The Public/Private Problem


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”.

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Matthieu Creson on Globalisation: A Comment


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

Racism – a Tool of Globalisation


Racism – a Tool of Globalisation

By Duncan Whitmore

It scarcely needs saying that, to listen to the liberal-leftist claptrap gushing from outfits such as The Guardian, one would think that Britain (and the predominantly white, Western world generally) is a hotbed of racism and xenophobia. Although having been particularly prominent since Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the issue has again risen to headline news as a result of the so-called “Megxit” – the decision of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to step back from royal duties, with the racism of the British tabloid press being a supposed factor.

While it is easy enough to point out anecdotal examples of racism anywhere, the notion that Britain suffers from either chronic or widespread racism – the kind that singer Lily Allen ascribes to the reason for Boris Johnson’s election victory – is difficult to defend. Academic research into the matter shows that Western countries are among the most racially tolerant in the world when it comes to the possibility of ethnic minorities moving in as next door neighbours. Remainers, who were aghast at Britain’s “xenophobic” decision to “turn its back” on Europe, may be interested to know that British parents are relatively happier for their children to enter interracial relationships than parents on the continent. And the Migration Observatory at Oxford University points out that the vast majority of immigrants to the UK find Britain to be hospitable and welcoming, and that they are able to improve their lives as a result of hard work. Moreover, while blacks are among the lowest earners in the UK, the government’s own figures show that the percentage of households earning more than £1,000 per week is greater among Indians, Chinese and other Asians than it is among British whites. So if racism is an explanation as to why some ethnic groups fail to earn as much as whites then the British people must be remarkably selective with their racism. Continue reading

Globalisation – the Baby and the Bathwater


Globalisation – the Baby and the Bathwater

By Duncan Whitmore

If the liberal-left was hoping that the recent state visit to the UK by Donald Trump would provide the perfect opportunity to (once again) castigate him for his supposed “racism”, “misogyny”, and a fervour for “nationalism” that apparently puts him on par with Hitler, they have probably been left disappointed. In fact, the visit seems to have come off rather well for the 45th President. Sadiq Khan, London’s leftist mayor, succeeded only in burying himself in a Twitter spat that began before Air Force One even touched down on the tarmac. The anti-Trump protests in Parliament Square – at which, for want of imagination, the Trump “baby blimp” was re-deployed (and subsequently burst by a Trump sympathiser) – failed to attract the anticipated attendance. Instead, news reports of Trump being received warmly by the Queen, behaving graciously and courteously at the state banquet, and delivering a positive and optimistic joint press conference with the Prime Minister about the future of the US-UK relationship, have most likely lent him an air of statesmanship that he has previously lacked. Even the BBC was forced to concede that the trip has, somehow, “normalised” Trump, and that, rather than banishing the orange-faced “fascist” from our shores forever, we should probably recognise that he is “here to say and [so we] had better get used to him”. Continue reading

The Useful Idiocy of the Left


The Useful Idiocy of the Left

By Duncan Whitmore

The typical libertarian is unlikely to open his YouTube account or Twitter feed without encountering a cascade of material in which a) the left is drawing attention to itself in a loud and obnoxious manner; and b) libertarians, conservatives and their fellow travellers are castigating the left for whatever it is doing. Given all of this attention paid to the left one would have thought that they must have something important to say. Let us look at a few recent examples to see if this is true.

On August 11th it was reported in the news that around a hundred or so protestors had appeared in the constituency of Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths to demand his resignation. No doubt the motivation of a small crowd of Mr Griffiths’ constituents to give up their afternoon and don placards calling for his head owed itself to something extremely serious. After all, surely we would only bother to march through the streets to protest if the matter was as grave as an illegal war, right?

Actually, the flames of fury were ignited by something altogether less serious. Mr Griffiths, who is married, had been sending a considerable volume of lewd text messages to two barmaids, the contents of which were published by the Sunday Mirror. The high crime which had fuelled the protestors’ rage was that Mr Griffiths is a “misogynist”, the protest calling for nothing more than a rejection of his “behaviour and attitudes”. Continue reading

Economic Myths #7 – Government means Harmony


One of the aspects of capitalism and the free market that the typical lay person finds difficult to comprehend is the fact that the complex structure of work, production, distribution, and trade could possibly take place without some kind of centralised, directing authority in order to co-ordinate everybody’s efforts. Wouldn’t there just be chaos and mal-coordination with everyone trying to make their own, independent plans if there is nobody at the tiller to steer the giant ship?

This fallacy stems from the belief – accentuated by holistic concepts such as aggregate, pseudo-statistics like “GDP” or “the national income” – that what we refer to as “the economy” is some kind of enormous machine that has “input”, with a single operator “processing” these “inputs” into “outputs”.

In fact, rather than being one giant, amorphous blob “the economy” is made up of millions and millions of independent, unilateral acts of production and two-way trades, many of which will never have anything to do with each other. I may sell an apple to my neighbour for 10p in London; another person may sell an orange for 20p to his neighbour in Manchester. Neither of the two pairs of people has ever met, nor need any of them have any involvement with the exchange of the other pair; and yet both exchanges would be regarded as part of “the British economy” in mainstream discourse. Continue reading