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Government as a Tool.

Government is not inherently evil. Indeed it is necessary – anarchy is not a happy state of affairs. This is the difference between Anarchism, and Libertarianism: Somalia is not a standing retort to the principles of the latter. Nor are things like progressive taxes, welfare states or redistribution necessarily bad.

Even (or even especially) in meritocratic societies, much of one’s station in life is overwhelmingly predicted by what your parents do. If they’re smack-addled self-arguers, you’re unlikely to become Prime-Minister. So, redistribution fulfils a fairness function – mitigating the gross dice-roll of fate which decided which womb bore you. Redistribution also reduces the risk of starting businesses – if you fail, you’re not going to starve, so  as a minimum standard of living can be guaranteed, people can on take more entrepreneurial risks. And as much business success is down to luck, this too is fair. There is an economic function to welfare. Welfare can also be seen as an insurance policy, preventing the rich ending up on a gibbet when the revolution comes.

The trick is to help the needy and unlucky while not damaging the incentive to work. Unfortunately, the British welfare state, with its vast bureaucracy of 72 separate benefits is a massive disincentive to work. Simplifying the benefits system, and aligning it with the tax system and make it simpler to claim, reducing the risk of lost benefits, when taking on short-term work. The Government’s plans for a universal Credit are a step in the right direction.

Government has a role in infrastructure. It is naive to imagine a comprehensive network of Metalled roads would be provided by the private sector. Paths form naturally, but for them to be in decent condition, this is best provided collectively. A road on its own is worth less than the same road in a network.

The realm must be defended. Most countries don’t have a handy English Channel, and whilst Britain Eschewed a standing army long after the rest of Europe had started conscripting, she did always have a big Navy and almost no states do without some form of military, even tiny Lichtenstein has paramilitary police. No-one would argue that private armies are a good idea. This is what made Medieval England so hard to Govern.

Defence morphs into law enforcement. A strong, central state through British history has tended to act as a protector of the peasants against their local potentates. The Royal Boroughs became wealthy for example because their liberties were guaranteed by the crown against the often rapacious demands of local barons. Where monarchies became defenders of the people against the barons in this manner – The UK, Scandinavia and much of Northern Europe, they tended to survive. It’s clear therefore enforcing rules, especially on behalf of the weak against the powerful is a key role of the state.

A strong, effective state therefore is good for all except the most powerful. Economically, the benefits of a state listed above are demonstrated in the concept of the Rahn curve. If the state doesn’t exist, you don’t get much economy, let alone economic growth. But just as libertarians are wont to abuse the Laffer Curve to suggest that tax-cuts always bring more revenue, leftists are currently pretending more state spending will always generate growth. It doesn’t, and here’s why.

An efficient package of tools

Having got some measure of control of the state, and having used it to deliver a more equitable society, the temptation arises in democracies especially to use this powerful tool called the state to solve problems to which it is not suited. Politicians get called “complacent” if they say “not my problem”. A limited state, focused on what it does well is wealth enhancing. Take the state into areas to which it is not suited, the result is a state which takes too much, and as a result gets captured by vested interests in public-sector unions, who agitate for more spending on their priorities (mainly wages for their members) forgetting that this must be paid for out of everyone else’s surplus production. The result is a state providing Health, Education and social services, over which the people who are supposed to use them, have no control. You take what you’re given and like it. You get substandard services, delivered by people who know they’re going to get paid, whatever you think.

It also means the costs lead to over taxation. The rich are mobile, and while they might enjoy London or Paris’ cultural riches, there comes a point when they will bugger off, as Francois Hollande is likely to find out soon. It is tempting to blame ‘the rich’ because they are few in number and democracy can become the tyranny of the majority. If the rich “avoid” taxes, a problem existing mostly in the fevered minds of left-wing activists, it’s because a ridiculously complicated tax-code allows them to. Simple, fair, progressive taxation is rarely avoided. Gordon Brown tried to use the Tax system as a control on the economy. He failed.

Trying to do too much

The problem causing the ratchet upwards in the cost of government is the costs of state inaction are easy to picture – you’ve pissed off individuals making noise. But the costs of state over-action are spread equally amongst millions, but it takes a crisis to make people aware of it.

The answer is to use the state as an enabling tool, funding rather than providing. And this is the key to the success of the Nordic states, despite their high (eye-wateringly so) tax rates. I’ve no problem with state funded services. I’ve no problem with progressive taxation, and a welfare safety net. But these have limits. And we’re at or beyond them now. The tool of the state has become unwieldy and inefficient because it tries to do too much.

Few would have a problem paying high taxes if the services delivered were up to scratch. And if they are not up to scratch, if there’s a choice between competing providers, you still don’t mind paying. You just take your tax-funded business elsewhere. This is why Sweden’s state schools are so much better than ours – they aren’t run by the state, and so don’t have the bureaucracy to stifle good ideas, and are not completely captured by the producer interest.

Ultimately the standard of living, that we’re trying to improve for as many as possible, equates to a measure of free income after tax, non-tax health and education costs, and transport. All of which government can influence. The USA may have low headline federal taxes, and variable state taxes but its citizens are expected to pay out the majority of the difference into a bloated private health system (the US health industry is as obscene as it is in part of ridiculous laws like those banning the sale of insurance across state lines, but that’s another subject, for another day). So despite their low taxes, Americans are not greatly better off than western Europeans. It’s not just about money.

It’s impossible to live cheek-by-jowl without some collective decision making. So long as this is under democratic control, and uncorrupt, State action can mitigate certain behaviours which only become individually optimal in the absence of a collective alternative. For example, America rejected public transport almost entirely, in favour of the car facilitating (along with a large, underpopulated land-mass) urban sprawl which means Americans spend longer commuting than almost anyone else on the planet, something at the top of the list of misery-making habits. So a rejection of state action in favour of rugged individualism has forced Americans into a sub-optimal status quo and sitting in queues of traffic on the freeway, but feeling like they have no choice.  Monopolies, like the near monopoly of car infrastructure in Los Angeles, are anywhere and always a problem.

So the idiot ‘Libertarian’ battle cry of “cut taxes now” is likely to mean people spend the savings from taxes on things that used to be provided by taxes and being forced into sub-optimal behaviour by the abandonment of some collective action. Inevitably taxes would also be spent on subsidising the poor’s access to goods and services, so few are really any better off despite lower headline tax rates.

The trick therefore is to maximise everyone’s utiltiy at minimum cost, and to do so whilst increasing everyone’s freedom of action. And the best drivers of efficiency are markets. Free schools would create choice, whilst still being free at the point of delivery. There is no reason (apart from producer interest) to oppose privatised bits within the NHS. The internal market was abandoned, then resurrected by Labour, not for ideological reasons, but because it worked.

I’ve no problem with health care free (or free-ish) at the point of delivery funded from taxation because no-one has shown me any evidence that private insurance is more efficient. After-all insurance pools risk. Tax-funding pools risk better. However I do not believe the state, or any other monopoly to be any good at delivery. So break the NHS up, and let the patients choose where to be treated, whom to see as their GP, and let the funds follow those choices accordingly. All the regulator (NICE?) needs to do is say which treatments are available for free, and which need to be paid for out of your pocket, and then check they’re up to a standard. The market can do the rest.

Where the real cuts need to come is in the vast, expensive bureaucracies managing and regulating our lives. Big business lobbies for tight regulation because this protects incumbents. Look at banking – a ridiculously tightly regulated industry from which innovation has been frozen by a cartel of self-interested Giants. These Giants are egged on by a regulator which encourages scale in the belief that big is better, and who do business according to the regulators idea of risk. And look where that go us. Deregulation cannot be the reason for the crisis because it’s never been tried. A free market in banking (with a state guarantee for depositors, but not investors) would let a thousand flowers bloom. Bank failures need not be disruptive and would cause the banking industry to join the 21st century as crappy customer service would be punished by people moving. At present, I can’t e-mail my bank and they still take 3 days to clear a cheque.

If you want to cut costs in Government, don’t look at the transfer payments of the Education and NHS. The delivery of these is going to improve as markets penetrate industries which were once monopolies. If a state bureaucracy replaces an insurance bureaucracy, is that really worse? Look at the vast regulatory raj, with fingers in big business, local Government and cut that out. Focus remaining regulation on competition, not consumer outcomes (that’s what a market’s for…)- don’t let anyone get a monopoly anywhere. Bust cosy cartels. Enable choices, stop protecting us from ourselves, and leave the results alone.

Ultimately the state needs to stop doing quite a lot of things its got used to doing. Why is there a public bureaucracy around sport? What is the DTI for except a conduit to Government for big business? Why are there laws demanding I wear a helmet on a motorbike or a seat-belt in a car? Why is there a ‘War on Drugs’? Why can I not have a cigarette with a pint? Because our elected representatives decided to use an inappropriate tool to solve problems which are none of their business. The result is a state delivering shoddy services, yet which cost 50% of everyone’s income.

This has become unsustainable. Much as I want taxes cut, I still want good public services and we need a balanced budget. However instead of cutting the Army to 82,000, why not cut the bureaucracy of the MoD? Instead of pruning branches, why not cut down the whole tree of the DTI? How about Stopping giving money to “charity” on  our behalf? Why not Roll DfID back into the FCO? The list of unnecessary stuff the Government does is nearly endless. Slash the areas of the state whose sole purpose is to provide jobs for life for Unite members, and create markets in most of the rest. You may not see the tax burden go down much in the short-term, there are too many pensioners for that, but you may get more for your taxes and your children might be rich enough to be taxed less. In final analysis, Gordon Brown’s spending splurge wrecked the rest of your economic life. It might not wreck your children’s.

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

Link

Libertarianism: “Identitiy Politics for Selfish White Men”

Apparently Libertarianism is just identity politics of Selfish white men. The evidence ‘Left Outside’ uses for this absurd assertion is my last post, where I suggest that although I might disapprove of a T-Shirt bearing the slogan “I’m too pretty for homework so my brother has to do it for me”, I would be unlikely to do anything about it, because I don’t really give a shit. The hysterical reaction of the left to such things, I find faintly disturbing, and evidence of an intrusive, totalitarian mindset which seeks to impose it’s values on everyone.

Of course with a name like “left outside”, there is going to be economic lunacy in there too. Let’s just look at some of the more absurd statements in this post.

Jackart’s argument seemed to hinge on the idea that “Lefties” who are trying to make the world a slightly better place for women (and slightly worse for selfish, privileged men)…

Political freedom is not a Zero-Sum game.

Brian Caplan is one prominent Libertarian who has written very strongly in favour of late C19th America despite all the oppression of women and blacks and poor people and trade unionists.

Of course, it is possible to praise an economic system without supporting the entire social system. Praising, for example the competitive rail-road expansion in 19th Century America does not equate to support for slavery. Praising Enoch Powell’s legacy of economic thought does not imply support for “sending ’em all back” and so on. Brian Caplan isn’t a supporter of “oppression”. Play the ball, not the man.

Likewise a large and probably dominant strand of Libertarianism has adopted the Thatcherite slogan “Let Management Manage” which is nonsense. Getting bossed around at work feels often worse than being bossed around by the state…

…except that the state has a monopoly of legal violence and takes 50% of your earnings at gunpoint. You CAN leave a job. Of course if the lefties get their way, there won’t be any other jobs to go to. Workers “rights” merely make it more risky to hire someone, so there are fewer jobs around. You really want to empower the worker? A job-creating dynamic economy is much better than job protection. Employers need to treat their workers decently or they will walk. What this has to do with a T-shirt slogan, though is beyond me.

The left-outside’s post starts from the assumption that all such hysterical left-wing actions such as getting products of which some people disapprove off the market, are a good thing; making the world a “better place”. Individually, the may be right. Taken together, I fear such actions create an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, excess caution as people businesses refuse to take risks or make arguments for fear of offending noisy bullies. Left-wingers, obsessed by identity politics, shout down any dissenting voices. My point is that the world would be better if everyone just ignored behaviour by others that doesn’t directly affect them. Libertarianism is a mindset in which I don’t seek to impose my values on others, and simply ask the same courtesy in return.

The fact Left-Outside thinks this “selfish” is telling, and explains why socialism in action usually involves enormous piles of corpses. Link

Is “Employment” the problem?

By far the most important economic metric, as far as politicians around the world are concerned, is “Unemployment”. If this rises – particularly amongst the middle-class, who can be relied upon to vote – governments tend to fall. This is as true in the democratic nations as in tyrannies. Youth unemployment of over 45% in many Arab nations may have changed the micro-economic risk-reward pay-off of protest. If there are no jobs with which to bribe/blackmail the young, there’s less to lose by being part of a demonstration.

When you take on a job, you take on severe constraints upon your time. Usually you’re expected to present yourself at a time and place 5 days a week and subject yourself to monitoring and surveillance which would be unacceptable in any other circumstance and a gross invasion of privacy. In return your employer pays you a regular wage, whether or not you’ve earned it. The employer is also expected to pay significant levels of taxation as a result of each job, and incurs other burdens such as contractual redundancy pay, insurance and so-on.

The result of this is an economic conflict. It’s in the employees interest to do as little as possible to earn his pay without getting fired. Every office has shirkers who are carried by the rest of the business, or people who exploit management systems’ loopholes to engage in rent-seeking behaviour. On the other hand, it is in the employers’ interest to sweat the labour and earn as much as possible from each employee. This is not to suggest that there aren’t good employers in some sectors where it is both possible and practical to remunerate according to delivery, and see it in their interests to look after their employees. There are, however, employers who exploit the weak bargaining position of their employees to improve productivity through coercive means, and employees who exploit employers (to death: this is why there are few unionised workers in the private sector). The public sector, without real cash constraints, is easily bullied by organised Labour & rent-seeking professionals.

Let’s put some numbers on this. For a private-sector employee to achieve £30k in his bank account at the end of the year (once taxes are taken into account) s/he needs to generate at least £100k of top-line value. If this employee is in a “cost centre” instead of a “revenue-centre”, HR, for example as opposed to sales or the shop-floor, his/her remuneration comes from the excess profit of the productive work-force.

As a result of the sheer cost of guaranteeing a wage month to month, the temptation is to seek revenue from employment which doesn’t add to customers’ utility. The most egregious example of this is perhaps the financial services industry, which sells “products” larded with hidden fees, or insurance to people who don’t need it or who could almost never claim on it. A legislation-protected cartel operates to keep bank deposit interest low and lending rates high. Branches no longer serve their customers, whom they know only from computer records, but instead serve sales targets for corporate markets. Evidence: people don’t change banks because they’re all the same.

Another examples of this “crapitalism” is the McDonalds happy-meal toy, whose negative externalities in the inevitable disposal, manufacture, transport and packaging vastly outweigh the utility gained by the customer. It is a product whose only purpose is pester-power-marketing. You can think of any number of other examples. The disgusting excesses of some of our consumer culture are partially as a result of the drive to manipulate people into purchases they don’t need at any cost. Does anyone think ‘planned obsolescence’ is good for the consumer? Are the people selling this crap, in call-centres, shops; or indeed those making crap in factories around the world really happy with their lot serving this avaricious machine? Should this almost feudal relationship between employer and employee, which could be at the root of it, really be the dominant economic relationship in a supposedly free society?

The crucial thing, above and beyond the crap needlessly produced, is the self-actualisation of the people making and selling it. It is this crucial happiness-delivering facet of the human experience which is missing from much employment in service of crapitalism. Would it not be better if people were able to choose to how much to work, the margins at which they work and their working hours and conditions, and deliver a product or service of which they were proud? I’ll declare an interest: I’m self-employed. The freedom to have more, or indeed less than state-mandated holiday allowances and working hours as necessary, is a huge bonus. As is the sense that no-one is looking over my shoulder, telling me I should be working. My time, even in the office, is my own. I am, in a huge number of senses, free. Even if I didn’t take a holiday for four years, when starting my practice, and building my client-base, the sense I was building something for ME was hugely motivating.

Many of my clients are likewise self-employed: plumbers, builders, property-developers & businessmen. It is risky and certainly tough at the outset for all people who slip the bonds of formal employment, but because the products of your labour aren’t shared with an employer, you get nearer the full benefit of our labour. If more people were self-employed, there would be less work of negative utility: HR, Accounts, Compliance, Health & Safety officers, who serve to enforce legislation which exists only in the EMPLOYED market place would wither. More self-employment would then free these people from their parasitic jobs to do something productive. An ancillary benefit is the state would lose an enormous class of people in the private sector from its control.

But it’s also about more than productivity. The self-actualisation and self-reliance that self-employment engenders are benefits in themselves. The fact that the self-employed have to hand their income tax over in a cheque every six months means they actually think about the dead-weight cost of taxation each and every time they do so. (I’ve never met a self-employed Labour voter…)

At the moment, society, politics and the economy is structured around formal employment, and the resulting drive to squeeze ‘human resources’ (I call them ‘people’) at whatever cost. Employees feel the temptation to rent-seek. Neither of these are good: though these activities may help GDP, they aren’t productive. Perhaps an economy shaken up by de-industrialisation is an ideal opportunity to have another look at the structures of the job market and consider if legislation unfairly supports one form of labour-market organisation. Self-employment works for me. I am not suggesting it works for everyone, but merely asking the question: Isn’t it better to work for yourself, rather than allowing someone to be your boss?

I started this post with the Arab Spring, at the root of which is unemployment. The Tunisian revolution which saw dictator Ben Ali flee to Saudi Arabia started when an unemployed man called Mohammed Bouazizi started selling vegetables in the street without a permit, and the subsequent harassment (he wasn’t making enough to bribe the police) led him to self-immolate. Such is the effect of denying people the right to earn what they can. Whilst a secure job may be preferable in many economies, for many people the guaranteed wage just costs too much. For many marginally productive workers, Spain, for example, has youth unemployment comparable to Tunisia’s, they just aren’t productive enough. What prevents Spain from imploding, apart from the pressure valve of democracy, is a black economy which allows the poor to subsist in the manner attempted by Mr Bouazizi – without the interference of a rent-seeking police force.

Instead of harassing the black economy Western governments also suppress it using an over-generous welfare state, at vast dead-weight cost: people paid to do NOTHING. There’s no need to scrape a living: the state will take from the rich and give it to you, gratis. Is this just? Maybe. But it also comes at a cost; the self-reliance, independence and integrity of the recipients of the tax-payers’ largess, who lose any habit of independence and will never work as a result of their handouts. Would it not be better to deal with our welfare rolls by cutting the hand-out (a CBI could ensure everyone’s basic needs were met), and encouraging people to find something, anything, they can do for other people for whatever they can earn?

An employment market which rewarded self-employment, independent trading, if allied to a tax and benefits system which didn’t act as a massive barrier to entry to marginally productive workers, would cut welfare rolls and could eventually end the concept of unemployment. Perhaps we could also reduce much of the nonsense economy of crapitalism? After all, self-employed people don’t eat unless their product or service is actually valued, instead of being ‘bundled’ with something that is. (Would you pay for the happy-meal toy or the mobile phone insurance which comes with your bank account, unless it were”free”?) Above all, freeing people from employment they know to be useless would improve people’s sense of self-worth. By removing the totalitarian oversight of the feudal lord – your employer – you achieve freedom.

So far, so Marxist. He wasn’t all bad, you know. The temptation in current politics is to play the masters – state & business off against each other. The electorate’s choice is their proxies: Labour & Tories. We libertarians marginally favour the latter, but regard both, or indeed any master, as abhorrent.

Multiculturalism

‘Multiculturalism’ is a much abused word. Broadly, when used as a pejorative by those of the Daily Mail tendency, usually in phrases such as “the failed experiment in multiculturalism” which means “I don’t like wogs”. When used enthusiastically by the loony left in phrases such as “Celebrating multiculturalism”, it means “White people are evil”. The dictionary definition is “the policy of maintaining a diversity of ethnic cultures within a community”. In practice, it’s often for or against “the muslims”.

Maybe it could be a libertarian idea? I like the fact that Britain is home to people whose family origins are all over our formerly vast empire. People liked the mother country sufficiently to settle here, and despite New Labour’s best efforts, this country remains a better place to live than Somalia, Afghanistan or France. This is good. Now as a libertarian, I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about what people say, do, or think, so long as they leave me and my friends alone, and refrain from sponging off my taxes, so I enthusiastically endorse the dictionary definition of multiculturalism. The point of libertarianism is that individuals should be free to live as they choose, with the above caveats. And as most people display “in-group preference”, there is a tendency for ethnic and cultural groups to concentrate into discreete areas of towns. Jews in Golders Green, Bangladeshis in Whitechapel and dick-heads in Hoxton, using London as an example. So long as this is not enforced either legally or informally in any serious way, this is just natural. A side effect of such assortive residency leads naturally to the easier maintenance of cultural norms such as ringlets, beards or stupid, identical haircuts with a spiky hairspray mohecan and a job in
“media”a mobile phone shop – and bingo!: Different areas have recognisably different people in them. We’re “Multicultural”.

The “hoxton fin”

Consider this, when you start using the word “multicultural”: Are you actually disapproving of the actions and culture of people you don’t know, facing different challenges and problems to you, about whom you know little? Are you hoping that “multiculturalism” might act as a wedge, to change the country you live in to one you might approve of (but probably won’t)? Or does “multiculturalism” mean “live, and let live”? If so, Amen! Right on, brother, we’re onto something.

Presumed Consent

Longrider has an interesting post on the idea that it should be presumed that you submit your organs to be harvested after your death for transplants, unless you opt out.This “Presumed consent” will save thousands of lives by enabling many more organs to be available to those who need them. The only people who lose are already dead, and are in no position to complain. Simple?

Well, this opens up the distubing proposition that your body is owned by the state, and that is a rubicon I’d prefer not to cross. There are many religious, misanthropic or rational reasons you may not want to give your organs. And many of those are reasons that are intensely personal medical conditions and the like, that you may not wish to share with the state or any other agency.

Whilst laws that mean the state also decides, for your benefit and that of “society” naturally that your body is not so fully your own that you cannot put whatever you want into it, whether that’s cocaine in one orrifice or a cock in another (laws I disagree with too), the state is intensely interested. It should not be, because I own my body and decide what happens to it, not HM Government. Longrider wants to say NO! And that should be his decision. And he’s right. It’s not a “civic duty”. Neither’s voting for that matter! This is a libertarian issue which will find resonance with the public, and one we should use to drive a wedge between the people of the UK and the state they still inexplicably trust.

I deal with this by the public declaration.

My organs are available for transplant on the simple calculation I am an atheist, and when I’m dead, I have no need of my corpse any more. If I get hit by a truck (a better than evens bet…), it is some comfort to me that my organs may help others to live, or live better as a result of my death. I have signed up for the organ donation scheme.

If the government goes ahead with presumed consent, that’s a presumtion too far, and they will find my consent withdrawn forthwith. If more of us on the organ donor register wrote to their MP to that effect, then this illiberal proposal will be still-born.

Dispersed Benefits, Concentrated Costs.

In November, I went to see P. J. O’Rourke give a talk. In which he described the government as a “very powerful tool”, the temptation of which is to use it inappropriately. This was brought to my mind by the conversation I had with a young labour activist on twitter today (slow work day…), who was convinced that “fighting for workers’ rights” is exactly what a governing party should be doing. And then I thought about the depressing graph about “Liberty” verses “Equality” and “Diversity”


Of course, since 1800, the rise of democracy has seen the fear of Tyranny recede, and the fact that the benefits of liberty are dispersed, the benefits of socialism are obvious and its costs are dispersed has seen people, voters, broadly ask this enormously powerful tool which democracy nominally puts at their disposal, to fix ever more problems for them. This, of course, costs – taxes, regulation and such like. But everyone’s paying and some people are getting something “for free” back. Is liberty going to die under the weight of an ever-more activist state? The price of freedom is vigilance, and I fear that a state which even thinks about ending Trial by Jury, Habeas Corpus and freedom of speech, whilst prosecuting people for inane jokes on Twitter and spending 50% of the national pie (which for 40% of the population who say they’ll be voting Labour STILL isn’t enough) is so far removed from any concept of liberty as to be lost.

Or has the activist state finally been shown the limits of the approach by the massive deficits and debts built up by democratic Governments? Are the cuts going to usher in an optimistic, entrepreneurial country which suddenly rediscovers its self-reliance and throws off the burden of state spending along with the benefits which go with it?

Back to my Labour activist on Twitter, who was convinced that minimum wages and “living wage” legislation as well as ever more onerous workers’ rights is absolutely a good thing. Trying to explain to an 18year-old that a minimum wage prices the low-skilled out of the jobs market, and that protecting a job, by making it expensive to fire a worker means that fewer workers are hired in the first place. No amount of education could replace the experience of an actual JOB leading to a vicious circle where the poor cannot get the starter job and end up in despair and on benefits. Policies designed to protect jobs are GREAT for those with those jobs. They’re safe. But for those looking for work, it makes it harder to find work.

Of course, the people with low-paid jobs and those just above them LOVE the Minimum Wage too. They will go out and tell everyone that the minimum wage changed their life. They now have more money at the end of the week. The non-working poor doesn’t put their joblessness down to the minimum wage, job protection legislation or their own lack of skills, instead probably blames immigrants or fact that there are no jobs round here. So the dis benefits of a minimum wage policy or job protection policy can be ignored. Most people have jobs and will vote to keep them. The jobless don’t as a rule vote. Nor do they understand why they’re jobless, and expect the state to do something about their plight.

And every policy cut, every social service no longer provided has two constituencies loudly shouting “I No LONGER HAVE A JOB” and “I NO LONGER GET MY SERVICE” whereas the benefit is spread amongst 40m taxpayers, some time in the future. Explaining the method by which those same services are delivered, usually more efficiently and cheaper if chaotically (look up the actual rather than idiomatic meaning of ‘chaos’ before commenting) by someone other than government, is excruciatingly difficult.

Politicians who would in fact do best cutting taxes, reducing red tape and getting out of the way instead get involved with trade policies, monetary policies and labour market interventions to solve the problem, because it is easier to be seen to be doing something than explaining why Government is the wrong tool for the job. All these social policies and redistribution costs in money, people’s time and lost opportunity and eventually the costs mount up to overwhelm the country’s economy. Fortunately, we are not there yet. The country can go on getting ever more statist for some time yet and this will meet the support of people like UK Uncut. Eventually, however the burden of regulation and tax becomes too great. The coalition has an opportunity to to remove the burden on the hard-pressed tax-payer, and change the narrative. But the success of the policy MUST be seen within this parliament or eventually the problem of people demanding people use the powerful tool for their benefit at the highly dispersed cost to others rears its head.

Just because statists and socialists pretend their market interventions are without cost, Libertarians shouldn’t pretend their policies aren’t without losers. We do have the truth on our side. Every libertarian policy comes up against the concentrated harm, dispersed benefits problem. Socialism or State-activism can point to the people who lose out, and the Libertarian cannot point to anyone who gains much, but overall, everyone is much richer. Making these argument to the electorate is very similar to making the point on Twitter – if you can’t say it in 140 characters, you might as well not be saying it. Your argument is doomed if you can’t tweet it!

So a Christmas problem for my readers: Come up with a 140-character slogan to overcome the dispersed benefit concentrated cost problem for deployment against lefties on Twitter and eventually the electorate. We can’t get them reading books about liberty, so we need to be as good at sloganeering as the statist left.

Farewell to the Devil…

…So the Devil has joined Mr Eugenides in throwing in the Towel.

There’s still all manner of socialist lunacy to oppose at all levels of Government. Even if I am broadly in agreement with this Government’s approach, there are councils, there are celebrities, there are unions, there are people who’ve lived high on the fat of a profligate government now bleating about “cuts”. They are parading the bleeding stumps of the poor, in many cases kept poor by those policies they’re bleating about cutting. These are the people who need opposing – the needlessly entitled client state that Labour built – help the Coalition smash it.

Of course if your demands are “dismantle the entire edifice of the state by next tuesday” you’re always going to be dissapointed. If you cannot see any benefit from the EU, and think it THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE, and see plots and betrayal where I see a pragmatically skeptical Government which has more important things to do than tilt at the EU windmill, you’re always going to be angry. The election, as far as I am concerned produced a result which may, in time, result in a good government. So I too am losing the rage and throwing rocks at opposition politicians (metaphorically speaking I don’t want to end up prosecuted for “threatening communication”) is less fun than it was when they ran things.

The oppositional mindset of the Blogger prior to May was about the savage assualt on civil liberties. Now, its about whining that you have to stand on your own two feet once more as the state removes the comfort blanket. The blogosphere is going to be a much diminished thing if Liberal Conspiracy is in the vanguard and all it is bleating about is ‘cuts’.

Of course, I will miss the Devil’s cathartic ranting ond forensic foul-mouthed fisking. He’s a good mate in meatspace too. However as someone somewere said “Blogging is like the Hotel california: you can check out, but you can never leave”. The devil will return, of that you can be sure.

Some of you may have noticed a drop off in the volume of posting here. Of course when I am inspried, I write, when I am not, I don’t. At the moment I am busy and Travelgall is away for a couple of weeks. Rest assured, we will stay in harness at least until the Labour corpse stops twitching. I may not be directly opposed to the Government, I am, after all, a card-carrying Conservative. I am, and always will be opposed to “the state” insofar as it affects me and my life, whether by enabling corporate fuckwittery, or by rapacious taxation, or by poor, illiberal law-making.

The Government is not libertarian. The state is still consuming over 50% of GDP. Tax is over 40% of GDP. The civil liberties outlook is, like the country’s finances merely getting shittier at a slightly reduced rate. There is still much for the Libertarian blogosphere to do.

Torture Enquiry.

Some people don’t think this New government is much better than the old one.

Yesterday Britain’s Tory prime-minister did what Barack Obama has so far failed to do. Live up to campaign promises and hold an enquiry into allegations of Torture: specifically that British officials looking the other way while other country’s agents (ahem, American agents) did unspeakable things to potential terrorists. It’s to be a judicial enquiry to ensure maximum public confidence in the outcome. The US insisted on Trials for the leaders of the third Reich, because America then stood for something. Now some Pakistani goatherds are apparently so dangerous that the rule of law needs to be suspened rather than let them out. Now most of the people who think Obama’s the best thing since slice bread are turning a blind eye to his staggering hypocrisy.

Two years on, he’s still not closed the Git’mo camp.

“In war, the Moral is to the the physical as three is to one” Naploleon Dyanamite Bonaparte.

As yet Obama has not had the guts to stand up to the Savage loons who STILL think Guantanamo bay is anything other than a massively counterproductive recruiting sergeant for global Jihad. He apparently regards this concentration camp for people against whom we have insufficinet evidence to bring a prosecution as being a price worth paying for “security”, and practices like waterboarding as not being a standing retort to the rule of Law, and so deserving of punishment.

If we are not better people than the people we’re fighting, then what are we fighting for? Let’s shine some sunlight into the darker things done in our name, and see if the Public like it. Let’s hope the light’s bright enough to reach into the oval office, and persuade Obama to come clean about the abuses perpetrated under his predecessor.

What… you mean it’s still going on? You mean Obama’s no better than Bush? You’re shitting me! There are still 181 people in Guantanamo bay, and he’s been shipping people about to avoid the rule of Law, at potential cost to his alliances.