Apology for a Thin Dribble


Apology for a Thin Dribble
Sean Gabb
(1st August 2021)

There was a time when I would turn out thousands of words a week on politics. In the past year, I have slowed down. What used to be a gush of words has become a thin dribble. The reasons for this? One is that I have become busier than I could once have imagined with teaching the ancient languages. I have classes and private students all over the world, and I am often up half the night making unlisted YouTube videos on Greek and Latin grammar. The other reason still shocks me and ought to shock others. This is that I am, for the first time in my life, scared to write about politics. I find that I have an hour free of other duties. I open Word for Windows and start writing. Then I stop. I ask myself: “Will this get me into some kind of trouble?” Sometimes the answer is: “Yes—this will get me into trouble.” More often, it is: “I don’t know, but better safe than sorry.” The result is the same. I close the Word document and turn back to Livy or Herodotus or the editing of a video on the present participle in Latin.

How could I possibly be scared to say what I think about politics or culture or some other matter of public importance? I am a freeborn Englishman. None of the liberties I inherited from my ancestors has been abolished. Indeed, since 1998, these liberties have been formally augmented by the Human Rights Act, which gives a bias in law to freedom of expression, and positively compels all public bodies to respect freedom of speech. No doubt, if I want to speak uncharitably about people of different races, there are laws to restrain me. But, if I resent these laws, I have no wish to speak uncharitably about such people. On all other issues, the laws of my country tell me I have more solid legal protections of my right to free expression than my ancestors ever enjoyed. All this, and I sit wondering if my proposed sneer at the latest Coronavirus claims or yet another denunciation of the Great Satan America will get me into trouble. My reason for wondering and then not writing is that these apparently solid legal protections are of no validity against a new and rather scary kind of censorship that never shows up in the Law Reports.

A few weeks ago, there was a football match between England and Italy. I usually pay no attention to these things. This time, though, it seems that the management of the English team saw the chance of making propaganda for one of the current orthodoxies. The chance was mishandled, and the working class fans were left angry. Since there was no hiding from the fans of what was done, the regime media responded with hysterical denunciation of anyone who complained. The usual authority figures were pressed into service. The result was an orgy of virtue signalling. I will not bother quoting any, but my Facebook feed was stuffed with the sort of rhetorical abuse you would once have seen in Soviet Russia during the purges.

A further result was that anyone who stepped too identifiably out of line risked shadow punishment. According to The Daily Mirror, reporting just a day after the match,

Savills estate agents have suspended an employee after his Twitter account posted racist abuse at England’s players.

According to Sky Sports, reporting nearly a week later,

A university has withdrawn an offer to a student following racist abuse towards England players after the Euro 2020 final…

Now, I neither care about football nor understand the details of what happened in that match. My interest in what happened is that this is how dissent is mainly policed in modern England. Getting the police to put on ski masks and smash down doors looks too much like censorship. Outsourcing the job to Human Resources makes denial much easier. I suspect The Daily Mirror reported that first victim as a warning to everyone else. The real wave of sackings will not be reported in the regime media, though its scale will be known by word of mouth or from the reports on social media. The desired message has been sent out.

Earlier this year, I wrote a long essay on outsourced censorship. Because this was so long, hardly anyone read it. What I said, though, was that censorship has indeed been outsourced—offenders nowadays are more likely to get the sack than see the inside of a police station. The outsourced persecution of those disappointed football fans is just an extreme and peculiar illustration of the point I was making. It is extreme and peculiar so far as football is a kind of religion in England, and it would not do to allow an open discussion of what may have happened with those penalty kicks. Apart from that, there is nothing unusual about the denunciations. England has become a country where all dissent against the dominant opinion is dangerous. It is not legally dangerous. There is no official censorship of opinion, or not very much. Dissent is economically dangerous. Dissenters risk losing their jobs or businesses. They risk having their books pulled from distribution and their bank and social media accounts closed. Debate is being shut down on matters that, even a few years ago, were completely open.

I am a man of reasonably firm mind. For years and years, I went on the BBC to say what I thought on the issues of the day, and would laugh at the shocked reactions. I am now largely silent. For the moment, there will be no more incredulity about the environmentalist claims, no sceptical doubts about the nature of the Coronavirus claims or the efficacy of the vaccines, no more defences of the British Empire.

I call this a “new and scary kind of censorship.” To be fair, it is only new for me because of when I was born. By 1959, the old ruling class had lost legitimacy. Its efforts to guide public opinion were laughed at. I grew to manhood in a moral environment where I was free to say anything I wanted. Oh, if I had been some kind of white advocate, I might not have been so free. But I was not a white advocate, and nothing I said ever got me into trouble with employers or clients or any government or business organisation. If I had been born in 1859, I might have been aware of a very firm pressure to conform. Suppose I had been a schoolmaster in the 1880s, and I had spoken out for Irish home rule, or disestablishment of the Church, or a confiscation of the landed interest, or a republic, or birth control, or I had held any other of the unpopular views of the day, I would almost certainly have found myself out of a job and blacklisted from getting another. Instead, I grew up in a kind of interglacial, where one set of established views was no longer hegemonic, and no new set had yet replaced it. That has now changed. There are once more established views that it is dangerous to mock or denounce too openly.

I could argue that the old views were somehow healthy and the new ones are not. I see no point in that. I will instead say that just because something undesirable happened in the past is no reason for putting up with it now. The old pressures to conform were wrong. So are the new. And they are wrong simply because they are pressures to conform. I find myself at last appreciating a part of Mill’s essay On Liberty for which I never used to have much time. Until recently, I would insist that the only real oppression was by the State: all else was the working of private choice. If the authorities fined a man £5 for having sex with another man, that was outrageous tyranny. If his tastes became public knowledge, and he was unable to find work, that was merely unfortunate. This is, I still believe, essentially true. Indeed, I could argue that, without a State having centralised and corporatised powers of discrimination that ought to be  widely distributed, there would be no problem—or there would be a problem that was bearable. But these powers were centralised and corporatised a long time ago. They are now being used to achieve a uniformity of opinion outside the home in which the formal organs of compulsion have no obvious part. This is not the “tyranny of the majority” that worried Mill. I find it inconceivable that anything close to a majority could believe the insane drivel pouring from the regime media. Neither, though, is it the kind of oppression against which liberal bills of rights have traditionally been written. Because of this—

when society is itself the tyrant…, its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them….

(J.S. Mill On Liberty, 1859, “Introductory”)

We need protection indeed. But the protection we need is not yet another law telling the police to leave dissidents alone. We already have a stack of these, and they are protections against a threat that largely does not exist. The answer, I suggest, is an amendment to the anti-discrimination laws to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of what may be loosely called political opinion.

I say hardly anyone read my original essay. Sadly, most of those who did read it stand in the more wooden reaches of the libertarian movement, and these set up a cry that I had become a Communist. I was suggesting that private organisations should be coerced in their choices of whom and whom not to employ, and even in their choices of customer and supplier. I had abandoned the non-aggression principle. Here, briefly expressed, is my answer to these claims.

I run the Centre for Ancient Studies. This provides a range of tuition services in Greek and Latin. It is a sole tradership. As such, I reserve the unconditional right to decide what services I offer and to whom. If I dislike the colour of your face, or the status of your foreskin, or your tastes in love, or anything else that I may think relevant, it should be my right not to do business with you. It may be that only a fool turns away customers with money to spend, and I am not that sort of a fool. Even so, I do claim at least the theoretical right, and I ground it on my right to do as I please with my own. But I claim these rights as a human individual. A limited company is not a human individual. Whatever entrepreneurship may exist in them, these companies are artificial persons and creatures of the State. Their owners have the privilege of limited liability. That is, they have the right, in the event of insolvency, not to pay the debts of a company if these are greater than the assets of the company. If this were not a valuable right, there would not be so many limited companies. There are almost no large companies, and none lasting more than a single generation, that do not have limited liability.

This being so, limited companies benefit from a grant of privilege from the State, and are legitimate subjects of regulation by the State for as long as they are receipt of this privilege. No doubt, some forms of state regulation are bad in their objects, or bad as regards the means to their objects. But regulation is not in itself an aggression by the State. It follows that, whether or not we can get it, libertarians should not feel barred from demanding laws to prevent limited companies from discriminating against their employees on the grounds of political opinion, and to require them to do business with customers and suppliers regardless of political opinion.

I appreciate that I am asking for more than the regulation of limited companies. The anti-discrimination laws we have make no distinction between incorporated and unincorporated associations. Even so, the extension of these laws to cover political opinion would mainly affect only the larger limited companies. At the same time, there is an obvious and overriding public interest in the protection of political opinion. People are now scared to speak their minds. Whether intended or just revealed, this is part of the strategy. The reason why the collapse of both freedom and tradition is gathering pace is because no one dares stand up and protest. In the absence of protest, everything will carry on as it is. Given a restored right of protest, there is a chance of stopping the collapse. The only way to lift the blanket of fear that now lies over all but approved opinion is somehow or other to get a law making it clear that no one who speaks his mind can be loaded with shadow punishments.

“Somehow or other!” In a sense, I am making a fool of myself. I am asking the politicians to make a law against what they themselves may not be doing, but that has no effect on their main reason for being in politics, which is to fill their pockets. I am asking them to take on the entire mass of the non-elected Establishment. I am asking a lot of these people. On the other hand, the politicians still need to be elected, and that was the weak point in the Establishment’s plan to stay in the European Union. We had to spend four nears voting and revoting, but we did eventually get what we wanted. It is conceivable that, if enough of us call loudly enough for protection, some kind of protection will be granted.

Short of that, we are lost.

Shortages and the Class Struggle, by Sean Gabb


Shortages and the Class Struggle
A Libertarian View
Sean Gabb
(28th September 2021)

There is in the United Kingdom a shortage of lorry drivers. This means a dislocation of much economic activity. Because it cannot be delivered, there is no petrol in the filling stations. Because there are not enough drivers, and a shortage of fuel, we may soon have shortages of food in the shops. Christmas this year may not involve its usual material abundance.

These difficulties are wholly an effect of the new political economy that has emerged in England and in many other Western countries since about 1980. An army of managers, of agents, of administrators, of consultants and advisers and trainers, and of other middle class parasites has appropriated a growing share of the national income. This has happened with at least the connivance of the rich and the powerful. Since, in the short term, the distribution of the national income is a zero-sum game, the necessary result is low and falling real wages for those who actually produce. So long as the productive classes can be kept up by immigration from countries where even lower wages are on offer, the system will remain stable. Because leaving the European Union has reduced the supply of cheap labour, the system is no longer stable in England.

There are two obvious solutions. The first is to rearrange the distribution of income, to make the productive classes more able and more willing to produce. Since this would mean reducing the numbers or incomes or both of the parasite classes, the second is the solution we mostly read about in the newspapers. This is to restore the flow of cheap foreign labour.

In summary, that is my explanation of what is happening. For those who are interested, I will now explain at greater length. According to the mainstream theory of wages, labour is a commodity. Though workers are human beings, the labour they supply to employers is of the same general nature as machine tools and copper wire and cash registers and whatever else is bought and sold in the markets for producer goods. A wage therefore is a price, and we can illustrate the formation of wage rates with the same supply and demand diagrams as we use for illustrating the formation of prices:

The supply curve slopes upwards because most work is a nuisance. Every hour of labour supplied is an hour that cannot be spent doing something more enjoyable. Beyond a certain level, workers can only be persuaded to supply more labour if more money is offered for each additional hour of labour. As with other producer goods, the shape of the demand curve is determined both by the price of what labour can be used to produce and by the law of diminishing returns.

To show this, let us make the following assumptions:

First, that all labour employed or employable by a firm is of the same quality;

Second, that all other factors of production are fixed in quantity;

Third, that the price of whatever is produced by a firm is £10, and that its demand curve is perfectly elastic.

Suppose that the employment of one extra worker will increase output by ten units a day. This will increase revenue by £100 a day. The maximum daily wage paid to that worker will be £100. If the wage is somehow fixed above that level, it will not be worth employing him. If, however, we make the secondary assumptions that all other firms in that market are in exactly the same circumstances, and that all workers are employed on daily contracts, firms will compete for workers and workers will compete with other workers until that is the daily wage of all workers.

Let us now suppose that another worker appears from nowhere and offers his labour, and let us suppose that, because of diminishing returns, his employment will increase our firm’s output not by ten but by nine units a day. This being so, the daily wage rate will fall to £90. If, on the other hand, a new worker does not appear, but an existing worker disappears, and increasing returns now mean that the last worker employed before him has added eleven units per day to total output, the daily wage will rise to £110.

This is a grossly unrealistic illustration. But this does not in itself falsify the theory. Economic theory works by looking beneath the multitude of transient circumstances we find on the surface of things, to see the underlying reality. No basic economic theory explains how a market does or should work at any one time. What it shows instead are the underlying forces that shift markets in the long term towards an equilibrium that is itself constantly shifting. This being so, the marginal productivity theory of wages is part of an overall theory of distribution that roughly explains the earnings of each factor and subdivided factor in a country with reasonably free markets. It is not very good at explaining wages in the service sector, and may apply at best indirectly to wages in the state sector. But it is a true theory, and it only ceases to operate when some forcible rigging of markets prevents it from operating.

Our problem in England is that large areas of economic activity have been rigged. There is an immensely large state sector, paid for by taxes on the productive. Most formally private activity is engrossed by large organisations that are able to be so large either because of limited liability laws or by regulations that only large organisations can obey. The result is that wages are often determined less by market forces than by administrative choice. In this kind of rigged market, we cannot explain the distribution of income as a matter of continual choice between marginal increments of competing inputs until the whole has been distributed. It may be better to look at a modified wages fund theory. A large organisation has a pot of money left over from the sale of whatever its product may be, minus payments to outside suppliers, and minus whatever the directors choose to classify as profit. This is then distributed according to the free choice of the directors, or how hard they can be pushed. Or we can keep the mainstream cross-diagrams, but accept that the demand curve is determined less by marginal productivity than by the overall prejudices of those in charge.

Therefore the growth of a large and unproductive middle class, and the screwing down of all other wages to pay for this. This is not inevitable in rigged markets, but is possible. It has come about since the 1980s for three reasons:

First, the otherwise unemployable products of an expanded higher education sector have used all possible means to get nice jobs for themselves and their friends;

Second the rich and the powerful have accommodated this because higher wages and greater security for the productive might encourage them to become as assertive as they were before the 1980s;

Third, that these rich and powerful see the parasite classes as a useful transmitter of their own political and moral prejudices.

Where the lorry drivers are concerned, a friend showed this yesterday in a brief e-mail:

This is something due to the lack of HGV drivers due the outsourcing to agencies for driving. The agencies grab the most of the money and the drivers get paid pants for a long, difficult job with terrible conditions. No wonder no one wants the job. I know a couple of drivers who tell me qualified drivers are stacking shelves rather than drive since the pay and conditions are better

I know nothing of that particular market. But I do know the education market. I used to work now and again as a supply teacher. From every £10 an agency charged a school, about £5 went to the teacher it supplied. Many teachers, I might agree, are worthless at any wage. Also, I do appreciate that middlemen are often useful for creating markets that would not otherwise exist. But you see these agencies in almost every sector, even in those where customary employment markets already exist. It is a reasonable inference that they are a means of diverting income from those who work to those who live by skimming-off.

And this is the cause of our present difficulties. It explains why there are so many calls for the flow of cheap foreign labour to be restored. It may be that many businesses in this country are run with so little enterprise and investment that they survive only with cheap foreign labour. Much more than this, the parasite classes have realised that the growing labour shortage faced since we left the Single Market is forcing up wages for the productive, and that is not a short term response, but part of a more general readjustment, and that this will be bad for them unless they can make those labour supply curves more elastic at lower wages.

An almost obligatory end to anything written by a libertarian is a call for an end of regulations and cuts to government spending. I think these would help. But we have a class war in which no side seems to want a free market. So, for what it may be worth, I choose the workers. They did themselves no favour when they last had a seat at the table in the 1970s. So it may be again. I choose them even so. As for the parasite classes, I can shut my eyes and see them them at pavement cafes in the King’s Road, twittering into their i-Phones over skinny lattes served by Bulgarian waiters. Watching them unplugged from their host would, all other considerations aside, be enjoyable.

Us and Them


By Neil Lock

This is the final essay of six in in a re-appraisal and re-working of my philosophical system. I am calling the new version of this system “Honest Common Sense 2.0.”

Today, it’s time (at last!) to offer some thoughts on how we might seek to move from where we are today towards a better world. Some of these ideas, I’ll warn in advance, may seem radical to many people. To some, even scary.

I’m going to try to make this essay as stand-alone as I can; so that even those who haven’t read the preceding five parts should be able to appreciate my points of view. To that end, I’ll begin with some brief summaries culled from the earlier essays.

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Review: “Say No to Racism: Tips and Advice on How to be Anti-Racist” by Rasha Barrage


Review: Say No to Racism: Tips and Advice on How to be Anti-Racist by Rasha Barrage1

By Duncan Whitmore

Note: Unless specified otherwise, numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers of the reviewed text.

Libertarians are likely to groan at the title of this short book by Rasha Barrage. Surely, we can surmise, this will just be the product of another race baiting shill reminding us of the uniquely evil and oppressive nature of predominantly white, Western civilisation? However, Say No to Racism (SNR) should not be dismissed quite so lightly; for although this reviewer cannot agree with the conceptual framework with which Barrage approaches questions of racism, her intellectual integrity together with her general approach towards achieving the resolution of a social problem is something from which all of those who seek social and political change (including libertarians) could learn a thing or two.

For one thing, the author is sincere in her attempt to achieve reconciliation resulting in peaceful co-existence and social harmony. In contrast to those whose aim is to exploit, rather than to resolve, alleged racial injustice, Barrage is not interested in stirring up hatred and antagonism, nor is there any hidden, cultural leftist agenda.

Bolstering this is the fact that the book puts some of its own advice (72, 102) into practice directly through Barrage’s exclusion of both herself and her own experiences from her message, nor does she make any attempt to establish her own credentials as an activist. This is not unimportant because ‘fashionable’ social justice causes today seem to be something of a lucrative cottage industry in which thinkers can be paid multi-thousand dollar speaking fees, elevated to professorial fellowships at Cambridge, or attract the ear of large corporations – a far cry from a life of persecution, ostracism, isolation, bouts of imprisonment, or (at worst) assassination endured by, say, Martin Luther King Jr or Nelson Mandela. Not only does this circumstance undermine directly the narrative of under-privilege and injustice, but there is an obvious conflict of interest if continuing activism is needed to sustain one’s livelihood or status. By avoiding this, one can be confident that Barrage’s thoughts are firmly centred on ideas which she has considered rationally and, thus, deserve to be taken at their word. Moreover, although, as the title suggests, the book is a brief ‘digest’ intended for a lay audience rather than an academic shelf-bender, the author is clearly well informed on the theories that she summarises, and so I trust it is not out of place to scrutinise them at this higher level.

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The “We” Dimensions


By Neil Lock

This is the fifth essay in a six-part re-formulation of my philosophical ideas. It covers, at a similar level to the previous essay, the fourth and fifth dimensions in my system, which in classical philosophy correspond to Politics, and to Economics and Aesthetics, respectively. I call these two the “We” dimensions. For the questions, which must be answered in these dimensions, are phrased in the first person plural. “How should we organize ourselves for maximum benefit to all?” And “What are we here to do?”

Today, I’ll be looking to outline a new system of governance, to supersede the states and bad politics under which we all suffer today. I call it “just governance.” I will deliberately try not to map things out in too much Utopian detail. For I expect just governance to evolve organically, getting better as it goes. So, what I will try to do is merely lay down some guidelines, and give a flavour of how the system might work. This is also, I think, a good moment at which to issue a plea for feedback on my ideas; particularly from those who share my pro-freedom views, but have different expertises.

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The “I” Dimensions


By Neil Lock

This is the fourth part of a six-part re-formulation of my philosophical system. In this essay and the next, I aim to put a little more “flesh” on the five dimensions of my system.

Today, I’ll cover the first three dimensions, corresponding to Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics respectively in classical philosophy. I call these three the “I” dimensions. For the questions about humanity, which must be answered in these dimensions, are phrased in the first person singular. “What am I?” “How do I know what I know?” And “How should I behave?”

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