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November 05, 2007

Comments

Matthew Sinclair

Do you think that all the rest of the Liberal Conspiracy, or even more than a couple of them, agree with you that the problem with the Right is not enough Hayek?

It appears to me that they mean "liberal" in the same way an American does. I.e. the liberal left is just the left-left that dislikes Stalinism.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with co-operating with those you disagree with on many issues if there is a core of agreement that makes the co-operation worthwhile. However, there are still two questions left:

1) Do you agree with the rest of the Liberal Conspiracy on more substantive issues than you do with DK?

2) Where is the efficiency gain in concentrating your collective blogging? In my experience it tends to lead to laziness thanks to a kind of subconscious tragedy of the commons.

Tristan Mills

I'd consider myself on the liberal left yet I don't care about how companies are run. If the directors mess up and then get huge amounts of money, the company will not survive in the long term. The competitive pressures which are missing for the state are there for companies.

Point 1 is correct - my reasoning is based upon what effect things have on the poor - unfortunately many proposals from the broader left fail the poor even more...

2) As above, I simply don't care how companies are run and its not the place of government (or me) to tell them how to do it.

3) The richer society, the less effect bosses will have on their employee's freedom - the same with the greater the diversity of jobs.
This is an area that I'm genuinely in two minds in - one part of me says just leave things be - the other says some intervention may be necessary.

4) I'm not 100% opposed to CBI, but I shy away from redistribution in the more general sense - it can create massive poverty traps if you're not careful.
CBI or negative income tax however incentivise people to work and also give them a boost. Ideally neither would be needed (or state intervention in health, housing or education) and the long term aim must be to remove the need for these (perhaps not possible, but high aim is not a crime).

5) Agree. I think the state needs to be as small as possible. Zero may not be possible (unfortunately) so we need to constrain its power and it should be run in a democratic manner (with the constraints to prevent majoritarianism).

6) Definitely agree. The Tories are not liberals. Thatcher was partly a liberal, but I think predominantly an anti-socialist and a social conservative.
Things like free immigration are a natural extension of free trade (not believed in by the Tories anyway it seems). All humans should have equal rights, and that includes the right to seek to better their lives. Many Tories and right-libertarians (although by no means all of them) place their fellow countrymen above all others. (Of course, we all prefer our own tribe to an extent, but the liberal will not discriminate against other tribes on these fundamental universal matters).

All the best with the Liberal Conspiracy, I hope you can persuade the more illiberal 'liberals' of their folly.

Alex

What we're really after is a politics that is to anarchism what social democracy is to Marxism.

dearieme

"The left..gives greater weight to its impact upon the worst-off than does the right.2 I suspect that you may be wrong there. There certainly once was a Right that cared very much about the worst-off, but which thought that the way to help them was through paternalism, Church, noblesse oblige, Charity, social discipline, elementary schooling, Boy Scouts and whatnot. There was also a Right that thought that Secondary and University Education was a key - it introduced the Butler Education Act.

Kevin Carson

Tristan Mills,

The competitive pressures really are not there. If they were, most large companies wouldn't exist in the first place. The average large company exists in a cartelized oligopoly market, in which the dominant firms share the same dysfunctional culture. Competition is limited by state regulatory cartelization, state subsidies to the inefficiency costs of large size, and state-promoted entry barriers. It is limited, more directly, by the common culture shared by the dominant firms in the market.

chrisc

It will be very interesting to see the topics on which Chris blogs on this new site given that most the the posters (from what I know anyway) are big-state dirigistes.

reason

Kevin Carson - ever heard of increasing returns to scale?

reason

I'm a pragmatist.

I see need for "countervailing power" as promoted by Galbraith. I played monopoly as a kid, I know that competition is always under threat, recently from leveraged managerialist capital.

I think externalities are pervasive and need regulation to internalise them in markets as much as possible.

I believe information issues are critical and basic research will not be financed adequately by the market. The market and science don't mix well, they have fundamentally opposed moral systems (one open, truth based the other secretive and marketing based).

That doesn't mean are aren't concerned about an excessively powerful and inefficient state.

But I see a healthy vital democracy as providing the accountability needed to control it (and the other organs of state - the judiciary and the beurocracy). I want to see this democracy under constant review, and see the principle of subsidiarity as an important guide. (A holy constitution written by the Gods of antiquity as in the US is a disaster for democracy.) A limited state is supported historically best by democracy despite what Libertarians would have you think.

Joe Otten

1. "The left, following Rawls, gives greater weight to its impact upon the worst-off than does the right." Sorry to be pedantic, but this is a good reason to be not-right, not to be left.

I see the veil as primarily an ethical not a political principle. The right are largely uninterested in ethical politics, at least of this sort. But there is still a difference between the left and liberals, standing in the veil, the former sacrificing some liberty for equality, the latter sacrificing some equality for liberty, and greater prosperity all-round.

2. Yes of course command and control fails in companies too. It is not such a big problem because it is easier to opt out of working for a company or buying its products than it is to opt out of being governed by the state.

Again, Conservatives would defend big pay-offs for incompetent management because their raison d'etre is defending elite privilege. The difference between the left and liberals lies in what, if anything, you propose to do about it.

3. Right. And how good is the state at limiting the ability of bosses to limit the freedom of workers? Sure, you can pile regulation on to the labour market, benefiting those in work at the expense of those driven out. But, frankly, the only significant power a worker has is, if they are in demand, to go and work somewhere else instead. That sort of leverage is not in the gift of the state.

4. Basic Income is a great idea but much too expensive. It might be doable when we are three times as rich as this, if we can keep the cost of living down.

5. Good to see the left have adopted some liberalism.

6. Right, and that's just scratching the surface. Adam Smith warned against letting entrepreneurs influence government because this would lead to corruption and rent-seeking. For Labour and the Tories, this is the relationship with business: not lowering barriers, but rent-enabling.


reason

Joe Otten,
basically I agree with except on a couple of issues.
on 4 - Why do you think that? I thought that people who have looked into it reckon it is possible. You mean you don't like the level of taxes needed to finance it.
on 3 - I dispute
But, frankly, the only significant power a worker has is, if they are in demand, to go and work somewhere else instead. That sort of leverage is not in the gift of the state.
The state may not be able to help in every case, but by discouraging monopoly (and often therefore monopsony), golden handcuffs, and providing training and alternative employment opportunities (not to mention macro-economic stability) they have a role to play.

Trooper Thompson

I wasn't going to comment and then I came across:

"A holy constitution written by the Gods of antiquity as in the US is a disaster for democracy."

The United States is not supposed to be a democracy, it's a constitutional republic, based on individual freedom, the rule of law and limited government. The fact that this constitution has been undermined and disrespected does not change its greatness. Of course it's not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than the British constitution - whatever that is.

reason

By golden handcuffs, I am referring to locked-in pension and health schemes. The State can penalise them in tax law and provide alternatives to discourage them.

reason

Trooper Thompson,
yep - your part of the problem.

Matt Munro

"I'd consider myself on the liberal left yet I don't care about how companies are run. If the directors mess up and then get huge amounts of money, the company will not survive in the long term. The competitive pressures which are missing for the state are there for companies."
Posted by: Tristan Mills | November 05, 2007 at 04:53 PM


But surely you should care, what if they are expoliting their workforce, using child labour, ripping off the pension fund, screwing up the environment or putting the public at risk ? Competition may (debatably) destroy the company if it's badly run, but being badly run also makes it more likely to be unethical, who should prevent/repair that damage ?

Trooper Thompson

Reason,

Oh, really? What problem's that? That not everyone agrees with you? Aw, sorry.

Don't worry, over at the 'liberal conspiracy' it's only nice people allowed to comment, so no one will interrupt your fascinating discussions.

reason

Trooper Thompson,
you misunderstand me, I'm a passionate democrat (not Democrat!). I believe in an evolving democracy and 18th Century holy cows get in the way. There is nothing worse than a constitution born in a bloody revolution - it is the work of martyrs and can't be criticised. In America there is too much discussion about what the founders meant when they wrote the constitution (reminds me of analysis of holy scripture), rather than what would be best for the country in the 21st Century. The US has a major constitutional crisis at the moment, and nobody dares to ask whether perhaps maybe the constitution itself might be part of the problem.

Cleanthes

"To those of us on the left, the answer is not: a British elite as distinct from a Brussels elite. It's: the people. "

I really do hope that by this you are not inferring that the right does not believe this, because that's how it sounds to me in the context of a post about the differences between right and left.

The point about the British elite is not that it is not "the people", it is that it is much closer to the people than the Brussels elite. That is not to say that we like them either: it's just that they are easier to kick in the shorts properly and regularly.

The way to get "the people" to govern is to reduce the power of government - so that people can govern themselves - themselves note, not others.

Right libertarians recognise this. Left libertarians, by contrast and for all their protestations about small government, cannot get away from the fact that redistribution requires government and is almost guaranteed to create rent seeking in the attempt to grab a share of the redistrubuted proceeds of others efforts.

reason

Cleanthes...
what makes you think rent seeking doesn't happen with a minimal government? (Hint: Where does the word rent come from?)

dearieme

"but it's a damn sight better than the British constitution - whatever that is": but if you don't know what it is, how do you know that it's worse than the American one?

Trooper Thompson

Reason,

and you misunderstand my original point: the United States is not supposed to be a democracy, but a constitutional republic. There is a fundamental difference, that you need to see, and you must realise the weaknesses of democracy, expressed somewhere as two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for supper. Under the US constitution, your rights do not come from the state, or the law - they precede both.

The US constitution also acknowledges that the state is and always has been the greatest threat to liberty that exists. Throughout history, tyranny and oppression are the norm, so the constitution puts limits on government. It is not perfect, and contains mechanisms for its own amendment.

You are right to say there is a constitutional crisis in America - but wholly wrong in your following point. The crisis is the violation by the executive of the rights of the people, seen clearly in the Patriot Act and the various other 'anti-terrorist' laws and executive orders, and the utterly supine Congress who refuse to hold the executive in check etc. America's problems do not come from the constitution, but from the neglect of the constitution. This is my view, which is why I hope Ron Paul wins the Republican nomination and the Presidency, because he is a libertarian and a strict constitutionalist.

Trooper Thompson

""but it's a damn sight better than the British constitution - whatever that is": but if you don't know what it is, how do you know that it's worse than the American one?"

Because, my friend, the United States constitution is concise and succinct AND WRITTEN IN ENGLISH!

reason

I can't see the difference between a proper democratic constitution and what you call "a republic". There needs to be a process for creating law, that also defines what laws are allowed. Full stop. I also don't see how rights precede a government. Think about genuine anarchy - your rights are what you personally can defend. Rights are only meaningful with a process to enforce them. Your distinctions just seem silly to me. And what exactly do you mean by "liberty". I guess it is something different from what I might mean by freedom. And no I don't think the "the state is and always has been the greatest threat to liberty that exists" - disease, wild animals, other humans and lack of mobility created a much less "free" anarchic world.

Trooper Thompson

'I can't see the difference between a proper democratic constitution and what you call "a republic"'

You must try, reason! You must try. It means that you cannot take my rights away, no matter if everyone else agrees with you. Democracy says you can, but my inalienable rights, that precede your state say you can't.

'I also don't see how rights precede a government'

Then read the constitution we are talking about - it says that they come from God.

Understand, that's the basis. That's the presupposition, the starting point, the given that we have these rights, how best to safeguard them?

To the rest of what you say, of wild beasts and savages, I'll paraphrase you Thomas Paine: Society is a blessing, but the state is at best only a necessary evil.

Cleanthes

"other humans "

Quite. The answer to that is NOT the *state*, but the rule of law, specifically, the process by which individuals agree to certains rules of conduct. This is the key reason that right libertarians agree that court system is a necessary component of a minimal state.

As for the rest of your post there, I disagree. It is vital that the state recognises that the right to life, the right to enjoy property, free speech, etc etc - the basic minimum liberties - are NOT in the gift of the state. They precede the state and the state may not interfere with them.

Earlier:
"what makes you think rent seeking doesn't happen with a minimal government? (Hint: Where does the word rent come from?)"

I don't. But when the rent seekers have to seek rent from individuals they have to do much more work and have to coerce/boondoggle a much larger number of individuals.

When the government controls a huge sum of money, the target is both bigger and less resistant to rent seeking - it has to set up systems to manage the redistribution which always will be gamed.

reason

"Then read the constitution we are talking about - it says that they come from God."

Just because some 18th Century zealots said such things, doesn't make them so. Besides, I don't believe in God.

"It is vital that the state recognises that the right to life, the right to enjoy property, free speech, etc etc - the basic minimum liberties - are NOT in the gift of the state. They precede the state and the state may not interfere with them."

It is vital to whom? And even if the state recognises such a fiction, it still doesn't make it so. Those rights only exist BECAUSE they are recognised (and ultimately enforced). Sure that can be part of the constitution, but because people are fallible is is darn silly not to have some process to change the constitution. (And what exactly does the right to "enjoy" property mean exactly? There will always be limits on what I can do with my property, and property rights DO come from the state. If you don't think that then make a journey back to what it was like to be a hunter gatherer. Your property is "yours" only because other people recognise it as such.)

reason

Cleanes...
ever heard the expression "the law is an ass". Ever thought about it?

reason

To make myself clearer, I think we have a fundamental disagreement here. "A Republic" as defined by trooper seems to be a special case of a theocracy. That is once set in stone, the holy law can't be changed. I am fundamentally opposed to that idea, laws are made by people. One of the laws that people make, is basic law. It should be much harder to change than other law, but there should within the basic law be a process for changing the basic law. The rest follows, you need a concensus for the how the society will work, that is both dynamic, responsive to public opinion and widely accepted. What it chooses to decide is not for us now to decide for all posterity. That is just arrogance.

dearieme

trooper, I presume that you are discussing The Constitution as in that scrap of paper, Cnot the onstitution as enforced by the Supreme Court?

Trooper Thompson

Reason,

"A Republic" as defined by trooper seems to be a special case of a theocracy. That is once set in stone, the holy law can't be changed"

Bollocks. I already said above the constitution can be amended.

You say theocracy, because you cannot grasp the natural law tradition that the constitution comes from. It doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not. IT'S IRRELEVANT! I already told you, it's the starting point.

reason

I can grasp the natural law tradition, its just that it is rubbish.

reason

And if it can be changed, then I return to my original point. Your "republic" is just a primitive form of democracy with an elected king.

Trooper Thompson

"I can grasp the natural law tradition, its just that it is rubbish."

Well, that's that settled. I bow to your monumental intellect, to see so much further than the paltry likes of Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine, Washington etc. Also, I think you're suffering from a dose of 'never mind if it works in practice, does it work in theory?' and I guess you're not a critical rationalist, eh mister Reason?

In any case, my only reason for entering this debate was to point out to you that the United States is not a democracy but a constitutional republic, and to tell you that there is a fundamental difference between these things.

reason

"the United States is not a democracy but a constitutional republic, and to tell you that there is a fundamental difference between these things."

You haven't convinced me.

reason

From Wikipedia...
(Under Critics of natural rights)

Wallace advocates a social contract, much like Hobbes and Locke, but does not base it on natural rights:

We are all at a table together, deciding which rules to adopt, free from any vague constraints, half-remembered myths, anonymous patriarchal texts and murky concepts of nature. If I propose something you do not like, tell me why it is not practical, or harms somebody, or is counter to some other useful rule; but don't tell me it offends the universe.

Jeremy Bentham, a utilitarian philosopher, famously stated:

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts.

reason

By the way name dropping is not an argument. Plenty of great minds have been mistaken.

reason

"Also, I think you're suffering from a dose of 'never mind if it works in practice, does it work in theory?'"

But that is just the issue, I don't think it works well in practice. The US is on average very badly governed.

Trooper Thompson

"You haven't convinced me"

Indeed. As you've said above, you are "a passionate democrat" - in other words, your attachment is not rational, and rational argument won't shift it (despite your moniker). You don't believe in God, or natural rights, yet you believe in democracy and a big table which we all sit around... you ask me to explain natural rights to you, sure, ONCE YOU'VE SHOWN ME THIS F***ING TABLE OF YOURS!

Interesting you bring Bentham and utilitarianism into it, which was mentioned in another debate at DK:

http://devilskitchen.me.uk/2007/10/ah-monarchy-bone-of-contention-for-many.html

"There were two critically important changes in the philosophy and ideology of classical liberalism which both exemplified and contributed to its decay as a vital, progressive, and radical force in the Western world. The first, and most important, occurring in the early to mid-nineteenth century, was the abandonment of the philosophy of natural rights, and its replacement by technocratic utilitarianism. Instead of liberty grounded on the imperative morality of each individual's right to person and property, that is, instead of liberty being sought primarily on the basis of right and justice, utilitarianism preferred liberty as generally the best way to achieve a vaguely defined general welfare or common good. There were two grave consequences of this shift from natural rights to utilitarianism. First, the purity of the goal, the consistency of the principle, was inevitably shattered. For whereas the natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves militantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only values liberty as an ad hoc expedient."

This is quoted from:

http://www.mises.org/rothbard/newliberty01.asp

"By the way name dropping is not an argument. Plenty of great minds have been mistaken"

And plenty of not so great minds!

Your Wallace quote:

"If I propose something you do not like, tell me why it is not practical, or harms somebody, or is counter to some other useful rule; but don't tell me it offends the universe"

This is exactly what you have done, with response to natural rights. You don't like it because it offends your rational universe, and you don't see that reason cannot be used to establish itself, a rationalist begins with a leap of faith, that there is value in reason. Which is why Popper calls himself a 'critical rationalist'

"But that is just the issue, I don't think it works well in practice. The US is on average very badly governed."

Great. So, your response to George Bush... "Let's tear up the Constitution! That's the real problem"

reason

No, George Bush is a symptom not the cause.

reason

"For whereas the natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves militantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only values liberty as an ad hoc expedient."

Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Remember the monkey trap. Value rigidity. By the way the lie in the above statement is the words "only as ad hoc expedient". It should read "as one value among many".

Alex

"Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch; freedom is a well-armed sheep contesting the results of this decision"; Benjamin Franklin.

"America is a republic dedicated to the proposition that the ideal citizen is a sheep with a loaded gun"; Harrowell.

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