Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: Philosophy

We are doomed as humans to live in a perpetual state of hysteria and insanity

We suffer from a fundamental human condition: we are all easily scared. We are easy to scare and difficult to unscare.

This is not news. Thousands of years ago, the Indian Upanishads described how a stick can sometimes look like a snake. When bush-walking the Yarra, I keep my eyes peeled for black, poisonous snakes (my wife has actually seen a few – she’s part of a walking club). I’ve not yet sighted any such snake but I often find that my brain treats with suspicion the curved black tree branches lying on the ground.

We frighten easily: that’s our defensive response evolved over millions of years. And it is more rapid and stronger than our rational response. It doesn’t matter whether we have four PhDs. We will still remain human.

That’s why billions of people across the world have fallen for Jinping’s fake videos and gone into hysterical panic and most still remain in a state of insanity.

And that’s also why when an “expert” tells us that GMO will kill us, or that the Earth will roast from man-made climate change, or that covid vaccines will kill us all with ADE, we tend to believe such people instantly. Refuting them is much harder and can take months, if not years of hard work.

Julian Simon wrote about many such scares in his book, The Ultimate Resource. Except for a (very) few, most scares are false. In many cases the product/issue of concern is not entirely benign (e.g. DDT, nuclear power) but its overall benefit far exceeds the cost it may impose on society.

In the end, hysteria and fear are our natural human condition so we had better get used to it. This situation – where we live our life in a perpetual state of madness – is going to get more and more common in this age of social media and rapid dissemination of news.






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Can a classical liberal ethically function inside a government department?

A question received:

Is it unethical to work for the government for pay in a department that is clearly unrelated to the protection of life, liberty and property? If possible, could you give an opinion on the above mentioned question with a justification of your view?


I wouldn’t say that working in a government department the functions of which are unrelated to the first order functions of government makes one’s actions unethical. If one actively supports the expansion of such functions or engages in personal corruption, ethical questions could become involved.

More importantly, even in roles that involve first order functions, following orders that breach human rights (something that happens quite a bit in real life) or engaging in corruption would be unethical. For instance, the actions of police officials in Victoria to brutalise young people in the name of “public health” are not just unethical, they are criminal.

Ayn Rand was different. She opposed big government but she did not hesitate in recommending corruption to businesses. E.g. – she wasn’t looking at it from the perspective of government functionaries. What are classical liberals supposed to do? Are they to abjure government jobs entirely? Obviously not. And if not, then what’s the role they should play? She did not think about this question and took extreme shortcuts in her recommendations. There was no scope for any honest and decent government functionary in her mind. And that appears to be the case with alleged “classical liberals” like Alex Tabarrok as well.

Many libertarians treat the government as a black hole with purely evil properties. The fact is that without good government there is no possibility of a prosperous human society. Singapore focused on core functions of the government and proved how quickly people can benefit.

Government functionaries play a critical role in society – whether they are able to perform their functions properly or not depends on the elected government of the day. I had no choice but to resign both my government roles – in India and Australia – since the overall framework of human rights and decency had got perverted. But I was happy enough in Australia performing my functions till March 2020 when the government became fundamentally evil.

I’d argue that the classical liberal can work inside the government in any role so long as he/she doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

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Further notes on civil disobedience

I had raised some basic issues here a few days ago. I found a few minutes to undertake some background research. Here are some findings.

Above all, civil disobedience is entirely different to ordinary disobedience/ protest.

The idea of civil disobedience has a long history including the work of Gandhi which preceded Henry David Thoreau’s work by a year. The work to master the implementation of civil disobedience took Mahatma Gandhi many decades.

Civil disobedience is likely to lead to significant anguish and even injury for the volunteers. The volunteers must be mentally prepared to be injured by the police. The police are the instruments of the state and often consider that they are doing their duty. They can sometimes be excessively brutal in the performance of their “duty”.

Volunteers must be ready not only to be arrested but to be jailed – often for long durations. The government will try to record a criminal prosecution against the volunteers’ names, thus disrupting the volunteers’ future career. The sloppy record of Australia’s lawyers during the covid pandemic also means that there may not be an adequate defence of the civil disobedience volunteers in the courts.

In the light of this, the only reason why someone may choose to become a volunteer is because they firmly believe that a forthright challenge is needed to the authority to recover a semblance of humanity.

Three key principles of civil disobedience.

The first principle is that you maintain respect for the rule of law even while disobeying the specific law that you perceive as unjust. [Source]

The second principle of civil disobedience follows from the first: you should plead guilty to any violation of the law. [Source]

the third principle of civil disobedience: you should attempt to convert your opponent by demonstrating the justice of your cause. [Source]


BASED ON Talat Ahmed’s 2019 book, Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience

An illustrative act of civil disobedience: the Salt March

In 1930 Salt March, when [Gandhi] walked 240 miles from Ahmedabad to the coastal town of Dandi with 78 male volunteers. Under the 1882 Salt Act, the British had a monopoly on salt, levying a tax that all had to pay. Upon arrival at Dandi on 6 April 1930, Gandhi issued a statement to the world’s press saying that, although the government had not interfered with the march, ‘the wanton disregard shown by them to popular feeling and their high-handed action leave no room for doubt that the policy of heartless exploitation of India is to be persisted in at any cost.’ The only interpretation he could put on the non-interference in the march was that ‘the British Government, powerful though it is, is sensitive to world opinion’ which would ‘not tolerate repression’ of civil disobedience ‘so long as disobedience remains civil and therefore necessarily non-violent’. He would now test whether the government would ‘tolerate the actual breach of the salt laws by countless people’.4

Gandhi picked up a lump of muddy salt and declared ‘With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.’5 After boiling it in seawater to produce illegal salt, he implored his followers to do likewise ‘wherever it is convenient’.6 The effect was dramatic as 2,000 people bathed in the sea at Dandi with Gandhi to pick up salt and so declare the salt laws broken.7 Mass civil disobedience spread throughout India as millions broke the salt laws by making salt or buying illegal salt.

Built upon the principle of love and kindness

Civil disobedience “recognize[s] the eternal law of love, inherent in humanity”. – Leo Tolstoy.

“in the final analysis, his [Gandhi’s] intentions were not to overthrow the system but make it kinder.”

Moral foundations, even puritanism

Following from the above is generally an appeal to moral superiority of the position adopted by civil disobedience participants. Without such moral superiority being repeatedly demonstrated, there is little possibility of the underlying demand for change being accepted by the broader community.

In Gandhi there was puritanical streak which catapulted him to the highest ranks in Indian society which admires such an approach even if it is hard for many people to abide by the expected standard. In n August 1921, Gandhi declared:

“We must understand thoroughly what self-purification means. Give up drinking alcohol, smoking ganja and eating opium. Give up visiting prostitutes … Today India lacks the power for peaceful, civil disobedience of laws … But this power will not come through drinking and debauchery. Therefore give up drinking, give up debauchery. This has a very deep meaning. If you would rather have nothing to do with dirty things, you should become pure yourselves.”

The objective is to change public opinion

“No feats of heroism are needed to bring about the greatest and most important changes in the life of humanity … All that is necessary is a change of public opinion”. – Tolstoy.

The objective of civil disobedience is to press upon the general community the reasons why a particular law is immoral and therefore worthy of being disobeyed.

The CRITICAL role of imprisonment in civil disobedience

Thoreau proclaimed that “under a government that imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.” Gandhi and King would go to jail for much longer terms and willingly accept the punishment for breaking the law. [Source]

“Jail, no bail” was a rallying cry of the American civil rights movement. Gandhi reasoned that if the government’s jails are overwhelmed, and the government would have to compromise or collapse.

Martin Luther King Jr said about Gandhi’s strategy:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon … a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it … He [Gandhi] struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul-force, non-injury and courage … Nonviolent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and the motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.

Specific roles chosen by volunteers of civil disobedience

This may appear outdated, but “at major protests” in Gandhi’s movements, “women were expected to nurse the male satyagrahis when they were struck down by police charges”. The issue here is that there needs to be preparation among the volunteers and allocation of roles – some would take the beatings by the police, others would tend to the injured.

Not the slightest scope for violence

“In the aftermath of the Chauri Chaura incident, on 12 February 1922, Gandhi called a halt to the Non-Co-operation Movement and suspended civil disobedience. Gandhi undertook a fast for five days as penance for what he considered a violent crime committed in his name. He was arrested and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment but released in February 1924 on health grounds”.

Only the strong can participate

“The aim is probably to become aware of the violence inside us; the result, however, is that only those who are psychologically strong can participate in these exercises.” [Source]

Strong preparation

“There is a significant difference between a course that is a direct preparation for civil disobedience” [Source]

This suggests that once a leadership has been identified, a systematic way must be found to build a training program for volunteers.

Plan, plan, plan. A half-century after the street struggles in Birmingham, no American movement has yet surpassed the strategic mastery of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders were fighting a war — nonviolently, but a war nevertheless — and they planned it as such. They mapped out protests to create escalating drama and pressure. They ran training schools for activists, teaching them how to ignore provocations to violence, among other lessons. [Source]

Advance notice to the Police and other preparation

See this.

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Why common law cannot guarantee liberty in Australia

I had erroneously claimed in my Griffith Society talk on 8 October 2020 that the rights of Australians are adequately protected and what we are seeing since March 2020 is largely a failure of the laws, a failure of institutions.

I cited Timothy Jones who wrote:

Australia and Britain have remarkably few constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights. This is not to say, of course, that the two countries are without any such protections. The Magna Carta of 1215 (“that great confirmatory instrument … which is the ground work of all our Constitutions”) and the Bill of Rights of 1689 (“the product of an alliance between parliamentarians and common lawyers”) remain, but they have a limited field of operation and are inadequate as modern statements of fundamental rights.13 And as subsequent discussion will demonstrate, the Australian Constitution does have something to say on the subject. It is nevertheless the case that the Anglo-Australian tradition has been to place faith in the common law, supplemented by legislation in specific areas, together with responsible and representative Parliamentary government, as the best means by which fundamental rights can be protected. As Sir Ninian Stephen has noted: “The ‘founding fathers’ of our Constitution took it for granted that individual rights were secure under the common law.”[1]

[1] Jones, Timothy H., “Legal Protection for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms: European Lessons for Australia?”, Federal Law Review, Vol 22, Issue 1, 1994. [URL:]

I also wrote:

I believe that although Australia’s Constitution did not specifically give us a Bill of Rights, the rights and freedoms of Australians and Victorians are no less protected in our common law tradition than the rights of the Americans – whose young nation is merely an offshoot of the Glorious Revolution and John Locke’s treatises on Civil Government. The Westminster system of government with its liberties rooted in the Magna Carta must hold.

But I recently chanced upon a 1980 book by Colin Howard (The Constitution, Power and Politics) and he has argued cogently that common law can never work to defend liberty.

Common law

The rules, doctrines and principles, or whatever else one cares to call them, of the common law all amount to exactly the same thing. They are simply laws. If they are not laws, they do not exist. But as laws, whether great or small, they can be abolished or changed by any valid process of law making.

Broadly speaking, under the common law system there are two main ways of making valid laws. One is through decisions by the courts themselves on the basis of the cases brought before them. The other is through bills passed by parliament, which thereupon become acts of parliament. Valid acts of parliament are always superior to decisions of the courts if the two come into conflict.

In Australia the complication occurs that the courts themselves can decide whether acts of parliament are valid or not; that is to say, whether the parliament concerned has power under the constitution to pass an act of that kind. If they are not, then of course they cannot have any effect. The courts cannot however do this on an arbitrary basis to suit themselves. For an act of parliament to be declared invalid it must fall clearly outside the constitutional powers of the Parliament concerned. This does not usually happen and in any case does not affect the basic rule that the law is normally made by parliament and, in default of that, made up by the courts as they go along, on the basis wherever possible of similar decisions which have been given in the past.

Now, even the briefest consideration of the two main sources of the law in Australia should be enough to make clear that the system guarantees nothing at all. An earlier decision of the courts proclaiming some right or liberty of the citizen can be departed from or overruled by a later decision or by an act of parliament. It is true that in general the courts adhere fairly closely to their own previous decisions, and also that there are complicated rules about which courts can overrule decisions of other courts, or their own past decisions. None of this affects the main proposition that a decision of a court is in the end only a decision of a court, and as such can be overruled, restricted, abolished or not seen as relevant to some future case. No rule or law which is subject to this degree of interference can possibly be regarded as guaranteeing anything to anyone.

As for acts of parliament, they can be repealed or altered at any time by the same parliament or any later one. In this sense acts of parliament guarantee very little more, if anything, than decisions of the courts.

Notwithstanding these simple facts about the way in which the law comes into existence and disappears again, comforting rhetorical statements, most of them emanating from the higher levels of the legal profession, are regularly trotted out if the desirability of an Australian bill of rights is raised or discussion. It is difficult for the rational inquirer to know how this can possibly happen, but perhaps it does not matter. The important point is that, whatever the motivation for these reassuring opinions, they are demonstrably mistaken. The general law, whether dignified with the name of the principles of the common law or not, guarantees the ordinary citizen in particular and Australia in general just about nothing. The more important questions are, how would a constitutional statement of rights and liberties alter this situation and why would the change be for the better?

I believe (and I’ve mentioned it in a number of talks/ interviews) that laws and constitutions don’t really matter in the end. No matter what laws we may have in place, if the people want it, they will destroy our liberty at will.

Once the people of Australia went into deep panic and hysteria, no one could have defended liberty without being destroyed politically or otherwise. Till today, the people love those who are crushing liberty and hate anyone who asks a question.

I can also say for sure that international covenants and human rights declarations are not worth the paper they are written on – as seen from the decision by the ICC to not pursue an open-and-shut case of crimes against humanity. There is NO way to defend liberty when the world goes mad.

Having said that, the events of 2020 and 2021 have created a stronger and more urgent case for a review of Australia’s Constitution. I don’t care much about the republican debate – these are trivial matters in comparison to a consideration of the ways by which we could try to lock in certain basic liberties for the people of Australia.

Australia is no different today to any Third World totalitarian dictatorship. All institutions have failed. The age of universal deceit is upon us, as I wrote in my Spectator article yesterday.

What can be done?

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