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cover Bastiat CobdenThere is a game that anyone who brags about having strong convictions has played over and over again in their mind. The game involves listing the few great intellectuals who would have deserved, at least in your view, to be awarded a Nobel Prize or a similar reward.

As liberty-minded people, we all have wished that a Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari or Ludwig von Mises would have received some significant reward such as the Nobel Prize.

But after we have spent a few moments of distraction playing this game, we usually end up feeling gloomy and mournful, remembering that all these are but naïve dreams of some desperate libertarians.

We are wrong in thinking that way, because in fact, the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a friend and follower of Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari and Yves Guyot.

His name is Frédéric Passy. This article will tell you his story.

Born in May 1822, Frédéric Passy studied in the Ecole de Droit in Paris and started his career as a journalist. His close relations with the great economists of the time (including Bastiat, Molinari, Coquelin and his own uncle Hippolyte Passy) soon enabled him to write in the Journal des Economists and teach economics in different places.

He gave lectures in Montpellier and published his lessons as a two-volume book, the Leçons d’économie politique. As an economist, Passy was clearly among the French classical liberal tradition. In the Leçons, for instance, Bastiat is the most referenced author.

Passy was a brilliant economist, and if he was not even more brilliant as a peace fighter, he would probably still be known as one of the great economists of the French classical liberal tradition.

He has illustrated this tradition in numerous books and articles. There is one, in particular, which I found fascinating enough to be republished, one hundred years after, by the Institut Coppet: “Paper-money is counterfeit money,” (Le papier-monnaie est de la fausse monnaie), published in 1909. [1] It’s a wonderful exposition of the reasons why fiat money is nothing but legal plunder.

He writes: “Paper which claims to be something and which is in fact nothing, this paper is not just one theft more or less. It is the complete theft. This is not only a currency altered and exaggerated, it is a zero currency, radically and voluntarily zero.”

Nonetheless, Passy was not only a devoted follower; over the years, he has built up his own system. “In politics, in science, in religion, he said, I belong to no party, no sect and no school. ” [2]

On the one hand, he was always very principled, and took very strong or radical positions – some would say extreme. For instance, he was against any role of government in the production of money and favored the Free Banking ideas of his friend Courcelle-Seneuil, when most of his colleagues of the “Société d’économie politique” were more reluctant to admit it, even in theory. He also debated Gustave de Molinari, founder of anarcho-capitalist theory, when he found him too “interventionist” for his taste. They published together De l’enseignement obligatoire (On compulsory education) with Molinari supporting a certain form of mission for the government to have all children educated by private schools, when Passy refused to let the government use coercion or force in this matter. [3]

On the other hand, he started to incorporate one element into his system: peace. It is not to say that peace was neglected by the classical liberal economists of his time: Bastiat wrote about it, Molinari wrote about it, in fact anyone who was a free-market economist in France promoted both open borders and peace among people. But Passy took this to another level. He was deeply influence by Richard Cobden on this point, who spent his life repeating that free trade was the key to peace and material prosperity. [4]

He was a pacifist, but not of the naïve kind. He was neither an anti-patriot nor an anti-militarist. He only thought that conflicts could often be avoided, provided that the settlement of international and internal disputes by peaceful means was at least tried. This is the reason why he founded several international organizations, such as the Ligue internationale et permanente de la paix (created in 1867), and the Société d’arbitrage entre les Nations (1870).

He opposed the various conflicts of the time, including the crisis of 1867 between Luxembourg, France, and Prussia, and, of course, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This was a failure, because his Société did not prevent the war from happening. But he continued along this path and in 1872 he created the Société Française des Amis de la Paix. He never gave up trying to oppose war by the mean of cooperation between nations and, of course, the defense of free trade and free markets.

Frederic Passy can stand as an example to students of 21st century Europe. I shall end this article by saying how proud I am proud to be part of an organization that promotes this idea of tremendous importance. In this regard, I would recommend you SFL’s latest book : Peace, Love, Liberty, for further information on why peace matters. [5]

 


[1] Frédéric Passy, Le papier-monnaie est de la fausse monnaie, Institut Coppet, Paris, 2014

[2] See the « Discours de M. Charles Richet à la mémoire de Frédéric Passy », La Paix par le droit : revue de la Paix, volume 22, 1912, p.388

[3] Gaëtan Pirou, Les doctrines économiques en France depuis 1870, Librairie Armand Colin, 1925 http://www.institutcoppet.org/2010/12/05/ecole-francaise-gustave-de-molinari/

[4] Gary Galles, ‘‘Richard Cobden: Activist for Peace’’, http://mises.org/daily/1161

[5] http://studentsforliberty.org/peace-love-liberty/


With the Christmas season at our doorsteps many businesses need to prepare thoroughly to meet the increased demand during the yearly shopping frenzy. In many instances production is being expanded, additional employees are hired and a big number of workers put in extra hours. While some people point out the alleged decadence of the rampant consumerism, this period of the year still serves as an illustration of an efficient market economy at work. There are reasons to be grateful, as things look a lot different in less developed economies of the world.

For years the Venezuelan economy has experienced massive shortages of basic necessities, long waiting lines, rising prices and a high unemployment rate, putting it at the top of the 2013 Misery Index, which measured 89 countries’ misery by taking into account unemployment, inflation, Real Per Capita GDP growth and lending rates. In August the rate of inflation was recorded at 63.42%, while the rate of unemployment stood at 6.7% in July. Not surprisingly approval ratings of president Nicolás Maduro have taken another hit from mere 35.4% in July to 30.2% in October.

To keep these figures from falling even further, the government launched its Plan Feliz Nevidades (Spanish for “Merry Christmas Plan”) on the 1 November along with the official start of the Christmas season. Designed to ensure happy holidays with plentiful supplies of consumer goods at affordable prices, the plan essentially consists of enforcing price controls that prohibit companies from selling a whole range of products above a certain price, deemed “fair” by the governing authorities. According to Maduro blame lies solely with the private sector and the following actors in particular who are waging an “economic war” against the country. Business owners are charging prohibitively high prices, hoarders are buying up currently available supplies and smugglers are purchasing products at artificially low government-mandated prices in order to sell them more expensively abroad.

To stop these alleged culprits the Venezuelan government has deployed over 27,000 food inspectors, hundreds of attorneys and even military officials to certify that storeowners respect the price controls. Just to draw an example, more than 300 audits were performed on the 31 October 2014 alone. To add insult to injury, the government launched the use of fingerprint scanners that are supposed to limit the citizens’ purchases and prohibit them from overusing the given supplies. Dissatisfied consumers are reporting a lengthening of the queues outside stores, indicating that the measures make the process of acquiring basic goods even more tiring.

While they have arguably gotten worse in recent years, these measures are nothing new. In fact they fit quite well into the long list of government interventions such as price, currency and capital controls. Just last year a Venezuelan state agency ordered the takeover of a factory, which had been producing toilet paper, of which there were shortages earlier in the year. Business takeovers, asset seizures, price ceilings, foreign exchange controls and other regulations have contributed to an unattractive business environment. No wonder an increasing number of foreign companies are moving out of the country and foreign investment has come to a virtual halt. Recently Clorox Co., a consumer-goods producer, announced its pullout from Venezuela because of the worsening profit margins under these conditions. So how has Venezuela got to this point.

While there has been a considerably high level of inflation in Venezuela for many decades, it really started taking off in the late 1980s and has since then averaged between 30% and 40%. In 1989 and in 1996, this figure even temporarily skyrocketed to over 100% and currently stands at around 63%. Not surprisingly the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the costs of living for the average consumer has seen a constant rise since the late 1980s, which not surprisingly marked the start of a constant increase of the money supply. While the respective variations are not strictly identical, they are nonetheless related. Especially for the last two decades the statistics indicate a strong correlation between the increasing money supply and the falling purchasing power of the Venezuelan Bolivar. Another contributive factor has been the slowdown in production by domestic companies on the one hand and foreign companies withdrawing from the country on the other, which has brought about a reduction in the supply of goods. There are seemingly too many currency units chasing too few goods.

In the hopes of raising the living standards for the working class, Hugo Chavez was voted into the presidential office in 1998. In the spirit of “Chavismo” and “21st century socialism”, Chavez initiated a large number of government interventions to allegedly help the poor. Thus by legally prohibiting storeowners from charging prices above the government mandated level, consumers’ costs of living were supposed to be reduced. While consumers have been encouraged to demand more goods, producers have been discouraged from producing more goods. The artificial mismatch of supply and demand has resulted in shortages and long queues outside of stores. Next to putting caps on prices, Chavez also levied new taxes and increased already existing ones, nationalised several companies, expropriated businessmen and enacted foreign exchange controls to limit the flight of capital.  According to the Fraser Institute the country’s level of economic freedom dropped from 5.6/10 in 2000 to 3.89/10 in 2012. Meanwhile the Heritage Foundation qualifies the Venezuelan economy as “repressed” and ranks it as the 175th freest in the world today (out of 178).

The  country’s recent economic developments serve as a good illustration of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises’ point that one government intervention generates problems, which necessitate additional interventions and so on and so forth. So putting a ceiling on prices for several hundreds of goods led to a reduction of their production and their supply, which in turn put upwards pressure on prices. As a result, policy makers were called into action to implement new price controls.

After the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro was placed into office and continued the same disastrous policies, which are already proving to be failures. As should be clear by now, the businessmen, the hoarders, the smugglers and every other imaginable scapegoat of the Venezuelan government do not lie at the root of the country’s economic woes. Should we not expect businessmen to increase prices in the face of constantly increasing costs of production? Should we not expect consumers to hoard in the face of continually rising costs of living? Should we not expect people to smuggle goods abroad, place their capital in foreign hands and withdraw their production in the face of a government that is turning more totalitarian by the day? It appears that the primary blame lies with the governing authorities, after all responsible for setting up an incentive structure, in which every rational move on the part of their citizens is being criminalised.

It is important to note that Venezuela is not unique in respect to its current problems. In their book Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls: How not to fight inflation Robert Schuettinger and  Eamon Butler cover numerous historical cases of disastrous price controls; including Germany under the National Socialists. The Nazis implemented an elaborate and rigorous system of price controls and heavily relied on the printing press to finance war expenditures. According to Henderson “in 1947 the amount of money in the German economy—currency plus demand deposits—was five times its 1936 level. With money a multiple of its previous level but prices only a fraction higher, there were bound to be shortages. And there were.” At the instigation of Ludwig Erhard, Minister of Economics from 1947 until 1963, the German government lowered taxes, lifted price controls and implemented a currency reform that led to a sharp contraction in the money supply. What followed was one of the most remarkable chapters in modern economic history and goes by the name of Wirtschaftswunder (German for “economic miracle”).

In the same fashion the Venezuelan government should allow its citizens more economic freedom in order for prosperity to return to the country. If it stopped expropriating business owners, domestic production and foreign investment would be stimulated. If the Venezuelan central bank put a halt to the massive monetary expansion, prices would eventually stop from increasing. There would cease to be a need for price controls and the incentive to smuggle, hoard and speculate would be greatly diminished.

Finally the average citizen could go about his daily business without having to be harassed by government inspectors scanning their fingerprints, without having to stand in lines for hours and without having to be short on toilet paper, milk, bread…and Christmas presents.

From H.L. Mencken’s proclamation that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard,” to Jason Brennan’s near-constant stream of papers lambasting democracy, there is a long tradition of libertarians being at best sceptical and often hostile to democracy. My aim in this article is not to comment on whether they are correct, but to discuss whether this ought to be part of the libertarian movement.

The basic argument against giving scepticism about democracy a prominent place in the libertarian movement runs roughly as follows:

(1)    Many people have a deep, almost religious attachment to democracy.

(2)    By attacking people’s most deeply-held beliefs, libertarians risk alienating people who might otherwise be interested in libertarian ideas.

(3)    By attacking democracy, libertarians risk alienating people who might otherwise by interested in libertarian ideas. (from 1 and 2)

(4)   Scepticism about democracy is not important to libertarianism.

(5)   If something is not important to libertarianism and it risks alienating people, it should be kept separate from libertarianism.

Therefore,

(6)   Scepticism about democracy should be kept separate from libertarianism. (from 3, 4, 5)

 

The evidence for (1) is all around us. See the constant exhortations that “If you don’t vote then you can’t complain!”, the haranguing received by Jon Stewart over a mere joke that he had not voted, the ongoing debate over whether voting should be compulsory, and a million and one other examples which would only cut into my word allowance for this article.

I’m not going to argue for (2) here, but I don’t think it should be especially controversial.

(4) seems, to my mind, the weakest of the premises. Libertarianism does not require scepticism about democracy – one could well be a libertarian and yet think that democracy is overall a good system. But perhaps this scepticism might be considered part of a “thick libertarianism”; in particular, it might be part of a “strategically thick” libertarianism. “Strategic thickness” refers to those practices and ideas which tend to undermine the implementation of libertarian institutions, even if they do not necessarily contradict the non-aggression principle (or whatever else one regards as the fundamental moral grounding of libertarianism).

I can think of two ways one might argue for this. The first is that, so long as people remain wedded to the ideal of democracy, they will remain sympathetic to a form of collectivism, which will generally lead to bigger governments. The second would be that there are specific ways in which democracies tend to fail, ways which are particularly harmful to liberty. One example might be immigration, where anti-foreign bias systematically leads to people being more likely to oppose anything involving foreigners. (Incidentally, philosopher Arash Abizadeh – not, so far as I am aware, a libertarian – has argued that there are no reasons why voting should be limited only to present citizens of a nation, and therefore that there is no way in which democracy could actually justify immigration restrictions).

There are two problems here. One is that, by focusing on areas where democracy has a tendency towards failure, we almost by definition focus on areas where people will tend to be irrational and will want to ignore our arguments. The second is that proposing to abolish democracy means replacing it with something else, and although we might have in mind simply to abolish government involvement in the issue being discussed, this is neither what people are likely to take us as saying nor what is actually likely to happen. Many people, including (perhaps especially!) libertarians, are heavily opposed to technocratic rule. Libertarian scepticism of technocracy is an honourable a tradition as scepticism about democracy, as famously expressed by Friedrich Hayek in The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

(5) also seems potentially vulnerable – one might perhaps suggest that we should be honest and forthright about every aspect of what we advocate, regardless of whether this is the most convenient thing for us. However, the strength of this objection will turn upon how strongly we use the word “forthright”. I certainly don’t think that libertarians who also happen to be sceptical about democracy should lie or even mislead in order to hide their scepticism, but there is a difference between concealing unpopular views and making them important planks in a platform. In an academic setting, where the entire goal of discourse is to arrive at truth on every individual issue, it is reasonable – even virtuous – to loudly advocate for unpopular views which one seriously believes, even if this is liable to reduce people’s trust in you regarding other issues. In politics, we must be more pragmatic.

“Scepticism about democracy ought to be kept separate from libertarianism”.

I do not mean to insist that this conclusion is either true or false, but I think that it is a question that libertarians ought to think about when lambasting the failures of democracy in a popular setting. The way we go about libertarian advocacy has consequences for people’s freedom, including our own, so we should be cautious when attacking people’s deeply held beliefs – even when those beliefs are strange and irrational. I don’t wish to suggest for a second that we should compromise on our basic principles in order to be more presentable, but there is often far less need to push people’s buttons than we might think.

In the wake of a booming trend of legalization of cannabis, the debate about our efforts to combat drugs has taken off. In the past 50 years, the War on Drugs has created more problems than it has solved. Mass incarceration, corruption and drug cartel induced violence continue to destroy millions of lives and stall economic growth. Sadly, the most fragile regions entrenched in violent conflicts are the ones which provide fertile ground for organized crime. In parallel, the question of peace still remains the most important question of our time. This article will present how the issues of organized crime, peace and legalization of cannabis are related, and if legalization of illicit drugs could be our silver bullet.

The International Peace Institute, a think tank for the United Nations on peace and international security issues, organized an International Experts Forum last Thursday on the topic of peacebuilding and organized crime. Namely, organized crime is an important factor in the process of peacebuilding, a term usually used to describe the whole framework of work being done by international organizations in conflict areas. According to Richard Zajac Sannerholm, a researcher at Folke Bernadotte Academy, “organized crime seems to thrive in the environments where the political, economic and social factors in conjunction provide easy access, safety, and opportunities of control and manipulation.” Thus, working on the problem of organized crime means working on building peace in the conflict areas.

But, how does organized crime look today? We do not see many “Godfather”-like figures walking around anymore, and it is certainly harder than before to spot who’s the boss and track down the financial flows of the business. James Cockayne, head of the U.N. University office at the U.N., illustrated at the conference on Thursday how today’s organized crime looks with a story from former CIA director James Woolsey:

If you should strike up a conversation with an articulate English speaking Russian gentlemen in the restaurant of a lovely hotel by the shores of lake Geneva, and he says to you “I am an executive of a trading company and I would like to enter into a joint venture with you,” then there are four possibilities: the first possibility is that that’s exactly what he is, the second possibility is he is a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover, the third possibility is that he is a member of a Russian organized crime group and the fourth, and most interesting possibility, is that he is all of these things and all of these institutions are perfectly happy with that arrangement.

This illustrative example, according to Cockayne, outlines the existence of “an intimate relationship” of organized crime with politics. Moreover, organized crime is becoming more often defined as a network rather than a hierarchical structure, which means it is harder and harder to pinpoint individuals and hold them accountable, according to Catalina Uribe Burcher, Democracy, Conflict and Security Officer at International IDEA.

The increased interconnectedness of various parts of the world, commonly known under the umbrella term “globalization,” is another factor testifying to the increasing difficulty to find solutions for organized crime. According to the UNODC report, “as unprecedented openness in trade, finance, travel and communication has created economic growth and well-being, it has also given rise to massive opportunities for criminals to make their business prosper.” Therefore, it seems that ever-more organized crime is here to stay.

So how do we combat organized crime? Could the liberalization of certain products on the market be the solution?

Let’s look at the statistics about the income of organized crime. According to this report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, around 1.5% of global GDP comes from organized crime. Illicit drugs amount to “half of transnational organized crime proceeds and 0.6% to 0.9% of global GDP.”1 As Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC smartly put it, “the key is to go after their money.”

According to these statistics, if we legalized all drugs right now, organized crime would lose 50% of its income, meaning that many networks of organized crime would suffer severe damage or would completely disappear.

Naturally, these processes take time. But, the good news is some of the solutions that can help us combat organized crime are actually trending already. For example, legalization of cannabis is booming all across the globe. Uruguay received wide global attention when it legalized marijuana in 2013 with the goal of combating illicit drug trade and social violence connected to organized crime. According to Carolina de Robertis, this law “is not just a law about smoking pot; it’s a law about peace and safety.” What followed was the wave of legalization that hit the U.S. with states like Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Washington D.C. Alison Holcomb, National Director of the ACLU Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, pointed out last Monday that California will most certainly be casting a ballot related to the initiative in 2016. This is of great importance not only because California is the biggest state in the U.S., but also because the debate around legalization would include political and security issues in neighboring Mexico. By legalizing, California would become the domestic supplier of cannabis in the U.S., while, noted Holcomb, “the citizens of Mexico (would) continue to suffer from the failures of outdated drug policies.” The recent disappearance of 43 students in Mexico has sparked media outrage and the debate around War on Drugs policies in this country.

What are other benefits of legalization that could help rally public support? The argument that drugs should be legalized because they are taken consensually, and do not hurt others seems quite evident to many libertarians. Apart from this, a myriad of authors have already written about the benefits of marijuana legalization, and most of them agree on the following points:

If legalized…

  • substance is of higher quality for the consumer
  • substance is safer for the consumer
  • criminal networks are weakened
  • new jobs are created
  • the state can tax the transactions

In fact, in a recent study by the CATO institute which looked into the budgetary impact of drug legalization in the U.S., researchers found legalizing all drugs “would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure” and would yield $46.7 billion in tax revenue (assuming tax rates were similar to those of alcohol and tobacco.) Overall, the U.S. government would be in a $89 billion plus. Out of this sum, $17.4 billion would be from marijuana alone.

Looking at marijuana legalization success stories in terms of economic gains for the state, better quality of the product and apparent absence of negative consequences, could these findings give credible grounds to push for other policies of liberalization? In other words, could marijuana be a gateway drug for libertarianism?

The answer might lie in the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session scheduled for 2016. This is a meeting where the UN member states will discuss issues related to the global drug problem. Namely, last Monday, UN University organized a talk about the preparations for UNGASS 2016, which included many high level diplomats from countries of Latin America and members of the civil society. The conclusions made at this event testify of how global the issue of legalization of drugs has become, and how much has changed in a matter of a few years.

To be specific, one of the speakers, James Cockayne, emphasized the case of legalization in California being the game-changer in the political debate. He warned that if the heads of states and NGOs fail to consider drug legalization policies more throughly, UNGASS 2016 is risking being seen by the global media as yet another useless UN summit, and confirming UN’s inability to rapidly respond to contemporary problems, as was the case with the Kyoto summit and climate change. Alison Holcomb noted that conventions which shape UN’s stance on drugs were created more than fifty years ago and the use of words such as abuse and misuse is more common than the word “use.” Thus, she symbolically insinuated our policies are outdated and the upcoming forum is an excellent chance to rethink our interpretation of these conventions.

Finally, legalizing a substance such as cocaine still seems rather shocking to a lot of people, especially to the decision-makers who will take part in the UNGASS 2016. Naturally, liberalization of all drugs is an issue that currently meets many challenges, most notably lack of public support. Moreover, mentioning legalization of drugs in fragile conflict ridden places such as Afghanistan or Iraq seems far-fetched as there are many problems which are more pressing. However, we cannot afford to ignore the potential of policies of decriminalization and legalization of drugs to combat transnational organized crime globally. Especially because the consequences of these policies easily transcend national borders. It is “one of the world’s most sophisticated and profitable business,” and we now have a growing pile of examples on how to take the business away. As we have seen, experts are warning that world governments will face scrutiny if they do not take the issue of legalization seriously.

Fortunately, there is strong potential for these inherently libertarian policies to become a tool for peace. As outlined in the UNODC report, “Peacebuilding and peacekeeping make fragile regions less prone to the conflict that affects crime, while fighting crime neutralizes spoilers who profit from instability.”Meaning, legalization could be a part of the process of peacebuilding. Thus, the international peacebuilding community should incorporate this debate into the larger framework for peace. This would mean creating a space in which political solutions related to the global trend of a loosening stance on drugs could answer to current challenges. Experts need to discuss issues of drug legalization, organized crime, and peacebuilding together, because this would lead us to a more comprehensive understanding of challenges for peacebuilding in conflict areas and to a more successful track record in our efforts for peace.

As a part of research for this article, the author participated in: International Experts Forums at the International Peace Institute in NYC, and would like to thank Beatrice Agyarkoh and IPI for organizing the event; the regional conference of Students for Liberty at Columbia University in NYC, and would like to thank the organizers; the conference Road to UNGASS 2016 organized by the UN University at the UN Headquarters in NYC, and would like to thank James Cockayne for the invitation.

 

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

1  The author was made aware of this report with the help of Catalina Uribe Burcher

2 Credits for this statement go to Malcolm Arnold.

When I read Jess Martin’s article about how disabled men shouldn’t be able to enjoy the services of sex workers, I felt compelled to respond. While I do not have any disabled person in my family and I have never provided direct support to sex workers, I do not think those aspects should prevent me from speaking about this subject. After all, attacking my person in an attempt to undermine my argument would be an ad hominem, and no such fallacy should be allowed in a reasonable debate. Jess Martin’s argument does not carry more weight because of her personal experience. I will examine Jess Martin’s arguments for their own sake.

I am writing this article because I believe in everyone’s right to live one’s life the way one sees fit. And thus, I believe in disabled persons’ rights to contractually engage in exchanges, may it be for sex services, and I believe in sex workers’ rights to provide services to disabled persons.

This may come as a disappointment to Jess Martin, but I also believe individuals with disabilities do not exist to inspire the mainstream population. Disabled people are human beings, and as such they deserve respect for their rights and liberties.

When I hear non-disabled people frame the use of sex services by disabled men as illegitimate, my blood boils. There are three false statements that Jess Martin uses in her article. First, she says that when disabled people are allowed to buy sex workers’ services, it is akin to denying their capacity to sexually attract another human being.  The second is that such an endeavor is similar to saying that sexual preferences are a human right. The third is that women’s equality to men is attacked when we recognize their right to use their body as they see fit, including the selling of sex services. Let’s address these in order. Shall we?

I agree with Jess Martin on many points. Indeed, “people with disabilities do not need prostitution in order to have intimacy or to have sex. Many disabled people have sex with each other or with non-disabled people.” But I fail to grasp how that fact is an argument against the possibility of buying sex services by disabled persons. We do not deny people’s ability to travel by themselves when we allow them to buy transportation services. We do not deny people’s ability to find a house by themselves when we allow them to use real estate agencies. And likewise, we do not deny disabled people’s ability to sexually attract another human being, may they be disabled or not, when we allow them to buy sex services.

Second point on which I agree with Jess Martin: sexual preferences are not a human right, at least in the sense that it is understood nowadays. One’s sexual preferences should not compel anybody to cater to them. On the other hand, one’s sexual preferences should be respected as long as they’re consensual. To sum it up: I have a right to have consensual sex with another human being, but I do not have a right to compel another human being to have sex with me, whatever my reasons may be. How does that apply to the case at hand? Disabled people have a right to freely exchange money for  sex services since it is a voluntary relationship. There is a world of difference between allowing somebody to freely exchange for a service, and forcing some people to provide that same service (the voluntariness of sex work will be discussed later.)

Lastly, in no way does the buying of sex services by disabled men take precedence over the advancement of women’s equality. I am feminist, and I find it profoundly unjust to prohibit women to use their body freely. The (impossible) abolition of sex work is just another expression of this trend which seeks to control women’s sexuality. “Laws governing sex work deny women control over their own bodies in the same way that laws governing reproductive rights do.” As McNeill brilliantly argues, the war on sex work is a war on women that gives the police broad power to crush their rights. Advancing women’s equality requires recognizing women’s sovereignty over the use of their body. Restricting women’s right to sell sex services is a grave infringement on their agency.

In reality, people who say that disabled people are too vulnerable to be allowed to buy sex services are the ones showing ableism. People saying that women can never freely and voluntarily offer sex services for money are the ones showing misogyny.

This is not to say that sex work is always perfect and sex workers are always 100% consenting. Yes, there is often exploitation; yes, some women are heavily influenced by their poverty. Let’s fight exploitation and poverty! Let’s find ways to alleviate those harsh problems that some sex works find themselves in. When you prohibit the selling and buying of sex, in no way do you achieve that purpose. On the contrary, you push sex workers into horrible environments where they can be subject to exploitation in many forms.

Any society that prohibits a certain form of consensual sex to people with disabilities is an unjust and inhumane society indeed.

The following was written by European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator Ana Jakšić. 

Last night on November 5th, 2014, European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator from Serbia, Nikola Ristić, organized an event at the University of Belgrade to raise awareness about the war on drugs with ESFL’s program manager Aleksandar Kokotović as the speaker. The panel was a huge success with over 150 people in the audience and some of the media present.

After about 40 minutes into the event a group of neo-Nazis broke in and started throwing flyers, shouting insults, and lunging at attendees like they were about to attack them. One of them had a Nazi skull symbol on his sweatshirt and their sign said: “Students against addiction!” They were loud, violent, and refused to leave the premise.

(more…)

This post was written by local coordinator Edouard Hesse

On the 5th of october in France, the same group of people that opposed gay-marriage is calling on people to take the streets in order to oppose this great evil that is surrogate motherhood.

In France surrogate motherhood, which enables the carrying of a pregnancy by another woman for parents who cannot conceive, is completely prohibited, whether it is a commercial or altruistic agreement. So what brings all those people in the street? A recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights compels France to recognize the nationality of children born by surrogacy elsewhere in the world. But this judgment does only that: in no way the French government is about to legalize surrogacy. The Prime Minister recently gave an interview where he claimed he was opposed to surrogacy, putting an end to any doubt that there could have been room for a bit more liberty in France.

In this anti-surrogacy fight, catholic conservatives ally themselves with Marxists for whom the commercial aspect of surrogacy is unbearable. So what are the arguments of this unusual alliance?

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Those signs read “You can’t put a price on children”, “in India a baby costs 40.000€, in France it is still priceless”, “women are not baby factories”. The basic mistake of those arguments is quite obvious: what is bought and sold here are not babies, but the renting of a woman’s womb, and nothing else. Those women are financially compensated for the long discomfort and effort of carrying a child. Nobody ever said that you could put a price on children: that argument is a strawman. Buying a person has been illegal since the abolition of slavery, and that’s obviously a good thing. Comparing surrogacy to slavery makes no sense at all since those 2 things are completely different in nature.

Likewise, nobody ever said that women are baby factories: enabling a woman who so wishes to rent her womb for another couple is in no way akin to saying that “women are baby factories”. Each and every woman is free to make her own choices, to live the life she wants, and nobody should ever force a woman who doesn’t consent to carry the child of another couple.

When you refuse a woman her right to self-ownership, you deny her dignity. When you make it illegal for a woman to use her body as she so wishes, it’s an unjust and outrageous attack on her agency. If a women consents to carrying the child of another couple, the choice should be hers, and hers only. Feminists who famously claim to defend “my body my choice” should be fierce defenders of this right.

Let’s review the arguments that the anti-surrogacy people use. “The exploitation of women is intolerable”: yes, indeed the exploitation of women is intolerable. As explained above, refusing a women her right to self-ownership is an obnoxious way to exploit and control her. Is it the commercial aspect of surrogacy that makes it exploitative? This would suggest that women are not able to make choices for themselves: society (and by “society”, people usually mean the State) has to do those choices for them since they are obviously ignorant and irresponsible. A woman is in dire straits, carrying the child of another couple to term would enable her to live a comfortable lifestyle for some time and get her out of misery? She is refused this choice because she is supposed to be unable to do it.

« Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person. »
― Madeleine L’Engle

But let’s accept this exploitation argument for a moment. Is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than complete prohibition? Rules could be put in place so as to avoid the occurrence of a desperate woman doing a choice she’ll regret, as a famous French feminist suggests. We could even go as far as allowing only altruistic surrogacy, keeping commercial agreements outlawed. This would still be a step in the right direction.
“Children are not objects”

Anti-surrogacy people excel at the art of making strawmen. Nobody ever claimed that children are objects, and recognizing women’s rights to carry a child for another couple is in no way akin to saying that children are objects. When you allow women to use their body as they so wish while offering a solution for couples who cannot conceive, how in the world are you making children objects?

“Children need a father and a mother”
Those people still need to scientifically prove that there is a great risk in having parents who are not composed of a woman and a man, or at least a greater risk that the one involved with traditional family models. But let’s accept this argument: is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than outright prohibition? Surrogacy could be allowed for parents composed of a man and a woman.

In France a lot of liberals join the anti-surrogacy crowd in the name of a fight against the “right to have a child”. But legalizing surrogacy is in no way similar to guaranteeing a “right to have a child”: such a right would make it so that if a couple wanted a child, the State would be compelled to give them one. Women could be forced to carry the child of another couple to term because this couple is entitled to a child, and that would be truly disgusting, as it should. There is a world of differences between allowing consenting women to carry the child of another couple through a voluntary contractual agreement, and forcing this same woman to carry that child in the name of a “right to have a child”.

Liberals and feminists should be allies in this just cause. For feminists, the prohibition of surrogacy motherhood should cause them outrage since this is just another way to control women’s bodies. For liberals, this prohibition should be denounced in the name of the long intellectual tradition that aimed at recognizing people’s right to self-ownership. Conservative leaning liberals should join the cause because this right to freely use one’s body doesn’t conflict with the right to life, like in the abortion debate. Here, on the contrary, it’s all about enabling life, not taking it away.

Friends from the catholic right, you should also be fierce defenders of this wonderful technical progress that is surrogacy. Don’t believe me? If you’re a French-speaker, read this story, it will save you time rather than going to the street to protest against a change that is not about to happen.

This post was written by local coordinator Ana Jaksic

When I was younger, I never understood why people who are attracted to the same sex cannot get married and adopt.

Later on, I became aware of how much more complex the reality of sexual minorities actually is. I became aware of all the privileges heterosexual people enjoy, and all the discrimination and stigmatization gay people face. It didn’t take much for me to decide to go and participate in the Belgrade gay pride parade this year.

The situation is tough for gay people all around the world, and Serbia is definitely not an exception, quite the opposite. This was the first pride parade that had been allowed since 2010, because the government always assumed it too dangerous. And so, I went to show my support and fight for everyone whose rights were withheld and endangered.

European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator Ana Jaksic has her sign broken by an anti-LGBT activist in Belgrade, Serbia during the Pride Parade held on Sept.27, 2014.

Shortly before the walk began, I held up a banner with the face of Amfilohije Radović, who is a Serbian Orthodox cleric and current Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, with the words: “Find someone for yourself and kiss for hours”. This slogan is taken from the lyrics of a popular Serbian song.

After only around 30 seconds, one guy in a masked uniform took the banner from my hands and broke it. The police caught up with him and he was detained, but they also took my banner and wouldn’t give it back.

All of the media present reported on the incident, and soon my face was all over the news. I started getting death threats and offensive messages right away, and they haven’t stopped since. My inbox exploded with harassments, most of them calling me the devil, a lesbian (which is supposedly an insult), and a whore.

Besides blocking more than 300 people who were insulting me, my friends, and my family, I now have to go and report more than thirty people who outright threatened to find me and kill me, only because I was holding that banner. Everyone close to me is scared for my safety, and it scares me even more to say for good reason.

Now to clarify why I was holding a banner with a church representative in the first place. It is not that I don’t respect other people’s faith, it is that Amfilohije has been notorious for his hate speech against the LGBT community for longer than I can remember, and I wanted to address the problem in a innovative and funny way. But the matter is not funny at all.

Back in 2010, when the last pride parade was held in Belgrade, Amfilohije said, and I quote: “There, yesterday, we saw what garbage poisoned and polluted our capital Belgrade, worse than uranium. The worst sodomite stench that this modern civilization raised to a godly pedestal. And you see, one violence, the violence of those ungodly and perverse people caused another violence. And now they question whose fault it is, and call those kids hooligans.”

In 2013, while appearing on a national television, he said that there is no difference between homosexuals and pedophiles. As you can see, he not only incited the public through spewing his venom, but also supported violent hooligans, who, the day before the parade gathered at the city square and chanted: “Kill, kill, kill a faggot”, as they did again right after the parade.

Therefore, I believe that my banner was not offending the religious feelings of Serbian people; it was taking a stand against a church representative who continuously discriminates the LGBT community and justifies the violence they suffer.

I now feel how every gay person has felt at least once here in Serbia, and all I can say is that I will not tolerate the hate and the violence. Extremist groups can demonize me and threaten me all they want, I will keep on fighting for LGBT community and their individual rights to love whomever they chose, and shape their lives in whichever way they see fit.

Commentary by Lukas Schweiger, ESFL Chairman:

The fact that for the first time since 2010 the gay parade in Belgrade was not shut down at the last minute by the government because of security concerns was lauded by the international community as a sign that the situation for LGBT people is slowly improving in Serbia. However, Ana’s experience shows us that there is still a long way to go.

As a member of the LGBT community and a frequent guest in Serbia and the region, I am all too aware of the risks that are involved when it comes to publicly standing up for who you are.

I have the utmost respect for our Local Coordinator Ana as well as everyone else marching in last Sunday’s Belgrade pride. They walked, regardless of the current climate in the country. This kind of courage is exemplary, and it serves as an inspiration to me and to so many in our movement to work even harder.

To work harder on guaranteeing freedom of speech. It is a basic pillar of civil society. Amongst other things, it allows those who advocate the position of a minority to make their voices heard without being violated.

To work harder against the government-established normative, the ‘one size fits all’ template called marriage, as the only way that individuals who want to commit to each other can legally define their rights and responsibilities. One size simply does not fit all. Of course, the so-called traditional family will continue to serve as a suitable model for many. However, enabling also the rest of us, whether we are part of the LGBT community, adhere to other alternative lifestyles, or find ourselves in unique situations requiring tailored arrangements, to enjoy sound legal protection for our families, is one facet of what Students for Liberty is all about – putting individuals back in charge of their own lives.

As Ayn Rand once put it, “Remember also that the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” In that spirit, it goes without saying that ESFL fully stands behind Ana, and we will support her dealing with the repercussions of her activism in any way we can, and with lots of SFLove.

Lukas Schweiger

This post was written by Eyð Áradóttir Hammer

Last Tuesday (September 3), Danish Students For Liberty, together with the Danish free speech organization, Trykkefrihedsselskabet, went to the Swedish embassy in Copenhagen to protest.

Sweden was one of the first countries to introduce freedom of speech. Now you risk being jailed for making the wrong kind of painting in Sweden.

This is what happened to the Swedish artist, Dan Park: He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and was fined 60,000 Swedish kroner (around 6,500 Euros) for some paintings that were considered to be racist. Henrik Rönnquist, who is the owner of the gallery that chose to exhibit Dan Park’s paintings, was fined 8,000 Swedish kroner (almost 900 Euros) and got a conditional sentence of 2 years in jail. Henrik Rönnquist is considering moving to Denmark because he is constantly threatened in Sweden. He has to wear a personal attack alarm and an extra pair of glasses with him because of the several attacks that he has been exposed to. I met him at the demonstration and it was heartbreaking to hear his story.

The funny (or sad, really) thing is that the Swedish people just accept the sentence as fair. I imagine that if it had happened in China, Russia or North Korea, the Scandinavian media would be extremely quick to condemn it, but instead, everybody just looks the other way.

This could happen elsewhere in Europe as well. Dan Park and Henrik Rönnquist were sentenced according to the Swedish hate speech paragraph that is called “Hetz mot folkgrupp”.

In Denmark, §266b in the penal code also offers the possibility of being thrown to jail for up to 2 years. So far, no one has been sentenced to jail for violating the hate speech paragraph in Denmark, but it is an imminent danger.

The problem is that people do not realize the significance of these events. Or they tend to justify them because “it is not okay to be a bigot”. Of course it is not okay to be a bigot, but if we threaten these people with coercion when they say things that we do not like, can we really claim to be better persons? I do not think that we can.

Bigotry should be fought with arguments, not with violence.

 

This post was written by Leo Traugott

Since several weeks, there have been big clouds hanging over the future of the United Kingdom as we know it right now – and they are growing every day. Today, on the 18 September 2014, the Scottish nation is set to decide on its further future: will it stay part of the UK, or is it going to form an independent state? While for many spectators from abroad this debate is merely about questions of international economics, the European Union membership, and the peculiarity of British tradition and sentiment, there is more to this debate than meets the obvious. The Scottish referendum sheds light on the question of who has the right to decide on the form and existence of a state. Can a part of a state withdraw itself from a union unilaterally? And if so, under what conditions? For every liberal and libertarian out there, the Scottish referendum should be of highest importance – not necessarily because one cares about the result, but because it reminds us that state borders and affiliations are not set in stone, but should be up to democratic decision making. States should exist to serve and protect people, not to hold them hostage, owing to the fundamental opinion of Ludwig von Mises, that “no people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want“.

Since long, liberal thinkers and politicians have defended the rights of secession and independence for groups all over the world, insisting on the fundamental right of voluntary cooperation among people as the only legitimate way to organize society. Today, this school of thought is once again highly needed. At this point, there exist more than fifty movements all over the world, which try to garner outright independence, or at least a higher level of autonomy from their current state. Many people know about the situation in Scotland, about Quebec and Canada, Flanders and Belgium, the Kurds in the Middle East, or the Basques and Catalans and Spain. However, these are not isolated cases, but parts of a large movement, wich also includes regions in Italy, France, India, Brazil or Russia. Yet, contrary to Scotland and Quebec, most of these groups demanding independence are denied it. In Spain for example, every discussion about Catalan or Basque independence is refused with reference to the Spanish constitution, in which the unity and indivisibility of Spain is engraved. In Italy, the independence for Padania is reprimanded on reasons of national solidarity. And in Russia, even the discussion and publication of separatist ideas has been made a punishable offense, all under the pretext of safeguarding territorial sovereignty. Unfortunately the West, normally praising itself as the defender of democracy and self-determination, has taken a very ambiguous stance on this issue so far. When it suited the USA’s or the EU’s interests, such as in the cases of Kosovo and Southern Sudan, the support for newly found states was never far away (albeit Spain did until today not acknowledge the Kosovo’s independence, fearing repercussions for its domestic independence movements). When it came to cases however where a support for the independence movements would mean harm to political or business interests, most states kept their mouths shut. No European state publically interved for a Catalan or Basque right to hold a referendum, tried to persuade Turkey or Iran to grant independence to the Kurds, or lend public support to the case of the Western Sahara. As long as states cannot gain from supporting an independence movement, they will refrain from doing so.

While most people are used to be citizens of a certain state, no matter whether through ethnic or civic nationalism, this can by no means be seen as natural and eternal. In many cases, opponents of the right to secession and autonomy bring forward arguments about the inherent validity of a country’s constitution, or the solidarity to which its citizens must adhere. Yet, just because in the past the leading citizens of a state decided on a common constitution or a a “social contract“, this must not curtail the rights of self-determination for future generations. Thomas Jefferson argued that “we may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation [...]“. How can it be that Spain denies Catalonia a referendum on self-determination, solely on the base of a constitution which was written in the seventies after the fall of the Franco regime, and without any consent of the current generation? If we truly believe in the right of self-determination, no matter whether for nations, groups or even individuals, we have to defend the rights of secession and independence for every groups which demands it. It may not always be the best solution, and in many cases it surely is no solution at all. But it should nevertheless be always up to discussion, and a people should never be denied the possibility of independence and an own state, simply out of conservative and statist reasoning. We should therefore not lose our nerves over what happens with Scotland in the future, whether they will succeed with their referendum or not, and how an independent Scottish state might govern itself – instead we should embrace the fact that at least one nation amongst many has received the possibility to vote on its own future, and one shall wish the best for whatever outcome this referendum might bring. Nevertheless, we should not forget that Scotland is not a solitary case, and that their are more groups out there, which are currently denied the right which Scotland enjoys.

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