– 9PM, Saturday, August 30 – Somewhere in South Minneapolis, MN
It had been a long, brutal day – exactly enough to make Paul Hendrickson wish he’d gone to his sister-in-law’s baby shower with his wife instead. Ten hours in the office chasing bugs, another day’s worth coming up tomorrow, and no end in sight.
And nobody at home; Lynn had taken the kids to visit their cousins up in Bemidji, and nobody would be home until Sunday night.
He drove up Hiawatha Avenue, past the desultory light rail and spotty car traffic, and saw a joint he’d never seen before - the “Invisible Hand” Bar and Grill, on Hiawatha somewhere in the forties. One of the girls in QA had told him they made a great burger.
But they had me at beer, Hendrickson thought, as he tried to remember the last time he’d been in a bar without either his wife or his co-workers. Since the Clinton years, for sure, he mused as he pulled into the parking lot. He hesitated – I could just nuke some leftover beef stew, he thought – before turning off the car and walking into the bar. He yawned loudly as he walked into the bar. A whiteboard sign pointed an arrow labeled “Seat Yourself” to the left, and “TRU LBRT, The Gathering!” to the right.
“Defininitely want “Seat Yourself“,Hendrickson thought, absent-mindedly turning to the right.
He stepped into a large back-room, about half full of people, and grabbed a seat at a table and opened a menu.
“Welcome!”, chirped Dave Os, in a different tweed jacket, wering a different bow-tie, sitting down at Hendrickson’s table.
“Um…hello?” Hendrickson replied, looking suspiciously over the top of his menu.
“So what’s your interest in liberty?” Os asked, his fingers absendmindedly running through the impeccably-tended whiskers of his beard.
“Um – I’m strongly in favor?” Hendrickson replied looking for a waitress.
“Good!”, said Os, as Ron Pallsacher – wearing a Gadsden flag t-shirt – sat down next to him.
“So…why are you asking me?” asked Hendrickson, looking for a waitress who seemed not to be coming at all.
“Oh, you’re at the TRU LBRT gathering!”, said Pallsacher, pronouncing it “True Liberty”.
“Huh. I guess I’m in the wrong room”.
“Or maybe the right room”, Os said. “I mean, do you value freedom, don’t you?”
“Well, I’m married, so clearly it’s an academic question to me…”
“So you don’t value liberty?”, Pallsacher chimed in, missing the joke.
“No, no, of course I do…although I really don’t know what you’re getting at”, Hendrickson said, giving up on the waitress for the moment.
“What we’re getting at”, said Pallsacher, “is that government takes away your liberty, and we’re going out to take it back”. Os nodded.
“Ah. I gotcha. Well, sort of”, Hendrickson said, leaning forward in his chair, dusting off a mental drawer that hadn’t been opened in quite a few years of not reading much about politics. “Like what liberties have we lost?”
“Oh, like the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures”, Os said, nervously twisting a lock of his beard into a little spike, then un-twisting it.
“Oh yeah – like all those no-knock SWAT team raids. Yeah, I’ve heard about those. Those are bad news”.
“Or taxes!”, said Pallsacher, his fists clenched in excitement as Arnie Quist, wearing fashionably unwashed raw-denim jeans and a formal seed cap, sat down next to Hendrickson.
“Well, yeah – my taxesaremighty high”, Hendrickson nodded, casting a suspicious glance at Quist.
“Why should you have to pay any taxes at all?”, Os asked.
“Er…to support the government?”, Hendrickson replied gingerly, provoking chuckles from Os, Pallsacher and Quist.
“Most of our problems stem from government”, Quist said, to enthusiastic nods from Os and Pallsacher.
“You’re telling me. I work in healthcare software. What a freaking nightmare”, Hendrickson said, to nods from the other men.
“It’s so far beyond healthcare. Most of the problems in this world are caused by government. That’s why I’m an anarcho-capitalist”, said Os.
“Huh”, said Hendrickson, sorting out the phrase in his head. “Capitalism without government. So how does that work?”
“Very well!”, said Quist.
“Where?” asked Hendrickson.
“Well, nowhere, yet”
“OK, I figured that. But I mean, literally – how does it work? How do you have capitalism without some sort of court system to enforce contracts?”
“Courts can be corrupted by the banksters that control goverment”, Quist chimed in, as Oz Streachan sat next to Os.
“Right, I get that. But how do you enforce contracts? I mean, I’ve had to take vendors to court for non-delivery. How do you do that without having some sort of government?”
“Everyone observes the NAP – the Non-Aggression Principle”, said Pallsacher.
“They have no reason not to, without government distorting the free market”, added Os.
“OK”, said Hendrickson, “I’m going to have to think about that one. But this “non-aggression principle” brings up the other thing – like, defending the country…”, he said, stopping when all four men started laughing. “OK, what?”
“Well”, said Quist, “wars happen because governments exist. In a world without governments and the interests that control them, and everyone observing the Non-Aggression Principle, there’d be no need for defense, since there’d be no government to defend against”.
“So everyone in the world will just suddenly agree to get along?”, Hendrickson asked, looking at the four men.
“Well, it’ll take some time to win everyone over – which is what we’re working on tonight!”, said Quist.
“So Al Quaeda will stop trying to kill us, because…”
“Because we won’t be trying to kill them”, said Streachan.
“Gotcha. OK – so who builds the roads?”
The four men – now joined by Frena Marquette and Bill Durburgh – erupted laughing.
“Who’ll ‘build the roads’”, Quist chuckled.
“Yeah, never heard that one before!” guffawed Streachan.
Hendrickson looked among his six tablemates. “OK, so how do roads get built – say, a road between two cities across private land, without any recourse to eminent domain?”
“The private market will settle it”, Os and Durburgh responded, as Pallsacher answered “Really, there can be no more inland cities”, while Streachan and Quist chimed in “Hover cars!”, and Marquette replied “their problem, not mine”.
Hendrickson looked at them. “Huh. Interesting. So the the perfect world will become perfect through the complete lack of government?”
“Yes!”, answered all six immediately.
“Interesting”, Hendrickson replied. “Hey – I’m supposed to meet someone across town. Nice to meet you all. Gotta dash”.
Os handed Hendrickson a business card reading “Dave Os – Social De-Engineer”. “Call me if you want to get involved!”
“Will do!”, said Hendrickson. “Nice to meet you all”, he said, side-stepping toward the door.
– 11AM East China Time, Sunday, August 31 – Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China
Field Marshal Li Wang H’sing groaned, half in pain, half in pleasure, as the masseuse’s fingers dug into the fleshy skin of his upper back.
Li’s uniform coat – hung neatly on the door to the room, whose view overlooked Shanghai harbor from the 42nd Floor of the Peoples’ Liberation Bank headquarters building – had six stars on the epaulettes. His ID card – tucked into his wallet, in his back pants pocket, also hanging from the door – identified him as as the Commander of the People’s Liberation Bank.
And the masseuse – an 18 year old girl from Sichuan – was definitely in line for a promotion to Sergeant.
The door knocked, three times, briskly.
“Enter”, Li yelled in his dense, Shanghai accent.
Colonel Wu T’ang Klan – a trim, athletic 40-something man in a Peoples’ Liberation Army officer’s daily dress uniform with a “Cybercommando” patch on the left shoulder – entered the room. Eyeing the masseuse, he smiled – the perks of command were indeed excellent, he briefly mused, pondering his own evening’s plans after getting off duty in the Operations Center. But he shook the thought off.
“What is it, Wu?” Li groaned.
“Three things, Comrade Field Marshal. First – Commissioner Fong is going to be here at eight to discuss the matter of the natural gas exports”
Li groaned. It wasn’t the first time this issue had raised its head.
Wu continued “Your wife called. Her car is on the way”.
Li’s eyes popped open wide. “That was the second item of business? Are you mad?”
Wu continued, calmly. “The third, matter – the purchase of US Government Bonds”.
But Li was already up, rustling for his clothes. “Screw the bonds”, he muttered in his thick, Shanghai accent, nearly unintelligible to speakers of other Chinese dialects. Li usually spoke a higher dialect of Mandarin to avoid trouble…
…but not this day. He blurted it out.
And to Wu – a native of Szechuan – it sounded for all the world like “Sell the Bonds”.
“By your leave, Comrade Field Marshal”, he said, executing a crisp salute and leaving as the Field Marshal frantically got dressed.
Wu walked briskly down the hall toward the elevator, returning salutes from a group of People’s Liberation Army Commerce Guards. An elevator car was waiting, and he climbed in for his ride down to the basement Operations Center.
Wu knew Li was nobody to mess with. In a thirty year career in the Peoples’ Liberation Army, Li had been at the thick of every action. His record was well-known; a platoon leader during the building of the Hong Kong casinos; a company commander during the cracking of the encryption for the Microsoft Windows source code, he was promoted quickly to command a Battalion. Tasked with leading the merger and acquisition of a Welsh fish and chips chain, he’d led their expansion into Africa and Asia, getting him a Regiment command. And there he might have stalled – but for his near-miraculous turnaround on the response to a sell-off of an overleveraged derivate, which he turned from a defensive play to a major fiscal victory, getting him division and then Field Fiscal Army command. Then, during the bidding war to supply natural gas to Korea, he jumped over thousands of other three-star generals to become PLA Mergers and Acquisitions Director, which added three and then four stars to his shoulders. This brought him to command of the Peoples Liberation Bank three years ago – just in time to lead it to victory in the war over the deferred accrual of Singaporean derivatives, which led to the epic fiscal “Victory of the Ten Swans”, as it was called in the popular song that all the school children sang to Li’s honor. Tough, smart, politically bulletproof, Li was a good wagon for a young greyhound like Wu to be hitched to.
Then Wu laughed. Who would hitch a grayhound to a wagon?
This brought Wu to the Operations Center of the People’s Liberation Bank. He swiped his ID card, and the door slid open with a briskswish. He walked through a splendid marble anteroom, dotted with tables at which senior officers sat, talking furtively, drinking tea and scotch and discussing fiscal policy. A steward offered him a cup – an exquisite porcelain demitasse, no doubt a product of Hai’nan’s finest craftspeople – of the bank’s utterly divine strain of H’ung Lang tea. Wu took a sip, then another. Then, taking a deep breath, he left it on the table, and stepped to a door guarded by two Peoples’ Liberation Bank guards. As he returned the guards’ snappy salute, the door opened, and the serene, incense-scented quiet of the anteroom was bludgeoned with the noise of the Peoples’ Liberation Bank bond trading floor.
Wu stepped out onto the marble balcony, thirty feet above the trading floor, as the duty sergeant major bellowed “Attention”. The men on the balcony – the guards, four telephone talkers, and Lieutenant Wang Hung Long, the third-shift duty officer, snapped to attention, saluting the Colonel.
“As you were. Wang!”
“Comrade Marshal Li has ordered we sell all American bonds”.
Wang grabbed a white binder from a shelf along the wall way from the floor, and flipped to the “bond sale” protocol. “Sir – I acknowledge the sale of all American government bonds!” He turned to Captain Shih Pang Fung. “Captain. Initiate a sell order on all American government bonds”.
Captain Shih turned to Wa How Chung, the grizzled old sergeant major. “Initiate a sale of all American government bonds”.
Sergeant Major Wa took a microphone, and pressed the talk key. As he started speaking, the floor fell quiet.
“Now hear this. How hear this. Initiate a complete sale of all American government bonds. I repeat; Initiate a complete sale of all American government bonds. That is all”.
The floor erupted in a cataract of noise, as lieutenant-colonels ordered the companies of their floor trading battalions into action. The company captains passed frantic orders to the sergeants, who ordered squads of private on the phones to start placing “sell” orders on American bonds. Paper carriers, their sergeants cursing at them and jogging at double time, brought more sale forms to the phone-men at the front line, who ran through the forms as fast as they could. Stretcher bearers carried the casualties off the floor, as replacements – scared and just out of business school – took their places on the phones.
Wu stood impassively, giving no sign of his anxieties as the battle drill unfolded below other than his right hand clencing and unclenching.
But finally – three hours later, Sergeant Wa Jin Kang, exhausted, shuffled through the piles of paper and stepped over exhausted comrades, carrying a Chinese flag up the steps to the balcony. He wearily stepped up the stairs, to the top, saluted Wu, and reported “Sir, we have sold the last of the bonds”.
Wu executed a snappy return salute, prompting a weary but loud cheer from the floor.
“As you were”, said Wu, wondering if anything would ever really be as it was again.