Category Archives: Strategy

British Neoliberals and Consequentialism

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Recently on the Libertarianism.org podcast Free Thoughts, Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute was interviewed about ASI’s embrace of the term “neoliberalism” and how they distinguish it from libertarianism. Here is a portion of what Bowman had to say:

I think what’s fundamental about neoliberalism is that it’s about the world as it is, right now. It doesn’t really mean anything when the left uses it. They just use it to attack anybody that likes markets to any extent. But there’s a real strand of kind of anti- [00:03:30] establishment and anti-status quo thinking in the Libertarian world, which is understandable given that libertarianism is sort of a very radical, very ,very kind of change the world, shake everything up, and have a lot of disorder right now. Which is fine, but for a neoliberal, somebody needs to defend the world as it is right now. The world is very globalized, the world is very free market, compared to lots and lots of potential alternatives. And I think that really since at least 1989, since the fall of the Berlin wall, we had won [00:04:00] the argument until maybe 2015, 2016. Somebody needs to defend the way the world was between 1989 and 2016. And say, look for all of its imperfections, this was the period, where more people were lifted out of poverty than ever before in human history put together. More technological advances were spread to more people than ever before.

The problem for me, or the reason that I thought that Libertarian wasn’t sufficient, or wasn’t that useful, was that Libertarian preoccupations [00:04:30] were so different from where the debate actually was. And where the debate actually is that we were sort of losing the argument and the argument was taking place without us even being involved in it. We were focusing on very interesting things to do with central banking and stuff like that, while the political kind of center of gravity in the UK and in Europe and in the US was to do with trade, was to do with what should this specific monetary policy be, what should we should on labor market reforms. There’s nothing … you know [00:05:00] I see neoliberalism and libertarianism as sort of compliments of each other. They’re different ways of approaching the world and different ways of approaching debate.

(Find the full transcript and full audio here.)

It was good to hear his explanation for why they would choose to self-identify with a term that many leftists use as a catch-all for almost literally anything bad. I guess we’ll see how well that works out for them. As far as how they distinguish themselves from libertarians and why they think their approach is better, I’m unconvinced. Bowman brings up the example of the minimum wage debate: libertarians, by arguing that there should be no minimum wage, essentially disqualify themselves from the debate. Neoliberals, who instead argue simply that the minimum wage should not be increased, make themselves part of the debate. And similar reasoning applies to most other policy debates: arguing for marginal changes makes one’s ideas more relevant. Once they’ve shown me that they’ve had influence on any debate, maybe I’ll take that seriously.

Also part of U.K. neoliberalism, or at least Bowman’s version, is the rejection of non-consequentialist arguments for liberty.

I call myself a bullet-biting consequentialist. I think [the natural rights view is] both untrue and unhelpful. So I [00:43:00] don’t think you have to agree with me. I’m not claiming to speak for all … I don’t even speak for my colleague on this one, but it’s neither true nor is it helpful. And it’s in fact profoundly unhelpful, so it doesn’t matter that much if it’s true. Even if you think it’s true, the fact that it’s very unhelpful should be enough to make you think twice about how you approach it. Certainly unhelpful in the context I’m working in and it might be different in the US.

The fact that it seems like it’s based on a very … and I say brittle, an [00:43:30] easily rejected way of looking at the world, and the fact that it always ends up making an extremely difficult case that seems to most people completely insane. The idea that it’s better for a person to go hungry, than it is for a rich person to have a pound or a dollar taken away from them. That seems like a very strange reductio ad absurdum. But that’s the position if you are a strict natural rightist you need to adopt, right?

What I find interesting about many consequentialists, who believe they are more pragmatic and empirical because of their consequentialism, is that they often don’t look to historical experience to defend their position or attack their opponents. Perhaps my own view of history is a bit myopic, but when I think of episodes starvation on a massive scale, no instances of governments not being able to tax rich people come to mind. Rather, what come to mind are totalitarian regimes that could take everything from rich dissidents as they pleased. How many people starved to death under the Soviet and Chinese communist regimes? Compare that to how many people starved under any system where a government was not empowered to take resources from some and transfer it to others.

My challenge to libertarian, classical liberal, and neoliberal consequentialists who use such arguments to justify state empowerment is to demonstrate how their imaginary ideal state won’t kill more people than their imagined lack of one. Even ‘liberal’ Western democracies kill foreigners by the thousands. They should not be discounted.

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Tenth Amendment Center Has Some B.A. New Videos

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Out of all political organizations and think tanks, the Tenth Amendment Center is one of my absolute favorites. One of the biggest reasons why is its effectiveness, especially considering its humble origins in Michael Boldin’s apartment. And today, it remains largely an operation run out of Boldin’s apartment, though with a wide network of volunteers all across the country. I know not what the TAC’s annual budget is, but it is far less than those DC organizations that have been with us for decades and haven’t really made much of an impact on Washington’s growth in power. Meanwhile, the TAC has had a direct hand in getting state law and local ordinances passed that counteract federal overreach on a range of issues, like hemp laws, NSA spying, firearms restrictions, medical care, etc. They have done so much with so little and, frankly, it’s exciting.

What I also love about TAC is its uncompromising dedication to principle. It goes beyond their motto, “The Constitution. Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses.” They have declined to register with the IRS as a non-profit, as they refuse to accept the vulnerability such a move would entail (e.g., take a look at Campaign for Liberty’s battle with the IRS for refusing to share their donor list).

They have also done an outstanding job of creating coalitions of individuals and groups with widely varying political ideologies (take a look at their OffNow Coalition, for example). Individuals of all political stripes (except for totalitarians) should be able to find an issue that they agree with TAC upon and use their combined resources to effect change. I think TAC’s being issue-oriented, rather than party- or ideology-oriented, has contributed a lot to its success.

And instead of telling you about all the problems of the federal government and leaving you feeling hopeless and dejected, TAC offers real options to apply one’s efforts to change things. They have a bill tracking that helps one know the state of proposed legislation in their state and what to do if he or she wants to support it. If you want to volunteer, Michael Boldin will find something for you to do. It’s wonderful.

I promise the Tenth Amendment Center is not paying me anything at all to write this. As gushing and seemingly sycophantic today’s post may seem, it’s how I feel. TAC is a great organization and I would encourage all who value individual liberty to check it out.

Live Free Without Changing a Single Mind

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One of the most frustrating things about understanding how important freedom is lies in actually obtaining it; we go through the process of unlearning what we were taught to believe about how the government makes us better off and then ask, “Ok, so how do we go about changing things?” The problem is, unlike in a free market where we are able to improve our situation and succeed by our own efforts, political change requires that enough other people desire change as well. Even worse, there are so many institutional barriers that stand in the way of change happening. So many people benefit (if only in the short run) or perceive themselves to benefit from the status quo. These include Social Security and Medicare recipients, farmers who receive subsidies, defense contractors, state and federal employees, non-profits who receive government grants, people who receive more in income tax returns than they pay, as well as many other groups that I’m sure you can list ad nauseam.

The fact that so many people perceive themselves as benefiting from the government’s shuffling around of resources from one person to another is bad for freedom. Many people suggest that the changing of the prevalent collectivist mentalities will require multiple generations, and collapse is likely to happen before then. At least in the short run, collapses are also bad for freedom. Those of us who understand the eventual outcomes of the massive expansion of credit by central banks and the undertaking of unprecedented levels of debt by nation-states and have prepared accordingly will be targeted by those who didn’t and tax collectors ready to meet their demands. When people take a hit in their living standards, they will have little sympathy for those who do not.

Fortunately, though, there is a way to avoid the assaults on your liberty and wealth (or your quest to build it) that doesn’t require running political campaigns, voting the bums out, filing lawsuits in federal court, writing letters to your congressional “representative,” or any of the other activities people believe might change the political landscape. And you don’t need to change a single mind (except perhaps your own and anyone else you might want to take with you). It’s called internationalization.

Internationalization entails the concept of “planting multiple flags,” where one diversifies his or her sovereign risk by spreading out their activities over multiple jurisdictions. This can include living in one country, being a citizen of another, owning a business in another, and banking in yet another country. This is to make sure all of your eggs aren’t in one basket. But even more than that, it recognizes the fact that there is no one country that is the best for all of these things. The best places to live (based on your preferences) may not be the best place to own a business or bank.

A resource I have found invaluable in helping me research these topics is NomadCapitalist.com. It is run by Andrew Henderson, a man who is the real deal when it comes to being an expert in internationalization. He is a perpetual traveler who is constantly looking for the best places to live, do business, and invest. What I especially like about Andrew is how dedicated he is to helping others benefit from the knowledge that he gains during his worldly travels. He has recently started a new club called The Nomad Society, which provides information from a variety of experts on how to internationalize your life. I would highly recommend checking this club out for anyone who has any interest in internationalization.

Finally, I want to close by saying how glad I am that the option of expatriation exists. As long as it does, we have the opportunity to go where we’re treated best and say goodbye to any government that claims to own us. I admire all of you who take this route to better your lives. I hope to join you soon.

The Anti-Nullifiers

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http://lewrockwell.com/woods/woods213.html

This article by my boy Tom Woods seems to be a good primer on the merits of nullification and answering some common objections. For a more complete list of objections and his responses, see here.

As far as legal arguments go, my question is, “Who cares?” (Please see my article on No Time 4 Bull regarding this.) Since I already take the view that the “social compact” called the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to me since I never signed it, I hold that its enumerated powers that are coercive, such as the power to tax, are illegitimate. See Lysander Spooner’s No Treason for more on this. However, we should use the means we have available to us, and if the state governments can be used to nullify federal laws, that is useful in and of itself. I also think it’s useful in the sense that the greater utilization of nullification will increase its acceptance and legitimacy. Hopefully, the devolution of power from the federal government to the states will put a check on Leviathan, as well as further the march of the very radical goal of secession. And once secession of the states from the Union is widely accepted, how long until secession of individuals from the State is accepted and the “gang of robbers” loses legitimacy entirely?

Yeah, I’ll admit that this process of dissolving the State sounds a little farfetched. But if so, then I would like to ask: if the free society is to be achieved, however unlikely, what is the most likely method that it will be brought about?

Shift – Liberty in North Korea

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Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is an organization that came to my campus this spring. One of the things they do is help refugees from North Korea resettle in other places, such as South Korea and the US. I like this, as it is applying the method of Opting Out.

I will put the disclaimer that I don’t like some of the language used in the video, such as “In the 18th century, we believed that Africans were less than human.” I’m not sure to whom “we” is supposed to refer, but I assume it’s Americans, past and present, in general. But it is a principle of methodological individualism that only individuals act. I, for one, and I trust you, the reader, never supported chattel slavery. To say that “we” believed in slavery in this way is nonsense.

Other than that, they are correct in saying that perceptions matter and that we might not even be aware of them. In my own experience, even though it was right under my nose if I had bothered to look, it’s obvious that the State does things that would be considered criminal if private individuals did them. But I never questioned that the State should exist until their criminal nature was pointed out to me and a rational alternative was proposed. Likewise, when many people think of North Korea, they see a closed, communist society that has a nuclear program. Often missing from the analysis is that communism kills people, mostly through starvation and deprivation due to irrational economic policies, as well as a totalitarian regime that kills dissenters.

Thus, I want to do what I can to lend support to this organization in the hopes that North Korean society will become open enough such that charitable organizations will allow greater opportunity to help people there. I would totally be interested in sponsoring a little North Korean boy or girl. Anyway, check them out if you’re interested.

Opting Out

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Some people, when envisioning the dismantling of the State, picture a violent revolution, fought by guerillas against well armed soldiers. Others, however, believe that it will be a rather peaceful process where more and more people simply ignore the government and it eventually withers away. I think that a long lasting change in the conduct of human affairs, such as creating a stateless society where a state used to exist, requires efforts resembling the latter vision. Things like this have to come about organically and voluntarily; they cannot be imposed (that would be contradictory, really). But I don’t think it will be as simple as described. One can only opt out of the State so much before it retaliates (assuming that she remains a resident in that state’s claimed boundaries. The ultimate opting out of expatriation, which is beyond the scope of this post. But fret not, I’ve written of it here.) She can refuse to accept government contracts, limit tax exposure, homeschool, etc. These are things she can do on her own. But if she refuses to pay income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, payroll taxes, or any other form of state robbery, the state will attempt to punish her. What is required then is a critical mass of individuals choosing to opt out in this way, so much that the state can’t possibly punish them all. For the ones they do try to punish, jury nullification can supplement the peaceful efforts. This will require much coordination and much courage. It might take a while to get to this point.

The biggest hurdle in this starts with us as individuals. Are our minds free? Do we live each day as though we can accomplish what we want as long as we work hard enough, obstacles aside? Sometimes I focus so much on how to become freer and shrink the State that I lose focus on what I want to do with all that freedom. We should live with a free mindset, not letting the State take away any more joy out of our lives than we let it. When or friends see how happy and successful we are, they will ask where we get or joy from.

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”