Marketable Ethical Libertarian Policy

This talk was delivered to the Young Britons for Liberty group on Monday November 21st

 

Marketable Ethical Libertarian Policy

I am guessing there is a bit of variety in the reactions I am going to get here about the second word in that title, but most of you are probably thinking of that title Marketable Ethical Libertarian Policy as a pure good thing, a great option, something to push, something to get behind, if only you had any. But let’s be careful  — any of what?

Rather than thinking of those four words as a verbose description of a single thing, I want you to think of them as a set of four scales, or four constraints which you have to navigate. As enthusiastic libertarians keen to Do Something, how you deal with all four of these constraints – and how you deal with the fact that there are four – not 3 or 2. These four or more /reactions/ will determine how you spend much of the rest of your life.

I will start from the right – no pun intended.

Policy

A policy, for me, is a concept which has achieved a certain threshold of concreteness and specificity, and in our context, the concept describes a set of social arrangements. Saying I want low taxes is not a policy. Saying you want to abolish income tax (leaving VAT and other taxes behind) would be a policy. It is much more concrete than simply having a complaint against taxes in general, and it is somewhat specific, since it implies a cut in taxes of about 30%, not 5% or 99% but 30%. The work of producing policy is the work of creating detail without blundering into any details which are a bad idea. I consider this to be fairly involved and technical in its own way.

Things that are not policy include moaning into your beers. Not productive. Making a Facebook meme is not doing policy. Writing a poem, a computer program, or a novel or studying for a PhD in history. None of those things are policy, yet they are productive uses of time. Some of you may decide that some of those things are for you. That is fine. The fact you want to do anything at all makes you really a very special person. You are in probably the most useful 5% of libertarians simply by resolving to do something. I am not sure developing policy is any more or less useful than anything else. That people might one day be able to vote for your policy is an advantage, that they might need to be persuaded to do so is a reason to possibly consider alternatives.

Regardless, making policy is an activity with a certain character. Policies are constrained by definition, to being policies. Not notions or principles or aardvarks or whatever. Deciding you want to focus on policy is a big decision and will mean you might be doing a great deal less of many other things, such as moaning into beers, studying history or flying kites on windy days. I would say I am not someone who has chosen to focus on policy in a very deep way. I tend to focus too much on technology, which is my job, and running my meetup which is a very different passion. I do, however, have some ideas for you about it, which I will get to.

Observe that in a logical mathematical sense, while I have said only a few very general things, we have learned something about the set of options under consideration. You have drawn a circle on a bit of graph paper and get to decide if the thing you are going to focus on lies inside that circle. Adding the other circles to this paper will make a Venn Diagram – and that Venn Diagram is the topic of this talk. Inevitably I will talk about the spot on the diagram inside all the circles, but I want you to focus for a while on the circles as well.

marketableethicalpolicywithlogo

 

Libertarian

There are loads of people in the libertarian community coming up with ideas that are popular with libertarians. I think a great many, especially the well funded well thought out ones, are not especially libertarian. I am not being purist, or rather I aspire to not being a purist, but I think it is fairly obvious that some ideas have a uniquely libertarian flavour and others don’t. Take the 2020 tax commission. It also called for 30% cut in spending and a massive simplification of the tax system, keeping an income tax. It was very welcome, but could have been written by any good Tory, and the fact is it was probably written to influence Tories. Is making the Tories less bad the limit of our ambition? That is a fair question, but I like to assume it isn’t.

To some extent my libertarian scale, or constraint, is a question of how much you want to change. A more refined definition is that libertarian policies should tend to reduce violations of the non-aggression principle. A still better definition is that libertarian ideas tend to respect individual rights. It is perfectly possible to think of policies that appeal to people who are libertarians, but which actually fail to respect individual rights.

Note that I have not said that libertarian policies tend to promote the diffusion of knowledge, or clarify price signals. They are Hayekian economic issues. Policies or other things that tend to promote the diffusion of knowledge, or price signals or such like – those are better economics, they are not better libertarianism qua libertarianism. Better economics is a good thing, and have that radical libertarian flavour to it, but I suspect there is some confusion between the two. I think it is an issue of intent – are you aiming for less bad economics, or are you aiming to reshape society into one which attaches primary importance to things like autonomy, or consent. My definition of a libertarian policy is the latter, but I do value the former.

Why should we promote special libertarian policies and not merely better policy in general. Better economics can make you richer and lower your tax bill. Why worry about anything more than that? I think the answer to that is the same as Ayn Rand’s answer for why you should act with integrity, which I will summarise as: because if you aren’t then what the fuck are you doing? If you are acting the way someone else would, then are you even really alive? Who’s ideas are you promoting if you are not promoting those you prefer? Who’s ideas will win if you promote ideas other than your own? Other things being equal, probably not yours.

So now we have two circles in our Venn Diagram. You can choose any course of action, any spot on the paper, but we’ve created four categories within our set of choices. We can start to populate our categories with specifics and ask questions like “have I thought about what I could do in each of those categories”.

Overton

I need to sneak in here with another circle for the Venn Diagram. The Overton Window could be thought of as a circle on a Venn Diagram, as simply a round window. But, Overton thought of it as a scale so treating as a circle might be a bit of a mind bender. Let’s use an equivalent idea: Hallin’s spheres. They are at least round to start with.

Hallin defined three spheres of media issues:

  • Concensus – ideas which journalists take for granted. They do not bother to appear neutral on these ideas. Climate change moved into this sphere in the last few years. The BBC had a meeting to decide that this was going to happen.
  • Legitimate controversy – these are areas of tension that journalists treat seriously and handle with objectivity and neutrality, or at least they are supposed to try to do so.
  • Deviance – which is a sphere containing the barking mad, or the reprehensible, or things most people are simply not into. Journalists want to ignore this sphere, for economic or ethical reasons, or perhaps both. Many issues of race and cultural identity have recently been ejected from this sphere because people got fed up of pretending they were not legitimate controversies. I am in danger of going off-topic but I think this is actually fine, except there appears to be a problem working out which issues or topics really need to move over, and which to continue to treat the same way. Donald Trump is part of the process.

Regardless of all that – much of libertarian thinking,  of what you read on blogs like mine or in libertarian tomes, sits in the barking mad or massively unpopular categories and may even seem reprehensible at times for some audiences. Being concerned with a deviant, easily ignored controversy is a big deal for us and I do think it ought to be goal to move our ideas into the legitimate controversy sphere.

In my life-time I have seen the minimum wage move from the legitimate controversy stage to becoming consensus. The abolition of the minimum wage probably sits in the deviant sphere. At the same time, the idea of a living wage, which is –  I shit you not – essentially the same as the idea that you have a human right to a holiday at Butlins. This idea has moved perilously close to becoming consensus. George Osborne’s tactical concession of this ground to the left is very dissappointing but I do not think it means that opposition to the living wage is a deviant opinion.

I really hope I am not saying anything much new here, so I will move on quickly. Feel free to put the Overton Window or the Hallin Spheres on your mental Venn Diagrams.

Ethical

I am basically a natural rights libertarian, as distinct from a consequentialist. It is easy to be a rights based libertarian because liberty has good consequences but I do think that libertarianism is objectively justifiable from an ethical perspective. For those of you into technical philosophy, my preferred derivation of natural rights was written by Craig Biddle for the Objective Standard. He derived that from Ayn Rand, of course. I think this derivation is useful becuase it is defensible, but beyond that I consider the issue of derivation to be technical minutiae rather than strategically critical. The derivation “because it’s our nature” works for most current mainstream philosophy and is not logically different from the derivation of all religions. Religion is doing okay.

The basic problem here is that ethical policies, for detailed reasons, tend to push libertarians further into the deviant sphere. That is, almost by definition, a less marketable context for us so the temptation is to move away.

I think an ethical approach gives us three good consequences:

  • Fire in our bellies. It makes us righteous, it gives us energy and motivation to do what we do. Handled well, I think this is an asset.
  • It gives us a persuasive tool. Being able to launch a persuasive effort with a principle that someone can buy into – a reason “why” is a benefit to persuasion. You don’t have to show the entire technical derivation of an idea to be able to offer people a reason to believe in it.
  • It gives us the opportunity to embed good ideas into the good policy we put forward, that is, to transmit policy and ethical ideas at the same time. If we say that we have abandoned our ethics in order to make marketable policy then what ethical ideas are going to end up baked into those policies? Not yours, that is for sure.

It is also, the right thing to do. I refer back to that Randian justification for the virtue of integrity – if you aren’t doing the thing you think is best, what the fuck are you doing?

I will get strait on and talk about what is.

Marketable

People have said to me that consequentialism allows things to be said that are more marketable. I think that this simply represents a failure to imagine something which is marketable that is also ethical. It is certainly not an argument that it is ethical to abandon ethics. I think the idea that we should simply cast aside ethics and do what works is actually pretty dark. I don’t think I need to labour over an explanation as to why.

The most pressing example of this trend to abandon ethics is the basic income proposal, in which citizens all receive a fixed low monthly salary from the state, which is then clawed back through taxes on high incomes, or on land, with enough extra clawed back to fund everyone else’s income too. The ethical issue is obvious, for a benefit to be paid out it needs to be taken through the tax system and taxation is theft. I should not need to explain why theft is wrong. Of course, there is another issue which is that it encourages dependency. I am less exercised by that, but your mileage may vary on that.

It is pretty clear to me that helping a basic income policy succeed is not going to help spread better libertarian ethical or policy ideas. It will spread dangerous false ideas such as egalitarianism, even if it was Hayekian economists that contributed the margin of victory. It amazes me that there are people who opposed Brexit because it might help spread intolerance who support basic income and don’t notice that it would encourage and enshrine egalitarianism over property rights, or that the intellectual link between basic income and egalitarianism is really very fundamental and obvious, rather than contextual and obscure.

When we consider our mental Venn Diagrams with a circle for Policy, for What is Libertarian, for What is Ethical and What is inside Hallin’s Sphere’s (or the Overton Window) then you are left with very little room to manoevre. I understand the tempation of simplying saying that there is nothing left in that tiny space – no room for any policies at all – and wondering off discouraged into the world of basic incomes and ideological compromise.

There is another context – another industry – in which constraints are placed on people which are supposed to stop them. In this case, the idea is actually to stop them going faster – to limit maximum speeds without stopping people racing each other. I am talking about Formula 1 racing cars. The F1 regulations, a set of rules for participants, are designed to make sure a car can’t go so fast that it kills it’s driver, or spectators. Racing car owners still want their cars to go as fast as possible, and faster than the other guys’ cars. The rules constrain the design of the car but there are only a few standard components – notably the tires. People do find ways to go faster. I am pretty sure the rules would not allow jet engines, but what about an exhaust pipe that pipes hot air onto a component that encourages the air to fan out behind the car – called a diffuser. Well that sounds a bit like a jet engine to me, but it is not technically the same – it works by helping the car get grip, not by pushing it along – and is not as effective, but having a blown diffuser still makes your car go faster and it was still allowed by the rules, at least for a while.

Racing Car designers have the job of making cars go faster in the face of regulations designed to make them slower. They are not being stopped and race car engineers are still crucial parts of a winning team. The blown diffuser thing shows that it is possible to change your approach to a set of constraints and think of valuable things that do not trip up on the rules.

I have a bit of detail I would like to share about two examples:

Bin collection

Nearly half of councils outsource bin collection, most of the contracts go to the top three or four companies. Most of them also seem to collect commercial waste under direct contracts with the producers of the waste. Why do councils need to act as middlemen for home owners? Bin collection should be simply another utility you buy on a website. If it was then you can be pretty sure you will not be made part of the waste sorting process. Make no misake that bin collection is a huge libertarian issue. At present, Councils like Lambeth will fine you £1000 if you fail to take part in a compulsory scheme in which you are forced to enrich a private sector middleman by helping provide them with neatly sorted rubbish. As councils begin talking about collections every three weeks, there is so little being done to collect bins for people that there is an opportunity to go into business selling what people used to pay for through taxation. I think it gives an idea of how popular this could be that the bins issue has turned up in a Christmas advert and is a recurring theme on Eastenders.

Decentralising National Insurance

We’d all like to abolish tax, but abolishing tax would mean no money to pay for the welfare state.

The following section was ad libbed based on this article, copied below:

Turning off the welfare taps would not happen, and if it did there would be social unrest like you have never seen. [..] a reformer needs to provide some level of service of the existing kind and either reduce it slowly, introduce healthy incentives, or both. The services would need to include job seekers allowance, disability benefit and practical assistance programs such as job centres and training programs, but would need to be slowly changed to ensure recipients are genuine and that the schemes really work cost effectively.

And here in bullet point form are the key steps and details of the plan:

  • make welfare a hyper local service – still state run and state funded but run at the parish or borough level. Because we basically cannot get this right and to incentivise market based restructuring later, we deliberately choose to make each provider a little too small to be self-sustaining.
  • change funding flows to cut out middlemen – payments would start to flow direct from payroll departments to local providers. A tapering subsidy would ensure stability. The choice of provider would follow a simple rule e.g. based on your postcode. The payments would be treated as deductable, since they replace a tax, and the scheme is therefore revenue neutral.
  • make the choice of provider free – this allows competition and new innovative market participants to enter, with some stability ensured by the subsidies and the fact payments are still compulsory. Failing providers would be allowed to go bankrupt. Frankly, things would already be a lot better if you stopped here and you might certainly leave things alone for a bit.
  • make payments voluntary – including higher and lower amounts. The scale of payments would then always be proportionate to need as perceived by the payer. I’m certain the media (and trade associations) would ensure payers are well informed as to that level.

What has been done at this point is a transition back to voluntary Friendly Societies as the main service provider, but we have also achieved a “big bang” that opens up the market to all sorts of innovate players

Conclusion

Only a purist is going to tell you that there is only one choice. Instead, by having a set of intersecting categories to consider we can think about what we can do inside or outside of each, however, the more of these constraints you manage to adhere to the more successful you will be as a libertarian.

ENDS

 

 

 

Mark Littlewood: Brexit the only option for a shot at Liberty

About half a decade ago, I attended a dinner at which Mark Littlewood was the speaker. He had just become the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and he talked about that. I was greatly encouraged by what he said, and did a piece for Samizdata to that effect.

But you know how it is. When you do a piece about someone who really impresses you, you look around for a minor insult to begin with, to add credibility to the major non-insults that follow. In this spirit, I mentioned early in my piece that Mark Littlewood was “rather too EUrophile for my liking”. Given that Mark Littlewood’s talk to Libertarian Home was about Brexit, this little insult of mine got dragged out of obscurity by Simon Gibbs as part of his introduction. Let’s see if Mark Littlewood is still a EUrophile, said Simon, knowing already that he no longer is. And then, in his preliminary rapport-establishing chit-chatting before he got stuck into his first proper point, Littlewood mentioned that I once gave a talk about libertarianism at Cambridge University which he attended, and he said to himself: that’s me. So, I helped Mark Littlewood to become a libertarian. I did not know that. This just goes to show how valuable it can be simply to tell anyone who is interested what libertarianism is.You never know how much of a someone that anyone might turn into.

Here is Mark’s talk:

Mark Littlewood’s first big point was that we libertarians should think about the EU, and about all other international organisations, in a “contingent” way. We should not assume them automatically to be evil, or for that matter automatically to be good, but rather by thinking if this or that organisation is “on balance” a force for good or for evil. He mentioned the World Trade Organisation in particular as an international body whose influence upon the world is, on balance, in his opinion, good. Not perfect. Not “optimal”. Just doing that bit more good than harm. The WTO is, said Littlewood, on balance, “benign”.

In this spirit, Mark Littlewood said that he had at first been quite  attracted to the European Union. He talked, most entertainingly, about tractors, and about the regulation of tractors. Yes, the EU emits an elaborate and arbitrary definition of what a tractor is. But the choice faced when it came to tractor regulation was not between, on the one hand, one intrusively absurd definition of a tractor, or on the other hand, total freedom for all manufacturers of tractors to make and sell whatever tractors they please, to the rest of Europe and to the rest of the world. The choice was between one regulatory definition of a tractor for all of Europe, or about a dozen mutually contradictory definitions of what a tractor is, each emitted by each of the national governments of Europe. Replacing a multiplicity of tractor definitions with just the one definition struck Littlewood as being, although certainly not the perfect arrangement, at least a quite big step in the right direction. Hence those earlier EUrophile tendencies.

But, Littlewood went on to say, he had since, not changed his mind exactly, but rather had watched the EU itself change into something rather different. The EU regulatory mechanism stopped being a reason to be in favour of the EU, and instead degenerated into a gigantic “displacement activity”.

The EU, said Littlewood, faces two basic threats to its existence. There is the migrant crisis. And, there is the economic crisis of southern Europe, unleashed upon it by the Euro. However, the EU, instead of directly addressing these issues, has become instead a vast machine for not thinking about such things, but instead for discussing every imaginable sort of regulation, of absolutely everything, in the minutest possible detail, in order to avoid those big questions. Instead of continuing to move in the direction of greater flexibility and greater mutual recognition of different regulatory systems, regulation has become a “mania” for regulatory uniformity. Littlewood didn’t claim to have solutions to those big crises. But neither, he said, did the European Union.

However, Littlewood further cautioned, don’t imagine that the Sir Humphrey Appleby tendency in Whitehall is champing at the bit to unleash anarcho-capitalism on the British economy, just as soon as we can escape from the EU. If we vote Brexit, that won’t mean an immediate libertarian nirvana on the morning of June 24th. On the contrary, the Appleby tendency has been in the habit of using the EU as an excuse for its own home-grown dictatorial impulses. For instance, the EU, a few years back, made some pronouncements about uniformity in measurement. It would have sufficed had Britain’s regulators issued a pamphlet asking Britain’s traders to ponder the benefits of greater uniformity of measurement. Instead British local trading standards officials started arresting people, creating those famous “metric martyrs”. Remember them?

Littlewood did not say at this point that if Britain left the EU, then using the EU as an excuse for such home-grown regulatory tyranny would no longer work. But, he might have. He then mentioned workers’ rights and dirty beaches. It is silly to suppose, he said, that Britain outside of the EU would unleash filth upon all its beaches and bring back slavery. Such “mundane” issues can perfectly well be sorted out locally.

And finally, there is the “absolute nonsense of David Cameron’s renegotiation”. “What a fiasco.” “Apparently the issue that detained our Prime Minister … was whether he would be granted the right to disperse about thirty million pounds a year worth of child benefit, in a different way to the one that was prescribed by EU rules.” Cameron got this concession! All thirty million pounds of it. “Chump change. Absolute chump change. … I question the Prime Minister’s ability to add up.”

Are we really to believe that had Cameron not got this concession, he would have lead Britain out of the EU, a process he now describes as being catastrophic for the future of Western Civilisation and “the sort of outcome that Islamic State would warmly welcome”? This episode reveals a political elite is detached from reality. This referendum is turning into: Do you like the political establishment? Yes, or No? And if it continues to do that, said Littlewood, then Leave will win. And if that happens, there could be a domino effect, with Sweden, for instance, now already inclined to leave if Britain does. And if that happens, a libertarian nirvana is not guaranteed, but it at least gives us a chance.

During the Q&A, Littlewood made further points:

He said that the Leavers are probably right not to be too specific about what the alternative should be. “We should take it quite slowly.” We should “slowly and methodically work out what to do next”. Not least because the impact of Brexit on the EU as a whole is so hard to predict.

There might be that domino effect, but there might not. In general, when asked about what might happen after Brexit, Littlewood tended to say: I don’t know. He said that this referendum is not automatically going to be the end of this argument. If Leave is only rather narrowly defeated, the Leave argument will hang around. If big EU changes then happen, of the sort that the Remainers have not even argued for let alone argued for successfully, changes which most Brits regard as bad, then the argument for Leave will be strengthened. See also: the Scottish referendum. But whether we Leave now or not, he said, we will be leaving soon, within about a decade. I can’t help interrupting this report by pointing out that this contradicts lots of commentary from both sides to the effect that this is a “once in a lifetime decision”. It’s actually only a once in a lifetime decision if the decision is Leave. As my fellow Samizdata writer Perry de Havilland recently put it, Remain has to keep winning, but Leave only has to win once. And one way or another, Leave will win, said Littlewood. He even gave us a date: 2025.

Someone asked if, in the meantime, Leave will really mean Leave, given that the EU has form in ignoring referendum answers it doesn’t like.  Littlewood’s answer was that a country just saying that it doesn’t like, say, the Maastricht Treaty, doesn’t include a vote about anything else.

Okay, so you hate the Maastricht Treaty. But, what do you propose we do about that? Voting for Leave is an actual vote for something else. That will not be so easy to ignore. We are not merely being asked if we like the EU. We are being asked if we wish to Leave it. If we say we do want to Leave, that will be far harder to ignore than a mere expression of disapproval, for some mere aspect of the EU.

Chris Mounsey asked about whether the EU was really the problem. For is there not another and globally inescapable layer of decision-makers, whom the EU are merely channelling. Well, said Littlewood, at least we’d be able to decide such things. And at this point, he did mention that EU-as-an-excuse-for-local-tyranny argument, neglected (see above) when he might have mentioned it earlier.

The order in which I have listed some of these points varies from the order in which Littlewood himself made them, not least because they all intermingled with and reinforced each other, and thus some of them got said several times. I’ll end this summary of what Littlewood said by repeating the point with which he ended his main talk, and which he also repeated several times. Voting Leave won’t bring a libertarian nirvana.

But, it will give us a far better chance of progress towards our nirvana than Remain.

London for Leave

Thank you to all the people who came together over the last four days to help us send a message. That fear and hatred will not win. That happiness, prosperity and fulfilment for everyone are to be found outside the European Union.

Vote Leave on June 23rd.

I’m writing this letter as I’ve felt strongly about sharing my reasons for voting the way I will on the EU. I hope it will help some of you who are still undecided.

We’ve heard arguments from both sides. Uncontrolled immigration, unfavorable EU policies and regulations, EU funding to some of our industries, the provision of the single market. I really can imagine how this may have confused voters and this thought has been expressed by many. On top of this, the  tragic killing one of our MPs has numbed the atmosphere making us very emotional.

But my mind has been clear from the very start. For me, it’s a simple decision. For me, the EU represents the notion of an unelected superpower. 

It’s this basic idea of having an unelected and unaccountable superpower that opposes my fundamental values. For some people, right now, the EU provides lots of benefits, but with the power that we and other countries are giving it, who is to say that the same body will not harm us in the future. By voting in, we agree to this undemocratic way of governance. That is a huge risk I am not willing to take.

Even in a democratic system, how many of us actually feel empowered to make changes in society. For some of us it’s a huge battle, but at least we battle with hope. With the EU, that hope is further diminished.

Some of us don’t want to live in isolation by voting out. But what is wrong with being an individual, having your own identity? Isn’t that what we teach our children? Isn’t that how the rest of the world works?

Britain could allow people to freely come from the EU without being in the EU as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). And there are lots of things that can be agreed without having an unelected body over us. 

After we vote out, we still have to choose where we want to go. But at least then we have choices. So why give in to something that opposes our basic right to have a say… isn’t that the highest form of uncertainty?

The IN campaigners tell us how damaging it would be for Britain to leave. But doesn’t that itself represent a fundamental issue, having a body that has to ability to harm us even when we are not in it. Isn’t that what we call a ‘bully’?

For this reason, on 23rd June, I will be voting for democracy, accountability, individuality and freedom, and voting no to an unelected supremacy.

Brexit will mean a new Hanseatic League

It is possible, if you choose to think like them, to see the world through the eyes of any politician. If you choose to see the world through the eyes of David Cameron then the EU referendum is a win-win scenario.

For Cameron a Remain vote is a straight win. He has achieved his preferred policy outcome. However, Tim Evans is confident that Cameron has a Plan B.

Five years ago the German elite were unified in their belief in the European Union and the Euro. However German industrial leaders and leadership insiders are now split 1:3. The new smaller faction now want there to be structural reform on the EU. They don’t want the blame for causing that reform, but they do favour it. The English are good at handling crisis moments, like a Brexit vote, and will strike a deal with this faction. Thanks to WTO rules and the terms of the Lisbon Treaty then the EU is bound to ensure a neighbourly approach to Britain with negotiation of exit terms being compulsory. In this period the Germans will not let Britain leave but will take the opportunity to get their strategic refresh.

Boris Johnson has form for negotiating trade deals. By performing well on an official visit, he forced George Osborne onto a plane to finalise a deal he negotiated with the Chinese (contrary to US interests). Professor Evans imagines that if Britain votes to leave, Boris will be on a plane to Berlin to handle the crisis. Instead of “Leave” meaning “Leave” Boris will be striking a fresh agreement for a new fudged arrangement with the EU.

There is historical precedent for a Hanseatic League involving the fiscally conservative northern European states, trading with Britain. There could be a new Anglo-German-plus collection of states with an agreement between themselves.

Tim Evans on the 2016 Budget

Tim Evan’s recent talk at the Two Chairmen was delivered in three sections: the strategy of the new Corbyn axis in left-wing politics, the budget and the EU “Brexit” referendum. This article summarises the section on the budget.

This country is now in debt to nearly £1.6 trillion. The deficit is approximately £70 billion. In 365 days that is £192 million per day of new debt.

The fact that Corbyn is leading the Labour to the left means that expert triangulators Osborne and Cameron will try to appeal to voters as diverse as classical liberals and social democrats.

Osborne’s view is that Britain has onerous debt levels and reducing the deficit is a huge struggle. His department are playing for time.

Osborne is seeking to rebalance and broaden trading relationships, for example, angering the US to do deals with China and entering into projects with Germany to trade Chinese bonds. He also wants to retain relationships with Europe and ramp up trading with India.

His target is 36.5% of GDP – lower than Thatcher – without looking like a right winger.

His advantages are that the UK is a strong  reputable state with good rule of law and a highly skilled workforce (an example of Tim being very much in the mind of No 10!). They are also good at triangulation. For example he was not accused of being especially right wing when he made the Lib Dem coalition ministers supervise the sale of Royal Mail. He also keeps right wingers like us whining.

Corbyn’s Mission

Tim Evans, professor at Middlesex University came to deliver a talk for us at the Two Chairmen in Westminster. He tried to be as scholarly as possible. Cutting through the ideological debate and dealing solely with what the actors are thinking, not his own thoughts. He delivered his talk, below, in three sections. The summary here deals with the first section: on Corbyn.

Corbyn is an interesting character who is bound to be attracting the attention of the establishment especially generals and the secret service. Tim detailed Corbyn’s very left-wing upbringing to a middle-class couple who met at Conway Hall. He described Corbyn as an academic under-achiever who rose up through the trade union movement and local councils. He has an almost comically left-wing record of endorsing unsavoury left wing figures in public via Early Day Motions, however he has avoided becoming a member of the extreme or Stalinist left, unlike his friends and romantic partners from the Militant tendency. He is neither a Christian nor libertarian left winger but a “democratic socialist”. The distinction is at least as important as the difference between anarcho-capitalists and objectivists, for example, that is: the distinction is quite profound. For example Corbyn is more likely to be interested in worker councils than top down nationalisation.

One of the new Labour leadership team’s early pronouncements was to offer “the right to own” as distinct from the “right to buy” your home. The conservatives did not respond strongly to this odd message and this reminds Tim of how the Tories were unable to understand where Tony Blair was coming from during his early career as leader. He suggests the Tories must make an effort to understand where Corbyn is coming from if they want to deal with him effectively. Corbyn is predisposed to countries like Venezuela. Democratic Socialism is very different from Parliamentary Socialism such as that advocated by the Fabians (our former neighbors). Instead democratic socialists such as Corbyn “somehow” elevate institutions of worker councils, mutuals, and party democracy above the institution of Parliament.

Historically Labour has ended up “managing capitalism” for over 100 years i.e. “State Capitalism”. Corbyn’s associates therefore want to do something quite different. They are engaged in analysing the current capitalist power structures, central banks and the role of money. Tim suggests there is considerable overlap here with Libertarian Home audiences and other groups like Positive Money.

Tim also suggests the New Economics Foundation as a group to look at to understand the intellectual background of the Corbyn and Momentum axis (Momentum is a campaign group allied to Corbyn).

This group is sick of “triangulation” at least in so far as it is done to them. New Labour, which was partly constructed by the British American Project and known as the CIA Left, out manoeuvred, marginalised and out-triangulated. Therefore Corbyn and McDonnell will want out-triangulate everyone else. For example, citing the idea that helicopter money was suggested by Milton Friedman. However, it’s unlikely Corbyn truly believes he will be Prime Minister.

 

© Global Justice Now

 Rather he is developing institutions and a base for more left-wing ideas and moving the Overton Window leftwards in the way that Barry Goldwater moved the Overton window for Reagan.

Tim also believes that Corbyn’s team is not really working to win the next election but is building that base of institutions and activists and is developing the Overton Window in preparation for a longer term plan into the mid 20s. They are not likely to win the 2020 election but will see constitutional changes aimed at reinforcing Corbyn’s movement.

The Momentum campaign will be at the centre of this movement building effort drawing in the likes of Paul Mason and Yanis Varoufakis. While this is going on the Conservative Party must prepare the stay in power until after this new wave of left wing thinking has broken perhaps 30 years from now.
LATER: from Tim:

THE key book on New Labour, BAP and their role in the maintenance of the UK/US special relationship:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Party-Hidden-Powers/dp/1901250202 
I hope this helps.

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.