Thursday, February 14, 2008

I keep meaning to quote this...

... and now I shall finally get around to it; this time it's Crippen quoting Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons.
  • ALICE [Exasperated, pointing after RICH] While you talk, he's gone!

  • MORE And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

  • ROPER So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

  • MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

  • ROPER I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

  • MORE [Roused and excited] Oh? [Advances on ROPER] And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? [He leaves him] This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's—and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? [Quietly] Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Never a truer word spoken: the rule of law must apply to everyone, and equality before the law was once one of the central tenets of this country. That no longer applies, of course.

But laws, and especially as applied to property rights as Matthew Sinclair highlights.
Poverty doesn't cause civil wars, a weak defence of property rights does

Facinating paper (PDF) out from the World Bank today. Here's the abstract:
"Abstract The dominant hypothesis in the literature that studies conflict is that poverty is the main cause of civil wars. We instead analyze the effect of institutions on civil war, controlling for income per capita. In our set up, institutions are endogenous and colonial origins affect civil wars through their legacy on institutions. Our results indicate that institutions, proxied by the protection of property rights, rule of law and the efficiency of the legal system, are a fundamental cause of civil war. In particular, an improvement in institutions from the median value in the sample to the 75th percentile is associated with a 38 percentage points’ reduction in the incidence of civil wars. Moreover, once institutions are included as explaining civil wars, income does not have any effect on civil war, either directly or indirectly."

The implications of this are huge and it looks like the researchers have been pretty careful about putting the right controls in place. The case that a robust defence of property rights, and other liberal economic institutions, should be a priority for developing countries has always been strong thanks to the clear connection to economic growth. However, now we have good reason to think that such institutions aren't just the best route to greater prosperity but also independently prevent the tragedy of civil war.

I was talking about the Libertarian Party on the Wolverhampton Politics Show the other night, and one of the councillors in the studio kept badgering me, trying to push me into making a certain admission. Finally he came out with it.
"So do you or do you not believe in the rule of law?"

I assume that the man had got "libertarian" confused with "libertine", an easy mistake to make if you're an ignorant fuckwit.

Libertarianism is, of course, based firmly on the rule of law, and especially property rights; in fact, property rights are absolutely central to libertarianism. One could argue that they are one of the most important bases of the philosophy; you own your body, and your life and your (justly acquired) property. In other words, your body and your life are seen as your property and libertarianism is based on this fact.


Anonymous said...

Funny that, I watched A Man for All Seasons just last week for the first time in years. Stirring stuff.

Did you know that St Thomas More is the patron saint of politicians? I couldn't think of anyone less appropriate, even if I did believe in the sky fairy.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Give the Devil the benefit of the law.

Peter Spence said...

How did you reply to the councillor DK?

Devil's Kitchen said...

I replied essentially as I have above: we are not libertines, but libertarians and naturally we believe in the rule of law. We'd just like to see a lot less of them.