Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously


8:43 am - August 17th 2009

by Sunder Katwala    


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Here are three reasons why Hannanism matters rather more than some of its slightly more moderate supporters will want to admit last weekend.

1. The big idea:
Hannan is both the most strident and the most feted contemporary British advocate of what has been the dominant idea in the Anglo-American right for the last thirty years. The idea is: “less state equals more freedom”.

There is still every reason to think that this remains the dominant ideological belief in the Conservative Party.

Listen carefully to debates on the right and objections to Hannanism are often matters of strategy and tactics. Many Conservatives disagree with the vehemence with which Hannan expresses his views. But these are usually differences of degree, rather than differences of directionality. Few want to go as far as Hannan in taking arguments to their logical conclusion.

So the content of Hannanism – less state, less tax, less regulation, less Europe – remains the content of most Conservative public advocacy.

This is why Hannan does often succeed in framing debates within the Conservative party, and why he has often proved effective in creating ideological space for more moderate right-wingers.

He has not won the argument for getting out of the European Union, but he is confident that he is advancing quickly. And he can point to significant successes in holding his leadership’s feet to the fire. When David Cameron finally had to face up to a choice between breaking a pledge to Hannan’s Eurosceptics or a deep diplomatic rift with Merkel and Sarkozy, it was not Dan Hannan who ended up disappointed.
(I have written before than Hannan is something of a Tory Trot, but you would struggle to find comparable policy successes of Labour’s Campaign Group left within their own party in the last twenty years).

2. Generational change:
This generation of Conservatives were deeply influenced by the Thatcher-Reagan counter-revolution of the 1980s. They understand the need to modernise the party’s image. But, on the whole, they do not accept that there is a case for a deep shift in the party’s underlying ideological and political beliefs.

It is fair to say that this comes across fairly strongly in surveys of the next generation of PPCs, conducted by ConservativeHome and The Guardian.

It is never difficult to hear from “outriders” who believe that Cameron will succeed if he is bold in becoming more right-wing in office. Fraser Nelson, Tim Montgomerie, Iain Dale and all in different ways promote a modern Conservatism as the politically successful rehabilitation of the party’s Thatcherite core beliefs. A more Hannanite view still is expressed from outside the party in the populist libertarianism of Guido Fawkes.

By contrast, you may search the blogsophere in vain for prominent Conservative grassroots voices who are “outriders” to the left of the frontbench, upstream of the occasional delphic progressive arguments of Mr Letwin or Mr Willetts. The uber-modernisers are a small group party strategists, journalists and think-tankers. They, so far, lack any significant constituency in the party. The so-called progressive Conservativism has been much more discussed in The Guardian, at Demos, on Liberal Conspiracy or on Next Left than they are in right-of-centre think-tanks and websites.

3. Where is the alternative?
Perhaps the main reason that Hannanism retains its grip because David Cameron has not identified an alternative position of any substantive depth or coherence.

That does not mean that Cameron is not aware of the dangers and limits of Hannanism. One Tory frontbencher David Willetts cleverly described himself as a libertarian who had had children; other Tory frontbenchers might be described as Thatcherites who have looked at the opinion polls. Boris Johnson’s London Mayoralty, with its equality strategy and centrist noises, demonstrate the difficulties of Hannanism in power.

So Cameron has attempted a more pluralist Toryism. He has tried to sponsor delicate blooms of Green and Red Toryism which would barely exist without his patronage. But nothing has yet put down any significant roots in the party iself.

This is why Cameronism has often looked like a media strategy in search of a big idea. As one Tory frontbencher told John Harris recently, David Cameron “wants to find a view of the world which is right-wing and Tory yet which explains why he doesn’t want village post offices to shut”.

Cameron is something of a dispositional Conservative: he doesn’t want his party to become narrowly libertarian, fearing that a Toryism “that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” is inadequate.

Cameron gets “mood music” on this from Phillip Blond. But even the party leadership recognises this is work in progress at best, and freely admits that the ‘progressive’ Cameron agenda at the top is a very elitist, top down project, involving perhaps a dozen people at most.

This lack of any coherent alternative also helps to explain why the Tory frontbench’s response to the recession saw it so quickly return to the comfort zone of Margaret Thatcher’s household economics, eschewing the Tory progressive tradition of Macmillan’s Keynesianism.

So Dan Hannan has dug in for the long-game. He surely knows that he will never entirely prevail. But that may be to miss the point.

He can already claim to be the party’s most influential backbench voice, all the more impressive when billeted between Brussels and Strasbourg and not in Westminster.

And, beneath the sound and fury of Fox TV, Hannan may already be having rather more of an uncharacteristically quiet influence than many recognise.

———————
A longer version is over at Next Left

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Equality ,Libertarians ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Are you trying to claim that “less state equals more freedom” is an incorrect statement?

The last time I checked, having a bureaucrat in Whitehall having increased power to spend my money and denying me the right to make that choice for myself = less freedom.

Now, you can justifiably argue that in selected areas, increasing state funded spending can help some sections of society – but as an overall principle, outsourcing more to the state by its very nature leads to less individual choice.

2. Shatterface

Hannan’s beyond the pale, even by Tory standards. The publicity he gets will harm Cameron more than Labour.

Red Toryism is a con, but it’s a con based on the acknowledgement that the public has no appetite for neoconservatism any more.

I want to see Labour take a kicking at the election for any number of reasons, but Hannan makes that less likely.

3. Shatterface

‘Are you trying to claim that “less state equals more freedom” is an incorrect statement?’

Just how ‘free’ are those who cannot afford private healthcare, or private education, etc?

‘The last time I checked, having a bureaucrat in Whitehall having increased power to spend my money and denying me the right to make that choice for myself = less freedom.’

Then you have a very limited understanding of the word ‘freedom’, which is little more than the ‘freedom’ to pay less tax.

‘Now, you can justifiably argue that in selected areas, increasing state funded spending can help some sections of society – but as an overall principle, outsourcing more to the state by its very nature leads to less individual choice.’

And how is ‘choice’ working out for America’s poor?

@Shatterface

“Just how ‘free’ are those who cannot afford private healthcare, or private education, etc?”

You defeat yourself with this point. If not being able to afford private healthcare is a benchmark for ‘freedom’ then we’d have darn sight more people with ‘freedom’ if we didn’t have to pay such high levels of tax for the NHS.

Why can you not bear to listen or understand the points Hannan makes when he says he isn’t advocating Britain take up a US system of healthcare, or when he points out that he isn’t suggesting the state ignore the poor. He absolutely supports the state providing support for those who cannot afford private health insurance, but he also believes that it doesn’t require a 1.4 million strong, practical-monopoly workforce to deliver healthcare. He is about individual choice, for both the poor and the rich.

IanVisits

Yes, I think that an argument which believes that the lower a % of GDP taken in taxation, the more freedom there is in society (which is the premise of, say, the ‘Tax Freedom Day’ calculation of the Adam Smith Institute – they never award the prize to Somalia or another failed state though ) is nonsense, even if it drives most right-wing ideology.

A good example of the shortcomings of this view – when taken to its logical conclusion, as it often is by the New Right – can be found in Dan Hannan’s own claim in 2004 that

“Being outside the EU, Iceland has been able to cut taxes and regulation, and to open up its economy. For 70 years the Althing has been dominated by the splendidly named Independence party, which has pursued the kind of Thatcherite agenda that is off limits to EU members

Icelanders understand that there is a connection between living in an independent state and living independently from the state. They have no more desire to submit to international than to national regulation. That attitude has made them the happiest, freest and wealthiest people on earth”.
http://www.nextleft.org/2008/10/dan-hannans-icelandic-utopia.html

On the whole, they would certainly be happier and wealthier – but also now substantively freer in my view – if they had employed a slightly different and more effective approach to economic and financial regulation.

This is not a claim that more taxation or a higher state/GDP % is always better; merely that this driving ideological premise of the right is too rarely challenged.

Another related claim is that a lower % is always more economically dynamic and effective. Finland is a good counter-example there, while North Korea can correctly be critiqued as an example of state suffocation of all private initiative or individual liberty. However, the claim that Finland is closer to North Korea than eg East European countries with a smaller state seems a bit silly to me.

Have you read The Plan? I only ask because you seem to have managed to describe “Hannanism” without reference to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Plan-Twelve-Months-Renew-Britain/dp/0955979900 . What about the Localist papers? http://www.douglascarswell.com/news.aspx?id=14

You seem to present his views as being nothing more than re-heated Thatcherism. Yet Thatcher was a huge centralising influence on the Conservative party (taking away powers from local councils, introducing managerial control over the public services etc). Hannan is the opposite: anti-EU sure, but also pro-local democracy. A pretty similar agenda to what Labour were pursuing under Smith, if I am not too mistaken.

It is funny too, because more independent councils is a pretty big thing on the Left too. Yet I hardly hear anyone talking about the near identical direction being pursued by Tory radicals. Why this Chinese wall, to the extent you barely even mention the localist polices of one of its biggest proponents? It reminds me how crazy this left/right divide is. Seems to be more about making a division between parties than philosophies.

7. the a&e charge nurse

Sunder, I do not think there has ever been a conservative political philosophy if we take it to mean a coherent system of precepts grounded in a set of immutable principles?

That is not to say the conservatives do not have certain preferences but the defining characteristic of conservatism (at a political level) is to “palliate the natural and unavoidable evils of human life and to refrain from adding to them” – if we take John Gray’s description.

To this extent I have always had a sneaking admiration for conservatism, at least on a theoretical level since they seem to be a party that are not hamstrung by a grand plan or project of human salvation. Projects like these are almost always doomed to fail largely because of the rule of unintended consequences (municipal town planning is a particular bug bear of mine).

But in practice the Tories have ended up with scary politicians like Thatch or Dan the man and which reasonable person would ever want to associate themselves with such unpalatable characters, eh?

Incidentally, I think this impacts on your “less state equals more freedom” theorem.

It is clear that, whichever way you cut it, more bureaucracy without democratic accountability equals less freedom. You don’t need to be a wild-eyed libertarian to believe that. Republican theorists believe that too. So do basically all liberals who put democracy at the heart of their theory. Yet this is exactly what we are getting in Europe, symbolised by the (democratically) unstoppable steam roller of the Lisbon Treaty.

Arguably a strong state with high levels of local democracy and participation would be a greater protection on liberty (though I still think the rule of law, an independent judiciary and property rights seems to have served as quite well too). But the status quo really cannot be seen to be protecting freedom as executive powers get delegated out to unaccountable agencies etc..

You defeat yourself with this point. If not being able to afford private healthcare is a benchmark for ‘freedom’ then we’d have darn sight more people with ‘freedom’ if we didn’t have to pay such high levels of tax for the NHS.

This argument is so muddled I’m struggling to get my head around it. When the NHS performed an operation upon me two years ago my condition was ended, thus meaning I had no requirement for private healthcare to sort it out. I didn’t need to afford a bloody BUPA contract, because the NHS was there & thus our miserably poor family was not left even more of a financial cripple. Had it not been there I’d have been stuck packing an increasingly hefty hydrocele, & there are many in America who’ve had to deal with far worse.

“Oh, but Europe!” you might cry (in the manner that explains why the Tories were never completely sold on libertarians, who are apparently a pack of frog-lovers). Well, Europe funds healthcare a lot more heavily. So much for less GDP on taxes = More freedom.

Nick – An ironclad rule of politics is no one EVER localises. Do you honestly think that anyone would go to such trouble to take power only to hand it all away?

The reason you won’t hear the ardent localism of Hannan mentioned by Sunder is that it doesn’t fit with his crude ‘Hannanism’ device. In Katwalaworld, localism can only understood in Tory terms as one of Cameron’s modernising con words (like ‘green’ and ‘progressive’) invented by Steve Hiton as another varient of porcine lipstick.

Clever-stupid attempts to frame the argument by sticking the label ‘Hannanism’ on the Conservative anti-big state critique will fool no one.

Sorry, Sunder – one can be dismayed by the growth of the state and still support the principles of the NHS.

How does local councils spending so much money on CCTV or use anti terrorism, allowing vast numbers of officials obtain telephone and e-mail records, setting up vast national data bases of personal information; legislation to spy on parents or the setting up of Regional Developmnt Agencies, achieve anything
other than increase state spending and reduce our freedoms?

How has the EU fishing policy done anything but ruin our fishing stocks when compared to those managed by Icland, Norway and Canada and the CAP done anything to reduce the cost food for the poorest people. The CAP has also resulted in EU food being dumped in developing countries and led to damage of their farming sector.

Hannan has also pointed out that countries such as France and Germany provide universal health care but do not use the UK’s method of funding. In fact no other EU country uses our method of funding.

Where Labour ought to become worried is if people look at other EU countries which provide universal health care and realise other methods are preferable.
Labour appear to consider saving the NHS in the present form is of paramount importance; I think improving the health of the British people is of paramount importance. If adopting another system or mixture of other systems ( France , Germany, Austria , Netheralnds, Scandinavian countries ) then we should do so.
The insistance that the the UK method of funding a health service when compared to other countries appears somewhat parochial especially when hardly anyone has studied other systems for comparison purposes.

“Nick – An ironclad rule of politics is no one EVER localises. Do you honestly think that anyone would go to such trouble to take power only to hand it all away?”

It is an iron clad rule that has been broken amongst the EU-15, 9 out of 15 of which have reduced central government expenditure as a share of public spending since the 1970s. In fact, Britain looks more like an outlier than a typical country in this respect because our economic reforms were much more centrally driven. This is according to Roland Vaubel who claims “There is no iron law of centralistion”: http://www.iea.org.uk/record.jsp?type=book&ID=457

13. Andrew Withers LPUK

I agree with your analysis of Cameronian politics, but disagree entirely with your outdated Right v Left outlook.

The argument that dare not speak its name is Liberty v Authoritarianism. As members of a bankrupt State that has been compelled to print more money, the people of this country whether they vote Conservative/Labour/Social Democrat will have to pay greater and greater proportions of their income to a bloated and incompentent State, whilst the private sector is diminished or force to move abroad to survive.

Being in debt reduces you to the status of a slave, the hysteria over the National Health Service and the vested interests that support this monolith proves the point that an honest debate is just not possible. There are many different systems in the world that do not allow 17 000 avoidable deaths a year.

Whilst Cameron is playing to the gallery, Hannan is a conviction politician. Even though he is sheltering in the Conservatives, we need more independent politicians of his ilk not lobby fodder.

14. the a&e charge nurse

[12] Labour appear to consider saving the NHS in the present form is of paramount importance.

No Charlie2 – Labour want to introduce markets into the NHS, in fact they already have, and to quite a large extent too.
The public don’t seem to realise it though because Burnham & Co have not come out with it in such straightforward terms – Hannan to his credit at least nails his colours to the flag.
Like Thatch we can at least say he seems to be a man of convictions.

Is it just me, or are LibCon threads becoming increasingly domianted by rightists who are out to attack every article?

A lot of the more reflective leftist commentators seems to have withdrawn, with out and out tories taking the fore.

Maybe it’s just a summer thing. But I do hope this place doesn’t go the way of CiF…

the a&e charge nurse@8
‘I do not think there has ever been a conservative political philosophy’

Yes and no – it changes over time but one thing is consistent, the philosophy will always favour the ruling class. In ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, Burke writes “conservatives do not believe in individuals, individuals pass like shadows”,
doesn’t sound like Thatcher does it? But this philosophy suited the existing political and social climate whereby the landed class ruled. As industrialists became the new economic elite the Conservatives moved towards their philosophy of laissez-faire, which always enabled the new working-class to be exploited. The new economic elites are the large multi-nats and this is where policy favours. Those poor sods at Countryside Alliance still believe that the tories are their natural defenders and so too the small business person. Anyway, my point is that whatever the prevailing philosophy might be, it isn’t one which favours the many, and it isn’t one that is ‘naturally’ comfortable with an NHS or a welfare state generally.

15. the a&e charge nurse. Do any European countries have markets in their health services and if so what are the results? Have the introduction of markets of been any benefit or have they always been detrimental?

Hannan is pure evil. David Cameron’s worst nightmare. If we play it correctly, could well be an election-turner.

Those quotes of his, on a party-political broadcast, pure dynamite!

Can’t see Cameron sacking the ****; more fool him…

So the content of Hannanism – less state, less tax, less regulation, less Europe – remains the content of most Conservative public advocacy.

What Hannan is arguing for, Sunder, is less and more local government and if you think that is the Tory agenda you are mistaken. People on the liberal left need to hear and understand Hannan’s agenda without listening through the party ear muffs.

Whilst the article is generally thoughtful, it is both amusing and dispiriting to see how it seems impossible for you to see beyond last century’s Labour/Tory-Left/Right struggle. Why need someone who supports the current Labour government be concerned about Cameron- his ethos and policies are identical to that which we have been enduring under Brown. The torturer might be about to change but the pain will be the same.

Hannan fits no better in the Tory party than Tony Benn does in Labour and they both have much more in common than is obvious from a statist perspective.

Ask them both if they would have let the banks go bust.

Ask them both if we should be supporting the US in Afghanistan.

Ask them both if they are in favour of localism or multi-national corporatism.

Ask them both if we should accept European governance.

Ask them both their views on government by unelected quangos and fake charities.

Ask them both about individual freedom and the surveillance state.

Oh yes, and they both have the courage of their convictions.

@ comment 14:

“I agree with your analysis of Cameronian politics, but disagree entirely with your outdated Right v Left outlook. The argument that dare not speak its name is Liberty v Authoritarianism.”

Well, that is what Hannan and co. will try and tell you. But it is the same of ‘everyone is free to sleep under the bridges of Paris’ claptrap. Try asking the medically uninsured and uninsurable about what would improve their liberty. Sheesh.

“Ask them both if they would have let the banks go bust.”

And it’s their answer to that question in particular which – despite coming from totally different ideological starting points – demonstrates which they should not be anywhere near power.

The problem with bailing out the banks was not the bail-out itself; that was necessary to stop us going back to a fricking barter economy.

The problem was Brown and the Fundamentally Suppine Authority handing over all our money and getting absolutely fuck nothing in return, when it was the biggest opportunity in history to change the relationship and the balance of power between the forces of capital and labour.

“The problem with bailing out the banks was not the bail-out itself; that was necessary to stop us going back to a fricking barter economy.”

Either your father’s a banker, or you’ve swallowed a big big fish about how essential one particular set of banks are to the running of an overall economy. There has always been an alternative way to get banking running as normal again in fairly short order: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2495820480786986515

Hi Sunder,

Good article, just one bit I don’t agree with.

Your point 3 is that there is no well developed alternative to ‘Hannanism’ within the Tory Party.

I think there is a pretty clear and well-developed alternative within the Tory Party, which is Blairism. Cameron calls himself the ‘heir to Blair’, and has positioned the Tories as supporters of a wide range of Blairite policies, e.g. on public service reforms, against ‘Old Labour’ and the Brownites. He’s also accepted the Blairite arguments on social liberalism and the NHS. It is easy to imagine their schools policy being proposed by Blairites.

So the dominant ideology in the Tory Party, which Hannanism is challenging, is a kind of ‘New Labour without the redeeming features’.

I have blogged on the Cameron/Hannan struggle for the soul of Conservatism on my Telegraph blog at: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/garrincha
Please feel free to join the debate there.

“Either your father’s a banker, or you’ve swallowed a big big fish about how essential one particular set of banks are to the running of an overall economy. There has always been an alternative way to get banking running as normal again in fairly short order: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2495820480786986515

Well my father was no banker. As for swallowing big fish…well my opinion that the banks needed to be bailed out (but that what followed has been a tragedy) comes more from hearing Vince Cable and his economic advisory team discuss the problem over the last 6 months. You know, people who have worked in economics and finance for entire lifetimes, and have a great deal of expertise in the area.

Forgive me if i’m going to be more swayed by them than the googlevideo links of a troll.

Don,

I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism of Sunder. He says there is no “well developed” alternative to Hannanism within the Tories. I think your description of Heir-to-Blairism could fairly be labelled “not well developed”.

Even if it is a video of a Professor of Financial Risk management? Maybe worth giving a listen to at least. And just because my criticisms of what is perhaps the shallowest article on LibCon for some time appear to be invisible to everyone else on this thread, doesn’t make me a troll. I mean it is pretty impressive to manage to discuss “Hannanism” without discussing The Plan or localism.

28. Yorkshireman

Dan Hannan is a radical thinker and despite all the smears and hyperbole aimed at him, the points he makes are sound and considered. Hannan is one of the best and original thinkers in politics whether you agree with him or not. Better a Dan Hannan than the mindless unthinking lobby fodder that makes up much of Parliament

No one wants to dismantle the principles of the NHS but the current structure, model and financing are out dated and need reform. Breaking up a state run monopoly is never a bad thing.

Around 30,000 people have died from MRSA in hospitals in recent years. Do you think these peoples families believe that the NHS is untouchable to criticise.

“A lot of the more reflective leftist commentators seems to have withdrawn, with out and out tories taking the fore.”

I must say I do find myself wondering whether to bother responding when at least half the comments in the thread are unreadably bad libertarian gibberish, and that’s from someone with an increasing interest in libertarian influence on the right of the Conservatives, since it informs a lot of the debate over which way Boris Johnson is taking London (tacking left, if you want the current best effort analysis).

“And how is ‘choice’ working out for America’s poor?”

Reasonably well actually. The standard of living of the bottom 10% of the US is about the same as that of the bottom 10% of Finland or Sweden.

No, really, it is.

“The standard of living of the bottom 10% of the US is about the same as that of the bottom 10% of Finland or Sweden.”

you got a link for that?

“I must say I do find myself wondering whether to bother responding when at least half the comments in the thread are unreadably bad libertarian gibberish”

Look on the bright side – all the time they’re writing gibberish here they’re not doing any damage in the real world.

all the time they’re writing gibberish here they’re not doing any damage in the real world.

Heh – true, especially if the results from Norwich North are anything to go by.

Sidestepping the predictable arguments between libertarians and lefties here, I think there are important points that Sunder makes in this article:

1. The idea is: “less state equals more freedom”.

Question for lefties: what is the e3quivalentr leftwing big idea? How do we encapsulate it so well?

2. Listen carefully to debates on the right and objections to Hannanism are often matters of strategy and tactics. Many Conservatives disagree with the vehemence with which Hannan expresses his views. But these are usually differences of degree, rather than differences of directionality. Few want to go as far as Hannan in taking arguments to their logical conclusion.

Also a very important point. What’s interesting here though is that the right doesn’t descend into in-fighting everytime someone expresses a more extreme view. They recognmise the importance of boundary-pushers such as Hannan while cosying up to the electorate with more moderate policies. So where are the leftwing firebrands who will hold the party’s feat to the fire and yet not descend into mud-slinging everytime?

3. That does not mean that Cameron is not aware of the dangers and limits of Hannanism. One Tory frontbencher David Willetts cleverly described himself as a libertarian who had had children; other Tory frontbenchers might be described as Thatcherites who have looked at the opinion polls. Boris Johnson’s London Mayoralty, with its equality strategy and centrist noises, demonstrate the difficulties of Hannanism in power.

Agreed. If these people were to ever come into power, their supporters would be very quickly disappointed.

[10] James

“I didn’t need to afford a bloody BUPA contract, because the NHS was there & thus our miserably poor family was not left even more of a financial cripple”

Please actually read the arguments put forward by people who propose massive changes to the NHS. Nobody, not even Hannan, is proposing a move to a system where the poor are left without some form of healthcare (although why let facts spoil a good argument). Read his blog – he isn’t saying that Britain should change to a American healthcare model, he is saying that America shouldn’t change to a British model. It’s a big difference.

There are two arguments being rolled out against Hannan, both of them completely false. These arguments are “without the NHS the poor wouldn’t get healthcare” and the other is to say “the NHS treated my gran. Hannan would get rid of the NHS therefore my gran wouldn’t have been treated”. To the first one, it is always worth repeating that healthcare for the poor is not a unique feature of the NHS – all Western systems feature support for the less well off. To the second, the NHS didn’t treat your gran – the doctors and nurses did. Those same doctors and nurses would treat your gran under whatever system we had – again, there is nothing special about the way the NHS treated her.

Are people really so closed off that if I had a model of a system that would deliver exactly the same health service for patients but for £30bn less, they would reject it because it was cheaper?

“you got a link for that?”

Sure.

http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/swa06_ch08_international.pdf

Figure 8D on page 25.

Comparing the incomes (as a percentage of US median incomes) of the bottom and top 10% of various countries adjusted for PPP.

If you want to go further you can rootle around in the Luxembourg Incomes Study for the original papers by Tim Smeeding. Yes, he does discuss the costs of health care and also food prices: says they roughly balance each other out actually.

No, Smeeding is not some ghastly right winger and that .pdf was published by a very lefty US think tank (Dean Baker, Matt Yglesias sort of lefty).

The actual (as opposed to relative within each country) living standards of the bottom 10% are equal to within 1% of income in Finland, Sweden and the US.

Woah, check out Canada’s distribution in that table. That looks pretty damn healthy. Just a pity its so cold. Switzerland looks great too, though partly a function of it being so small.

@26

my opinion that the banks needed to be bailed out comes more from hearing Vince Cable and his economic advisory team discuss the problem over the last 6 months. You know, people who have worked in economics and finance for entire lifetimes, and have a great deal of expertise in the area.

Our top bankers worked in economics and finance for entire lifetimes. Perhaps it might be time for a new approach?

i’m going to be more swayed by them than the googlevideo links of a troll.

What was I saying about party ear muffs?

thanks for all comments

re@8 a&e emergency nurse on conservatism as undoctrinaire. I would say Yes, but.

I agree that this is part of the attraction of conservatism, in Oakeshott, Burke, etc. It prefers the known to the unknown; conserves the familiar, etc; warns that change has unintended consequences; is anti-utopian. This is an important argument within any society. This can also be problematic. Conservatism is also politically important because it is a defence/legitimation of established interests against change. An undoctrinaire conservatism would not push – for example – the anti-slavery or desegregation agenda in the American south. But conservatism as a disposition is perhaps particularly attractive where it has liberal foundations: for example, when there were non-wingnut US conservatives are essentially defending a liberal political order. (A personal theory of mine is that several of the most effective left-of-centre politicians and thinkers have combined clear left-wing principles with a fair dose of dispositional conservatism: I would offer you Orwell, Attlee, Nehru and Mandela as lefties who fit that theory quite strongly).

But Thatcherism and the New Right rupture conservatism and are unConservative in this sense – because they are ideological whereas conservatism was not; because they promote change based on that ideological position. This was their attraction – they take on established interests, including the old patrician Tory elite, as well as left interests, and created new social coalitions (eg council house sales, shares, etc) – as well as their contradiction (economic liberalism as disruptive of social conservatism; while distributionally the promise to new Tory social constituencies was not kept, in that they ended up concentrating wealth rather more than they spreading it)

Hannanism is also principled and ideological, and so wants to disrupt the established order based on its Hayekian position. But Hannanism differs from Thatcherism in being socially as well as economically liberal, reflecting some sociological changes of the last 30 years too. Beyond that, it has similar strengths and weaknesses.

re @11 Hannanism as a “crude clever/stupid device”. You are entitled to your view but I would say that my analysis of Tory internal politics is fairly similar to that of many on the right. Indeed, here is the political correspondent of the Daily Express twittering that he agrees with the analysis of this post, without being a natural supporter of mine
http://twitter.com/gabrielmilland/statuses/3358965615

The “tories haven’t changed” is a partially true over-simplification. Where have the Tories changed? On image, on personnel, and on acknowledging social liberalism as a matter of fact which they prefer to celebrate than reverse. Where haven’t they changed as much? On the broader anti-statism which drove the New Right agenda.

I think this is a broadly similar analysis to many on the ‘inside right’ of the Tory party, ie those who are supportive of Cameron without feeling that they need to significantly resile from a ‘less state’ and ‘less tax’ agenda. In particular, It has a lot of overlap with Tim Montgomerie’s setting out why he thinks the next generation are ‘modern Thatcherites’ – and I think ConservativeHome have provided good evidence for that.

Now I do accept that there can be a tendency for Labour to stress the strength of the Tory right, and the Tories the strength of the Labour Left. But it is an empirical question as to their relative strength: few would seriously doubt the Tory right is rather stronger and more confident than the Labour left, certainly not those involved in those camps. (Why is a complex issue that might be worth more discussion).

Indeed, the call from the right for a more ‘balanced’ modernising agenda has won a lot of the strategic and tactical arguments since Andy Coulson joined the Tory leadership team in the summer of 2007. And there are good reasons to think that wing would be emboldened if they did win. They might well say that the polls do show that they could get a good deal of the ‘brand decontamination” effect they were looking for without “uber-modernising”

Personally I regret that (which may well cheer up the right further). I would strongly prefer the Tory modernisers to have a substantive agenda and to win their internal argument. That would entrench political change. In 2005-6, I thought that seemed possible though untested. I wrote in Prospect in December 2005 “Long-term political change is embedded when you convert your opponents. If David Cameron makes a serious attempt to modernise the Tories, Labour should welcome it” …
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-rentoul/john-rentoul-dave-terrific-but-he-doesnt-have-a-chance-518957.html

I don’t think Cameron is Hannanite. I suspect he is looking for something to articulate why he doesn’t have that agenda – especially when public provision is popular (NHS, post offices, maternity services) as the Tory frontbencher quoted by John Harris puts it.

And he wants or needs to explain as a not purely political or poll-driven response, though that is part of the political movitation for the position of course. But I see no reason to think that Cameron’s ‘social responsibility’ argument for limits to libertarianism is insincere: it is a conservative position, albeit once used to explain an accomodation with some social democratic political achievements, like the NHS.

But I don’t see that he Cameron has offered much depth to this – which is why the internal pressure tends to come from the right. I have written that I think that Cameron is trying to sponsor alternative views in the party – not necessarily because he agrees with them, but because I think his pragmatic centrist position is endangered if the right is the only internal pressure which exists. If Hannan were leader, he would not be doing this kind of Guardianista flirtation … So it is interesting that Cameron is doing it, but that raises as many questions as it answers as to why he is doing it, and how far that will have any substantive political consequences in the end.
http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=3799

On @7 and localism and The Plan, etc. It is a fair question.

I would take a different view of Hannan’s advocacy of localism. I think localism is advocated from different points on the political spectrum for different reasons. Sometimes those different arguments can lead to similar policy positions; sometimesthere might be significant differences in what similar language is actually arguing for in policy terms. (esp while it remains a v.rhetorical debate, in which the political choices and trade-offs are not often addressed seriously)

So there is a pro-politics argument from liberals and social democrats which is typified in LibDem and Liberal Conspiracy localism.This will enhance democratic accountability, and may well deepen the legitimacy of public provision and arguments for tackling entrenched inequalities. More local provision might be better entrench support for public provision. James Graham’s challenge to me on ‘postcode lotteries’ seems to me to have this motivation.
http://socialliberal.net/2009/08/09/there-is-nothing-random-about-local-control-of-public-services/

From a source not seen as necessarily on the pro-localism side of the argument, the Fabian tax commisison, for example, argued that more local taxation should be part of a hypothecation agenda, where there is a clearer public argument about what tax is for and where it goes.

Now, some on the right can be pretty clear that their motivation is different. This is in part an empirical question – which political projects would benefit from less centralisation. This is what the Carswell et al ‘Hannanite’ pamphlet Direct Democracy in 2005 said about their overall motivation in arguing for political reform, of which localism arguments are one part.

“The single most important component in the US Republicans’ success is something that the British right could mimic, namely their determination to articulate the electorate’s disdain for politicians and functionaries. A series of anti-politics policies – ranging from term limits for legislators to limitations on budgets, helped establish in the public mind that at least some Republicans were with ‘us’ against ‘them’ – with, that is, the country against its apparat. This, above all, is what the Conservatives need to do”.

So far, so much that many of the LC liberals and lefties will agree with. However, this proposal to “tap into anti-politician feeling” is articulated as a way to “take our stand on the individual against the state” and to promote the idea that “the citizen should be as free as possible from state coercion“. This then leads to the policy agenda to replace the NHS with a different social insurance model, etc.

My point is that there is a very clear definition of ‘freedom from’ and never ‘freedom to’ which is underpinning the whole project … I think this is a distinctive feature of the localism agenda being advocated from this part of the liberal/libertarian right.

This does not mean that all localisms have this motivation – but this one clearly does. It says it does anyway.

Sunder – ok that is a fair point. But are you really prepared to leave the “anti-state coercion” imperative to the Right? France uses a social insurance model for health care but their system isn’t more “right wing” than ours. But it is, arguably, a little less coercive because you can choose more easily where you get treated and allows for a more continuous mix of private and public provision.

I don’t think the distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom to” is ever that clear anyway, but the left are traditionally very concerned about lots of sorts of “freedom froms” in the sense of freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, even if it something that New Labour don’t seem to have in their DNA.

@41 Nick

Yes, I agree with that. It must be freedom from and freedom to, or freedom from as a constitutive part of freedom to. There are complexities and trade-offs in that but the end is a substantive version of liberty as autonomy.

So also agree that a (reasoned) left-liberal critique of New Labour’s authoritarian tendencies is something I am certainly sympathetic to. (I would probably not find them guilty on all charges/counts, but on some certainly).

The interest around the left in ‘democratic republicanism’ which Stuart White has written a lot on at Next Left is one attempt at the level of ideas to reopen a ‘liberty and equality’ left. It also is politically important to return to a clearer commitment to civil liberties if we want broad social democratic-left-liberal alliances to be rebuilt.
http://www.nextleft.org/2009/02/what-is-democratic-republicanism.html

We tried to discuss some of this at the Fabian/Compass event at the Liberty Convention on the Left and Liberty.
http://www.modernliberty.net/programme/open-session/4-the-left-and-liberty

‘What’s interesting here though is that the right doesn’t descend into in-fighting everytime someone expresses a more extreme view.’

Sunny, when you get an idea stuck in your head, you really fail at checking that against reality.

In the US, there is certainly some kind of point to be made about ‘Blue Dog’ democrats, Michelle Malkin, and so forth. But a local tactical truth applicable there isn’t necessarily a universal law that applies everywhere.

If it was, then Cameron wouldn’t have had to disown Hannon.

Moronic brown shirt trolll

“You defeat yourself with this point. If not being able to afford private healthcare is a benchmark for ‘freedom’ then we’d have darn sight more people with ‘freedom’ if we didn’t have to pay such high levels of tax for the NHS.”

How stupid to you have to be to write tosh like this. Just another example of the greed and selfishness of most Tories. “I got mine….. fuck you”

44. Peter Jukes

This is an excellent and seminal piece, Sunder. Also enjoyed the comments that followed. The great thing about Hannan’s prominence is that it has flushed the Hayekian libertarians out of the Tory closet (some are semi detached anyway).

Fascinating contribution from the UK libertarian party guy too. I keep on hearing this simple dichotomy – it’s no longer left versus right but Liberty v Authoritarianism.

Obviously, this is a US import, though none the worse for that element. But these libertarians, in their complete eschewal of the state in any form, forget the founding principles of the US Constitution

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Note that “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare” are preconditions for liberty, not bolt on attachments.

“The great thing about Hannan’s prominence is that it has flushed the Hayekian libertarians”

Umm, would help if you could identify Hayek where he actually was….as a Classical Liberal.

46. Peter Jukes

A classic liberal?

In what sense? The J S Mill sense? Neo classical Liberal economist? Or social and civil Liberal?

It would help if you could identify him yourself. Hayek, Friedman and Nozick are basically the precursors of the Neo Con movement, with an emphasis on laissez faire economics, and a tacit acceptance of majoritarian restrain on civil liberties.

They are not classic liberals in any sense

@45

Obviously, this is a US import, though none the worse for that element. But these libertarians, in their complete eschewal of the state in any form, forget the founding principles of the US Constitution.

If only we had one………..

“Hayek, Friedman and Nozick are basically the precursors of the Neo Con movement, with an emphasis on laissez faire economics, and a tacit acceptance of majoritarian restrain on civil liberties.”

Eh? You’re trying to say that the Milton Friedman who helped end the draft and who argued for the legalisation of drugs was a) majoritarian c-l restrictive and b) neo-con?

Start smoking something a little lighter, eh? You’re getting confused there.

49. Peter Jukes

Dear me. Didn’t Big Nurse give you your meds today…

Oh we could go on like that for hours.

Back to the point: I didn’t say they agreed on every policy, but the aetiology of modern conservatism is clear: economic libertarians, social authoritarians, and with the neocon addition, military interventionists.

@47

“Hayek, Friedman and Nozick are basically the precursors of the Neo Con movement, with an emphasis on laissez faire economics, and a tacit acceptance of majoritarian restrain on civil liberties.”

Are you trying to suggest that Nozick favoured majoritarian restraint on civil liberties?

If this is the case I can’t stress how far off the mark you are.

‘Hayek, Friedman and Nozick are basically the precursors of the Neo Con movement’

pet peeve: that’s neoliberal, not neocon. Neoconservatives don’t have any distinctive economic positions, they just follow the American consensus on that. Their distinctive ideas are about foreign policy. So noone talking about economics can really be a precursor of them.

52. Peter Jukes

With Nozick the acceptance was more tacit than Hayek, but in Anarchy, State and Utopia, as well as arguing that extreme inequalities could be justified if ‘chosen’ he even went on to defend non-coercive slavery

“The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would”

Therefore, like many libertarians, Nozick’s principle of free choice actually turns liberty on its head, and permits slavery. The failure to see the corollary of true liberal arguments (your liberty can be constrained if it impinges on the liberty of others) makes him an accomplice and apologist for many majoritarian forms of repression.

53. Peter Jukes

@ soru

Sorry for your peeve, but Americans I know aren’t so narrow in their definition. Also, the dark star HQ of neo-conservatism, the American Enterprise institute, was formed out of an alliance of economic libertarians and military interventionists.

The AEI’s stated mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism — limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate.”

Not just foreign policy then eh?

“He has not won the argument for getting out of the European Union, but he is confident that he is advancing quickly.”

It should be “He has not yet won the argument for getting out of the European Union” if there is one thing which is certain about the electorate is that they are becoming very very Eurosceptic.

@54

Whilst Nozick does indeed allow a person to sell themselves into slavery, I struggle to see how this means that Nozick supports majoritarian repression of individuals.

No one can force another to become a slave, only with the consent of the individual can this occur. The individual is supreme, only with their consent can their rights be infringed.

By which mechanism would this majoritarian repression take place? Bearing in mind that Nozick allows for only an absolutely minimal state.

Neo cons take their world view from Leo Strauss. Basically anything, including murder, mass religion, vote rigging is just swell as long as it allows you to control the people.

57. Peter Jukes

@ Jimmy Hill

OK. You’re engaging with this seriously, so let me explain. Nozick believed large inequalities of wealth or opportunity were no bad thing. The state should not seek to negate that gravitation of power and affluence (since that impinged individual freedom) so the net effect?

A tacit acceptance of the status quo (ante New Deal perhaps). His libertarianism (without the liberal restraint of Do No Harm) would result in a quasi Hobbesian corporate world where the individual, free to follow his or her own choices even to the harm of social cohesion or general welfare, would trample the rights of minorities through economic and social power.

Back to the point: I didn’t say they agreed on every policy, but the aetiology of modern conservatism is clear: economic libertarians, social authoritarians, and with the neocon addition, military interventionists.

Excellent point.

And Pagar that’s not neoliberal, because this was the coalition that Reagan first put together.

@ 59

Whilst Nozick would allow large inequalities in wealth and protect them against state intervention, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he thought such a situation was ‘no bad thing’. His position was simply that state coercion should not be used to resolve it, Nozick would suggest (perhaps even encourage) the charity of individuals to solve problems.

Nozick also wasn’t a defender of the status quo by any means. His position was that any holdings that had been come to be owned through any process other than just acquisition should be returned (by the state) to the rightful owner. Realising that often it would be impossible to return all holdings to the rightful owner he suggested that all holdings that had been unjustly acquired should be redistributed throughout society in an egalitarian manner (this is mentioned in a footnote at the bottom of p.154).

Furthermore (and partly because of Nozick’s radical attitude towards the redistribution of ill-gotten gains) I’m afraid I don’t accept your rather pessimistic view of what a society with a minimal state would look like. I realise that this isn’t the most satisfactory way to end an argument, apologies.

Peter

Thanks for the responses. Glad you liked the piece. The US constitution point back @44 about the scope and responsibility of government envisaged there is a good one that I imagine could come in useful.

Agree with you on weaknesses of Nozick’s concept of liberty. But I think there is some merit in the argument of soru or jimmy hill that Hayek, Nozick or Friedman can’t necessarily be held responsible for the coalition politics of Reagan or the Republican right, or Thatcher – who made use of their arguments to put together an enormously effective but philosophically rather contradictory political coalition.

However, agree with you (against soru) on the point that neo-conservatism did begin as a domestic project, with Irving Kristol and Daniel bell with The Public Interest in the mid-60s, before it was internationally focused. Indeed, perhaps the most effective argument in Francis Fukuyama’s incisive ‘insider’s obituary’ After the Neo-Cons is when he asks how an ideological project which began with scepticism about LBJ’s great society because it did not believe government could do anything much to decrease US poverty or increase school test scores in Washington DC was to embark on a mission to democratise the Middle East. I wrote something on some of this here
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/20/neocontricks

61. Peter Jukes

Sunder

Yes, the Thatcher project was a unique blend of social authoritarianism, imperial nostalgia, and neo liberal economics, but the reality is that I’ve never seen the idea of Hayek implemented without socially illiberal policies here or elsewhere. Must read more to see if that’s an inevitable part of his ideology or not.

Very much approve of your piece on liberal interventionism. It’s something that must be rescued from the fiasco of Iraq and the neo-con co-option of Ignatieff et al. Fortunately, figures like Samantha Power (now in the White House) both believed in the need for intervention in Bosnia, AND foresaw the debacle that Iraq would be, so there is still hope for that.

‘limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate’

I read that as boilerplate america-is-greatism, something at least 98 of the 100 senators would sign up to, Who’s really going to openly come out in favour of unlimited government, slack and ineffective defence, political corruption and censored debate?

In the 1980s, all the factions in the Soviet politburo were Marxist. So you wouldn’t be saying much useful about Gorbachev and Glasnost when you pointed out he sometimes quoted Marx on economics. He would hardly have been quoting Adam Smith…

@Sunder: you are right the 1960s version of neoconservatism was domestically focused, but that was more cultural than economic (the start of the culture wars), and certainly had nothing coherent in common with the neoliberalism (trending towards libertarianism and even anarchocapitalism) of Hayek and co.

wiki is actually pretty reasonable as a primer on this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism

What freedom do you have if you are ill but can’t get treated because you can’t afford it or have no hope of getting? Hannan speaks for many on the right, although most tend to do it in a coy way. When you get many right wing Tories who share the same view together their true ideals shine through. I have heard on numerous occasions that the NHS is a good thing but it will not service in 5 to 10 years time. Which if you hear the other stuff, what they mean is, if you can’t afford it then tough. It’s like saying ‘I’m not a racist, but’?? The Tories do want to dismantle the NHS they just don’t like the idea of it, whether it costs less or not compared to other systems, they don’t like it.

soru@65 … I accept there were important philosophical differences between Hayekians and (domestically oriented) neo-cons of the 1960s. But there was significant overlap between the general thrust of the domestic policy consequences of the early neo-conservatism’s critique of the great society and of Hayek’s argument in The Road to Serfdom.

As Fukuyama sets out:

“If there was a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques issued by those who wrote for the neoconservative journal The Public Interest, founded by Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell in 1965, it was the limits of social engineering. Writers like Glazer, Moynihan and, later, Glenn Loury argued that ambitious efforts to seek social justice often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted pre-existing social relations (for example, forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (like an increase in single-parent families as a result of welfare)”
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/magazine/neo.html?pagewanted=all

Hayekians make a similar critique, though perhaps in some ways it is still more foundational. John Gray argues:

“For Hayek, indeed, the only appropriate area of social policy is that of
constitution-making, which is concerned to specify the permanent (but in
detail always revisable) legal framework of general and abstract rules which
facilitate the emergence of social order but which can never guarantee any
definite outcome for any specific group. In the Hayekian system, the crucial objection to interventionist programs, whether motivated by ideals of social justice or of public welfare, is not merely that the results of such programs are unpredictable (when they cannot reasonably be expected to be self-defeating): it is that interventionism presupposes a synoptic and concrete knowledge of society which no one man or group of men can in the nature of things possess”.
http://mises.org/journals/jls/4_2/4_2_1.pdf

However, libertarians and Hayekians often overstate this position and its social policy consequences, at least as Hayek saw them. Alternatively, some (as Gray once did) challenge Hayek for not supplying adequate safeguards for libertarianism or offering too many policy concessions to state provision.

Hayek wrote in The Constitution of Liberty (1960)

“All modern governments have made provision for the indigent, the unfortunate, and disabled and have concerned themselves with questions of health and the dissemination of knowledge. There is no reason why the volume of these pure service activities should not increase with the general growth of wealth. There are common needs that can be satisfied only by collective action and which can be thus provided for without restricting individual liberty”.

As Robert Skidelsky writes on Keynes’ and Hayek’s views of legitimate interventions into market processes and outcomes:

“Keynes clearly believed in the “inoculation” theory of social democracy – some of the outworks of liberal capitalism had to be surrendered in order to preserve the core. Hayek apparently rejected such concessions. Yet he gave the State the duty to provide a minimum subsistence income for all. The reason for this was clearly prudential – to make a free society “more attractive”, as de Jasay puts it. But this is indistinguishable from Keynes’s view; and once prudence becomes the ground for state intervention, there is no principled point at which to draw the line”
http://www.skidelskyr.com/site/article/book-review-after-serfdom/

So might it be argued that Hannanism in its “Icelandic utopian” form goes considerably beyond Hayekian liberalism?

Hannanism does, however, also acknowledge a social obligation to provide healthcare to those who can not afford it: “every developed country – pays for the healthcare of those citizens who can’t afford it. No one I know wants a system where the poor go untended”.

It would be interesting to know what founds this commitment. Is it a pragmatic adaptation to social and political conventiion of ‘civilisation’ (so acquiescing to a social democratic framing), for fear of delegitising the broader libertarian project? Is it an overhang of conservative paternalism in an otherwise libertarian argument?

Libertarians tend to take the political advantage of usually ducking this question, because they are interested in making a foundationally-driven argument about the *directionality* of public policy (less state). Where they accept the case for *some state* beyond the classical liberal minimum, it is important to know why and what legitimates that within the libertarian worldview.

Steven@64 You are quite right about the term ‘freedom’, Thatcher managed to seduce a lot of people with that concept, until they found out what it really meant.
But referring back to the Conservative’s lack of a philosophy, this makes them very dangerous indeed, Thatcher was able to simultaneously banish the ‘evil nanny-state’ whilst at the same time increase its’ size and power.
The history of conservativism in the U.K., however, does make you secretly admire them, they were able to continue to win power time and time again, on the backs of working-class votes, they’ve always been brilliant orators.
I had never encountered Nozick before so my knowledge comes from a quick look on wikipedia, but I can understand why the right would be attracted to his philosophy. As the power differential between massive wealth and poverty always forces people to act as they really woudn’t wish to eg they would sell themselves as slaves to pay for treatment for a sick child. This would eventually lead to a master/slave society, or to pinch a quote from the right’s favourite economist – the road to serfdom.

Sunder – different libertarians take a number of approaches to the issue of public provision. But I don’t think the classical liberal strain within contemporary libertarianism is unable to integrate them. They already believe in the provision of some public goods, like criminal and civil justice, roads, military etc.. unlike their anarcho-capitalist breathren who believe everything should be provided via voluntary agencies.

So there is no principled reason why basic provision for other public goods, which may include health and education, could not be provided by government institutions. The sort of points that would be made though is that there is no reason why central government should provide these things, and that the US federal government is prohibited from providing those things.

There are other constraints even at this level: all government programmes must be alive to economic incentives, and be designed so as not to crowd out the beneficial private provision of these services (hence the use of education vouchers/tax credits so that private education is not damaged by providing a guaranteed level of public education). And the core Hayekian constraint: that the state must not violate the rule of law, which means no major decisions can be taken arbitrarily by officials but on the basis of published, predictable and properly specified rules that apply to all equally. This is what attracts a lot of classical liberals to things like a basic citizens income, or as Friedman called it, the negative income tax.

I know of at least one theorist who thinks at least basic provisions along these lines can be justified using even Nozick’s principles: http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/philn/philn015.pdf

If the next question is “well where does it end if public services are fine by classical liberals?”, the answer is something like Denmark (but hopefully without the ID cards): http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2008/02/22/the-laissez-faire-welfare-state/

This is an interesting new direction (christened “liberaltarianism” by Will Wilkinson), which essentially claims you can get away with surprisingly big government (high taxes) so long as it is also limited government (no intervention in the market, few arbitrary powers). Which is not to say this is a natural end state for classical liberals. It could just as easily be a relatively small government state like Hong Kong or Switzerland and perhaps be the better for it. The point is that classical liberal principles can be applied even to fairly robust welfare states. Indeed, if they aren’t applied to some extent, they won’t last long.

“As the power differential between massive wealth and poverty always forces people to act as they really woudn’t wish to eg they would sell themselves as slaves to pay for treatment for a sick child. This would eventually lead to a master/slave society, or to pinch a quote from the right’s favourite economist – the road to serfdom.”

But that wouldn’t happen unless the rich could all collude to exclude all alternative ways of raising funds from the poor, and for that you need a state.

68. Peter Jukes

@Nick

Nice point: but the Master/Slave relationship, albeit the basis many states known in history, is clearly of earlier origin.

Nick – thanks for an informative and serious reply on libertarianism and public goods. I will try to write some more about this

… one thought: the beneficial private provision argument is an empirical claim as well as a (stronger) gut belief

A lot of people this week have noted that the US spends 16% GDP on health c($7290 per head) compared to UK 8.4% ($2992 per head), yet gets poorer overall health outcomes, as well as patchy coverage … That suggests prima facie that the private efficiency argument in this case is unproven, to say the least.

Yet I have not myself seen anybody note the implication that as much of 45% of the US spend is already public spending, which is 7.2% of US GDP (and only 55% privately).By contrast, the UK is spending 82% of its spend publicly (which is 6.9% of GDP). So the US is already spending a higher proportion of public funds on healthcare than the British NHS, in addition to the further 9% of GDP spent privately in the US.

So it is also the case that the cost control, coverage and efficiency of the US public spend is a basket case compared to the UK public spend, though I am not sure whether that particular mitigation helps the pro-private provision all that much.

#68: a very good outline there. Indeed, classical liberals like myself can see huge scope for the State. For example, assuming that climate change is happening (which I certainly think it is and that it’s anthropogenic) then the discussion moves on to what do we do about it. Clearly it’s a collective action problem and equally clearly it needs the ability to compel that the State alone has because of free rider problems.

You won’t be surprised to hear that within the Adam Smith Inst (in conversation, not something “ex officio”) that we’re against the State planning everything to deal with this problem. Picking technological winners and all that. The Lucas/Monbiot thought of closing down industrial society etc.

However, there are two options that could and would work. Either cap and trade or carbon taxes. We would probably be expected to prefer cap and trade because it involves markets more than a tax does. However, we don’t, for cap and trade allows politicians (spit, spit) way too much power to intervene, play favourites. So we prefer a straight carbon tax directly from the welfare economics of Pigou.

Similarly we’re entirely happy with public goods arguments (although would insist that we talk about things which are indeed public goods. That’s things that are non-rivalrous and non-excludable, not simply goods consumed by the public). We defend copyrights and patents precisely because they are ways of dealing with the public goods problems of ideas and innovations.

That part of public health which is a public good, that part of education which is a public good…..hey, we’re right there.

Similarly we’ve understood Hardin’s Commons Tragedy arguments: sometimes regulation really is the solution, sometimes it’s allocation of property rights (as Hardin himself insisted). But whichever solution is best, it’s most definitely an intervention in markets, not pure “free marketism”, laissez faire.

Sure, our default position is that markets work but we do recognise that they sometimes don’t and we’re all ears when someone makes an argument that this or that one hasn’t, or that there’s an absence of one which should be created.

Finally, Sunder, on the US health care system.

Something I’ve been banging on about for a few days. Something that Americans don’t quite seem to realise, let alone us over here. The US health care system is, according to the WHO figures, number 1 in “responsiveness” (that is, amazingly, averaged across everyone, those with private, government and none insurance). That is, how long between deciding to see a doctor do you see one, get tested, diagnosed and treated. That very much is true of Medicare, the govt program for the over 65s.

I have a feeling that that is where all the expense is. Keeping enough slack in the system that your path from original finding of the lump to radiotherapy, via GP, consultant oncologist, theatre and chemo is a few days to a week or two.

It may be that this isn’t necessary, isn’t worth it, perhaps even shouldn’t be done. But I do think that’s where the expense is.

71. Donut Hinge Party

The whole libertarian argument falls at three hurdles.

1. The idea that individuals must be able to save money and pay as they go medically. This is tantamount to saying that we shouldn’t have to pay car insurance and just pay out if we have a car crash.
a) What do we do with those who waste their money or become bankrupt – let them starve in the street? The last ten years or so of 3bn of private debt has shown us that the public can’t be trusted to live within their means.
b) What about children and the disabled; is it their fault for not having wealthy parents and guardians?
c) With so much money returned to the individual purse, the cost of living will simply rise as businesses can charge more. The rule of the free market says that the market charges what the public will pay.

2. Society as a whole benefits from a workforce which is largely healthy and non-crippled. Every pound earned in this country has arisen because of someone on minimum wage, someone who cannot or will not pay for their health insurance. If a company wishes to make sure that their workforce will still be there, they will have to pay an element of insurance.

3. The logical corollary is closing local schools, refunding that tax and letting adults educate their children at their own expense, but I doubt even Hannan would agree with this, as again children would be punished for their parents’ sins, and if the only people who could survive were the children of wealthy and intelligent people, who would clean our toilets and fight our wars?

72. Peter Jukes

@75

I like your points, but I think the crucial failure for libertarian thought is in the rational choice, individual volition argument when it comes to healthcare, and education.

Healthcare is not a rational market, and can never be, since you do not choose to become ill, or pre-select the particular disease or condition you suffer from. The rational choice/freedom model is particularly inapplicable to mental health conditions, or indeed the burgeoning numbers suffering from age related dementia.

Education fails, but on a slightly different score. For the vast majority of their education, students are not adults, and therefore cannot exercise full informed choice. They are the real consumers, but their parents (in defiance of properly libertarian free will) make their choices for them.

“but their parents (in defiance of properly libertarian free will) make their choices for them.”

Ah, but your children are your property, so it’s perfectly right to choose for them. [note to pompous libertarians: Insert Smiley Here]

Sunder – All that is true which is why no one holds up the American system of health insurance as something to imitate. But it is not through markets that this has taken place but through the lack of them. Regulation at the state and federal level has protected insurers against competition, and prevented people from buying insurance from across state lines.

Individuals are disincentivised by the tax system from buying their own health insurance and instead it is usually attached to employment benefits, with the employer deciding what sort of coverage their employees will have. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies lobby the federal government to have their particular services made mandatory parts of employer coverage. This is why classical liberal reforms tend to emphasise giving individuals greater control over their own healthcare spending, so as to cut out these very expensive middle men:

http://www.cato.org/subtopic_display_new.php?topic_id=32&ra_id=6

In essence, the US government took a number of very wrong policy turns over the course of the 20th century which has allowed for some fairly terrible outcomes to develop. But what they have done has very little to do with market theory or practice. Which is not to say that there aren’t a number of potential problems with having a total free market provision in healthcare, only that regulation of the US kind seems to have piled on problems rather than solving them.

“The last ten years or so of 3bn of private debt has shown us that the public can’t be trusted to live within their means.”

Well not really. Who would hold money (unless they were particularly good investors) in an economy like this? By the time the recession is completely over, we may have gigantic amounts of inflation that will rapidly diminish the debts people have. Who would rationally be a creditor under these circumstances? It is not the public that cannot be trusted to live within their means (they just responded rationally to low interest rates), it is governments!

“The so-called progressive Conservativism has been much more discussed in The Guardian, at Demos, on Liberal Conspiracy or on Next Left than they are in right-of-centre think-tanks and websites.”

Policy Exchange’s slogan: “Using centre-right means to progressive ends”. Policy Exchange is the biggest centre-right think-tank in Europe and second only to IPPR in the UK in terms of overall size.

Next!

77. Donut Hinge Party

“It is not the public that cannot be trusted to live within their means (they just responded rationally to low interest rates), it is governments!”

Well, it wasn’t rational, was it? It was short-termist infantile lust; responding to temptation.

Unfortunately, these people make up a large proportion of society. I’m a funny sort of leftist; I freely accept that there is a large proportion of people who have been denied access to education and life choices, which is a tragedy, and obviously we have a moral imperative to level that to deliver equality of opportunity.

That said, until that happens, we will always have a large proportion of society which is at least two of the following three: stupid, selfish, short-termist, short-sighted, deceptive, poor and of poor health, and it is a mistake to conflate what we as (semi)-informed individuals believe is best for ourselves with what is best for them.

And, unfortunately, the basis of government and law is not to assess based on intelligence and capacity for rational thought, but to provide rules largely applicable for the entire population.

“Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of ‘democracy’ with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away. “

“Well, it wasn’t rational, was it? It was short-termist infantile lust; responding to temptation.”

Not really, what people did was rational for a number of reasons. When borrowing money is the norm, you know it is safe to do so. Either things will work out fine and you’ll pay off your debts, or the economy will tank and the government will be forced to bail everyone out (which they have done or are trying to do!). Now the economy has tanked, you would be even stupider to save when you know that government action will ensure that our currency is debased.

And actually being a leftist who thinks the general population are stupid and cretinous isn’t really “funny”; it is a pretty common. Certainly as common as the paternalist conservative.

…and libertarians are apt to moan about ‘sheeple’.

80. Donut Hinge Party

“Not really, what people did was rational for a number of reasons. When borrowing money is the norm, you know it is safe to do so.”

Remortgaging to pay for holidays is rational?

Getting an Interest only mortgage with no provisions to add value to your loan to ever pay it off and be subject to the arcane whims of the Bank of England’s Interest rate committee is rational?

Skipping from 0% rate on credit cards rather than actually paying off a penny is rational?

You, sir, need to have a word with Mr Kant.

And I wish people would make up your mind – are we living in a broken society full of sink estates and feral children or a world of honest hard working businessmen trying to scrape together a crust in the face of punitive stealth taxation?

Besides, it’s my wife who’s the social worker, and thinks everyone deserves an even break. Me, I think “You’re screwed, and I don’t think it’s worth throwing good money after bad, but maybe we can stop your kids going the same way.”

“…and libertarians are apt to moan about ’sheeple’.”

– well not this one.

DHP – you are not quite getting my point. All those things are perfectly rational given the institutions we have. An ex of mine worked as a market analyst, and she lived off a huge mortgage and endless credit cards. Why? Because she knew the whole system was so crooked that she might as well. She wasn’t that bothered about what happened. If she miscalculated she could always declare bankruptcy, and in the event she got it right. The government is spasming to bring house prices back up to their vastly inflated level as quickly as possible, punishing anyone who was scrimping and saving, and rescuing anyone who overstretched. With this in mind, the rational thing to do is to overstretch. And don’t save, your savings will only diminish in value.

Here’s another reason for taking Hannan seriously

He wrote last month of his policy influence …

“What’s better than leading a political party? Getting to determine its manifesto without any of the hassle of actually, you know, leading it. I’ve observed before that, line by line, chapter by chapter, The Plan: Twelve months to renew Britain is becoming official Tory policy. My friend and co-author Douglas Carswell is miffed at the lack of acknowledgement, and you can see his point: David Cameron’s policy wallah, Steve Hilton, has cut and pasted bits of our text with neither alteration nor attribution”.
http://www.nextleft.org/2009/08/hannan-i-determine-tory-manifesto.html

John Prescott very excited about this
http://twitter.com/JohnPrescott

83. Donut Hinge Party

Ah, you mean she gambled. That’s much better.

Funny thing, saving. It doesn’t actually help anyone other than the saver and the banks, and so isn’t really a government concern. Especially as those banks will likely invest overseas and stimulate their economies and pay for their jobs.

Now, with money in your pocket, you’re more likely to use petrol, British shops, local services, and every time it whizzes on that merry-go-round a hefty 17.5% gets knocked off. Compare that to the tax you get on your interest, and you can see why you get salmon from fast-running streams, and nothing more than a forlorn trolley in stagnant ponds.

Provided that you’ve got enough to stop you claiming insane levels of benefit and social care, I don’t think the government really cares how much you have in the bank.

Hannan is a likeable, modest blogger, particularly hospitable to those of us who disagree with him I found on the Dully Tele blogs.

About a year ago his tone seemed to me to change to a more strident one, more soundbites, snappier.

I think he has seen Cameron, Osborne and Johnson and thought that he, for all that he is bald, could do that, and better . . .

Those who write the manifesto often go on to bigger things, and Hannan can claim to have a fair amount of influence: http://www.gofourth.co.uk/dans-the-man-with-the-plan

But Cameron is running an old etonian ship, from which he removed most of the old etonians to avoid his snobbishness being pilloried. It is NOT ideologically driven, it is driven by getting elected.

Hannan and Carswell may have the discipline to hold their criticism schtum until Cameron wins or loses, we shall see.

Pragmatism and Hannan do not suit.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/1302AO

  2. Clay Harris

    RT @libcon: : Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/1302AO

  3. Gabriel Milland

    Don’t often say this: But I think Sunder Katwala explains things rather nicely here. http://bit.ly/17B4iE

  4. PeterJukes

    RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/5BeH0

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/1302AO

  6. Daniel Hannan | Tom Watson MP

    […] Is this the first outing for the new movement that is Hannanism? […]

  7. Clay Harris

    RT @libcon: : Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/1302AO

  8. Gabriel Milland

    Don’t often say this: But I think Sunder Katwala explains things rather nicely here. http://bit.ly/17B4iE

  9. PeterJukes

    RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously http://bit.ly/5BeH0

  10. Sunder Katwala

    engaged discussion of “taking Hannanism seriously” on LibCon http://tiny.cc/5600M this Jerry Cohen quote nails it http://tiny.cc/3qLU3

  11. Sunder Katwala

    engaged discussion of "taking Hannanism seriously" on LibCon http://tiny.cc/5600M this Jerry Cohen quote nails it http://tiny.cc/3qLU3

  12. Some Other Links in the Chain | Sharpe's Opinion

    […] The Left Should Take Hannan-ism Seriously […]

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