Monday, July 27, 2009

Peak Column #7: What is to be Done?

Welcome to the final entry of Rules for Radicals, a Libertarian propaganda column blatantly and unapologetically written with the intent of luring wayward Progressives and Conservatives away from their respective flocks. I’d like to think we’ve picked up a few disillusioned members of each camp over the past few months, thus expanding my readership beyond the five or six other Libertarians on campus, possibly well into the double-digits. This may sound modest, but compared to other Libertarians’ efforts to spread free-market gospel, it really is the journalistic equivalent of a three-minute mile.

Today’s column will take your dogmatic faith in free markets as a given, so that we may focus on a more practical matter: Strategy. If you are a Libertarian, you believe in small government, free markets and individual liberty. Unfortunately, governments in the western world have been systematically abandoning these principles over the past 100 years or so. We need to understand this trend if we are to have any hope of reversing it. Why has the past century been so cruel to us?

Libertarianism is a tough sell because it has nothing to offer its potential converts. Saul Alinksy, patron saint of community organizing, taught that successful organizations always address the self-interest of their supporters. This explains the success of movements that seek to increase the size of government, since the expansion of central authority implies an expansion of the ability of that same central authority to reward its members. Lenin was able to stir up violent, chanting hordes of followers because he advocated for the redistribution of aristocratic wealth to those same hordes. What material benefits await supporters of Libertarian public policy? Subsidies? Corporate welfare? Power over the lives of others? Umm, no. Libertarianism simply can’t offer the kind of corrupt incentives necessary for effective mob politics.

This is why Libertarians are so rare, they would qualify for federally-protected wildlife habitats, while you can’t open your car door on campus without hitting a Progressive. (Conservatives are somewhat less common, but rip a few donuts in convocation mall and I’m sure you’ll connect with a few.) The traditional Right and Left are both supported by a critical mass of self-interested recipients of government-allocated privilege. Libertarianism is an ideology fundamentally opposed to such privilege, so our ability to recruit and retain supporters is limited.

Now we understand why free market policies have been losing favour since the advent of democratic governments. The second question is, can we reverse this trend and actually implement Libertarian policies, despite our failure to draw support from interest groups? Even better, can we do this without resorting to politics by other means, i.e. retired generals, tinted aviators and five o’clock shadows? In keeping with the theme of pilfering our ideological opponents’ catchphrases – “Yes We Can.”

Call me naïve, call me insane, or (even worse) call me a Whig, but I am optimistic about the future of Libertarianism in the Western world, for two reasons.

The first is the rise of China and the other East Asian economies, who are adopting free market policies almost as quickly as the west is abandoning them. One of the main reasons why communism collapsed in the USSR was that the capitalist West existed, and was clearly a much better place to live. This discredited the Soviet government in the eyes of its population. The West of 2009 is not a communist wasteland on par with the late-game USSR. But it is also not the dynamic, innovative world leader that it once was, and the situation is not improving. If free-market reforms continue apace in China, and creeping socialism goes unchecked in the West, a day will come when our voters, intellectuals and politicians will not be able to ignore the superiority of capitalist institutions at generating wealth, prosperity and human dignity across the Pacific Ocean.

The second factor is the rapidly decreasing costs to individuals of finding and verifying information. Any curious, intelligent person with an internet connection can compare Libertarian arguments against their alternatives at no cost. Journalists, authors, academics and politicians are now forced to avoid lying, misleading, or contradicting themselves whenever there’s a camera rolling, lest they wind up the PR equivalent of the Star Wars Kid. Bloggers and columnists can call each other out on factual questions in open forums for all to see. Economic growth statistics of free and unfree countries can be compared with a few clicks. If you believe, as I do, that you are on the side of truth, this is a good thing.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peak Column #6: A Propogandist Walks Among Us

I think the secret’s pretty much out after my last column. Rules for Radicals is not written to entertain and enlighten. The column you’re reading is actually pure, unfiltered, 180-proof Libertarian propaganda. Scary stuff, isn’t it? A real-live propagandist at SFU, walking by you in the halls, sitting next to you in class, and even writing a column for your school’s otherwise respectable newspaper. If it’s any consolation, the political movement that I am quite unashamedly shilling for is not particularly prominent or influential – not yet, anyways – so you shouldn’t freak out or anything.

But if you intend to continue reading, you should definitely be on your toes. Remember, I am a demagogue and a charlatan and a hack, if not worse. Apparently you are brave (or foolish) enough to yield several minutes of your attention so that I may practice my chicanery. I assure you I’ll be making the most of it, so be warned: Open your eyes, son and keep those hands up.

My goal today is to convince you to drop whatever political beliefs you currently hold, and become some sort of radical Libertarian. For all my talk of deception and Jedi mind tricks, I am convinced that the Libertarian worldview is self-evidently true, and thus mere exposure to its tenets should be sufficient to generate some conversions.

So really, all I’m asking you to do is become familiar with the Libertarian thought process. Is this really so terrifying? I’m sure your current set of beliefs are robust enough to withstand some temptation. Just think of it as snake-handling, except you’re demonstrating ideological, rather than religious faith. If Libertarians are nuts, than leafing through our holy books will only confirm this. If the Sun-God Ra truly watches over you, the cobras won’t bite. There’s no risk at all, unless you suspect your faith is misplaced. Injections of Libertarian venom are quite painless, in any case.

Moving right along, let’s pull out our first snake: The success of Libertarian public policy at generating wealth, prosperity and material comfort. As Deng Xiaoping said, possibly channeling the late Michael Jackson: It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white. If it catches mice, it’s a good cat. Xiaoping was talking about the introduction of capitalist, free-market reforms in China. Who cares whether a set of policies is historically defined as capitalist or communist? Use what works. That’s what Xiaoping did, and over the past three decades of Libertarian-themed reform, China has transformed itself into a lean, mean mouse-catching machine. Score one for free markets.

Of course, that’s just one example. Perhaps China experienced unnaturally good weather over the past three decades. Or something. Does this trend exist anywhere else? Fortunately, Wikipedia is kind enough to grace us with an entire sub-category entitled “Economic Miracles.” Click away, and note what kind of policies were implemented immediately before each of these “miracles” occurred . Can you identify the common theme? Hint: It starts with an “F” and rhymes with “Tree Markets.” Any honest evaluation of economic history leads us to the same conclusion: Whence go Libertarian policies, prosperity and wealth soon follow, while Socialism cuts a wide swath of destruction, poverty and tyranny wherever she treads. If you don’t take my word for it – and really, why would you? Your mother warned you about columnists like me – please do look into it for yourself. The internet isn’t hard to use.

The second test of faith we’ll administer is a short reading list expounding the theoretical and moral case for libertarian government. I’m sure you’ve got enough people assigning you reading lists as it is, but as an intelligent and honest seeker of the truth (and thus an elite member of Rules for Radicals’ target audience) you have a moral and intellectual obligation to familiarize yourself with what was until recently the dominant view on economic policies and effective government in the Anglo-American world. If acquiring said familiarity triggers your Progressive wrongthink detector, remember: You’re just reading these books to better understand the mind of the Neo-Liberal enemy. To defeat the Libertarian, you must first understand him - If you understand him, however, it may already be too late. I warned you this would be dangerous.

Our first assigned reading will be The Constitution of Liberty, by F.A. Hayek, available at a library near you. Following that, you’ll be looking into the collected works of Milton Friedman, starting with Capitalism and Freedom. Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State, while not for the faint of heart or short of time, is required reading once you’ve developed a taste for the stuff. Before our next column, your conversion to the Dark side – excuse me, the Light side –should be complete.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day

What better way to celebrate Canada Day than by spending the morning leafing through Wikipedia and Niall Ferguson's Empire for a refresher course on Canadian history? In 2009, there's really no excuse to remain ignorant on this, or any other subject. Unfortunately, as impressed as I am by Wikipedia's performance on Canadian history, I am even more impressed (or would it be unimpressed?) by the length and breadth of their article on light saber combat. With one hand the open-source encyclopedia giveth, with the other it taketh away.

As my American friends are quick to point out, Canadian history is not nearly as sexy as the tale of the brave and plucky 13 colonies, casting off their colonial shackles and demanding independence in a hail of musket fire. Instead of Paul Revere and Fort Ticonderoga, we had the British North America Act (passed 142 years ago today, un-coincidentally) and the Statute of Westminster. No wonder Canadian kids have trouble paying attention in history class.

But I wonder, is this so terrible? Americans are quite proud of their founding myths, but is it possible that the American Revolutionary War was unjust? That is to say, is their a valid case to be made for the Loyalist perspective in Colonial New England? This is an important question for Canadians to address, because the primary difference between Canadian and American history is that the Loyalist perspective won out here.

The intrepid scholar with time on their hands should take a look at one of the leading Loyalist tracts of the era, History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. I can't claim to have given it more than a skim, but if you want to convince yourself that the American Patriot's were a bunch of crooks, and docile Canadians were the true heroes, Hutchinson is your man.

We can actually do even better than Hutchinson and his fellow 18th-century Loyalists, because we have two centuries of hindsight to sharpen our opinions on. In 1775 North America, you could either be a Loyalist or a Patriot. Whose case is strengthened by the events of the 19th and 20th centuries?

I think any modern-day Loyalists could make a strong case that a loyal America would have jettisoned slavery a generation earlier, and without the need for a civil war that killed over 1,000,000 Americans. Whatever the alleged tyrannies of the British colonial authority (and if you believe Hutchinson, they were negligible) I doubt it was worth 30 years of Slavery and 7-figures worth of casualties.

So let's hear it for Canada's polite, orderly, and wholly legal Declaration (more like a request) of Independence. Of course, by "Independence" I mean gradually declining degrees of dependence, vestigial elements of which still exist today. But I'll take the Queen on my $20 bill over a civil war any day.

Happy birthday Canada. To all her citizens: Spend a moment today reflecting on our peaceful, prosperous, and exceedingly polite nation. Raise a glass in honor of our founder, John A. MacDonald. Better yet, make him proud and raise a few glasses. It's your duty as a Patriot.