Why we are Where we are – Part One
By Duncan Whitmore
Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have once said that “the facts of life are conservative”. An equivalent for libertarians is “the facts of life are Austrian”. We may well dispute the justice, inevitability or even desirability of the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, but one cannot escape the fact that the corpus of economic law, derived from the self-evident proposition that individuals act, is undeniably true. So however much you may yearn for some form of centralised economic planning or state management to abolish all “exploitation” before building castles in the land of milk and honey, this economic law cannot be defied for ever and, eventually, reality must come back to bite you on the arse. Amongst the myopia of COVID-19 and the furore of the culture war, a broader perspective of the era we are living through – and probably have been living through since 2008 at the latest – will reveal a culminating fight between a massive reassertion of economic law on the one hand and increasing attempts to continue the defiance on the other.
This essay, the first of two parts, will explore the paths that have been taken prior to our arrival at the political, economic and social situation in which we find ourselves in the early twenty-first century. In Part Two we will look specifically at the ongoing culture war before examining the consequences of all of these dynamics. From this, readers may be able to see how year’s this calamities – barely imaginable just six or seven months ago – have resulted from the choices that have been made in the past. Continue reading
Liberty and the Swedish Example
By Duncan Whitmore
“Many are irresistibly attracted to liberty as an intellectual system or as an aesthetic goal, but liberty remains for them a purely intellectual parlor game, totally divorced from what they consider the ‘real’ activities of their daily lives. Others are motivated to remain libertarians solely from their anticipation of their own personal financial profit […] The consequence of the narrow and myopic vision of both the gamester and the would-be profit maker is that neither group has the slightest interest in the work of building a libertarian movement. And yet it is only through building such a movement that liberty may ultimately be achieved.”
– Murray N Rothbard1
In the five decades or so since these words were written, we have been able to come to a more precise conception of what the “libertarian movement” should be and what it should do. As we have explained before, efforts to bring about a world in which a greater degree of freedom prevails are unlikely to be successful if we rely solely on the promotion of abstract concepts (such as “non-aggression”) – indeed, it is difficult to think of a more insipid rallying cry than “leave people alone”. Although there are particular moral propositions and personal qualities that are likely requirements for the sustenance of any free society, freedom is synonymous with self-determination – that different individuals, families, communities and nations will pursue their own goals based upon their own values. It is these varying pursuits themselves (embedded in the culture, custom and traditions of differing peoples throughout the world) which are likely to be the motivating factor, with liberty being the vehicle for their achievement rather than the end itself. Indeed, when we look to the inspirations that motivated some of the greatest authors, poets, artists and composers, they often chose to capture the essence of their homelands in their works: the “Sceptred Isle” speech of John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II; Blake’s Jerusalem; Monet’s Sunrise; Smetana’s Má Vlast; Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony, to name but a few. In contrast, we might be waiting a very long time for “A Non-Aggression Symphony” or the “Ballad of Private Property”. Or, to give a sporting metaphor, we can look upon liberty as the pitch, but not the game. The turf needs to be laid and the grass watered and mown, but the motivation to do these things is the thrill of the match that will be played. Continue reading
Matthieu Creson on Globalisation: A Comment
By Duncan Whitmore
In a recent essay posted on this blog, Matthieu Creson decried the apparent retreat from globalisation in the wake of COVID-19 and “the withdrawal of countries into themselves”, risking the loss of “what has been for more than half a century one of the main growth drivers” in rich countries and poor countries alike. While Creson is right to be concerned by the possible return of protectionism and economic isolationism, his monolithic conception of globalisation is unlikely to prove helpful when defending its beneficial elements.
Creson is more than keen to explain to us what these beneficial elements of globalisation are:
Extreme poverty affected more than a third of the world’s population in 1990; today it only concerns 10% of this same population, even though the world has seen in the meantime an increase in population of 2 billion human beings. What is more, there has been a drop in infant mortality of more than 50% […] Every day, and in spite of the increase in world population, 140,000 people are able to escape from extreme poverty.
He does not, however, detail specifically the precise qualities of globalisation that produce these marvellous results. Quite a few times, Creson complains that problems caused by the state and statism, such as environmental disasters, are blamed for being “intrinsically linked to globalized capitalism alone”, and that “whenever a world crisis breaks out, they always blame it on globalized liberal capitalism, which they see as moribund”:
Globalization has always functioned as a convenient scapegoat, which saves us from having to acknowledge the (often statist) origins of the evils for which we make globalization unduly responsible.
But he offers no reason as to why academics, pundits and commentators are seemingly able to get away with this blame game so easily when, as he rightly recognises, it is usually states that cause these problems whereas the kinds of economic progress brought about by globalisation can and should ameliorate them. Continue reading
This morning (July 24th, 2020) I went to my local Waitrose. There was no queue, but I was bawled out by the woman on the door for not wearing a face mask. At the time, I was not even aware of the idiot legislation just passed. I asked her if she wanted to stop me going in to the store. She demurred. I did my shopping in about 10 minutes. At the checkout, I was behind a lady who had obeyed the latest idiocy, but complained about it. The checkout operator, knowing me, said nothing about masks.
Now, are “face coverings” efficacious? Anything less than a military-grade mask doesn’t protect you against inhaling the virus. The argument for wearing a mask is that it protects others. But does it? When you take the mask off, where do the viruses go? Think about that.
And if the government really thought that masks were effective to stop the virus, why didn’t they mandate them back in March? Or, at least, April, by which time entrepreneurs would have had time to produce enough masks for the general public?
As Edmund Burke said, 250 years ago: Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
So, that’s over 9 million COVID tests done in the UK up to June 27th a.m. Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? As of today (July 1st), that count has moved on to 9,426,631 – fourth in the world in total tests! (The UK is also fourth in the world in COVID deaths per million population, and closing in on Andorra for third place; but that’s another story). Now… is that figure believable?
Viruses and Property Rights
By Duncan Whitmore
In recent post on the LRC blog, Michael S Rozeff has attempted to demonstrate that pro-freedom arguments made in terms of self-ownership, private property, or the non-aggression principle are ill-equipped to handle a problem such as a contagious virus. It is not entirely clear whether Rozeff is arguing that “property rights solutions” are inherently unable to address such matters, and/or whether they are merely unpersuasive compared to other arguments that libertarians have at their disposal (such as utilitarian arguments). Either way, however, much of what Rozeff says is severely wanting.
Libertarians who attempt to apply 100% body ownership to every situation run into insoluble problems. They frequently try to solve them by deciding what is aggression and what is not, or equivalently who has rights or not, or equivalently whose 100% body property rights are being violated. Sometimes the suggested solutions involve odd behavior that looks immoral, and the confusing and arguable rejoinder is that body ownership theory is a theory of rights, not morality.
In the first place, it is misleading to characterise the libertarian position as one of “100% body ownership” for it conveys the impression that anyone should be able, quite literally, to do whatever they like with their bodies. The correct position is that you should be able to do what you want with your body provided that it does not physically interfere with the body or property of another person without that person’s consent. Rozeff, both here and later, seems to ignore this basic but important qualification. Continue reading
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? Continue reading