Opinion Piece by Josh L. Ascough
Nearly a month into the COVID-19 lockdown, and what we saw as normal life seems a distant memory.
It can feel like a lifetime has gone by since we all could go to the pub for a cold beer (or in my case, gin) after a long day. It can bring a great level of reflection on just how important little things were to us enjoying our own, individual lives; things that would bring value to us no matter how big or small we perceived them, whether they be financial, emotional, mental or physical.
Going for a picnic, visiting family and friends to share stories and good memories, working at a job that brought food to the table, all of these and more can feel alien to us now; as the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.
But in order to get these back, and make our lives better, we need to take a moment to now consider not when we will recover, but how we will recover, and how we will not simply bring things back to the old system but make them better. Not just so we are better prepared for another pandemic, but so we can also improve upon our own, subjective standard of value; we as a country have to have the conversation, and now is a good time; nay, an important time to have it. If we’re to return to our liberties, better protect them and enhance them, we need to have the conversation now.
We’re supposedly coming close to the peak period of the COVID-19 pandemic, after said point, we will (hopefully for our economy and social values) be working towards lowering the restrictions in place from the lockdown in an attempt to bring society back to a state of normality.
But it shouldn’t, and cannot be seen as a simple task of simply, flipping a switch; the economy isn’t something which can simply be halted and allowed to resume without serious ramifications, and harm to peoples’ living standards, values, and their ability to satisfy their needs.
It is the same for the social aspect of human existence, it isn’t something that can simply be shut down and allowed to reopen as if nothing happened.
So after saying this, how do we return to normal life?
- How do we better protect our freedoms?
- How do we further acknowledge what our freedoms consist of?
- How do we restrict the power of the state when it can shut society down at a whim?
These are all questions we cannot rely on the government to answer for us, we have to sit down as individuals and find the answers within ourselves.
As the late Margaret Thatcher once said:
“Freedom is the birth right of every citizen”.
I’d argue it’s about time we put that statement into practise for the long term benefit; not the quick fix, short term we are so used to practising simply because “it’s easy”.
So what are my answers to these questions? I will answer these questions after giving a brief note:
These are not “end game” solutions that lift us into utopia; no such place exists nor could it ever exist. No central end game plan can bring about the utopia ideal of, how Adam Smith described, The Man of System; the man who believes he can plan a society from a central point of power, and believes himself to know what is best for everyone around him. These are intended as solutions to better lift the burdens on the people placed there by the government. To better embrace and protect each individual’s freedoms. To call out the fallacy of the faux-rights many claim demand for, such as the “right” to not be offended, or the artificial “group rights” of (insert group type here;) each human being has individual rights, we are all human beings, so we all have the same rights; whether each human beings’ rights are acknowledged by the state, is another topic for another time.
Now that the fine print is out of the way, let us delve into the answers. I will give you my perspective, as an Austrian Economic writer, and as a true, real Liberal.
In order to better protect our rights and freedoms, we first need to understand and acknowledge what they are; whether the state wishes to acknowledge them or not, you and I must, so we can better fight for them.
We as human beings hold certain inalienable rights and freedoms; the right and freedom to live, the right and freedom to speak, the right and freedom to choose, the right and freedom to think, and the right and freedom to our property. All of these are the foundation of a truly Liberal society.
My right to life does not mean I can force a doctor to operate on me, as his labour is his property; he must be compensated for the use of his property. Freedom to live means quite simply, I cannot kill another man. I may value my child’s life over that of a stranger’s life, but that does not mean I get to decide who is deserving of life and who is not; each individual’s life and body are their most fundamental forms of private property; you don’t get to decide whether I am deserving of life or not, nor do I get to make that choice for you.
My right to speech means exactly that, I get to speak; whether you or the government likes what I have to say or not, whether it is uncomfortable or not, whether it is good or evil, whether it is offensive or not; all speech matters. Freedom of speech not only ensures that each individual can speak from their mind and heart, but when it comes to combating ideas that seem dangerous, it is the best weapon; how can you or I know the substance of a man’s ideas, if his ideas are forbidden from being heard? If evil or dangerous ideas are forced underground and the speech that encompasses these ideas is censored, how can you know how many people support the ideas when they are covered by a veil of sensitivity? This does not mean there are no consequences for my speech, there are social consequences: for example, the government has no authority to force legal action against a man who calls trans women “men”, but that doesn’t mean the trans woman has no right to talk back, criticise, challenge, mock, or insult. Is the trans woman an individual human being? Yes? Then the trans woman has a right to speech too! The individual in question has a right to choose whether to associate with that person after their use of language or not; which brings us to our next right, choice.
My right to choose does not mean I get to choose whether you live or die, or that I get to choose how you must live your life; rights do not contradict themselves. By doing such an act, I would be infringing on your right to life and your right to choose; remember, each individual has the same individual rights. Freedom of choice ensures that each man’s consent is not only necessary, but vital to him being able to run his life with what ensures he can best satisfy his needs, values and identity. I as an individual get to choose what actions are best for my life, what healthcare coverage I wish to engage with, who I desire to be friends with, who I allow access to my property, how to best provide for myself and my family, whether I allow someone to be intimate with me and my body or not, who I wish to give my money to if anyone etc. As stated above, this does not mean I face no consequences for my choices. As an individual, I must accept that all choices add profits and losses to my person, and it is up to me which risks I am willing to take and which profits are worth the risks; whether they be long term or short term. I made the choice to start smoking when I was nineteen, I knew the tobacco companies were not responsible for any damage dealt to my lungs; they did not force the cigarette into my mouth, I made a conscious decision and accept any consequence that comes to me due to my actions, I’m a free individual, it is my body, my property. Do I regret my choice? No. Do some smokers regret it? Yes. Does me not regretting it mean I get to tell others they’re not allowed to give up smoking? Absolutely not!
My right to think is heavily linked to speech, however it does have separate elements. My right to think ensures I can believe what I choose to believe, and no individual or state can force me to stop. I can believe in whatever religion I want or whatever philosophy I want. I have the right to think a certain way about another individual, religion, culture or society, but as stated before, I cannot force others to believe or think the same way through violence enacted by myself or on my behalf by the state. I am an Atheist, but though I do not think or believe any deity exists, it doesn’t mean I can force churches to close, stop individuals from reading religious text, make others become Atheists through the threat of a steel boot; I can attempt to convince through my right to speech, but if they make the choice to ignore my arguments, I do not then garner the authority nor does the state, to then put a gun to their head (figuratively or not) and decree “you will think x or else”.
My right to my property, is slightly different to the previously mentioned rights, though it is none the less important to a truly Liberal society. Each individual has a right to property to which he is in ownership of and holds command over. The farmer is in ownership of his cattle; they are his private property, it is not owned by society, nor does he owe anything to society; he cannot be told how to use his property; if he is an economizing man, he will make the choices which best serve his needs and priorities the needs most important to his subjective values and situation. Every individual looks to better serve his needs in relation to how much he values the goods necessary to do so, and will exchange his commodities for goods which hold better use value to him. The same is true for the consumer as well as the producer. The consumer has a right to his private property in the form of money, and cannot be coerced into spending it in ways he does not deem valuable to him or that would risk him not being able to serve the needs he perceives as more valuable. The producer has a right to the capital he has command over, and cannot be forced to use his property in such a way that would risk his ability to provide for his needs he classifies as most valuable to him. I cannot force you to give me your car, nor can you force me to give you my money. If I or you wish to exchange property, there must be a mutually beneficial exchange, and only those involved within the exchange are in a position to set the standards for said action; the good you wish to exchange must have more use value to me than the exchange value of my good, and your commodity must have a higher exchange value to you than its use value. The fruit of your labour is your property, and you have a right to it.
All of these rights and freedoms are the very essence of a Liberal society, but they are completely undermined by not just the COVID-19 lockdown, but a number of policies, institutions, and regulations our government places on human existence.
I will go over these in brief and how we can better these for the full acknowledgement of all of our rights and freedoms, but overall, the issue can be summed up in two statements, which I ask the reader to ponder over.
- Government and society positions itself on the notion of ‘Assumed Consent’.
- The Government does not believe in ‘ Inalienable Rights’, but rather ‘Loaned Rights’.
I think it best to cover the topic most find difficult first; our healthcare system.
The fact that many would view the following statement as heresy, should be a clear indicator that many have been overcome by nostalgia for days which never existed, idealism, self-deceit, and a lack of either will, or desire for change; the statement is as follows:
The NHS Is A Government Run Centralised Monopoly.
Now this is not an attack on the doctors and nurses, they work extremely hard within a system poorly structured; we should consider change not just for the better satisfaction of patients, but for the hard working doctors and nurses to be able to better operate. Patients, nurses and doctors deserve much better.
There are two primary reasons for this statement, one of which is based in economics, the other is in direct opposition to our right to choose; these are:
- The Tragedy of the Commons.
- Centralised Planning of Healthcare.
The Tragedy of the Commons, is when there is no distinction between one man’s property and another man’s property; where a product, or service, is owned by everyone. With this, people face zero opportunity cost and tend to take more than what they need, causing supply to not be able to meet with demand, as there is no pricing system in place to coordinate causes, allocate resources or incentivise choices; this in turn creates rationing, shortages, long waiting periods before new supplies can become available, and additionally causes quality to drop dramatically with the costs rising exponentially.
On the subject of a Centralised Government Monopoly, The primary issue with this format, is that the central organised body, the government, due to having no income of its own; its income after all comes in the form of forcing money from citizens, whether they be consumers or producers by the means of taxes, and so faces no risk to itself should it make choices, which may be well intended, but that do harm. The other issue with this system, is that, as indicated, the NHS is a government run monopoly. Due to its legal monopoly status; not a monopoly status based on higher competitive abilities, such as more attractive wages, higher quality, lower prices, but due to an essentially limitless budget and a monopoly status derived from force and power of authority, where even in the case where fewer need or want it, it continues to have money forcefully taken from people, it creates a lack of incentive for efficiency, a lack of opportunity cost, and a lack of risk and loss on the part of the provider. Let us imagine for a moment, there was a company, let’s say a company which makes lifts; this company, no matter how large or small its consumer base is, no matter how many people want its services or not, has access to a limitless budget which it forces from people’s pockets; how much waste would be created from this company? What standard of quality do people believe this company would produce, considering it faces zero loss? Most people would rightfully say, it would create an unprecedented amount of waste, funnelling much towards its inputs but creating very few outputs, and would rightfully say that the standard of quality, would be so low, that under normal circumstances, where loss and risk are possible, this company would’ve gone bankrupt and possibly even sued.
This format directly contradicts every individual’s freedom of choice, right to his private property, and is a clear example of “assumed consent”. For simply being a citizen, the government assumes a right to take a man’s property in order to fund a system, which he may not want to use, or he may not value. Neither you nor the government has a right to any man’s property simply because he lives within the same society; you cannot assume consent without restricting the right to choice, or the right to the private property a man has ownership and command over.
I would consider the best option for recognising our right to our private property, right to choose, and create less assumed consent, would be to reform our healthcare system. This can be done by privatising hospitals, expanding which industries can enter the healthcare market, and altering the NHS into simply, a tax funded health insurance program, where individuals are not assumed to be consenting of payment, but is an opt-in system for those who cannot afford market rates, which holds no legal monopoly by increasing taxes if consumers do not choose it as an option, but operates under competition; both public and private can benefit from competition.
Additional measures to take to better protect property rights, freedom of choice and reduce assumed consent, would be to reform the tax system.
Through the acts of direct taxes such as Income tax, the government not only harms the living standards of those already on low income, but through direct tax does not recognise their right to private property and the fruits of their labour. The government not only assumes consent to plunder the citizens, but the direct tax is the state’s position of loaning property rights to those who already (if rights were taken seriously) hold ownership of the goods he possesses command over; his money!
In order to abandon this notion of loaned rights, it would suit us to reform the tax system into one of indirect tax. An indirect tax is not along the lines of the income tax, but requires the individual to consent to perform certain actions first; the sales tax is an example of such a tax: it is not taken from the individual regardless of actions or choices he takes, but is based on the individual making the conscious, free choice to a consenting transaction.
Another area, which I would consider the most important in order for the legitimate protection not just of rights, but of value and living standards, is the subject of the central bank.
Money is not a creation of government; a money occurs when a certain economic good has acquired a certain degree of use value as well as exchange value; providing it with an intrinsic value for trading. This has allowed over the centuries for the development and strengthening of the consumer/producer relationship, however, the creation of the central bank has not only destroyed this relationship, but shifted it to a relationship between government and corporations.
Through the creation of the central bank, the government has bestowed upon itself the legal monopoly not just that of money production, but the power to define a money and through the elimination of the gold standard, the power to print limitless quantities; forever weakening our lives and values.
If we truly want to end Cronyism, we need to destroy The Central Bank.
Our rights continue down the route of being disregarded through the enactment of “hate speech” laws; fining people and arresting people for what they say depending on whether they address certain words towards “protected groups”.
The government has no right to determine what hateful speech is and what is not; nor should it be positioning itself into deciding which “groups” are “protected” groups. As stated before, there is no such thing as group rights, each individual has individual rights, so everybody has the same rights; including the right to speak. This also fails to take into account context, I think many of us remember the Count Dankula case. A man who was arrested after making an edgy joke, by portraying his pug as a Nazi, only to have the courts declare “we decide the context”; the irony being the only people in history who would’ve been offended to the point of arrest over such a joke, would’ve been the Nazis. In addition, this type of pandering can be seen as what I would call, condescending compassion: group x is so fragile and unable to handle confrontation, we must protect them from slogans and terminologies which may upset them. It’s just another one of the ironic traits of the self-righteous planners of social systems, when you really break down the position, turning round to say, a black person and saying “you’re a part of group A, so you will find x offensive, so you must be protected because you cannot handle yourself” sounds very condescending. I am by no means justifying racist, sexist or any of the “ist” forms of language, but you don’t combat bad ideas by burying them under the carpet. This type of policing of language, due to the governments nature, always leads to context being ignored through blanket, one size fits all policies, and a method of silencing opposition without forming any argument; it shouldn’t be hard to use freedom of speech to explain why Nazism is bad; banning its language just displays a lack of ability or desire to make an argument, which, if those who decree hate speech have arguments that are so bad they have to censor the words of opponents, they have failed to do the simple task of thinking.
In order to be able to think or speak, you have to risk being offensive.
I don’t care what you are, I care who you are.
In order to protect the right to speech as well as all of our inalienable rights, we need to form a codified, British constitution, detailing the individual rights of all who live within the nation.
Overall, not just the government, but we as individuals need to recognise, the government has only one role through its power of legal monopoly over force; to protect the rights of all.
Josh L. Ascough is on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/j.l.ascough/