2016 and the future: A radical reply to Robert Henderson


First, let me record my appreciation of Robert’s essay “2016 and the future.” While we have very different world views (I’m an individualist, Robert is a nationalist) I often find that we agree, in large part, on conclusions. But that isn’t the case here; so, I feel impelled to respond.

Robert starts by saying, “The grip of the Western globalists is slipping.” Yes, indeed. But I’m inclined to say that the grip that is slipping is their grip on themselves. And it isn’t just globalists. Even the local mafiosi increasingly treat us human beings as lower even than farm animals. They try any excuse to steal more and more from us in taxes. They continually tighten restrictions on our lives, both personal and business – often, it seems, just for the sake of it. And they show an arrogance, and a disdain for us, that astounds.

Robert goes on to talk of censorship and suppression of dissent. Again, yes indeed. Put together surveillance laws and the recent “fake news” meme, and it becomes plain that our enemies want to make telling the truth into anathema.

As to Trump, the establishment look as if they’re seeking a bridge contract of “One No Trumps.” But though he’s a politician, I’m not certain he’s all bad. Let’s see how he gets on.

As to Brexit, the Leave vote brought together some very unlikely bedfellows. Nationalist conservatives, old style Labourites, and even radicals like me. There wasn’t – and can’t be – any “united front.” The best we freedom lovers can do is promote a broad church, in which we agree on certain fundamental principles, like “don’t get in each other’s way.” But otherwise, we just get on with our own lives.

But Robert is spot on when he discusses the likely results of that vote. To paraphrase him: There may be “Brexit,” but there will be no Brexit. Until the EU collapses, of course.

To immigration. This is an area in which I fundamentally disagree with Robert. For me, the only valid borders are the borders of rightly held property. To allow a state to have borders, therefore, is to concede that it owns everything inside those borders; including you and me. That said, the mafiosi’s encouragement of mass migration goes several bridges too far. Particularly since the main motivation seems to be to preserve their unsustainable, debilitating welfare system.

On to robots. I thank Robert for raising this issue. There are both positives and negatives from such technology. Positively, it could create a more leisured world, in which robots do routine things, and we humans are freed to be creative. Negatively, as Robert says, it could make many people redundant. As a technologist myself, I’m very much in favour of the robot idea. But its effects, positive or negative, are a matter of “politics.” Who gets the benefits? Those who developed the technology? Their managers? A political class and their cronies? “Everyone?”

I do question one thing Robert said, that “the ideology of laissez faire… is at odds with human nature.” If I can interpret his meaning, he is following his use, earlier in the essay, of “laissez faire” to mean crony capitalism. I’d call that more like laissons faire – “we, the élite, can do what we want, but you the plebs have no rights at all.” I hope Robert can clarify this point.

As to his view on Russia, I couldn’t agree more, within present-day parameters. But I look forward to a world in which we talk, not about Russia or China, but about Russian persons and people who were born in China.

For me, the state is the problem. And it’s a world wide problem. It falls to us, to people like Robert and me – in our different ways – to disinfect people’s minds from politics, and to make people understand that politicians and their hangers-on are criminals.

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7 comments

  • Reblogged this on rudolfwordpressblog and commented:

    …”Robert goes on to talk of censorship and suppression of dissent. Again, yes indeed. Put together surveillance laws and the recent “fake news” meme, and it becomes plain that our enemies want to make telling the truth into anathema.

    As to Trump, the establishment look as if they’re seeking a bridge contract of “One No Trumps.” But though he’s a politician, I’m not certain he’s all bad. Let’s see how he gets on.

    As to Brexit, the Leave vote brought together some very unlikely bedfellows. Nationalist conservatives, old style Labourites, and even radicals like me. There wasn’t – and can’t be – any “united front.” The best we freedom lovers can do is promote a broad church, in which we agree on certain fundamental principles, like “don’t get in each other’s way.” But otherwise, we just get on with our own lives.

    But Robert is spot on when he discusses the likely results of that vote. To paraphrase him: There may be “Brexit,” but there will be no Brexit. Until the EU collapses, of course”….

  • “To allow a state to have borders, therefore, is to concede that it owns everything inside those borders; including you and me.”

    I would say that to allow a state to have borders is to concede only that the state has a duty to protect everything inside those borders, and to do nothing more than that. Minarchism thus reconciles individualism and nationalism.

    • It’s the one area I agree with Robert on and disagree with the majority of libertarians. ‘Open’ borders are just another feature of the modern interventionist state. That said, I come at this as a Hoppean paleolibertarian.

      Libertarians also would do well to grapple more comprehensively with concerns re automation.

  • Reply to Neil Lock’s ” I do question one thing Robert said, that “the ideology of laissez faire… is at odds with human nature.” If I can interpret his meaning, he is following his use, earlier in the essay, of “laissez faire” to mean crony capitalism. I’d call that more like laissons faire – “we, the élite, can do what we want, but you the plebs have no rights at all.” I hope Robert can clarify this point.”.

    I trust Sean will not object if I answer at some length. Crony capitalism is one thing but the supposedly pure laissez faire free market and free trading concept quite another. Crony capitalism is ostensibly opposed to laissez faire because it attempts to manipulate economic circumstances by adopting market rhetoric whilst engaging in restrictive behaviour. Ironically, the laissez faire adherents do something similar by permitting many restrictive practices to be a legitimate part of laissez fair.

    There is a splendid irony in the objection of the self-defined “free marketeers’” and “free traders” to state intervention for the natural end of a truly free market is monopoly – or at least greatly reduced competition resulting in oligopoly and the rule of cartels. All so-called “free market” societies recognise this by passing anti-monopoly laws. The “free market” is in fact a market controlled by the state in the most fundamental way, that is, to prevent its natural workings. It is one of the great propaganda triumphs of history that “free markets” have been successfully sold as being what happens naturally without state intervention. Call a spade a spade and substitute the truthful “state regulated non-monopolistic market” for “free market” and the psychological shape of the idea changes dramatically. (Some casuistical “free marketeers”might argue that the “free” in free market applies to the workings of the market rather than the market as a natural phenomenon. That explanation falls because “free marketeers” invariably make the blanket claim that markets only work efficiently without government interference. Their honest position would be to state that they want state regulated markets to prevent monopoly. They will not do that because it would be an acknowledgement that state regulation of the market is legitimate and hence remove any general argument against regulation. That in turn would mean any form of state regulation would be potentially reasonable and consequently each form of regulation would have to be argued down individually on the merits of the case, rather than simply empty-headedly dismissed on the grounds of no regulation = good; regulation = bad.

    The state regulated “Free Market” is not even a natural phenomenon made somewhat artificial by rules to exaggerate the natural phenomenon in the same way that we breed animals to exaggerate nature. Rather it is just about as far from being a natural phenomenon as anything can be for it goes against all Man’s inclinations, both individual and social.

    Economic history is overwhelmingly a catalogue of market regulation, local and national, from guilds to governments. It would be surprising if it were not because human beings, like all other organisms, naturally behave to secure their own advantage or that of their group. Extended to the nation state, this natural behaviour has commonly resulted in domestic markets being protected against foreign competition. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is another matter – a question I shall deal with later – all I am concerned to do at this point is to nail down that the fact that protectionist behaviour is what is natural.

    Historically, whether you were anything from a rich merchant to a poor day labourer it was obviously not in your personal interest to allow others free access to your markets to offer the goods or services at a lower price or to work for lower wages. The merchant might be driven to bankruptcy by competition, the labourer from his job. History also tells us that whatever their previous economic station, such people will probably not be able to find equivalent or better paid employment and often may not be able to find any employment at all where structural unemployment arises. What was historically true not only remains true today, but its effect is much magnified because the opportunities for competition are greatly increased by modern communications and the ease of travel and cargo transportation.

    Of course, any individual or sectional advantage causes strains in a society and if the material privilege of any person or group becomes excessive, sooner or later there will be a successful revolt and the wealth in a society will either be shared more fairly through a change in the way the society is structured, for example, through the abolition of tolls, the ending of state monopolies or even through a removal of the rich as a class without any increase in the wealth of the majority.

    But wherever wealth distribution through social change has occurred it has normally been done with the express intention of benefiting a particular group or even an individual in the case of monarchs. The odd thing about “free marketeers” is that what they ostensibly advocate is not to privilege any particular individual or group but to benefit society as a whole. Whether free markets do so is another matter, but that is their claim.

    The “free marketeer” says to a population, do what I say and in time society will become richer. He does not say this person or that group will become richer or even all will become richer, but merely that the society as a whole will become richer. This is an extraordinary thing to ask people to trust in. It is also the most wonderful blank cheque ever written to a politician because not only does it absolve him or her of any need to take the responsibility for regulating the economy, it also means that he or she can never be held to account for dishonesty by any individual if that individual is personally worse off. All a “free marketeer” politician has ever claimed is that his economic way will make society richer. Provided society overall is richer, he has met his met his promise.

    It is also telling for their intellectual credibility and honesty that “free marketeers” will oppose government interference in such matters as subsidies, quotas, embargoes, wage rates and working hours and grumble about tax rates and public expenditure, but are generally quite happy to see other gross distortions of the market deriving from government action. They not only tolerate patents, copyright and trademarks, but often defend them as property in themselves and as devices which actually improve economic performance because they encourage invention, investment and expansion. In addition, those who constantly bleat about Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” sorting out the business wheat from the chaff insist that limited liability is necessary. This of course is also a violent interference with the market because it means that the individual shareholder never takes full responsibility for their investment. (It is worth noting that the British industrial revolution – the one and only bootstrapped industrial revolution – took place before limited liability became legally possible (Limited Companies Act 1862) and at a time when patent rights were insecure and in practice limited to the domestic British market.)

    It is true that none of these things are actually part of what the concept of a “free market” is and that they are inimical to such a market, but the fact that almost all modern “free marketeers” have tacitly incorporated them into their vision of what a “free market” is demonstrates their intellectual confusion (or dishonesty if you prefer).

    If you want to see my fully worked out ideas on this see
    https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/free-markets-and-free-trade-elite-propaganda/

    • Most Austrians and authors here oppose IP and so-called anti trust laws, through an extensive body of work. I’m not sure why someone familiar with this school of thought would not take note of this before dismissing advocates of free markets as somehow hypocritical.

    • For me, crony capitalism is indeed opposed to laissez faire – and not just ostensibly. It’s the crony capitalists’ use of state power, to gain advantages for themselves or to damage their competitors, that makes them cronies.

      The natural end of a truly free market may or may not be monopoly. The potential for monopoly is, indeed, a problem even in a free market. However, I don’t see how adding the state with its powers of violence and taxation – a monopoly, if ever there was one! – to the mix can make things any better. Historically, I suspect that far more monopolies have been supported by the state than have been opposed by it. So the problem of monopoly would likely be less in a truly free market than in a state controlled one.

      As you rightly say, unjust individual or sectional advantages will eventually lead to revolt and change. But I’d expect that such change would happen earlier (and so, the unjust advantage would be less, and the change less likely to be violent) in a true free market than where the unjustly enriched have the power of the state behind them.

  • I think Robert Henderson massively over-rates the state and most likely the law too. I do not like the state and I do not like the law and lawyers either. What irritates me about USA libertarians is this massive undue respect for the law [and for celebrated authors too]. I suppose a free society will retain the law but most statute law will need to be repealed and if there is a state then liberty is not yet established.

    If we have a state then we do not have complete social liberty [liberalism] or free trade but we always do have individual liberty, the sort Hobbes feared, where any other might murder us. The state cannot get rid of that, but maybe the law does deter some murders.

    The market can never be controlled by the state. It is anarchy. The state remains at the periphery of any society, even in the late USSR, which was, basically, a market society; even though the market was outlawed before 1921.

    There is no irony in what the liberals say about free markets. It is not that they want a sort of crass politics when they say they want no politics at all. It is that Robert Henderson differs with them over the facts.

    No, free trade never can end up in monopoly. Futile attempts at monopoly can be made but we can expect them to fail as even a state cannot ever achieve a monopoly. Firms clearly lack the resources to police new rivals entering any market.

    The market is artificial but it is not made but is out of control. As in the Sorcerers Apprentice, we humans have set up something that has run away beyond what we can manage. The main institution where this seems most evident is in the price system. It is anarchic or polycentric.

    Yes, liberals hold that the state messes the market up. It is the state, not monopoly, that liberals think is dysfunctional as well as immoral.

    What seems empty headed to the liberals is politics. It is the state that is bad.

    The market suits people as consumers but makes them do a job they usually do not like as producers. So it is false to say it is against man’s inclinations as it panders to them.

    There is nothing social about the state; it is very anti-social.

    It is not the case that protectionism is more natural than smuggling. That is just Robert Henderson being one sided.

    A village may lack employment but the mass urban society gives rise to an infinite number of potential jobs. Only a dole can give rise to mass unemployment in the city.

    No, the liberal does not say do as I say. He says serve others and they will pay you. And you will be richer when you are paid, not in the long run. He might add that both the customer and the produced gained big surplus in any trading transaction. He says traders become richer, as trade is positive sum. Politics, by contrast, is negative sum for all lose out by state activity.

    A liberal is no more a politician than an atheist is religious. Liberalism is anti-politics.

    Liability is going to be limited in fact. The law does not matter very much.

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