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Leveson & Niemöller

First they came for the Tabloids, and I said nothing because I read the Guardian on my iPad. Then they came for the Guardian, and I said nothing because I’d assumed it was going bust anyway. Then they came for the blogs, and I said nothing because bloggers are just hairy-handed self-abusers, aren’t they? Then they came for Twitter, which I only use to post pictures of my food, (organic, nach…) so I’ll probably be OK. Then I criticised the Government on Facebook, and there was no-one left to speak for me.

Peter Lilley yesterday said the new regulator has the potential to become an Orwellian ministry of truth, and the press should resist it. If you can’t see how the regulator will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism of the sort that exposed the expenses scandal, you’re a moron. Britain’s chaotic, anarchic, brutal free press will either resist this regulator or be tamed to death. We will see fewer exposes of powerful people doing bad things, which often have dubious sources. Is this price worth it to prevent journalists listening to someone’s voicemail.

It isn’t the News of the World that killed Millie Dowler, and there’s precious little evidence anyone from the paper even listened to her voicemail. The press is being regulated because of Labour’s desire for revenge for this headline:

Because of cheap and chippy spite, we have sleepwalked into a regulated press. Blogs and websites with News-related content will be swept up in the legislation almost by accident, because when have judges ever left anyone out of regulation, even when it’s parliament’s clear intent (for now) to do so?
The victors of this: Politicians, who will face a less powerful press scrutinising their decisions. Celebrities will find their private lives a little more private. And because of this, fewer people will buy papers and the electorate will be less informed.. And the regulation of the Blogs, who have less resources than the once-mighty press-barons, will be easier, now the rubicon’s already been crossed.
The left has long sought to tame the press. That they succeeded yesterday is not because the press were too powerful, but because they’re now so weak. One of the Glories of our democracy was the savagery with which the press dealt with our lords and masters. Not any more.

Protest & Political ‘Freedom’, in Practice.

Free societies are richer, but more unequal. Where people in the mainstream of debate in sensible countries differ is in the definition of “free” and the relative importance of “unequal” and “rich”.

The left tend to regard inequality itself as a mitigation against freedom – the existence of conspicuous consumer goods that the poor could never afford compound the humiliation of a low station in life for example. If there is a culture of meritocracy, the poor are made to feel that they deserve in some way, their fate. Thus economic freedom for some constrains the freedom and happiness in others. This is the rationale behind the left’s persistent support for high marginal tax rates, despite the acceptance by the more intelligent of them that such taxation is costly and inefficient and often reduces growth.

For the economic right, growth is everything. If you get high growth, while a few at the top may get filthy, stinking rich, the rest of society also gets dragged up too, but perhaps slower. It’s growth that generated sufficient surplus to enable the nation to afford a welfare state, which would have crippled Victorian Britain. It’s growth that sees almost anyone who wants one able to afford a car. It’s growth that enables most people to enjoy two weeks in the sun every year. Consumer goods, like silk stockings, once the preserve of the Aristocracy are now available to all. Government did not do this. And this explains the right’s attachment to low taxation and lower public spending: inequality matters less than Growth, because growth provides the surplus that can ultimately be spent on the poor, if necessary.

The left have a point. At some point, inequality is demotivating if you have a hereditary stratum of society who see, but cannot grasp the riches others take for granted. In the UK these people subsist on benefits, which keeps them quiescent. But, crucially, there are plenty of routes out of the welfare trap for those intelligent or resourceful enough to take it. Crucially there are (a few) examples of those who have done just that in the House of Lords and at the very top of public and business life in Britain. So while inequality does affect individuals, it’s not in my view as much of a problem as many in the left make out. Better to focus on removing any remaining barriers to individuals’ success than trying to legislate inequality away.

The economic left and right differ on the inefficiencies of various forms and extents of taxation, but accept there must be some. The other great axis of politics – the authoritarian/libertarian divide differ on what constitutes freedom. Freedom to own guns means in practice that some other people die as a result and so lose the freedom to walk down some streets. Freedom to drink does not mean freedom to drive afterwards. Freedom to take drugs (arguably) imposes costs on others and so on. Weighing up these competing freedoms – the freedom to inject heroin vs the freedom to not be mugged by a junkie, is what reasonable politics in a free society is all about. We all must accept constraints on our freedom in order to rub along in a crowded and high-pressure society and in order that the constraints are reasonable, we must argue about them.

As a libertarian, I make different judgments about where those lines should be to most people, but I do accept there are trade-offs. What I can’t accept is the Hyperbole that comes from people on all sides of debate on almost all issues about slippery slopes, about to render us “unfree”, that Leveson or the more hysterical of the pro-welfare left make about their chosen bugbear.

Ultimately, a working definition of ‘unfree’ is where a Government can decide arbitrarily to persecute someone or some group of people, and they have the power to thwart that individual or Group’s life chances.  The Government of the UK simply does not have that power. Venezuela, for all it’s fig-leaf of elections which may or may not be rigged is not free, because the Government does not obey the rule of law, and can persecute a blogger for ‘terrorism’.

Of course, having got Mr. Medina Ravell sacked, and rendered him unemployable, he becomes an implacable opponent of the Venezuelan Government. In the UK someone who wrote elegantly pejorative articles about the Government of the day will find themselves with a job offer from the Guardian, not a 3am knock from the Police. Until this changes, Britain remains free. It pays even the critics of our society to work harder. Protest is futile, when you can increase your power more effectively by getting richer. Argument on blogs/twitter/newspaper is more effective than ranting slogans on the street.

This is why the ranty left and idiot right is so marginalised  No-one listens when they shout. A few-hundred placard wavers have less leverage over political discourse than a single well read and shared blog-post.Their tactics of marches and protests only work in societies where people are unfree to make their point in other ways. The march and protest is a ritual pastiche of protests past (few of which had the effect ascribed to them). Protests are a social event for like-minded people, a Lek for the politically obsessive. Whatever the inequality of power relationships between workers and employers, rich and poor, we all remain free. And the fact is Britons of all stations in life can see this, and so rightfully ignore the political extremes finding it more profitable to spend their energies elsewhere. The louder they shout, the more completely the political extremes are ignored.

Ultimately those on the political extremes have to contend with the fact that while the UK isn’t perfect, it is one of a handful of stable countries whose people are richer than any who have ever lived. Whatever the UK’s problems are, they’re ones many people will hang onto the axles of lorries to endure. The vast majority of people see this, and don’t want (much) to change. This is also why the mainstream is so small there’s just not that much wrong with the UK in the grand scheme of things.

Think about Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. Many societies struggle to provide the physiological basics of food and clean water, shelter from the elements and so forth. Physical safety requires a reasonably strong and competent government. Friendship and family are simply not in the Government’s gift, though too much Government power can get in the way. In all these areas, free-market capitalist democracy is superior to all other systems yet developed. Democracies don’t have famines, the socialists did. What we’re left arguing about in the west now the big problems are solved, are the top-of-the-pyramid issues of esteem, and self-actualisation. To these problems, we have yet to find public policy answers, if indeed there are any.

This is why I think freedom of speech is the only freedom that really matters. Most other freedoms are not absolute. Because it’s the free market in ideas which has fueled the free market’s success in delivering goods and services to the people, and free speech is the canary in the mine which will warn us long before the Government starts killing people. So long as people aren’t going to gaol for criticising the Government, rational debate works better than placard-waving, by people who are usually fighting battles long lost and won. There’s always hope you can persuade people you’re right. Only the idiots are left shouting on street-corners.

Plebgate

So… Chanel 4’s report on plebgate is devastating. None of the allegations made against Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell stood up. Not at the Gates of Downing Street, and not in any of the meetings he had subsequently with the police federation. It appears Andrew Mitchell’s account is more believable than that cooked up by police subsequently. He has been near-completely exonerated.

Furthermore, it’s apparent that senior ranks were in on the conspiracy.

The police lied, and conspired. And they thought they could get away with doing so, not against some kind of ‘usual suspect’ on the ‘swamp estate’ but against a Cabinet Minister. I can only surmise that the police federation saw an opportunity to discredit the Government as they implemented cuts to police numbers.

Think about that for a minute.

The police conspired to discredit a Government as they sought to implement policy.

This isn’t just about the police. The public sector, as a whole grew fat and complacent under Labour, and when the money ran out they thought it appropriate to lie to maintain their fat headcounts, salaries and pensions. This Government isn’t a “shambles” because it has the wrong policies, but because the public sector is actively resisting implementation of policies. This isn’t just a copper lying. It’s corruption bordering on treason.

My attitude to the police is ambiguous. I know several, some of whom I count as friends. They know my views. I have never trusted the police. But I do trust, by and large, individual police officers. The problem is that power corrupts, and the police have simply been given too much power. They are able to fabricate evidence in pocket-books in the expectation they’ll be believed. The proliferation of (effectively) strict-liability offences like Section 5 of the Public Order Act, means the Police will be believed, and Joe-citizen won’t be. The abandonment of the concept of an “arrestable offence” means you can be arrested merely for swearing at or near the police. The police log recorded “several members of the public nearby looked visibly shocked and alarmed”. This is just a standard trope, trotted out to justify an arrest under Section 5. It’s usually a lie, given to justify the police unnecessarily arresting someone who’s being uncooperative. It’s just too easy to arrest someone who irritates you for being lippy. The servant thus becomes the master, and the UK becomes a police state.

This ‘section 5 lie’ is used to arrest young men up and down the country every day. As the police deliberately wind them up, they can usually be persuaded to do something more serious. This incident is just the tip of the iceberg of casual lies the police use every day, for their convenience.

The vast majority of police, especially the older ones, seem genuinely willing help in a crisis. But there’s an arrogance, an unbecoming swagger about some of the younger officers I’ve met. They expect not just obedience, but deference, and threaten arrest for mere disagreement. They feel confident that the allegation of “swearing” justifies arrest under section 5. And without proof, who do you believe. Perhaps everyone should now take my lead and record every single conversation you ever have with the police. The police are not your friend. Though they remain, for now, trustworthy in a crisis and brave in the service of the public, they need to be brought down to earth.

Mitchell is right. The police do need to relearn their place.

On Freedom…

… Which could be a musing on the excellent essays by Isiah Berlin, but isn’t. It’s much more prosaic than that.

Twitter is asking me to sign a petition: @nomorepage3 by someone called Lucy Holmes (the world’s greatest Kylie tribute artist, apparently. No… Me neither).

I am not going to sign this petition, mainly because Liberal free-market democracy requires a mindset that if you don’t like something, broadly you don’t have to do it. Furthermore, those that DO like to do something, watch Films by racists or bowing down before a God or looking at bare breasts in a newspaper, should be free to get on with whatever it is they want to do, unmolested by agents of the state, religion or busybodies. If we are to remain a Liberal, free market democracy, we must be as hard on the busybodies as we are supporters of minority pursuits. I disapprove of the desire to ban things far, far more than I do bare breasts in a paper.

Obviously the state proscribes some harmless activities for our own good: Enjoying a pint with a cigarette in a pub, for example. Or smoking Marijuana at any time. Though broadly speaking, in most grown-up liberal democracies, these things are possible if you’re prepared to break a poorly enforced law. The police take things like murder really very seriously indeed. If you kill someone it’s rather hard to get away with it. On the other hand, millions buy illegal drugs every weekend, unmolested by the police. Even when Homosexuality was illegal, laws against it were rarely enforced. This shows, broadly, that even where the law is an ass, society has it’s head screwed on right.

Ultimately, I am a Libertarian, which means I believe your body is your own to do with what you will. If that means flashing secondary sexual characteristics for a photographer, and be handsomely paid to do so; or sticking cocaine up one orifice, and a cock up another; or for that matter, do something really stupid and dangerous like read the Bible or Marx, you should be free to do so being stopped only from hurting others through recklessness or aggression.

It’s amazing how the arguments of people who would deny the us freedom always look the same. Let’s look at the preamble to Lucy Holmes’ petition to Dominic Mohan, the editor of Britain’s best-selling daily Newspaper, the Sun.

We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper.

We are asking very nicely.

Please, Dominic.

No More Page 3.

George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, Dominic?

Philip and Holly don’t flash up pictures of Danni, 19, from Plymouth, in just her pants and a necklace, on This Morning, do they, Dominic?

No, they don’t.

There would be an outcry.

And you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper either.

Consider this a long overdue outcry.

Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.

Enough is enough.

Thank you.

Why do you care, Lucy? What does it matter to you if some people like to look at other people in their pants? Why are you so offended by the notion that men, in particular enjoy looking at pretty girls in the buff? If you don’t like it, don’t buy the Sun. Of course there are no naked boobs on the 6-O’clock news, BECAUSE THE LAW SAYS THERE CAN’T BE. Maybe if there were bare boobs on the telly at 6 pm, more working-class people would watch the news?

If you’re really offended, encourage others who share your views to not buy the Sun. The Sun, however is the UK’s best-selling paper, with is rather a standing retort to your world view, and I suspect this is the real reason you want Page 3 banned. I am reasonably sure that anyone signing this petition has already voted, by not buying ‘the Sun’, so the signers of this petition are simply looking to impose their preferences on other people.

The idea that a semi-naked woman on Page 3 “encourages men to view women as sex-objects” is ridiculous, as I don’t see ms Holmes objecting to the similarly attired David Beckham advertising versace smellies and smalls. This pathetic diatribe contains the logical inference, supplied without argument or evidence, that children seeing bared breasts (organs designed to feed children) will somehow damage them.

The arguments are so weak they essentially boil down to “we, the enlightened object to something you, the proles, do; so we’re banning it“. This has happened to smoking, which died out in the middle-classes but persists amongst the kind of people who build houses and clean streets. Once this happened, pubs, clubs, businesses were denied the right to allow their patrons to smoke. “For the children” was invoked, but pubs, the kind where working class people gather, not the nice gastro-pub, closed as a direct result. How is anyone happier or better off, drinking at home rather than in a pub?

Cocaine was freely available, and widely used by middle-class dentists and psychatrists. Opiate addiction used to be known as the soldiers disease, for which Cocaine was prescribed! The British Royal family were high as kites at Balmoral at the turn of the century. Currently illegal drugs were only banned when the working classes started taking them. Not because the drugs are particularly harmful, but because middle class people don’t like the poor and seek to tidy them up. They failed.

The people who are most keen on clearing “slums”, temperance, drug prohibition, anti-smoking, anti-obesity, sure-start, parenting classes and means-tested welfare are the political left, who are also most keen on taxing the poor’s few remaining pleasures. The left claim to act in the poor’s interest, but they don’t seem to much like the poor, and so wish to alter them “for their own good”. This isn’t about the working class’s self-improvement, it’s about power and class and brute, miserable prejudice of purse-lipped puritanism and middle-class hypocrisy. C.S Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Perhaps the libertarian solution is better: Make sure the poor have enough to survive, but otherwise apply benign neglect. Leave ’em alone for a bit, see what they come up with. Then leave that alone too. Some of “them” might “succeed” and join the middle-class at table; the routes to self-“betterment” must always be open. Otherwise, who are we to judge what they do? Many poor people are happy. The left, with its endless interference and fussbucktry seems intent on keeping the poor in their place (and so the fuss-buckets in jobs). I am not sure the interference helps the people it’s meant to.

Were we are all free to make our own choices to both social AND economic spheres, the world would be a better place. It does not matter to me whether your drug of choice is a glass of Sherry after lunch,  or speed-balling smack and cocaine whilst wearing a crotchless gimp suit. It makes no difference to me whether you spend or save, watch TV or go for a run. So much of people’s desire to “help” the poor is simple distaste for what other people CHOOSE to do.

The only thing that’s certain: everyone’s more miserable when mere prejudice is turned into law.

WHY do you care what people you don’t know do with their free time and spare cash? Why don’t you focus on your own life a bit? Because many of these people you’re trying to help don’t WANT and HAVEN’T ASKED FOR your help. Listen Guardian readers: SUN READERS DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINION, so leave them be. They will probably be happier. And you, without an object of your pity and disapproval, might have to confront your own demons, whatever they are. The nanny-state fuss-buckets might be more miserable. Y’see ‘freedom’ means that some people do things of which you or I disapprove. I get that. Lucy Holmes doesn’t. I’m happy to let Page 3 exist, she isn’t. Not my problem either.

Stella Creasy & The Loan Sharks

Let’s take a chap, me, who’s overspent in a month (on mandatory, regulator-imposed exam-fees, as it happens but also on a holiday for the bird, a bike for me and a really rather extravagent piss-up in which I lost all sense of proportion, and mistakenly let my ‘friends’ loose on a tab). The Fee from the bank to go over an overdraft limit: £25 plus additional fees of £5 PER DAY over 9 days, this would be nearly £70. by comparison, the cost of a £200 loan from Wonga.com for 9 days £23.74.

Stella Creasy can work out that the £23.74 fees & interest on a £200 loan is an APR of 481%. This she thinks is terribe. By comparison, if the payday lender were not there, the APR to the chap who’s overspent is 1,419%, which he would have no choice or ability to avoid. Yet again, the tighter regulation suggested by fucking morons drive people into the tender embrace of the banks who make an absolute killing. One may be paying an APR of 481%, but I’m saving £46.26. Of course the solution is to not go over your limits, but when you do, would you rather pay £23.74 or £70?
Regulation favours the banks, over insurgent competition. Again.

Update. I had a conversation on Twitter about this with the MP in question, who came accross as ill-informed and rather smug. OF COURSE, FINANCING YOUR LIFE USING WONGA IS STUPID. The assumption that this service is bad, and exploitative is made a-priori, without considering the costs of offering a £200 loan for 2 weeks for less than £30 to people who are, by definition struggling for money. Meanwhile Twitterer, @rfrst was trying in vain to make the point that 1% a day plus a fiver is a HUGE APR, which in no-way reflects the cost of borrowing. Wonga for exampe, don’t compound the interest, so APR is an absurd measure. I pointed out that other short-term lenders do not enjoy a big return on equity, so they’re not making abnormal profits. It’s true, a lot of money is spent on advertising. But that’s inevitable in a new sector with low barriers to entry.

All I got from the MP from Walthamstow was ad-hominem and a-priori statements not backed up by argument, logic, reason, or economic rationale. Worse, she refused to admit that limiting the cost of credit would affect supply. Finally, she seems to think credit unions are a solution. They are, to those on the carousel of debt, or who are looking to finance purchases more effectively than store credit. They are not a replacement for Payday loans, because the money isn’t instant, and so cannot be used to avoid bank debt.

Rather than going after the reputable, and reasonably well-known Wonga, it would be better to go after the less reputable lenders who do overcharge, make multiple claims against an account in a day. Better still, go after the banks, with whom APRs of over 1,000,000% are possible.

Alan Milburn, Tit.

Social Mobility, a ‘Motherhood & Apple Pie’ issue, but which boils down, in practice, to “what sort of school did you go to?” about which an astonishing amount of cant is spoken.

The Labour narrative is that a self-selecting caste of Public Schoolboys deny entry to the upper echelons of public and business life. Snobbery and the old-school tie represent impenetrable barriers to the working class, however talented”. While Labour accept upward social mobility happens, it is a near totemic belief in the movement that the vicious class enemy must be watched, lest they slip back to their evil ways of only hiring the sons of people with whom they play Golf / Rugger /Polo / Bloodsports (delete according to taste).

The Tories think social mobility is due to either Grammar Schools or Thatcher’s banking reforms.

There are intelligent views on social mobility, like Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling whose position on the subject can be characterised as Marxist High Tory is one worth reading.

For some reason only known to David Cameron, Alan Milburn was asked to prepare a report on Social Mobility which contains the absolutely astonishing idea that I should declare whether or not I received Free School Meals to a putative employer. the Company should then collect this information and transmit it to Government. Of couse you already disclose your education to your employer (you submitted a C.V. didn’t you?) But Alan Milburn seems to think this should then be collected, for audit by some Government authority. OfSnob? OfPosh? To what end? A maximum number of public schoolboys? A public register of people called ‘Rupert’? Quotas for same? “Naming and Shaming” for companies whose directors went to Charterhouse together?

I cannot see any sane policy which could possibly fall out from these data. So why collect the information? Just let people be. People fron similar backgrounds go into similar employment. The best predictor of what you do, is what your parents do. They’re your role models and frame your idea of ‘normal’. So this should not be seen as a problem, it’s just people prefer the company of people like them and so people from similar backgrounds tend to make similar choices. Politicians need to understand some WANT to be soldiers, nurses or builders. And thank goodness, otherwise the bayonets won’t be fixed, the patients tended or houses built. Not everyone WANTS to be a Lawyer, if they did, we’d be America. Stop putting people in little identity boxes so they can be counted. The very act of counting them will strengthen in-group bias by reinforcing trivial differences between individuals into impenetrable barriers. Stop collecting data whose only existence is so Government can homogenise society in its own image. Stop assuming that any difference in outcome between groups is down to prejudice. It might be down to choices. Stop telling people who don’t want to be Lawyers that they’re shit.

One of my political heroes, Sir John Cowperthwaite who ran Hong Kong banned officials from collecting economic data “lest some damn fool try to do something about it”. Hong Kong was the Fastest Growing economy for the second half of the 20th Century. If you leave them alone, people tend to make better choices than Government.

Internet Privacy.

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (proverbs 26:11)
I notice with alarm a return of proposals to allow the state to monitor Internet packet data, which represents a vast intrusion into people’s daily lives. The “terrorism” argument won’t wash. Network analysis can be already be achieved on suspects with a judge’s say so, and there have been almost no successful terrorist outrages outside Northern Ireland for a good few years. Clearly then, no further powers are needed as the security services have successfully thwarted several plots. I have no problem with the police or GCHQ monitoring e-mails if there is a reasonable suspicion that someone’s up to no good, but this proposal leaves open the option of trawling operations which will capture jokes (I’m going to blow this airport sky high), metaphor (put a bomb under…), simile (as popular as a terrorist…), exaggeration for comic effect (I’m going to f*****g kill you!) and end up putting everyone with a moderately colourful turn of phrase into terrorist networks that don’t exist.
The concept of “packet data”: where, to and from whom, etc is one from the early days of digital telephony. In the Internet, it is not separated in any meaningful way from “content”. With e-mails for example, the ISPs will be forced to capture everything (content included) then throw away that which they don’t need. This will, of course be recoverable. Packet data IS content with Internet browsing history. If you have access to a browsing history, you have a pretty good window onto a man’s soul, one I certainly don’t wish the state to have.
With too much data from too many non-suspects, the temptation for the authorities to trawl rather than search for information and turn it into intelligence, will be great. False positives will mean real terrorists will find it easier, not harder to evade capture. These measures will be easily circumvented by web-literate bad guys with a modicum of trade-craft. They will use public WiFi hotspots and an anonymised browser like TOR for example.
These proposals were dropped as too unworkable and illiberal even by the last Government. Which civil servant thought he’d have another go at turning this emetic proposal into law and what can you do to ensure he gets the message the second time?This is the text of a letter I wrote to my MP. Feel free to copy and paste, if you want to send one to yours. E-mail addresses can be found here.

Libertarianism and when the Lefties’ masks slip.

My good friend @NorthBriton45, who blogs at Radical Blues turned his irony klaxon off this morning. He’s a socialist, one who’s twitter handle takes as its inspiration (supposedly) John Wilkes’ organ ‘The North Briton’, whose issue #45 led to a load of court cases as a parody of a King’s speech was libellous. Wilkes himself got locked up in the tower.

The Earl of Sandwich once said to Wilkes, (a notorious libertine, and member of the Hellfire club)

“you will either die of the pox or on the Gallows”,

to which he replied

“that depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress”.

Given what I know to be NorthBriton45’s rather abstemious (by the standards of journalists) and admirable lifestyle – he’s happily married and not as far as I know, a renowned libertine, I feel I would be better an inheritor of Wilkes’ erstwhile organ. After all, read his blog, then mine. Who’s more likely to go to the Tower for libelling someone in power?

Anyway. Back to the Irony Klaxon being turned off. I defined Socialism thus:

The imposition by force of your economic preferences on everyone else.

To which NorthBriton45 replied

libertarianism: the desire to impose your own freedom on other at the expense of others.

Cue Gales of laughter from the libertarianish twittersphere. The mask slipped. Just as it did with Dr Eoin Clarke’s ludicrous assertion about Starbucks coffee and the tyranny of choice, (a post now laughably removed). Just because he trusts in an all-knowing state (run by people like him) to make important decisions, everyone should have no choice. Lefties really, really believe that choice is wasteful, that competition instead of driving up standards and down costs, is wasteful duplication.

So. How can it be more efficient to have competing BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Volkswagen when you can have a trabant, and wait 6 months for it. Starbucks, or the kind of rusty piss-water that used to pass for coffee in the UK? Have you tried to get a phone installed recently? Now talk to your parents about getting one installed in the 1970s.

But it’s not about the agony of choice in consumer, or even utility services. It’s about a misrepresentation of libertarianism. Later he says

you constantly want to avoid responsibility. Individual and isolationist

as if there is nothing between the individual and the state, nothing between the individual and the law. Libertarianism is about the individual taking responsibility back from the Government. It’s about rejecting safety nets, excessive legislation protecting us from ourselves. It’s about saying “do what you will, but don’t come crying to me if it goes wrong”. Most people are scared by this responsibility, because most people are ignorant children, scared of the Big Bad World. The government likes it that way: scared people can be easily coerced into handing over 40-50% of their income to be spent by the state.

But free people don’t live in anarchy. The old gag: you can’t leave Anglo-Saxons alone for too long or they will start to form clubs. People generally co-operate for mutual benefit without the state telling them to do so. The state of course has a role in enforcing laws of contract, and enforcing those against harm to others. Most libertarians are comfortable with some form of safety net for those less fortunate. Most see some form of Citizen’s basic income in this role, taking a rhetorical position of “the state/society has discharged it’s responsibilities to you with this payment, what you do with it is your business”. Try to deny that this is less of a tyranny than the current welfare slavery which traps the least fortunate in society at the bottom of the heap, begging weekly for money from bureaucrats. The fact that the bureaucracy often makes terrible decisions about people’s lives doesn’t seem to faze libertarianism’s detractors. The casual brutality of the state micro-managing people’s personal relationships is just accepted. The tyranny of the benefit office or laws preventing people getting on the job ladder at all is lauded as “for their protection”. From what? Quis custodiet ipsos custoides?

Libertarians are not hermits or survivalists, often quite the opposite. Nor are we atomistic about human relationships. Most work co-operativly for private companies. Nor are we anarchist: libertarianism requires a strong and competent state, albeit one doing very much less than at present. Libertarians are not selfish, but the philosophy is that of harnessing selfishness to the greater good. Just like free-market capitalism, but with the same insights which led to the greatest explosion of wealth and creativity the world has ever seen applied to the social and personal spheres as well as the economic.

Most economic liberals are social authoritarians. Most economic authoritarians are social liberals (a position which includes most of the British left). Socialists (proper ones) are economically and socially authoritarian, as are fascists. Libertarians are the only people who believe people should be free and actually apply this to people who are not like them. Nowhere has a bureaucracy made a better decision than a properly functioning market. That’s not to say markets are perfect, but like democracy, they tend to improve over time and be better than any alternative.

So as I said earlier, in the statement which kicked off the whole damn discussion.

Libertarianism: the only mature political response to the observation that your preferences are not everyone Else’s

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Where’s the Growth Going to Come from?

In China the Growth is coming from deploying the enormous pool of cheap labour. If you’re taking a peasant off the land, his productivity barely matters, it will still be an improvement. In the West, we don’t have that vast pool of Labour, though perhaps redesigning our welfare states to make it a little less easy to claim benefits for life and a little less taxing to choose low-paid work might help.

This is why China and India can grow at 8-10% a year by deploying already developed techniques and technology to billions of people still currently using the ox-plough, which was cutting edge technology in Europe 700 years ago. In general, as Britain, Europe, North America, Much of the Pacific Rim are on the ‘Technological frontier’ there is no off-the-self technology to deploy to generate growth. We must instead do things ever better in order to generate productivity growth. Starting with spinning and weaving, leading to the Industrial revolution, doing things slightly more efficiently was an incremental process. There have been several technologies to change the world since then: the Steam engine for the first time freed productive energy from animal muscle (and in a few aplications, the water-wheel & windmill). Later the Internal combustion engine gave personal mobility to the masses. Air travel shrunk the world. The internet gave everyone the equivalent of British Library on their desks and later in their pocket.

I think we’re on the cusp of another revolution in productivity. The driverless car. AutoNOMOS labs have trialled their car, ‘Made in Germany’, a VW Passat, on the public streets of Berlin. Google have also driven their driverless vehicle, a Prius round the streets of Nevada and California for hundreds of thousands of miles. This has been involved in just one accident, but it was being driven manually at the time. If you’re looking long term, all those delivery drivers, taxi drivers and chauffeurs will lose their jobs to machines. Their Labour can then go and be used elsewhere, making society as a whole richer. But it’s more than professional drivers. It’s the commuter too. Imagine you can read, make phone calls or sleep while getting somewhere. With the UKs average commute at 45 minutes each way that’s a lot of time freed up from doing a mentally taxing, boring, stressful and downright dangerous manual task. A machine WILL do it better, freeing you for work or leisure whilst travelling.

It is safe to assume that the driverless car will be safer than, say, an Italian or Frenchman driving at 80mph while texting his many mistresses. So there well be fewer road deaths, even in the UK where the standard of driving is reasonably high. There will be fewer accidents, meaning insurance will be cheaper, freeing that money up to be spent elsewhere. Fewer accidents means fewer people employed in the car insurance industry. The flow of traffic on arterial roads will become more laminar as fewer motorists over brake, change lanes and otherwise cause the stop-start traffic symptomatic of congestion. This will reduce stress, and reduce journey-times. The road’s carrying capacity will be improved at a stroke meaning road maintenance & building gets more from existing infrastructure. It is likely that cars on motorways could safely drive bumper-to-bumper, saving enormously on fuel on long journeys further increasing capacity. Self-driving cars could drop you off in the town centre, park, then return when needed, freeing city centre land from car-parks to more productive or aesthetically pleasing uses and hopefully re-invigorating town centres.

But it’s more than just better use of roads. Perhaps driverless cars will mean fewer people will bother owning one, freeing garage space for other uses. Instead perhaps fleets of cars will circulate before being summonsed by a phone call. Freed from the need to own and insure a car, people instead pay for journeys used. Each car is in use for a greater part of the day so capital currently employed sitting on drives and office car-parks for the vast majority of its useful life will be sweated more efficiently. Thus technological improvements lead to economic growth.

But in this case, it’s more than economic growth. Commuting is an hour of a half of concentrated stress and misery for many people. A long commute is up there with divorce and bereavement for making people miserable. A short one is second only to a successful marriage in correlation with self-declared happiness, and way above riches. If cars can park themselves there will be fewer cars in a town centre at any one time, meaning towns can finally be built around people, not machines once more. Can the driverless car make us happier?

It will certainly represent a huge boon to those currently unable to drive. The old, epileptics, the Blind and those just simply incapable of driving (the French, for example). Or Maureen, who will finally be able to enjoy the freedom of door-to-door travel.


And as for the rest of us. Freed from the controls, we could relax, let our minds wander, read and arrive wherever it is we want to go, refreshed. If you’re not driving you can travel without getting angsty that someone has slowed you down for 30 seconds. With no-one DRIVING their Audis or BMWs there will be fewer wankers (Cause or effect? I believe that these cars CAUSE people to become utter dicks while behind the wheel). I cannot see a single negative effect of this overdue technological development. Please don’t tell me you ENJOY day-to-day driving? If you’re a petrol-head, go to a race-track, where driving is as it should be -fun. There are plenty about.

You can think through other examples: an invention, an innovation, an improvement to an existing process, a time-saving device. Think of the knock on benefits in time or other resources saved, which can be used elsewhere. That is how our economy is going to grow. The current financial crisis is noise. The signal is the result of hundreds of years of freedom to come up with and develop ideas. And that has not stopped, nor will it, so long as we retain a capitalist, free-market economy and intellectual freedom which allows, celebrates and rewards those whose ideas make our lives a little better.

The Welfare State is a Cruel & Expensive Trap.

I don’t have a problem with the state helping out the less fortunate members of society. I also don’t have much of a problem with some measure of redistribution, given that so much of one’s success or otherwise in life is determined by where you’re born. Society, in one form or another does have an obligation to those who for whatever reason aren’t successful. A certain measure of redistribution is the price the rich pay to avoid ending up on a Gibbet. But the welfare state in the UK is not structured as a safety net for those who suffer misfortune. Nor is it structured as a ladder to success. Instead, the welfare state seems structured to keep its’ beneficiaries and their offspring down in the gutter in perpetuity.

There are two facets to this cruelty.

First there massive disincentive to work, save, form stable families or otherwise behave in a manner likely to lead to gainful membership of society. Claiming any of the (I think) 72 different handouts to which a household might be entitled is complicated and bureaucratic. Accepting the kind of low-paid, insecure work which can act as a stepping stone to something better, will result in lost benefits and the risk of real hardship. It’s much easier to stay on the dole than risk the change.

Should they ever get work, many of the poor face up to 95.5% marginal tax rates, when you take into account benefit withdrawal. The assessment of people as “households” rather than individuals has the perverse effect of driving people apart. A household of two gets fewer benefits than a pair of households with one. Thus there is a financial incentive to form separate households. Finally the assessment of access to social housing on need, although seems fair, in fact creates an incentive to catastrophically screw your life up, thereby bumping yourself up the queue. The incentive for young women to have children in order to get a flat, though claimed to be apocryphal, isn’t.

Secondly, by removing the habit of work, and herding the long-term benefits claimants into welfare ghettos of social housing much of which is of spectacular ghastliness, removes any psychological wherewith all to do or even seek a better life. This narrow, depressed world-view is passed onto children. Even if we could change the incentives, for many people it may be too late.

Thanks to the welfare ghettos, a large slice of the population – perhaps around 15-20% is perpetually and parasitically condemned to the fringes of society. Despite its large size, these people are hidden from view, “society’s” moral obligation to them met thanks to the enormous tax-bill needed to pay it and the rest of us go about our lives in ignorance of the estates and what goes on in them.

The issue is not money. These people are not “poor” because of their income. I know plenty of people with incomes from work lower than that of some people on benefits. It is possible to obtain quite a respectable income benefit-farming. The poverty is instead moral. As Theodore Darymple argues in “life at the bottom“, with all needs met, no fear of starvation or homelessness but no hope of anything to make life meaningful, life is lived in a perpetual present.

The enormous & wasteful industry helping those who can’t cope is larger than that necessary to help those who genuinely can’t due to genetic happenstance or misfortune and injury. Instead, large numbers of people are infantilised by a system which for example pays housing benefit direct to the Landlord, but where help will be abruptly removed six-months after starting work means the habits and skills needed to survive off the state’s teat atrophy. If Winston Smith is to be believed, the children who are brought up in this system are taught that no consequences of their actions are ever forthcoming. Changes to the welfare state aren’t a magic bullet – but they might start to change the culture.

With a simpler benefits system, fewer civil servants and local Government bureaucrats will be needed to administer it. This resource could be freed up for the tax-paying private sector. In work benefits could then become more generous, increasing the incentive to find and keep employment. Eventually the system could evolve into something nearer to a negative income tax. Meeting the financial obligations to society’s more unfortunate members, without depriving them of the means and skills of independent living.

Would it not be better, as the Coalition is attempting in the teeth of opposition, incompetence and obstruction in Whitehall, to pay all benefits direct to individuals and leave them to sort out rent? the standard leftist retort is telling: that people paid their benefits won’t sort out rent and food, unless so guided by an employee of the state. Instead they will drink or inject it, or otherwise squander the money before it reaches the landlord. The extent to which that reveals complete contempt for their clients is lost on the left. Of course some will do this at first. The difference under a universal credit or negative income tax system is that the individual will face consequences of his irresponsibility – eviction, which they do not face now. The idea that this will not improve behaviour over time, is absurd.

Instead of a population of infantilised automata, subject to the (left-wing, labour voting, hugely populous) bureaucracy, independent people could be being helped through hopefully temporary set-backs in their lives. Neither hope nor consequences would be denied to the people at the whim of the welfare state. Instead of the bureaucracy, people would be in control of their lives. As a result, the bill, both psychological for those at the bottom, and financial for those of us paying for it, which currently amounts to a quarter of Government managed expenditure, might even get smaller.

Unfortunately, the people who stand to lose out from this policy are not the poor, most of whom desire a life off benefits, but the bureaucrats, social workers and do-gooders who gain employment by controlling, monitoring, assessing and providing the “care and support”. These people will fifth tooth and nail to keep their jobs, and they will use their unfortunate clients as rhetorical ammunition to ensure the vast machine which eats the poor and keeps them that way, never shrinks. The only thing a bureaucracy servers, is itself.