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Nice libertarianism

For some while now, leading London libertarian Simon Gibbs has been telling his many libertarian friends and acquaintances about a Libertarian Home event which he is organising which will happen on October 23rd in the Drama Studio of the Institute of Education. At this event, a group of speakers from across the political spectrum (somewhat biased towards libertarians but with non- and anti-libertarians definitely also being heard loud and clear), will take it in turns to speak about the The Causes of the Cost of Living Crisis.

Attendance will not be free of charge. It will cost £11. But, over the years, libertarians have shown themselves willing to pay quite a bit more than that for similarly well organised conferences. Simon is an energetic and conscientious organiser of such things, and I think I would have been optimistic about this event even if he had not offered me free entry in exchange for my best efforts as a photographer.

For quite a while now, but especially during the recent Labour Party Conference, Labour leader David Ed Miliband has been making this notion of the cost of living crisis a central theme in his ongoing attempts to become our next Prime Minister. City A.M.’s Ryan Bourne, before the Labour Conference got started, wrote thus:

Labour’s party conference will see Ed Miliband try to shift public focus away from the Scottish referendum fallout and back towards the choice at next year’s general election. In particular, he’ll seek to refocus our minds on the “cost of living crisis” narrative that he’s been composing since 2011.

And so it proved. I heard this phrase a day or two ago in a radio news item where the words “Miliband” and “cost of living crisis” emerged next to each other. Whether Miliband will succeed in persuading the country that even more taxing-and-spending will do anything to abate this cost of living crisis, as crisis it certainly is for a great many people, remains to be seen. Whatever. But if you want a minority cause to get some little sliver of majority notice, what you must do is supply your minority answer to a majority question. So kudos to Simon for identifying this particular debate as something libertarians can get in on, and get in on very eloquently. I am really looking forward to this October 23rd meeting.

Stepping back a bit from the hurly burly of party politics, and comparing the endeavours of Simon Gibbs with those of my own earlier generation of libertarians, I think I can summarise what Simon Gibbs is trying to achieve by offering a contrast between that and what my generation tried to achieve.

What my lot of libertarians, under the leadership of people like the late Chris Tame, were trying to do was persuade people that we meant it. Whatever others might think of our rightness or wrongness, we wanted them to at least get that we did truly believe the things we were saying. This was what all our talk of legalising drugs and consenting sex of any kind was about. It wasn’t just that we believed in these activities being entirely legal; we made a public point of saying so very loudly and noticeably. We weren’t just waffling on about liberty in the manner of some unthinking Tory windbag; we had thought long and hard about the right of people to say and do as they liked with and in their own justly acquired or justly hired property, both as individuals or in consenting partnerships or groups, and so long as they didn’t aggress against others or deny others that same right, we were for it. We weren’t just trying to get ahead in the Conservative Party by agreeing with this year’s leadership soundbite and electoral slogans. We weren’t just trying to get jobs as junior pro-capitalists, or worse, already doing our jobs as junior pro-capitalists, saying what we were saying merely because some right wing fat cat was paying us to say it. You only had to look at how a lot of us dressed to see that. No, everything we did, every vibe we put out, said that we were saying our stuff because we meant it. And if that caused a whole different bunch of people who had never until then heard of libertarianism to say that we were wrong, well then, we wanted them to know that we thought that they were wrong, and what is more that they were making not just intellectual errors, but moral ones. We thought that we were the good guys and that they were the bad guys. And we’d go on crazy late night radio shows and tell them so, to their startled faces. We were heard. We were not widely liked, but we were heard. And if, when you heard this stuff, you happened to like the sound of it, you knew that you were not the only one who thought this way. There was a libertarian movement that you could be part of.

I think we can say that in that one relatively modest objective, we were extremely successful, extremity being a lot to do with why we were so successful. Ever since that time, we libertarians have been accepted, even by our most vehement opponents, as being sincere. They thought and think that we were and are deluded, crazy, and doomed to short and long term ideological and political failure, but yes, we clearly meant what we were saying.

And when the internet arrived, giving us (and it was quite a big us by then) the chance to say all this stuff even louder, we hit the ground shouting, shovelling out all the pent-up vehemence that had built up during our years as media guerrillas.

Now, a decade and more later, people like Simon Gibbs and his numerous allies and social media fans and followers seem to be setting themselves a rather different task. Yes, okay okay, we are libertarians and we mean it and all, but is libertarianism actually good? This is what Simon and his confreres are now saying. Hence this “cost of living crisis” get together.

Even having such a gathering, and investing time and effort and money into it makes a statement. We wholeheartedly accept the question that the likes of Ed Miliband are asking is a good one. But we prefer our very different answers to his answers.

I for one hope very much that the arguments put forward on October 23rd by the tax-and-spend team are listened to very carefully by all the libertarians present. And I also hope that whatever statist speakers and attenders Simon manages to entice to this event will go away not just believing that we libertarians mean what we say about the cost of living, but that we also have decent reasons, both morally decent and effective from the policy point of view, for believing the things that we do. In particular, I hope they depart knowing that we libertarians don’t believe in libertarianism because we think that libertarianism matters more than the cost of living. We believe in it because we think that doing libertarianism, a lot more of it than is done now, will bring down the cost of living. Freedom and a better economic standard of living. We are, that is to say, libertarians because we are at least trying to be nice.

As if to prove this point about niceness, I today received a clutch of cards advertising this meeting through the post from Simon Gibbs, that looked like this:


A teddy bear. What could be nicer than that?

I also this morning got an email from Simon checking whether I had received these cards, in time to dish them out to the people who will be attending my last Friday of the month meeting tomorrow evening. (Email me if you are not already on my meetings email list but would like to be (go here and click where it says “Contact” top left).)

As I say, Simon Gibbs is determined to make this meeting a success, and I think he will succeed. If you possibly can, be there.

4 comments to Nice libertarianism

  • jimmers

    David Miliband? Would probably make no difference if it was.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


    Thanks. I’ve had a bad little run with errors. See also the posting immediately after this one.

    But, I did enjoy that you were struck down by that refinement of Sod’s Law that says that whenever someone comments about an error, their comment will contain another error.

    It seems neither of us can get Kevin Milibland’s name right. But this is more his problem than ours.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Ah ha, you got the _first_ name wrong, that clears that up, I get confused who represents which party nowadays, cigarette papers between them and all that, so it’s nice to see the yawning chasm reappearing on the political landscape at last.

  • ed in texas

    “Cost of living crisis”?
    The central banks have been running their presses non-stop for about 6 years now, and we’re all being consumed by a massive (non-existent, according to them) inflation.