One of the Best Libertarian Sites Closes Down
We are always pressed for time. As those who occasionally send us mail know, we even have frequently trouble keeping up with our mail – so much so that we might as well revert to snail mail. As a result, we have to carefully select what we read. In recent months, the 'Daily Bell' has made it to our list of 'must read' sites, so we are quite sad to learn that it will cease to publish new material as of July 16 (see the announcement of editor-in-chief Anthony Wile here).
Running a site like the Daily Bell is time consuming, and presumably has become a full time job, so we can understand Mr. Wile's decision. Still, it is a shame. Luckily though, at least the site's archive will remain online as an educational resource.
The Daily Bell's Focus: Dominant Social Themes
The Daily Bell has always discussed a very specific angle of current affairs, which no other site has to our knowledge stressed to the same extent. First of all, it has argued that history is not a concatenation of random events, but rather that it is 'directed history'. This is to say, both the actual events and their interpretation is directed by the 'powers-that-be', which control the most important levers of the economy via institutions such as central banking. In order to pursue its goals, the elite promotes memes, or what the Daily Bell also called 'dominant social themes'. Examples for this are the 'scarcity meme' (the idea that we are running out of resources due to overpopulation), or the 'anthropogenic climate change' theory (the idea that human activity leads to a catastrophic warming of the planet) or the myth of 'market failure' (the idea that economic depressions are a result of the free market's imperfections and that central economic planning is therefore required). All of these promotions have ultimately the same goal: to increase authoritarian control over the economy and other spheres of life and chip away at individual liberty, bit by bit.
Secondly, the Daily Bell has argued that in terms of its importance to society at large, the internet can be compared to the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. It has set a quiet revolution in motion, as the elite's control over the 'message' has begun to slip. Just as Gutenberg's printing press made the spread of revolutionary ideas to a broad public possible, so the internet has enabled the spread of ideas outside of elite and mainstream media control. Over time, something akin to a second enlightenment may result (in spite of the fact that the internet is also home to a lot of disinformation and outright crankery).
An early printing press, anno 1568
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
One cannot help but agree with this assessment. For instance, the inherently anti-authoritarian and anti-statist economic philosophy of the Austrian School has been successfully suppressed by the elites for decades. Briefly it seemed that this suppression may be waning when F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize in Economics in the mid 70s, but when considering the material philosophical differences between Hayek and his teacher Ludwig von Mises, it becomes clear that this was just another way of 'keeping control of the message' at a time when Keynesianism (the favorite economic philosophy of the ruling elites) was decisively challenged by the phenomenon of 'stagflation' in the 1970s.
As Hans-Hermann Hoppe points out, many of Hayek's political positions would be quite acceptable to the average social democrat of today, who can routinely employ Hayek's arguments as a club in debates (along the lines of “But even Hayek concedes that….”). It is far more difficult to reconcile the philosophy of statism with the recalcitrant Mises, never mind Murray Rothbard, who went a decisive step further by going beyond Mises' merely utilitarian position in favor of the free market by creating an edifice of libertarian ethics grounded in the logic of praxeology. The internet has fully restored people's access to the ideas of Austrian economics. Every important text by Austrian economists has been made available for free by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. No other economic school has seen similarly explosive growth in recent years.
Ideas are important, and one of the most effective ways of emasculating truth and replacing it by a philosophy more to the liking of those in power is to suppress knowledge about it. The internet has made the job of suppression a lot more difficult. For instance, the promotion of central banking and the alleged necessity of central economic planning eats up far more resources these days than it once used to, because it is challenged so effectively by a plethora of critics whose voices can no longer be suppressed. A critic of central banking and fiat money (which are easily among the greatest evils of our time) is no longer dependent on print media or television 'allowing' him to speak up. Nor must he suffer the 'toning down' of his message demanded by the censors the mainstream media employ (mainstream media are today routinely self-censoring in order to retain 'access' to the ruling elite). Instead, he can simply blog about it.
The Future of the Current System
As our readers know, we also discuss quite often what the Daily Bell refers to as 'dominant social themes'. It is a tradition we are planning to uphold. As we often point out, the idea that 'we' are the State is just another promotion. Resistance against exploitation by the ruling class has been weakened in modern-day regulatory democracies inter alia because they have made it possible for anyone to 'join the club' of the ruling caste. One can e.g. join a political party, adopt the habit of lying on its behalf, as well as the habit the Germans refer to as 'nach oben kriechen, nach unten treten' (basically, crawl up the behinds of superiors and kick those below you) and one may then enjoy a career in the ruling caste, living from the expropriation of wealth producers. One can also become part of the ruling elite's 'intellectual bodyguard', by becoming a taxpayer-funded 'expert' or 'advisor' on economic and social engineering matters. Given the sheer size of Leviathan, there are nigh endless possibilities for throwing one's principles overboard and joining the looters.
And yet, as we also often mention, it seems as though we are about to reach the limits of this process. Ludwig von Mises stated in the early 1920s already that the communist experiment would fail, as no economic calculation is possible under socialism. It took seven decades for his contention to be proved to all beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt, when the communist system collapsed in the early 1990s and Western observers finally had the opportunity to marvel at the true extent and thoroughness of its bankruptcy (East Germany was e.g. always upheld as the COMECON's 'model student', the economically most efficient of the socialist countries. When Western investors finally had the chance to look more closely at the state-owned enterprises operating in the GDR, they were shocked at what they found). The only reason why the system survived for as long as it did was that its managers were able to observe prices in the capitalist countries and could thus imitate the price system to some extent. If socialism has been introduced on a global scale, it would have collapsed much more quickly.
Under global socialism, the division of labor would have quickly collapsed, and people would have been thrown back into a primitive hand-to-mouth existence.
(Image source unknown – The Web)
Mises also stated that the so-called 'mixed economy' will eventually fail. He always insisted that there are only two ways: either the market economy, or socialism. In 'The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality' he wrote:
“Capitalism and socialism are two distinct patterns of social organization. Private control of the means of production and public control are contradictory notions and not merely contrary notions. There is no such thing as a mixed economy, a system that would stand midway between capitalism and socialism.”
One may feel compelled to say: “But that is not true; obviously, there is such a system midway between capitalism and socialism. It exists, we are living in it.” However, this 'argument from existence' really proves nothing. It is akin to the argument of last resort the supporters of socialism forwarded when they realized they could not refute Mises' theorem of the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism: “See here”, they would say, “there is the COMECON. It exists, therefore socialism must be workable.”
In fact, the mixed economy is very similar in the sense that it consists so to speak of socialist islands in a capitalist sea. There is after all a hampered market economy, which generates the wealth as well as the price system that allows the socialist portion to eke out its existence. The problem is that there is a tendency for the socialist portion to grow ever bigger; today we have nations like France, in which government spending represents 57% of GDP. This is a case of a parasite slowly but surely killing its host.
As everybody knows, the so-called 'unfunded liabilities' (or 'promises that will definitely be broken') of Western governments have attained a size that makes it mathematically impossible for them to ever be paid, except in the form of massively devalued currency (but a default remains a default, regardless of the form it takes). In short, the fact that the 'mixed system' has existed for a while and may muddle through for a good while longer tells us nothing about its workability in principle. If it cannot be sustained, then ipso facto, it has not worked.
The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has provided us with a first glimpse of the eventual demise of the 'mixed' economy. It can be 'papered over' for a while with the help of money printing by central banks, as demonstrated in the US and UK and by the market reaction to the ECB's 'OMT' promise, but that will likely only make the eventual denouement worse than it would have been otherwise (unless we have missed something and central bankers have discovered how the Keynesian dream of turning stones into bread can be achieved). In short, the current system is closing in on its limits. We doubt that France can remain a prosperous society if government spending remains at its current size relative to total economic output. Similar considerations apply to the rest of the EU.
So we must expect that there will be considerable economic and social upheaval, a great deal more than has already been seen. What replaces the current system will very much depend on which ideas take root in the population. The Daily Bell was quite correct in stressing the importance of the internet in this context. There is a chance that we may deviate from the course that many regard as inevitable in light of historical experience (namely that economic upheaval invariably leads to tyranny).
Perhaps a critical mass of people will decide to follow a different course this time around: toward more rather than less liberty. Stay tuned.
When parasites become too greedy, the host dies …
(Photo via jopjapenga.nl)
Daily Bell, R.I.P. – you will be missed.
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