On the NHS, this is the week Labour need to get their act together


by Sunny Hundal    
9:01 am - May 9th 2011

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Nick Clegg’s comments on Marr yesterday that the NHS bill needed “substantial” changes and that “no bill is better than a bad bill”, means changes are afoot. Will Lansley give in and/or resign? Will Clegg push hard or will he give in?

This could turn into a train-crash for the coalition, but that will require a concerted effort from Labour – especially shadow health secretary John Healey. Is he actually up to the job? I’m not convinced.

I said last week that Healey has not been enough of a presence. For Labour, it’s like sending a boxer to a stand-off with the Imperial Deathstar.

Healey is highly competent but has none of the required aggression. I say bring Tom Watson MP on board.

The Guardian today has this quote by top Libdem Lord Oakeshott:

Andrew Lansley is like a mad professor sitting in a secret laboratory mixing up his own magic potion.

Why can’t anyone from Labour come up with this?

The Guardian also reports that the Royal College of General Practitioners has been very scathing in their submission to the “consultation” about the NHS plans. It is a near comprehensive rejection of what Lansley wants to implement.

It’s useful that most of the push-back so far has been driven by medical practitioners themselves: people are less likely to see it as just political posturing. But it also gives the impression that Labour do not offer a credible alternative.

But what are the key tenets on which Labour is campaigning against Lansley’s plans? Is the party against the privatisation of hospitals or not? What about the massive reduction in funding?

Richard Blogger earlier wrote two proposals:

Labour should concentrate on Lansley’s plans for providers. The plans to take all NHS hospitals out of public ownership; the plans to mandate that a fixed proportion of NHS paid work must be provided by the private sector; the application of competition law; the whole “any willing provider” policy.

These are the areas where Labour must attack Lansley.
….
And one final point. Ed Miliband must pledge that Labour believes that hospitals and community health services should be publicly owned. NHS hospitals should be publicly owned, publicly run and publicly accountable.

At the very least Labour should be able to take advantage of Coalition confusion over the NHS this week. Otherwise they may as well go home.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“I say bring Tom Watson MP on board.”

Game over man. Game over.

2. Margin4error

Thing is – Ed Miliband has been quite clear that Labour don’t have a policy alternative. He has launched a two year review of Labour positions and that has another 18 months to run.

This need not be too bad. Labour complaining about the reforms will be seen as bog standard politics. It will also lead to the obvious retort “well you let the private sector in too” – overlooking that Labour kept hospitals in public ownership, increased the amount of NHS work consultants had to do, and so on.

Better to highlight the mess and support the positions of medical professionals – whose criticisms have been remarkably vehement and wide-ranging.

Labour’s main role should be to point out that the NHS Bill is not part of the coalition deal – and as such Lib Dems must believe in it since they voted for it already. This will put pressure on the Lib Dems to oppose it as they can’t hide behind “we agreed in the coalition deal” as they have with so much…

Clegg is lining up a window-dressing exercise with Cameron (and with the collusion of Lansley) to save his skin and the Health and Social Care Bill. But Lib-Dem grassroots will see through this as indicated by Tony Greaves letter in Guardian today.

As for Labour’s policy review, it has to major on outcomes for patients and on the health inequalities within the system. It also has to put a distance between the Milburn/ Hewitt prescription of the last government. The ideas the US consultants such as McKinsey have anything to contribute should be ditched in favour of voice of patients and ALL working in the health services- not putting the GPs on a pedestal.

How about a real honest debate, including the option of scrapping the NHS.

http://www.libertarianview.co.uk/why-we-should-scrap-the-nhs/

4.

How about a real honest debate, including the option of scrapping the NHS.

Because only nutters on the fringe want to scrap the NHS.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 Murray

“How about a real honest debate, including the option of scrapping the NHS.”

Where should we start this honest debate? The article you linked was full of misrepresentations (e.g. arguing that private healthcare doesn’t solely help the very rich, which nobody’s claiming anyway) and lies (e.g. suggesting that the NHS will pay an unlimited amount for lifesaving treatment).

Many of your arguments do not make sense (your car analogy shows, correctly, that most people would be able to afford old, cheap drugs: not everyone can afford a Ferrari, and to convert the metaphor to drugs this means that the poor will not receive new life-saving treatments), and those that appear on paper to be logical are contradicted by factual evidence (you draw an analogy to the food sector to claim that a private market for drugs would make them affordable for the masses, ignoring the fact that this system in pre-Obama America routinely left the poor to suffer or die).

On top of that, it’s driven by an obvious seething resentment of taxation: hence all the silly anecdotes about eeeevil drunks eeeevilly using the NHS after injuring themselves. This is not an attitute that others will necessarily share. Overall, I’d say you’ve ignored reality either ignorantly or deliberately in trying to advocate a policy you support for ideological reasons. “Real honest debate” my eye.

7. crossland

2. i think margin4error is correct – concentrate on the mess.
Regardless of the policies the hamfisted way the govt has pursued this has created a huge amount of chaos for the NHS which is coming down the line.
The two months ‘pause’ is creating more structural damage,uncertainty and productivity loss.

Waiting lists will go up because of the current chaos , private insurance firms will start targetting people about this.
Clegg seemed to suggest that forcing G.Ps to comission will go – Sensible, however many PCT’s have already been abolished – Crank up the pressure on Clegg to deliver on this NOW otherwise it will be too late or embarrasingly (for the govt) they will have to rehire the people they just sacked.

namak: Clegg is lining up a window-dressing exercise with Cameron (and with the collusion of Lansley) to save his skin and the Health and Social Care Bill.

Funny you should say that…

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have agreed changes to the government’s NHS reforms, allowing the deputy prime minister to launch a ferocious attack on Sunday on the original plans as a “disruptive revolution”.

As the Royal College of GPs calls for a radical overhaul of plans to hand 60% of the NHS budget to new GP-led consortiums, Tory sources indicated that the Cameron-Clegg negotiations have left Andrew Lansley an isolated figure in the government’s “listening exercise”.

Sounds like Clegg had his face-saving fix before he starting spinning about ‘standing up to’ the Tories.

Well if Labour are still as neo-liberal as they were prior to being in opposition, why would they make a strong case against Lansley?

Ben M – Only nutters on the fringe thought that the world was round, turned out they were right. Counting the number of people who hold a view is not a very effective way to assess its merit.

Chaise – I think you have started to debate. Of course I resent taxation. It is the method by which the political classes rob the productive class to buy the votes of the less productive classes.

As a member of the productive class, what’s to like ?

Full text of letter from L-D Peer , Tony Greaves (from Guardian):

“You report a “Clegg aide” as saying that now “we will have greater latitude to talk about when we disagree”. It’s not talk that is now needed – it’s action. Starting with the health and social care bill. The minimum that is required is substantial redrafting on the lines of the Lib Dem Sheffield motion. Without that, the party conference in September will see a massive revolt. What Lib Dems should insist on is the immediate withdrawal of the bill and a review panel, including all the major professional interests, as well as experts from the parties, to work out and negotiate a consensus for reforms to create a devolved, more democratic and accountable NHS located firmly within the public sector. If that means a delay, the wait will be worthwhile.”

@2 – “… Labour complaining about the reforms will be seen as bog standard politics. It will also lead to the obvious retort “well you let the private sector in too” – overlooking that Labour kept hospitals in public ownership, increased the amount of NHS work consultants had to do, and so on.”

Don’t you think the principle is what matters most? It is an obvious retort *regardless* of Labour’s achievements in health – unless of course you feel that the ends justify the means.

With this, John Healey, the Labour shadow on health, is committing a future Labour government to reversing Lansley’s planned intention to pass treatment commissioning decisions from the NHS Primary Care Trusts to GP-managed commissioning consortia, a fundamental feature of Lansley’s proposals for NHS reform and one which was never part of the original ConDem coalition agreement.

“Exclusive: GPs would not be given real budgets to commission care under a Labour government, and the opposition is ready to systematically dismantle the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill if it returns to power, the shadow health secretary has revealed.”
http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=23&storycode=4129285&c=2

The key issue is Healey’s insistence on the crucial importance of separating out clinical decisions from the incentives and pressures to cut treatment costs.

All this leaves Paul Burstow MP, the present LibDem minister of state in the Department of Health, in a very exposed position.

14. alienfromzog

@4

How about a real honest debate, including the option of scrapping the NHS.

http://www.libertarianview.co.uk/why-we-should-scrap-the-nhs/

Bring it on.

There is nothing to fear from a real debate on healthcare provision including scrapping the NHS. It doesn’t take very long to demonstrate what a silly idea that is.

On the other hand, the government’s plan of scapping the NHS ‘by stealth’ is much more concerning.

One final point; are you in favour of privatising the Army, Naval and Air Force also?

Dr AFZ

16. Margin4error

J

Labour kept the NHS infrastructure in state hands. But that takes a second level of explaining when attacked for bringing in private contractors to do specific extra work to improve capacity and bring down a backlog (waiting lists).

Labour are thus not the best vehicle for attacking these privatisation measures.

I approach this only from the point of view of how to win the argument and bring down the NHS Bill. I don’t do it from the point of view that Labour must lead that process. It just needs to play the most productive role in that as it can.

It’s most valuable role will surely be to highlight the mess – highlight the rush – and highlight the impact this has on waiting lists.

To emphasise the rush of the lib dems and tories to vote this through (lib dems voted in favour already remember, despite it not being in the coalition deal) and to highlight that it isn’t something either party is required to support – is a good chance to force a major re-think by lib dems and to stir public interest in what the doctors and nurses are telling them.

17. alienfromzog

Note to self:

Resist the temptation to feed the troll.

I’ve always found mercenaries to be quite pleasant folk that you can absolutely trust with your safety…

19. the a&e charge nurse

“At the very least Labour should be able to take advantage of Coalition confusion over the NHS this week. Otherwise they may as well go home” – yes, where are giants like of Patsy “Cinvan” Hewitt
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7196420.stm

or Alan “Bridgeport” Milburn when you need them?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7196420.stm

Has the ever been a more shameless cohort of champagne socialists?

20. the a&e charge nurse

[19] oops – here is there correct link for Milburn’s extra-curricular socialist activities
http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/Alan_Milburn

21. Margin4error

19

Nothing wrong with champagne socialists. The problem is champagne (or beer or wine or lemonade) non-socialists.

@16 – I agree that Labour is not the vehicle for attacking privatisation – that’s precisely my point! And why I disagree with Sunny that Labour should call out the attack dogs: they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

This is probably why the Labour party has been quiet about so many issues.

Labour has a shameful record in this area – much of the vitriol directed at Tories and Lib Dems should in fact be reserved for Labour, who introduced just about all of it (and might reasonably be expected to have acted otherwise).

“But that takes a second level of explaining…”

Or: spin.

@21 – did you read the articles a&e linked to?

There is *everything* wrong with these individuals!

Before being taken in by the Libertarian guff, doesn’t it make sense to look into the national healthcare systems of other west European countries – many of which compare well with the NHS in terms of patient outcomes, as measured by life expectancy rates, five-year cancer survival rates and the rest, or by supply-side healthcare factors, such as physicians per head of population?

The US commits a larger percentage of its GDP to public and private healthcare than any other of the affluent OECD countries but average life expectancy at birth there is lower there than in Britain – where it is lower than in many other west European countries. Evidently, the quality of healthcare outcomes for patients is not a straight forward consequence of spending on healthcare.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[21] “Nothing wrong with champagne socialists” – not even a teeny, weeny credibility problem when it comes to taking the opposition to task over getting into bed with big business?

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 10 Murray Rothbard

“Of course I resent taxation. It is the method by which the political classes rob the productive class to buy the votes of the less productive classes.

As a member of the productive class, what’s to like ?”

I’m honestly unsure whether I count as “productive” in this sense: I’m below national-average wage, so my tax contribution isn’t huge, but then I don’t use a lot of state resources either. In any case, what I see to like is a fair society where people aren’t thrown on the pile simply because of an accident of birth.

If you pay more tax than you use up, then you’re fortunate enough to be wealthy. Some people have managed to grab more resources for themselves than others, in a manner that is often unconnected to their talent or the effort they put in. To an extent, I say good for them – but when the society that supports them needs to pay for healthcare, or education, or something else more important than the luxuries bought by the rich, then these lucky ones should be the first to cough up.

If I myself am ever fortunate enough to be undeniably in a position where I contribute more than I use, I hope I won’t leave my morals at the door. And this is essentially a moral debate, which is why I suspect neither of us has much of a chance of convincing the other: we define “fairness” differently. That said, you ought to stick to factual and honest arguments when debating more pragmatic topics: as I mentioned before, the article you mentioned went in for straw men, lies and dodgy conclusions instead.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 a&e

” not even a teeny, weeny credibility problem when it comes to taking the opposition to task over getting into bed with big business?”

That would be socialists who get into bed with big business, not champagne socialists. The term “champagne socialist” is designed to make it sound as if putting your morals before your personal interests is somehow hypocritical. It’s offensive and stupid, and Margin4Error is quite right to object to it.

28. alienfromzog

Whilst the Labour government was certainly not blameless in undermining the NHS and making it easier for someone like Lansley to do what he wants, there vital and fundemental differences.

Furthermore, there is a new leadership team in the Labour party and so the credibility gap is not a big as it might have been.

However, at the end of the day, however embarrassing it might be for Labour to speak out at this point – to not do so would be shameful in the extreme. Yes, the NHS is genuinely threatened by this Bill. There is no excuse for the Labour party not standing up and saying so.

From what I’ve seen and heard of Healy, he seems to be very thoughtful, good on detail and spot-on in his analysis. That is of course, not the same thing as being effective and so perhaps he does need more ‘attack dogs’ with him. On the other hand I’m all for proper debate instead of slinging insults.

AFZ

29. the a&e charge nurse

[27] ‘The term “champagne socialist” is designed to make it sound as if putting your morals before your personal interests is somehow hypocritical’ – maybe, Chaise, but the more salient feature of the term, surely, is the disparity between talking the talk and walking the walk – or as wiki succinctly puts it, ‘socialists who disregard ideals of socialism in their daily life’.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champagne_socialist

For example, what sort of socialist expounds the principle of universal health care that is comprehensive and free at the point of delivery while pocketing money from those with the greatest desire to bring about a system driven by the market?

BTW – good post from AFZ [28]

30. Margin4error

Lots wrong with the individuals – mainly that they are not socialist.

I have no problem with socialists drinking whatever they like though.

And J

Don’t forget – the NHS ended 13 years of Labour rule entirely in public ownersip.

Forget champagne socialists, I have yet to meet a socialist who could pass the coffee test !

http://www.libertarianview.co.uk/do-you-really-care-about-others-take-the-coffee-test/

“Healey is highly competent but has none of the required aggression. I say bring Tom Watson MP on board.”

Don’t do!

Don’t understand criticism of John Healey – within six months of replacing the genuinely hopeless Andy Burnham, the NHS has gone from the Tories quietly getting on with whatever they want to being the number one problem for the government. What more do you want in a shadow minister?

33. the a&e charge nurse

[31] I have yet to meet a socialist who could pass the coffee test – that’s right, Murray, contributions can only be made on an all nothing basis – is it any wonder few libertarians are able to pass the ideas that appeal to more than a tiny minority of people test?

2. i think margin4error is correct – concentrate on the mess.

I agree – I don’t think we need detailed proposals from Labour, but at least an indication of what they oppose of these plans and why!

32

I guess you failed then, my search continues!

Labour will only be able to attack the government or have any credibillity on, well practically anything, when they publically disown the legacy of Blair and New Labour neo-liberalism.

They can’t attack the tories on privatisation, because they were busy doing that as well in government.

They can’t attack the tories on the economy. Because they were following tory inspired deregulation of banking etc when in power.

They can’t attack the tories on their welfare disgrace, because they started it when in power.

In fact, unless they make a clean and decisive break from the past. They will have a difficult time persuading anyone why they should support them.

37. alienfromzog

@32

See 17.

The coffee test, I mean really? Is that the best you can do?
hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

38. Chaise Guevara

@ 29 a&e

Then we’re talking about people who claim to be socialists but aren’t. Or possibly people who follow socialism to different degrees. TBH, we appear to be using the term differently. The problem is that it’s used as an irrational knee-jerk attack by some, in the manner I described above.

Also, nobody’s a walking embodiment of their ideals. For example, I would happily see my tax go up if it was to be used for a good cause, but I don’t voluntarily beggar myself by giving all of my income to charity.

32

In the matter of a difficult question it is more likely that the truth should have been discovered by the few than by the many.– Rene Descartes

36

Typical socialist response to any argument that shows the internal inconsistencies of their belief system:

Ignore it and laugh stupidly !

I challenge you, to try and refute the argument in the comments section of the Libertarian View site. I welcome debate and am open to be persuaded if you can present a good case.

“When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.” – Ayn Rand

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 Murray

“Forget champagne socialists, I have yet to meet a socialist who could pass the coffee test !”

I freely admit to failing it. But I’m not sure what your real point is: you’ve demostrated that socialists aren’t perfectly selfless, but they still promote a philosophy that is a lot less selfish than libertarianism. It’s as if you object to people being moderate.

If a socialist is claiming to be Captain Perfect, or wants to use an irrelevant variable to make a group they dislike pay a higher tax burden (e.g. those who want a tax on bankers) then it would be relevant, but it’s a bit lacking when you aim it at socialists overall.

I also note that, for someone who wanted a debate, it’s a bit weird that you’re ignoring my substantive responses to you and resorting to mass ad homs. Having trouble backing up your idea. by any chance?

Recap: the editorial in the British Medical Journal on 21 January 2011:

“What do you call a government that embarks on the biggest upheaval of the NHS in its 63 year history, at breakneck speed, while simultaneously trying to make unprecedented financial savings? The politically correct answer has got to be: mad. . . ”
http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d408.full

“Of course I resent taxation. It is the method by which the political classes rob the productive class to buy the votes of the less productive classes.

As a member of the productive class, what’s to like ?”

Believe it or not, some people quite like knowing that they live in a country where their fellow citizens can expect to be educated, housed, medically looked after and financially supported to a decent standard even if they’re too young, too old, too sick or too disabled to be as ‘productive’ as you. But I’ll save the bleeding-heart material for someone who gives a shit.

In you own terms, then, some of the things you should ‘like’ about taxation are:

1.It pays for roads to drive your big, shiny, ‘look-how-productive I am!’ car on.

2. It pays for a justice system that protects the fruits of your ‘productivity’ from the dirty, claw-like hands of plebeian thieves and vagrants.

3. It pays for sewers into which proletarian effluent may be diverted, sparing you the unpleasant olfactory evidence of lower-class forms of ‘productivity’ drifting across your croquet lawn from nearby slums.

4. It pays for schools in which that other objectionable secretion of the working classes – their malformed and ill-mannered offspring – may be educated to the standard required to maximise the ‘productivity’ of the businesses in which your kind so generously employ them.

etc. etc.

40

“Not Perfectly Selfless.” LOL

You admit to valuing a cup of coffee more than a human life and that puts you in the “Not Perfectly Selfless” category?

Surely that places you firmly in the “I can’t imagine anything more selfish” category

Socialists advocate the re-distribution of wealth from those with “too much” to those with greater need. If you will not give up a tiny piece of your own personal pleasure to save the life of another you don’t practice socialism you practice hypocrisy. It is very easy to take money from others by force to give it to your special interest groups, but where is the moral justification if you fail the coffee test.

I am afraid I have hijacked this thread more than enough, but if you want to make any substantive points in the comments section of the Libertarian View site, then I will gladly respond.

#13 Bob B

“Exclusive: GPs would not be given real budgets to commission care under a Labour government, and the opposition is ready to systematically dismantle the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill if it returns to power, the shadow health secretary has revealed.”

This is likely to please a lot of GPs who do not like the rationing aspect of the Bill. This is what the NHS white paper said: “GP consortia will align clinical decisions in general practice with the financial consequences of those decisions.” GPs want to make the clinical decisions, that is what they are trained to do, but they do not want to suffer the financial consequences.

However, the question is how do you allow GPs to do commissioning without holding the money? Lansley holds up Cumbria and Nene Valley as his examples of GP commissioning working, yet neither of these had hard budgets. However, Lansley insists that GPs having hard budgets (the actual cash in their consortia’s bank account) will make them more effective.

No one seems to have yet figured out a way to charge road users for the specific amount of street lighting they individually consume and prevent the benefits of street lighting from reaching those who don’t pay. One logical answer is to therefore switch off street lighting.

47. Chaise Guevara

@ 43 Murray

“You admit to valuing a cup of coffee more than a human life and that puts you in the “Not Perfectly Selfless” category?

Surely that places you firmly in the “I can’t imagine anything more selfish” category”

Um, I don’t think so. Seeing as we have your “why I resent taxation” post, which fits that category much better. Seriously, it’s hilarious that a libertarian is citing selfishness when debating with socialists.

“If you will not give up a tiny piece of your own personal pleasure to save the life of another you don’t practice socialism you practice hypocrisy.”

That’s a total goalpost-shift. You fail the coffee test by refusing to sacrifice ALL of your personal pleasure, not “a tiny piece of it”. Try to stay on-message.

“It is very easy to take money from others by force to give it to your special interest groups, but where is the moral justification if you fail the coffee test.”

The justification is that you feel people should give money to help the less fortunate within limits, and you apply this to yourself as well as others. The coffee test is totally irrelevant unless the person taking the money (a) takes all of your money beyond what you need to live and (b) does not do the same with their own money. That would indeed be hypocritical, but I don’t see anyone advocating it.

“I am afraid I have hijacked this thread more than enough, but if you want to make any substantive points in the comments section of the Libertarian View site, then I will gladly respond.”

Yeesh, I’m not following you to give your site hits. If you want to throw up a load of straw men and ad homs then run away, that’s your call.

48. alienfromzog

@39

Here trolly trolly, here nice troll, have some lovely food… in my defence, I was goaded into it.

So, Murray, let’s summarise your argument – please correct me if I have this wrong.

Because, Socialists* drink something more that water they would rather direct their resources to their own comfort than providing clean water to people in the world who don’t have it. Therefore they are complete hypocrites as they have put a price (and a cheap one at that) on someone’s life.

*I’m not quite sure how you define this word.

The wonderful straw man you set up in your argument is that socialists believe you can’t put a price on someone’s life – but “Of course what they really mean is that their favoured special interest group of people must be helped, regardless of the cost to other people. Of course what they really mean is that their favoured special interest group of people must be helped, regardless of the cost to other people.”

The problems with this argument
1. All thoughtful people wherever they are on the political spectrum accept that we are always putting a price on human life – one way or another. Knowing this is true and accepting it as a good thing are two very different things.
2. The absolutism – it is not possible to believe in more equality unless you practise it perfectly. I believe in more equality. Am I faultless in my practise of this? No. Doesn’t mean the intention is wrong though.
3. But you think that means I can’t then take any resources from you to make society work. This is the unspoken argument behind all this – that all taxation is theft. Ignoring completely, that overall, taxation is a surprisingly good deal. If you don’t believe me, take a trip sometime down the roads of Kenya, or to a Ghanaian hospital. The working legal system, network infrastructure, government, public services, police force, armed forces. All of these things are provided by the government at a price that is significantly lower than what would be achieved if you had to contract them all yourself. But even then, there’s more to it. Because whilst these things cost money they are vital to a functioning economy. Check out Mogadishu sometime, to see what no taxation actually means. You see, the much vaunted ‘wealth-creating’ private sector cannot exist and flourish without these things. I don’t know what your occupation is, but I’m willing to bet that unless you can grow your own food and defend yourself simultaneously, you wouldn’t manage in a warzone.
4. At the heart of Libertarianism is an exaltation that the only ethic that matters is self-determination. I have no problem with self-determination (this is the second reason why I’m not a Communist) but the amazing blind-spot of Libertarianism is the completely failure to see that economic disadvantage is a massive inhibitor to self-determination. I rejoiced at the end of the enslavement of Apartheid in South Africa, but I know it will be at least a generation until the economic enslavement is ended. I think it worth considering that economic disadvantage is a more significant inhibitor of self-determination than the state.
5. The ‘coffee test’ also ignores the economics are how buying (fair-trade)
coffee may be a much better way to help people in the third world than to give them hand-outs. For all sorts of reasons, not least their right to self-determination and earning a living… which sounds to me like a good Libertarian argument.

So long as you continue to use straw men and believe it to be compelling argument, I reserve the right to laugh.

AFZ

I don’t know why the consumption/non-consumption of coffee is some kind of indicator of a socialist/non-socialist, any commodity produced within/for a capitalist system exploits the producers (working-class) and some explolitation is more dangerous than others.
However, as we socialists live within a capitalist system and it’s hard to survive without any consumption it’s difficult to avoid such dilemma as the explolitation of fellow workers.
The only answer, of course, is to bring on a socialist system.

50. alienfromzog

John Healy opening opposition-day debate in the House now.

AFZ

51. Art Vanderlay

It’s pretty amusing how this Murray character goes on about his fabled “coffee test” which apparently debunks “socialism” (which I’m guessing to him/her is anything to the left of centre-right). And then quotes Ayn Rand, aka welfare and Medicare claiming Ann O’Connor.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ford/ayn-rand-and-the-vip-dipe_b_792184.html

I guess she wasn’t part of the productive class.

42 Libertarians are not against looking after those who cannot look after themselves. Charity is a noble thing. What they object to is the thinly disguised property theft of taxation. All the services you mention can be provided by the private sector on a pay to use basis. Unfortunately explaining how would take more space than comments allow but go to mises.org and search for Private {Your service} and you will get the picture.

45 There are other answers.

46. So it’s OK to have your coffee and let someone die, because you put some money in the charity tin earlier in the day? You really mean that you will give as much as you want to give, irrespective of the needs of others. Which sounds more like Libertarianism than Socialism.

You say:

“That’s a total goalpost-shift. You fail the coffee test by refusing to sacrifice ALL of your personal pleasure, not “a tiny piece of it”. Try to stay on-message”

The problem is that ALL of your personal pleasure is made up of lots of tiny pieces. Each tiny piece can save a life and by your professed system of ethics each tiny piece should be given up. The conclusion that logically follows is that you must give ALL your pleasure to those less fortunate, one piece at a time or be a hypocrite.

If that is not what you believe then tell me exactly how much do you have to have given up previously for your cup of coffee to suddenly become worth more than another’s life.

This is the internal paradox that destroys socialism.

47

1. Agreed
2. It is not about perfection. Most decisions that you make trade a tiny amount of personal pleasure for the life of another human being. At what point have you paid enough that this decision sways in favour of personal pleasure ?
3. I am not aware of any good or service that is not created by people. Whether these people are paid via private enterprise or through taxation does not change what they can produce. I am not aware of anything that in principle must be provided by the state through taxation.
4. You are making the classic socialist mistake of confusing freedom with not liking your available options:
http://www.libertarianview.co.uk/no-freedom-for-the-poor/
5. Totally irrelevant to the point

53. Chaise Guevara

@ 51 Murray

“46. So it’s OK to have your coffee and let someone die, because you put some money in the charity tin earlier in the day?”

Personally, I’m unsure. But as a libertarian you presumably believe that it IS ok, so your argument still leaves the problem that your philosophy is far more selfish.

“You really mean that you will give as much as you want to give, irrespective of the needs of others. Which sounds more like Libertarianism than Socialism.”

No I don’t. Firstly, I believe that money – mine included – should be forcefully collected by the state. Secondly, I believe that you have to strike a balance between egalitarianism and self-determinism. Once again, you are arguing with a straw man. Apparently that’s all you are capable of.

“The problem is that ALL of your personal pleasure is made up of lots of tiny pieces. Each tiny piece can save a life and by your professed system of ethics each tiny piece should be given up. The conclusion that logically follows is that you must give ALL your pleasure to those less fortunate, one piece at a time or be a hypocrite.”

See above.

I’m bored of your straw men, so if you want to continue this conversation, please address what I say, not what some ghost in your head labelled “SOCIALISM” says. I’m not here to defend someone else’s philosophy. It would also be good if you could stop with the ad homs entirely and address my substantive points up the thread – remember me mentioning that already? It’s a little sad that you continue to hide behind ad homs, and inaccurate ones at that!

54. the a&e charge nurse

[51] “Charity is a noble thing” – true, but charity alone can hardly be used as a basis for a functional welfare system, can it?

Oh, nobody likes paying tax but what other system provides the greatest good to the greatest number?

55. Chaise Guevara

@ 51 Murray

“If that is not what you believe then tell me exactly how much do you have to have given up previously for your cup of coffee to suddenly become worth more than another’s life.”

An exact boundary is likely to be arbitrary. The problem we have at the moment is that the people with the most resources are selfishly clinging onto them – if that were to stop, it’s possible that there would be no lives left to save with my coffee money.

This is what your argument seems to come down to:

Lets say, for sake of argument, that I am a socialist earning £15k and you are a libertarian earning £50k. You seem to think that I should give away every scrap of my £15k, aside from what I need to survive and keep my job, to worthy causes before I have the moral authority to force you (via the state) to give up a penny of your £50k.

If that’s inaccurate, please explain why. If not, it’s ridiculous. Why should I have to pay the price of your selfishness?

“This is the internal paradox that destroys socialism.”

Only if you get to redefine it to suit your ends, which you don’t.

52

“Personally, I’m unsure. But as a libertarian you presumably believe that it IS ok, so your argument still leaves the problem that your philosophy is far more selfish.”

At last the light starts to go on. You’re unsure, now where getting somewhere.
Of course my philosophy is more selfish, it values selfishness as the highest moral value. Your philosophy is the one that claims not to be selfish, so telling me I am selfish hardly rescues socialism!

“No I don’t. Firstly, I believe that money – mine included – should be forcefully collected by the state. Secondly, I believe that you have to strike a balance between egalitarianism and self-determinism”

That doesn’t help you either, How much money should the state forcefully take, and where should the balance be struck? If the moral justification for the state forcefully taking money is the greater need of others then you are back at the coffee problem. How can it be morally right for the State to leave people with enough money to enjoy trivial pleasures when others are in need for their very lives.

51
‘You are making the classic socialist mistake of consfusing freedom with not liking your available options.
FFS, socialism is an economic system and socialists are people who aspire towards such a system. You are making the classic non-socialist mistake of not having a clue about what you are talking about.

58. Chaise Guevara

@ 55 Murray

“At last the light starts to go on. You’re unsure, now where getting somewhere.
Of course my philosophy is more selfish, it values selfishness as the highest moral value.”

…And yet you treat it as a bad thing in the context of socialism! Dear me, you are confused, aren’t you!

“Your philosophy is the one that claims not to be selfish, so telling me I am selfish hardly rescues socialism!”

Straw man. Told you I was bored of them.

“That doesn’t help you either, How much money should the state forcefully take, and where should the balance be struck?”

I already answered this – guess demanding answers that have already been given is another way of avoiding the debate (along with the straw men and ad homs).

“If the moral justification for the state forcefully taking money is the greater need of others then you are back at the coffee problem. How can it be morally right for the State to leave people with enough money to enjoy trivial pleasures when others are in need for their very lives.”

I answered that in the very text you quoted!

So, to recap: one inconsistency that is effectively special pleading for libertarianism, one straw man, and two questions whose answers have already been given. And you’re still stuck on the ad homs and avoiding the substantive criticism!

59. crossland

33. maybe Labour could adopt a ‘dont fix what isnt broken’ narrative in the short term and bring in policies when ready in 18months time.

I think its the fast and total nature of Lansleys changes that are causing problems as much as the individual policies and the lack of a mandate (not discussed at the election).

Labour could demand a wide ranging debate on NHS reform (similar to elderley care) that would realistically take a year or two. emphasising that the govts reforms havent been put before the public.

57

Sorry Chaise, I missed comment 54.

“An exact boundary is likely to be arbitrary.”

But there has to be a boundary for redistribution to be applied. Who sets the boundary and on what basis ?

“The problem we have at the moment is that the people with the most resources are selfishly clinging onto them – if that were to stop, it’s possible that there would be no lives left to save with my coffee money.”

Compared to the man who needs your coffee money, you are one of “the people with most resources”.

“Lets say, for sake of argument, that I am a socialist earning £15k and you are a libertarian earning £50k. You seem to think that I should give away every scrap of my £15k, aside from what I need to survive and keep my job, to worthy causes before I have the moral authority to force you (via the state) to give up a penny of your £50k”

Even then you don’t have the moral authority, but you at least avoid being a hypocrite.

61. Arthur Seaton

Why have you allowed this far-right fruitbat to derail a thread about defending the NHS? Show som discipline people! Ignore doltish trolls!

I think it’s notable how much flack Cameron is happy for Lansley to take.

63. Margin4error

crossland

not a bad suggestion. the NHS was doing pretty well a year ago – according to an independent report Lansley hushed up and refused to publish.

64. alienfromzog

@60

Note to self: resist the temptation to feed to troll.

D’oh

Sorry.

AFZ

65. Mr S. Pill

Sigh. Libertarianism (as portrayed by idiots on teh interwebz) isn’t a real philosophy at all, it’s selfishness dressed up in fancy language and Sophist reasoning. Why people continue to validate it by attempting to argue against it is beyond me…
*shrug*

OT: Now is the time for Ed Miliband to grow a pair and stand up for the principles of the NHS. If he gets flack of the Blairites in his party for that so be it, he can show leadership and tell them to shut the hell up. This is an argument that can, and must, be won by Labour.

66. Watchman

Of course, if everyone keeps running round shouting that the government want to privatise/destroy the NHS, you will just make their job easier. Not only will you get people thinking this is the case (making the idea easier to push for those who do want to do this) but the government can quite legitimately point out that their plans do not do anything of the sort – unless you define the NHS as a huge bureaucracy which tells you when and where you will be treated and allows you no choice, when the government will probably cheerfully admit that they want to break that down.

At times Mr Cameron must sit there rubbing his hands together about the way that the opposition and the general left-wing community act – you are heading towards a battle that he has pre-planned and seem to be charging headlong towards his position without considering the traps. It is at least possible Messrs Milliband and Healey are aware of the dangers – they’re not that bad as politicians.

67. Watchman

S.Pill,

Sigh. Libertarianism (as portrayed by idiots on teh interwebz) isn’t a real philosophy at all, it’s selfishness dressed up in fancy language and Sophist reasoning. Why people continue to validate it by attempting to argue against it is beyond me…

Maybe – but only if the same sort of logic applies to socialism as well. In both cases a single word is used to describe a variety of hues of thought, united round a rather ill-defined central tenant. Both socialism and libertarianism are prone to individual interpretation breaking out (which perhaps makes them different from disciple-based philosophies such as Communism or Monetarianism), which makes them particularly nebulous and difficult to deal with.

68. Chaise Guevara

@ Murray

“But there has to be a boundary for redistribution to be applied. Who sets the boundary and on what basis ?”

Of course. The government should set the boundary, on the basis of balancing the need to help the unfortunate and the need to protect autonomy – pretty much as they do now. Obviously tax rates should change situationally. Right now, I’d slightly increase mid-level taxes and more seriously increase high-level ones and/or rejig council tax so it was more progressive.

“Compared to the man who needs your coffee money, you are one of “the people with most resources”. ”

Not quite – I’m a guy with more resources. As again, there are people with more money who are clinging onto it due to libertarian mindsets.

“Even then you don’t have the moral authority, but you at least avoid being a hypocrite.”

Morality’s subjective, we could argue till the cows come home. As for being a hypocrite, all I need to avoid that is to be able to say truthfully that I’d accept the same thing myself in the same situation. So if we earn the same wage, I should be happy to pay the same amount of tax. If you earn more, I should be happy to pay as much as you do were our roles reversed. I certainly don’t have to give away all my ready cash to justify you giving away some of yours.

The system that is being proposed is opaque and unaccountable. There is no accountability to the public. GPs will take over the system, but GPs are not accountable to the public. GPs will be commissioned by a centralised body with little accountability. And if GP consortia are taken over by private health providers, we will have a system with a lot of private participation and no accountability.

The LibDem manifesto proposed to rename PCTs as local health boards and make them more accountable. Clegg is lying when he says that the LibDem manifesto proposed the abolition of PCTs. Labour should hold the LibDems to the promise in their manifesto otherwise we have an unaccountable system. And if the Blairites get agitated, so be it.

@ Murray Rothbard:

“The problem is that ALL of your personal pleasure is made up of lots of tiny pieces. Each tiny piece can save a life and by your professed system of ethics each tiny piece should be given up. The conclusion that logically follows is that you must give ALL your pleasure to those less fortunate, one piece at a time or be a hypocrite.”

Could you please provide some evidence that socialists have the ‘professed system of ethics’ you describe? It doesn’t look to me like socialism, but like the version of Utilitarianism put forward by Peter Singer (most famously in “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, in which he really *does* argue that each of us is morally obliged to keep just enough money to live on and give the rest to the poor).

It looks rather implausible to me that socialists would in fact endorse Singer’s view, since socialists are typically motivated by a belief that working people deserve/are entitled to/have a moral right to benefit from the fruits of their labours, while Singer (notoriously) doesn’t think that sort of thing counts for anything, morally speaking. (On Singer’s view, the question of how much of my money I ‘deserve’ to keep doesn’t enter into it; all that matters is how much other people are suffering compared to me.) Socialists’ views on the moral significance of entitlement to the fruits of one’s labours are, I think, rather closer to your libertarian views than to Singer’s utilitarian views.

Oh, and I’m not sure how you reconcile the claim that selfishness is the highest moral value with the claim that charity is noble. How could a personal deficiency in the highest moral value be regarded as something noble?

71. Richard W

Hilarious this troll is offering moral lessons when he calls himself after the racist nativist Murray Rothbard. What should have happened to black Americans agitating for equal rights in the ‘ libertarian ‘ Rothbard view?

“Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error.”

Limited government but no limit on beating up black people.

http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2010/07/murray-rothbard-lew-rockwell-and.html

His other hero Mises on Fascism.

“It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. ”

“The deeds of the Fascists and of other parties corresponding to them were emotional reflex actions evoked by indignation at the deeds of the Bolsheviks and Communists. As soon as the first flush of anger had passed, their policy took a more moderate course and will probably become even more so with the passage of time”

Saved European civilisation. Oh dear. Took a more moderate course and will probably become even more so with the passage of time. Yeah right. Now there is no doubt that Mises was against Fascism. However, as long as they were smashing Bolshevik heads he seen them as ‘ saving European civilisation.’

It is unfair to label all libertarians the same. There are some genuinely classical liberal libertarians. However, scratch the surface with the majority of the internet ones and one finds underneath a reactionary right-wing conservative not a true libertarian. Moreover, anyone who cites Ayn Rand is clearly an unhinged fruitcake.

71

Easy to twist things out of context. Here is Rothbard on slavery quoted from Ethics of Liberty:

“We have indicated above that there was only one possible moral solution for the slave question: immediate and unconditional abolition, with no compensation to the slavemasters. Indeed, any compensation should have been the other way—to repay the oppressed slaves for their lifetime of slavery. A vital part of such necessary compensation would have been to grant the plantation lands not to the slavemaster, who scarcely had valid title to any property, but to the slaves themselves, whose labor, on our “homesteading” principle, was mixed with the soil to develop the plantations”

Strange views for a “racist, anti-black person”!

Of course he was anti-violence, that is part of the Libertarian belief system.

Mises was an Austrian economist, not a Libertarian. I agree with Austrian economics, but not all Austrian economists are Libertarians.

68

“Of course. The government should set the boundary, on the basis of balancing the need to help the unfortunate and the need to protect autonomy”

On what basis shall balance be struck, the objectives are in conflict. You can balance at the point of total autonomy (Libertarianism) or total minimization of need for the poorest. With such a wide range of alternatives this simply dodges the question:

If autonomy is more valuable than need then it should be set at one extreme, if need is more important than autonomy it should be set at the other extreme. What is the logic behind an arbitrary position in the middle ?

An economist might argue (sorry for the straw man) that need and autonomy have marginal values. i.e. The first level of need relieved, e.g. stopping people starving has higher value than the next level of need, say providing clothing and all the way up to the lowest level lets say the need to have a luxury car.

Likewise autonomy has marginal values so losing the first level of freedom for the wealthy, say the right to keep enough money to own a super-yacht is of low value, losing the right to own a mansion is of slightly more value, etc.

The fair balance on that basis (my straw man would argue) is the point at which the values equalize.The point at which the value of the next unit of need relieved is exactly equal to the value of the next unit of autonomy lost.

Seems reasonable, but then I come back to the coffee test.

Surely saving a life has greater need value than a coffee has autonomy value? We are sucked back into the spiral that ends with you having to give everything away or admitting that you value a tiny piece of your own autonomy more highly than another’s most urgent need.

If you have a different basis for setting the balance, I am interested to know what it is.

@ Murray Rothbard

I’d still be interested to hear your response to my comments @ 70, because it still looks to me as if you think socialists are committed to a moral system – utilitarianism a la Peter Singer in “Famine, Affluence and Morality” – they are not in fact committed to.

Socialists could only believe what you say they believe if they were value monists who thought the maximization of utility was all that mattered, morally speaking -i.e. we’re morally obliged to maximise the overall amount of happiness, and questions of what rights, entitlements, deserts etc. people have don’t enter into it.

But socialists don’t take that view. Like you, they think rights, entitlements, deserts etc. matter, morally speaking – e.g. they think the working classes *deserve* to benefit more fully from the fruits of their labour and are therefore *entitled* to secure for their own use money that would otherwise have ended up in the pockets of the capital-holding classes. So you might well disagree with them about who deserves or is entitled to what, but you don’t disagree about the terms of the debate: you both think desert and entitlement matter, morally speaking.

As for this:

“if autonomy is more valuable than need then it should be set at one extreme, if need is more important than autonomy it should be set at the other extreme. What is the logic behind an arbitrary position in the middle ?”

- you’re setting up a false dichotomy, pure and simple. The logic behind a position in the middle is simply that both autonomy and need matter, morally speaking.
In general, if value monism is false – if there is more than one thing that has moral value – then some sort of balance between different, competing values will need to be struck.

(Compare: ‘if carbs are more valuable than proteins, we should eat only carbs, and if proteins are more valuable than carbs, we should eat only protein’. Obviously this is a logical howler; the logic behind taking a position in the middle (eating some carbs and some proteins) is simply that ‘nutritional monism’ is false. Both carbs and proteins are of some nutritional value.)

74

“you’re setting up a false dichotomy, pure and simple. The logic behind a position in the middle is simply that both autonomy and need matter, morally speaking.
In general, if value monism is false – if there is more than one thing that has moral value – then some sort of balance between different, competing values will need to be struck.”

I agree with this.

I am not advocating the false dichotomy, merely saying that there are three possible views, absolute autonomy, absolute need elimination or some form of balance.

The analogy with carbs and protein is quite good, but only if you have a limited resource. If you have 2,000 calories to eat how do you decide the balance between carbs and protein. When a choice adds to one dimension whilst subtracting from another there needs to be a rational basis to set the balance.

The marginal utility theory would determine the correct balance between protein and carbs, but throws up the coffee test paradox for autonomy and need. How can the marginal utility of one persons coffee outweigh the marginal utility of another’s life ?

If the balance is not set using marginal utility, how is it to be set ?

70

I concede that a wide range of different views adopt the name socialism. I refer to those who believe in the redistribution of wealth by the state using force and justify the use of force by the moral argument that another’s need has a greater claim to the fruits of production than the individual producer does.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”- Karl Marx

I have found this view to be quite common among people who refer to themselves as socialists. If there is a better label for this group, I would be happy to adopt it.

Charity is selfish. Giving money to charity simply demonstrates that the pleasure you get from helping others is greater than any other use you could put the money to. Charity would only be selfless if you gave the money to a cause that you don’t care about and derived no pleasure from the act. You can still believe that helping others is noble and be selfish.

76. Chaise Guevara

73. Murray Rothbard

I’ve got nothing so certain as a perfect formula for setting the balance, mainly because I don’t think you can qualify social responsibility and autonomy in a way that can be directly compared to each other. It requires judgement calls that differ from person to person. These judgements are gathered together and imperfectly applied by the state.

That’s not to say that these two metrics themselves do not have incremental levels of importance, although again quantifying them exactly is probably impossible. Preventing people from starving is more important than ensuring that everyone has their own bedroom. On the autonomy side, I might (indeed do) think that your right to use currently illegal narcotics outweighs your increased risk to society as a result of taking some of those drugs (e.g. the risk of you becoming a mugger due to the need to feed an addiction), but that the risk to society created by letting you carry a handgun outweighs your right to do so. You might well disagree; some people would in fact be vice versa on these issues.

So while we can place rough values on things like getting enough to eat, getting an education, and the freedom to do this, that, and the other, we cannot quantify them in a nondebateable and directly comparable way. The illogic in your argument seems to stem from the idea that, because we cannot find a perfect balance that is beyond argument, we should have to pick one extreme or the other. This would be a very silly decision to make!

Let me pick a similar issue (in terms of striking a balance) as an analogy: the age at which society declares we are adults. Nobody thinks that, on your 18th birthday, you suddenly wake up with a new-found level of personal responsibility that makes you capable of doing all the things you’re allowed to do as an adult. We recognise that it’s an arbitrary line, one that would be fuzzy even if determined for one individual rather than the whole country. But few would argue that a 10 year-old should be allowed to sign binding contracts and buy whisky, or that a 30 year-old should not. And the fact that the line itself is arbitrary does not mean that the correct solution is either to say kids can buy cigarettes from birth or that nobody can buy cigarettes ever.

77. Alisdair Cameron

I agree that Labour is not the vehicle for attacking privatisation – that’s precisely my point! And why I disagree with Sunny that Labour should call out the attack dogs: they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Quite so and I tweeted to that effect to Sunny, whose grasp of NHS policies and politics seems rather blinkered by his new-ish party allegaince.
Remember Keep Our NHS Public started on Labour’s watch, because of their terrible steps towards privatisation. Read some Allyson Pollock. New Labour with ISTCs, the ployclinic idea being touted to all the big corporates, enforced quotas for outsourcing imposed on commissioners, indeed the whole internal market mecahnisms were all preparatory stpes to privatisation.
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/colin-leys/plot-against-nhs
If Lab are to oppose the reforms with any sincerity and credibility, they have to do so by reflecting the mass clinical unease, the impending chaos and the implementation that’s been happening for the last year ahead of the legislation even hitting Parliament.

76

“It requires judgement calls that differ from person to person. These judgements are gathered together and imperfectly applied by the state.”

So has the state decided imperfectly that most people would rather drink coffee than save another’s life ?

“That’s not to say that these two metrics themselves do not have incremental levels of importance, although again quantifying them exactly is probably impossible. Preventing people from starving is more important than ensuring that everyone has their own bedroom.”

Then why is it not more important than having a cup of coffee ?

“The illogic in your argument seems to stem from the idea that, because we cannot find a perfect balance that is beyond argument, we should have to pick one extreme or the other. This would be a very silly decision to make!”

I agree that would be a silly decision to make and that is not what I am advocating. I am saying that I cannot find a system for setting the balance (not the exact level, just the principle) that justifies re-distribution from the wealthy of the UK to poor of the UK, but does not also require the re-distribution from the poor of the UK to the far poorer in the third world.

“Let me pick a similar issue (in terms of striking a balance) as an analogy: the age at which society declares we are adults. Nobody thinks that, on your 18th birthday, you suddenly wake up with a new-found level of personal responsibility that makes you capable of doing all the things you’re allowed to do as an adult. We recognise that it’s an arbitrary line, one that would be fuzzy even if determined for one individual rather than the whole country. ”

I agree with this of course, but here the marginal utility theory can be used in principle to find the balance without any paradox. You set the voting age at the point where you believe the costs of waiting another year equals the costs of not waiting another year in whatever dimension you wish to define cost.

79. Chaise Guevara

@ 78 Murray

“So has the state decided imperfectly that most people would rather drink coffee than save another’s life ?”

Yep.

“Then why is it not more important than having a cup of coffee ?”

Because people are self-centred: and remember, you are in no position to criticize others for this, based on your own claims. Also, I’m trying to engage with you here, but you really do need to drop the ad hom. You entered this thread saying you wanted a sensible debate, but you seem to be trying to avoid one by repeating the same fallacious (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem) point over and over again.

“I agree that would be a silly decision to make and that is not what I am advocating. I am saying that I cannot find a system for setting the balance (not the exact level, just the principle) that justifies re-distribution from the wealthy of the UK to poor of the UK, but does not also require the re-distribution from the poor of the UK to the far poorer in the third world.”

I agree with that entirely, and I don’t see it as a problem for anyone’s argument here.

“I agree with this of course, but here the marginal utility theory can be used in principle to find the balance without any paradox. You set the voting age at the point where you believe the costs of waiting another year equals the costs of not waiting another year in whatever dimension you wish to define cost.”

Sure, in principle … but the whole point is that you can’t define cost, at least not in a way that everyone can agree on. Indeed, that was the point I was making in most of my previous post.

The difference between me and an economic right-winger is ultimately that I value equality or social justice (or whatever you want to call it) more highly than them, and autonomy lower. Neither of us can prove to the other that we are right and they are wrong. So perhaps you can find the exact balance in principle, but in practice it’s a pointless task. Of course, if you ascribe values to certain degrees of equality or autonomy, you can create a balance test for your own personal use, but other people will have different priors!

79

“So has the state decided imperfectly that most people would rather drink coffee than save another’s life ?”

“Yep.”

Thus vindicating the Libertarian position that the state can’t be trusted with our lives
;-)

I repeat the coffee test point again and again, because you have not refuted it to my satisfaction and I have failed to convince you of its validity. I fear we must simply agree to differ, before we drive each other mad!

It’s been an interesting debate and has made me examine some of my beliefs, if others have examined theirs then the exercise has been a valuable one.

Particular thanks to Chaise and G.O. for putting up such robust and intellectually stimulating points.

Murray Rothbord

So you can quote Marx, good for you, so you can google, but if you knew anything about Marx you will know that he hated the state and in his model of a socialist society, the state would disappear. Funny how this idea correlates with a lot of libertarian,s view, possibly it goes further than most libertarians (I mean the real ones not the fake ones)
When you discuss concepts with socialists and ask them your silly questions, their answers are, invariably, criticisms of capitalism not their views of a socialist society, just as well, because you need to educate yourself before entering into a debate about the subject on left-wing sites.
The NHS, referring back to the OP, is a socialist concept, unfortunately it exists within a capitalist system, thus it makes it vulnerable to attacks from the very system that supports it.

Recent posts here make no reference to extensive discussion in the games theory literature as to whether, in repeated games, cooperation or reciprocal altrusim are rational strategies for the rival players.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma

Animals, even primitive life forms, have been observed in research studies to behave altruistically: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals

The question is whether groups or populations in which members exhibit altruistic behaviour have better survivial prospects in the context of Darwinian competition.

There is also an extensive economics literature, going back at least to the early 1900s, if not to Adam Smith in his discussion of the functions and duties of sovereigns, on whether unregulated and untaxed/subsidised markets will lead to optimal social consequences in the presence of externalities. This is where economists were half a century ago: Francis Bator: The Anatomy of Market Failure
http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/econ335/out/bator_qje.pdf

A recent, well-reviewed book: John Cassidy: How Markets Fail (Penguin 2010):
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_47/b4156079791251.htm

82
There is now an evolutionary theory which suggests that altruism within animals actually adds to fitness, referred to as ‘the survival of the nicest’. But even in classical evolutionary theory and its’ reference to market theory, what is overlooked is the fitness of herds, packs, societies ect and the benefits of co-operation.

@ Murray Rothbard

““From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”- Karl Marx

I have found this view to be quite common among people who refer to themselves as socialists.”

Really? It’s a familiar soundbite, of course, but if there are people around who genuinely think that everybody should receive an income precisely proportionate to their needs (regardless of the job they do etc.), they’re not exactly part of the mainstream of contemporary (self-defined) socialist opinion. I’ve never heard a (self-defined) socialist call for a general cut in wages to £7.20 an hour, say, on the basis that that’s what people *need* to live on. On the other hand, I’ve often heard (self-defined) socialists arguing that some people *deserve* to receive a higher or lower income than they do (based on the value of their work).

“If the balance is not set using marginal utility, how is it to be set ?”

I don’t know. It’s a genuinely difficult question, and simply dodging it by denying that there’s any need to set a balance (because there’s *just one thing* that matters morally – freedom, or happiness, or submission to the divine will, or whatever) strikes me as deeply unsatisfactory. But since socialists aren’t committed to the claim that the balance should be set using marginal utility, the charge that they’re ‘hypocrites’ if they choose to drink a cup of coffee rather than paying for a life-saving vaccination (say) just doesn’t stick.

“Charity is selfish. Giving money to charity simply demonstrates that the pleasure you get from helping others is greater than any other use you could put the money to… You can still believe that helping others is noble and be selfish.”

So what does “noble” mean? Is helping others a “noble” in a way that eating a bacon butty (say) is not, or is each activity “noble” just insofar at it brings one pleasure (since it’s “noble” to pursue the highest moral value, that of selfishness?)

There’s also the very simple, basic issue I raised @46 about street lighting.

So far, most street lights haven’t been switched off even though no one has worked out how to charge individuals for the amount of street lighting they personally consume or how to prevent those who don’t or won’t pay from benefiting from it. The obvious rationale is that most of us reckon that the social benefits of street lighting – fewer traffic accidents and falls and less chance of being mugged – are worth the costs, including the administrative costs of collecting the taxes to pay for the lighting.

Similar arguments apply to policing – and to setting and maintaining public standards for weights and measures.

@ Murray Rothbard

“Particular thanks to Chaise and G.O. for putting up such robust and intellectually stimulating points.”

You’re welcome. It’s been a useful exercise for me, because I teach a first-year ethics course that includes Singer on utilitarianism.

(You’re on a mid-2(i), by the way.)

81

When you discuss concepts with socialists and ask them your silly questions, their answers are, invariably, criticisms of capitalism not their views of a socialist society, just as well, because you need to educate yourself before entering into a debate about the subject on left-wing sites.

Which socialist society?, That of Charles Fourier: “Where lions would become servants of humanity and the sea would turn into lemonade.”

Or that of L.P. Hartley in Facial Justice ?

88. Chaise Guevara

@ 80 Murray

“Thus vindicating the Libertarian position that the state can’t be trusted with our lives”

Ah, but as you yourself have pointed out, individuals also appear to think that their coffee is more important than other people’s survival. I don’t think that the state is perfect (far, far from it), I just think the alternative is worse. To over-simplify, I strongly doubt that vulnerable members of society would get the help they currently receive through tax if they instead relied on the charity of untaxed workers.

“I repeat the coffee test point again and again, because you have not refuted it to my satisfaction and I have failed to convince you of its validity. I fear we must simply agree to differ, before we drive each other mad!”

Fair enough.

“It’s been an interesting debate and has made me examine some of my beliefs, if others have examined theirs then the exercise has been a valuable one.

Particular thanks to Chaise and G.O. for putting up such robust and intellectually stimulating points.”

Likewise – and it’s been good to have a socialist vs libertarian debate that hasn’t consisted of both sides calling each other bastards (for once).

82

Libertarianism does not preclude cooperation, free exchange for mutual benefit is at the heart of it. The only thing it objects to is compulsion. Summed up in the non aggression axiom:

That it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another. That is, in the free society, one has the right to manufacture, buy or sell any good or service at any mutually agreeable terms.- W. Block

It would certainly be an interesting game theory experiment to see if voluntary co-operation for mutual benefit out performed compulsory resource distribution as a group survival strategy

Until the elementary education act of 1870, governments in Britain had relied on the churches and charities to provide basic schooling – an early manifestation of the “Big Society” notion.

The 1870 act set a framework to provide schooling for all children in England and Wales from 5 to 12 financed by taxes. As for the rationale for this intervention by the state:

“We have noted a substantial body of original research . . . which found that stagnant or declining literacy underlay the ‘revolution’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . Britain in 1850 was the wealthiest country in the world but only in the second rank as regards literacy levels. [Nick] Crafts has shown that in 1870 when Britain was world economic leader, its school enrolment ratio was only 0.168 compared with the European norm of 0.514 and ‘Britain persistently had a relatively low rate of accumulation of human capital’.”
Sanderson: Education, economic change and society in 1780-1870 (Cambridge UP, 1995) p.61

In short, schooling standards in England and Wales were lagging those in some other west European countries where governments had already intervened to ensure provision of basic schooling. Governments in Westminster had belatedly discovered that the Big Society notion wasn’t working.

91. Watchman

Murray,

It would certainly be an interesting game theory experiment to see if voluntary co-operation for mutual benefit out performed compulsory resource distribution as a group survival strategy

By definition it surely would, since in any given circumstance some people would volunatrily co-operate in new ways as a reaction/anticipation, and it would allow different levels of co-operation (and therefore multiple strategies to exist – so that the best can then be determined, settled upon and further adapted).

But, speaking as someone who is more a libertarian than a socialist, there is nothing in that this is inherently inimical to socialism – statism is a seperate thing to socialism, for all their (considerable) historical overlap.

Readers may notice that the case for public or state intervention to provide for schooling, street lighting, policing, setting and maintaining public standards for weights and measures etc has little to do with right-wing v left-wing or socialism, whatever the connotations of those labels are supposed to be.

@ Murray Rothbard

Another point re charity & selfishness:

Very plausibly, if I get pleasure from helping others, that’s because I believe I’ve done something morally praiseworthy. I take satisfaction in the fact that I’ve ‘done good’ by going without a coffee in order to pay for an African child to be vaccinated (say).

But if I turn libertarian and convince myself that selfishness is the highest moral value, so that having that coffee would have been morally praiseworthy in just the way that paying for the vaccination was morally praiseworthy, where do I go from there? My ability to take pleasure in paying for a vaccination is contingent upon my knowing that that would be a morally praiseworthy thing to do; but my knowing that that would be a morally praiseworthy thing to do is now contingent upon my ability to take pleasure in doing it.

That’s a mind-boggling little circle to be running around in, so I’d probably be well-advised to do something I *know* is morally praiseworthy (= would give me selfish pleasure), and go for the coffee every time. Especially since I now get not just the pleasure of drinking the coffee, but also the pleasure of knowing I’ve acted in accordance with the highest moral value – selfishness.

So a society full of rationally consistent libertarians is going to be pretty lacking in charity, surely?

@ G.O.
Now I know you teach this sort of thing I can’t resist asking a few questions:(as an autodidact rather than an antagonist).

“I’ve often heard (self-defined) socialists arguing that some people *deserve* to receive a higher or lower income than they do (based on the value of their work).”

Isn’t that simply a version of the same economic fallacy that water should have a higher value than diamonds, because one is a useful life saving liquid and the other is a rich person’s bauble.

The reality being that the value of anything is determined by the aggregate supply and demand for a marginal unit. If value is not determined by the simple supply and demand of buyers and sellers then what is it, some metaphysical quantity outside the human transaction, a purely subjective thing or something else entirely ?

If it is other than the interaction of market forces then who is to determine the value of work or anything else. I thought Von Mises tackled this in his “economic calculation in the socialist commonwealth” and demonstrated that without a free marked for setting prices (values) the whole system would fail ?

How does this socialist view deal with the issue ?

93

“Very plausibly, if I get pleasure from helping others, that’s because I believe I’ve done something morally praiseworthy. I take satisfaction in the fact that I’ve ‘done good’ by going without a coffee in order to pay for an African child to be vaccinated”

Agreed, another selfish reasons could be, to receive positive social feedback and increased social standing in a society that holds altruism as a high value. In certain cases it may raise an expectation of future reciprocity, but I agree it is mainly the moral praiseworthiness.

“My ability to take pleasure in paying for a vaccination is contingent upon my knowing that that would be a morally praiseworthy thing to do; but my knowing that that would be a morally praiseworthy thing to do is now contingent upon my ability to take pleasure in doing it.”

Ouch!
I think the only way the loop can be avoided is to concede that there is another moral value, that makes giving to charity pleasurable. (Which I previously termed nobility, but will now relabel as altruism). Selfishness simply determines whether the pleasure I get from being altruistic is higher than the pleasure I get from drinking the coffee.

“Very plausibly, if I get pleasure from helping others, that’s because I believe I’ve done something morally praiseworthy”

Or for reasons extensively discussed in the games theory literature, because that is the rational course to take in repeated games because persistently failing in cooperative or altruistic ways destroys implicit bonds of social reciprocity and thereby leads to inferior outcomes for all.

I don’t have a car but I’m not suggesting it would therefore be a good idea to switch off street lights.

@ Murray Rothbard

I teach philosophy, not economics, but for what it’s worth:

Assume that the market can indeed settle certain questions in the way you suggest; so the value of an apple, say, is simply determined by the aggregate supply and demand for a marginal unit. If the market says an apple is worth 50p, then it’s worth 50p.

Still, there are other questions the market *can’t* settle, and indeed which need to be settled before the market can operate: notably the question of who is entitled to receive 50p in exchange for that apple.

In a society in which the King is recognised by convention as the sole owner of all apples, it’s the King.

In a society in which a person who picks an apple is recognised by convention as the sole owner of that apple, it’s the person who picked the apple.

In a society in which a person whose ancestors cultivated the orchard in which an apple was grown is recognised by convention as the sole owner of that apple, it’s the person whose ancestors cultivated the orchard in which the apple was grown.

In a society in which a person whose ancestors took by force the orchard in which the apple was grown is recognised by convention as the sole owner of that apple, it’s the person whose ancestors took by force the orchard in which the apple was grown.

…and so on, and so on. The market can’t decide who we’re collectively going to regard as being entitled to what share of that 50p, any more than it can decide whether (e.g.) someone who captures me is morally entitled to sell my labour.

So it looks to me as if there’s plenty of scope for debate about how large a slice of the (apple) pie should, by rights, go to the workers who pick the apples, the shareholders of the company that manages the orchard, the state that maintains the roads along which the apples are transported after they’re picked, etc.

“I teach philosophy, not economics, but for what it’s worth: ”

Try: “Singer uses game theory to make his point. In the well-known Prisoner’s Dilemma, . . ”
http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Debate/SingerPM.html

89
You mention legitimately owned property, please explain what legitimizes such property
94 All things have a varying utility value, what is worth more to you in the desert when you are dying of thirst – water or a diamond. However, the diamond has no intrinsic value unlike water, so when determining the needs of a society, I doubt very much if diamonds spring to mind or coffee for that matter.

96

Game theory makes a great case for voluntary cooperation in games where all sides are free to make choices.

Reciprocity is a powerful psychological motivator, but reciprocity comes from knowing the other players in the game have a choice.

If their actions are forced, then the best game theory strategy may simply be to exploit them.

Consider the classic prisoners dilemma, in a repeated game scenario one of the best strategies is “tit for tat” which encourages cooperation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tit_for_tat

However, if you know the other player is forced to stay silent every game, your best strategy is simply to always defect.

I am not aware that game theory provides any evidence for altruism being a good strategy in forced decision environments. I am also doubtful about the strength of reciprocity to the giver of a benefit when the benefit giver has no choice and the receiver sees it not as a gift but an entitlement.

Consider a group of people who live together without a state and one falls ill, there is every incentive for the remainder of the group to support them until they are well and can rejoin the group in the reciprocal expectation that the group including the ill person would look after them should they fall ill. The sick person is grateful for being looked after but would not take advantage of the situation by malingering because they would risk being ostracized from the group and losing the benefits of the reciprocal arrangement. The best strategy for all concerned is cooperation.

Once the state steps in and gives the sick person the “right” to be looked after and removes the choice from the rest of the group the best strategy for the sick person is to not cooperate, but to malinger and live off the rest of the group for as long as possible without expending any effort. This would be particularly true when the financial gap between working and sick benefit entitlement was non existent or very small. It will also generate resentment among the group that is paying the bill.

@ Murray (95)

“I think the only way the loop can be avoided is to concede that there is another moral value, that makes giving to charity pleasurable. (Which I previously termed nobility, but will now relabel as altruism). Selfishness simply determines whether the pleasure I get from being altruistic is higher than the pleasure I get from drinking the coffee.”

But you don’t have two distinct moral values there: you have one moral value (the selfish pursuit of pleasure) and two types of pleasure (the sort you get from being altruistic, and the sort you get from drinking coffee). You could multiply types of pleasure ad infinitum (the sort you get from seeing an enemy suffer, the sort you get from seeing a project come to fruition…) and still not avoid the loop.

Bob B: sorry I keep ignoring you; I don’t know the game theory literature, so I don’t really feel I’m in a position to contribute much on that front.

“I am not aware that game theory provides any evidence for altruism being a good strategy in forced decision environments”

With implicit tit-for-tat in repeated games, it makes rational sense to behave cooperatively unless the other party defects. One of the classics on all this is Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation (Penguin) – which is on many course reading lists.

Another potentially illuminating tack is the growing but fairly recent literature on “experimental economics” where, in America, they get to play (instructive) games of chance and strategy using real money. I’m less familiar with this literature but recall that it has yielded some counter-intuitive results partly because many folk are motivated by notions of fairness and sharing as well as the pursuit of personal gain/advantage. One of the things I picked up was that economics students/grads tend to play differently from students of other disciplines. I’ll see if I can find some helpful briefing online.

97

OK, I see the point.

In my world view the transaction is about the capitalist buying the labour of the worker. Which is 100% owned by the worker, the market sets a fair price for labour and that’s that.

The alternative view is that whatever the worker makes he is a part owner of and a proportion of the value created belongs to him. We can debate exactly how large a percentage.

I would argue that voluntary contracts in a free market determine who gets what share of the value of a thing produced. The worker could have entered into a contract to be a partner in a venture to produce and sell goods. (Or a co-operative if he prefers). He instead chose to sell his labour for a certain value and avoid the risk of a commercial venture.

I don’t see how the “part of the pie” argument survives voluntary contracts to sell their labour. Would the option to simply sell labour be denied and would the worker be forced contribute from his own funds it the thing he makes sells for less than it costs to make ?

Another interesting book, which has been mentioned before and with regard to the NHS is ‘The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy’ by Richard M Titmuss, which, amongst other things, explores human altruism.

101

But you don’t have two distinct moral values there: you have one moral value (the selfish pursuit of pleasure) and two types of pleasure (the sort you get from being altruistic, and the sort you get from drinking coffee). You could multiply types of pleasure ad infinitum (the sort you get from seeing an enemy suffer, the sort you get from seeing a project come to fruition…) and still not avoid the loop.

I don’t think so?

There is one thing called pleasure that is derived to different extents by different actions. A degree of pleasure is derived from the physical action of drinking coffee, a different degree of pleasure is derived from acting altruistically (in line with a an abstract moral) and a different degree from watching an enemy suffer, etc.

The moral value of selfishness requires that you take that action which maximizes your pleasure. (Although pleasure is actually too hedonistic, because my definition of moral selfishness excludes violence towards others in line with the non aggression principle)

104
I take it you realize that industrial capitalism is about 250 years old, in terms of human production to survive, it metaphorically emerged at five minutes to midnight, it is not an inevitable form for survival. Although you state that you are arguing from a market perspective you still are unable to understand that socialism is an economic system that is not capitablism.

103

You could be referring to the ultimatum game:

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

Where real life players consistently choose nothing over something to prevent the other player from getting a lot more than them.

Pretty good evidence of envy being a driving force in human nature.

I think the game would be different if played for higher stakes. It is easy to turn down a pound if it stops the other player walking away with £99.

I wonder how many people would turn down £1 Million pounds to stop the other player walking away with £99 Million.

I think there comes a point when self interest overcomes envy !

99

Legitimately owned property is:

1. Property that you have created with your own labour mixing it with unowned natural resources. If you find yourself on a desert island and make a club from a piece of driftwood then the property in the club is legitimately owned by you.

2. Property that you have obtained in free trade with others. If you are rescued and trade your club for a bottle of scotch (from its legitimate owner), the property in the scotch is legitimately yours.

3. Property that is made for you through free trade with others. If you agree to pay the owner of a rock for it and then pay an artist to convert it into a statue then you have legitimate property in the statue.

4. Previously unowned land that you bring into productive use is legitimate property. So landing on an Island and declaring it yours does not make it so. But if you clear a patch of the island and grow food on it then you have converted it into something more valuable by mixing your labour with it and the property is legitimately yours.

Clearly any form of property obtained through force or threat of force is not legitimately owned, nor is property obtained through trade with someone other than the legitimate owner.

Yes things do have different values at different times and places and to different people, so to be absolutely clear.

The price is determined by the aggregate supply and demand (amongst the people present) for a marginal unit of the item (at the time and place the marginal unit is to be traded).

110. scandalousbill

Murray Rothbard,

You say,

“Once the state steps in and gives the sick person the “right” to be looked after and removes the choice from the rest of the group the best strategy for the sick person is to not cooperate, but to malinger and live off the rest of the group for as long as possible without expending any effort.”

Your logic is flawed, the sick person has already been differentiated from the group, because in your scenario, as he has a right that the group does not. In this case his strategy choice to maintain the status quo to foster his advantage is simply a tautological repetition that he has exercised a privilege that others do not. If they all had the same privilege, your former scenario would apply whether by means altruistic or Realpolitik.

111. scandalousbill

Sorry,

Please add to my above at 110

To conclude the inequality is unequal is hardly a revelation.

@103 relates:

The following briefs tend to undermine confidence in the supremacy of the standard neo-classical model of rational, full-informed agents doggedly pursuing personal gains/advantage:

Behavioral economics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics
Prospect Theory: http://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472108670-02.pdf
Google lecture: Prof Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice – why more means less
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMV4PIEIKY4

The classic economics paper on healthcare insurance: Kenneth Arrow: Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care: http://www.aeaweb.org/aer/top20/53.5.941-973.pdf

112

Totally agree.
That’s why I am an Austrian Economist and not a classical one.

@ Mray (106)

“a different degree of pleasure is derived from acting altruistically (in line with a an abstract moral)”

But in what does the moral value of that action consist?

If it consists in the same thing the moral value of a non-altruistic action consists in – the selfish promotion of your own pleasure – then you’ve just got one value. (The only thing that matters, moraly speaking, is the selfish pursuit of one’s own pleasure.) And in that case, you can decide what is the moral thing to do simply by weighing the pleasure you get from acting altruistically against the pleasure you get from acting otherwise, in the way you suggest.

If it consists in something else – e.g. the minimisation of someone else’s suffering – then you have two distinct values. (The selfish pursuit of one’s own pleasure matters, morally speaking, but so does the minimisation of other people’s suffering.) But in that case, you can’t decide what is the moral thing to do simply by weighing the pleasure you get from acting altruistically against the pleasure you get from acting otherwise, because (by hypothesis) the selfish pursuit of your own pleasure is not the only thing that has moral value. Once you’ve taken into account the moral value each action has by virtue of maximising your selfish pursuit of pleasure, you then have to take into account the moral value it has by virtue of minimising someone else’s suffering. And then you’re in the same pickle as the rest of us who aren’t value monists – trying to strike a balance between competing and hard-to-compare values.

Murray Rothband @ 109

Real life is not as simple as that though, is it?

What if I own the driftwood? What if it came off my boat and you now use it thinking it was just a bit of wood? Have I the right to my oar, even if you legitimately believe it to be waste? What if the bottle of Scotch has been stolen? Just because you ‘believe’ the person who has the bottle when you meet him does not mean that it is his. What if the design of your statue is already copyrighted, etc. Who are you to decide who owns the land you clear, either?

You are starting up with a false assumption, that everything that exists ‘just comes along’ and everything is clear cut and totally measurable. Real life is far more complicated than that. Nothing is ‘just there’; everything has been created by millions of processes.

Take selling a newspaper. The conditions that allow you or anyone to sell a newspaper is completely interconnected. We print newspapers because there is a market for them and the only reason there are markets for reading is because we fostered universal literacy. That universal literacy did not just spring out of no-where. The universal literacy gene did not mutate spontaneously. Universal literacy came about because the ‘State’ brought it about. Had we waited for the free market to invent it, we would still be waiting.

So that newsagent on the corner may think that he is solely responsible for his success, but he is completely dependent on a whole lot other things taking place. Like a stable currency, like universal literacy, like a market for paper, a market for news, like the fact that people read papers on the way to work, like the fact that he can read on public transport, like million other facts.

His wealth has little to do how hard he works, it is down to how hard hundreds of millions of people have work in the past as well as today.

109
It sounds ideal, all of us finding a desert island, but hardly a realistic solution, and what if I find an island where the original finder was temporarily absent, how would ownership be established.
You might also read Titmuss as I recommended @105, it’s about voluntary and anonymous blood donation for the NHS, tbh, I don’t see many people freely volunteering blood for a plc.

Murray @ 104

I don’t have much to say to that, because it strikes me as so absurd to think that the contracts you describe are ‘voluntary’ in any meaningful sense. (‘Rather than starve or live in abject poverty, would you like to work a sixty hour week down a mine for peanuts?’ ‘Well – if those are my only options, I guess so.’ ‘Hurrah! Let’s both voluntarily enter into this contract then. Isn’t freedom great?’)

Universal literacy came about because the ‘State’ brought it about. Had we waited for the free market to invent it, we would still be waiting.

Eh? Gutenberg invented the printing press, borrowing money from moneylenders; books were made inexpensive and there was a market for them, people demanded information. It stimulated literacy. (There was a time when the ‘state’ was against universal literacy… )

Yes, the state had a hand in literacy. But to claim it is all down to the state is absurd.

UKL @ 118

Er, those books may have been ‘inexpensive’ but absolutely useless to most of the poulation without ‘Universal literacy’ and mass literacy did not come about via the ‘free market’, but because te State believed it a good idea (rightly or wrongly), even if the ‘State’ (or the church) had thought it a bad thing at some point, the idea that everyone should at least learn to read came about through State intervention.

I do not dispute that capitalism played no part in this movement, the point is that you cannot sell a paper to someone and take the full credit for your work without accepting that your work (whatever it is) only has value because millions of people (including Guttenburg’s investors) have aded value at some point to the enterprise.

120. Richard W

I think the growth in literacy had more a religious element particularly in those nations most affected by the Reformation. The societies who had rejected bishops and priests lording it over them required children to grow up being able to read the bible. The point originally was not to have the population literate for the sake of literacy, but to create good protestants reading the bible. When Scotland went into the Union, it was arguably the poorest nation in Europe. However, it was also the most literate because the Presbyterians ensured children could read and write. Unfortunately, for the religious authorities the literate did not just stick to reading the bible. The radicals who challenged the status quo also had a wider audience who could read their ideas. When the Scottish Enlightenment was going on the man in the street could and did read the pamphlets written by the likes of Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume as easily as other academics.

The state was only later formalising literacy to suit the changing needs of business. However, the original impetus was really the non-conformist religious groups.

Richard W @ 120

literate for the sake of literacy, but to create good protestants reading the bible

No matter the motives, the end result appears the same. When everyone can read and has enough down time, people buy newspapers. People who sell newspapers, can only sell papers because millions of people can and want to read them, no matter how hard they work, the rely on the endevours of millions of people within, private, State, Church groupings.

Without Gutenburg (to take onboard UKL’s point) there would be no internet and no matter how much Bill Gates worked all his efforts would have been for nothing had we not had mass literacy. Had we never built roads then we would never have had Ford etc.

114

“If it consists in something else – e.g. the minimisation of someone else’s suffering – then you have two distinct values. (The selfish pursuit of one’s own pleasure matters, morally speaking, but so does the minimisation of other people’s suffering.)”

Agreed, I think it does.

But in that case, you can’t decide what is the moral thing to do simply by weighing the pleasure you get from acting altruistically against the pleasure you get from acting otherwise, because (by hypothesis) the selfish pursuit of your own pleasure is not the only thing that has moral value. Once you’ve taken into account the moral value each action has by virtue of maximising your selfish pursuit of pleasure, you then have to take into account the moral value it has by virtue of minimising someone else’s suffering. And then you’re in the same pickle as the rest of us who aren’t value monists – trying to strike a balance between competing and hard-to-compare values.

I am not a value monist and yes I have to strike a balance between values. But my criteria for striking the balance is selfish. In the same way I have a lot of choices of things to buy and I chose to buy the things that give me the most satisfaction (probably a better term than pleasure). I have a lot of possible actions some that give me physical satisfaction and some that give me psychic satisfaction and I decide which to do by attempting to maximize my satisfaction function.

115

“What if I own the driftwood? What if it came off my boat and you now use it thinking it was just a bit of wood?”

Then I am mistaken, and its your wood.

“What if the bottle of Scotch has been stolen?”

Then it still belongs to the person it was stolen from

“What if the design of your statue is already copyrighted, etc.”

Then the statue is not mine.

“Who are you to decide who owns the land you clear, either?”

Who are any of us to decide anything, that is the system I believe to be the most logically valid.

“You are starting up with a false assumption, that everything that exists ‘just comes along”

We exist in a physical world we interact with what we find. In the beginning it was essentially just there. Today most of it belongs to people. (Not always legitimately)

“His wealth has little to do how hard he works, it is down to how hard hundreds of millions of people have work in the past as well as today”

No the environment he finds himself in is the result of how hard hundreds of millions of people have worked. What he does in the environment he finds himself in is down to him. If his wealth had nothing to do with how hard he works, or how smartly he works then all people would be equally wealthy in the same environment. Since this is not the case, then it must have more than a little to do with how hard he works.

116

“It sounds ideal, all of us finding a desert island, but hardly a realistic solution, and what if I find an island where the original finder was temporarily absent, how would ownership be established.”

The original finder would only own that part that he had brought into production through his labour. He would own it. Establishing ownership is a procedural issue, disputes about ownership would be resolved through private arbitration.

“You might also read Titmuss as I recommended @105, it’s about voluntary and anonymous blood donation for the NHS, tbh, I don’t see many people freely volunteering blood for a plc.”

Thanks I will, but you would get more blood if you allowed a free market for it!

117

“I don’t have much to say to that, because it strikes me as so absurd to think that the contracts you describe are ‘voluntary’ in any meaningful sense. (‘Rather than starve or live in abject poverty, would you like to work a sixty hour week down a mine for peanuts?’ ‘Well – if those are my only options, I guess so.’ ‘Hurrah! Let’s both voluntarily enter into this contract then. Isn’t freedom great?’)”

I think you are confusing freedom with lack of desirable options and I am disappointed that you feel you can just dismiss it as absurd without debate

Voluntary does not mean being able to pick from options you like.

Voluntary means being able to pick from the options available to you without threats of force from another.

If one option is much better than another then rationally you will take it, but that is not the same as being “forced” to take it. If you hold the winning lottery ticket you have a choice between claiming the prize and throwing the ticket in the bin. Rationally you will claim the prize but you have not been “forced” to do it.

It is no different when one of the choices is very bad and another not quite so bad. Given the choice between working in a child labour factory for a dollar a day or scavenging on a rubbish tip for food, most impoverished third world children would rationally choose the factory. They have not been forced to work there, they have simply selected the best option from, the admittedly miserable ones, available to them.

By all means protest that they don’t have good options, but do not pretend they are not making voluntary choices.

The nobles at the court of a tyrannical king may be very rich, but have no freedom at all.

A lone survivor on a desert island may be the poorest man on earth but he has voluntary choices.

Economic well being is important, freedom is important, but treating the two as synonyms is an error.

124
How would I know that the original owner was telling the truth? And who would be involved with the ‘private arbitration’

I think we were talking about altruism when I referred to voluntary blood donation which, as the word ‘voluntary’ suggests. it does not rely on market activity.
Although you are probably right, there would be more blood if it was purchased, there is generally enough blood in the UK from voluntary donation to accomodate demand. More does not always mean better.

127. Richard W

@ 121. Jim

I agree with you, Jim. Very little if anything is seminal and nearly everything is symbiotic to lots of other things in an interconnected way. Without electricity and a transmission network there would be no electrical consumer goods manufacturers. No electrical consumer goods market and there would be no electrical consumer goods transporters, retailers etc. Everyone down the current chain owes their existence to the original discovery of electricity and how to transmit electricity. Moreover, they rely on the other parts of the interconnected whole to work for they themselves to function. Almost all new knowledge is building on previous knowledge and hopefully improving it.

126

“How would I know that the original owner was telling the truth? And who would be involved with the ‘private arbitration’”

Similar to a public judicial system but privately funded. In any dispute over anything there is a chance that a procedural system will make an incorrect decision. But it is incorrect with reference to the true conceptual owner which is what the principle establishes.

127

“Everyone down the current chain owes their existence to the original discovery of electricity and how to transmit electricity. Moreover, they rely on the other parts of the interconnected whole to work for they themselves to function. Almost all new knowledge is building on previous knowledge and hopefully improving it.”

Agreed and in a Libertarian system the creators of each link in the chain would have been well rewarded for their efforts at the time and their descendants would have benefited as well.

But this does not create an eternal debt from all of mankind to all the people of the past collectively that somehow means your lazy neighbour who does nothing is just as entitled as you are to the rewards generated by your efforts today!

If everyone did nothing today and just demanded their fair share of the” fruits of progress” we would all starve pretty quickly and there would certainly be no progress for future generations to enjoy.

130. Richard W

@ 129

I certainly do not believe that all people should share equally in rewards. Moreover, people are entitled to the rewards of their labour. I would personally tax labour at zero. However, I recognise that nearly everything is random and down to luck. We start life itself from an ovary lottery. One can in life make the best of the one’s opportunities. However, the person born with the capacity to reach an 1Q of 140 played no part in forming their genes. The person born with only the capacity to reach an IQ of 80 was not to blame for that unfortunate occurrence. Income for the wealthy has a diminishing marginal utility. Whereas, income for the poor has an increasing marginal utility. Therefore, redistributing from the wealthy to the poor increases overall utility. Taxing land and consumption and redistributing to those at the bottom in such a way not to create dependency enhances utility.

128
I can’t afford to pay for a private ajudication procedure.

129
Your answer is far too simplistic, for example, many inventions were the direct result of the state, not least the computer, therefore, millions of taxpayers financed the inventions and many public employees directly or indirectly contributed.

@132: “Your answer is far too simplistic”

Absolutely. Regular reading of business press reports shows that the big computer companies are often suing one another over claims about patent infringements. This exchange of writs is but the latest round in a never ending saga:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13124753
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-22/samsung-sues-apple-on-patent-infringement-claims-as-legal-dispute-deepens.html

The discovery of Penicillin by Fleming was a brilliant insight but not a great deal of practical use until Florey and Chain worked out how to manufacture it in sufficient volumes for extensive clinical use. In the event, they were awarded Nobel laureates along with Fleming:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Florey

MR @ 129

You are missing the point. The point is that everything is interconnected, that includes the public and private sectors. You want to believe that only the private sector advances society and only the private sector generates wealth. You also assert that you should be ‘allowed’ (if that is the right term, I know you people are quite hot on semantics) to simply opt out of society in general, yet live in some kind of parallel universe that occupies the same dimensions from the rest of us, but with absolutely no contact with the State.

That is of course nonsense, because you directly benefit from everything the State does, even if you do not realise it, or simply wish it wasn’t so. You have simply no idea how much you have gained from the State, therefore you assume that, hey you don’t get a penny from it.

You live in a Country where everyone is educated and some of these people are educated to a high level. These people contribute billions to the economy and yet you feel if the State has not created that society. How can that be? How can millions of people be treated by the NHS back to health, saved from death etc and yet that has not put a single penny into the GDP of the Country? You don’t think that any of the roads that are built have made the slightest difference to the Country. In fact, you genuinely think if we could go back to some kind of ‘year zero’ pre the 1690s and stop the State from starting the National Debt and the growth of the State, we would somehow arrive here today in roughly the same state we are now? A few minor tweaks, here and there, but nothing too drastic? All those literate people would ‘just turn up’ all those people still got healthier, the industrial revolution would still have happened?

You think that you can remove the building blocks from society and the whole eddiface would not simply crash around our ears.

I would have far more respect for you people if you did exactly what you say and pick a Country with no or a minimal State, and went and lived there and cut all contact with the Westernised State Run societies. Go and see how long you last in Somalia, before you come crawling back to one of those Countries you despise so much.

@ Murray

“I am not a value monist and yes I have to strike a balance between values. But my criteria for striking the balance is selfish.”

So you decide on the basis of selfishness how the balance is to be struck between the selfish pursuit of pleasure, and altruistic attempts to minimise the suffering of others (etc.)? Isn’t that a bit like deciding on the basis of gluttony how the balance is to be struck between the enjoyment of food and the promotion of good health?

“By all means protest that they don’t have good options, but do not pretend they are not making voluntary choices.”

OK, let’s not quibble about the implications of saying a choice is ‘voluntary’ – I’ll just protest that their options are so poor, so limited, that the fact that they ‘voluntarily’ choose one over the other just doesn’t count for much. It would still be grotesque to suggest that those children were living the life they freely chose to live, that they could simply choose to leave the company if they weren’t happy with their wages, or that they had entered into a contract with their employer on mutually satisfactory terms.

The case for the state subsidising basic scientific research is that the downstream commercial benefits often cannot be captured because the new knowledge and technologies developed from the basic research passes into the public domain via seminars, conferences and papers, all of which facilitate the exchange of knowledge and thereby accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and technical progress. Without state subsidy, it is argued, there would be “too little” basic research.

Because of the leakage of knowledge gained through research, there is a substantial professional literature focused on measuring, if possible, the extent of the divergence between the public (or social) and private returns to expenditures on R&D, of which the following extensive survey is but one example:
http://www.merit.unu.edu/publications/wppdf/2010/wp2010-006.pdf

137. Richard W

134. Jim

” I would have far more respect for you people if you did exactly what you say and pick a Country with no or a minimal State, and went and lived there and cut all contact with the Westernised State Run societies. Go and see how long you last in Somalia, before you come crawling back to one of those Countries you despise so much. ”

I tend to agree with that. These debates about libertarians and their ideal society always strike me as self-indulgent twaddle. They are like debates about the nuances of theology and just as meaningless. The libertarian anarchist types seem to me to be the most legitimate and honest. The others are middle class whites usually guys who just do not like paying tax. Libertarianism is just a way for them to rationalise not doing something that they do not want to do and wrapping it up in an ideology of justification.

Although, they do not like Somalia being cited. Jim is quite correct to ask why do they not all withdraw from their respective societies and build their own libertarian society somewhere uninhabited? How can they bear to suffer in the nannying sociofascist states that they claim to hate? If it is so intolerable why do they not leave? Remaining in societies that they hate is a bit, umm, parasitical.

130

“I recognise that nearly everything is random and down to luck. We start life itself from an ovary lottery. One can in life make the best of the one’s opportunities. However, the person born with the capacity to reach an 1Q of 140 played no part in forming their genes. The person born with only the capacity to reach an IQ of 80 was not to blame for that unfortunate occurrence.”

Yes we are all born unequal and our maximum and minimum potentials in life are determined by chance. Whether we end up at our personal maximum or minimum is down to how we live our life.

But inequality does not simply manifest itself in wealth. The person with lower IQ will probably have a less rich cultural life, perhaps less social status. The man born ugly will probably have less sexual opportunities, etc, etc. Why restrict the quest for equality to simply wealth, if inequality in human beings is so wrong then why not stamp it out completely with the Harrison Bergeron approach?

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

“Therefore, redistributing from the wealthy to the poor increases overall utility.”

Utilitarianism is a disgusting philosophy, let me illustrate why.

If 100 paedophiles want to torture and rape a six year old girl, then as long as the utility gained by the paedophiles exceeds the disutility of the six year old girl then overall utility has been increased. If the paedophiles film the whole thing and share it with 100,000 others on the internet, then overall utility has been increased any more.

A philosophy that places maximizing overall utility at the expense of individual rights leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent.

132

“Millions of taxpayers financed the inventions and many public employees directly or indirectly contributed.”

And the public employees were paid a salary for their efforts so where is the debt ?

135

So you decide on the basis of selfishness how the balance is to be struck between the selfish pursuit of pleasure, and altruistic attempts to minimise the suffering of others (etc.)? Isn’t that a bit like deciding on the basis of gluttony how the balance is to be struck between the enjoyment of food and the promotion of good health?

No, I decide on the basis of maximizing personal satisfaction between the satisfaction gained from physical pleasure and the satisfaction gained from altruistic pleasure.

It’s the same as deciding on the basis of personal satisfaction how the balance is struck between the enjoyment of food and the promotion of good health. I enjoy eating fast food, but I also enjoy being healthy so I may set my balance at 1 visit to McDonalds a week, or my selfish scale of personal satisfactions may mean I value the fast food more, so I will go every day.

“OK, let’s not quibble about the implications of saying a choice is ‘voluntary’”

I don’t think this is a minor quibble, I think this strikes at the very heart of our different belief systems.

“I’ll just protest that their options are so poor, so limited, that the fact that they ‘voluntarily’ choose one over the other just doesn’t count for much.”

I think it counts for a huge amount.

It would still be grotesque to suggest that those children were living the life they freely chose to live, that they could simply choose to leave the company if they weren’t happy with their wages, or that they had entered into a contract with their employer on mutually satisfactory terms.

I don’t agree. You can only live the life you chose to live from the options available to you. I might “freely chose” to live the life of a Billionaire who just happens to be a rock star as well, but that choice is not open to me given my current circumstances.

Given the circumstances they are in and the choices available to them they have entered into a contract on mutually beneficial terms, they are “happy” with their wages because they improve their life from the next best alternative. Would they like better alternatives? Yes. Are their alternatives miserable? Yes

The issue then is why some people have poor options and what if anything should/could be done about it ?

The idea that you can’t contract the sale of labour seems very strange to me:

Consider the case of a rich man, who has made a fortune in a particular field of business and chosen to retire. If another man comes to him with a business proposition and the rich man says, I don’t want to risk any of my capital and I want no share of the rewards if the venture is a success, but I will sell you my time and expertise at the rate of £1,000 a day. If they agree and the venture is a success is he somehow entitled to a share of the profits above his wages? If the venture is a failure is he on the hook for a share of the losses for a risk he never agreed to take ?

If this contract is valid in your view, then why not the contract for labour with the poor man? What is the difference between the two if not voluntary consent, which I think exists in both cases.

@ Murray (138)

“Utilitarianism is a disgusting philosophy, let me illustrate why.

If 100 paedophiles want to torture and rape a six year old girl, then as long as the utility gained by the paedophiles exceeds the disutility of the six year old girl then overall utility has been increased. If the paedophiles film the whole thing and share it with 100,000 others on the internet, then overall utility has been increased any more.

A philosophy that places maximizing overall utility at the expense of individual rights leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent.”

True enough.

So – what if the 100 paedophiles had found that girl scavenging on a rubbish tip, close to death from malnutrition, and offered to pay her just enough to buy food for a week in return for a spot of torture and violent sex?

According to your libertarian philosophy, this girl has now voluntarily entered into a contract with the paedophiles – she has freely chosen to be tortured and gangbanged – while the paedophiles are to be morally praised for acting selfishly so as to maximise their ‘satisfaction function’ (but without *coercing* the child into anything).

(Unless you think a child of six is simply too young to make voluntary choices? I suspect your namesake would have disagreed, but if so we can just imagine that she *was* just old enough to make such choices – ten, twelve or whatever.)

So libertarianism also “leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent” (to most people, anyway; presumably such activities strike you as morally exemplary. A clearer example of using selfishness as one’s moral guide would be hard to imagine.)

“Although, they do not like Somalia being cited. Jim is quite correct to ask why do they not all withdraw from their respective societies and build their own libertarian society somewhere uninhabited? ”

Its a fair question and works equally well put in reverse. If you hate capitalism so much, and inequality of wealth, etc, etc, why not leave the capitalist world and set up a totally egalitarian society in an uninhabited land?

You quote Somalia, how about the great redistributionist paradise that was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

The fruits of progress do not belong to the statists alone nor the land with all the natural resources, best climate for crop growing, etc, etc. Why should either side of the argument want to abandon them to the other and start again with nothing in an uninhabited and therefore probably worthless land ?

I am not naive enough to think a pure Libertarian society will ever exist, or a true socialist one, but I would like to see the balance in the world we actually live in shift more to the libertarian side and to justify that view you need to examine the core beliefs of both sides of the argument. It may be self indulgent twaddle, but nobody is forcing you to play!

@ Murray

“No, I decide on the basis of maximizing personal satisfaction between the satisfaction gained from physical pleasure and the satisfaction gained from altruistic pleasure.”

We’re going in circles here. Again: you don’t have two distinct moral values on that view (maximizing personal satisfaction, and something else); you have one moral value (maximizing personal satisfaction) and two types of pleasure (= ways of maximizing personal satisfaction).

Anyway – given you comments @ 140, I’m now pretty confident that I have not misrepresented your views @ 141. I am therefore past the point at which I feel able to engage in a civilised debate with such a morally deformed individual.

I wouldn’t normally be so rude, but there’s just so much mutual respect I can muster with regard to someone who would think himself morally excellent if he found me on fire and persuaded me to enter into a voluntary contract to have him piss on me in exchange for my house.

@ All

This is my last post, its been fun, but I have to get back to running my evil empire, exploiting the working classes and feathering my own undeserving nest ;-)

Thanks again for all the interesting argument and the civil environment.

It serves no purpose to treat those with opposite views as idiots or to stereotype them. Those on the right are not all heartless money grabbing bastards, those on the left are not all lazy, stupid and out for something for nothing. There are smarter people than any of us here who believe in the views of the left and the right, so both sides must contain good arguments and perhaps some truth.

I think it’s a good idea to test your views against those that hold different ones. It can be hard to do, I am currently reading the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and I find myself getting angry, in much the same way those of you on the left would feel if you read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But if you don’t test your own views then how sure of them can you be ?

So I leave you with a two way challenge:

Let me know the five books you would challenge me to read, if you were trying to convince me to change my views.

The five I challenge you to read are:

The Road To Surfdom – F. Hayek
The Ethics of Liberty – M. Rothbard
Man Economy & State – M. Rothbard
Anarchy, State & Utopia – R. Nozik
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

Of course, those active in markets respond to posted prices but those will reflect private costs and when private and social costs diverge (eg smoke pollution, personal human capital gained from employer training) posted prices will be showing misleading signals. Purchasing decisions will be made on the basis of misinformation.

Bargaining between those adversely – or beneficially – affected by producer decisions was the basis of Coase’s proposals for resolving that problem:
http://www.sfu.ca/~allen/CoaseJLE1960.pdf

The issues are more clearly analysed in this paper by Ralph Turvey:
http://www.colorado.edu/economics/morey/externalitylit/turvey-economica1963.pdf

But Coase’s bargaining “solution” explicitly depended on bargaining costs between affecting and affected parties being negligible, a condition that won’t prevail when many are adversely – or beneficially – affected and when litigation costs in the event of disputes are high relative to their incomes. In other words, real world conditions.

And what of competition policy situations where a producer has market dominance and is therefore able to sustain inflated margins because competitive pressures are too subdued to erode the margins.

What of situations with “asymmetric information”, such as healthcare and financial services markets, so consumers lack or don’t understand the information they need to make fully-informed rational decisions? Hence current issues in the news about the misselling of PPI by the banks on a grand scale and why governments in most affluent countries heavily regulate healthcare markets.

Fortunately, not very many folk nowadays take the Austrian School of Economics seriously.

Btw several of the “Austrian school” books recommended @144 are accessible via the internet so try googling.

@ Murray

You’ve spent all this time trying to persuade us that we should all be deciding what to do purely on the basis of what will give us the most selfish pleasure, and now you’re trying to persuade us to do something time-consuming, difficult and potentially upsetting on the basis that – what? – intellectual honesty is a moral virtue? Knowledge is desirable for its own sake, even if it makes us unhappy?

The mind boggles.

@ Murray again

(I’ll shut up soon, honest!)

Let me just explain why I think it’s probably a waste of time to recommend books to you, or to argue with you any more in general.

Consider two people, one of whom finds simple act-utilitarianism intuitively appealing (“It’s all about happiness, right? Sounds great!”) and one of whom finds your brand of libertarianism intuitively appealing (“It’s all about freedom, right? Sounds great!”).

Then they come across some objections to those positions.

Someone says to the wannabe utilitarian what you said @ 138:

“Utilitarianism is a disgusting philosophy, let me illustrate why.

If 100 paedophiles want to torture and rape a six year old girl, then as long as the utility gained by the paedophiles exceeds the disutility of the six year old girl then overall utility has been increased. If the paedophiles film the whole thing and share it with 100,000 others on the internet, then overall utility has been increased any more.

A philosophy that places maximizing overall utility at the expense of individual rights leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent.”

At this point, most people would agree that those activities were indeed morally abhorrent, and that there must therefore be something deperately wrong with any moral theory that endorses them. They would either abandon the theory outright or try to revise it substantially.

But occasionally, people simply ‘bite the bullet’ and insist that those activities are *not* in fact morally abhorrent (because they really do maximise overall happiness, and that really is always the right thing to do).

Now, someone says to the wannabe libertarian roughly what I said @ 141:

“what if 100 paedophiles found that girl scavenging on a rubbish tip, close to death from malnutrition, and offered to pay her just enough to buy food for a week in return for a spot of torture and violent sex?

According to your libertarian philosophy, this girl has now voluntarily entered into a contract with the paedophiles – she has freely chosen to be tortured and gangbanged – while the paedophiles are to be morally praised for acting selfishly so as to maximise their ‘satisfaction function’ (but without *coercing* the child into anything).

So libertarianism also leads to favouring activities that are clearly morally abhorrent”

At this point, again, most people would agree that those activities were indeed morally abhorrent, and that there must therefore be something deperately wrong with any moral theory that endorses them. They would either abandon the theory outright or try to revise it substantially. But some people, again, will simply ‘bite the bullet’ and insist that those activities are *not* in fact morally abhorrent (because everyone concerned is doing the right thing: selfishly maximising their own satisfaction, without using coercion).

Point being: there’s nothing you can really say to the bullet-biters. Someone who finds it plausible that paedophiles are (sometimes) morally entitled either to torture and rape children, or to pay starving children for the right to torture and have violent sex with them, just lacks the sort of normal, human moral intuitions that make a moral conversation possible. And you are a bullet-biter.

OK, but this is absolutely the last one ;-)

147

Your argument in 141 is very strong and needs to be considered. I have not attempted to refute it. Our beliefs are best tested by extreme scenarios, I am considering:

1.If it is entirely fatal to my views and I should abandon them.
2.If I have misunderstood libertarian views.
3.If I can avoid your conclusion within my frame of beliefs.
4.If a minor revision of my frame of beliefs can avoid your conclusion
5.If I am a “bullet biter”

Your assertion that I am a “bullet biter” is without foundation.

I agree that if you define anything that fits your belief system as moral, then your belief system is by definition entirely without contradictions and cannot be refuted.

Perhaps that is actually why both the left and the right have intelligent, strong advocates of views that anger the other side so much.

It is not about the logic of their arguments it is about the fact that they both define things as “normal, human moral intuitions” if and only if they fit with their existing belief system. We are in fact all “bullet biters” and any conflicting view of morality is automatically “absurd” or “morally deformed” and no amount of logical argument will alter that.

Perhaps the best that a moral framework can offer is internal consistency and we resort to arguing that our internally consistent view is the one true metaphysical moral system while the others are heresy.

(Which I find quite a depressing possibility)

Murray,
I’m afraid that I already have a pile of books that I cannot find time to read, however, I would suggest that if you want to quote Marx you need to have a much deeper understanding of his position rather than a few sound-bites. Over the years, Marx has been updated to address modern society, particularly with regard to the state. It really does upset people when you mis-represent a theorist in order to gain points for your own arguments.

@ Murray

“Your assertion that I am a “bullet biter” is without foundation.”

I think that’s a little unfair; you’ve taken a pretty uncompromising line. But if you haven’t yet decided whether to bite the bullet on my argument @ 140, obviously I’ve made one too many assumptions about you (for which I apologise).

I like to think things aren’t quite as bad as you make them out to be; I think our most basic intuitions are pretty universal. (Evidently you *do* intuitively feel moral qualms about the ‘pay-a-starving-child-for-sex’ scenario, just as I do.) The difficulty is figuring out the relationship between intuition and reason.

Sometimes it seems obvious that an intuition has to go in light of a reasoned argument (and other intuitions): e.g. you might have the intuition that homosexuality is morally wrong (because it seems a bit yucky), but bin it because it you’ve been persuaded that people should be free to pursue happiness in whatever way they like, so long as they don’t harm anyone. But at other times it seems equally obvious that a reasoned argument has to go in light of an intuition: e.g. when we consider the intuitively abhorrent acts that the arguments of the utilitarian (or, in my view, the libertarian) require us to endorse as morally praiseworthy.

My lofty philosophical conclusion: it’s all a bit of a mess, and any moral system that tries to put things neatly in order by appealing to a supreme all-purpose principle from which we can rationally and infallibly derive particular moral judgments and imperatives is going to get it horribly wrong some of the time.

151

“My lofty philosophical conclusion: it’s all a bit of a mess, and any moral system that tries to put things neatly in order by appealing to a supreme all-purpose principle from which we can rationally and infallibly derive particular moral judgments and imperatives is going to get it horribly wrong some of the time.”

I think on that final point we can part in total agreement ;-)


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