Imagine Rothbard standing on his head

“If you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band.” -Murray Rothbard

Shorter Sudhir Venkatesh: “…and vice versa, for that matter.”

The link above is to the Amazon listing for Sudhir’s book “Gang Leader for a Day”, which I recently bought. I remembered the story mentioned in “Freakonomics”, about how somehow through the course of his grad studies he ended up on the inside with a Chicago street gang and the projects they operated out of, saw his book at the store (LOL @ the B-Boy stance on the cover, btw) and couldn’t pass it up.

As cliche as it sounds, the review blurbs are right: it really is in turns sad, yet funny in others. One thing I came away with though that particularly amused me was how the gang actually operated. Their self-portrayals — sometimes as misunderstood businessmen (the gang sold crack), other times as if they were community organizers — were understandable and delusional at the same time, downplaying the negatives and playing up the positives. They even at one point started joking about Sudhir being their director of PR. However, the one comparison that fit best was the one that the gang never brought up, and even Sudhir himself only glanced at: government.

Laid out in the book are details of the responsibilities the gangsters took on beyond selling drugs. It seemed like most of the tenants were running black- or grey-market businesses out of their apartments, everything from selling food via a side-deal w/ a local grocer, to fixing cars in the lot outside, to renting extra space to squatters and prostitutes, and every single one of them had to get prior approval from the gang. There were fees paid to the gang members for the right to operate, and for security purposes, with penalties if anyone hid their activities. On top of this, the drug dealers expected favors as well. Combine this with the fact that, due to the reputation of the projects, ambulances weren’t even worth calling in an emergency & police generally stayed away, and you have in the form of this gang a self-anointed authority that extracts rents and taxes from people, who they treat with disdain mostly, except for the occasional display of condescending paternalism for their own purposes. They rule by fear, and consider whatever the hell they feel like taking as proper payment for “protection” and for mediating disputes. They constantly worry about conspiracies to take them down from rival gangs, when most conflicts start because of some random idiot and not a plan. The gang members that actually live there being largely mere foot soldiers taking orders from outside, the gang has no legitimate claim to the property that they make rules for, their only recourse being “well, we have guns”.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Considering the factors that contributed to such an environment — the escalating “War on Drugs”, the promotion of suburbanization & funneling of poor people into ever-shrinking areas, the political intersection of paternalism & elitism — it’s highly ironic that in response these people basically formed a mini-state. Definitely something to chew on for awhile…

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About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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One Response to Imagine Rothbard standing on his head

  1. Pingback: Psychopolitik 2.0 » The Tragedy of Government Cheese

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