Tag: libertarianism

The End

I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks, and I expected to write quite a lot here in that time.
The reason I didn’t is that my political thinking has pretty much come to a conclusion. I don’t like it at all, but it’s a conclusion for all that.

When Adam Smith was writing, there were many theories, public and private, about what a business ought to do. Smith pointed out, [drawing from Darwin and Malthus] (edit, yes I really wrote that, oops), that whatever theory they believed, the businesses that survived would be those which aimed at maximising profit, or those that, by coincidence, behaved as if that was what they aimed at.
The situation in politics is that, while there are many theories about what politicians should do, those politicians will succeed that behave as if their aim is to achieve power at any cost. Perhaps historically many politicians had other aims, and the successful ones were those who happened to act as a pure power-seeker would, but now there is sufficient understanding of what path will gain and hold power that those who consciously diverge from the path least will be those who win.
To be clear, I’m not simply talking about electoral politics here. I’m talking about all politics, in non-democratic systems, in the electoral process, and in the wider and more important politics beyond elections, where power lives in media, civil service, educational, trade union and other centres outside the formal government.
The trivial fact – that power will go to those that want it – is reinforced by the more effective co-operation that pure power-seekers can achieve than ideologues. A large number of power-seekers, although rivals, will co-operate on the basis of exchanges of power. The result is a market in power, and that is the most effective basis for large-scale collective action. Those attempting to achieve specific, different but related aims will find it much more difficult to organise and co-operate on the same scale.

Is it not possible, then, to have significant influence, not by competing directly with politicians but by competing with the media/educational branches of the establishment by promoting ideas? The metacontext, as the folks at Samizdata say. It is indeed possible to influence politics by doing that, and that is what libertarians have done for the last half century or so. But I’m not sure it’s possible to have good influence. Certainly some good things have happened because libertarians have changed the metacontext to the point where the things have appealed to power-seekers. But some bad things have happened that way too. The fact is that while the “background” beliefs of the electorate and other participants in politics does have an effect, there is no reason to assume that correct background beliefs cause better policies than incorrect background beliefs.
One of the most depressing aspects of activism is that on the very few occasions when you get someone onto your side, either by persuading them or just finding them, more often than not they’re still wrong. They’re persuaded by bad arguments rather than good arguments. Activism would appeal to me on the idea that I will win out in the end because my arguments are good, but in fact not only do my good arguments not win against my opponents’ bad arguments, my good arguments do not even win against my allies’ bad arguments. The idea that truth is a secret weapon that is destined to win out once assorted exceptional obstacles have been overcome is an utter fantasy.
As a result, even if you do achieve marginal influence by working for policies or ideas that would be widely beneficial, your success is likely to backfire. The other players in the game are working for the narrow interest of identifiable groups and, as such, are able to mobilise far greater resources. They also are willing to trade with other power seekers, which improves their effectiveness further. The idealist is not able to do that, because the idealist obtains only the particular powers he wants to keep, whereas the politician grabs whatever power he can, even if it is of no use to him, and that which is of no use to him, he trades. The only way to do that is to get whatever power you can, which is my definition of a politician.
It still feels like there is something noble in working for better government, even if the project appears doomed. But there isn’t. After all, most utopians from anarchist to fascist to Marxist are working for better government, but we oppose them because their utopias are unachievable and their attempts to get there are harmful. Your ideas don’t work because they’re flawed, my ideas don’t work because politics is flawed. Hmmm. Why are my ideas better than yours, again?
And that is the final straw. In truth, I have never been an activist. I have neither appetite or aptitude for practical politics, which after all is basically a people business, but I used to believe it was interesting to look in isolation at the question of what those with political power ought to do with it, so as to make the government as good as possible, in a vaguely utilitarian way. What brings my political efforts to an end is the realisation that that is meaningless. A political theory based on the assumption that a government will act in the general interest once it understands how to do so is as useful as a theory based on the assumption that the world is flat and carried by elephants. Politics has given me some entertainment over the years, but not as much as Terry Pratchett has.
If I am going to assume that governments work in the general interest, once they understand how to do it, I might just as well assume that industrialists work in the general interest, in which case all my clever arguments about the value of private property rights for resolving opposing private interests are completely irrelevant.
It’s amusing that of all the posts on this blog, one of the most important turns out to be one that I thought at the time was unimportant: this one, originally driven by my musings on Newcombe’s Paradox.
Almost all significant propositions are, implicitly or explicitly, of the form IF {some hypothetical state of the world} THEN {something will result}. In politics, the hypothetical frequently involves some person making some decision. The proposition therefore needs to take into account whatever is necessary for that person to actually make that decision – and the other effects of those necessary conditions may well be more significant than the stated result.
I came very close to making all the connections back then, even raising the significance of my facetious “if I were Führer” form of putting political propositions. I am not Führer, and never will be, and neither will anyone like me, and all my political logic collapses on that just like any other proof premised on a falsehood.
Where does that leave me? I am no longer a libertarian – I find libertarian arguments just as correct as I always did, but they are of no relevance to the real world. I could continue to comment here on the stupidities that people accept from various politicians, but I would be doing it in the same spirit as if I were judging the team selection of a football club – in full awareness of my own impotence and irrelevance. Maybe I will. It would make more sense to take up something useful, like gardening.
I can also attempt to benefit humanity by encouraging others to detach from politics as I am doing. Someone has to have power, and if you think you can get it and you would be good at it, by all means go for it. If not, then leave well alone. Be one of the ruled, and pursue whatever aims you choose without the illusion that you have the right, the duty or the capability to change the policies of the rulers. Embrace passivism.

Dennis Wheatley

September 8, 2009


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My Leader, Ian PJ, has dug up the “Letter for Posterity” written by popular author Dennis Wheatley in 1947, and tried to claim him as a Libertarian.It will hardly do. Wheatley was at the very least conservative, and I would happily claim him as a reactionary with only slight reservations.In particular, he had no respect for mass democracy. His letter (available in full as an 11-page pdf from the BBC) disposes of it in a couple of paragraphs:… But the voice [of the people] was stilled by the coming of the electro-machine age, as the new inventions enabled the professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote. First came the electric press, enabling a million or more copies of a newspaper to be run off in a single night — and enormously improved arrangements for distribution. Then came the wireless telegraph — which swiftly developed into radio, with a five times a day news service which, by means of a cheap receiving set, could be picked up in every home. And these were followed by the cinematograph which soon became one of the most insidious weapons for political propaganda. The result was that instead of forming their opinions by quiet thought and reasoned discussion, the bulk of the people took them ready made (from so called “informed” sources) …Quite.And before you ask, no, blogging doesn’t help. What led to the centralisation of opinion-forming was not the necessity of centralisation – such as has been attributed to the capital costs of printing and broadcasting – but the possibility of centralisation: the fact that the most immediately attractive ideas could reach everyone at once, unfiltered, and gain credibility from their momentum.(Do not imagine that I wish to reimpose the filters on the flow of ideas: it can’t be done, and it shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to control the opinions of the masses, I want to ignore them.)So, no, Ian, Wheatley would not think all the better of us for being “committed to peaceful change through the ballot box”. He would think we are wasting our time.Unfortunately, his prescriptions are not optimistic, unless you accept his assertion that when we are killed fighting for our freedom against the state, we will be reborn with “a finer, stronger personality” as well as being an example to others. (The problems of being an atheist and a reactionary are a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for a while).Back to Wheatley’s non-libertarianism; if we have any historical model of libertarian government, it is probably Whig Britain at the end of the 19th century. Here’s what Wheatley’s recurring hero the Duke de Richleau says about the classical liberal movement, in a scene set in 1906The main plank in the Liberal platform has for long been Free Trade, and with it they have won the votes of the masses in the towns because, on the face of it, their policy means cheap living. But go a little deeper into the matter and you will find that it has another altogether different aspect. The great strength of the Liberal party lies in the industrial north, and the money to finance industry comes from the rich manufacturers and the old Whig families who have invested their wealth in commerce. They are very shrewd people, and they know that if they can bring the cost of living down they will then be able to force down wages and derive bigger profits from their factories.

“Vendetta in Spain”, Dennis Wheatley, 1957 ISBN 0-09-004660-9 p.153

I mentioned slight reservations about Wheatley’s reaction – simply, he is too soft. In the letter, he defends Kings being answerable to an aristocratic class, and even to the will of the people when that was not short-circuited by mass communication.

Political Passivism

September 5, 2009


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For two years now I have been hanging on the words of Mencius Moldbug, who’s analysis of the politics of our time (Unqualified Reservations) I find almost completely persuasive.

Having advanced a vision of government by for-profit corporations, MM has at last started to lay out the path by which we can get from democracy to responsible, effective, secure government.

His answer so far validates both my high estimate of his understanding, and my pessimism. The logic is completely sound.

The problem with government is politics – the fact that no government can aim primarily at the welfare of the population, or for that matter even at its own profit, when it is constrained most of all by politics to do whatever is necessary to hold off rivals for power.

Anyone who attempts to improve the government, in any aspect, by any method, is committing politics and is therefore part of the problem. MM gives us a steel rule – that in order to become worthy to hold power, the first requirement is “absolute renunciation of official power”.

Will this approach – passivism – work? It doesn’t seem likely. But, it doesn’t seem likely that activism will work either. I’ve said before, long shots are all we’ve got

Passivism appeals to me. I even put forward my own version when I refused to sign a petition calling for Gordon Brown to resign. But I have not completely abandoned activism, albeit in the form of half-hearted engagement with the least effective activist movement imaginable.

Since passivism is the prerequisite to step 1 of the procedure for reaction, and since 9a implies at least a 9b, there may be something I can do to bring about a better government. When I find out, I will consider it here.

Climate and Science

May 9, 2009


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Patrick Crozier writes (a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been distracted) that libertarians should actually talk about the economics of climate change, and that the best defence is rapid economic growth that can only happen through a freer market.

It sounds pretty reasonable. I think, as a practical matter, the association of libertarianism with climate denial is harmful to our public image. We would be better off accepting climate science, and, as Patrick says, dealing with the economics.

The trouble with that, as reasonable as it seems, is that I can’t do it.

At least it solves one thing. I used to worry that my view of the science was being influenced by my politics, that I was hostile to AGW because it was inconvenient to libertarianism, rather than because of its merits. But I find, that if it comes to a choice between libertarianism and climate denial, I’m more convinced of the scientific question than the political one. Libertarianism has bigger problems than Global Warming. (In a word, democracy)

Indeed, and this is yet another point due to Mencius, I would say that in the long run, the closed loop of “official science” is the biggest problem of the managerial state. I was trying to work up to this gradually before I got sidetracked.

Frankly, if I was to rely only on work produced within the last 50 years, I wouldn’t believe in evolution. It’s only the work done before the state took over all science that convinces me (and the fact that it’s simple enough that I can work through it for myself). By the time we finally give up on global warming (in 25 years or so), science will be so utterly discredited that it will be irrelevant – gone the way of theatre, or sittings of the House of Lords – something that is still done because the state funds it, but nobody can quite remember what the original point was.

Right-wing Blogosphere?

April 13, 2009


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We’re told the ultimate cause of the McBride fiasco was that the Labour party feels threatened by the existence of “right-wing” blogs, and is trying to redress the balance.

I don’t really think there is much of an imbalance to correct. The Conservative party has Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie, but that’s about it. The important blogs are the ones that fill gaps left by more prominent outlets. Guido is right-wing, but he isn’t Tory. The effect of a Labour party blog would be negligible compared to, say, www.guardian.co.uk , and the Tory blogs are insignficant compared to www.telegraph.co.uk .

Now it’s true that among political groups unrepresented by the mainstream, Libertarians are much better represented than, say, Marxists or nationalists. Given the tendency of the centre-left to label even Devil’s Kitchen as “Tory”, what looks like a Tory bias is mostly a Libertarian bias.

Why are Libertarians better represented than other non-mainstream groups? One answer is that technologists are disproportionately libertarian, and libertarians are very disproportionately technologists. That has always been true – I came to libertarianism via Usenet, and those people now all have blogs. That is less convincing as a reason than it used to be, as the technological bar to clear to get a blog presence is now negligible, compared to when Samizdata and Instapundit started up. There could still be momentum from that early lead, but I think it’s small.

I think it’s more that they are just closer to the mainstream. Also they have fewer existing organisations – Marxists and nationalists have the SWP and the BNP as long-standing centres to organise around.

Consistent with this, the Liberal Democrats seem to me to be strongly represented in blogs. That is to be expected, as they are mainstream but do not have the resources of the two main parties, particularly in terms of friendly press outlets.

Parallels with the US are confusing. The big difference there is that they do not have nearly as strong a right-wing sector of the mainstream media as Britain has with the Telegraph, Mail, Sun etc. You also don’t see monolithic party machines as we have here – their parties are fragmented geographically, and at the end of the day answerable to Primary elections). So when you look at the US, you see a strong right-wing presence which is very much mainstream Republican. Here we see a strong sort-of-right-wing blogosphere, which consists in fact of dissidents from the Conservative party. At a glance, there seems to be an equivalence.

At the end of the day, the Labour party doesn’t need Labour List, Red Rag or anything like them. Their blog presence will flop not because they’re doing it badly, but because it’s redundant. They have the Guardian and the BBC.


April 9, 2009


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A commenter on my Propertarianism piece asks “isn’t this the moment when Libertarianism is totally proved wrong?” On reflection I think that deserves an answer.

Many libertarians predicted the crash very accurately. Ron Paul and the hardcore Austrians have been totally proved right. I would be pretty smug around now, except that I had thought they were a bit loony on the whole money & credit thing.

To a libertarian, “libertarianism” is the stuff they talk about at length, in their ineffective folk activism. To a non-libertarian, “libertarianism” is whichever bit of that actually gets practised. The difference between the two was largely what my post was about.

Of course, everyone whose policies have failed always claims that they failed because they weren’t carried out thoroughly enough. Russia wasn’t communist enough, James II wasn’t royalist enough, insufficient threats were made against Saddam Hussein, and when the threats failed insufficient military force was used.

For such excuses to have even the possibility of being worthwhile, one has to say not only why the right policies failed, but also why it is that next time they are tried, they will work better.

For what it’s worth, the economy has failed because it wasn’t deregulated enough, because the state wasn’t sufficiently separated from the financial markets, etc. etc. etc. But it’s not worth much, because next time libertarian idealists get into bed with big business interests to attempt to deregulate the economy, exactly the same thing will happen. So, yes, inasmuch as libertarianism means “anti-statists getting into bed with big business interests to attempt to deregulate the economy”, which is pretty much what it does mean to outsiders, it has indeed been proved wrong.

Again, that was my point, which is why I initially didn’t think this response needed to be made. But I might as well repeat myself a little if it makes things clearer.

What I was primarily addressing was that because the only approach that has put libertarians anywhere near political power has failed, and will fail again, other approaches must be considered. Ron Paul got 10% of the Republican Primary vote. Bob Barr got 0.4% in the presidential election. There is a fundamental reason why libertarianism cannot win elections – political parties are built on patronage, and libertarianism is incompatible with patronage. You cannot win a political struggle on a promise to grab power and not use it.

The best that can me done is to make more people (not necessarily a majority) understand that all governments impose bad policies in order to stay in power. That would not solve the problem, but perhaps limit the bad effects in future. It also fits very well into a Marxist or other far-left viewpoint. The left is not much closer to power than are libertarians, but it does have much greater impact on the culture, through its strong position in education and the media. Ideas leak from the left into the mainstream all the time, and this one could too.


There’s been fuss in the US, which I alluded to before, about whether Libertarians should seek some kind of working relationship with “liberals”, meaning the mainstream centre-left.

To me, this article sums up the possibilities there – there’s no possible basis for libertarians to work on the basis of “good things the state does”

Does that mean the libertarian movement should continue as it has been – as a de facto ally and “mad cousin” of the mainstream right wing? Not necessarily.

The fact is, even if most of us fractionally prefer the mainstream centre-right to the mainstream centre-left, that’s hardly defining of our politics. Most of the key aims of libertarians are opposed equally by both halves of the ruling political class.

A lot depends on our aims. If we want to maximise our chance of having some beneficial short-term political effect, at whatever cost in terms of compromise, we have to work directly with mainstream parties. That is the path taken in Britain by the ASI and the IEA. Even then, it is a mistake to assume that any compromise must be with the Conservative party. Apart from anything else, it would strengthen the bargaining position to be able to credibly threaten aligning with Labour.

Either way, the weakness is the one identified by Giles Bowkett (and many others, I’m sure, but I was particularly impressed by the way he put it). There are many marginal changes to policy we would like to make as libertarians. Some of them directly enhance the freedom of ordinary people. Some of them cut down the corruption and waste of government, and beneficially affect almost everyone in a very small way. Some of them improve the bargaining position of consumers in the market. Some of them improve the profitability of businesses.

They are all good policies, but to have an effect, the good people in the ASI and IEA need to recruit heavyweight support to advance some of the policies. Guess which one of the groups of policies I mentioned is the one which has a powerful constituency that can be recruited?

The pro-business policies are good policies, in principle, and are justified by sound theory. Very often they’re good in practice too. Occasionally, because politics is not easy, we screw up, and they turn out to be bad policies (see: PFI). The result, judged not by the state of government policy, but by the advance of the movement, is catastrophic. We are seen as nothing more than a tool of big business. We deny it, and point to all the things we oppose that big business wants – all the protections and subsidies. But our opponents simply say that everything we actually achieve is pro-business, and they’re generally right.

Indeed, it’s worse than that. It’s not only our opponents who see us as automatic allies of business. Libertarians are humans (occasional evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) and a particular malfunction that occurs in humans is that people they cooperate with on a regular basis get labelled as “friends”, and attitudes to what they say and do, and also attitudes to those who criticise what they say and do, are shaped by this labelling.

(Of course, I’m being slightly obtuse calling this a “malfunction” – I have explained here why there’s more to it than that).

What to do? We could split into two movements. One continues to work with the right, and tries to cut bureaucracy, and trade restrictions, and damaging interference in markets. The other tries to work with the left to oppose corporate welfare, and to protect basic freedoms of ordinary people against the police state.

Very little is actually accomplished by any of this. The “big achievement” of the libertarian movement was the economic liberalisation of the 1980s, but I am now of the view that the major reforms were so obviously necessary that they would have happened anyway. The movement to end drug prohibition is growing, but it is growing mostly from centrists gradually falling under the influence of reality, in the same way as reality impinged on economic policy in the 1980s, and if the anti-prohibition movement succeeds it will not be because of us. Our influence on the debate has been very minor.

Is there a way of advancing ideas that’s better than hanging out with a bunch of scumbag MPs? LPUK plans to run its own candidates and get in the public eye that way. It’s worth a try – at least it gives us a chance to put forward a platform which truly represents our views, not one sanitized sufficiently to be tolerable to the Conservative Party.

An aside: the right doesn’t object to its tame libertarians advocating policies that the mainstream would never support – for example, ending the state issue of currency. But it’s hard for a right-oriented libertarian grouping to advocate policies that appear distinctly left-wing.

But if we are to align ourselves effectively, we need to recognise what the key axis of modern politics is. I’ve said my piece on that: the ruling class in our society is not landowners, or merchants – it’s politicians. Most of the worst things coming out of our governments are directly advancing the interests of politicians as against non-politicians.

We are against politicians. So who are our allies on this most important issue?

The only other people who are against politicians are the anarchist left. But we’ve always known about them, enough to be polite, and in any case they’re too insignificant a force in their own right to be even talking about.

Anarchists are few, because anarchism has difficulties. We have people “on our side” who call themselves anarchists, and while we recognise that we want the same benefits of freedom as them, the majority of us advocate, on practical grounds, some kind of minimal state. The anarchist movement also has “near neighbours” who they argue with about practical details. Who are those neighbours? They are the whole of the revolutionary left.

We are not of the revolutionary left because we advocate private property. Is that really the vital issue, compared to being for or against the political class? I claim not. I think that when I am with the revolutionary left I am among people I need to persuade, not people I need to defeat.

I’m not saying that private property isn’t important. It’s utterly necessary. But many things are necessary – politics is really difficult, and one mistake can wreck it. My argument here is that being against the ruling (politician) class and in favour of private property makes us propertarian leftists, not libertarian rightists. We will struggle to work with anti-propertarian leftists, because of our disagreement, but we disagree with conservatives about more central issues, and yet have still managed to work with them from time to time.

One great advantage in working with the revolutionary left is that a lot of them are, at this point in history, genuinely open to new ideas. Anarchism has never had much practical success. Soviet communism ruled a chunk of the world, but has now failed utterly, and most of the left now claim, with varying degrees of honesty, to have opposed it long before its demise. All sorts of concepts are now up for grabs when leftists debate each other openly. Private property generally isn’t one of them, but is that because leftists don’t consider it admissible, or because those who advocate it don’t consider themselves leftists?

This programme is perhaps a non-starter for some libertarians – particularly those for whom private property is a fundamental philosophical principle rather than the most effective basis for efficien
t large-scale cooperation. Good luck to them. I welcome that such people support good policies, but I have no more common basis on which to discuss issues with them than I have with other religious fundamentalists.

The sticking point when it comes to working with the left is not concrete politics, it is the friend/enemy attitude. Here is my programme:

1. Humility. We are aware that the revolutionary left doesn’t have much of a track record of actually improving anything in the last century. But is our record any better? In as much as we separate ourselves from the mainstream, I would say not. (That is to say, mixed-economy capitalism has produced economic growth and better lives for most where it has been employed, but that is not our system, and we cannot claim the credit while at the same time urging radical reform). We have excuses for that, but if we’re going to make them, then in fairness we ought to listen to theirs. On the same note, while the left encompasses some pretty obnoxious sects, such as those that appear to be more in favour of dictatorship for its own sake than anything else, that doesn’t necessarily make the left worse than us, taking into consideration some of our less savoury fellow-travellers. The nature of mainstream politics has been such that the least ideologically pure on each side have been the most prominent outside of their own movement.

2. Ideals. Sure, if we reran the 1983 general election, I would probably vote for Thatcher. But that’s a lesser-of-two-evils judgement, it doesn’t come close to defining my politics. If someone thinks that the creation of a national paramilitary police force outweighed the benefits of denationalising the coal industry, well, maybe they’re right. It’s not the most important question today. (sensible article on the 1980s)

3. Sources. Let’s get into the habit of understanding the leftist arguments. I frequently link here to Chris Dillow. The Weekly Worker is worth looking at.

4. The Welfare State. None of us want to see the poor starve on the streets. The welfare state is not the only way to prevent that, but it is one way. We might have a better way, but we have to show that (a) it would work, and (b) there is sufficient wrong with the current way that we need to do it. We can make that case. That’s not an opening gambit, though, it’s an endgame – an aspiration that we can improve the economy, individual responsibility, initiative and cooperation to the point that we no longer need a coercive central state to be able to feed the poor.

This isn’t original – I’m following groups like Center for a Stateless Society, and I’ve been influenced by commentators like Chris Dillow. The important point is that I’m not revising my actual political views, just reassessing who it is worth talking about these political views with.

AGW and Libertarians

January 12, 2009


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Via DK, a good post at safeism.com :

It’s a source of considerable frustration to me that so many otherwise clear thinking, charming and eriduite chaps, like DK, seem to have it as an article of faith that climate change is all a big con.

I too tend to cringe when I’m with a group of libertarians and anthropogenic global warming is dismissed by the group with a sneer or a chuckle.  Don’t they realize how that makes us look?  Getting over our ideas on economics is difficult enough, particularly in the current environment, without making ourselves look like freaks by standing against such a widely-accepted fact as Global Warming.
As La Bete says, libertarianism doesn’t need to rely on Global Warming being false.  It is perfectly possible to argue in the normal way that state intervention will be ineffective or counterproductive, to argue for mitigation rather than prevention, even.
So in strategic terms — and as Giles Bowkett said, strategy matters — leaving AGW theory alone would be the best bet.  Concentrate our fire elsewhere: on the economy, on civil liberties.
The problem with that is that, even if I want to believe in Global Warming, I still can’t.  The temperature records are made up, the computer models are a joke, the political motivation behind it all is blatant.   I could pretend to go along with it if there was a real chance of advancing the wider movement, but I’d still have my fingers crossed behind my back.
And of course there isn’t a real chance of advancing the wider movement.  We’re fringe and getting more so by the year.  Libertarian activism to me is about keeping the ideas and the lines of communication alive, so if opportunities arise in the unpredictable future, there will at least be something to build on.  Whether it’s a bunch of us reading each others blogs, or LPUK putting up a few candidates, or the ASI proposing limited and arguably counterproductive policies to the mainstream, at least it’s the skeleton of a movement.
Putting it that way sheds a different light on the Global Warming issue.  There’s at least a decent chance that in two or three decades, the warmists will be discredited, and people will be asking “how did we ever get fooled by that stuff?”.   And old man Anomaly will push himself up on his walking stick and say “here’s how, and I knew it all along, and I tried to tell you.  Incidentally, here are quite a few other things that everybody knows which aren’t true.”
Maybe it’s a long shot, but compared to what?  Compared to the LPUK forming a government?  Compared to growing an economically viable society with a high standard of living on offshore platforms?  Compared to an organisation that controls a third of the population deciding by itself that it’s too big and powerful?  Long shots are all we’ve got.

State Education

January 11, 2009


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Having unleashed some nasty bouncers on the libertarian movement, Giles Bowkett follows up with a gentle long hop.

Libertarianism assumes the presence of many cultural conditions that cannot exist without pervasive free education. A Libertarian society would therefore lack the necessary pre-conditions of a Libertarian society.

Let’s accept for the sake of argument that we need people to be educated. That no more requires “pervasive free education” provided by the state, than we need “pervasive free food” to prevent us starving, or “pervasive free petrol” to move around. If something is that important, people will pay for it.

Ah, but private education is expensive – thousands of pounds a year. Yes and no. Because state education is free, private education is mostly aimed at those who aren’t too worried about price. But there are a lot of exceptions. Tens of thousands of children in the UK get private tutoring in addition to their schooling, and I’m aware of a number of cases where one hour a week of tutoring (at a cost of £25 or so) is enough to move a pupil from bottom of class to top of class in one or two subjects.

James Bartholemew claims that in the mid 19th century, before state education was introduced in Britain, “over 95%” of children got 5-7 years of education, mostly at charitable free or low-cost schools. I’d like to see his source for that, but I’ll probably have to buy his book, which I’ve never got round to doing.

(5-7 years isn’t a lot by modern standards, but it’s as much as was needed at that time. We’re a lot richer now, and could pay for more education if it were efficient and beneficial).

Modern education, as I’ve mentioned before, is expensive because it’s based around the idea of looking after the children, all day, every day. That’s for good reason, but not any reason to do with education. If you were trying to make most efficient use of teaching resources, rather than just allowing parents to go to work, six or seven hours a week would be sufficient for children to keep up the same standard as they currently do at school.

Of course, if we were to move to a cheap, efficient market-based education system, we would be left with the problem of what our children were to do all day. I would favour them working, at least from the age of 12 or so, but there are in fact many possibilities. We have a nasty coordination problem at the moment. Because everyone who cares about their children’s safety sends them to school, if they are not there, they are on their own, and at some risk. As long as children are together, doing something with some kind of adults involved, they are at least as safe as they are at today’s state schools.

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