Why I am not a Libertarian


11:02 pm - December 26th 2008

by Andrew Hickey    


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Recently, there appears to have been an influx into the Liberal Democrats of Libertarians. This is typified by the members of ‘Liberal Vision‘, which is in turn part of a Tory organisation called ‘progressive voice’ (essentially a bunch of Objectivists).

Now, in many ways I agree with libertarians on many subjects – which is, of course, why we can be in the same party – I am all for more personal freedom, for a lack of government interference in people’s lives, for the restoration of recently-lost civil liberties and so on. But libertarians seem, to me, to have two big holes in their thinking, both of which are summed up by some recent comments by Nick in this thread on Liberal Conspiracy (scroll down).

‘Nick’ is following the libertarian ‘party line’ almost exactly: the government should not interfere with the workings of the market when companies are failing. Not only should they not spend any money bailing out the companies (a reasonable, debatable position) or on retraining the workers so they can get jobs elsewhere (a much less reasonable position in my view) – they should not even pay unemployment benefit to the people who lose their jobs, because the money would be better allocated by the market.

Now, there are two distinct errors here.

The first, and less important, is the one that pretty much every ‘free market’ advocating politician of whatever stripe for the last thirty years has fallen into – the belief that markets will always guarantee the most efficient allocation of resources. People who know a little about economics can fall into this trap, because free-market economists define ‘efficiency’, tautologically, as the state where everyone has the maximum possible without anyone else having any of their property taken from them – in other words, as ‘that state which a market will produce’.

However, ‘efficiency’ in this context is merely a local optimum, not an overall optimum. As an example, suppose that you, O Hypothetical Reader, have a pound – a whole shiny pound all to yourself. And I have nothing. Now, assuming you don’t want to just give me your money, that’s the most efficient distribution of the money possible.

But suppose that, while you don’t want to give me your money, you were forced to, and I invested the money and made ten pounds, of which I was forced to give you five. Instantly, we have *both* benefited, substantially, even though this is ‘less efficient’ in market terms.

Now, in this hypothetical situation, you would of course either just give me the money or invest it yourself. But in a real life situation involving billions of pounds in the pockets of millions of people, it can’t be guaranteed that the equivalent would happen.

A market is a very good way of ensuring, not that the economy always gets more efficient or runs at peak efficiency, for the common understanding of the word efficiency as opposed to the economists’ understanding, but rather that the economy always moves into the most efficient adjacent position in the economic phase space. These are very similar things, but they can be crucially different.

As an analogy imagine a ball rolling downhill. Now, normally, that ball will continue down until it reaches the bottom of the hill. But imagine a little dip in the hill halfway down. The ball rests there, because to go any further down it would first have to go up. That kind of situation, economically, is when it makes sense for government intervention. Sometimes a mass of people acting independently do not come up with the most efficient solution, and a change, even an arbitrary one, needs to be made to free the ball from the rut.

As an example, we need laws stating that you should only drive on one side of the road. The choice of which side is arbitrary, but not having those laws would cause infinitely more problems than the tiny amount of personal freedom given up.

Liberal v Libertarian
I think the main defining characteristic of a liberal – as opposed to a libertarian – is that a liberal recognises the need for such measures but thinks they should be as few and as minimal as possible.

However, I have left the more important error to last, which is simply this – who says ‘efficiency’ of whatever kind is the thing we need most? For a long time the right have predetermined the terms of the debate by talking about ‘economic efficiency’ and ‘modernisation’. These are probably good things, overall, but are they the be-all and end-all? I think not.

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

Their thought is ultimately a selfish one: “I did this, so anyone else can, and I had no help so I won’t help anyone else.”

I, on the other hand, have experienced poverty. I’ve never been at the lowest possible point, but the few months when I had to support my now-wife and myself on one person’s benefits were unpleasant, to say the least. So now I’m in a position where I’m working for a well-known company, earning a good income, doing a job I enjoy, I feel not only an obligation to society to pay back what I’ve taken (for I couldn’t have got this job without help both from individuals and from government institutions), but a profound *need* within myself to make sure that no-one else should have to dig around for half an hour to find twenty pence for a pack of custard creme biscuits which will be their only meal of the day…

People are inefficient, messy things. There is no possible rational justification for supporting the continued existence of the human race, let alone helping individual members of it.

But anyone who would gladly see tens of thousands of people jobless and with no source of income, either in the name of keeping a few extra pence a week in their own pocket or in the name of a heartless ‘efficiency’ has so little compassion in their heart, so little empathy, that I can’t even begin to imagine a common frame of reference for discussion, despite many surface similarities in our philosophies.

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Andrew blogs at AndrewHickey.info.
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Reader comments


As an analogy imagine a ball rolling downhill. Now, normally, that ball will continue down until it reaches the bottom of the hill. But imagine a little dip in the hill halfway down. The ball rests there, because to go any further down it would first have to go up. That kind of situation, economically, is when it makes sense for government intervention. Sometimes a mass of people acting independently do not come up with the most efficient solution, and a change, even an arbitrary one, needs to be made to free the ball from the rut.

Of course that would require one person knowing when it had reached such a rut and what to do about it . As the market encodes in price vastly more information than one person ever has and thus is chain all the time such an endeavour is doomed except at the grossest level . I am thinking of the control of monopolies and unfair trade that all but a quasi religious marketeer would accept .
In biological evolution the same problems arise , there is the possibility of reaching a peak from which all moves are downward . If for example you develop a pinhole camera type of eye , such as exists , you will not develop a lens eye . As others do this does not matter . Market entry is important then and typically this imagines a closed system to create its problems soi disant. Perhaps more seriously should a means of flying based on skin stretched between the finger bones arise this kind of creature may come to so dominate the skies that there is no space for new entrants (like birds ). Here we see the value of catastrophe , we are squandering the potential value of catastrophe now . In fact the market is not so smooth that stasis prevails for long .
No the problem with markets is not that they are inefficient but that they are too efficient and may well move to quickly for people to cope with . For a Conservative the untrammelled market is like taking a combine harvester to your carefully manicured lawn. This is especially so when it is international and escapes the context of civil society which created its possibility in the first place .

For all that the a Marxist apologist shtick about market inefficiencies leaves me cold I have some sympathy with this post . As a Conservative and someone who has always worked in a ‘market’ I am well aware that it destructive potential of a 200ft child . From my point of view both socialists and Marxists over value the economic and individual nature of man and concern themselves too little with man in his cultures and ,in his web of trust and understanding .

I have read with interest the belated conversion of Liberals to free market ideas but I must tell them that Margaret Thatcher never really believed in Hayek , she only used it as a weapon against the deadlier threat of socialism . While the broad lessons of Thatcher appeared to have been learnt by New Labour there was the scope for Conservatives to return to their sceptical stance towards the “Market”. Unfortunately with full blown authoritarian state control on the march again we must all man the barricades and fight the spectre of Brown`s resurgent socialism whose machine guns are aimed at liberties , wealth creation , tradition civil society and everything human

The question is simple now .Are you with him or against him ? An alliance of Conservatives and Liberal who may otherwise have little in common may be required . Are Liberals up to it ?

I agree Andrew. The Libertarians, along with their close cousins, the Classical Liberals, seem to have no particular problem with massive infractions of people’s human rights (mass unemployment, health inequalities, etc) so long as they can’t be attributed directly to personal actions or the actions of the state (thereby ticking all the required ideological boxes).

My problem with them though, if I’m honest, is not so much any significant ideological difference but simply that depressingly self-centred, morally-brittle spirit which pervades their writing; the strangely atomized view of the world, there are “your rights” and “my rights” and never the twain shall meet.

Thankfully, I think these elements within the party will remain a small fringe, especially given the economic downturn.

Andrew wrote:

Recently, there appears to have been an influx into the Liberal Democrats of Libertarians. This is typified by the members of ‘Liberal Vision‘, which is in turn part of a Tory organisation called ‘progressive voice’ (essentially a bunch of Objectivists).

It’s a rare skill to fit so many errors into such a short paragraph. I’m sorry, I know it all sounds very stirring, but for political statements to matter at all, they have to possess some verifiable truth. And when you start out so badly, it becomes very hard to take the rest of the post seriously. Some people, like myself, tend to be very skeptical of political claims – I’ll go as far as to say that I’m a liberal person, but I have doubts about pretty much any political system that claims to have the answer to everything. I tend to trust those people who recognise the limits of their own knowledge, and who try to avoid throwing in some not-strictly-true ‘facts’ to bolster their arguments. You’ve just done that in a really big way.

1) Who does this ‘influx’ consist of?
2) In what way has it ‘appeared’? Do you mean that someone has started posting online about how the Lib Dems should be more libertarian? If so, have you missed the last six or so years and are under the illusion that this is a new thing?
3) In what way is Progressive Vision (I assume you mean ‘Vision’ and not ‘Voice’) a ‘Tory organisation’? I don’t really know anything about them, but I assume that you know more than I do.
4) I must have missed the bit where the objectivists dropped ‘A is A’ for ‘Tory is Objectivist’. Either that or there’s a hole in your logic somewhere. It’s beginning to look like either a) you’ve just learned about objectivists and are determined to unmask the newly-discovered objectivist-Tory conspiracy that is secretly trying to take over the Lib Dems or b) you are using the words ‘Tory’ and ‘objectivist’ as pejoratives to be scattered in the general direction of People Whom You Do Not Like. Which is fair enough, but it often helps if we use words for their actual meanings – it helps to keep the confusion to a minimum.

I should clarify: I’m a Lib Dem and (extremely) occasional blogger, and I’m not trying to defend Progressive Vision. I just think that if the worst you can say about them is that they’re all a bunch of objectivists, well, you’re not getting very far.

Moving on…

But suppose that, while you don’t want to give me your money, you were forced to, and I invested the money and made ten pounds, of which I was forced to give you five. Instantly, we have *both* benefited, substantially, even though this is ‘less efficient’ in market terms.

This sounds fantastic! Can I borrow your computer for a few months – you see, I have to write the greatest novel of the 21st century so far, and it will all be great once I’ve done it. You’ll get a million pounds, at least! Or, do you consider that perhaps you might be a better judge of what the best use of your computer might be? Like the person in your example might be a better judge of how to spend his quid? If we’re going to justify stealing from people on the basis that someone else can make more profitable use of the resources, well, I personally think that I could run a pretty profitable brothel out of your house…

Apologies for being facetious, but the reductio ad absurdum does get to the point quickly. Just bear in mind what you’re saying: as long as someone thinks that they can make better use of your stuff than you can, they have a right to take it from you in order to do so. No mention of what happens when your hypothetical investor spends the money on magic beans or collateralised debt obligations either – presumably money would only be given to people who are definitely going to turn a profit? Like Bernard Madoff, except now we’re forced to give him money?

However, I have left the more important error to last, which is simply this – who says ‘efficiency’ of whatever kind is the thing we need most? For a long time the right have predetermined the terms of the debate by talking about ‘economic efficiency’ and ‘modernisation’. These are probably good things, overall, but are they the be-all and end-all? I think not.

You’re right here, but you’re not following it to its logical conclusion. You are saying that efficiency and modernisation are two fairly good things, amongst a much larger set of other good things. You don’t know (or don’t say) which ones are most important, so it’s safe to assume that, actually, nobody really knows which values are most important. We might even imagine that different people have different ideas about which priorities are most important – some will favour efficiency, others will favour other things. So, erm, might it not be a good idea to just let people decide for themselves? If the government are raising taxes because a handful of people at the centre of power (most of whom are appointed by one man) think that a certain priority is important, that is the perfect explanation of why we so often end up pursuing one or two priorities to the exclusion of all others.

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

That’s a straw man argument, but… As a white male moderately successful computer programmer, I can say for certain that we’re not all libertarians. We’re just generally sticklers for logic who tend to favour systematic explanations rather than emotional ones, and we probably over-estimate our ability to find working answers (this is a good trait in programmers, because testing a solution is trivially easy. The real world isn’t quite like that). There certainly is a category of people like you describe, who think that they’ve found the solution to the problem of society. In reality, they’ve found a solution to a tiny part of society’s problems, normally an economic problem. And they’ve become convinced that optimising the solution to this problem (by instituting an anarchic self-organising free market) will solve everything else. If they were building a computer program, I’d say that they were guilty of ‘premature optimisation’. But that’s a digression for another day!

People are inefficient, messy things. There is no possible rational justification for supporting the continued existence of the human race, let alone helping individual members of it.

But anyone who would gladly see tens of thousands of people jobless and with no source of income, either in the name of keeping a few extra pence a week in their own pocket or in the name of a heartless ‘efficiency’ has so little compassion in their heart, so little empathy, that I can’t even begin to imagine a common frame of reference for discussion, despite many surface similarities in our philosophies.

That’s a bit harsh. I really mean that. (And the first quoted paragraph is actually a bit scary). I might even say that you’re lacking a little in empathy towards those who merely think that their solution is a better way of improving the world. Are they heartless for thinking that, or does it say something bad about you that you can’t see them as decent, honest people? Funnily enough, I don’t know anyone who actively pursues a political philosophy, volunteering their own time and effort towards it, merely so that they can bleed a little of the humanity out of politics. Perhaps I don’t get out enough.

There are a lot of perfectly decent libertarians out there. In fact, a lot of libertarians (or people who are called libertarians – perhaps by the same people who have decided to start calling Tories objectivists) are perfectly happy with the idea of a generous redistributive tax system. Myself (and I’ve had the L-word applied to me on occasion), I’d probably be in favour of a radical increase in levels of direct benefits (in fact, I’m quite keen on the citizen’s income idea, as a principle at least). I would, at the same time, like to see central government spending on departmental initiatives cut pretty drastically. I don’t really think that we need government ministers deciding which companies go bust and which don’t – what we need is a system that better protects the incomes of people who lose their jobs. We’re better off throwing money at people who have futures instead of companies and industries that plainly don’t.

I’m not sure how much of this you agree with and how much you don’t. I apologise if I’ve been a bit aggressive, but about every six months someone posts the exact same thing that you just did, and someone from the other side posts their own lengthy denunciation of ‘socialists’ (possibly emulating the Tory-objectivist claim by also branding them Marxists for good measure) and neither side really gets anywhere. I’m hoping that we can reach a better understanding of why different people see things in different ways, because it seems likely to me that both groups hold answers to different parts of the puzzle.

If we’re going to justify stealing from people on the basis that someone else can make more profitable use of the resources, well, I personally think that I could run a pretty profitable brothel out of your house…

Bizarre analogies aside, I think his point may be that in certain cases the government can be a better investor (since its more reliable it can demand lower interest rates, and it can get economies of scale) than individuals.

free-market economists define ‘efficiency’, tautologically, as the state where everyone has the maximum possible without anyone else having any of their property taken from them – in other words, as ‘that state which a market will produce’.

That’s not a definition I’ve ever come across.

However, I have left the more important error to last, which is simply this – who says ‘efficiency’ of whatever kind is the thing we need most?

“Efficiency” means in general the ration of output to input — so for example the thermodynamic efficiency of a power station is the useful energy out divided by the energy in.

In an economy, resources are usually limited — Britain has limited amounts of labour, of limted skill, there is limited amounts of land and raw materials. The economy exists to produce things people need and want — such as food, housing, medical care, holidays, computer games, etc — and clearly the more of these that are made, i.e. the more efficient the economy is, then in general that’s a good thing.

The idea that unemployment benefit is inefficient, is in general wrong, since payment of unemployment benefit will not in general reduce the total amount of goods and services people want.

These are probably good things, overall, but are they the be-all and end-all?

You seem to be arguing against a straw man here. No-one (or at least no-one sensible) argues that economic efficiency is everything — I’m not aware of Liberal Vision saying anything like that.

Seems to be quite the lopsided comparison there. On the one hand, you’ve defined libertarianism according to the dogmatic extremes of its philosophical definition. On the other hand, you’ve left “liberal” open to be defined however you’d like – which, in this case, seems to be “libertarian with a little bit more room for government intervention.”

But what if I were to do the same with the word “liberal”? What if I said that liberalism, by the purest of definitions, always favors central planning over market forces? And that libertarianism was the better alternative, because it took the good bits of liberalism, but tossed aside the extremist devotion to central planning in all circumstances?

These are, of course, just words. But if you were to use the quasi-famous two-dimensional political chart, it sounds like you’d find yourself to be a moderate libertarian. In fact, I’d very much suggest you read a certain article, “You’re a Libertarian. You Just Haven’t Been Told.” Link:

http://www.meltingpotproject.com/mpp/youre-a-libertarian-youve-just-never-been-told.html

I have noticed a ‘libertarian’ influx onto the ‘Liberal Youth’ forum

I have suggested a definition of the position, who have got no offers!

I like Andrew Hickey’s position

My own position is of an ‘old labour’ 1930’s ‘Guild socialist’
– a believer in:- GDH Cole; Archbishop Temple, and the Beveridge Plan having to re-think

Sunny wrote:

Bizarre analogies aside, I think his point may be that in certain cases the government can be a better investor (since its more reliable it can demand lower interest rates, and it can get economies of scale) than individuals.

So can very large corporations. I don’t think that this provides a good reason for us to give them lots of money. In fact, many people think that very large corporations controlling large parts of the economy might be a bad thing.

My argument isn’t that we can’t justify government spending at all, it is that “they will spend the money better than we ever could as individuals” is a really, really bad justification.

Just a few very brief comments (I’m dying from jetlag at the moment, so sorry if this is incoherent):
Rob – I know people say much this kind of thing a lot of the time on here – this post wasn’t originally intended for Liberal Conspiracy but was posted on my own blog – Sunny asked if it could be reposted here. A lot of the sweeping generalisations are ones I wouldn’t necessarily use if I were posting for a specifically politics-oriented blog, but my own blog is as much a ‘pop culture’ as a politics blog, and its readers are generally more knowledgeable about Batman comics or Doctor Who than Liberal Democrat internal politics…

Most importantly, when Sunny reposted this (and I did ask that any edits be cleared with me *before* reposting, rather than after, but the wires got crossed somewhere) a rather important edit was made. The original post starts:

“Recently, there appears (and ‘appears’ is the word – it’s almost certainly an artefact of looking over a few blogs and reading more into tone than into content, but this is something that has been remarked on by people other than myself) to have been an influx into the Liberal Democrats of Libertarians”

When I’m writing I tend to hedge about with all sorts of qualifications and subclauses, which anyone editing my writing will generally delete for stylistic reasons (I’m a messy thinker and that leads to messy writing). This does mean that my own recognition of the weaknesses in my own argument tends to disappear…

Also, the ‘white male moderately successful’ etc was intended at least partly as a joke at my own expense, being as I am a white male moderately successful software engineer (test engineer – coding’s not yet my strong point) – something people who read my blog would know, but in this context would not.

I would have tightened these things up before this was reposted, but I got Sunny’s email about reposting this about half an hour before getting on a transatlantic flight…

Rob, I do actually like the citizen’s income idea, which I know is one many self-styled libertarians espouse, but I don’t actually see how such massive government intervention goes along with the rest of libertarians’ principles.

‘John’ – No, I am not a libertarian. That’s why the post is called ‘why I am not a Libertarian’. I was defining libertarian, as much as anything else, by positions it appeared Nick was taking in an earlier comment thread (he’s later clarified his position on some of those). I’ve taken the ‘political compass’ test you speak of and always end up in the bottom left hand corner – usually around -8,-8 (plus or minus a bit). I’ve read the article you linked to – as , I suspect, has everyone who’s spent more than ten minutes on the internet in the last decade – and like the majority of them I found it patronising, facile nonsense. Just because I disagree with your positions does *not* mean I don’t understand them…

There’s a lot of other good points here and in the comments to the original post, but I’m going to go and sleep for a fortnight.

One more point before I sleep:
Cabalamat – assuming you take the definition of efficiency to be that one (ration of output to input) – which is the one I would naturally use as well, and is I believe what most people mean when they speak about efficiency – then I agree with every word. However, when right-wing economists talk about efficiency, they generally mean the first definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficiency_(economics) :
“A system can be called economically efficient if:
* No one can be made better off without making someone else worse off.”

This is a VERY different thing to efficiency in the thermodynamic sense, and by this definition then things like unemployment benefit *are* inefficient (requiring as they do a reallocation of funds from taxpayer to claimant). It’s that kind of ‘efficiency’ that I see as a pointless measure…

So can very large corporations.

However, governments can be held much more accountable than large corporations. And even then, large corporations are vulnerable (citigroup).

First of all, it’s a decent article, Andrew, not framed about (in general) with the frothing hatred that so many anti-libertarian diatribes are framed in.

Second, I will respond on The Kitchen over the next couple of days, although Rob Knight has actually covered most of the counter-arguments pretty well.

Third, libertarianism is a very broad spectrum, but it can generally be divided into Consequentialists (who opt for the best outcome, which they believe to be achieved through personal liberty) and Rights-theorists (who believe that all tax is theft, etc. and who are, essentially, anarchists). Despite my often hysterical rhetoric, your humble Devil is, generally-speaking, in the former camp.

Fourth, to answer one of your points…

“Rob, I do actually like the citizen’s income idea, which I know is one many self-styled libertarians espouse, but I don’t actually see how such massive government intervention goes along with the rest of libertarians’ principles.”

The point about a Citizens’ Basic Income is that it actually decreases government intervention:

1) Everyone is paid it, irrespective of income. As such, the government does not need to know how much you earn (and so no probing and embarrassing questions about your personal life, who you live with, etc.).

2) It removes the Benefits Trap (you don’t lose it for getting a job) and so increases economic (and personal) utility.

3) It is the only benefit available (and replaces the state pension, etc.), and its universal, and so provides a safety net but with the minimum encouragement of perverse behaviour.

4) Being universal, it is very cheap to administer (you could use the current NI database: your NI card arrives on your 16th birthday, along with your first cheque).

5) If you are into this kind of thing, it encourages parents to stay together as two CBIs are better than one.

It was something that I was a big advocate for a couple of years ago. I still like the idea in principle, but the outlay is huge — about £250 – £350 billion per year, depending upon variables (the lower figure has the CBI worth roughly what the state pension currently is per year). I still think that it is possible (and maybe advisable).

The point being that, because it is universal, it actually decreases government intervention into people’s personal lives and, because it is universal, it is cheap(ish) to administer. Except, of course, that any large outlay by government puts people in hock to the state – but at least we would all be equally in hock…

DK

Dan Kelly,

“The Libertarians, along with their close cousins, the Classical Liberals, seem to have no particular problem with massive infractions of people’s human rights (mass unemployment, health inequalities, etc)…

Here’s a question for you: given that the health system is this country is paid for by all, do you think that people have a duty not to make themselves ill? In other words, do they have a duty not deliberately to cause health inequalities by, for instance, smoking and drinking to excess?

DK

Well, Devil’s Kitchen, the obvious reply to that is that smokers and drinkers, by paying extra tax on their tobacco and alcohol, are net contributors to the health service (I know smokers are and believe drinkers are but am less sure on that one). You take extra risks, you pay extra for it . Perfectly fair…

Dan Kelly,

I agree Andrew. The Libertarians, along with their close cousins, the Classical Liberals, seem to have no particular problem with massive infractions of people’s human rights (mass unemployment, health inequalities, etc) so long as they can’t be attributed directly to personal actions or the actions of the state (thereby ticking all the required ideological boxes).

What ‘human rights’ do you believe people to have? It sounds very suspiciously like you think that people have a human right not to be unemployed, or an equal level of health to everyone else. Now there are a whole bunch of problems with believing that these are human rights, but the most important one for me is that for people to have a right to these things, they must be provided by somebody else’s labour (most likely against their will.) Now there happens to be a name for forcing somebody to labour against their will for someone else’s benefit – can you guess what it is?

Rob,

The answer to your third question is easy; the guy who runs PV is a card-carrying Conservative.

More generally, this is a good article although Devil’s is right that libertarianism is a broad-church with the ones Andrew is addressing in this article mostly being on the right. The irony is that the liberterian conception of the state is just as skewed as the ‘statists’ they oppose…

It was good of DK to draw a distinction between rights & consequentialist libertarians. I am not a libertarian, but I have a fair bit in common with the latter (the former are just hysterical cunts imho).

Yes, the government is fairly shite at most of the things it sets out to do. If we agree something is a good, it’s best looking at whether that good can be done by voluntary & mutual cooperation rather than the bludgeon of the state, or if the state has to play a role (eg. funding education) let it be kept to a minimum. I thereby have a lot in common with minarchists, & am inspired by the traditions of mutualism, though I do not fully ally myself to either as I see a need for more state to them (& won’t be swayed by anyone’s assertions that I want to take baby steps along the road to serfdom, because I don’t & wouldn’t).

The main area in which I part company with libertarians is my belief that the state needs to set quite stringent controls on pollution & regulate to ensure environmental health, as I don’t think the market can do this adequately. The government may not be much use, but sometimes there’s no other way for a good to be brought about. This is also something I don’t like about the Orange Book tendency, as surely anyone can see that while that book was quite sound overall Susan Kramer’s chapter was utter shite.

Leftists need to realise that the state is as often a force for reaction as progress. The original Labour Party, let it be remembered, was a fairly non-statist force born out of independent working-class bodies which were opposed to state power. You had people like the Fabians, but they didn’t really predominate. I would stand alongside the libertarians to repeal much of the extension of state power under New Labour, for reasons that I would view as “left-wing” in their origin.

Oh, & evening Darrell 🙂

The question is simple now .Are you with him or against him ? An alliance of Conservatives and Liberal who may otherwise have little in common may be required . Are Liberals up to it ? ~ newmania

Looking at the erosion of Tory polls numbers, I might wonder if Conservatives are up for the fight?

Excellent article, BTW.

I find myself somewhat sympathetic to Liberal Vision’s goals, but utterly dismayed by its presentation. I have rarely seen such a poorly designed website – and British politics certainly has a few notable examples!

I would have thought that, considering the think-tank’s chair Mark Littlewood is a former “Head of Media for the Liberal Democrats”, he would have some idea about the importance of style and presentation.

A. Big. Fat. Double. Fail.

Dan W said:

“What ‘human rights’ do you believe people to have? It sounds very suspiciously like you think that people have a human right not to be unemployed, or an equal level of health to everyone else. Now there are a whole bunch of problems with believing that these are human rights, but the most important one for me is that for people to have a right to these things, they must be provided by somebody else’s labour (most likely against their will.) Now there happens to be a name for forcing somebody to labour against their will for someone else’s benefit – can you guess what it is?

Hi Dan. Yes, “protection against unemployment” and the right to “adequate health and well being” are, indeed, Human Rights, as enshrined in articles 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the founding document of Human Rights theory – and reiterated in Articles 6 and 12 of the (legally binding) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the UK is a signatory.

I would suggest that your comparison of redistributive taxation to slavery seems rather crass and hyperbolic when you consider that there are still several million people bound in actual slavery in the world today.

Best wishes,

Dan Kelly

Ho hum. I don’t understand this “influx” business. I’ve been in the party now twelve years, and most of those I would call classical liberals or even libertarians seem to me to have been around just as long.

Yes Liberal Vision is relatively new, but I’m not really sure why “Progressive Vision” is a particularly Tory think tank given Mark Littlewood’s involvement and the fact that it has previously presented at Lib Dem party conferences before. But I can understand them wanting to have an effort aimed more specifically at Lib Dems and at Tories separately (there are classical liberals in both parties it seems to me and they both could do with chivvying along a bit). Although I joined LV, it doesn’t speak wholly for me (it promotes a watered down version of classical liberalism for my tastes) and I would position myself more “libertarian” than them. What I do not detect though are what probably the world’s currently most vocal mutualist, Kevin Carson, would call “vulgar libertarians” in the party – despite the best efforts of some in the party to paint everyone with a vaguely libertarian bone in their body as such!

Now my libertarianism has developed while I have been in the party and while I have read more and more about what I have termed the “liberal economic tradition” – DK will probably hate this – but my involvement in land taxation and monetary reform (both key planks of liberals, mutualists and individual anarchists) has led me towards these latter two ideologies.

But there’s no way I could be called an “entryist” or similar – all this has developed while I have been in the party – which I joined from what I now regard as a rather naive almost Trot point of view about how state action and state institutions could do things better than almost any other type of institution.

I don’t believe there’s anything in my geo-mutualist stance which would be incompatible with a reading of the party’s preamble – after all we favour devolving as many decisions to as close as possible to the people affected by them as possible. My argument is that in most if not all cases this is likely to be the individual, a group of them working together in voluntary co-operation or, at worst, a low level community council.

I doubt there’s any who call themselves a libertarian in the party who realistically believes that all would be well if we just abolished everything that the state has created overnight. That is, I suppose, why I call myself a mutualist – the aim of this is to achieve an anarchic society by steadily replacing the institutions of the state with those voluntary co-operative alternatives first so that it becomes obvious that we can do without the state versions, indeed that the voluntary co-operative ones are in fact better (at the very least for not having pathological liars involved in promising the earth for a few votes!).

It does, however, require an electoral party who will look kindly on such efforts and promote them where possible (and in line with our preamble). Since my reading of the “liberal economic tradition” is that the Liberals, for much of the last century, did promote such a middle way – with their ideas of ownership for all, land tax and citizens’ income (see my post here on these three). And I think the modern party can still be rescued from its statist tendencies and return to be such a distinctively liberal force.

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

Their thought is ultimately a selfish one: “I did this, so anyone else can, and I had no help so I won’t help anyone else.”

By the way, I just do not recognize this. And feel quite insulted by the insinuation. I think you mistake optimism about how people could do so much more for themselves *and* others if we had faith in our/themselves rather than coercive institutions to do it for us. I *used* to think libertarianism was a “beggar thy neighbour” creed, but the more I get into it the more I see this is a trait more of the “vulgar libertarians” I mentioned above. And that most others simply believe that that voluntary co-operation would work better than the state interventionism we have in enabling us all to reach our potentials.

The state takes what, forty per cent of everything I earn, and the fiat debt-based banking system appears to take another maybe thirty per cent. How much more benificent could I be as an individual if I had that twenty grand a year left to myself to spend on myself and others?

Dan K, actually the notion of human rights goes back rather a lot further than that. Thomas Aquinas perhaps. Certainly, William of Ockham discussed them.

The thing about rights to things like health care is that it is rather difficult to imagine how you could enforce them. That is without holding a gun to someone’s head while making them go through medical school than detaining them in a hospital so they can treat people.

I think you mistake optimism about how people could do so much more for themselves *and* others if we had faith in our/themselves rather than coercive institutions to do it for us [for selfishness].

Quite.

But for me it is a question of whether someone is more fit than me to decide what should be done with my money. I’m not confident about Gordon and Alistair’s abilities here.

Also I wouldn’t mind so much if things that are beneficial to us were prioritised over things that are politically expedient.

Yes, “protection against unemployment” and the right to “adequate health and well being” are, indeed, Human Rights, as enshrined in articles 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the founding document of Human Rights theory – and reiterated in Articles 6 and 12 of the (legally binding) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the UK is a signatory.

Are they justiciable?

Dan Kelly:

Yes, “protection against unemployment” and the right to “adequate health and well being” are, indeed, Human Rights, as enshrined in articles 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the founding document of Human Rights theory – and reiterated in Articles 6 and 12 of the (legally binding) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the UK is a signatory.

I thought we were engaging in a normative debate over human rights rather than a debate over the contents of a bit of paper that a few people who profess to be acting on our behalf have signed. Unless you believe that none of these rights existed before the 10th of December 1948, I suggest we should keep the discussion to the normative issues.

I would suggest that your comparison of redistributive taxation to slavery seems rather crass and hyperbolic when you consider that there are still several million people bound in actual slavery in the world today.

I did indeed compare redistributive taxation to slavery, but your righteous indignation comes from either a misunderstanding or a dishonest reading of what I was saying. There are two ways that someone can compare X to Y (where Y is agreed to be wrong and X is under dispute): One is saying that X is morally, equally as bad as Y and the other is saying that X is morally bad *for the same reasons* that Y is. Obviously redistributive taxation is not morally as wrong as slavery – I wasn’t arguing this, nor do I believe it. No one in their right mind would. But what I am saying is that redistributive taxation of the fruits of peoples’ labour is morally wrong partly because it shares a morally wrong feature with slavery – namely that it forces people to work for the benefit of other people. And I don’t think that you can refute this simply by throwing your arms up how ‘crass’ a comparison it is – an actual argument might be required.

the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the founding document of Human Rights theory

Just noticed this. A rather extraordinary claim!

Weird – there’s a long response posted by me at 22:02 tonight that appears in my newsreader from where I posted it but not in my web browser version of this thread. Is there some kind of moderation turned on here?

Jock

Ah, libertarians. Our erstwhile semi-colleagues and bitterest, most vigorous enemies.

Or perhaps the only ones we can reliably engage in proper conversation and debate with.

Jock – if it has links posted in it, it can sometimes be held for moderation.

But for me it is a question of whether someone is more fit than me to decide what should be done with my money. I’m not confident about Gordon and Alistair’s abilities here.

Sorry to follow up on myself, but also (regardless of fitness) whether the interference with my money is necessary and proportionate.

Dear Nick, ukliberty and Dan W:

You’ve all made approximately the same point so I hope you don’t mind if I address you collectively.

You seem to be confusing the concepts natural rights and Human Rights. An understandable error.

The concept of natural rights, as has been noted above, has existed at least since the time of the Old Testament, its specifics are open to interpretation and have differed widely over different periods and cultures.

Human Rights is one interpretation of natural rights, but one with a specific meaning in law (the meaning it was given in the UDHR) which is not open to interpretation, except at the margins. You can, of course, disagree with the rights enshrined in the UDHR, but saying “employment is not a Human Right” because you disagree with the notion of it, is rather like saying “smoking in pubs is legal” because you think it should be.

ukliberty said:

“Are they justiciable?”

A good question. “Not easily” would be my answer (what is?) but it at least confers an obligation on governments to pursue them as objects of policy.

Ah ok, so you are saying the United Nations, whose record on everything from corruption to child abuse is fast approaching that of that other great worldwide universalist organisation, the Catholic Church, has a monopoly on the term “Human Rights”? Well, in that case, I guess I am against them.

but it at least confers an obligation on governments to pursue them as objects of policy

Thanks you all for this little discussion on “Human Rights”. It is too long since I read the whole of the UDHR – they’re up on the wall of Oxford Town Hall and when I last frequented those corridors of power I would probably have agreed with them.

Sadly, I find now that they are too statist (of course they would be – the General Assembly is an assembly of states after all) and too political.

The “right to work” for example, seems to imply, if it “confers an obligation on governments…”, that all states should pursue full employment policies. Actually would it not be better if we pursued policies designed to get as many people out of the drudgery of work as possible? To promote the ownership of capital and the automation of as many processes as possible to allow us to pursue our rights under Article 24 more fully? As an object of policy, I would suggest rather “everyone has the right to aim for financial freedom”.

Financial freedom means that, for example, one’s right to chose what type of education our children should receive would be easier – paid for by ourselves out of our incomes from the capital we own that gives us that financial freedom? Why should it be “free”?

Article 27 (2) seems to enshrine Intellectual Property rights which are amongst the most debilitating monopoly rights that tend to hold humanity back.

Eugh! I’m not sure quite how many of those I could now agree with. Do I have any right at all to pursue anarchist politics? Since clearly the eradication of the state would undermine the entire edifice of these rights agreed between states?

Dan Kelly:

You’ve all made approximately the same point …

You seem to be confusing the concepts natural rights and Human Rights. An understandable error.

I don’t think it’s by any means clear that there’s a distinction between natural rights and human rights (without capitals) – from Wiki: “The idea of human rights is also closely related to that of natural rights; some recognize no difference between the two and regard both as labels for the same thing, while others choose to keep the terms separate to eliminate association with some features traditionally associated with natural rights.” It’s certainly arguable that there’s a distinction, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to call the other view an error.

Going back to your initial post , even if you did specifically refer to human rights as laid out in the UDHR it still doesn’t exactly support what you have to say. You claimed that “mass unemployment” and “health inequalities” were “massive infractions of people’s human rights.” But the UDHR doesn’t say that at all. It specifies a right to “protection against unemployment.” This is not the same thing as a right to employment. Even more so with health: the UDHR specifies a right to “adequate health and well being.” This is obviously and emphatically not the same thing as a right to equal healthcare as compared to anyone else.

At any rate the discussion of what the UN think human rights are isn’t as interesting to me as discussing what human rights really are (and should be). I’d still like to hear a substantive response to my point that the ones you favour entail forcing people to work for the benefit of others.

Dan W – Article 23 does indeed say the “right to work”. I’m sure there’s wiggle room for interpretation here.

ON your last point – of “forcing people to work for the benefit of others” I’m reminded of Nye Bevan when he was told that doctors would not work for the NHS, who said words to the effect that “I shall stuff their mouths with gold”. I guess even he couldn’t think of a better way that to create an overwhelming economic incentive (and a legacy I would say that creates a massive economic rent in the NHS for practitioners).

If I have a pound, and you do not, I am willing to spend up to 99p to hire thugs to break your thumbs if you try to take it. Of course the problem is that people like you have bigger and better armed thugs (i.e. the cops) and will break my thumbs if I try.

The problem I am encountering is a collapse of positions of ‘Counter-vailing Power’ achieved by the ‘Beveridge Plan’ system

This is aggravated by an electorate who are basically Tories, but who see themselves as too ‘common as muck’ for Cameron’s lot

As some-one who basically sees a ‘Tory’ as a Notifiable Agricultural Disease, I’d prefer to leave it to David Cameron to comment ‘ – “He Who Dares Wins”!

The ‘advanced proletariat’ has almost completely collapsed into a ghastly criminal/beggar caricature of the Russian Mafia

The problem to my mind with the idea of “countervailing power” is that it is almost invariably states that give big business the power that requires “countervailing”.

Personally, I think Beveridge would have known that. And that he saw his five giants as something that could be beaten, not prolonged, by his plan, within a liberal economic tradition that hoped for ownership for all as the basis of financial freedom for all, or nearly all, and a small remaining safety net for the few for whom that was not possible.

Like the state pension which reaches a hundred years old this week, I suspect the liberal progenitors of those ideas would not be as pleased as some appear to be today that their interventions are still needed.

Corporate Welfare created and continues to maintain a situation where intervention is necessary by the same state that props it up to help mitigate the excesses it has caused.

Ron Knight
>In what way is Progressive Vision (I assume you mean ‘Vision’ and not ‘Voice’) a ‘Tory organisation’?

Darren
>The answer to your third question is easy; the guy who runs PV is a card-carrying Conservative.

I don’t think that the affiiation of a leader necessarily shows any such thing, without conclusive evidence about the actions of the organisation.

politicalbetting.com is run by a card-carrying Lib Dem, but no one is claiming it is a Lib Dem Blog. (As you said yourself last week).

Perhaps those people who are slagging off Libertarianism should come read our manifesto at http://www.lpuk.org/manifesto

It is about individualism, and freeing the people from state domination, and repealing all those awful laws that Tony Blair and his cronies brought in

Matt,

But Political Betting is a blog and it has to be said that Mike Smithson is clearly impartial in his postings. If you don’t want to take that as the sole determinant then fine; look at PV’s programm which definatly would not be out of place on the John Redwood wing of the Conservatives so the characterisation holds on both counts….

>Matt,

>But Political Betting is a blog and it has to be said that Mike Smithson is clearly impartial in his postings.

Agreed.

>If you don’t want to take that as the sole determinant then fine; look at PV’s programm which definatly would not be out of place on the John Redwood wing of the Conservatives so the characterisation holds on both counts….

Which is fine, but that is a different criteria. I have no problem with you arguing from the programme the organisation puts forward, but you can’t only say “this organisation is lead by a member of XYZ party therefore it is an XYZ organisation”, since that it not always the case.

Dan Kelly,

ukliberty said:

“Are they justiciable?”

A good question. “Not easily” would be my answer (what is?) but it at least confers an obligation on governments to pursue them as objects of policy.

Well, I think there is a difference between a “right to a fair trial” and a “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”: the first can be decided objectively, the second is rather more of a political issue, and not one as likely to be enforceable by an individual seeking redress in the courts (well, not in the UK, anyway). This is one reason why Straw’s Bill of Rights and Obligations Responsibilities is struggling. There is some good stuff relating to all this here.

(Another reason it’s struggling is that it’s well established that Convention rights aren’t contingent on us behaving, so anything inferior that interferes with that is a no-no.)

Libertarians are rather like Trotskyites, really: a tiny bunch of highly active ideologues claiming everyone agrees with them really (they just mostly seem not to have realised it yet).

“The first, and less important, is the one that pretty much every ‘free market’ advocating politician of whatever stripe for the last thirty years has fallen into – the belief that markets will always guarantee the most efficient allocation of resources.”

Oh Dear Lord, please, not this hoary old chestnut. I cannot think of anyone at all who insists, claims or even intimates that markets provide the most efficient allocation of resources in all circumstances. Not even the most idiotic of politicians who are still on page three of the Econ 101 textbook.

Everyone, but everyone, acknowledges that there are public goods (OK, David Friedman likes to play with the idea that a criminal justice system can indeed be provided by markets, based on his reading of the Icelandic Middle Ages, but even he is prone to admitting that defence ain’t going to be adequately provided so).

For example, copyrights and patents depend on the idea that production of non-rivalrous, non-excludable goods (ie, public goods) will not be adequately provided without government enforced protection….ie, that a pure market system in innovation will not lead to an efficient allocation of resources.

Please, stop offering up straw en!

Dang. “men” not “en”.

Matt,

Fair enough :)…

‘Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.’

LOL LOL LOL.

This rings disturbingly true.

“Perhaps those people who are slagging off Libertarianism should come read our manifesto at http://www.lpuk.org/manifesto

We’re not, we’re slagging off libertarianism. Important difference.

54. david brough (shrewsbury)

“Perhaps those people who are slagging off Libertarianism should come read our manifesto at http://www.lpuk.org/manifesto

I’d rather form my view of the LPUK based on your bloggers. They aren’t a pretty bunch, and to be honest I wouldn’t want them anywhere near anything.

Dan W said:

“I don’t think it’s by any means clear that there’s a distinction between natural rights and human rights (without capitals) – from Wiki…”

Hi Dan. The problem of arguing against Wikipedia is the same problem of arguing against “common knowledge” – that is, if you’ve accepted its validity as a reliable source of information then no argument I could make based on academic sources is likely to convince you otherwise.

Dan W said:

“the UDHR specifies a right to “adequate health and well being.” This is obviously and emphatically not the same thing as a right to equal healthcare as compared to anyone else.”

As I mentioned above, the right to health is expanded on in the legally-binding International Covenant of Economic Cultural and Social Rights which states: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” So, obviously and emphatically, this does mean the right to equal healthcare compared to everyone else. Likewise, the ICECSR upholds the right to “the opportunity to gain [a] living by work” and not simply the right to unemployment benefit.

Dan W said:

“At any rate the discussion of what the UN think human rights are isn’t as interesting to me as discussing what human rights really are (and should be).”

In that case it’s probably best to speak of ‘natural rights,’ or simply ‘rights,’ rather than ‘Human Rights,’ a term coined by the UN with a specific meaning.

Dan W said:

I’d still like to hear a substantive response to my point that the ones you favour entail forcing people to work for the benefit of others.”

Of course, forgive me, I got a little sidetracked! I understand the point you are making, but I simply don’t share the worldview that underpins it. When I talk about liberty I mean effective liberty and, as such, I don’t really have any moral problem with the principle of redistribution. If someone is making £1 million pa how is his liberty impeded if he is charged 50% income tax? He, perhaps, loses the freedom to buy a yacht, but compare that to the increase in effective liberty which his £500,000 pa in tax could bring to dozens if not hundreds of people at the bottom of the heap: it could pay for care workers, sheltered accommodation, anti AIDS drugs, or many thing beside which could dramatically increase the liberty of the less than fortunate.

Upholding absolute property rights means accepting a world of sub-optimal liberty, where some languish without basic rights while others have more money than they could make use of in three lifetimes. As a Liberal this is not something I am prepared to accept.

Best wishes,

Dan Kelly

Libertarians are rather like Trotskyites, really: a tiny bunch of highly active ideologues claiming everyone agrees with them really (they just mostly seem not to have realised it yet).

Such sweepng, ignorant and unevidenced comments are unbecoming. All one needs to see is Milton Friedman on his famous Open Minds interview to know that most of us actually understand that freedom is something so alien to the human race that they can scarcely comprehend it and that it therefore needs constant restating and persuasion.

Nonetheless, what does appear to happen is that when people are shown mutualist mechanism where the accepted functions of the state can be bypassed, such as, say, community land trusts for affordable housing rather than state funded “social housing” many people do think it’s a good idea and that to be in control without relying on the political processes is quite an attractive option. They tend not to think that through to other things however and imagine other areas where it would be better for the state to butt out.

The current financial crisis is another good one. Most people, wrongly, think the libertarian response is so laissez-faire as to mean complete unbridled dregulation of all the failed systems that created this mess. But if you look at the history of money the people who survived the last depression the best were those who adopted things like Gesell’s “free money” system, unhitched themselves from dependence on state-money and international banking systems, and circulated their own purchasing power amongst themselves for as long as necessary.

Oh and Laurie Penny, having read (or maybe you didn’t) that that statement was insulting:

comment by
Laurie Penny

‘Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.’

LOL LOL LOL.

This rings disturbingly true.

…was it necessary to repeat it and add to it?

I’m sitting here trying to decide whether this article is just “entirely wrong” or “not even wrong”. I apologise for being so blunt, but if this is how statists justify their intrusions, no wonder we’re in such a mess. I’m also trying to think of how to explain why while being reasonably brief.

Okay. The reason “economists” use that tautological definition of “efficiency” is that it’s the only meaningful one. A free market serves the desires of its actors, and tends towards improving the service of those desires over time. Note that is a tendency, not a claim of perfect efficency. Just as evolution tends to produce fitter species- but no evolutionist would claim that a whale is the ultimate whale possible. It’s just the best whale so far, and perhaps the best nature can manage.

You then try to introduce an arbitrary definition of efficency as *you* define it. In the example given, that your use of my pound is better than my use of it. But in so doing, you commit a common fallacy of skating past the hard part of the problem and focus on the easy one. Firstly, what did I want to do with my pound? Maybe it’s the only pound I have, and I wanted to buy dinner with it. But you’ve taken it from me, in the name of “efficency” and I starve. Your definition of its best use is not the same as mine, so you impose (by force) your opinion on me, and I go hungry.

And then, maybe you think you can invest it and make a profit, but I don’t think your investment in cheese flavoured ice cream manufacturing is wise. Here’s that hard part of the problem. You’re assuming that you, as proxy for the government, have a godlike knowledge of what is best to do with the pound. But history shows there’s a high probability that you’re wrong. What we can say for certain is that your attempt to control the market manifests it as bending it towards your arbitrary beliefs instead of mine. You claim an objectivity which you cannot.

Let us imagine you are an atheist from a land called Atheia who goes travelling to Devotia, a devoutly christian nation. You get there, and are horrified. The people have less food than in your land, and less fine clothes. They spend much of their income on building churches, buying bibles and prayer books. And you say, if they stopped with all this waste, they’d be wealthier. Their economy would be more efficent. They’d eat better and wear finer clothes. Clearly they are being irrational and it is your duty to take over the economy and give them a better life.

But the economy of Devotia serves the Devotians. To them, churches, prayer books and bibles have great value, and their nourishment of their souls is as important as nourishment of their bodies. Nobody forces them to buy their bibles or build their churches; they do so because that is what they want. And that is what the free market does. It allows people to set their own values on goods and services based on their own desires. Those are the parameters by which it is most efficient- and there isn’t any other worthwhile measure. We then note that the Devotian free market economy will tend towards the most efficient use of resoruces to build churches and print bibles (I don’t need to state the obvious economic reasons for why that is, surely?) It will never be the economy the Atheians think it should be, but it will tend towards improved service of Devotian needs, in their own terms. And that is what counts.

Their ball might be stuck in a rut from your perspective; from theirs it’s in just the right place on the hillside.

Perhaps these ‘libertarians’ *are* Trotskyites

Perhaps they could be bribed to make a living explaining Lev Davidovich’s strange behaviour in 1917 (economically)

But the economy of Devotia serves the Devotians. To them, churches, prayer books and bibles have great value, and their nourishment of their souls is as important as nourishment of their bodies. Nobody forces them to buy their bibles or build their churches; they do so because that is what they want. And that is what the free market does. It allows people to set their own values on goods and services based on their own desires.

So they choose to spend their money on bibles and churches rather than DVDs and fancy clothes – it’s not as though most (although not all) people in this country are denied that choice. Do the people of Devotia not have any enemies they need protection from? Do they not have laws which need to be enforced and a legal system to punish transgressors? Do they not need to be educated, do they not get sick or old? Do they not need homes to live in and jobs to pay for them? The free market will not solve all these problems. There are choices to be made about the best way of addressing them – about the balance between private or collective provision, the extent to which people may have to sacrifice their own preferences in order to promote the common good etc. Not everyone will agree and some will feel agrieved at the decision made, which is why we need proper democratic means of making these choices.

“There are choices to be made about the best way of addressing them – about the balance between private or collective provision, the extent to which people may have to sacrifice their own preferences in order to promote the common good etc. Not everyone will agree and some will feel agrieved at the decision made, which is why we need proper democratic means of making these choices.”

Erm, no. This isn’t a libertarian point though, rather a classically liberal one. There are some things which both must be done by government and must also make use of the coercion (the monopoly of legitimate violence) available only to the State. There is a second set of things that can be done collectively but do not require that threat of compulsion. And a third set of things that need not be done collectively at all.

In that first set we might place such things as the criminal justice system. In the second, unemployment insurance perhaps (yes, really, the Friendly Societies were providing this long before the State) or if that’s too strict for you, near universal primary education (as universal as the version we’ve got now at least). The third of course is bugger all to do with the State.

Now, if we’re going to decide what is in group one rather than group two via democratic means then we’re hugely open to the tyranny of the majority. That’s why we also need a basic and immutable set of rights, rights which cannot be transgressed whatever the majority thinks.

Andrew, I wasn’t addressing whether the Devotians might empower a government to provide some collective services such as defence or courts (most of your other examples are things which the free market naturally does, such as providing homes or work, or disastrously harmful, such as enforced schooling, but that’s a separate issue). I was addressng whether the Devotian economy needs improving by somebody else with a clever idea, as in the original article where it was suggested the state should take my money by force, because it believes I’m not doing the Right Things with it.

Okay, I can’t resist going back to one of your examples- housing provision- which you apparently claim “the free market will not solve [this] problem”. Take a moment to think. The free market- individuals seeking to benefit themselves- has a niche for those who wish to build houses, which they can sell at a profit. Now consider what the state does. By regulation, byzantine planning systems, forcing up costs and so on, it stops people building houses!

Perhaps the central thing that statists need to understand is that the state cannot create. It can only destroy. It cannot provide. It can only impede. It has no productive capacity, and can only create the illusion of production by parasitising and thus crippling the free market. You may point at a hundred houses built by the government and say “Look! The government has provided housing!” What you don’t see is the thousand houses that were not built to allow the hundred that were.

What’s the child mortality rate in Devotia? if the Devotians are letting their kids die because they’re too poor to spend it on medicines, and they don’t care very much because they believe that they go to heaven anyway, they can screw themselves.

In fact, if the Devotians care nothing for their own health, and smoke & eat chips all day because they believe it’s not important (too busy praying), they can still screw themselves.

An economist can treat preferences as “givens” for the purposes of doing economics, in the real world you can’t, because people are irrational and some preferences are just stupid. If people smoke tobacco despite knowing the risks of lung cancer… no rational person would do that, so they’re not acting rationally. In which case, those of us who do know better have a duty to protect them from themselves.

Any libertarians who have a problem with this should know that I have a heavily annoted copy of Anarchy State and Utopia (all the annotations are highly critical, some are rather explicit) and I’m not afraid to use it.

In which case, those of us who do know better have a duty to protect them from themselves.

Oh, my.

Well, firstly I didn’t say that the Devotians were doing anything you claim; I merely said that they are religious, and to a non-religious person that would seem like bad use of resources. Irrational, in fact.

So, we enter Woobegone’s tiny little mind where we find he’ll march in, close the churches, burn the bibles and generally protect the devout “from themselves”. Because they’re stupid, unlike sensible, rational Woobegone, who cannot get his nasty little mind around the fact that his definition of “rational” is subjective.

I’ve sometimes remarked to people that one great error we make is to presume that the great evil men of history are something special- unusual black swans- whereas the opposite is true. While most people are generally good, there are vast numbers who, given power over others, would do the most terrible acts of evil, all with a darned good rationalisation of why they’re doing it. You have just proved that point rather well.

There’s a place you can stick your heavily annotated book, and the sun doesn’t shine there.

Talking about Devotia, I seem to remember one of Karl Marx’s homilies concerning a man of ‘the good old stamp’ who invested a portion of his income on a ‘Family Bible’

This was apparently a one-off expence, and not a problem

Let’s face it – the inherited-wealth classes of Atheia are likely to be not very impressed by the remnants of pre-industrial Albion, still mourning the good old days of ‘Fat City’ informing on the survivors of the Peasant’s Revolt

(was getting a bit fruity)

If we are going to have a discussion about efficiency we really need to tie it into some sort of understanding with efficacy.

Anybody (ie Conservatives) can do nothing well, but it takes a different kind of genius (ie Labour) to do everything badly.

When current reality shows the present to be flawed it does have a tendency to be used by extremists to advocate their preferred extreme positions, but in our haste it is easy to forget the swings and roundabouts of fate.

Just because the current levels of state growth are becoming fractious and seemingly unsustainable there will be those who use this as evidence against the state and others who cite it as evidence that they haven’t gone far enough. But that is an immature method of opposition – it is not a question of whether or not, but of how much, now far and under what conditions.

The mythic ‘Devotia’ and ‘Atheia’ are fun thought experiments which help while away the hours, but we have always lived in an inter-related global system which has always been far more mixed than politicians ever give it credit for. For every ‘Devotia’, there must be an ‘Atheia’ – the two coexist in mutually-dichotomous dependence – the differences are only skin-deep since they are defined by their common reality.

Libertarians and Trots ARE just two sides of the same coin, sit them down and they can converse.

“So, we enter Woobegone’s tiny little mind where we find he’ll march in, close the churches, burn the bibles and generally protect the devout “from themselves”.”

Do we? Clearly my mind is so small that I forgot writing about how I hated religion and wanted to close all churches. Perhaps you could read what I wrote again and point it out to me?

…keep trying, you’ll get there.

“Because they’re stupid, unlike sensible, rational Woobegone, who cannot get his nasty little mind around the fact that his definition of “rational” is subjective.”

I can’t get my head around your abuse of the English language, but I think what you mean is that the question of *whether* a certain thing is rational or not can only be answered subjectively (the definition of the word rational is perfectly clear, I think) – in which case I answer no, that’s crap, no-one wants lung cancer, and no-one would would, if they had a straight choice, choose to the pay the price of having lung cancer for the product of a lifetime of the pleasures of tobacco. People don’t smoke because it’s a good choice, they smoke because they start for bad reasons (e.g. being 16 and impressionable) and then can’t stop.

“While most people are generally good, there are vast numbers who, given power over others, would do the most terrible acts of evil, all with a darned good rationalisation of why they’re doing it. You have just proved that point rather well.”

I’m not quite sure how preventing lung cancer counts as the most terrible act of evil. I think you might need to read the history books again, people have done a lot worse than that!

Come back when you can read, Ian.

Thomas, I don’t think you quite got the point of my little thought experiment. I created two imaginary nations for narrative purposes, but the point was to illustrate that different people have fundamentally different goals. In our nation, there are christians and atheists; each think the other is being irrational in their worldview.

If we bring in a controlling power which will force a collectivist decision about whether devoting resources to bible manufacture is “rational” then it will either prevent the christians getting bibles or impose bibles on the atheists(!) The libertarian view is the pragmatic one; it says let those who want bibles purchase bibles, and not burden those who do not want bibles with the costs of bible production.

The “efficiency” of the economy is thus seen to be a matter for individuals, not the collective, and thus effectively not worth arguing about. The original article posited some third, “objective” view which will decide at a collective level what the economy should be doing; but the bibles-for-christians argument demonstrates that to do so will invariably disatisfy one of our two classes (in reality their are a myriad of course, all with different desires).

In practical terms, a free marketeer simply doesn’t need to discuss a collective economic “efficiency” (though we are frequently forced into doing so by collectivists) since we do not seek such a collective efficiency, The efficiency is measured at the individual level- at whether people can create economic structures that provide them with their wants. Indeed, the fascination with aggregate statistics is a curse of our age that wildly distorts our perceptions (and is indeed basically the invention of collectivists seeking justification for their coercive urges). It is not for a comissar to decide that the paper used to print bibles would be better used printing copies of Das Kapital. Leave the individual to choose; because it is the individual who actually exists, while the collective is merely a label- an abstraction with no intrinsic reality.

“If people smoke tobacco despite knowing the risks of lung cancer… no rational person would do that, so they’re not acting rationally. In which case, those of us who do know better have a duty to protect them from themselves.”

This is possibly the most depressing, illiberal and terrifying thing I have ever read. Woobegone, do you really, truly not understand what is wrong with it?

Woobegone, don’t be disingenuous. You made it quite clear that your opinion of rationality should be imposed on the Devotians, once you have decided from up there on your high horse that they are being irrational. If they aren’t bringing up their kids as you think they should. If they don’t eat the foods you think they should. And so on. This is the authoritarian mind in full flow- that desperate need to run everybody else’s life. I think there’s a reasonable argument that it’s some kind of personality disorder.

I’ll be over shortly to save you from yourself.

It’s certainly apparent from the history books that zealotry has been the cause of immense human suffering, from religous persecutions to Hitler’s determination to save his nation from the obvious (to him) threat of the Jews. You seem to be gripped by a whole suite of such zealotries, from tobacco hatred to a terror of foods- symptomatic of the western zealot of our age, sadly. Your pals are after drinkers now, I note. After all, drinking alcohol is irrational too, isn’t it? Can I expect to see you charging around, Carrie Nation alike, smashing up saloons with a phalanx of boot-faced old baggages trailing behind you?

The other alternative of course would be to just leave people alone and, if they make choices you think are stupid, well, congratulate yourself for not being so dim. What’s wrong with that approach, precisely?

Now, if we’re going to decide what is in group one rather than group two via democratic means then we’re hugely open to the tyranny of the majority. That’s why we also need a basic and immutable set of rights, rights which cannot be transgressed whatever the majority thinks.

I certainly agree that this is neccessary in a democracy – there are certain things which are unacceptable even if supported by a majority of the people. But equally where an issue does not fall into this category democracy is meaningless if those who are in the minority can just ignore the majority view and do their own thing anyway. It seems to me that the question of whether we have universal provision of education or unemployment insurance paid for through taxation falls into the latter category.

If people smoke tobacco despite knowing the risks of lung cancer… no rational person would do that, so they’re not acting rationally. In which case, those of us who do know better have a duty to protect them from themselves.

Really? And what interferences do you consider necessary to protect such people from themselves?

Ian@72

“I think there’s a reasonable argument that it’s some kind of personality disorder.”

There’s a psychoanalytical term for it, Pygmalion syndrome, and it’s not a personality disorder in itself (though it can spring from one). Refers as you might imagine to a relationship between two individuals in which one unreasonably curtails the other’s free will and range of choices in order to make them more like themselves. The Labour party is the Pygmalion syndrome operating on a national scale.

Ian, the point (or one of them) I was making is that many of our economic efforts will be directed towards ends which are not matters of choice but of neccessity, due to the fact that we are human beings living in complex societies. The point about collective effort is therefore not to decide whether we should be doing these things at all, or looking at individuals and deciding whether they are spending their money “correctly” (although there may be cases, such as if they are not spending it on feeding their children, when this may be justified). It’s about deciding that by providing some essential things collectively rather than relying on the market we can ensure that everyone who needs them has access to them.

“But equally where an issue does not fall into this category democracy is meaningless if those who are in the minority can just ignore the majority view and do their own thing anyway”

That’s a reasonable idea of freedom and liberty, that the minority can get on and do their own thing regardless of the views of the majority. Which is why I’m ambivalent about democracy to be honest.

It’s not that long ago (a few “grandfathers”) that the majority agreed that sodomites should be hung. And they were. There’s actually one year in English history when more were hung for that than for murder.

If that’s your view of democracy, that it should be used so that those in a minority must submit to the will of the majority in such matters then you can stick that idea quite frankly.

I’m happy enough with the idea that those who decide to live outside the majority will do not get the benefits of those majority decisions: the Amish do not pay Social Security and do not collect any of the benefits (such as they are). I am not happy with hte idea that the majority get to tell the minority how to live. As above, that conflicts with freedom and liberty. So, which do you think more important? F&L or democracy?

Woobegone – you are shockingly wrong. Rationality cannot establish ends, merely the best means of achieving them. If somebody wants the enjoyment of smoking during their lives and is prepared to shave a few years off the crappy end of their lives for it, you don’t have any ‘rational’ way to tell them you are wrong. You may have it all worked and know what a comprehensive idea of the good life is, but we’re very unlikely to agree on what that is. Which is why politics is all about the art of knowing when to leave people alone. Anthony de Jesay actually has a short and useful article on just this point: http://mises.org/journals/jls/11_2/11_2_4.pdf

Libertarian theory runs a bit more deeply than Anarchy, State and Utopia:)

I think this label ‘libertarian’ is a bit misleading.

It means different things to different people – to some it forms an equal opposition with authoritarianism and communitarianism, to others it equates closely with economic liberalism while to another set it seems to mean “whatever the hell I want it to”.

It might be an effective political tactic to cram as many subscribers of each viewpoint into a coalition under one label, but it won’t resolve or explain the real principled differences between the different interpretations.

In the end labels are nothing more than tags or appendages – I’m not a libertarian, because I can’t be bothered with it (or something).

Ian B,
thanks, but I don’t think so. I merely try to point out the limitations of the analogy. In all real-world situations to which it could be applied the relative differences are just that – relative.
Maybe anyone who finds the analogy appealing should take a step back and attempt to form a wider perspective

Thomas,

“I think this label ‘libertarian’ is a bit misleading. It means different things to different people”

No doubt, as does any political label such as ‘liberal’, ‘socailist’ or whatever.

“…Maybe anyone who finds the analogy appealing should take a step back and attempt to form a wider perspective”

Man, I think you need to take a step forward and try to focus.

interesting….what happened to the green wing of the lib dems?

ukliberty: “This is possibly the most depressing, illiberal and terrifying thing I have ever read. Woobegone, do you really, truly not understand what is wrong with it?”

I understand exactly why some people think it’s wrong – I just happen to disagree – doesn’t happen very often on the internet I know. You don’t like it because you don’t like the idea of me “bossing people around” and curtailing their free choice, which is illiberal, and you think that if you go down that route you could justify all kinds of nasty things.

I know it’s illiberal, and I stand by it nonetheless – I don’t see curtailing someone’s free choice, per se, to be a bad thing, if the ends justify it, and in the case of smoking (and others, but that’s the example we’re running with here) I think they do. I reject the notion, in ethics and politics, that liberty is good *per se*, because although the liberal idea has a long and noble history in Western philosophy, from the outset, no-one has ever been able to explain why liberty is good per se. 100 years ago G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica branded any attempt to equate “goodness” with any other word – such as “liberty” – as the “naturalistic fallacy”, and he was right. Liberty isn’t good per se. Dying in agony from lung cancer, on the other hand, is bad per se, based on the testimony of people who have.

I’ve thought this through, you know, guys.

“Woobegone – you are shockingly wrong. Rationality cannot establish ends, merely the best means of achieving them. If somebody wants the enjoyment of smoking during their lives and is prepared to shave a few years off the crappy end of their lives for it, you don’t have any ‘rational’ way to tell them you are wrong.”

Well, that’s a popular line of argument I know. I agree – rationality cannot establish what is ultimately a good or a bad thing, and I’m not saying it can. some things are inherently good and others are inherently bad, based (loosely) on whether they involve pleasure or pain.

But human beings are not, in their day to day lives, rational. As I said, in the real world, people don’t smoke because they sit down, weigh up all the options and choose the enjoyment of smoking over 5 years of life and the strong possibility of horrible suffering. The thing is if you did sit down and weight it up, no-one would choose that.

In the real world, as the evidence shows, most people who smoke smoke for bad reasons. They start young, and then they find it hard to stop. Poor people are more likely to smoke than rich ones (http://jech.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/57/10/802) especially at young ages. In the developing world we see people are starting to smoke in large numbers due to intensive marketing campaigns. Etc.

My point is, I don’t believe that many people make a rational decision to smoke, so I don’t think we’d be curtailing their rational decision-making by banning tobacco (or, more realistically, banning advertising & raising taxes & gradually strangling the tobacco industry with regulations).

Ian B : “This is the authoritarian mind in full flow- that desperate need to run everybody else’s life. I think there’s a reasonable argument that it’s some kind of personality disorder.”

I think there’s a reasonable argument that you’re talking out of your ass – the “authoritarian mind”, personality disorder, indeed. I said come back when you could read, Ian, maybe you should read what you write before you post it?

“Dying in agony from lung cancer, on the other hand, is bad per se, based on the testimony of people who have.”

By your own logic I don’t think it is sensible to substitute words where an accurate sense of meaning may be lost.

In the above sentence ‘bad’ is an interpretation at best and wrong at worst. An agonising death is painful per se, not bad per se. Judgement is not served by generalising.

I should add that to equate pain with bad things is a human response, but it is only one. I guess you could inquire after any bondage fetishist about a demonstration if you wish.

Woobegone,

do you have a name for this philosophical/political system you are espousing?

I can think of a couple…

Woobegone:

100 years ago G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica branded any attempt to equate “goodness” with any other word – such as “liberty” – as the “naturalistic fallacy”, and he was right.

some things are inherently good and others are inherently bad, based (loosely) on whether they involve pleasure or pain.

Hmm…

Our trackback feature doesn’t seem to be working for some reason, but there’s a specific response to this article now up here:

http://www.meltingpotproject.com/mpp/2008/12/more-brand-name-problems-for-libertarianism.html

Here’s a snippet:

“One Mr. Andrew Hickey, who happens to both have several unusual marks on his neck and write for what seems to be a relatively well-known British Liberal blog, Liberal Conspiracy, recently wrote an article entitled, “Why I am Not a Libertarian.” Naturally, I assumed the reasoning had something to do with the rigid, dogmatic, practically Catholic definition of what it means to be a libertarian, and I wasn’t mistaken….”

Woobegone, I didn’t write what you attributed to me, but I almost wish I had.

If you don’t understand why freedom is a good thing, I’m not sure I’m competent to persuade you.

People do a lot of things that increase their risk of coming to harm, for all sorts of reasons. I wonder how far you would go. Suppose the loss of life expectancy due to being overweight was double that of smoking. Would you take steps to prevent people becoming so overweight and if so what would they be?

“I know it’s illiberal, and I stand by it nonetheless – I don’t see curtailing someone’s free choice, per se, to be a bad thing, if the ends justify it,”

You know, we could save ourselves an awful lot of bother by locking Woobegone up now and throwing away the key. It would be the decision of the rational majority within the context of this thread, it would prevent the near-certain suffering of whatever hapless souls Woobegone eventually decides to “save from themselves” and it arguably couldn’t infringe his/her human rights because he/she appears to waive them by stating an intent to ride roughshod over other people’s. Problem solved.

Trooper Thompson : Yes, it’s called centrism. A little bit o’ freedom, a little bit o’ regulation, mix well and simmer gently. Everything in moderation.

Dan W : I saw that coming. Hence my insertion of the word loosely. That’s my get out clause. Things are good or bad, you find out by experiencing them, most of the time pain is bad, although the point about the word “loosely” is that this is not always true.

You should read Principia Ethica, by the way. It’s very good.

ukliberty : Ah, sorry. That was intended for Alix.

“If you don’t understand why freedom is a good thing, I’m not sure I’m competent to persuade you.”

I never said freedom wasn’t a good thing, I said it wasn’t a good thing *per se*. In many circumstances it is a good thing because it helps people achieve good things. But it’s not good in itself. Or if it is – please explain why you believe that.

How far would I go? Well, if obesity were twice as bad as smoking I would certainly want to do something about it. Like “sin taxes”, subsidies on green vegetables, more bicycle lanes, that kind of thing. You know, real fascist, evil, totalitarian stuff…

Alix : I think you’ve moved past the stage of needing argument and into the stage of needing treatment. Lithium, I recommend. See a psychiatrist.

Someone call for a psychiatrist? Im here

I reject the notion, in ethics and politics, that liberty is good *per se*, because although the liberal idea has a long and noble history in Western philosophy, from the outset, no-one has ever been able to explain why liberty is good per se.

Liberty isn’t good per se.

Woo! Someone defending slavery! Hooray! Do you know, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that before, even on the t’interwebs. Obviously I have led a sheltered life.

Dying in agony from lung cancer, on the other hand, is bad per se, based on the testimony of people who have.

And their testimony is a subjective one. Do you see?

DK

Woobegone,
that’s not centrism. Centrism is neither one thing, nor the other; neither left, nor right and therefore not half-way between either. So let’s explode that myth. On the contrary, everything in moderation is decentrism – a bit right, a bit left, a bit backward, a bit forward and therefore somewhere else entirely. The difficult thing is to settle on an agreement where the wider balance can be struck.

Woobegone,

“That “pleased” does not mean “having the sensation of red”, or anything else whatever, does not prevent us from understanding what it does mean. It is enough for us to know that “pleased” does mean “having the sensation of pleasure”, and though pleasure is absolutely indefinable, though pleasure is pleasure and nothing else whatever, yet we feel no difficulty in saying that we are pleased. The reason is, of course, that when I say “I am pleased”, I do not mean that “I” am the same thing as “having pleasure”. And similarly no difficulty need be found in my saying that “pleasure is good” and yet not meaning that “pleasure” is the same thing as “good”, that pleasure means good, and that good means pleasure. If I were to imagine that when I said “I am pleased”, I meant that I was exactly the same thing as “pleased”, I should not indeed call that a naturalistic fallacy, although it would be the same fallacy as I have called naturalistic with reference to Ethics.” – G.E. Moore

This is your idea of a good read, is it?

Alix, I’m with you, get the straightjacket!

He isn’t the one who argued:

– I have hands
– Therefore I am not a brain in a vat

Was he? That really was reaching the nadir of analytic philosphy.

95. douglas clark

Devils Kitchen,

It was Liberals, not Libertarians that thought that slavery was a bad idea, was it not? And did something about it.

Or, you could argue it was Willam Wilberforce, whose politics are a bit opaque, if not reactionary that brought it about?

Woobegone,

Well, if obesity were twice as bad as smoking I would certainly want to do something about it. Like “sin taxes”, subsidies on green vegetables, more bicycle lanes, that kind of thing. You know, real fascist, evil, totalitarian stuff…

Now, I didn’t claim sin taxes, subsidised vegetables, bicycle lanes etc are fascist, evil, or totalitarian, so I hope you don’t think those are among my opinions. I would suggest however that excuses along the lines of “for your/their/our own good” have been used by a number of nasty people (and of course by quite ordinary people who go along with them). I guess that’s why you’ve caused so much consternation in this thread, but for my part I continue to wonder how far you would go and when.

I referred to overweight and smoking because I (mis)remembered a paper I find interesting. It’s called the Catalog of Risks, by B.L. Cohen: “a large variety of risks are quantified in terms of the loss of life expectancy [LLE] they cause in the United States”.

I don’t know how accurate the figures are but I think they provide food for thought here. A few sample activities, done throughout life, with LLE:

Professional boxing 8 days
Non-smoking female taking oral contraceptives from ages 15-45 25 days
Driving a small car 70 days (driving a big car increases LE by 70 days)
Dedicated mountain climbing 110 days
Living in New York 250 days
Living in Alaska 740 days
Being 15% overweight 777 days
Deep sea diving for 20 years 800 days
Smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day 6.8 years
Not using the best available (in 1991) technology and medical care to prolong life (including proper sleep, exercise, and diet) 9 years

And of course there are various LLEs relating to different occupations, measuring up to a few years in some cases. Presumably you wouldn’t persuade people against joining the fire service but at what LLE would you start interfering, in what circumstances, and what interferences would you support? For example, if you thought people should be prevented from doing things that would cause a loss of 100+ days of life expectancy would you persuade people to not climb mountains and if so how? Would you persuade people to move from New York and Alaska? How would you help overweight people reduce their LLE below the 100 day threshold? Would you force people to undergo blood transfusions and organ transplants?

Author: douglas clark
Comment:
Devils Kitchen,

It was Liberals, not Libertarians that thought that slavery was a bad idea, was it not? And did something about it.

Or, you could argue it was Willam Wilberforce, whose politics are a bit opaque, if not reactionary that brought it about?

I’m not sure what that comment was intended to mean. I don’t recall anyone claiming that “Libertarians are better [than Liberals] because they opposed slavery”. Besides, many of the voices against slavery are luminaries for both modern Liberals and what we now know (in a word that in a political sense has only been coined in the last century) as Libertarians.

But surely you comment only makes it even more egregious then that in a liberal forum such sentiments can be voiced and tolerated?

DK : “Woo! Someone defending slavery! Hooray! Do you know, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that before, even on the t’interwebs. Obviously I have led a sheltered life.”

Someone defending slavery? Where?…
oh wait, I forgot. As a libertarian you must be following Robert Nozick in his, er, rather “special” argument that taxation is slavery. Well, yes, I do believe in taxation, so by Nozick’s “unique” lights I am defending slavery. On any other, actually good definition, no I’m not.

Could people please read what I write, instead of what they would like me to have written because it makes me look stupider than they are?

TT : Yes. I know reading a book full of long words and difficult concepts might not be to everyone’s taste, or indeed, may not be an option available to those without the required brain power, but those who can often find they gain something from it.

Nick: Wow! You ought to be Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University for that searing insight! With your PhD from the University of Google (Wikipedia campus) you’re well qualified I see.

As a matter of fact G E Moore did make an argument along those lines, although obviously it was much better than your precis of it suggests, but Principia Ethica is completely seperate from that.

Moore, y’see, had more than one thought in his head.

ukliberty : You seem to be the only person here who has actually read and understood what I’m saying – thanks.

“I would suggest however that excuses along the lines of “for your/their/our own good” have been used by a number of nasty people (and of course by quite ordinary people who go along with them). I guess that’s why you’ve caused so much consternation in this thread, but for my part I continue to wonder how far you would go and when.”

Yes I know that’s why people don’t like it. They’re wrong because a) that’s guilt by association and b) There aren’t actually any historical examples of this. The Communists, for example, didn’t kill people for the good of the people they killed, they killed people for the good of “future generations”, which is completely different. I think when people dislike the idea of doing things “for their own good” what they’re afraid of is Brave New World. Which is…fiction…it’s not real.

Anyway, how far would I go? I don’t know. It would depend upon what was possible, for one thing, it’s clearly impossible to move the whole of New York to Alaska so that’s out the window.

The whole point about what I’m saying here is that you can’t build a political theory on abstract ideas. So it would depend upon the individual case. If something were very likely to improve health & save lives, and it was possible, and it wasn’t going to cause massive disruption, I would do it.

So I support curtailing tobacco & alcohol advertising, taxes on alcohol & tobacco, pro-healthy eating & pro-excercise policies, I’m strongly in favor of carbon reduction policies even if they have some moderate impact on consumers, I support mandatory vaccination, etc. These are all pragmatic policies that have a good chance of working.

On the other hand something like banning alcohol entirely, while it would have some good effects, would probably end up being a disaster in the long run. So I wouldn’t do it.

Woobegone,

Someone defending slavery? Where?…
oh wait, I forgot. As a libertarian you must be following Robert Nozick in his, er, rather “special” argument that taxation is slavery. Well, yes, I do believe in taxation, so by Nozick’s “unique” lights I am defending slavery. On any other, actually good definition, no I’m not.

No, not at all. Apart from anything else, I haven’t read any Nozick (or any other political philosophers to any real degree. I like to come up with my own opinions, you see).

Anyway, I did actually quote the bit of yours that I was referring to, but I shall do so again:

I reject the notion, in ethics and politics, that liberty is good *per se*, because although the liberal idea has a long and noble history in Western philosophy, from the outset, no-one has ever been able to explain why liberty is good per se.

Liberty isn’t good per se.

So, would it be correct to say – since “liberty isn’t good per se” – that you have no ideological opposition to slavery?

DK

Hmm. I’ve no ideological commitment to democracy – I favour it because empirically other systems have tended to have worse outcomes on a broadly utilitarian basis, but I don’t see any moral impetus behind it.

While I do actually strongly favour liberty anyway, I think it’d be possible for someone to make a similar claim here: they don’t think liberty is relevant in its own right, but they believe that empirically slavery has worse outcomes on a broadly utilitarian basis.

Woobegone,

If something were very likely to improve health & save lives, and it was possible, and it wasn’t going to cause massive disruption, I would do it.

Which is why you and I will remain implacable enemies: you are the utter antithesis of everything that I believe in.

Whilst I would be happy to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible available to make their choices – you cannot make a free choice if you cannot weight the consequences, and for that you need information – I do not support punitive policies.

People should be allowed to live their lives in whatever way they see fit. Whereas you would impose “pro-healthy eating & pro-excercise policies” (pro-exercise policies? How very reminiscent of 1984. “Come on, touch your toes, comrades.”).

You cannot tell other adult human being how to live their lives, Woobegone. Apart from anything else, you have no more moral authority than do I, or anyone else on this thread. Who are you to decide what other adults should prioritise? Who are you to tell them what they should do with their lives?

People used to believe, to use Tim Worstall’s example, that homosexuality was wrong and they pursued policies to punish those who practised it, by hanging them. This was, effectively, one group imposing their personal morality onto others. Don’t you think that’s wrong? In which case, what makes your personal morality any more valid than theirs? Or mine?*

And what if your policies did active harm? Let’s say that the current cholesterol fever gripped everyone in a really manic way and you forced us all to adopt totally cholesterol-free diets: we, your population, would be dead (and very nastily) in very short order.

Even if you believe that yours is sound, what happens in the government that follows yours? What if they pursue moral objectives that you dislike, or feel threatened by? Can you really not see how dangerous your ideas are?

DK

* The point about what I believe, i.e. libertarianism**, is that I would let people live their lives as they saw fit. If they want to form a little socialist enclave, for instance, provided no one was coerced into it, then good luck to them.

** I should point out that I am closer to Classical Liberalism than full-on anarchism, i.e. ideally, I believe in a very small state (minarchism) to handle defence of the citizen from a) overseas aggression, and the aggression of other citizens. In other words, the state should handle a) national defence, and b) the criminal justice system. Nothing more.

John b,

Hmm. I’ve no ideological commitment to democracy – I favour it because empirically other systems have tended to have worse outcomes on a broadly utilitarian basis, but I don’t see any moral impetus behind it.

Agreed.

While I do actually strongly favour liberty anyway, I think it’d be possible for someone to make a similar claim here: they don’t think liberty is relevant in its own right, but they believe that empirically slavery has worse outcomes on a broadly utilitarian basis.

Then let the man argue that. I just want to know whether he has an ideological objection to slavery: if you believe that ““liberty isn’t good per se” then surely one can have no ideological objection to slavery (putting aside questions of utility).

Besides, at risk of putting words in Woobegone’s mouth, I don’t think that the utility argument would hold much water. Judging by the comments above, Woobegone would object to the legalisation of drugs (‘cos they are bad for people) despite the fact that it is the very fact of their illegality that causes the vast majority of problems. As such, he/she is unlikely to argue from a point of utility.

DK

Woobegone: can you simply and clearly explain why, if I’m happy drinking a bottle of wine a day, doing no exercise and dining off pies, you think it’s appropriate to use the state’s coercive force to stop me?

DK,
now you’ve got me to play devil’s advocate to you.

Slavery can be defended on a variety of grounds (human liberty is the last saleable good, which is why it was historically created in relation to unpayable debts, such as war reparations).

Whether you can actually defend the practice nowadays depends on your ability to restrict your logic to that of antiquated financial systems.

The intellectual debate has moved on in that informational and communicative processes sped up sufficiently during the industrial revolution to enable the level of realisable derived incomes to surpass the basic asset price over the earning cycle. On other words as the taxable economy became more productive and was integrated on a global scale it began to expand faster.

I really don’t like using words like ‘ideological’ or ‘moral’ because they have been politicised too far to be useful any longer, though I do think how slavery causes people to behave is repugnant – it is inhuman and inhumane, and it is also uneconomic.

Slavery again? (Yawn)

“And on this night was Belshazzar the King slaughtered by his slaves”

“Tough Titty” – motto of Norwich Girl’s High

“Jaw-jaw better than war-war” ‘n all that, but eternal blah-de-blah?

I think not – the collapse of traditional employment (including the conscript army) and the ‘Welfare State’ is creating an *immediate* crisis

This should be the priorityof *any* dodgy combination

109. Richard Allan

“Dying in agony from lung cancer, on the other hand, is bad per se, based on the testimony of people who have.”

I can’t believe no-one picked this up. “The testimony of people who have died”? How are you getting this, exactly?

Well, most political solutions seem to involve little more accurate or verifiable than “channeling”. So I suppose it’s about as useful as the NSA!

Woobegone,

the only thing you seem to have gained from “reading a book full of long words and difficult concepts” is a belief in your own intellectual superiority, which has perhaps contributed to your authoritarian tendencies.

Anyway, I prefer history to the ramblings of an intellectual onanist.

What an ignorant dismissal of libertarianism. I am sorry if the free market offends socialistic sensibilities, but “liberty” is always right, even if it is messy.

Er, no, it isn’t. The problem with libertarians is that their idea of liberty is inevitably, cruel, leaves the weakest unprotected, and obsesses about liberty to the exclusion of other important matters.

Personal freedom is one issue we need to bear in mind but certainly in terms of economic ‘rights’ the emphasis seems to be very much on the right to be as greedy and individually grasping as possible

I’m sick of this sort of gross misrepresentation of libertarianism.

The emphasis, if there is an emphasis, seems to me to be on questioning whether a “state” type apparatus is the most suitable mechanism for protecting what you call the weakest whilst maximizing the ability of all (including those “weakest”) to pursue their own freedoms and ends.

Most libertarians/anarchists/mutualists/etc I know and know of, though I will admit to probably spending more of my time amongst what some might call “left libertarians” (though personally I eschew those labels because as one in particular said to me, they seem very “porous” boundaries between them), are acutely concerned about the fate of what you call the weakest and have concluded in good conscience that state sponsored and protected monopoly in fact skews the playing field to the disadvantage of the weakest more than a truly free market would.

Some seem to think that libertarians would somehow be happy simply to return to some pre-welfare state “free market” and everything would be fine. Nonsense – if that were the case, why was that supposed hey-day also the hey-day of people like the individualist anarchists and mutualists pointing out the gross inequities created by the then (and still) “big four” monopolies, for example.

Obviously this post has already been hacked to death (Rob Knight doing his usual sterling work).

Still, this amused me:

I think the main defining characteristic of a liberal – as opposed to a libertarian – is that a liberal recognises the need for such measures but thinks they should be as few and as minimal as possible.

This is very true. What I can’t understand is that, why would anyone who believes ‘such measures’ are necessary, therefore a ‘good thing’, want there to be as little as possible of this ‘good thing’? Or visa versa, someone who accepts that ‘such measures’ are a bad, destructive thing ever tolerate their use at all?

Do you see what I’m saying? Either you accept that ‘such measures’ are a bad thing and resist them entirely, or accept they’re a good thing – which is the libertarian point of view. We like to be consistent and logical, apparently.

Usually the response comes that sometimes it’s necessary from a pragmatic and/or electoral point of view and that they’ll only support it when it’s absolutely necessary.

In practical terms though, it’s always absolutely necessary. Always. Welfare state? Necessary. Redistribution? Necessary.

It may be dressed up differently but how is this any different from what Labour do? What makes a ‘liberal’ any different from a ‘democratic socialist’?

I sure as hell can’t tell the difference. Can anyone?

116. Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Good post Andrew. The post and its thread represents what is good about the blogosphere – that through the discussion and ideas one learns and understands a bit more…
My understanding of Liberal Vision and Progressive Vision is that they exist side by side with Mark Littlewood heading the first and Shane Frith heading the second (and Mark doing comms for both).
Given this, it is interesting though that one can access PV easily through LV’s home page but not the reverse. Maybe they should sort this out.


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