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.
Mr. GEORGE MANDRIK: Oh yeah, we're just cooking this up. How you doing today?
SMITH: How much bacon do you have?
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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?
Mr. MANDRIK: Yeah. Yeah. Check it out.
SMITH: One gram of silver, five grams of silver.
Mr. MANDRIK: Point one grams of gold.
SMITH: Whoa, its like a strand of gold.
Mr. MANDRIK: Yup.
SMITH: How much is this worth?
Mr. 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.
Mr. RON HELLWIG (Designer): I'm Ron Hellwig. I am, the designer, whatever, of the shire silver model.
SMITH: Well, youre sort of the Federal Reserve chairman. Youre the Ben Bernanke of silver here in the campground.
Mr. HELLWIG: Without the violence.
Mr. HELLWIG: Yeah.
SMITH: Oh, he just seems like such a calm man.
Mr. HELLWIG: He's like the mafia don who can, you know, talk reasonable, but you know if you go up against him odds are youre going to get hurt.
SMITH: Hellwig doesn't make it clear if he's talking metaphorically or if he really believes that the Federal Reserve is out to get people. All I know is that you should not joke about the Fed around here unless you have a lot of time to discuss it. And then you don't get breakfast. So I set out to buy some silver. Ron has invented these neat little laminated cards about the size of a driver's license that contain strips of silver. He has basically created a silver-based currency with different denominations. There's one gram, five grams. I give him a $20 bill and get around 10 grams of silver in exchange. And then I head back to George's.
SMITH" So I have a cup of coffee and a bacon weave omelet. What's it going to cost in silver?
Mr. MANDRIK: Five of those. So they're two bucks apiece.
SMITH: Excellent. Good deal. Thanks.
Mr. 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?
Mr. 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: The omelet is delicious, even if it was touched by a few government hands. My silver investment doesn't work out so well. When I'm ready for dinner, I bring my new silver currency to the Thai food tent on the other side of the campground, and the guy there just shakes his head. The only silver he takes are the round coins, not the laminated strips of silver. It's a good lesson. In a free market, there are no guarantees.
Robert Smith, NPR News.
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