The Great Libertarian War of August 2017: Reflections and (another) Mea Culpa

So I decided to post this on my blog, a) because I haven’t used it in over two years, and b) doing ultra long Facebook posts some times grates on me and hopefully this will be a more useful format for sharing.

I want to begin with a mea culpa: I was wrong about Jeff Deist’s speech. When the ‘blood and soil’ line from his speech was first circulated, I posted it in a couple of libertarian Facebook groups, saying it was messed up. Not long after, I gave my first mea culpa as I realized I wasn’t giving Jeff Deist the benefit of the doubt, as I should have – I jumped to a conclusion that he meant it in one particular way, when a plain reading could equally have me fall on down on a more generous interpretation instead. I said so at the time, and I having heard the audio of the speech, and Tom Wood’s defense of Jeff’s speech on his podcast, I want to publicly state that I was wrong about what Jeff meant by using the phrase ‘blood and soil’ and the potential for libertarians to be irrelevant for ignoring it – my initial reaction had me taking it as a call to get chummy with alt-right types, whereas I think he meant it just as a statement of how others see the world, and to engage meaningfully with those concerns. In that second regard, I actually wholeheartedly agree with Jeff’s call – I believe libertarianism and the liberal worldview has a compelling answer to appeals to nativism and insularity, and I try to promote those values whenever I can.

I have a wider set of concerns coming out of this whole incident, centred on libertarian tribalism. I want to begin at the outset in saying that I think people will always be tribal and that I am not so naive to make some kumbayah sermon about how libertarians should all get along. And to be fair, I don’t enough about the history of the last 30 years of the libertarian movement in the US to conclusively state that the Mises Institute hasn’t harboured some people with ugly views about race, as I’ve heard people I respect (including Steve Horwitz) claim about them. My interaction with the Mises Institute crowd is limited to hearing Hans-Hermann Hoppe on ABC’s Counterpoint 6-7 years ago talking about Democracy: The God That Failed, hearing Walter Block debate Reason’s Nick Gillespie at the Soho Forum a few months back, and having listened to Tom Wood’s podcast for the last couple of months, so make of my comments what you will.

It is one thing to have different views and it is another to colour those differing views with personal attacks. I can see why Steve Horwitz would be so incensed over the use of the term ‘blood and soil’ and I can see why Tom Woods saw it as harmless – what I cannot understand is why it has to come with name calling, vituperative mockery and tribalism. Taking a dispute and then descending into corners (Mises Institute in one corner, and the Cato Institute in the other) is just plain stupid and petulant. No single libertarian or libertarian organisation can conclusively say everything that is true or useful on libertarianism, and so there is no competition here. Mises Institute has a particular output and approach and the Cato Institute has its own output and approach, and it would be strange to think that there is no value to be gained from reading/listening to the contributions both make to the libertarian cause.

In my own life, I can see that both either has made or will in the future make a contribution to my own life and thinking – without the Cato Institute, Steve Horwitz and Tom Palmer, I wouldn’t know a fraction of what I know about libertarianism. Cato produces podcasts at a prolific rate and I have listened to most of their shows religiously for years now, and Cato University (under the directorship of Tom Palmer, and heavily featuring his contributions) has been instrumental in helping me understand libertarianism and the liberal worldview. I think Cato’s policy work is a model for how libertarians can seriously engage with the politics of the day with solid research and tireless advocacy. And Steve Horwitz’s videos at Learn Liberty were also very helpful as I was learning about libertarianism, and his one on how prices ensure that we will never run out of resources is still my go-to video on the issue. I know he has also made valuable contributions as a speaker to the work of the Institute for Liberal Studies, where I interned over the Australian uni winter break, and if Matt and Janet Bufton tell me he is a great guy, then who am I to disagree?

I’ve also really enjoyed Tom Wood’s podcasts over the last couple of months – I find him to be an enthusiastic and energetic host, with a strong desire to promote entrepreneurship as a practical means of achieving liberty, and his shows are almost always interesting and informative. As a budding Austrian economist, I can see how both Tom Woods and the Mises Institute as a whole will probably play an important ongoing part in my life, as they are a bastion of Austrian thinking, and I know I will need that as a libertarian who by circumstance is just kind of floating out there on my own. One of the my long term goals is to write a book on the practicalities of starting a private city, and if I was going to go anywhere to seriously understand Rothbard and his thinking (a critical thinker for anarcho-capitalism), I’d be mad not to make use of the Mises Institute’s resources.

And to an extent, I can understand why there is a division between them, especially when considering the formation of the libertarian community in the US. From my reading of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, I can see why a bunch of individualistic freethinkers living on the fringes of politics might end up rubbing each other the wrong way, especially when you have people like Rothbard, who had the touch of the troll about them over the course of decades. It’s also not hard to see why philosophical differences might lead to personal discord in such a small group of people – what is hard to understand is why it would continue, especially amongst people for whom those personal beefs are not their monkey, and therefore not their circus.

I saw some photos taken at MisesU by an attendee, standing with a bunch of the different speakers and one was with Jeff Deist with the comment ‘We need more Jeff Deist and less Steve Horwitz’. Now, the guy might be being flippant for all I know (he is some random who tagged someone who I know through Friedman conference this year, which is why the photos popped up in my Feed) but I’m sure some would take that attitude for realsies, and to that I would say: we need more of both! We need more Mises and more Hayek and more Friedman and more Rand and more Rothbard and more Roberts and more Boudreaux and more Palmer and more Woods and more of anyone else who takes liberty seriously and wants to put in effort to promote it in a world that takes the liberties of others very unseriously. Unlike the apostle Paul, we rarely can be all things for all people in our efforts to persuade – for some, the hard line property rights approach and appreciation of cultural conservatism of the Mises Institute will appeal; for others, a more liberal cultural world view of Tom Palmer or David Boaz will appeal; for others still, the consequentialist approach and decidedly less hardcore neoliberal approach of a guy like Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute will be very appealing. The great thing is that you’d have to reduce the size and scope of the state a heck of a lot before you get to the point where you would have no issues of shared concern and approach between those three broad categories, and I pray that God would be so merciful as to get us to the world where the state has been so reduced that the differences between anarchists and minarchists is a foremost concern. In the mean time, it’s a big world and libertarians of any stripe aren’t in competition with each other – there is more than enough scope to keep our snarking within the realm of polite disagreement with one another and then go back to providing our own distinctive contributions to liberty. Future generations of libertarians don’t need to be sustaining the grudges and gripes of our predecessors.

I say all of this with the recognition that I have spent my fair share of time as a keyboard warrior on social media, and have certainly dished out my fair share of snark too, so I’m going to pretend that I am some sort of innocent dove, unsullied by the rough-and-tumble of social media interactions. However, I don’t think I have harboured any grudges, nor gotten particularly personal with people for whom my differences are primarily intellectual (if I have, I unreservedly apologise), and I would more than happily share time on my podcast with guys like Tim Wilms from The Unshackled, whom I have substantial disagreements with over substance and strategy. It is important that divisions amongst libertarians don’t become insurmountable barriers, for that there are so few of us, and the task before us is so inordinate, that we can’t afford to be gunning each other down in a circular firing squad. It would seem pretty silly that a group of people who champion the flourishing of a thousand blooms and the endless potential of the market would lock themselves into a way of think that ignored the possibility that others might make meaningful contributions to the growth of liberty, and instead pursue a winner-takes-all approach.

So in that regard, I would encourage my fellow libertarians to give the side-picking a rest – it is neither usefully nor edifying. The virtue of being an individualist means that you don’t have to even pick a side: you lose nothing by respecting those who say/write things of substance, even if isn’t your cup of tea. Where you see others engaging in name calling (even people with profile in the movement) and whatnot, rise above it – don’t get sucked into their games. Everyone will approach liberty in their own way and no one can be you except you, so why begrudge those who aren’t you?


Nazis were socialists, not capitalists

Dan Hannan hits the nail on the head when it comes to trying to link free market policies and facism:

To be absolutely clear, I don’t believe that modern Leftists have subliminal Nazi leanings, or that their loathing of Hitler is in any way feigned. That’s not my argument. What I want to do, by holding up the mirror, is to take on the equally false idea that there is an ideological continuum between free-marketers and fascists.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

Freedom, discrimination and SB 1062

Ilya Shapiro has a great article up at Cato:

The prototypical scenario that SB 1062 is meant to prevent is the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. This photographer doesn’t refuse to provide services to gay clients, but felt that she couldn’t participate in the celebration of a gay wedding. There’s also the Oregon bakerythat closed rather than having to provide wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. Why should these people be forced to engage in activity that violates their religious beliefs?

For that matter, gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities. This isn’t the Jim Crow South; there are plenty of wedding photographers – over 100 in Albuquerque – and bakeries who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation, and no state is enforcing segregation laws. I bet plenty of Arizona businesses would and do see more customers if they advertised that they welcomed the LGBT community.

Let’s be clear – the cause for this Bill is that homosexual couples have come after Christians, who have refused to participate in their wedding ceremonies, in the courts. If you are going to use the courts as a weapon to beat your ideological opponents with, don’t be surprised if they want to defend themselves with the law also.

SB 1062 wasn’t like the horrendous Jim Crow laws in the US, where governments forced racial segregation on their populations. In that case, the state was denying freedom of association – businesses were happy to serve their black customers in the same way as their white customers and the government said that was unacceptable and forced them to be racist. As best I can tell, SB 1062 would’ve have just clarified that you can do what you want with your stuff, which is the very basis for all freedom. It doesn’t all religious businesses to take other people’s stuff or hit them; it doesn’t allow them  meddle in the affairs of other businesses – it just allows a religious person to do what they want with their own stuff.

My only quibble with this Bill is that the criteria was based on religion. The State shouldn’t force anyone to provide a service they don’t want to – their reasoning doesn’t matter. If you want to be racist with how you operate your business, that is your right. If you want to refuse to participate in a homosexual wedding ceremony (something I don’t have a problem with but I understand why other Christians do), that is your right. If you don’t want to participate in a Christian wedding ceremony, that is your right. The State has no legitimate authority to tell you what is the ethical use of your own property.

I can appreciate that this might be a bitter pill to swallow for homosexuals and their allies – the US, like many countries, has a substantial history of very real and violent persecution of homosexuals, which should never be forgotten. It is evil when the State picks a minority to target for violence or harassment, or turn a blind eye to private players doing the same. However, two wrongs do not make a right and homosexuals and their allies should police their own when it comes to using the courts or the State as weapons in the Culture War. It is unacceptable in a free society to coerce businesses to provide a service they find unconscionable and whatever its flaws were, SB 1062 stood for those values.

Update: Ilya Shapiro has made another, very excellent, comment.

Hack asks the right questions on agricultural handouts

I have been pretty critical of Triple J in the past but today on Hack, Tom Tilley really turned the screws onto Barnaby Joyce, Federal Agricultural Minister, about the recent announcement of handouts to farmers (listen from the 24min mark):

Tilley points out the truth – that farming isn’t anything special, that they aren’t the only business with long term time frames for revenue and that they need to plan more for the future. The paucity of Joyce’s arguments is exposed when Tilley pointed out the economic truth about farming, that maybe the future is in getting bigger – he falls back to a political argument (he can’t sell it), a cultural argument (that small family farms are inherently good) and a distraction (that the ABC is exposed to the same argument, which is true). In the end, Joyce has no credible economic argument for these handouts – it is a political fix for a favoured group of constituents.

Tilley would do well to interview LDP Senator-elect for NSW, David Leyonhjelm, who slays the arguments for agricultural subsidies.

The disgrace that the Liberal Party of Australian should have nothing to do with

The IPA highlights this disgraceful attack on free association and speech by elements within the Liberal Party:

The names ”Liberal” and ”Labor” would be quarantined for use only by the major political parties under reforms being considered by the Abbott government to prevent micro parties capitalising on voter confusion.

A tightening of the Commonwealth Electoral Act could spell the end for the Liberal Democratic Party, led by NSW senator-elect David Leyonhjelm.

Victoria senator John Madigan, of the Democratic Labour Party, would also likely be in the sights of the ALP if any reforms succeed. Senator Madigan said ”hell would freeze over” before he gave up the DLP name.

Senior Liberals are behind the push to stop votes bleeding to little-known parties like the Liberal Democrats. Mr Leyonhjelm infuriated the Liberals when he bagged nearly 10 per cent of the Senate vote in September – scooping $1 million in public funding in the process and nearly ending the political career of assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos.

Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane said Mr Leyonhjelm’s success was ”almost entirely at the expense of the Liberal Party”.

I have been at a Liberal Party Divisional meeting where this idea was suggested and, while not surprised, I was still appalled. Primarily, it is an attack on freedom of speech – classical liberalism is an idea that has long preceded the Liberal Party of Australia by a couple of centuries so if a political party wants to hark back to those ideas (as the Liberal Democrats undoubtedly do), the Liberal Party of Australia doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. For the the Libs to claim they have exclusive property of a set of ideas is both totally misguided and verging on the authoritarian.

Secondly, it is politically self-defeating. The balance of the Senate will almost always be held by a minor party so which minor party do you want to rely on to help the Liberal Party achieve the majority of their aims? The pinko Greens, who hate almost everything the Liberal Party stands for? Do you want to indulge the megalomania of a fickle populist like Clive Palmer? Or do you want to work with a party that is deeply and fundamentally committed to reducing the size of government?

Even if you don’t agree with their stances on gay marriage or drug policy, they are the only party that will help the Libs cut taxes, cut spending and tame the special interests in bureaucracy. It is an absolute no-brainer, yet in their arrogance, some Libs want to attack the only party that is really willing to help them. I will fight this hopeless attack on freedom and I pray that other Liberals will stand for what is right too.

Andrew Bolt and Edward Snowden

I while back I sent this email to Andrew Bolt regarding his stance on Edward Snowden. I have edited it to look better as a blog post.

Dear Mr Bolt,

Firstly, I would like to say that I am a daily reader of your blog and ordinarily, I would agree with the vast bulk of what you have said in the past.

However, I have to take strong issue with your stance on Edward Snowden, as I think conservatives should welcome the documents he has released for exposing the attempts by Big Government to invade every aspect of our lives and to lie to our faces about it. Conservatives rightly make a big deal about the overreach of government and the Snowdon documents have exposed the US Government of unconstitutionally issuing general warrants, something the Fourth Amendment was specifically written to forbid. As Judge Andrew Napolitano said:

General warrants do not state the name of the place to be searched or the person or thing to be seized, and they do not have the necessity of individualized probable cause as their linchpin. They simply authorize the bearer to search wherever he wishes for whatever he wants.

General warrants were universally condemned by colonial leaders across the ideological spectrum — from those as radical as Sam Adams to those as establishment as George Washington, and from those as individualistic as Thomas Jefferson to those as big-government as Alexander Hamilton. We know from the literature of the times that the whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment — with its requirements of individualized probable cause and specifically identifying the target — is to prohibit general warrants.

And yet, the FISA court has been issuing general warrants and the NSA executing them since at least 2004.”

Not only that but the Snowdon documents have also exposed senior government officials blatantly lying to Congress, something I would have thought should deeply worry conservatives, being aware of the abuse that comes from unaccountable power. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, ruled out the mass collection of data by the government while given sworn testimony to Congress and the only reason we know he was lying was because the Snowdon documents came out shortly after and exposed what he said as a lie. As reported at Breitbart:

When the James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, was asked under oath at a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting in March of this year: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?, he answered “No, sir.”  Astonished by the response, Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden sought clarification: “It does not?” Clapper replied: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect–but not wittingly.” Yet documents recently leaked by former NSA analyst and America’s number one fugitive, Edward Snowden, demonstrate Clapper likely gave false testimony to Congress. Clapper has since admitted he testified in the “least untruthful manner’ he could think of” and he was “too cute by half.”

On the issue of Snowdon seeking refuge in Russia, you approvingly quote someone who (presumably sarcastically) refers to Obama as oppressive but in reality, we should both be able to agree that the Obama administration has ruthlessly attacked its enemies. Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, said that Snowdon made the right call by fleeing because of the ruthlessness of the US government:

“Yet when I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before, I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day. Later, when my charges were increased from the original three counts to 12, carrying a possible 115-year sentence, my bond was increased to $50,000. But for the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn’t have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.

There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era — and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment — but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”).”

Conservatives have rightly condemned such government projects as Obamacare or the NBN as government overreach but I think it is foolish to dismiss the very important work that Edward Snowdon has done in exposing the unconstitutional and extensive spying that the US government has committed on everyone. I would hope that you might see the importance of the Snowdon leaks in a different light.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Herridge
Busselton, WA

Andrew replied, saying: “I see nothing gained in the release of our spying secrets. Only much damaged.”

I followed by saying: “You don’t think it is worth knowing that the US is engaging in massive unconstitutional spying on its own citizens and on everyone else? Sure, it’s embarrassing to the Abbott government that it was revealed that Australia tapped SBY’s phones 5 years ago but I wouldn’t call it a massive blow to Australia’s security.”

Despite my differing view, kudos to Andrew for replying – I’m sure he gets a million emails a day, and lots that are angry so to get a reply was nice.

Big Government crowding out private players: Triple J Edition

Justin Burford, former lead singer of pop-rock act End Of Fashion, has taken a big swipe at Triple J for the demise of his band:

Justin Burford, who fronted Perth band End of Fashion, said Triple J turned on his band after initially being supportive, which spelled the band’s demise. He said “very small group of people” make decisions on whether a band gets Triple J airplay, a factor which can make or break an act.

Fellow Australian musician Whitley says Triple J’s playlist is “excruciatingly narrow-minded”, adding “In my opinion they’ve failed as a taxpayer funded radio station that is supposed to challenge and present new ideas for the youth of Australia.”

And this month an anonymous musician claimed many Australian bands are tailoring their sound to suit the Triple J playlist and therefore get airplay.

Burford said the station’s once-supportive music director Richard Kingsmill went off End of Fashion after initially supporting the band, which made No. 8 in the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2005 with O Yeah.

On his Facebook page Burford said “Triple J ended the career path of End of Fashion, no question.”

“A band that was fully supported by the station, earning a top ten place in a Hottest 100, was dropped like a sack of hot potatoes upon the second album’s release. Our lead single, Fussy was even openly derided on air by Richard Kingsmill as just another pop release’.”

Firstly, you have to ask whether End of Fashion’s follow up was any good. I quite like their first album – it’s a energetic slice of the sort of rock-pop that Perth was doing a good trade in circa 2006 (see also: Eskimo Joe) so I don’t have too many doubts that the follow up would been along similar lines. And given how much crap that gets promoted and lauded by Triple J (*cough Riptide cough*), I doubt it couldn’t cross the low bar that is set for going on high rotation.

But the bigger problem is that Triple J is really the only game in town for alternative radio stations. Yes, there are independent stations like RTR and whatnot but none of them have the sorts of dollars or reach Triple J has, primarily because they don’t get a slice of the ABC’s behemoth budget. If you can’t get airplay on JJJ, you aren’t going to go anywhere fast.

Triple J, like any government creation, skews investment in alternative youth radio stations. Who would be willing to invest serious money to broadcast across Australia when revenue and listeners are fickle and Triple J has a solid, year-in year-out source of revenue and a well established customer base? Even if you managed to create a superior station and draw half their listeners, Triple J won’t lose a dollar, so you can’t even starve your competition of money. This is already on top of the problem that potential listeners have less money to spend (either directly or indirectly through buying the products advertisers sell) on radio stations because the government is taking money away from them through tax.

Existing beneficiaries of the system with mediocre second and third albums might mock but it is a serious problem that you have one government backed player dominating one segment of the radio market. Aside from the problems with Left-wing groupthink at Triple J, the economics of a state-subsidized radio station mean that the Australian alternative music and radio markets will be stifled as long as Triple J is on the taxpayer teat.