Video: Poverty Solutions Without Politics – Syed Kamall

Syed Kamall started his talk to Libertarian Home by saying that he knew quite a few of the people in the audience. But this was not to ingratiate himself with us. His point was that although he is familiar with and agrees with our ideas and has mingled quite a bit with us in the past, he is not now inclined to spend much of his time merely reading and talking about these ideas. His concern is to do something about them and with them. To “roll back the state”, yes, but not just by talking and reading about how that would be good and how the state is bad, but by showing that there is a real world alternative to state provision when it comes to tackling poverty. And he wants us to do likewise.

But before talking in more detail about that, Syed talked about himself. He spoke first about how his electoral record so far is: played five lost five, and that he only became one of London’s three MEPs because he came fourth and then one of the MEPs became an MP and stood down.

The way Syed told that little bit of anedotage got a couple of big laughs, and it was indeed good self-deprecating stuff. But it also drove home the larger point that Syed had been raised to believe in himself, to work hard, to persevere, and to pick himself up and carry on whenever he fell or stumbled. Syed’s dad, who had arrived in Britain as an immigrant in the 1950s, wanted Syed to go further in life than he had been able to. He said to young Syed things like:

“People that tell you that something can’t be done are showing their own limitations, not yours.”
These sorts of words, said Syed, do inspire. And he now says similar things to the young people he now talks to, in schools and clubs. “I’ve done it, so can you.” You can reach your full potential. Everyone can reach their full potential.

But politicians are not now helping. The left’s idea is:

“You pass legislation … and that’s supposed to solve problems. … Clearly, it hasn’t worked.”

But we libertarians now do little better:

“My criticism of libertarians and classical liberals is that actually what they do is, they just talk.

They say: let’s roll back the state. And that’s it…

“You’ve got to prove that there’s an alternative to the state. We don’t do enough of that. … If you live in some areas, and there are no civil society organisations or other organisations like that, then sometimes the state is all someone’s got. So if you talk about rolling back the state, what you’re doing is you’re saying: I don’t care about you. I don’t give a damn.”

The left needs to be reminded that there once was a pre-state, non-state, cooperative ideal for the provision of welfare. But on the right, the tendency is for Conservatives to suppose that all that is required to make top-down socialism work well is for Conservatives to be in charge of it. They too need to be show than there is a viable alternative to state provision as the way to tackle poverty.
“And the way to do it is to say, you yourself, in our local communities, are there problems that we can help solve? … You don’t really have to look that far.”

On the Roehampton Estate, they have a drug problem and a gang problem. But the drug dealers were very entrepreneurial.

“This guy, Andy, who runs Regenerate …took those entrepreneurial skills and they created a business called the Feel Good Bakery, where they now sell sandwiches. So they’ve gone from drugs dealers to sandwich dealers. … The T-shirt is inspirational. It says “From Dope Dealer to Hope Dealer”. I just think that’s an amazing story … I said to them, how can I help you? How can I use my job, having a title after it, three letters after my name, covering London, how can I help you?

“One of the things you realise in politics is that actually, you are at the centre of lots of networks. You meet lots of people. And so, what I can do, as a politician, is connect people.

“Regenerate doesn’t want money. They want potential customers to buy sandwiches. So what I’ve been doing for this business is I’ve been writing to potential customers, local councils, local businesses, and others, who might want to be customers …

“Another example is a project called CleanSheet, that helps ex-offenders. The problem is, when someone goes to prison, a lot of people immediately label them a bad person, without understanding why they went to prison. … they come out … they re-offend, go back to prison, come back out, re-offend. So, CleanSheet looks at breaking that cycle …

“Jane, who runs that project, said: Could you write to businesses, or talk to businesses that you talk to, and ask them whether they would meet with us. That’s all. We’ll make the case for why they should consider taking on a reformed offender. We can show good business results, why people are loyal because they’ve been given another chance in life, …

“So that’s all I did. I got together with a local MP, in Croydon, and he and I wrote a joint letter on headed paper. Every big business that I meet, I’ll ask them. I’ll say, there’s one of the projects I’m helping, any chance that you might meet this charity.”

The big financial institutions say no way. But manufacturers often have real problems training younger engineers, or retraining people from other disciplines. They have been much more receptive to the CleanSheet message.

Another project Syed mentioned was a jobs club in Croydon, which has put a hundred of its members into work. All they asked Syed to help them with was finding second-hand computers.

So how does Syed now respond to pleas for help from members of the public?

“The first stage now, is I will introduce people to a project that’s tackled a similar problem in their local area. …

“Second stage, let’s … give you the confidence to set up the organisation and to give you help and training.

“And the third stage is: let me introduce you to people who might be willing to fund it, so you get it on a self-sustaining basis, and then you solve the problem. …

“If we did that, right across the country. If classical liberals or libertarians started getting involved in their communities …

… My plea to you is put down your books, get out there, and solve the problem.”

Watch and listen to the whole thing. It lasts no more than twenty minutes and will provide libertarians with much food for thought. Personally, as I said in the Q&A afterwards, I think that there is a definite place in the libertarian movement for reading books and talking about them. Yes, words can be a substitute for action, but if done properly they can also inspire action.

But Syed surely speaks to and for many libertarians, for whom reading and talking is, to use a phrase that I regularly hear: not good enough! Many Libertarians believe that they can actually do things to roll back the state and roll forward humanity. And just as his father’s words inspired him, Syed’s talk will definitely inspire libertarians, of the sort who want to do things, to do better.

Video: Martin Keegan on the Evolution of Private Cooperation

How and why do we cooperate? Often we cooperate because the government forces us to. We also cooperate to make a profit. But what about cooperating to do things that are we think are just, you know, good? Who decides what are or are not worthy cooperative purposes? Does the government monopolise, or insist on overseeing, all such decisions and commitments? Or are citizens able to make such decisions for themselves, by forming cooperative groups of their own devising, for their own purposes. Martin Keegan concentrated in his talk on that latter sort of cooperation, cooperation that is not-for-profit. And he particularly focussed in on the institution of the Trust.

Crucial to the development of the Trust, in the Anglo-American legal systems, is that you didn’t and don’t need the particular permission of the government to form a particular Trust.

Nevertheless, once a Trust is formed, the courts provide legal remedies if any of the agreements made between the contracting parties get broken.

By means of a Trust, a group of people place resources in the hands of Trustees, who guard and spend those resources, even after the deaths of all the original benefactors, or Trustees.

The Trust, then, is the means by which Civil Society, the society of what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”, becomes a reality. All manner of cooperative enterprises, which those directly involved consider to be a good thing and of potential or actual benefit to the wider public, but which many or even most others might consider of doubtful value or even harmful, are thus able to get started and to thrive, for decades and even for centuries. Minority religious institutions, controversial educational enterprises, obscure intellectual or scientific bodies, artistic ventures, charitable foundations, schemes to build what we now call infrastructure, can all get started and stay active indefinitely. Opposition political parties can form. Libertarian Home can exist not just as a bunch of people, but as a bunch of people with heritable assets, devoted to a particular purpose. Keegan himself offered this example.

How could a government explicitly agree to that happening? Answer: in a free society, it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to.

Keegan found time also to talk also about the Islamic equivalent of the Trust, namely the “Waqf”, an institution by means of which private citizens in the Islamic world could do publicly valuable things, like build fountains. But the Waqf was rather inflexible. The purpose of each Waqf was highly specific, and it was bad at adapting to changed circumstances.

Trusts have their origins in tax avoidance, and are now under attack because they are still regarded as being predominantly for that purpose. And the accusation is sort of true. A world in which Trusts flourish is a world in which individuals decide what is to happen to their wealth, and not just governments.

Also, many hitherto independent institutions are now being sucked towards the public sector. They are ceasing to be vehicles for shared but not universally accepted purposes. Whereas Continental law was very slow in allowing Civil Society to emerge, the Anglo-Saxon world is in danger of stifling it, by moving, legally, in the opposite direction, towards a more Continental system.

This talk was a deceptively down-beat affair, strong on seriousness but lacking laughs and certainly lacking histrionics. No attempt was made by Keegan to get his audience, either on the night or on the internet, worked up. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of a subject like this one, merely because the guy doing the talking is keeping the emotional temperature strictly at lukewarm.

Unlike many Libertarian Home speakers, Keegan confined himself almost exactly to his pre-suggested time. This video is well worth the relatively short time, just over twenty minutes, needed to watch it.

“Free Speech on Trial” – Short Documentary

On July 25, 2014, Doreen Hendrickson was convicted of contempt of court. She was recently sentenced to 18 months, and surrendered herself to prison on May 15, 2015. The details of the case were bizarre, to say the least.

irs-tax-returnDoreen’s husband, Pete Hendrickson, is the author of Cracking the Code: The Fascinating Truth about Taxation in America, a book that encourages an allegedly legal but unconventional way of filing tax returns, which has supposedly helped tens of thousands of readers win their money back from the IRS. While the book and documentary goes into much heavier detail, the compact of his premise is that the income tax was only meant to be applied to government employees, and private citizens can avoid income taxation by referencing this distinction.

Doreen and Pete have been using this method to avoid paying income tax since the release of Pete’s book, and it’s put them at odds with the IRS. In the recent case, Doreen was given a new set of returns filled out by the federal government and ordered to sign them as being her own testimony. Because they were not her own words, she refused, and has now been sentenced to prison.

Whether or not this method of avoiding taxation is valid, the case highlights a fundamental issue of free speech in today’s America. While the First Amendment supposedly validates one’s right to say, or not say, what they want, this case draws that principle into question. Doreen was not charged with tax evasion or falsifying returns; she was only charged with contempt of court for refusing to sign a document swearing something she doesn’t believe to be true.

we-the-peopleThe Power of Citizen Media

This story has gained minimal media response, and very few people are aware of it. Whether or not someone agrees with the Hendricksons, this is a story worth observing and debating. Shane Trejo, writing for Pontiac Tribune, has covered this story extensively. Knowing that it still wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, he decided to shoot a documentary.

Documentary is a powerful art. While the written word has pushed journalism for decades, documentaries have a unique ability to visualize a story and its raw emotions. With increasingly competitive technology markets, devices with cameras have become so cheap that nearly everyone in a first world country has a phone and a computer capable of making a documentary film.

When one sees breaking news occur right before their eyes, they can film it and share it on social media, submit it directly to a website like News2Share, or even self-publish the content on one’s own website. Virtually everyone has the power to do so. Trejo interviewed all of the available and relevant figures in the Hendrickson case, then found me via Solutions Institute as someone who could professionally edit together his footage. Even in the absence of any high-end camera equipment, I was able to use Trejo’s interviews and my editing to compose a documentary that can, at the very least, provoke sympathy for the Hendricksons and inspire further investigation.

In doing so, the documentary not only brought light to this case, but the ability of documentaries themselves as a powerful tool to create political and social change.

Counter economics is not just for agorists

The former communications director of the LPUK, Ken Fergusson, writes:

I believe the correct libertarian response to democracy (and government) is to ignore it.

Ken is not only inconsistent, he is wrong. One should not simply ignore that which is being done to you constantly. Today is Tax Freedom Day, and yet is it nearly June. Nearly half a year of your life has been confiscated over the course of 2014.

It is simply irrational to do nothing in the face of such fractional murder, and all the more irrational to be resigned to fixing the problem through some kind of slow leakage into the culture, like water from your shower penetrating old grout and seeping down through your wall for months to make a small unnoticeable patch on your kitchen wall. The danger with such an ineffectual strategy is that someone comes along and re-tiles the bathroom, cutting off even that tiny trickle of ideas.

In the EU elections a “leave me alone” vote was possible – by holding your nose and voting UKIP – not so in other elections, unless something changes. If we do not want to make a libertarian party work, so as to be able to vote for it, then we must have an alternative strategy that goes further and faster than slow cultural leakage.

I propose such an alternative: building the world we want, and then shouting about it.

Imagine a scene:

Joey, down on his luck, is struggling to afford all the essentials he needs. He’s spent all his JSA money and there is a week until his next cheque. His only joy, an occasional overtaxed cigarette, is now in danger too. He must forego his weekly pack of ten in order to afford the potatoes and chicken drumsticks he has grown used to feeding to his family.

Then he sees a friend, Steve, who Joey knows is also down on luck, but he seems happy. He is carrying a bag labelled “Individual Rights Society Food Bank: helping you, respecting others”. In the bag are chicken drumsticks and potatoes, wow. Also in the bag are tinned peas, tinned carrots, dry biscuits, bog paper, soap, and a copy of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Steve has read all of Heinlein now, and offers Joey his copy, then – sniffing – offers him the soap too.

© Snohomish County

© Snohomish County

Joey goes along to the food bank (the address is stickered to the inside back cover of the book) and gets a bag for himself and – hugely grateful (even if it makes zero economic sense) – stops at a newsagent for some cigarettes and a newspaper. In the newspaper he reads about a new Individual Rights Society School opening and a new Individual Rights Society networking event. Joey is a plumber, so he goes along to the networking event and gets himself a job fixing the leaky bathroom of someone he met there.

Joey raves about the Individual Rights Society to members of his family, who tell him “be careful Joey, those guys would have us do without housing benefit”. He’s grateful for the food, and soap, and good reads for his children, but that scares him, and it makes him think twice about these people. He looks up who they are, and sees them explaining that whenever someone is taxed, they have to go without something themselves, something that may have benefited the economy, or even Joey personally, like the money for a plumbing upgrade. It could just be a holiday – they say – or a pack of cigarettes, but they earned the right to those cigarettes and should get to make those decisions themselves. His ears prick up when he sees that the IRS vows never to take taxpayers money, because the imposition of tax clouds the moral character of everything done with it. Then Joey sparks up a fresh cigarette from his pack, which the IRS helped him pay for with their own money, and understands that these guys aren’t as nasty as people say.

The next day he goes out – using money from the plumbing job – and buys his own cigarettes.



Your NHS GP is a Libertarian, but doesn’t know it

‘Getting to see you is like trying to get tickets to see a rockstar’ a retired lady observed yesterday in clinic. This was probably the most polite expression of a patient’s frustrations around access to a GP that I’ve heard in my career, and it summed up the plight of UK general practice perfectly.

You see in a system where 1 million patients are seen in GP surgeries daily, where demand for such services is increasing yearly, and where no money is exchanged directly by the patient for this service, there are only 3 ways to allocate appointments: a lottery system (who can get through first when the phones open); a waiting list; or an assessment of ‘need’.

Now in the case of my practice I see about 30 patients daily, for 10-15 minutes each, as well as checking all results, running the practice, keeping my knowledge up to date, visiting patients at home, developing innovative service models and supervising and training other staff. After 12 hours of this I can’t safely do any more work. So why don’t I employ more doctors?

To understand this one has to understand founding history of the NHS. Aneurin Bevan famously said that he persuaded the doctors to join the NHS in 1948 by ‘stuffing their mouths with gold’. Less well understood is that the general practitioners (GPs) declined this offer and have remained independent contractors to the NHS ever since. This currently translates to a flat fee to the practice to provide medical services, with some incentives around chronic disease management, which amounts to approximately £100/patient/year, regardless of the number of appointments. Average consultation rates are approximately 5 primary care appointments / patient / year.

© Dalius Baranauskas

© Dalius Baranauskas

What’s this to do with rockstars? – one might ask. Well, the main issue facing me and my colleagues is we’re too good at our job. As our practice offers extra services, such as warfarin monitoring, specialist diabetes nurses, extended opening hours and 15 minute appointments, we attract more local patients with complex conditions, as they are most incentivised to find a good practice. These patients require a lot of clinical time, yet are still paid at the above flat fee which is still less than the cost of yearly hamster insurance. Thus the financial incentives in primary care penalise those who provide the best care.

Despite this doctors remain the most trusted profession (Ipsos Mori polls) and as such the machinery of government, education and business has started using GPs as a kind of cut price notary service for all aspects of someone’s life.

The kind of life events that are now medicalised, mostly as a completely rational response to external pressures by individual patients, include: unfit for work; unemployable; bereavement; conflict at work; requests for housing; requests to move house; requests to stay in the country; requests to bring family into the country; not fit for exams; didn’t do well in exams; too anxious to work; proof of existence.

In essence much of what we do, and much of our patients’ responses, are affected by our unsought role as a judge of need. This is explicit of course in the NHS founding aims: free at the point of use; meeting everyone’s needs; based on need not ability to pay.

This superficially laudable concept probably sounded good at first, but like the Twentieth Century Motor Company, rapidly deteriorated into a perverse system that, in the case of the NHS, penalises self-care, encourages dependence and creates resentment between patients. Commentators, media, politicians, patients and doctors can all be found espousing the same views that somehow poor access to services is due to patients attending A/e, GPs, hospitals, walk in centres when they ‘don’t need to be seen’.

Call me a lightweight, but I find the concept of deciding who is ‘ill’ difficult enough after 15minutes of history, examination and investigations, and I’m paid to do this. Then try and ‘judge’ competing claims for appointments amongst self-employed builders with work injuries; unemployed depressives whose benefits have just been stopped; patients who need a medical review before going abroad at short notice next week; those who think they are dying; those who probably are dying and it’s no surprise that often access is decided by he who shouts loudest. And, as my receptionists known, there is a lot of shouting.

Fortunately there is hope. The same profession of GPs who declined becoming salaried employees of the state in 1948 retain an independent streak today. GP training and research in the UK has a long history of emphasising the personal interplay between a GP and the individual sitting in front of them, from Balint in 1957 through to Pendelton in more recent decades, the role of the GP and patient working in partnership for mutual benefit is one that can be viewed as consensual trade. The work of others such at Berne’s transactional analysis (1964) has also been used, with the understanding that the default state should be doctor and patient interacting as adults, rather than one taking on the role of parent and the other child. My own views on liberty have been developed and sharpened at work by witnessing both the benefits of these adult-adult transactions and by noting the real disabling nature of systems that treat us as children.

GPs also remain businessmen and women, which probably explains how £100/patient has lasted so long without complete implosion of the system! And, alongside many libertarians, we don’t like being told what to do.

So where is the opportunity in this industry that affects all 60+ million people in the UK, is a £7 billion sector representing 8.4% of the entire NHS healthcare budget yet accounts for 90% of all NHS consultations?

The obvious answer would be to free up this sector, which currently crowds out all other low cost healthcare. A ‘medical home’ (primary care) is recognised by the World Health Organisation as particularly important for good healthcare yet there are few private GPs in the UK. The GP role is important – whilst private or public hospital specialists might have incentives to promote their own treatments (usually involving a tube in an orifice or a cut with a knife) there is a need to build on the trusted medical expert skills of the GP. A good GP can help patients avoid unnecessary, dangerous and expensive hospital care, and help manage the risk and uncertainty that is unavoidable in life and health. These skills are particularly necessary given the increasing morbidity as we manage more long term conditions into old age.

3 massive barriers to private GPs exist however.

The first is NHS prescriptions. Only NHS GPs can issue NHS prescriptions. As prescriptions can costs thousands of pounds a year privately, yet should only cost a maximum of £120 / year in total for those not exempt, all but the wealthiest are incentivised to keep an NHS GP.

Secondly, only NHS GPs can refer to NHS secondary care. Whilst many pick and choose for elective secondary care, paying for one time operations privately, they still wish to use NHS services for catastrophic care and long term conditions, especially as the ‘free’ healthcare crowds out alternatives. Again, this makes having a private GP more hassle than it saves.

Thirdly, existing NHS GPs cannot offer any added or extra services to their own registered patients.

Thus three actions that could instantly allow the market driven development of improved, more accessible, GPs would be to allow private GPs to issue NHS scripts and refer to NHS consultants on the same terms that NHS GPs do, and to allow NHS GPs to offer extra services to their patients.

This would instantly improve extended hours access, continuity of care, improved use of IT for communication and encourage the self-care agenda that leaders in the NHS constantly talk about, without understanding why this doesn’t occur.

A spontaneous change to the rules would be preferable, but perhaps a patient could influence this change via a legal challenge to their ‘right’ to NHS care, or a private GP could gain access to NHS services via competition rules.

Many models of care would arise, from concierge medicine paid like a gym membership with guarantees regarding maximum GP list sizes, through to pay as you go services to be used as needed.

For the GPs they would take back their autonomy and, instead of feeling that queues to be seen were a sign of failure, would instead see their services being properly valued, and would thus strive to improve them further.

For patients they would gain control over their health and would take a more active role in their own health.

And perhaps over time, seeing that the system didn’t implode, and that they were still alive and healthy, the whole country would feel a little bit more free, a bit less like a hamster and, maybe, even a little bit more libertarian.

Building Galt’s Gulch

Astonished. That was the overwhelming thought I was left with after listening to a 73 minute podcast between the brash, sexually liberated, libertarian American, ‘King of the Nerds’, Brian Sovryn and a mild mannered, boat loving, free thinking futurist and software engineer from Scotland named David Irvine.

The latter has spent the last 8 years designing and coding nothing less than a solution for a decentralised internet named Maidsafe. Users of the open source system share resources from their computer, such as hard drive space and processing power, and in return for this ‘work’ can use the combined resources of the network for data storage, website hosting and computing power. The system backs up data into encrypted ‘shards’ that are duplicated and stored on multiple computers in the system, such that only those with the keys to decrypt the data will be able to reassemble and interpret these shards. The network adjusts dynamically so that if resources are being used more frequently they become more accessible to all participants. Data can be shared and websites or web assets can be hosted on the system, without the need to store any data in corporate data centres or servers.

Maidsafe promotional video

Maidsafe promotional video

The power of this technology is phenomenal, particularly when combined with the ability to transfer value over the internet via cryptocurrencies. For the first time in human history we now have a true extra-national alternative venue for the expression and trade of the work of the mind. Individuals can interact and trade value regardless free of interference from national governments and established transnational corporations.

‘But not all work is done on the internet – factories still exist!’ one might say. This is true, but consider the lever of competition on governments and markets if a proportion of the productive population embrace an alternative economy. The wealth and value incentives created would surely move the bricks and mortar world towards individual liberty and away from central control. For having tasted the benefits of liberty, or seen it in the success of one’s neighbour, why would anyone chose the state?