2013-12-19

Let's Talk About Liberty

Over the years, Jeffrey Tucker has managed to amass an admirable amount of goodwill from within what we might call "the liberty movement." I don't know his full biography, but I do know that he connected with Murray Rothbard early on; he served as editor of Mises.org and has been an instrumental member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute; he is a successful author and speaker; and he has a huge online following. My sense is that, while he probably never set out to become a celebrity, his public persona is so likable that his celebrity was basically inevitable.

I've always been somewhat interested in the celebrity business model, from a pure economic standpoint. Most of us have to develop skills that we then sell to employers. Career or economic success for most of us is a function of the skills we develop and their usefulness to other people. For celebrities, the case is a little different. Celebrities have found a way to be interesting simply by being themselves - by being funny (like stand-up comedians), or by being fun to hang out with (like Paris Hilton), or by being good at playing a sport or a musical instrument. Especially in that last case, it's not even sufficient for a celebrity to have disproportionately high skill. John Mayer is no better a singer or guitarist, for example, than half the state of Texas. It's not his skill set that makes him interesting, it's his "John-Mayer-ness," the fact that he is interesting for being who he is.

And so it is with Jeffrey Tucker. I don't want to minimize his knowledge or skills - he obviously wouldn't be where he was if he lacked either. But there are many people in the "liberty movement" who have not enjoyed the same level of fame as Tucker, and as I said, I think this has a lot to do with his likability.

What does one do with a huge stockpile of likability and a large following? Capitalize! What else? Tucker co-founded the Laissez-Faire Book Club, which seems to be a sort of Amazon-cum-Netflix for libertarian literature. I'm out of the loop on this stuff, but it seems to be going well. But it also seems that Tucker's work with Mises.org, with LFB.org, and so on, were all a prelude to the main attraction: Liberty.me. Here's the launch video:
You can read about the launch of Liberty.me and what amenities it promises you here. I am trying to remain agnostic on the idea, but I have to admit that I am very curious.

It seems to bill itself as a subscription-based digital community. Sort of like MySpace (much moreso than Facebook or Google+) for libertarians. But this really only appears to be the attention-getting device. Liberty.me also provides access to e-books and information on... how to be a libertarian, I guess. How to interact with law enforcement, how to invest your money, how to protect your online privacy, and so on.

Some this will obviously appeal more to some than others. Those with a high interest in how best to interact with law enforcement are obviously those whose daily behavior marches a little closer to the edges of the page than the center, if you know what I mean. And while everyone has an interest in investing, one does get the sense that the kind of advice you'll be getting at Liberty.me will reflect the founding members' interest in such things as precious metals, Bitcoin, and whole life insurance. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

For me, there are two primary sources of appeal here. The first is that, by creating what is essentially a gated libertarian community, complete with its own exclusivity, they make people like me think, "What kinds of cool things will I miss out on by not joining?" Will something really useful and interesting pop up, that I would otherwise not have access to? The liberty movement is pretty innovative, and if that innovation recedes into the proverbial Galt's Gulch of gated online communities, then it is only to the detriment of non-participants.

The second source of appeal is what the promotional materials refer to as "a built-in audience." The Stationary Waves audience has loose ties to the liberty movement. Liberty.me could potentially compete with my audience, which is certainly not "built-in." Of course, that depends largely on how successful the launch is, how large the community is, and so on.

At a price of $100 for a year-long membership - which, do note, is a reduced price - the barrier to entry is high enough to create a real sense of exclusivity. I suspect that many people will not elect to pay, but at the same time, the "liberty movement" never ceases to impress me. So I suppose we shall see how it pans out.

I mention it here at Stationary Waves because it is an interesting development. I am not yet ready to take the plunge, myself. Being the individualist that I am, I seldom benefit from community membership of any sort.