I am the new Director of this Blog. Over the next few weeks, I will make fundamental changes to the appearance and content of this Blog. In the meantime, the lax moderation of comments that has so far been the custom is ended with immediate effect. Any comment that I deem irrelevant or irritating will be removed. There is no appeal from my decision.
As I had planned, I attended the Reform Party UK’s first ever party conference on Sunday, October 3rd, 2021 in Manchester. This report gives some thoughts I took away from it.
Last Saturday, as I sat at my computer at about 11:30am, my aural senses were assaulted. It sounded, at first, like a mullah with a megaphone. But Muslim prayers don’t last more than a few minutes. And these noises carried on.
They were still going on through the afternoon and into the evening. There was lots of loud, rocky-poppy, not-very-tuneful music. Now, I live just round the corner from Charterhouse School; and they have a reputation for holding such shindigs. But the sound didn’t seem to be coming from that direction.
At about 6pm, somebody gave a speech. I couldn’t make out a single word; it sounded, more than anything else, like a rant by some crazed South American dictator. Then the music re-started. By 7:30pm, I had decided to take a walk around the district to find the source of the noise. It wasn’t Charterhouse; it seemed to be coming from down the hill. In some places, including my home, the sound was very distinct, even loud; in others, I couldn’t hear it at all.
As I walked down the hill, parties of mostly young, well-heeled-looking people were coming in the opposite direction. I had to walk well more than a mile, all the way down into the town, to find that a huge festival had taken over the town park. It had just finished, and vans and lorries were starting to cart away tents and other temporary fixtures. In the town centre, I saw signs to “Surrey Pride.” So now, I knew what the festival had been; the local Gay Pride parade and party. The Wetherspoon was chock full of happy looking people, mostly younger than the usual clientele. And the railway station was as busy as I’ve ever seen it.
The Reform Party UK is due to hold its very first party conference on October 3rd 2021 in Manchester. While political parties are not really my thing, in view of the potential importance of the Reform Party to the on-going battle for liberty in the UK, I have made plans to attend. I thought that before then I would look out their latest policy documents, refresh my memory as to what they are proposing, and make some comments on their ideas from my highly individualist and libertarian point of view. The document in which they have published their proposals is “Reform is Essential,” dated May 2021 [https://reformparty.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Reform-is-Essential.pdf].
The Public/Private Problem
By Duncan Whitmore
For much of the history of classical liberalism and libertarianism, the primary battleground for freedom has been the economic arena. This is not difficult to understand given that the rise of Marxism and socialism towards the end of the nineteenth century (spawning the tyrannies of the twentieth) came on the back of economic promises: of freeing the workers from the supposed exploitation of the profit system, and imposing central control over industry for the benefit of “everyone”. This, in turn, focussed specific attention upon whether the means of production should be owned either privately or by the state, and which of these two options could furnish the highest standard of living.
As a result of this binary division, it became easy enough to regard capitalists, entrepreneurs, businesses, corporations and privatisations – i.e. anywhere where there is nominal private ownership over producer goods – as being automatically “good” on account of their efficiency, resourcefulness, competitiveness and affordability. On the other hand, anything that was state owned and/or state managed was afflicted by inefficiency, waste, and corruption, and so could be denigrated as “bad” without further question.
Of course, such a rule of thumb was validated empirically not only as the “capitalist” West had outshone the “communist” East by the end of the Cold War, but also within the UK as nationalised industries (such as the railways, steel manufacturing and coal mining) were run into the ground, while private businesses (such as supermarkets) flourished. Needless to say, the rule also reflects our understanding of just rights of ownership – that private ownership (as the result of either homesteading or voluntary exchange) is fully in accordance with the non-aggression principle and is therefore “good”, whereas state confiscation of previously owned goods is an egregious breach of that principle, and is therefore “bad”.
How to Fight for Liberty, Part 6 – Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
By Duncan Whitmore
In the previous two essays in this continuing series on fighting for liberty, we discussed the value of radicalism and then of conservatism in contributing towards a political strategy. A suggested reconciliation between these two, apparently different approaches centred on the fact that, on the one hand, libertarians must be uncompromisingly radical in terms of their rejection of the state; on the other hand, we must be conservative by encouraging this rejection from the bottom-up rather than imposing it from the top-down.
This part will explain in detail why this bottom-up approach is essential, and why all attempts at a top-down restructuring of the societal order are unlikely to ever result in a permanent victory for liberty.
The Top-Down Failure of Statism
Austro-libertarians are well accustomed to explaining why top-downism fails when it is proposed by statists. Socialism, for instance, suffers from the economic calculation problem. If the state owns all of the means of production across the entire economy then there is no trade in machines, tools and equipment. Without trade in these factors then they cannot command market prices. If there are no market prices then it is not possible for a state controlled planning board to undertake any kind of cost accounting. Without accountancy, there is no way of determining profits and losses. And if there are no profits or losses then you can never know whether scarce factors of production are being deployed efficiently or wastefully. The result is economic chaos as the capital structure deteriorates into a quagmire of wasteful surpluses of some goods and chronic shortages of others. In the former Soviet Union, for instance, fields of crops were left un-harvested because as much as one third of agricultural machinery stood idle owing to a shortage of spare parts.
Ultimately, however, all kinds of top-downism fail because they are fundamentally at odds with the nature of human beings – that we are each individuals with our own ends and desires, and that we each act within a local, limited environment so as to fulfil those desires. In human society (and often, for that matter, in the natural world), anything that can be observed as a complete, harmonious system is not the product of any one individual’s design or action in the way that a single architect may design a building or a sole author can write a novel. Rather, social systems are the amalgamation of thousands of individuals striving to fulfil their individual ends in such a way that nevertheless manages to mesh them into a coherent whole. Institutions such as culture, language, market prices, customary legal systems and money are of this ilk. No one person ever invented any of these, and yet we can clearly define them as singular entities that exist to fulfil human purposes in a conflict-free manner.
Beating the COVID Statists
By Duncan Whitmore
It has been a while since I have written anything directly on the current COVID-induced nightmare, if only because we are all saturated with plenty of it from other sources, and much of what I could write has been written better elsewhere. But with the recent announcements that vaccination will be made mandatory for care home staff, and that proof of vaccination will be required to enter a nightclub and other “large gatherings” in the autumn, I thought I would try to arrest any despair this may have induced with a few words of optimism.
Of course, any such optimism is for the long term rather than for the short. It would be foolish to deny that the near future is going to be very a difficult one for a great many people, even if some semblance of liberty ends up prevailing in the end. Indeed, if I had to summarise the change in my own attitude that has taken place in the last eighteen months, it is from having previously regarded the British government as something of a nuisance to now being actively fearful of the kind of life that it will be able to impose upon us. We do not have the option of drowning ourselves in the false hope that it will all just go away. We do, though, have the tools of Austrian economics and libertarian theory to help us better understand what is going on – and it is understanding that is the first step towards overcoming fear.