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Saturday, November 14, 2009

New From Old: A Friendly Society

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 11/14/2009 02:59:00 pm

A couple of weeks ago, your humble Devil gave a brief talk to the Adam Smith Institute's Next Generation about ideas for libertarian welfare in general, concentrating on Friendly Societies in particular.

Most speeches that I give are based either on posts that I write at The Kitchen or am planning to write, and a post about Friendly Societies has been brewing for a while—it's just that with my limited time, easier things, such as abusing MPs for being swindling swine, have got in the way.

However, urgings by the folk at the ASI to expand my speech has provided the spur of obligation, and so I have finally sat down to expand on my ten minute waffle. The speech was broadly based in two parts: the first explained what was wrong with the current Welfare State, the second outlined how we might better address the problem.

ON LIBERTARIANISM IN GENERAL

The first thing to be pointed out is that libertarianism is not about leaving people in the street to die. Libertarianism is, first and foremost, a philosophy based on personal liberty—the central crux of which is the non-aggression axiom.

This axiom is very simple—you shall not initiate force or fraud against another person's life, liberty or property.

As such, a libertarian government would not, for instance, stop people setting up a socialist enclave if they so desired—as long as every member of the socialist group was there voluntarily and not co-opted against their will.

(This, incidentally, is a fundamental difference between a libertarian and a socialist polity: you can live as a socialist under a libertarian government; you cannot live as a libertarian under a socialist government.)

Generally speaking, libertarians recognise collectivism, when voluntary, as being A Good Thing; libertarians welcome people working together, as they can often achieve things that individuals cannot. However—and this is worth repeating ad nauseam—the stress must be on the voluntary aspect of this collectivism.

THE PROBLEMS WITH STATE WELFARE

This is the first hurdle at which the state's welfare provision falls down—it is compulsory, not voluntary. Sure, you can make voluntary, private provision for your own welfare—you can take out insurance (or assurance) to provide for the same things as NICs does: indeed, I have private health and unemployment insurance as well as a private pension—but you cannot opt out of paying for the state's provision. Even if you do not wish to rely on the state's provision, you must still pay your NICs.

The second problem is that there is no National Insurance Fund: it is a colossal Ponzi Scheme—that is, older investors are paid out from the income stream provided by newer investors. Bernie Madoff was imprisoned for running a Ponzi scheme worth some £40 billion over 40 years—the government is projected to take £110 billion in this one year.

The third problem is that welfare is not based purely on those things that NICs is supposed to cover—health, pensions and unemployment insurance. With NICs, there is at least some idea that what you pay in is, in some way, related to what you get out. No, the real problem is with the raft of Benefits—Child Benefit, Housing Benefit, etc.—which are not based on any insurance or assurance principle.

As such, these benefits create a sense of entitlement—that these things come to people as "their rights". Few people on benefits consider that these benefits are stolen from people who have to work hard and then have their pockets picked; instead, benefits-claimants seem to think—much as MPs appear to—that this is "magic money" that just falls from the sky. It is not.

Not only does this state of affairs enable people to see it as "their right" to live on benefits if they so desire, it also (perhaps unwittingly) leads them to look upon the state as their protector—their father-figure. For those of us who would implore people to realise that the state is not inherently a benign and superior being, this attitude is a severe problem.

But it has lead to a fourth and very disturbing trend—that the agents of the state now see themselves as a paternalistic figure, with a duty (and the right) to force people into a way of living that state agents deem to be the correct one.

There are over sixty million people in this country, all with their own priorities and desires. There means that there are over sixty million ways to live and it is immoral, and impractical, for the state to demand that everyone live in one way.

But the fact that people might have different ideas on how to live their lives does not concern our politicians; men have always sought dominion over others and only those who actively seek that power go into Parliament in the first place.

The difference between the present day and the situation 150 years ago is that now the politicians have our money—and they fully intend to blackmail and bully us into living as they dictate.

You shall not smoke!—it cost the NHS money.

You shall not drink!—it costs the state money.

You shall not become fat!—it costs the state money.

As I said, the agents of the state seem—or at least pretend—to believe that all money belongs to the state, and the state's position of father in many people's eyes lead others to assume the same.

For those of us who value our liberty, it is this tendency which is the most dangerous aspect of the Welfare State—and its tentacles can, and do, invade every aspect of our lives. And what the money aspect does not justify, the wars—on drugs, on Benefit Fraud, on "terror"—take care of.

As such, the abolition of the Welfare State is not an incidental consideration to any libertarian government—it is absolutely crucial.

WHY PRIVATE CHARITY IS NOT THE ANSWER

But what do you replace it with? Far too many libertarians tend to wave their hand and invoke "private charity", but would this really be enough? Sure, 150 years ago, private charity was central to society—the seven great hospitals of London, for instance, were all built and maintained with private charity and we are infinitely richer now than people were then.

But my contention is that people have got out of the habit of giving voluntarily: bankers (the industrialists of our age) blow colossal sums of money on houses, swimming pools and dolly-birds without a thought to their fellow man—philanthropists concerned with the day-today living of ordinary people are somewhat rare today.

This is because of the corrosive effect of the Welfare State. As I have said before, when we see a homeless person in the street, we do not think "there is a fellow human in pain: how can I help?"; instead, we think "why hasn't the government sorted that out yet?"

And it is this attitude—not the "individualism" that many blame—that has led to our "broken society".

Given this, it is obvious that private charity simply will not cater for the welfare of millions of people. No, private charity simply will not cut it—not, at least, as anything more than a backstop.

And, given that we live in the culture that we live in, I have always maintained that any libertarian government would need to allow for a transition period—a period that could last for decades.

Given this—and the humanitarian and PR problems (if nothing else) of having people starving on the street—any libertarian government would have to put in place a welfare system of some sort.

This welfare system should not rely on private charity, needs to encourage voluntary collectivism (for assurance purposes) but also to help to bring communities together; it needs to have anti-fraud measures built in and should, ideally, encourage self-reliance.

Further, although there is likely to be some reliance on established insurance companies, anyone who has dealt with these unpleasant collections of shysters will blanche at the thought of leaving all provision to them.

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO WELFARE PROVISION

And this is where we turn to the concept of Friendly Societies.

On the day that I gave the talk to the ASI, Charles Moore mentioned Friendly Societies in his generally sensible list of what is missing from our modern Britain.
As well as gaining much, we have also lost. Honour, manufacturing, oratory, worship, friendly societies, organised temperance, provincial pride, fair play, low taxes, reading and writing, public order, good trains and public clocks which kept the time—just a few of the things which our own age could improve if it bothered to admire the past rather more and itself rather less.

Friendly Societies were voluntary co-operatives, usually based locally, which at one point covered about half of the country—but they were growing swiftly. Their potential was, alas, effectively killed by the National Insurance Act of 1911 and the onset of state welfare provision—for the compulsory contributions, obviously, crowded out the voluntary contributions to the Friendly Societies.

As insurance-assurance co-operatives, Friendly Societies fulfill our desire for voluntary collectivism. As local societies, they also help to provide some cohesion to communities; many Friendly Societies provided a social function as well as an economic one.

Most societies allowed their members to choose their level of pay-in; how much was paid out was determined by numerous factors, but criteria usually included how much you had paid in, how long you had been a member and your actual need.

This last is important, for our current Welfare State is not based on need—it is based on an inhuman, box-ticking system. Learn how to play the system and you can get more than a living wage; but this system is not based on need. (The one time that I have been starving, I was unable to get any help because I was employed as a company director—the fact that the company had almost no money to pay me was irrelevant.)

As such, Friendly Societies address the issue of self-reliance too; you are responsible for ensuring that you pay in and, should you fall on hard times, your pay-out is related to what you paid in.

Friendly Societies also address the issue of fraud. People are far less likely to steal from those whom they know personally; further, knowing you personally, those people will also be able to check whether you are, in fact, stealing from them. And this applies, of course, not only to benefit claimants but also to those running the Society.

Being based on social ideals might also shape the nature of Friendly Societies. In 2008, for instance, the FSA authorised Principle Insurance—the first shari'a-compliant insurance firm.

Friendly Societies would, of course, also provide competition for the big insurance companies, thus helping to guard against a leap from state dependence to corporatism. Or, of course, Friendly Societies might choose to re-insure their deposits with the said companies.

As such, Friendly Societies would provide an assurance-insurance framework that the vast majority of people could access; where they did not currently exist, commercial insurance companies would fill in the gaps.

Obviously, Friendly Societies would not pay out to those who have not paid in—thus destroying the culture of a lifetime spent on benefits. The pay-outs would be on strict terms, thus ensuring—unless all members voted so—that there would not be a culture of subsidising lifestyles, e.g. paying people who unable to support children to have babies left, right and centre. (The benefit that this aspect alone would have in society in general is huge.)

As such, private charity* would be the welfare option solely for those who have no other option at all—a welfare scope that I believe private charities could easily deal with.

And, crucially, the state is removed from the welfare system entirely.

HOW MIGHT A LIBERTARIAN STATE ENCOURAGE FRIENDLY SOCIETIES?

As is the case with so many solutions, the framework for Friendly Societies has been largely destroyed. As such, a libertarian state might look at ways in which Friendly Societies might be encouraged.

Removing much of the red tape—and other barriers to entry—involved in setting up such financial institutions would be an excellent start. A low barrier to entry would also ensure, if a Friendly Society became too big and corporate (and more like commercial insurance companies), that others could spring up to provide an alternative, to provide competition.

Other initial measures might include tax breaks (although a libertarian government would cut taxes hugely in any case) and, perhaps, fund matching for swift set-ups. That is, if Friendly Societies formed during the first term of a libertarian government, the state would match whatever monies they managed to secure in, say, the first six months.

Obviously, if anyone with more legal, insurance or economic knowledge than this humble amateur has any good ideas, then do feel free to contribute your ideas.

This has been something of a broad-brush presentation, but I do believe that Friendly Societies do show us the way to a welfare provision that is not state-controlled and, thus, does not allow the state to control us.

* A CLARIFICATION (inspired by Rumbold's comment): by private charity, I do not only mean actual charitable organisations—I mean friends and family too. This must be the first port of call for those who are disabled and unable to work, for instance. The number of disabled people who are truly unable to work at all is very small—I know a bloke who lost both arms below the elbow and both legs above the knee from frostbite, and yet he has a job (he can use the stumps to type on a computer, and he uses prosthetics to walk to work. Oh, and climb mountains).

I took part in a debate on Accessibility and Entrepreneurship at the Information Technologists Livery Company a few weeks ago, and there were a number of profoundly disabled people there who, being unable to find jobs, had started their own companies. In all but a tiny number of cases, being disabled does not mean being unable to work.

(This is an expansion of a talk that I gave to the Adam Smith Institute on Tuesday, 3rd November 2009.)

UPDATE: linked from the ASI Blog and reproduced in the Events Archive.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 11/14/2009 02:59:00 pm


54 Blogger Comments:

Anonymous Rumbold said...

This has got promise, and I agree with the spirit, but I feel it is a bit simplistic. I would prefer a taxpayer-funded welfare net for the truly weakest in society (the disabled, people fleeing domestic violence, etc.), with the Friendly Societies and private charity making up the rest. The taxpayer-funded element would be relatively small (certainly compared to today), and would ensure that those who needed help but couldn't get it got it.

11/14/2009 06:41:00 pm  
Blogger mister_choos said...

An excellent idea.

I think with the welfare state dismantled and tax levels vastly reduced, then charitable giving and philanthropic acts will increase hugely.

Perhaps all the champagne socialists will take the lead and donate the money that they would no longer pay in tax. fucking likely I would think. Except of course those that manage to avoid alot of tax whilst expecting the rest of us to pay tax until our eyes bleed, and still want us to pay £100+ to watch the pretentious twat live. (Yes Bono, I'm talking to you, you hypocritical bogtrotting dangleberry.)

11/14/2009 06:48:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Rumbold,

I'm afraid I disagree, because of the reasons above.

Also, and I obviously need to reiterate this, the state is spectacularly bad at determining who is in need—at ascertaining who "the truly weakest in society" are—which is why benefits are sprayed around with such wild abandon whilst people like myself are left to starve.

Those who truly cannot fend for themselves must rely on private charity—by which I mean not only charitable organisations, but their families and friends.

DK

11/14/2009 06:54:00 pm  
Blogger Tenure said...

DK,

Though I am for Laissez-Faire Capitalism - for the separation of State and Economics in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of State and Church - I am always somewhat perplexed by where you think your right to liberty comes from. You talk of the axiom of non-initiation-of-force, but where does *that* come from. To those on the Left (and, these days, on the Right as well), the idea that one has a right to liberty is far from obvious, and it certainly is not as simple as saying "don't tread on me".

Could you give an indication of where your libertarianism sprouts from?

11/14/2009 07:10:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Tenure,

That is a subject for a whole post, but the essential point about libertarianism is that it rests only on negative rights, i.e. no one has to make any effort in order for me to be left alone.

This is something that is empirically true.

The stuff about non-aggression has two roots: first, that every human society that I can think of has adopted this idea (within its own community) and it is thus a natural instinct for such a society.

The second is that it is, at root, "do as you would be done by". I could go around punching people, but they would then come and punch me.

DK

11/14/2009 07:38:00 pm  
Anonymous bella gerens said...

Tenure,

This paper illustrates quite well, though possibly tangentially, where the 'right' to liberty comes from: non-action is both simpler and more justifiable than intervention.

"In the first place, it is one thing to say, with Confucius, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others” and quite another to say, “What you want done to yourself, do to others” (or as many of us were taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). For although both are reciprocal, the first rule merely requires restraint, while the second requires intervention. That is, the first says that if John doesn’t want Joe to hit him, then John must refrain from hitting Joe, while the second says that if John wants Joe to feed him, then John must feed Joe."

11/14/2009 07:52:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Self insurance is the route. Suprisingly it means forcing people to save.

The reason goes back to freedom. The freedom to do something or the freedom not to do something. The later wins.

My freedom to be free from having my money taken and given to someone else trumps the right not to make a provision for bad times.

So, if everyone is forced to save to the extent that they are taken out of any safety net, then that is a reasonable compromise. It actually has other side effects that are beneficial.

If you have to self insure, then its hard to take advantage of the system. You have to harm yourself first before you get help.

Nick

11/14/2009 08:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Rumbold said...

DK:

The state is inefficient at allocating money, but that doesn't mean it cannot be made more efficient. At the moment a significant number of people have access to a significant number of benefits. Reduce those and you would get a more efficient service. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would increase the chances of people who need it really getting help, as the people dealing with claims would be more specialist.

You also mentioned the anti-charity effect that the welfare state has. I agree, but that implies that if the welfare net is removed the weakest will suffer, as there isn't a giving mentality, as it will take years for one to be developed again.

So why not try this? Keep the welfare net for the weakest, and if, ten years later, private charity is flourishing, it can be rolled back a bit more. If not, it is still needed. I'm a libertarian, and I have no problem with my tax money being used to help the weakest.

11/14/2009 08:46:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Rumbold,

"You also mentioned the anti-charity effect that the welfare state has. I agree, but that implies that if the welfare net is removed the weakest will suffer, as there isn't a giving mentality, as it will take years for one to be developed again."

Yes, this is true. However, I believe that there is enough giving for small numbers of people to be catered for, especially when you factor in friends, family and a far higher take-home pay.

"So why not try this? Keep the welfare net for the weakest, and if, ten years later, private charity is flourishing, it can be rolled back a bit more. If not, it is still needed."

The trouble is that private charity for this sector won't flourish if the state is still dealing with it.

The state will handle this area, and then it will expand, and then we will be in exactly the same position as we are currently.

Plus, people will game the system in order to ensure that they fall under the state's purview and the chance of free cash with no strings attached.

"I'm a libertarian, and I have no problem with my tax money being used to help the weakest."

You may be, but let's suppose that I am not—you do not have the right to impose your values on me. Are you prepared to let me opt out?

If you are, then your "tax" is voluntary and thus private charity: if you will not let me opt out, then you are imposing your will on me by force.

Which ain't very libertarian...*

DK

* Please note that I am not saying "I am considerably more libertarian than yeeeeow" 'cos that attitude pisses me right off. All I am pointing out is that I am suggesting a libertarian solution, which you are rejecting in favour of a coercive solution.

11/14/2009 08:58:00 pm  
Anonymous the a&e charge nurse said...

In his statement, he said: "I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges.
"I didn't know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him.

This claim simply doesn't ring true.......

Clarke finds a dangerous weapon yet decides to keep it at home overnight - why?

Next morning he phones the Super, and says what?
Perhaps Clarke said something like, 'I've got a sawn-off shotgun in a tesco bag, Adrian, luv, I'll pop down to the nick as soon as I've finished me crumpets?'

Or did he simply book a mysterious appointment with CS Harper without ever giving any hint about the dangerous nature of his mission?

11/14/2009 09:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Rumbold said...

DK:

(In response to your updated post)

Many disabled people can work. But it doesn't mean that they also don't need support (the cost of which may be out of their means). For example, I have a friend who is both mentally and physically disabled. He works part time (all he can handle), but in an unskilled job that would never pay enough for him to get the support he needs. His parents aren't particularly well-off. Now he would probably just be able to survive with the help of family and friends, but what about all those who lack his support networks?

The trouble is that private charity for this sector won't flourish if the state is still dealing with it.

The state will handle this area, and then it will expand, and then we will be in exactly the same position as we are currently


For your first point, fair enough. And I know that the state expands, it never contracts (voluntarily). But that is what the government (not this one mind) is for- to stop it expanding. If we have any state it will try and expand.

You may be, but let's suppose that I am not—you do not have the right to impose your values on me. Are you prepared to let me opt out?

If you are, then your "tax" is voluntary and thus private charity: if you will not let me opt out, then you are imposing your will on me by force.


Hmm... this is a difficult one. Would you let me opt out of paying taxes for the military if I declared I relinquished any right to defence if a foreign power invaded?

Am I imposing (or trying to impose) my values on you? I suppose that I am, since I wouldn't make it a voluntary tax. Does that make me a hypocrite, since I object to paying tax to fund things like festivals? I don't know.

For me, the reason we have a state is two-fold. Law/order/defence, and to protect the weakest. Yes, people's definitions of each will differ, but I think that in these two areas that state does need to bridge the gap between what should happen and what would happen. Plenty of disabled people do enjoy the support of family and friends, and would be okay if they received no state funding. But plenty more would not.

11/14/2009 09:42:00 pm  
Blogger Tenure said...

DK,

"This is something that is empirically true."

I agree that the fact that man needs freedom to survive is in a empirical fact. However, it is something I find noticeably absent in your writing, and so I wonder why you don't mention it more.


"The stuff about non-aggression has two roots: first, that every human society that I can think of has adopted this idea (within its own community) and it is thus a natural instinct for such a society."

I asked for a justification, but this is not a good justification. Some would argue that communitarianism is a more evident instinct. Others, myself included, would reject the whole notion of what *has* been done by men or what might be "instinctive" is any justification at all. I would also be very wary of the idea that non-aggression, as a *principle* has been long adopted. As a pragmatic, short term way of forming alliances with other men against a larger enemy, it certainly has been adopted - but this has often come at the expense of more insidious compromises over one's liberty; the establishment of a principle of freedom has been hard won over the centuries.
However, it seems this is more of an off-shoot of the pragmatism in your second root:

"The second is that it is, at root, "do as you would be done by". I could go around punching people, but they would then come and punch me."

This is a better justification. You are saying that, because it is, in fact, better for one's own well-being to avoid face-punching, one should set up a general rule against face-punching. To give a more charitable reading of the first root, I'll assume you didn't merely mean that non-aggression is good simply because it's been an often adopted principle, but because it has actually been *effective*. Combining this with the second root then, we see that it is simply *good* to establish as a principle the non-initiation of force, whereby each man must work and live for himself, without forcing others, because it is best for his survival.

But how do you justify that to someone? Why ought men to pursue their own, *individual* survival? It is engrained in our culture, much deeper than this supposed instinct for liberty, that men must care others. He must, when thinking of society and the rules that ought to govern it, think of society as an organism, towards which he is just an organ. Even if he spouts words about liberty, it is with the idea that this is best for "society* - because the weakest are best off in a libertarian society - not primarily because he himself gets to live for his own sake. He considers that far too selfish.

Again, I don't disagree that liberty is of utmost importance. I fear, however, that unless you offer something stronger than an intuitive/instinct yearning for freedom, most men may easily shrug you off, stating that they do not intuit as you do. They will also ask why a man's desire for his own freedom from others, trumps a moral duty towards others.
I will read this manifesto you have provided me, and see if it contains good answers. Thank you.

11/14/2009 09:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The state is making ever greater inroads into our earned income under the banner of "child poverty". That is the battering ram they use, because none of us could stomach the prospect of little ones plunged into absolute poverty. So all the layabout has to do, is keep getting pregnant. We all know of course, that the resultant children do grow up in poverty anyway, they were only ever a key to the benefit system, a meal ticket.

How would Friendly Societies deal with this problem? Ultimately, we would end up deciding that any new baby born to a family without a breadwinner, gets adopted. Whether the parents like it or not.

Monty

11/15/2009 12:22:00 am  
Blogger Nick said...

No benefits so a child is no longer a meal ticket.

This is an area where charities would have to step in. I've no problem there.

Nick

11/15/2009 12:57:00 am  
Blogger Tyson said...

Rumbold

"Many disabled people can work. But it doesn't mean that they also don't need support (the cost of which may be out of their means). For example, I have a friend who is both mentally and physically disabled. He works part time (all he can handle), but in an unskilled job that would never pay enough for him to get the support he needs. His parents aren't particularly well-off. Now he would probably just be able to survive with the help of family and friends, but what about all those who lack his support networks?"

Very well put. Under the crackpot idea of private charity, it seems I would be left to beg on the streets. Isn't that what we're supposed to be avoiding? Just another reason why I pray and hope that we never get a "libertarian" society.

11/15/2009 08:37:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

How is a libertarian society to come into existence? Given that an undoubted majority want the welfare state and the NHS to continue, how can a libertarian state be a democracy? If most people want to restoration of taxes to pay for a welfare state and vote for politicians to implement it, how are the libertarians in that society to respond? Even if it written into the constitution that there should be no welfare state funded by taxation, every constitution defines a mechanism by which it can be altered. Given that the total dissolution of the welfare state is likely to be supported by a pretty small minority of the population, how are the libertarians to stop the constitution being altered.

And of course, all these questions apply with even greater force when setting up the libertarian society. The vast majority is clearly comfortable with the 'large state'. You can condemn the 'tyranny of the majority' all you like but that is a pretty large practical obstacle to the institution of libertarianism in the UK. And for that reason I think it is as utopian as pure communism and could only take force of arms to create.

11/15/2009 10:59:00 am  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Stephen,

Even before NuLabour, even before Brown's spending splurge, the government was spending way more than it earned: this isn't sustainable.

Whether people like state Welfare, the NHS, etc. there is going to come a time when they realise that it simply isn't sustainable.

The government has already realised that—what do you think that point of all these PFI/PPP projects is: privatisation by the back door.

So, I ask how the state might be remoulded in a libertarian model.

Essays like the above attempt to make people understand that a libertarian society will not leave them on the street to die.

An essay such as the above is also intended to help libertarians articulate why and, most importantly, how people will not end up starving on the street.

Whilst someone like Tyson might consider it a good thing that over 60 million people are enslaved so that he can have a comfortable life, I do not.

Tyson, there are over 120,000 registered charities in this country, dispensing billions of pounds of funds: you might find that you actually have a better life than when left to the tender mercies of the state.

The biggest problem to a libertarian is society's fear of change—but that problem will be sorted out for us over the next couple of decades.

DK

11/15/2009 12:02:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

P.S. Tyson, you can use a computer to leave a comment on this blog: I would imagine that you could actually do a job of work, no?

DK

11/15/2009 12:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Whether people like state Welfare, the NHS, etc. there is going to come a time when they realise that it simply isn't sustainable

Thanks for your comments, Devil.

So you think that economic recession may be the impetus for the libertarian revolution? I am sceptical if only because periods of economic dislocation remind people of how vulnerable they are and their insticts are to demand more regulation and more protection, not less. And I think people will find a lot of things to cut before the basics of the post-war consensus are swept away.

But let us assume that the libertarian society has come into existence. Is it a democracy? Does it have a police force, an army, a navy? How are these things paid for if not by taxation, that by its very nature, must be 'coercive? I've read the writings of some of the anarcho-capitalists on these matters and find their ideas on private law and private law-enforcement to be pretty implausible, to put it mildly. Any society based on their ideas would divided up by warlords in pretty short order.

Does the Libertarian Party's web site go into more detail about the practical matters of how a Libertarian state could operate without income taxation? And if the principle of taxation is admitted for, say, paying for an army, then there is no big matter of principle involved in saying that it should also pay for universal health care, for example. It is then just a matter of pragmatism to say that the state should do some things and not do other things.

11/15/2009 07:53:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

There are some generael principles.

1. No governmetn debt. You aren't allowed to run up debts for future generations.

2. Referenda on decisions (It's cheap)

11/15/2009 07:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Tyson, you can use a computer to leave a comment on this blog: I would imagine that you could actually do a job of work, no?

Not necessarily. A hypothetical disabled person may be well enough to work for say two days a week. But the nature of his condition means that he cannot predict which days those may be. Very few employers will be interested in employing someone on that basis. Perhaps some kinds of piece work might offer a solution - by few jobs will be able to offer that. Such a disabled person is virtually unemployable, unless you use compulsion on the employer to make allowances - and somehow I think that would be anathema to a libertarian!

11/15/2009 08:00:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

No governmetn debt. You aren't allowed to run up debts for future generations

So if the libertarian state is attacked by another nation, how does it defend itself if it may not borrow money?

Referenda on decisions (It's cheap)

I doubt it would be cheap. Thousands of decisions have to be made. How many people have the time to get up to speed on the finer details of trade treaties to know whether a particular one should be ratified? You are going to need a professional civil service to administer government. Athenian direct democracy is going to be a bit cumbersome in a nation of 60 million souls.

11/15/2009 08:09:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Stephen,

The private police are already here...

And why?

Because the "real" police simply aren't doing their jobs.

I used to believe that the state should handle policing: now I am very far from sure that that is the case.

I wonder... Would people in this country willingly pay 10% to the state in order to pay for police and defence? I think that I would.

Tax doesn't have to be taxing. Or coercive...

DK

11/15/2009 08:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I wonder... Would people in this country willingly pay 10% to the state in order to pay for police and defence? I think that I would

The point is, would it be compulsory, and therefore 'coercive'? If it is voluntary then what is stop millions of people opting out, which increases the burden on those who do pay.

Would the police check before they responded to a call for assistance to see if the person has paid the police levy? If so then we have a new layer of bureaucracy and a nascent database state.

I assume that the practicalities would mean that the libertarian state would make it compulsory to contribute to the policing and security of the state. In which case, has not the absolute primacy of property rights already been surrendered? I am not trying to have a go, and God knows I have enough contempt for the way Labour has behaved,. But it just seems to me that libertarian principles are utopian and are not sustainable in the realities of creating a working state.

11/15/2009 10:38:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Stephen,

"The point is, would it be compulsory, and therefore 'coercive'?"

By "willingly", I mean "voluntary".

"If it is voluntary then what is stop millions of people opting out, which increases the burden on those who do pay."

Nothing. But if the state-run police is so very wonderful, I am sure that no one would want to opt out, eh?

Because if it isn't worth, say, 10% of your income, then why on earth should it be right to force them to pay it?

It isn't.

So, how about you volunteer to pay your police tax and, if you don't, then you cannot use the police.

That seems fair to me.

So, voluntary taxes, or private police then.

DK

11/15/2009 10:48:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

It's possible to run a modern society on 10% tax. There are examples round the world.

11/16/2009 12:47:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Nothing. But if the state-run police is so very wonderful, I am sure that no one would want to opt out, eh?

Wanting to save money might be the obvious motive for not paying regardless of the quality of the service.

So, how about you volunteer to pay your police tax and, if you don't, then you cannot use the police

That seems fair to me

The matter of fairness is one thing. A more immediate issue is how would you administer such a system? Identity cards with link to a database that records whether you have paid for police services? Isn't this the sort of statism and bureacracy that libertarians are supposed to be opposed to? And presumably there will have to be multiple private police forces in order to maintain 'competition' and 'choice'. So what is to stop these private police forces becoming effectively private armies?

So, voluntary taxes, or private police then

So what about the 'rule of law', which the Libertarian Party's web site refers to? Will that be a matter of private subscription, as well? The whole point of the rule of law and justice is that it is universal and not purchasable. If it isn't then it is not the rule of law.

11/16/2009 10:16:00 am  
Anonymous Rob H said...

DK, I think this is a really important intervention and one almost completely missing from the MSM.

An idea you might consider for the friendly society funding would be to follow the ideas of the "Swedish" School systems where people who join a Friendly society may withdraw from the requirement to contribute to NI.

As an added bonus this would highlight the cost of state funded welfare and would also provide comparrison of the effectiveness of the different systems at getting people back to work.

Competition on price and quality of service is surely something the state run system would not fear!?

Also, just think of the other services a friendly society could offer - funding/loans for training, one off grants for a myriad of purposes. What about other paying members in work or running businesses advetising jobs with the society first....

Just a few thoughts.

11/16/2009 11:58:00 am  
Blogger Roger Thornhill said...

Defence is pretty close to a natural monopoly. Welfare is not.

It is no good screwing a plate onto a house to say that the armed forces need not defend it should the enemy come rumbling by.

If you follow some scenarios through, courts and police end up being pretty much natural monopolies too, as if there are multiple providers, opposing factions can just keep disagreeing on who is to preside and thus no justice gets done (either an innocent person is remanded indefinitely or is tried in a court that is biased against them - what if there was a Rape Court full of rabid man-haters or one by "bare foot in the kitchen" throwbacks? or favoured by "Hail Spode" Griffin?).

This is not about choice when two opposing parties are directly and inextricably bound together. At some point they meet and go via a single conduit. That conduit has to be as neutral as possible. It is never going to be perfect, for sure.

11/17/2009 07:33:00 am  
Anonymous Rob H said...

Roger T -

The Peelian principles that the police were set up on stated that they were the people. In fact they could do no more than the people could, it was just that they were paid to spend their days that way.

So private security firms could easily collect evidence like witness statements, or arrest people or keep the peace or guard a crime scene ready for the CSI lot to arrive.

The justice system's judges and courts could even be private - the most "just" being the most popular (as long as they were answerable at appeal to a supreme court or the House of Lords).

Are you suggesting that all lawyers or Barristers should be public sector too?

The British Army and UN/NATO has also always hired in militia. That is very basic history O level.

11/17/2009 03:14:00 pm  
OpenID davidncl said...

Further to Rob T's comments...

...and indeed there already exists private law in the form of arbitration and similar services.

There's no reason to assume that, like friendly society, networks of individuals could come together and avow adherence to some code of conduct – or legal system – and that networks of such legal societies band together under perhaps the umbrella of some other organisation – like a state or something. Individuals could claim membership of particularly stringent codes of conduct as a badge of honour – or perhaps choose only to do business with like minded adherents. There's no compulsion in any of this, no forcing people.

Perhaps those individuals or companies most likely to use force, such as those who wish to go armed or Private Defence Agencies would be most keen to sign up to exceptionally well regarded arbitration services.

None of this is meant to say that at core you don't need a minimal state. Just that I can imagine it being very, very minimal.

11/17/2009 04:54:00 pm  
Anonymous David Weber said...

"I know a bloke who lost both arms below the elbow and both legs above the knee from frostbite, and yet he has a job (he can use the stumps to type on a computer, and he uses prosthetics to walk to work. Oh, and climb mountains)."

Out of interest, how much do you think these prosthetic limbs cost?

11/17/2009 05:09:00 pm  
Anonymous tomsmith said...

I see no problem with voluntary militia for defensive purposes. If I lived in an area with a voluntary defensive militia you can bet that I would spend time taking an interest in how they were run and funded. I would most certainly contribute time and money to any such local and voluntary defence, police, fire fighting, ambulance, or whatever service.

Of course when funding is voluntary there is the "free rider" problem to deal with, but this would apply only to limited areas and would to me be preferable to state control. There is no problem with (for example) private police service providers keeping a database of customers because signing up to their service is entirely voluntary. It is no different to a bank keeping a database of customers or a magazine having a list of subscribers.

11/17/2009 05:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice idea in principle, but, many sick people suffer from severe chronic pain in bouts and often this situation gets worse when work of is added.

To make such people dependent on friends and family very quickly ends up in very nasty situations of all sorts.

To some extend this situation exists already, anyone in this situation who has a partner that earns too much is fairly much trapped in this situation, and having to live on someone's charity is not ideal at all. Even now there is also no exit route for vulnerable people (think someone who has problems to live alone for example but who is not totally broken(yet))who end up in abusive situations, unless they want to take their chances with a hostel full of junkies and risk the social services taking care of them.

Such people should have an income that prevents them from being in this situation as there is no way they can ever be independent and safe without it. Because this kind of situation can very quickly descend into slavery -- not all friends and family are nice people.

Other than that, as long as people are in a position to decide their own destiny, your idea is great.

11/18/2009 01:22:00 am  
Blogger Tenure said...

"Nice idea in principle, but, many sick people suffer from severe chronic pain in bouts and often this situation gets worse when work of is added."

How many?

"To some extend this situation exists already, anyone in this situation who has a partner that earns too much is fairly much trapped in this situation, and having to live on someone's charity is not ideal at all."

Tough titties.

"Even now there is also no exit route for vulnerable people (think someone who has problems to live alone for example but who is not totally broken(yet))who end up in abusive situations, unless they want to take their chances with a hostel full of junkies and risk the social services taking care of them."

And these people are legion, are they?

"Such people should have an income that prevents them from being in this situation as there is no way they can ever be independent and safe without it."

Provided by whom? How are they "independent" when they are dependent on this income?

"Because this kind of situation can very quickly descend into slavery -- not all friends and family are nice people."

Yes. And if we force others to give them money via some apparatus of the State, that is not slavery for the "donors" at all, is it?

"Other than that, as long as people are in a position to decide their own destiny, your idea is great."

Almost everyone is. The number of people who have little power to actually improve their lives are very small (though living under a Welfare state for so long distorts that, encouraging this number to greatly grow).

11/18/2009 09:16:00 am  
Anonymous Rob H said...

DavidNCL,

There would still have to be a referal to a Supreme legal authority. One can imagine various examples of the Abrahamic faiths having courts where people were not considered equal under the law in areas like spousal abuse or homosexuality.

11/18/2009 11:16:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

There is no problem with (for example) private police service providers keeping a database of customers because signing up to their service is entirely voluntary

Yeah, right. Voluntary in the same way that the government's ID Card is voluntary. You can 'volunteer' not to have an ID Card if you volunteer not to have a passport and give up the opportunity to travel In your dystopia, it would be voluntary to have an ID Card if you are prepared to give up the right to receive police protection. Libertarians claim to believe in the rule of law but it is clear that quite a few on this thread believe in nothing of the sort.

11/18/2009 01:07:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

There would still have to be a referal to a Supreme legal authority

Quite. Which will have to be operated by the state and funded by taxation. And yes that taxation will be 'coercive', which is rather better than having to tout around a bloody ID Card to prove that you have paid for the protection of the law. Cue: someone bleating 'if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide'.

11/18/2009 01:12:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

But libertarians have no issue with that.

1. Both parties are allowed to agree on other forms of arbitration for disputes.

2. The role of the courts is to protect rights.

For example, you aren't allowed to steal because that damages someone else. That gets enforced. If someone murders you, that gets enforced.

Likewise for defence and the police.

However, there is no need for the government to be involved in welfare, schooling, ....

If you like the socialist ideal, in a libertarian world you can have it. You get together with your mates and live a socialist life. However, you can't force socialism on others, steal their money and pay it to yourself as expenses.

11/18/2009 01:51:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

If you like the socialist ideal, in a libertarian world you can have it. You get together with your mates and live a socialist life. However, you can't force socialism on others, steal their money and pay it to yourself as expenses

And what happens if the people vote for politicians to implement a universal health system and a welfare state?

11/18/2009 03:56:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

And what happens if the people vote for politicians to implement a universal health system and a welfare state?


====================

You mean vote for their money to be taken and given to others?

Part of the problem is that you have an advanced auction on who can thieve the most from others.

The solution is a constitutional one.

1. Balanced books. (Or you are stealing from the next generation)

2. Referenda. Turkeys don't vote to be stuffed.

(It's actually cheap if you have referenda by proxy)

However, its moot. It's already so fucked that you're going to get the worst scenario. Libertarianism with default on past liabilities.

You have 300K of government debt to support

11/18/2009 04:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

You mean vote for their money to be taken and given to others?

Well they do it now. If there were any mass apetite for the kind of libertarian society that is advocated here, a mainstream political party would have adopted it by now.

Balanced books. (Or you are stealing from the next generation

Or investing for them. I guess we are lucky that the Victorians weren't libertarians.

2. Referenda. Turkeys don't vote to be stuffed

That worked in Athens with a few thousand voters. It isn't going to work in a country with 60 million people.

11/18/2009 04:53:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

That worked in Athens with a few thousand voters. It isn't going to work in a country with 60 million people.

----------------

Of course it is if you do it with a referenda by proxy.

This works where someone votes for you on an issue. Either because you trust them to vote on your behalf, and they make the decision, or because you've registered a vote and the act as a true proxy.

All it takes is for you to register your proxy in exactly the same way as you register to vote. You can change your proxy for free once a year. Otherwise is a 5 pound fee. So no difference so far in cost. It's the same as the current system.

Now you could nominate Vince Cable as your proxy. Lets say 450,000 do so. Vince now votes on the bills as he sees fit, and he gets to cast 450,000 votes.

However, you could also have an organistion or MP even that sets a system up with a website. Here you can say, vote yes or no. The MP is obliged to cast his votes in proportion to those on the website. ie. You get a vote, one vote, as does everyone else.

You could even have a clearing set up where you can nominate a default MP, unless you override it. All sorts of possibilties.

Now look at the advantages. MPs have to get all bills past the referenda. If you have an unpopular parliament, they have problems. They won't get much past.

MPs have to revert to being true representatives. Since you can switch allegence mid parliament, people get the government they want.

Now it works lots of ways. I suspect it makes it easy to cut. People would vote for cuts. If you want spending increases, you have to say how much, and what the increase in income tax is.

This is how you can get the old Athens style democracy cheaply into the modern age.

For example, with referenda, we can fuck off the House of Lords and abolish the club

11/18/2009 05:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

This works where someone votes for you on an issue. Either because you trust them to vote on your behalf, and they make the decision, or because you've registered a vote and the act as a true proxy

I wasn't disputing that referendums can be held and that technology could make them relatively cheap to administer. My point was that government is a complex business. Subjecting every one of the thousands of decsions that government has to make to referendum is completely impracticable. So you are going to have to delegate to your proxy to vote on your behalf; and that seems rather similar to the system we have now.

11/18/2009 08:41:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

You've missed the point. Look at how many acts are in the Queen's speech for the year.

What's wrong with the electorate having a say, yes or no on each act?

Nick

11/18/2009 11:48:00 pm  
OpenID davidncl said...

Rob H.

Yes, most likely.

The point is that huge swaths of it can be left to markets to provide solutions.

And that supreme authority might be twelve folk who meet once a year or decade and sort out a few tough cases - refering most of them to a referendum.

That's a long, long way from here.

11/19/2009 03:14:00 am  
Blogger Nick said...

Don't forget too what the proxy votes do. They give a regular report on how well the public think the politicians are doing. For the Lib Dems and the opposition it gives them the chance of a real influence.

For example, you would have Amazon like book scores of who has the most votes. However, you can also see that if they were caught shagging their secretary, or fiddling expenses, they would lose their proxy votes so fast, they would never recover.

It's then down to policy. Can you get a policy into an act and convice the voters?

Somehow I suspect that the electorate would vote no to most things with costs.

ie. If you can't convince them to stump up the cash, you aren't going to get it passed.

Nick

11/19/2009 03:19:00 am  
Anonymous Violet said...

An interesting post.

As a benefits claimant, I do not think the "magic money" falls from the sky. Nor do I believe that my paltry level of income comes from "picking the pockets" of those who work. I think that a society which is arranged in such a way as to benefit certain segments of the population and not others imposes a duty on those who benefit to support those who cannot function within the system that benefits them.

I am disabled. Every time I have gone in to work I have encountered a hostile workplace full of prejudice which has made my illness spectacularly worse. I cannot function, let alone support myself, in a world which demands a 40+ hour working week, a "go getting" attitude, and all that current society requires of us. I did not choose to be mentally ill, and I did not choose to live in a society that thinks I'm worthless if I can't live up to its demands.

Do I have a "right" to a few pennies of your income so I can survive? I could equally ask if you have a right to property to begin with - after all, it requires the protection of laws and the state to defend the private property of those who have it from those who don't. Why should you have more right to the protection of the state than I do?

11/20/2009 11:42:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Nor do I believe that my paltry level of income comes from "picking the pockets" of those who work.

Where do you think it comes from? It comes from trees or the tooth fairy?

The problem is that your right comes at the expense of someone else.

That is not true the other way round.

You could always ask others to help you out.

The problem is you want the state to force others.

11/20/2009 11:49:00 pm  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

Nor do I believe that my paltry level of income comes from "picking the pockets" of those who work."

I'm sorry, Violet, but that is precisely where the money comes from.

""As a benefits claimant, I do not think the "magic money" falls from the sky."

Right, so you don't believe it's magic money, and you don't believe that it's magic money that falls from the sky.

So where do it come from exactly?

"Do I have a "right" to a few pennies of your income so I can survive?"

No, you don't. You do not have the right to steal from another human being.

You can ask, you can cajole, you can argue your case—but you do not have a right to ask the state to steal money from others at the barrel of a gun.

"I could equally ask if you have a right to property to begin with -"

Yes, I do...

"... after all, it requires the protection of laws and the state to defend the private property of those who have it from those who don't."

Um... No, I hold what property I have by right—by exchanging what is mine for these other goods in a voluntary exchange.

What the law is needed for (not, you'll note, the state) is to uphold my right to my property against those who might try to steal it.

If people didn't try to steal things (life (murder), liberty (slavery) or property (theft)), then we wouldn't need the state.

"Why should you have more right to the protection of the state than I do?"

I have no more right to protection than you do. But you aren't asking for protection, are you?

You are asking the state to steal from other people so that you don't have to earn anything for yourself.

DK

11/21/2009 12:00:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

What's wrong with the electorate having a say, yes or no on each act?

I would have thought that a moment's reflection would tell you exactly what's wrong with it. An act may contain some good stuff, some bad stuff, some barking stuff Jeez - why on earth do you think bills go through weeks of committee work?

11/23/2009 10:04:00 am  
Anonymous stephen said...

You are asking the state to steal from other people so that you don't have to earn anything for yourself

Well you don't know what the nature of Violet's disability is, for she doesn't say, so we have no way of knowing what kind of work she can do and whether employers are being prejudiced in their treatment of her. If you want to describe as 'theft' the use of taxation to ensure that unemployable people are not left destitute then that reflects ill on you and libertarianism.

11/23/2009 10:30:00 am  
Blogger Tyson said...

DK
I do work-I don’t want you to think I’m one of these “freeloaders” as I guess you would term them. But, like many, I initially got access through one of the excellent schemes that the state-the one that you hate so much-helps promote. Stephen has already put the case for people who couldn’t work every day and so would fall under your system. I’m not one of them, but I know some who are and worry that me, never mind them would be left on the streets under your wonderful scheme.

There may be 120,000 charities but, as you well know, a lot these are “fake”, small time or very specialised and cater for animals etc. Would any of them support me, provide expensive work equipment? Unlikely. And you certainly couldn’t guarantee it. Another thing is the effect your system would have on the voluntary sector. A lot of people give up valuable time because they can afford to. Something they are unlikely to be able to do under your plan.

I realise these things are low on your priority list. I get it-you want low taxes. Personally I’d happily pay more, but I don’t blame you for dreaming about 10% taxes and private militia. But don’t dress it up and make it sound like a panacea for all of society’s ills.

“The biggest problem to a libertarian is society's fear of change—but that problem will be sorted out for us over the next couple of decades.”

No, that’s what I say about anarchists. Your biggest problem is convincing people that it’s not all about selfishness and “I’m all right, Jack”.

11/24/2009 08:18:00 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Would any of them support me, provide expensive work equipment? Unlikely

Not true.

Consider things like http://hackspace.org.uk/

Here people are getting together to provide environments where people can learn to tinker and build electronics etc. Poeple are donating equipment.

Now if taxes were at the 10% that other developed countries have got down to, then places like this and other charities will be better off.

However, its fucked. 8 trillion of debts means that you have 300K of debts, plus the interest to pay off.

What's your strategy for paying your share?

11/24/2009 10:31:00 pm  

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  • "a more favoured blog from the sensible Right..."—Great Britain...
  • "Devils Kitchen, a right thinking man indeed..."—EU Serf
  • "an excellent blog..."—Rottweiler Puppy
  • "Anyone can cuss. But to curse in an imaginative fashion takes work."—Liftport Staff Blog
  • "The Devil's Kitchen: really very funny political blog."—Ink & Incapability
  • "I've been laffing fit to burst at the unashamed sweariness of the Devil's Kitchen ~ certainly my favourite place recently."—SoupDragon
  • "You can't beat the writing and general I-may-not-know-about-being-polite-but-I-know-what-I-like attitude."—SoupDragon
  • "Best. Fisking. Ever. I'm still laughing."—LC Wes, Imperial Mohel
  • "Art."—Bob
  • "It made me laugh out loud, and laugh so hard—and I don't even get all the references... I hope his politics don't offend you, but he is very funny."—Furious, WoT Forum
  • "DK himself is unashamedly right-wing, vitriolic and foul mouthed, liberally scattering his posts with four-letter-words... Not to be read if you're easily offended, but highly entertaining and very much tongue in cheek..."—Everything Is Electric
  • "This blog is absolutely wasted here and should be on the front page of one of the broadsheets..."—Commenter at The Kitchen
  • "[This Labour government] is the most mendacious, dishonest, endemically corrupt, power-hungry, incompetent, illiberal fucking shower of shits that has ruled this country..."—DK

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