Comments on “Public and private confusion” by Robert Henderson.

Below begins a revised series of posts criticising an interesting contributor to the Libertarian Discussion mailing list, Robert Henderson. He feels he has found many short comings with the market system and that it vitally needs a state and this is just one essay where he expresses that idea.

I feel that to foster human flourishing, we need to get rid of the injustice of the state, as the state was aptly designed for war.

Below Robert will be prefaced by RH and myself by McD.

RH: I have never formally joined the LA. I contribute to this group because Sean [Gabb] asked me to include it on my  Daily List.  However, don’t read into that I am a reluctant member. I have strong libertarian instincts. 

I am not statist as you put it, but I am practical  My political views are based on  human  psychology and sociology, or if you prefer human nature  at the individual and social levels. My ends are libertarian but I have to arrive at those ends by convincing myself that they are practical.  For example I am absolutist when it come to free expression but  tribal when it comes to composition of  any society. 

1. Unquestioned ideas

Because they have the word free in them, the terms “Free markets” and “free trade” have seduced those of all political colours to treat them uncritically as ideas. They are considered good or bad but their intellectual coherence is rarely questioned.

McD: Well, I do feel that you are a de facto statist, Robert, but so was Hayek and Milton Friedman, so I welcome the fact that you are basically also a liberal.

No, LAers do question the reforms of the 1980s and they nearly always call them freer trade or freer markets rather than completely free markets. A completely free market requires no state. “Free” here means free of the state. It could only be complete in anarchy.

Two of the main reasons liberals prefer the market to the state are, first, that it is just and it honours social liberty whereas the state scotches liberty and is thereby unjust and second is that the state is wasteful whereas the market attempts to cut down on waste and, indeed, is the main source of social economy in the mass urban society.

RH: Neo-liberals believe in a childlike quasi-religious fashion in the workings of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, which, moved by enlightened self-interest, supposedly creates the best of all possible material worlds through the operation of the market. 

McD: Neo-liberals today means non-statist liberals or rather a less-statist liberal than has been the case since the 1870s. Nearly all who called themselves liberal were less-statist before the 1870s. In that decade, the UK Liberal Party itself went from freer trade and what was then seen as the same thing, laissez faire towards welfare statism, such that by 1880, the Liberal Party was no longer a liberal party in the pristine sense but more like a one nation Tory Party. Since then, the ideal of free trade between counties has been largely retained by that statist UK Liberal Party, and by others, but laissez faire has been used for free trade within each country and condemned utterly as the new objective has been redistribution and welfare. The pristine liberals held the market was good on distribution and Adam Smith held it lead to ever greater equality in the long run as the price system itself tends to even out prices. This doctrine was questioned by J. E. Cairnes but not effectively refuted.

No one is truly religious in the sense that many think of that being so today. Very vicar knows the text “ye of little faith” and, occasionally, some vicars give sermons on apathy to the few eccentrics who still attend church. We might even say that most of them attend services by Pastor Sellbydate.

But to get the truth, the Pastor needs to say “ye of no faith whatsoever”, for no animal ever had any faith: the idea is null set. To think is to re-think and belief is usually improvised for human action whenever we look where we are going. No one dumps this checking with our senses for the sort of trust that faith is supposed to be. Nor has anyone in the past.

People are educated into Christianity and there is no faith involved, as they need to think and to re-think, to learn the doctrines  and when they adopt such doctrines it is usually a matter of value or acceptance rather than of belief or truth.

What guides self interest to serve that of one and all on the market needs no hidden hand of Jupiter but is there in the division of labour where anyone can further himself by training himself to serve others. People say it is simply getting a job. They all thereby specialise, to some extent, to serve others.

RH: Socialists see “free markets” and “free trade” as economic “state of natures” which must be ameliorated by the state before a civilised society can be realised.

McD: No, they do not. They are not like Hobbes and Locke. Few think of a pristine anarchy or of a state of nature.  

Most of them have next to no idea of what they mean by socialist, we might all agree that it is a great looking word, and anyway they are mainly just students conforming to what they find in the colleges but they are usually more interested in other things.

Few doctrinaires  can be found in the workplace. Nor in the pub’s and clubs. Politics bores most people and the government is  a thing they sometimes read about or hear on the mass media news. But they work in the market place for some firm and they usually use some shops every day, they tend to like the market as customers, though it is far from ideal, and tend to dislike it as workers, owing to the normal disutility of labour. But a few do like their job.

 RH: Conservatives in the traditional sense no longer exist as a recognisable political force in the West, but when they did exist they opposed “free markets” and “free trade” primarily on the grounds of national security and the general disruption to society that they caused. 

McD: You are conflating conservatism with the Tories, Robert. Most people are conservative, and they always will be. Socialism is a new nineteenth century name for Toryism. It is not very conservative. What Peel renamed the Conservative Party in 1834 has still nationalised more entities than the Labour Party.

RH: Nationalists of the fascistic kind have traditionally opposed the ideas because they see the nation as a single organism which can only be strong if it is master of its own destiny, something which can only be achieved (they believe) through state direction of both the internal  market and of external trade.

McD; Historically fascists have been disillusioned Marxists, as D. R. Steele held on the LA website and in his new book The Mystery of Fascism: David Ramsay Steele’s Greatest Hits (2019)

As the author explains, Mussolini was a top Marxist up till 1914. 

RH: There are varying quantities of truth in all these ideological responses, but their utility is seriously tainted by the lack of any  objective or even properly defined and permanent prescriptive truth in the concepts of “free markets” or “free trade”. The reality of these ideas is that they are arbitrary chosen bundles of behaviours which  are excluded or included at the will of their proponents. Moreover, the bundles of behaviours are not static.

McD: No, we are objectively more or less free of the unjust anti-social wasteful state. The pristine liberal ideology is coherent.  

RH: The widespread negligence in examining the coherence of these ideas is all the more remarkable because their incoherence as theories and the arbitrary and dishonest nature of their practical realisation is not only readily apparent but fundamentally undermining of the claims made for them by their champions.

McD: That seems to be not one whit true, Robert.

Where are those dishonest liberal ideologues. Are there any in the Libertarian Alliance? I doubt it. I know of not even one. But I do know many who regularly ponder over the pristine liberal paradigm, so at any time they might well notice an error.