Monday, 17 March 2008

It all follows from one simple principle

Owing to a somewhat tortuous chain of links, Devil's Kitchen replies to this critique of the LPUK on Pootergeek here. For those of you not keeping up, the original point was that there's a disconnect between the fine principle of minarchism espoused by the LPUK and their manifesto promise that the State will stop people coming to Britain.

DK's reply is as follows:
For what it is worth, it is a problem of practicality, rather than a problem of votes. It was Hayek, I think, who made the point that an open borders policy (which would be the free-trade policy) is impossible to meet whilst there is an imbalance in other areas.
In other words, if people want to come here to work, then that is entirely fine. But people also come here because of the level of Welfare; even if they lose their job, then they have a safety net well beyond the level of their home country. To put it in scientific terms, there is an osmotic imbalance.
Of course, once the Welfare State is removed (and you know that I regard the WS, as currently set up, to be counterproductive and, in many cases, downright evil) then we can absolutely open our borders and have free trade in people as we would in goods and capital.
There are two points to make here: First, this is still ducking the fundamental issue. If I as, say, an East Anglian farmer, wish to hire Azerbaijanis to pick my kale and potatoes then that is (as I understand Libertarianism) a mutually beneficial exchange between two free people, and as such sacrosanct. What business is it of the government's? That I may, at some later date, terminate their employment and that they might, under those circumstances, choose to claim unemployment benefit seems a poor reason now to force me to pay higher wages to less eager employees, or to deny these putative Azerbaijanis the right to rent me their life. In other words, this still strikes me as a major departure from the LPUK's founding principles. It's almost as if the need to balance competing interests - or competing rights, in Lib-speak - creates unforeseen complexities and can even lead to some restrictions on the liberty of the individual. Tyranny!

The second point stems from DK's admission that this policy is a matter of practicality - that as matters stand, Libertarianism cannot be thrust upon us wholesale. Indeed. It seems that in order to make political headway, they will have to compromise, water down their principles and make accommodations with the vast number of people who disagree with them. Politics as the art of the possible. All of which would be banal, except that this comes from the mouths of Libertarians, who are ceaseless in their claims that all of politics stems with Euclidean simplicity from one fundamental axiom , that issues are only ever black and white, and that today's politicians' charade of mutual compromises is just evidence of the corruption, incomepetence and general unfitness to rule.

Once again, it seems there's a tradeoff between ideological purity, and getting something done.

4 comments:

Devil's Kitchen said...

Andrew,

Both points taken, although I'd point out a couple of things, from a personal point of view.

The first is that that policy is a temporary one, until we have had time to sort out the Welfare State.

Second, those Azerbaijanis do not rent you their lives, only their labour. There is a difference (whilst you may argue that we are defined by our work, we are not solely defined by it).

Third, there are always restictions on the right of the individual in libertarianism: that is, fundamentally, what separates it philosophically from libertinism.

In this way, let us consider the farmer who wishes to hire, temporarily, cheap Azerbaijanis in order to make a greater profit. Were one to look at things in this way, one could argue that his firing of them actually impinges on the rights of the taxpayers who are then forced to support said Azerbaijanis on the Welfare State and that this is, in fact, an externality which should be factored into the price of hiring the Azerbaijanis. (Indeed, it might be argued that Employer's NI, for instance, might actually pose as this externality cost.)

And no, from a practical point of view, Libertarianism could not be implemented overnight; if we said that we could do so, we'd be lying.

Amongst other things, you'll know, if you read The Kitchen, that I believe that many people in this country have become, effectively, infantilised. Blame whatever you want -- the Welfare State, the media, evil capitalist corporations -- but unless people are aware of the consequences of their actions, they cannot really make a free choice.

Consider our discussions over health insurance. I would prefer that health insurance not be compulsory; however, I am the type of person who would get health insurance (as, indeed, I have) whereas others may not have that forsight and are thus left high and dry when they do get ill. In my opinion, this is a problem that could be sorted out through credit (if you can buy a £4k sofa on interest free credit, then your health must be more important, no?) or through charity.

But, what I am attempting to get across is that libertarianism requires a certain change in mindset from a large minority of the population. As such, our role will be as much to educate as much as anything else, over the ensuing years.

There are also two main types of libertarians (and they are both heavily represented in the party to date): the rights libertarians and the consequentialist libertarians.

The latter (of which I am one) are far more willing to compromise than the former (since what they really want is to see the systems work) but they are libertarians because they believe that those systems will work better if you give people the educational and mental capacity to consider rationally (or as near rationally as possible) the choices put before them.

Where libertarians differ from those who call themselves liberals (I guess) is that we believe only in negative freedoms, not positive. We believe that a man does have the right not to be physically assaulted by someone else, but we do not believe that people have an automatic right to healthcare if they themselves have not made provision, for instance (although we are more than happy if someone voluntarily decides to treat that man through charity).

Libertarianism is very far, however, from being simply black and white, as I am sure that you are aware. There is a massive spectrum of beliefs -- usually based on the same basic tenet: a belief in negative rights and the non-aggression law -- which is why there is that axiom that attempting to get libertarians to agree is like "herding cats."

Any pure philosophy must be tempered by shades of practicality if it is to be made into a workable system. After all, any libertarians other than anarcho-libs believe that there is a necessity for a state of some sort (albeit a very tiny one) and must therefore support limited taxes even though taxes quite clearly break the non-aggression rule.

(However, in this respect, the best possible tax would probably be a Sales Tax on luxury items since people can choose whether to buy those items or not (and so the compulsion element is kept to a minimum).)

To paint libertarians as one homogenous bunch of "black or white" fanatics is as wrong as to declare that all socialists are Communists.

I suppose that, were you to wish to sum up practical libertarianism in one motto, it would be that we want the "maximum possible social and economic liberty", but even that is inadequate, for how does one define "maximum possible".

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

"If I as, say, an East Anglian farmer, wish to hire Azerbaijanis to pick my kale and potatoes then that is (as I understand Libertarianism) a mutually beneficial exchange between two free people, and as such sacrosanct. What business is it of the government's? That I may, at some later date, terminate their employment and that they might, under those circumstances, choose to claim unemployment benefit seems a poor reason now to force me to pay higher wages to less eager employees, or to deny these putative Azerbaijanis the right to rent me their life."

P.S. To counter this (or to clarify my point); the contract between you and the Azerbaijanis is not a free contract between two people because, should that contract be terminated, you are forcing others (becaue the Welfare State is funded through aggression, i.e. involuntary taxes ("involuntary" is poosibly redundant there)) to support those people.

If one were to entirely abolish the Welfare State, then you could invite whomsoever you liked to work for you.

However, I bet that you'd have to pay them quite a lot more, e.g. in severance pay, than you could do in the presence of the Welfare State (where your terminating of the contract has no impact upon yourself).

DK

Tom said...

"I believe that many people in this country have become, effectively, infantilised", says Mr "swear at people you don't like" Kitchen. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, and all that.

Incidentally, just to get this straight (and I really don't think I'm misrepresenting): DK's ideal state is one which will pursue and bring to justice A for assaulting B, but will leave B lying bleeding to death in the road if he doesn't have private health insurance?

Where do I sign up?

Andrew R said...

DK,

There's a lot of interesting points there; as I've noticed that trying to cover everything in one post tends to be unsatisfactory, I'm just going to focus on the point about the external costs of employment just now:

Employment leads to unemployment (i.e. of course employers must be free to fire as well as hire). In fact (as I understand it) economists reckon that a well-functioning economy should have c.4% unemployment as "slack" - allowing companies to downsize in tough times, and reflecting the fact that industries evolve (e.g. the rise of the motor-car put a lot of trained coachmen out of work, temporarily).

You want a points based immigration system as a means of controlling the cost of unemployment, borne by the taxpayer. But this risk applies equally to native workers, who are by no means guaranteed a job. So two questions:

1) Why restrict employers ability to hire only with regard to immigrants, as opposed to all employees?
2) Given that it is in all of our economic interests to have unemployment, why shouldn't the cost of that be borne by all of us?