How to Fight for Liberty, Part Two – The Nature of the Battle


How to Fight for Liberty, Part Two – The Nature of the Battle

By Duncan Whitmore

In Part One of this continuing series on how to fight for liberty, we explained the relationship between libertarian theory on the one hand and political action on the other. We determined that our endeavour as theoreticians is to build an intellectual movement which defines and justifies liberty as political principle, a movement which should then be used to inform a variety of (often imperfect) liberating political movements as they appear around the world.

Our next step is to build on this foundation by gaining a firmer grasp of precisely why it is that liberty is infringed and, as a consequence, to understand better the nature of the battles that we face. Many of the intricacies of this understanding we have explored in some previous essays, and so, to avoid excessive repetition, some of the below will be a necessarily truncated explanation, reserving elaboration for some fresher thoughts. Readers who are interested in some more detailed explanation on the basics can follow the links in the text below. Continue reading

Speculation, Human Action and Financial Markets


Speculation, Human Action and Financial Markets

By Duncan Whitmore

Within the past two weeks, retail investors congregating on the social media site Reddit bid up the stock of ailing company GameStop at the expense of large Wall Street hedge funds, all of whom had significant financial stakes reliant upon the price of the stock falling rather than rising. Several of these hedge funds were thrown into serious financial difficulty as a result of the price rocketing from around $20 a share to a high of nearly $400 in the space of only a few weeks. At the time of writing, the day traders have apparently turned their attention to the manipulated silver market, which is also starting to see significant gains. Fed up with a rigged casino market in which all of the spoils go to large Wall Street banks and financial firms, the amateurs appeared to have beaten the latter at their own game – at least, that is, in terms of having forced them to reveal the corrupt nature of the system if not in monetary profit.

This latest round in the battle of the populists vs the elitists is part of the ongoing collapse and rejection of inflationary state corporatism (the Western form of socialism that was birthed by World War One) and political globalism. Every blow that is dealt to this odious, oligarchic system – such as by Brexit and Trump – is one to be welcomed. However, whereas outright socialism (such as that practised in the former Soviet Union) entails direct state ownership over the means of production, the corporatist system operates through capitalistic facades such as nominally private businesses, free trade and exchange, stock markets, and so on. As a result, the socialised elements of our economic system have, for too long, been able to get away with offloading the blame for the problems they cause onto “capitalism” or “too much freedom” instead of the root cause which is state privilege and state interference with genuine private property rights. Indeed, that was exactly what happened after the housing market crash in 2008, with the whole fiasco being blamed on “greedy”, private bankers instead of the state induced, inflationary financial system. The long run result of our failure to identify the state as the true source of the problems has been that state failure has been rewarded with state growth.

Unfortunately, therefore, it is not enough for libertarians to simply cheer on the demise of the current, rotten system. In addition, we have to ensure that the proper enemy is identified and outed as state force and fraud, not the capitalistic institutions through which they operate. We must keep an eye not only on the current crop of elites, but also the circling vultures of popular, hard left politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be poised to blame everything indiscriminately on “capitalism” before advocating for total economic socialism as the answer.1 It would be a complete disaster if we were to allow one form of tyranny to be succeeded by another. Indeed, even the so-called “Great Reset” – which, far from being any kind of “revolution” or “renewal”, is actually a repackaging and rebranding of the present system in a far more potent form – is being sold as a reset of capitalism, the latter of which has supposedly failed us. Continue reading

Defining Liberty


Defining Liberty

By Duncan Whitmore

In a previous essay concerning the nature of the libertarian movement, we stated that the purpose of libertarian theory (in contrast to libertarian activism) should be to define and justify liberty – to tell us what liberty is and why it is a good thing. It is to the first of these tasks that this essay will be devoted.

Some readers may regard defining liberty as something of a redundant exercise. After all, we have had many definitions of liberty from libertarian and proto-libertarian thinkers, most of which say more or less the same thing: freedom from harm (J S Mill1); freedom from coercion (Hayek2); freedom from “restraint and violence by others” (Locke3); “Absence of opposition” or “externall [sic] Impediments of motion” (Hobbes4); “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others” (Jefferson5). Although modern libertarian theory has successfully refined these concepts – Mill’s harm principle was, for instance, notoriously vague – descriptors of liberty used by libertarians today (such as “self-ownership”, “private property” and “non-aggression”) still suffer from lacking several important clarifications. This is not to imply that libertarian scholars have failed to properly define these principles in the past; more that libertarians (myself included) have become so used to reciting them without further thought that a review of what they actually mean would not be out of place. Moreover, as we shall see below, very different consequences can flow from what appear to be relatively minor disagreements or misunderstandings.6 If this is the case within the community of libertarian scholars how much worse can it be outside of it?

One initial problem is that such concepts are themselves reducible to further fundamentals. What precisely, for instance, is aggression? Why are some acts aggressive whereas other acts are not? Does it have anything to do with intended hostility or are motivations irrelevant? What, also, does it mean to have “self-ownership”? Precisely what is the “self” and what does my “ownership” over it allow me to do? Continue reading

“Austrian” Business Cycle Theory – an “Easy” Explanation


“Austrian” Business Cycle Theory – an “Easy” Explanation

 By Duncan Whitmore

Compared to the simple and straightforward siren songs of “underconsumptionist” and “underspending” theories of boom and bust, “Austrian” business cycle theory (ABCT) can seem unduly complex. The former types of theory, associated with “mainstream” schools of economics, at least have the advantage of the veneer of plausibility, in spite of their falsehood. A glut of business confidence and spending will, it seems, naturally lead to an economic boom, a boom that can only come crashing down if these aspects were to disappear. For what could be worse for economic progress if people just don’t have the nerve do anything? Add in all of the usual traits of “greed” and “selfishness” with which people take pride in ascribing to bankers and businessmen (again, with demonstrable plausibility) and you have a pretty convincing cover story for why we routinely suffer from the business cycle. ABCT, on the other hand, with its long chains of deductive logic, can seem more impenetrable and confusing. Is there a way in which Austro-libertarians can overcome this problem? Continue reading

Ludwig von Mises – An Annotated Bibliography


Ludwig von Mises – An Annotated Bibliography

By Duncan Whitmore

As an appendix to a series of three essays on the importance of Mises for libertarian thought, the following is an annotated bibliography of his major works.

There is little point in beating about the bush when it comes to the accessibility of Mises’ work for a prospective student – Mises can be relatively difficult to read, and one does require a considerable investment in time and mental effort to grasp the substance of his writing.

Mises is certainly not difficult in the sense that he is unclear, opaque, or inconsistent. In fact, he is remarkable for avoiding almost any lapse into one or more of all three, an ability that is largely sustained between his individual works as well as within each one. But his writing style is very different from that of say, Rothbard. To be sure, both writers are extremely systematic and logical in the progression of their ideas. With Mises, however, one can feel the years of thought and wisdom pouring off of every page, and, even in translation, oodles of meaning and ideas are packed concisely into very carefully chosen sentences. Thus, one must often invest an extended amount of time in absorbing every detail. With Rothbard, on the other hand, one almost feels as though he sat down at the typewriter, began tapping at the keys and didn’t stop until the book was finished. The result is that even Rothbard’s scholarly work is imbued with something of an improvisatory or, perhaps, conversational style that makes it more accessible to the lay reader.

Fortunately, some of Mises’ works are more accessible than others, and there are a number of study guides available to assist with the reading of the most difficult works. Continue reading

Why Libertarians Should Read Mises – Part Two


Why Libertarians Should Read Mises

Part Two

By Duncan Whitmore

Introduction

In Part One of this series of three essays exploring the significance of Ludwig von Mises for libertarian thought, we examined the specific place that Mises holds in our tradition, and outlined the unique sophistication of his utilitarian theory in favour of freedom compared to that of other theories that can be grouped into this bracket.

In this part we will turn our attention to a detailed analysis of the action axiom – the keystone of Misesian economic theory – and its implications for concepts that we readily encounter in libertarianism.

Somewhat ironically, it was largely as a result of his influence that the wertfreiheit of Mises’ praxeology was regarded as a separate discipline from the search for an ultimate, ethical justification of liberty – a belief that was sustained by Murray N Rothbard.1 In more recent years, Hans-Hermann Hoppe has probably come closest to providing a link between the two through his derivation of “argumentation ethics” within the praxeological framework, and his identification of the pervasive problem of scarcity – a key praxeological concept – as underpinning any system of ethics.

Nevertheless, one may conclude that a full reconciliation, or synthesis, between the two is still wanting and that there remain other important commonalities to which this essay will seek to provide an introduction. Some of what we will learn below will have implications for a general understanding of right, and that the truths we reveal are inescapable for any political philosophy. Others will be specifically pertinent to libertarianism and will provide us with insights as to how we can further the libertarian goal. Continue reading

Economic Myths #15 – Unemployment


Economic Myths #15 – Unemployment

By Duncan Whitmore

One of the key indicators of the economic “performance” of any given country is its rate of unemployment. Low rates of unemployment are understood as a sign of prosperity while high rates are taken as a sign of recession and stagnation. Indeed, during the Great Depression, unemployment reached as high as 25% in the United States.

Politicians are particularly keen to monitor the rate of unemployment as low unemployment lends credence to the economic policies of those in power while high unemployment stocks the arsenal of those in the opposition. Given also that entire economic dogmas such as the so-called trade-off between full employment and inflation, not to mention the generation-long post-war Keynesian consensus are, at least, part rooted in the concept of unemployment, one would expect unemployment to be a unique and important category in economic theory.

This short essay will not explore in detail the state induced causes or aggravations of unemployment such as the minimum wage and excessive regulations heaped upon the shoulders of employers. Such topics have been examined countless times over by many economists, “Austrian” or otherwise. Rather, what we wish to concentrate on here is the validity of the very term “unemployment” itself and to determine whether it is really a useful concept in shaping so-called “economic policy” or whether it is really redundant and meaningless. Continue reading