Globalisation – the Baby and the Bathwater


Globalisation – the Baby and the Bathwater

By Duncan Whitmore

If the liberal-left was hoping that the recent state visit to the UK by Donald Trump would provide the perfect opportunity to (once again) castigate him for his supposed “racism”, “misogyny”, and a fervour for “nationalism” that apparently puts him on par with Hitler, they have probably been left disappointed. In fact, the visit seems to have come off rather well for the 45th President. Sadiq Khan, London’s leftist mayor, succeeded only in burying himself in a Twitter spat that began before Air Force One even touched down on the tarmac. The anti-Trump protests in Parliament Square – at which, for want of imagination, the Trump “baby blimp” was re-deployed (and subsequently burst by a Trump sympathiser) – failed to attract the anticipated attendance. Instead, news reports of Trump being received warmly by the Queen, behaving graciously and courteously at the state banquet, and delivering a positive and optimistic joint press conference with the Prime Minister about the future of the US-UK relationship, have most likely lent him an air of statesmanship that he has previously lacked. Even the BBC was forced to concede that the trip has, somehow, “normalised” Trump, and that, rather than banishing the orange-faced “fascist” from our shores forever, we should probably recognise that he is “here to say and [so we] had better get used to him”.

A grudging acceptance of Trump the man may translate into a similar, grudging acceptance of the kind of policies that Trump represents (or is believed to represent) – nationalism, populism, anti-globalisation, a distrust for supra-national institutions, climate change scepticism and (in spite of having lent his ear to neo-con warmongers like John Bolton) at least a reluctance to engage in wanton foreign interventionism and “collective security” under the American aegis. In other words, these elements – all of which represent a rebellion against the global order that has been steadily constructed over the past two generations – are also serious forces that are here to stay, and cannot be wished away as mere flights of fancy of the “uneducated” or laid at the door of Russian “meddling”.

Libertarians have only recently begun to acknowledge the importance of nations, cultures, traditions, heritage, communities, families, etc. in contrast to the focus on more market-based, transactional approaches to socio-economic problems that marked libertarianism during the post-war milieu in which “capitalism vs. communism” was the dominant issue. Indeed, a year before his death, Murray N Rothbard (who was also a leading figure in the emerging “paleolibertarian” movement) acknowledged his belated recognition of the concept of the nation, causing him to rethink his previous, “open borders” stance on immigration. All of these largely decentralised institutions are an anathema to the state, which, as a necessarily eliminative and anti-competitive entity, can only thrive on greater consolidation, centralisation, fusion, and forced “unity” that must ultimately destroy localised power bases and allegiances. Thus it is no small wonder that these institutions are an important fighting force in the struggle for liberty.1

As much as we can, therefore, welcome the current nationalist, populist and traditionalist backlash against globalising forces, there are, unfortunately, at least two, related causes for concern which should prevent us from celebrating too readily the dawn of a new prosperous era, and that there is at least a degree of precariousness in the direction that these nationalist and populist movements may take.

Economic Illiteracy

The first concern is the relative economic illiteracy of some of the populist champions, including Trump himself. The particular problem is the conflation of political globalisation on the one hand with economic globalisation on the other, and that an attack on the former goes hand in hand with an attack on the latter. Unfortunately, the two are entirely different, and their confusion could spell disaster.

Political globalisation is the centralisation and consolidation of states and state entities, both through formal transitions of sovereignty and decision-making power to supra-national institutions, and through the increasing scope of multi-lateral action to tackle supposed “global problems” such as poverty and climate change. The phenomenon is a relatively new one, having begun in earnest in the aftermath of the horrors of two world wars, in which achieving global consensus has been designed as the “antidote” to the apparently destructive forces of imperialism and nationalism, replacing inter-state competition with co-operation.

Economic globalisation, on the other hand, refers to the expansion of the international division labour, extending peaceful and voluntary trade between individuals and private entities of an increasing number of nationalities. This type of globalisation is almost as old as humanity itself, having continued to flourish while political borders have been drawn and redrawn on the map down the centuries. The ancient spice trade and the Silk Road, for instance, evolved into elaborate networks of land-based and maritime trade routes between east and west that connected different civilisations for more than a millennium before the birth of the modern nation state. In contrast to political globalisation, positive state action is abhorrent to economic globalisation, which simply requires states to get out of the way and to minimise the friction to trans-national trade at their borders. In short, economic globalisation is a product of free trade.

EU parliament

Political globalisation is the consolidation of states and state entities into supra-national outfits such as the EU. It should not be confused with economic globalisation and the global extension of voluntary trade

The difference between the two types of globalisation can be summed up thus: through political globalisation, ever increasing numbers people attempt to control ever increasing numbers of other people by imposing their preferences on one another through enforced “unity”. Through economic globalisation, however, ever increasing numbers of people voluntarily serve the preferences of increasing numbers of other people through a diffused, but harmonious network.

The two, different types of globalisation have been confused largely because the expansion of markets has correlated with a number of economic calamities caused by political globalisation. For instance, we can cite the decline in Western countries of manufacturing and raw material production in favour of nurturing service (and especially financial service) economies; the concomitant outsourcing of low skilled or “blue collar” jobs to cheap foreign labour; the misnomer of “free trade” agreements which do little more than strangle small, localised businesses with a plethora of red tape to the benefit of large, politically connected, multinational companies; and the growing technocratic obsession with equating social progress with economic metrics such as “GDP” and the striving for ever increasing economic “growth”.2

None of these things has anything to do with economic globalisation. The decimation of manufacturing bases and the export of jobs overseas (leaving rust belts in once prosperous, industrial areas) do not owe themselves to “free trade”. Rather, they have occurred because the US is the issuer of the world’s reserve currency, and has, as a result, simply been able to export its inflation by buying whatever it needs from abroad in exchange for a currency for which there is always a ready demand. In addition to forcefully maintaining this global dollar hegemony through military might, developing economies such as China have readily absorbed this inflation by depreciating their own currency vis-à-vis the dollar in order to boost their manufacturing exports. Indeed, the related Trumpian gripe of permanent, yawning trade deficits are probably impossible to avoid if you are the issuer of the world’s reserve currency. (Britain’s similar predicament owes itself to the status of the City of London as the world’s premier financial centre, while services as a whole account for some 70% of UK GDP. Moreover, the six most heavily traded currencies, all of which are western-issued, account for some 82% of global currency transactions.) When it comes to so-called “free trade agreements”, these are little more than an oxymoron, existing only as vehicles for heavy and intrusive state management of international trade. While free trade simply means, in one sentence, voluntary trade unrestricted by the state, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in contrast, runs to 1,200 pages of highly technical rules and regulations. And the undue focus on economic indicators and statistics such as GBP are false and misleading as, apart from the impossibility of “measuring” economic progress in the first place, such metrics nearly always regard wasteful government spending (which, in turn will have its own social and cultural impacts) as a positive. In short, such statistics can dress up retrogression as progress.

Instead of addressing these problems head on, the anti-globalists have turned instead to market restrictions such as the imposition of tariffs on foreign imports. Trump has imposed general tariffs on washing machines, solar panels, steel and aluminium, while China – the country with whom the US has the largest trade deficit – has been selectively targeted with duties on more than 800 goods. These have resulted in retaliatory tariffs from Canada, China, Mexico and the EU.

The effects of tariffs have been scrutinised correctly by “Austrians” and mainstream economists to the extent that there is no need for a long-winded treatment here. Suffice it to say that tariffs do nothing to increase domestic prosperity by “protecting” home grown industries. Instead, their cost is ultimately borne by the domestic consumers of those industries who must now pay higher prices for lower quality goods produced within domestic shores as opposed to cheaper, foreign alternatives. It is a transfer of wealth from some of your domestic consumers to inefficient, uncompetitive domestic producers. Trump’s latest (now lifted) threat to impose tariffs on Mexico as a result of illegal immigration across the US-Mexican border would not have made Mexico “pay for the wall”. Rather, it would have been paid for by American consumers who would have been forced to bear the brunt of increased prices for the goods that they wish to buy. In turn, foreign manufacturers shut out from American markets must now search for other, less restrictive countries with whom to do business. These latter countries will progress their economies at a higher rate than America’s as they can now benefit from a surplus of superior goods at lower prices. In short, while everybody suffers from restricted avenues of trade, tariffs have the ability to hurt the country that imposes them to a greater degree than the countries they are designed to shut out.

The logic, and eventual result, of imposing protectionist tariffs is the descent into autarky – the complete “self-sufficiency” of each country within its political borders. (Taken to its extreme, such logic demands the atomistic existence of every individual. For if it is good for individual countries to be “self-sufficient” then why is it not good for individual cities to be equally self-capable? Why should Birmingham continue to trade with Leeds or Manchester at the expense of Birmingham goods? Shouldn’t “Brummies” be proud to “Buy Birmingham” just as the British should be proud to “Buy British”? But if we accept that individual cities should be “self-sufficient”, then why shouldn’t individual districts or villages? And if these individual districts or villages begin to prosper in their isolated states, then why not extend self-sufficiency to individual households and, finally, to individual people themselves?). There is a superficial attractiveness to this notion of “self-sufficiency” that goes hand in hand with the resurgence of nationalism – that if we wish to preserve our traditional customs and cultures then should we not also trade only with our own people, at least as a priority?

isolation

The ultimate conclusion of following the logic of protectionist tariffs is the complete isolation of every individual

The problem with this is that most countries simply cannot produce by themselves everything that they need in order to maintain the standard of living of their citizens. They may not have access to all of the natural resources or the labour supply necessary to manufacture everything from scratch. For instance, you cannot manufacture products out of copper yourself unless there happens to be some copper ore underneath your territory that you can mine; if you want to fish then you need to have access to the sea. In some cases, the particular climate or topography may be unsuitable; it is difficult to grow crops in a mountainous region, for example. This difficulty increases as the territorial extent of a particular jurisdiction get smaller, which is precisely what the decentralising sentiments are trying to achieve. It would be literally impossible for a tiny state or independent territory such as Liechtenstein or Hong Kong to nurture domestic producers of everything that its citizens would want to buy, if only for want of space. Instead, just as individual people focus their efforts on producing things for which they have the greatest skill and aptitude (before trading the fruits of that productivity for other people’s money), so too do individual countries or regions concentrate on a few industries for which they are particularly suitable before trading their products for the products that other countries are better at making. As a result, as everyone is made better off, everyone, in turn, has an interest in maintaining peaceful and friendly trans-national relations which serves to reduce the possibility of war and other forms of conflict.

The increasing use of economic protectionism, as well as sanctions to achieve foreign policy objectives, creates the very opposite environment. (Indeed, the imposition of “sanctions” is the technocratically legalised little brother of a “blockade”, which is traditionally viewed as an act of war). With the impairment of cross-border relations, not only is there now less to lose from proceeding down the route of conflict, but the resulting impoverishment makes such conflict almost inevitable when it is exacerbated by the very notion of a “trade war” – i.e., the fostering of the impression that commerce, like real war, is a zero-sum game where the “winners” can only benefit and the expense of the “losers”. In other words, the result of a “trade war” is likely to be a shooting war. As Frédéric Bastiat is supposed to have said, “If goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” This could be especially dangerous at a time when countries are trying to reassert their national and cultural identities, for it is extremely easy to whip up patriotic and nationalistic pride into pro-war propaganda. Indeed, this is precisely what we have seen before. The German concept of achieving lebensraum in the East had its origin in the need for Germany to avoid reliance on food imports, imports that were becoming increasingly difficult to pay for as a result of the economic burdens that had been placed upon Germany’s industrial and manufacturing export industries since the advent of the Bismarckian welfare state. The concept was hijacked by the Nazis during a period when Germany was seeking to reverse the humiliating defeat of World War One and the Versailles diktat while languishing in the nadir of the Great Depression – all of which was both intensified by Social Darwinist pseudoscience (i.e. more zero-sum claptrap) and romanticised visions of the “warrior peasant” fighting for his “blood and soil”.

Fortunately, the Brexit debate does not seem to have been couched in such autarkic terms. Indeed, in spite of the liberal-left’s enthusiasm for slandering any “Leave” voter as “racist” or “fascist”, Brexiteers are far from being “Little Englanders” who regard the English Channel as a moat. Instead, they have been keen to point out their eagerness for looking beyond Europe at the possibilities for liberated trade with the rest of the world once the protectionist shackles of the EU are finally thrown off. This is unsurprising given that Britain has a long history of participation in global trade that has served to foster a cosmopolitan outlook. This is less likely to be the case, however, with the more inward-looking United States, especially in relation to China. Particularly if we consider also the fact that the military-industrial wing of the deep state remains firmly entrenched in Washington and, like a wounded animal lashing out in its death throes, will do everything it can to reverse the breakdown of global American hegemony, then a real war between the world’s declining and emerging superpowers is becoming an increasing probability. Trump himself may not be the president who pulls the final trigger, but his foreign and trade policies may well be helping to synthesise the conditions in which his successor will be able to do so.

The Socialist Resurrection

A second problem is that another “anti-establishment” force on the rise is the resurrection of economic socialism. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union nearly thirty years ago was, not unreasonably at the time, hailed by the west as the permanent burial of socialism. For here, the biggest, longest and most extensive experiment in collectivisation had failed, leaving nothing to show for it except mountains of bodies and a level of economic destitution that made the “capitalist” west seem like heaven on Earth. Surely we were witnessing – in the words of Francis Fukuyama – the “end of history”, the permanent triumph of free markets and liberal democracy? (Rothbard gave an enthusiastic, but more sober assessment). Those old enough to remember these events must, if they had a similar attitude, find the current political landscape somewhat perplexing. Far from being dead and buried, the haunting chill of economic socialism is once again poisoning the political conversation.

One important reason for this is that a sizeable chunk of the voting population – the so-called “millennials” (whose number, incidentally, has overtaken that of the baby boomers in the US) – are too young to have remembered our past experiences with socialism and the Cold War. Born, at the earliest, in the 1980s, they will have no recollection of Britain’s long, post-war slide into socialised industry, high taxation, inflation, industrial strife, and sluggish growth that made us the “sick man of Europe” – so sick that we worked only three days a week in 1974-5 and needed a bailout from the IMF in 1976.

AOC

Millennials such as US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (b. 1989) are too young to remember the horrors of twentieth century socialism

This lack of direct experience is reflected in the fact that the current crop of influential politicians and opinion makers on the left are either lifelong socialist servants of the state now basking in an Indian Summer (such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn); or, they are younger, privileged elites such as Owen Jones (an Oxford graduate) and the flash-in-a-pan sensation that is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a resident of the affluent Westchester suburb of New York). In other words, the new socialist movement is peopled by those who have always been insulated from the realities of their prescriptions and policies – something which, incidentally, was true also of figures such as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Marx and Engels back in the nineteenth century. Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, seems hell bent on forcing reality to conform to her pre-conceived ideology. The launch of her ridiculous “Green New Deal”, her shooing away of Amazon from creating 25,000 jobs near her congressional district, and her suggestion that banks ought to pay for the mishaps of companies whom they finance all display a total ignorance of the facts and a blasé dismissal of the consequences.

The more important factor, however, is that the millennial generation has come of age in an era when the modern democratic welfare-warfare state, against a backdrop of political globalisation and consolidation, is finally starting to collapse –  and it is millennials who perceive that all of the tumbling bricks are falling on them. Indeed, millennials may well be members of the first modern generation whose standard of living will fail to exceed that of their parents.

As Andy Duncan indicated in the title of a recent post on this blog – “Quantitative Easing was the Father of Millennial Socialism” – the half-century experiment with an inflating paper money supply bears the lion’s share of the responsibility. As we know from “Austrian” economics, an easily inflatable money supply injected through the credit market has permitted several decades of booms and busts, a super-economic cycle that is now drawing to a calamitous close.

At the start of this expansionism, the economy was blessed with a large stock of capital goods that fuelled the subsequent levels of growth. Each successive recession could be met with further stimulus and increased debt because a sufficient stock of capital remained in order to fund it. The parents of millennials were, therefore, able to buy houses at relatively modest prices before watching them appreciate in value; their employers bestowed upon them generous defined benefit pension plans to guarantee a comfortable retirement; they could enjoy the benefits of the welfare state, such as free healthcare, while it was still affordable and before it had been swamped by demand.

This apparent prosperity, however, was generated not by an increase of genuine productivity, but by the gradual, insidious consumption of the capital stock by the growing inflation of money and debt. The result of this has been each bust has required an ever greater inflationary response in order to re-ignite economic growth. We are now at the point where the capital stock has become so exhausted that it can no longer generate sufficient productivity in order to fund the kind of lifestyles that millennials saw their parents living.3

The eldest millennials stepped into the workforce in the late 1990s to early 2000s, at a time when a massive, bursting tech bubble was met with a blow up of an even more massive housing bubble (which itself burst in 2008). Unlike before, the subsequent injections of money and credit failed to reach the wider economy and have, instead, simply frozen a broken and insolvent financial system with new money entering the casino of the financial securities markets. In other words, forty years of money printing and the ballooning of global debt into the hundreds of trillions have now reached a point of exhaustion where its only effect is to transfer wealth and purchasing power to the owners of assets from the owners of nothing (i.e. from the young millennials).

UK house prices

Credit expansion has priced assets such as houses out of the reach of millennials.

The effects of all this are that the millennial began working in an era when the wage rates he could earn were beginning to stagnate; indeed, according to the natural bias amongst employers to a policy of “last in, first out”, he may already have been laid off at least once during the so-called “Great Recession”. This comes immediately after he saddled himself with a large student debt for no reason other than that his government told him it would increase his employment prospects. Owing to rising property prices he has probably been unable to afford to purchase a house, having to resort to either renting or living with parents. Any money he manages to set aside for the future in a savings account will be consumed by inflation as a result of ultra-low interest rates, and gone forever is the prospect of finding an employer who will grant him a defined benefit pension plan (although we might note that many of the current crop of retirees may also have their pensions curtailed, to the extent that their schemes are under-funded). Moreover, he is repeatedly being told that his NHS is in constant crisis and that welfare benefits are likely to be slashed (or he will think, with justified cynicism, that cutbacks are masquerading as reform, as can be seen in the furore over the introduction of Universal Credit).

At the same time, however, the millennial will see the effect of new money causing assets prices – such as housing and the stock market – to rise. Having no assets himself, however, he will see all of these gains going to those who already seem to have wealth and privilege. As one reader of the Financial Times commented:

It’s rather odd how, when QE [Quantitative Easing] is intended (or so they say) to stimulate demand, they give the money to a relative handful of people with plenty of it already.4

The overarching impression of the millennial, therefore, is that he has been left behind. Given this, it is not difficult to see why Marxist and socialist narratives are beginning to appeal. The millennial finds himself working hard but all of the benefits go to wealthy bankers and businessmen. Is this not evidence of the exploitation theory fully at work? Moreover, the fact that this bifurcation of wealth appears to be benefiting “capitalists” lays the blame squarely at the door of “capitalism”, “free markets”, “free trade” and all of the other mislabelled commitments to which the globalising establishment profess their allegiance. Hence, millennials are now turning to those who promise them a bigger share of the pie. Indeed, US presidential hopefuls, such as Elizabeth Warren, have seen the way the wind is blowing and are, thus, attempting to re-brand themselves as anti-establishment populists.

It is this latter phenomenon which betrays a disturbing truth – that in spite of continued millennial enthusiasm for supranational outfits such as the EU, the nationalists and populists may well find unity with the economic socialists if they perceive themselves to be fighting the same enemy – “globalism”, “free trade”, and “capitalism”. In other words, the economic illiteracy of populist, nationalist and traditionalist movements may end up pouring fuel on the fire of economic socialism. In spite (or perhaps because) of his own ignorance of economics, conservative Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson has noted approvingly the strong correlation between the patriotic elements of the economic socialism of Mrs Warren, and the “America First” sentiments espoused by Donald Trump. Such a correlation may mean that (in spite of Trump’s declaration that “America will never be a socialist country”) political candidates who represent a mixture of a “pro-American” remoulding of economic socialism on the one hand with social/cultural traditionalism on the other will win the broadest appeal at the ballot box. Indeed, it may be the millennial generation that manages to fuse the two into a single movement. Although it is common to castigate millennials as a bunch of lefty-liberal snowflakes, Hillary Clinton – the epitome of the globalising, establishment status quo – managed to persuade only a slim majority (53%) of 18-39 year olds to vote for her in 2016, whereas close to 40% opted for Trump. If what we have said here is true then it would not be too outlandish to suggest that the least zealous wings of each group will find common ground and form a significant voting bloc.

The potential tragedy, therefore, is that the economically socialist left may end up hijacking the nationalist and populist message. Indeed, we may have seen this fusion occurring already in, say, the gilets jaune movement – a populist, anti-globalist, grassroots movement that transcends the traditional split between “left and right”, but, having been motivated by stagnating wages and high energy prices, demands “economic justice” through wealth taxes and minimum wages.

Conclusion

The lesson for libertarians in all of this is that, in this anti-globalist wave that is now sweeping the West, we cannot begin to ignore the importance of economics and economic factors in the fight for liberty. In fact, the question of whether cultural factors or economic factors are “more important” for liberty is somewhat misleading as they are both part of the same package. Humans have been conditioned by their creator to always have to act to direct means so as to best meet their needs. This, and only this, is what economising behaviour is. As Franz Oppenheimer pointed out, such behaviour can occur in one of two ways – either through the economic means (the voluntary exchange of one’s labour for the labour of others) or through the political means (the forced appropriation of the labour of others). Cultures, traditions and national identities are the ultimate product of the economic conditions, aspirations and choices (and the ideas that inform these elements) that are made at some point in the past. If people choose the route of the economic means in fulfilling their ends (thus diffusing economic centres of gravity towards localised associations with which each individual engages in social co-operation) then there will be as many different nations, traditions and cultures across the world as there are of these different conditions, aspirations and choices that are able to flourish. If, on the other hand, people choose the political means – i.e. the eliminative expansion of statism which demands uniform choices and uniform actions for everyone – individual, localised cultural expressions and allegiances will necessarily be eroded. Indeed the current culture war has itself been made possible precisely because two generations of inflationism and welfare statism – i.e. choices for the political means – have served to weaken the existing moral and cultural landscape (and, moreover, this war has only come to the forefront because the modern nation state is so bankrupt that it has had to resort to fighting over redistributing social privileges and status rather than money).

ECONOMICS BOOKS

We cannot ignore the importance of economics and economic factors when fighting for liberty

The important point is that people will continue to embrace whatever cultures and traditions their economic choices bring about so long as they perceive that these choices are serving to meet their needs. The rejection of globalisation is being made precisely because a significant number of people do not believe that globalised political structures (and the policies that they mandate) are working for them. (Equally and oppositely, the liberal-left is fighting for the preservation of and promotion of these structures because they do believe that these structures are working for them and their ideals). To the extent that people are now embracing the cultural output of the economic choices of a pre-globalised era, they do so because they associate these things with their lives being bettered. They do not necessarily embrace them as ends in and of themselves. (If this should be doubted then consider what would happen if Brexit necessitated the privatisation of the NHS. If this was the case is it not likely that all of those sentiments of “taking back control” would dissipate rather easily?). This does not mean to say that nations, cultures and traditions cannot and should not be valued and appreciated in their own right. Ultimately, however, people do not live a way of life for its own sake, and so it would be a grave error to assume that the value of such ways of life are sustainable if they are not built on firm foundations of sound, economic choices.

While, therefore, we must champion the decentralising forces that move us closer towards liberty through a resurgence of national identities and local cultures and traditions, we must bolster this by continuing to push for private property, free trade, minimal regulation, low taxation and sound money. Even when shorn of their globalised shackles, it is still the case that independent nation states remain extraordinarily large power bases that make Oppenheimer’s “political means” as seductive as ever. Thus, when tackling globalised statism, we cannot afford to let the economic baby be thrown out with the political bathwater, washing away any hope for liberty down the drains of war and socialism.

As always, Ludwig von Mises encapsulates the matter succinctly:

The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.5

Notes

1As the present author has pointed out, there is no conflict between the interests of an association (such as a family, community, company, or nation), and the interests of the individual, as these entities exist to further the needs of each individual through social co-operation. Rather, it is enforced collectives, such as the modern nation-state, which seek to serve the needs of some people at the expense of others, that are an anathema to individual liberty.

2To libertarians, one of the more familiar figures who promulgates this confusion is Pat Buchanan. See, for instance, his open conflation of “free trade” with “open borders” and “global government.” See the rejoinders to Buchanan’s confusion by Thomas DiLorenzo and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Additionally, however, rising and otherwise impressive analysts of the unfolding of the global order from a nationalist, populist and traditionalist viewpoint, such as Dr Steve Turley, make the same mistake.

3This is manifest in the fact that interest on the government debt (i.e. the extent of plunder of the capital stock) is consuming a greater proportion of tax revenue that can be siphoned off from productivity.

4Quoted in Tim Price, Don’t be so Negative, Price Value Partners Commentary, 8th March 2019.

5Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, The Scholars’ Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute (1998), 881.

2 comments

  • This is an excellent essay. Thank you, Duncan.

    That the groups of people in which we choose to associate – family, community, culture, for example – are, when considered as institutions, anathema to the state is a fine insight. In fact, this insight prompted in me the thought that if we in the liberty movement put more emphasis on these institutions, we might attract more people to our cause. I myself would not, however, have included nations in that list, at least without stating very clearly what I mean by nations; since for too many people, it seems, nations and states are much the same thing.

    The distinction Duncan draws between political and economic globalization is a key one. It’s something I have been struggling to get over to people for some time, and it’s nice to see that others have picked it up too!

    Most people seem to see a black-and-white alternative between globalization (world economy, political super-state(s)) and localization (political units at the national or even sub-national level, economy primarily national, but with some degree of export and import). But in fact, there is a third alternative: economic globalization accompanied by political localization. That is a very libertarian approach; political units as small as possible, but each allowing people and companies the freedom to trade with other people and companies anywhere in the world. Such an approach, I think, would avoid any possibility of the “descent into autarky,” the senselessness of which Duncan rightly points out in his essay.

    The section on the plight of the millennials is also very good; though I thought that this might perhaps be more effective if it were made into a separate essay.

    The problem of millennials seeing “capitalism” as a bad thing, I think, results from an idea-conflation problem a bit similar to the one with “globalization.” In the original sense of the word – private ownership of the means of production – capitalism ought to be seen as a good thing, most of all by those who feel left behind. But instead, many people have come to think of it as the system they see today, that tends to make the rich richer, while leaving the poor in the dirt. Myself, I would call the current system “crony capitalism,” or perhaps “political capitalism.” I think the latter might be a good choice, as the words “political” and “politics” are starting to acquire a pejorative meaning in many people’s minds today.

    As for the conclusion of the essay, I couldn’t agree more.

    • Duncan Whitmore

      Thanks you Neil; your phrase “economic globalisation accompanied by political localisation” encapsulates the libertarian goal very succinctly.

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