Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Libertarians not interested in social order or cohesion?

This is a excerpt from Colin James' latest ODT column (not on-line yet) about politics and inequality:

The social security state and its successor, the welfare state, bedded in not because the liberal-left initially triumphed. It endured because National adopted it in the late 1940s.
National's reason was not kindness. It was a liberal-conservative belief in the intrinsic value of a cohesive society to all its members. Exclusion of some from the community undermines social order and social order is precious to most conservatives. (Libertarians such as ACT and some National ministers are a different breed.)
Some days John Key and at times some other ministers exhibit that instinct, which some call a "communitarian" conservatism, traceable back to Edmund Burke.
So later this decade will that instinct prevail in National if a future different government tries to restore a secure, because less unequal, society?

I can only take from this that James thinks Libertarians (and "some days John Key"?- Edmund Burke was a classical liberal) are not interested in a cohesive society. Is it the leftist  every- man- for- himself characterisation?

Speaking for myself, social cohesion and social order (as opposed to chaos) are hugely important but when sought after through coercion by either government or individuals, won't endure. People can only be forced  to be each other's keeper or to think in certain ways for so long.

Yes, social cohesion (amongst Pakeha society anyway) increased after the introduction of social security. Every worker made a dedicated contribution to ensure that a very tiny minority of needy people had a better standard of living than they would have had pre -1938. It was post war and post depression. To an extent people were in shell-shock (some literally). It was a time when people valued living peaceably and each other. It was a time when personal courage and integrity were valued as people mourned those they had lost and lauded those who had survived. (It was also a time when certain behaviours were heavily stigmatised and thus controlled by individuals backed by government - divorce, unmarried childbirth, non-sobriety, homosexuality).

But, and this isn't a new theme for me I know, values have changed. And intrinsically caught up in that change, both as a cause and an effect, is welfare. It stopped being port of last call and started to develop into support all had a right to call on for whatever reason they chose to promote. The numbers on benefits exploded through the 1980s.

Family life, particularly for Maori, started to break-down. As the units broke down, the larger community lost cohesiveness. Yes, inequality grew (the topic of James' column) as a growing percentage of people received low incomes via benefits, and the middle class increased their incomes through women progressively working and professionalising. Middle class working two parent families are now relatively rich and single parent families are relatively poor; compared to the rest of the developed world NZ is now poorer - the inequality the left don't talk about.

Wages haven't kept up, in part, because the government keeps trying to subsidise low incomes through various methods, letting employers off the hook in the process. We have reached the stage, thanks to social security, where we have more redistribution of wealth going on than at any other time in New Zealand's history (barring perhaps the early 90s) and yet we still have inequality and a less ordered and cohesive society than during the 50s and 60s. More violence, more dysfunction, more child neglect, more mental illness, and more reliance on artificial means to relieve stress.

What's left for a government to force people to do in the name of equality and security?

20 comments:

Kiwiwit said...

That social cohesion is really working for heavily socialised Europe, isn't it?

Mark Hubbard said...

Great post Lindsay.

As a libertarian I'm tired of this shallow accusation, which talks only to the ignorance of the teller.

My usual retort is to say libertarians know they live in the village, they rejoice in it: they just don't think the village owns them.

JC said...

Another factoid from the period.. from 1900 to 1950 we were one of the three wealthiest countries in the world and could afford a high measure of Socialism.

Its easy to be high minded when you are rich.

JC

James said...

Libertarians oppose "Socialist coercion and the socialist ordering about of individuals"...

There, fixed it for you My James....

James said...

"..But we assure the socialists that we repudiate only forced organization, not natural organization. We repudiate the forms of association that are forced upon us, not free association. We repudiate forced fraternity, not true fraternity. We repudiate the artificial unity that does nothing more than deprive persons of individual responsibility. We do not repudiate the natural unity of mankind under Providence.

...Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain."...

Frederich Bastiat

Brendan said...

Hi Lindsay, good post and good summary of your position.

A couple of thoughts. First as an employer I'm not convinced that we have been 'let off the hook' as you suggest. We are unpaid GST tax collectors, PAYE collectors, Student Loan collectors, ACC collectors. We pay tax in advance of earnings based upon projected rather than actual earnings, and then there are employment laws. Currently these laws are weighted very much in favour of the employee, even with National's tinkering in this space. Furthermore, without employers risking their capital and their entrepreneurial skills there would be no tax base to redistribute. Without at least the prospect of a reasonable return at the end of all that, why bother?

What's left to do?

We can look forward to Capital Gains Taxes, and if I'm any judge of where this is ultimately heading, an Asset Tax which is probably the most destructive of all taxes. France has one, and until the most recent administration was caped at 50% of your total earnings. The present Socialist President has removed that cap, so now there will be plenty of people owing more in tax each year, than they actually earn by way of income. Don't think it won't happen here.

Anonymous said...

http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/64724/lowell-manning-says-problem-housing-stems-current-account-deficits-and-foreign-investm

Jigsaw said...

Growing up in the 1940's and 1950's and looking back now I can see that there was a high level of social control simply because most people would have known if your kids weren't feed and you would have known that they knew. Although JC says were one of the three richest countries in the world at the time I have never been able to really see that as related to the way we lived. Food was comparitively cheap but clothing and shoes were very expensive. No one I knew in the 1940's and most of the 1950's had a fridge or washing machine and few people -especially in the cities had cars or expected to have them. I don't recall any obese kids or anyone being hungry-this is working class Christchurch.

Anonymous said...

Welfare, social security, socialised medicine, state education and immoral and unmitigated evil

Anyone who loves freedom or private property must fight against them with all their might. The last 100 years have taught us nothing except that we must avoid even the beginning of the slippery slope.

Most people are mediocre - only a very few are excellent. Subjecting the excellent to the mediocre is a receipt for disaster.

Judge Holden said...

"I can only take from this that James thinks Libertarians (and "some days John Key"?- Edmund Burke was a classical liberal) are not interested in a cohesive society."

Well when they say things like:

"Most people are mediocre - only a very few are excellent. Subjecting the excellent to the mediocre is a receipt for disaster."

Gotta think James has a point. The attitude displayed above is typical - Perigo is a classic example. Libertarians are generally horribly misanthropic. There's no such thing as society after all.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Judge,

So, any anonymous blog comment is assumed to be from a 'kindred spirit' and engender widespread agreement?

Instead of addressing the post you chose easy pickings from the comments.

Is it because you're a collectivist that you can't comprehend individual viewpoints?

Anonymous said...

There's no such thing as society after all.

Of course there isn't. That's right-winger 101. If you think there is such a thing as society then you're a socialist - pure and simple.

Gekko said...

Sigh, the 'no such things as society' meme again. I don't think those such as Judge understand how ridiculous and infantile that fallacious strawman makes them sound. Just like the braindead anti-Thatcher funeral protesters thinking they were socking it to her by making a specific effort to be nice to each other because that (apparently) was against what she wanted.

My experience has shown me that rather than holding to the self-evidently bizarre position that libertarians are so selfish that they actually want the poor to starve, the accusations of selfishness stem from a knee-jerk self-defence mechanism. When presented with the rational ideas of freedom, it's much easier to burn a strawman than to face the fact that the beliefs you've slavishly followed all your life may actually be based in error.

So now when faced with a self-righteous statist going through the usual litany of the evils of 'libertarianism', rather than take it personally and feel the need to educate them (good and hard), I just view them as weak-minded. There is simply no point discussing the situation with someone whose level of cognitive dissonance is such that they can even ask me a question like 'why do you hate the poor?'. All such mindless opinions are simply treated with the contempt they deserve, along with their originator.

Judge Holden said...

"Sigh, the 'no such things as society' meme again. I don't think those such as Judge understand how ridiculous and infantile that fallacious strawman makes them sound."

You'll have to talk to your chums Ayn and Margaret about that, I'm afraid. Are you saying they were only joking?

"libertarians are so selfish that they actually want the poor to starve..."

It's not that so much as that they really don't care whether or not they do. Ask Ayn, or Perigo.

"the accusations of selfishness stem from a knee-jerk self-defence mechanism."

They stem from the likes of Rand writing ideological treatises such the "the Virtue of Selfishness". Jesus, Gordon, how clueless are you?

Lindsay Mitchell said...

I've never read "The Virtue of Selfishness," but I do understand that when people serve their own interests (which we all do everyday in the process of feeding, clothing, housing, educating ourselves and our families) we serve other people's through providing the jobs and incomes they similarly need. I'm fairly certain that's what Rand had in mind.

Judge Holden said...

"I do understand that when people serve their own interests (which we all do everyday in the process of feeding, clothing, housing, educating ourselves and our families) we serve other people's through providing the jobs and incomes they similarly need."

Except in the actual world, rather than the libertarian utopian paradise of your wildest fantasies, it doesn't work that way. Besides she didn't mean that, she meant that giving to charity, for example, is a moral abomination. Cue the screeching from the objectivist clowns...

James said...

Only Individual humans exist...that's a metaphysical fact not able to be disputed. Any grouping we form are only ever abstractions....and those do not and cannot possess "super rights" that cancel out the rights of the individuals.

Judge Holden lying flat out about Ayn Rand....no surprise there. Rand in fact engaged in,and promoted charitable acts....she just said that they were not the prime focus or value in a rational persons life.

Everyday in millions of ways individuals are interacting voluntarily to gain values via trade....no "society" or Government required to make them chose to do so.

James said...

What Rand meant by "Selfishness" is not what is conventional meant by the term.

She defined it as rational self interest....which is what every human being should and must utilize to survive and prosper AS a human should....the use of force, either directly or via State pressure to repress that is therefore morally and objectively wrong.

Allistar said...

Gotta think James has a point. The attitude displayed above is typical - Perigo is a classic example. Libertarians are generally horribly misanthropic. There's no such thing as society after all.

I'm a libertarian and I consider society to be very important. What makes me a libertarian is that I believe a truly just and fair society is one that flourishes through voluntary action and compassion.

You cannot force someone to be compassionate and so welfare provided by socialism is by definition not compassionate.

The only just society is the libertarian one, but only if compassion and charity reign. Liberty by itself is not enough, but it's a critical foundation.

Judge Holden said...

Sorry, you libertarians seem all confused now. Is there such a thing as society, or not?

And what was Rand thinking making up definitions for words which aren't the definitions of those words? That's no way to communicate. Giving to charity is a form of self-sacrifce or altruism. An unmitigated evil according to Rand. If she herself gave to charity then she was betraying her own principles. However, she was a speed freak who idolised a child killer, so inconsistency is the least of her many many faults.