The End of the World Club (there seem to be quite a few – can’t find a link to the one I mean) is a bunch of Austrianist-inclined people who meet at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs every few weeks to talk about the state of the world, and than afterwards maybe drink and/or dine locally, to try to cheer themselves up again.
Simon Rose, the guy who runs the End of the World Club, has asked me to kick off the discussion on the evening of May 28th. The following is a hastily typed summary of what I have in mind to suggest that we all talk about. I emphasise the “hasty” bit. Under comment pressure I will surely want to modify or even abandon quite a few bits of what follows. My number one purpose here is not to be unchallengeably right about everything, although you never know your luck; my number one purpose is to provoke thought and talk, by looking at the world from a slightly different angle to the usual angles. It began as a mere email to Simon Rose, but as you can see, it got a bit out of hand. My email to Rose will now be the link to this.
Since it’s the “End of the World” Club, I thought it might make sense to think about optimism and pessimism. Is that title (“End of the World”) for real? Or is it playfully ironic? How optimistic or pessimistic are we End-of-the-Worlders about the near future, and the longer term future? How optimistic or pessimistic about the near and longer term future are our statist adversaries? How much difference does that make to anything?
In recent decades, it has been the Austrian School who have been most rationally and persuasively pessimistic about the short run (by which I mean the next few years and the next, say, couple of decades). And it has been the politically middle-of-the-road statists who have been most unthinkingly optimistic, first, that no sort of economic catastrophe was coming, and now, when they try to be as optimistic as they can about the catastrophe (that has happened despite their earlier unthinking optimism) not getting any worse. Austrianists, in contrast, regard the present turmoil as proof that they were and remain right about everything, and that their pessimism, now, about the short term (and actually not that short term) future will accordingly also be entirely justified. Austrianists are mostly pessimists now. (Think Detlev Schlichter.) But they are optimistic about their own thought processes, in which they have absolute confidence.
But when it comes to the bigger picture, it is the broader free marketeer tendency who are now the optimists.
Socialists used to be optimistic, about how their socialism would make humanity materially better off. They were only pessimistic in the sense that they feared that they might never be allowed to do socialism. But about half way through the twentieth century, socialists stopped saying that they would do affluence better than capitalism was doing it, because the claim that capitalism wasn’t doing affluence was becoming absurd. Instead they turned against affluence.
They became economic pessimists about their own policies, in other words. But they stuck with their policies and turned their backs on the idea of mass affluence being a good thing. The Green Movement, which is what socialism has mutated into, is a huge surrender on the economic policy front, and an attempt to engage with the world on a quite different front. Socialists have surrendered the happy future. You have to listen a bit carefully to hear this. It took the form of a huge change of subject, from making the future happier, to making it more virtuous and poverty-stricken. They used to like affluence. Now they trash it. (Have a listen, for instance, to this excellent Jeffrey Tucker talk.) They used to be leading us towards an imaginary heaven on earth. Now they claim merely to be saving us from an equally imaginary hell on earth (and thereby are actually trying to create a real one). I am optimistic that this imagined hell on earth is also now on the way to being abandoned (see, e.g., this blog posting by Pointman). (What will be their next Big Tyranny Excuse?)
Meanwhile, classical liberals (as opposed to the illiberal liberals of our own time) note how free market ideas have raised humanity from abject poverty to a standard of living that was formerly unimaginable even for kings and emperors. Some free marketeers are rationally optimistic (to echo Matt Ridley‘s recent book title) that life will continue to get better, despite everything the statists and socialists now try to throw at it. Other free marketeers are now supremely optimistic that free market policies will work superbly, provided those policies are followed. Think J. P. Floru (an earlier speaker to the End of the World Club – very eloquent, very confident, I was there). Conditional optimism, you might call this. This is the same optimism that the socialists had a hundred years ago or so. It is very potent. The future will be wonderful, but only if you join our cause and help us save this wonderful future from being trashed by our malevolent, idiotic adversaries.
In the first half of the twentieth century free marketeers were much more tentative and intellectually timid. They often agreed that material progress would only happen if big government (with or even without big business) made the running, but argued for freedom anyway, as something that should be sentimentally preserved despite its economic cost. No wonder they did so badly.
But free marketeers are now the optimists. In the long run this means we will win. Discuss. See also: optimism (even irrational optimism) as a technique for success, individually and collectively. See also: pessimism (even (especially?) rational pessimism) as a recipe for failure, individual and collective.
That is pretty much it, and is surely more than enough to keep us talking for however long is required. Email me (you surely know how by now) if the End of the World Club is of interest, and I’ll pass it on.
“Dear incompetent ninny …” No. “Dear complete imbecile …” I suppose not. “Dear feeble-minded simpleton …” I’d better not. Well, fine, then. “Dear State Representative …”
- Here via here. (I must declare an interest however. Another of the quotes in that second “here” was from here.)
This is actually quite profound. We are often tempted to get angry with state functionaries. But since we are usually begging things from them, rather than demanding them in the manner of one who could take his business elsewhere – with the state there is no elsewhere, we usually choose to remain polite. And if we finally get what we are begging for, we tend to be effusive in our thanks, if only because so pleased that the ninny did something less than completely ninny-ish. The result is a world in which state functionaries genuinely imagine themselves to be loved by almost all of their victims and hated by hardly any of them.
Not the official QOTD, but pretty great anyway:
“If prices are information, then subsidies are censorship.”
- Russ Nelson
If you want to introduce someone to libertarian thinking, encourage them to try this experiment. Spend a few days reading nothing but technology news. Then spend a few days reading nothing but political news. For the first few days they’ll see an exciting world of innovation and creativity where everything is getting better all the time. In the second period they’ll see a miserable world of cynicism and treachery where everything is falling apart. Then ask them to explain the difference.
- Andrew Zalotocky, commenting on this, here, about #HackedOff, many weeks ago.
I had this all ready to be an SQotD right after it first got said, but then another SQotD happened, and I forgot about it. Today, I chanced upon it again.
I’ll pay my share of the Thatcher funeral cost and that of two objectors if they’ll pay my share of government spending I don’t like.
UPDATE: At least Mr Cameron is being as consistent as I would have expected.
Taking offence cannot be equated to being criminally victimised.
- “Cannot” as in: “should not”. Sadly, they just did. That’s Richard Carey, writing at Libertarian Home about the disappearance of the blog and twitter feed of Old Holborn, and other twitter accounts, for the crime of being “inappropriate and offensive”.
Today I received one of those collective emails with a big list of recipients at the top. It was from Tim Evans to the Essex University Liberty League, and copied to the rest of us, suggesting all the copyees as potential speakers to the Essex University Liberty League. I was pleased to be even suggested, because I was a very happy student at Essex University in the early 1970s. Fingers crossed, hint hint.
But much more importantly, following a little googling for the Essex University Liberty League, I found my way to this, which I had not noticed before and which is a video of a talk given by the noted libertarian historian Stephen Davies to … the Essex University Liberty League. Having both hugely enjoyed and been hugely impressed by the talk that Stephen Davies gave to the Liberty League Freedom Forum in London just under a fortnight ago, on the subject of healthcare, I cranked up this video about the history of British libertarianism and had a listen.
Brilliant. The time, nearly fifty minutes of it, just flew by. Davies really is a master communicating a large body of ideas and information, seemingly with effortless ease, in what is (given the sheer volume of all those ideas and all that information) an amazingly short period of time, although in other hands the same chunk of time would feel like an eternity.
Thank goodness cheap videoing arrived in time for Davies to be extensively captured on it, for two reasons. First, it would be very hard to take notes that would do justice to a Stephen Davies talk, and it would be impossible to remember it all. There is, every time, just too much good stuff there. You want to be able to hear it all again, with a pause button available. Second, I get the distinct impression that Davies knows a great deal more about the present and the past of the world, and of the people trying to make the world more liberty-loving, than he has so far managed to get down on paper. Indeed, I sense that Davies’s recent IEA job, stimulating Britain’s student libertarian network, is a calculated trade-off on his part, between one important job, namely that, and the other important thing that Davies ought to be doing, namely writing down many more of his brilliant thoughts and discoveries and opinions and historical wisdoms than he has so far managed to write down.
Although, now would be a good time to flag up a piece Davies wrote for the Libertarian Alliance entitled Libertarian Feminism in Britain, 1860-1910, which is about the kind of thing his talk is about. The point being that most feminists then were libertarians, in contrast to the collectivists that most feminists are now. So, Davies has written some of his wisdoms down, just not as much as he might have.
However, meanwhile, and as a natural consequence of all the student networking that he has lately been doing, Davies does often give a talk, and sometimes someone records it. Like I say, thank goodness for video. And congratulations to whoever did video this particular Davies talk to the Essex University libertarians. Richard Carey, who did the short blog posting where I found the video, does not say who did this. Presumably an Essex libertarian. As I say, kudos to whoever it was.
Sadly, the Stephen Davies talk to LLFF2013 about healthcare was not videoed.
Reading the excellent blog The Last Ditch, there was an article about the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, written back on April 06th. And in the article, the author describes the views of Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute (and I am a great fan of the ASI) thus:
The two other sessions I attended also provided much food for thought. Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute suggested that the standard libertarian approach to presenting our ideas appealed only to ourselves.
The most disturbing moment of the day was in Bowman’s session when he mentioned in passing the “standard” justification for welfarism; one that I had never heard before. If, he said, a baby was drowning in a puddle not only would a passing stranger have a moral duty to rescue it, but he would also have a moral right if, perhaps because of disability, he couldn’t do it himself to force someone else to do so at gunpoint.
This utilitarian remark passed without comment or challenge, but left me distinctly chilled. I don’t dispute a moral duty to save the child and I would shun forever someone else who failed to do so. But the idea that I would be justified in pulling a gun on the shunworthy one – or even killing him – if he failed to do his duty struck me as obscene.
Views like Sam Bowman’s are why I am so in favour of the private ownership of firearms.
When he (theoretically) points his (theoretical) gun at me to force me to risk my life to save another, I would say “Yes sir… oh and do you also want me to rescue that burning baby over there?”
And when he turns to look, I would (theoretically) produce my (theoretical) handgun and put two (theoretical) 40 cal rounds in the fucker’s chest and then one in his (theoretical) head.
And then I might actually go rescue the (theoretically) drowning baby and thereby have done two good things in a single day.
I have been interested in Frank Turner, who is a popular singer, ever since he performed at the London Olympics opening ceremony, and a Labour MP got angry about that:
Turns out his libertarianism and belief in the power of the people to resist oppression aren’t of the leftist sort. They’re of the rightist sort.
Oh dear. Not allowed. Can’t be a popular pop singer and even think things like that, let alone say them.
And just now, things on the Frank Turner front are getting rather interesting. NME have done an intereview with him. The NME website reports:
“David Cameron is a twat,” he says. ” He carries himself with the attitude that he’s Prime Minister because he thinks he should be, which is a deeply unpleasant trait. I wouldn’t vote for that c**t. But I’m amused when people spout that ‘Nick Clegg stabbed me in the back’ stuff, because the Lib Dems have always been a deeply unprincipled mish-mash of unrealistic bullshit. They’re all politicians at the end of the day – so fuck ‘em all.”
If that had been the only Frank Turner quote in this report worth requoting, that would have been today’s SQotD. But there is more. Turner also spoke about that Guardian piece (here‘s the link again):
The troubadour, who is set to release his fifth album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ on April 22, also spoke about his political beliefs, after apparently being “outed” by The Guardian as right wing last year. “That article was a misrepresentation of my politics, which are 100 per cent based in punk rock; freedom, independence, self-reliance and voluntary co-operation between people. Broadly speaking, I’m a classical liberal. What riled people was that I’m an economic liberal as well,” he said. Read the full interview with Frank Turner in this week’s NME.
Today, I intend to be doing exactly that.
The ever alert Mick Hartley links to this story:
A mosaic wall erected in the North Hamkyung Province town of Musan to idolize Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il collapsed shortly before the April 15th “Day of the Sun” festivities for the birth of Kim Il Sung, sources from the region have reported to Daily NK. They claim that corruption led to poor construction, and this left the mosaic unable to withstand recent high winds.
This is the first known occasion whereupon a piece of state construction for the idolization of the North Korean leaders has collapsed in this way. Given the rarity of the event and the seriousness with which the North Korean leadership takes the idolization project in general, serious censure is thought likely for those deemed to have been responsible.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Well, I know what I’m thinking. Who gives an expletive deleted about some ridiculous wall of worship that collapses, when people in North Korea are starving in their hundreds of thousands, and probably millions?
The answer, of course, is: the rulers of North Korea. A key moment in the history of a tyranny comes when the tyrannical system in question no long works even by its own tyrannical standards, and instead starts making the tyrants themselves appear ridiculous, even to themselves.
I therefore consider this a significant story. Not the least significant thing about the story being that it got out:
“A lot of people witnessed the collapse because it was built in the town center, so this news will spread rapidly and could easily become political.”
By the sound of it, it already has become “political”.
Just about now, I had hoped to be writing in some detail about some of the many interesting things said at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which happened last weekend. I still hope to. Meanwhile, I have already done a quick posting at my personal blog, with lots of photos, about how good, in general, this event was. And here is another posting about LLFF2013 to say, again, that it was very good.
As I said at my own blog, the best thing about this gathering, excellent though the line-up of speakers was, was the audience that it succeeded in attracting. This audience was big, around two hundred strong. It was mostly young, mostly students. And it was very smart. As you will observe if you take a look at my crowd shots, most of the audience, besides being young, was male. But not all of it was. And the young males looked like they are the types to be going places in the future.
A good way to get across the quality of this whole event is to quote from the comment that Michael Jennings added to what I put at my blog, in connection with the two talks that Randy Barnett gave:
I overheard Randy Barnett talking to an American colleague in the gap between his two talks on Sunday. Essentially, he was saying that the audience of his first talk had been fantastic, and it was great to have a question and answer session full of such smart comments and questions.
At the obvious risk of insulting others who contributed importantly, I singled out for particular praise for their organisational efforts: the IEA’s Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, and the Liberty League’s own Anton Howes, not just for their work on this LLFF but for previous iterations of it, in London and elsewhere in the UK. Time was when there was a sprinkling of libertarians and free marketeers in London, but when similarly inclined people outside London hardly knew of each other’s existence. People like Davies, Hambro and Howes, and others of course, are now changing all that. There is now a big and growing pro-liberty network among Britain’s student population, with pro-liberty student groups getting started in university after university. When I spoke with Davies about all this, his main worry seemed to be in finding places to fit everyone in. The answer seemed to be: smaller events, but more of them, in more places. Sounds good. Sounds very good.
I have long had the impression that the organisation which has lead the way in earlier years in building a pro-liberty student network in the UK was the Adam Smith Institute, as I mentioned towards the end of this earlier posting here, about the history of the ASI so far. Now, under Mark Littlewood‘s leadership, the IEA is piling in also. In general, the amount of inter-organisational co-operation that you now see going on (it always has gone on but now especially), between the various UK pro-liberty groups and think tanks, is most admirable.
If I have got it a bit wrong concerning who exactly deserves a pat on the back for all this pro-liberty activity, well, that is but a symptom of the fact that, as has been said before, it is amazing what you can accomplish in life if you do not care who gets the credit.
From the Daily Mail website:
Unemployed Julian Styles, 58, who was made redundant from his factory job in 1984, said: ‘I’ve been waiting for that witch to die for 30 years. `Tonight is party time. I’m drinking one drink for every year I’ve been out of work.’”
The article, which chronicles the outbreaks of violence and antics of – mostly – young people following the death of Margaret Thatcher, does not inform us as to whether Mr Styles has been permanently out of work since 1984, a period of 29 years. It may be that he has worked for periods, no doubt adding his magnificent skills, charm and knowledge to the global economy. On the other hand, I suppose it is possible that this individual has spent the last, entire 29-year period living off the benefits provided by fellow taxpayers. I hope he has managed to cope. He sounds as if he certainly will be able to drown his sorrows with plenty of drink.
Forgive my sarcastic tone, but while I certainly do sympathise with anyone made redundant – I have been through that experience and I know what it feels like – it seems to be stretching one’s natural compassion to the limit to feel much sympathy for a person who might have been out of work, or at least some form of productive activity, for almost three decades, even while remaining an able-bodied citizen. (The article does not say if he is disabled.)
Among the many things that the late Margaret Thatcher strived against was what she thought of as an “entitlement mentality”: the idea that we are, simply by virtue of being alive, entitled to coerce our fellow man into providing us with things or services. The assertion of such “rights” is impossible without stipulating that others have some duty to provide these things. But how much of a right does one have? To one job? To a permanent job? A highly paid one? A moderately paid one? In your home town? Globally?
To pose such questions is to cut to the heart of the incoherence and contradictory nature of such bogus “rights”. A right is, by definition, an assertion that one has a personal space that cannot be invaded, which is why property rights are an essential component of the idea, and why socialist “rights” are a hopeless muddle. I suppose all this philosophy might be a bit of a stretch for this ex-coal miner and his fellows, but it might be nice to think that in contemplating some of the sentiments of recent days, one might also reflect on the principles that are highlighted by Margaret Thatcher’s 11 momentous years in power.