Why the State Shouldn’t Manage a Crisis
By Duncan Whitmore
Many libertarians, especially at lewrockwell.com, have written of their scepticism to the draconian responses of states around the world to the recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). It is not difficult to share this scepticism given that at least some analyses – particularly of infections on cruise ships, which, given the unavoidably close social proximity, present the closest thing to a worst case scenario – suggest there is little cause for any heightened alarm. Indeed, for the very vast majority of us, there is probably more to be feared from state overreaction than there is from the virus itself. Even mainstream commentators, such as Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times, are beginning to question the wisdom of trashing your economy to prevent the spread of an infection that is, at least at the moment, affecting only a relative minority of people of advanced age and/or with underlying health conditions (in common with many other inflictions). States always have ulterior motives when dealing with (apparent) crises as they always see them as an opportunity to expand the ambit of their power over the populace, given that a scared people is nearly always willing to sacrifice its liberty for the sake of security. In fact, if the true medical seriousness of this current virus turns out to be only a hill of beans then it may well have served as a dress rehearsal that has merely tested our pliability for some later calamity.
This essay, however, will not concern whether the spread of COVID-19 is quite the crisis it is being made out to be. Instead, let us assume, for argument’s sake, that the world was to be threatened by a very real and very serious pandemic threat. Would such a disaster warrant stronger, co-ordinated, globalised solutions managed by states and enhanced state powers to deal with the problem? Read more
A Conspiracy against the New World Order?
20th March 2020
I have no particular knowledge of medicine or the natural sciences. However, I remember the Aids panic of the 1980s, when we were told there would be two million deaths by 1990 in this country alone. I remember the Mad Cow Disease of 1996, when we were told that a million people would turn into zombies by 2016. There have been a dozen lesser panics the details of which I presently forget. The Coronavirus may be a modern equivalent of the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. But I have reason to be sceptical. Indeed, if ignorant of medicine in any practical sense, I do know a lot about the bubonic plague pandemics of 542-4 and of 1347-51. These exploded among populations severely weakened by hunger, following downturns in global temperature. The Spanish Flu took hold because of the dislocations produced by the Great War. The human race now has never been so well-fed and so well-provided with medicine. It seems that most victims of the Coronavirus were very old or already in poor health. I do not, of course, welcome any death. But I shall need to see much higher rates of infection and many more deaths – and much and many more outside those groups presently most at risk – before I regard this as other than some collective madness. Read more
On Externalities, Integrated Assessment Models, and UK climate policies
By Neil Lock
This is a follow-up to my recent essay, “On Cambridge University, post-modernism, climate change, Oppenheimer’s Razor, and the Re-Enlightenment.” As I said there about the economic impacts of global warming: “I’d expect that some probing by independent experts into the economic calculations, and the assumptions on which they are built, might bear fruit.” But where are these calculations, and who are the unbiased experts who have quality controlled them? I couldn’t find any such calculations, or the names of any such experts. Perhaps, I thought, I’d better take a look at this myself.
So, I set out to learn as much as I could about the economic calculations which – so we’re supposed to believe – justify the extreme measures proposed, all the way up to total de-carbonization of the UK economy, to avoid alleged catastrophic damage from global warming. This essay is the result of that exercise. If it reads like a cross between a layman’s guide to the economics of global warming and a political rant, that’s because it’s both!
Here are the main points of what I found out:
- In 2009, the UK government ceased to value carbon dioxide emissions according to their social cost , in favour of using numbers based on political commitments they had previously made. In effect, they abandoned doing cost versus benefit assessments on policies that are expected to increase or decrease CO2 emissions.
- Recent empirical estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), when run through assessment models like those used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), suggest a considerably lower social cost of CO2 emissions than earlier estimates, such as the UK government’s Stern Review.
- When the beneficial side-effects of CO2 emissions, such as increased plant growth, are taken into account, it’s possible that the social cost of these emissions may even become negative. That is, CO2 emissions become a nett benefit not a nett cost.
- Calculations based on a 2017 paper by Dayaratna, McKitrick and Kreutzer suggest a social cost for all UK CO2 emissions as at 2020 of 0.05% of GDP (optimistic) or 0.31% of GDP (pessimistic). Using the social cost numbers for 2050 from the same paper, the figures are 0.08% and 0.52% respectively. All these numbers are substantially lower than the 1-2% of GDP put forward as the cost of “net zero” policies.
- There is a need for urgent action to prevent the imposition of costly, draconian and lifestyle-destroying policies on people in the UK in the name of a problem, which is far less serious (if it is a problem at all) than is claimed by the promoters of those policies.
Liberty and Society – a Reply to Ben Lewis
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent post on this blog, the present writer offered an explanation as to why the intellectual accomplishments of Austro-libertarians have been disproportionate to their relatively meagre success in effecting real world change. We concluded that the attempt to merely spread ideas of the justice of non-aggression and the truth of “Austrian” economics is, in spite of its importance, not enough. Libertarians must also learn how to mould these ideas so that they speak to people’s aspirations within the prevailing conditions in which they live.
In a short post on the blog of Bastion Magazine – a relatively new publication which shares similar intellectual and political priorities to those of Mises UK – Ben Lewis has chimed in with something similar, addressing what he calls “the inconsistency of libertarian consistency” – that while conservatives, according to him, concede that libertarianism is a more logically consistent philosophy, this feature does not necessarily make the latter a superior system of thought should it be also inconsistent with “the real life nature of man and society”. These sentiments are in the same vain as three of his earlier blog posts where he discusses voluntary social relations, social duties and his reasons for being a conservative.1
To be fair to Lewis, not every view examined in this essay is necessarily one that he has stated explicitly and it would be wrong to ascribe to him a belief in every matter that is subjected to criticism. However, in the interests of thoroughness, we will examine not only what Lewis has actually said but also that which could be reasonably interpreted or inferred from what he has said.
I usually read your emailed newsletters because, for the most part, I find your observations thought-provoking.
I’m writing to tell you that you continue to fail to convince me of the benefits of studying classics, particularly the learning of Latin – my own experience of which (I concede) is entirely vicarious. Both my two sons were fortunate in winning music scholarships to Eton College, where Latin still looms large on the timetable. Both sons dropped the subject at the earliest opportunity, which they considered nowhere near early enough. Similarly, time spent enduring Latin lessons as choristers at St Paul’s Cathedral was time ill-used – the boys were hard-pressed enough as it was, what with singing in the cathedral for three hours a day, six days a week – and with three instrumental skills to practise. Now in their mid-twenties, neither of them know any more Latin than I do (i.e. semper fidelis, per adua per astra, quid pro quo, illegitimi non carborundum, i.e., e.g. and etcetera). Read more
Just done this podcast. I don’t feel that I gave my best, but it does cover a lot of ground.
On Cambridge University, post-modernism, climate change, Oppenheimer’s Razor, and the Re-Enlightenment
By Neil Lock
In the early 1970s, I studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. I enjoyed it at the time, but was left with a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Although I scraped a First, and was offered a place on Part III of the Tripos, I decided to go out into the real world instead. Never did I make a better life decision.
Over the intervening decades, I have come more and more to question the value of universities. I would have expected the remit of a university to be (1) to seek, (2) to develop, and (3) to pass on, ideas and practices to improve the human condition, both today and in the future. There should be no dishonesties in their processes, no imposed orthodoxies, and no restrictions on the freedom to seek, or to tell, the truth. Yet, universities – not just at Cambridge, but world-wide – seem to have become bastions of political correctness. Anyone in the faculty, who doesn’t toe the party line and parrot the narrative of the moment, will find difficulties in funding or in getting papers published, or may even be in danger of dismissal. Peter Ridd in Australia and Susan Crockford in Canada are topical examples.