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Last week, the next generation of European Students For Liberty Local Coordinators met for the first time in Gummersbach, Germany, totaling 137 new leaders from over 30 countries.

Combined with last year’s class and our Senior Local Coordinators, that’s over 190 student leaders actively promoting economic and social liberties in their city and in their local language.

This includes countries where ESFL wasn’t yet active, including Kosovo, Belarus, andArmenia, giving a chance for young people in these nations to be exposed to the ideas of liberty.

Don’t you feel a lot better about the chances for a new, freedom generation in Europe, Friend?

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These leaders have already begun implementing projects in their countries and will be concentrating their efforts toward bringing ESFL to the universities and cities.

Specifically, they’ll be aiming to bring as many people as possible to the fall Regional Conferences we’ll host in 19 cities across the continent, including cities such as Milan, Tbilisi, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Heidelberg, and many more.

Register today

It’s looking to be a busy year for ESFL, and we appreciate all the support we can get to keep our programs student-led and driven!

We hope to see you at one of our many events in the coming months.Aleksandar

Sincerely & For Liberty,

Aleksandar Kokotović

ESFL Programs Manager

On the 30th of July the British magazine “The New Statesman” published an article authored by the famous philosopher John Gray on the life, intellectual achievements, and mistakes of the renowned Austrian economist and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek. Gray’s piece takes a look both at the Austrian’s economic and political views, and critiques both.

The bulk of the article overviews Hayek’s achievements in the sphere of economics, where Gray offers various criticisms aimed at his theory of the market system and the business cycle. Gray even claims that Hayek’s greatest intellectual rival, John Maynard Keynes, was definitely the better economist of the two. Unfortunately virtually all of these very bold criticisms are left with no substantial argumentation. In some cases, a proper argument is presented but it is either incorrect, or completely disregards some very relevant historical facts. Here I shall point out the main errors in Gray’s critique and elaborate why he is wrong in his evaluation of Friedrich Hayek’s economic thought. (more…)

In the last article we learned how crisis-stricken Greece already implemented legislation that severly limits the amount of cash available to costumers. What appears to be a necessary means to stop a serious financial crisis is actually a symptom of a phenomenon that haunts many other European countries that appear to do well in the financial sector: a covert war on cash is being fought in countries such as Italy or France. Even well-doing Germany is seeing influential economists taking the side of the anti-cash-faction.

Different arguments have been used to justify this new trend and we have learned that all of them are very shallow and can not stand closer inspection. These superficial arguments are basically smoke-screens that hide another motive.

In the second part of this series we will find out what this motive is and why it is so important to explain the covert war on cash.

What is really behind the war on cash?

Among the arguments for the severe restriction of cash use there is one that is more honest than the others. It is an economical argument that argues that hoarders and spend-thrifts are responsible for slow economic growth. Money saved underneath a pillow is not circulating in the economy. It is not being spent and therefore the industry can not use it to increase sales and invest into new technologies.

Another victim of this urge to hoard cash is the banking sector. If people decide to use coins and notes they withdraw money from their bank accounts. This might cause problems for the banks, since they use a so-called system of fractional reserve banking. In short: every bank only keeps a small amount of actual money in their vaults. Savings on a bank account are basically just numbers on paper or on a screen.

If all costumers of a certain bank would want to withdraw their savings at once, the bank would be immediatly bankrupt because their cash reserves are just a fraction of all its costumers savings. This is because banks offer your savings as credit to other costumers in order to profit from interest rates.

Naturally this means that the creation of credit is dependent on many people depositing their savings on a bank account. The more people deposit cash, the more money is available for credit. And credit is necessary for a well-working economy, many politicians and bankers think.

Finding the Culprits

The desperate need to have credit widely available is the main justification for a fractional reserve banking system. Therefore, politicians and bankers try to use every means available to produce as much credit as possible. It is a self-feeding mechanism that appears to create unlimited wealth by producing cheap and infinite money.

The term „fiat money“ is often used to describe this phenomenon as money can be created from thin air.

This fiat money system funded by fractional reserve banking is the main justification for increasing cash restrictions. It offers a means for politics to control an economy. In their view weak or stagnating sectors can be rejuvenated by injecting new doses of money. This money comes from the credit producing system of the banking sector, aided by financial policies such as low interest rates.

Of course no resource is infinite, not even money. Pretending to ignore this fundamental rule can have dangerous consequences. History has taught us countless times about these dangers. The results of cash-restrictions and the fiat money system are looming just over the horizon and will be grave for generations to come.

Come back for the next and final article of this series to read about how the problems coming from the covert war on cash will have lasting consequences even for you.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

This post was written by Local Coordinator Pierpaolo Cecchi.

 

The continuous flow of nationalist ideas of Lega Nord, a populist and conservative party leaded by Matteo Salvini, recently proposed an evergreen for right wing parties: Compulsory military service.
In an age where the defense is characterized by the use of very sophisticated technologies such as drones, that make the general level of the soldier’s education more important and by the increase of cost, I think it is worth looking at the roots of this anachronistic and anti-liberal proposal.
The proposal of M. Salvini and his supporters captures a vision of the military service as an important step in the “education” of citizens, as if it would “straighten” the youth of today.  Indeed, a quite common comment is “It would take a good year of military service for these guys”, underlying the old braggart idea that you become a real men only with uniforms, guns and gears.
M. Salvini ignores that today’s youth, thanks to the globalization and the higher interconnection of today’s econom, has the possibility to gain wider and more educational experiences. This can perhaps even serve to be more “corrective” than the military service our grandparents had to endure.military-652355_640

Moreover, it is quite sad to notice that at the core of this idea, there is the belief that the lifes of young people should be available to the government, while I rather think that the government should be available to work for the new generations. In this case we are facing again the statist and nationalist idea that the government should shape and direct the individuals. It is important to remember that we are not talking about children, but about adults that the government should “educate” as they please, erasing freedom and personal responsibility.
If this mentality applies today to the military service, tomorrow it could be extended to any other area of our life, and the State may take the decision to “educate” us in any aspect of our lives. It might be argued that decades ago, the compulsory military service had practical reasons, the real defense of the nation, but now such a law would be only ideologically driven and this makes it much more dangerous for our liberties.
If I want to help my community, I should be able to decide how, where, when and with whom I want to do it. Moreover, no one can claim the right to kidnap me for a year of my life.
However one good thing has been noticed after this proposal: After reading comments on facebook, it seems as if many supporters of Salvini did not like it: Despite being nationalists, they expect others to put up with compulsory military service.
The lessons of Milton Friedman are still very present and Matteo Salvini should definitely read his works. In particular, in “Capitalism and Freedom” he stated the following: “To the free man, the country is the collection of the individuals who compose it, not something over and above them… The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country, he will ask rather “What can I and my compatriots do through government?” [..] And he will accompany this question with another: “How can we keep the government we create from becoming a ‘Frankenstein’ that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?”

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

Obscured by the giant smoke clouds of the Greek Euro Crisis are other serious events that almost totally evade the view of the press and, thus, many people in Europe. Only sometimes for a short amount of time do they come into light, only to disappear again when the next fatal news from Greece step make the headlines.

Almost unbeknownst to a large portion of Europeans is the fact that politicians and economists try to wage a campaign that reminds one of a covert war. This time it is not about drugs, but about another commodity many Europeans have long been used to: cash.

Cash in the Crosshairs money-29047_640

As a consequence of Greek savers withdrawing money en masse from ATM machines the Greek government took a very offensive step and marched openly forward in the war on cash. The flow of money was severly reduced: At first banks were told to stay closed on work days. Then people were not allowed to transfer money abroad. Next, people were not allowed to withdraw more than € 60 per day. Banks, with the help of the government basically robbed their costumers, forcing them to wait in long queues to beg to receive small morsels of what is actually their private property.

Crisis-ridden Greece appears to be an exception, where harsh times seemingly justify harsh meassures. Yet other Europeans countries are long engaged in similiar activities, slowly pushing back the use of cash payments.

There is a number of countries where the use of cash is already strictly limited. France, for example has put a ban on cash payments of more than € 1.000. Furthermore banks now have to notify the authorities if someone withdraws more than € 10.000. Italy has restrictions on cash payments, too, outlawing payments of more than € 1.000. But it is not just France and struggling Italy. There are similiar notions in seemingly succesful countries, such as Denmark and Germany. The government of Denmark has put up a notion that would remove businesses obligations to accept cash, transforming the country into a cash-less society. And even German economists, such as Peter Bofinger, call for a ban on cash payments.

Many reasons seem to exist for the growing antipathy against cash in these countries. The French government declared that limiting the use of cash will combat crime. After all, cash can not be traced, so it is a useful tool for people who are doing shady deals: tax evasion, fraud, bribery or the sale of stolen goods are easy to commit when untraceable cash is involved. Not just is the government losing money but, cash acts as a resource that enables criminal activities. Take this resource away and crime will disappear.

Another argument against the use of cash is that it is an outdated technology that is complicated and cumbersome to use. Digital transactions are less complicated for business operators and takes up less space in costumers purses than coins and notes.

Who makes the decisions?

The argument about cash being used by criminals appears to be a rather weak excuse after closer inspection. It implies that the use of cash is somehow immoral. Are little kids saving small amounts of coins criminals? Or is grandma storing her pension in her flat a criminal? Or the young man using cash to secretely buy a lewd magazine?

The second argument is just as flawed. There are numerous examples where new technologies do not work as intended. Just think of online-banking fraud, technical problems with debit cards or online transactions and other mishaps that happen to people.

In the end, both examples are about individual choices. Most people carry both cash and credit cards, since it offers more flexibility. Why does some bureaucrat think he has to crop this flexibility by declaring a certain behaviour as either suspicious or outdated? Can not individual people themselves decide which behaviour suits them best?

The arguments quoted above sound very unconvincing and it is hard to believe that these are the actual reasons for the campaigns against cash. A look at the situation in Greece shows us that these superficial explanations are nothing but smoke and mirrors. The true motives must be of economical nature. In order to reach certain economic goals politicians and bankers seem to be eager to sacrifice individual property rights by slowly discouraging the use of cash.

Return for the second part of this article to read more about what these economic goals are, what the potential consequences of these policies can be and how they might affect you one day.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

 

You say you want a revolutionmarxismleninism-159018_640
Well, you know We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out” – The Beatles
Does anyone still take communism seriously? Outside of academia, probably not. But myths perpetuated by apologists of communism are still surprisingly prevalent amongst the general public, and especially those with left wing sympathies. And despite the repeated failures of Marxism there are always a few who want to revive some form of revolutionary socialism. I chose to start this post with a quote from the song “Revolution” by the Beatles because I think we all share that longing to tear down the flawed world around us and rebuild it. But always remember, it’s easy to tear down, it’s much harder to build up. And with that in mind, I’m going to take the lazy approach and tear down some myths about communism.

 

#1 Communism is about everyone coming together

Many people, even if they aren’t especially favorable towards communism, have the impression that it is in principle a philosophy about everyone working together for the common good. All too often people say something like “Communism is good in theory, but I don’t think it works in practice”. They like the idea of unity and people working together to achieve the welfare of the whole population. But they are also vaguely aware that communist countries have an unpleasant history. Even enemies of communism often speak in ways that make it seem like it is an ideology of cooperation – for example by referring to “collectivism”.

In truth nothing could be more misleading. The central idea of communism is human conflict. Specifically conflict between classes. Marx saw the conflict of his era as being proletarians versus the bourgeois. But communists believe that all of history is the history of conflict between classes. And in orthodox communist ideology, conflict means violent conflict. Even most democratically inclined socialists did not believe in working together with all of mankind, they believed in opposing industrialists and capitalists. From the point of view of communism the interests of the workers are opposed to those of the industrialists. There can be no cooperation whereby employer and employee come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Many modern leftist movements continue this obsession with conflict. But the battle isn’t the 99% against the 1%. It’s the 100% against poverty, ignorance, disease and misery. When an ideology is based around fighting some other group the result in practice is always violence, oppression and the disruption of the economic ties that allow us to work together and create wealth.

 

#2 Communism failed because Stalin was a terrible tyrant

It’s not myth that Stalin was a terrible tyrant. And he can also be fairly considered the worst of the Soviet leaders. But most of the evils of communism – gulags, political killings, ethnic cleansing, and so on – began under Lenin. Nor was the Soviet Union the only communist experiment. Mao’s Great Leap Forward may have been responsible for tens of millions of deaths and he followed this up with the Cultural Revolution, which led to the mindless slaughter of many more. The collectivization of agriculture was replicated several times – in Ukraine, China, Vietnam, the Balkans, Hungary and other countries. In every case these experiments were failures and often lead to the ruin of farmers and severe famines.

In Cambodia the communist Khmer Rouge carried out one of the most horrific democides in history. In North Korea millions of people continue to suffer under the absurd dynastic tyranny of Kim Jong-Un. And Bolivarian Socialists (communists by another name) are running Venezuela’s economy into the ground, despite enormous oil reserves.

Communism didn’t fail because of Stalin. There have been dozens of attempts to implement communism in diverse countries. All of them have failed, often catastrophically and at the cost of millions of innocent lives. It doesn’t matter how many eggs they crack – the communists have never come close to making an omelet.

 

#3 Communism is based on rationalism

While Marx dressed his philosophy up as scientific it was no more based in real science than the other pseudo-sciences of the age – eugenics, racism and psycho-analysis.

And like other sacred world views the tendency of Marxists has been to “reconcile” the observed world with the theoretical one. That is, empirical evidence is used to confirm preconceived truths, rather than to test falsifiable hypotheses.

Communism is essentially a modern religion. While non-theistic, it in every other way resembles the typical religion. It is a great revelation of truth that explains all history, originating from a great prophetic figure. It lays out a detailed eschatology, where the forces of good will fight the forces of evil (an inevitable and unavoidable destiny) – the battle will be hard and bloody, but ultimately the good will triumph and a poorly defined utopia will come about.

But unlike other religions, where heaven awaits beyond life, communists believe that heaven must be made here on Earth. While the traditional “opiates” like Christianity and Buddhism can be practiced in a secular society, with separation of church and state, communism cannot be practiced except by imposing its beliefs on all people – heaven is a project, and if you aren’t working for it you’re working against it.

When religious passion is directed towards achieving earthly goals, the result is always tragic. One only needs to look at the Crusades, Zionism or the contemporary Jihadist ambition to recreate the Caliphate. Those who sincerely seek to be worthy of heaven (whether you share their beliefs or not) often live exemplary lives. But those who seek to create heaven on earth have only ever unleashed hell.

 

#4 Communism fights for social justice

If you meet someone claiming to be a communist in America or Europe, there is a good chance that they also take a stand against many of today’s injustices – senseless war, sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia. Indeed a great list of isms and phobias; bigotry of all kinds. In many cases these people are part of genuinely good causes that really do advance justice for oppressed groups and make great contributions to building a better society.

However, the struggle for social justice does not find its roots in the ideas of Marx and other socialists. And disappointingly Marxists often push social justice movements in counterproductive directions. Ana Jaksic has explained previously on this blog the problems with Marxist feminism, but it isn’t only feminists who should be skeptical of Marxism.

As covered above, communism is primarily based on the concept of struggle between opposing groups. When Marxist inspired leftists today advocate for oppressed minorities they almost always adopt this idea of struggle. There is no doubt that being straight, white or male can bestow substantial privilege in many spheres of public life, but that doesn’t make us the enemy.

The other way in which Marxism hurts social justice movements is by insisting that all struggles are part of a single struggle against capitalism. All evils are the product of capitalist boogey men. All the noble struggles to end bigotry and violence are coopted – those righteous passions are redirected towards the futile goal of creating an impossible socialist utopia. If you want peace you need to march against all the war mongers, left and right. And if you want to end bigotry you must start by seeing people as individuals, not members of race, class, gender or nation, destined to forever struggle over power.

You know, we all want to change the world. I know I do. But change must come through learning, building up and loving one another. If you want a revolution that improves human lives, forget communism.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

 

A Primer on Monetary Theory, Pt. 1money-515058_640

There aren’t many things more commonly used, and yet less understood, than money. Money makes the world go round, and rare are the days when we can completely abstain from it. But at a second glance, it looks like a very opaque and impenetrable institution. After all, isn’t it the weirdest thing on earth that people are willingly to trade in pretty much everything  – from groceries to cars to houses – for nothing more than a few paper bills, or a few digits on the banking account? And not just a few of them, or the majority, but virtually every living human being?

Before you utter the obvious rebuttal – “It’s because they know they will themselves be able to use it to acquire goods at any point in time!” – think twice. If you do so, at least two questions should inevitably come to your mind: What would happen if, for some reasons or others, a significant part of the population became convinced that exchanging paper bills for valuable physical goods isn’t quite as good a deal as they thought, and refused to take your money? And why is it that nothing close to a currency could arise if you decided to print such bills yourself, with comparably style and associated production costs?

My ambitious task for this series is to provide an explanation of the origin and the functions of money at a level easily understandable for the interested layman, as I myself have been when first approaching the issue. Technical terms will be introduced and used carefully, focussing mainly on the structure and less on terminology. With this, I hope to make the vast literature on monetary theory more readily accessible (from an intellectual as well as emotional point of view) and enable the reader to judge current monetary policy with regard to the original functions of such commodities.

In attempting to answers the above and similar questions, it is well worth looking at the actual historical development that eventually led to the currency system we have today. As it turns out, there is more than just a correlation between the factual and theoretical explanations of the emergence of money. In other words: The system under which we are trading and exchanging today could only have come into play after a series of necessary preliminary stages as discussed by monetary theorists

Man is an evolutionary being. Most means that have a determining effects on modern, globalized market economies neither always existed, nor were they created ex nihilo at some definite point in time by our ancestors. Such is case also the case for money: Primitive tribesmen of the hunter-gatherer kind did not possess a commodity so universally accepted as the bills and coins we use today. What characterized their interaction with other tribes (as far as they abstained from warfare, raids and looting) was pure and simple barter. A chicken for beaver fur, berries for firewood and so on. Whatever happened to be abundant in one area tended to be traded in for whatever was relatively less readily available.

A few points here are worth iterating on to understand why the exchange could take place. First and foremost, it did happen because the parties to it considered the goods under consideration to be equally desirable, i.e. were indifferent to having either the one they already possessed, or the other. This seems to be obvious for barter (why would anyone engage in trading if he literally did not care about the outcome?), but it causes a lot of confusion once we move from barter to more sophisticated transactions involving money.

Second, it did not happen because the chicken intrinsically carry the same value as the beaver fur. In fact, there is no such thing as an intrinsic value of goods Apart from the truism that in conjecture with the first point, it would make trading impossible (for in this case, only one person could possibly profit from it, and it is inconceivable how it could be finalized without restoring to coercion), it is also plainly wrong. An original Jimi Hendrix guitar is quite worthless to someone who hates rock music from the 1960s, it means the world to an ardent guitarist. A person about to die of thirst in the middle of the desert is usually willing to give up a lot more in exchange for a bottle of water than the same person a month before when shopping in the supermarket. In short, value is always subjective. In every conceivable case, it cannot be anything but the value a concrete person assigns to it, under concrete circumstances, at a concrete point in time. So the only thing necessary to let exchanges as in the examples above happen is a different set of preferences among the parties to the trade.

Third, and also of great importance, these preferences will be ranked, with no pair of them ever being on exactly the same level. However, there exists no connection between them other than the fundamental relation that one is valued more than the other. We describe this by saying that they are ranked ordinarily, as opposed to cardinally. What is meant by this is quite straightforward: Just as you cannot value an apple to exactly the same extent as a banana, you cannot value it twice (or 8.9476 times or any other fraction) as much. Of all the points mentioned here, it is probably the most controversial one, and a lot of economic research is based on its denial. Therefore, you might justly expect a more thorough discussion of it. In order not to deviate to much from the topic, however, let me only remark that even if it were possible, it would hardly be relevant – imagine the sheer number of goods, service and people for which you’d have to establish such a preference matrix, not to mention the fact that you would have to use different categories (see below) of tradable objects!

Fourth and finally, is the so-called law of (diminishing) marginal utility. Given a number of homogeneous (again, in the subjectivist sense) goods, their owner-user will always value “later” units of that good less than the first ones, i.e. use the first unit to satisfy the most urgent desire, the second to satisfy the next urgent one, until he runs short of supply. This is a characteristic feature of our human nature. It is simple and allows us to understand why people generally trade in things they possess “too much” of.

As will become clear soon, these four crucial observations apply to money in just the same way as they apply to apples, cars and haircuts. Money is but an ordinary market good in many respects, although it is characterized by some distinct features (which are relative rather than absolute phenomena). This being the case, why did it emerge in the first place?

In the next part of the series, we will begin with this question and see why, from a caveman’s perspective, the original barter economy came to be viewed as less and less satisfying. We will then follow the story until we are, for the first time, confronted with something resembling present-day currencies, and see why the institution of banks arose. The final steps towards our current money system will be developed in subsequent articles.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

 

I’ve always had a problem people refering to prostitution as “selling one’s body”. Prostitutes don’t sell their bodies – they provide a service.

Even to suggest that prostitution involves renting of the body seems inappropriate. If you rent a car or room you take complete control of it and can do with it pretty much as you please within the boundaries of the rental agreement. But a prostitute doesn’t give up control and possession of her (or his) body, she cannot magically depart from it. She is much more like a taxi driver giving you a ride in her car. Do taxi drivers “sell their cars”?  amsterdam-2551_640

A prostitute doesn’t sell her body. But she does use her body in her work in a way that those of us who sit as desk and type usually don’t. The same could be said of many professions – athletes, models, bouncers. All of these people are paid in part because of their physical attributes and make money (at least in part) from their bodies. The sacred line that a prostitute crosses is not earning her living with her body, it’s making money from her genitals, and that’s what really bothers people.

My problem isn’t just that the phrase describes the economic action inaccurately, it also suggests an unhealthy societal attitude towards sex and sex workers. Prostitutes often are abused and treated as property, many are even trafficked and live in slavery. If prostitution is equated with selling bodies, not sex, then this appears to be the inevitable and natural lot of the sex worker. This is often the view of those who say prostitution should remain illegal – I think they are making a mistake.

The black field hands of the Confederate States weren’t emancipated by a law against cotton picking. And making prostitution illegal isn’t the solution to emancipating women who are held in modern day slavery. By criminalizing prostitution, the state turns prostitutes into criminals. This makes it harder for them to turn to the law for protection. You don’t have to approve of prostitution to support making it legal. While some sex workers would disagree, many people see prostitution as degrading, humiliating and dangerous. But being a criminal is also degrading, humiliating and dangerous. You can see prostitutes as abused victims, but making their work illegal only increases abuse and victimization.

The welfare of sex workers is a good reason for policies that make their work legal and give them the full protection of the law. However, for libertarians and likeminded people there is also another important reason why prostitution should be legal. Ownership of your own body.

When you tell someone they can’t use property in a certain way you put limits on their property rights. For libertarians the only legitimate limits on property rights are those which ensure other basic rights aren’t denied. For example the right of way prevents land owners from preventing access to their land in a way which would obstruct another person’s right to free movement. Sometimes there are areas where rights aren’t clear cut even to people who favor liberty. If I use my garden for loud parties am I violating my neighbor’s right not to be disturbed? If it’s ok to inflict noise on my neighbor, what about smoke from a bonfire?

But it is hard to see whose rights might be violated by a sex worker carrying out their trade. Everyone who is directly involved is a consenting party. If someone isn’t consenting then there are other laws that make the activity illegal without needing to outlaw prostitution. Perhaps an inventive person will argue that prostitutes violate the rights of others by spreading sexually transmitted diseases, but again this would suggest a policy of legal prostitution which regulation to prevent the spread of disease – criminalization rather than alleviating the problem makes it much worse.

If the state isn’t stepping in to protect someone else’s rights then by making it illegal to provide sex services they are implicitly making a claim that society has some right and ownership over the prostitute’s body. Her rights to make choices about her own body are limited.

Of course there are many philosophies, such as socialism and fascism, which take the position that society or the state should be able to dictate how private property (including the body) can be used. When an ideology gives the state total control over all decisions, giving people only the rights delegated from above, we call that system “totalitarian”. Libertarians and liberals (in the European or classical sense of the word) place themselves as the opposite pole to totalitarianism.

If you support the position that society has a claim on what people can do with their bodies, even if not in the totalitarian sense, then consider what other implications it has. It means that you cannot, for example, argue that a woman has a right to an abortion because it is her body. You might still support that right, but it cannot be on the basis of ownership, because you have accepted the principle that even private property can only be used in sanctioned ways. You would have to appeal to some other justification such as the public good or a natural right to make reproductive decisions.

People who value liberty take the position that society has no enforceable claim on a person’s body and property. The only legitimate time that the state can intervene is if someone’s rights (including rights established by contract or convention) have been violated. That still leaves a lot to be argued over, but I think that on prostitution the policy recommendation is clear cut.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

 

I have been more or less a libertarian since I was 17. My views have shifted over time depending on what I was reading – Ayn Rand, Amartya Sen, D. S. Landes. From time to time I met people who shared a similar political point of view, or who were at least open to discussion. But generally I found libertarianism isolating; an experience that many other libertarians in university may relate to.

In 2012 I started as a graduate student in Chicago. I had a friend there who invited me to a Students for Liberty Conference. I was skeptical of the very idea of an organized liberty movement and I’d never had a group of friends who identified as libertarian. But I agreed to go along, if nothing else I figured it would be a chance to meet people.

I was impressed with the conference. I had been slowly drifting away from seeing myself as a libertarian. The word had been connected with the Tea Party movement in America, who I felt no sympathy with. But the people who spoke at the conference and the students I met were much more diverse in their views, much more thoughtful. I was also feeling uncomfortable in my classes. There was an unspoken assumption that everyone shared a leftwing perspective. I kept a lot of my views close to my chest, not because I thought I would be censured, but because I didn’t want to alienate myself from my peers.

At the conference I’d met the Loyola SFL chapter and was encouraged to attend their meetings. It was the first time I had been part of a group that sympathized with my political philosophy. I found myself able to talk freely in a way I had never been able to before. Not only were these people enthusiastic about what I had to say, they were also well informed on the issues and enjoyed debating them.

At first SFL was just place I could be myself and have fun conversations about things that fascinated me. But soon I started spending time with people outside of meetings. I became close friends with a lot of people in the group. I explored ideas in more intimate and informal settings. I was introduced to other perspectives and arguments in an environment where I knew I could share what was on my mind without being judged.

In April I went to the European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin. Once again I was impressed by not only by the quality of speakers, but also the diversity of opinion. It was a climate of open and respectful discussion. Exactly the kind of atmosphere that should prevail at universities, but has been increasingly stifled by vocal ideologues who bully anyone that deviates from their orthodoxy. I am sure that everyone is familiar with the debates over free speech on campus. But perhaps far more harmful is the contemptuous and hostile attitudes that are openly displayed towards conservative and libertarian students – not only from many students, but also some faculty.

In my opinion this is the most important thing that SFL does – providing a safe space for young libertarians (or indeed any student) to grow and learn. This is especially important in universities where libertarian views are unpopular and demeaned. Of course, any liberty group should be trying to promote their values, spread pro-liberty ideas and build networks of like minded individuals. But we should also value the role that these groups play in providing comfort, companionship and the opportunity for young people to express themselves. If Students for Liberty did nothing more than provide a generation of libertarians with some happy experiences and moral support, that would be a pretty amazing and beautiful thing.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.

 

Finally, here comes the long-awaited follow-up of the first part of my interview with Chicago economist Deridre McCloskey, covering many moral, environmental or technical objections brought up against free markets, or voluntary trade, or laissez-faire, laissez-passer.

Here’s the last question from Pdmc_kolumne2Cart I again:

If global income equality really was decreasing, how come that especially countries which have adopted capitalistic models rather recently now see this gap measurably widening? To take a particular example: According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, China’s Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of wealth distribution, where 1 means that all the country’s resources are in the hands of one single person and 0 means perfect equality – Ed.) has risen from 0.30 in 1980 to 0.55 in 2014. Might the reason for the global trend not simply result from the fact that most economically superior countries engage in social-democratic redistribution measures?

You need to rethink the newspaper cliché, and the theory and defense of socialism which is not in fact much practiced, that rich countries “redistribute.”.  They don’t, not a great deal, and to the extent they do they are all pretty much the same, from Norway to Japan.  The social safety net in the supposedly anti-social-democratic USA is in practice about the same as that in, say, Sweden.  For example, poor people get medical treatment in the United States, just as in Sweden.  Believe me, they do: I have poor African-American friends who do.

Furthermore, most taxes in all rich countries come from the middle-to-upper middle class, and most benefits go to them, too.  Take, for example, the massive subsidies in most rich countries to higher education.  “Free” higher education is disproportionately used by the children of the well off.  Working-class young people can theoretically go to university.  But you have may noticed that they don’t, not in proportion to their numbers.  The subsidy to rich parents is about $40,000 per pupil year – that’s what modern universities cost – a free ride into the ruling class for their children.

And the numerous Myths of Socialism aside, poor people have massively benefited from trade-tested betterment, in which entrepreneurs are rewarded for their ingenuity, to the benefit of us all.  Suppose the Chinese figures are correct.  All it means is that in a free society the businessperson who opens a convenience store or builds a tower block that the average Chinese person benefits from – after all, her purchases are voluntary – earns profits that in the long run encourage others to enter, driving prices down, again to the benefit of the average Chinese person.  How do I know?  The ability of average Chinese people to buy goods and services has risen since 1978 by about 900 percent.  The pie has increased in size far, far more than the change in distribution rewards innovators.  The key point is that trade-tested betterment results in rising real income for the poor and the average, along with the rich – in China’s case, a gigantic rise.  By focusing on the child’s-playground definition of “fairness” you are advocating an end to this engine of growth, yes?

Not necessarily, but let’s spend a moment on this point. Routinely we are told, no matter how successful the free market is in satisfying materialistic needs, it lacks the ethical superiority of, say, socialism. Is capitalism really immoral, negating indispensable values and virtues?

This is getting embarrassing!  All my answers refer you to my writings.  But what am I to do?!  I have just finished a trilogy answering the very question at length (The Bourgeois Virtues, 2006; Bourgeois Dignity, 2010; and Bourgeois Equality, forthcoming spring 2016).  Go to my web page and you can read essays making some of the points.  But it is a complicated argument, not easily summarized in a couple of sentences.  All right: Socialism creates evil people, not good people; capitalism creates good people.  The evidence is overwhelming.  An ethical pursuit of trade-tested betterments is what most business actually does.  Socialist bureaus do not.

Capitalism creates good people? And what about the clothing manufacturers in countries like Bangladesh, where even children have to work under almost unbearable conditions and can still hardly make a living?

I infer from your questions that you are not a libertarian, and have not much thought through how a free economy works!  I assumed I was dealing with people who believed in freedom.  But am glad to try to educate people who do not!

Yes, capitalism creates good people.  If you refuse to read about the evidence for its goodness (such as The Bourgeois Virtues) you will of course continue to hold to the contrary opinion.  It’s not a two-minute case.  Your example of poor Bangladeshis is ill-chosen.  Of course the children are poor, as are their parents, which is why the children work.  The only way that Bangladesh can have a larger income and get children out of work and into schools is the same way every country since Holland in the 1600s has: become more productive, just as India next door to Bangladesh is doing, astonishingly quickly, or China.  One does it not by Switzerland giving money to Bangladesh (do the arithmetic: it can’t work, and the sad history of foreign aid shows that much of it is wasted or ends up in Swiss bank accounts), but by Bangladesh adopting liberal policies.  It has to a small extent, with the result that it is now a major exporter of textiles.  That is good, not bad.  People become rich by adopting modern techniques and institutions, not by handouts from the already rich, or by crushing the enterprise of their own capitalists.

But does not all this come at a cost? Even if we concede that capitalism doesn’t exploit the ordinary worker, it is highly unsustainable and can only live on by ruthlessly exploiting the environment, e.g. in search for cheap energy sources.

My Lord, you are a socialist, aren’t you?!  Where do you get your confidence that trade-tested betterment is “unsustainable”?  I know it is orthodox opinion on the left nowadays, as part of their recent, desperate shift to environmentalism after all their other arguments against capitalism had been falsified by events.  Just for a start: where do you suppose the means came from over the past fifty years to clean up the air and water of Europe?  You don’t realize they have in fact been cleaned up?  Well, you need to get to studying the facts!

Listen to this fact, which every competent student of economic history will tell you is uncontroversial: in the past two centuries the poorest Europeans have seen their real incomes rise by anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 percent, depending on how sophisticated one is about the measurement.  It had never happened before in history, not even close.  Rises of 100 percent were common enough, but then the average would fall back.  The Great Enrichment is permanent, enormous, and is now spreading to the entire world.  Unless you grasp that scientific fact your understanding of trade-tested betterment will be deeply mistaken.

Let me emphasize a point implicit in my other replies.  Great social questions, such as capitalism vs. socialism, cannot be answered in one-liners during late-night quarrels over beer, or two-sentence formulations on a blog.  One needs to do, or at least read, the social and historical science.  In particular, it is bad science and bad policy to compare ideal socialism with ideal capitalism.  Under both ideals all is well, and one can sneer at socialism from ideal capitalism or sneer at capitalism from ideal socialism.  You will agree, I think, that such a debate would be childish.  If gravity didn’t exist, we could fly.  Well, so what?  To come to a serious conclusion one needs to study actual socialism and actual capitalism, that is, actual government-directed economies with actual trade-directed economies, admitting readily that we are talking about a range of possibilities here.  The conclusion will depend on facts about the actual world, not ideals.  For instance, would you advocate giving more power over the economy to the government of Italy?  Switzerland, yes, maybe; certainly Sweden.  But certainly not most of the governments of the world, governing most of the people.

To conclude, do you think it is reasonable to expect that the future will be both better, brighter and more just than today, or will the human race simply go down the drain?

See the last volume of the trilogy, or some of my essays.  In short, I’m very optimistic, if we do not ruin the future with hysterical environmentalism or revivals of regulatory socialism.  Consider: when all of the soon-to-be 10 billion people on the planet (it’s 7.2 billion now, but will peak at 10) have Swiss or US standards of living (and there is no reason to think they cannot) imagine the explosion of betterment and art and science.  Education, entrepreneurial opportunities, lives affording scope to make art.  In such a world more, having more people is good for us.  We are not in a Malthusian world, nothing like it.  Read Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (whew!  I’m glad to be able to recommend a book I did not write!)

Prof. McCloskey, thank you very much for answering our questions and all the best for your future.


This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. European Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? Subscribe here for a weekly update on ESFL’s events, leadership programs and resources.