Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why libertarians seriously piss me off...

First off, I have to come clean, I have been a fundamentalist libertarian. I was an even bigger dick than I am now. What changed all that was some serious investigation into EU regulation. Or what I assumed to be EU regulation. As I keep restating, most of it originates at the global level - and most of it exists not as some authoritarian wet dream, but to facilitate faster and better trade. In fact we wouldn't have our vast free market of consumer goods without it.

More than that it means you can buy things off Amazon with reasonable confidence that they are going to be safe and fit for purpose. I mean who really wants to be feeding their kids food off Disney plates that haven't used the right sealant meaning they give of formaldehyde if microwaved?

That is not to say it's not a valuable experience being a libertarian. It's a useful thought exercise in that it is a truism that the state which governs best governs least. To find where that level is it's a useful thought exercise to imagine what than minimum looks like and consider how it would function.

But any utopian idealism of any stripe is often undone by the complexity of the world. for instance, arguing for a free energy market seemed like an intelligent proposition until you consider the complexities and risks. For starters, consumers don't want consumer choice in utilities. They want to plug in their devices and for them to work.

Their second requirement is that it works all the time. Just on that latter consideration alone you need capacity planning and strategic reserves which mandates a minimum generation capacity. And when electricity underpins most of our economic activity - it is a system far too big too fail. It is a strategic national asset.

That is not to say you cannot have market competition in that market, but it needs to be limited to the peak loads. Then there is energy security to look at. Big centralised power generation is always a huge risk and so it is worth regulating for decentralisation Meanwhile since, for all the energy switching companies there are, the evidence shows that people tend not to bother. So if the plebs are moaning about the price of energy then you can legislate for smart meters that will choose the cheapest supplier. Than in itself is a market intervention that stimulates real competition where none previously existed.

And that's just in one sector. When you imagine all the other sectors, each with their own inherent complexities, often at odds with other priorities, you find a large mess that does require intervention and very often has to be done carefully and forensically. And with governments being comprised of humans, governments do not always get it right.

There is a certain nihilism in libertarians that says government hardly ever gets it right. Whereas in reality, our civil service has some of the finest minds anywhere and they get quite a lot right. It's just that they must unfortunately answer to the whims of the people we so carelessly and foolishly elect.

But in that there are in built natural defences in that eventually even the wildest fantasies of politicians bump into reality every now and then which is why we now see politicians backtracking on wind turbines. Through healthy public debate, we have finally put this silliness to bed.

The fact is that regulation is an essential part of running a developed economy and it's why we don't have blocks of flats falling on their face as they do in China. It's also why we're not polluting the bejesus out of our rivers as also happens in China. Life here would suck without regulation and libertarians who claim to the contrary are dickheads.

But then we get to regulation of the civic sphere where I have a little bit of sympathy, but not very much. It's all very well reaching for those philosophers of two hundred years ago, but they never had to manage economies as technical and diverse as ours. We also know a great deal more about human psychology and we have enough evidence to know when we are seeing orchestrated manipulations with malicious intent.

Quote all the lofty free speech crap at me you like, but I will never be convinced that predatory preachers exploiting newly arrived wives of immigrant Pakistanis, telling them that rushing off and joining the jihad is a cornerstone of a liberal society. The state does have a right and a responsibility to monitor, detain and prevent.

Similarly, interventions on the high street are no bad thing. Some fly by night setting up a shop selling basic household goods on an established highstreet where there is already an established business rapidly ensures that both soon go out of business and then everybody is inconvenienced and the highstreet is diminished for it.

During the last decade we gave way to the liberal mantras of letting supermarkets battle it out, building massive stores in small towns, often with a Sainsbury's and Tesco practically next door to eachother. In the end consumer habits changed ensuring that fight for market share means smaller returns and often losses for the supermarket while gutting the town centre. France heavily regulates in this regard and that's why small French towns still function and are nice places to be,

The caveats is that this scale of intervention in all stratas of life is that intervening bodies must be accountable. It all falls down when they are not. Thus is it not a case of ending intervention but designing and demanding a system of democracy that actually works.

Starting from scratch as a thought exercise, libertarianism is quite seductive, and it has established certain groupthinks and thought crimes of its own. It's also a fashion accessory for a certain SW1 sect, who are mainly Tories and Kipperists who basically resent paying any taxes at all. Now I largely resent paying taxes because I see no obligation to pay tax without proper representation and without genuine democracy, but no civil society can function without it and it necessarily will mean that rather a lot is wasted because humans are fallible. As an overall percentage though, it's not worth losing sleep over.

But when one loses sight of the intricacies of a modern society, libertarianism resembles more a childish tantrum that individuals must sometimes moderate their own excesses in the common good. That's that social contract thing. Libertarians argue that it's unnecessary because businesses and individuals will usually act in their own self interest.

If you've actually met a human being you can rapidly establish that quite a sizeable proportion of the public don't know what's best for them, and seldom act in their own best interests. That's fine if the consequences of their bovine stupidity were visited on them alone, but that just isn't the case. Stupidity has a way of rippling out and affecting families and communities. So we intervene.

I certainly won't judge young libertarians in that it is a worthwhile thought process and certainly there is never any reason to frown on individualism but there comes a time when a person should have learned enough about the world for their fantasies to collide with reality. If by my age you are still a libertarian then you are probably suffering from a form of arrested development, largely as a result of conforming to a social orthodoxy, political party or groupthink. Which is ironic given that libertarianism is supposed to be the essence of individualism. It's no coincidence it tends to thrive in SW1 circles among a certain demographic of childless able bodied people with few responsibilities.

You have to give them some credit in that they are smart enough to know that socialism is a dumb idea and that leftists are full of shit, but still they shouldn't be taken very seriously. I mean look at the crap they read. I could buy any number of libertarian books off Amazon and they would all contain roughly the same dogmatic mantras and articles of faith. If you've read one, you've read them all.

This is actually why I have been quite quite aggressively clearing libertarian types off my Facebook. The dullwitted nihilism becomes rather tiresome after a while and much like their literature, it's all much of a muchness and having one is much the same as having a dozen.

Libertarianism is also a lazy ideology in that if your fundamental position is no state intervention it actual absolves you from having to think about solving problems. For sure it's a good starting point to imagine through analysis how to affect something without using government and without appropriating other people's money, and there is a strong case to be made that in terms of social welfare government should be the solution of last resort, but the fact is things work better with governance than without and good government is never going to be cheap government.

With that in mind, it then because a civic obligation to observe government, engage in the national and local discussions and where if possible use ones vote. There is nothing quite so wasteful as a government that does not have to account for its spending as Greece has shown us. In fact, in a roundabout way, Greece is a prime example of a what a libertarian state looks like in practice. For sure there are laws, but very little tax collection, very little enforcement and everything has to be paid for at point of use, usually with cash. It's an undeveloped grey economy where much happens outside of the state and consequently everything decays including the rule of law.

For sure it is an inept kleptocratic socialist government that has brought it all about, which is ironic, but in character, Greece is what a libertarian Britain would look like. The truth is that libertarians aren't grown up people. Adults have libertarian tendencies having gone through the thought experiment, but they largely accept reality, accept regulation and reluctantly pay tax. I can deal with those people.

The people filling up my timeline with Ayn Rand memes are really just risible and of no interest to me. The world is a complex place with increasing levels of contradiction and confusion, and that's how it's going to be. The way we keep it all in order is through participation and applied intellect. In that regard libertarians have nothing to offer.

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