Paul Givan’s ungentlemanly conduct

© MIKI Yoshihito

© MIKI Yoshihito

As regular readers will now know I spent much of the last week or so analysing the details and the context of a single act of ungentlemanly behaviour and interviewing the lady involved. Paul Givan, Chairman of the Justice Committee in Northern Ireland’s Assembly suggested, during a live web-cast formal evidence session, that a woman – Ms Laura Lee – should perform sexual intercourse with disabled strangers for the sole reason that they are disabled: “Would you not rather do it for free?” he said.

I’d like you to try something. Try and put yourself into the emotional shoes of a woman asked to do such a thing. Lets put a face to the partner too. Let’s imagine a famous actor – a real style icon at home on the red carpet – they take a fall, break their back and end up lonely and living on four wheels. Such a person may not be bad looking, is not infectious or deformed, but may have ended up very emotionally needy. How would your wife or your daughter (for Laura Lee is both of these to someone) handle such a request? What would be required of them emotionally?

It takes approximately half a second to realise that such an act would be emotionally very difficult. In fact it might be difficult even if you were married to the person, nevermind if they were a stranger. Asking someone to do that is a huge ask. Something of the person performing such a service is going to be lost. Some kind of emotional energy drained.

When you suggest that something like that is done for free, you are naming the value you place on the person you are asking to do it. You are calling that person a whore, or worse, a robot. A resource to be allocated to your purposes.

How could a senior politician (don’t laugh) be such a callous and ungentlemanly idiot? What vexes me is that, within all the philosophical theories about what is proper or not, I don’t think he did a single thing wrong. What he said was not only okay, it was in fact virtuous. It was not ungentlemanly at all, it was Saintly.

As it happens, calling Laura Lee a whore in a live web-cast, transcripted formal session of Government has a certain basis in fact. She is a part time call girl. She set’s a price for the service, and because she also seeks to be virtuous, she sets a lower one than normal for the disabled. It is obvious from understanding all the theories, that this is perfectly wrong. Let’s unpack why that is:

There are three basic moral theories:

Altrusim – we should all live for others, and sacrifice all that we can bear to the needy either becuase nature allows us to or because God gave us the faculty to do so. In other words, becuase we can, and wouldn’t it be just dandy if we did?

Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number. Society should be organised in whatever way has the best mathematically calculated outcome, weighing quantity and quality.

Egalitarianism – some people are unlucky others are very lucky, and we need to even that out. We should do whatever it takes to even out the outcomes, usually by taking the good and putting it where there is less good.

There is also a pseudo theory namely “what God said”, and if you can be bothered to read the Bible (I haven’t) it probably frowns on sex workers. Over all “what God said” is basically Altruism, and thats true whoever your God happens to be.

Under “Altruism” and “Egalitarianism” the analysis is pretty simple. The ethical thing to do is for the healthy professional sex worker, who has no particular vulnerability, to dish-out the goods to the needy guy. I don’t think I’m missing anything there. In utilitarianism it’s a bit more complex, but if you imagine that a professional sex worker is – by definition – a specialist then you can assume that the act is less costly to the sex worker than it is valuable to the disabled man, so the ethical thing to do is work for free. A fee would simply upset the calculations in the wrong direction.

In summary: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, now get to work!

Obviously, this is utterly wrong. You don’t have to be an expert on ethics or economics to figure out that something is missing from the picture. I may be speculating, I am not a sex worker and am not female, but that something is Laura Lee’s soul. Asking someone to work for free, in such a personal way, in aid of the disabled is asking them to give up their soul and attaching zero value to it. Paying a fee however, attaches some kind of value to the soul, and allows for the establishment of boundaries to protect it (read the interview to understand that). I don’t think the amount of the fee matters so much as the fact that there is one. We are dealing with spiritual values so these values are ordinal: a fee implies the soul is worth more than nothing and the intimate act is less than the fee. The soul is enhanced and the act diminished by the fee.

The conclusion I want to draw is this: that the basic ethical theories we work with are bullshit. You cannot apply them consistently and also behave in a way that is empathatic and decent and gentlemanly. Respect for an individual’s personal sovereignty is not a feature of any standard moral theory. You have to look elsewhere for that.

As I said, this is based on a lot of speculation. I am considering the basic facts about a case, and some a priori knowledge of moral theory and epistemology and producing a theory about what went on in the head of someone I never met and never sought to correspond with. By publishing I am asking for it to be challenged and corrected.

There is, however, a little evidence. Consider the tesimony of Dr Brooke Magnanti and Laura Lee as they write elsewhere:

Magnanti, the Belle de Jour, watched the live web-cast:

As this was the first justice committee hearing in Britain to invite a current sex worker to testify about the proposed legislation, one might have expected a lot better. But instead the committee were inappropriately hostile, insufficiently objective, and forewent listening to Laura’s testimony in favour of mean-spirited point scoring and blatant attempts to break and shame a witness whom they had invited.

And Laura Lee, the lady in question recollects:

The chairman of the committee Paul Givan, began by undermining my credibility as a representative, saying that because I am from the IUSW I am effectively the face of pimps. Very calmly I explained that the person they were repeatedly referring to may have had links with an escort agency but that I was there in my personal capacity as an Irish sex worker with twenty years experience. That was completely ignored and Jim Wells MLA went on to allege that I receive funding from pimps and that’s why I speak out.

Frankly, you don’t have to rely on these accounts. The transcript and the video make clear that the thrust of the questionning was to undermine, contradict and reject the arguments she was putting forward, not to get more evidence or information. This represents a malfunction in the democratic system of Northern Ireland, but it’s also important for our moral theory. Givan was pointing to a moral transgression – behaviour contrary to the theories above – in order to show up Ms Lee as an evil outsider. To reject her along with her knowledge and her opinion.

In doing so, I believe he highlights his own evil, that having self-worth and acting to preserve it aren’t normal or proper in his view. In his view, individuals have no fundamental value.

 

The Mistress Contract

Incoming from Ed: the “Mistress Contract“, a play at the Royal Court Theatre:

She and He are the pseudonyms of a real-life couple who live in separate houses in the same city on the west coast of America. She is 88. He is 93.

For 30 years he has provided her with a home and an income, while she provides ‘mistress services’ – ‘All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.’

They first met at university and then lost touch. When they met again twenty years later, they began an affair when She – a highly educated, intelligent woman with a history of involvement in the feminist movement – asked her wealthy lover to sign the remarkable document that outlines their unconventional lifestyle: The Mistress Contract.

Was her suggestion a betrayal of all that she and the women of her generation had fought for? Or was it brave, honest, and radical?

 

It seems odd to me that the term “radical” is applied. That is word belonging to politics, and this seems like a personal story, what relevence is it to politics? Nevertheless, it seems essential to many to discuss the issues arising from this agreement. The Royal Court is hosting a panel discussion on March 12th:

Chaired by broadcaster, journalist and theatre critic Libby Purves, the panel debates how and why we form sexual partnerships. The panel includes playwright Alecky Blythe, anthropologist Professor Sophie Day (Goldsmiths, University of London), academic and activist Lynne Segal and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Ed writes:

I’m not sure what angle they’ll take […] but contracting generally has a pro-liberty flavour? I’ll be interested to see how they interpret it.

Moral inversion over disabled taxi fares

Deputy mayor of Middlesbrough Dave Budd said companies ‘have a moral obligation to treat everybody the same’.

© Mars Infomage

© Mars Infomage

In this context treating everyone the same means giving them a larger, scarcer minibus instead of a smaller more common car. I seem to recall driving a minibus commercially also requires a special licence, meaning scarcer staff are also required. The disabled passenger is asking for a naturally much more expensive product for the same price.

In response to this unreasonable demand – and withdrawn subsidies from the Council – Boro Taxis withdrew from taking disabled customers, and have been roundly and comprehensively condemned for it.

This is a great example of a couple of things:

  • Rand’s observation that need is used as a “pass key” for the lives of others.  In standard altruistic ethics a needy man is entitled to the object of his needs regardless of the costs to others. Care for the needy is not weighed against the harm to others who are not needy, and who can be harmed arbitrarily to help the needy. Standard ethics also do not endorse an individual right to decide if their own needs allow for a generous donation to another, while Rand’s alternative ethics are based on the right to make those decisions. The Metro article is a great example of how society fails to endorse that right, and condemns those that exercise it.
  • Heidt‘s analogy between moral calculus and taste buds, wherein different people are sensitive to different kinds of moral question to varying degrees. A liberal, typically, is attuned to “care and harm”, and the liberal author at the Metro, and the deputy mayor quoted are clearly focused on that. Libertarians are uniquely attuned to “justice” and “liberty”, and will note the rights of the taxi operator and weight them evenly.

As a Randian libertarian, the both the initial ban on “discriminatory” pricing, the crack down and the public condemnation of Boro Taxis represent an inversion of morality on the “justice” and “liberty” criteria. I would also point out that expecting Boro Taxis to subsidise the disabled (as has now happened) is a harm to them, and it is a harm which is neither simple bad luck, nor justified by their conduct. In contrast the tragic bad luck of disabled passengers is a morally neutral happenstance (since it did not involve choice). Overall then, my sympathy is firmly behind Boro Taxis. This is not becuase I have no empathy with disabled travellers, I do, but because society seems to be choosing to take too much from Boro Taxis – and is not respecting their rights.

BBC Teeside are also carrying this story and have a longer quote from the taxi operator:

“The simple fact is if you order a car and four people jump in you are charged for a taxi. If you order an eight-seater minibus and eight people jump in you are charged for a minibus.

“If you order a minibus and there’s only one person you will still be charged for a minibus because that’s what you ordered.

“But because we are charging for a minibus we are breaking the law.”

The suspension was, ultimately, a case of unintended consequences. The law banned charging extra to disabled passengers so the operator refused to carry them at all. The chickens came home to roost for advocates of disabled privileges and only a twitter mob saved disabled travellers on Teeside from the unintended consequences of their ideas. This is also an interesting example of libertarian economic consequentialist thinking, but if is first and foremost a moral inversion.

 

 

Note:

The video of Aiden Gregg on speaking on psychology and moral taste buds of libertarians is delayed because, over the weekend, some prat reversed into my car and drove away. I spent much of the weekend working on forms and diagrams for the Police.

Self-Righteous white kids and moral calculus

© frontierofficial in Ghana

© frontierofficial in Ghana

David Hansen writes powerfully and honestly about his experiences helping at a children’s home in the Philippines and why he ended up feeling he had been self-righteous:

I wanted people to see me as a righteous person more than I wanted to do charity work itself, and this greatly influenced my motivations for working abroad. With my motivations, it was important that people were aware of the work I was doing, and also that they knew I had sacrificed a lot in order to do it. These two together would make me seem like an extremely benevolent person; an all-round top bloke.

We can all criticise the economics of kids flying out rather than donating the air fare, and the kind of irrational self-opinion that drives it, but I’m interested in why David felt he would earn society’s high opinion while doing this. I think this is another example of the kind of flawed moral calculus I see at work in public discourse, last spotted giving the NHS a free ride over death and disease in its hospitals.

Imagine a scale: on the one side, people heap up what was sacrificed to make something happen, on the other the kind of dishonesty, negligence and fraud we all despise. Having more of the sacrifice than the dishonesty and negligence makes you an okay sort, if not exactly wonderful. This is why the NHS has managed to retain the image a morally decent thing despite fatally failing thousands. Missing from the picture is all the good stuff that gets gone in a non-sacrificial way, like grocery stores, or residential construction, and (especially) pharmaceuticals.

In David’s case the flight out and the weeks of hard work was the sacrifice, and there was no dishonesty involved so it’s a pure and virtuous thing. The fact that his actions made no economic sense, and the way he was forced to confront that cleared the scale on the virtuous side. Does anything belong on the other side? Well, David perhaps lied to himself and he perhaps chose to show off in a way that might be considered dishonest to the people he expected to praise him. This is a small matter, but now David is left wondering which way the scales tip.

I have some sympathy for David. His economic decision was flawed and re seems to think too much of the opinion of others, but why shouldn’t he enjoy visiting an exotic location for his gap year? Why shouldn’t he, for that matter, aspire to feel pride and receive praise for his actions? Is moral ambitiousness a sin? Is investing your own money in that ambition a fraud? On who?

In my book, these are not bad things. Seeking to achieve something and be proud is a good thing. Seeking to learn for the sake of developing your mind is a good thing. Seeking a win-win outcome for you and the people you deal with is a good thing.

This flawed calculus, this procedure for moral evaluation that condemns rational self-interest and condemns morally ambitious conduct has to go.

Was Political Philosophy founded upon a mistake?

The title of this post is inspired by Harold Prichard’s 1912 article (justly famous in its day) “was moral philosophy founded upon a mistake?” where Prichard attacks the founding principle of Classical moral philosophy that ethics is based upon our search for happiness, a happy life  – an assumption that followers of Plato and Aristotle, the Cynics and the Stoics, and the Epicurians (in their various ways) all shared.

Harold Prichard argued that is was all a mistake, that the good man might lead a life of unhappiness, indeed of torment. He did not draw the conclusion that some of the “Sophists” are supposed to have done, that justice and so on should be rejected and wickedness followed instead in order to achieve a happy life. Prichard’s position was more radical – i.e. that happiness need not be the objective of one’s life, that misery and torment might be a price worth paying for doing the right thing (I am not going to get into the distinctions between “the right” and “the good” here).

Now, of course, what the classical philosophers meant by what we use the English language word “happiness” to describe, was not what is normally meant by the word “happiness”. The good man to, for example, Aristotle need not be some smiling person dancing about singing a happy song. The person who is being the best man – following what it truly is to be human (rationality and, contra Hume, the ethics that go with rationality) might be screaming in agony with tears of torment running down his face, before finally dying (coated in his own excrement – and with the insults of his enemies being the last thing he hears) knowing that all his family and friends, indeed everything he cares about, has already been destroyed.

This is why modern defenders of the Classical tradition (such as Randian Objectivtists) are careful to say “human flourishing” or “man as man” rather than “happiness”. Although dying in a torture chamber (and so on) is not what is normally meant by the word “flourishing”. But, before they jump in, I know that even a torture chamber can not be built (or maintained) without some degree of rationality – and where reason has not just been (let alone “ought” to have been – it is the word “ought” that makes Hume’s position not a cry of despair, but a profoundly anti-moral one) the “slave of the passions”, to use building materials (and so on) correctly, someone, somewhere, must have had some respect for the laws of objective reality – and, yes, to some extent independently of how they can be made to serve the “passions”.

However, it is not my purpose to take sides in this debate (and there are strong arguments on both sides). It is my purpose to draw attention to a related mistake in political philosophy. Aristotle is critical of Plato is many things – but in this mistake he follows him. So what is this mistake?

The belief that state laws can make people “just and good” and thus “happy”, so that the use of force by the state is justified because it produces a happy life even for the individuals the force is used against.

The young philosophers among you (whose brains are far less damaged by time and combat than mine is) will have noticed there are two assumptions here.

Firstly the assumption that being just and good is the happy life (the assumption that Prichard, amonst others, attacked) and the assumption that state laws (in the sense of orders – edicts, threats of force) can make people just and good.

This assumption is famously in those collection of lecture notes we cal the “Politics” of Aristotle. Aristotle attacks the”sophist” Lycrophon for argueing that “law” is a contract to neither commit or suffer aggression (Lycrophon limits law to what we would agree is justice – i.e. the nonaggression principle) – no says Aristotle, law is also about molding character, about making people just and good. And it is about promoting the various virtures and fighting against the various vices.

The very first name I chose for myself on the internet (back in 1989 at the University of York when university systems were starting to be connected to what was to become the internet) was “Lycrophon” as Aristotle is clearly wrong (radically wrong) about this. But it is worth nothing that this goes back before the “Politics” and need have nothing to with a feud with Lycrophon.

For example, in the Nicomachean Ethics (the set of Aristotle lecture notes put together by his son Nicomachus) Aristotle makes the same point – and without reference to Lycrophon.

For example, we are told in Book Ten of the Nicomachean Ethics that is the job of the state to mold character to promote goodness (which will promote happiness) and to undermine all vices, to make us better (and more happy) people. However, we are also told, only the Spartan state seems to have had a real good go at this – the other Greek city states (alas!) have not really tried to control human lives, and to a great extent just leave (free) people to live as they wish  – how terrible!

In this Aristotle is following Plato – the problem with places like Athens is not that the state orders people about too much, but that it does so too little. And people would be more moral, and more happy, if the state controlled and molded them.

And the teachings of the philosophers do seem to have had an effect. Over time more and more state legislation covered more and more aspects of human life in various Greek  states. Also the doctrine of state influence on education  (almost unknown, outside of Sparta, in the Greek world in the time of Plato) becomes the norm.

Indeed later Greek thinkers and Roman thinkers (such as Polybius and Cicero) accepted that the central difference between the Roman Republic and Greek states was that in the latter the state was in charge of molding character (especially among the young) whereas in Rome families were in charge of their own affairs including the education of children.

Indeed the “anti Greek” Cato the Elder is actually importing the very Greek political philosophy he claimed to despise, into Rome. By seeking to promote virtue and undermine vice (to make better people) by state edicts – Cato the Elder (the “Censor”) was acting like a Greek “lawgiver” (seeking to “plan” a society) rather than a Roman Praetor seeking to find justice in a particular case (a dispute over who rightly owned what, or whether or not someone had aggressed against someone else). Cato the Elder’s efforts were, of course, a farcical failure (indeed they aided the very corruption of morals they were supposed to fight – by adding deceit and hypocrisy to the mix). And they would have been even if he had not be an utterly vile man himself (for example counseling treachery against Carthage – demanding they disarm and then attacking them, and discarding slaves that had grown old in his service to die of starvation, a practice of his that disgusted other public figures even in his own time). As Gladstone said so many centuries later (but with a deep understanding of the Classical world as well as his own – and of “reformers” who were, unlike Cato the Elder, men of honour) “of one thing I am certain, one can not promote virtue in society by state action”1.

For all my dislike of Pericles (his policy of plundering the allies of Athens, thus turning them into enemies, to get money to buy votes at home with building schemes and welfare payments) such a distinction  (between Roman Civil Society and Greek collectivism) would have made no sense in his time.

The Athens of the time of Pericles did not seek to mold the character of the young or to regulate every aspect of adult human life (“Nudge” style – to make people “better” and “more truly happy” as I am sure Cas Sustein would agree with Plato and Aristotle). The young undertook two years of military service (18 to 20 if my memory serves) and adults could be called to arms at any time to defend the city – but that was the point, service was to defend the city, not to make “better people” who would be “more happy”.

The decline of Greek civilisation occurred long before the conquest by Rome. It was a basic intellectual error that led to various fundamentally mistaken policies. Indeed by the time of Roman rule independence was not really left as an option for the degenerate Greek states – only rule by one of the regional powers, of whom Republican Rome was perhaps the least bad. And the Greek states were degenerate  because of the very policy to make them “better”, by making their citizens “better” people.

The very writers who accept that the Greek states had become degenerate, such as Polybius, never seem to question the policies that had made them degenerate – indeed they regard it as very odd that the Roman Republic did not control the lives of its citizens and attempt to control the education of the young. Such was the grip of mistaken ideology upon the educated Greek classes.

However, what was the mistake? Or rather the source of it…..

F.A. Hayek (in various works) stressed the difference between “taxis” (planned order) and “cosmos” (evolved order).  Once it had been a common enough Greek assumption that cultural institutions evolve over time by the interactions of human beings (this later came to be seen as Roman attitude – the view of Cicero and so on) – but the attitude of the great philosophers (Plato and so on – including Aristotle) that a planned order (with the planer as the state – the “legislator”) become more and more dominant – and this attitude had more and more effects on practical politics. For no matter how corrupt politicians (and so on) may be – in the end ideas do have an effect, and bad ideas have bad effects. Fleeing the statism of one Greek city-state one would simply come upon the statism of other Greek city states – and the endless growth of regulations (“laws”) and so on, had a common root (bad political philosophy, based upon bad general philosophy).

However, there is a different (and more traditional) way of putting this. In the Greek world the distinction between state and society was lost (as it has largely been lost in the modern world).

Some blame language – pointing to the Greek word “polity” (from which the word “politics”) meaning both state and society. Whereas in the Latin world the idea of “civil society” was stronger – because such words as “civitas” existed.

But this is too simple – for the Greeks had (to a great extent) understood the difference between state and society  (citizens were left to “live how they liked” in many Greek cities as long as they did not aggress against others – and the state was there to protect against criminals and invaders not to mold the character of the citizens), and then had lost that understanding. So it can not be the Greek language that is to blame.

And to stress (Hayek style) the unintended consequences of human actions as opposed to human designs, ignores the fact that the difference between state and society (between the state and community) was once understood, and that people (both friends of this distinction and enemies of it) argued from principle.

To ignore principles and to place one’s trust in unexamined  inherited customs and practices is (as Hayek himself elsewhere accepts – for example in “Why I Am Not A Conservative” at the end of the “Constitution Of Liberty”) to drop the ball, it is to basically lose the contest of ideas (and thus, in the end, the contest of politics) before one even starts.

For critics of the limitation of state power, such as Plato, will come – and if one’s only answer to them is “state power has always been limited, because…… well because it has” then defeat is inevitable.

The central mistake of confusing state and society (state and community) can only be fought with understanding, not with Colonel Blimp like bafflement (although it is often forgotten that Colonel Blimp is a noble character – when George Orwell noted that his Progressive friends had fallen away in 1939 leaving only “Colonel Blimp to step forward to defend civilisation” he was only half mocking the “Colonel Blimps” he knew their intellectual limitations, but he also accepted that they were brave and good people).

It is true that no one planned (or could plan) the development of modern society (even at the level of Classical Civilisation). But it is not true that the conscious belief in freedom (the “reasoning I”) did not exist or was unimportant. Such things as private property rights and the right of an individual not to obey majority opinion (pack opinion) were real and depended on beliefs – principles. Which were held as real principles – not just unthinking practices. In this Mises and Rand have more to teach us than Hayek (whose general philosophy downplays, if not outright denies, the existence of the reasoning “I” – the individual moral agent morally responsible for his or her actions because he or she CHOOSES these actions and could have done otherwise), and thus his political and historical thinking downplays the importance of the individual free will mind, the individual agent.

By undermining the distinction between society (i.e. the voluntary interactions of human agents – reasoning beings) and the state (i.e. commands – backed up by the threat of violence) the Classical philosophers did great harm. But it did not stop there…..

Later thinkers (especially in the revolt against Classical political thought) did further harm. For example, such thinkers as Boden and Hobbes understood that the state is NOT the community – that the state is essentially a military concept, but to them this simply meant that the idea of “society” or “community” was meaningless.

One looks in vain for such concepts (or even the individual moral agent who can CHOOSE to do the right thing) in the work of, for example, Thomas Hobbes.

In the work of Hobbes there is just the state (the ruler or rulers) and a lot of individuals – brutish and cruel individuals who tear at each other in their “nasty, brutish and short” lives.

How such scum (for they are scum) could possibly have come together to form a social contract is something that Hobbes does not explain – because he can not explain it. Such vermin could not have done so.

The political philosophy of Hobbes and others does indeed not make the central mistake of Classical political philosophy of confusing civil society and state – but only because it does not really understand the existence of society at all. It is not better than Classical philosophy, it is worse. For the only moral society it can understand is that of the state – so once it concludes (quite correctly) that the state is not based upon morality (but upon force) it jumps to the conclusion that civil society (that community) does not exist at all – that all that exists are individuals (brutish, savage, non-rational individuals) and the state.

Contrary to the hopes of M.J. Oakeshott and many other good people, following the ideas of Hobbes will not lead to protection for civil society, it will lead to the tyranny of such regimes as that of Frederick the Great (who many 19th century, and later, liberals admired – but were profoundly wrong to do so).

In the words of David Cameron (not a person I normally agree with) “there is such a thing as society – it just is not the same thing as the state” (if only he acted in line with those words). Contra the implications of Hobbes and co, Civil Society does exist – but it is not the state (as both Plato and Aristotle implied it was).

And nor is civil society the same thing as the hunter-gatherer pack (indeed it is the result of the pack not remaining in total charge of human lives). Communal “anarchists” make the same mistake as Plato (and so on – for Rousseau and Karl Marx are in the same tradition) for they define “community” as some form of central planning where the people get together and decide ……

Getting rid of Plato’s or Rousseau’s “lawgiver” does not alter the fundamentally folly of this. As a democratic vote by a “local community” on the price of milk is no more sane than Lenin style “scientific experts” deciding the price of milk.

Only the choices of buyers and sellers (which is what a “market” really is) is actually a rational way to decide the price of milk, and it is also the only rational basis for freedom – indeed it is freedom.

Individual human reason is not hostile to community (not community – rightly understood). Nor is community the same thing as the state – indeed they are fundamentally different.

Civil society exists, but it is based on people being civil – on respecting the nonaggression principle (private property) and allowing interaction (co-operation) on this basis.

This is neither the savage communal pack, not the modern state – it is something quite different. A distinction the Classical political philosophers obscured and which is still obscured in the thought of most political philosophers to this day.

“But Paul – you have not dealt with the question of whether the state is needed at all. Can not free rational human agents, in voluntary interaction with each other, defend civil society without a need for a state?”

I have not tackled this issue deliberately. I have made a choice not to tackle it here and now – because it is too big a question.

 

 

Gauke’s outrageous arrogance

It seems that Joey Jones is perhaps the most sensible (and liberal) member of the political-media elite today. You all know what he was talking about, but before watching the video of him, read what was actually said by Mr Gauke.

Guido has the quote:

Legitimate use of reliefs, for example taking out a tax-free ISA, is not tax avoidance. Buying a house for personal use through a company to avoid stamp duty, on the other hand, clearly is. Morally repugnant practices such as this are where the Government is cracking down.

There are a couple of serious problems here.

The first is that  Gauke is uttering blatant nonesense. If I wanted to avoid a person, such as Mr Gauke, then I would try to spend less time with him. Finding his contadictions and arrogance unappealing I would not seek out his opinion, not share a table with him at lunch, nor go near his constituency. Unfortunately, I have spent the best part of this year working just inside the boundary of Mr Gauke’s constituency so nothing is perfect, but at least I didn’t need to actually meet him. This is what avoiding means, it means experiencing less of something. If I want to avoid tax, a perfectly effective means of doing so would be to take out an ISA, indeed I have done. Other people might claim a tax relief on an environmental investment, or research and development costs, or on buying postage stamps for the office from the sacred Royal Mail, they might tick the box for Gift Aid, or take part in any other do-gooding scheme. All of those things are equally tax avoidance. If you do them you are bound to experience less tax and use more of your money the way you wanted to. That is the whole point in many cases. Mr Gauke seems smart enough to understand this, but is clearly too full of something, righteousness perhaps, to think clearly and express his beliefs accurately.

The next big problem, is that if all these things are fine to do, and Mr Gauke says that they are, and if they all have the same consequence of the Government gettting less money, then what is it about them that makes them okay and offshore bank accounts “aggressive”?

Nothing. That’s the correct answer, because both are in fact fine. The incorrect answer, which I’m sure Mr Gauke would give some version of is that the Government is responsible for balancing many competing priorities and encouraging people to save, or waste, or give away their money is important as well for some reason that they have decided upon. Thier arrogance is that they assume they know best, and so much better than you that you barely have a say.

This is where Joey Jones hit the nail on the head. Many people will indeed dislike the Goverment “dictating to me how I run my life, or how I use my cash”, though I haven’t seen anyone but Joey actually saying so. Even Guido fails to pick that up and instead calls Gauke a hyprocrite, citing some redundant facts, but not challenging the idea of tax. I assume this is Joey’s opinion, and if it is then good on him.

In fact, take a look at what Telegraph readers are saying:

An online poll for Telegraph.co.uk found that nearly three-quarters of those who responded admitted to paying cash-in-hand, and saw nothing wrong with it.

Another 16 per cent confessed that they did but felt that they “probably shouldn’t,” while nearly 10 per cent agreed with Mr Gauke that it was “morally wrong”.

It seems the Telegraph have their heads screwed on properly, if only our arrogant elites were more like them, but notice there is no figure for how many felt paying cash was morally good. I assume there was no option to say you though tax avoidance was good, the libertarian position is rarely represented in polls, but of course tax avoidance is good. We all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that means our lives, our liberty and our choice of a path to happiness – as individiuals. It is not tax avoidance that is aggressive, but tax taking, which is supported by the implicit threat of imprisonment or conflict. It is not imorral to avoid tax becuase it makes “others pay more tax”, since it is not the tax avoider that is initiating or sanctioning the use of force. On that score, timid tax payers have almost as much to answer for as Mr Gauke.

Please, don’t feed the animals.