How many do they think they are?

New commenter Laogai has penned an excellent comment which is worthy of greater attention. In one post he deftly identifies an interesting contradiction in the minds of left wing commentators and follows by neatly summing up the libertarian approach to welfare.

Laogai writes:

Charity for the poor can be implemented in at least two ways in a (purist) libertarian society.

The first is that all the left-wing people who believe the poor should be helped may voluntarily club together and pay their benefits. People do care, the existence of left-wingers proves it, and a libertarian society lets people spend their own money as they choose: including altruistically. To the extent that the left believe their views are held in common by a majority, that should be more than sufficient. They do think they’re a majority, don’t they?

The second is what they used to do with ‘friendly societies’ which is for people concerned about destitution to take out an insurance policy against it. You pay in, and thereby pay the benefits for those currently poor, so that if it ever happens to you, you will be helped yourself. A free market in terms and conditions, means testing, and so on will buy you the right level of protection while excluding spongers. Policies with stricter conditions on need would therefore be cheaper.

And to be honest, I suspect most minarchists would count saving the severely disabled and otherwise incapable from starvation on the street to be one of those functions that are justified for a minimal state. Think of it as a part of the common defence. And even if you have nothing else to give society, simple gratitude and respect should be considered ample repayment – as opposed to outright hatred of those who pay the bills for not paying more, which seems to be the standard set today.

But most of all, the aim of a libertarian society is to make all such charity less necessary, by promoting general prosperity through lower taxes, less regulation, less wasteful subsidy, and taking education and training out of the incompetent and unaccountable hands of the bureaucrats. Many seek a free market precisely *because* they care about the poor. A free market is the most efficient way to reduce their number, by creating more wealth to go round.

In a time when the focus of discourse has returned to the affordability of welfare payments, that last point is worth dwelling on. it is common to observe that for any goal 80% of the journey is achieved with 20% of the effort, a rule of thumb that helps managers the world over get stuff done quickly. Rejecting the free market is like trying to solve first 20% of the problem with a whopping 80% of the effort, simply because you think it might be nicer to do it that way. If the left really cared about the poor, they would try to solve their problems as efficiently as possible.

19 Comments

  1. “Left wing” people care?

    Actually all the evidence (for example the studies of the United States)is that it is people who are on “the right” (if this vague term means conservatives and libertarians) who actually give money to the poor. Not just more money – but a much higher percentage of their income.

    To the “left” (if that means people like a Barack Obama) the poor are just CANNON FODDER to be used for political gain – to be used to gain POWER. It was always thus – first example the French Jacabins were not exactly known for their personal compassion for the poor (again the poor were just a reason, an excuse, for their own lust for POWER).

    Barack Obama comes from a comfortably off family (the grandmother paid the private school fees and so on – as although she started off poor she became a bank director) and has had “connections” that have got him into the best universities (he did not get into any of them on merit) and given him (and his wife) well paid nonjobs – whenever he wanted one.

    Yet it never occured to him to give money to help the poor – not till he started to run for President.

    Barack is not the exception – he is the norm on the left. It is leftists who are charitable towards the poor who are the exception.

    A leftist is likely to be like George Soros (giving money to poltical activism – in his search for POWER), not Jon Huntsman senior (a close friend of the “evil right wing monster” Glenn Beck),giving billions upon billions to fight cancer in people who have no money to afford treatment themselves.

    No doubt there are leftists who really do care about the poor – but evidence (the evidence of how they spend their own money) show they are a the minority of leftists.

    By the way – no “minarchist” can be in favour of a the Welfare State. Both because it never STAYS small (once founded the schemes grow like cancers), but also because the word “minarchist” means “minimal state” (non aggression principle only).

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  2. By the way – Hayek, who did favour governmnent schemes for the desperately in need) always made it clear that he was NOT a minarchist – he REJECTED the minimal state (for this reason – and others) in favour of the “limited state”.

    Oddly enough he also said that it was less difficult to define the limited state – even though he never clearly defined it (the Constitution of Liberty is a bit of a mess on the subject – as it is on the moral implications of determinism, which the work gets wrong by 180 degrees).

    Anyway, Hayek did make clear that even a “limited state” (let alone a minimal state) must totally reject the evil concept of “Social Justice”. One volume of “Law Legislation and Liberty” is devoted to this subject (Volume II – The Mirage of Social Justice).

    As did other limited state thinkers – such as M.J. Oakeshott and my late friend Antony Flew (see Oakeshott’s “On Human Conduct” – for example the footnote on page 153 – and see such works of Flew as “Equality in Liberty and Justice”).

    Perhaps the most depressing thing in political philosophy that I have come upon in recent times is the use of the term “social justice” (as a postive term) by a few people who call themselves libertarians.

    Of course, for a limited state person (let alone a minarchist or an anarchocapitalist) “social justice” (the doctrine that all income and wealth rightly belongs to “the people” as a wholee and should be “distributed” according to some, normally egalitarian or semiegalitarian rule) is the great ENEMY.

    It is exactly what libertarianism is AGAINST.

    Hence my despair when I see some self described libertarians using the term “social justice” as if it was a good thing.

    By the way…..

    “Left” did not always mean collectivist (although some leftists always were collectivist).

    For example Bastiat sat on the left hand side of the French National Assembly.

    Right next to the socialists and so on.

    This is because he defined “left” as meaning “in favour of reform” – and he wanted reforms (vast reforms) just in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION from the changes the socialists (and so on) wanted.

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    1. Indeed, I should perhaps have trimmed the middle paragraph. It is however, otherwise good. To be honest, I read Laogai’s “most” as “many” – a slip I hope can be forgiven.

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  3. The middle paragraph is excellent, as is the rest of the post, and I think “most” is fine.

    The treatment of disabled people in a libertarian society raises some interesting issues (I think the minarchist state has a role) yet what rankles in any current debate is the strident hatred and ingratitude provoked by state assistance. I have been having this debate with Sue Marsh and others over on Liberal Conspiracy.

    “The money Sue has been claiming is not her natural right. Because it is not magic money that has fallen down from the sky and that evil people are trying to take from her to make her life more difficult. It is real money that someone else has worked for, and earned, and had taken away from them.

    I hesitate to mention the possibility of gratitude because, of course, the money she demands has not been donated through free will.

    However, a proper and more dignified response to being allocated that money would be to be grateful she was not born in a less affluent country. Instead, she treats it as some kind of inalienable right and demands that her entitlement to it is not scrutinised.”

    That is the problem with all state benefits.

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  4. By DEFINITION a minarchist state does NOT have a welfare role. This is not a matter of debate – any more than 1+1=2 is a matter for debate. Where the debate is about is whether a limited state is better than a minarchist state.

    In spite of my previous comments people are still confusing a “minimal” state (nonaggression principle enforcing ONLY) with a “limited” state (such as the United Kingdom in the late 19th century) where the government does seek a poor relief role (although nothing like the modern Welfare State).

    However, even in desperate circumstances it can be argued that the state does more harm than good.

    For example, the government response to the Irish fammine of the 1840s is often described as “laissez faire” – it was nothing of the kind.

    Government intervention in Ireland was not just over the previous many decades (undermining Irish economic development with the “Penal Laws” of the 1700s and so on), but was extensive in the 1840s themselves.

    Armed men (of the recently formed police force) could be seen riding all over Ireland – collecting taxes (there being no bailiff power in Ireland) – mostly land tax to pay for the (also recently created) Poor Law.

    Even the small plots of land where the potato crop had failed were liable for rates – to be paid by the landlord. So armed men would arrive at the landlord’s house if the taxes were not paid – thus the landlords could not (if they wished to avoid bankruptcy) could not just ignore tenants who had no money (do you see where this goes?).

    In short all of the economy was disrupted NOT just peasant plots where the potato crop had failed.

    And the money that came from these taxes? And from London government grants?

    It went to various projects – such as the “roads to nowhere” (hardly laissez faire) where people were CONCENTRATED together – to work on these (pointless and expensive) “public works”.

    It was the CONCENTRATION of people that allowed SICKNESS to spread with such ease.

    And it was of course, SICKNESS, that was the big killer in Ireland in the 1840s.

    Of course the above does not prove that a limited state is a mistake and that a minimal (minarchist) state is the better option.

    It could be that state intervention in Ireland in the 1840s would have worked better had things be done differently.

    But it does indicate that one should not just ASSUME that a limited state is better than a minarchist state for the poor – even in a desperate situation.

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  5. By DEFINITION a minarchist state does NOT have a welfare role.

    I take your point on this, as I said the treatment of disabled people is a difficult area for libertarians.

    How would you deal with disabled people unable to earn their own living and without family support?

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  6. No idea, mate. Does it matter?

    The question is whether you are happy for the state to have no role whatever in helping the disabled and, as a result, for a quadriplegic, perhaps, to starve to death.

    As could happen.

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    1. The question for those who think the quadriplegic has a right to the lives of others, is how many others’ lives must be re-organised, shortened or made less happy – without consent – for the quadriplegic to get what they need?

      In the past, I’ve heard that tax is justified because charity doesn’t scale, but if the number of unloved orphaned uninsured quadriplegic’s is very small then arguments about non-tax-based solutions being unable to scale can be rejected.

      That said, I would say that politically I would need to be prepared for the unloved orphaned uninsured quadriplegic to starve, but that as an individual I needn’t sit back and watch such a tragedy occurring, for example if I happened to feel some love or simple appreciation for that particular person.

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      1. “Rights” are from “right and wrong” they concern the principle of JUSTICE (to each their own).

        For example, a billonaire has a “right” (in justice – the arch enemy of “social justice” of course) to every Pound he has – even if other people have no money at all. And it is act of justice to hunt down those who rob a billionaire of one Pound (even if they have nothing).

        HOWEVER, the virtue of justice (to each their own) is just one virtue – although a very hard and clear one (like tempered steel).

        There are other virtues – and those who lack them may be “right” (just) but they are not GOOD.

        See the disscussions about “the right” and “the good” had by Harold Prichard, Sir William David Ross (and so on).

        Another virtue is “mercy”, “charity” (compassion – benevolence).

        A billionaire who allows people to starve to death around him has NOT committed an INJUSTICE (he has NOT violated their rights – to “violate” one must aggress against the person or possessions of others).

        HOWEVER he is not a good man – because he has shown a lack of the virtue of CHARITY (of compassion – benevolence).

        Various people have discussed the virtues (for example how to go to an extreme in a virtue can topple over into a vice).

        The discussion (at least in the literature we have) goes back to Aristotle.

        Discussion is carried on both among the Aristotelians – and among the thinkers of the “Common Sense” school (Thomas Reid to James McCosh) and among the “Oxford Realists” (Prichard, Ross and so on) – as well as by such thinkers as Ralph Cudworth (17th century Cambridge man).

        Recent discussion of moral questions includes (of course) the (basically Aristotelian) Randian Objectivists.

        However, the discussion of the virtues by Aristotle himself is well worth reading – although Cicero (and others) refer to much work by Aristotle that we have lost.

        Still BACK TO THE BASIC POINT.

        It is not UNJUST to not be charitable – one has NOT violated the principle of JUSTICE, one has NOT violated anyone’s RIGHTS.

        HOWEVER – there is more than one virtue to being a good man (or good women). There are other virtues.

        As political people (by political people I mean peoiple who are concerned with the proper use of FORCE) we libertarians are very interested in the virtue of Justice. Because that is what FORCE – the defence of RIGHTS is about.

        However, we should never forget that politics does NOT cover everything – and that a person who is just AND NOTHING ELSE, is like a sword blade.

        Cold and hard – just (if they fight for justice), but hardly covering all the virtues.

        Such things as mercy (compassion) are IN THEIR PROPER PLACE not “weakness”.

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  7. I would say that politically I would need to be prepared for the unloved orphaned uninsured quadriplegic to starve, but that as an individual I needn’t sit back and watch such a tragedy occurring, for example if I happened to feel some love or simple appreciation for that particular person.

    I see what you are saying but it doesn’t really help me with the conundrum.

    Surely we can’t let his survival depend on whether or not you know and like him? Does the fact that he is a human being not imply a sufficient level of appreciation that we should have policy arrangements in place to ensure he does not starve?

    You may be correct ideologically, but on a simple level of political credibility, do we not need a practical political stance that reflects our collective humanity? (I used that adjective with malice!!!).

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  8. Ken what I think you are saying is that you prefer a limited state to a minimal state.

    One could still favour a libertarian (defence only) state at a Federal (or Confederal) level – but allow non libertarian things (such as welfare taxes) at State and local level.

    The trouble is that all armed-forces-controlling governments I know of tend to get involved in everything.

    The failure of the United States Constitution to limit (in modern times) the United States Federal government being an infamous example.

    Also (like I think yourself) I am very wary of terms like “our collective humanity”.

    I am the opposite of Rousseau – I do not care a fig for a collective abstraction like “humanity” (nor do I see “true freedom” in total submission to the collective – so that one becomes part of it, and it becames what one is).

    My concern is for flesh and blood individuals (including myself – and I make no apology for that).

    People should be judged by how they treat individuals – not by the wonderful speeches they make about “humanity” as a collective entity.

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    1. I’d be happy – very happy – if the welfare system was run locally. The important thing is that there be volition involved in the process, so failing to contribute should not be a problem federally and should not be an issue for the judiciary unless your local authority says so.

      @Ken in my book “ideologically” means the same as “actually” so I would prefer this was transitory arrangement to ensure there is no disaster before the culture has fully caught on to the ideas.

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  9. @ Paul

    Yes we need to go for a minimal state concept, even if it turns out only to be a stepping stone. I also agree with Simon that a welfare system works much better when local and on a human scale. I want to know which quadriplegic my money is helping and it is much better that he knows that it is the people in his street who are supporting him rather than some faceless bureaucracy. The relationship between the altruistic donor and the beneficiary is, in my view, a virtuous one.

    So,ideally, the support will be provided without coercion but if we’re serious about political change, we need to work out the nuts and bolts of how it will work to ensure that, above all, the support is delivered.

    I know none of us likes it, but that may mean some element of compulsory contribution, at least in the medium term.

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    1. A minmial state (minarchism) is a government that does NOT have a welfare role.

      You may be thinking of a “limited state” – but then one would have to define what this was actually “limited” to.

      Remember all “entitlement” schemes start out TINY – but they grow and grow and grow.

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  10. Problems such as the welfare of the severely disadvantaged cannot be solved through government.

    At the time when social housing programme’s started, they even then didn’t manage to completely solve the homeless problem. The long term repercussion of the housing programme is the same as you would expect with any price controls or interference in the supply/demand of a product or service. Lower production of low cost housing. Add on high building regulations, green belting and a government inflated housing bubble and we have more homeless people then ever before. Once the recession really hits it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. 20, maybe even 30% of the population on the streets?

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  11. My €0.032’ths worth.

    I really like the “spending 80% of the energy to deal with the 20% cos it is nice” line. And almost all Social Democratic countries do this.

    Wanting to APPEAR “nice” is a real problem for mankind, when it actually screws everything up!

    I am a

    now -> Limited -> Maybe: minarchist -> Maybe: anarchist

    person

    and I have the Maybe’s in there because I have not got my own head around how a nation actually gets there, the segues, not that I disagree in principle with the direction. Sometimes it really is a matter of desperate surgery to cut out a tumour. Sometimes it needs chemotherapy. Sometimes amputation, enemas, haircuts or just plain slap in the FACE or a kick up the backside to get 80% of the value from 20% of the effort.

    Ken reminds us of the incredible difficulty facing us by those who have absolutely no restraints on using highly manipulative language and framing exercises, often coupled with spite and venom to keep their hands on the only rice bowl they can envisage. A red mist falls and critical reasoning throw aside in the rush to shout “Blasphemer!”. I do not blame them for a moment. I do not even despise them. I despise those comfortable sorts who use such desperate, infantilised, frightened and now almost utterly dependent people for their own parasitic political gain, conscience-salving.

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