Monday, 30 November 2009

Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. (Genesis 11:9)

I like clarity. I like to know what people are talking about, and what they mean when they use a word. Therefore I like definitions. Some might say that I am obsessive about them. But I have observed that the language of all the earth is confused, and even speakers of English have a difficult time understanding each other. And I don’t just refer to the confusion between those in the USA and those in the UK. Hence my efforts to define libertarianism.

The question that is exercising me at the moment is the relationship between libertarianism and classical liberalism. (This is because of a comment left on the last post by Mr. Phil Walker: “I'm not really libertarian, although I would define myself as classically liberal so I'm something of a political cousin.”) And since I find that pictures are often worth several hundred words, I found this picture useful.

What you will notice is that minarchist libertarianism is not marked on it. So clearly it is time to play “spot the ball”. (Do people still play it?) My guess is that minarchism is roughly where the words “Classical liberals” appear. Or possibly just above it, but below the line. After all, we minarchists differ from anarcho-capitalists in that we believe in do not believe in the elimination of the state, we merely believe in minimising it. (I am assuming that the horizontal line in the diagram is the dividing line between those who believe in eliminating the state and those who don’t.) But why doesn’t minarchism appear in the picture? Is it because the man who drew the diagram (Jesús Huerta de Soto) believed that minarchism was basically the same as classical liberalism?

So, is there a difference between minarchism and classical liberalism? And if so, what is it?

Raimondo Cubeddu of the Department of Political Science of the University of Pisa says
It is often difficult to distinguish between 'libertarianism' and 'classical liberalism'. Those two labels are used almost interchangeably by those we may call libertarians of a 'minarchist' persuasion—scholars who, following Locke and Nozick, believe a state is needed in order to achieve effective protection of property rights.
However Walter Block (an anarcho-capitalist) saysAdam Smith should be seen as a moderate free enterpriser who appreciated markets but made many, many exceptions. He allowed government all over the place.” (For example, Adam Smith supported public roads, canals and bridges. However, he favoured that these goods should be paid proportionally to their consumption - e.g., putting a toll).

And Alan Ryan, professor of Political Science at Princeton University, argues that the claim from
...contemporary libertarians...that they are classical not wholly true. There is at least one strain of libertarian thought represented by Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia that advocates the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes' such as prostitution, drug-taking and unorthodox sexual activities. There is nothing of that in John Locke or Adam Smith.
Wikipedia says
While minarchists oppose all government intervention except for defense and dispute resolution, classical liberals make more exceptions and allow state intervention and provision of extraneous public goods such as public transportation and utilities. Therefore, we can claim that minarchism is not the same as classical liberalism because while classical liberals support additional macroeconomic intervention, minarchists only see preventing aggression as the role of the state.
But it also says
However, arguments over the similarities are made difficult by the large number of factions in both classical liberalism and libertarianism. For example, minarchist libertarians are not necessarily in favour of complete economic deregulation in the first place and often support tax-funded provision of a select few public goods.

1) It seems to me that there is clear blue water between anarcho-capitalism and minarchist libertarianism. It also seems to me that minarchist libertarianism is actually much closer to classical liberalism, than to anarcho-capitalism. Minarchism and classical liberalism are so close, that they almost run into each other. But they are not quite the same. The basic difference is that classical liberalism allows state macroeconomic intervention and does not believe in the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes.'

2) It seems slightly curious that minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are often lumped together as libertarianism, when classical liberalism is excluded, considering that minarchism actually is much closer to classical liberalism - so close that some treat them as synonymous.

3) It also seems to me that the manifesto of the LPUK is actually somewhere between classical liberalism and minarchist libertarianism. It does allow macroeconomic intervention, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The result is that a lot of anarcho-capitalists will join the party enthusiastically, and then become rather disillusioned.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

I have just read the Manhattan Declaration. This document has been much discussed by Christian bloggers in America. In this country, Cranmer has written about it, but has not really commented. Some people that I respect have signed it, others have declined.

As a Christian, I agree with pretty much everything in it. I certainly have no problem with the concluding paragraph:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
I completely agree. And yet I can't get enthusiastic about the document as a whole. I find myself wondering what the point of it is. Is it a call for Christians to stand firm when ordered by Caesar to do what is wrong? Or is it a call for politicians to change direction and legislate in a more Christian manner? And what will it achieve? And I find it disconcerting that the three issues that the Declaration highlights - respect for life, respect for marriage, and religious freedom - are really three separate issues, and that the only connection between them is that they are under attack in modern America.

And so I find myself basically agreeing with Professor John Stackhouse:
. . the document seems philosophically and politically incoherent. It argues for religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like (and this point, alas, needs increasing emphasis in America as well as here in Canada). But it also argues that these particular Christian views of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and more should be enshrined in American law. It says nothing about the liberty of those who would dissent from those views except to assert that because these Christian views are right, they should be the law of the land. What, then, happened to religious liberty on these important matters? The document doesn’t say.

I’m conservatively prolife and have traditional Christian views of marriage also. But just because I think those views are right doesn’t entail that I believe they should be law. Deciding what ought to be law in a pluralistic, democratic society that welcomes immigrants from, and seeks to influence helpfully, countries all over the world, requires careful political theory. Indeed, it requires fundamental and detailed consideration of a variety of related subjects, including the nature and intentions of divine providence over nations, what God expects of human beings individually and corporately short of the return of Christ, what is politically feasible in a given situation, and more. There is none of that sort of thinking evident in this declaration . . ."
And that about sums up my unease with the Declaration. Philosophical and political coherence is important.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Too many knee jerk reactions

According to the Telegraph, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary has said that
“Policing has “lost its way” amid the “noise and clutter” of government targets, initiatives and new laws.”
Mr Denis O’Connor has, apparently
“accused ministers, local authorities and police chiefs of “too many knee jerk reactions” to the problems of law and order.”
Well said, sir. I hope that you are listened to. But it’s not just the problems of law and order. In the world of government, there are too many knee jerk reactions to just about everything. Too many initiatives. Too many initiatives. And definitely too many new laws.

Legislation is, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, “is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly.”

I think ‘wantonly’ is the perfect word to sum up the way our government has been going about the business of legislation.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Is the wind power bubble about to burst?

I have no expertise in energy. But I have been reading one or two things about it recently which interest me.

Take this quote from Professor Ian Fells, from an article in the Express: “For a long time I have thought that the wind power bubble would burst. I think that’s starting to happen. Ed Miliband tells people that to oppose wind farms is morally indefensible, but as more people start to realise the reality of what wind power actually offers, that will change.” Professor Fells has written before about his reservations about the government's enthusiasm for wind, but he now seems to think that the tide may be turning in his direction.

However, the interesting thing is the apparent reason for Professor Fells' statement. A National Grid document is quoted as saying that wind power could cost “£300 – £800 per mega watt hour (MWH) compared to conventional generation at £23 per MWH”. (The Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “A more realistic comparison of conventional and wind power would be £23 MWH compared to £30 or £80 MWH.*” So even they admit that wind power is not cheap.)

Yes, wind power is expensive. But because the government likes it, it is heavily subsidised. Professor Fells again: "Last year subsidies paid out on wind and landfill gas was £1 billion. By 2020 that figure will be £30 billion." One of the ways that wind power is subsidised is through Renewables Obligation legislation which forces energy companies to buy a certain amount of their energy from "renewable" sources. This means that suppliers of wind energy can sell their expensive product with no difficulty, and make a good profit.

In other words, the government has rigged the market in favour of wind energy, and lots of people, particularly (but not just) land owners, can get very good money at the tax-payer's expense by jumping on the wind bandwagon. I say 'not just' because the government can potentially use tax-payers' money to bribe communities, local authorities, and businesses (to mention just a few) to get wind turbines erected all over the place.

Which might just be fair enough if the science behind wind energy was right. But if Professor Fells is right, then the government is simply taking our money at gunpoint to wreck the British countryside by sticking massive concrete and iron structures all over it, which will probably be obsolete in a generation.

This is the power of the Leviathan state, which the Archbishop of Canterbury is so enthusiastic about - pursuing long term social goals to avoid "the ecological crises that menace us", and using taxation as a "sophisticated tool" to build a habitat which may turn out to include hundreds of square miles of destroyed countryside.

*When they have a name like "The Department of Energy and Climate Change" one really has to be sceptical of their utterances and figures. I mean, it really is a case of "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?"

Libertarianism: a definition

I’ve been musing, over the past few months, about what exactly I mean by libertarianism, and trying to come up with a concise definition. I have now, at last, come up with a first draft. Please feel free to question, comment, or critique.

Libertarianism: the philosophy that holds that the ultimate political value is the freedom of the individual, and that the most effective way to uphold that freedom is to limit the scope of the state to those activities which directly defend that freedom.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury's enthusiasm for taxes

I saw the headline in the Telegraph: “Archbishop of Canterbury claims higher taxes would be good for society.” I thought “Good grief.” But instead of studying the article in the Telegraph, I decided to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, and headed over to the Archbishop’s website to read the full text of his speech to the TUC Economics Conference. (Probably a good move since the Archbishop did not actually, as far as I could see, say anything in praise of higher taxes, per se.)

I must confess that I was rather surprised to find that the Archbishop had been invited to address the TUC Economics Conference. And I was rather surprised to read his speech. He was talking about economics and society. This man is a professor of theology. We have plenty of economists and social scientists. Why was he speaking about their subject of expertise, not his own? Admittedly there was a bit of theology in his address, but not much.

To be honest, much of what he said was pretty much what one has come to expect from the mainstream churches in Britain. There was a lot about green issues: he is concerned about ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental irresponsibility’ and the danger of ‘depleting the resources of the planet.’ There was a lot about questioning whether unchecked growth was a good thing. There was also a lot about family and community and the danger of ‘individualism’, by which he apparently means lack of understanding and sympathy for others. A lot of this is somewhat vague. Most of it I don’t have a big problem with. And I completely agree with him on the subject of protectionism - which he is opposed to.

The controversial bit was as follows:
'This will mean', [Tim Jackson] writes (p.142), 'revisiting the concepts of profitability and productivity and putting them to better service in pursuit of long-term social goals'.
The pursuit of long-term social goals concerns me. It suggests social engineering and centralised planning. And whose goals are to be pursued, anyway? I doubt that we are all agreed about those goals. Tim Jackson and the Archbishop may be agreed, but my gut feeling is that they are not infallible. Perhaps we need to revisit the concept of pursuing long-term social goals?
Along with this – a point flagged both by Jackson and by Zac Goldsmith in yet another provocative new essay, 'The Constant Economy: How to Create a Stable Society' – we have to ask about 'green taxes' (including 'green' tax breaks) that will check environmental irresponsibility and build up resources to address the ecological crises that menace us. The Contraction and Convergence proposals are among the best-known and most structurally simple of these, and it would be a major step to hear some endorsement of them from a body such as this.
The words “It would be a major step to hear some endorsement of them” are the key words. In other words, The Archbishop is backing the Contraction and Convergence proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not much surprise there - not that I agree with him. Note that the Archbishop supports ‘green taxes’ not because he wants higher taxes - but because he is concerned about environmental responsibility.
It is of course connected with other proposals about currency exchange taxation – the 'Tobin tax' idea: the point is that we should be thinking about taxation neither as an unreasonable burden on enterprise nor as a simple mechanism of redistribution but as a potentially sophisticated tool for long-term 'economy' – housekeeping. Taxation builds a habitat – already, quite properly, through state welfare provision, but potentially in other less familiar ways.
The words to notice here are “potentially sophisticated tool.” What he means, I think, is “We are all in favour of using taxes to redistribute wealth, and hence to give us the welfare state, [No we’re not. Ed.] but we can also use them to manipulate people’s behaviour so that they do things that create a good ‘habitat’".

And 'habitat' was the Archbishop’s big theme in this speech. That is why he could write “It is of course connected with other proposals about currency exchange taxation”. How? What’s the connection? The Tobin Tax and the C&C proposals are both about how governments can use their powers to “create a habitat that we can actually live in,” “a home that we can reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation,” to use the Archbishop’s phrases. In other words, just as an individual or family can envisage, plan, and create a home to live in, so ‘society’ (by which the Archbishop apparently means “the state” or even “the states of the world working together”) can plan and create a world to live in.

The vision is, to say the least, paternalistic; many would say authoritarian. It seems to me to be utopian: at best unrealistic and unachievable, at worst a step on the road to a Brave New World Society of total control by benevolent (or not so benevolent - let’s remember human nature!) dictators.

The curious thing is that the Archbishop didn’t attempt to base any of this on biblical or theological principles. Curious, but probably not at all surprising.

I will say this, however, in defence of the Archbishop. He was asked to speak at the TUC's Economics Conference. What was he supposed to say? (I'll bet Mr. Walker has an answer to that one, but I certainly don't!)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hitler and Winterval

Wow! That Adolf Hitler really was ahead of his time!

In recent years, local councils across Britain (most recently in Dundee) have been seeking to drop the word "Christmas" without doing away with all the December decorations. "Christmas Lights" now become "Winter Lights", and the, er, festive season has even been renamed Winterval.

Now it transpires that Hitler got there first. The Nazis rewrote Christmas carols to remove the religious references and replace them with images of snowy fields. Apparently Heinrich Himmler led the way in de-Christing Christmas, and the plan was to remove the emotional ties of the Church and merge Christmas into a Julfest, a celebration of winter and light which drew on pagan traditions. Very up to date.

Of course, local councils in modern Britain would claim that their motivation is completely different from that of the Nazis, and they are only trying to be sensitive to religious and ethnic groups who are uncomfortable with Christian imagery. However, since Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders have repeatedly said that they are not offended by Christmas, it has been difficult to work out who exactly was being offended.

It now appears that the group that our councils were so eager not to offend were white, european, blonde haired, blue eyed, Aryans.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Do we undervalue adults?

I'm busy these days, and so blogging is extremely light.

However, I came across an interesting article in the Spiked Review of Books about Frank Furedi's new book, Wasted: Why Education isn't Educating.

Professor Furedi is an interesting gentleman. He was, for example, a co-founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party. More recently, he has attacked the scientific consensus on global warming. And he will have annoyed a lot of people with his critique of that most dubious of big charities, the NSPCC.

But if he is right, and we do undervalue adults in our society, surely the reason is that we have been so afraid of undervaluing children that we have felt it necessary to make adjustments in order to make sure that children are listened to. And while that sounds reasonable in practice, the inevitable result is that adults will become less valued. I suspect that it cannot be otherwise.

It is the same with every group in society that we suspect may be undervalued. Every legislative attempt to give them a more valued place in society inevitably will impinge on some other group.

I suspect that if Professor Furedi's view that adults are undervalued catches on, we will see a lot of government initiatives to ensure that adults are properly valued. The proper response, however, would be to dump all the initiatives we have had in the past 30 years to make sure that children were properly valued.