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A thought about statism

The ‘Anglo-Saxon’ nations are free, the European ‘continentals’ have no concept of individual freedom. As gross generalisations go, this one is approximately believed by many libertarians both in the Anglosphere and outside it.

Yet I hear that “Spain is a nation of anarchists”. Or about France: “How can one govern a country with over 300 kinds of cheese?”

I can only offer a tentative answer, but maybe there is an uncomfortable grain of truth in it.

The Anglosphere is actually a lot less free than its propagandists would have us believe. For a start welfare and taxation is not noticeably lower in Canada, Australia and New Zealand than in some European continental states. In fact healthcare is more Sovietized in Canada and the UK than in any continental European country I can think of. Maybe the Ukraine is worse. Parts of the US are as heavily taxed as the UK (New York City for example), and the UK is far from the best in the European Union, let alone in comparison with the little tax havens of Monaco, Liechstenstein, Luxembourg.

One reason that the French state is so overbearing could be precisely that French people are generally NOT inclined to obey authority. You need millions of bureaucrats to a) have enough supporters for government and b) harrass the rest of the the public. Whereas the lighter touch of British rule (until recently) was a reflection on the bovine docility of the British people with such weird notions as ‘rule of law’.

Certainly my experience of British and French libertarians suggests that the British ones are far more inclined to support a minimal state, whereas the French ones tend to trust no government at all.

“The government which governs best, governs least. And the government which governs least, governs not at all.”

22 comments to A thought about statism

  • …and the UK is far from the best in the European Union, let alone in comparison with the little tax havens of Monaco, Liechstenstein, Luxembourg.

    So which EU nations have lower overall taxation then?

    As for your broader point, I agree that with regard to liberties, it does rather depend on which area of life one looks as to where is ‘best’ or more free’.

    In the USA people assume they are freer in all ways… yet many places have no equivalent of RICO, or civil forfeiture, or have an extra-constitutional tax body like the IRS or make claims on money earned outside the country even against non-residents.

    However in other ways, the USA is indeed ‘freer’. Yes, it very much depends on what you are looking at.

  • Val

    Talking about the destruction in the bud of societés populaires and soviets, Hannah Arendt said that we are so accustomed to thinking of domestic politics in terms of party politics that we forget that, ever since the beginning, the fight has been between parliament (the seat of party power) and the people.

    It is difficult to generalize, but I find it very appropriate here to underline the huge difference between the anglo-american respect for the rule of law and their respective unwritten and single constitutions, and the French belief that “the people” is the source of both power and law, with their own collection of constitutions (15?) and example for failed revolutions all over the world, of which Chávez’s own in Venezuela is just the latest ongoing example.

    I still remember, when I lived in France, that every concierge was also a police informant.


  • Ghaleon

    Maybe we are more taxed in Canada but keep one thing in mind…
    with less than 2/3 of your PIB per capita, we have an higher life expectancy than you…

    None of your rationalizations could really explain that because the 2 biggest reasons are that…

    -In US, the PIB per capita doens’t make any sense because richess are very badly distributed
    -US government don’t spend enought money for the sake of his own citizens.

    Nothing to be proud about….

    Btw, even if we are heavily taxed our economy was one of the best (if not the best but I’m not sure at 100%) of the G7 last year…

    Respectably high taxes + good redistribution = better life for the population so… more freedom

  • Antoine Clarke

    If Canada’s so wonderful, how come:
    1) it is a crime to go to the US and pay for healthcare?
    2) thousands of Canadians, including a former Prime Minister, break that law?
    Respectably high taxes is an oxymoron.
    Good redistribution? You mean no one in Canada lives below 50 per cent of the median income? Outside Cambodia in 1975, I thought that was actually impossible.
    As for more freedom. I could argue about free speech which is more heavily censored than most European states, but it’s used for Nazi-bashing so you wouldn’t care, until some clever lawyer defines YOU as a Nazi. How come I can’t go and live in Canada? How come there were pitched battles with the Indians over free trade (of cigarettes) in the early 1990s? At least the Candian government later cut tobacco taxes, but I notice that petrol is still worth emigrating for.
    Canadians who hate the US also make me laugh: how come they live in one of the biggest countries on Earth, yet 90 per cent of them live as close as they can to the US border?

  • Ghaleon

    … because of the climate ? …

    I don’t hate the US, I’m just impatient that a democrate get the presidence…

    Actually to tell the truth I don’t really consider Canada as wonderful, I consider Quebec wonderful and I don’t really care about the rest heh…

  • back40

    “One reason that the French state is so overbearing could be precisely that French people are generally NOT inclined to obey authority.”

    They are merely uncooperative. Socialism – like an overbearing, overprotective mother – raises narcissistic, aggressive, weakling children. They are simultaneously conformist and uncooperative – passive aggressive. Such people do not create, solve problems, help their neighbors, show courage in times of trouble or become effective parents for their own children.

  • Ghaleon

    How dare you say that they can’t raise their own children and all that bullshit. On what are you basing your presumptions?

  • Eamon Brennan

    Strange idea to bring children into the equation.

    From personal observation, I have always thought that European children were far better raised than their British counterparts. Try eating out in Germany or Spain for example, and compare the behaviour of Continental children to that of the British.


  • back40

    These are not assumptions, they are observations. Socialists are uncooperative. Authoritarian societies replace natural cooperation and individual pro-social behavior between individuals with grudging conformity to authority. They are relieved of both freedom and the responsibility for self management that comes with it. The result is petty disobedience, monkey wrenching, indifference to the pain of other humans.

    Antoine’s confusion is thinking that the French state is overbearing because the French people are uncooperative. He has it reversed.

  • Ghaleon above doesn’t seem to care much about his own country, Canada, is run but is ‘impatient’ to see a Democrat in the Whitehouse meaning he obviously cares a great deal about how America is run. How odd.

    From what I understand most residents of Quebec are in favour of ‘respectably high taxes’ because they are usually the recipients.

  • Rick

    I wonder if perhaps the definitive statement isn’t that those of us in the Anglo-sphere are so free that we can fail to notice the loss of our freedoms for quite a while? (What would, in another context, be called “an embarrassment of riches”?) Put another way, we have more freedom to spare that those in the clutches of “Eurocracy”…

    As Ghaleon has noticed, the “riches” are distributed “badly”: to translate this for American viewers, the riches are not distributed by a central authority at all; they are pushed about through a process we like to call a “free” market; while it is true that the market is not optimally free, it is also true that it is so free that many of us who participate in its functioning call it free, despite the non-free aspects.

  • Thomas J. Jackson

    It seems to me the author has a good point on the reasons for freedom but one must live in the US to understand that it is unique in that most people believe (although this is no longer true) that their rights were granted to them by God and not from some government. This allows greater social mobility and freedom then most nations and encourages initiative, risk and used to discourage nannyism which characterizes Europe and Canada.

    Any reservations I have center on Canada which seems to enjoy having bureaucrats take away their freedoms on a whim. They have brought socialism to a high art which accounts for their lamentable health care system and the complete collapse of any sort of social cohesion. The chief boast of Canada is that “they are not Americans.” Most Americans value their relationship with Canadians and afford the Canadian government with the same esteem one gives to roadkill. Its as if Canadia were Britain with a French government.

    There have been many excesses by the US government in the last ten years, Ruby Ridge, Waco, the ATF, anything the Clintons did, the misuse of the RICO act, and the imperial judiciary system. But the US is a country akin to a pendulum, it is alweays seeking a middle, and rarely does the nation reach the extremes one sees in Europe. One other point, Americans may seem to be sheep but when the last straw has been added you don’t want to be the focus of an American’s wrath.

  • Ghaleon

    Not more but as much because, well, to care about the US is to care about the balance of power of the entire world…

    Nope, we pay more to the other provinces and territories than we receive from them… How do you think Nunavut is able to exist… We are in favour of ”respectable high taxes” because we care about each others…

    Actually the reason why I don’t care that much for Canada is that I want Quebec to be a sovereign country…

    Damn our taxes aren’t that high, we are able to live pretty easily… But we think that the one that aren’t as lucky as the majority of us deserve to live a respectable live too.

    I’d like to see someone try to counter my initial argument with something logical :

    ”with less than 2/3 of your PIB per capita, we have an higher life expectancy than you…”

    So, in fact, we manage to live longer than you, even if we aren’t as rich… So, if we consider that the duty of any government is to give the best live possible to its population… we are better than you…

    But I must admit that if we consider that the duty of the government is to protect the interests of the dominant class you are much better than us.

  • Ghaleon

    You have not offered any arguments, merely a bundle of assertions.

    I can tell you this: if the citizens are relying on the government to give them a ‘good life’ then the government itself is the ‘dominant class’

  • Ghaleon

    I used the word ”respectable life”… I was meaning not to let them on their own when they need help. But citizens in general are relying on themselve.

    Two arguments have been made, the rest was self-defence against the attacks people made against me…

    1-The life expectancy thing .This is objective so it’s a good argument
    2-Usually you consider that high taxe = bad economy… Well I said it wasn’t the case in Canada… This too is objective as it is a reality that our economy is going pretty well.

  • Ghaleon,

    Well, you used the term “best live possible” (sic) but let’s not quibble. My point stands.

    And I still haven’t heard an argument as such but, if I read you correctly, you are trying to assert that since Canadians live longer than Americans this is a good ‘argument’ for higher taxes. Yes?

    I’d want a rather more scientific analysis than that, old chap. To me it sounds like the kind of assertion that is generally advanced when all others have failed.

  • Thomas J. Jackson: but one must live in the US to understand that it is unique in that most people believe (although this is no longer true) that their rights were granted to them by God and not from some government.

    I lived in the US for many years and in my experience if you ask most Americans ‘where do your rights come from’, they will not say ‘God’ but rather ‘from the Constitution’… which is of course complete nonsense. Rights are either objectively derived (‘from God’, if you are so inclined) or they are not rights at all but just privileges.

  • Ghaloeon

    Yes it is an argument as it mean we are our health is better an this is due to our ”Sovietized healthcare” system, amongs other things… And that require $$$, wich mean higher taxes.

    Nope, this argument is strong=) Life expectancy is one of the best statistic(or simply the best) to relate the quality of the life of a population… and it’s also pretty evident why…

    What the heck are you wanting as a scientific analysis? I told you what the reality is(Canada 79 years, US 77, PIB Canada less than 22 000, US more than 34 000), and the reason why it is so is evident…

    If my argument are so unscientific and blah blah blah… explain me why with less ressources we live longer… I really wonder what kind of argument you will come from… It’s not food, we eat the same… The race? Pretty much the same origin… the way of living? we are living the same way you do, i’d say we are the country that is the most alike yours in the world. The climate? not really…

    Than what might be the cause of this difference?
    I’ll repeat myself here:
    ”-In US, the PIB per capita doens’t make any sense because richess are very badly distributed
    -US government don’t spend enought money for the sake of his own citizens. ”

  • Ghaloeon: So if a 100% tax (i.e. the state takes everything you earn and doles out resources to you on a ‘need’ basis) raised life expectancy above what it is now, you would think that a total confiscation state was therefore self evidently ‘better’ than any alternative which resulted in lower life expectancy? Would that be a fair summary of how you see things, which is to say how long you live rather than how you live is the way you measure “better”?

    Does a non-utilitarian thing like objecting to having my things taken by force even enter into your ‘moral’ calculation?

    You say “US government don’t spend enough money for the sake of his own citizens” as if the US or Canadian government can just create that money out of thin air… the only money the state has to “spend for the sake of his own citizens” is money it has taken from its ‘citizens’ in the first place. What you seem to dislike is the idea that people should be allowed to decide where THEIR money is spent themselves… you would rather the powerful state confiscates a big chunk of it and then doles it out in accordance with whoever controls the political agenda.

    Fine, but do not kid yourself that yours is in any way, shape or form a MORAL argument… yours is an amoral utilitarian view (not to mention factually flawed but that is another point entirely).

  • Ghaleon,

    First of all, calm down and read my colleagues comments above.

    The point I think you are trying to make (or infer) is that higher taxes lead to a longer life. Is that your assertion? If so, what is my likely life expectancy if the government taxes me at, say, 95%?

    Methinks you’re going to need to do better than this.

  • Kirk Parker

    > 1-The life expectancy thing .This is objective so
    > it’s a good argument

    Sorry, it’s a hopelessly poor argument, as it treats both countries as uniform wholes. Surely you don’t claim that the residents of the remotest Inuit villages have precisely the same life expectancy as a yuppie resident (if there is such a thing) of Montreal? Neither is my life expectancy anything near as bleak as is that of an inner-city drug dealer in America…

  • Ghaleon

    Kirk, in general yes both countries are pretty much the same… we both have some exeptions but for 90%+, if not more, of the population, the life is almost identical in general. How many Inuit do you think there is in Canada.. not enought to modify the statistic, trust me.

    Stop that 95% or 100% bullshit please, it’s not by speaking about exaggerations that you are proving anything…

    K, I’ll try to be clear… When I speak about high taxes, I speak about taxes that are kinda like our in Canada, not 95%, not 100%, not a speudo communist government, ok?….

    the point is that respectably high ammount of money spended on socials transfer have a benific repercussion on the health of the great majority of the population… and that is why we have an higher life expectancy.

    Why I’m I speaking about PIB… Well, it is a known fact that people who are richer usually live longer… in the same city, only by doing a comparaison about the life expectancy of the poorest and the richest, the richest sometime easily live 5 or more years. A simply comparaison of the PIB of all the countries and their life expectancy also tell that their is a pretty strong correlation…
    More $ usually = Higher live expectancy

    Live expectancy = A very good staticfic, or simply the best, to know how good are the life condition of a population…

    Live expectancy = Very good representation of the quality of the live of a population

    Conclusion 1: Their quality of live, for the majority of the population, is far from being one of the best in the world…

    Now, the problem is that US resiedents are amongs the richest in the world, if we trust the PIB, but are far from being the people who have the longest live expectancy…

    How come they don’t have an higher live expectancy even with all that $… Do I really need to explain how $ can procure better life conditions???….

    Now, the two biggest reason are that
    1-US government don’t spend enought money for the sake of his own citizens.
    (That mean that socials transfer are too low)
    2-In US, the PIB per capita doens’t make any sense because richess are very badly distributed
    (That only mean that the Pib isn’t very usefull anyway because the average american isn’t really richer than the average canadian or average europeen.. its only that their rich are many many time richer than our)

    All that discussion about high taxe is simple… You cannot affort respectable social transfers with taxe that are too low… That doesn’t mean that people in Canada don’t have any money left for themselve, it’s far from being the case… but that you don’t seem to understand as you always exagerate everything…

    The point isnt that higher taxes lead to a longer life as a general rule…

    It is more something like that: higher taxes than the US lead to a longer life for the majority of the population(doesn’t change anything for the rich…)

    if the money that is gained by those taxes is used in social transfer, and not in weaponry etc…

    Was I clear enought those time, is there anything that could lead to confusion?