What about the Poor?!
By Duncan Whitmore
When discussing the virtues of a free society libertarians are able to expound with enthusiasm the benefits of private property, free exchange and non-violence. Most of the nagging questions – “how would policing work?”; “how would we regulate unscrupulous companies?”; or the clichéd classic “who will build the roads?!” – can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly as it is not difficult to show how such a free society would deal with these matters in a vastly superior way to one that is imbued with statism. Indeed, the struggle in this regard has less to do with formulating convincing arguments and more to do with tackling an inherent unwillingness to consider radical solutions.
However, there is one question that always presents a seemingly insurmountable difficulty – what would happen to the poor? By this, we do not just mean the accusations of a free economy being “sink or swim” or “dog eat dog”, which, again, are relatively juvenile sound bites that can be disposed of fairly easily. (Indeed, it is social democracies that are the true zero sum games as any redistribution of wealth or gain of power to the benefit of one must necessarily come at the expense of another). Rather, what we mean is the fact that a free world has no means of “caring” for the poor. In particular, there would be no “official” institution or “social safety net” to help those who were genuinely less fortunate. A libertarian might mumble a few words about the importance of charity but, with an outright declaration by one’s opponent that such a system is necessary, one may be tempted to concede that this is the Achilles’ heel of a libertarian society. After all, statists excel at conjuring the illusion that all of the care and compassion is on their side while they are able, quite easily, to paint proponents of the free market as little more than selfish money grabbers.
It is high time that libertarians (and their free market oriented fellow travellers) took the offensive against this problem by turning an apparent weakness into an advantage. By offensive, we mean not just constructing adequate rebuttals to the charge that capitalism cannot care for the poor. Rather, we need to set ourselves the more ambitious goal of proving that capitalism benefits the least well off as its primary effect, and that the poor do not benefit merely as an incidental consequence of making the rich richer. Read more
“Read Magazines, not Books” – Review of The Complete Libertarian Forum: 1969-1984
By Duncan Whitmore
“Read magazines, not books”. Such was the advice given to me by Theodor H Nelson, for whom I had the privilege of working for a number of years when I was a fresh-faced graduate. In Dream Machines (1974) Nelson, who is not a libertarian, had earlier justified his imperative by stating that “magazines have far more insights per inch of text, and can be read much faster”.
It is only after having finished The Complete Libertarian Forum: 1969-1984 (LF) – two, formidable volumes of a total of 1,200 pages of small print, the reading of which has occupied me on and off for the past year or so – that I can see precisely what Nelson meant, and more. For LF is not only a treasure trove of ongoing theoretical debates within libertarianism and of libertarian viewpoints on important global events at the time; it is a record of the successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies of the libertarian movement in one of the most turbulent periods in recent history. Read more
Given the recent announcement of a new, long term plan for the NHS it seems like an opportune moment to revisit the topic of universal healthcare. The essay below is a new version of a previously published piece, with some sections revised and elaborated, while figures and references have been updated.
Universal Healthcare – an Economic Disaster
By Duncan Whitmore
“Universal healthcare” (that is, an alleged “right” to “healthcare” provided in some form by the state) is a mainstay of social democratic thought – so much so, in fact, that the UK’s NHS is taken as a given, with any kind of proposed healthcare reform couched in terms of improving “our” state-funded health service rather than ever considering whether it should exist in the first place.
However the consequences of universal healthcare are grave indeed, including spiralling costs and ever increasing numbers of sick – pretty much the effects of the welfare state in general. This is without even considering the ethics of forcibly confiscating the money of one person to benefit another, although this essay will focus on the economic aspects of what is, in effect, the socialisation of medicine. Read more
Immigration – An Austro-Libertarian Analysis
By Duncan Whitmore
Both the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as the US President have elevated the topic of immigration to the top of the political agenda. Leftist, liberal elites – previously so sure they would arrive easily at their vision of an open, borderless world – have been scalded now that the lid has been lifted from the bubbling cauldron of the needs of ordinary, everyday citizens seeking to preserve their jobs and the culture of their homelands.
It is high time that this vitriolic, divisive and – frankly – often quite tiresome issue is put to rest. That, alas, is unlikely to happen, particularly as the political globalists seem content to plough on with their vision of open borders through the looming UN Global Compact for Migration. Listening to the mainstream arguments (or at least to how the leftist/liberal media chooses to portray them), one would be forgiven for thinking that the immigration question needs to be met by an all or nothing answer – i.e. that it is either an unqualified good or an unqualified bad. We are led to believe that it is a contest between liberals, or self-styled “progressives”, clamouring for fully porous borders on the one hand, versus elderly, conservative, racist bigots who supposedly want to keep everyone out and preserve England’s green and pleasant land for white faces.
The falsehood of this dichotomy is obvious to almost anyone who is not of the liberal-left, and, in fact, a “sensible” view on immigration is quite prevalent – that it is possible to be in favour of permitted, but regulated immigration, allowing some people to cross the border as immigrants to come and live and work in the territory of the state while denying that privilege to others. It is also recognised that immigration is economically beneficial in some situations, but not in others – i.e. when immigrants are highly skilled and productive instead of welfare consumers.
The task of this essay is to sharpen this “sensible” view with Austro-libertarian theory. We will begin by outlining the core libertarian theory concerning immigration before examining a key area for contention among libertarians – whether, in a world populated by states, any particular state should restrict or otherwise control movements across the border by persons who are not considered to be citizens of that particular state and whether this is in accordance with libertarian theory. We will then move on to exploring the economic and cultural implications of immigration policies. Read more
Mrs May’s Disastrous Deal
By Duncan Whitmore
Albeit for the wrong reasons, Theresa May never ceases to amaze. In spite of having first tabled an almost universally unpopular proposal for withdrawal from the EU at Chequers in July of this year, and then having done the equivalent of inject that proposal with steroids through the draft “Withdrawal Agreement” with the EU, she soldiers on in the face of all resistance.
Sean Gabb has summarised the contents of the draft agreement unveiled last week in an earlier post on this blog so there is no need to repeat that here. What we will do instead is to outline the combination of circumstances that have led to this situation and conclude with some thoughts as to what libertarians can make of this whole this debacle. Read more
The Consumption Tax – A Non-Starter
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent essay published on this blog1, the present author proposed a short series of aims that would reduce the burden of taxation on economic prosperity, in comparison to a programme proposed by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI).2 Part of the ASI’s programme consists of “replacing [the] income tax with a progressive consumption tax, so savings are not taxed”.3 In relation to this, we explained, briefly, that all taxes are paid for out of one of two sources of production – either income or wealth – and that
The individual names of all of the different taxes refer not to fundamentally different types of tax; rather, they denote either the specific kind of good to be burdened (i.e. property, alcoholic beverages, etc.) or the particular event that triggers the tax liability. For example, within the category of taxes on income, an income/payroll tax taxes the income at the point it is earned; a VAT or sales tax, on the other hand, taxes the income at the point it is spent.
Consequently, we concluded that a proposal for a consumption tax amounted to little more than simply moving a tax burden around and calling it a different name rather than eliminating its depressing effects upon economic prosperity:
Changing the precise moment when a tax is levied ultimately does nothing to ameliorate the effects of the tax – it simply means that you might be able to hang on to your money for a little bit longer before having to give it up. Neither also does changing the triggering event have any effect upon who, ultimately, pays for the tax. All taxes must be paid for out of production and so the burden of any tax always falls upon producers.
This essay will elaborate on why, for a programme that wishes to give a serious boost to economic prosperity by reforming taxes, the proposal to switch to a consumption tax from an income tax is a relatively pointless endeavour which should not be considered as a priority. We will also explain why the claim that “savings are not taxed” is utterly fallacious before exploring some particular difficulties that are inherent to introducing and operating a consumption tax. Although this essay concerns, mainly, the effects of a consumption tax upon economic prosperity, we will then move on to highlighting some further problems this method of taxation presents from a purely libertarian perspective. Finally, we will conclude by pointing out that any benefits a consumption tax could bring are unlikely to be realised in the absence of fostering a general government commitment to lower tax rates. Read more
Money Heist: State Counterfeiting on TV
By Duncan Whitmore
At first, Money Heist seems little different from any run-of-the-mill “cops vs. bad guys” series. A well-prepared group of eight, small time criminals, previously unknown to each other and using city names as pseudonyms, hijacks the Spanish Royal Mint in Madrid. Directed from the outside by their leader, the mysterious “Professor”, they capture tens of Mint staff and visitors to hold as hostages, including (deliberately) the teenage daughter of a prominent politician. Scores of armed police soon surround the building at the beginning of what turns into an epic, eleven-day siege.
One initial question concerns the objective of the hijackers. Is it robbery? Ransom? Terrorism? It soon becomes clear that the group, in spite of being armed to the hilt and having sequestered a major government institution, is imbued with an interesting set of morals. For they intend to neither a) kill anyone (although circumstance forces this scruple to be breached) nor b) steal as much as a penny from anyone’s bank account. They do, as it happens, intend to leave the Mint with more than one billion euros in cash. This, however, they plan to achieve by spending their eleven days holed up in the Mint printing the money they want (with the aid of the captured staff, whom they bribe with some of the loot) instead of raiding the vaults for cash that already exists. Their clever plan, therefore, is to escape with untold riches without having harmed a soul while, in the process, embarrassing the authorities and winning the sympathy of the public as “loveable rogues”. Read more