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Liberty and politics

On the Adam Smith Institute blog, Eamonn Butler points out that millions of people in the USA who vote Republican and Democrat nevertheless subscribe to values which are broadly ‘libertarian’.

And of course when you add in the millions who decline to vote at all not (just) because of apathy but because there is no party which really reflects their world view (and that may well include the US Libertarian Party), it does make you wonder at the disconnect between those numbers and what you see reflected in the media and political system.

I am often asked why so many libertarians/classical liberals/minarchists are averse to pursuing careers in politics and I usually reply that the question is like asking why so many honest people do not pursue careers in mugging and armed robbery.

This is why we are at an inherent disadvantage against statists when playing by their rules and why I have long suspected that the idea of small-state parties may be a waste of time*. The type of people who are attracted to politics are almost always psychologically predisposed to solutions which are force based as a preference to some social solution, particular as it is rare for force to be effectively directed back at them personally in a non-abstract way. As I have said before, people who go into politics generally have more in common with members of street gangs (although with less need for personal fortitude) both psychologically and morally than with most of the people who vote for them. Do Tory or Republican politicians really want to wield significantly less power over the nation when it is their turn in power compared to their Labour or Democrat counter-parts? It is very hard indeed to be a genuinely decent person and a politician.

* = I would be more than happy to be convinced I am wrong on this

47 comments to Liberty and politics

  • Dave

    Maybe you should enter Politics?

  • Perry E. Metzger

    As I have said before, people who go into politics generally have more in common with members of street gangs[...]

    Rem acu tetigisti.

    Now, the question is, given that using conventional politics to effect what we want is a suckers game, what will work? I am pretty sure that violence is guaranteed to fail, and besides, it sickens me. This leaves… what? Perhaps with more optimism than sense, I prefer to believe that there is a winning strategy out there somewhere, but what is it?

  • Dave, it is true I never claimed to be a decent person… but my idea of the correct way for a gentleman to enter Parliament was last tried in 1605 and that did not work very well… quite counter productive in fact.

  • Perhaps with more optimism than sense, I prefer to believe that there is a winning strategy out there somewhere, but what is it?

    That is indeed the question…

  • RobtE

    I am still waiting for the day when a member of parliament says that the reason he stood for election was not to improve the standing of the vulnerable blah blah blah, but to promote his own human (i.e., political) rights interests. The ensuing broohaha would be tremendous, not least because our beloved media would without doubt miss the point that in protecting his own rights as a human being he would be protecting the rights of all of us as human beings. Roll on the day!

  • “the type of people who are attracted to politics are almost always psychologically predisposed to solutions which are force based as a preference to some social solution”

    If anti-statists aren’t prepared to use any sort of “force” in order to reduce the power of the state, then the power of the state won’t reduce itself. However, if getting oneself elected is “force”, I can’t see many solutions by which you could achieve anything without it.

  • Sorry, PdH, but with an attitude like that you remain part of the problem. If you simply throw up your hands and say that because you are not a corrupt thug, you won’t run for office, you simply ensure that your government is indeed made up of corrupt thugs.

    You, and other like-minded friends of liberty, need to freely accept the duty to your fellow citizens to defend their rights and yours in the field of political battle.

    Run for office… not because you want to, but because you have to.

  • sanborn

    “people who go into politics generally have more in common with members of street gangs”

    You libs have a problem. You don’t like to get your hands dirty building something. So much easier being a “monday morning quarterback”.

  • If anti-statists aren’t prepared to use any sort of “force” in order to reduce the power of the state,

    I am quite happy to see force used when it is likely to work. However to be moral, I have always felt that using force even in a just cause must also either have a reasonable chance of success or be in a situation where even death is preferable to acquiescence because death would be the result in any case. Clearly neither is the case when applied to the British state in 2006, talk of violence makes little sense either morally or even practically.

    then the power of the state won’t reduce itself. However, if getting oneself elected is “force”, I can’t see many solutions by which you could achieve anything without it.

    Getting elected is not force, what the politician does once in power is force.

    Just to clarify… I am not against all uses of force or even against all notions of state and law (i.e. I am not an anarchist). I believe in limited government (very limited) as I think very few things can truly only be done by the state (but there are a few) and even from a purely utilitarian point of view, I suspect 90% of what the state does could be done better with social mechanisms.

    From the anarchist perspective the weakness of my position is that to concede any role for a force backed state (and all states are about the use of collective means of coercion) is to reduce what one is arguing for to merely a matter of degree rather than principle.

    However the way I see it is that magnitude matters materially and is not just a matter of detail, much as a common cold and the bubonic plague are both unwelcome diseases, but one is ‘tolerable’ and the other is not (that is not an analogue I would care to take too far though). And in any case, having got to a small state and made that work, I would be happy to keep going and see what happens :-)

  • You libs have a problem. You don’t like to get your hands dirty building something. So much easier being a “monday morning quarterback”.

    You clearly did not understand what I wrote at all, did you.

    I am not interested in being a monday morning quaterback because to do that I would have to be interested in ‘the game’. Far from talking about the game, what I really want to do is burn your damn stadium down, I am just trying to find an effective way to do that.

  • Rob Read

    It’s a failure of democracy i.e. one man, one vote.

    One currency unit of tax, one vote would balance the political equation (rob peter, pay paul) much more soundly.

    It would be a great scheme for a second chamber.

  • Sorry, PdH, but with an attitude like that you remain part of the problem. If you simply throw up your hands and say that because you are not a corrupt thug, you won’t run for office, you simply ensure that your government is indeed made up of corrupt thugs.

    That is not an unreasonable view, for sure.

    You, and other like-minded friends of liberty, need to freely accept the duty to your fellow citizens to defend their rights and yours in the field of political battle.

    I strongly suspect we have to win (or at least score more highly) in the culture war as a pre-requisite for doing that effectively. On that score I am actually quite optimistic as it happens. There are quite a few currents in the zeitgeist which are very much going our way.

    Run for office… not because you want to, but because you have to.

    That is why I regard the Free State Project as a very interesting idea and even if it does not work this time, the idea is fascinating. We have to try lots of different things. If the spadework has been done and enough social infrastructure is in place to keep whoever runs sane, maybe it is worth jumping onto the midden to do battle with the other politicos.

  • Winzeler

    I am not interested in being a monday morning quaterback because to do that I would have to be interested in ‘the game’. Far from talking about the game, what I really want to do is burn your damn stadium down, I am just trying to find an effective way to do that.

    This is almost a perfectly composed reply, but I doubt it will do much good. I do think the real revolution (if it should be called that) needs to happen in the hearts and minds of the people entrenched in “the game.” That is a lofty goal. I personally *switched from conservative to libertarian (not party affiliation) about 5 years ago, and, despite much effort with my family and friends (mostly conservatives), have seen no other converts. I know where the battle must be won, but I don’t know how to do it.

    *Not really “switched,” just came to realized that what I truly believed didn’t match the typical conservative agenda at all.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    As someone who’s said (above) that I’m not convinced that the electoral means will work, allow me to explain my position.

    Electoral politics is no more immune to economic rules than any other facet of human life. For someone to do the massive amount of work needed to climb the greasy pole, they generally need some sort of reward.

    For the majority of politicians, the reward is in the form of power and money, not to mention things that go with those like sex, pleasure in the use or abuse of power over others, etc. If you are willing to use the state to achieve your own personal ends, you have no end of incentives to fight day after day, just as you have no end of incentives to work hard at any other business venture. Furthermore, as a potential contributor to political campaigns, a politician who plays by the conventional rules of the game is a good investment, and buying one will pay off handsomely in taxpayer money and laws designed to destroy competitors. If you are a professional manager of political campaigns, a very specialized and very complicated profession, joining up with conventional political parties means that, again, you’ll get a payout at the end of the day.

    For those of us who want to dismantle the state, though, there is no strong personal incentive to join in the fray other than a feeling of moral necessity. Believe it or not, not enough people are driven hard by this motivation, especially when it means they have to give up other careers with greater associated reward. Policial campaign managers cannot expect large incomes working for freedom oriented candidates. Potential campaign contributors inevitably fact the public choice economics dillema: spend money to get a large payout in tax money and/or the crushing of competitors, or spend money to get a proportionately tiny reward by stopping programs that personally cost a contributor only a few pennies a year each taken individually. The incentive structure clearly does not favor the freedom oriented candidate.

    Analyzed from the public choice economics standpoint, one swiftly sees the problem. It is not that the partisans of freedom are lazy or ineffective people — it is that the incentive structure of electoral government is powerfully skewed towards rewarding — and I mean personally rewarding — the big government faction. Trying to fight this is like shoveling the tide — ultimately the incentive structures powering the entire system are so aligned against you that it seems very difficult to win at best.

    On top of this, we face a culture that does not agree with us. I would like to pretend that most people are libertarians at heart, but in fact most people are not very clear thinkers and do not understand the consequences of their desires. They would rather see “something done” about their annoying neighbor — having them clapped in irons because they’re different, say — than considering the personal consequences of a society where such things are possible. No one ever thinks of what the state might do to them one day, they just think of how they might use the state to achieve their desires now.

    Lastly, I’ve actually been an international policy maker in a small context for a short time, and I learned the hard way that even a well intentioned libertarian is powerless against the incentive structures. Even I was swifly co-opted and I’m about as principled on such things as people get. It is exceptionally hard to change the system from within.

    Fighting all this is may be futile. I would say that it is a waste of human capital to try to pick any strategy that is not favored by the prevailing incentive structure rather than opposed by it. The whole reason we favor capitalism is because capitalism follows the grain of the wood instead of going against it.

    There are not many of us, and using our time and energy wisely would seem to be far smarter than beating our heads against rocks hoping that if only we strike the granite with our foreheads “just right” it might split open.

    At the same time, though, I must say that I do not believe in giving up or giving in. I just don’t believe that attempting to effect change by joining up with the electoral system is going to work. Another means has to be sought out.

  • Yes, I would agree with pretty much all of that.

    I think the cultural meta-context has to change first and that is probably where my talents at least are best suited and are most incentivised to succeed.

  • The most liberty has always seemed to come when it was hard to get ahold of people. America was a relatively free country at its birth because most people had about the same amount of property, and it was damned hard to collect too much in taxes without being shot at. As America filled up, and as infrastructure was built, it became easier to collect taxes and easier to find those who didn’t.

    Elected politics won’t work as long as people don’t want and don’t believe in liberty. Although about a quarter of Americans consider themselves “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, breakdowns into “What would you cut?” drops well under 10% most of the time. I imagine those percentages are even lower in the UK.

    It seems the best solution is regionalism. Breaking up political units is the closest thing to anarchism, because it lowers the cost of switching governments. It also meets de Havilland’s concerns about anarchism by establishing ultimate territorial determiners of law. It seems perverse, but the best thing that could happen to Scotland is to break away from the UK, so that the SNP, SLP, and Greens could see the suffering their policies cause.

    As I see it, regionalism and local independence is the best way forward to promote liberty. Bad policies don’t get subsidised from the centre, and people can more easily skip town when policies become oppressive. A UK or US libertarian should be talking secession first.

    - Josh, Southern New Jersey Patriot

  • sanborn

    Deleted: sorry we don’t indulge semi-literate morons on our private property unless they are at least funny-stupid rather than just stupid-stupid

  • asus phreak

    Deleted: sorry we don’t indulge semi-literate morons on our private property unless they are at least funny-stupid rather than just stupid-stupid

    Oh damn I love that. I’m going to steal that phraze and use it on the private forum I moderate every time I axe some dickweed for being a dickweed on our turf.

    Ah the Brits, no one does snooty insults quite like the Brits.

  • I think Wild Peagasus is onto something with localism/regionalism (sorry to be awkward and change your term, I just associate regionalism with New Labour’s scheme to replace counties with ‘regions’ – i.e. centralise everything).

    Localism, combined with free trade and free movement of people’s, combats some of the incentives problems that Perry. E. Metzger mentioned. Tax competition leads to less government because it creates a popular demand for cutting the state. Our politicos, power grubbing as they are, will sacrifice a little power if it is the cost of getting elected. Local government is also more accountable because it is easier to see where your taxes are going (and theoretically a smaller area should leave less scope for redistribution). Of course, any such system would need to be put in place by our leaders.

    My feeling on the matter overall, is that there are times in history when our leaders are great individuals who leave great legacies. After a while the political system decays and we are left with powerful vested interests (be they the aristocracy or modern political parties) led by the mediocre and corrupt. Eventually, anger builds and a new generation of great leaders comes to sweep away the the ruling classes.

    If it makes anyone feel better, I think we may be in the trough, so perhaps the peak will come next. PdH, you may not be in politics but you are a member of the fourth estate. Jefferson once remarked that if he had a choice between no government and no free press, he would always choose the former. The internet revolution is taking the media elites to task – how long can it be before the ‘revolution’ (political, not violent) spreads to the other three estates?

  • I agree that libertarian ideas are very “sellable” to the general public. I think the bigger question is why are libertarian principles almost never discussed in major media circles?

    I hate to be a conspiracy theorist but what other explanation could there be?

  • sorry to be awkward and change your term, I just associate regionalism with New Labour’s scheme to replace counties with ‘regions’ – i.e. centralise everything

    I was under the impression that most everything in Britain was centralised already.

    I wanted to add an additional remark. In the face of the centralising power of the EU, I’m heartened to see how much regionalism is springing up in the old nation-states, especially in France, Spain, and the UK.

    I agree that libertarian ideas are very “sellable” to the general public.

    “Do you believe the government should pay for the healthcare of old people?”

    Find me 20 people in 1000 who say “no”.

    - Josh

  • guy herbert

    Alister McFarquhar’s comment on the Adam Smith post is most acute.

  • adamthemad

    The Free State Project is probably the best bet for creating a space in which likeminded libertarians can actually prove the point that goverment is more of a hinderance than a help.

    Of course, the Free State Project doesn’t publish the endgame. Having a political division relitively free from onerous goverment oversight is the promised land for capitalists and libertarians are well aware of this. Delaware might suddenly lose the prestige of being the capital of incorporation.

    The resulting bounty is sure to tempt more than just a few libertarians to make the separation from the goverment-addicted masses permanent.

    Short of sounding like a class-A loon, I don’t see a reason to stop with just a state. You think a state run by libertarians is interesting? Wait ’til you see the orbital station…

    Give me your enthused, your wealthy, your dynamic individuals yearning to be free. – with no apologies to anyone.

  • Effra

    “I agree that libertarian ideas are very “sellable” to the general public. I think the bigger question is why are libertarian principles almost never discussed in major media circles?”

    They’re not as sellable as all that. People enjoy not being dogged around (though some want to be doggers or doggees) but they set more store on being looked after, being able to blame others when things go wrong, and subordinating their selfish desires for what they think to be the common good. That gives them more of a buzz, ultimately, than being ‘free’ and lonely.

    Human beings are slightly differentiated specimens of a species. They have their little quirks– just enough to spur them on to compete with each other, and protect or sacrifice themselves and their immediate kin as required to ensure the survival of their genes. Individual dogs and horses also have their unique characteristics, but most of their conduct is determined by the parameters of their DNA. It is far from obvious that the tyrant genes care about our good, rather than theirs. We are means to an unknown end.

    Libertarians are among those who think these traits began to be substantially modified, c. 1500, by acts of will in an elite of individualists. Mostly white and Western, they are gradually converting the rest of mankind to their outlook, albeit with many setbacks and roadblocks.

    I fear this is too optimistic, not to mention biologically unsound. The balance between wanting freedom and wanting to be taken care of has not shifted much, just shifted around. We may have more freedom to speak, but we have less to dispose of our money, than of yore. Private sexual behaviour may be less regulated by social pressure, but the price is paid in the weakening of institutions such as the family which shelter us from the State’s impositions.

    The 20th century was billed as the Century of the Common Man throwing off the shackles of religion and deference, coming into his own in democracies. It also produced more collectivism, mass hysteria and mass slaughter than any other. A lot of the newly liberated ran back into the cage and slammed the door on themselves. In a milder way, they still do. We take it for granted that faceless organs of the State should help themselves to one-third or more of our pay before we touch it, without much accountability for how it is spent. Craving the security of the pack, we are all too ready to be told that we must accept this and that curtailment of freedom for the sake of ‘security’.

    It will take a drastic, perhaps genetic, modification of the pack animal known as homo sapiens to give libertarianism real traction.

    AMDG

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I would like to add that outside of philosophy/political science students, almost nobody has ever heard of the word ‘libertarianism’, or even understand the true basis of the word ‘liberty’.

    The reason for that is rather simple: most people just aren’t educated enough to fully understand the basis for liberty or certain policies, whether economic, social, or political.

    Wild Pegasus’ question is a good example. Only economists and the informed will know of the consequences of the state providing healthcare for the old people. Anybody who says otherwise, the 20 of us in a sea of fools, gets branded as ‘heartless’, even though everything we’ve been through tells us that the alternative is far more horrific.

    People just can’t understand. I won’t say they’re not smart enough. It’s just that nobody ever taught them to think critically.

    TWG

  • ian

    most people just aren’t educated enough to fully understand the basis for liberty or certain policies, whether economic, social, or political.

    Amen to that – which is why you get foolish people saying things like ‘I don’t mind ID cards but I don’t see why I should pay for it – the government should.’

  • pommygranate

    Perry

    You should run. It’s a great idea. Put together a plan and im sure you could secure funding. The potential vote is large.

    The only thing that just doesnt sell at all is the insistence on the right to bear arms. Im not saying its wrong but its just totally unsellable to the British public.

    Some ideas need introducing gradually.

    Limited govt, vastly reduced taxes, re-introduction of civil liberties. What’s not to like?

  • Perry. You should run.

    I’m way too much of a hot head and I have an alarming tendancy to say what I think, which are not really traits associated with successful politicios.

    I just cannot see myself kissing people’s smelly babies just to get their votes. And even if I somehow got elected, there is always the problem of the political interns…”Are you politically minded? Would you like to serve the cause of liberty? Are you female under the age of 40? Send your CV and a picture of yourself in a bikini to…” I’d be a disaster waiting to happen.

  • John K

    Amen to that – which is why you get foolish people saying things like ‘I don’t mind ID cards but I don’t see why I should pay for it – the government should.’

    That’s a very common way of thinking, sadly. Only this morning I heard some teenage trollop on Radio 5 whingeing that the government isn’t subsidising her child care enough. They really seem to think the money is conjured out of thin air.

    I wonder if the reason the state was so much smaller before 1914 was because money was based on gold and silver, the real stuff, actual physical coinage? Anyone could see that money did not come from nowhere, and that for the government to spend money it had to physically take that money from someone else. In the era of paper money most people think that the government can just print as much money as it likes, and is just being mean when it doesn’t pay for their childcare, or healthcare, or community centre or whatever.

    As an aside, I probably should not have enjoyed seeing Ruth Kelly getting egged quite as much as I did. At least she took it well, and did not try and twat the thrower as Mad John Prescott would have done. Does she remind anyone else of Little Jimmy Krankie?

  • John K

    …”Are you politically minded? Would you like to serve the cause of liberty? Are you female under the age of 40? Send your CV and a picture of yourself in a bikini to…”

    It didn’t seem to do Bill Clinton’s career any harm. I think Monica would look better in a one piece though.

  • gravid

    This entire debate is how I found samizdata in the first place and why I continue to return.

    My wife asked me what a samizdat was the other day – I grinned like a loon as I explained it ( this being my own personal problem, being a loon that is.)

    Fight the structure form within using well established tactics?
    Install a stooge who will do your bidding and always sticks to the script. Easy to say difficult to do.

  • MarkE

    Not sure if if it would be worth you running Perry – are there enough libertarians to defeat both the party machines AND the British public? I have come to believe the British fear freedom, or rather the responsibility that accompanies it.

    My approach is to join the Conservative party, and make sure my MP (bloke called Cameron – Private school, Oxford, politics, never worked for a living so I’m the only “normal” person he meets) knows what I think, and try to convince him I represent some sort of majority.

    I have a (misguided) left wing libertarian friend, who is a Labour party member, and trys the same on her leader (private school, Oxford, Bar puppilage without fighting a case, politics. Never met a “normal” person in his life).

  • Daveon

    Give me your enthused, your wealthy, your dynamic individuals yearning to be free. – with no apologies to anyone.

    The problem here is in your first adjective, “wealthy”. The problem is the first years/generations of space colonisation is it’s _possibly_ going to be a place to be free.

    But, at the end of the day, what your wealthy, dynamic individual wants is means and ways of spending their money on things that make their lives nicer.

    I’m not sure that the realities of living in a pressuried can for months at a time will match up to giving up on a little freedom and partying in St Tropaiz or similar.

    Space will be a cool place to visit, but I can’t see too many people in the classification you give being too keen to live there.

    What you may get are people with an almost evangelical yearning to be “free”. However, in an environoment where even the basics (air) come with a cost associated, I’m concerned that freedom may come with a heavy price.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    If the libboes all retreated to a new colony on one of Jupiter’s moons, what’s the odds the Evilstate Interplanetary Force wouldn’t hunt our transhumanised heroes down Waco-style?

    “You have one minute to take off from that asteroid– we know you’re abusing your kids!”

  • Aside from the “public choice argument” there is the “social choice argument”, by which I mean the effect of the voting system on which political organizations become dominant. It is amply demonstrated by empirical observation that first-past-the-post voting STRONGLY SELECTS for two dominant parties. Proportional representation is one way of eliminating this effect. Another is to replace first-past-the-post voting in single-member representation systems with Condorcet or Approval voting. (Note: the Free State Project actually used Condorcet to select the state).

    Making this change in the U.S. would have a profound effect on our politics. It would also make it easier for multiple parties to thrive in U.K.-style parliamentary systems that have eschewed proportional representation.

    Until such time as one’s efforts on behalf of a political party actually have a chance of succeeding, in the U.S. (at least), you’ll find most libertarians picking one of the major parties – probably (like me) the Republican Party.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    John K wonders why the government was so much smaller before 1914.

    I’d say it was an accident. The UK, for a while, happened, through accident of history, to have a government that was highly constrained, and a population that was not willing to accept a large level of government. A number of fortunate historical accidents lead to mutual animosity between various different factions in the ruling elite, starting all the way back at Runnymede, and this allowed a society in which for the most part people were ruled by a customary legal code (the Common Law) and not quite so much from above.

    I think people do not appreciate quite how unusual the resulting society was: a place where a man could call himself anything he liked so long as he did not intend to defraud anyone, where anyone could prosecute a crime, where there were no police, where a couple was legally married if they thought they were married. In most “civilized” places such ideas were alien, and still are.

    Other countries, even then, were not so fortunate as to have a weak central government divided against itself and thus became basket cases. France, in particular, was a horrible place to try to start a business enterprise even in the 17th and 18th century. The UK did not win the power struggles of the 18th and 19th century because of the vast population and resources it had at its disposal. It won because the other countries it faced had destroyed their own competitiveness in advance.

    I think that the real beginning of the end was the triumph of the Parliament at the end of the 17th and start of the 18th century. It is true that this was, in context, a good thing — a society ruled by a king was clearly a bad idea — but the end of the stalemate between the various power centers meant that there were no longer any constraints on the center. The fact that traditional liberties started slowly decaying even then is noteworthy — Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was not a product of the 20th century but of the 18th.

    After the start of the 20th century, the introduction of the income tax and the resulting elimination of the earlier fiscal constraints on the government merely removed the shackles from a monster that was already there waiting to take over. I contend it was created far earlier. Once freed, the government was free to begin the wholesale “Bread and Circuses” bribery of the population that continues to this day, and the cultural opposition to large government crumbled.

    The United States has followed a very similar trajectory. I find it interesting that we, too, shared history of the same common law legal tradition, and that we remained free so long as the various factions were kept in check and the finances of the center were in doubt. In some sense, George Bush’s claims that there are no constraints at all on the power of the President is only the end of a long logical progression.

    I think it is important to remember how exceptional, how utterly unusual places with limited governments that respect human liberty have been through history. I believe this is because, as I said in a post above, the economic incentives are stacked against honest government. The participants in the government system have too strong an incentive to use the tools of government for personal improvement. That’s one of the reasons I’m not a minarchist — because I don’t see how to structure a government that will not be corrupted with time. The stable state for government is corruption, not minarchy.

    So, I don’t think, as John K asks, that a mere restoration of, say, the gold standard, or any other simple act, can reverse the trend. Would that I knew some magic way to do so. My fear is that there is no mechanism which will cure the cancer — my hope, perhaps an irrational hope, is that a mechanism that can actually fix the situation can yet be found.

  • Daveon

    It’s an interesting philosophical point about whether or not certain types of transhuman societies could be even remotely Libertarian.

    Hmmm… sounds like a panel discussion to me…

  • John K

    So, I don’t think, as John K asks, that a mere restoration of, say, the gold standard, or any other simple act, can reverse the trend.

    Very interesting post, and I’m sure you are right that there is no quick fix, and maybe no fix at all. But as I said, when money was real gold and silver, I feel perhaps people realised better that it had to come from somehere, and could not be magically created by government. Every pound the government spent had to be physically prised from the grasp of its rightful owner, and that fact must have constrained the ability of government to spend cash as if there were no tomorrow. Society nowadays often seems to resemble a cargo cult, with people expecting to be showered with money printed by a kindly government. They really do think that government can create money by the mere act of political will and application of the printing press, and therefore feel aggrieved if government ever refuses to spend more money on them and their “needs”.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    Paul Hager suggests that our problem is first-past-the-post voting rather than other methods.

    I will point out that there are a large number of countries with systems like proportional representation and single transferable vote mechanisms in use, and that none of them seem particularly libertarian. The issue is very clearly not merely what sort of voting system is in use.

    (To be honest, I’d say the biggest problem is the notion of voting itself, but that’s a long discussion.)

  • I’ve said it before and I don’t have a problem saying it as often as necessary:

    If I were walking past your house and came upon a crowd deliberating whether to enter the premises and take things that belonged to you, and they invited me to vote on the matter, I would swiftly inform them that there could be no vote about it because the matter is completely closed on the principle of private property. There is no such thing as a moral right to take a vote on whether to violate others’ rights. In plain language, this is known as a conspiracy.

    And there is no magic alchemy by which these principles are mooted simply by scaling the conspiracy up to the level of a whole nation. This is the plain fact lost on that dolt over at QandO, with his bone-headed effort to clean up the whorehouse and yet keep the business.

    Look: I don’t know of a “winning strategy”. But I still maintain that passive civil disobedience is worth a try. This… thing that we’re talking about is never going to go out of existence on its own, and it ought to be obvious — to everyone with enough of a brain to even begin discussing it — that voting is a manifest stipulation to the premise that others are allowed to rule our lives. For people who ostensibly take ideas seriously, this one constantly appalls and outrages me, for one. The thing to do is to get going on starving The Thing out of existence.

    Believe me: nobody knows better than me what this entails. “They use the things we love, against us.” (WJB III) I have just about given up everything I love. Nobody need point out to me what’s involved.

    And it might not work. I wouldn’t put it past any of the various creatures we’re talking about to build prisons just as fast as people witholding their productive energies could be rounded-up in the streets.

    At least, however, the issues at the root of all of it could be made as clear as they need to be.

    Mark my words: nobody is going to vote their way out of any of this.

    And we’re talking about the only time of your life that you’re ever going to have.

    When are you going to take charge of it?

    For the sake of anything worth living for: when?

  • Edward

    The primary source of liberty in any society is cultural, not political. You cannot achieve liberty through political maneuver, and no law or Constitution can preserve it.

    Only a culture of liberty (and its corollary, responsibility) can make a nation free, or keep it free. Even the most brutal State shrivels up and dies when a critical mass of people withhold their support.

    So the strategy is clear:

    1. Personally reject the legitimacy of the State, and treat is as the dangerous criminal organization it is. This doesn’t mean you need to be a martyr. A sane person picks his battles. You simply need to acknowledge the truth that you’re only complying because you must, not because the State has any moral legitimacy.

    2. Work to spread this belief.

  • Sigh. Wouldn’t it be nice to just relax, stop thinking so much, enjoy all that “free” money, vote for the people who look nice and spend more time watching sports on TV? Why is everyone frowning?

  • Boris

    I should note that I live in Vancouver Canada and it is refreshing to see that there are libertarians in Britain, a country which is trotted out here every time one needs an example of government regulation gone amok.

    What has been missing from the discussion is a consideration of biologic factors. My experience in Canada is that libertarians constitute a small minority of the population. I suspect that if one looked at dopamine/serotonin receptor subtypes one would find significant differences between people who describe themselves as libertarians and those who don’t. Libertarians in my experience tend to be more individualistic and have less need for social validation of their viewpoints. These same characteristics make libertarians very difficult to organize, and I’ll bring up the obligatory herding cats analogy here.

    Like it or not, the number of people who have a need for an authority figure to tell them what to do likely constitute a majority of the population. These people likely have their wetware hard-wired so that avoiding conflict with others is their primary motivation. As long as one provides them with a modicum of the exigencies of biologic existence, they are content.

    Individuals who make up the political classes appear to have far greater incidence of psychopathy than is found in the general population. They also seem to have an unconscious grasp of methodology necessary to control groups of individuals. Such information is available to anyone and summarized in Cialdini’s book “Influence”. In Canada (and probably in Britain), governments use the divide and conquer technique to prevent any large scale threat to their power. By alternately using rewards/punishements, they create a situation where a large fraction of the population is forced into a reciprocity situation with the government (reciprocity is how stores increase sales by giving away free food samples). Never mind that the government steals from everyone and selectively reimburses favored groups in the population; the theft has become expected. The financial dependancy that is fostered by government policies is far more addictive than currently illegal drugs and obviously those in power have no interest in providing treatment programs for the addicted.

    People who chose to emigrate are more likely to be libertarian and this may account for the strong libertarian tendencies in the American colonies. Also, England used the American colonies as a convenient dumping ground for dissidents in the 1600′s and these would be people who would have had less need to be agreeable. A libertarian society is a compromise that results from the interaction of extreme individualists who have to live together.

    The freestate project is very appealing, but New Hampshire! If I’m going to move somewhere I need lots of room and I would suggest the interior of British Columbia as a better spot for Libertarians to aggregate. Unfortunately the easiest route to power is through large numbers, and I think that this is likely the only approach that would work.

  • syn

    Well we know millions subscribe to values which are broadly ‘libertarian’ but what about those values held by those who are broadly influenced by the purple haze of Marxism (aka moonbats)?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    “Well we know millions subscribe to values which are broadly ‘libertarian’ but what about those values held by those who are broadly influenced by the purple haze of Marxism (aka moonbats)?”

    Millions? I don’t think so. The moonbats outnumber us by far. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be complaining so much.

  • kate q

    Is the need for an authority figure to tell one what to do hardwired, or is it acquired?
    Could it be reinforced, or produced to begin with, by years of mandatory schooling which punishes initiative? By years of forced uselessness when one is biologically ready and able to be productive? By a protracted dependent childhood, during which one is expected to be irresponsible, assumed to be helpless, and given everything he has, as a right, by one authority figure or another?
    I’d guess that for some people it is hardwired. But we do seem to do our best to produce it in everyone else, too.

  • Being a (sleeping) member of a mainstream political party, I get to see the unedifying sight of the ‘British Way’ at work and biting other people the way it has been known to bite me; for example, the Constituency Chairman was a bit of a pedant, so was putsched out by the bright young things and some sort of soft-fascist installed.
    The pro-vote was imported for the occasion.
    When I awake I shall do all I can to have the weird pedant reinstated, but the point is that British Culture hangs like a warning sign over the country, and if we want to give it a good kick and loosen its grip, we need to achieve a profile by some means.
    And yes, it is a conspiracy.