UKIP want freedom for themselves but to deny it to others


10:45 am - March 25th 2013

by Chris Dillow    


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Katie Price and UKIP agree that benefit recipients should not spend "our money" on booze and ciggies.

A little thought, however, reveals that such spending is in fact puny. Let's do the numbers.

The DWP says that, in 2011-12, working age people got £52.7bn in benefits. Of this, £16.6bn was housing benefit and £2.7bn council tax benefit, so benefit recipients saw £33.4bn. This is 2.2% of GDP, and 5.2% of total government spending.

What fraction of this £33.4bn is spent on drink and ciggies? We can use table A6 of the latest Family Spending tables as a guide. These show that the poorest decile spend an average of £148,80 per week on non-housing. Of this, £2.70 per week (1.8%) goes on alcohol and £3.90 (2.6%) on tobacco and narcotics. If we apply these proportions to the £33.4bn of benefit income, then £606m of those benefits are spent on alcohol and £875m on tobacco.

But the government gets a lot of this money back in VAT and excise duties – about £689m on tobacco and £190m on alcohol. This implies that benefit recipients'  spending on tobacco and alcohol costs taxpayers a net £602m. In fact, not even this much, to the extent that brewers and tobacco manufacturers pay tax on their incomes.

This is a tiny sum. It's 0.09% of public spending and 0.04% of GDP. In making an issue of this, Ms Price is enlarging things out of their proper proportion.How unlike her.

What's going on here? Usually, I'd quote C.B.Macpherson, to the effect that there's still a puritan strand in politics which regard poverty as a moral failing and the poor as objects of condemnation. However, considering Ms Price's career, puritanism is hard to discern.

Instead, I suspect what we see with her and with Ukip – and, one could argue, with some who support press regulation whilst favouring social liberalism in other contexts – is asymmetric libertarianism.

People want freedom for themselves whilst seeking to deny it to others; this is why some Ukippers can claim to be libertarian whilst opposing immigration and gay marriage. This debased and egocentric form of libertarianism is more popular than the real thing.

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About the author
Chris Dillow is a regular contributor and former City economist, now an economics writer. He is also the author of The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism. Also at: Stumbling and Mumbling
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“This debased and egocentric form of libertarianism is more popular than the real thing”

Except real libertarianism would remove the welfare state full stop.

“Except real libertarianism would remove the welfare state full stop.”

Yes, it would. I’d argue all libertarianism is asymmetric anyway by its very nature.

Under libertarianism, people who do not have money would be the entirely subservient playthings of those who did, unprotected by any state assistance or law (legal aid is a benefit also). No liberty for them.

Little liberty either for those a few steps up the ladder (with jobs but no ownership of property) whose continuing supply of money to pay the rent would remain dependent on total obedience to their employer, regardless of his/her demands.

Which is the whole appeal of libertarianism to its generally well-off supporters, I suppose. If the market would ‘naturally’ allocate you personally huge amounts of power through your ability to grant or deny money to the less wealthy – well, every reason to oppose constraints on that market…

3. Daniel Factor

Prince Harry spends his money on booze and I bet the Queen has Sky TV! That’s our money!
But that’s alright because they are Royals and so are entitled to spend the taxpayers money on a few luxuries. But working class people spending some of their benefits on a can of lager at the weekend? Oh a disgrace, they are scum and it must be stopped!

4. Shatterface

The DWP says that, in 2011-12, working age people got £52.7bn in benefits. Of this, £16.6bn was housing benefit and £2.7bn council tax benefit, so benefit recipients saw £33.4bn. This is 2.2% of GDP, and 5.2% of total government spending.

Two points. That £16.6bn and £2.7bn are still benefits whether recipients ‘see’ it or not. The fact that Housing Benefit currently goes directly to the landlord doesn’t mean they don’t ‘receive’ it – otherwise when they do start receiving it in a few weeks time your definition of benefit – something they ‘see’ – will have to define this as a benefit increase.

And this undermines your case: since benefit claimants get more benefits than they ‘see’ they spend a lower percentage of their benefit on alcohol and cigarettes than your ‘numbers’ suggest.

But the government gets a lot of this money back in VAT and excise duties – about £689m on tobacco and £190m on alcohol. This implies that benefit recipients’ spending on tobacco and alcohol costs taxpayers a net £602m. In fact, not even this much, to the extent that brewers and tobacco manufacturers pay tax on their incomes.

Now you are just twatting about with numbers: how much the government claws back in taxation is irrelevant when we are discussing how much people have spent – except in the sense that tax increases are a disincentive to spending. Nobody excludes tax when we are talking about rich people spending money on luxury cars and second houses.

People on benefits do, indeed, spend only a small fraction of their money on alcohol and cigarettes – smaller, in fact, than your doctored ‘numbers’ suggest – and it’s a pity you didn’t ‘do the numbers’ correctly.

5. Shatterface

Instead, I suspect what we see with her and with Ukip – and, one could argue, with some who support press regulation whilst favouring social liberalism in other contexts – is asymmetric libertarianism.

Are there many of those? Can you name some?

My impression is that support for press regulation has been coming from the authoritarian left not the libertarian right. The regulation has been celebrated here as ‘Miliband’s defining moment’ and ‘Prime Ministerial’ (with some backtracking now that the celebrants suspect it might effect their own blogs) while libertarians – left and right – have opposed regulation all along.

Oh good. Can I have say what Ian Duncan Smith spends his govt hand outs on? And seeing that Mr Smith has been sucking on the teat of govt most of his life, mp, military wage, and military pension, and mp pension when he retires, I can decide what he drinks, and drives, and where he takes his holidays?

This shows that beneath the rhetoric of getting out of Europe Ukip is a bunch of jack booted thugs who would have liked European integration, 1939 vintage.

7. Keith Reeder

Let’s face it, libertarianism is just a shiny synonym for “selfish bastardism”. This is the KEY difference between left and right: those on the left – for the most part – at least acknowledges that their own personal interests aren’t the only game in town…

8. Shatterface

This is a tiny sum. It’s 0.09% of public spending and 0.04% of GDP. In making an issue of this, Ms Price is enlarging things out of their proper proportion.How unlike her.

What’s going on here? Usually, I’d quote C.B.Macpherson, to the effect that there’s still a puritan strand in politics which regard poverty as a moral failing and the poor as objects of condemnation. However, considering Ms Price’s career, puritanism is hard to discern.

Yes, she’s a model and she’s had cosmetic surgery – the slut!

9. Shatterface

This shows that beneath the rhetoric of getting out of Europe Ukip is a bunch of jack booted thugs who would have liked European integration, 1939 vintage.

Reading a Sally comment is like being inside the head of an anti-semite as she has a stroke.

Reading your clap trap is like being inside the head of a libertarian.

You believe in something that does not exist. Libertarianism is like the tooth fairy. Credible until you pass the age of about 5 or 6, but then a bit of a joke.All libertarians are fakes. Ayn Rand ended up on welfare. Psychotic hypocrites the lot off them. That’s your libertarian for you.

11. margin4error

Shatterface

In #4 you were right to point out that a the proportion of income spent should include all income, not just the stuff they see in terms of cash in their pockets. After all, of the cash in a person’s pocket who doesn’t have housing benefit, there is rent to pay. So housing benefit going to the landlord is just quick allocation of cash in the claimant’s pocket.

Then in #8 and #9 you turned into an idiot. No one suggested Ms Price has had an abnormally high number of lovers, nor that doing so is particularly condemnable. Likewise there seemed nothing in Sally’s comment to suggest anti-semitism or a diminished capacity.

So why did you do that? Surely it is counter-productive to flag up something useful to debate only to then utterly discredit yourself by posting aggressive lies and nonsense?

That’s right Sally, these people are entirely fictional and a segment of our collective imagination: http://praxeology.net/all-left.htm

13. white trash

Reading the linked article it soon becomes apparent what out of touch idiots people proposing this rubbish are:

“The proposed ban on buying alcohol, nicotine or satellite TV comes in a Ukip policy paper suggesting long-term claimants should be given an electronic spending card that would be unusable for these products. The electronic card would not apply to all claimants, but instead “those who have an addiction and those who choose a lifestyle on benefits”.

Janice Atkinson, the report’s author, said: “No one would be stigmatised through an electronic spending card as it would be like using a credit card at the cash desk. There is enormous public support for a card that mirrors the principles of Beveridge. We have gone too far in this country by funding the feckless lifestyle.”

Poor Janice. Obviously blissfully unaware that the more they clamp down on people the more the Black Market will flourish and grow.

Their puritanical nonsense simply feeds crime – both organised and disorganised.

Spot on. For libertarians, free speach = I want to say nigger or fag without fear of the consequences. It’s not freedom, it’s their right to bully, insult or demean as they wish.

speech. D’uh!

16. Planeshift

“and, one could argue, with some who support press regulation whilst favouring social liberalism in other contexts – is asymmetric libertarianism.

Are there many of those? Can you name some?”

loads. I don’t give a shit about the “tyranny” of inheritance tax, fuel duty and so on. I fully support regulation of industry where it is in the interests of the environement and consumers.

I do care about the actual tyranny of imprisoning people without trial, discrimination against gay people, and locking up children because of the immigration status of their parents. I also think there is too much and inappropiate regulation of some areas.

But then the advanatge of not being too tied to a rigourous label and dogma means you can look at each issue as it comes.

UKIP fought the last election on a manifesto which included a ban on burqas and restrictions on mosque building and foreigners owning businesses. To this policy roster they have since added opposition to gay marriage. How on earth did this myth get started that the golf club wing of the BNP was in some way libertarian?

12 I did not say people don’t believe in libertarianism. People believe in many things: reincarnation, The tooth fairy, father Christmas. It’s just that they are fakes, and usually turn out to want money spent on their own pet projects.

What the so called libertarians really hate is ‘other people’ getting things.

Whether it’s libertarians working for the military industrial complex or libertarians working for the banks, or land owners sucking on farm subsidies , or the Tea party supporters marching against big govt holding placards saying ” keep the govt off my social security.” Or even the Queen of libertarians herself Ayn Rand who talked about ‘takers’ and ended up a taker herself on social security. All fakes. Every last one of them.

Excellent post Jimmy. Perhaps you could explain it to Richard at 12.

20. white trash

Richard, thank you for your link to a site I hadn’t seen before although I’ve heard about Kevin Carson and Mutualism.

The Alliance of the Libertarian Left do need to check their site more often as their top link wasn’t working and I had to search to find Sheldon’s article “Libertarian Left: Free-market anti-capitalism, the unknown ideal”. Finally found it at the Centre for a Stateless Society:

http://c4ss.org/content/16089

Not sure Sally believes Libertarian Socialists to be fictional, more like she wishes they were, so that there’s a nice false dichotomy; if you don’t agree with Sally then you must be a savage, bestial right-winger.

This so-called Libertarianism which is all we seem to hear about these days, the UKIP and Transatlanticist type, is merely masquerading under the name now. As Keith Reeder puts it well @7 it’s “a shiny synonym for “selfish bastardism” and little more than childish me-me-me-I-want-it-it’s-mine tantrums absurdly elevated to the level of political theory.

21. Chaise Guevara

“Ms Price is enlarging things out of their proper proportion. How unlike her.”

OK, that was actually pretty funny.

Personally, I don’t hold to the idea that claimants should literally only receive enough to stay alive and homed. But I see why others feel this way. What I don’t get is what they think we should do about it – enforce a system where we somehow pay everyone what they need to the penny? What about vague needs like child benefit?

Assuming people don’t support this utterly unworkable idea, they’re either a) complaining without offering alternatives, or b) generating outrage over this, then using it as a stalking-horse for attacking benefits generally.

That’s Katie Price as ghost written by Trevor Kavanagh.

Jimmy: “How on earth did this myth get started that the golf club wing of the BNP was in some way libertarian?”

It’s the very first word of their description of themselves on their website. Not sure if this disqualifies it as a myth, but…

24. margin4error

Chaise
Worth noting that ‘from each his ability, to each his need is a perfectly acceptable Marxist position for the likes of miss price to start down the road to. Of course it raises questions about her ability and need, as it does of all of us. I don’t need Beethoven or Alfred Hitchcock in my life, but but I am not sure they should thus be unavailable to those out of work. But hey, that probably isn’t the spiritual enlightenment that interests puritans anyway.

25. Richard Carey

I was thinking that it had been a while since the Lib Con had a ‘bash the libertarians’ thread.

Regarding the story, it’s not exactly policy yet, is it? The benefits card idea has been floating around for a while, and it didn’t come from UKIP. If they do decide to make it policy, then it will mark a trend in the party away from the libertarian influence towards the ex-tory reactionary wing, perhaps due to a belief that there is potentially more support from the latter than from libertarians.

Like with other parties, there is a range of opinion within UKIP. A lot of libertarians joined because unlike other parties, they were actually encouraged to join, and because during the last Labour government there was a fair amount of anti-government camaraderie between sundry rightwingers and libertarians, but things like this and the notorious burka ban, gay marriage stance etc. strain relations within the party between the libertarians and the old guard.

I’m not a member btw, due to things like this, but this may be nothing more than a hit-piece from the Graun.

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 m4e

Heh, hadn’t even noticed the Marxist parallels until now. Something of a cracked mirror, to be fair.

Personally, I see a bit of minor luxury or R&R as part of what we should deem an acceptable life, when we can afford to give it, which we can. I’m not outraged at the idea of someone between jobs going out for a drink once a week on my tax penny. In fact I’m rather heartened by it.

We were put on Earth to help each other. Well, actually we were put on Earth through blind luck, but it’s still a fairly good motto.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 Richard

What UKIP seem to have is the classic Tory libertarian vs small-c conservative split, only writ far larger. I think of them as the “Attract the Angrier and (usually but not always) Stupider Part of the Tory Base Party”.

I do mean that bit about “not always stupid”, by the way. Our very own Tim W is a member, for example, and he’s pretty sharp. And on the libertarian wing, I note.

Farage, on the other hand, thinks that he can conduct national opinion polls by asking his mates at his local pub what they think. Nuff said.

28. Richard Carey

@ Chaise,

“What UKIP seem to have is the classic Tory libertarian vs small-c conservative split”

I think this is a mis-reading. The division within the party is mainly generational. The party was attracting a lot of young libertarians prior to its current rise in popularity, and this rise has shifted the centre of gravity back towards the older, more ‘reactionary’ members. The new support is largely due to Farage playing the populist against the political establishment. The libertarian influence is not growing, but being marginalised. I expect the calculation is that a prominent, consistent libertarian message would be a liability (something no doubt confirmed by Nigel’s drinking buddies!)

29. David Heffron

But the poor are feckless with their money. I read all about it a blog called Liberal Conspiracy: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/02/15/bookies-are-targeting-the-poor-with-gamblings-crack-cocaine/

30. Keith Reeder

“I was thinking that it had been a while since the Lib Con had a ‘bash the libertarians’ thread”

You’re right, Richard – with such a “target-rich environment” as libertarianism, we could have several a day and hardly scratch the surface.

31. Planeshift

” I expect the calculation is that a prominent, consistent libertarian message would be a liability ”

You don’t have to be Phillip Gould to work out that telling the public you will scrap the NHS and leave healthcare to the market is an electoral liability.

I think the last para needs to be addressed.

“People want freedom for themselves whilst seeking to deny it to others; this is why some Ukippers can claim to be libertarian whilst opposing immigration and gay marriage. This debased and egocentric form of libertarianism is more popular than the real thing.”

Firstly, UKIP are not libertarian. The only reason why they have attracted a fair few of them is because more of their policies fit with libertarian ideals than any other party.

I am a libertarian and I in no way oppose gay marriage, but more importantly I don’t believe that the state has anything to do with marriage. The state has a mandate to recognise gay married couples, therefore they should make such a recognition. It is a completely seperate matter whether a particular church would marry them, and that is their right to practice religious freedom. So again, the state actually doesn’t have to have any hand in this, and nor should it.

The policy of a libertarian on immigration is not an open door policy. It simply means that you have to actually have a job and skills to bring to the country. No libertarian has ever said that they recommend an open door policy, only that colour, religion, beliefs should not stand in your way of moving here, so long as there is work and you can support yourself.

The only people this form of libertarianism (and it is no longer that when changed in the way you suggest) is popular with is the conservative nationalists who like to call themselves libertarians because they feel it would make it more palatable.

Right-wing libertarians are essentially people who never grew up. Their parents more than likely caved into their screams and tantrums.

34. Daniel Factor

Clearly the only answer is to have CCTV in every benefit claimants home to check they arn’t watching satalitte TV and drinking booze and smoking fags. That’s the next step surely for these far-right nuts.

Oh dear, more Tory trolling from Sally. You Tories are so desperate to discredit UKIP you’ve resorted to wailing “they’re like the Nazis!!!”

While you have a little sectarian battle with your fellow right-wingers, the left and (genuine) liberals are having a good laugh at your expense…

36. Shatterface

Then in #8 and #9 you turned into an idiot. No one suggested Ms Price has had an abnormally high number of lovers, nor that doing so is particularly condemnable.

Learn to read: However, considering Ms Price’s career, puritanism is hard to discern.

Likewise there seemed nothing in Sally’s comment to suggest anti-Semitism or a diminished capacity.

That was a general dig at Sally’s notorious anti-Semitism. If you don’t believe me ask her who runs the media – she’s too thick to lie.

37. Richard Carey

@ Keith,

“such a “target-rich environment” as libertarianism, we could have several a day and hardly scratch the surface.”

If libertarianism is so ‘target-rich’, why is the LibCon attack always the same old point (namely “look, this guy said he was a libertarian but really he’s not”)? Why not attack us for being opposed to censorship, ID cards, drug criminalisation, foreign military adventures etc. for a change?

I don’t mind going in to bat for libertarian causes which are unpopular with the LibCon people, such as the right to keep and bear arms, but there’s not much point defending a caricature.

32 “I’m a libertarian”

Then you are a fake.

How awful for you.

@shatteface: Well no, but she is 100% stupid and what you would imagine a talentless celebrity for people who read The Sun to be (Hope Brooker does ‘The Sun Island’ like he did for Daily Mail)

@30. Keith Reeder

I wish you would spend several days discussing Libertarianism. So far criticism on this site has been rather short and monosyllabic. As Richard above points out, all it has been is “you can only pretend to be a libertarian”. Well thank you for that delightful piece of enlightenment, I am sure that it took a great deal of thought, time, and preparation.

So I welcome a discussion about proper issues such as the protection of personal liberties, military non-interventionalism, the right to freely express religion or personal beliefs, or a strong rule of law. I am not waiting however and fully expect the monosyllabic parrot speak to continue.

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 37 Richard Carey

“If libertarianism is so ‘target-rich’, why is the LibCon attack always the same old point (namely “look, this guy said he was a libertarian but really he’s not”)?”

Probably because some libertarians (I could name regulars on this site, though I won’t) tend to act as if suppressing personal freedom is a flat-out wrong when they’re talking about authoritarianism they disapprove of, but drop this when they do approve. So one minute they can say that banning drugs is “oppressive” and then act as if that’s the end of the argument, but when people are being oppressed by contract law they suddenly want to weigh the pros and cons.

Obviously that’s no excuse to level the same accusations at libertarians who don’t do this, or to act as if it represents the entire movement. And it’s notable that the people making these attacks generally don’t require socialists to believe that literally everything should be socialised.

“Why not attack us for being opposed to censorship, ID cards, drug criminalisation, foreign military adventures etc. for a change?”

Can’t speak for LC, but one very good reason would be that the writer in question agrees with you on those points. If I think narcotics should be legalised, but attack you for making the same point just because you identify as libertarian, that’s 1) about the worst form of tribalism out there and 2) bloody stupid.

42. Richard Carey

@ Chaise,

as you’re not naming names, I don’t know if you’re thinking of anything I’ve written.

“one minute they can say that banning drugs is “oppressive” and then act as if that’s the end of the argument, but when people are being oppressed by contract law they suddenly want to weigh the pros and cons.”

From my view, the drug issue is mainly about what the criminal law should be concerned with, and insofar as drug-taking is a vice, i.e. bad for the partaker but not involving aggression against anyone else, then the criminal law should not prohibit it.

As for contract law, by definition a contract involves agreement between each party, so the presumption should be that the role of the law is to uphold contracts. You will perhaps be familiar with descriptions of the advance in civilisation which talk of a conflict between the society of status (feudalism, militarism) and the society of contract (capitalism).

Where libertarians and non-libertarians often find themselves arguing is over the definition of coercion, where libertarians tend to maintain a strict definition and others making it more loose and thus, in the view of libertarians, making it so vague as to be of no service.

As for being “oppressed by contract law”, by definition this should be impossible, as a contract, to be valid, must be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties. I do, however, combine my libertarianism with a profound and bitter cynicism towards the legal system as it operates, believing that only rich people can get any justice, so if I am discussing such matters, it depends to what extent the discussion is theoretical as to how I would argue. Nevertheless, I do not like the propensity of non-libertarians to portray people as incapable of making decisions for themselves, which is indicated in the way contractual matters are often looked at.

43. Chaise Guevara

@ Richard

“as you’re not naming names, I don’t know if you’re thinking of anything I’ve written.”

No, if I was thinking of something you said I’d say so.

“From my view, the drug issue is mainly about what the criminal law should be concerned with, and insofar as drug-taking is a vice, i.e. bad for the partaker but not involving aggression against anyone else, then the criminal law should not prohibit it.”

I agree to the extent that I think the default position should be that we don’t tell adults what they can consume – in the case of drugs I don’t think any other factors are strong enough to override this (in fact, adding in other factors strengthens the legalisation argument in my view).

“As for contract law, by definition a contract involves agreement between each party, so the presumption should be that the role of the law is to uphold contracts. ”

Yes, but only if said law exists in the first place. I’m saying contract law doesn’t get a free pass.

“Where libertarians and non-libertarians often find themselves arguing is over the definition of coercion, where libertarians tend to maintain a strict definition and others making it more loose and thus, in the view of libertarians, making it so vague as to be of no service.”

By a strict interpretation, it’s not coercion to walk up to someone holding a knife and say “Please give me your wallet”, because you haven’t actually threatened them.

Generally speaking, I find libertarians tend to cling to the coercion issue and end up ignoring the problem of non-coercive but exploitative agreements in the process. More on this in a mo.

“As for being “oppressed by contract law”, by definition this should be impossible, as a contract, to be valid, must be voluntarily agreed upon by both parties.”

Two things. Firstly, someone could claim that the existence of contract law impinges their right to change their mind. Secondly, even nobody does that, a perfectly fair system would still result in people losing cases based on interpretation of the contract – and so could claim with some justification that the law oppressed them by misinterpreting their words and holding them to an agreement they never made.

“Nevertheless, I do not like the propensity of non-libertarians to portray people as incapable of making decisions for themselves, which is indicated in the way contractual matters are often looked at.”

Well, people have varying degrees of responsibility. Saying everyone’s super-responsible is as silly as saying everyone super-irresponsible.

But I generally don’t think we need the law to protect people from themselves. I think we need it to protect people from one another. And contract-related laws like statutory rights and workers’ rights are designed to do this by protecting contract signees from contract writers.

The standard response here – “don’t sign the contract if you don’t like the terms” – is inadequate in our uneven world. Contracts are generally written by those with more power than most. Without workers’ rights, in an employers’ market people can be made to choose between starvation and a job where you can lose half your wages to malicious fines, you have no right to recompense if injured on-site, and you can be fired for taking a day off due to illness. Cf: Victorian Britain.

On the consumer side, removing statutory rights means that companies can push (without strict coercion) people into accepting unreasonable T&Cs. You can do this by burying a “Pay us £100 a month forever” clause 30 pages into the small print (and yes, you should read all the small print, but companies also have the power to ask busy people to sign documents with T&Cs that run for 50 pages), or by writing the contract in confusing legalese, or just by virtue of the fact that all companies use the same trick, so there’s no other choice. This is especially an issue with natural monopolies: I have a choice between accepting the T&Cs of my water supplier or not having any running water.


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