by Benjamin Marks, editor-in-chief, and, as you can tell from, a huge Bert Kelly fan

I. Thanks!
About 140 people attended the 2nd Australian Mises Seminar. The ticket sale spurt at the end was such that if we had delayed the event by a few weeks, we would have got tens of thousands of attendees and to fit everyone in we would have had to hire out the Sydney Cricket Ground. The support we received is not taken for granted. Heartfelt thankyous:

  • to Ron Manners of Mannkal Economic Education Foundation for sponsoring students from Western Australia;
  • to Ron Manners of Mannkal (again) and Peter Blematl of Solution F Financial Planning for heroically covering my losses;
  • to Ron Manners and Mannkal (yet again!), Nick Hubble of The Daily Reckoning Australia, Peter Brun of the Vaucluse Liberal Party and Tim Andrews of Menzies House for big help advertising;
  • to the speakers (including Ron Manners!) for their generosity and talent;
  • to the many attendees who travelled from out of town;
  • and to the Kennard family for sponsoring Professor Block and honouring us with their enthusiastic and meaningful participation.

I cannot find any evidence that the Mises Seminar resulted in any engagement from those Neville Kennard aimed much of his writings at. So it is all the more important to let Mises Seminar supporters know that there actually has been recent progress in Australia acknowledging that: our inability to decipher whether the likes of the CIS advocate government interventions for theoretical or strategic reasons is an issue worthy of puzzlement, speculation and discussion even by those who are neither anarchocapitalist nor Austrian school nor out of favour with the CIS-IPA. For that, we have the very highest authority to thank: Bob Day’s Bert Kelly Research Institute and its launch-publication — and, surprise, surprise, one of the six people thanked by Bob Day on page v for making “the research, writing and publication of this book possible” was Ron Manners.

But before we showcase this progress, it deserves an even bigger build-up.

II. The question: Why do self-proclaimed free-market advocates advocate government limiting free-markets?
Self-proclaimed free-market advocates today passionately call out the obvious inconsistencies of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, like her promises that there will be no carbon tax under a government she leads and that there will be a budget surplus in 2012-13. But these self-proclaimed free-market advocates are not as consistent, truthful or honest as they would have us believe. For example, do they support a free-market in schooling (including school funding, curriculum and attendance laws), the mint, healthcare, transport, defence, manufacturing, food, drink and other consumables? If not, why do they call themselves free-market advocates and why do they criticise Gillard’s inconsistency?

It’s as though they pride themselves on their ability to obscure whether they defend this-or-that government intervention as a tactical compromise or because they really do believe that it is congruent with the principles behind their defence of the free-market in this-or-that other area. It’s as though they think populist inconsistency must always be synonymous with tactical compromise when it comes to their own decisions; in contrast, when it comes to the decisions of others, like Gillard, they are quick to use such labels as “closet communist” and “liar”.

Imagine this: You consider yourself a friend and advocate of free-markets. You want followers and fellow travellers to support your side now and in the future. You back away from saying that all tariffs, taxes and government interventions should be abolished. But you don’t tell anyone whether it is because:

(a) you don’t actually want all tariffs, taxes and government interventions to be abolished;

or (b) you don’t think it would be prudent strategy to call for abolition of all tariffs, taxes and government interventions, despite that being an ultimate goal of yours.

What are those trying to understand and emulate you meant to learn from your example: that it’s good to keep your followers guessing?

III. Support for the question
Lest you think I am unfairly constructing a straw man, lets turn to the recent brilliantly perceptive biography of one of Australia’s greatest free-market advocates, Bert Kelly, which was launched in Melbourne by the IPA and in Sydney by the CIS (and Malcolm Turnbull). Did Bert Kelly believe in any free-market principles? The biggest contribution of the Bert Kelly Research Institute’s launch-publication, Hal G.P. Colebatch’s The Modest Member: The Life and Times of Bert Kelly (Ballan, VIC: Connor Court Publishing, 2012), is bravely giving this issue the prominence of addressing it on page 8:

John Hyde, who among a later generation of politicians probably knew Kelly’s thinking better than anyone, remained unsure whether [Bert Kelly’s] end-goal was reducing the tariff so that economic and efficient industries or genuinely infant industries received a minimum of protection, or whether his ultimate aim was, in fact, complete free trade. [Hyde] wrote:

Bert Kelly was a realist defending the integrity of the tariff-setting process and a believer in lower protection. He cautioned me against claiming absolute purity in the matter of trade. Whether this position was tactical — a free-trader was more readily ridiculed and on any journey concentration must centre upon the next not the last step — or whether it, being the position he had inherited from his father, was a position that he barely questioned, I don’t know. His logic, however, if taken to its conclusion, was free trade.

How did we get to a situation where even Bert Kelly’s closest friends and most-inspired followers did not know whether he was a free-trader? Did no one think to ask him? Okay, so maybe not when he was a frontbencher, but how about when he was a backbencher? Okay, so maybe not when he was in Parliament, but how about after he lost preselection? Would Bert Kelly really want his biggest fans to be ignorant of his beliefs? Of possible relevance is John Hyde’s 1985 admission that Kelly’s parliamentary followers, including Hyde himself, “lacked an adequate intellectual framework to be wholly consistent”.

Colebatch doesn’t dwell on this question, but on pages 121 to 125 he returns to it and then says: “The Parliament as a whole does not seem to have even understood the difference between being a ‘free trader’ as Kelly was popularly typecast, and the criteria of economic and efficient protection for industries.” But was “Parliament as a whole” right on this and Bert Kelly (and Colebatch) wrong? Is there any economic case for low protection? Ludwig von Mises, whom Bert Kelly once called a “great philosopher,” does not understand what Colebatch is getting at defending Kelly:

If the theories in favor of protection and self-sufficiency are considered as right, then there is no reason to bring down trade barriers; only the conviction that these theories are wrong and that free trade is the best policy can shake them. It is inconsistent to support a policy of low trade barriers. Either trade barriers are useful, then they cannot be high enough; or they are harmful, then they have to disappear completely.

Colebatch says on page 172 that one way free-trade arguments are disposed of is through “a policy of Totenschweig (death by silence)”. Similarly, Bert Kelly said of people who defend a free-market in some areas but do not engage with the arguments advocating a free-market in areas they disagree with: “These people remind me of the boxer who proudly boasts he will take on allcomers as long as they don’t have a strong left or a vicious right hook.” Kelly also said: “Evidently, there is a subtle difference between government intervention and government interference which is too deep for my modest intellect.” In fact, Kelly asked exactly what we are asking: “How can you believe in free enterprise and government intervention at the same time?” And Bert Kelly mocked those who believed in protection and free trade, quoting this verse about British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour:

I’m not for Free Trade, and I’m not for protection.
I approve of them both, and to both have objection.
In going through life I continually find.
It’s a terrible business to make up one’s mind.
So in spite of all comments, reproach and predictions.
I firmly adhere to Unsettled Convictions.

IV: Restating the importance of the question
It is important to determine whether Bert Kelly was a free-trader who compromised for strategic reasons or a limited-trade-limited-government advocate who didn’t compromise. It is important because:

  1. If Bert Kelly had fans who successfully popularised his work and his ideas won, then people might happily settle for what Bert Kelly may have only grudgingly settled for, or, they might call for the reintroduction of low tariffs in areas where there are no tariffs. Surely Bert Kelly’s philosophy/strategy does not (intentionally) lead to planned obsolescence of his legacy if and when there’s any change to tariff policy/public sentiment.
  2. If Bert Kelly was not a free-trader, then surely that is because he saw some error in the free-trade philosophy. Would it not be good to let free-market advocates know where we are wrong!?
  3. If Bert Kelly was not a free-trader, then whenever Kelly fans are trying to defend a free-market, even in areas where Kelly explicitly agreed, statist critics could always say, “Well, if you think free-market principles that lead you to defend the market in this specific area are so good, why not also in those areas where Bert Kelly opposes the free-market? So much for these free-market principles you speak of!”
  4. If an activist wants to strategically compromise to get something out of those who ultimately disagree with them, then making clear (to their opponent although not necessarily if it might make them look kooky, and to themselves) how big a compromise they are making could prevent them from giving up more ground than their opponents in the negotiation. Sometimes knowing stuff is useful in negotiations!

In Australia today we still have some passionate varyingly free-market advocates. I have tried unsuccessfully to ask them whether they oppose a total free-market for practical-strategic or theoretical-principled reasons. This article is another attempt to get some answers. Surely those who consider themselves free-market advocates want to leave an intellectual legacy, not just an institutional legacy. We don’t want a situation where, in Greg Lindsay’s words:

The foundations of the future will in effect be removed as it is being built … There is irreparable damage being done to libertarian promise right now because of a lack of knowledge, leading to half answered questions and partly developed arguments, which is worse than no answer and no argument.

It is easy to see this by contrasting the style of the “partly developed arguments” of the think tanks on schooling, healthcare, etc., with the five Walter Block paragraphs in the next section that end this essay.

V: To conclude, some more questions for Australian self-proclaimed free-market advocates
The 2nd Australian Mises Seminar was also largely an attempt (at least for me) to show everyone yet again that we are serious about our support of the free-market and opposition to all government — and to try to get some kind of debate going, as was made clear in, among many other places, my Mises Seminar 2012 announcement. Our featured speaker was Professor Walter Block.

As often as you hear a politician refuse to comment on an issue or be long-winded about refusing to comment, you hear Walter Block answer all questions put to him and even make the questions tougher. His aim is not to say what people agree with, but to show people where principled argument takes you, even if it is to Australia, where those who call themselves free-market advocates still refuse to answer the following questions that Professor Block and his school asks of them as to why they support the government interventions into the market that they do:

  • “If the whole point of [government] is to protect the people against the violent incursions of others, how can this be attained if at the very outset the government does to them precisely what it is supposed to be protecting them from? That is, according to the externalities argument, the system is to defend them against aggression. How can this possibly be attained if the government starts off the process by attacking them, e.g., by compelling them to pay for their protection, whether they wish to do so or not?” [Walter Block, “National Defense and the Theory of Externalities, Public Goods, and Clubs,” in The Myth of National Defense, ed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003), p. 306.]
  • “Advocates of the externality argument defend state coercion against innocent citizens on the ground that the latter will not defend themselves, due to spillover leakages. Yet, as it happens, when individuals do this (e.g. invest in private armaments), instead of seeing this as the refutation of their theory that it is, they busy themselves weaving apologetics for government interference with these occurrences. So, which is it? Are guns, pistols, rifles, tanks, rocket launchers, jet fighters, etc., external economies or diseconomies? To ask this question is to expose the fallacies of the entire distinction, for it is not grounded in human action. Rather, it is based on the subjective speculations of the court historians who want to weave apologetics for the governmental initiation of violence against innocent taxpayers by use of the externalities argument, and who support statist gun controls on those attempting to protect themselves without help from politicians or bureaucrats contrary to this argument.” [Ibid., p. 308.]
  • “Given this state of affairs, it behooves us to question the role played by the collective goods argument. Is it, as is implicitly maintained by its adherents, an intellectually sound defense of government activities? Or is it no more than an apologetic for programs which would have been embarked upon regardless of the availability of the argument — and which were actually begun long before the argument was conceived?” [Walter Block, Building Blocks for Liberty (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010), p. 189.]
  • “Many claim that health care is a human right and that only an unjust society such as our own would fail to provide adequate coverage in this regard. The problem with this claim is that it is but a variant of positive rights, and thus implies obligations on the part of others to provide it. This is highly problematic. Which others should be so obliged? People in one’s own city? State? Country? But why stop here? If it is truly a human right, then our obligations are to provide the objects of these rights for everyone on earth, a reductio ad absurdum that no one even contemplates, not even its supposed advocates. Then, why stop at medical care? If it is truly a human right, what of food, clothing and shelter, etc., which, in many contexts, are even more important to the sustenance of life than medical care? For example, we can survive only a matter of days without food, and only hours or minutes without clothing and shelter (in very cold climates). But a healthy young person can live for decades without the attention of a physician. Why should not all of these things be human rights, in which case we are back in the sort of system that the late and unlamented U.S.S.R. bequeathed to the world.” [Source.]
  • “Consider ship-wrecks, drought, tropical storms, typhoons. Do these phenomena involve negative rights violations? No, not on your life. Nobody’s rights were violated in the negative sense because a human agent is needed in order to have a violation of negative rights, and there was no person responsible. They were acts of nature. But people’s positive rights were violated, and on a massive scale, by Hurricane Gilbert, for example. Houses were smashed to smithereens, people were killed outright, they had no food, they had no shelter, they had no clothing. Notice the ludicrous results implied by the doctrine of positive rights: we have to acquiesce in the notion that acts of nature can violate rights.” [Source.]

The passion, clarity and political incorrectness of these paragraphs is such that one could easily imagine them coming from the lips of Bert Kelly, Bob Day and Ron Manners. At the very least, as I hope John Hyde would agree, that is where their logic, if taken to its conclusion, would take them.

(in order of appearance on
  1. Acquiescence
  2. Why Sports Fans Should Be Libertarians
  3. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  4. Government Schools Teach Fascism Perfectly
  5. Deport Government to Solve Immigration Problem
  6. The Drugs Problem Problem
  7. Self-Defeating Campaigning
  8. Gittinomics: Economics for Gits
  9. Exclusive Ross Gittins Interview on The Happy Economist
  10. Population Puzzle Solved
  11. An Open Letter to the CIS
  12. Principled Foreign Policy Options: Reinvade or Shut Up and Get Out
  13. WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Political Corruption Exposed!
  14. Feedback please: Is this worth doing?
  15. CIS and IPA Defend State Schooling
  16. A Thorough Review Without Spoilers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  17. Dead Reckoning and Government: A Proposal for Electoral Reform
  18. Quadrant Defends State Schooling
  19. The MPS 2010 Consensus
  20. Slogans for Property Rights Funeral
  21. Government is Impossible: Introduction
  22. Government is Criminal: Part 1
  23. Exclusive John Howard Interview on Lazarus Rising
  24. Response to Senator Cory Bernardi and the IPA
  25. Earn $$$$$ by Justifying Government Against Anarchocapitalism: Survey
  26. Statism is Secrecy: WikiLeaks vs
  27. One question the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens, the CIS, the IPA, Ross Gittins, Ross Garnaut, Ken Henry, Gerard Henderson, John Quiggin, Clive Hamilton, Tim Flannery, Catallaxy Files, Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo, Phillip Adams, Robert Manne, Michael Stutchbury, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and Dick Smith are scared to answer
  28. Libertarian Philanthropists Should Exploit Tax Evasion Convictions
  29. Ronald Kitching Obituary
  30. The Minarchist Case for Anarchism
  31. Libertarianism in a 300-word rant
  32. in the news again
  33. Libertarianism In An Executive Summary
  34. The Banking Bubble Blow-by-Blow
  35. WARNING: Libertarianism Is NOT ...
  36. Would Anything Possibly Convince You that You Are Living Under a Protection Racket?
  37. An Open Letter to Dick Smith
  38. at 42
  39. "My boyfriend calls himself a Marxist and votes Labor, what should I do?"
  40. "He says if I leave him due to politics, I should leave the country too."
  41. No Booboisie at Gülçin’s Galt’s Gulch
  42. "Hey, Mr Anarchocapitalist, show me a society without government"
  43. The Three Epoch-Making Events of the Modern Libertarian Movement
  44. Government is Criminal: Part 2 - Methodological Individualism
  45. Government is Criminal: Part 3 - Subjective Utility
  46. Government is Criminal: Part 4 - Praxeological Synonyms
  47. Government is in a State of Anarchy
  48. Limited Government is Absolute Government
  49. Why the 2012 double Nobel laureate is coming to Sydney
  50. Exclusive Oliver Marc Hartwich Interview on Hans-Hermann Hoppe
  51. A Critique of the Opening Two Sentences of the "About CIS" Page on The Centre for Independent Studies' Website,
  52. An invitation for ANDEV members to the Mises Seminar
  53. Sell the ABC to Rupert Murdoch: Lid Blown on ABC Funding Disgrace!
  54., The Centre for Independent Studies new blog
  55. The Unconstitutionality of Government in Australia (demonstrated in under 300 words)
  56. The Best Libertarian Film Is ...
  57. Launch Southeast Asian Military Operations to Free Australian Drug Dealers and Consumers
  58. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  59. Hoppe's Inarticulate Australian Critics: The Hon Dr Peter Phelps, Dr Steven Kates and James Paterson
  60. Vice Magazine Westralian Secession Interview
  61. Sideshow to Dr Steven Kates' criticism of the Mises Seminar: Davidson vs Hoppe on Adam Smith
  62. The Best Australian Think Tank Is ...
  63. Announcing a new magazine to rival Time and The Economist
  64. The exciting new Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
  65. Neville Kennard Obituary
  66. Contrarian Conformism
  67. An invitation for Dick Smith, the IPA and other Walter Block fans to the 2nd Australian Mises Seminar
  68. Westralian mining legend Ron Manners of Mannkal belongs in The Property and Freedom Society
  69. What would Bert Kelly think of the Mises Seminar and Walter Block?
  70. Bad news about the Mises Seminar
  71. Gina Rinehart Fan Club gives big to Australian political education
  72. Sam Kennard wins North Sydney by-election by unanimous consent
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