Breakfast At Libertarian Summer Camp

Jul 1, 2011
Originally published on July 5, 2011 9:29 am

Last weekend, a group of libertarians and anarchists gathered in the woods of northern New Hampshire for the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival, aka PorcFest.

I went up for breakfast.

Lucky for me, George Mandrik has brought along 150 lbs. of bacon, which he's selling out of a tent to finance his trip to the festival. He does this thing where he weaves 10 pieces of bacon into what he calls "a little blanket," and cooks the whole thing up.

I tell him that I want to experience a government-free breakfast, and George makes his best pitch.

He tells me proudly that, although he makes his living cooking, he has no permit to sell food. He's never been inspected. And he does not pay taxes.

"I don't want them in my business at all," he says of the government. "If somebody wants to buy my food, it's between me and them."

But of course no government means no official inspection stating that George washes his hands or that he keeps his bacon cold. As I'm asking about food safety, we are interrupted by another customer, who happens to have a handgun strapped to his belt.

"We'll regulate him," he says. "If he poisons me, I won't buy his food. And he'll be done."

The marketplace here is booming. Hundreds of people have shown up to spend the week. Many are drawn here by the Free State Project, which is trying to get libertarian-leaning folks to move to New Hampshire.

You can buy just about anything you want at PorcFest — food, drugs, bootleg cigarettes or alcohol. And you don't even need U.S. government currency to do it.

Someone shows me a cash register stocked with tiny pieces of silver and gold.

Trying to give up the U.S. dollar means a lot of extra math. You hear it all day long. How much is silver? How many grams in an ounce?

It's 8:30 in the morning, in the woods, and people are checking the precious metal prices on their cell phones.

I go directly to the source. Down the hill, Ron Hellwig has set up a bank and a mint on a folding table.

Ron has invented these neat little laminated cards that contain strips of silver. He has basically created a silver-based currency with different denominations — 1 gram, 5 grams, etc.

I give him a $20 bill and get about 10 grams of silver in exchange. Then I head back to George's for a cup of coffee and a bacon-weave omelet. Cost: Five grams of silver.

But as George is making the omelets I spot something. His eggs come in big racks approved by the USDA. And the propane he's using to cook the omelet — didn't someone have to pay gas taxes on that?

"Unfortunately, it's impossible to live completely state free," George says.

When I'm ready for dinner, I bring what's left of my silver currency to the Thai food tent on the other side of the campground. But the guy just shakes his head. He only takes the round silver coins, not the laminated strips of silver I have.

It's my final lesson. There are no guarantees in a free market.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Tax laws are among the things libertarians rail against. Many believe in abolishing the IRS and dramatically cutting the size of government. Our Planet Money team wondered how hard it would be to take the government out of our everyday transactions. There was a gathering of libertarians and anarchists in the woods of New Hampshire this last weekend - the Porcupine Freedom Festival. And NPR's Robert Smith went up for an experiment in breakfast.

ROBERT SMITH: When I get up in the morning, the campground smells like freedom, which turns out to be a whole lot of bacon.

GEORGE MANDRIK: Oh yeah, we're just cooking this up. How you doing today?

SMITH: How much bacon do you have?

MANDRIK: I purchased 150 pounds of bacon and I actually weaved 90 of it. And by weaved I mean I made a - 10 pieces of bacon I weave into like a little blanket.

SMITH: This is how George Mandrik is financing his trip up here, selling those little squares of woven pork. I tell him that I want to experience a truly government-free breakfast. And George is ready. He tells me proudly that although he makes his living cooking, he has no permit to sell food. He's never been inspected. And he does not pay taxes to the government.

MANDRIK: I don't want them in my business at all. So if somebody wants to buy my food, that's between me and them. It's none of their business what I'm doing.

SMITH: But of course no government means no official inspection, stating that George washes his hands or that he keeps his bacon cold enough. I got to trust him. And as we're going back and forth on the food safety issue, we're interrupted by another customer, who happens to be wearing a handgun on his belt.

ED COMEAU: We don't need to regulate George, because we'll regulate him. If he poisons me, I won't buy his food.

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SMITH: You'll run him out of the campground.

COMEAU: Exactly.

SMITH: Ed Comeau says that the Porcupine Festival is all about using competition to solve these problems. And the marketplace here is booming. Hundreds of people have shown up to spend the week. Many of them are drawn here by the Free State Project, which is trying to encourage like-minded folks to move to New Hampshire. And you can buy just about anything you want, food, drugs, bootleg cigarettes or alcohol - tax-free. George says you don't even need U.S. government currency to do it.

MANDRIK: I've already had somebody pay me in a gram of gold and we just pretty much started a tab. We counted it as $50 and...

SMITH: So, in your cashier register is there gold? Is there silver?

MANDRIK: Yeah. Yeah. Check it out.

SMITH: One gram of silver, five grams of silver.

MANDRIK: Point one grams of gold.

SMITH: Whoa, it's like a strand of gold.

MANDRIK: Yup.

SMITH: How much is this worth?

MANDRIK: Jay, what are these 10 bucks? Nine dollars?

SMITH: Trying to give up the U.S. dollar means you have to do a lot of extra math in your head. You hear it constantly all day long, how much is silver? How many grams are in an ounce? It's 8:30 in the morning in the woods, and people are checking precious metal prices on their cell phones. I go directly to the source. Down the hill, a man has set up a sort of bank and mint on this folding table.

RON HELLWIG: I'm Ron Hellwig. I am, the designer, whatever, of the shire silver model.

SMITH: Well, you're sort of the Federal Reserve chairman. You're the Ben Bernanke of silver here in the campground.

HELLWIG: The Violence?

HELLWIG: Yeah.

SMITH: Oh, he just seems like such a calm man.

HELLWIG: He's like the mafia don who can, you know, talk reasonable, but you know if you go up against him odds are you're going to get hurt.

SMITH: SMITH" So I have a cup of coffee and a bacon weave omelet. What's it going to cost in silver?

MANDRIK: Five of those. So they're two bucks apiece.

SMITH: Excellent. Good deal. Thanks.

MANDRIK: Thank you.

SMITH: But as George is making the omelets I spot something. His eggs. They come in big racks approved by the USDA. Government inspected. And the propane he's using to cook the omelet, didn't someone have to pay gas taxes on that?

MANDRIK: Unfortunately, it's impossible to live completely state free. But it's about living, you know, as free as you can, you know, free of the government rule.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.