The Guardian Smears Libertarians for Wanting Freedom

libertariansThe Guardian is claiming that the ‘libertarian right’ plans to profit from the pandemic. Is this another left wing smear of libertarians?

When coronavirus crept across the world in early February, talk of how different nations were dealing with the virus came to resemble the Olympics for state capacity. Which country had the authority, the supplies and the expertise to “crush the curve”? A balance sheet of national progress marked out a bleak race to the horizon, enumerated in case numbers and death figures.

The mainstream media will use any crisis, real or manufactured, to generate click bait so that they can monetize it.

Although the focus over recent months has remained on leaders in crisis mode and the central agencies delivering forecasts and quarantine measures, local authorities have also played a prominent role during the pandemic. Chinese mayors, US governors and Indian chief ministers have coordinated local responses, taking responsibility for populations and even locking horns with national politicians.

Local ‘authorities’ are closest to the people, and should play a prominent role. In the case of British Columbia, our provincial chief medical officer has done an excellent job.

Most people would read the pandemic as a sign that populations and nation states should band together, and for the people “at the head of the rope” to pull even harder, to use the metaphor favoured by the French president, Emmanuel Macron. But there are others who see matters quite differently. They spy opportunity in the crisis, and wager that we might be able to ride the wave of the pandemic into a new tomorrow, where the virus shatters the global map – and undermines the power of democratic nation states.

This sounds like unhinged conspiracy theory. Evidence, please.

The US is ground zero for this type of thinking. Across the country, regions have broken up into “compacts”, with states competing against each other for life-saving ventilators and PPE. The atmosphere is one of competitive federalism, where states are reconfigured as economic units bidding in a marketplace. Washington’s state governor, Jay Inslee, accused Trumpof “fomenting domestic rebellion” for his calls to “liberate” individual states; governor Gavin Newsom termed California a “nation-state.” One Maryland governor confessed to keeping Covid-19 tests in an undisclosed location under armed guard, in part to prevent their seizure by central state authorities.

Trump is playing politics with the pandemic. All the more reason for the regions to look out for their own interests. During a crisis, it’s unsurprising that states circle the wagons to protect their own. That is their job.

Although North America’s economy is gradually reopening, the virus is still rampaging through its population. What will economic recovery look like in the midst of a pandemic? The president’s economic advisers have some ideas. In an analysis released at the end of April, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, two of Trump’s closest economic confidants and authors of the book on “Trumponomics”, predicted that “blue” Democratic states would be slower than “red” states to recover, because of what they saw as their pre-existing excess of regulations and taxes.

OK. Are they correct? Either way, so what?

Their analysis divided the US map into “laggard anti-growth” states and “momentum pro-growth” states. The former have minimum wages, pro-union laws and state income tax; the latter are free of such regulations.In the established mode of disaster capitalism, Laffer and Moore’s analysis appears to see the pandemic as a way to compel “anti-growth” states to adopt ever lower tax rates in order to attract mobile capital and labour. It suggests those who resist will not be bailed out by redistribution from the central government, but left to languish in a deserved economic depression. The effect is reminiscent of social Darwinism, applied as a philosophy of government.

The central government should not be “bailing out” the states in a way that’s unfair. The criteria should be based on number of cases of COVID-19. The national government should not be playing politics with relief funds. People should should use their votes to punish this.

The most articulate cheerleader for this kind of post-pandemic libertarianism is Balaji Srinivasan, the electrical engineer and former general partner at Silicon Valley venture capital fund Andreesen Horowitz. Since the pandemic began, Srinivasan has foretold a redivision of the world map into “green zones” that have controlled and contained the virus and “red zones”, which have not.

Central government intervention is about as far from libertarianism as you can get. Understanding that states that have done a good job at controlling the COVID-19 epidemic have an economic advantage is logical.

“We are entering this fractal environment,” Srinivasan recently told a virtual summit organised by the Startup Societies Foundation, “in which the virus breaks centralised states”. The virus does not stop at the border, so nor will this process of fragmentation. As regions seal themselves off to prevent contagion, “you can drill down to the state, or even the town or county level”, Srinivasan observed, noting that any state without the virus under control will “face defection” in an intensified contest for talent and capital. After the pandemic has passed, “nations are going to turn into effectively vendors and entrepreneurs and relatively mobile people will be applicants”, he predicted.

There is some truth to this. For example, Elon Musk has threatened to move Tesla’s manufacturing facilities from California, where county officials were preventing him from reopening, to Texas. Having COVID-19 under control makes your state more attractive to business.

It’s easy to imagine how a particular breed of investor could see this pandemic as an opportunity that will accelerate existing trends. The loose attachments that investors feel towards this or that nation will grow even looser as capital becomes more mobile, and a sorting process will separate the productive few nations from the malingering many. States that don’t fall in line with the demands of this investor class will be starved by the voluntary expatriation of the wealthy, with their assets and abilities in tow.

If you overtax people, some will eventually leave for greener pastures. If you are unfriendly to business, businesses will do the same.

If you assume this is merely a pessimistic vision, you’d be wrong. In fact it accords with a long-cultivated ideology that Srinivasan shares with a group of like-minded venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, who subscribe to variations of the radical libertarian philosophy known as “anarcho-capitalism”. The idea at its root is that a wealthy class of investors and entrepreneurs should be free to exit nation states and form new communities whose members can choose which rules (and tax laws) they’re governed by – as if those rules were products on a store shelf.

There is a word for this idea: freedom.

For like-minded libertarians, the colour-coded zones used in public health to control the virus are the blueprint for a new political economy. Since Srinivasan began discussing the framework, colour-coded zones have been rolled out to control the virus in Malaysia, Indonesia, Northern Italy and France; the strategy was also considered as a model for biocontainment in the White House in early April. As of early May, India has divided its 1.3 billion people into a patchwork of green, yellow and red zones, with different freedoms and restrictions based on each.

To manage the pandemic, it is essential to know where it is under control and where outbreaks are occurring. That businesses and entrepreneurs take advantage of this knowledge is unsurprising.

The red-green zone schema has already informed the strategies of global investors. In April, Henley & Partners, the global citizenship broker, released its annual ranking of national passports for mobile investors, and predicted that coronavirus would spark a dramatic shift in global mobility. Its chief source forecast that “as the curtain lifts, people will seek to move from poorly governed and ill-prepared ‘red zones’ to ‘green zones’, or places with better medical care.” In early May, it reported a 42% increase in applications for new nationalities, compared with the previous year.

Again, unsurprising. If your country performed poorly in handling COVID-19 and you are able to move somewhere that did better, why wouldn’t you consider doing so?

Nobody can tell what the world will look like after the pandemic. But what we can be sure of is that some investors appear to be already placing their bets on a vision of the future where the wealthy are freed from tax constraints. As nations are divided into different zones according to their respective stages of viral and economic recovery, the well-off could follow Elon Musk’s recent threat to relocate from California to Texas, voting with their feet for locations that elude redistributive taxation. In our post-pandemic future, the flight to safety, away from contagious “red zones”, could be a flight from the nation state as we know it.

Painting freedom and libertarianism as bad things is reprehensible. I live in British Columbia because, as a whole, I like it here. Alberta, like Texas, has lower taxes and a lower cost of living, but it also has cold winters, doesn’t have the natural beauty of the oceans and the mountains, and has an economy tightly coupled to the boom and bust oil industry. Yet I know a lot of people who, like me, have the ability to work from anywhere who have, despite its downsides, made the move. If you want to retain people, treat them well. Every time one jurisdiction increases taxes or other costs, more people will be pushed over the tipping point and move to a place that does not increase them.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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1 Response to The Guardian Smears Libertarians for Wanting Freedom

  1. Since our 1972 platform became Roe v Wade, religious conservatives have spraypainted the Libertarian Party as “anarchist”. Then came swarms of “former” communists claiming conversion into soi-disant anarcho capitalists. These hostile impostors are to libertarian partisans brood parasites who invade the nest, vandalize the platform and alienate voters. Just as anarcho-vegetarian means carnivore, anarcho-capitalist means communist. Bewildered, confused, cunning or unstable perhaps, but of the looter persuasion in every case. In spite of all this, libertarian spoiler votes pressure the kleptocracy to back away from cruel laws and predatory taxation.

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