A List of Posts on the Current State of Liberty and the Threats it faces

[Titian, “Sisyphus” (1548-49) – Sisyphus is pushing a boulder up to the summit in punishment for bringing enlightenment to the people. It might also represent classical liberals and libertarians pushing the boulder of liberty up the mountain of statism, only to see it roll back down again before they ever reach the summit.]

Updated: 11 July, 2022

Below is a list of my blog posts which are relevant to the Strategy Summit held in Sydney, 13-15 July, 2022.

Many are new; many were written for the CIS “Liberty and Society” Seminar in May, 2022; others come from another strategy position paper I wrote in March/April.

“Strategy Summit” blogs on the threats to liberty and strategies to counter them:

  1. “The Negative Political Party” (11 July, 2022) here
  2. “On Making the Argument/s for Liberty” (10 July, 2022) here
  3. “The Threats to Liberty Part 2: The Size and Power of the State” (7 July, 2022) here
  4. “The “Big Picture”: Part 1” (7 July 2022) here
  5. “The “Big Picture”: Part 2” (7 July 2022) here
  6. “Liberty in Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region” (5 July, 2022) here
  7. “The Threats to Liberty Part 1: Government Expenditure” (29 June, 2022) here
  8. “The Prospects for Liberty: The Threats it faces and how to counter them” (23 March, 2022) here

Some blogs on the state of liberty and liberalism in Australia and elsewhere:

  1. “Liberty in Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region” (5 July, 2022) here
  2. “Some Thoughts on the May 2022 Federal Election in Australia” (26 May 2022) here
  3. On the “Linoleum Party” (LINO): “The Incoherence and Contradictions inherent in Modern Liberal Parties (and one in particular)” (21 Oct. 2021) here
  4. “The Myth of a liberal ‘Australian Way of Life’” (20 June 2021) here
  5. “The State of the Libertarian Movement after 50 Years (1970-2020): Some Observations” (25 March, 2021) here
  6. “The Presumption of Government Failure” (1 Jan. 2021) here
  7. “What is to be Done? The Rise of Hygiene Socialism and the Prospects for Liberty” (2 December, 2020) here
  8. “The Work of Sisyphus: the Urgent Need for Intellectual Change” (25 April, 2020) here

Some blogs on the history and theory of classical liberalism

A Brief Overview:

  1. “The History of Classical Liberalism in 1,730 words (and one picture)” (11 Aug. 2021; Revised 12 Apr. 2022) here
  2. “The Classical Liberal Tradition – A 400 Year History Of Ideas And Movements: Lecture/Seminar Outline” (22 Apr. 2022) here
  3. “Liberty as the Sum of All Freedoms” (26 April, 2022) here.
  4. “Twelve Key Concepts of Liberty” (25 Apr. 2022) here

The Many Faces of Liberalism:

  1. “The Multi-Dimensionality of Classical Liberalism” (19 April, 2022) here
  2. “Plotting Liberty: The Multi-Dimensionality of Classical Liberalism and the Need for a New ‘Left-Right’ Political Spectrum” (17 April, 2022) here
  3. “ ‘Hyphenated’ Liberalism and the Problem of Definition” (9 Aug. 2021) here
  4. “Hyphenated Liberalism Part II: Utopian, Democratic, Revolutionary, and State Liberalism” (12 Oct. 2021) here
  5. “The Conservative and Revolutionary Faces of Classical Liberalism” (11 Aug. 2021) here
  6. “How Modern Day CL/Libertarians Differ From “Classical” Classical Liberals” (24 Aug. 2021) here
  7. “On the (im)Possibility of finding a “Third Way” between Liberalism and Socialism” (19 Apr. 2022) here

Classical Liberals on the Role and Power of the State:

  1. “The Spectrum of State Power: or a New Way of Looking at the Political Spectrum” (10 Aug., 2021; updated: 25 Apr. 2022) here
  2. “Classical Liberals on the Size and Functions of the State” (10 Aug. 2021; updated: 25 Apr. 2022) here

What CLs were FOR and AGAINST:

  1. “What Classical Liberals were Against” (12 Aug. 2021) here
  2. “What Classical Liberals were For” (13 Aug. 2021) here
  3. “What CLs were For – Part 2: Ends and Means” (19 Oct., 2021) here

CL Visions of the Future Free Society:

  1. “Classical Liberal Visions of the Future I” (27 August, 2021) here
  2. “Classical Liberal Visions of the Future II: The Contribution of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)” (29 Aug. 2021) here
  3. “Classical Liberal Visions of the Future III: Liberal Experiments, Frameworks, and Archipelagos” (11 Oct. 2021) here
  4. “Hayek on a Liberal Utopia” (11 Sept. 2021) here

CL Movements and Crusades for Liberty:

  1. “Classical Liberal Movements: A Four Hundred Year History” (17 Aug. 2021) here
  2. “Classical Liberalism as a Revolutionary Ideology of Emancipation” (13 Oct. 2021) here
  3. “Classical Liberalism as the Philosophy of Emancipation II: The “True Radical Liberalism” of Peter Boettke” (17 Oct. 2021) here

CL’s Successes and Failures:

  1. “The Success of Liberal Ideas has led to the Decline of Radical Liberal Parties” (6 Sept. 2021) here
  2. “A Balance Sheet of the Success and Failures of Classical Liberalism” (21 Apr. 2022) here

Some things to read:

  1. “The Classical Liberal Tradition: A 400 Year History of Ideas and Movements. An Introductory Reading List” (20 May, 2021; updated: 22 Apr. 2022) here
  2. “One Volume Surveys of Classical Liberal Thought” (11 Jan. 2021) here
  3. “600 Quotations about Liberty and Power” (28 Apr. 2022) here

Liberty in Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region

[Building the “beacon of liberty” (1876)]

Where now is “the beacon of liberty”?

The problem for a small, remote, and relatively insignificant country like Australia is to figure out what it can do to contribute to the broader, international liberty movement and where it fits in. One possibility is for it to become a “beacon of liberty” now that Hong Kong is in the process of losing that status as it is gradually swallowed up by the CCP, and given the fact that the government of Singapore has strongly authoritarian bent. On the authoritarian, anti-liberal side of Singapore see The Human Freedom Index 2021 (Cato, Fraser) which ranks it 2 for economic freedom and 88 for personal freedom, for a combined ranking of 48. 1.)) [See below for the relevant country pages of the Index.]

In the absence of Kong Kong and Singapore, imagine there being a truly liberal nation in the Asia-Pacific region which is

  • independent of “entangling alliances”,
  • highly productive and competitive in world markets,
  • fully open to the free movement of goods, services, and people,
  • and which is able to spread the ideas of liberty to the rest of the world.

Is Liberty a “western” notion?

Another problem which needs to be recognized is that for non-Western nations without an historical tradition of thinking about individualism, autonomy, natural rights, limited government, and the rule of law (among other things) there is an additional hurdle to be overcome in spreading the word about liberty in its many dimensions.2 Can a society be truly “free” only in the economic sense of the word, without it also needing to be free in the “political” sense. Milton Friedman for one said that the two were intimately connected.3 However, these concepts are often regarded as being a “western imposition” which does not reflect the needs and traditions of non-western cultures. How to overcome this perception and to express the benefits of liberty of all kinds (not just economic, but also political and social) in a form relevant to these cultures is a significant problem which needs to be addressed.

A third problem is that critics of CL argue that the economic success of countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and perhaps now China, shows that politically directed economic development by an elite of trained expert technocratic managers and far-seeing political leaders, has shown that there is an alternative to the western example of free and autonomous individuals pursuing their own interests within a framework of free markets, private property, the rule of law, and limited government. To overcome this argument we will need more studies by historians and economists which show that :

  1. centralized technocratic and political management has not been as successful as claimed by its supporters and has resulted in many failures and distortions,4
  2. that Bastiat’s “what is unseen” argument still applies,5 namely that economic development would have been better and more comprehensive if it had taken place in a free market and perhaps taken a different direction which might have benefited ordinary people more than it has
  3. that it has produced societies dominated by very powerful and rich elites (crony capitalists or “crony communists”) who have benefited at the expense of ordinary consumers and taxpayers 6
  4. that Asians too have (or will soon have) aspirations for freedom of speech, political involvement, and other “western-style” individual freedoms, which will need to be satisfied. Studies of the beliefs and behaviour of the Asian diasporas in places like Australia, Canada, Britain, and the U.S. might shed some light on this.

The Human Freedom Index Rankings

The Freedom Index for Oceania:

For Australia:

For New Zealand:

For Singapore

For Hong Kong:


  1. The Human Freedom Index 2021. A Global Measurement of Personal, Civil, and Economic Freedom. Ian Vásquez, Fred McMahon, Ryan Murphy, and Guillermina Sutter Schneider (Cato Institute and Fraser Institute, 2021). Online – Human Freedom Index: 2021 | Cato Institute and PDF. Note NZ is no. 2, Australis is 8 (down 4), UK is 14 (down 3), and US is 15; Singapore is quite low because of its lack of political and social freedoms at 48 (economic freedom is 2, but personal freedom is 88 []
  2. Ludwig von Mises for example thought that “The Idea of Liberty is Western” which was the title of an article he wrote in 1950 for American Affairs. []
  3. See Milton Friedman, Chap. 1 “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom” in Capitalism and Freedom (1962). []
  4. See Levy, David M. and Peart, Sandra J., Escape from Democracy: The Role of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Roger Koppl, “The Rule of Experts” in The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics. Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Peter Boettke (Oxford UP, 2015); Roger Koppl, Expert Failure (Cambridge UP, 2018). []
  5. See Bastiat’s book Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit past (What is Seen and what is not Seen) (1850) in Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” (2017). []
  6. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the West as well which Randall Holcombe calls “political capitalism”. []

The Threats to Liberty Part 1: Government Expenditure

See an earlier related post on “The Prospects for Liberty: The Threats it faces and how to counter them” (23 Mar. 2022).

Introduction: How Big is the State?

Before I discuss what are the biggest threats to liberty which we face at the moment we need to get some perspective on the size of the state and how it has grown over the past two centuries. Such a measurement should provide us with much information which is extremely difficult or even impossible to obtain, such as

  • how many people worked for the state in institutions such as the military, the courts, the customs service, the police, the diplomatic service, the post office, and so on
  • how many people received benefits or privileges from the state in the form of monopolies, subsidies, restrictions on competitors, hand-outs, pensions, “civl lists”, and so on
  • how much money was taken by the government from the people in the form of taxes, excise, tariffs, fees, and in kind (such as forced labour)
  • how much did the government spend on its various activities in the form of income received from taxes, sales of goods and services from government owned enterprises, fees, and borrowings from government banks (Central banks), private banks and investors.
  • how much burden (cost) did the government place on people in the form of prohibitions on work, buying and selling, enter an occupation of one’s choice, and regulations in general
  • how many people did the state kill or imprison for engaging in economic and other activities which the state did not approve of

I want to use total government expenditure as a percentage of GDP as a proxy for all these things in the absence of more detailed historical information. The International Monetary Fund has a very useful graph which shows this information going back to 1800 up to 2011 for many countries. An article on Wikipedia “List of countries by government spending as percentage of GDP” – Wikipedia cites IMF data up to 2020 which we also include.

Here is one graph which provides an overview for many countries showing the low level of government expenditure for most of the 19thC, with sharp increases during WW1, the Great Depression, WW2, and the post-war period IMF:

Something else to note is what the economic historian Robert Higgs has described as “the ratchet effect” whereby government expenditure increases during periods of crisis (war, depression) but does not return to its previously low level and thus “ratchets upwards” over time. [See Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of America Government (Oxford University Press, 1987).]

These IMF graphs stop in 2011 shortly after the Global Financial Crisis and do not show the increase in expenditure caused by the most recent crisis, namely the Covid19 lockdowns and economic disruptions it caused, and the increase debt and government spending it brought in its train.

The Group of Five

Here are the graphs for the particular countries of interest to us – US, UK, Australia, NZ, France:

See larger image

**The USA***

1800 = 2.35%
2011 =41.45%
2020 = 46.18%

This is a near textbook example of the Higg’s “ratchet effect” of state growth.

Note the spikes in the War of 1812 (against UK), the Civil War, WW1, WW2, and after 1960 (Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare program)

The UK

1830 = 11.83%
2011 = 45.34%
2020 = 50.27%%

Note the slow and steady decline in 19thC during the free trade period, spike during Boer War, WW1, WW2, drop during Thatcher era.


1870 = 13.24%
2011 = 56.02%
2020 = 62.40%

Note the spike during the Great Depression and very sharp spike after socialist Mitterand came to power.


1901 = 1.17% [low because Commonwealth had just been funded; previously state governments had played a greater role??]
2011 = 36.37%
2020 = 44.98%

Note the spike in WW1, WW2, and 1960??).

New Zealand

1875 = 15.37%
2011 = 34.88%
2020 = 42.42%

Note the higher level through late 19thC (period of “Colonial Socialism”), drop during the David Lange and Douglas government.

Australia and New Zealand compared

It is interesting to compare the periods of “market reform” experienced by Australia (brown) and NZ (green) under the Hawke-Keating government (1983-89) the Lange-Douglas government (1984-89), the Jim Bolger government (1990-97), the Howard government (1996-2007). The decline in government expenditure was steep under Lange only moderate under Howard.

The UK and the USA compared

Another interesting comparison is between the UK under the government of Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) (green) and the US under the government of Ronald Reagan (1981-89) (red). The decline in government expenditure was steep under Thatcher and non-existent under Reagan. The decline in the US actually took place under Bill Clinton (1993-2001).

The 4 Anglophone Countries compared

My conclusion is that the period of “market reform” in the 1980s and 1990s in all four countries was modest and only temporary, before the growth in government spending (and power) continued to follow the pattern set in the 20thC, namely steadily “ratcheting upwards”. The data for 2020 show that (in decreasing order):

  • UK = 50.27%%
  • USA = 46.18%
  • Australia = 44.98%
  • NZ = 42.42%

France is still “head of the pack” coming in at 62.40%. The UK under a nominally conservative government has now reached where socialist France was in the early 1980s.

What CLs thought of this level of Government Expenditure during the “Liberal Era”

Two of the most radical and consistent CLs of the late 19th century, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) in England and Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) in France, thought the high (by their historical experience) but relatively low (by our modern standards) levels of government were horrifying and appalling, and were rapidly approaching “socialist” levels. To give only one example, Spencer wrote a passionate essay denouncing “The Coming Slavery” (1885) link when the UK government’s spending was about 7% of GDP, and France’s was about double that at 13%.

Would that we CLs today had their problem.

Some Thoughts on the May 2022 Federal Election in Australia

This recent election was the first election I have observed close up since my return to Australia in 2020. My wife and I haven’t voted for 47 years. The last time was in 1975 when we voted for the Workers Party, which, if you don’t know, was very libertarian in spite of their provocative name (I have put their Platform online here. Since then we have escaped fines and other harassment for not voting, which we do not think should be compulsory. [The current fine for not voting is $55 – see here for details “What Happens If I Didn’t Vote”, NSW Electoral Commission.]

In many ways it was discouraging for someone in the liberty movement to watch the events of the past few weeks unfold with barely a mention of issues which are most dear to me. In my own electorate of Mackellar (Sydney, Northern Beaches), held by a “moderate” liberal Jason Falinski (i.e., he is a LINO – “liberal in name only”) in what had been a very safe Liberal seat, there was a massive swing, via preferences, to one of the “Teal” independents who won handily. [On LINOs see “The Success of Liberal Ideas has led to the Decline of Radical Liberal Parties” (6 Sept. 2021) here.]

On the other hand, my spirits rose when I began thinking about all those who didn’t vote for our new rulers (more on this below). In order to get this election into some kind of perspective I looked at the data on the Australian Electoral Commission website [for the 2022 election results; for the 2019 election results] and found some interesting nuggets which have not been reported by the mainstream media. Here is what I found.

The low voter turnout

I was surprised at how many people did not even show up to vote on election day this year which suggests that there is large section of the voting public who are disillusioned with or disengaged from politics and the major parties. Since there is compulsory voting in Australia I had thought there would be 90-95% turnout (or “compliance” with a government order backed up with a fine). This was the case in previous elections. For example, in the 2019 election there were 16,419,543 eligible voters who had been enrolled. Of these 15,088,616 (91.89%) voted, either “formally” (14,253,393) (i.e. government approved votes) or “informally” (835,223) (i.e. government non-approved votes) and there were 1,330,927 (8.11%) who did not show up to vote on the day.

When you add the number who did not vote at all to those who voted “informally” (and whose vote thus “did not count”) we have a total of 2,166,159 voters who make up what I have termed the “block of disillusioned or disengaged voters” which in 2019 was 13.19% of all eligible voters.

Contrast this with the precipitous decline in voting in the May 2022 election. In May 2022 there were a total of 17,228,900 eligible voters of whom 12,822,068 voted (made up of 12,177,265 “formal” votes and 644,803 “informal” votes) which was 75.07% of the eligible voters. There were also 4,406,832 people who did not vote at all in the election for a number of reasons, comprising 24.93% of all eligible voters. This means that there were in 2022 4,947,233 (28.71% of all eligible voters) members of my “block of disillusioned or disengaged voters”, which was a massive increase of 2,781,074 over the 2019 election – an increase of 128.34%

At this level of voter participation one can now form a government with less than a quarter of all all eligible voters or barely a third of the primary vote before preferences have been distributed. In 2022, the Labor Party can form a government with 3.9 million votes or 22.86% of all eligible voters which converts to 32.34% of the formal vote before preferences are distributed. This of course means that 77% of the eligible voters did NOT vote for the new governing party. It also means that 76% did NOT vote for a “liberal” party, even in its ideologically gutted and illiberal form known as the Liberal Party (16.85% of all eligible voters and 23.84% of the formal vote). The Liberal Democrats, which should be seen as the Australia’s version of a Libertarian Party and the heir of the old Workers Party, got 204,827 votes which translates as 1.19% of all eligible votes and 1.68% of all formal votes. This was a very large increase over its results in 2019, although it came from of very low base figure. (See below for more details).

“Informal” and other protest votes

In my seat of Mackellar the list of candidates for the House of Reps was pretty dismal (both in terms of the character of the party they represented and their ideological positions) so I decided to vote “informal” as a way of protesting the limited selection of candidates and the way in which elections are seen as a “mandate” for ruling the country by whomever “wins” the election. The word “informal” is a derogatory term and carries the suggestion that the voter is stupid, uniformed, or careless for not being able to vote “properly” and thus has “wasted” their vote. I don’t think I am any of these things. I took a Sharpie pen with me and carefully drew a box at the bottom, labelled it “None of the Above”, and put a 1 in the box. I think this is a “thoughtful and considered vote” not a “wasted vote” as the mainstream press regards it. As a libertarian my dream is that one day a clear majority of the voters (if they bother to vote at all) will choose “None of the Above” and the seat will remain vacant. This is my version of the anti-war saying “what if they held a war and nobody came”, viz. “what if they held an election and nobody voted”. Where would their much vaunted “mandate” to rule be then? The Labor Party’s 23% of all eligible voters is a pretty feeble “mandate” in my view.

The collapse in the vote for the major parties

[Tacoma Bridge Collapse 7 Nov. 1940]

This collapse I believe is another indication of the increasing disillusionment of the voters with the political system as represented by the “major parties”, such as Labor, Liberal, and National. This must be added to the corresponding increase in the vote for “Independents” of various “colors” (“Teal in 2022 in particular) and for the group of disillusioned “non-voters” as discussed above. In what follows I compare the national results for the major parties between the 2019 and 2022 elections. The list below is in order of the size of the collapse (or increase) in the primary vote nationwide (% is of all eligible voters):


  • drop in vote – from 3,989,404 in 2019 (24.29%) to 2,959,255 in 2022 (17.18%); a drop in absolute votes of 1,030,149 or 25.82% of the 2019 figure


  • drop in vote – from 642,233 in 2019 (3.91%) to 486,796 in 2022 (2.83%)); a drop in absolute votes of 155,437or 24.20% of the 2019 figure

Liberal National:

  • drop in vote – from 1,236,401 in 2019 ( 7.53%) to 970,901 in 2022 (5.64%); a drop in absolute votes of 265,500 or 21.47% of the 2019 figure


  • drop in vote – from 4,752,160 in 2019 (28.94%) to 4,046,234 in 2022 ( 23.48%); a drop in absolute votes of 705,926 or 14.85% of the 2019 figure


  • drop in vote – from 1,482,923 in 2019 (9.03%) to 1,450,874 in 2022 (8.42%); a drop in absolute votes of 32,049 or 2.16% of the 2019 figure

Parties/groups which saw an increase in their vote (or not voting):

Liberal Democrats:

  • increase in vote – from 34,666 in 2019 (0.21%) to 207,903 in 2022 (1.21%); an increase in absolute votes of 173,237 or 499.73% of the 2019 figure

My “Block of Disillusioned or Disengaged Voters”:

  • an increase from 2,166,159 in 2019 (13.19%) to 4,947,233 in 2022 (28.71%); an increase in absolute votes of 2,781,074 or 128.39% of the 2019 figure


  • increase in vote – from 479,836 in 2019 (2.92%) to 676,517 in 2022 (3.93%); an increase in absolute votes of 196,681 or 40.99% of the 2019 figure

One Nation:

  • increase in vote – from 438,587 in 2019 (2.67%) to 599,438 in 2022 (3.48%); an increase in absolute votes of 160,851 or 36.67% of the 2019 figure

United Australia Party:

  • increase in vote – from 488,817 in 2019 (2.98%) to 506,576 in 2022 (2.94%); an increase in absolute votes of 17,759 or 3.63% of the 2019 figure

In my own electorate of Mackellar these factors can be seen playing out as follows:

  • the Liberal vote collapsed from 52,088 in 2019 to 37,082 in 2022 – i.e. 15,006 or 28.81%
  • the Labor vote collapsed from 16,648 in 2019 to 6,859 in 2022 – i.e. 9,789 or 58.80%
  • the Green vote collapsed from 11,283 in 2019 to 4,980 in 2022 – i.e. 6,303 or 55.86%
  • the Independent candidate (not Teal) vote rose from 11,975 in 2019 to 34,516 in 2022 (Teal) – i.e. 22,541 or 188.23%
  • my block of disillusioned/disengaged voters rose from 17,412 in 2019 to 25,924 in 2022 – i.e. 8,512 or 48.89%

It would be interesting to look at a previously safe Labor seat which changed hands to see how these factors played out there. I haven’t had the time to do that.


My conclusion from all this is that on the whole the Australian electorates is unhappy with the current state of politics and the behaviour of the major political parties. Thus, they either chose not to vote at all (up 49%), not to vote for one of the major parties (Liberals down 26%; Labor down 15%), to shift their “Green” vote from the “dark” green, hard-core Green Party (down 2% nationally) to a “light” green (Teal) independent candidate (all Independents up 41%), or to vote for an alternative party like One Nation (up 37%) or the Liberal Democrats (up 500% from a very small base).

How real classical liberals should react to this is up for discussion.

Lectures and Talks I have given at the Centre for Independent Studies

Below is a list of lectures and talks I have given at the CIS over the years:

  • L&S Conference: “The Classical Liberal Tradition: A Four Hundred Year History of Ideas and Movements”, Liberty and Society Conference (6-8 May 2022): lecture slides PDF and supporting blog posts
  • “Unfortunately, Hardly anyone listens to the Economists”: The Battle against Socialism by the French Economists in the 1840S” (8 July, 2014) HTML and PDF
  • “Images of Liberty and Power” (29 Nov. 2011) PDF
  • L&S Conference: “A History of Classical Liberalism: Key Concepts and Movements” Liberty and Society Conference (2-4 Dec. 2011). The full conference program PDF; slides for my two part lecture PDF; a text summary of the lectures PDF
  • “Ideas and the Internet: The Prospects for Liberty” (24 Aug., 2010) PDF
  • L&S Conference: “Historical Reflections on the Classical Liberal Tradition”, Advanced Liberty and Society Seminar (2 March, 2001) HTML and “The 12 Basic Concepts of Classical Liberalism” HTML