In Ayn Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged", there is a place where the masters of production go to hide and wait out the eventual collapse of government and society. The collapse takes many years to get going but escalates in an exponential fashion. At the end of the story we are told that a total collapse is happening, and the producers can emerge from hiding to rebuild the world. This, of course, is bunk.
There is no "Galt's Gulch", and government is not going to disappear in an economic collapse.
We can see this plainly in recent cases like Zimbabwe and Argentina. In both cases the hyper-inflation of the currency lead to destruction of the economy, massive upheaval, and continued government. Sure, some of the players in the governments changed, but the masses continue to believe that government is not only necessary, but good.
Yes, the "underground economy", the so-called "black market" of non-government controlled market operations, is seeing growth. Yes, people are coming together in voluntary association a bit more. However, almost no one is demanding the elimination of the source of the problems.
The U.S. is no different. The vast majority of people here still believe that we "need" government - even in the face of a cornucopia of counterexamples. They are so blinded by their education (or lack thereof), government propaganda, and unenlightened self-interest; that the dream of anarchists that government will simply go away is just that: a dream.
That being said, one of the underlying assumptions of the Atlas Shrugged story is correct, I believe. That assumption is that society will need to be rebuilt.
Based on present conditions and policies, and barring the occurrence of a Black Swan event, I believe that over the next decade, Americans are going to face economic crises that will result in fundamental political and social changes. (Ironically, what many folks consider Black Swan events are actually very predictable; it is only the mainstream which misses them. For example, while his contemporaries claimed that the business cycle had been tamed and were bragging about perpetual prosperity, the Great Depression came as no surprise to the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.) While there is a significant chance that these changes will result in more authoritarianism, there is also a good chance that they will result in a more libertarian society.
In the midst of all this, there will be great opportunities for libertarian principles to flourish. The dependency that government has fostered is going to backfire. The “State” will be unable to keep its promises, and the people who are expecting the government to save them are going to be bitterly disappointed. Eventually, if things become bad enough, people will become desperate. Desperate people are willing to try anything, even freedom.
Although individual liberty and free markets are under attack everywhere, more socialism will only make the soil more fertile for the libertarian message. Now is not the time to adopt a bunker mentality, to become despondent, and give up. Now is exactly the time to spread that message, and to help people realize that there is an alternative to socialism, authoritarianism, and a Leviathan state--liberty, the birthright of the human race.
Like Glen, I believe that we can, and should, shape the future. This is no time to lose hope, but a time to renew efforts to replace government's failed institutions with free market solutions.
By working to build non-governmental, even explicitly agorist, solutions, we can provide the framework for a rebuilt society - one in which the initiation of force is minimized and prosperity is maximized. There is even great potential for personal profit in this venture. Imagine being a real life "Midas Mulligan", for example.
This is why I put the most emphasis, and the most of my effort, into alternative and non-governmental freedom oriented projects; like Shire Silver. While I believe we do need the political efforts to minimize the damage of government, it is only by building the societal alternatives to government's institutions that we will see a return to freedom and prosperity for the long haul.