By Sean Gabb
I was called this morning by the BBC. It wanted me to comment on the claims that Sports direct, a chain of sports clothing shops, mistreats its workers – keeping them on zero-hours contracts, sometimes not paying them even the minimum wage, scaring them out of going sick, generally treating them like dirt. Would I care to go on air to defend the right of employers to behave in this way? I am increasingly turning down invitations to go on radio and television, and this was an invitation I declined. I suggested the researcher should call the Adam Smith Institute. This would almost certainly provide a young man to rhapsodise about the wonders of the free market. My own answer would be too complex for the average BBC presenter to understand, and I might be cut off in mid-sentence.
Here is the answer I would have taken had I been invited to speak on a conservative or libertarian radio station on the Internet.
First, it is a bad idea to interfere in market arrangements. Sports Direct is in competition with other firms. Making it pay more to its workers, or to give them greater security of employment, would require it to raise prices and make it less competitive. A general campaign against zero-hour contracts and low pay would raise unemployment. In even a reasonably open market, factors of production are paid the value of their marginal product. Establish a minimum price for labour above its clearing price, and those workers whose employment contributes less than this to total revenue will be laid off. If I felt more inclined than I do, I could produce a cross diagram to show this. The downward sloping curve would show diminishing marginal productivity, the upward the supply of labour at any given price. The point of intersection would show the clearing price. Draw a horizontal line above this clearing price to show the minimum allowed price, and you can two further lines from where this intersects the curves to create a box showing the unemployment that would result. I leave that to your imagination. Or here is a representation I have found on-line:
A great discussion of where libertarianism and the traditional Right differ and where they agree. The discussion of the work of Hans Hermann Hoppe is also quite good.
By Sean Gabb
Seen from my point of view, on the libertarian right, there are at least three ways of looking at the alleged or real anti-semitism of Jeremy Corbyn. The first is that it is very, very funny. Since the 1970s, he and his friends have been whining about the horrors of racial prejudice. Now, every time he opens his mouth, he says something that upsets Jews – and that may legitimately be of concern to them. You tell me it is uncharitable if I fail to keep a straight face. The second is that the scandal is a distraction from the real issue in British politics. Next March, we are supposed to leave the European Union. Whether we shall or ought to leave with some kind of agreement is arguably more important than with whom Mr Corbyn shared a platform at the Conway Hall in 1987. These first two being noted, I will focus on the third, which is what impact he will have on the so far arrested realignment of English politics.
Part of Mr Corbyn’s general appeal lies in the belief that he is Old Labour. If we define this as the opinions and policies of Keir Hardie, of the Webbs, and of Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan – that is, as the consensus that described the Labour Party into the 1960s – he is not Old Labour. This was a movement probably sincere in its concern for the welfare of the British working classes, though mistaken in its chosen means for advancing that welfare. Mr Corbyn is a creature of the “rainbow coalition” – a coalition within which white heterosexual working class men have at best an auxiliary place. The points of difference between him and New Labour are important, but small. He has no objection to a politically correct police state, none to omnipresent surveillance and regulation, none to the war on both liberty and tradition waged by the Blair and Brown Governments. His dissent from New Labour lies in his desire for a greater direct economic management by the State, and his dislike of the military-economic complex and of the wars that legitimise and fund it. This latter seems to explain his alleged anti-semitism. When someone on the right denounces Zionism, he is almost certainly talking about Jews, but worried about our police state laws. When Mr Corbyn does, I have no doubt he is thinking about white colonialists who are giving a hard time to brown people. I say again – the look on his face when he is called another Hitler is very, very funny.
This is an interesting assessment of what is right and wrong with the United States from an English perspective, written in early 2016 before the election of Trump.
By Sean Gabb
Talking about the future is often a sure recipe for looking like a fool. However obvious it may seem to us, nearly everything that happened in the past was unexpected at the time. I am not aware of anyone in 1639 who believed the Stuart State was about to collapse. Nor do I think anyone in 1788 predicted the occurrence and course of the French Revolution. The course of the Great War repeatedly took all the clever men by surprise. The difficulty with looking ahead is partly that most of the facts are unknown, but partly that the facts already established will be seen out of focus. We always tend to see the world through the twin lenses of unreasonable fear and of wishful thinking. For the world as it is, facts already established provide some correction. For the world as it may be, the only correction is to wait and see.
I will, therefore, not predict the decline of American world power. On the one hand, the country does appear to be in decline. It suffers internally from an increasingly predatory and freakish system of government, and from a national culture that is malign in its values and intrinsically worthless. None of its military interventions in the past quarter century has achieved its stated purpose, and all have been disastrous for the foreign peoples they were supposed to help. The military and diplomatic power of American has declined. It is no longer even clear that the Dollar will keep its hegemony. To put it mildly, the demographic changes now taking place are undermining the equilibrium and cohesiveness of the United States as it has been known since the 1870s.
By Sean Gabb
According to a report on the BBC website, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the richest man in the world, with an alleged personal fortune of £113bn. The usual suspects have raised their arms in outrage at the news. Oxfam drew fresh attention to its report from 2017, in which it called “for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few.” A few weeks earlier, The Guardian had lamented:
Amazon’s website is, in the west, the dominant platform for online retail sales…. This is bad for democracy. Commerce ought to reside in markets governed by regulations set by democratic political process not those chosen by the world’s richest man, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos.
My view is that Mr Bezos, together with Bill Gates and various other people whose names it will be briefer to let my readers guess than for me to enumerate, is one of the greatest men alive. He has increased the wealth and happiness of countless millions. He is helping to bring into being a world that, just one generation ago, the boldest science fiction writers were cautious to describe. He has earned every penny of his great fortune.
Though ultimately about the future, this will also be a speech that dwells on the past. The first past event that I wish to discuss is what happened in June 2017. When I stood down as Director of the Libertarian Alliance, I was asked if I had taken leave of my senses. I was not visibly broken down by age and ill health. I had evidently not run out of things to say. Why, then, was I steeping aside in favour of a young man who was nearly forty years my junior?…
Like Sean, I have some level of respect for Peter Tatchell. However, these troubling statements of his indicate what I have always said, i.e. that any ideological system, no matter how much it may seem to represent “good causes,” can be twisted towards state-centric and authoritarian ends. Additionally, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that when former outgroups become powerful they tend to replicate many of the same authoritarian power systems that they previously opposed. Instead of having school kids salute the flag and read the Bible every morning, Peter Tatchell instead wants kids to pledge allegiance to the new state legitimating ideology of democratic, egalitarian, multicultural diversity.
What is most regrettable is that so many anarchists and libertarians (the majority of whom are cultural leftists) cannot see this for what it is. This is the same problem that early anarchists warned about with regard to Marxism and state-socialism, and the same problem that has generally plagued modern revolutionary movements since at least the time of Jacobin France, i.e. “Meet the new boss. He’s the same as the old boss.” Plenty of people who really ought to know better simply regard anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-xenophobia, etc. as such good causes that they cannot see this rising new form of authoritarianism for what it is.
What kind of opposition do anarchists and libertarians think they will be able to offer against the system in a few decades, perhaps sooner, when the old, rural, white people who comprise the Republicans’ constituency die off, and “conservatism” begins to look a lot like today’s Clinton Democrats and “liberalism” begins to look like today’s university administrations? Regrettably, the Left seems to be in a permanent war with the Western culture of the 1950s, a culture that is long since dead. Any serious critique of statism, capitalism, or imperialism in 21st century Western societies must necessarily include a critique of the emerging ideological paradigm of the ruling class, i.e. what I call totalitarian humanism as espoused by what Joel Kotkin calls the New Clerisy.
By Sean Gabb
Ludwig von Mises Centre
I have some respect for Peter Tatchell. He campaigned against the anti-homosexual laws before this was a safe thing to do. He has shown courage on other issues. This being said, I am troubled by his latest set of recommendations. Writing on the 8th January 2018 for The Friends of Europe blog, he declares that “equal rights are not enough.” It is not enough for people to be treated equally before the law. It is also necessary for children to be brainwashed into agreeing with him. He says:
To combat intolerance and bullying, education against all prejudice – including racism, misogyny, disablism, xenophobia, ageism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – should be a stand-alone compulsory subject in every school. Equality and diversity lessons should start from the first year of primary level onwards, with no opt-outs for private or faith schools and no right for parents to withdraw their children.
…. These lessons should be subject to annual examination, ensuring that both pupils and teachers take these lessons seriously; otherwise they won’t. A pupil’s equality grades should be recorded and declared when applying for higher education and jobs, as it is in the interests of everyone to have universities and workplaces without prejudice.
To see what Peter means, let us take a number of issues:
- Whether the various races are of equal intellectual or moral capacity;
- Whether the sexes are of equal intellectual or moral capacity;
- Whether sex outside an exclusive relationship with a person of the opposite sex is right or advisable;
- Whether changing sex, with present levels of technology, is advisable;
- Whether mass-immigration is good for a host community.
I could mention other issues, but these will do. No side in any of them is self-evidently true. The truth of each side must therefore be a matter of argument. In all cases, argument either way rests on assumptions that are themselves matters of argument. For the authorities to classify one side in any of these issues as “hate” is as much an abuse of power as criminalising particular views about the Nature of Christ or the sources of religious knowledge. Let attacks on life and property be punished according to law. But let any opinion stand or fall by the appropriate evidence.
Totalitarian humanism is only the latest manifestation of a more traditional enemy. Ultimately, our enemy is not any one ideology but the state itself, as Albert Jay Nock pointed out.
By Sean Gabb
Last month, I wrote a defence of Charlie Elphicke, my Member of Parliament. He had been suspended from the Conservative Party while the Police investigated him for an alleged sexual assault. He has still not been arrested or charged. He has still not been told the nature of the complaint against him. It may be that he is about to be unmasked as a serial sex-murderer. More likely, the sinister clowns who direct law enforcement in this country have found nothing that even they regard as an assault worth prosecuting. But, if the former of these possibilities might embarrass me, the general reflections I made on his case stand by themselves. What I wish now to do is to elaborate on these reflections.
I begin by granting that ideologies are in themselves important. They are sets of propositions about the world that are true or false in much the same way as a scientific hypothesis is true or false. They are true or false regardless of what motives people may have for adopting them. This being granted, every person is born with a set of dispositions that draws him to accepting a particular ideology. Some of us are born with a dislike of pushing others around. This will not invariably make us into free market libertarians. But it will incline us to less intrusive formulations of whatever ideology is accepted. There are liberal Catholics and liberal Moslems. There have even been liberal Marxists. Others are born with a will to dominate. These will gather round the most fashionable intolerant ideology on offer.
Last month, I used the examples of Calvinism and Cultural Marxism. These were and are legitimising ideologies. Each has different formal propositions. Each has different enemies. Each has different effects on the character. But their essential function, so far as they can be made hegemonic, is to justify the gaining and use of power by an authoritarian élite – or by “The Puritans.”
If you want to see this case made at greater length, I refer you to my earlier essay. The case briefly stated, I turn to what may follow from it.
This is to suggest that direct argument with the Puritans is of limited value. Our own Puritans are Cultural Marxists for reasons other than the truth or falsehood of Cultural Marxism. Because its surface claims about treating people as individuals, and not being rude to them, are broadly in line with public opinion, it is an ideal legitimising ideology. If our Puritans had, after about 1970, taken up traditional Calvinism, or Orthodox Marxism-Leninism, or National Socialism, they would have got nowhere. The social liberalism of the previous two decades would have rolled straight over them. Instead, there was the combination, in Britain and America, of a large cohort of those inclined to Puritanism and an ideology, or set of ideologies, that could be shaped into a powerful legitimising ideology. It may be that the universe as a whole is locked into a rigid scheme of cause and effect. In this case, what happened was inevitable. But looking only at those parts of the universe we can understand and control, I think there was an element of contingency here. We are where we are because of a largely accidental discovery by the Puritans of a legitimising ideology that worked for them.
Sean Gabb has a timely article on the problem of censorship being outsourced from the state to state-allied institutions in present day society. This should motivate many right-leaning libertarians to rethink the overly neat and tidy “public vs. private” dichotomy that right-libertarians frequently embrace. Instead, we need to apply the insights of elite theory and recognize that governments, corporations, universities, and the mass media are all part of the same state/ruling class/power elite apparatus.
By Sean Gabb
Every age we have so far known has been one of censorship. This is not to say that opinion has been equally constrained in all times and places. Sometimes, as in the Soviet Union, it has been oppressive and omnipresent – even extending to an imposition of orthodoxy on the natural sciences. More often, it has been focussed on perceived criticisms of the established political and religious order. Sometimes, dissent has been permitted among the intellectual classes – especially when expressed in a language unknown to the people at large, and only punished when communicated to the people at large. Sometimes, a diversity of political orders has limited any particular censorship to an area of just a few square hundreds of miles. Sometimes it has been limited by a general belief in the right of free expression. But I can think of no time or place where publication has been absolutely unconstrained.
If I look at modern England, I cannot say that censorship is as oppressive and omnipresent as it was in the Soviet Union. I cannot think of any opinion that cannot somehow be expressed. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not wish to do any of these things. However, if I want to deny the holocaust, I can. If I want to argue for sex with children, I can. If I want to claim that the coloured races are intellectually or morally inferior, I can. If I want to say that homosexuality is a dreadful sin that will be punished by everlasting torments, I can. If I want to argue – in the abstract – for the rightness of shooting politicians, I can. The law punishes what are regarded as inflammatory expressions of such belief. It punishes expressions of such belief when they are regarded as affecting known individuals. But I am not aware of a law that makes it a crime to publish sober and abstract expressions of any opinion.
A discussion of the internal workings of contemporary British politics. Meanwhile, American politics could probably be summarized by a single song.
By Sean Gabb
Ludwig von Mises Centre
I have been asked to write a weekly column on British politics. Since I am writing for a largely American readership, and since Americans mostly know little of what happens outside their own country, and since American politics are presently in themselves of consuming interest, I think it would be best if I were to begin with a brief overview not only of what is happening here, but also of what has been happening.
David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010 at the head of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. The Conservatives had won more seats than any other party in the House of Commons, but fallen short of an overall majority. Whether he governed the country well during the next five years is beside the point. What matters is that he governed effectively within the assumptions of British politics.
He went into the 2015 General Election with the aim of getting an overall majority for the Conservative Party. His main difficulty was not in beating the Labour Party, which was in no position to beat him, but in making sure that millions of disaffected conservatives would vote Conservative and not for the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Britain had joined the European Economic Community in 1973. This was a controversial change of national strategy, and it had split the Conservative Party. Membership raised fundamental issues of sovereignty and of economic policy. Without ever going away, this split had been of little practical importance between 1979 and 1990, while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister between. Once she was gone, it had re-emerged with growing force, to cripple the government of her successor, John Major.
Todd Lewis is joined by Keith Preston (anarchist), Sean Gabb (classical liberal) and James Kalb (conservative) to discuss liberalism.
Todd Lewis joined by Keith Preston (classical anarchism), Sean Gabb (classical liberalism), and Will Schnack (geo-mutualism) to discuss economics.
Todd Lewis is joined by Keith Preston (anarchist), Sean Gabb (classical liberal) and Alex Fontana (altright) to discuss Race Realism.