Tag Archives: politics

Book Review: “Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know”, by Jason Brennan

I have just finished listening to the audio edition of “Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Jason Brennan, (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Libertarianism-What-Everyone-Needs-Know/dp/B00I4LGTJI/).

In “Libertarianism”, Brennan examines what libertarians believe and explores the different schools of the libertarian philosophy.

Brennan distinguishes between hard and soft libertarians. Hard Libertarians, he argues believe that we have a moral duty to help the poor. However the state has no right to force us to do so through taxation, as we have an absolute right to do as we please with our property (provided that we respect the property rights of others), and government has no right to force us (through taxation) to assist the needy. In contrast soft libertarians contend that some form of social welfare may be justified. Brennan sights, for example Milton Friedman’s support for some form of basic income.

Both hard and soft libertarians believe that the best way to help “the poor” is by removing barriers to them entering the labour market. For example libertarians oppose minimum wages due to their belief that these reduce employment amongst the unskilled. They contend that minimum wages cause employers to hire less workers, introduce technology which reduces the need for workers or, in some instances even go out of business. This, they argue benefits neither the poor nor the employer.

Libertarians also favour abolishing labour market regulations, or, at the very least greatly reducing their scope on the grounds that regulations prevent poor people from starting businesses thereby trapping them in poverty. Brennan sights the example of an African-American wishing to offer eyebrow threading. In order to do so she needs a hairdressing license. She can not afford this (in his view) unnecessary license, therefore she is deprived of a source of income and remains poor.

Many libertarians support doing away with immigration controls. They believe that it is morally wrong to condemn the poor to a life of poverty in the third/developing world when there are jobs for them to do in the richer west. Allowing poor people to immigrate into richer countries, enhances their economic opportunities and also benefits those who are willing to employ them. It is, in effect a win win situation for all concerned.

Libertarians respond to concerns that uncontrolled immigration would lead to a ballooning welfare state by pointing out that, under a libertarian regime there would exist no (government) welfare. Therefore immigrants would (along with the native born population) have to support themselves or rely on private charitable provision.

Libertarians are not Conservatives, although they do, as Brennan points out, share with the latter a belief in private property as a bulwark against tyrany and as a means of enhancing the freedom of the individual.

There is, within Conservatism a school of thought which advocates state intervention to protect the poor. For example the Conservative Party in the UK introduced the Living Wage. It is illegal to pay someone an amount under the Living Wage, something which is seen as anti competitive by other strands within the Conservative Party (and by all libertarians).

Whilst Brennan’s case against immigration controls possesses a certain superficial attraction, he does not answer the question as to where all these new entrants to the USA (and other developed countries) would live. As there would be no state provision, I, for one have visions of the development of vast shanty towns with the rise in crime that plagues such places in countries such as Brazil. When people are desperate (and they have no social welfare safety net) some of them will turn to crime in order to survive. The libertarian advocacy of no immigration controls has the potential to lead to disaster.

Are libertarians selfish?

Brennan argues that libertarians are no more or less selfish than the adherents of Conservatism or Socialism. One finds selfish and altruistic Conservatives and Socialists. The same holds true for libertarians. Granted libertarians tend to oppose a welfare state, but many of them do give to charity which gives the lie to the idea that libertarians are selfish.

Brennan is, I believe correct that one can not label libertarians as selfish. Many of them do give to charity. However one can legitimately ask whether a libertarian society (one lacking any form of social welfare) would be more humane than societies in which social welfare is provided. The answer is, I would argue, no. Whilst private charity can (and does) play an important role in aleviating poverty, it can not fill all the gaps currently being plugged (admittedly not always successfully) by welfare states. So, whilst they are undoubtedly well meaning, libertarians who are sincere in their belief that unfettered free markets are the answer to almost all social problems, they are, I believe hopelessly optimistic (even naive) in their advocacy of unfettered markets.

Libertarians (rightly) criticise Socialists for their advocacy of failed collectivist solutions to social and economic problems. However in there blind belief that market solutions are (in almost every case) the only possible solutions, they are just as blinkered as the Socialist collectivists.

There is much in Brennan’s book with which libertarians (with a small l) would agree. The libertarian belief that the state/society has no right to dictate how consenting adults live (including their sexual preferences) is a view with which I strongly agree. Again, the support of libertarians for civil liberties is something with which most of us (in the west at least) would agree.

As libertarians point out, “the war on drugs” is not working. Whilst many libertarians would like to see the wholesale decriminalisation of drugs, there are arguments in favour of controlled legalisation (I.E. places where those addicted to drugs can legally obtain them, together with the help they need to kick their addiction). Such a policy would not be a “free for all”, but a compromise between the unworkable “war on drugs” and the libertarian “free for all”.

In conclusion, as someone who would describe themselves as a libertarian (with a small l), there is much in libertarianism with which I agree. Libertarians are correct that private property is essential to personal freedom. They are, I believe also right to highlight the failings of collectivism and to press for limits to be placed on the power of the state. Where they are wrong is in their blind, almost slavish belief that free markets can solve almost every problem. Certainly the lack of markets in Communist societies caused huge problems in terms of sluggish economic growth and the lack of personal freedom. But unregulated Capitalism can lead to child labour, the growth of slums and other social ills. So, in short a very good read but I’m not going to join the UK Libertarian Party any time soon.

COVID-19 and J S Mill’s “On Liberty”

At a time of unprecedented restrictions on the liberty of the individual (in the democracies), one can not, I think do better than to turn to J. S. Mill’s 1859 essay “On Liberty”:

“The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
(See https://www.econlib.org/library/Mill/mlLbty.html).

It is, of course dangerous to attempt to precisely determine what a 19th-century theorist would think as regards the problems facing us in the 21st century. However, on the basis of “the harm principle” outlined above, I think that one can hazard an educated guess as to what Mill would have thought about the lockdown measures introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mill would, I believe have accepted (albeit reluctantly) the necessity of some kind of social distancing measures on the grounds that an individual has no right to infect another person with a disease. I am, however not convinced that he would have advocated compulsory lockdown measures such as social distancing enforced by law. and, given his defense of individual liberty he would, in my view have rigorously opposed measures aimed at preventing members of different households from mixing indoors – for example the ban on couples who are not living together from becoming intimate due to concerns over the Corona virus.

Mill was a Liberal, but his views have influenced liberals (with a small l) in all the major UK political parties. It is my hope that liberals (of every party) will make their views heard so as to ensure that in the natural desire to combat Corona, the rights of individual human beings do not get forgotten.

Kevin

Sex with someone who is not part of your household to be made a criminal offence in the United Kingdom as part of new lockdown measures

The UK’s “Daily Mirror reports that:

“Sex in your house with someone from outside of your household is set to become illegal today.

The government is introducing new lockdown measures that prevent people from socialising (or gathering) with one person from outside of their household in a private space.

Up until now the person visiting a house for sex would have been the one in breach of the measures”. (See https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/sex-your-house-person-another-22117105).

As a libertarian, (with a small l) I find this deeply disturbing. What consenting adults do (behind closed doors) should be no concern of the state or of society. And this legislation strikes me as being something one would expect in a dictatorship rather than a democracy like the United Kingdom.

Yes COVID-19 is a serious problem and I am concerned about the pandemic. However I am more concerned (in this particular instance) about unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of consenting adults. Just how many people are going to become infected with the Corona virus as a consequence of having sex with a person who is not part of their household? I would be astounded if anyone has carried out any research into this issue.

For what its worth, my own (non-scientific view) is that very few people will become infected as a consequence of indulging in sexual relations with a person who is not part of their household.

Apart from the massive impact on civil liberties, I honestly can’t see this law being enforceable. A few nasty neighbours may report someone they suspect of breaking this law, but the vast majority will, I believe mind their own business (as, indeed they should do).

This (proposed) law contrasts sharply with the sensible and liberal policy of the Netherlands where single people are encouraged (should they wish to do so) to find a “sex buddy”, (see https://kmorrispoet.com/2020/05/16/the-netherlands-advises-single-people-to-find-corona-sex-buddies/).

I never thought that I would see the day in a country I love where such draconian laws where even being considered.

What Do Your Bookshelves Say About You?

Yesterday evening, Owen Jones (a Guardian columnist and supporter of the former leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn), posted the following tweet regarding books displayed on the shelves of Cabinet minister Michael Gove:

“Why does Michael Gove and his wife own a copy of a book by David Irving, one of the most notorious Holocaust deniers on earth”.

Whilst Jones is correct that Irving is a “holocaust denier”, ownership of a book in no way implies that the owner subscribes to the views propounded therein. As Stephen Pollard points out in “The Jewish Chronicle”, to understand views with which one profoundly disagrees, one must read works that express those opinions, (see https://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/one-stupid-tweet-by-owen-jones-confirms-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-hard-left-1.499433).

Other than poetry and works of fiction, my own bookshelves contain:
V. I. Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”,
Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”,
Engels “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”,
Lord Kenneth Baker’s “The Faber Book of Conservatism”,
Lord David Willetts “Modern Conservatism”,
J. S Mill’s “On Liberty”,
Herbert Spencer’s “The Man Versus the State”
And various other works of politics, including writings by the Anarchist theorist Proudhon.

What should one conclude from the above? That I am a Anarchist/Conservative/Marxist/Libertarian? or that, as a student of politics I have an interest in political theory?

My bookcase also contains “The Selected Poems of Rudyard Kipling”. Does my possession of this book make me a racist/imperialist or whatever other word careless people might choose to fling around with gay abandon?

In short, the possession of books does not imply that the possessor agrees with the views being expressed. Indeed (in my own case) where I to subscribe to all the opinions contained in the books on my shelves I would be a highly confused individual in need of serious psychological help!

If anyone of my readers would care to share what lives on their shelves, I would, of course be interested to know. Although I promise not to draw any sweeping conclusions about you!

Philosopher Sir Roger Scruton Dies

I was saddened to read of the death of the philosopher Professor Sir Roger Scruton, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/conservative-roger-scruton-dies-a4332461.html.

Back in October 2018, I reviewed Sir Roger’s “How to be a Conservative, https://kmorrispoet.com/2018/10/14/how-to-be-a-conservative-by-roger-scruton-book-review/.

As I say in that review, the book offers something to both Conservatives (in the political sense of the word), and also to those who would not consider themselves as political Conservatives but who do, nonetheless cherish the English countryside and the traditions of this country.

A Rhyme for Election Time

A rhyme
For election time.
Claim and counter claim.
The public say, “they
lie, its always the same”.

Manifestos contain
Promises (to be kept, or broken).
Are politician’s words, spoken,
At election time,
Worth more
than a poor
Poet’s rhyme?

The English Pub

I have stood
In many an English pub
Drinking beer
Both indifferent, and sometimes good.
Its queer
How people with nothing in common mingle
And those who go in single
A couple become
(At least until the rise of sun
On the morrow
When sorrow
May come,
Or they say
“That was fun”
And go their way
Or perhaps they are forever
Drawn together
As birds of a feather,
(Well, at least
Until eternal peace
Breaks their heart apart).

I have stood
In many an English pub
And sometimes caused a fuss
When I did discuss
Political matter.
No friendship did I shatter
Though I have heard
Many a foolish word
And spoken more than one or two
Its true.

I have shared a glass
With a pretty lass
At the bar
And wondered how far
(Or near we all are
To paradise
Or vice),
And I have said “good night”
And thought on delight
That never was
Because she
Had no interest in me,
Or maybe
I missed the cue to dance
And my chance
To go far
Beyond the bar . . .

I love
The solid wood
Of the traditional pub
And the way in which people, for the most part
Get along. For at its best the pubs at the heart
Of the community.
A unity
In diversity, where you see
People of every class
Raise a glass,
And as they drink
Think, “this is our pub
For bad or good
And we will keep it this way. Things will change
But the pub will remain
For it is more
Than you or me.
It is tradition, tolerance and diversity.

Poets and Capitalism

An interesting article in “The American Spectator” entitled “Poets and Capitalism”. The piece contains a fascinating discussion regarding why so many poets have been (and continue to be) opposed to Capitalism, and makes the point that poets have often suffered under Communist regimes and, in the end its Capitalism which enables poets to freely pursue their craft.

I agree with the thrust of the article, which is, I believe worth a read, https://spectator.org/poets-and-capitalism/