My Journey To Brexit

I voted to leave the European Union in 2016. But if you would have told me that just two years before I would have rolled over laughing at you. Until really quite recently I was a staunch defender of the EU- in fact, if you asked me in 2014, I would have told you that we should head full steam into a United States of Europe. So what changed?

The reason I am posting this article now is that, over the past few years, it seems like the debate about Brexit has gone nowhere. This weekend one hundred thousand people marched in London to demand a vote on the final Brexit deal. There is a serious discussion to be had about the public voting on such a crucial issue. But there should be little doubt in our minds that many of the people marching on Saturday had every intention of scuppering Brexit completely, by any means necessary. Having a final vote gives the hardcore remain camp a golden opportunity to do just that.

When people discuss leaving the EU they get bogged down in minor details and end up making ridiculous predictions about the future. If I listen to a row about the EU on the radio, it often feels like a competition to figure out who possesses the most accurate crystal ball. The reason I and many others like me voted Brexit is the sordid state of the European Union. More fundamentally, many people on both sides do not have a good understanding of what the EU is or how it works. For some Remainers, the EU is the pillar that holds up our economy, without it the whole framework of Britain beings to fall apart. This is a hopelessly misguided view. Yet, on the other hand, many Breixteers assume that life outside the EU will be a blessed, voyage to a prosperous garden of Eden. This is also wrong.

When Britain voted in 2016, it passed its verdict on the European Union. I believe that the reason why so many people voted to remain part of the EU is that they had an incorrect perception of what the EU is. Here I will detail why my view on the EU changed. In my pro-EU days, my positive perception of that amalgam of institutions was based on three crucial axioms that turned out not to be true:

  • The EU would help Europe deal with a crisis.
  • The EU keeps Britain prosperous
  • The EU is fair

These were the assumptions that kept me supporting the EU. But in the years leading up to the referendum, one by one these perceptions were revealed as nothing more than empty myths.

The first and probably most significant reason for my support of the EU was the perception that is would help small European countries deal with a crisis. Indeed, if you look at the placards and banners that were being gleefully thrust into the air this weekend you will see lots of references to ‘brotherhood’ and ‘togetherness’. There is a palpable sense amongst Remainers that the EU helps bring humanity together. Having spent my formative years watching Newsnight and reading copies of The Economist I assumed that the EU was great because it allowed otherwise small nations to club together and punch above their weight. But then the refugees came…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not in favour of stopping desperate people from seeking a new life in a stable and prosperous country. In fact, on paper, if you have a mass influx of refugees the EU is exactly the sort of organisation you would hope could address that issue. The EU should have acted as a bastion of hospitality that stood firm and addressed this challenge as brothers arm in arm with a shared love of humankind. So it was a big shock for me when this didn’t happen. Part of the logic of the EU is that it allows small European countries to club together to deal with big challenges but the EU crumbled under the pressure of this crisis. Far from being able to address the issue effectively, we saw some truly horrific scenes emerging from the frontiers of this supposedly ‘civilised’ institution.

Instead of showing a spirit of togetherness we saw children washing up dead on the shores of EU countries. We saw families charging through border towns with angry police platoons chasing them like cattle. We saw EU leaders close their borders rather than accommodate starving families. Hardly the progressive bastion of international love that many in the Remain camp associate with the EU. Furthermore, the handling of the refugee crisis has had devastating long-term consequences for Europe. By mismanaging the large-scale migration so spectacularly the EU has contributed to the rise of extremist far-right movements in almost every single EU member state. Three years on from the migrant crisis, the EU is no closer to solving this problem; just ask anybody in Sicily, Malta or Calais. In my view, the people that assume that the EU is a defender of Human Rights and an organisation that brings the world together are just wrong. Rather than acting in unison, the small countries of the EU were left on their own to deal with this enormous challenge. I understand their opinion because I used to hold it myself. But our opinions must change when new evidence proves us flat out wrong. 

The next myth that I held sacred about the EU was that it keeps Britain a prosperous country. I used to adhere to the platitudes that ‘without the EU Britain will not survive.’ The Remain argument is on it’s best footing here. It is undeniable that Britain does a lot of business with the EU and Brexit will incur some serious economic challenges for the UK, that much is undeniable. Since the Brexit vote, several big companies have signalled that they wish to move their businesses overseas to countries within the single market. I believe in free trade. Obviously losing access to the single market will be bad for Britain. But does Brexit spell doom for the British economy? The answer must be an unequivocal no.

40% of Britain’s external trade is with the EU, this is an impressive figure. Enough to convince me that Britain was much better off in the EU. But there are other important things to consider. Firstly, only around 6% or British businesses export anything (never mind the proportion that export to the EU). Furthermore, although, exports are important, they are not the linchpin of the British economy as some Remainers suggest. We are a much greater importing country than an exporting one, the value of our business to the EU is plain for all to see. Not being part of the single market is not ideal, but not fatal for Britain. It is a delusion to assume that the Germans, Dutch, French et al really don’t care about whether we are part of their trading block or not. But like many other Remainers, I fell for the argument that without the benevolent hand of Brussels our entire economy would grind to a halt.

One of the most pervasive myths about the EU is that it is in a strong economic position. One of the great unspoken aspects of the Brexit debate is the scale of the European debt crisis. This is a sword of Damocles looming over some of the most important countries in the EU. So far, by fiscal bullying and outright manipulation, the EU has avoided total collapse due to this issue. Yet, there is no doubt that is the EU is going to avoid total financial collapse it will have to undergo a process of economic integration that will rival the introduction of the single currency in terms of its scope. A key moment in my journey to voting for Brexit rather than Remain was the realisation that voting to stay in the EU was not a vote for the status quo. It is a barely hidden secret that those in the upper echelons of the EU see their organisation as a federalist project rather than an alliance of countries. During the Brexit debate, we were constantly being told that a vote for Remain was a vote for stability. But nothing could be further from the truth. Over the next decade, the EU will probably take further strides towards being a single political unit or begin the process of dissolving. Not by design of its member states but out of sheer necessity. My brother had a copy of Yanis Varofakis’ book And The Weak Suffer What They Must. I have a bad habit of picking up a book and reading the last page. In it, the influential Greek statesman argues, very forcefully that to survive the EU must integrate much further and much fatser and I have to say that I agree with him. It didn’t mean much to me at the time but that realisation had big consequences for my referendum during the EU referendum.

The final and last reason that persuaded me to change my vote from Remain to Brexit was the realisation that the EU is not a fair institution. If you read into the anti-Brexit march on Saturday one of the things that comes across is that the EU is seen as a bastion of democracy by some in the Remain camp. Indeed, back when I used to be a cheerleader for the EU one of my implicit assumptions was that it was a profoundly democratic body that was a vehicle for spreading enlightened views across the world. But like many of my other assumption about the EU, during the years leading up to the referendum, this view was proven completely false.

Fundamentally the way the EU works is as a club. Just because you are in the unions it does not mean that you will derive any benefit from being a member. To really benefit from being an EU member means that you need to ‘play the game.’ Countries like France and Italy are excellent at gaining benefits from the EU whilst minimising their commitments. Whereas Britain, Denmark, Sweden are much less good at playing the European game. Britain has never been good at ‘playing the EU game.’ The EU is not a fair institution, while some nations benefit greatly from being an EU member, others get pushed around strong-armed into accepting policies that are not in their best interests. Another important demonstration of how the EU uses its power to bully members was the Greek bailout referendum in 2015. Led by the left-wing Syriza party Greece was asked to accept a bailout package from the EU to help with its chronic debt problem. Yet, one the stipulations of the bailout would mean that Greece would have to implement harsh austerity measures, despite the fact that the Greeks had just elected a left-wing party to do the exact opposite of that.

The solution to Greece’s debt problem should have been rather simple. Devalue currency to increase exports, reduce public spending commitments and renegotiate debt repayment arrangements. But because it was an EU member state it was virtually prohibited from doing any of these things. The EU made quite a fuss over the Greek decision to vote oxi (no) and reject the EU’s bailout deal. This issue quite an eye-opening moment for me. The apparent democratic credentials of the EU I knew and loved were being stripped away. The EU leant very heavily on the Greeks to make the ‘right’ decision. And after the whole incident was over, and the Greeks indeed voted to reject the EU’s financial demands they were essentially imposed on Greece over the course of the next few years. The Greek bailout referendum was a watershed for me and my view of the European Union.

The final straw for my love of the EU was during the buildup to the referendum. We all remember David Cameron waxing lyrical about how he could get a deal with Angela Merkel and reform the EU. At this stage, I was on a knife-edge. If David Cameron could reach an agreement with the German chancellor and come to some kind of arrangement to give Britain greater autonomy within the EU then I would quite probably have voted to remain. AT least in the EU would have proven itself open to, and capable of making necessary reforms and adjustments when the circumstances called for it. But it wasn’t to be. The Prime Minister’s requests were met with a flat and definite no from the de facto head of the European Union. This was the last straw for me, all of the events that had caused me to change my once fervently pro-EU opinion began to make sense. Despite the fact that Britain has been a net contributor to Europe and one of it’s most valuable assets we were unable to get any concessions fro Europe. The EU is a fundamentally unfair institution.

Obviously, it is dead wrong of me to state that the EU is incapable of reform. It goes through transformations and changes all the time. Yet, these changes are always towards one direction- ever closer union. One of the strangest facets of the Brexit aftermath has been the way people interpret the EU’s leverage over the UK. It is an open secret that Michel Barnier cannot give too many concessions to the Brexit team because many of the EU’s member states will then want to leave the EU. It boggles my mind that people then think the EU is negotiating from a position of strength. This truly sounds like some sort of abusive relationship; ‘If I am nice to you then all my other friends will want to leave me.’ It is pure folly to suggest that a vote to Remain was a vote for stability, quite the opposite. If our recent past is anything to go by the EU is heading into uncharted territory where the lines between the EU and it’s member states are becoming more blurred. There was never really an option to vote for the status-quo. There were only ever two choices, to live out the fantasies of Jean Claude Junker, or to go our separate ways

In this article, I have outlined that I voted to leave the EU not because I am a racist or a moron, but because I looked at the current state of EU and drew my own conclusion from there. I don’t believe Breixt will lead to a new golden age, I never did. My choice was pragmatic. Like many people who voted Brexit, I simply observed what the EU was doing and decided that wanted no part in it. I sincerely wish that many in the Remain camp would do us the courtesy of acknowledging that rather than smearing us as jingoistic reprobates. But just like the dreams of a ‘two speed Europe’ that might be too much to ask.

Not Playing Political Football

I would like to begin this article with an apology. For various reasons, I have not been able to put any blog posts up on here for some time. I am not under any delusion that people are sat staring at their computer screen eagerly anticipating my next article. But I enjoy writing and I know that people enjoy engaging with the content here on Libertarian Home so I am sorry for my radio silence over the past month.

One of the reasons why I have not been blogging is that I have been recalibrating my outlook on politics. When a big issue comes up or some controversy rears it’s ugly head we are often tempted to fall into a default ‘right-left’ response. Given that it is the world cup at the moment I feel that it is appriate to call this process ‘political football’. Your team scores a goal- you cheer and when the other team boots the ball into the back of the net- you boo.

But this isn’t good for us as individuals or the course of a sensible discussion. Given that we spend so much of our time on social media it would be wrong for us to deny the effect that being part of an ideological tribe. The internet was supposed to bring us all closer together, as one big happy family. Yet, the real impact has been to divide people into groups. This process of isolating ourselves in echo chambers has been well documented. Particularly by Niall Ferguson in his latest book ‘The Square and the Tower.’

Let’s be honest, we have all been there. A serious political issue has occurred, it’s been a busy day we have not had the time to look into it properly and figure out exactly what has happened. Instead of researching the topic we see hundreds of our ideological peers posting on Twitter on FaceBook. We go with the flow. All of a sudden we have an opinion about something that we know nothing about simply by going along with what other people on our team are saying.

That may be an extreme example, but by being part of a tribe we find ourselves predisposed to opinions that would not otherwise have held. I have always had a liberal attitude to immigration and despaired  Christopher Cantwell types who argue that ‘racism is the only way to a free society.’ However, during the Roseanne Barr controversy, I found myself being sympathetic to her cause. Purely because I saw what other people were posting on FaceBook and Tweeting in response to her dismissal. I had never heard of Roseanne Barr or even knew what she said. So it was strange that I even had a view on the controversy.

After spending five minutes looking into what the American comedian said I decided that it was a big mistake to say such a thing. But the experience was a wake-up call. Making your mind up on something based on what other members of your team think is something that should be avoided.

There are good reasons why political football has emerged. In the twenty-first century world of instant information where an hour is a long time, having a default position as a member of the right or the left can be a helpful shortcut to getting a timely social media post. Similarly, we all have busy lives and often don’t have the time or energy to really get to the heart of an issue before we form an opinion.

Ultimately, playing political football is lazy. Taking the time to consider things and apply our principles to an issue takes time and effort but it’s worth it. It shouldn’t be acceptable for us to think “I don’t accept your views because you’re a leftist w**ker.” The term ‘intellectual dark web’ has become popular lately. It describes people who refuse to involve themselves in the maelstrom of petty political goal scoring and advocate a principled and evidence led viewpoint. People such as Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Niall Ferguson, Sam Harris, Eric Weinstein, Dave Rubin etc. are all supposed to be part of the intellectual dark web.

It is much better to be part of this phenomenon than to be part of the ‘right-wing team’ in my opinion. It has been really quite alarming for me, to see how fast I can have my opinions on an issue purely because of what others are saying. I’m going to be a pretentious T**t and finish this article with a quote from Plato.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something- Plato 

Answering Jordan Peterson on low IQ productivity

Jordan Peterson is surfing on a wave of popularity. Within a very short time, the Canadian professor has managed to create a cult like following. This is not something he intended. All he did was to stand up for his own liberty in Canada. Nothing suggested that he would be very successful when he started protesting. In fact, he took some great personal risks. His timing, however, turned out to be very good. He evoked a silent mass, which, just like him, thought that political correctness had gone way too far.

I have a great deal of respect for someone who is fighting for his believes at the risk of personal costs. Not surprisingly, I also happen to agree with his fight for liberty. But since he is now an authority for so many people, he also deserves to be criticized whenever he gets somethings wrong. As an advocate of open debate, I am sure Peterson would agree with that.

And he does seem to get quite a few things wrong. His popularity puts him under a lot of pressure to always have an answer to everything. Because he was protesting against political correctness, he is now often interviewed about politics in general. Peterson, however, does not strike me to be particularly interested in politics. His real passion clearly is psychology and religion. This is something he shares with many of his followers. The major cause for his huge popularity appears to be his personal development advise rather than his political philosophy.

It is not necessarily a good idea to take someone as an authority on every subject, just because he is clearly smart. Like everyone else, Peterson is only an expert in things that he has spend enough time thinking about. Listening to him, I get the impression that one of the areas he knows little about is economics. I recently came across a video of an interview, in which he discusses the importance of IQ for productivity. His thesis is that people with a too low IQ are unable to contribute to the economy. This, according to Peterson, is a significant problem, because the group of people with relevantly low IQs is quite large.

This opinion is based on common misconceptions. In order to understand the mistakes in his reasoning, let us go through his argument systematically. He starts out by quoting a number of studies which show a clear correlation between IQ and success in life. In fact, Peterson claims that IQ is the most important predictor for long term success known to us. Consequently, people with a too low IQ seem to be doomed to failure.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, so it is reasonable to assume that he knows what he is talking about. That is not to say that IQ is the only factor important for success – personality traits like high conscientiousness and low neuroticism are also important. But apparently, none of these can compensate for a low IQ. This is not just true for personal success, but is particularly true for economic success. People with low IQs apparently struggle to be productive.

Let us look at the relationship between productivity and IQ. The argument that people with low IQs struggle to succeed in a modern economy is based on the observation that intelligence helps us to complete complex tasks. In fact that is exactly what IQ test questions are all about. That means, the more complex a task, the more IQ is needed to complete it. Peterson claims that modern economies have already become very complex, with simple task being automated. And it is reasonably to assume that the trend towards more complexity is going to continue in the future. Therefore, people with low IQs will increasingly not be able to add value to such an economy. In other words “there is not a job for everyone”, as he puts it.

It is certainly true that there is not a job for everyone. Some people clearly find it difficult to produce wealth. Examples of these would be certain drug addicts or those with a mental disease like Schizophrenia. The latter distorts the view of reality and makes a person dysfunctional in the real world. However, is Peterson right that a low IQ on its own prevents people from adding value to the economy?

As proof that this is indeed the case, Peterson quotes a policy of the armed forces, to not allow recruits with an IQ lower than 83 to join. This threshold is based on long term internal studies which have apparently shown that people with such low IQs simply are incapable of performing any needed task in the military.

The reason why Peterson things this is relevant is because the military is in constant shortage of bodies, and has jobs that require very few skills. He also mentions that one of the purposes of the military is to lift people out of poverty, by giving them a good education. Therefore, he concludes, if the military isn’t capable of employing them, no one is. Having established these facts, he points out that about 10% of society have an IQ that low, clearly suggesting that 10% of society will therefore not be employable. If all of this were true, it would be a grim outlook indeed.

But there are a number of fallacies in this argument. First of all, it is questionable to take a centrally planned bureaucracy, like the military, as a good indicator of who can and who cannot be productive. For some reason, intellectuals love hierarchical bureaucratic structures, and even Peterson, who is not a socialist, does not seem to be able to resist that temptation. The real testing ground, however, should be the actual private economy. No central planner can know what is and what is not productive work. This is of course the fundamental flaw in socialism, and the reason why it can never work. Ludwig von Mises famously pointed this out in his groundbreaking 1920 article “Economic Calculation in the Social Commonwealth”.

The real economy often gives us surprising answers as to what is and what is not productive. And looking at real world economic data, we find that the free market does seem to find productive tasks for low IQ people. If it were true that people with an IQ below 83 are unproductive, and those are 10% of society, then we would not expect to find unemployment rates in any free market economy to be under 10%.

Unfortunately, we do not have any economies that are totally free of state intervention to test this. However, we can at least have a look at some of the most free and advanced economies. Two good examples for these are Singapore and Switzerland. Both, according to the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, have been among the most advanced and productive economies in the world for a very long time. They are also two of the most free and unregulated. Singapore, a city state, even has hardly any welfare state at all. As far as I can tell, neither of these two economies has had an unemployment rate even close to 10% in the last three decades. In fact, during that period of time, the highest unemployment rate has been a little over 5%. Today it is 2% in Singapore, and 3% in Switzerland.

From this alone, it is save to conclude that, if a low IQ is a growing problem in increasingly complex societies, then, at least at the moment, the economy is clearly not complex enough for this to have a significant effect. In fact, as far as I am aware, even people with seriously low IQs can be trained to be somewhat productive. People with Down Syndrome, for example, who have an average IQ of around 50, can be trained to fulfill productive tasks. And luckily they are often exempt from damaging protective policies like the minimum wage.

But to be fair, at such low levels, the productivity is indeed strongly reduced. This does suggest that Peterson is not completely wrong. There is some relationship between IQ and productivity. But at least at the IQ 83 level, this does not seem to be significant enough to make a person unable to contribute to a modern economy.

The next question is, is this going to change in the future? Will people with low IQs increasingly struggle to be productive as the economy becomes more complex? It sure looks like strong reasoning to suggest so. The argument, however, rests on a very questionable assumption. Is the economy really getting increasingly complex? Do we therefore need better skills to handle complexity in order to be productive in the future? What is the evidence that we are witnessing such a development?

I think this is a fallacy. The exact opposite appears to be happening. Sure, being able to handle complexity, unquestionably makes people currently more productive. That is why managers and engineers have a higher salary than cleaners or garbage collectors. But this is not a new development. Managers and engineers have always earned more than workers doing simple tasks.

In order for there to be a problem one would need to argue that simple tasks are disappearing completely. And in fact, many people would argue that we have seen a shift away from simple jobs to more complex ones. Historically, the majority of people worked in farm jobs, which mainly required physical strength, and were repetitive. Whipped, uneducated slaves were able to do these jobs. Nowadays, however, we have clearly moved towards thinking office jobs.

It is true that most people have stopped making a living through physical labour. This change came with the rise of machines which were able to do the physical for us. Throughout history, whenever we saw new technology been introduced, the assumption of most people, at all times, has been that this would lead to a rise in unemployment.

Yet, people have always been wrong to assume so. As we have seen with the unemployment rates of modern economies, their concerns have so far not materialized. There are still an enormous amount of very simple jobs left. That is as long as the government does not regulate these jobs out of existence. Almost every human being, even people with low IQs, have skills that machines are unable to perform. These skills include things like common sense or the enormous fine motor skills of the human hand. The latter is still unmatched by robotics.

Has all this new technology made our work more complex? Why would it? Technology is a tool. And the better these tools are, the easier it is to use them. Usually, technology is only complex in its early development stages. This is the stage when it is not widely used yet. A simplification for the user is usually a necessary condition for a technology to spread widely.

When computers first were invented, only the most highly trained engineers could use them. Today, my three year old niece can operate an iPad. The latter, of course, is orders of magnitude more complex than the first computers that needed to be operated by experts. Advanced tools do not make things more complex, they make them easier.

There does not seem to be much evidence that our jobs have become more complex. Sure, we now have more office jobs. But thanks to increasingly sophisticated tools, we also have more idiots doing office jobs. And there is absolutely no reason to expect the situation to get worse.

A lot of people are worried about the advent of AI and robotics. These, so they think, will create machines that will be able to beat us in any skill we have. Therefore, there will be no more jobs left for us to do. No more jobs, except for the highly complex task of coordinating these machines. This will lead to a society in which there is a great divide between a small elite in control on the one hand, and all the rest of us on the other, who will be left out of the economy.

This is an absolute fallacy that I have written about before. Machines are tools and not competitors. They are not competitors, because they do not have any interests on their own. Every tool makes us more productive, and most tools are even superior to us in some way. That is why we use them. Even a very simple tool, like a hammer, is used by us, because it is superior in certain ways to our hand. It is therefore misguided to thing that machines who are better than us are a problem. We cannot have too good tools!

And the better the tools, the simpler they will make jobs. Tools help us to complete tasks more quickly, and to a higher standard. That is another way of saying, they make us more productive. The more intelligent machines get, the more they can handle complexity themselves. That is why my niece can operate a highly complex iPad. The complexity of the computer is reduced to a very simple interface. Consequently, if machines are able to handle complexity, they can be used as a tool by people, who are bad in handling complexity. And those are the people for whom these machines will be most useful.

Think about it – when machines were invented to replace our physical labour, was it clever to argue that this was a disaster for the weak? Was it clever to argue that now only the strongest would be able to compete with these machines? Of course not. The exact opposite was the case. With the advent of strong machines, it was particularly weaker people who became more productive, because machines are not competitors, they are tools.

Just like a calculator has the biggest use for people who are bad at calculating in their head, and strong machines are best for weak people, intelligent machines will be best for the not so intelligent. If anyone will get to be disrupted by intelligent machines, it will be intelligent people, who will lose their advantage to produce. They will lose their advantage, because the economy will get a lot more simple rather than complex.

It is also a fallacy that the production of wealth can be concentrated in the hands of a few. This cannot happen, at least not without the use of force. Who would the minority of producers sell their products to? Already in the early 19th century, the economist Jean-Baptiste Say famously figured out that supply creates its own demand. There will always be an advantage of having a division of labour, no matter how advanced machines get. And it will always be better that more people produce rather than fewer, no matter which tools they use.

That means there will always be an economy, and we are not going to all become self-sufficient individuals. The only difference will be, that the more tools we have, the more everyone can potentially fulfill every part of that division. Peterson says that “not everyone can be trained to do everything”. That is true. But in the future, maybe everyone can have a tool which can do everything for them.

Life will not become more complex, but it will become easier, at least economically. That is not to say that it will necessarily be easier to find a purpose in life and be happy. That, however, is a different question from productivity. Economically, technology will be a great equalizer rather than a divider. So there is no need to worry about people with low IQs. The evidence shows that, if the state lets them, they are able to produce now, and they will be even more so in the future.

The Weird and Wonderful Day for Freedom

First of all, I would like to apologise for how long it has taken me to publish this article. It was my sincere intention to get this out a day after the event, but it has been a very busy week!

It was a sweltering hot afternoon in central London and a rather unusual emerged from Hyde Park. Hundreds of Union Jack waving people were marching through the hot sun towards parliament square. Not a common sight here in London. As somebody who has been to marches and demonstrations designed to appeal to left-leaning people, I was curious about what Day For Freedom would be like. The actual march from Speakers Corner towards Parliament Square was quite a bizarre affair. This was clearly not a group of people that were used to marching. In fact, most of the crowd was rather muted as it passed hundreds of bewildered onlookers. Ultimately, the heat got too much for me and the ‘down with sharia law’ placards make me feel rather uncomfortable so I ditched the main march and headed straight for parliament square.

When I got there the first thing that surprised me was the sheer variety of the people there. Contrary to what many deriders were saying on social media, the audience was not comprised of ex-national front members and football hooligans in combat jackets. The audience was much less homogenous that many of the stop of the war events I have attended.

The order of events for Day For Freedom was distinctly divided into two halves. There was an anti-Islam half followed by a free speech half. The first crop of speakers was the anti-Islam lot. It was in this first hour that the divisions amongst the crowd were the starkest. Speeches from Tommy Robinson and Gerard Batten emphasised the threat militant Islam posed to freedom of speech here in the UK. This was the low point of the day. While the there were some bouts of sporadic applause from the front row of the crowd, most people near the back and centre of the were clearly not at Day For Freedom to hear about Muslims. In fact, the whole Anti-Islam hour felt like an uncomfortable add-on to the free speech agenda of the day. The nadir of the whole affair was a speech by  Anne Marie-Waters, a woman so Islamophobic that she had to leave UKIP. Her warning of a ‘global elitist Islamic communist conspiracy’ was met with silence by most of the crowd.

All in all, the first half of the day was a disappointment. Is radical Islam a threat to free speech here in the UK? Somewhat. On a day to celebrate free speech did the topic of Islam require four separate speakers? Definitely not.

The second half of the day is where Day For Freedom really hit its stride. A massive TV screen appearance by Lauren Southern signalled a marked change of pace for the whole affair. By far the best and most well-received speakers of the day were Mark Meechan, otherwise known as Count Dankula, Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad), Gavin McInnes and the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos. It was here that the whole Day For Freedom began to make sense. Although it has to be said that McInnes and Yiannopoulos are far to the right of myself, the message of a clear, intelligent and articulate case for freedom of speech resonated with many different people. Culminating in thunderous rounds of applause and cheering.

If you read many of the articles published after Day For Freedom you would assume that it was some sort of occult gathering. Where everybody in the crowd secretly knew that ‘freedom of speech’ was some byzantine code for ‘ethnic cleansing’. But nothing could be further from the truth. Free speech is an enormous virtue in and of itself. It doesn’t need to be stapled onto a nationalist agenda. That for me was the clear message from Day For Freedom.

I often find libertarians rather downtrodden about their beliefs. I myself have been susceptible to episodes of “oh what’s the point”?  But if Day For Freedom has taught us anything, it is that there is an enormous enthusiasm for libertarian values like freedom of speech. Unsurprisingly the conservative party has swallowed the anti-free speech agenda wholesale. Leaving lots of right-wing people stuck in limbo, between a directionless Tory party and fanatical flag waving ultras. In this space, there is room for a non-racist, positive call for freedom.

I hope that because of Day For Freedom, liberal minded folk will feel empowered to start spreading their ideas and organise their own events. There is clearly a huge appetite for the message of freedom in Britain today. We should not let that demand go unanswered. Because nobody else is going to do it or us. Perhaps 2018 really could be the year libertarians emerge out from internet chat rooms and onto the streets.

 

Is The Electric Vehicle Revolution Real?

There is a widespread believe that we are currently witnessing the start of an electric driving revolution. Wherever I look, commentators seem to be in agreement that fossil fuels are on their way out. The only point of debate is how quickly this revolution is going to happen, and whether governments should introduce regulations to speed it up.

I, however, have my doubts that this revolution is real. Instead, I feel that this is little more than a hyped fashion, which will soon be calmed down by reality. Looking at the facts, it seems likely that a big proportion of future transportation will continue to be powered by carbon fuels. Electricity has some inherent flaws that can unlikely be overcome by engineering. The whole idea that electricity is the future of transportation is more driven by environmentalist ideology rather than facts. As such, it is not a market revolution, but one ordered from the top.

Why do people have the impression that electricity is the future? Has there been any kind of breakthrough in technology? It does not look like it. Instead, the source for the enthusiasm has a name – Elon Musk. As the CEO of Tesla, he is the mastermind behind the currently biggest electric car manufacturer.

Why is Tesla so successful? Musk does not appear to have done a lot of innovation when it comes to electric cars. His most impressive achievement is actually that he has managed to figure out how to re-use space rockets. But even Musk is powering those with fossil fuels, and we are going to see why that is.

When it comes to electric cars, Musk has done two things. Firstly, he has replaced the tank of his cars with batteries. But not special batteries, just normal batteries. The technology used has essentially been available for decades. Considering this, it might seem strange that none of the established car manufacturers had this idea before Tesla.

Except, of course, they did. Companies like BMW – with headquarters in Germany, the capital of green brain damage – have experimented with electric cars for much longer than Tesla has. But the result was always been the same – no one really was interested in buying them. Not even true greens wanted to drive one. Cars are generally too individualistic for even the modern comrade. Public trains are the politically correct choice of transport.

And non-comrades were certainly not interested in replacing their fuel engines. Electric cars have some real disadvantages. The most obvious one is that batteries will not get you as far as carbon fuels. To get to any kind of usable distance, engineers have to use a significant proportion of the car as a battery storage. But even than, Tesla cars only get to around a third to half the distance of combustion engines. The reason for that is simple – batteries cannot store nearly as much energy within the same space as carbon fuels. That is to say their energy density is a lot lower.

And once the car has run out of juice, it will take a long time to recharge. Not everyone is willing to take a longer break every 200 miles. This is another real disadvantage. Addressing that problem, Tesla, to their credit, has invented a technology that can recharge their batteries in 30 mins to 80%. Musk has created a quite impressive network of these so called super chargers. This makes batteries at least somewhat usable. But still, 30 mins is a compromise to the max 5 mins of refueling with non-electric cars.

As compensation for these disadvantages, one would hope that there would at least be an economic incentive to go electric. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Electric cars are much more expensive than traditional carbon fuel ones. Even though combustion engines are heavily taxed, and electric cars heavily subsidized, the consumer still pays a large premium for the privilege of driving an inferior car.

And that is the reason why consumers have rejected electric cars throughout history. For most people, it does matter whether they spend $20 000 more or less on a car. That premium is real money, even for those who are scared of global warming. And in my experience, when it comes to their own money, everyone is a capitalist, no matter what other ideology people pretend to hold.

Considering this, it was very predictable that consumers would reject an inferior, more expensive product. And they have done so for a very long time. Already at the beginning of the 20th century, when cars were a new technology, many car companies offered electric models. All of them were discontinued very quickly because of their inferiority to combustion engines.

This never changed, until Tesla came along. If there is one thing that Elon Musk did right, it is that he realized that electric cars are an expensive luxury. Therefore, trying to sell them to impoverished environmentalists is not a good strategy. People who do not care about money are a much better audience. We are talking about rich people who can afford to simply buy an electric cars as another one in their collection, and therefore neglect the disadvantages. Rich people, however, do not buy toy cars, if they cannot function as a status symbol.

And so Musk designed his Tesla models as powerful luxury cars. One of the big advantages of electric motors is that, as long as the engineers allocate enough energy to it, they can be much more powerful than combustion motors. The established car manufactures, however, were most concerned with saving energy, because of the low energy density of batteries. Consequently, producing powerful cars, which consume a lot of energy, were not really on their agenda.

Tesla changed that and Bingo! It turns out environmentalist ideology has penetrated society so deeply that rich people do like to be seen driving electric cars, as long as they look cool and are fun to drive. Musk, therefore, discovered where the real market for electric cars was. However, if it is true that the reason for Tesla’s success is to sell, in many ways inferior, but powerful and very expensive, cars to rich people than how will this lead to a revolution in electric cars for everyone? After all, for most people all the disadvantages still apply.

And this is not even the full story. In reality, Tesla cannot even sell luxury electric cars profitably. The company is a creature of cheap central bank credit. Despite the fact that the Tesla’s expensive cars are very popular, and that every single one of these cars is subsidized by the government, Musk has never made a profit, not even close. In fact, Tesla is loosing money on every car it sells, and seems to try to make it up on volume.

Central banks are the only reason why Tesla could grow to this size. And they are the only reason why the company is still around. Thanks to easy money policies, there is a lot of cheap speculative investment money available. This money helped Tesla to continue manufacturing, despite the apparent unprofitability. But at this point, it should dawn on even die hard Tesla fans that their darling is unlikely to survive. One wonders, why Musk is not straight with his investors about this reality. His silence, and outright denial, does not make him a very trust worthy fellow.

One wonders, if he is hoping for a miracle. But if so, it is not going to come. Instead, Tesla is sailing with green energy into a perfect storm. It won’t be able to produce cars productively any time soon. In addition to that, credit is drying up, thanks to central banks raising interests rates. As if that was not enough, the established car manufactures, who, unlike Musk are very experienced in producing cars productively, are about to enter the market with their own luxury electric cars.

And outside the luxury car market, electric cars still face all the disadvantages they have already faced since cars were invented. For a general change to happen, we would therefore need to see these disadvantages to shrink very significantly, or ideally to disappear completely.

Firstly, there is the costs of batteries. Currently, batteries are very expensive. That should give us a clew as to how readily available the building materials are. The scarcity of materials is the main reason why Tesla has problems producing enough cars to satisfy demand. Its customers usually have to wait a long time for delivery. This illustrates that current battery technology is not very scalable. And this problem is already apparent when hardly anyone is driving electric cars.

That means that before we can all drive electrically, we need to first find a battery technology that uses more available, and therefore cheaper materials. To my knowledge, this will still have to be invented, and is therefore the first real break in the revolution. Nevertheless, this seems to be an achievable goal, at least in theory.

Next, these cheaper batteries would need to charge more quickly. For a lot of people, 30 mins is already acceptable. But particularly for commercial use, this is still too long to compete. That is particularly true given that we will soon see driverless vehicles. Therefore, drivers won’t need a break to rest anymore. That means, every extra charging time is a net economic loss. If the whole transportation industry were to go electric, this would add up to a huge loss of wealth. And again, this is an unsolved problem at the moment. But just like the cost factor, it seems conceivable that this problem will be fixed in the future.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the energy density of batteries. And it is here where we are facing a really hard problem. A few month ago I came cross a video of the youtuber thunderfoot, in which he argues that we are already at an optimum capacity for batteries. Thunderfoot is a professional chemist, and his reasoning seems very compelling.

The argument is simply this – to increase the capacity of a battery means to increase its energy density. The problem with that is that, while this is in theory possible, it will always come with a huge safety trade off. By increasing the energy density, a battery will inevitably become more dangerous.

A battery, by its very nature, needs to contain all the elements needed to release the energy. Any such compact system is at risk of releasing that energy in an uncontrolled way. By now, we are very aware of what can happen, if a battery goes into malfunction. The reaction resulting from an uncontrolled energy release is already quite violent. That, for example, is the reason why certain batteries are banned from flights.

To make matters worse, once ignited, it is very difficult to stop the reaction. That is precisely because the system does not need any external elements, like oxygen, to continue. Once a battery in an electric car starts to burn, it is difficult to extinguish it.

And that is already a problem with the current energy density of batteries. But imagine we increase that density even further. The more we increase the energy density, the less safe the system becomes. Currently, batteries have about an energy density which is 1/10 that of TNT. That means, if we were to increase the energy density of batteries by 10 fold, we would end up with a bomb in our cars, equivalent to the same weight of TNT. That does not sound like such a good idea.

But here is the thing – gasoline has about 10 times the energy density of TNT. So in order to get the energy density of batteries to match that of gasoline, we would need to create an energy system that, if anything goes wrong, would be 10 times as explosive as TNT. It seems quite crazy to put that into a car.

The reason why gasoline is so save is because it can be stored away from the element that is needed to release the energy, which is oxygen. Since oxygen is everywhere in the atmosphere, we can just use that oxygen spontaneously wherever we are. This, btw. also saves us a lot of storage space, making it even more efficient. And if anything goes wrong, we can easily extinguish an accidental fire by cutting it off from oxygen. This makes it an incredibly save system with a very high energy density. It does not look like we can get better than that, even in theory. In other words, gasoline is an optimal energy storage. That is why Musk is using it to move his rockets.

If this argument is correct, then that means we cannot hope for future battery technologies to become anywhere near as energy dense as the fossil fuels we use at the moment. The laws of thermodynamics, which are hard physics, seem to be in the way of achieving that goal. And if that is true, then obviously the idea of electricity being the future of transportation is fundamentally misguided. At least if that electric energy will come from batteries.

It very much looks like burning gas on the go is the best source of mobile energy we can hope for. That means, that anyone who needs a lot of mobile energy, like big ships, planes and even lorries will likely continue to use it, maybe forever. If this is true, then the only question remaining is where will the fuels come from? Will it be fossil fuels, or self made fuels?

It is certainly possible to indirectly use electricity as a mobile energy source. The electricity will then produce the fuel that is used for mobile energy. For that to be profitable, however, electricity would need to be significantly cheaper as it is right now, as the majority of the energy is lost in the fuel production. Nevertheless, in that scenario the vehicles would still continue to burn these fuels while they are driving. And it does not look like that this is going to change anytime soon, if ever. So I am sorry, but the electric vehicle revolution is largely an illusion.

Event Update: The NHS with Stephen McNamara and Stef Johnstone

Tonight we are being joined by Stephen McNamara and Stef Johnstone. Who are nominations officer and deputy leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party.

Stephen McNamara has previously stood as a councillor for the party achieving 53 first preference votes and 305 seconds. He’s been a member of Solidarity and the SNP in the past and describes the discover of libertarianism through the SLP as a major moment in his life. He is also involved in the creation of an underground radio station – KA Radio – from his home.

If you want to get a feel for the guy, I recommend this interview with SLP leader Tam Laird:

Stephen will be presenting his views on the NHS as a libertarian.

Location Change

A reminder that the venue for the event has changed.

New location:

The Cock Tavern
23 Phoenix Road
London
NW1 1HB

This was arranged as a courtesy to our guests. As always the best way, at the moment to keep up to date with Meetup changes is to be registered and to Star or RSVP events on Meetup.