The first part of this post is adapted from a talk given to the Queens Libertarians in Whitestone, New York on March 10.
Back in the ’90’s, when I and my fellow local LP members were trying to figure out resource and cost-effective methods of chapter building (to at least further higher meeting attendance), quite by accident, we stumbled across what would later become a more well-articulated, and celebrated developmental methodology. Instead of only trying expensive advertising in local papers, or tedious phone tree calling to get the same folks to come out, we also mailed out “community notice” postcards to the 10 or so key media sources in the area, that summarized the upcoming meeting. We also mailed out a newsletter to current members that reported on our topical meetings (which were merely discussions—we had no regular guest speaker program until later).
The outcome of this initial multi-pronged promotional effort was 1) a solid trickle of new prospects who would visit each month, solely from seeing our notice in the community paper, and 2) steady attendance by other paid members, who kept coming back because they felt they were being kept in the loop via the chapter newsletter. It was the older methods that turned out to deliver only tepid results, so we de-emphasized them to focus more on what was working. By doing so, we inadvertently completed a simple-Simon version of growth hacking, which Wikipedia defines as “a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels, product development, sales segments, and other areas of the business to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.” This combination of marketing with testing to determine the best use of old or innovative technology has been the key to building a number of new enterprises, such as Air BnB (whose growth exploded when it tested integrating its business model with Craigslist) and similar ventures.
Liberty-Friendly Innovations, Growth Hacked
The developments and innovations in American politics over the last decade, I maintain, justify considering porting the tactics or dynamics of growth hacking over to the libertarian universe, and more broadly the “liberty movement,” which encompasses individual freedom and free market supporters ranging from the LP, to paleos or constitutionalist conservatives ala Ron and Rand Paul, and other alternative voices. This adaptation is useful in light of the inability of the LP or libertarians in general to gain more ground in terms of our public image, or in achieving major election victories and policy success using the older approaches. One advantage of adopting ideas for which we already have “proof of concept” in place, is that it permits us to skip the experimentation stage, and proceed to scale up our operations without taking on new risks. Certain tested, and now proven methods or tools are already on hand to help liberty, if we will only will ourselves to apply them.
The developments since 2007 that have paved the way for this liberty 2.0 power wave include the Ron Paul ‘R3volution‘ (not a typo, that’s how supporters spelled it), the Tea Party, the populist trend that elected Trump, and even such things as the rise of Mayor DeBlasio (he was, after all, the first Democrat elected Mayor of NYC following twenty years of GOP or Independent incumbents). Each example had benefits and deficits, serving as laboratories on how to do things differently, to achieve something different. Like many things in life, more was learned by the failures than by their wins, depending on the instance. And each case accomplished more in terms of bringing aspects of the liberty agenda to mass public attention, or mainstream acceptance than running the same old-style LP candidacy, comedy-hour membership drives, or issue campaigns of yore. Those traditional efforts are largely forgotten right after they are mounted, with no permanent impact made on the public, let alone the establishment, or “swamp”—how many regular people really remember Gary Johnson at this point, for example?
The Paul campaigns for President showed we could run a high-profile libertarian campaign in the Republican primaries, and use online resources to efficiently organize national grassroots support for the effort. But it turned out to be an incomplete strategy that wrongly assumed the elite-kept media and top GOP party apparatus would ultimately ‘play fair,’ then kindly proceed to fall in line to support a true liberty figure for the nomination. In fact the MSM and leadership used all manner of devices to marginalize Paul in plain daylight, or else disrupt his campaign’s momentum, to protect the elite’s preferred contenders. Paul himself had no apparent plan or inclination to effectively confront this obstacle, or to build a winning voter coalition to overcome it. The Trump and Outsider phenomenon showed how to get a (somewhat) populist-friendly candidate or issue (like Brexit) to succeed against the established order (i.e., run somebody with the independent resources and temperament to bluntly confront it). The thematically pro-liberty aspect of this development, however, has been resulting policy that is, at best, incoherent from an intellectual libertarian perspective, or at times more driven by Trump’s ego than by principle.
The Tea Party showed us that we could succeed in “primarying” or ousting DC incumbents (Dem and GOP) who have participated in the fiscal insanity (of over-spending and constant borrowing) that is tanking the US economy long-term. But the swamp’s response to this originally non-partisan movement was to swiftly repackage it as a conservative subset that was just upset over Democratic overspending (“pay no attention to those Republican over-spenders behind the curtain”). Thus co-opted back into a standard partisan rhetorical box, the neutered movement became much less effective. Finally, DeBlasio demonstrated how an obscure progressive figure could leverage his local base vote in order to win major office, despite being a fatally flawed statist-to-the-max politician as far as his policy record goes.
Four Ways to Hack
One clear pattern emerging from these movements since 2007, is the power of taking on establishment statism along the primary front, where incumbents (and their protection racket) are more vulnerable, and the smaller voter turnout can be exploited. A liberty candidate can make a bigger splash on public reception here than in the fall election, where the media, the big party machine, and the money factor (or lack of such funds) can be counted on to drown out or marginalize alternative voices. In association with having a primary race focus, along with a populist engagement syle, the following relatively new, proven techniques (involving reverse triangulation, the BOSS approach, self-reimbursing campaign financing, creative branding, and leveraging local resources, etc., to advance candidates and causes) have emerged that can growth hack liberty projects going forward:
Triangulation- As discussed in a past article, triangulation is a very useful positioning tool for creating a situation that improves the stature of a targeted figure or viewpoint. In classic use, the target person to be ‘up’ positioned gets a lesser figure (who has safe tenure or is in a safe seat) to state an issue in an inflammatory or ‘extreme’ way, drawing in the political opposition to heatedly respond. The target figure then steps into the flap as “the statesman” and conveys the same view in an NON-inflammatory way, thereby appearing to be “the sensible moderate” or reasonable party. Thus a position that would have been risky for the “statesman” to originally introduce (or act as the rainmaker for) becomes normalized or mainstreamed, following this calculated sequence. Certain voting blocs could be engaged based on a triangulated approach (through a candidate provocatively attacking those opposed to that bloc, thus drawing attacks from those opponents, thereby causing that bloc to lean towards supporting the candidate for being “their champion”).
Since the 2000’s, the alternative movements above described have shepherded in a “reverse triangulation” variation, where the ‘extreme’ party initiates the flap sequence, in order produce such a strong opposition response that the public in general ends up reacting by adopting a more moderate, or ‘common sense’ variation of the original ‘extreme’ position. The key case example of this is in action would be the notorious “(toy) guns for tots“ incident in NYC of 2002. Gun grabbers on the City Council at that time had already banned handguns, and had moved on to ban toy guns that were replicas. When manufacturers then decided to sell brightly colored toy guns that could not possibly be mistaken for real firearms, the grabbers proposed a bill to ban brightly colored toy guns as well. On the day of the public hearing about the bill, members of the local LP staged some street theatre at a Harlem school, handing out brightly colored toy guns to students. This “extreme” stunt set off fireworks at the hearing, and in the NYC media as well, denouncing the LP over the action. But the funniest thing then happened—the public reacted to the flap with a “what, um, why are they banning brightly colored toy guns?”—and poof, a bill that that was going to pass, didn’t pass.
In other words, it was one of the few days the LP actually did its job, and made a real difference, even if the exercise took the brave activists out of their comfort zone. In subsequent years, reverse triangulated controversies have more often been employed at Paul, Tea Party, or Trump rally events to act as the ‘tip of the spear’ to both freak out the establishment, and to spur the public into concurring with the “common sense” aspects of the more liberty-friendly position. The radical side that initiates well-selected flaps in this manner ultimately is investing faith in the mass public to choose liberty, once the issue is properly framed or presented to them.
B.O.S.S. Plan- Also outlined in an earlier post, the Bi-partisan Open Seat Strategy, which I’ll just repeat verbatim:
Most seats are in areas that are not competitive for the purposes of liberty candidates winning the election, that is, they are dominated by GOP or Dem hacks who win with above 55+% of the vote. Recognizing that 95% of seats are gerrymandered to support Republican or Democrat (statist) incumbents, we should focus instead on running in a primary or special election where the incumbent is retiring, passed away, or removed by scandal. Run on a liberty platform to win the nomination of the dominant party in the district or area (say, if it’s a deeply Democratic district, run a Ron Paul Democrat, or if it’s a Republican district, run a Ron Paul Republican).
Field for suitable candidates using the local Campaign for Liberty/pro-liberty meetups and mailing lists, or from the local LP. Upon winning the primary for the vacated seat, the liberty candidate then has the inside track to win the election. An example from a few years ago of how this results in victory is the Kerry Bentivolio case in Michigan (a Ron Paul supporter who won a US House seat by being the only GOP candidate in the primary when the incumbent Republican retired). The BOSS approach should thus create higher percentage opportunities for liberty people to win seats, regardless of which major party way the district rolls.
The best way of enacting this strategy is to use it to concentrate mainly on the 5-10% of races in the country where one could win on a BOSS basis, instead of the usual routine of just running quality liberty candidates in election campaigns against strong incumbents, only to almost certainly lose each race. Executed properly, BOSS sure beats remaining indefinitely limited to only “educational campaigns,” or reacting to fitful banter over political trends from Black Lives Matter, to porn stars suing Trump. Having a local bank of credibly funded, already vetted liberty candidates at the ready to enter into an open seat contest wherever it shows up will vastly improve the LP and other liberty candidates’s odds of actually winning major office. Adopting this strategy will also give the LP an additional purpose, namely, to vet the real, principled candidates needed to run on either the LP line, or on a major line when a BOSS-suitable situation opens up. Our end game should be to get libertarian/liberty-friendly legislation passed or policies put in place. Whether this is done by Libertarians elected through the LP, or liberty candidates who used the R or D label to gain office, but govern as libertarians nonetheless, the bottom line is to get that policy result. A party label is a vehicle, not the destination. Our true political home is a free country, not a major or minor party structure.
Self-Reimbursing Funding- Affluent candidate self funds primary campaign by putting the funds in a corporation, which lends it to the campaign. Upon winning the primary, the loan can be paid off from government matching funds. This tactic could persuade more affluent libertarians to run.
The key example of this, of course, is the Trump candidacy, since the Donald mostly lent himself the $50 million (via one of his entities) he used to fund his way to a primary victory, precisely in order to give him the option of using government matching funds, plus traditional fall fundraising to pay himself back. Trump ended up not exercising that option, and of course the whole “use state funding” scheme can be rejected as un-libertarian. Yet it is a practical and proven means of helping to convince a otherwise reluctant but affluent prospect to a) self-fund their campaign, b) thereby improve their chances of winning, c) avoid the toil of regular fundraising early on, and d) run a primary race while remaining independent of mega-donors or establishment/swamp political infrastructure.
Area/Local Leveraging- Run in a liberty-friendly local district (e.g., college area) for local office. Then use the base vote there to run for a well-selected larger seat (e.g., citywide or Congressional). In the example case of Bill DeBlasio, he rose to power by winning a city council seat, from which he then ran for Public Advocate, one of the three citywide elected positions in NYC. Because fewer people vote in the primary (and still fewer bother to vote for the positions below that of Mayor), most of the votes DeBlasio got for the citywide seat came from his local Park Slope district. Upon winning the 2009 crowded Democratic primary on this basis in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, he had the inside track to win the election for Public Advocate, which later led to his 2013 run for Mayor. Now that’s leveraging.
Putting this all together in one composite example, a prospective candidate who has the means to seriously self-fund (say, to a six or seven figure level), and is a high profile/well branded personality, may be persuaded to run for major office based on mixing up the above proven tactics. An upcoming seat with a retiring incumbent should be targeted, whose primary (of the area’s dominant major party) could be won based on triangulating the most urgent issues identified by voters in the district or area. Based on a self-funding primary effort (set up with an option to reimburse the campaign), the candidate could end up winning it, thereby have the November election already wrapped up, and could then use that local base to later run and win citywide or larger regional office. This can work as a dynamite formula for forging a viable liberty politician’s career, for more and more candidates going forward, providing a solid basis for ongoing liberty action.
One more note: Don’t think that the enemy isn’t busy working on ways to growth hack tyranny, especially after their utterly unexpected loss of the White House in 2016. The Authoritarian Swamp Command has been in overdrive trying to reverse the tide of the outsider wave, using many old, along with some new tactics to re-establish their domination of the political order. They have the money and power to pursue this, and are for doggone sure working hard on it.
For example, the plan of the establishment for the last two years has not been to simply defeat Trump and the populist movement, but to completely ruin both. That’s why they pushed those last minute sexual assault charges against him in the election, and then disgusting hotel sex charges in the dossier. They couldn’t find a way to plant child porn pix on his PC or lure him into having a sex chat with a minor (as they did to frame former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter), but they probably tried. One rumored plan is for Mueller to accuse him of financial crimes by going into his business ventures spanning back decades. Whether he finds anything or not, the Democratic NY Attorney General then plans to dog Trump with the same charges at the state level.
Plus, Hillary keeps on quacking away with excuses about why she didn’t prevail in the election, precisely because her elite military-intelligence industrial complex (MIC) and Soros masters have informed her she would still have the backing of the entire Deep State/NWO cabal (which includes the CIA-kept media) for yet another run. Elite party leaders really think they have figured out or learned from their election rigging mistakes from 2016, and will get the fraud right next time. Expect an extra effort to pack FL with enough Democratic votes to make up for losing by 1% to Trump in ’16. Also expect rigging in the Midwest states to reverse the loss of MH, PA and WI Dems suffered in ’16. They’ve even thought hard about mirroring the unexpected Trump phenomenon by pushing the ultimate counter—floating globalist celebrity Oprah Winfrey as a possible 2020 contender. Anything, it seems, to reverse the results of 2016.
Indeed, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, Democratic plotters seem particularly focused on turning Florida reliably blue, via drop shipping legal and illegal immigrants into the state, among other methods. To repeat, Trump won FL by only 1%, so they’re close. If they then can do the same with Texas, it’s game, set and match for making the electoral college insurmountably blue in all Presidential races going forward. THAT’S why they treat everything else as irrelevant, or as dispensable—they know with the solidly Democratic states they currently control, they just need two more major states in their column, to have a permanent Democrat lock on the White House and the country. This factor alone, in large part, explains why populist pro-liberty folks have been somewhat forgiving of Trump’s frequently un-libertarian flaws, foibles, flips and other flops. The ascendancy of Trump in leading the populist liberty agenda, for better or worse, has kept us from teetering over into a total statist abyss.
Korea Update: Unification Wins
Meanwhile on the national policy front, there have been two gigantic developments, the first being the equivalent of a “Nixon goes to China” moment in American political history—Trump has signaled he would be meeting as early as May with North Korean (NK) dictator Kim Jong-un, pending that country ceding to US will by committing to the complete “de-nuclearization” of Korea. This breakthrough (if it does lead to direct talks) can be attributed to either the intense economic sanctions the US put upon NK to end its nuclear weapons testing, or to diplomatic efforts to re-unify the two Koreas strongly supported by the public, and by South Korea (SK) President Moon Jae-in (as recently displayed at the Winter Olympics), or both.
Naturally, the war party neocons, and FOXNews heads pounced on this news to push the hard line that the outcome was a response showing Trump’s ‘toughness’ on NK was paying off. They pronounced the real problem all along was the prior, Democratic incumbent was (as usual) ‘too weak’ to deal with the ‘rogue’ and brutal nation. They hold the ultimate goal needs to be completely disarming NK (nuclear or conventional), subjecting them to complete subjugation by way of no-warning inspections of all their defense systems, and even regime change to oust Jong-un. (Neocons always forget to mention all the times Democratic incumbents also talked tough against NK, and all the times GOP incumbents were tough with the nation, to no avail in changing NK policy.) In other words, they are re-running the same tired, pugnacious, and destructive playbook that produced the stalemate of the last 65 years, along with the quagmires we still have in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, et al across the Mideast. To the hawks, too much intervention, and confrontational belligerence is never enough, as has been noted by Sen. Rand Paul and others in Congress.
Good for Rand. He and Trump were literally the only GOP candidates in the 2016 primary field who openly repudiated (i.e., rejected those war party swamp projects, not scapegoated the Democrats over ‘mismanaging’) the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called them the quagmires that they are. If only Trump had not surrounded himself with generals who keep pushing for the very regime change, one-sided ‘diplomacy,’ or long-occupation dogmas he campaigned against. Our nation is supposed to be run by civilians, not generals. It took less than four years each to resolve the Civil war, WWI, and WWII. If there was a military solution to Afghanistan, generals would have figured it out after 17 years—since they haven’t, obviously there is none. Trump should have appointed more generals with a less-interventionist or realist perspective, consistent with the policy he ran on.
The US military is funded to the tune of 700 billion+ a year, and was funded to that level during the Obama years as well. That’s larger than the next 12 nations combined, and is at that level to support the US global EMPIRE, not to protect the borders of our country. One half to two thirds of it could be cut, and we would still meet the requirements to defend this country as per the Constitution. To keep 30,000 troops in Korea after 65 years is but one of the absurd consequences of this “we must dominate everywhere,” Empire-first (instead of America first) approach. That posture has enabled even a brutal dictatorship such as Kim Jong-un’s to plausibly assert it had to develop nukes as a form of deterrence, due to its sovereign right to exercise self-defense. Will the Empire ever acknowledge that its never-ending military build-up and hundreds of bases worldwide, has encouraged other nations to justify retaliatory build-ups? Does the Empire even recognize other sovereign nations do, in fact, have a right of self-defense?
The way out of the NK impasse on its nuclear weapons deployment ability is, ideally, to end sanctions, pullout US troops and to end military exercises in the region, in return for verifiable weapons de-nuclearization by NK. The simplest route to this would be a tightly defined, multi-national agreement to have NK suspend making nuclear weapons, with regular inspections based on the template of the Iran deal. The nations in the region (SK, Japan, Russia, China) all border on North Korea and would agree to have a stake in resolving the issue by participating in monitoring its compliance, following an Iran-style inspection model. In that case, there is no need for “no warning” inspections in a NK agreement, as the wait time (as with nuclear facilities anywhere) is too brief for the country to hide nuke components if they had any. The real ‘teeth’ in the Iran deal was that it kept BOTH sides honest, as violations on Iran’s side would result in the re-imposition of sanctions, as we’ve seen, and the multi-country verification scheme also cuts out the US’s tendency of unilaterally claiming the other party has violated the deal. A true ‘deal’ has to be acceptable to both sides, and not a one-way endless laundry list of things neocons demand, that NK will never agree to.
The FOX heads seem to want an overly broad deal they can then unilaterally, and more easily accuse NK of violating, so as to set up a pretext for US military action (based on a “there, you see, those guys can never be trusted” mantra). Or. they want a ‘deal’ where the US gets everything they want, while NK gets nothing. This is the same prescription for disaster that broke up the NK deal brokered by Clinton in the late ’90’s–the G.W. Bush administration neocon crazies reneged on it, upon which NK in turn withdrew from it, and resumed their nuclear build-up. This led to the war party claiming NK had “violated” what was an already broken deal, so back we went into ratcheting up sanctions, and belligerent “diplomacy.”
The sanctions and tough talk blusterings were NOT working, as both have been going on for years. It was the unification drive (initiated by SK against US wishes) that brought NK to the table. Both Koreas realize the nuclear issue has to be dealt with for unification to happen, using an Iran-like template. A NK nuke deal should be set up the same way (no nuke creation, with multi-national monitoring, in exchange for a lifting of sanctions) to give both sides incentive to accept the agreement. Trump’s main contribution to the breakthrough has been his willingness to enter into direct talks (again, against war party wishes). To his credit, the President has also broached the “shocking” subject of withdrawing US troops from South Korea after all these years, as part of his attempt to get a fair deal with countries on the trade front (more below). Trump’s hawkish advisors should not mess things up by using the negotiations as a one-way bludgeon to create a pretext for war.
Free Trade Nationalism
Second, the Donald also announced he would implement a tariff strategy to bring various countries ‘who have not treated us fairly’ or economically wrecked us to heel for their transgressions, as fulfillment of his long-desired intent to pursue a policy of economic nationalism. While his heart is in the right (anti-globalist) place, this course of action to deal with the culprits presumes 1) it’s the fault of those countries for our economic difficulties, 2) that tariffs will work as a corrective action, and 3) that it is the only way to pursue an ‘America first’ trade policy. The rest of us are scratching our heads wondering, but, um, what if none of these particulars are true, and, what about our bloated big government, the 21 trillion in debt this nation has run up, the monetary distortions brought by Federal Reserve and Wall St cronyism upon our economic system, etc, as more likely suspects?
A tariff is a tax, and it gets passed on to us. A tariff leads to other retaliatory tariffs. In an escalating trade war, everybody loses. This is Economics 101. Just speaking up for the libertarian alternative, integrated with a nationalist perspective: G. W. Bush pushed for tariffs, did that improve the US economy or trade position? Nope. From a market 101 point of view, what happens when costs go up for any business? Don’t they just get passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices? Yep. So aren’t tariffs a prescription for more trade unfairness, rather than less? Yes. The problem is not free trade, but with state-enforced managed or open trade. As in other economic matters, the state should get out of the way, not try to micro-manage it, or set up a ‘fair’ racket that serves as yet another form of corporate welfare.
So one can be a free trade nationalist and oppose tariffs, on the basis that they are bad for the country and the economy. Just as corporate or crony capitalism is a corruption of true capitalism, corporate or managed “free trade” is not real free trade. Mercantilist big corporations misuse these terms to push government policy that create international sweetheart deals for them, while dumping the expenses onto others. The real level playing field should be for all people and companies, big or small, to have the same freedom to trade with others abroad, not for a handful of big boys to use government to force open access to foreign markets, regardless of the details. Tariffs only add to government-caused distortions of the balance, they do not cure it.
As Thomas DiLorenzo summarizes it: “One of the first things Dub-Yuh did as president was to impose tariffs on steel imports. The U.S. steel industry has claimed to deserve “infant industry” protection with tariffs and quotas for at least the past 160 years. Some people never grow up. Trump has followed suit with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which will increase the price of everything made of steel and aluminum (i.e., American-made cars), rendering vast portions of the U.S. economy less competitive in international competition.
Thousands of American workers will lose their jobs as a result. It will also loot the pocketbooks of American purchasers of American-made goods that contain steel and aluminum, i.e., Trump’s working-class political base, with higher prices. Other countries will retaliate with high tariffs on American-made goods, causing even more unemployment among Trump voters in the export-related industries. Trump just shot himself in the foot with a bazooka.”
The one positive aspect of Trump’s drive to get a fair deal is that it includes suggestions that trade should be linked to pulling out of all these perpetual troop deployments the US has abroad, that covers the defense needs of foreign nations (effectively giving those countries trade profits without military expenses). That prospect (beginning with pulling out of SK) is tremendously pro-America first, though as Justin Raimondo has noted, don’t expect neocons and beltway libertarians to support it. Bottom line, we don’t need an apparatus of tariffs to make America great again, or to solve trade problems that were created by corporate welfare, the banksters, and by the mass exporting of jobs away from the US. More government force, more bureaucracy is not the answer.
This country started with only 3-4 crimes identified as felonies at the federal level: counterfeiting, treason and piracy (cross-state kidnapping was added later). We operated perfectly well for 140 or so years without all these alphabet soup bureaucratic entities coming along adding tons of new felonies to the books to lock people up over, or classifying 100 million new secret documents each year. We didn’t need spies overseas, the FBI spying on us at home, secret FISA courts, nor wars and meddling abroad. Nor did we need all their additional regulations and army of enforcement agents. Constitutional limited government can, and did survive without all of this. The managerial elite of the total state is NOT, and never will be our friend. I say, undo everything the cult of the omnipotent state has foisted on us, from 1901 onwards. A large part of bringing back liberty in the 21st century, involves repealing the 20th century.