On Libertarianism and Statecraft, Part I: Political Strategy

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Author’s note: The main themes of this series will be further expounded upon in my upcoming book Anarcho-Monarchism, which will be available in April.

The Libertarian Party

There are few efforts within the libertarian movement that are as shameful and poorly constructed as the US Libertarian Party. It is famously a den of toxicity that is rarely able to have a positive impact on libertarianism. Every attempt of having innovation in the party and having the party be involved in anything other than mainstream politics is stamped out. The party that is supposed to represent the libertarian ideal and bring libertarianism into society is a complete mess.

There are many reasons for this. First, to even have a libertarian party goes against the fundamental nature of libertarianism. Libertarianism cannot be achieved from our current position by a strategy wholly concerned with top-down matters and working through the political system. The current political system is entirely based on corruption and collaboration with special interests. There is no institutional possibility to enact actual change as long as the current system persists. The entrenched interests are far more powerful than anyone who tries to challenge them from a libertarian or reactionary perspective. Libertarianism opposes parasitism and thus will lack funding as no concrete pressure group benefits from libertarianism. Furthermore, even if it was possible to have a drastic change of governance in the modern political system, there is still the issue of libertarians themselves not being prone to organization.

Becoming a libertarian is strongly correlated with cynicism and a nature that instinctively opposes the modern state. Furthermore, the pessimistic individualism that has characterized the movement since the 19th century has functionally thwarted any chance to have a sociable top-down movement of libertarians. In order to become libertarians, people need to lack trust in the state and reject most of what they have been taught about civics in the state’s education system. Few people would willfully embrace pessimism and individualism if they have other options which are more comforting to them.

Thus, a libertarian movement of significant size and influence must be optimistic and communitarian. This is the second reason why a libertarian party is contrary to reason. There is no optimism and little sense of community in trying to bring liberty into the federal politics of the United States. If libertarians do not find good leadership that can surpass these issues, there can be no hope or personal gain in working toward libertarianism in the political arena. The only way in which libertarians can create optimistic communities is to start small and work within areas in which individuals can truly have an impact. Libertarians must start from the ground up if there is to be any advancement of libertarianism.

The Libertarian Mantra

We have consistently heard that libertarians are “socially left and economically right” or how “gay married couples should be able to defend their weed farms with machine guns.” The examples of this particular combination of free-market advocacy and social degeneracy permeate the political rhetoric of politically active libertarians. This is an incredibly ill-fated approach, as most people are prone to take the exact opposite approach. The majority of people cluster around the social right and economic left. There is little appeal for the ideas that everyone ought to be able to do what they want and that hedonistic disregard for others is desirable.

Political Positions

What then should libertarians do? The entire libertarian philosophy is oriented around having a strong commitment to both social and economic liberty. Fortunately, there are great answers within libertarian theory, countless examples of how we are neither economically right nor socially left. The economic right is often associated with pro-corporate measures, but corporations are legal fictions created by the state. There is no sympathy for capitalists or for workers; rather, the market process is allowed to favor or disfavor as its actors please. That being said, libertarianism logically implies a higher level of control by workers, as without the state there would be neither systematic unemployment nor the barriers to entry created by government regulations. If there is no systematic unemployment, then workers will have more options, meaning that business interests will have less power over them. A lack of burdensome regulations would allow more wage earners to start their own businesses, eliminating the need for them to seek jobs at existing firms. The actual economics are more complex, but libertarianism is compatible with many forms of pro-worker advocacy. Libertarians tend to ignore this aspect of economic policy to their detriment.

An opposition to the state controlling banks through the fractional reserve system is a popular sentiment, as banking is not the most beloved industry. An opposition to corporate bailouts, pollution, and corporate welfare all perfectly coincide with an economically leftist view; the difference is the means libertarians seek to use. The commitment to free markets claimed by the economic right is simply rhetoric that is not actually practiced. Furthermore, many mainstream left-wing economists have views contrary to those of normal people who believe in economic justice. Even the average Bernie Sanders supporter could be brought to the libertarian side if there were not such a commitment to the economic right as it currently exists. The only major roadblock is the welfare state, which is wholly incompatible with libertarianism.

On social issues, nothing about respecting property rights implies that we ought to favor the social left. Private exclusion is as valid as private inclusion; what we oppose is the ability of the state to implement social policy and force people to associate or dissociate. Even though being socially left made political sense when the establishment still had respect for tradition, the pervasive degeneracy in our politics and culture has made that no longer the case. This does not mean that being on the social left is morally valid, but rather that it served as a viable strategy in the midst of the US cultural revolution. There is no commitment in any Western country to theocracy or reactionary politics. Thus, it is far more useful to work with the social right, as it is the left that is currently attacking personal liberties.

Finally, there is nothing within libertarianism that would imply that we should promote economic and social nihilism. Libertarians only contend that if the state gets involved in the economy or society, it will cause negative effects to the population as a whole. However, private individuals should be more than welcome to try to peacefully improve society and the economy. There is nothing wrong with voluntary and non-governmental forms of social and economic involvement contrary to nihilistic non-interventionism.

Regime Change

Even if libertarians were somehow able to gain an overwhelming majority in federal and local governments, there would be little that they could actually accomplish. This is because libertarians are not prepared to be dictators, and the only way in which to rework the entire corrupt system is to impose an autocratic, totalitarian change of the system. The entrenched interests are far too powerful to allow for less organized and less powerful entities to reduce their profits. The bureaucracy is also far more powerful than every politician combined, capable of taking a mile behind the backs of libertarians for every inch they gain. Even if libertarians somehow manage to change the entire regime, anti-libertarian, statist sentiment will erupt from the Cathedral, as all the entrenched interests will not wish to lose access to state violence. If libertarians ever would find themselves in a position of power, the degree of propaganda they would face is far greater than any other movement ever has. There is no way in which libertarians can create liberty by simply changing the regime. The only way in which libertarians have any hope at all through political processes is if the change is sufficiently local and ineffective that the entrenched interests find it too troublesome to oppose. Libertarianism is hopeless within the modern state no matter how overwhelmingly the population may vote for libertarian candidates.

Politics Within the State

The only way in which the liberals in England and the US gained power was through extensive civil wars and political struggles led by men so great that they are still remembered as some of the greatest political minds, and even those movements were unsustainable. Despite 19th century classical liberalism producing unparalleled prosperity, the state eventually turned from liberalism to interventionism and socialism. This will always occur, as the state will tax the prosperity and use the proceeds to fund socialism and wars.

The only consistent answer to how libertarians ought to participate in politics within a statist system is that politics is only a stopgap measure to effect temporary change. This can be useful, but it will never provide good governance. The state is a coercive monopolist and will never provide services like market entities can. However, having the state charge and provide less is both an economic and social good which can be accomplished in some cases. This will never result in thorough or pervasive change; it will only be a matter of temporary alliances of convenience. Another option is to deliberately worsen state oppression so as to wake more people up to the evil of the state. This may trigger a revolution to eliminate the state, or it may be needlessly destructive.

Secession and Revolution

Whereas politics is not an option for creating a libertarian society, other methods must be considered. These are secession and revolution. Due to the common responses of states to such behavior, secession implies revolution. States typically try to suppress secessionist efforts by force, as allowing any group of people to break off a territory would doom the entire scheme. As the direct goal for each person within the state who does not have explicit aims to provide good governance is to consolidate power, there is no chance that secession will not be met with an active military response. Such a response only ends with the rebels vanquished or the secessionists allowed to leave after a bloody and ruinous civil war. Preventing such a response would require a deterrent that they would not risk suffering, such as a privately owned nuclear arsenal. This is a rather bleak picture, but so is the prospect of allowing the nation-state model to continue with its high taxes, indoctrination of children, corruptions of justice, and murderous wars.

Furthermore, without the state, there could be a rise of governance that is positive and that aids in human flourishing. The efficiency of human cooperation could be unleashed in voluntary associations and the market formed by those associations. This is a question of whether we are prepared to fight for life and governance which is conducive to life, or if we will accept being only partially alive. There can be no libertarian statecraft if there is a state. Conversely, the abolition of the state will create the possibility of statecraft that far exceeds anything we have yet seen.

Conclusion

Provided that we need secession or revolution to achieve a stateless society, we now have to move on to what such a society would look like. A significant amount of libertarians think that this implies an alienated mesh of market transactions. However, we have to seriously consider the deeper implications of property ownership to have a proper understanding of what it means to own property. Is it true that property can be managed on an individual level? Is there really no inherent disutility to owning property? How can we describe statecraft without a state? These questions and more will be answered in the next part.

<<<Introduction                                                                                      Part II>>>

On Linguistic Warfare

Whereas the most basic purpose of language is to facilitate communication between people, its development is necessarily a social affair. That being said, the role of individuals in this process cannot be denied. Only individuals think, act, speak, and write; there can be no erection of social constructs without the sum of individual efforts. It is true that a collective endeavor is necessary in order for a particular word to come into use and be understood to have a particular set of meanings with regard to connotation, denotation, and exosemantics. But before this can happen, some individual must take the first step. Someone must have an idea that one cannot express in one’s extant vocabulary and thus feel the need to either borrow a word from another language or invent one out of thin air. Because ideas which cannot be put into words are very difficult to utilize, this creative process is necessary for the advancement of knowledge and technology.

Jargon 101

The next step toward a word gaining widespread acceptance and usage is use within a smaller group. At this stage, a word may be described as jargon. Merriam-Webster defines jargon as “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group” or as “obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words.” Those outside of the group in question often view the former as the latter, with varying degrees of accuracy. The majority of jargon consists of terminology within a specific industry created to allow for greater precision and efficiency among participants in that industry. As Étienne Bonnot de Condillac writes,

“Each science requires a special language, because each science has ideas which are unique to it. It seems that we should begin by forming this language; but we begin by speaking and writing and the language remains to be created.”[1]

However, any social group can have jargon; the defining characteristic is special vocabulary and/or definitions, not use by any particular type of group or toward any particular purpose.

There exists a wide range of applications for jargon within various social dynamics. Jargon can be used as a means of excluding outsiders by speaking in terms that they do not understand, in which case it is also known as argot. The particular pronunciation of a word can also denote in-group versus out-group; this is called a shibboleth. Conversely, a lingua franca is especially used to communicate with outsiders; examples include the various creole languages and pidgins that have formed when people who speak mutually unintelligible languages wish to trade. The general trend over the long-term is for the secrecy of argots and shibboleths to be dissolved, for technical jargon in a specific field to become part of the wider lexicon of a language, and for linguae francae to develop into full languages, but in each case some of these will be lost in the mists of time.

Politics and Weaponization

Because there are disagreements between groups of people and these are debated using language, such disputes necessarily manifest in the linguistic realm. The desire by each side to emerge victorious from these debates causes the above processes to become weaponized. This weaponization takes several forms. First, instead of inventing terms to advance knowledge by giving expression to new ideas, terms are invented for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents. In some cases this creates a direct insult, but the majority of the examples of this are indirect, such as the term assault weapon. This was invented by gun control advocates in the 1980s and was alien to the practice of gun ownership. The goal of these terms was to attack gun owners indirectly by attacking something that they hold dear. With the 1994 assault weapons ban, the term had to be defined in the law as it had no clear prior definition. In any event, the goal of this strategy is not to debate but to ridicule, not to resolve disputes but to broaden them.

A related strategy for less creative political activists is to corrupt the meaning of existing terms. This is done to associate a present political opponent with a hated enemy from the past. A prominent example of this is the word fascist. Fascism refers to a particular type of political order consisting of nationalism, authoritarianism, protectionism, socialism, and cultural conservatism. But the work of radical leftists has debased the term into a general insult to be hurled at anyone who is perceived by them to be insufficiently leftist. The word racist has undergone a similar transformation; having once referred to hatred of people based on their external appearance, it has been corrupted to mean anything that is not sufficiently anti-white. Corrupting an existing word in this manner is less effective than inventing a new word because there are always large groups of people who resist the change in definition, but this only serves to amplify conflict by enabling rivalrous groups to talk past each other.

Of course, the wordsmiths responsible for such efforts are aware that the best defense can be a good offense. This has led to a strategy of curtailing efforts by the opposition to express their ideas, for that which cannot be expressed need not be rebutted. Those in power may resort to “hate speech” laws to criminalize speech that they oppose (another example of the invention of a term for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents). These are made intentionally vague and are meant to be used to prosecute only a few high-profile cases. The intention is to create a chilling effect that deters those out of power from using linguistic processes to their full potential, as they will always be wondering whether they are engaging in crimethink. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and self-censorship greatly reduces enforcement costs.

Because such direct censorship is generally resisted in the West, less direct means of interfering with the opposition’s ability to communicate are often employed instead. Because jargon is commonly used by religious cults to hide their true nature from outsiders and the public has a generally unfavorable opinion of cults, a political operative can conflate this with the efforts of an opposition group to expand a language so that they may express novel ideas. A simpler method is to accuse the opposition of making up their ideology as they go due to their invention of terms, which is surprisingly effective given that all words have been made up by someone sometime.

Unfortunately, the spread of democracy has exacerbated these problems. Because everyone in a democratic system has a slice of political power, everyone becomes a political target. The deliberate engineering of permanent conflict in society that is democratic government ensures that weaponization of language is omnipresent. Thus, all linguistic innovation is hindered to the detriment of rationality and real progress, as efforts which could have gone toward higher endeavors are misdirected into internal disputes.

Solutions and Pitfalls

The above examples have a distinctly leftist flavor to them, and this is not an accident. All of the above tactics are disproportionately used by leftists, and political democracy is an inherently leftist institution. Therefore, most of the solutions will have a rightist character to them, and the potential pitfalls will tend to resemble tragic flaws in which rightists try to adapt leftist methods without removing the aspects which make them distinctly leftist. Let us now counter the above tactics.

The first two, the invention and use of insults as well as the demonization of activities and objects present the pitfall of sinking to the level of the enemy. When confronted with someone who argues in bad faith, resorts to ad hominems, and denigrates one’s cherished hobbies and prized possessions, the desire to be nasty to that person is an understandable impulse. But it is the wrong course of action. The correct strategy is actually best summarized by an enemy of libertarians and reactionaries. To quote Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.” It is best to remain calm and state for the record that what the opponent is saying is not a proper argument or that when an argument is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. If one must go further, then it is best to follow the advice of Sam Brown, “Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.” That is to say, whatever observations one makes should be clearly demonstrable and insightful.

Those who corrupt definitions are a more subversive lot, unlikely to be directly encountered. In most cases, one will be dealing with ignorant, misinformed college students who are convinced of their own competence and know no better. This challenge requires one to be well-informed about the truth, the lies that students are commonly taught, and why their professors are wrong. Most can be reasoned with if the correct approach is used, but forceful suppression is necessary in the most extreme cases. It is necessary to exercise discretion and only debate those who are willing to be convinced of other ideas.

Accusations of cultism or of making up one’s ideology in an ad hoc fashion can be extremely damaging if not rebutted properly. Although leftists frequently engage in these behaviors as well as psychological projection, this counter-accusation by itself is a tu quoque fallacy that does not rebut the accusation. A proper response should present a reasoned case for why one’s political movement is not comparable to a religious cult, or how one’s ideology is internally consistent.

Unlike the strategies discussed so far, the most fruitful approach for dealing with “hate speech” laws is likely to be a simple reversal. Instead of banning “hate speech,” the laws should be changed to ban “communist propaganda.” Such a ban should be as vague and fear-provoking as the laws which muzzle rightists, particularly outside of the United States. Of course, any non-critical discussion of the concept of “hate speech” would count as “communist propaganda.” The end goals of such a measure are both to suppress radical leftists and to show moderate leftists that any power they wish the state to have can and will be used against them when they are not in power. The potential pitfall is to lose sight of these goals and become right-wing counterparts of social justice warriors.

Finally, it will not do to hack away at the branches of evil without striking the root. Although such behaviors can occur on a small scale within non-democratic societies, democracy amplifies linguistic warfare to a fever pitch by making all disputes of sufficient importance into political disputes. As Carl Schmitt writes,

“The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship. The enemy is hostis, not inimicus in the broader sense.”[2]

The historical method of abolishing democracy has been the imposition of an unelected government, whether a military junta, hereditary monarchy, or some combination thereof. Libertarians propose another methodology; that of a stateless propertarian society in which all property is privately owned and all goods and services are provided by competing firms in a free market. These systems deny the general public—those who do not have an ownership stake in the society—a political voice. The restriction of political power to those who have an ownership stake means that it makes no sense for most people living in these social orders to insult, bully, and attack one another over political disputes, as the winner of such a dispute has no direct influence over the direction of the society. When only the king or dictator can vote, or only the private property owner can make decisions over the property in question, only they and whatever underlings they may have are worth engaging with linguistic warfare. Even these attacks will be blunted by the fact that freedom to engage in such attacks is not a universal human right, but a privilege belonging to those who control territory. If one owns a space, one may say whatever one wishes within that space. Those who own no property and cannot convince anyone who does to let them speak are thus silenced, and society is better off for not having to hear their ignorant pablum.

Conclusion

There are two overarching tactics for opponents of the progressive establishment in the current environment of linguistic warfare: play to win or knock over the gameboard. Playing to draw or trying to lose gracefully, as establishment conservatives and libertarians have done for decades, has in large part allowed conditions to degenerate to their present status. Though playing to win is certainly necessary, it will not be sufficient because although it can defeat enemies, the current system is firmly entrenched and designed to produce ever greater numbers of foot soldiers for the establishment. Only demolition of the Cathedral will suffice to return society to a state of peaceful discourse. The resulting end of linguistic warfare would bring about a renewed focus on the advancement of knowledge and technology, paving the way for a proper restoration of Western civilization.

References:

  1. de Condillac, Étienne Bonnot (1776). Le Commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l’un à l’autre. p. 93.
  2. Schmitt, Carl (1996). The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition. The University of Chicago Press. p. 61.

Book Review: Reactionary Liberty

Reactionary Liberty is a book about libertarian philosophy by Robert Taylor that approaches this and related subjects from a reactionary perspective. The book is divided into fifteen chapters, with a short introduction preceding.

Taylor begins with a four-page introduction in which he explains his motivations for writing the book. Mostly, this involves the decisive leftward shift in American libertarianism since the Ron Paul presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012, including a notorious open letter to Paul read at the 2015 International Students for Liberty conference and Gary Johnson’s disastrous presentation in 2016. He briefly explains what is wrong with left-libertarianism and gives an outline of the structure of the book.

In the first chapter, Taylor begins with the non-aggression principle (NAP), self-ownership, and private property rights. Although Taylor notes the important distinction between just property and currently-held property, he fails to properly account for the role of conquest in determining property rights over the long term. Taylor goes on to explain the social and economic difficulties that arise without secure property rights. The failures of central planning are discussed, as are the differences between negative and positive rights. He lays out the history of natural law in Western philosophy, beginning with early Christian thinkers, continuing through Enlightenment philosophers, and culminating in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Taylor contrasts this with the state, which routinely violates natural law and rights. He details the many crimes of nation-states, war and debt slavery being chief among them. Taylor concludes by proposing an alternative to Marxist class theory which vilifies the state rather than the capitalist, and elevates the producer rather than the parasite.

The second chapter deals with the Austrian School perspective on the subject. Taylor takes the reader through praxeology, the action axiom, marginal utility, and the role of prices in efficiently allocating resources. Next, he explains why government and central bank interference with prices is so destructive. The section on money deals with the history of money according to the regression theorem, beginning with barter and commodity money, then progressing to precious metals and receipts for those metals. Taylor shows the reader that modern fiat currencies are a corruption of these receipts into instruments of inflation and debt slavery that facilitate unduly risky financial behavior, state largesse, and wars. In the Austrian view, these behaviors fuel the business cycle of booms and busts by distorting interest rates, which leads investors astray.

Spontaneous order and free markets are the subjects of the third chapter. Taylor begins with the economic calculation problem, the knowledge problem, and public choice theory, showing that central planning cannot succeed because it cannot calculate prices without the market and is further hampered by cynical concerns. He then covers the concept of spontaneous order, making the important and oft-overlooked observation that “there is no such thing as an unregulated market; the issue is, rather, who is doing the regulating.” These regulations take the form of trust, reputation, and freedom to dissociate, unless the state interferes by imposing its coercive regulations. Taylor frames the difference between state and market in terms of who gets profits and who suffers losses. The state privatizes profits and socializes losses, while the market does the opposite. Next, Taylor proposes the term marketization to describe the proper procedures for converting state monopolies into free-market entities, as privatization has acquired the meaning of turning over state monopolies to politically-connected oligarchs, as happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. He concludes the chapter by providing an outline of how businesses may function in a purely libertarian market while noting that the particulars can only be observed in the future, not precisely predicted in the present.

The fourth chapter offers a much-needed treatment of Cultural Marxism, a concept often (and incorrectly) dismissed by leftists as a conspiracy theory. Taylor traces its roots to the failure of political and economic Marxism in Europe after World War I, at which time Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs resolved to apply Marxism to culture and use it to destroy traditional Western culture, which they faulted for the failure of communism to take root in most of the West. Taylor traces the ‘long march through the institutions’ from its beginnings in the 1930s all the way to its modern manifestations of identity politics and campus craziness. He calls on libertarians to refute Marxism’s cultural application, just as they defeated its economic application. The next section begins to do this by making the case against egalitarianism, showing it to be both impossible and self-defeating in practice. The second half of the chapter traverses more dubious ground in the form of r/K selection theory. This is an interesting analogy for attempting to understand political dynamics, but it places too much emphasis on nature instead of nurture and encourages dichotomous thinking in complex problems. That being said, it correctly suggests that some authoritarian leftists are beyond reason. The chapter ends with an explanation of the necessity of traditional social and sexual norms, as well as how and why Cultural Marxists have attacked them.

Decentralization is the focus of the fifth chapter. Taylor gives the reader a history lesson in the creation of Western traditions and common law through decentralized institutions after the fall of the Roman Empire. He blames centralization elsewhere in the world for preventing those peoples from enjoying the liberty and prosperity of Europeans. Turning to America, these two descriptions show the difference between what the United States was supposed to be and what it has become. As a remedy, Taylor proposes breaking up the US into at least 100 smaller territories. He concludes the chapter by praising those who have taken a strong stand for decentralization in the face of oppressive state power.

The sixth chapter attacks state power as a concept. Taylor explains how people are ruled indirectly through propaganda and mythology rather than directly by force, as the masses are sufficiently numerous and armed to defeat such an effort. He discusses the role of government schooling in indoctrinating the masses to accept such an arrangement, as well as the insufficient efforts to resist the imposition of compulsory indoctrination in the 19th century. The concept of situational Leninism comes next, followed by an overview of famous psychological experiments that demonstrate the willingness of people to obey authority toward reprehensible ends. After this, the role of language control and thought policing in maintaining authoritarian leftist control is examined. Taylor finishes the chapter with Ludwig von Mises’ concept of statolatry, in which statism becomes a sort of secular religion.

The attack continues in the next chapter, as Taylor turns to the flawed ideas of minarchism. He returns to the American example to show how limited government does not stay limited. He explains that the Constitution was not actually written to limit government, contrary to popular belief. It gave the federal government more power than it had under the Articles of Confederation, which Taylor praises in relative terms. He shows how Americans of the time were deceived, taking the reader through the tax rebellions of the 1780s-90s and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the next section, he contrasts traditional monarchies with modern democracies, finding the former to be far less limited and more destructive due to inherent incentive structures. The chapter concludes with a strong explanation of why democracy grows the state and harms the cause of liberty.

In the eighth chapter, Taylor addresses police statism and what Samuel Francis termed ‘anarcho-tyranny’, a situation in which real crime goes unpunished while those who try to defend themselves are attacked by the state. He begins by noting the difference between a peace officer and an agent of the state. His description of several US Supreme Court cases is accurate, but misses the larger point that a coercive monopoly has no enforceable obligations because no one can enforce obligations against them, regardless of any court rulings. Taylor reviews Cultural Marxism through the lens of anarcho-tyranny, then explains some of the more obnoxious leftist behaviors in terms of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The successes of the alt-right are explained in terms of their willingness to use the left’s tactics against them, unlike conventional conservatives. Next, he covers the origin of modern policing in the UK and the US, then proposes a private alternative to state police forces. The last section contemplates violent resistance against the state, though not with nearly the length and depth that the topic deserves.

While the eighth chapter considers the enforcers, Chapter 9 is concerned with what they enforce. Taylor begins by illustrating just how much poorer everyone is today as a result of lost economic growth due to regulations. Next, he refutes the progressive narrative about the antebellum South and the industrial captains of the 19th century, showing the negative aspects of both to be the result of government intervention rather than its absence. He then profiles James J. Hill, a largely forgotten hero of free-market capitalism in the late 19th century. Hill’s good deeds are contrasted with those who used the state to get undue favors and suppress competition. Taylor also corrects the record on John D. Rockefeller. The following section covers the history of expanding regulations after the Civil War, through the Progressive Era, and on to the present. He accuses those who point to regulations as the cause of improvements in safety and reductions in pollution of committing the broken window fallacy and ignoring the fact that some regulations have made people less healthy. The chapter concludes with many examples of faulty regulations that do more harm than good.

The transition from voluntary mutual aid to coercive welfare statism is the subject of the tenth chapter. Taylor introduces the subject with the age-old statist question, “Without government, who would take care of the poor?” Of course, one must begin by pointing out that government does no such thing, as Taylor does. He spends the first part of the chapter educating the reader about mutual aid societies, which were common before the Progressive Era but were destroyed by government intervention into the healthcare and insurance industries. Taylor shows how the state has reduced the supply of medical care, thus increasing its cost and decreasing its availability. Unfortunately, Taylor’s approach ignores the Social Darwinist perspective that natural selection should be allowed to remove the least successful humans from the gene pool. The second half of the chapter debunks at length the myth of Scandinavian socialism.

The eleventh chapter deals with civil disobedience. Here, Taylor stumbles in the way that most libertarians do, in that he fails to understand raw power, celebrates small victories that will not occur on a large scale, and confuses the downfall of a particular regime with ending the state itself. He does this even while reciting the history of preparedness for the use of force among civil rights leaders and noting what the state has done to leaders of nonviolent resistance efforts. Taylor also manages to celebrate the effects of Western degeneracy among Middle Eastern youth. His encouragement of government agents to refuse unjust orders, leak information detailing abuses to the public, and otherwise engage in whistleblowing is more on point, though he notes the powerful incentive structure against doing so. The second half of the chapter details a plethora of private alternatives to services which have long been monopolized and/or heavily regulated by the state.

The growth of cryptocurrency and other peer-to-peer technologies is the focus of Chapter 12. Taylor provides a decent layperson’s overview of Bitcoin, then moves on to practical applications of cryptocurrency, such as funding dissidents suppressed by legacy financial networks, evading capital controls, and engaging in commercial activities forbidden by the state. Next, he covers the P2P revolution, which has greatly expanded liberty and privacy online and in the physical world. The remainder of the chapter runs through various examples of how P2P and blockchain technologies have solved problems and exposed corruption.

In the thirteenth chapter, Taylor addresses the open-borders dogma held by many libertarians. He demonstrates that open borders and forced integration are a form of the aforementioned anarcho-tyranny, with closed state borders being sub-optimal but less evil. The role of forced diversity in creating internal conflicts that lead to less liberty is considered, as is the biological phenomenon of kin selection in creating cohesive groups. Taylor makes the case that open borders are contrary to private property rights because in order to have open borders, the state must override the wishes of property owners who do not want migrants to enter. He then examines the history of US immigration policy from 1790 to the present, noting the shift in demographics admitted after 1965. The contention that the real problem is the welfare state rather than demographic shifts is rebutted both on the practical grounds of American politics and with the counterexample of European nations surviving socialism but falling into turmoil due to migrants.

The fourteenth chapter furthers the themes from Chapter 11 by discussing secession, nullification, and political migration. Taylor notes the myriad benefits of secession, but only briefly mentions the history of larger states violently suppressing such movements. Next, he covers the history of both legislative and jury nullification in opposing unjust laws. Taylor’s exploration of political migration is rather America-centric, but it can be adapted to other situations. His praise for the Free State Project comes off as overzealous, given the thoroughly leftist nature of that organization. He finishes the chapter with a concept called the Benedict Option, in which those who wish to preserve a tradition and begin a restoration retreat from the public and urban life of a degenerate culture.

The final chapter of the book is an argument against democratic government. This reads much like Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, quoting and borrowing from it extensively as Taylor explains the perverse incentive structures inherent in democracy and makes the case that monarchy has a superior incentive structure. But unlike Hoppe, Taylor contemplates physical removal as a means of achieving a libertarian social order in addition to a means of maintenance. As Taylor writes on page 283, “Economics teaches us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. But in order to achieve and maintain a libertarian social order, there will be free helicopter rides.” His defense of Augusto Pinochet’s actions in Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s rule in Singapore as better than the alternatives is common in right-libertarian circles, but his defense of Francisco Franco goes a bit too far. Taylor ends with an exhortation to and description of a libertarian revolution, but this is, as before, too brief.

Overall, the book is good, but not great. For a book called Reactionary Liberty, it could have used more reaction in the form of lengthy explanations of traditional norms and power dynamics. Taylor seemed to lack an editor and proofreader, as some typos survived in very unfortunate places that render a few sentences absurd. A few chapters can become tedious when Taylor features a laundry list of examples. That being said, it is a strong presentation of right-libertarianism that is impeccably sourced.

Rating: 4/5

On Leftist Academics, Respectable Opinion, and Civil War

In recent times, there is a burgeoning industry in popular books on academic subjects aimed at the layperson or the educated person who is not an expert in the field discussed in a certain book. Most of these books, particularly in the fields of politics, economics, and sociology, are written by authors who have a leftist bias. This is to be expected, as academia has long been dominated by such people. But this bias seems to consistently impair such authors whenever they attempt to understand perspectives which are fundamentally different from their own. Three examples of this can be found in books that were reviewed here at Zeroth Position in the past fortmoon. The shortcomings therein are evidence of a much broader and more serious problem. We will consider extant theories which describe this problem. Next, we will posit some potential origins for this phenomenon, as well as some possible solutions. Finally, we will consider the potential negative consequences of leaving the problem unsolved.

Good Guys With Guns

This is a book about concealed firearms, the culture around them, and their effects on society by sociologist Angela Stroud, reviewed here on December 12, 2016. True to leftist thought, the roles of gender, race, and class in firearm ownership are major themes of the book. The series of interviews included in the book illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. Her most egregious and oft-repeated fallacies include the broken window fallacy, confusing objective reality with subjective social constructs, false dilemmas, accusing people of contradicting themselves when they do not, and conflating society with the state. She also does a poor job of recognizing and assessing potential threats, ignores information which undermines her case, blames free-market capitalism and patriarchy when they were not in use, assumes that any inequality is the result of institutional oppression, and blames white people for problems caused by non-whites.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Islamic Exceptionalism

This is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state, the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, and the currently ongoing conflicts there by Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, reviewed here on April 30, 2017. Hamid’s explorations of these subjects leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He provides an informative history of Islam from the beginning, illuminating several points that frequently elude Westerners. But when Hamid interviews youths who wish to break the Westphalian order of nation-states and are willing to use violence to achieve political goals, he seems unable to truly understand them.

That being said, of the three authors discussed, Hamid is the most perceptive of the lot. He correctly recognized ISIS as a state at the time of writing because it had a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area while providing the common functions of a state. He knows that moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. He understands that there are no such things as universal values in practice. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility.

The Euro

This is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project, the faulty policies pursued by European leaders thus far, and several potential alternatives by American economist Joseph Stiglitz, reviewed here on December 11, 2017. He is perhaps the worst of the three, in that while the others have difficulties in understanding right-wing thought, Stiglitz tends to either show no awareness of its existence, dismiss it out of hand, or mischaracterize it in ways which can only be deliberate for someone of his caliber. His Keynesian approach to economics is apparent from the beginning, as is his thoroughly statist worldview. He never mentions the Austrian School and ignores many practical possibilities for true economic and political liberty. The Chicago School earns nothing but contempt from him, as he recites the leftist caricature of Chile under Pinochet and derides monetarism. Meanwhile, he repeatedly blames markets for the 2008 crisis when they were only responding to the perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. He also blames austerity for Europe’s recent troubles when very little austerity has actually occurred.

Like Stroud, Stiglitz confuses collective action with state action. Stiglitz’s faith in democracy is even stronger than Hamid’s, as he never questions whether anything is wrong with democracy itself, even as he argues against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy, advocates for a new monetary system which could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens, and denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe which resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. Though Stiglitz does not appear to argue in bad faith, one could be forgiven for thinking that he does.

Current Theories

Before attempting to analyze the above examples, it is necessary to lay some groundwork concerning meta-politics. In political discourse, there is a range of opinions which are considered to be socially acceptable to varying degrees, with extremes on one or both sides of each issue regarded as anywhere from unfashionable at best to worthy of violent response at worst. This concept has been given various names; Hallin’s second sphere, the Overton Window, and the index card of allowable opinion, to name a few. Hallin’s analysis divides the world of political discourse into three spheres according to how the media covers various subjects. The first sphere is the sphere of consensus. This contains topics on which agreement is assumed. Hallin writes that for such topics, “Journalists feel free to invoke a generalized ‘we’ and to take for granted shared values and shared assumptions. …Journalists do not feel compelled to present an opposing viewpoint or to remain disinterested observers.”[1] The second sphere is the sphere of legitimate controversy. This sphere consists of matters on which rational, informed people have disagreements. Journalists are expected to be disinterested observers and reporters for topics in this sphere, not overtly supporting one position over another. The third sphere is the sphere of deviance. This contains topics which are believed to be outside the bounds of legitimate discussion. Hallin writes that in this sphere, “Journalists depart from standard norms of objective reporting and feel authorized to treat as marginal, laughable, dangerous, or ridiculous individuals and groups who fall far outside a range of variation taken as legitimate.”[1] Those who dispute the content of the sphere of consensus tend to find themselves here, as do those who lack sufficient influence to merit news coverage or are known for making baseless and outlandish claims. The boundaries of the spheres shift with changes in public opinion, journalistic standards, and media ownership, as well as advances in reason, science, and technology.

Joseph Overton’s conception of political discourse posits a range of ideas which are tolerated in public discourse. Whereas Hallin’s spheres describe media coverage, the Overton window describes voter sentiment and politician stances. Overton contends that the political viability of an idea depends on whether the idea is within the window or outside of it. Politicians who recommend too many policies which are outside of the window will be considered too extreme to be elected or re-elected. Most of the theory about the Overton Window is concerned with how to move it or keep it from moving, depending on whether the goal is to advance policies which are currently outside or inside of the window, respectively. Application of the door-in-the-face technique to Overton’s theory results in the deliberate promotion of ideas that are far outside of the window in order to shift the window toward ideas which are slightly outside of it. (This makes as much sense in ideological space as it does in physical space; one cannot push an object while one is standing on it, as such a force is both self-defeating and lacking in leverage.)

Tom Woods refers to this phenomenon as the index card of allowable opinion. Woods’ description combines the insights of Hallin and Overton, as the establishment media uses Hallin’s spheres while playing a large role in deciding where the frame of the Overton Window lies. Woods writes,

“On the left, sites like ThinkProgress and Media Matters smear and attack those uppity peons who stray from the ideological plantation that the Washington Post and the New York Times oversee. On the right, it’s neoconservative sites like the Free Beacon, who have built a nice little cabin on that plantation, and who rat out anyone who tries to run away.”[2]

One could easily add National Review and several others to the list of sites on the right (such as it is in modern America), as well as note such a presence in libertarian circles, denounced here as cuckertarians. The purpose of maintaining this range of allowable opinion is to prevent people from realizing the need for a radical change from the status quo by saturating them with ideas which never stray too far from the establishment narrative and presenting them with the illusion that they have meaningful choices in the current system. As Noam Chomsky writes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”[3]

The behavioral pattern that Woods notes later is the subject of the next section. He continues:

“The respectables of left and right do not deign to show where we’re wrong, of course. The very fact that we’ve strayed from the approved spectrum is refutation enough. …Once in a while they do try to show where we’re wrong, but they can almost never manage even to state our position correctly, much less muster an effective argument against it. [The] purpose of these alleged replies is not to shed light, but to demonize libertarians in the public mind.”[2]

Mechanisms and Remedies

The range of allowable opinion has the effect of a feedback loop on academia. The range of allowable opinion agreed upon by one generation of academics influences the next generation, limiting the range of ideas to which they are exposed in sufficient depth to truly understand them. Whereas true rightist thought is rigid, rationalist, and timeless while leftist thought is flexible, empiricist, and novel, it is no surprise that this process gradually pulls the Overton window leftward. There are several mechanisms by which this occurs, and if the problem is to be resolved, each requires its own remedy.

Whig History

Whig historiography views the past as an inevitable march of progress toward greater knowledge and freedom, culminating in liberal democracy and constitutionally limited monarchy. The name comes from the British Whigs, who supported the power of Parliament over the power of the monarch, thus opposing the Tories, who did the opposite. The term has acquired a pejorative use for good reason. Whiggism bears resemblance to Marxism, which follows the same narrative to a different end, namely that of a classless, egalitarian, communist utopia. It assumes without evidence that there will be no further progress past liberal democracy and limited monarchy toward greater knowledge and freedom. This explains why its adherents attack libertarians, as they propose further advances in freedom, which are disallowed by the Whig narrative. Indeed, Whiggism errs in assuming that history is necessarily goal-oriented at all, as this would require some collective unconscious and/or divine plan that is not proven to exist.

The present-mindedness of the Whig approach leads its adherents to believe that current ideals were held in the past, which ends up producing a great amount of ignorant eisegesis when historical figures are examined in a context that they would find to be alien. It keeps one from investigating the real causes of historical change by providing the false answer that the cause was the march toward progress.[4] Whiggism also motivates the sanctification of past leaders who advanced this progress and the vilification of those who worked against it[5] that is omnipresent in contemporary politics, for if an inevitable march toward progress is assumed, it follows that conservatives and reactionaries are engaged in a revolt against nature. As Allan Greer writes,

“They lost because they had to lose; they were not simply overwhelmed by superior force, they were justly chastised by the God of History.”[6]

The ongoing influence of Whiggism partly explains why leftist academics seem unable to grasp rightist thought. An inevitable march toward progress combined with the generally leftist nature of progress means that they view a rigorous understanding of and debate with rightist thought as unnecessary; we have progressed past it, never to return. Among the less academically inclined, this explains the “Its the current year!” response that is widely mocked among rightists.

The most potent antidote to Whig history is to relentlessly attack its fallacies while advocating alternatives such as cyclical history (a repeating cycle of ascent and decline) and agnostic history (the view that no such grand narrative can be known). Butterfield proposed a methodological remedy “to evoke a certain sensibility towards the past, the sensibility which studies the past ‘for the sake of the past’, which delights in the concrete and the complex, which ‘goes out to meet the past’, which searches for ‘unlikenesses between past and present.’”[7]

Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and the Mirror-Image Fallacy

While Whig historiography can lead leftist academics to dismiss rightist thought as an unworthy opponent best left unengaged, other phenomena can leave them unaware of its existence. A filter bubble is a form of intellectual isolation that can occur when websites use algorithms to guess what a user wants to see based on the user’s history and other personal information. This keeps people from finding information that is presented from different viewpoints, thus trapping them in a cultural or ideological bubble.[8] This leaves them ill-equipped to deal with those who are unlike themselves. The term was coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser and discussed in his 2011 book of the same name. Pariser formally defined the concept of a filter bubble as “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”[9] The filter bubble is the technological manifestation of the echo chamber, a term describing the tendency of legacy media as well as one’s social and professional circles to create similar limitations in thinking and perception. Pariser notes that filter bubbles can harm a society by undermining civic discourse, creating confirmation bias, and increasing vulnerability to propaganda and other manipulations of public opinion.[10]

Although the extent of the effect of filter bubbles remains in contention[11], and some of the effect comes from user choice that emanates from and reinforces echo chambers in the physical world[12], the influence of exposure to only one’s own side of political issues is guaranteed to distort one’s perception of reality. In the worst cases, this can lead people to believe that everyone thinks and views the world as they do, a condition which Charles Krauthammer describes as the mirror-image fallacy. He writes:

“The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in ‘common humanity,’ in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. …Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka, or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same.”[13]

This predictably causes serious problems. Krauthammer continues:

“If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. …The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow… To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies, and opposing cultures is more than anti-political. It is dangerous.”[13]

A more realistic approach is thus required, as Krauthammer describes:

“Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures, and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese wanted it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this [20th] century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.”[13]

The problem of echo chambers and filter bubbles is more difficult to solve than that of Whig historiography. This is not to say that solutions do not exist; one can make a conscious effort to look for these conditions and actively seek alternative viewpoints. Several websites have been created to aid people in that purpose, as have several browser plugins and smartphone applications.[14] In meatspace, this process is not as simple as installing a few programs, but there are a multitude of social clubs that one can join to meet new people with different perspectives. The difficulty lies in actually implementing the solutions. Just as the incompetent can lack the expertise to recognize their own incompetence, so too can those within an echo chamber fail to realize that they have a problem. In many cases, it will be necessary for people who are outside of such echo chambers to make an active effort to reach in.

Virtue Signalling

Whig historiography and echo chambers, while important factors, are only proximate causes of the intellectual limitations of leftists. A more fundamental source comes from the dynamics of social coordination and is known as virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is a conspicuous and/or invidious expression of one’s opinion on a moral issue done primarily to maintain or enhance one’s social status. The term originates from signalling theory, a body of work in evolutionary biology that examines communication between organisms. For example, a large mane on a male lion is a status signal that declares his fitness, as a less fit lion would lose contests with other males and have his hair torn out. The term later found use in economics, as an impressive building for a firm or a resume full of extraneous qualifications for a job-seeker declare financial and intellectual fitness, respectively. Less successful firms and less competent people would be unable to achieve such results.[15] Religious traditions frequently include rituals that serve a similar function for the purpose of aiding in-group cohesion.[16][17][18]

Beginning in the late 2000s, ‘virtue signalling’ came to be defined differently in various Internet forums. The newer meaning refers to superficial support for political views with the primary purpose of maintaining an appearance of respectability, as well as a focus on appearing to act rather than actually taking action.[19][20] As James Bartholomew writes,

“When David Cameron defends maintaining spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, he is telling us that the Tory party, or at least he himself — as a rather wonderful, non-toxic part of it — cares about the poor in the developing world. The actual effectiveness or otherwise of foreign aid in achieving this aim is irrelevant.”[21]

Notably, virtue signalling tends to involve expressions of hatred of the other, of the out-group. Bartholomew continues:

“It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious… Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!”[21]

This ends up being counterproductive, in that it can harm the very people that those who are truly virtuous and not just signalling would desire to help. Bartholomew writes,

“No one actually has to do anything. …There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition. …Virtue-signalling battles can soon take leave of any genuine concern for the low-paid or suffering. Indeed they can become highly damaging. The low-skilled whose abilities simply cannot command an absurdly high minimum wage become unemployable.”[21]

Virtue signalling is also responsible for the problem of Error Push, in which a factually incorrect position is advanced because a hated enemy is factually correct about a certain issue, and virtue signalling becomes more important to people than correct knowledge or telling the truth.

Fortunately, there are two powerful remedies against this sort of behavior. First, one may engage in the opposite behavior, known as counter-signalling or vice signalling. This should be followed by mercilessly criticizing the virtue signallers for their fallacious discourse when they resort to ad hominems instead of making appropriate counter-arguments. The purpose of this tactic is to show their support to be superficial and insincere, as a person with deeply-held, sincere beliefs should be able to defend them in rational discourse. Resorting to angry name-calling against a calm opponent who makes reasoned arguments is also damaging to the appearance of respectability that the virtue signaller so desires.

Second, one may take meaningful action concerning the subjects of the virtue signals. A person who supports minimum wage hikes and social programs for the poor may appear virtuous to the economically illiterate, but a person who directly helps the poor to become upwardly mobile is actually virtuous. A person who supports tougher environmental regulations against polluters may appear virtuous to those who do not understand regulatory capture, but a person who invents new technologies or uses capitalist principles to reduce pollution is actually virtuous. With “effort and self-sacrifice,” one can take the wind out of the sails of virtue signallers by acting while they talk. In the long run, the golden will defeat the merely gilded.

The Overton Bubble and Civil War

So far, we have considered examples of leftist failures to understand rightist thought, potential causes for this phenomenon, and possible remedies for each. Now, we will explore what may happen if this problem is not remedied. When the Overton window is combined with an ideological echo chamber and reinforced by copious amounts of virtue signalling, it can become thick and opaque, hardening into an ideological pocket universe which can only be entered or re-entered with great difficulty. This Overton Bubble, as neoreactionaries call it, can form when the establishment effectively controls the Overton window and uses this control to maintain political power. When the range of respectable opinion is policed with sufficient rigor, having an accurate understanding of opinions outside of that range is enough to make oneself the target of a political witch hunt.

When combined with the phenomenon of error push described in the previous section, an Overton bubble can leave a society in general and its elites in particular incapable of solving problems. As Neal Devers writes,

“If some thoughts are unthinkable and unspeakable, and the truth happens in some case to fall outside of polite consensus, then [the] ruling elite and their society will run into situations [that] they simply [cannot] handle.”[22]

It follows that wise elites would be exceedingly careful about allowing such a ‘polite consensus’ to form; in fact, they would take active steps to suppress the formation of such holiness spirals. Unfortunately, the perverse incentives inherent in political democracy ensure that the elite almost universally will be both unwise and insecure, thus perpetually goading them into destructive behaviors such as blowing Overton bubbles.

The problems that such an elite simply cannot handle may be domestic or foreign in origin. If foreign, then the typical result is conquest and subjugation under a power that would have no capability to assume control had a healthy system of governance and defense been in place. The particular dynamics of such events are outside the scope of this essay. Here, we are primarily concerned with political disputes within one society.

For centuries, the establishment exercised tight control over public discourse, burning heresies along with their authors. After such brutality fell out of favor in the West, the elites still managed to expel from official positions those who did not kowtow to the official narrative. Such exiles lacked the means to mount an effective counter-movement, so ‘point deer make horse’ was a favorite tactic of political control. Modern technology fundamentally alters this dynamic; being forced out of the Overton bubble is no longer fatal to one’s influence or career prospects, and as time marches on, existing inside the bubble will become a less and less attractive option for those starting out in life. But those who have established academic, media, and/or political careers inside the bubble will fail to understand the social dynamics in play, for gaining such an understanding would result in them being purged.

The trouble that lies ahead is thus clear. A leftist establishment that cannot peacefully engage with anything non-leftist and a non-leftist opposition that finally has the strength to organize an effective challenge existing in the same physical space is a recipe for violent conflict. Foreshocks of this political earthquake have already occurred in Chicago, Berkeley, and Charlottesville, to name a few. It is quickly becoming technologically impossible for the establishment to put the genie of opinion-making back into their bottle. Abolishing democracy, breaking up the institutions inside the Overton bubble, and secession into smaller, more politically uniform territories are considered unthinkable both by those inside the bubble and many of the people outside of it.

The immediate options will thus eventually reduce to the two options that all of us have in our personal lives: reason or force, words or weapons, truth or consequences, peace or utter destruction. Whereas it is not certain that the former set will be chosen over the latter set, and a civil war is always the most disastrous kind, it is necessary to de-escalate the situation before it reaches that point using the methods described in the previous sections. Only then can saner ideas be brought back into the realm of public discourse with a goal of either reaching a governing consensus or achieving an amicable geographic separation along political lines.

Conclusion

It may seem that we have traveled a long way from discussing three books to discussing civil war and its prevention. But the books were only meant to serve as small examples of a much larger problem. The formation of Overton bubbles is controlled by several key factors: a range of respectable opinion, the lingering influence of Whig historiography, filter bubbles in digital space, echo chambers in physical space, the plural solipsism caused by the previous two factors, virtue signalling, and the destructive incentives inherent in democracy. The civilization-destroying potential of our present bubble can still be thwarted if enough of these contributing factors are dismantled, but time is short and growing shorter.

References:

  1. Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press. p.116–118.
  2. Woods, Thomas (2014, Oct. 16). “How To Shred The Index Card Of Allowable Opinion”. Lew Rockwell.
  3. Chomsky, Noam (1998). The Common Good. Odonian Press. p. 43.
  4. Butterfield, Herbert (1965). The Whig Interpretation of History. New York: W. W. Norton. p.12.
  5. J. Hart. “Nineteenth-Century Social Reform: A Tory Interpretation of History”. Past & Present 1965 31(1):39–61.
  6. Greer, Allan. “1837-38: Rebellion reconsidered”. Canadian Historical Review (1995) 76#1:1–18, at p. 3.
  7. Ashplant, T.G.; Wilson, Adrian. “Whig History and Present-Centred History”. The Historical Journal, 31 (1988):1–16, at p. 10.
  8. Bozdag, Engin (2013, June 23). “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”. Ethics and Information Technology 15(3):209–227.
  9. Parramore, Lynn (2010, Oct. 10). “The Filter Bubble”. The Atlantic.
  10. Weisberg, Jacob (2011, June 10). “Bubble Trouble: Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?”. Slate.
  11. Pariser, Eli (2015, May 7). “Fun facts from the new Facebook filter bubble study”. Medium.
  12. West, Joshua Bleiberg; Darrell M. (2017, May 24). “Political polarization on Facebook”. Brookings Institution.
  13. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.
  14. “5 Questions with Eli Pariser, Author of The Filter Bubble”. Time. ISSN 0040-781X.
  15. Bowman, S. (2016). “Stop Saying ‘Virtue Signalling’” Adam Smith Institute.
  16. Bulbulia, Joseph; Schjoedt, Uffe (2010). “Religious Culture and Cooperative Prediction under Risk: Perspectives from Social Neuroscience”. Religion, Economy, and Cooperation. p. 37–39. ISBN 3110246333.
  17. Steadman, L.; Palmer, C. (2008). The Supernatural and Natural Selection: Religion and Evolutionary Success. Paradigm.
  18. Irons, W. (2001) “Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment”. The Evolution of Commitment, Randolph Nesse (ed.) New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 292–309.
  19. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Feb. 17). “Cynical About Cynicism”. LessWrong.
  20. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Mar. 20). “Why Our Kind Can’t Cooperate”. LessWrong.
  21. Bartholemew, James (2015, Apr. 18). “The awful rise of ‘virtue signalling’”. Spectator.
  22. Devers, Neal (2016, Nov. 24). “The Overton Bubble”. The Future Primaeval.

Nepal Has Fallen

Among Asian nations, Nepal is not high on Washington’s list of foreign policy priorities. The mountainous nation, which is consumed by the massive Himalayas, is mostly known for its Buddhism and its Gurkhas—a warrior people who still provide mercenary services for the British, Indian, and Singaporean armies. Overall, Nepal produces very little that Americans consume. Nepal is also not the home to a large American military contingent, nor is it seen as an important ally in America’s never-ending quest to be the major hegemony in West and East Asia. Nepal, to put it bluntly, is not important to American interests.

This view will almost certainly change, however. The reason for this is that a powerful Communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) recently acquired the levers of power in Kathmandu after a democratic election. According to all international observers, the Communists in Nepal have close connections to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. This all but guarantees that rustic and rural Nepal will become a Chinese satellite on the border with India, a close American ally and a long-time opponent of China owing to a border dispute that once erupted in violence.

Democracy, Civil War, and Insurgency

In order to appreciate the importance of this victory, one must understand the history of communism in Nepal. Himalayan Communists are not the typical neckbeard professors that one encounters in the West; they are experienced guerrilla fighters who waged a war against the central government for almost two decades.

The Communist Party of Nepal is led by two former prime ministers, K.P. Sharma Old and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (both of whom fought against the center-left government during the 2000s). These two men managed to unify two competing factions of the far-left party in order to sweep the country’s Parliament and Provincial Assembly. With this mandate, Nepalese Communists are expected to both follow a harder line against India and be more cooperative to Chinese business interests in the country. It is predicted that one of the first orders of business for the new government is to pass through the Chinese hydropower project that the former prime minister, Kamal Thapa, cancelled less than a month before the election.

In 1994, the government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the first democratically elected leader of Nepal and a member of the center-left Nepali Congress Party, suffered a vote of no confidence. That same year, new elections brought the Communists into power. Communist leader Man Mohan Adhikari became the prime minister and briefly led a minority government. That same government dissolved less than a year later. After that, Nepalese Communists, especially the Maoists among then, began their long insurgency.

A brief paper written by Yurendra Basnett in 2009 laid out the reasons underlying the vicious civil war that rocked Nepal between 1996 and 2006. Basnett writes that Western scholars were baffled by the far-left insurgency given that “Nepal enjoyed [an] unprecedented level of economic and political freedom” at the start of the rebellion.[1] The Maoists themselves argued that their war began because of economic inequality, rural poverty, and chronic landlessness in the country. Basnett argues that these invocations of economic disparities do not amount to much given that they have been “omnipresent” since the formation of modern Nepal.[2]

What Basnett’s critique of the Maoist movement misses is that Communist movements rarely come from times of economic disparity. Except for the rise of far-left movements during the Great Depression of the 1930s, most of the seminal Communist movements have sought to obtain power just at the time when their respective nations have achieved some form of unprecedented growth or stability. When the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 erupted, the Russian Empire that they overthrew was far more liberal, progressive, and economically advanced than Western liberals and socialists realized. According to UNZ Review writer Anatoly Karlin, the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II was even more “progressive” than such typically modernist bastions as London, Paris, and Berlin:

“Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x. Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country—and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead of most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.”[3]

Tragically, this liberal attitude allowed a radical student body to fester and become many of the same Bolsheviks who oversaw the genocidal regime that would rule Russia until 1991. Such a scenario played out in China as well, for when the Chinese Communist Party began life in the aftermath of World War I, China was modernizing at a rapid pace. Thanks to World War I, which did not damage China, Chinese exports rose and the nation’s trade deficit dropped by an astounding 80 percent. While this success proved temporary, China before Mao was politically unstable but considered one of the world’s greatest jewels. Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was a cosmopolitan city beloved by Asians and Westerners alike.

Maoism in Nepal follows a discernible pattern—as prosperity increases or stabilizes, discontent grows as well. Like Marx, the social leech who had servants and never worried about earning a dollar, many of today’s Communists are full of the same greed that they constantly accuse capitalists of harboring deep in their benighted chests.

In Nepal, Maoist violence reached a terrifying apex in November 2001, when more than one hundred people were killed in violent confrontations between rebels and government forces. As a result, the central government declared a state of emergency. An absolute monarchy returned to power amidst the chaos. All told, almost 20,000 people were killed and another 2,000 remain missing.

From Monarchy to Democracy to Communism

A reactionary analysis would find that Nepal’s troubles began with the decline and fall of its monarchy. When this stabilizing force fell, chaos came in its wake.

Nepal was unified into a central state ruled by a hereditary monarchy in 1768. The kingdom first began to falter due to military incursions by the British East India Company, which already had a sizable foothold in India by the late 18th century. Between 1814 and 1816, Nepalese forces lost the Anglo-Nepalese War to the soldiers of the East India Company and their Indian allies. Although the Kingdom of Nepal retained its independence, one third of the country would be a protectorate of British India until Indian independence in 1947.

When King Birendra came to the throne in 1972, political parties were banned in the country. However, this did not mean that the king could rule by fiat or whim; a system of regional councils called panchayats helped to disperse and decentralize authority. Because he ruled during an age of interventionist democratic liberalism, King Birendra often told the international press that he was a democrat rather than an autocrat. Still, the king wisely told his critics that due to Nepal’s “backwardness,” mass democracy would be a recipe for disaster. The political violence that often accompanies the rise of political parties would ruin the country, the king argued.

King Birendra would rule Nepal in this way for decades. Despite the relative peace and harmony, there were pro-democratic movements designed to bring down the monarchy. In 1980, King Birendra had the leaders of the center-left Nepali Congress Party arrested in order to keep the panchayat system in place. The king then called a referendum in order to see if Nepalese citizens would prefer a non-party government or one that allowed political parties to exist. Nepalese voters favored non-party politics by a score of 55 to 45 percent.

Ten years later, the People’s Movement used strikes to disrupt the monarchical state. This movement proved harder to suppress than one political party, as it was composed of several political parties, including the Nepali Congress Party and a unified group of Communist parties called the United Left Front. In February 1990, the government began arresting the leaders of the People’s Movement and shut down most of their media organs. A series of deadly confrontations between the Nepalese state and People’s Movement protesters followed this. For example, in the city of Bhaktapur, police killed 12 protesters in late February. Out of anger and frustration, approximately two million protesters descended on the capital of Kathmandu. On April 8, King Birendra removed the ban on political parties. A few months later, in November 1990, a constitution written by the People’s Movement forced King Birendra to remove the panchayat system and to democratize the government. Marxists were soon elected to office.

Although 1990 is often seen as the year when democracy came to Nepal, the continued existence of the royal family helped to maintain fears that an absolute monarchy could return at any time. These fears gained substance thanks to Crown Prince Dipendra, the king’s eldest son and heir. Unfortunately, he proved to be a murderous psychopath. On June 1, 2001, Dipendra consumed large amounts of alcohol and hashish at a dinner on the grounds of the Narayanhity Royal Palace. After misbehaving with a guest, the King told him to leave. He returned an hour later with a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, an H&K MP5 submachine gun, a Colt M16A2 rifle, and a Glock 19 9mm pistol, which he used to kill nine members of the royal family: the King and Queen, his sister, his brother, the King’s brother, two of the King’s sisters, the husband of one of the King’s sisters, and the King’s cousin. Dipendra then turned a gun on himself, dying after spending three days in a coma during which he was King. While many Nepalese citizens continue to question the official story of the massacre, there is no doubt that the future of the Nepalese monarchy ended on that late spring night in 2001.

The throne passed to Gyanendra, another brother of Birendra who briefly re-established the absolute monarchy due to political violence in the country. King Gyanendra blamed Nepal’s political parties for failing to form a government after the dissolution of the parliament. After taking direct control of the state, Gyanendra dismissed three prime ministers for failing to call for new elections. Interestingly for an autocrat, King Gyanendra demanded that Nepal acquire some form of democracy or parliamentarianism in order to legitimize the state in the eyes of foreign critics. King Gyanendra’s promises of “peace and effective democracy” were undermined by the Maoist rebels who continued to carry out their bloody war against the Nepalese monarchy. Like Bavarian minister Gustav von Kahr, King Gyanendra all but admitted that a “cell of order” must exist before democracy can take hold. Personal liberty is nothing if public safety cannot be guaranteed.

By 2006, King Gyanendra announced that he would give executive authority to a new prime minister. Interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala took power in 2006 while Nepalese politicians argued about the role the monarchy would play in the future democracy. That April, Gyanendra reinstated the country’s parliament.

The fall of the monarchy occurred under the watchful eye of the Indian government. Along with Prime Minister Koirala, who supposedly suspected that the monarchy would always threaten democratic governance, Indian officials weakened the King’s power to the point where the royal palace became just the head of the parliament. On May 27, 2008, King Gyanendra was ordered by the parliament to vacate the royal palace within fifteen days. The ruling came as part of peace talks between the transitional democratic government and the Maoists. This is how the Nepalese monarchy fell—as an olive branch given to ultra-left radicals who despise Nepalese traditions.

Lessons

There are several lessons to be learned from these events. First, in the words of Hans-Hermann Hoppe,

“One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”[4]

If democrats and communists are permitted to wield political power and advance their goals, they will eventually destroy the traditions and values that make civilization possible. It sometimes begins with something that seems innocuous—the Magna Carta in England, the Constitution in America, or the People’s Movement in Nepal—but the end is always some form of communist takeover, whether overt or covert. Monarchs (or private property owners in a libertarian society) must be willing to use the necessary amount of force to crush democratic and communist uprisings, however unpleasant the resulting bloodshed may be.

Second, it is no measure of health to kowtow to a sick global community, especially when the disease in question is such a virulent one as liberal democracy. Had King Birendra argued a passionate defense of traditional unelected governance, offered an ideological offensive against democratic thought, and called upon foreigners to respect Nepal’s sovereignty, the progress of the Maoists might have been forestalled. King Gyanendra was no better in this regard, and it cost him his crown. Unlike other countries that have had democratic experiments inflicted upon them by Western intervention, Nepal harbors no conceivable threat and has little that imperialist powers could want, so war propaganda would be more difficult to manufacture against them.

Finally, the greatest enemy is always the enemy within. A stable family, let alone governance structure for a nation, must have a means of detecting and removing threats like Dipendra. This could take many forms, from mental health evaluations to keeping inebriated people and deadly weapons away from the King.

What Lies Ahead

For India, the end of official hostilities in Nepal have been of little comfort. After all, India itself is still battling an internal Maoist insurgency that has ties to Nepal’s Communists. India’s war with Communist forces have been going on since 1967, and today, the “red corridor” of the country has claimed almost 18,000 lives. Violence is trending downwards, but there is no end in sight to the insurgency. A Communist victory in Nepal is likely to bolster the spirits of Maoists across the border in India.

For China, a pliant government in Nepal means that they move one step closer to realizing their “One Belt, One Road” dream. This plan, which has already seen China dump billions of dollars in investments in Asian and European ports, as well as investing heavily in the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, is the great issue facing the West. Contrary to starry-eyed Cathedral elites, the Chinese Communist Party is not reformed and has not embraced capitalism. Instead, the CCP is bent on pursuing a predatory economic policy that will make Asia and Africa into colonies of China’s limitless and cheap produce.

In order to achieve “One Belt, One Road,” do not be surprised if China dusts off an old gem from Communism’s history. During the 1930s, when fascism posed a grave threat to Soviet Communism, Joseph Stalin encouraged the Popular Front strategy, which saw Communist parties collaborate with liberal and socialist parties in France, Spain, the United States, and other nations. The elections of May 1936 brought the Front Populaire to power in Paris, and Leon Blum pursued a radically republican, anti-clerical, and socialistic platform thanks to support from Communist-backed labor unions. Across the Pyrenees in Spain, the Frente Popular installed the a rabidly anti-Catholic and anti-capitalist government headed by Manuel Azana. This was the last government of the Second Spanish Republic, for a right-wing coup led by the Spanish Army triggered what would become the Spanish Civil War in 1936. China, in pursuing their economic goals, may begin promoting Communist parties all across Asia. While Nepal is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, its fall to a far-left rabble does not bode well for liberty in Asia.

References:

  1. Basset, Yurendra (2009). From Politicization of Grievances to Political Violence: An Analysis of the Maoist Movement in Nepal. Development DESTIN Studies Institute, Working Papers Series. p. 4.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Karlin, Anatoly (2017). The Russian Empire: Too Nice For Its Own Good. http://www.unz.com/akarlin/progressive-russian-empire/
  4. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2017 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

I began 2017 by addressing a recurring story throughout the 2016 election campaign; that of Russia hacking the DNC and phishing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system. I argued that Russia would have been justified in doing not only this, but in actually altering the election to cause Donald Trump to win. I would later use this piece as an example in a guide on how to argue more sharply in order to throw opponents out of their comfort zones. The story lingered on, so I published a sequel detailing the benefits of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The left’s activities after the election became ridiculous, so I decided to give them some free advice.

My first list of 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals was a major hit, so I started planning a sequel. I had no intention of taking almost two years to compile 25 more statist propaganda phrases to refute, but better late than never, I suppose.

Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, which of course meant that Gary Johnson did not. I explored in detail what was wrong with Johnson’s campaign that made him not only lose, but fail to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency. Once Trump was in office, the responses to his trade policies among mainstream analysts led me to explain why many of them are politically autistic.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, but I decided to start doing more of them in late 2016. This trend continued throughout 2017, as I read and reviewed The Invention of Russia, The Age of Jihad, In Our Own Image, Come And Take It, Against Empathy, Level Up Your Life, Islamic Exceptionalism, The Science of Selling, Closing The Courthouse Door, Open To Debate, Calculating the Cosmos, The Art of Invisibility, Libertarian Reaction, and The Euro.

Antifa grew from a nuisance that rarely affected anyone other than neo-Nazis into a serious threat to anyone who is politically right of center and/or libertarian who wishes to speak in a public venue. A comprehensive strategy to defeat them was necessary, and I was happy to provide one. Kyle Chapman grew weary of Antifa’s antics and led the effort to take up arms against them, becoming known as Based Stickman. I praised him in song. After the events of February, April, and May Day, I revised the strategy.

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus. The first part covers the sixth season of the show, and the second part covers the first half of the seventh season. At least three more parts will come next year.

‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, has become common among the more radical members of the Libertarian Party. I explained why this approach is misguided.

White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. This did not go over well with Jeffrey Tucker, who loudly denounced Spencer, after which security removed everyone from the bar. I wrote about the incident and the philosophical underpinnings of it.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2014 about the nature of fake libertarianism, so I published a revision.

Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. The role of conquest in the determination of property rights had gone largely unexplored, so I decided to remedy the situation.

Terrorism struck in London on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I argued against more amendments to the United States Constitution, namely the Second and the Eleventh.

A chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria, which led to US intervention via a cruise missile strike. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking frequently claim that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. I debunked that claim.

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I applied ethical theories to the event to gain a deeper perspective of what happened and the aftermath of the event.

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argued that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeded to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. I rebutted Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Fashion trends can be a useful barometer of the health of a society. I explained how the trend of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally indicates that a revolution may come soon.

Memorial Day provides an opportunity to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. I decided to do the opposite.

The immediate danger standard says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression, and it has become far too commonly advocated in libertarian circles. I explained why it is wrong and why it has gained prevalence.

On June 14, James Hodgkinson opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

The Supreme Court ruled against the stays on Trump’s travel ban, but he missed a greater opportunity by letting them decide rather than ignoring the courts. I explained how and why.

Political rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, with violence erupting as a result. I showed how democracy is the root of this problem and how abolishing democracy is the solution.

The meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups in recent years. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. I wrote an overview of this context and explained why helicopter rides may not be the best option.

I welcomed Insula Qui, the first additional writer for Zeroth Position, in July. He provided two articles to keep the site going while I was preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the Corax conference in Malta. A piece describing the problems that led to the call for net neutrality and recommending against more state inteference in the Internet came first, followed by a critique of common libertarian strategies to date. Speaking of the Corax conference, a revised version of my talk may be found here, as they own the rights to the original. A topic that came up in the talk that needed further comment is that in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory, right-libertarians in general and libertarian reactionaries in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy,’ but they do not always properly define the term. I attempted to do so.

In the August 2 episode of the Tom Woods Show, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, and that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. Qui countered these assertions and delved deeper into the relationship between libertarianism and fascism than I had previously, which is not as inimical as one might think.

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 turned violent, with three deaths and about 20 injuries. I wrote a list of observations on the events. In response, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley, which have become increasingly hostile to right-wing and libertarian content creators over the past decade, ramped up their censorship efforts. I proposed a novel and radical plan to deal with this problem so as to avoid public utility regulation.

I welcomed Benjamin Welton, our second additional writer, in September. I had meant to write an article about using the historical concept of outlawry to deal with violent illegal aliens myself, but time constraints led me to outsource the project. He then explored several historical examples of private military defense, finding that something novel must be created in order to defeat the state and maintain a libertarian social order.

In the wake of two major hurricanes, the usual complaints about price gouging were made yet again. I explained why price gouging is actually beneficial.

Qui wrote a piece about the limits of the applicability of libertarian philosophy, explaining that humans can fall into the categories of personhood or savagery, and that it is important to deal with each accordingly.

Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain and become an independent nation on October 1. This was met with force, and much hostility ensued. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Qui examined the role of the modern concept of citizenship in advancing a particularly insidious form of totalitarianism.

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argued that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. I thoroughly rebutted his arguments.

Welton explored the history of judicial corporal punishment, then made a case for restoring its use as a replacement for imprisoning lesser criminals.

The debt ceiling became a political issue again. As it incites financial panic for no good reason and hides important truths from common view, I advocated for its elimination on formalist grounds.

Capitalism and consumerism are distinct phenomena, with the latter caused by high time preference, which in turn is caused by the flaws inherent in modernity. Qui explained this at length.

I welcomed Nathan Dempsey, our third additional writer, in November. He runs a project called Liberty Minecraft, and wrote an introduction to the project.

The relationship between libertarianism and racial politics has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Many libertarians either provide the wrong answer or are afraid to address the question, so I decided to address libertarianism and support for ethnic nationalism.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced. I weighed in on holiday shopping again due to some misguided criticism of computer programs designed to scalp popular gifts. Finally, I detailed the problems with Santa Claus.

Qui offered a message of hope in dark times by demonstrating how the socialists and anti-capitalists of today are not usually as fanatical as those that the early libertarians opposed, then offered advice on how to argue against them. He quickly followed this with an explanation of his concept of autostatism, which closely echoed one of the other presentations from the Corax conference. He then dealt with traditional views on degenerate behavior, and how a compassionate, non-enabling approach is necessary.

Due to surging exchange rates, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. There are benefits of cryptocurrencies which will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment, and I listed eight of them.

Qui finished out the year by explaining why individualism and nationalism are not as incompatible as many people believe.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2018 bring more and better. Happy New Year!

The Problems With Santa Claus

Every year on Christmas Eve, children throughout Christendom eagerly await a visit from Santa Claus. Most children are told that he visits the homes of children to place gifts under Christmas trees for good children and bring coal or sticks for bad children. While many parents may believe that this is a harmless “white lie,” there is a case to be made that the myth of Santa Claus is actually very harmful to children. Let us examine the origins of these customs and consider their ill effects.

Santa’s Origin

The original form of Santa Claus was nothing like his common appearance today, which is largely a product of Thomas Nast’s cartoons (shown above), the poetry of Clement Clark Moore, and Coca-Cola advertisements. The custom of a mythical figure placing presents under a tree dates back to the mother/child cult of Semiramis and Nimrod in ancient Babylon. The mythology says that Nimrod married his mother, setting her up as the “queen of heaven” and himself up as the “divine son of heaven.” The two of them had a son named Tammuz, a god of food and vegetation worshiped in Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia. Upon Nimrod’s death, Semiramis claimed to see an evergreen tree spring up to full size overnight, symbolizing the “new life of Nimrod.” She then taught Tammuz to go into forests and make offerings to his father on the day that is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar (the origin of the date of Christmas), who was now worshiped as the sun god Ba’al, the false god mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament of the Bible. The custom was known to the authors of the book of Jeremiah, which includes the following:

“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”[1]

The book of Jeremiah is believed to have been written between 627 and 586 BC—six centuries before the time of Jesus—disproving any assertions that the customs surrounding Christmas were an invention of Christians. Nimrod was also known as Santa throughout Asia Minor.[2] Another name for Nimrod used in Greece was Nikolaos. This name is a combination of the Greek words nikos and laos, which together mean “victory over the laity” or “conqueror of common people.” These customs inform certain practices within Christianity, such as the focus on Mary and Jesus together. Thus, the gift-bearing portion of the Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas story is ultimately a manifestation of the ancient cults of Babylon.

Krampus Confluence

With Santa’s gifts explained, let us turn to the coal and sticks. These come from a pre-Christian tradition in Eastern Europe involving a figure named Krampus. This being, whose portrayal resembles that of Satan, is said to come on December 5 (Krampusnacht) to punish bad children. He may leave coal or sticks, beat children with sticks, kidnap and throw them into water, or take them directly to Hell in the worst cases. In places where Krampusnacht is observed, children get presents on December 6. Families with unruly children hang gold-painted bundles of birch sticks in their homes throughout the year as a functional décor to remind the children of the threat that Krampus may beat or abduct them.

Krampusnacht celebrations involve parades of people wearing Krampus costumes, running through the streets and beating people. The masks involved can be valuable items of folk art, especially if they are antiques. Though Krampus was of Norse origin—said to be the son of Hel, the god of death and the underworld who lends her name to the Hell of Christianity—he has been linked to Santa since the 17th century. Though Krampus was banned under fascist rule in the 1930s, the custom resumed once those governments fell.

Ill Effects

To adults, all of this may seem like a harmless bit of fun. But when children are taught to believe in such beings as Santa Claus and Krampus, several detrimental effects may occur. First, parents who lie about Santa and/or Krampus are weakening their trust and credibility. Children will someday realize that their parents have lied to them, and this will lead them to question other statements that their parents have made. This can lead to trust issues that persist even into adult life, as well as damage a fundamental and irreplaceable relationship in a young person’s life.

Second, the Krampus story encourages violent parenting. A multitude of studies show that physically abusing and verbally threatening children is counterproductive to their development. The idea that a demon may take a child away from home forever into a place of punishment can inflict lasting feelings of trauma and insecurity on a young mind, and being hit with sticks is not much better for a child’s physical health. If children are capable of understanding reason, then it is better to use reason. If children are incapable of understanding reason, then they cannot understand the reasons why their elders are striking or threatening them. Moreover, the desire to escape punishment is the lowest of Kohlberg’s six stages of ethical development[3], and the desire to obtain rewards is the next lowest. Myths like those about Santa and Krampus can keep people from progressing past these lower stages of ethical thinking.

Third, these myths teach children to believe in entities whose existence and efficacy are not supported by credible evidence. A scientific analysis of what Santa Claus and his flying reindeer would have to do to fulfill the conditions set for him shows that he would have to endure G-forces more than 1,000 times beyond what is lethal. The idea of gifts and punishments coming seemingly out of nowhere, deus or diabolus ex machina style, to those who deserve them, requires a supernatural violation of physics as well as economics. If a child can be taught to believe in Santa or Krampus in the absence of credible evidence, then it will be easier for them to fall prey to religious cults or confidence schemes later on. On a related note, such traditions undermine the religious teachings that parents may wish to pass on to their children. Once children reason their way to the conclusion that Santa Claus is not real, they may apply similar thinking to the Christian God and become atheists, which a Christian parent would presumably not wish to see.

Fourth, the focus on gifts that is encouraged by belief in Santa Claus contributes to a culture of degenerate consumerism. This leads many people to spend money they do not have on items they do not need, then take the rest of the year to pay off the debts they incur during the holiday season. This runs counter to Christian teaching, which encourages both economic frugality and an emphasis on long-term planning over immediate gratification.

But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Santa Claus myth relates to the similarities between the Santa/Krampus duo and the institution of the state. The lyrics to a popular Christmas song say,

“He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”[4]

The idea of a benevolent gift-giver who regularly violates everyone’s privacy and will bring punishment to those whom he deems to be bad people is a close approximation of the ideals of the current political establishment. The story of Santa makes the citizenry easier to control by making people comfortable with a state apparatus that frequently violates their rights and threatens them with punishment from a young age.

Conclusion

All things considered, the stories of Santa Claus and Krampus have the effects of destroying trust in the family, healthy personal development, acceptance of reason and science, maintenance of other traditions, and the desire for liberty in the mind of a child. For these reasons, it is fair to say that lying to children about Santa Claus and/or Krampus does far more harm than good. It is best to be honest about such customs and tell children that these are merely stories rather than real entities so that they will not develop resentment, irrationality, and statist tendencies.

References:

  1. Jeremiah 10:2-5 (NKJV)
  2. Langer, William L. (1940); Stearns, Peter N. (ed. 2001). The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, chronologically arranged. Houghton Mifflin. p. 37.
  3. Kohlberg, Lawrence (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”. In Lickona, T. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston.
  4. Coots, John Frederick and Gillespie, Haven (1934). Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.

Eight Politically Incorrect Benefits of Cryptocurrency

Due to surging exchange rates in the past few months, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Mainstream investors tend to be attracted to the profit potential, portfolio diversification, and technological curiosities of cryptocurrency. But there are other benefits of cryptocurrencies which may scare away the average investor. Let us consider eight activities which can be performed with or aided by Bitcoin and its alternatives that will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment.

1. Tax Evasion

Charles Stross famously complained that Bitcoin

“looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind—to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens’ financial transactions.”

The problem is that he views this as a negative. From a moral standpoint, taxation is armed robbery, slavery, racketeering, trespassing, communicating threats, receiving stolen money, and conspiracy to commit the aforementioned crimes. If anyone dared to challenge the state’s monopoly on tax collection, they could face any of these criminal charges. By doing business in cryptocurrencies and taking additional steps to protect one’s identity (Bitcoin is pseudonymous rather than anonymous, though other cryptocurrencies are fully anonymous), one can keep part or all of one’s income and stored wealth away from Leviathan’s watchful eye. Establishment politicians and pundits will decry tax evasion as immoral. But as Murray Rothbard writes,

“Just as no one is morally required to answer a robber truthfully when he asks if there are any valuables in one’s house, so no one can be morally required to answer truthfully similar questions asked by the State, e.g., when filling out income tax returns.”[1]

The weapon of cryptocurrency is thus more of a shield than a sword, though it may be employed in an offensive posture (see #8).

2. Agorism

One way to reduce the size and scope of the state is to starve it of funds. Agorism is a strategy introduced by Samuel Konkin for reducing and eventually eliminating state power by expanding the size and scope of gray and black markets. As more people rely on the informal economy to a greater extent, they will develop a culture of resistance against state power while depriving governments of revenue by keeping their taxable income out of official records. This will incense people who believe that the state is necessary for the provision of essential services such as military defense and legal systems, but those services could be performed by private entities if they were not forcibly stopped from doing so by state monopolies. It will also worry those who believe that governments must take care of the poor and down-trodden, but private charity is quite capable of solving the problem, especially with tax burdens removed.

3. Undermining Prohibition

From the beginning of the original Silk Road, cryptocurrency has played a role in helping people to obtain goods and services that are prohibited by state laws. Though that site was shuttered by government intervention, this had more to do with the incompetence of Ross Ulbricht than with any inherent flaw in Silk Road or Bitcoin. Since then, many other sites have been created to serve the same purpose. This is a terrifying prospect for drug warriors and gun control advocates, who believe that strict laws against the sale of such goods are necessary to keep communities safe. But the available evidence suggests that state bans only raise the prices of banned goods while increasing the violence involved in their trade. Thankfully, online black markets will continue to undermine prohibitionist policies while reducing the amount of violence involved in both law enforcement and black market disputes.

4. Circumventing Child Labor Laws

Most developed countries prohibit children under a certain age from working. Proponents of child labor legislation believe that it is necessary to protect children from exploitation and lack of education. However, in most places where child labor is still prevalent, it is better than the alternatives of lackluster schooling, child prostitution, or starvation. In more developed countries, child labor laws prevent children from earning income, learning useful trade skills, building a work ethic, and avoiding indoctrination by the state. Cryptocurrencies provide a framework to allow people to hire and pay children outside of official channels (see #2), while smart contracts on a cryptocurrency blockchain can prevent wage theft and other exploitation.

5. Circumventing Capital Controls

In many countries, there are laws that forbid carrying more than a certain amount of money or goods out of the country. Such laws are easy to enforce when currencies are centralized in a specific country, and when money and goods must take physical form, as precious metals and cash do. But cryptocurrencies are not particular to any physical location and do not require a physical form. This allows a person to trade one’s fiat currency or precious metal in one country for cryptocurrency, travel to another country, and either sell the cryptocurrency for fiat currency or precious metal in the other country or use the cryptocurrency directly. Economic protectionists may argue that this weakens the economy of the nation that experiences capital flight, but capital flight would not be occurring if the nation experiencing it had a more responsible government that was not creating adverse economic conditions.

6. Financing Disapproved Activism

Political dissidents and the causes they support are frequently rejected by the legacy financial system. Banks, credit cards, Paypal, and other money handlers have a long history of closing accounts and denying service to people and groups that oppose the current power structure with sufficient ardency and effectiveness. This occurs partly because these companies tend to be controlled by virtue-signaling members of the establishment, and partly because government regulators can make business difficult or impossible for companies that refuse to crack down on dissidents. If there were no other options, then the establishment would be able to effectively eliminate its opposition by starving them out. But ever since Wikileaks came to depend on Bitcoin donations for funding, cryptocurrencies have provided an alternative financial system that allows activists to make a living, engage in commerce, and perform their activism despite the disapproval of ruling elites.

7. Thwarting Monetary Policy

Ever since Keynesian economics became prevalent among policymakers, central bankers have sought to manipulate interest rates and the money supply to stimulate the economy. But in practice, this only distorts the economy further, encouraging those with capital to make malinvestments. True to the Austrian business cycle theory, this forms yet another economic bubble that then breaks, after which misguided commentators blame markets and call for yet more intervention. Over the long term, central banks also destroy the purchasing power of a currency, with the US dollar losing 96 percent of its value since the Federal Reserve was formed in 1913. In order to continue to function, central banks must have a critical mass of economic transactions occur in the currency that they manipulate. Should enough people make the switch away from state-backed fiat currencies, monetary policy will lose its effectiveness. Cryptocurrencies threaten this critical mass by offering an alternative to people who wish to opt out of the scam of central banking and own an asset that appreciates over time.

8. Assassination Markets

Perhaps the most controversial application for cryptocurrencies is known as a death pool or an assassination market. First theorized by Tim May and fleshed out by Jim Bell in the 1990s, assassination markets predict the date on which a particular person will die and provide payment to those who guess correctly. This incentivizes an assassin to bet on a certain date and kill the person on that date. The original proposal was made long before cryptocurrencies were invented, and thus called for the use of anonymous remailers. Cryptocurrencies render remailers obsolete, as they better serve the purpose of compensating the assassin without leaving evidence that law enforcement can use to discover the identity of the assassin and/or the crowdfunders. The goal is to increase the level of occupational hazard for being a politician or minion thereof to such an extent that the benefits of wielding state power are no longer worth the cost. The theoretical result is that if politicians, central bankers, enforcers, and other such people suddenly become frequent targets of assassination, then these occupations will cease to exist due to a lack of interest in assuming such roles. Although the establishment will only ever view such an approach as murderous, and cryptocurrency enthusiasts are deeply divided over the concept, there will almost certainly be many attempts to create assassination markets in the coming years.

References:

  1. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press. p. 183

Book Review: The Euro

The Euro is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project by American economist Joseph Stiglitz. The book makes a case against many of the policies pursued by European leaders thus far and recommends several alternatives, including further integration, a flexible euro, and the exit of one or more members. The book is divided into twelve chapters which explore different aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

A short preface details Stiglitz’s view of the economic problems of Europe as being largely attributable to the creation of a single currency zone without the creation of other institutions that are found in other such places elsewhere in the world. He compares the euro to the gold standard, repeating the flawed mainstream view that deflation is bad. His Keynesian approach to economics and thoroughly statist worldview is apparent from the beginning. That being said, Stiglitz appears to want to solve problems and correctly identifies some people and institutions as being uninterested in doing so.

The opening section begins with a chapter that expands upon the preface and outlines the rest of the book. There is little here that is not covered in greater detail later, so let us move on. In Chapter 2, Stiglitz argues that the poor results of the euro should have been expected because economic integration of this sort cannot come before political integration. Here, he contends that military might no longer shapes outcomes as it once did, but this is dubious because nothing short of a nuclear exchange that no one wants could have stopped the United States from conquering and colonizing Iraq if that had been the intention and American leadership had used its full power. So too for Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. His responses to other arguments for a single currency make more sense. He states the fallacious mainstream position on public goods, claiming without logic or evidence that it is impossible for markets to provide basic research and common utilities. This amounts to a confusion of collective action with state action. Even so, Stiglitz does recognize that localization is better than central planning from afar, though his disdain for German policies makes him inconsistent on this point. He then turns to economic integration, discussing the importance of German history with hyperinflation and its prominent role in modern Europe for understanding the European Central Bank. Next, Stiglitz writes about effect that a shared currency has on economic integration, which is mixed. Like many Keynesians, he accuses the market of failure when this is actually impossible; such events are actually failures of government, resources, or individual people. He also regards economics as scientific, even though the scientific method cannot be applied to subjects in which counterfactuals are so important but also unobservable. As usual, the word ‘neoliberal’ says more about the person using it than anything else. He concludes by arguing that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, even though he argues elsewhere in the book against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy.

Europe’s lackluster economic performance since the 2008 crisis is the subject of the third chapter. Stiglitz begins by claiming that Keynesianism is a success because it has lengthened business cycles and shortened downturns, but it has also made the downturns that do occur so much worse that markets were better off before such interventionism. Much of the chapter consists of empirical data for Europe since 2007. When discussing unemployment, he seems not to recognize that unemployment benefits subsidize a negative behavior and will thus produce more of that behavior. Stiglitz relies upon the Gini coefficient when discussing inequality, which is a faulty metric because it measures pre-tax income rather than after-tax consumption. This causes it to exaggerate the amount of income inequality. His detailing of the long-term adverse effects of recession in terms of destroyed human capital is largely correct, but he again recommends interventionism that tends to worsen such problems. He also takes the position that the state should protect those at the economic bottom, though almost every economist would avoid social Darwinism on this front. Stiglitz then commits a fixed pie fallacy by arguing that trade surpluses necessarily cause trade deficits elsewhere, when the reality is quite different. He concludes by correctly noting that the counterfactuals help critics of the euro, and that there is no better explanation for many of Europe’s troubles than sharing a common currency across uncommon societies and economies.

The second section argues that the euro suffers from a flawed initial design. In Chapter 4, the requirements for a single currency region to be successful are considered. Here, Stiglitz uplifts full employment and market stability as goals while denouncing those who favor economic freedom as a “lunatic fringe.” This leads him to contemplate a false dilemma between national control of money and supranational control. He blames market fundamentalism (which he calls neoliberalism) for the crisis of 2008, despite the fact that markets were altered by central bankers in such a way as to cause the crash, which he all but says elsewhere. In explaining the differences between the United States and the eurozone, Stiglitz highlights the freer movement of Americans, the identity of Americans at the national level rather than the state level (at least in modern times), and the federal nature of monetary and fiscal stimulus. He is correct to say that there must either be “more Europe” or “less Europe,” but sides with the former. He describes the Keynesian theory of business cycles, but makes no mention of the Austrian theory. Stiglitz then repeats the tired fallacy that austerity caused the Great Depression and the current malaise, rather than central bank shenanigans and tariff policies. His blame for the gold standard is similarly misguided. He somewhat fixes an error from the previous chapter by clarifying that trade imbalances are not a problem if currency exchange rates can change to compensate for them. He straw-mans the laissez-faire position on unemployment by saying that it views unemployment due to market adjustments as good rather than as simply necessary. Stiglitz then gets a few points correct: low wages undermine worker morale and productivity, falling wages may not amount to falling prices if firms are worried about their solvency, and monetary stimulus has a breaking point at which interest rates cannot be lowered further. But he again blames the private sector for being excessive when it is only reacting to perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. There is little to fault in Stiglitz’s explanation of why currency areas are prone to crisis except for the preceding error, but it never occurs to him to simply not have such an area. The chapter ends by repeating many of the fallacious arguments from the previous chapter concerning trade surpluses and deficits.

The fifth chapter considers the economic divergence of the eurozone countries. Stiglitz argues in favor of institutional frameworks to prevent the need for bailouts, as well as funds to make depositors whole and provide bailouts. This ignores the moral hazard created by such a regime that causes bankers to take excessive risks, as well as the powerful incentives that an absence of protection would have on depositors to act responsibly and hold bankers accountable. His view of regulation is starry-eyed, missing the entire concept of regulatory capture. This is especially striking, given his focus on institutional capture in the following chapter. Stiglitz rightly complains of capitalized gains and socialized losses among bankers. In his consideration of other sources of divergence, he again fails to consider the possibility of turning over infrastructure to private development, instead proposing expansion of the European Investment Bank, which is certain to become another statist boondoggle. His view of knowledge markets is flawed in the same manner as his view of economies; it fails to account for the distortions that statism necessarily causes which lead to various types of failure. He concludes the chapter by showing how policies in the eurozone have caused greater instability, but cannot seem to avoid blaming the private sector for responding to the incentives imposed upon it.

In Chapter 6, Stiglitz examines the European Central Bank. He begins by saying that open markets and free competition can efficiently allocate resources only in the presence of adequate government regulation. This is a contradiction because an absence of government regulation defines an open market with free competition. His arguments concerning the inflation-only mandate of the ECB and the problems it causes would be much stronger if the Austrian business cycle theory were anywhere to be found in the book. His description of events in Chile under Pinochet does not agree with the long-term result of economic prosperity relative to the rest of South America and neglects how much worse conditions would have been under Salvador Allende. His claim that markets are supposed to be efficient and stable are a straw man; instability in the form of creative destruction and inefficiency by some metrics rather than others are inherent in a market economy. Stiglitz correctly writes that monetary policy is always a political question, pitting creditors against debtors for control of the central bank. But he leaves unclear how democracy is supposed to hold central bankers accountable. He also must not know any libertarians, or he would know that some people have proposed taking away spending power from governments to ensure that they do not misbehave. The chapter ends with a history of fashionable central bank policies over time and what was wrong with them from a Keynesian perspective.

The next two chapters delve into the Greek situation in particular, as Greece has suffered a more severe economic crisis than any other eurozone country. The seventh chapter explores the effect that the Troika’s policies had on countries in crisis. Stiglitz accuses some European leaders of acting in bad faith by purposefully attempting to punish governments with different political views from their own, which may be accurate. He continues his misguided attack on austerity, though it has more merit against what Europeans have actually done than against real austerity. He correctly explains the problem with primary surpluses, but then commits the broken window fallacy by embracing Keynesian multipliers. Stiglitz accurately diagnoses the problems of increasing taxes, but seeks to aid governments in collecting them rather than encourage economic freedom and stronger property rights. He describes his ideal system of property taxation in the same tone that a proud and unrepentant thief might use to boast of his crimes. Although he is correct to say that particular moves toward privatization and economic freedom may produce adverse results in particular contexts, this is a justification not for state intervention, but for undoing even more statism so as to remove the problematic context. Stiglitz notes that the hegemony of American military power has put Europe into a Pax Romana problem in which it cannot fend for itself against a real threat, but advises that this problem be worsened in the name of fiscal restraint. He compares reductions in pensions to wage theft when the two are clearly different. It is the responsibility of workers to figure out that they are being offered terms which may be impossible for the employer to meet in the future and practice caveat emptor. As for bank bailouts and debt restructuring, Stiglitz describes the situation well except for his faulty view of austerity.

Chapter 8 delves into structural reforms in Greece that made matters worse. Again, Stiglitz’s views of austerity and democracy corrupt an otherwise sound analysis of trivial and counterproductive actions taken by the Troika. He claims without proof that industrial policies are required to advance countries that are lagging behind in technological development, neglecting that markets are not doing this because they are either disallowed from doing so or are assuming that the state will do this for them. He criticizes intergenerational transmission of advantage and seeks to use the state against it, when it should be championed as both eugenic and important for maintaining a natural aristocracy. Stiglitz argues for a price on carbon emissions and claims that the private sector will not address climate change, when again the state has kept this from happening. He finishes by discussing counterfactuals, which is interesting given his empiricist thinking on economics.

The final four chapters deal with various proposals going forward. In the ninth chapter, Stiglitz offers his advice for fixing the eurozone. As before, he embraces what Henry Hazlitt called “the fetish of full employment” as the goal of his policy proposals. Much of the content of the chapter rehashes proposals from previous chapters. He seeks to create common deposit insurance and common resolution while abolishing place-based debt within the EU. This will create moral hazards and work against people who wish to escape debt slavery inflicted upon them by their ancestors. He calls for wages to be raised in countries with surpluses, which will lead to unemployment in those countries as workers whose labor is not worth higher wages are laid off. He fundamentally misunderstands precious metals, failing to understand their role as a store of value and medium of exchange, even if no longer officially used in such capacities. Stiglitz seeks to make the financial sector and other corporations serve society, but fails to recognize that the organs of a statist social order inherently and irrevocably serve themselves at the expense of the society. The shortsightedness of markets of which he complains is actually caused by the institutions that he seeks to use to solve the problem. One of the few sound recommendations made in this chapter is the creation of a super-Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to quickly restructure debt. He goes on to propose that EU taxes be based on citizenship, and that some of the proceeds be used for foreign aid or resettlement of migrants, further impoverishing and culturally endangering Europeans.

Chapter 10 examines the possibility of what Stiglitz calls “an amicable divorce,” in which countries exit the eurozone. He considers the example of Grexit, or Greece returning to its own currency that he calls the Greek-euro but would probably be called the drachma, as it was before the euro. He proposes that Greece create a new electronic currency to ease concerns over producing coins and banknotes, stop tax avoidance, bring everyone into the financial system, and facilitate the ability of central banks to create credit. Stiglitz fails to consider that people are likely to reject such a system in favor of cryptocurrencies, which have all of the benefits of such a system without most of the drawbacks, and that such a system could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens. His view of credit indicates magical thinking, although this is quite common in modern financial circles. He again blames the private sector for problems caused by politicians and central bankers, while ignoring peer-to-peer lending as a substitute for modern credit systems. Stiglitz describes a potential system of credit auctions which could be abused with much the same ease as the current system. He admits and supports what should be abhorrent to any decent person: that fiat currencies are ultimately given value by extortion in the form of taxation. Stiglitz correctly says that a new Greek currency would enable them to devalue it to correct trade imbalances, but his proposed system of trade tokens for the same purpose would be redundant. He equates deflation with a deficiency of aggregate demand, neglecting the possibilities of an abundance of supply or improvements in efficiency and/or quality. His description of currency change as a debt restructuring is insightful. To end the chapter, Stiglitz considers the alternative of Germany leaving the eurozone, though it is unlikely that they would give up their current position of power so willingly. This segues into the topic of the next chapter, which is a flexible euro consisting of several subdivisions.

Stiglitz uses Finland as a counterexample against those who claim that profligacy in southern Europe is to blame, rather than the structure of the eurozone. Most of his argument here is correct, except for his view of austerity. His proposal in this chapter is to have several eurozones with fluctuating exchange rates, which could be brought closer together over time as political integration occurs, eventually resulting in economic integration. The details are borrowed from the previous two chapters. Though more likely to succeed than the proposals in those chapters, it is also the least likely to be adopted. Stiglitz correctly recognizes that having a single currency area is an interference in the market in and of itself, monopolizing exchange and interest rates in the area, but cannot seem to fathom that his flexible euro proposal also does this on a smaller scale. He claims that it can be better not to simply rely on prices for the allocation of resources, but does not explain how to solve the local knowledge problem or the economic calculation problem in a superior manner. He also says that history shows free banking to be a disaster, when the truth is quite the opposite.

The final chapter sees Stiglitz review many themes from previous chapters, but he also covers topics which are barely mentioned elsewhere. He denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe, which are only trying to resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. So much for the “democratic accountability” that Stiglitz extols in the same breath. He blames right-wing economic ideology for rising inequality in the United States beginning with the Reagan administration, but incomes really began to diverge ten years earlier, when Nixon ended the gold standard. Stiglitz expresses a desire to preserve the Enlightenment values of Europe, but cannot comprehend how letting in migrants with distinctly anti-Enlightenment values will jeopardize that mission. On the issue of trade policy, he understands that free trade is not always best for all parties involved, as it can destroy important societal arrangements that prevent conflict. But then Stiglitz incredulously asks how one could have expected that Europe’s leaders would create such economic dysfunction, with massive unemployment and lack of economic security. The answer is that a proper amount of cynicism would require such an expectation.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for the book is that it is not an effort made in bad faith. Stiglitz correctly identifies many of the problems with the current state of affairs in Europe and seems to want to help, but his proposed solutions are thoroughly misguided. Despite his palpable disdain for Milton Friedman and other Chicago School monetarists, he suffers from one of the worst of their faults: a desire to solve the immediate problems set before him combined with a lack of broader perspective. This leads him to propose a banking system which could be used to terrible effect against political dissidents, tax collection schemes that would indicate criminal intent in any non-statist context, and forced political integration by means of stealth and subterfuge. He also seems to believe that everything would be fine if only state power were used by the right people to implement the right policies. It never occurs to him that the power itself might be the problem. The Euro is an interesting case study in leftist economic thought, but those looking for real solutions to Europe’s economic woes should keep looking.

Rating: 2.5/5

Praise The Grinch Bots

This week, outlets across the spectrum of establishment media were outraged at so-called ‘grinch bots.’ These are automated programs that make bulk purchases online so that scalpers can resell the items at higher prices. This has caused the prices of some toys to increase several-fold. For instance, a Barbie Hello Dreamhouse retails for $299.99, but on eBay, one reseller is asking for more than $4,600. This phenomenon has caught the attention of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said, “Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers. …Parents have a real dilemma: either they can’t get the toy because the bots have scooped them up, or they have to pay an enormous price.” In a letter to the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, he wrote, “I am calling on your associations to immediately investigate how these dishonest software programs are being used on your members’ sites and take all available steps to thwart computer systems from cheating America’s consumers.”

Schumer’s comments illustrate an economic illiteracy that is all too common among politicians and pundits. Contrary to popular belief, scalpers perform an important function in an economy. In this case, they also provide other benefits that extend beyond economics and into culture. Let us examine these phenomena in order to see why grinch bots are good.

The Economic Role of Scalpers

When a manufacturer produces an item for sale, it is impossible to calculate the market clearing price in advance. The market clearing price is exactly what it appears to be: the maximum price at which the producer can sell all of the produced items. Any price above this level will result in unsold product, while any price below this level will invite people to buy up the items and resell them, also known as scalping. Whereas overproduction is the worst inefficiency in manufacturing, a producer would prefer to err on the low side of the market clearing price. This naturally produces excess demand, which in turn leads to higher prices. Part of this effect occurs naturally in retail businesses, but scalpers act as an additional market force to accelerate the price correction up to its proper level.

Scalpers also function as risk mitigators. If a scalper buys products and fails to resell them, then the scalper loses the entire cost of the item while the manufacturer, retailer, and everyone in between are reimbursed for their expenses. If the scalper does make sales, then he makes a profit and people find the products they want. The scalper is thus strongly incentivized to connect manufacturers and distributors with customers who want their goods. Note that the scalper is behaving like a retailer, in that he buys large amounts of finite, potentially scarce products and sells them for a profit to people who want them. Yet hatred of scalpers is common, while hatred of retailers is rare.

Some people will argue that scalpers are responsible for higher prices and lower availability, but this is merely a result of arithmetic, and would happen with or without dedicated scalpers speculating on Christmas toys. Suppose, for an example similar to the case at hand, that doll houses are selling for an average of about $300, there are 10,000 doll houses for sale every day, and 15,000 people want a doll house. To avoid distributing reservations without price rationing, which would result in reservations being made available in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, prices must rise to a level where only 10,000 people still want them. This level may be around $450 in this case. How this $150 per doll house increase is distributed is what will vary, depending on how much scalping versus internal revaluation in retail stores is occurring.

Schumer makes two more especially ignorant claims which are worthy only of a cursory rebuttal. First, he contends that scalping harms the poor. This ignores the fact that scalping is an excellent economic opportunity for the poor, as they can make large returns by engaging in scalping. Second, he says that grinch bots are engaging in acts of theft and cheating. The idea that voluntarily purchasing a product at the offered price could constitute theft and cheating is simply bizarre.

Cultural Benefits

When scalpers buy up Christmas toys and fail to resell them, there are additional benefits which extend beyond economics and into culture. There is an enormous opportunity cost involved with the holiday shopping season, as people spend money they do not have on items they do not need, then spend even more money on getting out of debt. One way of preventing this is for attempted scalpers to raise prices and thus reduce demand. This will cause people who are on the margin of shopping versus not shopping to reconsider in favor of the latter. Those who make one reconsideration are more likely to make other, related reconsiderations, so people who cease engaging in holiday consumerism may come to some deeper personal or spiritual understanding, or at least develop more concerns beyond immediate gratification. Although a few grinch bots may play a minmal role in the grand scheme, any lowering of time preference coupled with greater focus on the virtues embodied in Christmas traditions would be a cultural improvement.

Conclusion

The attacks on the grinch bots are understandable; they are an obvious target for the economically illiterate, and going after them makes excellent political hay for a senator looking to expand the state’s regulatory powers. Which of these best describes Schumer is debatable, but the above analysis clearly demonstrates that scalpers in general and these computer programs in particular should be praised rather than denounced.