To free or not to free?

To free or not to free?

Have you heard of the global Liberty movement? If you haven’t, you really should. An understanding of this phenomenon may be crucial to working out how Scotland should govern itself if independence is won in 2014.

It seems that Libertarians are suddenly all over the place, in universities, on television, on the internet, on the news.

Very recently in the United States, Congressman Ron Paul led a grassroots presidential campaign that energized millions of Americans on the left and the right of the political spectrum, many of them young people in their early twenties.

In Europe, where most governments have grown to gargantuan proportions, new libertarian think tanks and grassroots movements are springing up in reaction to bailouts, eroding civil liberties and the unchecked growth of government and budget deficits.

Only last week in England, punk musician Frank Turner was smeared by the Guardian after he came out as one.

And right here in Scotland, groups like the Scottish Libertarians are now preaching the gospel of freedom.

It is clear that the Liberty movement is here to stay. So what do Libertarians actually want?

The simplest way of describing Libertarianism is that in all issues it takes a radical position in favour of individual sovereignty over collective power. Whether that be on civil liberties or economic liberties, the general idea is that a policy of self-ownership, self-responsibility, and trade is a better way of satisfying human needs and creating broadly-shared prosperity and security than government redistribution and interference. There is often confusion about whether it is “right wing” or “left wing”, but the truth is neither. The left and right wing are simply different methods of governing; the libertarian philosophy stands against the idea of governing itself.

Many people make that mistake of thinking that society is somehow “run” by government. Rather, Libertarians see that society is a spontaneous order arrived at voluntarily through centuries of experimentation, trade, economic growth and collective habit.

Kings and governments have only ever interfered in this natural order according to political will and expediency; they did not create it in the first place. And more often than not this state monopoly on force is abused in favour of special interests. Something about state power has an overwhelming tendency to attract corruption, a sickness which Libertarians believe cannot be changed by more prudent candidates or increased democratization. The long and storied history of high hopes and the subsequent hangover of political reality is proof of this.

The Keynesian school of the economics profession, currently the status quo, advocates a so-called “mixed economy” with a collusion of business and government, with state-chartered central banks like the Bank of England and the ECB holding the reins of the money supply.

Alone in the profession, the Austrian school believes in free markets and competition in many areas traditionally taken over by government. And sorry, but that includes some traditional golden cows too. Libertarians also believe that the most economically stable monetary system is one that is itself provided by the market, and backed by commodities like gold and silver. Competition in currency would lead to stability and an end to inflation, which hurts the poor.

The Austrians were the only ones to predict the Recession, some of them as early as 2002. This was because the Austrian theory of the business cycle states that the well known phenomenon of economic bubbles are not caused by “greed” or “deregulation”, but by unwarranted credit expansion and a lowering of interest rates by central banks (a.k.a. the government), which encouraged a rush to borrow and rapid inflation in housing prices. Boom and bust is not a natural occurrence, it is a predictable process of cause and effect that would be solved by a return to sound money and an abandonment of the fraudulent practise of fractional reserve banking, which due to the collusion between banks and the state is currently permissible under the law.

It so happens that on many of these issues, Scotland has a long history of Libertarian thought. Adam Smith was one of the early advocates of getting government out of our lives. Following the Scottish Enlightenment, Scotland in the 19th century had a relatively stable system of free banking, where banks issued their own notes, set their own interest rates and were relatively decentralized.

In Scotland also during that period, education was largely private, and was one of the best in the world that delivered for the poor.

The ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly those of David Hume were first adopted by the founding fathers of the United States, and codified in a Constitution that guaranteed the right to pursue happiness without interference from government.

But are these ideas relevant in the 21st century? Is it time for another Scottish Enlightenment? It is certainly a Libertarian notion that political power, if it is justified at all, should at least be as close to the people it affects as is humanly possible. But even if Yes Scotland has victory in the coming referendum, an independent Scotland will still face two radically different roads. Will Scotland go down the path of ever-increasing control of the economy by Holyrood and the erosion of our civil liberties? Or will we stay loyal to Scotland’s tradition of rugged individualism and embrace liberty, once and for all?

To free or not to free. That is the question.

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1 Comment on "To free or not to free?"

  • Allan E says

    I was hoping for a yes verdict in the referendum,not because I wanted wall to wall bolshevism like some,but because it would have forced a developement onto Scotland akin to the personal developement of an adolescent leaving mum and paying rent,bills etc out of their income and no longer being able to sit up in their bedrooms all night playing computer games with mum cleaning and cooking for them.
    Part of this developement would hopefully of entailled a broadening of the spectrum of political debate so that at last libertarians could emerge from the shadowland of fear and isolation we have to live in in Scotland and contribute to the exchange of ideas without the fear of the ubiquitous bolsheviks whose star is so clearly in the ascendency at present.
    Our contribution would have been an important part of the vitality and diversity needed in a sovereign Scotland.
    Now we are back in our bedrooms again nursing our chip on both shoulders.
    I am delighted that there is a voice for libertarians now on the web,however and look forward to everyones contributions to come.

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