verifying that all the transactions are valid, and they are providing a solid proof of the order in which the transactions happen.

  13. my neighbor’s step-mother makes $81 every hour on the internet. She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her income was $15044 just working on the internet for a few hours. hop over to here…….

    1. Who told these people to write this shit?

    2. Nah, she is giving $10 blow jobs in an alley at night. She just uses the “internet” has her cover.

  14. Anyone who uses a phrase like “despite (or maybe, because of)” ought to be ashamed. If you can’t decide which, what makes you think there is a causal link at all?

    1. Everybody thinks they’re a fucking editor.

      1. Which is why editors need to be licensed and regulated.

  15. Become self employed; write EVERYTHING off.

  16. The author and highlighted speaker should enjoy their stay on the Domestic Terrorist and No Fly lists.

  17. I’m reminded of stories from one of the Scandinavian countries where to get normal medical care people were claiming to be animals going to vets, obviously fake vets, but various diagnostic tools they use are the same. It was a scam*, I don’t remember the details.
    *obviously, in this case, a good scam

  18. The world gets less free every day that passes. Data collection and correlation makes it so mistakes you made 30 years ago will haunt you forever and no matter where you go today. 30 years ago, a move to another town would have “wiped the slate clean”. Now you’d have to move to another hemisphere (and maybe not even then).

    There needs to be “circuit breakers” to make data of all types disappear after a certain amount of time. Went bankrupt 10 years ago? Well, the records of that should be expunged and GONE (inaccessible to anyone) after a period of time. Busted for intent to distribute 20 years ago? Again, GONE; it needs to disappear after a certain amount of time and never come back.

    Or, my situation. Busted for DUI a few times when you were young and had a drinking problem? No issues for over a decade? That stuff needs to go away, and go away forever.

  19. My last pay check was 9500 dolr working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is what I do———-

  20. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes hourly on the laptop. She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her payment was just working on the laptop for a few hours. pop over to this web-site……..

  21. I love the tech industry, full of the “open source” culture, which translates to anarchy in politics and philosophy.

  22. Im making over $30h a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,…. http://WWW.Max57.COM

  23. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do……

  24. Thank you very much

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