Saturday, 8 October 2016

What is Voluntaryism?


Voluntaryists believe that:
• ideally all human interactions should be voluntary: mutual consent
• the initiation of coercion is never permissible by anyone for any reason
• the libertarian theory of property rights is superior to all others; laws should be based on this theory
• governments are illegitimate as they inherently violate the libertarian theory of property rights.

1. Types of Interaction 

All interactions between human beings can be classed as one of two types:
• A voluntary interaction is one that both parties consent to. Both parties are free to avoid the interaction, but choose to interact because they expect to benefit from the interaction.
• A coercive interaction is where one party does not consent. These interactions occur because the non-consenting party (the coerced) is prevented from avoiding the interaction due to the use or threat of physical force by the coercer.

The vast majority of human interactions are voluntary. The difference between a voluntary interaction and a coercive interaction can be seen in the difference between charity and theft, between employment and slavery, and between consensual sex and rape.

Voluntaryists believe that ideally all human interactions should be voluntary. 

2. Types of Coercion 

In recognition that there will always be some people who engage in coercive interactions, we distinguish between two classes of coercion:
Initiatory coercion is where an individual uses coercion against someone that has not previously coerced him. Initiatory coercion is also referred to as aggression.
Responsive coercion is where an individual uses coercion against someone that has previously coerced him. He is responding to coercion that has been initiated against him. Responsive coercion is also referred to as retaliatory coercion or defense.

Voluntaryists believe that proportionate defense is permissible, but that aggression is never permissible by anyone for any reason. This is known as the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It applies to all individuals, regardless of identity, occupation or employer.

3. Property Rights 

Distinguishing between aggression and defense requires an underlying theory of property rights.

The purpose of a theory of property rights is to help prevent and resolve conflicts, by telling us who is the rightful ultimate decision-maker (owner) regarding each scarce resource (property). A scarce resource is anything over which conflicts about usage may occur.

Every theory of property rights specifies:
• how property rights in previously unowned resources can rightfully be acquired
• how property rights are rightfully transferred from one individual to another.

4. Libertarianism 

Voluntaryists believe that the libertarian theory of property rights is superior to all others. This belief may be based on a deontological theory of ethics (arguing that all other theories of property rights are immoral), or on consequentialist grounds (arguing that the libertarian theory of property rights creates the best outcomes), or both.

The libertarian theory of property rights comprises three basic principles:
• The principle of self-ownership: that all individuals rightfully have property rights over their own physical bodies.
• The principle of homesteading: that property rights over external things that are previously unowned can only rightfully be acquired through an act of original appropriation; a mere verbal declaration is insufficient.
• The principle of voluntary exchange: that property rights over external things previously owned by someone else can only rightfully be acquired through voluntary exchange.

5. Law 

Law is a service produced to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

Producing laws involves applying a theory of property rights to a particular conflict or potential conflict. A lawmaker gathers facts and evidence about a conflict that has he has been asked to help resolve, then refers to a theory of property rights to identify which party is the aggressor and which party is the victim of aggression.

He then specifies certain actions that the aggressor must take in order to make amends for his act of aggression, by referring to a theory of justice. Those actions may include paying restitution and damages to the victim and/or receiving retributive punishment. Law enforcement may be used to ensure that the aggressor carries out the actions specified by the law maker.

6. Government

A government is an institution that is a territorial monopolist producer of law. That is, government is a producer of law that uses coercion to prevent other producers of law from operating and competing with it within a specified territory.

Within any territory where a government is operating, all conflicts must be brought before the government, because no other producers of law are allowed to exist there. This includes conflicts involving the government itself.

Invariably, using it’s power of monopoly, a government will exempt itself from certain laws that it enforces on others. For example, it will exempt itself from laws against theft, allowing it to commit theft with impunity, calling it “taxation”, and it will exempt itself from laws against murder, calling it “war”.

Voluntaryists therefore consider all governments to be illegitimate, because they inherently violate the libertarian theory of property rights and they are the biggest aggressors in society. All voluntaryists are anarchists: individuals who support competition in the field of producing law, rather than law being monopolised by a government.

Voluntaryists seek to eliminate governments and bring about an anarchic society where lawmakers compete with each other for customers and produce laws based on the libertarian theory of property rights.

This was originally posted at the Voluntaryism UK forum:

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Brexit: Assessing Remain Claims – 3 Months On

It is 3 months since the UK voted to leave the EU.  The Remain campaign – dubbed Project Fear by the Leave campaign – claimed that Brexit would lead to disaster.  To quote from the official campaign website:

“Leaving the EU would devastate UK trade, businesses and economic growth, and put millions of people out of work. There would be less trade, less economic growth, less investment and fewer businesses meaning higher prices and fewer jobs and opportunities for you and your family now and in the future.”

“Economic experts forecast a drop in the value of your home, your pension and the pound.”

Let’s look at their claims in more detail and see how many of them have come true and how many have proven to be false.

Political Events

Claim 1: David Cameron said he will stay on as PM even if we vote leave.

Result: FALSE.  Cameron resigned as PM the day after the vote, saying that his strong pro-remain views made him not the appropriate person to lead through Brexit.  Theresa May, who was also pro-remain was elected as his replacement.

Claim 2: David Cameron said Article 50 will be activated immediately, to start the process of withdrawal.

Result: FALSE.  Article 50 still hasn’t been activated.  Theresa May quickly stated that it would not be activated before the end of 2016.  It is widely expected to be activated in 2017, but bookmakers believe there is a good chance it won’t be activated until 2018 or later.   

Political-Economic Response

Claim 3: George Osborne claimed there will need to be an emergency “Brexit budget” involving higher taxes and reduced spending.

Result: FALSE.  There was no emergency budget after the referendum and Osborne instead proposed tax cuts.  The new chancellor Philip Hammond quickly ruled out the possibility of any emergency budget. 

Claim 4: The BoE will have to increase interest rates.

Result: FALSE.  The BoE reduced interest rates six weeks after the vote.

Claim 5: Farming, scientific and medical research will suffer through losing EU funding.

Result: FALSE.  The chancellor announced on 13th August that subsidies to these industries will continue to be paid, using the money saved by no longer contributing to the EU budget.

Claim 6: Workers’ rights will be in doubt.

Result: FALSE.  There is no appetite to remove any workers’ rights that have come from EU legislation.  Most workers’ rights legislation is already written into UK law; some was written into UK law before the EU rules were created; some UK legislation goes further than EU rules.  A bill presented to parliament on 7th September to guarantee all EU rules on workers’ rights are preserved in UK law after Brexit received no opposition whatsover from any MPs.  Workers rights’ legislation is popular with the UK electorate, which is why there is no threat to them from leaving the EU.

Market Reactions

Claim 7: Foreign companies will decrease invesment in the UK and jobs would be lost.

Result: FALSE.  All the companies that threatened to withdraw or reduce investment, such as AstraZeneca and GSK, have since done a u-turn and confirmed that investment will continue and no jobs will be cut.  Wells Fargo has just spent £300mil on its new European HQ in London.  Tata Steel is now reconsidering its pre-Brexit decision to withdraw from South Wales.  (source)

Claim 8: There will be a reduction in trade.

Result: FALSE.  The rate of business start-ups has increased since the vote, retail sales are rising, and manufacturing output is up. (source)

Economic Performance

Claim 9: The UK will fall into a recession.

Result: FALSE.  GDP continues to be positive.  The UK is growing the fastest of all the major world economies.  Almost no one now believes a recession is likely. (source)

Claim 10: The stock exchange will collapse.

Result: FALSE.  After an initial drop, it took only 6 days for the FTSE100 to recover back to its pre-Brexit level, and is now very close to being at an all-time high.  The FTSE250 took about a month to recover and is now also close to being at an all-time high.  UK stocks are the best performing in Europe.

Claim 11: Unemployment will increase.

Result: FALSE.  Unemployment has continued decreasing.  It fell by 8,600 in July when the ONS predicted it would rise by 9,500. (source)

Claim 12: Wages will fall.

Result: FALSE.  Wages increased by 0.44% in July, continuing the trend from the first half of 2016.

Claim 13: Prices will increase.

Result: FALSE.  The CPI shows price inflation continues to be low, with no change in the trend between Q2 and Q3.

Claim 14: House prices will fall dramatically (18% according to George Osborne).

Result: FALSE.  House prices have fallen, but only very slightly: 1.1% in July and 0.2% in August, and commentators are predicted a strong housing market for the rest of the year.  These are the fifth and sixth single monthly falls in the last 12 months.

Claim 15: The value of the pound will fall.

Result: TRUE.  The pound fell by about 10% against the dollar immediately following the vote and has remained at that level ever since.  For comparison, the pound fell 25% against the dollar between July and November in 2008.

Claim 16: The value of pensions will fall.

Result: FALSE.  Pension pots received a boost from the vote.

International Relations

Claim 17: The EU will erect trade barriers with the UK.

Result: PROBABLY FALSE.  Whether the EU will erect trade barriers with the UK is to be decided during negotiations.  The Leave campaign argued that there would be no benefit to the EU in doing so, and that the EU would be impacted worse than the UK by such barriers.  Since the referendum, many politicians and business leaders in Europe have echoed this view, so it now looks even more likely that free trade between the UK and EU will continue, either via a bilateral free trade agreement or through the UK joining the EFTA.  The German finance minister who said during the referendum campaign that we would be treated the same way as non-European countries after Brexit has now stated that he only said that because George Osborne told him to.

Claim 18: Non-EU countries (like the US) will put us to the “back of the queue” for trade deals.

Result: FALSE.  Non-EU countries have put us to the front of the queue.  26 countries have expressed that they are eager to agree trade deals as soon as possible.  The UK-US trade deal will happen before any EU-US trade deal.  (source)

Claim 19: EU nationals living in the UK, and UK nationals living in the EU, will be at risk of deportation.

Result: PROBABLY FALSE.  EU nationals that have lived in the UK for 5 years or more (80% of the total) are granted an automatic permanent right to remain.  The government has irresponsibly refused to guarantee that the other EU nationals living in the UK will be able to stay after Brexit.  Theresa May has said that she “wants and expects” them to be able to stay, but that it depends entirely on negotiations with the EU: in particular, whether the EU allows UK nationals to continue to stay in the EU.  But UK nationals abroad are highly beneficial economically to EU economies, and collective expulsions are illegal under both international law and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.  So it seems extremely unlikely that Brexit will force anyone to return home. 

Claim 20: France will expel our immigration officers from Calais.

Result: FALSE.  Just two days after the vote, the French government confirmed there will be no change to arrangements, despite threatening before the referendum that the border camp could be moved from Calais to Dover.


Out of 20 claims analysed, only one has proven correct: the pound has decreased in value.  All the other indicators suggest the UK is experiencing a post-Brexit boom, in stark contrast to the bust predicted by the Remain campaign.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Brexit: Why I Care

Given that I am a libertarian anarchist, it might be wondered why I am campaigning for Leave vote in the EU referendum.  Why do I think this is worth doing?

I have never been actively involved or voted in any prior UK* election or referendum, because I have never felt that any of the options presented to me are worth my time or effort. They are always a choice between varying flavors of statism. But this is a different matter.

To draw an analogy, suppose income tax is 20% and there is a referendum on whether the tax should be increased to 30% or be lowered to 10%. Should a libertarian bother voting? Would a vote for 10% be a violation of the libertarian principle that the ideal tax rate is 0%? I don’t think so. The vote is signalling which direction you want to move in; it does not imply that you want to stop at 10%.

In this referendum the choice is simply between more government and less government.

A vote to Remain is to endorse the EU, which is a layer of government on top of the UK government, and one which:
1) controls a larger territorial area,
2) is more interventionist, and
3) is less accountable to voters than the UK government.

 A vote to Leave is a rejection of the EU, an endorsement of the idea that if governments are to exist they should:
1) control a territorial area as small as possible,
2) intervene as little as possible, and
3) be as accountable to voters as possible.

To vote Leave does not mean I want to stop at seceding from the EU government; I want to secede from the UK government as well; but it is a vote to signal which direction I want to move in: less government, more liberty.

This viewpoint is consistent with the principles of libertarian strategy outlined by Murray Rothbard here. We won’t get to total liberty overnight, but when the opportunity to increase liberty arises, we should embrace and support it as a step in the right direction, rather than sitting on the sidelines moaning about the increase in liberty not being as great as we would like.

* I added the term UK, because I did get involved in the Ron Paul Presidential campaigns of both 2008 and 2012, albeit from afar.  Ron Paul is a unique politician in that he is a voluntaryist, as I explained in my videos here and here.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Brexit: The UK Contribution to the EU Budget

The primary question in the Brexit debate is: is the UK a net beneficiary or a net contributor to the EU budget? The answer is indisputable. The UK is the second largest net contributor to the EU budget, behind Germany. We put in more than we get out. Only a fool would belong to a club where one gets out less than what one puts in.

The Remain campaigners tend to quote the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget. The Leave campaigners tend to quote to gross figure. Which makes more sense?

In 2014, the UK gross contribution to the EU budget was £18.8bn (£361m per week). A rebate is deducted before the money is sent, bringing this figure down to £14.4bn (£276m per week). The EU sent £6.0bn back to the UK in the form of payments to support things like agriculture, regional development and university research, meaning the net contribution from the UK to the EU was £8.4bn (£161m per week), or about £314 per household on average.

Does it make more sense to quote gross or net contribution figure?

At first I thought it was disingenuous of Leave campaigners to quote the gross figure.  However, when tax contributions are quoted, gross figures are always used. For example, when income tax contributions are discussed, the figures are always gross.  It would be strange to say that an individual’s income tax contribution is zero (or negative!) on the basis that it is all returned to him in the form of government services.  Nobody bothers trying to subtract the value of government services from an individual's tax contributions, in order to quote net income tax contribution.  It should be the same for the UK contribution to the EU: the £6.0bn paid to the UK should not be subtracted from the UK gross contribution figure; so it is fair to say that the UK contributes £276m per week to the EU.

What about the rebate? Does it make a difference that it is subtracted before the money is even sent? Perhaps. But on the other hand, the rebate could be revoked at any time, so on that basis it could be argued that it is fair to say the UK contributes £361m per week, not £276m per week.

The 2014 figures are taken from here:

Although it is based on 2010 data, here is a useful infographic showing EU contributions by member state:

Friday, 22 April 2016

Brexit: "Europe" vs "The EU"

The main group supporting a vote of Remain call themselves “Britain Stronger In Europe”. That name is deceptive. The referendum is not about whether the UK (or Britain) should be in “Europe”. It is about whether we should be in “the EU”.

Europe is a geographical location. The EU is a political organisation. It is impossible for the UK to NOT be “in Europe”. We cannot move our island to North America or to Asia. No one is arguing that we should isolate ourselves from Europe. No one is in favor of building a wall in the English Channel to prevent travel or trade between the UK and the people of mainland Europe.

The conflation of the EU with Europe is convenient for BSE. It is in their advantage for the UK public to conflate leaving the EU with isolating ourselves from Europe.

As an example, a BSE leaflet that came through my door a couple of weeks ago states as “key facts” that “over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our exports to the EU” and that “200,000 UK businesses trade with the EU, helping them to create jobs here in the UK”. They leave it up to the reader to consider what will happen to those jobs in the case of a Brexit. They presumably hope the reader will conclude that those 3 million jobs will be lost.

But the UK will continue to trade with the EU whether or not we are part of it, or whether the EU even exists. Those 3 million jobs are not going to be lost; it is possible that none of them will be.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Brexit: The Principle of Secession

On 23rd June the UK is due to hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave it (“Brexit”). Both the "Leave" and "Remain" camps have started making their arguments, and the official campaigning period has begun. I plan to post regularly on this subject between now and the referendum.

I am in strongly favor of the UK leaving the EU and I will be voting that way.

My primary argument is a very simple principle-based argument. I support the principle of secession, without exceptions. That is, I believe that any group of individuals has a right to dissociate themselves from any other group of individuals, if they so wish. It does not matter what size the group is. It could be a single individual. No one should be forced to belong to any group they do not wish to belong to.

This immediately implies, of course, that I not only support the UK seceding from the EU, but that I also support:

  • The UK or EU seceeding from any world governmental organisation, like the UN, IMF or WTO 
  • Scotland seceeding from the UK, or Catalonia from Spain, or Veneto from Italy, etc 
  • The establishment of free cities and free communities, independent from any nation state 
  • Individuals seceeding from their government to become self-governing. 

To me, these things all go together. Either you support the principle of secession, the principle of freedom of association, or you don't. I do.

I have not seen this argument raised in the Brexit debate so far. I do not expect to see it raised. The reason is obvious. If the principle of secession is raised, then it is clear that these principles apply at a lower levels than just the limited question of whether the UK should secede from the EU. Anyone who suggests that the UK should secede from the EU on principle cannot then consistently oppose, for example, the secession of Scotland from the UK, because the principled argument is exactly the same: no one should be forced to belong to any group they do not wish to belong to.