That was Douglas Adams’s description of Sunday afternoons. It won’t make a lot of sense to anyone under 25, because they live in the time of the Internet but, as xkcd points out today, before the internet instead of enjoying peaceful, meditative calm people were just frequently bored.
In the UK there was another problem. Before 1994 there were severe restrictions on shop opening times. That there should be any government regulation of business opening hours is grotesque, Methodist bullying. The weird post-apocalyptic feeling of deserted streets and shuttered shops gave Sundays a unique and bleak, lifeless desolation.
I remember the passage of the shop hours reform legislation. It would lead to appalling exploitation of workers, Labour screamed. People would be chained to supermarket checkouts, unable to have any family life.
Instead, we have some extra employment, some extra flexibility in when we choose to work and when we choose to go shopping. Nobody is complaining about the loss of empty Sunday. In fact, any move to abolish Sunday opening now would be met with incredulity and anger from the general population.
This shows up two things, I think. Firstly, that Labour politics are founded on a belief that people, humans, are intrinsically and unalterably evil and need to be shepherded by an elite to prevent them from mercilessly exploiting others. This is similar to the Christian view of the Fallen nature of humanity, and it comes from the religious as well as the political traditions so even Labour atheists can believe themselves to be one of a Fabian elite.
The second thing it shows is that this view is wrong. The terrible exploitation of vulnerable workers hasn’t happened, we’ve just had more opportunity for employees and for consumers. Labour restrictions in the name of our own good just restrict, they don’t do any good and they do a great deal of harm, suffocating the people they’re designed to help.
Of course, this paternalistic view is present in Conservatives too. But that’s more obvious, we expect Tory Conservatives to treat the mass of humanity with contempt. Labour likes to think it is different. If anything, it is worse. At least Tories are content to leave people alone in their hovels, and not go in after them and badger them about their diets, weight and recreational habits.
Britain’s ruling class has decayed not just to the point where Mr. Cameron is considered a man of exceptional talent, but to where its first priority is protecting its percentage on Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that in the 21st century what matters are banks, not tanks.
The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.
I want the UK out of the European Union. It’s a kleptocratic, anti-democratic distillation of everything that’s worst about its individual member states. I’d cheerfully see Europe as a free trade zone with free movement of people and capital, but not at the cost of democracy, and not as a vast bureaucracy specialising in technocratic overreach and corruption.
But I’m not prepared to support, vote for, or defend against groups like Hope not Hate a party whose leader defends casual public racism. Fuck UKIP.
That is all.
UPDATE: Chris Dillow is right, this is part of a pattern of ‘asymmetric libertarianism‘: “people want freedom for themselves whilst seeking to deny it to others”.
That’s the headline, anyway. And the piece starts out as though that’s a reasonable description of what’s happened:
When Bosnia abandoned communism about two decades ago, officials devised a plan that wouldn’t mean mass layoffs for state workers. It was supposed to be a smooth transition after the 1992-1995 war that left 100,000 dead and devastated the country’s infrastructure.
But it has been a disaster for people like Munevera Drugovac, a 58-year-old widow, who works for a company that was bought by a businessman in 2004. She hasn’t been paid in 19 months.
“Back then, I didn’t have electricity and heating because of the war,” she said. “Now, I don’t have it because of unpaid bills.”
More than 80 percent of privatizations have failed, becoming a core reason behind Bosnia’s worst unrest since the end of the war. Many well-connected tycoons have swept into these companies, stripping them of their assets, declaring bankruptcy and leaving thousands without jobs or with minimal pay.
So that’s privatisation, is it? The problem here is the selling of state-run interests to the private sector, is it?
No. That’s not the problem:
The Bosniak-Croat Federation is further divided in 10 cantons, each with a similar set of institutions, meaning that nearly 4 million people are governed by more than 150 ministries on four different levels of government – an expensive and ineffective system that scares off foreign investors and is preventing the country from joining the European Union.
The monthly salaries of parliamentarians are the highest in the region — up to 3,500 euros ($4,750.55) — while average salaries don’t exceed 350 euros.
Corruption is widespread and high taxes for the country’s bloated public sector eat away at residents’ paychecks. Privatizations have decimated the middle class and sent the working class into poverty.
Some observers believe widespread corruption has been allowed to flourish, benefiting an elite group with political connections.
“They have penetrated the state, turning the government itself into a facade,” said Denisa Kostovicova, an associate professor of global politics at the London School of Economics. “What now appears as a dysfunctional state is in actual fact a very functional system that distributes the privileges, but only to the networked.”
The problem is a still over-powerful state, cumbersome bureaucracy and the habits of communism.
But glance at the headline and you’d think it was the opposite.
UPDATE: Tim points out the same sort of corruption happens here, largely among the Labour Party and Union movement.
Apparently, the consequence of leaving a corrupt, inefficient and incompetent, over-bearing bureaucracy might be a significant increase in wealth – or more accurately, a significant decrease in wealth-destruction:
The average Dutch household could be better off by over £8,000 a year and national income will grow by over £1 trillion if the Netherlands leaves the euro and the EU, according to a new study.
The study by the respected British Capital Economics research consultancy into “Nexit” – as a potential exit by the Netherlands has been termed – finds significant benefits over the next two decades if the country swaps its EU membership for a status similar to Switzerland or Norway.
Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.
This gets bandied about a lot by many on the tax-hard left, so there’s a dull inevitability about the fact that the Clement Attlee Foundation is a registered charity and, as they point out:
… if you’re a UK taxpayer GiftAid increases the value to us of your donation by 28p in every £1 at no cost to you.
That is, the UK tax man loses the income tax you paid on the money earned and donated.
It continues. I’ve added emphasis to parts of the following quote which is, I think, from the same 1920 Attlee book as the first:
In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.
Attlee had a point. But he had a very different welfare state in mind than the one we’re facing now. His intention was for a safety net for people fallen temporarily (“at some period in their lives”) on hard times in a “civilised community” of “self-reliant individuals”.
UKIP would be happy with that. It’s not what the people who quote Attlee today have in mind. They seem to leave this bit out when picking their citations.
The Attlee Foundation does seem to be a good thing, though:
Our past projects include:
Housing for teenagers in London’s East End, similar to today’s foyer projects, and a halfway those leaving the housing
Opening a community centre and day care for drug users at a time when there was no government funded support for drug users. This was funded initially by the Leverhulme Trust and later a London borough. This project led to development of a drug-free hostel for the next stage of rehabilitation which became the first of many Phoenix Houses across the UK.
Providing eye camps in India and funding for an Indian doctor to study at Moorfields, in association with the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind.
Developing an adventure playground in the heart of London’s East End. After many years of successful operation we redeveloped the site to add the youth and community centre and sports pitches.
Attlee Means Business is an exciting project to develop entrepreneurial skills in young people in Tower Hamlets with support from City businesses. A programme of support over six workshops covering business basics and planning will be provided by City business volunteers with inspirational talks from successful business people and entrepreneurs. This project is funded jointly by City businesses and London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Cold? Loveless? And even if you have paid all your taxes gladly, is it a bad thing to want to do more?
Attlee can’t have thought so. The Foundation was established before his death, to carry on his work. By then, more than 40 years after he wrote his famous sentence, he had, presumably, changed his mind.
This isn’t a historical problem. Democide, the mass murder of citizens by their own government, has continued into the twenty-first century. Democide relies on the transformation of people with political, national or ethnic differences into distorted boogymen whose imaginary evil provides – is the only thing that could provide – the necessary degree of justification required for the commission of righteous atrocities.
So this matters. This sort of inaccurate caricaturing of political opponents should be challenged wherever it’s seen. Most people are trying to do their best. Few greens or socialists want everyone shackled to human-drawn ploughs in agrarian communes (though after sufficient demonisation of the bourgeoisie that has happened); few conservatives or libertarians want to step over poor sick people in the street. Dehumanising people just because you disagree with them is dangerous and destructive.
And that is what both of the above tweets were doing.
Take the first. Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) founded the cross-party Centre for Social Justice in 2004 (current Chairman, Labour’s David Blunkett). He is passionate about the problems of Britain’s socially disadvantaged. Whether you agree with his policies is one thing, but the suggestion he would ever wish to destroy the welfare state is grotesque. Michael Gove, influenced by his own difficult start in life, is passionate about improving the educational chances of the poor. Again, you might disagree with his policies, but to suggest he wants to destroy the educational system – wants to destroy it – is a bizarre distortion of reality.
But what of people who did want to destroy welfare and education? Why, rounding them up, smashing their spectacles and making them do menial agricultural work could be a form of justice.
As for the second tweet, it turns out that Republican voters in the USA, a group that includes some people with strongly libertarian tendencies, give more of their time and money to charitable causes than do Democrat voters. It might be that some Objectivists associate weakness with altruism, but there aren’t many of those about, and Rand loathed libertarianism, holding it in contempt. Libertarians actually believe in self-ownership and in the principle that one should never initiate violence. All else stems from those principles. They can get a bit silly, and their isolationism is unattractive, to me, but they are not sociopaths.
Sociopaths, of course, are dangerous. We shouldn’t allow them unrestricted freedom. Maybe we could re-educate them in special camps?
Incidentally, there’s a context to that second tweet. Note the reference to Atheism Plus. This is a newish group that wants to combine atheism with far-left student politics. It has emerged from the extremely funny contemporary sceptical movement that grew up around Richard Dawkins, James Randi, PZ Myers and others – funny because the one thing you absolutely can’t be, if you want to be a part of it, is sceptical. There are a set of ideas that many of its most vocal figures are stridently adamant must be held. Indeed, Atheism Plus is a reaction to the fact that some atheists and sceptics disagree with some of the strident folks’ political opinions. More on this in another post but, for now, enjoy the spectacle of a sceptical movement splintering because some of its members are sceptical and the others don’t like that.
Back to the demonisation. Have you noticed that this relies on collectivism? Individuals don’t get demonised, it would be exhausting to single enough individual people out to wind up with a decent-sized massacre. Instead it’s Tories, Commies, Moslems, Christians, Jews, Catholics, brown people, white people, men, women – always groups. Always Jews too, but that’s another story.
Individualism – originally a synonym for Liberalism – is being attacked in both those tweets. Both IDS and Gove are driven by determination not to treat people as members of a disposable group, not to accept that there’s a natural underclass that will always need to be supported by the rest of society.
They don’t want an affluent, powerful public sector managing the throwing of money at permanent failure, glowing with the warmth of the bloated self-esteem that comes from – or perhaps leads to – imagining anyone who disagrees with what you’re doing is simply evil, that they can’t have a reasoned and possibly reasonable political position.
Atheism Plus says of itself (link above):
Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community.
The bigotries mentioned all depend on collectivisation. If people are treated simply as individuals without group membership, by the state, then no such discrimination can be possible. Instead, Atheism Plus, though at an early stage, seems to be from the political wing that is most obsessive about group membership, some even on a par with racial separatists.
Bigotry comes from these divisions, it isn’t solved by them. Bigotry was on display in the tweets I started with. The civilised approach to differences of opinion is to debate them, not to attack, unjustly, inaccurately, people who hold different views.
I know there are different views about the role of government. I generally vote conservative because I see in your party the closest match to my own, which is of a government that holds the ring in which private citizens conduct their business. I feel the government should maintain law and order and national defence, uphold contracts and agreements and provide a safety net welfare state.
The recent coalition proposal that ISPs retain all electronic communications that pass through their networks is, quite simple, a proposal to abolish the private citizen entirely.
It is profoundly illiberal (in the original and correct sense) and extraordinary coming from a party that, in opposition, fought against the Labour Party’s more predictable addiction to general precautionary surveillance.
It seems to me proof that we are actually governed by a semi-hereditary class of authoritarian civil servants who ‘capture’ new administrations, whatever their best intentions might have been in opposition.
Let me ease back into this, after a break of several months, with an easy one.
Norm asks: Why is one inequality different? The context is a piece contrasting the strides towards greater racial and gender equality in the USA with the widening economic stratification that has accompanied it.
Here’s the answer: one inequality is not different. Equality means ‘of opportunity’ – and this is precisely what is meant by greater racial and gender equality: equality of opportunity.
Differing economic outcomes are not a measure of equality. In fact, differing economic outcomes are an inevitable consequence of equality of opportunity.
The apparent paradox is no more than a conjuring trick with words. In the chalk corner we have equality. In the cheese corner we have redistribution of wealth. They aren’t the same thing at all and never will be, however much you try to redefine the meanings of words for the purpose of political rhetoric.
This is an interesting interview with Thomas Pogge (viaNorm Geras). He is concerned about global inequality and, while I don’t instinctively agree with his (redistributive) remedies, reading the piece made me aware how much room for agreement there can be across apparent political divides if an instinctive rejection of the other’s view can be suppressed.
Take this, for example:
… dictatorial regimes often manage to keep themselves in power because they are recognized by foreigners as representing the state and its people, and therefore as entitled to sell the country’s natural resources and to borrow money in its people’s name. These privileges conferred by foreigners keep autocrats in power despite the fact that they were not elected and do not rule in the interest of the population.
If we offer a prize, so to speak, to anyone who manages to bring a country under his physical control – namely, that they can then sell the country’s resources and borrow in its name – then it’s not surprising that generals or guerrilla movements will want to compete for this prize. But that the prize is there is really not the fault of the insiders. It is the fault of the dominant states and of the system of international law they maintain. They create this disturbing fact that, if only you manage to bring a national territory under your physical control, then you will be recognized worldwide as its legitimate government: entitled to sell its people’s natural resources, to borrow and sign treaties in their name, and entitled also to import the weapons you need to keep yourself in power.
It goes much further than this, as the Arab Spring demonstrated. A policy of maintaining regional ‘stability’ led to large grants of money being made in ‘aid’ to tyrannical regimes. The scare quotes are because I don’t think the Middle East has been particularly stable and I don’t think aid is a very good word for the giving of financial support to tyrants.
… the massive corruption common in so many developing countries would be quite impossible if Western countries did not provide convenient opportunities to ship ill-gotten funds out of the country. It wouldn’t make much sense for a ruler to store in his basement large quantities of stolen cash in his own country’s currency. A corrupt ruler wants to be able to keep this money safe and to be able to spend it. And for this, he needs to convert it into a Western currency and store it in a bank abroad, where it can also earn investment returns and be bequeathed to his heirs. Global Financial Integrity estimates that less-developed countries have lost at least $342 billion per annum in this way during the 2000 to 2008 period.
The (right) libertarian-inclined writer P J O’Rourke commented that when politicians regulate commerce, the first things that get bought and sold are the politicians. Pogge puts it like this:
Our Supreme Court has even lifted this practice of buying legislation to the level of a constitutional principle by repeatedly protecting corporate spending for and against political candidates, as well as promises and threats of such spending to bribe and blackmail such candidates, by appeal to the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. I think that many citizens understand how our system works, or rather, fails to work, for structural reasons. But who has the capacity and the incentives to bring change? The banks and other corporations love the system because it allows them to buy legislation that serves their own interests even at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. Incumbent politicians love the system because it allows them to raise millions of dollars toward defending their seats. And the politicians, of course, get to appoint the judges who decide whether our constitutional protection of free speech also protects a bank’s purchase of legislation.
There isn’t much room between those two positions. But then Pogge goes on:
… the lack of a realistic political reform path leads to apathy and the kind of mindless frustration that manifests itself in the Tea Party-style hatred of any and all government.
I haven’t studied the Tea Party movement in any detail but from what I’ve seen it is far from mindless. What it is, rather, is unsophisticated, blue collar, not always very well-informed, and sometimes inarticulate. But Pogge falls into the trap, I think, of regarding them, instinctively, as enemies because he imagines them in the trenches on the far side of No Man’s Land. In fact, to some extent – not all – they are his natural allies.
It’s a very long interview and I’ve made this point well enough, I hope, not to need to give further examples. What strikes me above all is that if, instead of fighting on the grounds of principles – egalitarianism, religious conservatism, libertarianism and so on – where we disagree, people tried to find common ground in what they can agree are serious problems and then examine reality to agree what pragmatic steps might alleviate these problems, then we’d be able to advance liberalism far more effectively. Today, there is no effective, organised Liberal movement. Liberal values are scattered across the political landscape and, because they are scattered, they have few means of effective expression. Between the gaps, the illiberal, the corrupt and the self-serving can advance and profit.
We can argue about whether we should redistribute more; I think not because we’ve done lots of that I don’t think it has worked either domestically or internationally. We can argue about whether we should be striving for greater domestic and international economic freedom, free markets, free trade – which I do think have worked in practice. But wouldn’t it be better to be arguing about those thing having solved the problems, identified above, about which there can be widespread liberal consensus?