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Barker's Book Explains What Government-less Free Market Would Look Like

I recently read a book self-published by a local author: Welcome to Free America by David Barker, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Iowa and a former economist with the Federal Reserve.

The book is a fictional guidebook for new immigrants in the year 2057, describing how things work in Free America, a future nation that emerges after the collapse of all federal, state and local governments in 2031.

This new nation has no government at all—only an anarchist free-market system.

Barker does a good job of explaining how such a system would work: Private sector firms compete to offer all services, including education, roads, legal defense and even security contracts, which replace government police protection.

His description of the economy is particularly well done (as would be expected from someone with his background)—although his account of how gold-based money works as its value constantly fluctuates was difficult for me to grasp (even with my own degrees in economics).

And his recounting of the “history” of the collapse of the United States (and President Sarah Palin’s key role in that disaster!) was fascinating, if somewhat harrowing to read.

I fervently hope he will prove to be inaccurate at forecasting future events.

My only quibble with Barker’s book, and perhaps it’s not a fair one, is that it hardly seems to promote the idea that government is unnecessary for a prosperous, just and free society, or even the idea that markets are better than governments in making people better off, something that I and many others believe is true, even if we are not yet convinced that we could get rid of governments entirely.

(For a book that plants convincing seeds of doubt as to the necessity of governments at all, I recommend the 1970 classic The Market for Liberty, by Morris and Linda Tannehill.)

Admittedly, Barker specifically points out in his preface that he is not trying to promote any specific system, although he believes the benefits of eliminating government would outweigh the costs on the whole. The book is simply an intellectual exercise in imagining what a government-free society would be like.

But to a libertarian writer like me who writes to convince others of the benefits of freedom from government control, it seems a shame that most of the book does not reassure us that life in Free America would be, in fact, better than life under a governmental system, even a bankrupt and decaying one.

The book contains dismaying references to protection contracts and health insurance that are clearly inferior for poor people, child labor plantations and long-term labor contracts that are little short of slavery.

Even though he makes it clear that these situations are steadily improving (as markets do nearly always improve things), they illustrate, likely erroneously, a lack of egalitarianism and humane charity that most Americans believe we should strive for (if not with government enforcement).

Barker makes the whole system seem frighteningly dystopian and more alien than it probably would be in reality. After all, will our very American charitable and egalitarian instincts really have changed so much in only two generations that we would allow such situations to exist, particularly if government is no longer making them worse or preventing us from doing anything about them?

It is not until the last chapter that Barker finally emphasizes the positive changes, both economic and social, that have transpired as a result of leaving government behind.

This is the most satisfying part of his book for me, and when he finally makes the point that most residents wouldn’t go back to government for anything, it is ultimately the most convincing part.

Despite my disappointment with the dystopian aspects, it is nevertheless a well thought-out blueprint for a society without government, which will certainly have interest for readers of political philosophy, futurists and free market advocates.

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