Friday, July 20, 2007

Harding of hearing

The ever reliable Neil Harding has left a comment on my recent Polly diatribe. Although I started to answer it as a comment, it was becoming so long that I thought that I would flag it up as a post. So, to kick off, here's Neil's comment...
Hi DK, dear comrade. Yeah you are right, Polly is spot on once again and I will defend her.

Even in your wonderful US of A, they only give a measly 1.5% of GDP to charity. How on earth are we to fund a decent health service, education etc out of that?

I suppose your answer is; 'lets not bother, the wealthy will be ok and the rest can go hang themselves'.

At the end of the day, this 'small government' idea just doesn't work. Inequality will cost you more as crime soars and society disintegrates. Maybe you guys will be happy living with your tennis courts and swimming pools behind electric fences as we turn into a brutal police state to keep the proles in their place (like they do in Brazil). Personally I think the Scandanavian model of 50% of GDP going to the state and a society at ease with itself is a better option.

If all this wealth accumulated at the top (96% to top 50%) was down to merit, you would have a moral position to defend but you haven't even got that. The market will always distort, people working long hours for less than a living wage, while those at the top pay themselves millions/billions for very little. To you this is all fine and dandy - well I have a message for you - most people disagree and if we had a decent electoral system you lot would have to change your ways significantly to even get a sniff of power. Until that day...I had better keep arguing with you...

(I should acknowledge at this point that, despite my less than polite posts, Neil is always unfailingly cordial in his comments. He's consistently wrong, but he always shows courtesy.)

Anyway, my answer to him?
"Even in your wonderful US of A, they only give a measly 1.5% of GDP to charity. How on earth are we to fund a decent health service, education etc out of that?"

People constantly do this when I discuss reform of the NHS too—the US is not the only fucking option. What I hope we could do is look at every system in the world and build one that is better than all of them. But even were the US model the only other option, you love your Straw Man arguments, don't you?

The US does not fund its health service out of charitable giving. The biggest buyer of health services in the US is the state.

The US does not fund its education system out of charitable giving either.

Whereas we, Neil, hand over nearly 40% of our GDP to our government and we still don't have a decent health service and we still don't have a decent education system. Why the fuck do you think that handing another 10% to the sodding state is going to make any difference?

Why do you continue to ignore illustrations like that of Raw Carrot's town?
The best bit though, is that the two local hospitals were not paid for through taxation - but through patronage, charity and paid contributions from the local community.

In fact, the larger of the two hospitals was founded in 1879. In 1882, a mortuary, ambulance house and other “conveniences” were added. In 1900 a donation of £10,000 was made by a local benefactor. Additional land was acquired, a new operating room erected and fitted with “every modern requirement” and several other improvements were made to the establishment.

A further £10,000 was left to the hospital by another gentleman and was used to found an extension to the hospital, including the installation of “a complete X ray apparatus”.

To give an idea of how wonderful this healthcare provision was, consider that the hospital was built in 1879 when the population of the town was just short of 8,000 [...] Note how, as the population increased so too did the facilities and size of the hospital. One might say the town had a health care system responsive to the needs of the local community.

Today, with a population in excess of 65,000 people we have one “real” in-patient hospital and it’s located about 12 miles away (a 23 minute car journey). It also happens to be a rather shit hospital...

Yes, the technology of healthcare has increased massively and I am unable to comment on whether the quality of the care was any good. But since people had a choice of six hospitals and they seem to have happily used them all, one can assume that it wasn't exactly substandard. In fact, the fact that they would have been competing with each other would have ensured high standards (of the time). And they were mainly funded through charitable donations.

Look at all of these very, very rich people today: why don't they give to charity to the same extent? I pointed out some time ago that it is because the state is expected to do the job instead.
[T]he inequality gap was pretty damn high in the Victorian times too. The difference was that all of the public amenities were provided by the mega-rich. The Welfare State has removed that sense of social responsibility; and not just amongst the rich. It permeates every level and strata of society. Once we abdicated our responsibilities to the state, we also abdicated our responsibility to our fellow humans.

Surely, when the mega-rich decide to give some of their money to charity, you should be applauding them? The charity will certainly spend the money far more efficiently than the state will, as Roger Thornhill points out.
The State is incredibly inefficient with our tax money. A tax £ ends up in the Treasury with the spending power of 30p it is so inefficient and bad at its job.

Charities might not be the most efficient bodies around either, but they can hardly be less so than the state. If you actually cared about the poor, you would wish that the money that goes to help them was spent in the most efficient way.
I suppose your answer is; 'lets not bother, the wealthy will be ok and the rest can go hang themselves' [...] Maybe you guys will be happy living with your tennis courts and swimming pools behind electric fences as we turn into a brutal police state to keep the proles in their place...

When have I ever extolled this idea? For fuck's sake, Neil, you don't have a monopoly on knowing what it's like to be poor. You know that I spent two years essentially slowly starving. You know that I live in fucking Brixton (actually on the border with Streatham), for fuck's sake. Try to put your mindless bigotry back in its box and address the facts, Neil.

Yes, any libertarian society has to be built on strong property rights; they are the foundation of such a society. If you don't have strong property rights, trade is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. If you want an example of this, just look at the majority of the African nations; they aren't still poor and benighted because they were exploited fifty years ago: it is because the lack of decent property rights, and the enforcing of those rights, means that no one wants to do business there. Despite the fact that many African nations have a free trade agreement with the EU and despite the fact that labour is ludicrously cheap, the corruption of their systems means that, for most businesses, it just isn't worth it. And so Africa remains poor.

But OK, let us assume that we aim for something nearer to the Scandinavian model; in fact, let's look at the Swedish paradise so beloved of you and Polly.

Look at their health and education systems; what do you see? You see the fact that they are not run by central diktat. The education system uses a voucher system—which I have long advocated.

Even, the health system is run on a local level and with a great deal of local funding.

The point is that they are locally run and they are (to a great extent) locally funded; as such they are locally responsive. A model further away from our own I can barely conceive of.

And you misunderstand the small state argument completely. Although I would prefer that taxation was lower, what really pisses me off is that our government keeps on pouring billions of pounds of our money into failing fucking systems. Our government (and this has applied to the Tories as well as to Labour) keep on pouring hundreds of billions of pounds into systems that don't even work.

Further, the direct the money in such a way that it encourages social behaviours that we don't desire. We look on single mothers as a bad thing—and all the research suggests that the most healthy environment for children is a standard two parent family. Just to spell it out, this means is that single parent families are worse for the children—yet we pay people to be single mothers.

We understand that people need to work to keep the economy going—we even know that most people actually want to work; very few people enjoy living off the charity of others—and yet we have a benefits system that provides a financial disincentive to get a job. I know that you agree with me on this one, because you (quite rightly) advocate a Citizens' Basic Income.

Our government acknowledges the problems with our system and it trys to change it through legislation or "education programmes". It attempts to discourage all of these undesirable social traits on the one hand, whilst providing fiscal incentives to indulge in this very behaviour with the other.

It is an insane situation. It's absolutely fucking insane.
If all this wealth accumulated at the top (96% to top 50%) was down to merit, you would have a moral position to defend but you haven't even got that. The market will always distort, people working long hours for less than a living wage, while those at the top pay themselves millions/billions for very little.

For fuck's sake, Neil, that is the way that the market works. Yes, some people get very rich and good luck to them. I might feel a slight dash of envy from time to time, but not enough to believe that taxing them more highly wouldn't change their behaviour. I don't believe that taxing people to satisfy my own personal morals is a good thing.

You despise religion as much as I do. How would you feel if a religious government suddenly legislated that we must all go to church on a Sunday? Outraged, I imagine. "Why", you would say, "should these nutjobs force me to comply with their personal (and insane) beliefs?"

Your desire to extort more money from those whom you deem to be undeserving of their wealth is precisely the same principle. You think that they are too rich and you believe that other people are more deserving of the money. The state should not fucking legislate on the basis of personal morals because they are just that—personal morals. And everyone's personal morality is different and so it is actually immoral to legislate on the basis of morality. Can you see that?
To you this is all fine and dandy - well I have a message for you - most people disagree and if we had a decent electoral system you lot would have to change your ways significantly to even get a sniff of power.

Who's "my lot", Neil? You know damn well that I am not a Tory. I am a libertarian and, yes, I do belong to a political party but you know what? If we adopted your precious proportional representation, my lot would actually get some Westminster MPs, which they won't—barring some miracle—under the first-past-the-post system.

And most people disagree? Actually, they don't. As the recent Rowntree Report on inequality [PDF] shows, most people don't actually care. In fact, fewer people care now than they did in the 1996s.
A third of the public (32 per cent) in 2004 agreed that ‘Government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off’. This is much lower than in 1996 (44 per cent), despite the fact that levels of actual income inequality have changed little over that time.

As Tim Worstall so helpfully summarises...
Inequality hasn't changed much and even fewer people care to do something about it.

You know what? You want to help the poor? Well, stop taking their fucking money then. The fact that someone on the minimum wage pays tax is just fucking obscene as well as being insane. Gordon Brown has racheted up the Minimum Wage whilst barely raising the Personal Tax Allowance (and while we are about it, my lot are the only politicos calling for this situation to change), and he has done this so that more people can become clients of the state—because the only way that they can survive is by filling in loads of forms and begging that one-eyed bastard for some of their money back.

It's a fucking disgrace, and your willingness to defend this belies your constant whinges on behalf of "the poor". If you actually gave two fucks about the poor, you would highlight this as an absolute fucking disgrace. But you don't.

Instead, you either mindlessly toe the NuLabour Party line and bash the Tories on the strength of things that they did over a decade ago or you moan about how the rich have too much money. Fuck that, Neil, it's irrelevant: economics is not a zero sum game and that means that when people get very rich the poor do not automatically get poorer. You know this, and yet you continue to peddle your policies of hate whilst strenuously ignoring the actual plight of the poor.

This is why we libertarians hold you in such contempt, Neil; not only because you are unable to construct a decent, logical argument devoid of logical fallacies but because you don't actually give two shits about the poor at all: thus we all view you as being morally and intellectually bankrupt.

12 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

"wereas we, Neil, hand over nearly 40% of our GDP to our government"

Nope.

We hand over 42% and the Goblin King spends 45%, using OECD figures.

Roger Thornhill said...

Don't tell me - 3% borrowed or snuck in via PPP and PFI that people keep saying is nothing to do with not hammering Gordo's Golden Rivet?

Mark said...

Good post DK, keep up the good work, coherent, pithy and devastating to the morons who spout rhetoric

Saltburn subversives said...

Good stuff. Not enough swearing.
You might have seen this already, if not you'll find it interesting

http://www.liberty.li/forum/archive/index.php/t-294.html

Ed said...

I would be interested to know how much (in terms of GDP) the Victorians gave philanthropically - would make an interesting comparison.

I'm with you nearly all the way DK! No one wants to see people starving but the current system is just mad.

dirty dingus said...

ed:

I'm with you nearly all the way DK! No one wants to see people starving but the current system is just mad.


People may have been lacking in education and health care in victorian times but they did not starve for the most part. If you read the debates about the corn laws etc. it is clear that parishes did feed their poor. Admittedly they often did so by means of the workhouse and some workhouses were certainly worth all the scorn Charles Dickens could engender, but there was a mechanism in place and it mostly worked. It is also worth noting that the reputation of the workhouse meant that people had a major incentive not to be idle bums living on welfare.

BTW I found it interesting to compare Polly's diatribe with Boris' torygraph column of the same date.

Katy Newton said...

Poor people are not poor because of rich people.

Charles said...

Ed: I can't give you a figure as a share of GDP, but according to James Batholomew's "The Welfare State We're In", the Victorians gave ten percent of their income to charity (we give less than 1%).

Ed said...

Interesting - and given the rate at which the state wastes the 45% of GDP it spends, 10% probably would buy most of the services "required" by those too poor to pay for them themselves.

guido faux said...

economics is not a zero sum game

Bang on. Your average modern westerner lives a life of comfort beyond the wildest dreams of the Kings of old.

Take a look at Zimbabwe for yet another example of what happens when you forcibly redistribute property/wealth from the rich to the poor. Now everyone is poor (except Mugabe's cronies of course) but everyone is now surely content. Right, Neil?

guido faux said...

Perhaps we can look to evolutionary psychology for an explanation for the attraction of socialism, despite its obvious failures.

Speaking from the male perspective and given that there are a limited number of available females with which to procreate and given the attraction of females to relatively successful males, it may actually make sense to cut down the more successful males rather than improve oneself since the former may take less time and effort.

Note that the strategy still makes sense even if one is materially worse-off as a result, as long as the more successful males are even more so, since they will then be relatively closer to the socialist in terms of wealth and therefore attractiveness to females.

Just a thought.

Gavin Ayling said...

Isn't it a shame that politics isn't like your post? Most politicians never get involved in discussions like that which could allow people to decide to agree with you and your party.