Tag Archives: statism

Statism: Conspiracy or Incompetence?

Statism: Conspiracy or Incompetence?

 By Duncan Whitmore

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” 

                  –  Hanlon’s Razor

In some recent essays examining the factors that have brought us to the political, social and economic conditions in which we find ourselves in 2020, we mentioned briefly the role of conspiracies, concluding that it is not necessary to speculate upon their existence in order to explain our current situation. This essay will not examine the phenomenon of conspiracy theories in great detail. Instead, we will look specifically at whether the possible existence of a conspiracy among the global “elite” that aims to reduce the entire human population to enslavement offers a convincing explanation for major societal changes that tend towards a crushing of freedom.

Revisionist History

The common theme of conspiracy theories is that certain key events are planned, directed or orchestrated deliberately by establishment figures in order to achieve a specific, underhand purpose while being passed off either as mere accidents or as the responsibility of other parties. Thus, it is essentially a form of historical revisionism that is antagonistic to those who have an interest in maintaining conventional historical understanding, and so the latter normally deploy the term “conspiracy theory” as a slur so as to dismiss any explanation of an event that differs from that of the official, approved narrative. Indeed, following the enormous increase in state power as a result of government responses to COVID-19, the term has been used to pigeon-hole opponents of “lockdown” measures, particularly after popular protests which were attended by well known conspiracy theorists such as Piers Corbyn and David Icke. Generally, however, such opposition is now being voiced in mainstream terms by those whose credentials make them more difficult to ignore, and so the “conspiracy” element has not received a great deal of attention. No Austro-libertarian can doubt, though, that the power of the state has increased many times over throughout the past century or so, often in response to specific events. It is, therefore, important for us to diagnose correctly the causes of this seemingly unstoppable trend if we are to have any hope of reversing it.

In spite of the fact that it is an unhelpfully pejorative label with a tendency to capture both the serious and the spurious within its ambit, we will continue to use the term “conspiracy theory” to denote revisionist theories which, unlike some proven or persuasive theories, have failed to gain acceptance as accurate historical explanations. Read more

Could Liberty Rise Again?

Could Liberty Rise Again?

By Duncan Whitmore

“I would feel safer if the coronavirus held a press conference telling us how it is going to protect us from the government” 

                  –  Anonymous meme

For those with a passion for liberty and freedom from the state, it has been difficult not to feel a sense of despair at the COVID-19 hysteria. A mere nine months ago it seemed as though Britain was at the dawn of a bright new era as it adjusted to life outside of the European Union. Now, however, our fellow Britons seem to have sacrificed, with little resistance, whatever vestiges of freedom remained in this country all so the state can keep us “safe” from dangers that are no more serious than what we are used to.

Such despair is likely to be intensified when stumbling across something like the following pair of tweets by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins:

Read more

Statism and Judicial Activism

Statism and Judicial Activism

By Duncan Whitmore

In a previous essay concerning the Supreme Court’s judgment against Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament1, we noted that several commentators had criticised the judgment for its “political” nature, calling for greater scrutiny of the judiciary and the judicial appointments process.

It will be argued here that castigating the case as the moment when the judges crossed over from law to politics is wide of the mark, and that a politicised judiciary is a necessary and unavoidable outcome of the growth of democratic statism. As we shall see, this is a trend which Britain has endured for around a hundred years (with an acute acceleration in the post-war era). Consequently, the only way to ensure a relatively impartial, apolitical judiciary is to roll back the size and scope of the state.

The Judiciary in Political Theory

The state’s power of adjudication receives relatively little attention in everyday political discourse. Nearly all of the headlines are attracted by what the executive and the legislative spheres of the state – Presidents, Prime Ministers, parliaments, and so on – are up to rather than the wigged magistrates presiding over dark, dusty courtrooms.

One reason for this is that the non-judicial state institutions have a greater scope to act unilaterally. The government can announce initiatives and Parliament can enact laws without the need for any outside stimulus. The courts, on the other hand, are in the position of having to wait for a case to come before them, i.e. for people to find themselves in an active conflict with other people. The direct outcome of such a case may impact upon only a handful of participants and, even if the principles under scrutiny are far reaching, the judges may rule only on a single specific point at any one time. Moreover, the prevalence of democracy focuses discussion of your political rights on your ability to vote in elections which, in most cases, is not the method of selection for the judiciary. Participation as a jury member is, to be sure, viewed as a civic duty also, but this may occur only a handful times during a person’s life, and direct involvement in a court case as one of the litigants is even less likely. Thus, the perception that the judiciary has a relatively diminished ability to touch everyone’s lives has lent them a degree of remoteness compared to other organs of the state. Read more

What about the Poor?!

What about the Poor?!

By Duncan Whitmore

When discussing the virtues of a free society libertarians are able to expound with enthusiasm the benefits of private property, free exchange and non-violence. Most of the nagging questions – “how would policing work?”; “how would we regulate unscrupulous companies?”; or the clichéd classic “who will build the roads?!” – can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly as it is not difficult to show how such a free society would deal with these matters in a vastly superior way to one that is imbued with statism. Indeed, the struggle in this regard has less to do with formulating convincing arguments and more to do with tackling an inherent unwillingness to consider radical solutions.

However, there is one question that always presents a seemingly insurmountable difficulty – what would happen to the poor? By this, we do not just mean the accusations of a free economy being “sink or swim” or “dog eat dog”, which, again, are relatively juvenile sound bites that can be disposed of fairly easily. (Indeed, it is social democracies that are the true zero sum games as any redistribution of wealth or gain of power to the benefit of one must necessarily come at the expense of another). Rather, what we mean is the fact that a free world has no means of “caring” for the poor. In particular, there would be no “official” institution or “social safety net” to help those who were genuinely less fortunate. A libertarian might mumble a few words about the importance of charity but, with an outright declaration by one’s opponent that such a system is necessary, one may be tempted to concede that this is the Achilles’ heel of a libertarian society. After all, statists excel at conjuring the illusion that all of the care and compassion is on their side while they are able, quite easily, to paint proponents of the free market as little more than selfish money grabbers.

It is high time that libertarians (and their free market oriented fellow travellers) took the offensive against this problem by turning an apparent weakness into an advantage. By offensive, we mean not just constructing adequate rebuttals to the charge that capitalism cannot care for the poor. Rather, we need to set ourselves the more ambitious goal of proving that capitalism benefits the least well off as its primary effect, and that the poor do not benefit merely as an incidental consequence of making the rich richer. Read more

The Danger of “Presumed Consent”

On August 5th of this year it was reported in the news that Parliament is close to passing an overhaul of the organ donation scheme in England through the so-called “Max’s Law”, under which “adults will be presumed to be organ donors unless they have specifically recorded their decision not to be.1” This is in contrast to the current system where potential donors have to explicitly record their consent on the NHS Organ Donation Register.

One should always be particularly wary of laws that are named after specific individuals or events – almost certainly the story of some child or tragedy has been deployed in order to tug at our heart strings so that we wave through a state intervention while struggling to hold back our tears. In this case, the tragedies are, according to the BBC, the 411 people who, in 2017, died before a donor organ became available to them, and of the plight of approximately 5,000 people currently on the waiting list for such an organ in England.2

We might start by pointing out that the real cause of a shortage of donor organs is, of course, the fact that they are forcibly prevented by the state from trading at a market price. The supply of something that is in high demand can rarely be met by altruism alone and so it is always likely to be the case that either under-pricing a good or removing any benefit, cash or otherwise, from those who could be prepared to supply it will lead to its shortage. That may be an uncomfortable fact for those who cannot bear to imagine people “profiting” from the sale of organs. They might, however, wish to consider whether transmuting a monetary cost into the cost of forcing 5,000 people to wait in limbo for a voluntary donor under the shadow of death is sufficient to justify their moral scruples. Further, they may wish to ponder whether it is worth pushing the trade in organs out of the light of legitimacy and into the shadows of the black market – a highly lucrative underground industry worth between $600m and $1bn in profits per year, and where organs are often sourced from kidnapping and murder specifically for the purpose.3 Read more

Is Libertarianism Utopian?

Libertarianism – and any political position that leans towards a greater degree of freedom from the state – is opposed both ethically and economically on a number of substantive grounds. The proposition that without the state we would have inequality, destitution for the masses, rampant greed, and so on is a familiar charge which attempts to point out that libertarianism is undesirable and/or unjustifiable.

A further point of opposition is that libertarianism and the drive towards it is simply utopian or idealistic, and that libertarians are hopeless day dreamers, lacking any awareness of how the world “really” works. In other words, that, regardless of whether it may be desirable, some combination of one or more of impossibility, improbability or the simple unwillingness of anyone to embrace the libertarian ideal renders libertarianism either wholly or primarily unachievable. It is this specific objection that we will address in this essay.

Let us first of all recount the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, which states that no one may initiate any physical incursion against your body or your property without your consent. From this we can state that the goal of the libertarian project, broadly, is a world of minimised violence and aggression. Consequently, the questions we have to answer is whether a world of minimised violence and aggression is unachievable and, hence, utopian. Read more

Enemies of What State? « Little Alex in Wonderland


Enemies of What State?

Posted by Kevin Carson on 29 March 2009

Kevin Carson

On the economic fascism of  crony capitalism and irrational American common sense.

19 Mar 09 | C4SS

There are all too many people in American politics whose real concern, concealed behind all the “free market” rhetoric, is not so much “statism” per se as statism that benefits the wrong class of people. A good example: it was quite amusing to hear some Republicans, during yesterday’s Congressional hearings on the AIG bonuses, wringing their hands over the prospect of “interfering with the management of private business” and “altering the terms of contracts.” Last night Rachel Maddow ran clips of some of the very same people, last December, crowing about how they were forcing the UAW to renegotiate it’s contract and accept lower wages in return for bailout loans to the auto industry.

Another example: I don’t advocate Social Credit or greenbackism, but I don’t understand the reasoning of those who object to either as an increase in statism over the present system.

By way of background, Social Credit is a proposal to remedy corporate capitalism’s chronic tendency toward overinvestment and overproduction by periodically depositing a sum of interest-free new money, equivalent in aggregate to the demand shortfall, in the citizenry’s bank accounts. Greenbackism is a proposal that countercyclical deficit spending, rather than being financed by interest-bearing debt in the form of government bonds, should simply take the form of directly spending money into existence by the Treasury.

It seems to me the sticking point, if there is one, should be at the idea of government as regulator of the money supply by creating fiat money, or of deficit spending to meet demand shortfalls, in the first place. But these things are overwhelmingly accepted in principle by the mainstream public. So the sticking point about Social Credit and greenbackism can only be the sacred principle that the fiat money must be specifically lent into existence at interest, and that deficit spending must be financed by government bonds.

The problem is not the function itself, but only carrying it out in a way that doesn’t enable a class of coupon-clippers to skim the cream off the top.

It also seems to me, on the other hand, that if these basic functions are accepted in principle, it makes it more statist–not less–to compound the injury by doing it through private accomplices, and empowering them to charge interest for the function, rather than simply doing so directly.

It’s just another instance of a broader phenomenon, what the Libertarian Alliance’s Sean Gabb calls “economic fascism.” Economic fascism is his term for the phony regime of “privatization” advocated by such organizations as the Adam Smith Institute. It doesn’t get government out of the business of performing particular functions. It just delegates the function to nominally “private” corporations that perform the function with public money, with government protection from free market competition, and with a guaranteed profit for performing the function (on the regulated utility’s “cost-plus” model).

Under this vulgar libertarian model of “free market reform,” the only thing that matters is the comparative percentages of functions which are carried out by nominally “private” and nominally “public” organizations–not the substance of things. But it seems to me that if a corporation receives its revenue from the government, is protected from competition by the government, and is guaranteed a profit by the government, it IS the government. The only significance of the entity’s profit is to increase the overall cost of performing the function, and thus increase the total injury to the taxpayer.

And while we’re at it, let’s be honest about something. Given the existence of a corporate economy on the present model, countercyclical government spending is absolutely essential to prevent its collapse. Those who advocate a return to the Reaganism and Thatcherism of the ’80s, or the cowboy capitalism of the ’90s, absent high government spending, are either delusional or disingenuous. Reagan was the biggest Keynesian of them all.

There are only two alternatives: to eliminate the existing–statist– structural causes of overinvestment and underconsumption, or to continue adding new layers of statism to counter the chronic crisis tendencies. Either more and more statism, or forward to anarchy.

The American corporate economy has been statist to its core since its beginnings in the late 19th century. There wouldn’t even be a national market at all, or national corporations serving it, had it not been for the land grant railroads and other subsidies to long-distance shipping that made possible artificially large firms and market areas. There wouldn’t be stable oligopoly markets had it not been for the cartelizing effect of patents, or the stabilizing effects of the Clayton and FTC Acts’ restrictions on price warfare.

To repeat, the system was statist from its beginnings. There are all too many on the Right who like to refer to a mythical “free market” system that prevailed before 1932, and to pretend that the “statism” only began when government started intervening on behalf of workers and consumers. But in fact, all the “progressive” interventions of government under the New Deal were secondary, aimed at ameliorating the side-effects of the prior interventions that created corporate capitalism in the first place. Had it not been for the secondary, ameliorative interventions, corporate capitalism as we know it would have collapsed in the 1930s.

Returning to my earlier point: if we are to have statism at all, and we are reduced to quibbling between Democrats and Republicans over what kind of statism it is to be, I make no secret of the fact that I prefer the kind of statism that weighs less heavily on my own neck.

If phony “free market” Republicans accept NLRB certification of unions in principle, and only want to quibble over the Employee Free Choice Act because it makes it easier to certify unions without harassment, intimidation and punitive firing of organizers–well, why would I, a worker, prefer a system of certification that suits the bosses’ interest?

If we’re going to talk about a genuine free market labor regime, then let’s eliminate the Wagner Act–and with it Taft-Hartley’s prohibitions on sympathy and boycott strikes, and its mandatory arbitration and cooling off periods. Let’s eliminate the Railroad Labor Relation Act’s provisions that prevent transport workers turning local and regional disputes into general strikes. In short, let’s eliminate all the legal prohbitions on the tactics that unions were using to win before Wagner was ever passed.

But if we’re going to have government certification of unions, let’s have a form of certification that fulfills its stated purpose–determining the intention of workers–as accurately and automatically as possible.

Likewise, if we’re going to have a welfare state, let’s eliminate the costly and intrusive welfare bureaucracies and spend the same amount of money on a guaranteed income. If we’re going to have a regulatory state, let’s eliminate all the agencies and replace their functions with pigovian taxation of negative externalities.

My goal is the abolition of the state. I would welcome all these things tomorrow, if I thought they were genuine steps toward the abolition of the state altogether the day after tomorrow. They certainly wouldn’t be net increases in statism.

C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, both of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

Enemies of What State? « Little Alex in Wonderland

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