Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review: "New Liberalism" by Matthew Kalkman

A spectre is haunting the Liberal Party - the spectre of new liberalism. Although claiming to be non-partisan, Matthew Kalkman has written a book Bob Rae is touting as the blueprint for a reengaged Liberal Party. In addition, Kalkman calls modern conservatism a "contradiction in terms."[1] Nevertheless, at just over one hundred pages, New Liberalism is nothing more than a political pamphlet for the political and economic fascists looking to justify their actions. Kalkman aids this process by defending fascism as the logical extension of the liberal philosophy. Although Kalkman never uses the 'f' word, the system he describes is undeniably totalitarian - even if he doesn't realize it. And it's likely Kalkman doesn't realize it.

Born in 1988, Matthew Kalkman has spent his entire life in school. He has an L.L.B. from Durham, a MSc from the London School of Economics and studied French at Université Laval. Currently he works in "environmental law" somewhere in Vancouver. A prolific author, Kalkman writes passionately and plainly. New Liberalism is an easy read but unfortunately it's filled with statist propaganda. The reason Kalkman may not realize how much of an apologist he is for the status quo, is because Kalkman sincerely believes that the government works in the people's best interests. This was the only rationale I could fathom from his book, as his calls for Keynesianism and global governance are perhaps the most foolish positions a young person (or any person for that matter) can take. However, if one reads the book from the premise that government is fundamentally good and looks after "society's interests," then Kalkman's worldview becomes easier to digest. However wrong it is.

My critique of Kalkman's book began before I even bought it. I found out about via the internet, and as it just so happens, I was at the West Edmonton Mall where Chapters had one in stock. I leafed through it before turning to the introduction. This is the first sentence: "People in contemporary liberal democracies have more freedom of choice than ever before."[2]

No we don't.

The corporate coup d'état of the 20th century diminished competition through regulation, while the state continued to monopolize "essential" goods and services for the supposed benefit of all. In addition, money has been disconnected from the market and removed from its commodity origin. Despite increased freedom in terms of social tolerance (i.e. gay couples raising children, visible tattoos, pornography, etc.) our freedom of choice has been drastically restricted when compared to the 19th century.

But it gets worse.

The second sentence in New Liberalism is: "In the 21st century, free markets are the norm," and this isn't a mistype. Elsewhere in the book Kalkman writes, "an under-regulated free market does not serve the public interest"[3] and that a free market society, "has always been an ethereal subject, a belief that somehow letting people go their own way and have complete freedom through the purity of self-interest will help society as a whole."[4] He calls for a "new Bretton Woods"[5] and that the state "needs to foster the use of markets to produce a low carbon economy through instruments such as a cap-and-trade system."[6]

Granted, Kalkman does address the issue of property rights, and how property is key to wealth creation. But he doesn't tie this reasoning into, "making the market think long-term, meaning executive pay should not reward short-term prospects."[7]

Kalkman makes some historic errors, most notably casting Friedrich von Hayek as a Chicago-school monetarist. He also has a skewed understanding of the IMF, World Bank, United Nations and other global bureaucratic organizations[8]. He approves of NGOs and thinks of them as an aspect of "civil society."[9] Again, this conclusion can only be arrived at by believing that these institutions are working in the public's interest. But as Ludwig von Mises pointed out (an important liberal that Kalkman never mentions) even if these organizations were staffed by all-loving angels, they'd still run into an economic calculation problem.

The economic calculation problem was first presented by Ludwig von Mises to the socialists of the early 20th century. Essentially, Mises argued that without market prices (arising from individual valuations and voluntary exchange), central planners can not allocate resources in any rational way. Given the subjective nature of individual actions and the intricate complexities of the market, without prices no individual or single agency can possess such vast knowledge as to how best to meet consumer (or citizen) demands. This applies just as well to a monopolistic firm in the market, or a government that merely intervenes in the market rather than taking it completely over.

Matthew Kalkman's approval of government intervention in the marketplace is obviously influenced by the Keynesian belief that free markets are not self-correcting and that aggregate demand is key to a healthy economy.[10] However, even if the Keynesian belief is true, it still doesn't solve the economic calculation problem and thus explain why government control is superior to a market of voluntary exchange. Since market prices can only develop when human beings are free to act and exchange voluntarily, the only rational solution to the various issues Kalkman outlines in New Liberalism is to look to the price mechanism of the free market. How else can one determine society’s best interests? Although value is subjective for each individual, voluntary exchange among individuals gives rise to an objective price mechanism that indicates the costs of each action.

In addition, government holds a monopoly of ultimate decision-making, that requires payment (backed by force) and unilaterally sets the price individuals must pay. "Peace, order and good government" become a contradiction in terms when one honestly examines government for what it actually is. "A gang of thieves writ large," to quote Murray Rothbard. Perhaps instead of referencing Hobhouse's Liberalism as the be all, end all of liberal philosophy, Kalkman should read Ludwig von Mises' Liberalism. It's available online for free.

Mises' chapter about foreign policy might convince Kalkman to move away from his neo-con worldview of terrorism. He clearly supports foreign intervention to "counteract" terrorism[11] and that, "proper technology to gather intelligence can stop attacks from taking place and the state should continue to invest in technology and maintain top-of-the-line science, ensure that its intelligence agencies are adequately funded and apply to economic sanctions to known terrorist groups."[12] With this reasoning, it would seem, Kalkman has no problem with the Conservative's Bill C-30, which gives police the ability to search, seize, and monitor records stored by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) about their customers without a warrant. It's all about fostering peace through violence, right? After all, as Kalkman himself writes, "[police] are the heroes of a free society and should be treated as such."[13]

In sum, New Liberalism is call for global governance based on the fascist tendencies of "mixed economies" consisting of "public-private" agreements and global institutions that erode national sovereignty.[14] Kalkman puts a positive spin on all this and calls it new liberalism. The reason it's new is because it's an update from the "social liberalism" of the 20th century, which was an update (or downgrade, depending on your worldview) from the classical liberalism of the prior era. Kalkman upholds the fallacy of the social contract and even goes as far to call democracy, "the greatest system known to enhance opportunities and freedoms of its individuals"[15] Kalkman's new liberalism is simply more power for global technocrats. It's not liberalism at all, it's the future of the current geopolitical climate if more people don't wake up. Or if those awake do nothing.

Ironically, Kalkman hints at true liberalism throughout the book without fully grasping it. On page 98 he writes, "Order is the key component to our society... The legal system has evolved throughout the ages to ensure social order and stability. John Locke put forward that this rule of law needs to apply to all citizens, including the monarch." One can see the beginnings of the Hoppeian call for a private law society, but alas, Kalkman has no knowledge of Austrian economics and thus fails to see how liberalism's true evolution is toward anarchism. Equating liberalism with global fascism is intellectual dishonesty, and dangerous to boot. But I won't hold it against Kalkman. He's the same age as me, and I didn't discover this stuff until I was 21. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. He looks like a nice guy.


[1] - pg 39
[2] - page ix
[3] - pg 76
[4] - pg 76
[5] - pg 76
[6] - pg 77
[7] - pg 78
[8] - pg 30
[9] - pg 41
[10] - pg 28
[11] - pg 103
[12] - pg 104
[13] - pg 98
[14] - pg 84
[15] - pg 99


  1. hahaha i couldn't get past the back cover, and to be honest i read through your analysis simply out of pleasure; your last lines are particularly striking.


  2. I'm forcing my way through it because I paid $2 for it. The lack of conceptual clarity (misunderstanding of liberalism) and absence of any kind of critical approach is absolutely painful at times.