There are "meetings of minds" one waits for. When Sam Harris chatted to David Deutsch. When Douglas Murray speaks to Jordan Peterson. It's where people align seemingly very closely and then we find those small places where they disagree. So I have hoped for the day to see Daniel Hannan in conversation with Yaron Brook publicly and, finally, it happened. Their conversation is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNgldAKAjUc but at 1 hour 45 minutes I guess many won’t persevere. So I took some notes. With them, appropriately, was the director of the Adam Smith Institute in the UK, Eamonn Butler.
My notes here are not quotations for the most part. They are a summary of what was said - and not all of what was said. Simply what, for me, constituted some highlights. The three speakers each take turns speaking and then there is a question time at the end where it was good to see, especially, Daniel and Yaron tease out some very minor differences. I have heard Yaron say before that he “was not sure” what to think about Brexit. I always found that curious given it was clearly, to my mind, about free trade *with the rest of the world* rather than being stuck inside the protectionist EU (putting aside issues of sovereignty with a supra-national government that devalued the individual). So it was good to see Daniel explain some of that here.
Here are my notes:
Tribalism is about being aligned with a group. Boris Johnson said that New Zealand and the UK are as close as any two countries. So it’s not about proximity anymore.
Eamonn speaks about different ways in which we can divide up the world into tribes: national, supra national, more local or more or less ethnic.
Tribalism works against trade in examples like the EU blocking trade with the UK. Tribalism can be against trade. Comparing this to UK, Canada and Australia trade agreement - tribalism there seems to foster trade. It can make people open. (My note: is it “tribal” or is it a common system of similar institutions?)
Recently: France was quite visceral in its objection to the UK/USA/Australia defence agreement. That’s bad tribalism.
Engels and Dickens did damage to the folk memory of The British about their economic history. The truth was and is that with development things get better. Always. Never worse. Industrialisation is better and preferable to agrarian societies.
Progress and steady improvement leads to transitional phases in underdeveloped countries that from our lofty positions may not always “look pretty”.
Hannan mentions well-meaning *altruists* at 27 mins 50 secs and you can see Yaron’s ears prick up in real time.
29 mins in: Hannan invokes evolutionary psychology and our “hunter gatherer brain” and “Palaeolithic instincts”. But does say all of that is exaggerated. But he continues to insist we are “designed for” tribalism.
Food security is best secured by buying from a variety of global sources. It is insecure to buy it from a single place.
Free trade and individualism have to be invented.
Maybe we are in an “interglacial” of free trade between two super long periods of tribalism and socialism.
Invoking Hannah Ardent: Every generation is invaded by barbarians. We call them children.
So they need to learn (he says taught) about the importance of reason and the individual.
Hannan calls the distinction between Ayn Rand’s objectivism and anarcho-capitalism “the narcissism of small differences”. (Cheeky!)
Concludes on a point that “woke” sensibilities like “white guilt” are not new. Look in the Bible: it’s full of examples of collective guilt of that kind. Most societies ever have acted this way: we should not be surprised (we should probably have better responses by now!)
40 mins in: we are not defined by ancestry in the West (or hitherto have not been). This needs to be taught. We need to do the job of civilising and this should be what schools and universities are for. But actually educational institutions are teaching the opposite.
Most societies have not taught the elevation of the individual: it is therefore precious and worth protecting in the West.
Oxford University used to demand that you take an oath that transubstantiation was not real. That was 200 years ago. But today the unconscious bias test serves the same purpose. They are examples of intolerance.
We see personal autonomy receding. We will miss it when it’s gone.
Daniel gave a fantastic description of our material abundance. Other places around the world recognise this in us. It’s a tragedy that we here in the West do not appreciate it.
Why do we have prosperity and abundance? What are the causes? Why don’t other places have it? It is Enlightenment ideas.
Now we are teaching the opposite. But what are the key ideas in the Enlightenment? I agree with Daniel: what we have now is an aberration. It is not the norm. It is the thinkers of the Enlightenment to whom we owe the debt. What are the main ideas?
It is not enough to explain to people economic theory. It needs to be rooted in deeper notions about the individual. People think now that the tribe can make decisions: but it cannot. It cannot think. Only individuals can. Our job is to defend reason and individualism.
Daniel Hannan - remarks on Brexit. People want Brexit to fail in Britain so they seem not to want trade deals. The Anglosphere has a way of looking at the world with shared institutions that raise the individual above the collective and the rules over the rulers - common law and so forth - are not predicated on tribalism or ethnic background. Common Law countries in the British tradition - including Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong (until recently) - have an easier time to trade because the same laws and accountancy and that sort of thing work to facilitate things. Hopefully Britain will raise is eyes once more to more distant horizons now Brexit is done.
Question: Where do your rights come from and how does it happen? Is it nationality? After Brexit some people wanted to rejoin Ireland so they could be in the EU. Thoughts?
Eamonn Butler: Yes, some people in Britain like to claim Irish heritage. These things can be important to people.
Yaron Brook: Yes, for most people blood is thicker than water. But what should be thicker is ideas. Trade agreements focussed on ideas are what is important: not heritage. I feel at home wherever I go. It does not matter where you come from. Individuals pursuing their own self interest is what America is about. Brexit should allow the UK to be more free.
Daniel: There were no barriers in Europe with the EU but there were more barriers everywhere else. Let me defend the nation state. The alternative to it is not an objectivist anarchy capitalist paradise. There is no ideal - just as there is no pure socialist state. The most illiberal ideaologies - communism, religious fundamentalism - all believe they are bigger than the nation state. Why did Iran take over the US embassy that time? To send the signal that we do not recognise your world order: we recognise a higher cause beyond the nation state. It is worth making the practical case that - eg in WW2 -allied forces argued for all nations. Question: why isn’t Austria in a worst mess? It does all the bad things but it’s still doing well.
Audience member (Austrian) - I moved to Switzerland because statists are in control of 50% of the economy and the top tax rate is over 55%. Yet it’s still a sort of free market economy that succeeds due to small individual companies that manage to work within. You’ve heard of Red Bull, Glock, Schwarzkopf, etc. Some Austrian companies have 99% world market share - but some are leaving.
Yaron: Atlas holds up those economies. Same thing happens in California. I’m not opposed to the nation state and it depends on whether the nation protects individual rights. Rights come simply from being human. And whether nation states protect individual rights or not is the measure.
Question from the moderator about “buy American”. Is it as destructive as tariffs?
Daniel: Well it’s not as destructive but it’s still crazy. If you want to buy an inferior product but it makes you feel patriotic, who am I to stop you? As Yaron said: everyone seemed to “turn on a dime” over the incorrect notion that America was getting poorer just because it had a trade deficit. Economist are alarmed by trade deficits. But there is no correlation between deficits and growth. Hannan says he has a deficit with the pubs in his area. Sometimes they even dump goods on him: who is getting the raw end of the deal then? Why are low priced goods regarded as a swindle? Again: people in British parliament seem to want trade deals to fail just to show Brexit fails. Eg: some parliamentarians want the UK not to be “flooded by cheap food” by - for example - free trade with Australia. All these policies make countries more poor.
Question from the moderator to Yaron: Is it harder to get rid of tribalism in epistemology because the expertise to judge the truth is not widely available? Eg: I cannot do the research myself - it’s too hard - so what I’ll do is choose which authority to trust? And maybe they make an assessment on the authority’s intentions?
Yaron: No - it’s not getting harder. We can get second opinions and do research on line. It’s easier than ever. It’s where politics intervenes that we start to think “Who thinks this?”. In the US some people ask their doctor how they vote. That’s really sick. There are food awards now that do not judge the quality of the food at the restaurant alone, but also how equitable and so on the food or the restaurant is. So everything is getting politicised and this is a consequence of big government. Why does a government have a position on covid? It should merely isolate people who test positive and protect us. Other than this: leave us alone. The private sector can distribute vaccines better: look at how amazon distributes everything else. And compare this to how government distributes one single thing: a few vaccines (my addition: and for free!). Why is social media politicised? Because government gets involved. It’s almost like we live in unlimited government: there are no bounds where government won’t go. So it’s not complexity but politics.
Do you think Trump has set a status quo for trade policy?
Yaron: Yes. The people who believe in free trade are largely silent in congress. Both the left and right in the USA are anti-free trade. Trump was pro-tarrif against everyone it seems: our allies as well as our enemies. You might not get elected today in America if you advocated free trade.
Daniel: It is good that the UK is dropping unscientific checks on travellers. The US is yet to do this. US has many prohibitions against countries travelling to them and this is because Biden, following Trump, realises that there is a substantial proportion of the population in the USA that doesn’t mind borders being shut as a general principle (not merely as a response to the virus).
A speech/meandering question about tribalism that was not clear from the audience.
Daniel: Again: we are the exception. Tribalism is the rule. But even in an advanced Western society if your relative is an accountant in many cases you’d still consult him. Do you recall the first line of The Godfather: “I believe in America”. In that opening scene the Godfather himself demands fielty to his tribe. The name of the person asking for help was called “Amerigo Boneserra” - which means “Goodbye America”.
Yaron: I agree completely. We have the rule of the law or the semblance of it but we are descending into tribalism. Let’s not go back to that: let’s not go back to a Mafia economy. We know the benefits of abandoning tribalism and we are seemingly giving that up. Financial markets are not a casino - they play a crucial role in our prosperity. None of our wealth would exist without them.
A question about mandating vaccines. Does this cause suspicion?
Yaron: I don’t trust the vaccine because of what the FDA or any politician says. I trust it because the expert scientists say.
Daniel: If you’re mandating something for the health of others: that’s no good. The vaccines are good at keeping you alive and out of intensive care. But they do not stop you getting or spreading the virus so the argument for compulsion and passports seems to go up in smoke.
A tariff question.
Daniel: The most common trade barrier is a tariff. Uganda cannot easily sell to the EU because of tariffs. Eg: they cannot easily sell vanilla because France sets the “standards” but they are always about a cartel wanting to preserve a monopoly. I thought companies did not want regulation but in the EU parliament I was lobbied constantly. And it was always about trying to put rivals out of business - but they tried to sell it as protecting the public.
Question: In New Hampshire they have a free state project. What are the chances of success?
Yaron: Zero chance of this happening. This “free New Hamphire” thing has been going on for 20 years. It’s a fantasy. The USA will not allow states to leave. Personal income is not taxed in one place on Earth and it’s Puerto Rico.
Daniel: Yes, no chance it will happen. But it’s always best to have more local decisions. We should devolve power to local self government as far as we can. Bring government closer to the electorate to make it more accountable.
The most valuable thing you can offer to an idea