What CHAZ Failure Says About Socialism

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Posted: Jun 17, 2020 1:45 PM
What CHAZ Failure Says About Socialism

Source: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Like most libertarians, I support decentralization and federalism. Under the right circumstances, I’m even sympathetic to the idea of secession (hooray for Brexit!).

This is why I have no problem with a community based on voluntary socialism. History tells us that approach doesn’t work (largely for the reasons captured in this cartoon), but people should be free to try over and over again.

Which brings us to “CHAZ.”

For those who haven’t been following the news, protestors in Seattle (motivated in part by legitimate concerns about police misbehavior) have seized control of a neighborhood and declared it to be the “Capital Hill Autonomous Zone.”

Some people see CHAZ as an example of self-government based on a strange mix of libertarian impulses (pro-gun, for example) and leftist impulses (anti-cop, for example).

The Washington Post has a rather sympathetic report about the group, written by Gregory Scruggs.

For the past several days, Ochoa, 28, has been serving as an unarmed volunteer “sentinel,” or guard, in the protest zone. Ochoa, a self-described leftist libertarian recently furloughed from the Seattle International Film Festival, and other volunteers have been serving four-hour shifts to help to keep the peace. …Core to the zone is a vision of a self-governed community with no formal policing. Instead, volunteers, many of them avowed police abolitionists, have begun to organize their own safety force. …Volunteers say this work is a way to highlight what a city without police might look like. “We have a chance to really build something here, so I have a vested interest in defending that as a part of my community,” said Ochoa, who lives in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. …Markinson describes himself as an anti-fascist, anti-racist community defense advocate. He is a gun owner… Markinson views Seattle’s ongoing experiment as part of a lineage of anarchist neighborhoods… a sentinel who gave his name as James Madison stood at the southern barricade with an AR-15 draped over his chest, as he has done on other nights. …“There are a few of us who are armed.” …a hand-painted sign approaching the barricades offers watchwords: “In a world without cops we must never again become the cops ourselves.”

If nothing else, CHAZ is anti-authority, at least if traditional city government is the definition of authority.

But is it a viable system?

Robert Tracinski, in an article for the Bulwark, discusses potential problems.

…the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, endearingly nicknamed CHAZ…is the product of anti-police protests in Seattle that led the mayor to order the abandonment of one of the city’s downtown police precincts, ceding a six-block area of Seattle’s downtown to the protesters, who have turned it into a kind of anarcho-socialist utopia, with free food, free music, no cops, and lots of peace and love, man. …CHAZ certainly set a record for socialist utopias when it comes to running out of food. Within the first day, they were already sending out the alarm: “The homeless people we invited took away all the food at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. We need more food to keep the area operational…” I’ve checked to see whether this is parody, and as far as I can tell, it’s not. …Another area where they are well ahead of schedule for a socialist utopia is in putting up walls and establishing checkpoints with internal passports. …This leads us to the big question about the “autonomous zone”: Whose “autonomy” is it? Certainly, it’s not the autonomy of the people who actually live there, who did not invite the protesters and never had the opportunity to vote on whether they wanted to reject the protection of the Seattle PD and establish new protectors. …With leadership seemingly up for grabs, CHAZ is the scene of sporadic petty scuffles, which activists are asking people not to film because it might make them look bad. Yes, well, I’m sure the Minneapolis PD felt the same way. …My favorite description of CHAZ is from a Seattle Times article which says it has “mostly been peaceful.” That’s a favorite bit of journalistic spin. “Mostly peaceful” is how you describe something that’s violent when you don’t want the reader to draw that conclusion.

Tracinski certainly is correct that existing property owners haven’t consented to the new system.

And he’s probably correct in that the new form of authority in CHAZ may be even more arbitrary and unfair than the old system (time will tell).

But he only scratches the surface of the issue that is of greatest interest to me, which is whether CHAZ has a viable economic system.

Ideally, local businesses will be free to operate and to transact with the outside world. And if there are no taxes and nobody to enforce red tape, we might almost see an example of anarcho-capitalism.

For what it’s worth, I’m guessing Seattle bureaucrats intend to retroactively collect taxes and take other steps to make sure there is no long-run reduction in the burden of government for CHAZians.

What about in the short run? In a column for Spectator USA, Ben Sixsmith suggests that authorities should adopt a hands-off attitude and let CHAZ sink or swim.

A group of anarchists and leftists collected in Capitol Hill, known for its hipster and LGBT scenes, they have barricaded themselves into a small area and established an anarchic intentional community… Seattle’s aspiring revolutionaries had only just announced the creation of CHAZ, as a place in which progressives can live free of corporate consumerism and police violence, when a local rapper-cum-warlord named Raz Simone began stalking the place with an armed militia. …I believe that the state and federal authorities should leave them alone. If people are being raped and killed in CHAZ then the officials will have to get involved, of course, but otherwise they should be left to their own devices. …for radical leftists to establish their own territory is, frankly, refreshing. For years they have been insisting that the culture, communities, education, religious beliefs et cetera of their fellow citizens be transformed in accordance with their own idiosyncratic ideas. Everyone has had to conform with their progressive beliefs. The CHAZers? They aren’t trying to reshape America. They are trying to build a place of their own. How is that not preferable? …Of course, I think CHAZ will be an embarrassing failure. I suspect it will collapse in a heap of shortages, grievances and recriminations… If it all collapses of its own accord, then a lot of radical progressives are going to have a tough, useful lesson in the value of civilized institutions.

In other words, let’s allow CHAZ to be a test case.

If it adopts a bunch of leftist policies (which seems likely), then we’ll almost surely see another example of socialism failing, even when it’s voluntary.

Though I’m crossing my fingers that the CHAZians adopt a libertarian approach to economics.

Given that Seattle has a very left-leaning government, we then might finally get an example to disprove Jacob Leddy.

Sadly, I don’t think that will happen. The city’s crazy politicians will be more than happy to tolerate CHAZ if it’s a socialist experiment, but they’ll send in the cops if it morphs into a libertarian experiment.