Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Empirecal evidence

In yet another splendid tongue-in-cheek post, The Flying Rodent addresses the issue—raised by Laban Tall at The Sharpener—of why the per capita crime rate is higher now than it was in the 1840s.
Name a random country, and there's a pretty good chance that we've sent an army there to kick fuck out of the locals and make off with their valuables. This meant that a lot of young lads who might otherwise have misspent their youth thieving on the streets of the Gorbals were instead sent out to beat some healthy respect into Johnny Foreigner.

The list of nations with whom the UK has picked fights is truly sensational, encompassing most of the globe, and even the most misty-eyed Imperialist would have to admit that most of these weren't exactly defensive actions.

I, for one, can't remember reading about young Winston dodging assegai during a Zulu assault on London, or deprivations caused by a Chinese blockade of Portsmouth.

This speaks to a seriously high level of aggression in the British character, as our former enemies can attest. Reading about Britain in the 19th century is a little like reading a version of The Lord of the Rings in which Tolkien dresses his orcs in starched uniforms and has them witter about the benefits of civilisation before they burn the Westfold.

Obviously, there is more to it than this (as The Flying Rodent acknowledges) but I think that his point is, actually, a serious one.

People were poor in the 1800s (though getting richer all the time) and one of the ways to get out of the gutter—and avoid the workhouse—was to join the British Army. And our territorial expansion meant that there was an ever-increasing demand for men to fight overseas. Further, the rewards were potentially huge: not only because one wasn't unpicking hemp for a bowl of gruel a night, but because the loot would also be added to your salary. Many soldiers went away destitute and came back very rich men (those who did come back, anyway).

Further, of course, people who had been at the very bottom of the heap in Britain suddenly found themselves part of the ruling class in the colonies. OK, they may not have been at officer level, but they were definitely ranked above the natives. This is, I imagine, one of the reasons why so many British soldiers became ex-pats and effectively settled in the countries in which they had been stationed.

Those people who demand that the young of today "need a good spell in the army to teach 'em some discipline" tend to forget that we simply don't need the kind of forces that we did under the Empire; further, of course, the potential rewards are nowhere near as great.

14 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Very true.

Is "empirecal" the adjective for "empire"?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Nah, that would be imperial: I was just playing around with "empire" and "empirical" for no good reason...

DK

CityUnslicker said...

I still think some sort of discipline training would be good for the majority of our youth.

It seems to have done us public school boys no harm at all!

Oliver McCarthy said...

Yes, of course, what the world needs isn't order -- just more freedom. Yes, that'll help. More freedom leads to less crime. Well of course it does! Why didn't anyone think of that before?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Oliver, I don't quite know what point you are trying to make here but I shall answer the one that I think that you are trying to get at: you have to be incredibly careful whose order you are imposing.

You might feel that your system of order will cause less crime. But then you might think that everyone should be made to be a Catholic Tory, because that is what you are.

But I am an atheist libertarian: what if I don't like the order that you are imposing? What if your method of pursuing happiness is not mine?

You allow people the freedom to do what they want up to the point when they impinge on the freedom of others; then you come down on them like a ton of bricks.

But, ultimately, as City Unslicker points out, discipline is best imposed whilst people are still children; apart from anything else, you are not then constraining the freedom of adults.

In general, your comments here tend to be rather reactionary, a little obscure and come over as being knee-jerk authoritarian. By all means comment, but do try to expand your thinking and engage with the ideas raised.

DK

Martin said...

DK,

If you think McCarthy speaks for all Catholic Tories, you are up a gum tr-very greatly mistaken.

I think you're making a mistake by conflating the 'English' with the 'British' character. There is no such thing as 'British' character. The Scots, Welsh and Irish will, at all times and under all circumstances, behave like Scots, Welsh and Irish.

The level of historic aggression in the English character has been addressed by historians as diverse as Correlli Barnett and Niall Ferguson - to take the sociopathic Clive of India, for example, Barnett lumped him in with Palmerston and Castlereagh as one of his 'men hard of mind and will' who 'lashed out with their feet as well as their fists', while Ferguson recorded Clive's comment that he felt like killing himself when he didn't have someone to fight - and of course, you're quite correct about military service as a route out of poverty; at the moment I'm reading Fred Anderson's 'Crucible of War', about the course of the Seven Years'War in North America (aka the French & Indian War).

It's hellishly confusing at points (are the Chippewas in league with the Oneidas this year? And where did the Micmacs and the Delawares go before everyone retires to winter quarters in Schenectady?), but the crucial distinction Anderson draws between the regulars and the settlers is that the regulars came from a class-based system where obedience was everything and the lower ranks were in it to avoid emigration or indentured servitude as routes oout of poverty, while the settlers were independent tradesmen and smallholders (or their sons) accustomed to making decisions for themselves; and it was in the recognition of that distinction on the settlers' part that 1776 was really born.

Then along came evangelical Anglicanism in the 19th Century. Instead of breeding empire-builders, England decided it would be better to make boys into good chaps who knew their Aeneid, went to chapel, were kind to the natives and who believed that pursuing free trade with the Bujumbonians was the surest route to peace.

As Clive might have said, fuck peace. Give me plunder.

It is not my intention to get your goat up, old friend, but you are just as much a creature of that tradition as you are of your libertarian atheism. However, the abandonment of organised religion since the 1960's has in many ways caused the English to revert back to their original, very violent state. Without the chapel, every housing estate from Carlisle to Cornwall began producing its own wee Robert Clive.

Why are the English so susceptible to libertarianism? Because it appeal to their atavistic, primordial sense of every man for himself. As an ideology it's a load of pish - the society without laws or government has never and never will exist; if anyone thinks it can, look at Somalia.

Sorry to ramble so.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Martin,

Good points all. One issue...

"Why are the English so susceptible to libertarianism? Because it appeal to their atavistic, primordial sense of every man for himself. As an ideology it's a load of pish - the society without laws or government has never and never will exist; if anyone thinks it can, look at Somalia."

I think that it is important to draw a distinction between libertarianism and anarchy. Anarchy is just that.

Libertarianism -- or my brand of it: free-trade minarchist libertarianism, to give it a longer designation -- absolutely requires the rule of law in order to enforce property rights.

The government's prime objective should always be the protection of its citizens -- both from outside forces (invading powers) and from other citizens (criminals).

Defence and criminal justice systems are things that it is probably impossible for individuals to maintain individually or collectively and so we require a state to administer these two things.

As you know, I am willing to admit that this may not be practicable, but I would far prefer it if this were the ideal and that any consideration of whether government intervention were needed came from this end of the political spectrum (or point on the torus).

DK

Martin said...

DK,

I agree that,

"(t)he government's prime objective should always be the protection of its citizens -- both from outside forces (invading powers) and from other citizens (criminals)."

But to do these things you need cops and armies - appurtenances that obviously have to be paid for.

Now, you describe yourself as a 'free-trade minarchist', meaning that presumably you don't believe in tariffs, one of only three means by which non-imperial governments can raise funds. Bonds are relatively pain free in the short term, but have to be repaid - so although it's theoretically possible to have such a system without taxes, it's not really possible.

I think it was Pat Buchanan who questioned why the people should be taxed when the goods come in untaxed when the goods can be taxed and the people can be untaxed. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like sense to me.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"I think it was Pat Buchanan who questioned why the people should be taxed when the goods come in untaxed when the goods can be taxed and the people can be untaxed. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like sense to me."

Yes, you are: goods do not pay tax. Goods don't pay tax; companies don't pay tax. Only individuals pay tax.

If the goods are taxed upon entry, the people of this country pay that tax, so they are effectively taxed anyway. Or is VAT, for example, not a tax?

If you tax the people of another country for selling us their goods... well... they will attempt not to sell us those goods. And that is leaving aside the morality of "no taxation without representation".

My general point is about the level of tax: this year, the state will spend some £600 billion, or about 45% of our GDP.

Defence spending is currently around £30 billion (and we are engaged in wars that would not have been initiated by a libertarian government).

I can't be bothered to look up what we spend on criminal justice, but it is, IIRC, about £10 billion. We'll lump prisons in there too; and the police, why not?

We are still talking about -- what? -- £150 billion? About what income tax alone currently raises, I believe.

DK

P.S. I'll go and find the figures actually...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Total 'Public order and safety' and 'Defence' is 11% of gummint spending = £60bn-ish, according to Tab B4 of this.

As to your spat with Martin, there are some people who just refuse to understand attractions of small-government, free-market libertarianism.

I was extolling the virtues of libertariasm to my two teenage lads (who are age-related lefties) and they said "But that won't help the China".

Martin said...

Mark,

This isn't a spat - it's a discussion.

DK,

You are, of course, correct - only people pay taxes. I have long thought that corporation tax's name should be changed to 'secondary income tax', because that's just what it is.

"If the goods are taxed upon entry, the people of this country pay that tax, so they are effectively taxed anyway."

Not necessarily. The only circumstances in which a tariff could be recoverable from consumers would be if importers were paying the tariff charges on producers' behalf. With the greatest respect to the Kommerzvolk, British business culture now seems so thoroughly bent that such an outcome is not just plausible, but likely.

"Or is VAT, for example, not a tax?"

VAT is European crap.

However, I really must disagree with your contention that,

"If you tax the people of another country for selling us their goods... well... they will attempt not to sell us those goods."

That proceeds on the assumption that -

1. Those goods being sold are those we cannot make ourselves - I've recently finished Hutton & Giddens's 'On the Edge'; interesting to read that 'import substitution' came to life in Malaysia after the banking crisis of 1998. No reason why it shouldn't happen here if the conditios were right e.g. leaving the EU and erecting a tariff wall.
2. The buyers are as desperate to buy as the sellers are as desperate to sell. Can you think of anyone rioting in the streets because British made DVD players are £5.00 more expensive than Chinese made ones?

"And that is leaving aside the morality of "no taxation without representation".

DK, this is enterprise, commerce, business, statecraft - to paraphrase Mae West, morality has nothing to do with it. If the producers don't like it they can, as you say, find other markets.

Martin said...

A quick thought clarifying a badly articulated point in my previous post - there is absolutely no need for tariff costs to be passed on to end consumers.

The tariff is added before the goods enter. It is specifically borne by the producers as a cost of alowing access to the market.

Numbers are illustrative only.

If the import/wholesale price of a a Japanese car is £1,000, and its retail price is £2,000, its retail price would still be £2,000; but instead of getting £1,000 as a wholesale price the manufacturer would get £900 instead of £1,000, still making a handsome profit on the £300 it cost to make.

Now, if the manufacturers elect to make the import price £1,100 to recoup the cost of the tariff, then - they don't get in.

The calculus of power that importing manufacturers must consider in this position is straightforward to the point of being stark - is the Toyota Corporation more powerful than Her Majesty's Government?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Yes Matthew, that is true if there is sufficient domestic capacity to produce similar cars, and assuming that our cars are interchangeable with Toyota cars and so on.

In other words, it could equally be untrue. What about oranges, which we simply can't grow here at low cost?

Martin said...

Mark,

Don't want to sound snippy, but Matthew Kelly is the guy who used to do 'Stars In Their Eyes'.

Oranges? Fine. Citrus producing regions have a comparative advantage in citrus production - climate - that we do not. Therefore, they get in for free.

Foreign potatoes, on the other hand, do not.

"...that is true if there is sufficient domestic capacity to produce similar cars, and assuming that our cars are interchangeable with Toyota cars and so on".

When push comes to shove a car is a car is a car. It serves one function - to get from A to B. I have more faith in the market than those who say we can't do it without capacity - you'll find the capacity, and also the variety, will appear PDQ once the demand is there.