Speculation, Human Action and Financial Markets


Speculation, Human Action and Financial Markets

By Duncan Whitmore

Within the past two weeks, retail investors congregating on the social media site Reddit bid up the stock of ailing company GameStop at the expense of large Wall Street hedge funds, all of whom had significant financial stakes reliant upon the price of the stock falling rather than rising. Several of these hedge funds were thrown into serious financial difficulty as a result of the price rocketing from around $20 a share to a high of nearly $400 in the space of only a few weeks. At the time of writing, the day traders have apparently turned their attention to the manipulated silver market, which is also starting to see significant gains. Fed up with a rigged casino market in which all of the spoils go to large Wall Street banks and financial firms, the amateurs appeared to have beaten the latter at their own game – at least, that is, in terms of having forced them to reveal the corrupt nature of the system if not in monetary profit.

This latest round in the battle of the populists vs the elitists is part of the ongoing collapse and rejection of inflationary state corporatism (the Western form of socialism that was birthed by World War One) and political globalism. Every blow that is dealt to this odious, oligarchic system – such as by Brexit and Trump – is one to be welcomed. However, whereas outright socialism (such as that practised in the former Soviet Union) entails direct state ownership over the means of production, the corporatist system operates through capitalistic facades such as nominally private businesses, free trade and exchange, stock markets, and so on. As a result, the socialised elements of our economic system have, for too long, been able to get away with offloading the blame for the problems they cause onto “capitalism” or “too much freedom” instead of the root cause which is state privilege and state interference with genuine private property rights. Indeed, that was exactly what happened after the housing market crash in 2008, with the whole fiasco being blamed on “greedy”, private bankers instead of the state induced, inflationary financial system. The long run result of our failure to identify the state as the true source of the problems has been that state failure has been rewarded with state growth.

Unfortunately, therefore, it is not enough for libertarians to simply cheer on the demise of the current, rotten system. In addition, we have to ensure that the proper enemy is identified and outed as state force and fraud, not the capitalistic institutions through which they operate. We must keep an eye not only on the current crop of elites, but also the circling vultures of popular, hard left politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be poised to blame everything indiscriminately on “capitalism” before advocating for total economic socialism as the answer.1 It would be a complete disaster if we were to allow one form of tyranny to be succeeded by another. Indeed, even the so-called “Great Reset” – which, far from being any kind of “revolution” or “renewal”, is actually a repackaging and rebranding of the present system in a far more potent form – is being sold as a reset of capitalism, the latter of which has supposedly failed us. Continue reading

It’s Time to Stop Despairing


It’s Time to Stop Despairing

By Duncan Whitmore

It is difficult not to feel despondent when considering the enormous loss of liberty that has been inflicted by government lockdown policies in response to COVID-19. This despair has been compounded for many on the right by the final failure of Donald Trump’s attempt to challenge November’s presidential election result, together with the sudden, panicked attempt to remove him from office just days before his term expires, as well as the purging of him and prominent cheerleaders from social media. In this vein, the following quotations – all from prominent libertarians or conservative-libertarians – are not unrepresentative:

“2021 is going to be worse than 2020. Sorry”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet: the worst is yet to come”

“The lockdown is permanent, get used to it. It is all about political control. NOBODY HEALTHY IS DYING.”

It is true that any opponents of lockdown policies need to have a realistic grasp of why these draconian policies have been resorted to and how the situation is likely to pan out. Indeed, enough is now known about COVID-19 for us to be well past the point of lending the state the benefit of the doubt in its decision to continue with those policies. Thus, explanations other than the protection of health must be sought.

Nevertheless, the amount of time spent despairing is beginning to come at the expense of time that could be spent working out how to fight back. Happily, Sean Gabb has helped to buck the trend by offering some reasons as to why the past year has not been all that bad. While Gabb acknowledges that his personal circumstances have contributed much to his relatively sanguine view, it is, nevertheless, a refreshing counterbalance to the torrent of doomerism that seems to be erupting from the right. Continue reading

Money – the Key to Freedom?


Money – the Key to Freedom?

 By Duncan Whitmore

In a previous essay concerning the freedom of speech, we noted that, although liberty as a whole is justified by reference to the non-aggression principle, specific freedoms can and should be promoted in their own right. Equally and oppositely, so too should individual examples of state intrusion into freedom be criticised and condemned on their own two feet. In other words, it is possible, and indeed vital, for us to explain the value of free speech, to oppose taxation, to defend against any possibility of forced vaccination and medication, to press for abolition of all forms of state funded medical care, to argue for the freedom of association, to advocate for the legalisation of vices, to promote free trade, and so on. Such arguments are likely to win us at least partial victories in the fight for freedom, victories which may not be achievable simply by repeating the non-aggression principle.

Many of these individual freedoms are enunciated also in bills of rights and charters of so-called human rights, notably the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Here we find, amongst others, the protection of the right to religion, to speech, to bear arms, to the security of property against searches and seizures, to silence and due process when accused of a crime, and from “cruel and unusual” punishments. The defence of many of these freedoms has now become especially crucial as Western governments have continually sought to dilute them, sometimes in response to crises and calamities such as Islamic terrorism, and other times as a natural consequence of the growth of the state. It has been recognised that the freedom of speech, in particular, has been subject to a grave assault from identity politics and “cancel culture”.

However, a notable omission in many of these schedules of rights and freedoms is the freedom of money. Money is mentioned in the US Constitution, but it is buried in Section Ten of Article One, which limits the rights of the states. It has no prestigious place within the more memorable Bill of Rights, and fails to illicit the kind of passion that surrounds the First and Second Amendments. Freedom lovers today, similarly, will complain about the loss of our freedom of speech and the seemingly sudden transformation of the country into a police state as the result of the government’s reaction to COVID-19. But they will rarely turn their attention to the fact that the state has the power to print its currency, a power which has only existed in its entirety since 1971 when US President Richard Nixon severed the final tie of the US dollar to gold. Continue reading

Defining Liberty


Defining Liberty

By Duncan Whitmore

In a previous essay concerning the nature of the libertarian movement, we stated that the purpose of libertarian theory (in contrast to libertarian activism) should be to define and justify liberty – to tell us what liberty is and why it is a good thing. It is to the first of these tasks that this essay will be devoted.

Some readers may regard defining liberty as something of a redundant exercise. After all, we have had many definitions of liberty from libertarian and proto-libertarian thinkers, most of which say more or less the same thing: freedom from harm (J S Mill1); freedom from coercion (Hayek2); freedom from “restraint and violence by others” (Locke3); “Absence of opposition” or “externall [sic] Impediments of motion” (Hobbes4); “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others” (Jefferson5). Although modern libertarian theory has successfully refined these concepts – Mill’s harm principle was, for instance, notoriously vague – descriptors of liberty used by libertarians today (such as “self-ownership”, “private property” and “non-aggression”) still suffer from lacking several important clarifications. This is not to imply that libertarian scholars have failed to properly define these principles in the past; more that libertarians (myself included) have become so used to reciting them without further thought that a review of what they actually mean would not be out of place. Moreover, as we shall see below, very different consequences can flow from what appear to be relatively minor disagreements or misunderstandings.6 If this is the case within the community of libertarian scholars how much worse can it be outside of it?

One initial problem is that such concepts are themselves reducible to further fundamentals. What precisely, for instance, is aggression? Why are some acts aggressive whereas other acts are not? Does it have anything to do with intended hostility or are motivations irrelevant? What, also, does it mean to have “self-ownership”? Precisely what is the “self” and what does my “ownership” over it allow me to do? Continue reading

The US Election – A Step Forward for Liberty?


The US Election – A Step Forward for Liberty?

By Duncan Whitmore

At the time of writing, the mainstream media is ploughing ahead with its coronation of Democrat candidate Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, even though, officially, the race still hangs in the balance. Incumbent Donald Trump has refused to concede, alleging fraud and other irregularities in the balloting process that happened to affect a handful of key swing states. Such allegations are likely to result in a series of forthcoming court battles prior to the formal convening of the Electoral College.

Whatever the outcome of this election, enough is already known to make some preliminary remarks concerning the impact it might have on the near future.

The most important aspect – another blow to the ailing polling industry – is that there has been no grand repudiation of the Trump phenomenon. Four years ago, half of the US electorate voted for the man who railed against the liberal/leftist/globalist establishment; and four years later that half has not only refused to budge an inch but has, in fact, added to its ranks another ten million voters. Contrary to the narrative of his supposed racism and white supremacy, Trump also increased his share of black and Latino voters.

All of this is comes in spite of (or perhaps because of) the full weight of the establishment and big tech social media doing everything it could to discredit the legitimacy of the Trump presidency (Russiagate, impeachment etc.) while throwing in its lot with the Biden camp. Continue reading

Against Lockdown – The Libertarian Case


Against Lockdown – The Libertarian Case

By Duncan Whitmore

Although I have written on the topic of how libertarian property rights can be applied to the situation of viruses in two, previous essays, it is useful to summarise this again for a clearer picture. Such an endeavour seems necessary now more than ever, for in spite of increased opposition compared to the first round of lockdowns earlier this year, the various nations of the UK are again heading into some from of lockdown mode as the winter draws near.

Most sceptics of lockdown and restrictive policies designed to “curb” the onset of COVID-19 approach the matter from a utilitarian or technocractic angle – i.e. whether the measures that states are pursuing are an effective and/or proportionate response to the spread of the virus. While this is an invaluable exercise, it does not challenge the principle that the state has the prerogative to obliterate rights and freedoms in the manner that it has. In other words, the notion that, ultimately, our rights could be infringed on a future occasion when someone deems that it is “effective” and “proportionate” to do so is left untouched. Equally intact, therefore, is the notion that our rights are not immovably tied to our status as individual human beings, but are little more than privileges enjoyed at the sufferance of the state. This is not to imply that the principle of liberty has been ignored – former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption has been a notable high profile critic of the government in this regard. But the general opposition to lockdowns and other restrictions seems to assume that their only problem is that COVID-19 is simply not a big enough crisis to justify the present level of state intrusion. Thus, there is still a need to emphasise the fact that our rights exist not only in fair weather but in storms and hurricanes also – in fact, it is precisely in exceptional circumstances when rights need the most protection for it is always on these occasions that the state exploits fear and anxiety of unknown dangers so as to achieve greater incursions upon our liberty. Continue reading

Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech


Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech 

By Duncan Whitmore

In previous essays posted on this blog, I have often pointed out that opponents of private property (and of capitalism specifically) believe, incorrectly, that to advocate for a free society is to crave an orgy of individualism, greed and selfishness in which each person grabs as many riches for himself as possible while leaving those less fortunate to starve.

Empirically, of course, we know that private property orders have solved the problems of poverty and hunger more than any other socioeconomic alternative, for the reason that the wealth accumulated by the rich takes the form of capital goods that produce more and more consumer goods at lower and lower prices for ordinary people. In other words, even if someone wanted to accumulate as much wealth as possible for himself his only avenue of doing so is to serve the needs of others.

That aside, however, the theoretical error of the anti-capitalists is to confuse permissibility on the one hand with promotion on the other. Yes, capitalism and freedom give you the right to be selfish and greedy, but they do not demand that you be so – you are just as free to give away all of your wealth as you are to accumulate as much of it for yourself as possible. Thus, libertarians are advocating only for your right to choose your actions. They are not stating that any conceivable action within your range of options is necessarily a good and beautiful thing, nor should anything you do be immune from criticism simply because it is peaceful and voluntary.

For instance, a libertarian would say that a person should have the legal right to smoke three packets of cigarettes a day. But he is not saying that a person should smoke three packets of cigarettes a day, nor that such a heavy volume of smoking is a wise and beneficial choice. True enough, there will be libertarians who, out of either naivety or a personal commitment to libertinism, do indeed reason in such a fashion, seeing nothing morally wrong with any possible choice one may make so long as it does not breach the non-aggression principle. Libertarianism itself, however, entails no such advocacy – it is the foundation upon which wider moral problems should be solved, not the final word. Continue reading