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Displaying posts with tag Statism.Reset Filter
Life and Liberty
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The Libertarianism.UK Podcast: Duncan Whitmore

I chat to Andy Duncan about one of my recent articles, Toward a Libertarian Political Strategy.
  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 3:05 – Why do libertarians need a political strategy?
  • 6:05 – Leonard Read and pushing a magic button on removing the state
  • 10:46 – The end of East Germany
  • 12:54 – Duncan Whitmore’s central political strategy for libertarians
  • 13:58 – What is decentralisation?
  • 16:22 – The consequences of Brexit
  • 19:10 – The problems of Boris Johnson
  • 20:26 – How do we persuade people to give up the state?
  • 23:07 – Should we retreat and wait for the collapse?
  • 27:42 – A summary of the strategy
  • 28:56 – Do we seek allies?
  • 30:37 – Jeff Deist and “Better, Not Perfect”
  • 30:49 – How can individuals help push the strategy?
  • 32:59 – The compliance demonstrated in lockdowns
  • 34:52 – Wrap up

Some quotes from the Podcast:
“You’re asking people to still have faith in this institution [the state], to give them their liberty, even though this institution is the biggest threat to their liberty.”
“People have to want their liberty. There’s no way of getting around that.”
“The reason we’re bombarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with so much propaganda, is because they [the state] know they have to win the ideological war.”
“The actual reason why the [Berlin] wall came down when it did, is because some bureaucrats mis-announced a new travel policy.”
“As Murray Rothbard said in the anatomy of the state, [the state] is a separate institution. The state is not us.”
“I think [decentralisation] is probably the most realistic way of going forward.”
“The people have to want to take power [back] for themselves.”
“[In the UK], last year was the year of two queens, two monarchs, three prime ministers, [and] five chancellors.”
“Boris Johnson should be the final lesson to anybody who’s even modestly in favour of greater freedom, that trying to elect the right people is not going to really work.”
“[We must] try to decentralise political power as far away as possible from their existing concentrations.”
“The motivation for Brexit was not to create a libertarian paradise.”
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Life and Liberty
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Making the State Irrelevant

Much of the pro-liberty movement (myself included) tends to focus on the role of education as the prime driver towards a freer world. Given that, ultimately, any regime is cemented in place by the will of the people, such a world is unlikely to thrive unless people are motivated to embrace their freedom while rejecting all forms of force and coercion.
While the role of education is, therefore, indispensable, thought needs to be given also to another critical aspect: the actual method of defeating and rejecting state power. While the political arena will be a critical forum, we should pay attention also to a seemingly more mundane possibility: making the state, and everything it does, simply irrelevant. Such irrelevance could be achieved by circumventing the state rather than seeking to actively overthrow it. How might we go about this?
Some examples are quite evident already. In spite of censorship, the internet (and increased accessibility to the world wide web through portable devices) has already rendered state control over the flow information much more difficult than it once was – at least, that is, for people who are willing to go searching for it. Indeed it is possible to suggest that any person today has quicker, better access to information than Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton did thirty to forty years ago.
Second, while digital technology is becoming increasingly synonymous with regimentation and control, we cannot overlook the fact that it provides us also with the wherewithal to circumvent the state. While the long term efficacy of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin can be doubted, it is not impossible to envisage how this or similar technology could make the private movement of wealth (or rights to wealth) possible, rendering state control over currency and capital less effective.
Finally, there is the increased possibility of both hard and soft secession – the former meaning a formal decoupling of a territory from a state’s jurisdiction, the latter referring to the kinds of things we have already discussed: ignoring, circumventing, or otherwise rendering the state inert through building alternative institutions and economies. The latter could even involve taking over parts of the existing state-corporate infrastructure. While, for instance, Elon Musk’s intention to restore Twitter as a true free speech platform is still in its infancy, wresting away the primary tool of state sponsored censorship is certainly a promising step forward.
The marvellous thing about most of these mini-revolutions is that they can occur without violence and bloodshed; there is no fighting, no overthrow, no killing. If civil strife and conflict is focussed on who controls the centralised state, violence is likely to become inevitable at some point. If, however, the objective is to simply get the state out of the way, then a multitude of small, decentralised, peaceful revolts will simply cause the state to wither away in helplessness. In that event, the death of the state will come from a thousand cuts.
This is not to suggest, of course, that today’s large, powerful nation states will fail to fight back. As their collapse from over-borrowing, overspending and eventual bankruptcy draws nearer, states will be ever more desperate to enforce increased controls while plucking all of the remaining feathers from the golden geese of their citizenry. But the more those geese are plucked the more they flap towards an escape hatch. Independently minded individuals and groups have, historically, been better at what we might call the "invention of circumvention" than the state has been at stopping it.
With this in mind, let us focus on the one area of the state that is both its method of function and it's raison d'être: the monopoly over force and violence. The state commits its horrendous abuses while enriching its participants through the use of force against others. But it is also supposed to protect the common citizen from criminal acts so as to maintain law and order - hence the state is still regarded as necessary by the vast majority of people.
But what if this very function could itself, in some way, be circumvented? What if there was an invention or device that would enable any person, at extremely low cost, to protect his or her person and property from all forms of force and violence? I have very little idea as to what this could be – an invisible force field around each object you own, perhaps. But imagine the result: in one swoop we will have eliminated both the ability of government to tax, steal, imprison, kill, maim and live off the fat of everyone else, and eradicated its reason for existence. For if people could protect themselves from invasion of their person and property at very low cost, why would anyone bother turning to the state? Why would anyone pay taxes for an army or police force when this new, cheap, method renders the very existence of those institutions superfluous?
Of course, some people may continue to pay "taxes" voluntarily for the services of their existing states. But there is nothing wrong with this if that is what people want to do with their own money. The bite of force, however, will be lost, with the state being relegated to the same level as every other player in the marketplace – having to offer people a valuable service in return for voluntarily paid revenue. To that end, it would cease to be a state entirely.
We should, therefore, urge all inventors to dust off their drawing boards and get to work on such a marvellous invention. The recent strides we have made in technological development may well be encasing us in a digital prison. But they may also contain the seeds of an invention that would enable our jailbreak – an escape that will become all the more necessary before the world drowns in a sea of statist despotism.
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Life and Liberty
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Capitalism and Consumerism

The Christmas shopping period – one of the busiest in the year for the retail industry – has begun with a starter pistol on so-called “Black Friday”, with the culmination due in the January sales. The period of celebration, feasting and gift-giving is critical to the annual revenue and profits of hundreds of consumer-facing industries, with the volume of spending increasing by more than 50% according to some estimates.
Against all of this is the charge that capitalism has served to distort and destroy the older traditions and practices of the holiday season. What was once a period of religious observance and a time for more modest celebrations with one’s friends and family has mutated into a mass shopping frenzy in which people care more about what they can buy rather than the meaning and significance of Christmas. Greedy retailers encourage us to spend increasing amounts of money on clothes, furniture, electronics, and entertainment that most of us probably do not need. We guzzle with merriment on tons of sugary and fattening food and alcohol, expanding our waistlines through a myriad of parties and get-togethers. Once we have stuffed ourselves silly, we then “invest” in our new year’s resolutions by forking out on so-called “detox” and exercise regimens, driving money to many of the same peddlers who made us fat in the first place.
Indeed, there can be little doubt that this “consumerism” has changed the traditions of the winter period in the past few generations, as retailers attempt to fill the long void between the end of summer and December 25th. Advent was previously a time of preparation and observance, during which the last of the harvest foods were gathered and preserved ready for the long winter ahead. Christmas, on the other hand, was the beginning of period of feasting and celebration that brought cheer and merriment to the cold, dark winter days which lasted until the arrival of Lent in mid to late February. With the evenings then growing lighter and the temperature warmer, the inducement to “give up” after the previous period of luxuriant consumption was altogether easier.
Today, however, the period of celebration – parties, get-togethers and splashing out – has shifted to December, culminating, rather than commencing, on Christmas Day. Once we have all had our fill of turkey, there is little more to look forward to other than new year’s celebrations, after which – at the darkest, deadest and least conducive period of the year – we are expected to start afresh by lifting weights at the gym and slimming down. It is for this reason that Christmas seems to come earlier every year. Given that so much is now packed into just three or four weeks of what is often still late autumn weather, all of the planning and preparation spills into the earlier months – sometimes, to the discontent of many traditionalists. Indeed, it is possible to spot mince pies and Christmas crackers on supermarket shelves as early as September.
One may be tempted to suggest that Christmas spending this year may be somewhat muted given that we are enduring a cost of living crisis. This, however, could make the general aura of consumerism worse, given that desperate retailers will bend over backwards to attract more reticent consumers. The latter, for their part, may be more willing to dip into debt simply to achieve an expected level of enjoyment.
If we assume that this type of so-called consumerism is a bad thing and has, indeed, served to distort and ruin treasured seasonal traditions, can we say that this is a downside of the free market? That, having rescued us from a life characterised by mud huts and starvation, modern economies have made us all slaves to materialism with no regard for anything deeper or more meaningful? (We will ignore the fact that capitalism is also blamed for preserving poverty and destitution; critics of capitalism are seldom consistent in their indictments).
The proper retort to such a charge is that capitalism is, in fact, the very opposite of consumerism – or, rather, that consumerism is more likely to be an effect of an anti-capitalist economic order.
First, modern, free market economic orders are distinguished by the fact that, empirically, they have tended towards a higher accumulation of capital. In other words a relatively high percentage of current income is saved and invested in capital goods that will yield a higher production of consumer goods only at a later date.
Consumerism, however, is distinguished by people failing to save and invest, deciding instead to spend a relatively higher proportion of their current incomes on consumer goods. In the lexicon of economics, a capitalist society is one of low time preference and wealth accumulation; a consumerist society, on the other hand, is one of high time preference and wealth destruction. The worst case of consumerism – and one in which we partly live – is where people consume more than their current incomes on consumer goods by borrowing money.
It is true, of course, that capitalism creates the wherewithal to produce a higher number of consumer goods than any other economic order. Hence, those living in a capitalist society will tend to enjoy a higher absolute volume of consumption than those living in a non-capitalist society. However, the charge of anti-consumerism is nothing to do with this absolute volume of consumer goods that are purchased. Rather, the problem is the obsession with (and focus on) consumption at the expense of anything else. Indeed, consumerism, we might say, is a symptom of a previously capitalist-oriented society that has turned its efforts away from saving and capital accumulation and towards the consumption of everything that has thus far been produced – possibly including the consumption of accumulated capital.
From where does the inducement to this consumerism come? It is true, of course, that nothing about capitalism serves categorically to prevent people from turning towards a desire for excessive consumption; but neither, too, is there anything to encourage it. To the extent, therefore, that the phenomenon is widespread there must be some kind of systemic influence towards consumerism other than anything to do with capitalism itself.
This systemic influence is the very opposite of capitalism, or rather, we might say, perversions of capitalist orders – the false economic theories and destructive economic practices of the state. These false economic theories – such as varieties of Keynesianism – promote consumption as the foundation of economic growth, whereas abstinence from consumption and saving are painted as cumulatively destructive practices.
National accounting figures do little more than present the economy as one, giant number which, if rising, represents a good state of affairs and, if falling, represents a perilous state of affairs. These, however, have inbuilt consumption biases which give the illusion that consumption leads to prosperity.
For instance, a large portion of so-called Gross Domestic Product (GDP) consists of both consumption spending and government spending (the latter of which, by its nature, is always consumption spending). Boost these figures and up goes the standard of living, so we are told. Moreover, the obsession with avoiding any kind of “double counting” means that a significant proportion of what is truly the gross annual product – such as investment in early stage capital goods – are simply discounted, further inflating the importance of consumption spending.
Because of this it is possible to have prosperous GDP figures, “moderate” interest rates and what appears to be relatively low price inflation all serving to mask underlying economic distortions. Such was the case in the period leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. These financial crises are themselves, of course, the result of destructive economic practices induced by the state, such as the forced lowering of interest rates and the expansion of the volume of credit. Such acts cause the ill-fated boom phase of the business cycle, but they also encourage our main bugbear of consumerism. When people see their nominal wages and asset prices rising rapidly – something that would not happen in a genuine free market distinguished by increasing real wages – they believe that they are wealthier than they actually are. The result is that they are duped into thinking that they have a greater proportion of their incomes available for consumption spending. If boosting their spending on consumer goods was not bad enough, however, they even begin to secure loans and borrowings against the rising value of their assets in order to further fuel increased consumption.
Indeed, credit expansion in and of itself encourages a debt fuelled society. Apart from actually creating the money to be loaned out, the accompanying price inflation makes debt finance more attractive than funding expenditure out of savings. The illusion that money is cheap, that everything can be bought now, and that we needn’t bother with either prudence or patience simply exacerbates the high time preference, consumerist society.
As we mentioned earlier, nothing about a free society will ever prevent people from becoming consumerist in the same was that it doesn’t stop people from becoming drug users or prostitutes (or from engaging in other non-aggressive but otherwise illicit activities). However, we can make a case for saying that such acts are always likely to be more prevalent in the kind of high time preference society that the state encourages. A high incidence of drug use and prostitution, for example, indicates that people prefer a “quick fix” now and are not willing to wait for good feelings and pleasurable experiences to culminate as a result of longer or more difficult (but ultimately more rewarding) endeavours such as exercise and building strong relationships. Given that wealth in a free society accumulates to those who best serve the needs of consumers, the qualities needed for the fulfilment of that objective are likely to become prevalent. Thus, relatively conservative virtues such as patience, prudence, trustworthiness, reliability, good taste and judgment, are likely to be the hallmarks of a capitalist society rather than substance abuse and casual sex.
If, therefore, consumerism is to be deplored we should focus our ire not at the capitalist system that simply permits us to enjoy the Christmas period however we want (and, moreover, creates the wherewithal for us to do so – plump roast turkeys on almost every dining table is a relatively new phenomenon). Instead, we should direct it at the state whose false prophets and destructive practices turn us from a society of wealth creators to one of wealth destroyers.
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Life and Liberty
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How Fearsome is the State?

Together with other free marketeers, Austro-libertarians are adept at explaining the inefficient and destructive nature of the state. This compulsory aegis of taxation and redistribution destroys economic progress and the standard of living, siphoning off an increasing quantity of the fruits of our labour into vast bureaucracies. For our efforts, control and regulation of every aspect of our lives with a fine tooth-comb is all we can expect in return.
Such an enormous concentration of wealth and power could never be attained by a private individual (or even an institution) in a genuine free market. What’s more, the state seldom shies away from any opportunity to extend its destructive influence not only within its own territory, but also overseas with armies, navies, air forces and all of the destructive fire power they can carry.
To any one individual the state can seem like an awesome, overwhelming entity – if only because it professes to do so much for us.
In the UK, for instance, the government provides your with your banking infrastructure, your healthcare, your transportation networks, educates your children, and supposedly is the guardian of your health, safety and well-being from greedy, unscrupulous companies which might seek to defraud you. Moreover, should you get on the wrong side of the state, its uniformed police force can arrest you, its black robed judges can imprison you, and, of course, it promises to do the same to all of the people who attempt to commit a crime against you. And who could fail to be overwhelmed by the state’s vast, impressive edifices such as the Houses of Parliament or the US Capitol, together with their patriotic pageantries (such as Presidential inaugurations) which inspire a turnout of millions?
This article will in no way dispute the fact that the state is something to be feared. Indeed, one need only contemplate the fact that a handful of states are sitting on a nuclear arsenal sufficient to destroy the worlds tens of times over.
What we will explore here, however, is the fact that the monopolistic, overreaching nature of the state is both its source of power yet also its Achilles’ heel. That, far from being a lean, mean, fighting machine, the state more often acts in a bumbling, bloated and altogether rather stupid manner.
First, the state is severely handicapped by its very nature as a monopolistic force. Shorn of much need to compete in any areas in which it decides to wade, it is burdened by a natural tendency to languish in laziness and inefficiency to a degree which renders it extremely vulnerable. Britain’s NHS, for instance, suffers from repeated crises of chronic shortages and supposed underfunding year after year. This is in spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that it is the world’s fifth largest employer, with its pre-COVID spending consuming as much as 7 to 8% of Britain’s GDP.
Or take the highly cartelised commercial banking sector. In the UK, most salary and routine business payments are made through the BACS network, the infrastructure for which dates from the 1960s. In our age of instant communication, this system can still take three days to transfer funds between bank accounts. According to entrepreneur Simon Black (whose frustration with the service offered by established banks led him to establish his own), the Society for Worldwide Interbank Telecommunication (“SWIFT”) was using Windows Vista as its platform as late as 2017. By that time, Microsoft was no longer supporting the operating system. How is it possible for the world’s premier financial network to be using software more outdated than that available to any private individual on a recently purchased laptop or smartphone?
The answer, of course, is that these organisations are simply removed from any genuine competitive pressure to innovate or to stay ahead of the game. With a continued supply of tax dollars and/or the blessing of state privilege, they see no impetus to maintain the highest standards that would ensure their efficiency.
Such lack of standards spreads also to the quality of the personnel in these organisations. Bureaucrats – who are more or less promised a job for life so long as the avoid making a major mistake – have little incentive to develop their knowledge and skills. As such, they are unlikely to possess the drive of private entrepreneurs, who keep a sharper eye on the game. This is one reason why (in spite of all of the hullabaloo from politicians seeking election) tax and regulatory loopholes will always exist: the people finding and exploiting them have a keener motivation than those who are supposed to close them.
This is not to imply, of course, that politics is not a competitive arena. However, the nature of competition in politics is very different from the nature of competition in the free market.
In the latter, people are certainly competing, but the objective of that competition is to create more goods and services for the benefit of consumers. As such, market competition is positive sum – the more that is created, the more opportunities there are for everyone. What is gained by one person doesn’t come at the expense of anybody else.
It is true, of course, that some companies may prosper while others go bankrupt – and obviously there can only be one CEO of any particular company at a time. But even if one company should collapse, the process of wealth creation furnishes us with the wherewithal for new enterprises to be started - businesses which will exploit opportunities which are yet to be explored. In the free market, one door closed is two more opened.
Politics, however, is a zero-sum game. The power possessed by one individual is necessarily taken from another; money handed over to one set of beneficiaries has necessarily been taxed (i.e. confiscated) from another set. There can only be one President of the United States or one Prime Minister of Great Britain, and there is only so much landmass on the Earth from which to fashion powerful states. The process of politics will never create an unlimited number of opportunities to lead a great country.
The budding politician, therefore, must necessarily gain from what anyone else loses; in this eliminative game, he must ensure that no one else is able to beat him to the top job. Thus, politics is a poison for any genuine co-operation or betterment; ultimately, everyone is the enemy of everyone else. The only co-operation that does exist is in the transient form of favours, bribes or other “tit-for-tat” arrangements, with relationships susceptible to a sudden backstabbing by the more ruthlessly ambitious partner. With such a widespread lack of trust serving as the foundation for the state, it becomes impossible for it to operate as a fast, efficient and unified whole. In fact, private citizens can often be thankful for the feuds and foibles of the fiefdoms and factions craving state power; if they are so busy stamping on each other, they have little time left over for plundering everyone else.
Given that state power is inherently eliminative and unproductive, creating the wherewithal to exercise that power is - ironically - highly dependent upon a vibrant and efficient capitalist economy. The only reason we are now threatened with digital regimentation and surveillance is because our level of capital accumulation and technological advance has produced the complex goods that make these things possible. The warped commitment of our leaders leaders today is not only to the exertion of a greater degree of socialisation and control, but also to deindustrialisation and impoverishment in the name of greenery and “saving the planet”. But to press for these aims is to sign the death warrant of the infrastructure that enables systematised power and control. Without maintaining the extent and structure of the capital stock that feeds an efficient economy, there will be no internet, no smartphones, no CCTV, no facial recognition, no microchips, no nothing. The result of this is that people will have a greater ability to wrest themselves free of state power long before the only things left to enforce it are bows and arrows.
This leads us neatly onto to the state’s second major stumbling block: that statist intervention can never produce any positive achievements (or, at the very least, it can do so only with significantly inflated cost). All of the state’s declared aspirations – the conquest of poverty, affordable healthcare, employment for all, safety and security in retirement, the vanquishing of crime, and so on – are beyond the state’s reach for one, very simple reason: these things cannot be achieved through the means of wealth redistribution.
In fact, because there is no way in which the state can genuinely make a positive difference for the whole of society, the state can survive and thrive only by making problems worse rather than better. If society continues to experience degradation and destitution, the state can swoop in so as to declare itself the saviour. It is better for the state, for instance, for people to be kept poor so that they remain dependent upon government handouts. It is better for the state to disarm its citizenry so that the latter present no threat to the state’s own armed guards (but at the cost of increasing crime, resulting in bigger budgets for the state’s monopolised provision of law enforcement). It is better for the state if more people are sick so that increasing sacks of cash can be siphoned off into its wasteful, inefficient healthcare bureaucracies.
Unfortunately this perverse incentive is fed by the fact that many people see the state’s failings as a reason not for cutting the state down to size, but for lending it even more power.
One reason for this peculiarity is that – in our “mixed” economy dominated by publicly connected, but nominally private actors – the symptoms of state failure tend to be far removed from the state itself. As such, one has to follow a chain of cause and effect in order to identify the true culprit.
For instance, when the government inflates the money supply, prices are likely to rise. However, because it is businesses who actually implement any increase, all of the blame is heaped upon their alleged “greed” and “profiteering”. Similarly, if state mandated minimum wages result in unemployment, the only thing that the public can see is those same, evil businessmen refusing to lower their profits so as to hire more workers.
Much of this is also due to the fact that the advent of democracy has weakened the distinction between the state and the people – i.e. between “us” and “them”. Rather, through our voting rights, we believe that the government either belongs to us as our servant, or is an integral part of us as a nation. As such, any notion of the state harming its people amounts, effectively, to an accusation of self-destruction. Avoiding the cognitive dissonance of this conclusion simply causes most people to default to incorrect, but psychologically comfortable explanations for their woes.
Here, again, however lies another of the state’s weaknesses. As the growing backlash against globalisation and political gigantism has revealed, that crucial feeling of unity with (and control of) the state begins to dissolve if the state becomes too big and bloated. If decision making authority is delegated upwards to supranational institutions, people begin to withdraw their consent to be governed by foreign technocrats who seemingly have little interest in people’s priorities. In short, a clear perception of “us” and “them” re-emerges. A major motivation for the Brexit vote, for instance, was to repatriate decision making authority from Brussels, suggesting that the degree to which power can be removed from its proximity to the people is finite. Such a limit is serving to frustrate the unifying, globalising and bureaucratising ambitions of political elites.
Indeed, it is now unlikely that these ambitions will ever be fulfilled in their totality, in spite of the continued attempt to weaponise crises (such as COVID) in favour of greater centralised decision making. Given that smaller states and state entities are, all else being equal, weaker than larger ones, the impossibility of excessive centralisation suggests that there will always be an upper limit to the state’s power vis-à-vis its citizens.
Majority vs. Minority
This leads us onto our third and final major point which is that the state – or rather the people who can be said to form it – are a minority of the citizenry. As a parasitic entity, it is simply impossible for the state to be comprised of the majority. The vampires will always be outnumbered by those pumping the blood they crave.
Contrary to popular belief no state has ever retained power as a result of force alone; rather, the sustenance of state rule is dependent upon – at minimum – the tacit acceptance of the majority of the citizenry. Although the fear of force may certainly help the state to attain that tacit acceptance, the state only has enough resources to dispense actual force against a bare minority of rebels and upstarts. In order to ensure sustained, widespread compliance, the state has to ensure that its subjects are kept within the confines of a general degree of contentment – either materially, or, preferably, through the conviction that state rule is legitimate. In other words, even though people may mumble and groan about the state’s inadequacy in this, that or the other, they can find no reason for upsetting the apple cart.
The Brexit vote and, we might suggest, the election of Donald Trump are instances of when contentment with the status quo was exhausted in the minds of at least a significant proportion of the population. Although – as is now clear – the beneficiaries of that status quo are refusing to go down without a war, each of these instances shows that they cannot win every battle. Once the people decide to exert their preference for a particular direction with ferocity, then the state has no choice but to yield. Whichever plundering/pillaging/controlling/regimenting/surveillance plans that the state has in store for us ultimately cannot succeed without our compliance. Indeed, it was the elites’ frenzied reaction to both Brexit and Trump which demonstrated how truly scared they are of popular resistance.
The bumbling, bloated nature of the state is indicated by a joking phrase apparently made by the industrialist Charles F Kettering - “Thank God we don’t get as much government as we pay for”. Indeed, if all of the wealth and resources that the state commands were actually put to use effectively and efficiently, then it truly would be a terrifying, formidable obstacle.
Unfortunately, however, the state’s capacity for buffoonery leads also to what we might call, informally, the “cock up theory of history”. When certain key individuals are able to dispense a degree of power disproportionate to their abilities, it is not only the effects of their conscious decisions that become magnified – so too do their mistakes. So whereas statists would have us believe that great leaders and statesmen shape the world’s events for the benefit of humanity, we cannot overlook the fact that anything significant that has happened in history is, at least, equally attributable to accidents and mishaps. And it is with cock ups that the true danger of the state may lie.
One of the most infamous of these mistakes occurred in 1983 at the height of the Cold War when the Soviet nuclear early-warning system reported the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles from the United States. The Soviet officer monitoring the system at the time, Stanislav Petrov, interpreted the warnings to be the result of a computer error – a belief which was verified by a subsequent inspection. Petrov’s refusal to act on the false warnings prevented a Soviet retaliatory attack which would have almost certainly elevated the Cold War into a full scale nuclear holocaust. In other words, the annihilation of human existence was averted by the prudential actions of a single individual who refused to trust his government issued equipment.
When the state today still handles so much (and handles it so very very badly) the possibility of such a mistake going the other way remains very high indeed – all the more so when East and West, once again, are running headlong towards nuclear tripwires. Given the exceedingly poor quality of our statesmen today, can we expect them to show the same kind of caution displayed by Colonel Petrov?
It is for this reason more than any other that the state should be regarded as dangerous. So much power in the hands of so few people is at risk of one them making a simple error. As awesome as the state may be, our fate may be in the hands of its stupidity as much as its evil ingenuity.
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The Ministerial Merry-Go-Round

How Britain's Wars at the Top Could Sow Distrust in the State

2022 has seen the upper echelons of the British state locked in a game of musical chairs – and we still have two months left to go. This has been the year of two monarchs, three prime ministers, four chancellors and three/four home secretaries (depending on how one counts Suella Braverman’s non-contiguous terms).
When comparing the US with the UK (and, more broadly, with Europe) it is often remarked that the latter is more social democratic or "left-leaning" than the former, which seems to have preserved something, at least, of the spirit of free enterprise and self-reliance.
This isn’t entirely true, of course. For one thing, it is difficult to argue that fiscal and financial debauchery is qualitatively better or worse on either side of the Atlantic. Domestically, it may seem like Britain has been more crippled by the weight of excessive governance than its transatlantic ally. But many of the more extensive horrors of statism – war-mongering imperialism, a permanent spying, security and warfare industry – either have their contemporary origins within, or are otherwise at their worst, in the US. Additionally, it is likely that the culture war is more intense over the pond, with cultural leftists in the UK struggling to ignite the same kind of racial narratives that dog our American cousins.
Nevertheless, if I was a betting man, I would probably count on the population of the US to resist more forcefully the impetus for any kind of “reset” into a form of globalised, digital socialism – if only because they are blessed with the tradition of states’ rights, secession and decentralisation (as well as the corresponding, regionalised political infrastructure) that can, at least in principle, serve as a credible counterbalance to the accumulating insanity in Washington DC.
However, there is one aspect of the British attitude that seems more conducive to liberty than that of the Americans: that the British have very little love for politicians of any creed or colour.
This is not to imply, of course, that certain sections of the British electorate have no enthusiasm for one political candidate over the another. Nor that Americans fail to display outright hatred and disgust for some of theirs. But while Conservative Boris Johnson – one of this year’s several prime ministers – achieved a modicum of populist enthusiasm by breaking through the so-called “Red Wall” of working class voters in the 2019 election, it seems unlikely that any British politician could stage a rally attracting the kinds of crowds that accumulate for American presidential candidates. In fact, I would say that British politicians generally are viewed as lying, self-serving crooks, an opinion which emanates from all sides of the political spectrum.
This may not amount to much, of course, and perhaps I am misjudging attitudes on either side of the Atlantic. Optimistically, however, it might well be the start of a clearer recognition of the fact that political tax eaters are little more than a parasitic class of spongers, scroungers and plunderers leeching off the blood of the rest of us.
This year’s ministerial musical chairs may help to emphasise this. Many libertarians have always been in tune with the fact that democracy has presented the people with very little, real choice. Rather, we are normally treated to a parade of pre-screened candidates, all of whom are agreed on most of the fundamentals. Relatively minor or trivial differences are exaggerated into deep gulfs so as to instil the illusion of choice. Certainly today, there is very little difference, for instance, between the major UK political parties; everyone is committed to high taxes and high spending while all are content to swing the economic wrecking ball of so-called climate change policy. One might as well be asked to choose between the noose and the electric chair.
Occasionally, however, the electorate does manage to exercise a genuine choice which sails against the prevailing winds of elite preference – as we saw, for instance, with the vote for Brexit in 2016 and, in the US, for Donald Trump in the same year.
Subsequent UK elections have hardly been as dramatic. Boris Johnson, for all of his promise, was a sore disappointment to anyone counting on his apparent libertarian fervour. He imposed COVID lockdowns while wholeheartedly supporting the vaccine programme. He is a net-zero zealot while he went above and beyond the call of duty in lending his (quite considerable) weight to perpetuating the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In fact, he is officially regarded as something of a hero in the latter. In every relevant way, he is an obedient little statist. 
But the establishment (or fighting factions within it) are now so desperate to maintain their grip on power that not even this was good enough for Johnson to be assured of tenure. As such, he was ousted for largely unimportant reasons. But even more perversely, Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss was booted out after a mere six weeks following her announcement of an economic programme that was, at least, pointing in the direction of something resembling a smaller state. It now seems that exactly the right, reliable people have to be in place in the upper echelons of government if the powers that be are to be satisfied.
Consequently, the coronation of Rishi Sunak as our latest prime minister – with no say on the appointment having been granted to either the whole electorate or to his party members – is likely to infuriate not only anti-Tories but also the Tory base, especially as the latter had earlier rejected Sunak in favour of Truss. If candidates can simply be shuffled out in favour of options more preferable to forces operating behind the scenes, then precisely who is the state actually serving?
Asking questions of this nature is vital if people are to ever understand the true nature of the state and its participants: that, far from representing the people, it is an institution that seeks only to benefit itself. Weakening the state’s grip over our freedom cannot be achieved unless and until it is firmly identified as being, like oil and water, separate and apart from the populace, not a part of it. The idea that "we are all the government" or that the government somehow belongs to “us” must be firmly rejected.
Unfortunately, it also seems to be the case that people still, generally, perceive that the problem with the state is with the specific people in charge rather than with the institution itself – that only if we elect the “right” leaders then everything will be OK. Not until there is a realisation that whoever populates the state is irrelevant, and that they will all (with one or two exceptions that tend to confirm the rule) behave in more or less the same way, will there be much hope of wresting the UK free from the power of its centralised government.
Pro-liberty minded UK citizens should concentrate their efforts in this direction.
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Life and Liberty
Public post

Leave Me Out of It!

Debates between libertarians and those who advocate any kind of statist intervention frequently take the form of “X should happen vs. X should not happen”. For example a budding libertarian might argue “the post office should be privatised!” whereas his opponent may cry “the post office should be state owned!”
Lost in these kinds of exchanges is the fact that libertarianism is a norm concerning the application of violence and nothing more (and, ultimately, all political philosophies are theories concerning which rights to property may be enforced by violence). Libertarians do not, therefore, necessarily stand against any kind of social or economic organisation per se; even socialised or communal property is perfectly fine so long as all of the participants in the commune have contributed their shares voluntarily, and have agreed to abide by its rules of distribution. Rather, our strenuous objection is to the use of use of violence to enforce these forms of social organisation upon unwilling participants.
There is, of course, much that the state does which is irrevocably violent and, thus, indefensible to libertarians, whether its offensive wars, assassinations, spying on the citizenry, and so on. Indeed, most of these things are simply indefinable without reference to their violent nature, and so whoever perpetrates them on whichever terms would be breaching the libertarian ethic.[1] But there is a whole lot else that the state does which is not necessarily violent, and could be carried out peacefully or voluntarily: healthcare, policing, roads, and so on. Carrying out these functions becomes violent only through a) the fact that people are forced to pay for them through their taxes, and b) competing services can be forcibly prevented from (or otherwise hindered in) operating.
With this in mind then, let us suggest some novel retorts in debates that may cause one’s opponent – whether the latter is either part of the statist intellectual bodyguard or merely an Average Joe expressing a casual opinion - to sharpen his/her mind towards consideration of the fact that what they are really asking for is unilateral, violent enforcement by the state.
1. Healthcare.
Statist: “All healthcare should be run by the state. It should be free. The NHS is a great thing”.
Libertarian: “I have no problem whatsoever with you paying into something called the “National Health Service” if you want to alleviate the burden of you falling ill. But why do you want to force me to do it as well when I don’t want it?”
2. Roads
Statist: “Of course we need the state to build the roads!!!”
Libertarian: “If you want to pay the state to build your roads then go ahead and do so. I, however, would like to patronise privately built roads, and I won’t go anywhere near the roads that you are paying for. Why do you want to force me to pay for the roads that you want when I don’t want to force you to pay for the ones that I want?”
3. Railways
Statist: [Ignoring the fact that Britain’s railways are emphatically not privatised]: “Bring back British Rail! The railways should be state owned!”
Libertarian: “I’m perfectly happy for you to choose to pay this organisation that you call “the state” to run railways you want to travel on. But I don’t want to travel on those trains. Why must I be forced to support them?”
4. Police
Statist: “Of course we need the state! What would happen to crime if there wasn’t the police!”
Libertarian: “If you wish to make contributions to the state’s policing so that they will protect you from crime then go right ahead. I really don’t want to stop you at all, it’s your money. But I would rather pay someone else to protect me from crime. Why do you want to force me to pay for your preferred provider and not mine?”
5. Taxes
Statist: “Taxes should be raised to provide vital funding for important state functions”.
Libertarian: “If you want to write a cheque to the Treasury then go right ahead, the freedom is all yours. But why are you forcing me to pay for an organisation that I despise and wish to have nothing to do with? I’m perfectly happy to let you spend your money just the way you want it, but when I want to spend my money just the way I want it you’re saying I should be thrown in jail! Why?!”
6. Industry
Statist: “All industries should be nationalised and run for the people, not for greedy profit-seeking shareholders”.
Libertarian: “It’s perfectly fine for you to pool all your money and your possessions with those of like-minded people so as to set up socialised industry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with mutual organisations, co-operatives, or even communes if that’s what you want to do yourself. But I want to invest my money in profit-making industry and earn a return on my investment. I’m more than willing to leave you alone to do what you want with your money, just leave me alone to do what I want with mine.”
No doubt many other examples could be imagined by the reader, but, in short, your reply to all of them is “just leave me out of it!” The key effect of this is your opponent’s realisation that, whereas you, the libertarian, are advocating peaceful co-existence (and have absolutely no problem with organisations that they may champion), they, on the other hand, are arguing for the violent imposition of what they want on you. Few who argue in favour of statist intervention are likely to understand that they are, in fact, proposing a solution of violence to society’s alleged ills, and that they are, therefore, thoroughly violent people.
So next time you, as a libertarian, are stuck in such a debate, see how kindly your opponent takes to the realisation that, when laid bare and shorn of any fanciful rhetoric, their arguments are advocating nothing more than for society to be run by guns pointed at the many by the few.

[1] The state itself is also an organisation defined by its use of violence, i.e. its claim to the right to levy taxation and to enforce its decisions violently over a given territory. As such, the state is the one institution which libertarians oppose by virtue of its existence.
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