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”.
It’s Time to Stop Despairing
By Duncan Whitmore
It is difficult not to feel despondent when considering the enormous loss of liberty that has been inflicted by government lockdown policies in response to COVID-19. This despair has been compounded for many on the right by the final failure of Donald Trump’s attempt to challenge November’s presidential election result, together with the sudden, panicked attempt to remove him from office just days before his term expires, as well as the purging of him and prominent cheerleaders from social media. In this vein, the following quotations – all from prominent libertarians or conservative-libertarians – are not unrepresentative:
“2021 is going to be worse than 2020. Sorry”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet: the worst is yet to come”
“The lockdown is permanent, get used to it. It is all about political control. NOBODY HEALTHY IS DYING.”
It is true that any opponents of lockdown policies need to have a realistic grasp of why these draconian policies have been resorted to and how the situation is likely to pan out. Indeed, enough is now known about COVID-19 for us to be well past the point of lending the state the benefit of the doubt in its decision to continue with those policies. Thus, explanations other than the protection of health must be sought.
Nevertheless, the amount of time spent despairing is beginning to come at the expense of time that could be spent working out how to fight back. Happily, Sean Gabb has helped to buck the trend by offering some reasons as to why the past year has not been all that bad. While Gabb acknowledges that his personal circumstances have contributed much to his relatively sanguine view, it is, nevertheless, a refreshing counterbalance to the torrent of doomerism that seems to be erupting from the right. Continue reading
Economic Myths #13 – Wealth Inequality and “The 1%”
By Duncan Whitmore
The inequality of wealth and income is a frequent bone of contention in the mainstream media. According to The Guardian, 1% of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by the year 2030. A typical response to this kind of revelation is the following utterance from the Executive Director of Oxfam in 2015:
An explosion of inequality [is] holding back the fight against poverty. Do we really want to live in a world where 1% own more than the rest of us combined?
The mainstream debate over this issue fails to understand the true nature of the problem (although, interestingly, The Guardian article referred to above is unusually far sighted in recognising some of the causes of inequality).
The pro-free market side is wont to point out that such inequality “doesn’t matter” and that governments should not do anything to interfere with the progress of business. The likely call from the opposite side, however, is for increased taxation and redistribution and, indeed, Oxfam itself stressed the need for a greater crackdown on tax avoidance by large, multinational corporations. However, the reality is much more nuanced than the false dichotomy between “pro-business” and “pro-government/anti-poverty”. Continue reading