The EU is 100% wrong and you know it

I’m not a technical philosopher. I’m not a politician. I’m a coder. I deal with data and decision making processes and I work in small empowered teams usually in a bottom up organisational culture. The relevant buzzword – for what it’s worth – is “agile”. Things seem to work better in bottom up agile structures.

It only recently occurred to me that this observation about my professional life matches exactly my observations about politics. I felt a bit daft, if I’m honest, because the reason is the same in both cases: decisions are best left to the people directly involved.

In societies prices coordinate the whole. In groups of a few thousand at most, as in a corporation, hierarchical leadership structures coordinate. Both are mechanisms that to bring together the work of smaller groups, but it is small groups that get stuff done.

So how does this apply to the present controversy over EU membership? Well it’s frankly rather obvious:

The EU does not let decisions get made by the people directly involved. It preempts all their decisions centrally where most of the useful information – explicit and certainly implicit – is simply absent. It needn’t have been that way. It could have kept it’s activities to a minimum, met once a decade to update it’s tiny rule book and left us all alone – and still met it’s goal of preventing conflict and knocking down trade barriers (doing exactly nothing at all is perhaps the best method of facilitating trade).

Instead the EU represents top down leadership facilitated by a massive bureaucracy and complex impenetrable processes. I sympathise with their outright rejection of democracy because there is no way they could actually listen to voters on that scale. They have to ignore voters to give themselves a shot at making the right decisions. They are not – in a limited practical sense – wrong to do so, the problem is that the whole edifice is misconceived. As a libertarian I believe- and frankly it seems rather obvious – that decisions are made by the right people when made outside of political systems and by the wrong people when made inside political systems. This is because when small groups do stuff together it rarely involves either a national issue of any kind nor coercing people into agreement.

Coercion, in particular, is simply less important for successful cooperation than most people think. It is also a lot less nice than most people seem to appreciate. It amazes me that IT professionals, in particular, seem predisposed to vote for policies and constitutional arrangements that make use of coercion . If someone came into your office and told you that you MUST use Node.js, then however much you like Node.js you would question whether it was his job to make that decision. In politics there is a lot more at stake than broken code. The quality of decisions matters more in politics than in coding, yet coders seem willing to assume the role of a interfering suffocating chief architect.

For these reasons we should be moving more and more aspects of life outside of the scope of politics not moving more and more aspects of life into the control of a remote opinionated elite. The EU is a step in exactly the wrong direction. The EU, literally, could not be more wrong.

If you work in an agile team then you know this explicitly and you regularly push back on external interference. It’s time to apply your agile thinking to the rest of your life and start pushing back on June 23rd.

A refreshing perspective on bankers

The last organisation I worked for was a media company. Among a staff packed with lefties were three libertarians, including myself. Now I work for a bank, with far more staff in the building and I know of three libertarians. So, per head, the bank has fewer libertarians than the media company. I find this surprising.

Why aren’t more bankers drawn into the movement? Surely we are pro-banker? We are pro-market. We distrust most of the worst banker-bashers and to my ears at least we don’t take part ourselves. We even have useful investable economic ideas. Bankers should be paying attention and feeling welcome.

Perhaps this is not true of other bits of the libertarian movement? At Benevolent Laissez Faire our keynote speaker Yaron Brook certainly seemed to think so. He described the “hatred of bankers” as “universal” even in our community. Interesting.

The rest of Yaron’s segment on bankers, below, is refreshing and delightful. Yes bankers play an important role and as professionals engaged all day in difficult choices about confusing measurements of reality – as people engaged constantly in truth discovery – there is nothing more noble that pursuing truth, even and especially for profit. 

If we managed to separate state and banking, then this would be plain to see.

 

Dismantling The Basic Income Proposal

The basic income is an idea that is being discussed in many countries and political circles at the moment. The idea is to give every citizen of a state a certain amount of money, unconditionally every month. It is in essence a proposal to organize the welfare state differently to make it work better.

Understanding economics, this, on the surface, seems like big nonsense. And if you dig deeper you will find that indeed it is. However, amazingly, this idea has even won the support of some people who are sympathetic to free markets.

One of the people who supported this idea, in form of a negative income tax, was Milton Friedman. And in the UK, the Friedman worshiping think tank The Adam Smith Institute, openly supports the approach. So unfortunately, it seems the proposal cannot just being ignored as obviously bad. Some time needs to be spend addressing the arguments and showing why it is a bad idea.

To start with, I want to emphasize that a basic income, provided by the state is of course completely incompatible with libertarianism. Any form of wealth distribution via mandatory taxes is a blatant violation of people’s liberty. However, there are people who do not argue from principles. They think of themselves as pragmatic. People who think of themselves as pragmatic are usually confused about philosophy. They do not want to put things into a broader moral theory. Instead they take every situation one at a time.

Of course principled people tend to choose their principles in the hope that following them will lead to reliably good results. They are therefore just as “pragmatic” as people who reject principles. But since they have a broader theory, they tend to be more successful in achieving their goals. So my aim in this article is to show that following libertarian principles, and rejecting the basic income, indeed leads to better results.

Why do people support the basic income?

There seems to be two groups of supporters. Those who truly believe that the basic income is a good policy and those, more libertarian leaning, who believe that it is the lesser evil. However, looking a little bit closer, it seems that the ones pretending that it is a lessor evil, really seem to buy into some of the basic falsehoods of the real supporters.

So we really can address both groups in the same way. Last year, the Adam Smith Institute published a piece explaining their support for the basic income. Let us take this as a basis to show, why their support is misguided.

The basic income deals with in work poverty

The basic idea of a welfare state is, to use taxation to redistribute wealth from wealthy people to the poor. So far, the poor were meant to be people, who, for whatever reason, were unable to work and provide a living for themselves. That is why, in almost every welfare system, people who want to claim benefits, somehow need to show that they are out of work and unable to provide for themselves.

This makes a lot of sense. It is difficult to make a moral argument in favor of people being able to claim the product of other people’s labour, when they could work themselves. This is too obviously a form of exploitation.

Enter the basic income proposal. It makes an argument that it does indeed make sense to give free capital to people who are able to, and ofter are working. One of the arguments for this, is supposed to be a moral one. The idea here is that in our time, a lot of jobs do not provide enough income to make a decent living. We are told that:

“The clearing power of lower skilled labour is simply not high enough, to provide what electoral willpower, political stability and innovation would require: some form of welfare income policy is necessary.”

This is a conclusion that is being presented after an economic analysis. The analysis is based on piecemeal data collection which allegedly shows that globalization and technology have replaced a lot of unskilled labour. Therefore, low skilled workers cannot make ends meet on their own in a modern economy. The solution is that these workers need to be helped with the incomes of higher skilled workers.

Far from being new, this argument has always been the basic idea behind the welfare state. There are losers in the market place. Therefore, we need welfare politics to balance out the inequality that markets produce. Once the need for welfare is established, the argument then shifts towards what is the best way of providing welfare.

The truth however seems to be that, neither is there a need for state welfare programs, nor would the basic income be the best welfare program if there were such a need.

The reason for poverty is the state

But first things first. Why is there no need for state welfare programs? The answer can be found in economics. Real economics that is. The economics presented in the defense of the basic income, is a good example of how not to do economics. One cannot understand economics by simply analyzing random data and try to find correlations. The foundation of every economic analysis needs to be based on principles of human action. If we do not start with these principles, we are at constant risk of missing at least half of the picture. And if we only understand half of the picture, we, at best, only get it half right. Half right however, is still very much wrong.

This was best explained in Frederic Bastiat’s genius article “That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen”. Let us say we have a policy of taking money from a person and spending it on a good A. What we can see now is that the demand for this good A is going up. However, there is of course another side to this policy. Since money can only be spend once, if the money is spend on good A, it is not spend on another good B, which was the original choice of that person to spend his money on. But we cannot see the non transaction of not buying B. We only see the transaction of buying A. Reasoning however tells us, that this non transaction must most likely be true, and we need to take it into account when we examine the economy. So if we were to analyze the situation purely by statistical data, we are doomed to miss half of the effects of that policy. Only arguing from principles can tell us about the full picture.

This is very relevant in this analysis of what is happening in a modern economy. What we see is that markets become more global. What we see is that more and more things are being done with computers. What we see is that it is more and more difficult for low skilled workers to find jobs and that the jobs they can find are often not providing them with a decent standard of living. If you piecemeal all of this data together, you come to the obvious conclusion that the modern economy lets low skilled workers behind.

None of this data is of course wrong. But it is only half of the picture. The other half is much more difficult to see in statistics and can only really be understood indirectly by reasoning from sound economics principles.

Unlike a lot of austrians today, I do not believe that these principles are a priori correct. Mises’ praxeology method unfortunately seems wrong. The principles of human action can be observed and tested. And every scientific theory, including the austrian school of economics, should be tested. There seems no other way of knowing whether a theory describes reality correctly or not.

But despite this little confusion in the modern austrian school fellowship (of course historically, Mises was the only austrian economist who thought austrian economics was a priori true), the great thing about the austrian school is that its predictions seem to pass the test.

One of the predictions that the austrians have made is that state intervention into the economy leads to misallocations of capital. These misallocations in the economy lead to a loss of productivity and to a crisis when these misallocations are being discovered. This crises is then being addressed by more state intervention, which leads to more loss of productivity etc. A loss of productivity means that not as much wealth is being produced as it could be. Through more and more state interventions in the economy, in the long run, the economy is so distorted and unproductive that it literally start to destroy existing wealth. That is because, at some point, more wealth is being consumed than produced. This then constantly reduces the amount of capital available and makes production more and more difficult.

Other than described in the article, technological progress is the other big factor that increases productivity. So this is not in the way of a good life for the poor. It should make life more and more affordable.

More capital accumulation and an increase in technology should therefore lead to a huge deflation that makes lives more and more affordable. We should be at a point now where being able to afford a roof above our heads and food on the table is possible with a minimum amount of work.

What we are seeing instead, just like the austrians predicted analyzing state interventions, is a constant increase in the costs of living. People have to spend more and more of their salary to be able to afford a home. And even prices of food in the supermarket are constantly going up. As a reasult, people who have low incomes have trouble to make a living. That this is going on despite the huge advances in technology and despite the huge increase of people taking part in work sharing worldwide in the last 25 years, tells us a lot about how wealth destructive our economies have become.

This is a very different analysis from the one presented by the defenders of a basic income. Therefore, it is clear that it is important to get the economics right. If the austrians are correct, then not only is welfare not needed to provide for the poor, welfare is the reason why we have so much poverty. And if that is true then creating more welfare programs will only crush the poor even more. The poor, more than anyone else, need to be freed from the welfare state.

Does the basic income reduce the welfare state

But then there is the argument that the basic income is actually the better deal to the existing welfare state. It makes the welfare state more efficient and therefore reduces the negative effects of it. Or it may even reduce the welfare state all together.

But this does not seem to be correct. At least not if we really talking about a basic income that provides for a living. Let us first look at the assumption that it makes the welfare state more efficient. The argument is that if everyone gets a basic income unconditionally, there is no need for all the bureaucracy involved in applying and testing eligibility for benefits. This may be true, if we really replace the whole welfare state with a basic income, but that does not necessarily mean it is a good thing. Making tyranny more efficient does not make it any better.

Bureaucracy is nasty, no doubt. However, it is a symptom not a cause of evil. Bureaucracy is the tool to put some constrains on a monopoly of power. Getting rid of this restrain does not help us. It is the state programs that the bureaucracy tries to facilitate that are the problem. Just abolishing the bureaucracy without the state program is usually not helping. As long as we have a state, we will have to live with some bureaucracy. The real solution to the bureaucracy problem is to abolish the state altogether.

The second argument is that the basic income reduces the costs or the negative economic effects of the welfare state. Whether this is true or not seem to depend on how high the basic income is and how it is going to be implemented. The problem is that as soon as the basic income is high enough to actually make a living out of it, the answer seems to be no.

Of course if we had a very low basic income of say £100, then that would be great. No one can live on £100 per month. That means everyone would basically go out and work and pay for the £100 with their taxes themselves. Such a low basic income would essentially be a trick to more or less abolish the welfare state. Great! The problem is, it is too obviously a trick. We might as well be honest and advocate the abolition of the welfare state.

If we take the idea seriously we need to have the basic income set at a level that provides a basic standard of living. What is the lowest amount we might argue for? Assuming that we realistically keep the NHS and replace the rest of the welfare state, we might say we give a person £200 a month for food and £400 to rent a small single room somewhere. That will mean £600 per month per person.

Assuming there are 60 million people in the UK, this basic income would cost the taxpayer 432 billion pound a year. Currently the expense for welfare and pensions together is about 260 billion. And that is assuming you could replace pensions with such a low basic income. So even this very minimal basic income would be hugely more expensive than the current welfare system. That is no good.

A better way of implementing it is to slowly phase it out like a negative income tax. So if you don’t work you get £7200. If you start working you will get less and less until you start paying income tax on everything you earn above £7200. The problem with this is clear. Anyone who does not earn significantly more than £7200 will have a big incentive not to work at least not officially.

To avoid that, another proposal, to implement the basic income, is to give people a top up on their earnings until a tax free allowance. Let us assume we have a basic income of £7000 and a tax free allowance of £12000. if you earn nothing, you get your £7000. If you earn something you get a top up of 50% of the different of the tax free allowance and your income. So if you earn £6000, you get another 50% of £12000-£6000. That is £3000, so your total income would be £9000.

There is a problem with this though. It seems expensive. For this to not have big negative effects, the tax free allowance need to be significantly higher than the basic income. Of course I am all for high tax free allowances, it should be 100% of your income. But if you want a basic income, someone needs to pay for it. The lower the tax free allowance is, the less you can keep from your earnings. In the example above, you need to earn £6000 to make an extra £2000. Even if the tax free allowance is twice the basic income, you still need to earn £2 to have an extra pound in your pocket. This does not seem to encourage people to work.

Advocates of the basic income might counter this by saying that the current system is a disaster to encourage people to work, because someone loses all his benefits once he starts working. With the basic income however, he just loses some.

That is true, but it overlooks that everyone gets the basic income unconditionally. At the moment, you still will have to go to the state and ask for benefits. For a lot of people, this is still something embarrassing to do. And of course there are conditions to get the money. It becomes only an option if they are really desperate. But you don’t have to apply for the basic income. This is presented as some kind of natural right of a citizen. As a result, even ordinary people will take it into account in their ordinary financial planning.

They might start looking for nicer jobs, to top up their basic income. Say for example someone is trying to make a living as an actor. Unless he is famous, he can most likely not make a living out of this. But he might make a few bucks with a gig here and there. Currently, a lot of these people take small jobs in bars or hotels to cover their basic costs. With a basic income, they might just top their government check up with a few gigs. No need to do some real work anymore. Yes, living on £7200 might be difficult. But then, going out and clean toilets full time, just to top up your basic income a bit, might not be worth the hassle. Never underestimate the value of leisure. Whether it would be worth it or not, would of course depend on how miserable you are living on your basic income.

But there are two problems with a very low basic income. The first is, that, once introduced, it will be politically difficult to keep it very low. People will start seeing it as their right as a citizen and start making the argument that this low level is violating their right. People already make these arguments with current benefits. Luckily, the latter are still very much conditional.

The second problem is, that if we were to replace the welfare state with a basic income and than manage to keep it very low, this would hit people, who really do need help, because they are not able to make a living, very hard. They would be unable to make a good living out of the basic income. Simultaneously, they would be deprived of other roots of income. In a society, in which the general mindset is that the state has to care for the poor, it is very difficult to set up private alternatives to the welfare state. So these really weak people, the once that the welfare state was originally designed to help, they would probably be the biggest losers of the basic income.

Now, you might say, well we just give those people a bit more. But then you are essentially starting the welfare state, that we have at the moment, all over again. Immediately, other groups will come and say that they too, will need something extra. In that case, the basic income would not replace the welfare state, but would essentially become an extra on top of it (which is something some socialist argue for anyway). It is as always in politics. It constantly tries to solve the latest problem that would not exists if it wasn’t for politic’s last solution.

Conclusions

No matter how you look at the basic income proposal, it does not seem to produce any good results. If it is set at a decent level, it is very expansive and would hugely discourage people from work. The lower it is set, the less damage it causes to the economy and society. But even set at a level, at which it might not lead to a collapse of the economy, it would still be a very destructive policy. And the really poor and helpless would be the ones to suffer the most under it.

Ultimately, libertarians are correct. Liberty is the solution, not trying to make the state more efficient. If we really want to help the poor, and live in a prosperous society, we need to get rid of the welfare state. There is no alternative to it.

What we libertarians agree about

Here is the best summary, that I know of, of what libertarians of the kind who read and write for Libertarian Home all agree about. We libertarians all believe in:
 

The right of all persons to life, liberty and justly acquired property;

The voluntary exchange of all goods and services; 

Each individual’s liberty to pursue his or her chosen lifestyle, but not to impose it forcibly on anyone else;

Elimination of coercive intervention by the state, the foremost violator of liberty.

 

Those words come from an introductory pamphlet produced by the Libertarian Alliance, some time in the mid to late 1970s.

It’s all there. Liberty, property, trade, lifestyle freedom but not forcing your preferred lifestyle on others, and hostility to the large tax-and-spend coercive state such as all countries in the world are now more or less burdened with.

This short summary of what we libertarians believe is equally admirable, in my opinion, for what it omits. In particular, it does not say why or how we have each arrived at being libertarians. There are many reasons to be a libertarian, and we argue amongst ourselves about which of these reasons are the best, or even true. 

Some of us, for instance, have arrived at a belief in a libertarian view of what the rights and duties of the individual should be, and consequently believe in whatever wider legal and political arrangements follow from these principles being adhered to. Such libertarians justify the large-scale consequences of libertarianism by showing how these consequences result from right and true principles being applied, in each small-scale case, to the world. Since those principles are right, so also must the consequences of adhering to them be right, no matter what those consequences turn out to be. You can perhaps tell, from the somewhat clunky and off-putting way that I describe this attitude, that this was not how I myself became a libertarian.

 Libertarians of my sort prefer to argue in the opposite direction, from the consequences of libertarianism, to the rightness of the principles that libertarianism consists of. Libertarians like me look at the world, note that the places that most nearly accord with libertarianism seem to be the most attractive and the most productive places, and that the least libertarian places are the worst, and conclude that therefore an even more distilled and more principled libertarianism than prevails anywhere now would be the best way of all to govern human affairs.

 However, the world being what it now is, we libertarians also disagree about how to put our shared ideas into practice. Politics? If politics, then should we join existing political parties, asnd try to make them more libertarian? Maybe we should try to start our own political party? Either way, which political policies of a libertarian sort does it make sense to prioritise? Or, should we perhaps remain apart from day-to-day politics and concentrate on the long-term ideological struggle? In which case, some of us at least should probably be concentrating on getting rich, both for its own sake, and in order to finance such ideological struggles, for instance by helping our most prominent and promising thinkers and scholars to make headway in academia.

 My own attitude to such tactical debates about how to do libertarianism and how to be an effective libertarian is: all of the above. Let each of us choose what his or her preferred contribution to our shared cause can and should be. In other words, I think that we should apply the principles and methods that we urge upon the world, to make the world better, to our own libertarian efforts. We should practice what we preach. Happily, this is how most libertarians already think and act.

 Pieces actually describing what libertarianism is are surprisingly rare at Libertarian Home. But Richard Cary’s posting in 2012, entitled Libertarianism: What I think it is should be mentioned, if only because Carey’s view of how we libertarians agree about a core libertarian curriculum, so to speak, but disagree both about why we are libertarians and about how to be libertarians, is so very like mine: 

We converge at the axiom, but our starting points are different and our conclusions often likewise.

 However, I think that my anonymous Libertarian Alliance pamphleteer from long ago did improve upon how Carey earlier defined “the axiom”:

Libertarianism is an individualistic political philosophy, based on one primary ethical imperative; non-aggression.

 That’s about right as far as it goes, but what does it mean in practice? My preferred and slightly longer exposition of what we libertarians agree about, consisting of four propositions rather than just the one, goes into just enough detail to make it much clearer what “non-aggression” means in practice, and is, I think, the better for it. (But, see what commenter on Cary’s piece, “Lucian”, says about how “individualistic” is perhaps off-putting. And see also what Nico Metten says in his posting about “non-aggression”.)

 Commenters on this posting of mine will say whatever they want to say. But the comments that will most interest me, if any such comments materialise, will be the ones that are about how accurately my quoted definition of libertarianism actually does describe what we libertarians agree about, and what causes some of us to seek out each other’s company, and to regard ourselves as playing for the same intellectual, political and philosophical team, even as we dispute so many of the details. If the summary which I have offered is not accurate, what might be a better one?

The Collateral Damage Problem in “Eye in the Sky”

‘Eye in the Sky’ is the latest Hollywood film dealing with the wars of the American Empire. This one however, is a bit different. Other than the usual military glorification that we have seen in films like “American Sniper” or “Zero Dark Thirty”, the film actually does challenge the audience to deal with the real underlying moral problems of modern warfare.

The way the so called west fights wars these days is highly problematic. In the past, war meant that you had to send soldiers to the battlefield, where they were in real danger to die or at least get seriously injured. The advance of weapon technology has changed this more and more. The further advanced the technology became, the further away from his target the soldiers had to be. We are now at the point where, via computers and satellites, a weapon can be fired remotely from everywhere on the planet. As a consequence, bravery is no longer a real requirement to be part of the military. You can be a complete coward and still become an excellent soldier. A soldier can engage in very destructive fighting operations without any personal risk to himself. Working as a construction worker is probably a lot more dangerous than engaging in a lot of battles these days.

The lower body count is not necessarily something to celebrate. It has made war much more acceptable for the general public, to the degree that a lot of people are not even really aware that countries like the US have been at almost constant war, at least since WWII. We got a good indication of how unaware people are of this fact after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th 2001. Most people were clearly confused that someone had attacked the US. Why did they do this? Here was this peace loving land of the free, suddenly under attack by some wild savages for no other reason than completely irrational hatred of the western lifestyle.

Of course I agree that these attacks were horrible and completely unjustifiable, but they did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in the context of a war that the US and her allies were fighting for a long time and that they arguably started. Yes, absolutely, 9/11 was an unjustifiable massacre of innocent people. But so is a lot of what western militaries do. Because the other side of this modern weapons technology is that in order to save the lives of western soldiers, more people have to die on the other side of the battle field. And that means, mostly, more innocent people.

This is one of the moral problems that ‘Eye In The Sky’ deals with. If you haven’t seen it, spoiler aler!  I might mention some detail of what is happening in the film. Although it does not matter too much, as even if you know the plot, it is still an excellent film to watch. I can very much recommend it.

The film deals with a few problems, but the main and most important moral problem that is addressed is this: The military of the US and the UK in a joint mission have spotted a few wanted members of the Al Shabaab terror group in a house in Nairobi, Kenya. Via an electronic beetle they fly a small camera into the house. Watching what is going on, they realise that there are two people in there who are preparing for an imminent suicide mission. However, they could stop the suicide bombers by blowing up the house via a drone in the Sky (hence the name ‘Eye in the Sky’). The problem is that the house is bordering on a square with a number of people. Most importantly there is a young girl selling bread right next to the house. Bombing the house would very likely kill the girl, especially since the explosion would be amplified by the explosives in the house. So the question is, is it morally OK to kill the girl (and some other people), if that prevents the likely deaths of even more people from the suicide bombers.

Probably quite realistically, the people in charge of the US military are portrayed as being a bit confused by the notion that this situation poses a moral problem that needs answering. Probably a bit less realistic is that the English side is very concerned about this moral problem. This is arguably the weak point of this film, but it is needed otherwise the problem would not be discussed, which is what the film, to its great credit, really wants to do.

In other words, the main problem of the film is the acceptability of what today is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’. Is it OK to kill innocent people, even children, to achieve some higher goal? The film ultimately does not answer this question. But it does show a good summary of the arguments for the yes and no camp.

From a libertarian’s point of view, the answer is of course clear. It is of course not OK to kill innocent people for a greater goal. Which greater goal would that be? There is no greater goal than the life and liberty of the individual human beings. However, the question is asked in a more clever way that might get some people to become confused about what the right thing to do would be. The problem is that the greater goal in this situation is to save the lives of even more other people. So the question that is asked is, can you kill one innocent person in order to save more other innocent people.

But the answer to that question also needs to be no as well. Lives do not add up in some magical life pool. Every individual person counts on their own. And every person is only responsible for their own actions. In other words, it not only matters who gets killed, but also who kills. Is it me who does the killing or someone else. I can only be responsible for my own actions, not that of others. This is particularly true if it comes to deciding who gets killed. Yes, in the situation portrayed in the film, the terrorists would likely go on and kill some people. But they would not have killed that girl. So the person who bombs the house and kills the girl essentially takes on the role of a judge over who gets to die and who to live. Where does the authority come from to make such a decision? A person, who thinks he has that authority cannot claim he was not responsible for what happened. He becomes a murderer.

People who argue otherwise, need to make the argument, that lives do indeed add up. They would need to make the argument, that human lives are exchangeable. It does not matter who dies, all that matters is the body count. In this mindset, humans are just numbers and not individuals. However, this is exactly the mindset of every totalitarian greater good regime. That means we are going down the rabbit whole of totalitarianism.

But I do not believe that most people really do believe this. The test for it is simple. What if the girl is not just anonymous, but your own daughter or at least someone you know? Or what if it is your own life that is at stake? I bet it becomes immediately difficult to just see these people as the a number 1 in a bigger equation.

If that is true, then what is really behind the argument is just primitive tribalism. It is only the lives of my own kind that matter. Strangers however, are numbers that can be add up in simple equations. That really is the moral standard of people arguing in favour of murdering innocent people for a greater good. And we really have to overcome this standard if we want to live in a better, freer world.

The Panama Papers Tell Us Nothing and We Have No Solutions

What exactly do the Panama Papers tell us? Nothing, absolutely nothing. There is nothing surprising in the Panama Papers at all.

The Guardian have made a good job of the whole shock horror, class war, what about the poor millenials thing, but ultimately there is very little to say.

Is anyone surprised that wealthy people like to keep hold of their money? That maybe they don’t see handing it over to an incompetent State as the best option available to them? Or that crooked tyrants from Russia to China to Africa and even Icelandic Premiers use these tax schemes? The answer to all these questions is no! Not a single person should be surprised by any of this.

One interesting aspect to this story, that Nico raised in his post, is why this leak occurred, who was behind it and who benefits from it. It certainly isn’t Dave the Lorry Driver from Dagenham…

Of course something must be done about the Panama Papers and all this tax haven stuff. If something isn’t done what about the children..?

There have been calls for greater transparency, light is the greatest disinfectant and all that… It’s not by the way, I believe Dettol is… Either way, ‘transparency’ is a typical look at John with the new BMW, not at me policy. Transparency is a ‘great idea’ if it just applies to large corporations and the rich… But imagine if we all had to be transparent. Imagine if we all had to reveal what we were earning. How difficult would it be to work out that Steve and Janice across the road were living off their credit cards? I mean, a big house, two new cars, 3 kids, a holiday in Lanzarote and only earning 40k. Who are they kidding..?

Transparency is a terrible idea because it means the end of privacy and absolutely everyone has something to hide. The only proven method of reducing evasion and avoidance are flatter, simpler, lower taxes. Russia implemented a flat tax of 13% in 2001 that has been very successful, it even increased revenues God forbid… The reason flatter, simpler, lower taxes work is because they reduce the need to avoid or evade tax — the risk is no longer worth it. They also make it far easier for authorities to administer and enforce them — just look at Estonia.

No one I’ve seen however is suggesting we move to flatter, simpler, lower taxes. There are obvious reasons why no one is suggesting this. It would entail a significant reduction in the size of the British State. And as we know our money is the cocaine our State thrives on…

However we could move to a flatter, simpler system that removed all other taxes, even if that meant we had for example a two rate system based on income of 40% and 60%. Now those rates may not be high enough to cover the largesse of the British State, but even if we had to set the rates higher it would still solve a lot of problems.

Despite the obvious logic of a simpler tax system it hasn’t happened and doesn’t look like it will. The reasons for this isn’t necessarily obvious at first. However it’s rather simple, it’s all to do with image. The reality is our government and politicians like and benefit from our complicated tax system. It’s politically convenient and it looks good — it looks progressive. On the one hand politicians can claim they’re redistributing wealth via taxes and at the very same time they can leave open or create various loop holes to keep their system ‘competitive’.

There is also a myth that persists which states that you can tax a legal entity. When I say legal entity I of course mean a company, it’s why we have Corporation Tax and Sales Taxes. We like to pretend we can tax companies. I mean we can’t just let them do their evil work here and not pay any tax, that would be outrageous!! Sadly though all taxes ultimately fall on the individual — higher costs, lower wages, etc, etc…

The reason we have taxes like Corporation Tax is because it looks good, it seems fair. Companies must contribute something to our green and pleasant land… However as most contractors know, myself included, our ‘companies’ pay all the taxes and we pay as little as we can as individuals. This though is simply an accounting trick, a little bit of magic. I am the one who goes out and earns all the money for my company, every penny of tax paid by my company comes out of my labour. The legal entity doesn’t just magic the money and tax out of thin air, I have to work for it, it’s not as if I work for Goldman Sachs…

A simpler system would just tax the income I take from the company. Then there would be little need for any trickery and company directors would pay the same amount of tax as the company cleaner.

There is though another reason governments like our current tax system. It obfuscates how much Tax we actually pay. People don’t notice tax so much when it’s 20% here on your income, 20% on the TV you just bought and 10% in ‘National Insurance’. Our current system reduces the direct impact of our State’s largesse. Imagine if we actually had a flatter, simpler tax system like the one outlined earlier and this meant all income over 20k was taxed at 50% and over 40k at 70%. People would be furious, the next elected government would deliver austerity on speed. Both the government and the electorate prefer to rob and be robbed quietly over an extended period of time, not upfront and in your face like some sort of Mafia gangster…

If we actually want to reduce tax evasion and avoidance we need to move to a simpler more competitive system. Continuing to complicate our current system with more rules and regulations simply won’t work and we will see more and more Panama Papers.

#Brexit: Can we be Proud of Britain’s History?

British MP Liam Fox said last week in a speech discussing why Britain should leave the EU that Britain had a proud history that it didn’t have to hide from…

Now of course this led many to raise their hands and say, “Wait a minute, what about…” Of course they are quite right British History is very much like a Teenager’s face, pot-marked with blemishes…

One example of those questioning Liam Fox’s view is internet Journalist Mic Wright

I’m not one to claim I’m ‘proud’ of being British. The idea of national pride makes me queasy, being a hop, skip and a jump away from the more virulent idea of nationalism. If you come from the position that we are one humanity, the notion of throwing blanket support over one nation is difficult.

That said, my great-grandfathers fought in the First and Second World Wars, my grandfather was in the Royal Navy (national service) and my parents are both Royal Navy veterans. My dad in particular served in the Falklands War, a conflict I believe was entirely necessary. Some hippy notion of a borderless world is also impossible for me to countenance.

The problem with banging the drum for Britain’s historical role during the 20th Century is that it’s only a sustainable position if you’re white and prone to selective hearing and vision.

Britain was a colonial power well into the middle of the 20th century, it pioneered the use of concentration camps during the Boer War, had the RAF firebomb Dresden, withdrew from Palestine knowing war was inevitable between the Jews and Palestinians, saw its soldiers shoot civilians during Bloody Sunday and had its fingerprints on any number of dark deeds during covert wars. And that’s far from a complete list.

For me, as a graduate of History, this is an interesting topic and an interesting question. Can or should we be proud of British History or Britain itself?

This I believe is a matter of perspective. It depends, I contend, on how you judge statism. If you believe in the idea of statism, that is you believe there must be a state and that the state can be a force for good then you may judge the British state rather harshly. If you have a specific standard by which all states should behave, then Britain probably fails. I’m not sure what Mic Wright believes on this point — I won’t pretend to guess.

However as a Libertarian, of the minarchist variety, I don’t believe in the idea of the ‘Good State’. Statism is a fundamentally flawed outlook and as a result all states are bad. The only question that really matters is, how bad? All states centralise power and resources to some degree therefore there will always be a level of corruption and violence associated with every state.

The state is though a historical fact. There is no real example of a non-state society and it’s difficult to think what a non-state society might look like. This may change, but it hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t look like it’s going to. If you take this position, like many Libertarians do, you may assume that the aim of freedom lovers is to minimise state power and violence rather than eradicate it. The latter being impossible.

Many throughout history have come to similar conclusions. This explains why ideas like Democracy and the Judiciary have developed, they are tools to minimise the impact of the state, not to make it perfect. Attempts to limit state power were made by both the Founding Fathers and the Roman Republic. Neither the US nor the Roman Republic are or were perfect societies, they both attempted though to minimise state power and violence. For a period of time they were relatively successful and the US system continues to be to some degree. As Obama said…

“Our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.”

Therefore I don’t believe, unlike Mic, that ‘President’ Trump poses a great threat to the American system. I would contend that the Founding Fathers designed their system specifically to cope with demagogues and populists like Trump.

If you tackle British History from an anti-state/anti-statism perspective then Britain doesn’t look so bad. It could be much worse and over the last 500 years under the British variant of statism a lot has been achieved.

Relatively speaking Britain and its Empire aren’t associated with some of the truly awful crimes of History. Yes, The Opium Wars with China, the 1857 Mutiny in India, the Boer War, Bloody Sunday, Iraq and various other incidents were terrible. They certainly are not to be endorsed, repeated nor celebrated.

However fundamentally Britain for several hundred years now has been a relatively decent state. It has in its own hodge-podge way tried to minimise state power and violence. This is reflected best by the fact that we can discuss the quality of our state, question its current policies, its ideological outlook and its history. There are many states, like Saudi Arabia, where this can’t be done right now.

Also like the spotty teenager mentioned above Britain’s history isn’t all bad — it’s not all spots and surly strops…

The British Empire defeated Napoleon, a nasty power hungry little demagogue. It was British Parliamentary Democracy that between 1808 and 1843 ended Slavery within the Empire entirely. It was the British system that allowed both the Suffragettes and later the Gay Rights campaigners to succeed.

The British played a significant part in defeating Nazism and Communism — both truly abhorrent strains of the statist disease. Britain is not associated with any truly horrific acts. It doesn’t have the Nazi death camps or the Communist Gulags. There was no Great Leap Forward.

Unlike the Spanish Empire it didn’t plunder so much silver and gold that it brought its own economy to its knees. It didn’t carry out the Gallic Wars, which Caesar himself believes killed 1 million people.

Britain for centuries has been a relatively peaceful, stable and free country. As a result it is a country that has allowed many new political and philosophical ideas to develop and flourish. Many great thinkers such as Smith, Mill, Hayek, Keynes, Woolf, Orwell and even Karl Marx have lived and worked in Britain. Great debates have flowed between the likes of Paine and Burke, Hayek and Keynes.

In science we gave the world both Newton and Darwin — both highly controversial figures in their day. In medicine John Snow discovered the cause of Cholera and Alexander Fleming gave us penicillin. Britain not only played a crucial role in developing many positive things but also helped spread these things around the globe.

In Britain today we don’t beat Women because they’re caught spending time alone with men. A result of a relatively free country, that over time has done away with a lot of the religious superstition that holds much of the world back. And importantly for a long time we’ve had a diverse and powerful feminist movement.

States are not pretty, cute institutions with clean hands — they’re not like Battersea Dogs Home… They are dirty, often poorly led, incompetent, and history shows they generally commit acts of horrendous terror. Britain though is and has been one of the better states — we’re not Switzerland or Luxembourg — but we’re somewhere near the top and we’ve given a lot to the world — certainly more than Switzerland and Luxembourg…

I’m not sure I’m proud to be British or proud of all its history. I certainly can’t lay claim to any of the achievements nor am I responsible for any of the crimes or failings.

I am though very glad to be British. I’m glad I was lucky to be born in a relatively free, wealthy, stable and pleasant country. This is a result of our history — as Newton sort of said, “We stand on the shoulders of giants…” And overall there is no doubt in my mind if the world were a bit more like Britain it would be a better place.