Dr. Robert P. Murphy is a senior fellow at the Mises Institute and a professor of economics at Texas Tech University. 71 Republic’s Mason Mohon sat down with Dr. Murphy to discuss economics and anarcho-capitalism. You can find Dr. Murphy on Twitter @BobMurphyEcon.
Individuals from all corners of the political spectrum have been rilled up by the recent bannings of various figures from social media platforms including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. Some have praised these bans for providing good restrictions on what they deem “fake news” or “hate speech”. Others have attacked these bans for being influenced by nefarious motives that are contra free speech. The debate regarding the extent to which social media sites may regulate speech has been going on for years now. Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.
Atilla Sulker | United States
The world of libertarian thought is far from being insufficient in regards to ideas. Interdisciplinary scholars have emerged all over the world with a vast interest in this doctrine, and have built upon the works of such great scholars as Rothbard and Mises. Rothbard himself was, in fact, an exponent of Mises, and to this day, thousands of great minds continue to carry the torch and bring a plethora of new and fascinating ideas to the conversation.
One could say such ideas are far more dense than those of mainstream thought. They provide a fresh basis for solving various problems in the world, rooted in the old classical liberal tradition of private property. It is from this foundation that so many new ideas have been derived. Whether it is libertarian applications of chaos theory or Walter Block’s privatization of oceans and space, a clear causal link can be seen between such ideas and property rights.
But the main problem in contemporary libertarianism is not the lack of good ideas. There are indeed plenty. It is not even the disunity between so-called “thin” and “thick” libertarians, or any factions for that matter. It is rather the means to the realization of the desired ends. Libertarians today have great ideas for the ideal free society but seem to be lacking when it comes to finding a means to implement such ideas.
How Should Liberty Be Spread?
I have always viewed this area as the hardest to deal with. It is not the development of ideas that is troublesome- it is outreach. Just how do libertarians spread their ideas? How do they do so without tainting their ideas with a populist gloss? To what extent must libertarians work with people from other political leanings? What is the proper outreach model? These are the fundamental questions one will end up asking themselves when trying to solve this dilemma.
There is no doubt that up to this point, libertarianism has grown significantly. What was once seen as a movement for those on the fringes of society now receives significant attention, especially following the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul. A change of heart and mind has occurred in many people already, but beyond this, the leviathan state continues to tighten its grip on our property, and consequently, our liberties.
Trying to get “freedom candidates” elected has been the traditional method that libertarians have been pursuing for so long, whether under the banner of the Libertarian Party, or in the form of electing populist, or libertarian-leaning Republicans. This phenomenon is the heart of why libertarians are struggling to bring forth political change. It is very much evident that the flaw is not necessarily in the efforts espoused by libertarians, but rather in the methodology, i.e., the idea that we can “vote our way to freedom”.
This is a deeply flawed view. While this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of a night watchman state or a decentralized constitutional republic, if it is actually carried out properly, it trumps the idea that the current state of affairs can magically be reversed. Robert Higgs’s ratchet effect theory clearly underscores this phenomenon. The Higgsian doctrine asserts that once a major crisis is over, government will shrink, but never back to the level it was at before the outbreak of the crisis. Hence we are all like the frog waiting in the boiling pot.
Data put out by the IMF shows that before the U.S. committed to being involved in WWI, less than 2 percent of GDP was public spending. After the war, the lowest public spending sunk down to was around 3.6 percent. Following the Great Depression and WWII, public spending came down to a level of about 14 percent, but never got any lower than this. A classic representation of the ratchet effect.
Is Voting Really a Solution?
The question becomes- can we really vote our way to freedom? Have we traveled too far into the void to repeal the leviathan state? The U.S. national debt is already 21 trillion and continues to grow. We have become more than a leviathan state at home, but also an empire abroad. It would be foolish to think that this could be reversed gradually with the stroke of a pen. And electing so-called “freedom candidates” does no good unless elected en masse. Cherry picking certain races to work to elect such candidates has little to no effect on the legislative process.
I had the opportunity to ask Lew Rockwell about this at the Mises Supporters Summit earlier in September. My question was along the lines of this: “Can we vote ourselves to a smaller government via electing “freedom candidates”, or do we need to scrap our government completely and rebuild political society from scratch?”. Upon answering, Rockwell described voting as a “sacrament of the state”, proclaiming that it is not the answer to our freedom. Rockwell then cited Hans Hoppe, stating “the wider the franchise, the more people voting, the less freedom there is.”. He closed off his remarks saying “ as a country, we were far better off when people had their own property… now everybody can vote, we have a leviathan state, and these are not unconnected things.”.
DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University Randall G. Holcombe did an excellent study on the gradual democratization of America, and its drifting away from its roots of constitutional republicanism. Holcombe cited the changes in the electoral college and the growth of populism in the Jacksonian era as the chief causes of the gradual shift to majoritarian rule and consequently, the decline of freedom. It is democracy that relies on voting, and democracy is far from liberty. Democracy has lead to the rise of mass scale, “national pork barrel politics”.
This is not to say that is it fallacious to vote for or support a candidate who may have good qualities. To see voting as a solution to the current state of affairs is an expression of great naïveté, but it can still be used as a tool to numb the pain, so to speak. The role of running for office or getting elected can be used as a bully pulpit position.
Regardless of this, the collapse is imminent. This is not to be an open invitation to further the growth of the empire, however. Where the leviathan state can be curtailed, it ought to be, if the opportunity becomes apparent. But it would be foolish to think the empire could be curtailed to such an extent as to enact a clean repeal.
Collapse as an Opportunity
It is with this mindset that one can begin to deduce a better solution to the problem of realizing libertarian ends. Though it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps the solution is not to vote our way to freedom, but to wait for the eventual collapse. Only then will there be a vacuum for libertarian ideas to be injected into. This vacuum is indeed the best solution, but for libertarians to prevail, they must make sure to fill it when they have the chance.
Spreading the ideas to fill the vacuum is by no means a spontaneous process. It must be done before the vacuum is created. It is the prevailing mindset of the population before the collapse occurs that shall determine how the vacuum will be compensated for. If the mindset preceding the collapse is one of socialism and dicta, then the vacuum will be filled with such. If the mindset preceding the collapse is that of neocolonialism and empire, then the vacuum will become compensated in such a way. In this same way, if the mindset is that of liberty and voluntarism, the restructuring of the political society will occur in favor of such principles.
Crane Brinton’s great work, The Anatomy of Revolution, underscores the causal connection between political change and prevailing ideas. In his book, Brinton compares the development of a revolution to that of a fever. He lays down four stages: 1. Incubation; 2. Symptomatic; 3. Crisis; 4. Convalescence. The incubation stage is that of underlying causes coming into contact with the political apparatus. The symptomatic stage is that of political struggle becoming observable and evident. The crisis stage is the breaking point, i.e., the collapse of the empire. And the convalescence stage is the recovery from the crisis.
The model does not necessarily have to be violent. It can be assessed and applied in such a way that it may be able to guide a peaceful revolution of ideas. We are well past the first stage and are in stage two. The problems associated with the leviathan state are very much evident now. The breaking point will be the collapse, but for libertarian ends to be properly realized, libertarian ideas must become more widespread first. The prevailing attitude of the public will ultimately determine what will happen following the crisis stage.
The 1917 Russian Revolution and the 1910 Mexican Revolution well exemplify the prevailing passions of the public determining the course of political society. It was the prevailing attitudes of the Russian public which lead to the crisis of the February and October Revolutions. As Lew Rockwell explains: “The Russian war itself was funded through money creation… the inflation affected every last person and inspired massive unrest that led to the triumph of Communism.”.
Ron Paul delivered some excellent remarks in regards to this issue at the September Mises Supporters Summit. “I just don’t think that the answer is in Congress and voting”, asserted Paul. “I don’t believe we’re gonna have, all of a sudden, an influx of libertarian-minded people”. “I think there’s gonna be a collapse. I don’t think we’re gonna transition out of this”. “It all depends on the education and changing people’s minds”.
Preparing for the Collapse
To wait for the collapse and expect change all of a sudden would be naively foolish. The second part, the education aspect, is integral. For if the prevailing attitude of the public is not changed, no political change can be expected. This is why organizations like the Mises Institute which focus on education rather than public policy are very important to the success of the libertarian movement. The prevailing attitude must become one of free markets and voluntarism before the collapse occurs. And as of now, it is beginning to lean towards socialism and economic interventionism. This is why libertarians must walk away from the political box for good and focus on education. They must shed light on the injustices of the leviathan state and the destruction the Federal Reserve is inflicting. They must underscore the lack of economic calculation under socialism as exposed by Mises. They must underscore the causal link between empire and socialism at home.
At the September Mises Summit, I had the honor to meet Louis Carabini, founder of Monex Precious Metals. Carabini released his new book Liberty, Dicta, and Force very recently. It is indeed a masterpiece. A truly “red pilling book”, so to speak, it connects the libertarian conscience to our daily acts of volition and voluntarism, and to the workings of the human mind. What the book fundamentally asserts is that it is foolish to have faith in the political process. All politics does is turn us against each other when in our everyday lives, we get along mighty fine. When government is factored into the equation, using force against each other is justified. In our personal lives, we would never justify using force against our neighbors, even if it were for benevolent causes.
It is perhaps the abandonment of the political process that will end, or at least significantly relieve the “thick-thin” libertarian debate. Personal views will simply be personal views, not horizons for political change. Libertarians will be able to unite under the banner of voluntaryism and leave personal beliefs to themselves.
Only when the prevailing attitude of the public yearns for liberty and when libertarians abandon the political box will there be hope for the liberty movement. Only then will the human will be set free.
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Jozef Martiniak | Slovakia
In March of 2018, I attended a seminar on Austrian economics in Slovakia that was organized by an institute whose statements I had been following for a long time. The event lasted four days with lectures on economics, money, and business cycle theory among other things, and the statements made seemed consistent to me. The rhetoric remained the same – what was said ten years ago was still relevant to today.
Moreover, these views have somehow all given awareness to me, a man with common sense. Suddenly you find out that something that you feel intuitively has a 150-years-old historical tradition and that there is a school that studies and develops this tradition.
Surprisingly, the majority of the attendees ended the seminar with a conviction against Austrian economics, but I experienced a change. Out of the blue, I became an Austrian. My ideas were synthesized and I found out it all makes sense. I used to talk about this moment like the story of St. Paul’s fall off of his horse. It was a moment after which you start looking at the world through different eyes and you know it will never change, you will never get back. You start to realize the connections in everyday situations. Not long ago, you have not seen them, but now you can clearly. Tom Palmer says that suddenly you look at the world through the lenses of freedom, through a filter that the majority of people do not have.
You start to become aware that this change is not so obvious like you feel it is. You have a feeling that everybody must see it, so you control yourself, you dose your knowledge to people around you just in bits. Then you find out that people around you do not care about you at all and most of them have not noticed any change in you, they are preoccupied by their own problems.
The impression that you understand the world better is followed by the impression that people will not understand you anymore. Suddenly, it is clear to you how some things will end up, because you distinguish responsibility from irresponsibility. And that is what really irritates the eminent experts who somehow see the change happening in you, though they do not know what has happened, they just see that you can say something responsibly and hold your ground, because you simply know it is true. They do not like debating with you because instead of trying to understand your point of view, they focus on trying to humiliate you in rhetorical competition.
A side-effect of the “conversion” is that you suddenly start to understand the Idealists whom you did not understand before.
Hazlittian awareness of invisible consequences of the events that already happened is another consequence of the ‘conversion’. Only few people realize it. Most people simply analyze their lives and only see the closest area of consequence of the acts that happened and that are related to their past.
In the summer of 2018, I completed a course at Mises University and henceforth joined a sect of people with an Austrian point of view in economics. I have used the word “sect” on purpose since we fit into the characteristics of the word ‘sect’ – we are in minority, we look at the others like those who do not understand yet, but if they are insistent, they will find out where the truth is. The lecturers at the Mises Institute say we belong to the two percent of the population who understands economics better than the majority. Even if it is said as a joke, it seems to me inappropriate since those who really understand the nature of Austrian economics know that they really belong to that small percentage. And those who do not understand are uselessly given a false feeling of exceptionalism, because they do not know why and in what they should be exceptional.
I like working in a world where your steps have meaning. Since we are homo sapiens, we should stop and think about future consequences of our present actions. The economists of the mainstream cannot explain how debt of countries will impact their future. They cannot explain how long the FED and ECB control will work and the public will trust it. In these aspects, they have adopted Austrian rhetoric of “laissez faire” – let it be, it is working somehow.
The Austrians are not satisfied with an explanation that it will work out somehow, because everything has always ended up working somehow. They want to change this system – even though it is very corrupted – so that it is the furthest possible from disaster. I do not know how other Austrian economists came into existence, perhaps they were born like this (at least Carl Menger, as he was nobody’s pupil and he was quintessential to the marginal revolution), but I am for sure a convert.
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TJ Roberts | United States
My good friend Kevin Shaw released the article “Post-Scarcity and Freedom” to this website just yesterday. Mr. Shaw is a brilliant individual with a deep dedication of liberty for all human beings. His recent article brings up the progress humanity has made in spite of government regulations, almost reaching an apparent lack of scarcity in several industries.
The problem, however, is that scarcity will always exist so long as nature exists. Even if humanity achieves a superabundance of resources, which is hypothetically possible, it will still be impossible to shake off human nature.
Scarcity in the Garden of Eden
Suppose humanity managed to return to the Garden of Eden. Work is meaningless, for all that one desires is provided by nature. There is a superabundance of every resource. Even then, there is a form of scarcity, which demands the establishment of natural private property norms.
Even when all resources are readily available to the inhabitants of this hypothetical Eden, our bodies are still scarce. There is only one me. There is only one you. Our bodies, no matter what, are scarce resources. It is with this in mind that it is natural that I am the owner of my body in the same way that you are the owner of your body. Truly, we are the original appropriator of our own physical beings. To argue against this is to prove it, whereas to make the claim “I do not own myself” is to employ self-ownership.
Scarcity and Action
Whereas a human being owns themselves, it is axiomatically true that human beings act, i.e. they deliberately attempt to modify their condition to a condition that is more satisfactory based on their subjective valuation. Since human beings act, they choose. They must prioritize what they will do now and what they will do later. Even in a post-scarce world, time is scarce. Eventually, we will all die. With this in mind, there are things we will not be able to do or have.
But even if humans were immortal, time is still scarce. You cannot do several things at the same time. I must choose if I will eat an apple now, or if I will drink water now. I must choose if I will read or if I will watch a movie. The list goes on. As actors prioritize, certain goals are set aside for more pressing needs. By having a choice, you are incurring a cost upon yourself every time you act. This is the basic principle of opportunity cost. If my first choice in action is to drink water and my second choice in action is to eat an apple, the cost of me drinking water is the satisfaction abandoned in not eating an apple at that moment.
Scarcity and Reality
Throughout human society, technological advancement has made life easier. Whether it be the creation of agriculture in the Neolithic Revolution or the Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurship has allowed for a more efficient use of resources. This can make prices drop significantly, allowing for a cheaper and more comfortable life.
I agree with Mr. Shaw that the best way to increase abundance is to allow for the free market to flourish and to get the government out of people’s lives. What is problematic, however, is the belief that scarcity can be eliminated. No matter how efficient production becomes, scarcity will always be a natural part of life because we are all inherently scarce.
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