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Pommygranate lays it out succinctly

This pretty much explains the political situation in a nutshell. Serial commenter Pommygranate is writing about Britain but the same could probably be said about almost any western country to varying degrees: the state simply bribes people to vote for a bigger state by making them dependents.

His solution is an interesting notion.

But turkeys will still not vote for Xmas. Some on the right of the blogosphere are calling for voting restrictions for those who depend on the state for a living. Draconian indeed, but it may be the only way round this particular Catch 22.

Things would have to get very bad for that to be politically possible but is is a good idea. I quite like the idea “you can either work for the state and live of other people’s money or you can vote, but not both”. Not a chance that would happen any time soon but it is a damn fine idea nevertheless. In truth I suspect many people would be happy to make that choice as voting is hardly some blessed sacrament. If so many people do not really care about liberty, are they really so attached to voting? I wonder.

174 comments to Pommygranate lays it out succinctly

  • Verity

    That’s a good summation by Pommygranate. I am one of those calling for restrictions on the franchise, and now I know that 55% of the British electorate is dependent on the government for its income, I think it’s time to get a bit noisier.

    At the very least we have to disenfranchise the public sector workers. I would prefer to see long-term (i.e., six months or longer) welfare recipients also lose the vote. Why should they vote when the contribute nothing to the national weal?

    With long-term welfare recipients, there would, of course, be no choice – other than to go out and earn a living. Public sector people who value their franchise over their pension could find work in the private sector, although I’m not holding my breath; but the decision to work in the public sector, and thus sacrifice their vote, would be theirs to make.

    I’ve been banging on about this for almost two years now, but I still expect it to pick up steam.

  • Paul Marks

    The Levelers (who centuries of people have tried to confuse with the Diggers) were in favour of denying both people who worked for the government (not that the Levelers actually wanted much of an Executive of course – they wanted annual Parliaments and that was about it) and people on public relief (local relief only for the Levelers – and they were not too keen on that) from voting.

    In the 18th century there were various efforts to stop people working for the government voting (by both Tory and Whig people). As there were only a few constituencies where anybody “who had a pot to put on their own fire” had the vote, people on poor relief having the vote was not a problem.

    Some of the efforts to deny the vote to tax collectors and other such were successful, but they got rolled back. There were also long efforts to prevent any member of Parliament from getting a government post -but people in Parliament wanted to be Ministers and Ministers wanted to be paid.

    In the 19th century such efforts in Britain and the United States (especially the United States) continued.

    The Reform Act of 1832 (remembered for giving the vote middle class types) also took it away from people in those handful of seats that allowed any householder the vote (although those individuals who already had the vote kept it they died).

    The much wider voter rules for Poor Law Guardians under the Poor Law Act of 1834 and for local councils under the Muncipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed any rate payer to vote (which meant many workers had the vote) but, of course, people looking for Poor Relief (even though twice as many people were on “Out Relief” at any time then went to the workhouses) did not pay local property tax (the rates) and therefore had no vote.

    The later Acts of Parliament increased the percentage of the population that had the vote (the 1867 Act is important because it meant that the majority of voters were now non income tax payers).

    However government employees were not a great problem – even as late as 1913 only about 12% of income went to local and central government (in all taxes put together) and that meant that government could not afford to put vast numbers of people on the payroll.

    The 1908 pensions law was the first time that even the very poorest people could expect money AS A RIGHT – without having to convince a local board that they really needed it.

    The 1918 Act was the first time that large numbers of really poor people (as opposed to factory workers who got the vote in 1860′s and 1880′s) got the vote – so the princple of “universal sufferage” is not that ancient.

    For local councils “rate payers only” plus a “business vote” (for business enterprises that paid rates in a local area) carried on (I believe) right into the 1960′s.

    In the United States – I forget when the anti “Poll Tax” Constitutional Amendment came is. But I think it was the early 1960′s.

    But no – restricting the vote has not got a hope in hell.

    People believe that the vote is an ancient and sacred right – even though every adult having the vote for everything only really came in the 1960′s.

    Of course government providing more than half the invome of about half of the population (via direct employment of by various welfare schemes) is not sustainable.

    Britain may well be the first of the Western nations to go bust – other nations may have higher taxes and spending on paper, but I suspect that Britain may still be the first to go.

    After all it has already done it once – the collapse of 1976 (in peacetime) when the government had to go begging to the I.M.F. (like a Latin American joke country) and emergency government spending cuts were brought it.

    The Labour government was back to spend, spend, spend, by the start of 1979 (with lots of post dated public sector pay promises that hit Mrs Thatcher when she took over).

    And what restraint Mrs T. brought in the mid 1980s (NOT in the early 1980s – the Howe years were ones of tax and spend) has now been reversed.

    The real public spending levels (when one takes acount of “private-public partnerships”, “private finance initiatives”, “independent network rail” (and other smoke and mirrors activities) is most likely higher than in 1979.

    This country is also becomming one of the most regulated in the Western world (what deregulation there was under Mrs T. has been more than made up for in other ways since the lady left office).

    Britian next serivce to the Western world could be to act as a warning.

    Mr Blair’s “Third Way” is just nasty dishonest statism with a lot of free market talk on top.

    I doubt Mrs Clinton is capable of seeing the folly of British statism. But I hope that whoever the Republicans pick (thankfully it can not be George Bush again) will see the warning.

    It is not yet too late for the United States – and even government employees do not want to live in a bankrupt country (who is going to pay their wages?)

    I suspect that it is too late for Britain.

    “Dave” Cameron and his “compassionate Conservatives” make even George W. Bush look good.

  • I have been thinking along these lines for a while also. Though I have no clue where I got the idea.

    You go on the dole, or govt payroll, lose the vote.

    I would go father though: Those who work for any company that receives 50% or more of its revenue from govt contracts also loses the franchise. Employees, corporate officers, every one. Maybe even stockholders.

    So all those defense contractors would be voteless as well. Like the EVIL Halliburton. That should interest the left.

  • I must admit to some initial skepticism when the idea was first proposed on this blog (it was here I first heard it, at least.) But I think tiered citizinship of this sort is definately the way to go: taxpayers may vote, but no one else. It would almost guarantee a small, weak state. On the one hand, the public servants: if they are our servants, why should they get to tell us what to do? On the other hand, welfare recipients: doing nothing for one’s living and leaching off others is an abnegation of adult responsibility, so why should they not be treated like teenagers.

    The only part that rubs me the wrong way is lumping pensioners in with public servants and welfare dependants. I think if you wanted to bring it to a vote, and win said vote, you’d have to make an exception for pensioners, on both moral and practical grounds (hell of a lot easier to win if you haven’t alienated that 26%, especially when people vote their age.)

  • For any Heinlein fans out there who remember the government in Starship Troopers: this is like the anti-Starship Troopers!

    (apologies if this is not a new observation.)

  • Sounds like a lot of spite to me! Surely everyone has an important stake in the way society is run, therefore there shouldn’t be any more elections?

    “If so many people do not really care about liberty, are they really so attached to voting? I wonder.”

    I’d imagine they are. Those who “do not really care about liberty” because they work for the state or are on the dole are suffering from your definition of liberty. If you disenfranchise people because of your commitment to ideology, that’s tyranny, not liberty!

  • John: “If you disenfranchise people because of your commitment to ideology, that’s tyranny, not liberty!”

    Illegal immigrants in the U.S. don’t get to vote (at least, not legally.) Yet society depends on them for their cheap labour. Would you suggest giving them the vote, given that they live in the U.S., work in the U.S., raise their children in the U.S., and quite obviously have some stake in U.S. society?

    This would not be remotely tyrannous. A public sector worker, if he’s committed to his ideology enough that voting matters more to him than a safe paycheque, can always quit, find a jon in the private sector, and resume voting. Similarly, nothing stops a welfare dependant from getting out and finding a job, even if it is menial McWork.

  • Euan Gray

    Delusional rubbish.

    The idea that the state has a captive band of voters is risible, particularly given that record *LOW* numbers of people are voting at all, and only a proportion of them vote for the current governing party.

    The thesis that 55% of the electorate is beholden to the state and therefore will vote for the governing party is laughable and flatly contradicted by the inconvenient facts:

    In the last general election, 61% of the voting population bothered to vote. 37% of them – i.e. 22.5% of the voting population – voted for Labour. What are the other 33% doing?

    It may well be that a disproportionate number of state employees would vote Labour or for a big-state policy, but what is overlooked here is that many of those people would vote for such party and policy ANYWAY, even if they were not employed by the state.

    Oh, and there’s a hell of a difference between granting the vote to illegal immigrants and granting the vote to legal citizens who happen to be employed by the state.

    EG

  • The western democracies have seen a more or less steady decline in vote participation since the end of WWII. Coincidentally or not, this is the same period in which the state experienced it’s most explosive growth.

    If you make the statistical assumption that a large enough group of voters (say, for instance, 60% of the population) is actually representative of the entire 100%, then a majority of that 60% can be taken to imply a majority within the 100%. Is the assumption warranted? I don’t know; I’m not a statistician, and further I don’t know if the non-voting 40% are staying away due to all-politicians-are-pricks cynicism, or due to apathy, or what. In other words, I don’t know if their political attitudes closely mirror the larger population or not. If they do, then 37% of the 61% that voted comes out to the support of about … hey, 61% of the population. Or, very damn close to the numbers that work for, or depend on, the state.

    Also, just because only 22.5% of the entire voting population votes for Labour doesn’t mean the rest are voting for small government. In my home country of Canada, for instance, the majority of our public sector types vote either Liberal (the crooks, now thankfully deposed) or the New Democratic Party (the Commies.) In the UK I imagine the LDP fills in for the NDP.

    I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that a private sector worker will always vote small-government; my own parents – a policeman and a teacher, both of them members of Canada’s militia – are life-long Conservative voters. But exceptions don’t disprove trends.

    Not that I’m convinced this is viable. Flat taxes are equally sensible, people have been banging on about them for decades now, and they still haven’t been implemented. Still, one can always hope….

  • Actually, I like the idea of a tiered citizenry. If we are to have any govt at all, and looking at human nature that seems garanteed, we should prevent the citizens voting themselves benefits out of the public treasury.

    To illustrate the point:

    How many of you have children?
    Do they get an allowance?
    If so, this could be considered a form of dole.
    Now imagine this is put up for a vote and there is at least one more child than adults in the household.
    What would you expect the outcome to be, more often than not?

    An alternatice might be to give those targeted by a tax veto power over it. Unless they agree to the tax, no tax.

    So everyone gets to vote on programs, politicians, and such, but those that pay can say ‘take a hike’.

    So a two tier system, where the second tier is composed only of tax payers who get a veto.

  • Regarding illegal immigrants and state-dependants: I wasn’t trying to say they’re the same, or that denying the franchise to either group is remotely similar, but simply pointing out that assigning voting rights merely based in having a ‘stake in society’ is silly. The principle could be extended to ludicrous extremes: Chinese or Japanese investors, teenagers, landed immigrants, all of these groups have a ‘stake in society’, and none of them are given the vote.

  • Matt has some interesting points.

    I suspect most of the decline in voting is due to a mix of apathy and frustrated cynicism. But like Matt, I have no hard evidence of this.

    But another thing I have been thinking is if we were to count non-voters in all elections as voting either for none-of-the-above in elections for office holders, and for no-change in the case of referendums.

    Unless something is so important as to mobilize the majority of voters to get off their asses and cast a vote, it probably should not be done.

    Lots of offices may remain vacant, not such a bad thing in many cases, and most referenda would fail, also a good thing in most cases.

    The problem being, if this was started now, we would likely end up with the current situation as the status guo, with little likelyhood of change for the better. The good thing is we would likely end up with the current situation as the status guo, with little likelyhood of change for the worse as well.

  • tomWright: “So a two tier system, where the second tier is composed only of tax payers who get a veto.”

    Interesting. And perhaps more politically viable than outright disenfranchising.

  • Verity

    Paul Marks – Thank you for your fascinating post. This is wonderful background.

    Matt Schultz, this was first mooted about on Samizdata by me. There’s no reason to recommend that you read my back posts on the subject, because the idea is clear enough, but I did say all along that I would exempt pensioners. I also said I would exempt our armed forces.

    I don’t agree with tomWright regarding employees of companies that derive at least 50% of their income from the government – for the practical reason that the burden of putting people onto the electoral roll and taking them off again according to their companies’ fortunes would be too crazy. You’d need an army of public sector workers just to key it all in. So, no – although I’m with you in spirit.

    I think a good start would be, disenfrancise all public sector employees (including MPs). Boom! Their choice: work in the public sector and enjoy all the benefits thereof, but lose your vote. And people on long-term welfare. As I have said before, if you reduce yourself to being a ward of the state, you have reduced yourself to a childlike dependency and minors don’t get the vote.

    These two sectors would be a good start and would go some way towards redressing the balance in favour of economic sanity. It could be fine tuned later on, but I think the original proposal should be very, very simple.

  • One co-worker I spoke to on the issue expressed that he would like to see only net contributors to society have the vote. So if you pay more taxes than you get back. I summed up his conviction with the phrase:

    “No representation without taxation!”

  • Euan Gray

    Interesting. And perhaps more politically viable than outright disenfranchising.

    It’s called aristocracy and it isn’t particularly viable.

    EG

  • Euan

    That over half of the electorate are reliant on the State for money provides prospective political parties with almost zero incentive to campaign for a smaller State.

    I am not advocating withholding the vote from 55% of the electorate, but merely highlighting the absurdity of the current situation.

    It is the equivalent of a school headmaster being selected based on the votes of the children.

  • Verity:

    I don’t agree with tomWright regarding employees of companies that derive at least 50% of their income from the government – for the practical reason that the burden of putting people onto the electoral roll and taking them off again according to their companies’ fortunes would be too crazy. You’d need an army of public sector workers just to key it all in. So, no – although I’m with you in spirit.

    Yah, I do not really agree with myself on that one, but it was offered int he spirit with wich you agree…

    Matt, Yes, but niether is likely to be politically viable since it puts a condom on the joyous rogering the politicians enjoy giving us so often. Probably only barely possible in areas that have initiative and referendum, and even then would likely be struck down in the US and Canada, dunno about Britain, Australia, et al.

    There is also the need to make all taxes clearly targeted as well, or so general as to apply to everyone. This may be good, since it would likely lead away from things like income taxes and such.

  • Verity

    Matt Schulz’s and tomWright’s posts when up while I was posting, but yes, giving wealth creators a veto is a good idea. That could work very well indeed. I think it’s a definite improvement on my original idea.

  • Euan Gray

    That over half of the electorate are reliant on the State for money provides prospective political parties with almost zero incentive to campaign for a smaller State

    I don’t agree. I see no evidence that people vote the way they do because of who employs them. I know unemployed people who vote Conservative, and company directors who vote Labour and want large scale welfare. They vote the way they do because of what they believe, not because of who pays them.

    A party advocating a *radical* reduction in the size of the state in the UK would not do well at the polls NOT because 55% of the electorate is dependent on a big state but because a sufficiently large proportion of the electorate – irrespective of their source of income – thinks a big state solution is the best answer.

    EG

  • Euan:

    It’s called aristocracy and it isn’t particularly viable.

    How so? Just curious.

    If every person targeted by a tax, regardless of wealth or social standing can excercise only a veto on the vote on a tax in an open election, and would have to pay the tax unless it was vetoed in that election, why would this be aristocracy? They would not have an individual vote on whether to pay the tax or not every time it came due.

    Plus, if a tax was a general tax, such as a flat rate sales tax say, then everyone would vote on it, since it could be safely assumed that everyone buys something at sometime during thieir life.

    If a tax was proposed on only automobile purchases, then only automobile owners would have a veto, car-hating ultra-greens, critical-mass riders and ELF’ers would presumably not, unless they also own cars of course, (the hypocritical buggers).

  • Delusional rubbish.

    When Euan Gray reacts like that I guess we might be on to something, given that he is pretty much the quintesential member of what Sean Gabb called the ‘enemy class’ who comments here.

    John wrote:

    If you disenfranchise people because of your commitment to ideology, that’s tyranny, not liberty!

    I do not really think limiting the number of people who can vote to have the state mug me is tyranny. The ‘liberty’ you are talking about is the Chomskyite notion of the ‘liberty’ to help yourself to other people’s money.

  • “Actually, I like the idea of a tiered citizenry. If we are to have any govt at all, and looking at human nature that seems garanteed [sic], we should prevent the citizens voting themselves benefits out of the public treasury.”

    Then you create yourselves as “we” and curb “them” and their liberties to vote as they choose. The way I see it is that if your arguments for small government are better than arguments for large government, they will eventually prevail because the intellectual climate will shift that way. In fact, it is, more or less, given the privatisation of prisons, Qinetiq, roads, etc. But if you have some agenda so radical that it will always contradict the will of the majority and the only way you can achieve this agenda is by suspending the freedom to vote for the majority of people, I certainly wouldn’t call it liberty.

    If a society wants to protect its mothers through child support, then surely it should be free to do so after a fair vote?

  • Verity

    The minute I saw the words “Delusional rubbish”, I knew that Euan Gray had arrived. He will work vigorously on derailing this thread with picky little side issues.

  • “I do not really think limiting the number of people who can vote to have the state mug me is tyranny. The ‘liberty’ you are talking about is the Chomskyite notion of the ‘liberty’ to help yourself to other people’s money.”

    The right to vote for your government, whatever you may feel about the result, is a right and a freedom. Suppressing free individuals makes you as bad as those you criticise.

  • Verity

    If a society wants to protect its mothers through child support Oh, gawd!

  • Thon Brocket

    Disenfranchisement? Never happen. No way. No how.

    The way to fix this is not to decrease democracy. Instead, increase it. Split the legislature into two separately-elected chambers, the first of which legislates, but without the power to tax to pay for it all, and passes the legislation for funding to the taxing legislature, who can raise the money (or not) by taxing or borrowing as they see fit, unencumbered by the legislators’ hopes, promises or ambitions. That way corrupt power-hungry porkers can’t get elected on the schools-and hospitals vote and also tax the losers to pay for it, and there is pressure on the taxing legislators to hold taxes down, since they get no electoral credit for spending legislation.

    Now you have a situation where there is a true democratic adjudication of the balance between taxing and spending – unlike the usual Western democracy, where the real politicking over taxation and spending goes on in the upper echelons of the single party currently in power.

  • John,

    If a society wants to protect its mothers through child support, then surely it should be free to do so after a fair vote?

    But if it is truely fair, then those targeted by the tax would likely vote in the majority for it.

    But if you had a tax proposed on, say, wood burning stove users to pay for the support of river cleanup and maintenance, they might rightly object, since there is no linkage to it. Now if the tax was on boat owners, they would likely agree since they use the river, and would also benefit directly from it.

    Most folks are fair minded, and will go along if they feel it is a fair proposal.

  • Thon:

    The way to fix this is not to decrease democracy. Instead, increase it. Split the legislature into two separately-elected chambers, the first of which legislates, but without the power to tax to pay for it all, and passes the legislation for funding to the taxing legislature, who can raise the money (or not) by taxing or borrowing as they see fit, unencumbered by the legislators’ hopes, promises or ambitions. That way corrupt power-hungry porkers can’t get elected on the schools-and hospitals vote and also tax the losers to pay for it, and there is pressure on the taxing legislators to hold taxes down, since they get no electoral credit for spending legislation.

    Interesting, but how would those who lobbied the proposing legislature be prevented from lobbying the taxing legislature?

    This seems like the veto idea, just with the power removed from the individual and concentrated in the hands of a few. Concentrated power attracts those that seek to use it for thier own ends, so that makes it unattractive at first glance, to me.

  • Hank Scorpio

    This is precisely why I will never, ever, under any circumstances, vote Libertarian again in my life. Rather than focus on pragmatic gains that can made they’d much rather alienate 99% of the populace with a Randroid bit of ideology that has not a hope in hell of going anywhere.

    Under your oh-so-charming scheme those notorious leeches who suck on the government teat; the military, would receive no vote. Yeah, Libertarianism really has a future. *eyeroll*

  • too true

    Ditto, Hank.

    And while libertarians of this ilk play intellectual gains, soldiers who are paid by the state work, risk and in some cases die to provide them with that self-indulgent leisure.

    Pfeh.

  • Verity

    Hank Scorpio – Did you read what I said above? And in all the other posts I have written on this subject? And did you read all the people who agree with me when I addressed it on previous posts?

    OUR ARMED SERVICES WOULD BE EXEMPTED AND WOULD RETAIN THEIR VOTE. I just don’t know how I could make it any clearer. This has been written ad nauseam. No one has demurred.

    Thon Brocket – No. Your scheme calls for the veto to be placed in the hands of the few. No. Everyone who contributes to the creation of wealth should have the veto. Not, for gods’s sake, elected representatives who are going to vote in their own interests – not yours.

    This is a very simple, easily understood concept. It has clarity. Dicking around with it is going to muddy it.

  • Euan Gray

    OUR ARMED SERVICES WOULD BE EXEMPTED AND WOULD RETAIN THEIR VOTE

    What about the police?

    Where is the line drawn between what type of state employment is “acceptable” and what parasitic?

    EG

  • Thon Brocket

    Tom:

    Interesting, but how would those who lobbied the proposing legislature be prevented from lobbying the taxing legislature?

    They wouldn’t – but that’s kinda the point. Right now, a lobbyist has to swing one legislature. But under double-democracy he has to swing two. If he’s lucky, both will at least be controlled by the same party, but even so there is at least twice the work and expense, and the need to deal with opposing motivations between the two legislatures, which doesn’t exist now. If the two chambers are controlled by opposing parties (and I hope they would be) then his job becomes almost impossible and he’s out of business – and without any more formal restrictions being placed on him than he’s under right now.

    This seems like the veto idea, just with the power removed from the individual and concentrated in the hands of a few.

    A veto is binary, on/off. This idea is capable of a lot more complexity.

    Concentrated power attracts those that seek to use it for their own ends,

    Well, yeah – have a look at the current UK Government for a perfect example.

    so that makes it unattractive at first glance, to me.

    The idea is to dilute power, not concentrate it. Nothing you’ve written doesn’t apply in spades to the current one-legislature setup. A double-democracy would go a long way to split power and tame the state.

  • Verity

    too true – or may I call you too stupid? Do you have reading comprehension problems? What part of my first post above didn’t you understand?

  • Hank Scorpio

    How very kind of you to exempt the armed forces, Verity. Why, it really goes a long way to making the disenfranchisement of the citizenry palatable.

    Were this scheme ever to come to fruition (and of course it won’t, this is just a collossal intellectual circle jerk) I’d be completely comfortable taking up arms and shooting every one of you people who advocate this position.

    Aside from prohibiting felons and non-citizens from voting there should be no reason, none, zilch, zip, for denying anyone the vote. To even advocate such a position should be repugnant to even with a decent bone in their body who cares about democracy. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

  • As much as I like these ideas, Hank and tootrue have a point about libertarians debating pie-in-the-sky ideas. I have critisized the LP numerous times for this in the past, since I think a political party should be based on actions, not pub debates.

    But they are wrong on the military point, as others have pointed out, military service can be considered in lieu of taxes while serving.

    But for the veto proposal, since those in the service pay taxes, and can be targeted by taxes, they would retain a veto in those cases. They would also still retain the ‘standard’ vote regardless.

    The same goes for poor folk, and those on the dole, if they are targeted for a tax.

    Those on the dole eat, so if a tax was proposed on food, they would have a veto vote.

    The idea of removing the franchise from leeches is attractive in a spiteful and rather satisfying way, but in the end problematic.

  • Verity

    I do not respond to Euan Gray’s trollish contributions, but to others here, he has involved himself in muddying this debate before and he is well aware that we have addressed the issue of the police. We have also discussed other* emergency services.

    *I am not certain the British police can still be identified as an emergency service.

  • Verity

    Hank Scorpio – I don’t know that democracy’s that great. Look where it’s got us. Or perhaps I should say I don’t think the universal franchise has been beneficial.

  • Thon:

    The idea is to dilute power, not concentrate it. Nothing you’ve written doesn’t apply in spades to the current one-legislature setup. A double-democracy would go a long way to split power and tame the state.

    The most diluted spread of power is to have it in the hands of each person, as opposed to a few legislators.

    I am in the U.S.. Believe me when I say a bicameral legislature is no barrier to waste, corruption, self dealing and special interest lobbies.

    For some time now I have preferred something closer to the Swiss system. Specifically, let a legislature wrestle over the details of a proposal, but have everything they do need ratification in a general election. With our current communication technology and roads infrastructure the barriers to this that existed centuries ago when our current systems were devised, no longer exist.

  • Hank Scorpio

    As long as we’re taking a look at universal suffrage maybe we should review the right of women to vote. After all, these are basically just overgrown children ruled by emotion who are already represented by their husbands or fathers.

    Hey, you’re on to something, Verity!

  • fh

    The principal of voting yourself rich is hard to address If you create a voting class then you put the liberty of those who are unemplaoyed at risk. Maybe voing could be divided into two sections, money relaed and principal realted? anything to do with the way in which TAX money is spent is decided sloey by those who pay tax. This doesnt stop non-tax revenue being divided up unfairly, ie to the retired. Maybe it could be divided up equaly by person and contributions would be made to the services that the individual want to use. If they dont want access to a service they dont make the contribution. Exceptions might have to be made for the NHS? Police? Military? It is hard to find a way which doesnt fall foul of human selfishness and greed. are people really wiling to give up money to help others unless they are forced to?

  • John:

    Then you create yourselves as “we” and curb “them”

    No. Those differences already exist: We pay our taxes and they live at our expense.

    In Nevil Shute’s novel In the Wet there’s a tiered voting system. Everyone over 21 gets the basic vote and extra votes are granted for things like education, business achievement, having lived abroad, and having successfully raised children. The ultimate “seventh vote” is granted personally by the Queen for exceptional services to the nation. Under this system, everyone gets at least one “citizen’s” vote and therefore has some stake in the system.

  • Euan Gray

    he is well aware that we have addressed the issue of the police

    You have not addressed where the line is drawn and what criteria are necessary to define useful as opposed to parasitic state employment.

    Even if you restrict it to the pretty much undeniable need to maintain armed security services, which of these categories of state employees are NOT allowed a vote, and why:

    uniformed military personnel;
    civilian support personnel, without whom the armed services would cease to function;
    civilian MoD staff;
    civilian weapons procurement staff;
    SS and SIS staff;
    uniformed police;
    non-uniformed security police;
    non-uniformed civilian support personnel for the police;
    Treasury staff who collect the money to pay those of the above who are entitled to vote;
    civil servants whose taxes also go to pay for the armed services;

    and so on.

    EG

  • fh

    maybe people could form small sb-countries for those who share the same views and they would have control over the way some of their money was spent. In all the solutions you hit the respoisbilty for defence police health etc. When it comes down to I dont think I trust the majority of this country to be decent human beings

  • Verity

    Hank Scorpio – I believe they have that system in Saudi Arabia. If you’d feel more comfortable there, don’t let us keep you.

  • Verity

    David Farrer – Thanks. I couldn’t remember the name of the Shute book or how his system worked, but I heard about it when I was a little girl. I think my father read the book and was talking about it.

    fh an exception made for the NHS? What the NHS needs is a stake through the heart. When it comes down to it I dont think I trust the majority of this country to be decent human beings. Neither do I. Society has intentionally been fragmented into dozens of competing constituencies to make it easier for politicians to hang onto power.

    The contributors to the wealth of the nation need to find a way of taking the reins back into their own hands.

  • guy herbert

    Geoffrey Wheatcroft in this month’s Prospect quotes AJP Taylor, explaining the peacefulness of Britain and the bellicosity of Germany in the mid-19th century, thus:

    In England the taxpayers were also the ruling class; economy was of immediate benefit to them. In Germany the ruling class did not pay the taxes; economy brought them no advantage.

  • guy herbert

    Euan’s question is reasonable, not remotely trollish.

    Why should members of the armed services vote? They are chosen for willingness to kill and obedience to authority, and deliberately brutalised in order to do the state’s violence. The only segment of state pensioners that it makes me more uneasy to think of as enfranchised is prison officers.

  • permanent expat

    ……..and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin……….or pinhead?
    What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon!! ……while the Islamist clock ticks.
    I think I’ll get drunk

  • It would be better to setup a screening panel at the voting booth: vote with us and you can vote. Vote against us and you can’t vote.

    Or give voting over to people who are really disinterested. Like the residents of another country. Have Canadians vote on U.S. issues. Americans vote on Mexican issues. Mexicans vote on Canadian issues. The French vote on UK issues.

    Or give people who pay more taxes more votes. Like shareholders in a corporation. Or give those who employ people 3/5 vote for every employee.

    The possibilites are endless! You guys really have fired my imagination on this.

  • permanent expat

    Yeah……….mine too. Where’s the bloody corkscrew?

  • If a society wants to protect its mothers through child support, then surely it should be free to do so after a fair vote?

    No, John. The ‘right’ to rob me without limitation or impose restriction on my freedom of expression is not something I want my neighbour to have. The ‘freedom’ to oppress me is only a ‘freedom’ in the sense that a mugger is ‘free’ to take someone’s money.

    The whole idea of limiting what can be done with politics is the very essence of freedom because voting yourself other people’s money is easy, as is legislating the prejudices of the majority. If ‘society’ (though you really do not mean ‘society’ at all) wants to lock up gays and deport blacks, would denying people the ‘freedom’ to vote for that or would limited their right to vote for certain things be ‘tyranny’? I guess you think it would be.

  • The much hated poll tax was actually an attempt to stop people voting for taxes that they would not have to pay themselves… and clearly many people really hated that idea, so deeply ingrained is the theft ethic. So it just seems that maybe just not allowing them to vote at all really is the solution. Why should people be able to impose burdens on other that they do not have suffer themselves?

    Maybe a better solution is a Commons everyone votes for and an upper house with blocking powers which requires you to pay a certain amount of tax net of that which you recieve from the state (in any way) in order to vote for its members. Just an an idea.

  • It may or may not surprise you but as someone who spent much of his life on the government payroll, I agree with the premise.

    I was a volunteer (thought there was conscription at the time when I went to sea, which does somewhat change things) and I did that job for a great many years in full knowledge of what I was doing and I was indeed shot at and subject to all the vagaries of service life. In an era of volunteer military service, there is no justification for regarding the noble profession of arms as somehow deserving special consideration politically (socially yes, but not politically). In fact there is really something to be said for utterly divorcing sailors, soldiers and airmen from the political process, doubly so for the ‘townhall warriors’ and other sundry hangers on the public teat.

  • Nick M

    Wouldn’t be easier to simply have a constitution that clearly defines and restricts the role of the state to such things as defence, police, foreign affairs or whatever else?

    A great many state workers are parasitic, some aren’t and it is wrong to turn these people into some kind of indentured servant.

    Given the idolisation of Karl Popper on this blog, would you deny him the vote. After all his professorial salary was stumped up by UK taxpayers?

    There’s another thing, this restriction of voting would be an attempt at social engineering on a truly Stalinist scale. I thought that is what libertarians are against?

  • It is looking like the idea of removing the vote from some is a huge problem for many, and I agree. But I think the idea of a veto for those that are targeted with paying for laws and programs has merit. (since I introduced it here, of course I like it).

    I think if we vote to have government undertake a task, or to grant benefits to any specific part of the population, but decide to fund it with a targeted tax instead of a general tax, it is only fair to ask those targeted if they agree.

    If they do not agree, back to the drawing board. Either rethink the program, or fund it elswhere or with a general tax.

    If anything, this is an expansion of democracy and a diminution of mob rule. It prevents a majority from imposing punishing taxation on a minority, provided the rule of law remains in force. Of course, if the rule of law does not remain in force, no struction or procedure will survive.

  • There’s another thing, this restriction of voting would be an attempt at social engineering on a truly Stalinist scale. I thought that is what libertarians are against?

    Social engineering? But we are not talking about social, we are talking about political. I am all for people doing what they want regarding non-violent social interactions. Ideally just restricting what people can vote for rather than their ability to play at empowerment via voting is no doubt the only way this will ever work in the real world, but I do still like the concept of requiring the ‘net takers’ to not vote for how much gets taken. Just a dream of course.

  • Joshua

    tomWright –

    I very much agree with the principle behind your proposal – that the targets of selective taxes should be able to review said taxes. In practice, however, this kind of system sometimes runs into trouble in terms of defining who is “targeted.”

    There was a case in Indianapolis a couple of years back where the city wanted to raise property taxes on certain kinds of property and held a special vote only for those property owners who would be directly affected by it. I can’t remember the exact details, but it turns out to have been mostly reisdential rental properties – apartments and so on. The landowners had no particular problem with the tax increase as they then happily passed it on to their tennants, who had not been allowed to vote.

    Of course, in principle, landowners can charge their tennants any kind of rent they like, so legally speaking this is all above-board. But I can’t help feeling like the people who really bear the burden didn’t get to have a say.

    I’ll try to dig up a link to details. I think the ICLU (Indiana version of the ACLU) filed a suit of some kind (of COURSE they did…), so there might be a link on their website.

    Wouldn’t be easier to simply have a constitution that clearly defines and restricts the role of the state to such things as defence, police, foreign affairs or whatever else?

    I think this is the right solution, yes. The idea of government screening which citizens can and can’t vote gives me the creeps. I mean, it seems like a good idea when clearly defined in terms of tax payment etc. , but the government is very creative at coming up with ways to abuse such setups. If we’re going to go to the trouble to build in a new regulation, I think the safer route would be simply to put constitutional barriers in the way of certain taxes, as suggested here by Nick M.

  • Perry, the Poll Tax, in America anyway, was designed to keep blacks from voting.

  • Joshua

    Ivan-

    I think it means something completely different in Britain. It was one of Thatcher’s things – infamously unpopular. I don’t know the details, really, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with covert racism.

    tomWright-

    Couldn’t find any direct link. Apparently the case is called Jones v. Womack and is currently before the Indiana Court of Appeals. The never-helpful ICLU didn’t post a link or even a casefile number. It’s pretty clear from their site that the people they are defending are the bad guys (i.e. citizens wanting bigger cash grabs for themselves in city bond issues – no surprises there), but the case has interesting points anyway. It’s a sticky issue. But certainly if we’re careful about how we define who is targeted, I completely agree that those targeted by taxes should have final say.

  • Nick M

    Perry,
    Social / Political – that’s rather sophist. I stand by what I said. This is a dramatic step aimed at making a massive change to society. If that ain’t social engineering I’m a monkey’s uncle. This is particularly true for those folks who seem to be favouring an “aristocracy” of some form.

    Joshua,
    I’m not just against certain types of tax but also certain types of ways of spending.

    The most obvious of these is redistribution. I disagree with doing that to “level” incomes and also, within a state, to “level” regions. I hate the fact that London is milked to spend billions on failing regeneration projects in the regions while the Underground is a shambles.

    There are others. I see no reason why I should pay for feckless single mothers, “fact-finding” trips, Peter mandelson, the Dept of Culture (whatever that does) and the list goes on and on.

    I live in Manchester BTW.

    Nice to hear Ms Jowell in a spot of bother.

  • Sorry, I had no idea Britain had a poll tax of its own.

    Is an attempt to reduce social engineering, itself social engineering? Interesting question.

    I don’t believe the figure of 55% of Brits on the dole or employed by the public sector. Even if you did restrict voting for those people, I doubt it would have an effect on most elections. I’m sure it wouldn’t in the U.S.

  • Joshua

    I’m not just against certain types of tax but also certain types of ways of spending.

    Yes, that’s what I meant, but it wasn’t very clear from the way I worded it. What I understood it to mean was First Amendment-type Constitutional prohibitions – “Congress/Parliament shall make no law raising revenue for the purpose of funding x (where x is some inappropriate social program like public daycare or whatever).” Or at the very least “Congress/Parliament shall raise no taxes save to fund x, y, z (where x y and z are the military, the police, and other enumerated justifiable expenses).

    I agree that this is the right way to go about it. I’m not sure I trust the government to decide who may and may not vote — certainly not in the US.

    Neither approach seems likely to succeed, unfortunately.

  • Verity

    Dammit, Permanent Expat – I wish you hadn’t banged on about having a drink! I was going to wait for around another hour!

    tomWright, I like your amendment to my bill, although I think it’s too complicated if I’m reading it right. I would disagree with you about a “targeted” tax because I think is an unwieldy notion. You’d never get it to the vote because they’d quibble endlessly over who was being targetted.

    But I think your notion of a seconding vote by the wealth producers for any large expenditures is good.

    That said, I do believe in KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid. It would be cleaner just to disenfranchise those employed in the public sector. They would in effect, disenfranchise themselves by being employed in the public sector. Or they could trade off all their government bennies, if they felt strongly enough about the vote, and take a job in the private sector. In other words, it would be their choice to be disenfranchised in return for what they judge a greater advantage. A perfectly fair and adult approach.

    The same would apply to long-term (six months or longer) welfare recipients. They would disenfranchise themselves by choosing to remain on the taxpayer tit. I can’t see any of them minding very much, except for a bolshie few imbibing a few pints (courtesy the taxpayer) dahn the pub talking about “wot abah my rights as a citizen, den, eh?”.

    Ivan, we are aware of the American poll tax but the British, Thatcher imposed, poll tax was for a good purpose: to get everyone to pay local taxes. Needless to say, teddy bears got thrown out of prams and large temper tantrums occurred.

  • Euan Gray

    If you wish to impose a system such as a restricted franchise or taxpayers having a veto on taxes, you need to first get it made law. This is akin to dealing with the problem of turkeys not voting for Christmas by asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. How would you do that?

    If you wish it to remain law, you need to come up with some system of preventing this law being changed or repealed. This is a major infringement of the right of the people to be governed as they wish. How do you propose to do this, and how do you propose to justify telling people they are no longer free to choose their form of government?

    If you forbid legal change and yet the people object (as they would), you will need ultimately to put down insurrection. How are you going to do that without making it appear to be a system of aristocrats defending their own privilege? Do the people doing the putting down get a vote? If not, how do you prevent *them* rebelling? If yes, don’t they then wield disproportionate power (the Praetorian Guard syndrome)?

    The proposal is simply a selfish desire for the imposition of aristocracy, the aristocrats in this case being the (presumably) privately employed tax payers.

    It seems to neatly illustrate the summation of libertarianism in the adolescent petulance of “I don’t want to!” Tough. Life isn’t like that.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    the British, Thatcher imposed, poll tax was for a good purpose: to get everyone to pay local taxes

    It was actually a pretty naked attempt to enable the more prosperous (and thus generally more likely to vote Conservative) to pay LESS local tax, whatever the disingenuous hypothetical justification of it, and I say that as a life-long Tory. It should be an object lesson for those who propose a flat income tax (as opposed to a flat-rate income tax) – such things will not fly in the UK.

    Given that over 2/3 of local government expenditure is met through grants from central government, the link between the cost of local government services and the amount of local taxation paid is not that strong in any case.

    EG

  • Joshua

    If you wish it to remain law, you need to come up with some system of preventing this law being changed or repealed. This is a major infringement of the right of the people to be governed as they wish.

    On what basis does the “right of people to be governed as they wish” outweigh individual rights to, e.g., property? There are numerous examples throughout history of people being governed “the way they wished” that ended up trampling on the very real individual rights of fellow citizens.

    The right of “a people” (whatever that means) is ultimately the rights of all its members. What people on this thread are trying to set up is a system whereby these things are not confused – where, for example, the perceived right of “a people” is no longer allowed to automatically supercede individual rights. People are born into individual packages – not as members of super-individual structures. All meaningful rights are defined on the individual level.

    The analogy someone (I forget who) made earlier about allowing the children in a family to vote on their allowance is apt. Simply being born into a particular family does not give a child any kind of “right” to an allowance. One could invent the right of “a family” to “distribute its money as it pleases” if one liked – but that would miss the point that only some members of said family are actually earning any money, and that the other members of the family are anyway not appropriately informed about economics and finances.

    You can tally all the votes you want, but amassing a certain critical mass of supporters does not make a thing right. Theft is an affront to property whether I am robbed by a single man or a group of men.

  • Freeman

    How about this for a (maybe) neat solution to the voting issue?
    It’s based on the old problem of how to get two children to divide fairly the last piece of cake. The answer is to let one child cut the cake “in half” and for the other to choose which of the slices to take.
    So, in a two-house parliamentary system let’s suppose one house makes the laws which raise taxes and the other house makes the laws which spend the money so raised. The two houses work independently.
    Every citizen then gets a vote. The catch is that everyone has only one vote and must first declare on which house’s candidates he wishes to exercise his vote. So, everyone gets to vote but only on either the amount of taxes to be raised OR how these taxes are to be spent.
    Can anyone envisage how such a scheme might work out?
    Would a libertarian be more likely to pitch his vote for the tax-raising house, on the assumption that he would probably vote for a candidate who had a ticket to minimise tax raising, or would he choose to vote for a candidate for the tax spending house, on the assumption that he would vote for a candidate who promised to spend the taxes wisely?
    Any ideas?

  • Freeman

    Sorry, perhaps too similar to TomWright, but hopfully still worth thing about as no-one gets disenfranchised.

  • nick

    Let people sell their votes.

  • Verity

    Nick – I totally agree with that, actually, and why not? A vote belongs to you and should have a market value.

    Although … hmmm … people like Tessa Jowell’s husband would buy up thousands of votes in order to do the will of Silvio Berlusconi (whereas, Tony Blair would do it cheaper, tee hee).

    In my mind, it still comes down to disenfranchising those who can vote themselves benefits – the public sector and the welfare sector. At least this way, it stays domestic. The international implications of being able to sell votes are too grave.

  • RAB

    Nope sorry I dont.
    Believe that your vote is a saleable commodity, that is.
    It may well be bought, in many different ways, but when it comes down to a ballot box, your beliefs and your concience should be your only guide.

  • Midwesterner

    Let people sell their votes.

    The instant I read that I had this nightmare (daymare?) of Bill Gates buying enough votes to regulate his competitors.

  • Midwesterner

    Somebody way up near the top, (Matt Schultz?) suggested basing vote counting on elgible voters.

    In our local school district, the routine is they put up a very large taxing referendum, if it fails, they change it a little and put it up again. This can go on many times until it finally passes. ‘No’ does not mean ‘no’, it means try again. To meet the law, they subtract a little bit, call it a new referendum and try again. This method of getting it passed is refered to as the ‘Neverendum’.

    They go to great lengths to get them passed. Most ballots are voted on Tuesdays in the US. They have even put up ballots on a Saturday just a few weeks from a major election without any publicity beyond the minimum legal announcements, just to try to slip one through.

    If a simple majority of all registered voters was required to pass a tax increase, that would defeat the ‘secret’ ballots and greatly reduce the voter fatigue that allows ‘neverendums’ to eventually pass.

    By using registered instead of elgible voters, passage is a reasonable possibility if there truly is support for the referendum. Registered voters are those who actually cared enough to vote recently (or have applied to).

  • Verity

    Yes, Midwesterner. Very earnest.

  • Midwesterner

    Now, if I could just learn to spell “eligible”

  • Nick M

    Selling votes or restricting the franchise are unethical, unworkable and impractical propositions. Let’s go the whole hog and reinstate rotten boroughs and the corn laws! The idea that state workers and “dole bludgers” will vote for their own benefit has the corolllary that so would this “new aristocracy”. We’d be back to 1800 again. Maybe the newly disenfranchised would agitate, set the revolutionary ball rolling and the cycle would repeat… Until in 2200 folks would be having the same discussion.

    The minute you start saying some people should be eligible to vote… Well, everyone is going to have a different idea on that. The bureacracy of checking whether someone is elligible is mind-numbing. We’d probably need a whole new government department for it. Maybe ID cards would be needed!

    If we are to have smaller government covering radically fewer things then the best way is, surely, to attract a much smaller number of much smarter people to those jobs, not treat them as second class citizens.

    I’ve never heard ideas as naive seriously put forward since I read a Green Party manifesto 10 years ago. If libertarians take these ideas (which are at the eastern end of Hammersmith & City) seriously they are condemning themselves into the same cul-de-sac as the SWP, Veritas, BNP, Greens, Commies and the Liberal Democrats.

  • ResidentAlien

    If you had a majority of legislators willing to vote to disenfranchise those who are financially dependent on the state with the objective being to downsize the state you would also have the majority needed to proceed directly to downsize the state. Additionally, there would be endless disputes about who should or should not be disenfranchised – everybody who gets child benefit?

    I think that a more acheivable and realistic goal is to end the transfer of funds from one level of government to another. Local government in the UK is totally financially dependent on Central Government and has no real powers left. It’s just one big shell game.

  • Joshua:

    I very much agree with the principle behind your proposal – that the targets of selective taxes should be able to review said taxes. In practice, however, this kind of system sometimes runs into trouble in terms of defining who is “targeted.” …

    But certainly if we’re careful about how we define who is targeted, I completely agree that those targeted by taxes should have final say.

    and

    Verity:

    I like your amendment to my bill, although I think it’s too complicated if I’m reading it right. I would disagree with you about a “targeted” tax because I think is an unwieldy notion. You’d never get it to the vote because they’d quibble endlessly over who was being targetted.
    But I think your notion of a seconding vote by the wealth producers for any large expenditures is good.

    Yes, there would be issues to work out, I was just positing a general idea. There would probably need to be some sort of guidelines on how taxes are imposed, to minimize confusion. But then, difficulties and argument would lead to litigation and delays in the vote, which would prevent the tax from being imposed, so not such a bad thing, and would probably be an incentive for legislatures to not muck about with it.

    But people being politicians, they will find a way to twist it to the needs of back room backers.

    The best part of the idea though, is that you do not need to keep track of incomes or of who is a producer or a consumer, since even consumers pay taxes when they spend their dole-dollars.

    While it is probably true, as you say, that defining who is targeted may be an issue, I think it would be a relatively minor one, except in cases where someone wants to be particularly bloody minded. But that can happen in any system. Again, it would be an incentive for clarity in the legislation, though there would undoubtedly be a rather wavy, and occasionally steep, learning curve.

    OK, almost ten PM here, bedtime for bloviators

  • Thon Brocket

    tomWright:

    The most diluted spread of power is to have it in the hands of each person, as opposed to a few legislators.

    No question. But it’s a spectrum, not a switch. A double-democracy arrangement dilutes the power by a factor of 2. A good start, I’d say.

    I am in the U.S.. Believe me when I say a bicameral legislature is no barrier to waste, corruption, self dealing and special interest lobbies.

    Sure. We have a bicameral legislature here too, with similar results. But the House of Representatives and the Senate (and the HoL / HoC over here) both have full competence on both sides of the taxing / spending equation. The separated-powers legislatures that I’m advocating wouldn’t, and the legislators in them wouldn’t have the power to make corrupt bargains with proportions of the electorate as they do now. They would be checked and balanced, each against the other. They aren’t now, and the result of that is the SuperState.

    In a later post:

    I think if we vote to have government undertake a task, or to grant benefits to any specific part of the population, but decide to fund it with a targeted tax instead of a general tax, it is only fair to ask those targeted if they agree. If they do not agree, back to the drawing board. Either rethink the program, or fund it elswhere or with a general tax.

    That’s pretty much how it would work, automatically, under a DD arrangement. The main legislature votes up a task to be undertaken, or a benefit, but the same bozos can’t raise a penny of tax to finance it. They must pass it to the taxing legislature, who have no responsibility for the content of the actual legislation, but are responsible to their tax-paying electors, who may target a group of taxpayers (just as in your scenario) but with full democratic legitimacy unsullied by the need for votes from the resource-suckers on the statist side.

    Freeman:

    Every citizen then gets a vote. The catch is that everyone has only one vote and must first declare on which house’s candidates he wishes to exercise his vote. So, everyone gets to vote but only on either the amount of taxes to be raised OR how these taxes are to be spent. Can anyone envisage how such a scheme might work out?

    Hmmm. Interesting wrinkle. Gotta think that one through.

    Sorry, perhaps too similar to TomWright, but hopefully still worth thing about as no-one gets disenfranchised.

    Yeah, big point. Euan Grey is stopped-clock-right on this one. I love the idea of voteless jobsworth parasites, just as I love the idea of a free-energy perpetual-motion machine. But any attempt to restrict the franchise is, politically, suicidal lunacy. And, ultimately, it’s wrong. Aristocracy, rotten boroughs, one-man-one-vote-one-election, Jim Crow, apartheid, yellow Stars-of-David all lie thataway. Don’t go there.

    So don’t fight the state by restricting democracy. Champion it instead, by demanding democratic adjudication of the tax-spend equation, and we can wrong-foot the left-statists by having them come out against an extension of democratic rights in order to protect their own lovingly-padded arses.

  • J

    “One co-worker I spoke to on the issue expressed that he would like to see only net contributors to society have the vote”

    Ah, yes, the small problem of defining net contribution there. Apparantly it means “Tax” except for the nice soldiers, where it means “Service in lieu of tax” as well. I fail to see why the same should not be said of all state workers. Most state workers are of course doing a pointless unhelpful service in lieu of tax, but that’s not the point – many private sector workers do pointless unhelpful jobs.

    When we privatise the NHS we won’t need to pay doctors from the treasury, but until then I fail to see why they are less deserving of the vote than an accountant in the RAF.

    P.S. Since my company gets over half its revenue from state contracts, I am thrilled to have taken part in the first internet discussion where someone has seriously recommended disenfranchising me. Who needs fascists when you got libertarians, eh?!

  • Euan Gray

    On what basis does the “right of people to be governed as they wish” outweigh individual rights to, e.g., property?

    On the basis that not all rights are individual, that no rights are absolute and that rights are social constructs which change over time.

    But the question be put back to you – on what basis does the selfish individual’s desire not to pay tax trump the basic right of everyone else to have a say in how society is governed? Americans fought a revolutionary war over that basic right, and before that the English executed a king for the same basic right. But all that plainly pales into insignificance when weighed against your desire not to pay tax.

    Irrespective of whether they “contribute” to society – and the definition of “contribute” is surely subjective – all people live within society. Since the basic thrust of socio-political development over the past several centuries has been to increase the proportion of citizens who are allowed a say in how they are governed, the burden is on the proposer to demonstrate why reversing this process is a good thing, not just for the proposer but for everyone.

    Why *should* society revert to an aristocratic system just so you can pay less tax?

    EG

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I have to agree with Euan on this one (sharp intake of breath, reaches for stiff drink), I mean, how is such a proposal going to become law?

    I honestly don’t see such a restriction on the franchise occuring. Nice idea in theory, unworkable in practice.

    For starters, how does one decide which category of person working for or receiving some sort of public benefit qualifies to be excluded? Also, as much as I admire the Armed Services, I think it will be entirely arbritrary to allow a squaddie to vote but to bar a social worker. I’d love to see politicians explain that one.

    I am afraid a lot of comments here are just expressions of prejudices we have about people who work in the state sector. I share some of those prejudices, but this vote-limitation idea is a non-starter.

  • I do not believe that disenfranchising state workers is the correct solution. And making exceptions for certain professions (e.g. soldiers) is a non-starter. The underlying point is not that certain jobs are more valuable than others, but getting around the Catch 22.

    However, the current system is absurd and is leading to a dangerously indebted nation. The candidates for ‘headmaster’ are offering the ‘children’ policies such as abolishing detention, a four day week, abolition of uniforms and free sweets at the tuck shop – all designed to appeal and all certain to weaken the institution.

    I can see merit in the proposal to have two Houses, one with tax raising and the other with tax spending authority.

    I can also see merit in restricting votes in the tax spending House to those who pay income tax (this would include pensioners, the temporarily unemployed and the temporarily sick – but would exclude those who are completely reliant on the state)

    This is not a clear cut issue. All ideas welcomed.

  • Nice idea in theory, unworkable in practice

    Agreed, but it is a nice idea.

  • Social / Political – that’s rather sophist.

    Not at all. The difference between social and political is a key as the difference between a handshake and a court writ. You are making a category error to conflate the two, as pointed out by Tom Paine in 1776 in ‘Common Sense’. ‘Politics’ is about controlling the means of collective coercion, ‘social’ is about individual interaction and the emergent characteristics of those interactions aggregated are what we call ‘society’. It is far from sophistry to make it clear the two are quite different things.

    I stand by what I said. This is a dramatic step aimed at making a massive change to society. If that ain’t social engineering I’m a monkey’s uncle.

    In that case have a banana for the reasons stated above. It is no more ‘social’ engineering that Blair’s radical plans to make much of politics a matter for administrative fiat rather than deliberation. It is ENTIRELY political engineering and society, which will end up paying the costs, is quite a separate things indeed.

    This is particularly true for those folks who seem to be favouring an “aristocracy” of some form.

    Not me. It is simply about not allowing people to vote themselves other people’s money as far as I am concerned, aristocracy is irrelevant.

  • Joshua

    Euan-

    I asked you

    On what basis does the “right of people to be governed as they wish” outweigh individual rights to, e.g., property?

    and your response was:

    On the basis that not all rights are individual, that no rights are absolute and that rights are social constructs which change over time.

    which is not a response. Even if you’re not convinced that all rights are individual, you’re still a long way from concluding that group rights trump individual rights. This is especially true if you say – as you do – that “no rights are absolute” (since presumably there would be cases where group rights were trumped by some other rights if they are also not absolute).

    In short, you haven’t answered my question.

    But the question be put back to you

    I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions when you have fairly responded to mine.

  • Joshua

    By the way, this statement

    Why *should* society revert to an aristocratic system just so you can pay less tax?

    makes me think that you are perhaps confusing me for some of the other people here. Please note in any future responses that I have not defended the idea of restricting votes to the private sector. In fact, I said the idea of allowing government to decide who gets to vote “gives me the creeps” and that I would prefer a system of (probably constitutional) restrictions on what kind of taxes can be levied and for what purposes.

  • Euan Gray

    This is not a clear cut issue. All ideas welcomed

    In order to perhaps make it a little clearer, the following might be considered:

    Rights are not and cannot be absolute. For every right, there is at least one circumstance in which it must be abridged – the classic example is shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre, but there are many others. In principle, when the exercise of a right by one infringes upon a different right held by another or others, then which right is to be abridged depends ideally on the concept of summum bonum.

    Clearly it is a matter of debate for some whether the right not to be compelled to assist others is more important than the right of others to be assisted when necessary. From a selfish point of view, few people actually want to pay tax, but from an unselfish point of view the consequence of this in the shape of a more polarised society is less than desirable and, in reality, unstable. [Generally at this point the libertarian introduces the idea of voluntary charity taking up where coercive taxation leaves off, but this is a naive view since it overlooks the far higher relative cost and complexity of the services to be funded now compared to when they were last largely so funded.]

    Also to be considered is the fact that some rights are plainly more durable and more important than others. The right to free (within reason) speech is obviously more durable and universal than many others. It isn’t greatly affected by the development of society, changing technology, and so on. However, property rights are somewhat different, and constitutional restrictions on taxation and spending even more different.

    Having constitutional guarantees on free speech is sensible, but having similar guarantees preventing taxation and expenditure is silly. Circumstances can easily change such that the tax/spend restrictions are obsolete or counterproductive, but it is unlikely they will change enough to make free speech undesirable.

    And ultimately we have the changing general view of what rights are applicable in a given society at a given time. I recognise that some – specifically those who see rights as somehow natural – seem to have considerable difficulty understanding that this process happens, but happen it nevertheless does. Rights are social constructs, some as we can see more durable than others, and as such they change over time as society changes.

    It is far from sophistry to make it clear the two are quite different things

    No, it’s not. This would be an attempt to make significant changes to society by political means. It is social engineering.

    It is simply about not allowing people to vote themselves other people’s money as far as I am concerned, aristocracy is irrelevant

    Aristocracy is not irrelevant, because a system such as you propose is an aristocracy.

    EG

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Abolition of universal enfranchisement is not going to get past go, not to mention that the mechanics of deciding just who is considered worthy to vote a bureaucratic and legal nightmare. To even consider such electoral reform would require support from the very electorate you wish to disenfranchise. As was said, the turkey’s are hardly likely to vote for Christmas, are they?

    Better to enact constitutional reform through the current electoral system to place limits on government. Admittedly this would be a hard slog but at least it is a recognisable path to obtaining consitutional reform.

    Arguing that the electorate isn’t smart enough to vote for libertarian reform is a failure for advocates of libertarianism, not an electorial failure. We have to accept the democratic institutions we have inherited and work with them, unless of course you advocate a violent overthrow of the government and subjugation of the electorate. We may think we are letting the caged bird go free, but the all the bird can think about is who’s now going to supply the bird feed and change its water.

  • Euan Gray

    In short, you haven’t answered my question

    In short, I have. You asked for the basis of my view, and I gave it. To make it even plainer, but at the expense of brevity:

    Not all rights are individual rights – this is trivially true in cases like the right to free assembly. It’s also true that collective bodies such as villages, owners of public spaces, corporations, etc. have rights – even the state has rights. The point of this is to say that collective rights exist as well as individual rights.

    No rights are absolute – see above on free speech, or indeed on any other right you care to name, whether collective or individual. This establishes the position that rights can be abridged.

    Rights are social constructs – should be plain enough to understand. Which rights are granted and which abridged in a given society at a given time varies according to the general view of society (ideally), state (more often) or governing elite (sadly common). This establishes that rights change, and that the relative importance of certain rights can also change.

    Thus, we have the concepts that there are collective rights as well as individual rights, that these rights are never absolute, and that they can change in nature and relative importance.

    Right now in the west, it is generally considered that the collective right of the people to choose their government is more important than the right of individuals to enjoy their own property unimpeded. In the majority of cases, the imposition of society in the form of the state upon the individual in this regard is limited and the balance of these two rights generally seems to work. There isn’t a specific philosophical justification for this being the case, it simply is the case because this is in broad terms what the generality of the people more or less want (which is about as close as you can ever get).

    In this case, at this time, and in this society, the collective right trumps the individual right.

    makes me think that you are perhaps confusing me for some of the other people here

    No, I don’t think so. To maintain a system such as you propose would basically require an aristocratic system. Suppose you proposed and got adopted a constitutional amendment to restrict taxation and spending. You’re now happy, but many others wouldn’t be. How do you propose stopping someone else introducing another amendment to repeal your amendment? The only way you can do that is to give yourself and other taxpayers a veto, which basically turns you into an aristocracy. Alternatively, you are disenfranchising large numbers of people simply so you can keep on paying low or no taxes – frankly the practical difference between the two alternatives is hard to see.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    Arguing that the electorate isn’t smart enough to vote for libertarian reform is a failure for advocates of libertarianism

    What if they are smart enough, but don’t do it? What if the people, when given the choice to freely vote for libertarianism, don’t vote for it – if in essence they freely choose not to be free?

    Do you accept their choice, or do you ram your option down their throats whether they want it or not?

    EG

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  • Verity

    Well, I am off this thread as Euan Gray has taken it over with his endless circular nitpicks.

    I note his initials are still EG, by the way.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Working out what rights are in practice is where courts and legislative assemblies come in, which is often why folk like Euan think they are social constructs rather than things that are inalienable features of human existence (as the U.S. Founding Fathers thought).

    I is a mistake to say that rights are social creations only: they can be grounded in certain universal requirements of humans as free beings equipped with volition. Without some yardstick like that, the word “right” loses all coherence and becomes whatever folk want it to mean, and hence vacuous. I have a real problem with the idea of group rights: rights can surely only make sense when applied to persons who can act and think. There is no such thing as a collective brain.

    Nice collection of quotes about rights here(Link)

  • Euan gray misses the point entirely.

    “The only way you can do that is to give yourself and other taxpayers a veto, which basically turns you into an aristocracy. Alternatively, you are disenfranchising large numbers of people simply so you can keep on paying low or no taxes – frankly the practical difference between the two alternatives is hard to see.

    EG”

    An aristocracy? Really? In what way is being a taxpayer hereditary? In what way does this aristocracy perpetuate itself?

    Anyone who wants to overturn the taxpayer’s veto has a very good option open to them: Become a net taxpayer. Cease to be a burden on taxpayers by taking responsibility for your own life.

    Indeed, aristocracies usually spend an inordinate amount of time limiting their membership and keeping everyone else out: this one would be the precise opposite. The more taxpayers the better.

    Staggering that you don’t see this difference as being really rather relevant.

    As for the rest of your argument, there are some other issues:

    “Right now in the west, it is generally considered that the collective right of the people to choose their government is more important than the right of individuals to enjoy their own property unimpeded.”

    Euan, this is the whole sodding point. We are close, if not beyond, the tipping point where the right of individuals to enjoy their property unimpeded is being eroded to an unacceptable degree. There needs to be a correction.

    The whole sodding point is that net recipients of tax can help themselves to the fruits of the labour of others to the detriment of EVERYONE. That the people who pay for the whole shooting match are in the minority is not exactly a healthy or sustainable situation FOR ANYONE. You have failed entirely to acknowledge that there is even an issue here.

    Without this acknowledgement, the rest of your complaint is just carping. It takes no account of the fact that the welfare state was originally based on the concept of CONTRIBUTORY INSURANCE. It takes no account of the fourth of Beveridge’s five “giant evils”: IDLENESS.

    There is just no way that Beveridge would recognise, let alone approve of, the looting of general taxation that occurs in the UK today.

    As for the collective right of the people to choose their government, there is a corollary that the majority do not abuse a minority, in return for the acquiescence of the minority to submit to the will of the majority. When the minority being persecuted are the people paying for everything, I would have thought that the majority would be skating on thinner ice than normal…

  • Luniversal

    My Whiggish schoolmasters taught me that in the bad old days men sold their votes. It seemed eminently sensible to me; better than being bribed with one’s own money by politicians promising, usually falsely, to cut taxes.

    I resolved then that I would never cast a vote unless I was well paid. It is a vow I have kept during a long life, and as a result I still do not know what the inside of a polling station looks like.

  • Nick M

    I agree with Verity. I’m out of here. Especially after I saw that Brendan Halfweeg saying just what I’d said (pretty much) 10 posts earlier. It’s like having a CD on shuffle all day.

    One thing. Could someone tell me what Rolf was on about posting a collection of somewhat opaque links?

  • Johnathan

    Luniversal, you have been banned. What are you doing here? Please make yourself scarce.

    Pedant-General: exactly.

    Euan raises that old case of bans on folk shouting “fire!” in a building. The crucial point here is one of consent. If I enter a building then I consent to observing rules enforced by owners of that building, such as not shouting out to alarm people, respecting the dress code, etc. It is not a question of one set of rights being traded against another set; as a sovereign individual, I consent to the rules of the place where I have chosen to enter, etc.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    EG stated:

    What if they are smart enough, but don’t do it? What if the people, when given the choice to freely vote for libertarianism, don’t vote for it – if in essence they freely choose not to be free?

    EG

    I don’t understand what you’re on about, I clearly stated that

    Arguing that the electorate isn’t smart enough to vote for libertarian reform is a failure for advocates of libertarianism, not an electorial failure.

    Where does this state that I disagree with the electoral process?

    You then state:

    Do you accept their choice, or do you ram your option down their throats whether they want it or not?

    Which I think I’ve already covered with:

    We have to accept the democratic institutions we have inherited and work with them, unless of course you advocate a violent overthrow of the government and subjugation of the electorate.

    I think it’s safe to say that I don’t support violent insurrection and that I would support only reform through the ballot box.

    Is there any point discussing anything with you if you’re going to ignore the points that have been argued? I agree with Verity and Nick M, no point.

  • Euan Gray

    Working out what rights are in practice is where courts and legislative assemblies come in, which is often why folk like Euan think they are social constructs rather than things that are inalienable features of human existence

    Rights ARE social constructs, like it or not. That they are so is evident from the fact that they change over time and between societies – as societies change, so rights change.

    They aren’t inalienable features of human existence. They have been in the past and now alienated and, mirabile dictu, people keep on existing. They are not natural, because nobody has ever been able to explain what feature of biological nature confers the right to private property, for example, or freedom of speech. They are not self-evident, since societies, states and philosophers have been arguing over them for centuries, are still doing it, and likely will be doing it for centuries to come.

    I have a real problem with the idea of group rights: rights can surely only make sense when applied to persons who can act and think

    Then corporations have no rights?

    An aristocracy? Really? In what way is being a taxpayer hereditary?

    Given your tag of Pedant-General, I’m somewhat surprised that you don’t know the meaning of the word aristocracy. It can mean a hereditary ruling class, but its meaning is not confined to that. Check a dictionary.

    We are close, if not beyond, the tipping point where the right of individuals to enjoy their property unimpeded is being eroded to an unacceptable degree

    Really? The UK has one of the lower overall tax burdens among developed nations, and the US has the lowest. Presumably all those other countries with much higher tax burdens which still seem to keep on functioning are mere illusions and can safely be ignored?

    There needs to be a correction

    Disenfranchising large segments of the population is not, however, the way to do it.

    That the people who pay for the whole shooting match are in the minority is not exactly a healthy or sustainable situation FOR ANYONE. You have failed entirely to acknowledge that there is even an issue here

    Because there isn’t an issue here.

    Consider an easy example – healthcare. Now, healthcare is going to be bought and paid for anyway, whether it is the state forcing people to buy it through taxation or people being forced to by it through sheer necessity from private providers – one way or another, the citizen needs to buy healthcare.

    Why is it the case that a doctor paid by the state is a parasite, but the same doctor doing the same job in the same hospital yet being paid by a corporation is a useful and productive member of society? That’s simply absurd.

    What the problem is is the DIFFERENCE in cost. I quite concede that a monopoly is not normally efficient beyond the short term, and therefore a nationalised industry is likely (but not certain) to descend into waste and inefficiency soon enough. However, it must be borne in mind that in most cases even if the industry were not nationalised, people would still be buying the same or a similar product. The issue is not who provides it, but rather how much more expensive the monopoly provision is compared to the competitive provision.

    If the state provides a healthcare system for 80 billion a year in tax, perhaps the private sector could provide the same service for 60 billion. The cost of state provision is therefore 20 billion, not 80 – it is the cost surplus, not the principal, that is the issue.

    So I don’t accept that those paying for the whole shooting match are in a minority. Nor do I accept that the net cost of what they are paying is anything like as much as you seem to think it is. Those paying for the whole shooting match would still need to pay for a privately provided shooting match, after all.

    Go through all the government departments and add up their budgets. Then add up the costs of private provision of the same service, or where the service is seen as unnecessary, the cost or benefit of not having it provided at all. The net difference is what is being paid for, it isn’t as much as you assume and it isn’t being paid for by a minority.

    It is not a question of one set of rights being traded against another set; as a sovereign individual, I consent to the rules of the place where I have chosen to enter, etc.

    And the rules of the place in question, the UK, are that you pay the level of tax required. This is consensual as well – if you don’t want to pay the price, you can leave and go somewhere else.

    I hear Somalia is nice at this time of year, although I notice that there has been a distinct shortage of libertarian Somalia-boosters actually going to the place and living there to avoid the nasty taxes of the west.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    Is there any point discussing anything with you if you’re going to ignore the points that have been argued?

    It was a rhetorical question, which was intended to invite people to consider what their response would be if the electorate knew perfectly well what libertarianism was, knew the costs and benefits, were smart enough to figure it out for themselves and still refused it.

    This should have been bloody obvious, to be frank.

    EG

  • there is a fundamental problem with your proposal, it would lead inevitably to those with the franchise ‘voting’ for no taxes for any dependants.

    i have much on improving franchise methods here
    http://www.abelard.org/iqedfran/iqedfran_intro.php

  • Johnathan Pearce

    the rules of the place in question, the UK, are that you pay the level of tax required. This is consensual as well – if you don’t want to pay the price, you can leave and go somewhere else.

    I hear Somalia is nice at this time of year, although I notice that there has been a distinct shortage of libertarian Somalia-boosters actually going to the place and living there to avoid the nasty taxes of the west.

    What a strange argument that is. There is considerable difference in the world between the rules laid down by a privately owned cinema for which one is not forced to pay and a state taking a large share of my wealth.

    For what it is worth I am an minarchist, so fatuous references to Somalia don’t really hack it as a put-down. Sorry, but no cigar.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I should have put the second paragraph in italics. Doh.

  • Joshua

    Euan-

    Your response answered my question finally.

    It is clear from your comments that you simply have no idea what rights are. Rights are social constructs – fine. But not in the sense you mean. Moral questions (of which questions involving rights are a subset) are not now and never have been in the past decided by majority vote. Majority votes deicde policies, but morality – which is what we’re talking about here – is something different entirely.

    Consider a basketball game. Who wins is decided by the actual physical contest, which takes place within a framework of rules. It is not decided by which team the crowd favors. To do so would, of course, be absurd – would take all the meaning out of the game.

    What you are defending in terms of rights is very similar to a sporting event decided by the mood of the crowd rather than the actual playing of the game and its rules. If we allowed the crowd to decide the outcome of every game, the players would soon not bother to play anymore because their actions would have nothing to do with the outcome.

    IN the same way, “rights” are meaningless if they are not something more than just a majority vote. Saying “you have a right to your property until such time as your neighbors decide you don’t” is a misuse of the word “right.”
    A “right” in the common use of the word is a guarantee. Without such a guarantee – things like property don’t mean anything. You cannot “own” something by privilege. You either possess it in some nearly absolute sense, or no real ownership is involved.

    In fact, the irony of your comments – populist as they style themselves – is that the overwhelming majority of people share my sense of the term “right” and not yours. To test this, you need only look back at history and ask yourself how many times someone has honestly changed his convictions on the basis of an opinion poll. It happens rarely, if indeed ever at all. Whenever a social change is affected, the terms of the debate are never about whose camp has more popular support. Instead, they are always about what is “right,” this concept of “right” being something entirely different from what is “popular.”

    You are right that Libertarians need to address the issue of how to popularize their ideas if they really expect to change the world (and, incidentally, exactly 0% of the commenters on this thread have disagreed with you about that, so why you keep hammering the point is something of a mystery). But the idea that our ideas are useless or immoral simply because they are not currently popular is fatuous.

  • Thon Brocket

    Verity:

    Thon Brocket – No. Your scheme calls for the veto to be placed in the hands of the few. No. Everyone who contributes to the creation of wealth should have the veto. Not, for gods’s sake, elected representatives who are going to vote in their own interests – not yours.

    Tha’ll never stop fookin’ in Bradford. Nor democracy, neither. That’s political reality.

    This is a very simple, easily understood concept. It has clarity. Dicking around with it is going to muddy it.

    You’re already dicking around with it, by exempting the military (I sure as Hell wouldn’t – I live in Belfast. “UDR” mean anything to you?). Many commenters have asked the question – where do you draw the line? – but there are no answers but arbitrary ones. And that makes it intellectually incoherent, as well as practical-politics dogfood – kinda like the photographic negative of New Labour.

    Now I would view the disenfranchisement of civil servants much as I would their disembowelment, which is to say, with equanimity and a small, chilly smile playing about my chiselled aquiline features. But, hey, I also think time-travel would be, like, really cool. Both propositions are pretty attractive. Nobody on Earth has the slightest notion of how to accomplish either. You certainly haven’t.

    I’m an engineer. I’m interested in problems, but in the context of finding solutions. What you’re advocating is not remotely politically possible in any imaginable scenario. If you disagree, then let’s hear your proposals for political action to get where you want to go, starting from here-and-now.

    I believe my DD proposal actually has a small but measurable chance of success, and I’ve adumbrated a strategy (hit the pinkos right in their sacred cow by advocating more democracy, not less) which is at least out there and amenable to analysis.

    I think that puts me way ahead of you.

  • Euan Gray

    But you still evade the point that nobody is forcing you to live in the UK. If you don’t like it, you can leave for somewhere enjoying lower taxes. There is, after all, a free market in nation states competing for your citizenship, is there not?

    And of course you evade the tricky points about the nature of right and the actual cost of state involvment in the economy.

    EG

  • Verity

    Well Thon Brocket of chiselled features and sardonic smile, I would accomplish what I suggest by the simple act of cheating. I would do as Tony Blair does and leave inconvenient plans out of the party manifesto, saving them as a chilly surprise for the electorate later on, once I’d got my feet under the desk.

  • Euan Gray

    Moral questions (of which questions involving rights are a subset) are not now and never have been in the past decided by majority vote

    You’re quite wrong. Morality – which also changes over time and between societies, by the way – basically IS decided on the strength of what the majority (or as ever the largest minority) thinks is more or less acceptable. Any glance at the history of civilisation will make this perfectly clear.

    A “right” in the common use of the word is a guarantee

    But in the legal use, which is actually the one that matters here, it isn’t absolute. If it’s a guarantee, it’s contingent – on circumstances not changing, on you not abusing your right, etc, etc.

    But the idea that our ideas are useless or immoral simply because they are not currently popular is fatuous.

    They’re not immoral, necessarily, but they are arguably pretty much useless NOT because they are unpopular (although they are in fact extremely unpopular), but rather because they’re plain wrong, based as they are on a flawed and highly selective view of history and a seriously skewed view of human nature.

    EG

  • permanent expat

    Well, another day….and here we are, sort of sober, to discover the constitutional eggheads still hard at it & still no coming together in the politer sense.
    I hope that Euan Gray gave the same advice to disaffected Islamists that he gave to Joshua about the availability of greener pastures……….although I would bet he didn’t when that thread was running.

  • Verity

    I hope that Euan Gray gave the same advice to disaffected Islamists that he gave to Joshua about the availability of greener pastures I doubt it too, Permanent Expat, although I don’t bother to actually read Euan Gray’s windy, repetitive posts.

    However, Trevor Phillips did it for him this morning. He said shariah law is not an option in Britain and those who called for it should seek alternate accommodation. Floor. Jaw. Dropped.

  • RK Jones

    Matt said: “For any Heinlein fans out there who remember the government in Starship Troopers: this is like the anti-Starship Troopers!

    (apologies if this is not a new observation.)”

    Actually Matt, Heinlein makes it clear that no member of the military receives the vote until after his term of service.

    RK Jones

  • mike

    The nature of rights is interesting. On the one hand, Euan’s point that they are social constructs is obviously true, yet whilst rights may change or be abridged this does not impact the question of whether rights are absolute. Or to put it differently, that rights are not always treated as absolute has no bearing on whether they should be so treated. The state may in fact confiscate your property, but whether it was right to do so is another question – one which I think is usually best answered ‘no’.

    The discussions and anti-state tirades at samizdata and elsewhere in the blogosphere may be read by others who will also agree with the ‘libertarian’ view of property rights, and so this social construct may come to gain more popularity and influence over time.

  • Joshua

    But in the legal use, which is actually the one that matters here, it isn’t absolute. If it’s a guarantee, it’s contingent – on circumstances not changing, on you not abusing your right, etc, etc.

    The legal use that was suggested, let me just remind you, was of constitutional prohibitions against certain kinds of taxes – so, in fact, they can be changed through a deliberately difficult process. In the US, this involves higher-than-usual majorities in both houses and then approval by a certain percentage of states. Constitutional guarantees are not absolute – but they are difficult enough to overcome that it’s still meaningful to talk about a “guarantee.”

    If your only objection to my system is that you thought I was advocating legal rights that can never be changed, then it seems you misunderstood me and that, in fact, we agree.

    You’re quite wrong. Morality – which also changes over time and between societies, by the way – basically IS decided on the strength of what the majority (or as ever the largest minority) thinks is more or less acceptable. Any glance at the history of civilisation will make this perfectly clear.

    How silly. In fact, any glance at the history of civilization makes just the opposite clear. What becomes the future majority position always starts out as the position of a minority with strong convictions. They come by these convictions not by checking the latest opinion polls but by appeal to a higher standard that has nothing to do with either general popularity or prevailing attitudes. In fact, it is logically necessary that it be so: if morality were merely a function of majority opinion, there would hardly be any impetus for general perceptions of it to change ever. Furthermore, when changes in general perceptions of morality are underway, the rhetoric involved in persuading people to change their attitudes involves references to popular opinion exactly NEVER. Such are simply not the terms on which people discuss these matters.

  • Thon Brocket

    Euan Grey:

    But you still evade the point that nobody is forcing you to live in the UK. If you don’t like it, you can leave for somewhere enjoying lower taxes. There is, after all, a free market in nation states competing for your citizenship, is there not?

    And I have a bridge to sell you. Let me count the ways.

    Free markets don’t feature violence-enforced geographical monopolies agreed solely between suppliers. Think Mafia-controlled garbage collection in New Jersey and then think immigration controls and extradition protocols.

    They don’t feature collusive price-fixing and mode-of-supply deals between suppliers. Think tax treaties, in particular EU “harmonisation”, cartelisation in less well-varnished language, already in force in the VAT regime; or collusive heavy tactics against cartel non-conformists (the UK Government-supported OECD War on Tax Havens); or tax information-swapping between governments. How would you react to your bank automatically supplying your confidential data to another, against your specifically-expressed instructions?

    They feature agreement on equitable methods of arbitration in the event of disputes. Try telling the Revenue you’re only paying part of your tax bill because you’re not happy with the state of the NHS, and that you want the matter decided by independent arbitrators, not the State-run courts.

    No free markets in taxation or government services round here. No, siree.

    Another way of looking at it is this. What you’re saying here is “If you don’t like it here, Jack, fuck away off to somewhere that suits you better”. A perfectly valid resonse to that is “No, YOU fuck off and leave me alone”. That dispute is always, ultimately, adjudicated with guns. No free market there.

  • Howard R Gray

    Rather than limiting the frachise, why not expand the vote by granting extra votes for those who actually create the revenue that the state sucks up from us? This gets around the sour grapes of the salariat should you attempt to take away their right to vote.

    No one in government service should be taxed either, it is meaningless psuedo accounting. Pay them a net of tax salary and eliminate the myth that they are actually paying tax. (This one needs some thought folks!) Besides, it would fan the “us and them” gulch between we the Atlas Shruggers and “them”.

    Abolition of PAYE would soon concetrate the minds of the taxed. Just when does excess taxation become ersatz slavery?

    A few minor tweaks and hey presto you have……….?

    One can dream the dream of heaven on earth!

    Gor blimey now what?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    IN the same way, “rights” are meaningless if they are not something more than just a majority vote. Saying “you have a right to your property until such time as your neighbors decide you don’t” is a misuse of the word “right.”
    A “right” in the common use of the word is a guarantee. Without such a guarantee – things like property don’t mean anything. You cannot “own” something by privilege. You either possess it in some nearly absolute sense, or no real ownership is involved.

    Well said Joshua. You put it better than I would in response to Euan’s attempt to define “rights” into nothingness.

  • Euan Gray

    I hope that Euan Gray gave the same advice to disaffected Islamists that he gave to Joshua about the availability of greener pastures……….although I would bet he didn’t when that thread was running

    I’m not sure which thread you mean and I may well not have read it. However, I would indeed give the same adivce to anyone – if you don’t like it you can either persuade people to change it or leave.

    And I have a bridge to sell you. Let me count the ways

    This illustrates the naivete and selectivity of the libertarian view of the world. Let’s see:

    Free markets don’t feature violence-enforced geographical monopolies agreed solely between suppliers

    This can nevertheless happen. More often the enforcement is simply stitching up the market, and this *does* happen a lot more often than free marketeers generally concede.

    They don’t feature collusive price-fixing and mode-of-supply deals between suppliers

    I’m afraid they do, as I know to my own experience. Such arrangements are extremely common. The courts throughout the western world regularly deal with this sort of thing.

    Try telling the Revenue you’re only paying part of your tax bill because you’re not happy with the state of the NHS

    Try telling your supplier you’re only paying part of your bill because you’re not happy with some unrelated thing the supplier is also doing for you. He’ll take you to court pretty quickly, and rightly so.

    This idea of mutual agreement and peaceful arbitration ruling the free market is a bit optimistic. Then again, the cost of litigation is presumably better than the cost of regulation.

    No free markets in taxation or government services round here

    I think what you mean is “I can’t get what I want.” That’s not the same thing as there not being a market – the market is under no obligation to provide what you want.

    What you’re saying here is “If you don’t like it here, Jack, fuck away off to somewhere that suits you better”. A perfectly valid resonse to that is “No, YOU fuck off and leave me alone”

    Why? Why should your desire for the country to change to suit you trump the desire of many others that it should not so change? And why cannot you leave if you don’t like it? Why should everyone else change to suit you?

    Why is the whole world out of step, except the libertarians?

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    They come by these convictions not by checking the latest opinion polls but by appeal to a higher standard that has nothing to do with either general popularity or prevailing attitudes

    And this higher standard is what, exactly? And where does it come from? And why is it that the “higher standard” is sometimes lessened and subsequently sometimes raised?

    Consider homosexuality. This has been at times frowned upon, at other times accepted as quite valid, sometimes considered wrong but it’s the sin and not the sinner that’s the problem, and at yet other times completely illegal and even punishable by death. Now, please explain which one of these is the higher standard and from where it comes. Please also expalin why your higher standard is the correct one.

    Morality changes as the general view of society changes. Outside of a religious context, the idea of some higher ideal of right is meaningless because it lacks justification.

    if morality were merely a function of majority opinion, there would hardly be any impetus for general perceptions of it to change ever

    That’s not at all true. Society is far more complex than an individualist viewpoint would suggest, and what you might call the commonly accepted tenets of any society change over time for a vast number of reasons.

    when changes in general perceptions of morality are underway, the rhetoric involved in persuading people to change their attitudes involves references to popular opinion exactly NEVER

    You’re confusing the process of changing morality with morality itself. Look at contemporary complaints about the moral laxity of the west which come from the Islamists – they make the assertions that such things as homosexuality, adultery, etc., are wrong and immoral, and they justify this by reference to their religious belief. However, this will achieve precisely nothing if there is no general feeling in society that these things are in fact wrong, and thus the appeal to a higher standard fails because hardly anyone accepts it. On the other hand, if there is a general feeling that such things ARE wrong, then this proposed morality will indeed gain ground and become mainstream.

    We have then the view of the religious people that these things are wrong and immoral and something ought to be done about it. We have the opposing view that, for example, homsexuality is natural for a small number of people & not a big deal, or that adultery is acceptable if the parties to the marriage consent. Each side will appeal to a higher standard – religious morality or secular tolerance in this case – and each will say that its own higher standard is the correct one.

    Who is right? Why are they right? One or other of these moralities will prevail, and it will ONLY prevail when the general view of society is that the morality in question is more or less acceptable.

    You put it better than I would in response to Euan’s attempt to define “rights” into nothingness

    It’s not a case of defining rights into nothingness, it’s a case of saying what rights actually are, why they are accepted, why they change and how they are justified.

    EG

  • Society is far more complex than an individualist viewpoint would suggest.

    How would you know? Arse about face as usual. It is that very complexity, changability and emergent nature of society which is what makes your statist views so irrational.

  • Euan Gray

    It is that very complexity, changability and emergent nature of society which is what makes your statist views so irrational

    Au contraire. It is this complexity which ensures that a radical individualist approach simply doesn’t work in a modern society.

    Such an approach can of course work in the right circumstances, and it worked perfectly successfully in earlier times in much *simpler* pre- and early-industrial societies. What I think many libertarians overlook is that society is vastly more complex and interdependent than it was when such simple systems were useful.

    EG

  • Joshua

    And this higher standard is what, exactly? And where does it come from?

    The rational idea of man. It comes from philosophical reasoning underpinned, I strongly suspect, by biological desires. Both are universal the world over. In other words, from identifying common concerns that are fundamental to all individuals and addressing them. People value their own lives, for example, so it has been determined that killing people is wrong. The exception that is made for this in cases of self defense is not surprising given this justification. People universally want to provide for themselves, so property rights are also grounded. One cannot provide for himself if the fruits of his labor cannot be counted his own. Current confusion over welfare programs is also addressed here. People want to eat, so they seek to coerce others to provide them the means to do so. Society has become so large and complex that they have forgotten that this is part of what property rights are for. There is so much wealth about that it perversely seems to some that money grows on trees – they have but to hold out their hand and the government will provide. Support for this faulty idea is made possible only because so few of them are ever in a position to be the one threatened with prison for not giving up their property. The proposals outlined in this thread are one attempt to deal with this problem. But notice that the rightness of property ownership does not change. Property, regardless of societarian context, is only meaningful if guaranteed in some sense. That guarantee is coming under threat by modern welfare states. We fight to protect that guarantee not because we want to “pay less taxes,” but because we are concerned that the concept of property remain meaningful. Like with murder, the rightness and wrongness of theft is not decided by a majority vote or even “consensus.” Whether or not theft and murder are wrong (they are) are grounded in the universal idea of what it is to be an individual human living among other humans.

    And why is it that the “higher standard” is sometimes lessened and subsequently sometimes raised?

    I submit that the standard itself never really changes. Human concerns are universal. What changes is how familiar people are with it – i.e. how good the reasoning of a particular society at a particular time is. As we have seen from history, over the short term things sometimes get worse, sometimes better – but over the long term things get better. So it is also with understanding of ethics.

    You’re confusing the process of changing morality with morality itself.

    NO! *You’re* the one doing that. I have very clearly stated that I think morality in some sense doesn’t change, but that perceptions of it do. I have even outlined a mechanism by which they do. I further suggested that there is no such mechanism in your system, which seems to be true given that you are unable to explain what it is, as evidenced by lines like this:

    Society is far more complex than an individualist viewpoint would suggest, and what you might call the commonly accepted tenets of any society change over time for a vast number of reasons.

    As for the example about homosexuality – I suspect we won’t know what the right answer to that question is until we know a bit more about homosexuality – i.e. what causes it, where it comes from.

    So let’s take another example. Murder is not allowed in any society that I am aware of, nor has it ever been. That would scarcely be possible unless there were some universal validity to the idea that it is wrong.

    It’s not a case of defining rights into nothingness, it’s a case of saying what rights actually are, why they are accepted, why they change and how they are justified.

    That’s what you keep saying you’re doing, but I haven’t heard it yet. In fact, you have answered none of the three questions you enumerate here. I specifically asked you in the last post how rights change, for example, and your current answer (quoted above) amounts to “they just do, alright.” (Actual quote “for a vast number of [unnamed] reasons.”) Shoddy.

  • Euan Gray

    Both are universal the world over

    Does this explain why people have been arguing and disagreeing about them for centuries and are still doing so?

    People universally want to provide for themselves

    Incorrect. People universally need things provided, and will do it themselves if they have to. However, a great many people are quite content to have someone else do the providing for them. If people universally wanted to provide for themselves, why do they claim welfare?

    so property rights are also grounded

    The connection between the postulated desire to self-provide and the necessity of a system of private property rights is not clear. You can, after all, quite easily provide food for yourself even if you don’t own the land you farm. In fact, for most of human history, this has been the case.

    You seem to be arguing that morality and right flow from some immutable truth that we only imperfectly glimpse from time to time, and that this immutable truth is arrived at through logical analysis of human need. I find this extremely uncompelling – it’s basically akin to removing God from “God says do it this way”. You appear to want the authority of a supreme moral good but to approach it from a secular direction, substituting logic for God. It’s no more convincing than “God says do X”

    Humans need to produce more humans, since the continued existence of the species is the root biological meaning of life. Therefore, it is right to insist upon social systems that promote this and to discourage things that don’t. Adultery harms the existence of stable families which experience has shown are far the best things for bringing up children. Adultery should therefore be considered immoral and punished.

    Married partners freely consent to being married, and as free individuals it is right that they should be able to choose and agree upon the terms of their marriage. If they wish to have an open marriage and each be free to commit adultery, then provided they consent this should be allowed. Adultery is therefore harmless and should be considered morally acceptable.

    Both of these address basic human needs. Which is correct? Which is the “right” ultimate truth?

    You can use logic to prove pretty much anything you want. It’s application to social, political and economic questions is severely limited. Keep it to science and mathematics where it is useful.

    I submit that the standard itself never really changes

    Again, we’re back to the supreme immutable truth thing. The standard in fact does change a great deal, for perfectly human reasons divorced from some postulated Universal Truth:

    In a grossly overpopulated society, birth control and abortion could be considered morally good because they alleviate much greater social ills. In a society with an aged population and shrinking productive base, the same things could be seen as immoral because the exacerbate much greater social ills.

    There is no Universal Immutable Truth in this respect, there is what humanity needs. What humanity needs changes with changing circumstances, and therefore morality changes, and therefore rights and our view of them changes.

    So let’s take another example

    No, let’s not.

    I quite agree that murder (of one’s own people, at any rate) is universally condemned. Since we’re considering CHANGES in morality, let’s look at something which has had a more varied interpretation.

    Address the question of homosexuality, or adultery. Or abortion, contraception, slavery, liberty of speech or conscience, etc. The moral view of all of these things has changed repeatedly over the centuries.

    Which is right?

    Why is it right?

    In fact, you have answered none of the three questions you enumerate here

    In fact, I have. I will do so again, but I can’t make it much more Janet and John than I already have:

    Rights are social constructs. We know this because they are different at different times and in different cultures – in different societies there are different rights, therefore rights are a product of society, therefore rights are social constructs. This is what I said before, and this states what I think rights are.

    Rights change as society’s generalised view of right and wrong changes. This view DOES change over time, and rights change with it. I gave examples of homosexuality and adultery, but as shown above we could as easily consider a slew of other things, the view of which has changed significantly over the centuries. Thus, it’s pretty plain that rights do in fact change over time.

    Rights change *because* society’s view changes. Where there is a widespread antipathy to a moral law, it will (in liberal countries) tend not to be enforced too much and will fall into obsolescence or be repealed. Thus it was that about 200 years ago and Englishman could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, but soon enough juries stopped convicting for this, and the law had to be changed because the option was unpunished theft or more reasonable sentences for theft.

    There’s nothing “they just do” about that. If anything, it is your apparent view of right and morality that falls into the “it just is” category.

    EG

  • Verity

    Sorry to pick nits, Joshua, but you say, “So let’s take another example. Murder is not allowed in any society that I am aware of, nor has it ever been. That would scarcely be possible unless there were some universal validity to the idea that it is wrong.”

    It is extremely allowable in Islam. It goes by the name of “honour killing” and is officially sanctioned by religious and temporal leaders. In many countries, it attracts no punishment whatsoever. I don’t know how many murders the police in Britain are currently investigating, but I do know that over 100 of them are “honour” killings. And they won’t get any help from the neighbours because it is not viewed as wrong.

    (Of course, there’s lots of killing in the Islamic world – for homosexuality, for being raped, for committing adultery – if you’re a woman – for example – but these penalties are applied by their gruesome shariah courts, so they’re official. In the case of “honour” killings, it’s viewed as a private decision that people can do on their own initiative.)

  • I have learned a valuable lesson on this thread.

    When EG shows up, abandon rational discourse or leave.

    I am now leaving.

    Ta.

  • Samizdata hits the MSM:

    Today’s Torygraph letters on the Power Report

    No representation without taxation.

    Brilliant!

    As for EG, he hasn’t spotted a monster contradiction in his rebuttal of property rights:

    “Incorrect. People universally need things provided, and will do it themselves if they have to. However, a great many people are quite content to have someone else do the providing for them. If people universally wanted to provide for themselves, why do they claim welfare?”

    Fantastic. Currently, EG, people don’t have to provide for themselves because they can be lazy and get the govt to do the boring hard work for them. This is not a good thing. It is one of Beveridge’s five giant evils: IDLENESS.

    The existence of welfare handouts doesn’t deny the morality of property rights. Rather the reverse: the morality of property rights suggests that the welfare state is immoral.

    “However, a great many people are quite content to have someone else do the providing for them. ”

    In what way is this moral, sensible, decent? Why should net taxpayers provide for those who could provide for themselves but cannot be bothered?

    Unfortunately the answer to this question rather sweeps away your objections to any form of corrective action….

  • K

    Would you take away my vote? I am too ill to work.

  • crl

    Well, I won’t lie — I can’t say I like this idea at all. (I scored “centrist” on that test Perry posted. I tried, I did! But I’m still a centrist. I’ll study harder.)

    However, I can see how it might have some benifit. But I need some clarification (so I can ponder more). For example — is it typical in the UK for government workers not to pay any taxes, or to have significant tax breaks? Here in the US, those employed by the government pay taxes, and the vast majority of them are not people with any more of a direct say in government than any worker in the private sector. I can’t see my way to depriving anyone who is hardworking of a fair vote. (Emphasis on “fair” and their not having more of a direct say.)

    I’m a freelancer, and as such I get a significant amount of federal tax breaks — fewer on the state level — because many of my expenses are directly related to maintaining my business. Do I get a vote?

    In terms of those who are blatantly on public assistance — ideally, public assistance, when it exists at all, should be constructed/administered in such a way that those on it are encouraged/geared/pushed towards getting off it as soon as possible — working towards self-determination. “Workfare” I suppose? So their franchise should be contingent upon how much work or independence? (I may not be expressing myself as well as I’d like.) People who have legitimately fallen on hard times but are working to “get on their feet” again — say, a Katrina victim — vote, or no vote?

    I agree that incarcerated felons should not be voting, but I haven’t decided if they should have their franchise restored once they leave prison.

    I guess what I’m saying is, if people are doing some productive work they should vote. If they are sitting around watching TV and collecting checks, I might reconsider that.

    Hoo boy — this doesn’t even begin to address the question of disability and degrees thereof.

    I have to think about this more.

  • crl

    However, Trevor Phillips did it for him this morning. He said shariah law is not an option in Britain and those who called for it should seek alternate accommodation. Floor. Jaw. Dropped.

    This has made my day. THANK YOU.

  • Firstly, I think tinkering with universal suffrage is trying to deal with symptoms, not the disease. The disease is a large State IMHO, and without it the other issues recede.

    Secondly, we could have two tier TAXES. We all pay, say, 10% for essentials (police, army, prisons, fire, A&E) and the rest depends on the tax/spend manifeso of the party we vote for. Non-voting means you pay the winning party’s ‘plan’.

    Only downside is lack of privacy, which could be resolved by only making non-voters pay the winning party’s ‘plan’ and voters get the freedom to voluntarily contribute to any or none of the offerings from other parties.

  • Euan Gray

    Currently, EG, people don’t have to provide for themselves because they can be lazy and get the govt to do the boring hard work for them

    But if they “universally want to provide for themselves,” they wouldn’t claim welfare if they didn’t need to when it first became available, would they? The fact that they DID claim somewhat undermines the idea that they universally want to provide for themselves, doesn’t it? And that in turn undermines Joshua’s notion of what creates property rights.

    the morality of property rights suggests that the welfare state is immoral

    I could agree with that if it was possible to demonstrate the morality of property rights. It isn’t. Property rights, like other rights, are functions of society and don’t possess a morality apart from that given by society at the time. Even the much revered Founding Fathers knew that one:

    Jefferson: “Stable ownership is the gift of social law and is given late in the progress of society”

    Franklin: “All the property that is necessary to a man is his natural right which none may justly deprive him of, but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public who by their laws have created it and who may by other laws dispose of it”

    In any case, it’s extremely iffy to ascribe morality or a lack thereof to economic systems.

    In what way is this moral, sensible, decent?

    Never said it was. It’s just human nature, warts and all. Proposed socio-political and economic systems need to deal with people as they are, not as idealised models.

    Human nature means that people will fail. Human decency means that it is generally laudable to assist those who fail through no fault of their own. Human nature means that over-generous assistance will be exploited and abused.

    This is neither moral nor immoral, it’s just the way people are.

    Why should net taxpayers provide for those who could provide for themselves but cannot be bothered?

    Generally, they shouldn’t provided the ONLY reason people aren’t providing for themselves is that they cannot be bothered. I don’t disagree with that at all, but my disagreement has more to do with a pragmatic assessment of human nature, not some sanctimonious moral view of economics. Furthermore, I don’t agree that this means there should be no provision for people who CANNOT provide for themselves, either temporarily or permanently.

    Nor does it mean that those who cannot provide for themselves should be deprived of a say in how society is governed, nor does it mean that we can (or even could) enact constitutional prohibitions on welfare.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    Secondly, we could have two tier TAXES. We all pay, say, 10% for essentials (police, army, prisons, fire, A&E) and the rest depends on the tax/spend manifeso of the party we vote for. Non-voting means you pay the winning party’s ‘plan’.

    In what way is that different from what we already have?

    EG

  • crl

    “ideally, public assistance, when it exists at all, should be constructed/administered in such a way that those on it are encouraged/geared/pushed towards getting off it as soon as possible”

    Contributory Insurance. It was how the welfare state was supposed to have been set up.

    Tim C:
    “Firstly, I think tinkering with universal suffrage is trying to deal with symptoms, not the disease. The disease is a large State IMHO, and without it the other issues recede.”

    We all, except EG, agree with this analysis. This thread is entirely concerned with tackling the disease. The problem is that clients of the big state will not vote themselves out of a handout.

    As EG notes, why would they bother?

    Hence the suggestion to restrict suffrage to those that pay for the whole thing.

  • Euan Gray

    Sorry, TimC, misread your post.

    It seems what you’re suggesting is that voters get to pay only for what they want, non-voters pay for everything. Your alternative for dealing with privacy issues essentially means that non-voters get to pay for everything but voters get to choose whether they pay or not.

    So people vote, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to pay for anything they don’t like. This means, especially in your privacy option, that people could effectively vote for all manner of largesse but would not have to pay for any of it. Doesn’t seem like a step forward to me…

    I can see it as an incentive to get people voting, but wouldn’t it be simpler to just make voting compulsory on pain of a small civil penalty, like they do in Australia?

    EG

  • crl

    Contributory Insurance. It was how the welfare state was supposed to have been set up.

    General: But how would this differ from Social Security (which is lousy, top-heavy, and not working — or will soon cease to work, however you look at it)?

    I think I may be doing the apples and oranges thing, comparing two totaly different systems. Let me start over: Contributory Insurance = something like personal accounts, where the funds you pay in are what you get out? Or a system in which everyone pays a percentage and then those in need are allotted funds based on that need?

  • Verity

    Frankly, as I said above, it would have to be done by trickery. Obviously, the passengers are not going to vote themselves off the train. You would have to spring it on them, once elected.

    It might also succeed in reducing the state sector in that the people who could vote for spending programmes for themselves would be removed from the voting process. Thus, there could be no expansion and no increase in privileges. As the rest of the economy grew, the public sector would remain mordant.

  • In what way is that different from what we already have?

    EG

    Worlds apart. Right now I have to pay 40% to the winner, even if I do not vote for them. Under my proposal, I have to pay 10% for essentials and the rest is voluntary or via my party of choice, who can administer a ‘unit trust’ of funding on my behalf.

  • EG: I need to clarify.

    If everyone votes, the winner will only have voluntary payments to spend, nothing more. Everyone will be free to chose what they fund. Remember, in such a world Government is small and the voluntary sector as large as each donator decides it to be.

    If you do not vote, more fool you, as you have abdicated your right to have a say, and so the majority dictates.

  • Joshua

    Rights change *because* society’s view changes. Where there is a widespread antipathy to a moral law, it will (in liberal countries) tend not to be enforced too much and will fall into obsolescence or be repealed.

    For the record – this makes three times in a row you have failed to answer my question; I think everyone here can see that you are evading it.

    The question was what motivates attitudes to change. No one is disputing that perceptions of what is right and wrong change, Euan. What I said was that what motivates this change is continuing reasoned debate about what is right and wrong. When a change in perceptions about morality happens, it first starts with a minority who strongly hold certain convictions which they base on some standard that has nothing whatever to do with what “the masses” think. They then persuade other people to adopt this standard. On what basis do other people choose to adopt a new standard? That is the question which is being continuously put to you and which you have yet to answer. I suspect you do not want to answer it because you will have to admit that changing perceptions of morality come about through appeals to standards of reason. Women get the vote not because it is society’s whim, but because they continuously asked why they should not have it, and it gradually became clear that there was no good answer. Society realized it was wrong and changed.

    Perceptions of adultery will have changed for similar reasons. Adultery is wrong for the same reason that theft is wrong – as widespread theft undermines the integrity of property, so does widespread adultery undermine the intergrity of marriage. Adultery is quite literally a breach of contract. Two people get together and agree on terms for a shared life that include not having sexual relations with another – and if one breaks that contract then the other will feel betrayed. The integriy of the contract is undermined. Adultery has always been wrong for this reason.

    In the past, men had a more dominant role in society and it was thus unsurprising that men tended to get away with taking such liberties more than did women. But I doubt very seriously if women ever felt that this was fair to them (in fact, plenty of literature from these times suggests that they did not). As soon as was economically feasible , they began to assert this. And like with suffrage, popular perceptions changed not because the wind blew west and attitudes with it, but because it simply was a double standard, and confronted with this often and loudly enough men found themselves with no rational defense.

    The point in both cases is that reasoned argument is what changed attitudes. It was neither whimsical nor random. It was always wrong to deny women the vote. Once this was pointed out publicly enough, once men lost the debate, as it were, suffrage was granted.

    We see time and time again that public debate does not take place on the terms you say. Public debate is never about opinion polls or statistics. It is about ideas.

    Women got the vote because it was unreasonable for them not to have it. Standards about adultery have changed because it was recognized that the old standards were double standards. These things were possible only because human beings really do share a rational standard.

    The same is true of your example of the law about hanging a man for stealing a loaf of bread. The law was always wrong. It didn’t change because people suddenly decided it was wrong. It changed because the fact that is was wrong led to the widespread resentment of it you cite, which in turn eventually rendered it unenforceable. It isn’t as though there was a time in the past when everyone really thought it was OK to kill people over a load of bread!!!

    But you argue as though there was. You argue as though standards themselves actually changed – that what was once perfectly fine somehow morphed into “cruel and unusual” punishment.

    So I ask again – if it isn’t appeal to (universal) moral standards that causes this change in attitudes, then what does? And please don’t say “there are numerous causes” or “society changes when attitudes change.” These are evasions; no one is disputing these points. I am asking what you think causes attitudes to change.

  • Midwesterner

    “This thread is entirely concerned with tackling the disease. The problem is that clients of the big state will not vote themselves out of a handout.”

    Who is John Galt?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Human decency means that it is generally laudable to assist those who fail through no fault of their own. Human nature means that over-generous assistance will be exploited and abused.

    Well said Euan. That’s a killer argument against the Welfare State.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Even if EG fails to address Joshua’s excellent points, I’d like to thank Josh for making them. Very well put and helped me clarify a few issues myself.

  • Euan Gray

    The question was what motivates attitudes to change

    Unless I missed something, it wasn’t. You were asking how attitudes changed, not why they changed.

    On what basis do other people choose to adopt a new standard? That is the question which is being continuously put to you and which you have yet to answer

    On the contrary, it is the question I have already answered multiple times and I will do it yet again:

    What motivates people to choose a new morality is the perception that this new morality is more suited or appropriate to their needs than the extant morality.

    As I explained above, giving the example of the issues of homosexuality and adultery in contemporary western society, contemporary western attitudes to them and a rival attitude to them as expressed in this case by the Islamists, such a new morality will not become widespread if the generality of the people don’t feel it is right or appropriate. But if they DO feel it is right or appropriate, it WILL be adopted. That’s *how* it happens.

    To address the quite different question of *why* attitudes change, I dispute your suggestion that this is invariably because of reasoned appeal to universal moral standards.

    There aren’t any universal moral standards. As Verity pointed out, it is a moral standard commonly accepted in large parts of the Moslem world that homosexuals and adulterers should be killed. It is a moral standard commonly accepted elsewhere that they should not. They cannot both be right.

    It’s possible that “the” moral standard is that they should not be killed and that the western morality is the “correct” one. Equally, it is possible that the contrary is true. You cannot appeal to some universal moral standard because there is no such thing – you might assert that there is and that we arrive at it through logic, but others might assert that there is a different standard and that we arrive at it through the word of God.

    It is surely hubristic in the extreme for a proponent of either view to assume that his is assuredly the correct one. No doubt the Islamist view seems to you perverse and barbaric – but equally, your view would seem to the Islamist sick and decadent. Neither of you have the right to say “my view is the correct one,” simply because neither of you can justify it. In essence you are both doing the same thing – you are making an appeal to authority (God in one case, logic in another) and pretty much leaving at that. There is no real difference in principle between the methods of reaching the opposing views, although the views themselves are quite different. The religionist is saying “God says it’s so” and you’re saying “logical analysis says it’s so.” This is unsatisfactory and insufficient.

    Even if we were to accept one or other of these moral absolutes, there is not a reasoned approach to them. The religious approach is plainly irrational, by its very nature, and it should not be necessary to explain this. However, the appeal to the logically derived morality is also irrational, since it requires us to accept that (a) there is some ultimate Truth, (b) logic is sufficient to reveal it and (c) your logic has successfully revealed it. There is now way to demonstrate the validity of any of these claims, and therefore it is an irrational approach since the claims themselves are too complex to be accepted as axiomatic.

    Even if we did accept it, the process is hardly one of appeals to standards of reason. More often it’s brute force, the failure of an extant society and/or its morality, conquest by an alternative morality, pushy and aggressive minorities culturally overpowering a senescent host culture, and so on.

    Did Rome become Christian and change its moral point of view through reasoned debate or appeals to a higher standard? Or was it because the existing society was decadent and failing and here was a new morality the state could handily use to galvanise things?

    Did women get the vote because of reasoned debate? Or because of suffragettes chucking themselves under horses and generally making a bloody nuisance of themselves? Or because it was politically expedient? Or because so many women were by then working and earning? Did parliamentary government take the place of the divine right of kings because of reasoned debate? Or because of a bloody civil war and the execution of a king?

    I can quite accept that *sometimes* things like this change through debate. Far more often it is violence of one form or another, or simply social decay and collapse.

    What is moral is what works for a given society at a given time in given circumstances. Morality is, by definition, the general rules of proper behaviour within a society, nothing more. To say there is a universal morality is to take a religious position – in fact, if you replace “reason” with “faith” in your comment, it could have been written by any religious apologist arguing for his God-given morality. You’re simply using the standard theological arguments for morality but replacing the old God of religion with the new one of logic. Unimpressive.

    You argue as though standards themselves actually changed – that what was once perfectly fine somehow morphed into “cruel and unusual” punishment.

    This is, basically, what happens. Slavery was once considered to be a natural state of affairs. It isn’t any more, and the reason for the change is, frankly, bugger all to do with reasoned debate and a lot more to do with economic efficiency and wider social change. There WAS a time when pretty much everyone thought slavery was ok, but they don’t any more – the standard changed. Same with just about anything else you care to mention – sexual morality, theft, fidelity, chastity, and so on.

    Society changes, and so society’s needs change, and so society’s morality changes to suit those needs. There is no higher morality in this regard, unless of course one is religious.

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    Well said Euan. That’s a killer argument against the Welfare State.

    Actually, it’s not. It’s an argument against a too generous welfare system, but not against welfare as a general principle.

    EG

  • Steph Houghton

    What love about EG is that he believes pationatly that there are no absolute rights or principals of political association. None that is but the right to vote.

  • mike

    “The religious approach is plainly irrational, by its very nature, and it should not be necessary to explain this. However, the appeal to the logically derived morality is also irrational, since it requires us to accept that (a) there is some ultimate Truth, (b) logic is sufficient to reveal it and (c) your logic has successfully revealed it. There is no way to demonstrate the validity of any of these claims…”

    Moral claims and likewise moral beliefs may be explained in terms of political or economic expediency rather than religous and quasi-religious ‘logical deduction’, yet this point leaves somewhat untouched the psychological status of moral beliefs. Moral beliefs are not consciously held because they are expedient, since the term ‘belief’ implies a certain relation to truth – one must believe what one thinks right because one thinks it is right completely irrespective of concerns over political or economic expediency. Where moral beliefs are held merely on the basis of expediency it is surely wrong to call them ‘beliefs’. To put it another way – moral beliefs must be believed to be true by those who hold them or else they do not qualify as ‘beliefs’.

    Since moral beliefs may be held sincerely without any regard to social advantage, it follows that moral claims may also be made sincerely. Surely the power evident in the way in which such moral claims may be upheld (for example in the face of obvious social disadvantage such as an imminent threat of death) has a considerable role to play in the popularisation of moral beliefs? Euan gave the example of suffragettes throwing themselves under the wheels of carriages to demonstrate the strength of their belief that they should have the vote.

    So, although the generally accepted morality may change over time according to circumstances and power dynamics, there are nevertheless, as Joshua claims, always people who champion a cause because they believe in it and who are successful in persuading influential others. From that point on, social dynamics does the rest in determining the relative popular success of the moral claim.

  • Euan Gray

    What love about EG is that he believes pationatly that there are no absolute rights

    There aren’t. For every right there is a circumstance in which that right can and should be abridged, therefore no right is absolute.

    EG

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Slavery was once considered to be a natural state of affairs. It isn’t any more, and the reason for the change is, frankly, bugger all to do with reasoned debate and a lot more to do with economic efficiency and wider social change. There WAS a time when pretty much everyone thought slavery was ok, but they don’t any more – the standard changed.

    I think it had something to do with the campaigns by religious evangelicals like William Wilberforce, not to mention the American Civil War. Economics can explain some of the reason for the decline of slavery, but not all of it. And what do you mean by “wider social change”? A bit of a question-begger.

    You say there was a time when pretty much “everyone” though slavery was okay. The slave-owners, presumably. I doubt the millions enslaved felt quite so cozy with the institution. (Hail Spartacus!).

    Once again, Euan, you seem to have no anchor of morality at all apart from fashion and majority preference. It is a sort of cold utilitarianism you adopt. Try and prove me wrong about that.

  • Joshua

    Unless I missed something, it wasn’t. You were asking how attitudes changed, not why they changed.

    I was asking both. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I rather think it should have been, though, since what started this line of discussion was me challenging your assumption that the fact that perceptions of moral standards change somehow implies that the standards themselves are fluid. In fact, it demonstrates the opposite, and my argument for that hinged on why and how standards change. Since the idea that standards change seemed to be crucial to your argument, it wasn’t enough for you to say simply “oh, well, you know, numerous reasons.”

    As Verity pointed out, it is a moral standard commonly accepted in large parts of the Moslem world that homosexuals and adulterers should be killed. It is a moral standard commonly accepted elsewhere that they should not. They cannot both be right.

    They are not both right. The muslim standard is wrong, and muslim society will eventually come to see that. They are currently in the process of doing so.

    The religionist is saying “God says it’s so” and you’re saying “logical analysis says it’s so.” This is unsatisfactory and insufficient.

    No. “God says it’s so” is unsatisfactory for any kind of legal morality. It is perfectly acceptable for people on a personal level to obey what they perceive to be God’s commands, but no society should be founded on such principles, the reason being that this provides no kind of basis for communication. Individual perceptions about God can, will and definitely do differ from individual to individual, and the so-called experts on God are patently unable to demonstrate any credentials. Logic, however, is the same for all people. Founding a society on religion may be effective for crowd control for a time, but it is ultimately unstable.

    However, the appeal to the logically derived morality is also irrational, since it requires us to accept that (a) there is some ultimate Truth, (b) logic is sufficient to reveal it and (c) your logic has successfully revealed it. T

    Point (c) is the source of your misunderstanding. There is nothing special about my logic or anyone else’s. All humans are innately capable of reason. Reasoned standards can be checked in debates such as the one we are having. Religious standards cannot.

    Did Rome become Christian and change its moral point of view through reasoned debate or appeals to a higher standard?

    Rome’s conversion to Christianity is not an example of a moral conversion any more than England’s decision to break away from the Catholic Church was.

    Did women get the vote because of reasoned debate? Or because of suffragettes chucking themselves under horses and generally making a bloody nuisance of themselves?

    Answer to the first question: yes. Answer to the second: they were able to behave in this way because they had convictions that the existing standards were wrong. Such actions do not happen without appeal to some higher standard, be it religious or rational.

    Or because so many women were by then working and earning?

    Yes, it happened partly for this reason. This is no doubt the source of many women’s convictions that they deserved to be represented in the government too. The fact of so many of them working and earning demonstrated that they were not confined to their traditional roles. It was, in short, a reasonable thing to ask that they be given votes since they were otherwise functioning as voters. Their conviction formed on an appeal to fairness – a universal human standard. This is exactly my point.

    Morality is, by definition, the general rules of proper behaviour within a society, nothing more.

    You are confusing “morality” with “customs” and “culture.” “Morality” functions by appeal to a higher standard. Customs and culture function by appeal to conformity and the need for acceptance. The two concepts couldn’t possibly be more different.

    Slavery was once considered to be a natural state of affairs. It isn’t any more, and the reason for the change is, frankly, bugger all to do with reasoned debate and a lot more to do with economic efficiency and wider social change.

    This is simply silly. Slavery was abolished in the US only after one of the most destructive conflicts the world had seen to that point. This conflict was hardly good for the economy, and rebuilding was costly to say the least. Further, if you read the arguments on both sides, you will find few references to economic policy, if indeed any at all. What motivated people to fight that war was different on both sides to be sure, but on neither side did it have anything to do with “economic efficiency.” It definitely did have a lot to do with “wider social change,” that social change being motivated in no small part by the realization that slavery was wrong and must be abolished. Certainly the “wider social change” also had to do with evolving roles brought on by rapid industrialization – but I think it’s fair to say that if economics were all that was involved in what you would no doubt call “evolution away from slavery,” the nation would have been content to let the institution die a natural economic death. Slavery, as it turns out, is economically inefficient. But people do not pick up guns to kill people that have violated standards of economic efficiency.

    There WAS a time when pretty much everyone thought slavery was ok, but they don’t any more – the standard changed.

    The were only able to think that slavery was ok by first convincing themselves that the people they had enslaved were inferior, subhuman. That is, it was necessary to first strip them of their humanity. The standard did not change – it has always been wrong to own other humans.

  • Joshua

    Oops! Jonathan beat me to it. Second what Jonathan said.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    For every right there is a circumstance in which that right can and should be abridged, therefore no right is absolute

    Up to a point. I can think of some famous intellectual parlour-game questions, such as should a property owner stop a man desperately hanging on to his window ledge? There are other fuzzy areas which come down to debating which right trumps the other. This is why we have courts and that wonderful Common Law thing, the “reasonable man” test. However, although no rights are ultimately absolute, there should be a very strong presumption in favour of respecting such rights as being absolute in the absence of overhelming countervailing circumstances, like war or plague, which can be regarded as exceptional cases, rather than the norm.

    Take eminent domain, for example. In a constititional liberal order, it is usually regarded as only permissable to seize a person’s property, and with just and fair compensation, if the property is for a crucial public good, such as a defence installation, a courthourse or road. (Even here things are not straightforward).

    In response to my riposte on Euan”s welfare argument, he writes:

    Actually, it’s not. It’s an argument against a too generous welfare system, but not against welfare as a general principle.

    Nope. If as EG says most people are decent and generous to the unfortunate, then that surely is an argument for voluntary charity rather than coercive state welfare, since if most folk are generous, why the need for a coercive welfare state?

  • There is no point in debating with Euan because his utilitarianism is so profoundly pointless and irrational that it is like discussing the finer point of visual arts with a congenital blind man. He uses terms like ‘human decency’ and yet he has no basis for deciding what decency is other than fashion or what the people with the guns say it is. When said by people like Euan or for that most members of the political class, words like ‘decency’ are just psychological tools designed to make people think a certain way and agree with what he says.

    Euan is only useful because he is a splendid example of why it makes no sence to try and reason with utilitarians, whose arguments alway reduce to nihilism if you can be bothered to take the time to push hard enough. Not that he is rare however, his world view is shared by most political people who cannot see part power relationships to understandings of the nature of reality.

  • Johnathan P: Nope. If as EG says most people are decent and generous to the unfortunate, then that surely is an argument for voluntary charity rather than coercive state welfare, since if most folk are generous, why the need for a coercive welfare state?

    This is exactly my position. It will be dynamic, responsive and fair.

  • Verity

    PdeH -Truer words were never spoken. All those mile-long windy circumlocutions which take you back to the starting point. If I see a long post, I scroll down to see who it’s from. If it’s from Euan Gray, I just keep scrolling down to the next contribution.

  • Euan Gray

    Joshua:

    You are adopting an essentially religious position – you assert the existence of a moral absolute independent of human existence, which is little different than asserting a divinely sanctioned morality. In fact, the only difference is swapping logic for God.

    I don’t think this works. Any reference to current or previous moral codes which contradict your view, or any apparent defect in your moral position, is glibly dismissed as incorrect analysis of the facts. Really, you’re just appealing to authority. That’s not satisfactory, surely?

    As I noted before, swap “reason” for “faith” in your posts and it could be a religious tract. You assert reason, yet you present a case which is fundamentally an irrational appeal to an unknowable authority, reserving to yourself the get out of jail free card of denying anyone else’s view by saying it’s an incorrect interpretation of this ultimate truth.

    However, although no rights are ultimately absolute

    My point exactly.

    there should be a very strong presumption in favour of respecting such rights as being absolute in the absence of overhelming countervailing circumstances

    And while we’re at it, why don’t we assert black to be white and at the same time acknowledge that it’s really black? This is silly – can’t you see the absurdity in assuming that something is the case at the same time as accepting that it is not? Further, is it reasonable to restrict this to the “overhelming countervailing circumstances?” You have a right to drive a car – but how fast do you have a right to drive it? Is the curtailment of your right to, say, 80mph in the interests of road safety for everyone else an “overwhelming” circumstance? If it is not, why not? If it is, then is it not sensible to admit that such circumstances arise very often indeed and not merely as odd exceptions?

    It’s surely more reasonable to assume that the right is valid until it collides with another right, as it will, and then use the principle of summum bonum to decide which right should yield.

    if most folk are generous, why the need for a coercive welfare state?

    Because voluntarism probably isn’t enough.

    Recall that the cost of education, healthcare and general welfare is for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with the state a lot more expensive now than in the days when voluntary and private finance almost exclusively funded these things.

    And if you were to abolish most or all direct taxation, what do you think people would do with their extra money? Do you really think everyone is suddenly going to have a pang of remorse and hand over the cash to the local charities? Or are they going to wander down to the car showroom and spend it on themselves?

    It will be dynamic, responsive and fair

    But probably also insufficient. It generally has been before, so why would it be different now when things cost more and we live in a much more materialistic culture?

    EG

  • Euan Gray

    On the question of slavery and efficiency: slavery is inefficient if you have machines. If you don’t have machines, it is often more efficient than paying for wage labour. This is why slavery has been a feature of almost all pre-industrial societies throughout human existence.

    We don’t use slavery any more not because we have suddenly seen the light of Joshua’s wonderful logical morality but because industrialisation makes it obsolete, and the persistence with it in otherwise advanced economies is counterproductive & often based on a fairly racist view of humanity.

    Slavery was not a principle cause of the American civil war. Its abolition was not a war aim. The abolition of slavery was a political gesture made by Lincoln at a tricky time in the Union fortunes – it was aimed more at foreigners than Americans, and had it not been politically necessary, it is entirely likely that the war would have ended with the institution of slavery still functioning in several states. The causes of the civil war were manifold, but principally revolved around the desire of the Union side to ensure that the USA remained in existence as a single nation – i.e. that union was permanent.

    On morality in general: morality IS the system of rules for a given society, or custom and culture if you like. It is so by definition, and seeking to refer it to an absolute standard of moral truth is invalid since no such standard exists outside religion.

    EG

  • But probably also insufficient. It generally has been before, so why would it be different now when things cost more and we live in a much more materialistic culture?

    If it is ‘insufficient’, upon what measure is that made? Who judges? The people? If the people think it insufficiennt we have their energy and the internet to spread the word to all and raise the money and resources. Who else? The State full of well-meaning/devisive/tactical/interfering/busybody types spending other peoples’ money without permission (and, no, a 5-yearly election and centralised taxation is NOT permission).

    What we have now is abdication. Under the proposed scheme you would walk past the homeless and have to ask YOURSELF if you are doing enough, not shrug and blame the government.

  • On morality in general: morality IS the system of rules for a given society, or custom and culture if you like. It is so by definition, and seeking to refer it to an absolute standard of moral truth is invalid since no such standard exists outside religion

    This guy needs to get his head around some rational epistemology as all that Platonic crap and warmed over Benthamite shit rots the mind. Utilitarianism always ends up with people wearing jackboots stamping on people’s faces eventually, no matter how polite they try to sound at first. As a previous guy said, there’s not much point trying to talk to a subjectivist as all that matters is force when it comes to guys with their psychological profile. You have to find ways to fight them, not talk to them.

  • The issue of how and why of morality is complex and unlikely to be settled here. However, all involved here have made good arguments and I’m enjoying the discussion. Personally I am instinctively uncomfortable with moral relativism, although it does seem to make sense. I think there is some universal standard merely based on the fact we are all human. Surely we don’t need religion or some other philosophical system to arrive at a standard. It is self-evident based on our humanity, I think.

    As for economics, the U.S. Civil War was all about economics. Importing of slaves had already been outlawed, so people knew it was on the way out. It was about preserving an economic system based on slavery. In fact every conflict in history has been all about economics.

  • Euan Gray

    I think there is some universal standard merely based on the fact we are all human

    But if this is so, it is surely a standard that we create to suit our own needs. By this I mean that there is not some absolute moral standard that is now and forever true and exists independently of the fact of human existence. We assert morality, but what we are asserting is simply what we want, not some universal Truth.

    If that’s true, then I think it is pointless and somewhat pretentious to elevate our selfish desires to the level of some abstract Good that is above and beyond us. Furthermore, as what we want changes – which it indisputably does – so surely our morality changes because it is inextricably linked to making it easier for us to get what we want.

    EG

  • Joshua

    As I noted before, swap “reason” for “faith” in your posts and it could be a religious tract.

    Oh please. I have already explained the difference several times. One might as easily say that if you substitute “majority vote” for “faith” in your own posts you would have a religious tract. This glib line is nothing but a rather transparent evasion.

    Euan is only useful because he is a splendid example of why it makes no sence to try and reason with utilitarians, whose arguments alway reduce to nihilism if you can be bothered to take the time to push hard enough.

    Agreed.

  • Euan Gray

    But Joshua, you’re the one claiming a superior logical morality, not me. I know perfectly well what the difference is between a secular and a religious morality, but that difference simply doesn’t exist in yours – you have the same appeal to authority, the same assertion a higher morality, the same simplistic mechanism of evading criticism, the same attempt to distinguish morality from social custom when in fact they’re the same thing, the same utter lack of doubt:

    The muslim standard is wrong, and muslim society will eventually come to see that

    Such finality. Such authority. Such hubris. Those who disagree with you are wrong – not “I think they are wrong” but “they ARE wrong” – but eventually they’ll see the light and agree with you. After all, anything else is error, and more than that you can *prove* it.

    Yours IS a religous morality in all but name, a pretty fundamentalist one at that, and the pretence that is something other and superior thereto just doesn’t work.

    EG

  • RK Jones

    How can we have gotten 164 posts into this particular topic with no one having mentioned Twain’s “The Curious Republic of Gondour” available on-line here? A delightful piece about a society where votes can be aquired for cash.

    RK Jones

  • Gosh, declaring that you know the difference between right and wrong is hubris. EG, in the American justice system you would be declared insane, because the definition of criminally insane is not knowing the difference between right and worng.

  • mike

    “…it makes no sence to try and reason with utilitarians, whose arguments alway reduce to nihilism if you can be bothered to take the time to push hard enough.”

    “Personally I am instinctively uncomfortable with moral relativism, although it does seem to make sense. I think there is some universal standard merely based on the fact we are all human.”

    I tried to address this point earlier. Moral systems are socially constructed – this is pretty much an empirical fact. Yet it is not the whole story. The central moral tenets upon which those systems are based must be believed to be universally true as a question of the nature of reality.

    For if you were to dismiss the universal truth of a central moral tenet (say, self-ownership) on the grounds that people really only believe it because it confers utilitarian advantage (say, property rights), then you have begged the question of origin: how did moral belief arise in the absence of selective advantage?

    For surely, it is a moral system that confers advantages upon those who follow it. In order to develop, yes, they require the promise of great advantage to offset the great risks of the requisite social change. Yet at the outset of the development of a moral system, the stakes may typically be as high as they can be (I am thinking of Christ). For this reason, something else is also required.

    That something else is a moral claim that has a strong emotional appeal and recognisably or plausibly corresponds to the reality the people know. It does not matter whether the claim is verifiable or falsifiable, just that it can plausibly be used to describe the reality available to the people through their experience and powers of reason.

    Rational people typically do not continue to hold a moral belief for long if, at the same time, they have decisive reason or knowledge to regard it as an untrue or inadequate description of reality.

    Morality may change over time, but when it does it is because there is a collapse of moral belief, i.e. belief that the central moral tenets of the system plausibly describe reality. This occurs through advances in knowledge and increased experience of reality – NOT because of changes to circumstantial advantages and disadvantages, either to the individual or to the collective.

  • Euan Gray

    This occurs through advances in knowledge and increased experience of reality

    So when it goes backwards (e.g. the Dark Ages) this is an *advance* in knowledge? It isn’t a one-way process of continual advance.

    NOT because of changes to circumstantial advantages and disadvantages

    Well, yes, it pretty much is that. Almost all moral systems have been built around the desire to maximise the benefit to the society adhering to the morality, quite often at the expense of other societies adhering to different moralities, i.e. circumstantial advantage. Look after your own but feel free to smite the unbeliever has been the general idea of most moral systems until very recently, in practice if not in theory.

    I’m somewhat sceptical of universal moralities pretending to an ultimate true reality, especially when they’re put forward with the finality and presumed authority of certain cases given in this thread. What often happens is that such a morality in actual authority tends to become arrogant, dismissive of contradiction and contemptuous of alternative views in practice, however benign it may appear in theory.

    Never trust any theory of society, politics or economics which pretends it can *prove* it is right. The end result is generally proving others are wrong, often with the aid of thumbscrews and detention camps. If the 20th century has taught us anything, it should be that we should beware ideological prescriptions of the “correct” way in these things.

    It is my view that certain strands of libertarian thought may well result in such a circumstance, however well intentioned they may be. Witness some forms of Austrian economics, which say they can prove they are right (= they can prove everyone else is wrong); witness the expressed desire to prevent whole classes of people having a say in the government of their society (who needs democracy when you can prove you’re right?); witness the desire expressed by some to remove ‘violently disruptive’ elements (= chuck out the wogs, but dressed up in more politically respectable clothes); witness the messianic belief that the One True Morality is known.

    EG

  • mike

    Euan: whatever anyone else may say, I am glad that PdH hasn’t banned you from Samizdata. Your most recent comment alerted me to an inadequacy of expression in the final paragraph of my own comment.

    I had distinguished between morality, qua moral system and moral belief about reality, qua central tenet of the system. I then claimed that morality changes due to a collapse in moral belief and that this is due to advances in knowledge and experience.

    I should also have said that morality, qua moral system followed by the great mass of people can change due to circumstantial concerns provided that the underpinning moral belief is absent or sufficiently scarce (which is rather different from it being either false or unfalsifiable).

    I think you are right to stress that morality is a system of social constructs, but I do think there is genuinely something missing from your analysis and that something is the notion of moral belief as ‘theory’ of reality.

  • Euan Gray

    I should also have said that morality, qua moral system followed by the great mass of people can change due to circumstantial concerns provided that the underpinning moral belief is absent or sufficiently scarce

    Or if the underpinning moral belief simply changes. As it does from time to time.

    EG

  • Joshua

    But Joshua, you’re the one claiming a superior logical morality, not me.

    And

    Such finality. Such authority. Such hubris. Those who disagree with you are wrong

    And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: a man whose moral credentials are that he does not know the difference between right and wrong.

    Look, certain things are simply true universally. For example, two and two are four. You can say that they’re five, but that is simply a renaming of four, not any kind of relativism in the concept. Likewise, a society that does not protect property rights (which is where the thread started) in some near-absolute sense does not really have property rights. You can well advocate a system whereby ownership is subject to the whim of a simple majority, but you cannot do so and value property rights at the same time. By the same token, it is simply true that a society that advocates stoning women (and only women, not men) who commit adultery (whereby “adultery” need not even involve any wilful action on the part of the woman – she can be “guilty” after having been raped) is a society that values soothing male sexual insecurity above the lives of over half of its citizens. You can attempt to square that circle if you like, Euan, but it will take some very fancy words indeed to convince anyone that the societies in question place any kind of value on female life. That you can blithely accept such a system as “moral” says rather a good deal more about your lack of values than my alleged “religious” posturings.

    But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that you can apologize for these systems:

    If the 20th century has taught us anything, it should be that we should beware ideological prescriptions of the “correct” way in these things.

    What the 20th century has taught us is that we should mistrust systems that place no value on individual rights. All of the attrocities of the last century that I can think of off the top of my head involved not allowing individual rights to trump the general will. It is worth noting that the concept of morality you are defending here has no problem with sending 6 million jews to the gas chamber if that is what the majority thinks is the right thing to do.

  • Joshua: You can well advocate a system whereby ownership is subject to the whim of a simple majority, but you cannot do so and value property rights at the same time.

    Thus, indirectly, we have lost such rights in the UK due to the tax laws – the whim of the majority to take what is ours.

  • Joshua

    TimC-

    What I actually had in mind when I wrote that was last year’s Kelo decision in the US, where the Supreme Court rather nakedly stated that private property ends with a simple city council ruling. It was a huge blow to property rights.

    I do indeed think that something similar goes on with taxes, yes, which is why I would prefer Constitutional protections outlining what kinds of taxes are acceptable and to what uses they may be put.

    I don’t think taxes themselves are necessarily incompatible with property rights (the police and the military that protect these rights must be paid) so long as they are limited in scope and so long as tax laws cannot be changed on a whim.

    I think the tax systems in both the US and the UK fail to meet these criteria, so yes, there is a real sense in which both our countries are socities that no longer respect private ownership.

  • Joshua – I agree entirely, that is also my position.