A year ago I started a subreddit for polycentric-law, though I now favor the broader term decentralized-law. Without realizing it, and long before I became a libertarian, I had been working on the ideas of decentralized law for two decades.

I awoke politically at age 13 and became intensely interested in both politics and economics ever thereafter. Inflation was a hot issue in that day and I was obsessed with finding out what caused inflation. Several books later I had the answer; I had read every economics text the school library owned in the process during my lunch hours.

But there was one overriding problem that bothered me all these years, since very nearly the beginning of my awakening, a problem that I have worked on ever since. It is the problem of politics, specifically the idea that some people are able to force laws on other people in society, and the inherent conflict of interests and corruption this causes. I didn’t realize the problem in those terms back then, only I knew something was wrong and needed to be fixed somehow.

For many years representative democracy seemed a default necessity and I focused purely on how the problem of politics could be reformed while trying to figure out how to eliminate or minimize the corruption inherent to it. How can the effects of lobbying and money in Washington, the buying of politicians, favorable laws and privileges, regulatory capture–how can these be prevented?

For years I played with scheme after scheme. I would invent dozens of potential solutions to the lobbying problem, the corruption problem, could we limit lobbyists in this way, can we control politicians in that way? Can we make this or that illegal? I came up with dozens of seemingly good ideas and then played through their scenarios in my head, inevitably discovering that every single means of preventing political corruption always had a work-around. And what’s more, the more effective the means of preventing corruption, the potentially worse the outcome, because it had the result of limiting access only to the most unscrupulous and predatory amongst us.

Eventually I decided we should split cities in two and allow democrats to run one half unopposed and republicans to run the other half unopposed, and simply see where people choose to live. That way, I figured, at the very least each party would be robbed of the ability to blame the other side when their policies failed to work, or to claim credit from another when they did. I had reinvented footvoting as a solution, without realizing.

And then I discovered Rothbard and Friedman and everything changed. The nature of the problem came into clarity at last. I never imagined the solution would be to abandon democracy itself and focus on decentralized political structures, until I became an anarchist that is.

Rothbard freed me from statism, and Friedman taught me the basics of polycentric-law–imagine my glee as he filled in the holes in my thinking from so many years previous. Rothbard explained why we should be against the state, and Friedman showed the way to what should replace it. I am grateful to both men for their trailblazing works.

But I felt Friedman’s concept of dispute-resolution organizations (DROs) to be outdated. It seemed a very 1970’s concept, meaning one locked in a pre-internet, pre-computer past. Certainly before those things existed you would need DROs to manage the back-end of a decentralized-law society, just to keep everything straight. But DROs post existential risks. They are too centralized, though that amount of centralization would probably have been necessary in 1970.

As I became enamored with and involved in the decentralist revolution and mindset, I began building concepts for a maximally-decentralized version of Friedman’s polycentric-law conception, meaning decentralized law, individualist law. My goal being to maximize how decentralized a legal system could possible be, to bring decision-making down to the indvidual level where it could not be co-opted.

I realized that the only person who won’t cheat you, is you. The only one who will never act against your interests, is you. If a DRO had the ability to force laws on its members, that would inevitably be abused. But if all law was made at the individual level, by individuals for their own property solely, then law could no longer be used as a tool of the rich and powerful to obtain legal privileges for themselves at the expense of others.

Thus was born the COLA concept. Here’s how it works.

COLAs, meaning communities of legal agreement, are established by private law, or private agreement between people. When two or more people agree to accept the same lawset for their individual property, a COLA is formed.

People are likely to form into COLAs for several reasons, but perhaps the most important is convenience and structure.

Convenience, meaning that it would be impractical to have to sign an entry agreement with every single business and store you came across. Imagine just reading and signing documents all day upon moving to a new city, and how on earth would you ever keep them all straight?

Instead a COLA structure allows all the businesses and homeowners in a region to accept the same lawset that’s active on their property, and you only need to sign one entry agreement when you enter the COLA the first time, and from then on while within the COLA boundaries you can roam freely, property to property, under the same rules.

COLAs can be comprehensive or non-comprehensive and thus overlapping. The COLA concept is intended to be a wholistic replacement for the DRO concept.

While much of the COLA concept is concerned with forming regional, exclusionary communities by agreement, it’s possible to have non-comprehensive-COLAs that aren’t tied to anyone place and function as overlapping law.

I suggest that such agreements would arise to serve as a private-law replacement for foundational law, such as the US constitution. It would be, essentially, a COLA for COLAs, establishing that all COLAs formed within this superstructure will have at least these legal concepts… (ie: it establishes basic rights and protections).

What this has the effect of doing is stripping from the DRO-concept the ability to make law and invest that ability in individual property owners.

This would’ve been laborious and largely impossible before the internet as we know it today, which is why the DRO made sense in the past. But the DRO concept is outdated now that we can easily make and trade law using apps, the internet, virtual communities, and cryptography for verification.

The COLA concept brings law-creation down to its ultimate in decentralization: the individual.

The basic concept is that X and Y accept the same laws and then put their property together, forming contiguous boundaries.

X and Y could be two individual people, or it could be two different entire communities, creating a recursive or overlapping legal structure. Much in the same way that we currently have law made at the federal, state, city, and town level, COLAs can be structured in a similar manner, with law at the highest level being so foundational and basic that few people would disagree with it. This is a replacement for constitutional law, state law, and all the way down.

I’ve found that people have a hard time completely understanding the COLA concept because they are trying to reason by analogy with things like HOAs, or state-law, or they imagine that corporations will run COLAs. None of these things are good mental models for what a COLA is and how it operates.

The key word is voluntarism. Whenever people suggest to me that COLAs have this or that inherent problem or snag, I simply point out that they are ignoring some facet of voluntarism. COLAs, being individualist and decentralized, are inherently voluntarist. No one can force you to join one, no one can force you to accept this or that law, and no one can change laws on you against your will. The basic rule of voluntarism is that you must agree to everything in advance before you can be considered obligated to conform to that rule.

COLAs even obviate the need for jails. I think we can all agree it would be a great thing if we could significantly reduce or eliminate the reliance on locking people behind bars, something the US is addicted to. COLAs can help with this by being communities of entry-privilege, rather than taking all comers. What this means is that it’s considered a privilege to be given entry to a COLA, and that privilege can be revoked at any time if you break the rules of that COLA, and from then on they can keep offenders out.

Instead of keeping offenders away from society by locking them up, you simply revoke their access to polite society and leave offenders outside the walls. Polite society inside the COLA walls, society by force outside the walls.

Offenders would be forced to live among and deal with primarily other offenders–perhaps somewhat as in jail–but by contrast we wouldn’t be forced to feed and clothe them, nor limit their other decisions, and they’d have to work to survive like everyone else. And living in such places is a more expensive place to live as well, meaning it comes with built-in disincentive. No one wants to become an outlaw.

It should be emphasize that COLA law is a form of voluntarist meta-law. It is not any specific policy proposal, it is a proposal for how law itself could be effected and organized. Could socialists create COLAs? Well sure, but who would voluntarily join them? Only other socialists. Could they force us to join them? Nope. COLA law is inherently voluntary, one must explicitly agree in advance before one can be held accountable to a rule, and non-signers must be kept outside the walls.

The major benefit of COLA law is that it allows creative-destruction in legal terms–something we’ve never had before. Today hundred year old laws are endemic. In COLA law, laws live and die with people and communities, they don’t get carried over from person to person. If law stops being useful, it is easily discarded by all involved–a prospect that in representative democracy is nearly impossible to achieve.

In the US, just the *index* to the comprehensive law code is 700 pages long. Such would be virtually unimaginable in a COLA-based system no matter how long it went on for.

And there’s one more massive advantage: there need be no one in a COLA society who can force laws on others in that society, which means that exploitative by government privilege or fiat becomes virtually impossible.

It is, in short, decentralized and individualist law, something the world has never seen in operation before. And I can’t wait to try it out when we build the first [libertarian enclaves](/r/seasteading) in the next few years.