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“If you’re a libertarian, how come you’re so mean?”

I have been tipped off by Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber that he is taking issue with this post of mine. His post has the title you see above and can be found here. He writes:

The title, btw, is not meant to be a personal dig but rather a play on the title of Jerry Cohen’s book (see the post). Still, I think there’s a real question for you guys: granted, you think it would be wrong for the state to force you to do good, so why don’t you do it anyway, unforced?

I anticipate a range of answers to that one, including that the good I’m thinking of either (a) isn’t really good at all or (b) wouldn’t be achieved by the means I’m suggesting. But I’m saving responses for a later post.

Bertram says that I was not entitled to assume that the protestors are strict egalitarians or that they necessarily believe that the Third World is poor because they are rich and that money transfer is the way to correct that situation. He continues, “They may, of course, believe the true claims that some Third-World poverty is attributable to the action of wealthy nations and that money transfer can be part of a solution to that problem.”

I cannot resist saying that I am at least as entitled to my assumption that protestors at a protest agree with the rhetoric of the protest leaders as he is entitled to his assumption that libertarians do not do good unforced.

In his next paragraph he very neatly cites protectionist regimes such as the Common Agricultural Policy as an example of the action of wealthy nations that he correctly states I believe causes poverty. A little too neatly: if the protestors’ foremost demand was the abolition of the CAP then I might head up to Edinburgh myself, but it is not. Where they do make that demand at all, it comes way down the list after a lot of actively harmful demands such as that Third World governments make their own people pay more than we do for food and fridges. (Or “Third World countries have the right to protect their farmers and infant industries” as they quaintly put it.)

Bertram then gives a quick summary of Bono’s view that personal contributions are irrelevant contrasted with my view, and seems to largely agree with me. “Solent’s original post, though,” he adds, “seems motivated by the thought that the protestors are in some sense hypocrites , that if they are true to their principles they should give much more than they are giving. ”

Yes. It costs good money to go to Edinburgh, good money to find a place to stay, good money to buy six or so meals – especially if you are boycotting MacDonalds – and many of them will have forgone a day or two’s pay as well. Very few will get home without having spent a hundred quid plus in dribs and drabs. If they think that money is needed, why not send it instead? (Or “as well”, but since my original question implied “instead” I will stick with that.) If all the planned million protestors each gave £100 it would be a serious contribution. It might be less than the increase in the aid budget lobbied for but it could be targeted better and would arrive sooner. As an extra bonus, the millions of pounds due to be spent on protecting the G8 leaders against protestors would also be freed up! The protestors are acting like they think the money is not urgently needed.

Another thought playing around in my mind was the extreme indirectness of what the protestors were doing. They hope to influence one group of leaders to transfer more money to another group of leaders so that the latter will use it to do good in a way distinctly unlike their usual behaviour following previous transfers. Compare that to just giving money. How likely it is that the chain of causality that the protestors think will do good will actually break at some point. This is not the same as the argument above. There I was casting doubt on the protestors’ sincerity. Here I am casting doubt on the correctness of their assumptions about the way the world works.

In the next part Bertram asks how much egalitarians should give. He says with approval that an author called Liam Murphy holds that we should calculate what our share would be in the collective project of morality if everyone did an equal share, and then feel strictly obliged to do only that, while being allowed to do more if desired.

From Bertram’s summary of Murphy, I do not agree with him. Point one: to call morality a “collective project” sounds nice but it begs the question. I did not sign up to any project. Point two: the thrust of his argument seems to be “we work out what we would do in an imaginary world and then do that.” Why not imagine no one went hungry? Then you will not need to do anything at all!

The next part of the post asks how much it would cost to bring everyone up to a minimum standard of living. Chris Bertram himself, I deduce from this and other things he has written, is not an egalitarian, more a nobodystarvesist. (As am I.) He argues that the required contribution is surprisingly small. But I repeat: this misses the point; people are starving. If one believes that being given government money will help, then so will being given your money.

Now we cut to the chase: “My view is that the state should enforce that duty. Instead of giving my share, with no assurance that others would do theirs, I would thereby be assured that everyone was making a contribution: a collective project of preventing serious harm would not be undermined by free-riders and curmudgeons. So I’m happy both to pay, and to try to get the state to force me and others to pay.”

I respond:

1) I do not see why his preference for feeling that he is not paying more than others should be deferred to.

2) I take his objection about the “project” not being undermined by free riders much more seriously, despite my dislike of the connotations of the word project. I assert that the reduction in generosity caused by the resentment of free riders (that term is being misused by my lights: he means “persons not choosing to contribute as much as you”) is far less than the reduction in generosity caused by everyone assuming that the government will see to it. This assumption also decreases the initiative, status and ultimately the wealth of the recipients. And force has high transaction costs.

Bertram finishes by saying, “… that doesn’t mean that others can’t raise questions about what she does choose to do, including, of course (and again), her own question: “Why is what you are doing better than just giving your spare money to the poor?”

Let us take my glowing description of the virtue of trade as a means of making poor people rich as already having been made. In fact, though, I do not agree with some of my more committed libertarian brethren in seeing no benefit in giving rather than trading. From what he has said Chris Bertram’s actual behaviour and mine are approximately similar. I claim that the mismatch between words and actions in my case is slightly less than it is in his case and far less than in the case of those heading to the mutual admiration festival in Edinburgh. [Added later: On reflection, there is no mismatch between Bertram’s words and actions, assuming he follows Murphy in both word and deed. I should have talked about the mismatch between ends and means.]

There is another contradiction as well. The reason for having a protest is that protestors do not think the government leaders are doing the right thing. In other words they think their judgement as to the best way to spend money is better than the judgement of their leaders. But if they think that, why are they keen to hand over more money to those same leaders to disburse rather than disbursing it themselves?

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64 comments to “If you’re a libertarian, how come you’re so mean?”

  • _ if the protestors’ foremost demand was the abolition of the CAP then I might head up to Edinburgh myself, but it is not._

    You might be right with some of the protestors. However, that shouldn’t be conflated with the official MPH line, as some do (to be fair, you don’t). Agricultural subsidies are the first thing mentioned in their manifesto. If media have picked up on other aspects, that isn’t (entirely) their fault.

    _I assert that the reduction in generosity caused by the resentment of free riders … is far less than the reduction in generosity caused by everyone assuming that the government will see to it._

    That’s the crux, really, between an intelligent libertarian line and where I’m coming from. And I disagree, because on the whole people don’t just assume the government will see to it. Huge amounts of money are handed over to charities, in addition to what we expect government to do. What we expect government to do is see to the ‘big stuff’ (debt relief, export subsidies, CAP, enforcing governance improvements, etc), without which all our little stuff will just be a waste. But then it’s really unprovable either way.

  • Who gets to decide which charities are worthwhile enough to compel people to hand over their earnings for them? How about a KKK charity to raise money for poor whites in Alabama? How about a Black Panthers charity to raise money for poor black kids in Oakland? No … those are hateful … but that judgement is subjective, isn’t it?

    Who gets to decide how much must be handed over? Who gets to decide which get more money than others?

    If you let individuals freely decide to support the charities they feel are worthy, then the answer to the above it simple: the market decides. Those charities which enjoy popular support will do well … those charities which do not enjoy popular support will not.

    This idea of compulsory “charity” is especially hateful when combined with a progressive tax system. Together they allow a majority (the poor and middle class) to essentially loot a minority (the wealthy) all in the name of “do-good-ism” – and they get to feel morally superior to those who balk at being forced to play along.

  • Simply brilliant, Natalie.

    I bet your left wing lecturers hated you.

  • Jarndyce,

    The gummint is extra-likely to be wrong about what big stuff to do. This is related to Bombadil’s very good point. And even if the government is right, I dispute that our “little stuff” will be a waste without it, for the reason given in the Friedman quote.

    Perhaps I should have mentioned the various differences between MPH, its constituent parts, and the beliefs of the typical young protestor. Blame the lateness of the hour at which I posted for the omission. I have read the platforms of several organisations and noted differences between them but must confess that right now they blur in my mind. An abiding impression was that the current front line pronouncements of the broad anti-poverty movement – what is said by its spokesmen, posters, newspaper adverts etc. – are seriously inconsistent with their more detailed publications and much stupider. One might reply that the front line propaganda of any organisation is always simplified, but to me the difference seems extreme and more than it used to be. For instance consider that advert in the Guardian placed by Christian Aid saying that free trade is akin to slavery or being mugged that I got so enraged about a while ago. Christian Aid did not used to be so crude.

    I fear that the stupid front-line stuff will overwhelm the rest. Human nature does not abide cognitive dissonance for long.

    rexie,
    As it happens I did physics at university so the political opinions of my lecturers never came up. Also I was a leftie until my final year. But I am blushing and saying, “aw, shucks” anyway.

  • Floating Voter

    But Natalie, you haven’t actually answered the question.

    Why is the general tone of what we read on Samizdata and other Libertarian sites so riddled with this tone of smug misanthropic hatred and I’m-alright-Jack indifference to others? Do you really believe so passionately in freedom, or do you merely want the freedom to take what’s yours and build a fence round it? We’re not all political theorists, but we smell dung when we see it. How about a straight answer?

  • Floating Voter

    (And before you crack open the traditional Samizdatist Fudge – yes: there are at least two tautologies and a mixed metaphor in my hastily written comment. OK? OK.)

  • Just a couple of points:

    I did not sign up to any project.

    Indeed you didn’t. I realise that you don’t accept the idea that we, collectively, have postive duties. And consequently, you don’t accept the idea that each of us, individually, has a duty to do our fair share towards discharging that duty. But for those of us who do take such a view, the fact that you haven’t signed up is rather beside point. People aren’t only subject to those duties they voluntarily accept – and libertarians should agree with that general point (though only with respect to negative duties).

    I bet your left wing lecturers hated you.

    Natalie has answered that one in her own case. But I’m surprised that libertarians and conservatives often make that assumption. Personally, I’d love my seminar groups to included hard-line libertarians and conservatives prepared to argue their case: it makes for a better classroom experience all round.

  • Why is the general tone of what we read on Samizdata and other Libertarian sites so riddled with this tone of smug misanthropic hatred and I’m-alright-Jack indifference to others?

    We want trade which actually works as a way to end poverty whereas the alternative (aid) has a nasty tendency to prolong poverty… that is our position and if you think that is smug misanthropic hatred, I look forward to you explaining why.

    The true ‘indiference to other’ on display is by the people who think standing around singing “feed the world” and opposing free trade really helps. In reality all that does is give them a warm fuzzy glow whilst doing bugger all for real life poor people in Africa who just want to sell their damn crops in Europe without interference from either the EU or their own corrupt government.

  • Winzeler

    Thank you, Perry. The hatred is not for the poor or oppressed, it’s for the bleeding hearts who use their so-called concern as though they were on some moral high ground with policies that only tend to harm the objects of said concern.

  • Natalie said:

    rexie,
    As it happens I did physics at university so the political opinions of my lecturers never came up. Also I was a leftie until my final year.

    I don’t suppose you’ve blogged anywhere about what made you change your mind? I would like to read that.

  • Chris wrote:

    I bet your left wing lecturers hated you.

    Natalie has answered that one in her own case. But I’m surprised that libertarians and conservatives often make that assumption. Personally, I’d love my seminar groups to included hard-line libertarians and conservatives prepared to argue their case: it makes for a better classroom experience all round.

    I wish I’d had lecturers like you then. In my experience most seem to take any criticism of the gospel a little personally.

  • Oh it didn’t like my double quote there. Sorry 🙁

  • Dogoyaro

    Get rid of the CAP…….Now!
    Freeze debt. Don’t forgive. (What about those who paid theirs off?)
    Free trade. No tariffs against developing countries.
    No more money to any government. (Nobody dares to publish the amount given to the sub-Saharan countries since their respective independences)
    No more fish; only fish-hooks.
    In the course of history everyone has had the same amount of time!

  • You haven’t really answered why ‘aid’ is bad, merely stated that free trade is better. Yet you also openly acknowledged that it is not the CAP that prevents free trade but also corrupt governments and murderous regimes who destroy infrastructure and the ability to trade.

    For instance, Ghana has GDP growth of 5.4%, which is hardly paltry. A lot of African export to Europe is in crops that the CAP doesn’t support – the issue here is taxes on processed versus raw goods.

    Aid is important, even history’s greatest free-marketeer, Genghis Khan, realised that important point (Mongolia had the ultimate welfare state). The aid was handled exclusively by the government, which to me seems the best way – charities in my view are flawed and bad.

    If we consider the Tsunami last Boxing Day, ONLY governments had the necessary resources to actually help. Yes Christian Aid, Oxfam, the Red Cross, and other charities could have raised billions, but they had no means to easily distribute aid. Additionally, in general terms most charities have bureaucracy that consumes about 20pc of their funding, so are far worse than governments.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Are the comments disabled? I couldn’t post on another thread.

  • Anthony

    There is some really bad reasoning going on in this thread, but I don’t have time to reply in detail right now.

    I’m still waiting for someone to tell me why it is OK to take money by force, though…

  • I would turn the question around: if you’re so compassionate, why do you support policies that have been demonstrably harmful?

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    You haven’t really answered why ‘aid’ is bad, merely stated that free trade is better. Yet you also openly acknowledged that it is not the CAP that prevents free trade but also corrupt governments and murderous regimes who destroy infrastructure and the ability to trade.

    Aid to Africa has been the West’s main response to the problems of the continent for decades, and yet we are still being asked to subsidise these failed countries. If charitiy is an investment in people, then where are the returns?

    Why not make free trade the cornerstone of a new approach? Add to this investment in local banking, lending money to individuals to invest in their own farms and tertiary industries, which is already happening.

    Remove financial support for corrupt regimes and let Africa shape it’s own political boundaries. If tribe A hates tribe B in country C, then rather than use international force to maintain artificial states, let them dissolve themselves. No one should be forced to associate with a state that doesn’t represent them. If this means civl war, then so be it. Remove interference and people soon work out where their allegiences lie.

  • “Why is the general tone of what we read on Samizdata and other Libertarian sites so riddled with this tone of smug misanthropic hatred and I’m-alright-Jack indifference to others?”

    Everybody else can speak for themselves.

    I can’t afford to ‘care’.

    Government has priced me completely out of that market.

  • CCR

    There is another contradiction as well. The reason for having a protest is that protestors do not think the government leaders are doing the right thing. In other words they think their judgement as to the best way to spend money is better than the judgement of their leaders. But if they think that, why are they keen to hand over more money to those same leaders to disburse rather than disbursing it themselves?

    Not quite sure where the contradiction is: if one believes in the necessity of Leviathan to get important things done, then to criticise this or that government is not to criticise prioritising government-led action as such. Protesting against G8 governments, therefore, resolves down to appealing to said governments’ better consciences.

  • toolkien

    Any smugness or hatred is aimed at the collectors, not necessarily to the recipient (though there is the ire nested in those recipients who loudly clammer for more that can’t be abided), and it is simply in response to the smugness they display inserting their hand into my pocket. I can’t be blamed for my attitude when I ask for it to be removed.

    States do not create anything, they merely reallocate. At best they have a create a negative for every positive. Good and Bad is relative, and passes separately through finite values of individuals so any reallocations should be based on the same fabric.

    Ultimately it can be seen as a battle between the smug, but there are those who are offensive and those who are defensive. Who gets in whose face first? I certainly think someone coming along uninivited, smugly confident in their Superior Morality, to use force to carry of some of my property is much worse than any characteristics I display in telling them to fuck off.

    Lastly, collectivists are so entrenched in their belief, and Statist control has been so pronounced for so long, that it is WE who come of as the radicals, or the ones who have to make our case. We have to plead to get our own property back and the onus is on us to have make a case for it. Forgive us if we come off as whiney or black-hearted when we simply ask to dispose of what we created through our values according to the same value system, not interposed by someone else who imagines their value system is manifestly superior.

    P.S. sorry if there is redundancy, I wrote what is here in three different batches as life intruded.

  • veryretired

    There is the same confusion in this thread regarding means and ends as occurs whenever statists confront an idea that opposes the very concept of “collectivist compassion” or “social welfare policy.”

    Statists demand that their policy theories, and the moral assumprions that support them, be judged only by the intended effect. The actual effects are either insignificant or met with the response “Well, what did you expect when the amount is so stingy?”

    The fallacy on both sides is the consideration of good or bad effects at all. If the means are such that widespread violations of citizens’ rights are the only way to carry out the policy, the entire enterprise is contaminated and immoral on its face.

    Consequences, intended or otherwise, don’t enter into it.

  • Are the comments disabled? I couldn’t post on another thread.

    Nope, it all seems to be working fine as far as I can tell.

  • John East

    I’ve only considered myself to be libertarian for a few years so I’m perhaps not as widely read on the subject as many people here. However, I’ve never read anything written by a libertarian that promoted what I understood to be a mean or selfish doctrine. In fact, libertarians usually bend over backwards to deny these traits. (Could anyone suggest a suitable book which gives the libertarian basics?)
    So why do socialists always raise this issue? I suspect in most cases it is not a missunderstanding of the libertarian philosophy, just an excellent, and effective way of attacking libertarianism which will always play well with the masses.
    It therefore follows that there is little to be achieved by constantly denying the socialist claims, although I guess we have no other option.
    Arguing that libertarian principals theoretically, and in practice deliver more for the poor in the long term than socialism ever could seems to me to be the best approach.

  • John

    Could anyone suggest a suitable book which gives the libertarian basics?

    A book I believe might be appropriate to this discussion is: FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression(Link)

    In FDR’s Folly, historian Jim Powell argues that it was in fact the New Deal itself, with its shortsighted programs, that deepened the Great Depression, swelled the federal government, and prevented the country from turning around quickly. You’ll discover in alarming detail how FDR’s federal programs hurt America more than helped it, with effects we still feel today, including:

    • How Social Security actually increased unemployment
    • How higher taxes undermined good businesses
    • How new labor laws threw people out of work
    • And much more

  • JEM

    I have always thought that the moral hole at the heart of all socialism, and indeed all advocacy of compulsory ‘charity’ by governments is exactly that it is compulsory. People, or parties, or governments decide for all of us that all of us should give to a cause that these advocates have decided is good but instead of forking out from their own pockets, all shall pay willy-nilly.

    This has the advantage for the advocates of allowing them to bask in an entirely artificial and unjustified sense of doing good while getting everyone else to foot the bill. The old-fashioned word for this is hypocrisy.

    In the case of Africa, there is the added hypocrisy of ignoring the fact that sub-Saharan Africa has already had $5,000 per head of population thrown at it with no discernible benefit to the people but to the considerable benefit of the kleptocracies that rule (or ruin) these countries. It is perfectly obvious that more government money of the ‘traditionl’ sort is exactly what Africa does not need.

    And just exactly why we should pay off the debts incurred by the kleptocrats in order to ensure they get even more money from Westerm taxpayers while ruining the creditworthiness of Africa for ever and a day? There must surely be some way for the international community to extract the estimated $140 billion stashed away in Swiss bank accounts…

    But of course the greatest hypocrisy of all is that in the vast majority of these poor countries, the principle mechanism for their combined economic and political failure has been socialism in general, and too often for British comfort, the London School of Economics version in particular. It is only necessary to compare the economic and political progress of those large swathes of Asia and even South America that abandoned or avoided socialism to recognize the truth of this.

  • But of course the greatest hypocrisy of all is that in the vast majority of these poor countries, the principle mechanism for their combined economic and political failure has been socialism in general, and too often for British comfort, the London School of Economics version in particular. It is only necessary to compare the economic and political progress of those large swathes of Asia and even South America that abandoned or avoided socialism to recognize the truth of this.

    Too true. Of all the Western exports that have changed life in Third World countries, the one true and tragic example of “cultural imperialism” was the export of socialism to those countries.

    If ever you want to binge on some good old liberal “the-West-is-evil” guilt, our culpability in infecting the world with the virus of socialism is the place to find it.

  • Bombadil,

    Africa was collectivist long before socialism was even a glint in Friedrich Engels’s eye.

    More generally:

    I’m always amazed at the charge of “meanness” leveled at people who just don’t want to get involved, or who, in the case of Africa, think that throwing good money after bad is not the answer to the problem.

    In my case, I think those pomo weenies at Crooked Timber refer to me as a “rightwing thug”, so I think I passed the “mean” milestone some time back.

    Serves you right, Natalie, for listening to their blather in the first place.

    (signed)

    Worst. Blogger. Ever.
    (according to Turd Barlow at CT)

  • Chris

    I bet your left wing lecturers hated you.

    Natalie has answered that one in her own case. But I’m surprised that libertarians and conservatives often make that assumption. Personally, I’d love my seminar groups to included hard-line libertarians and conservatives prepared to argue their case: it makes for a better classroom experience all round.

    I used to lecture in a social science faculty. Whereas your attitude was widely shared in my department (Philosophy) I should say that elsewhere conformity was valued more highly than views at odds with those of the lecturers. Admittedly this was some time ago.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    What could possibly be considered generous about Bertram’s attitude ? Not giving unless others are forced to do the same is inherently selfish, especially when it is argued that the end result is cheaper for each individual in the coerced multitude. Who’s really being greedy with their money here ? True generosity cannot be conditional on either the approval or coercion of others.

  • Jim

    Perry,

    “We want trade which actually works as a way to end poverty whereas the alternative (aid) has a nasty tendency to prolong poverty… that is our position and if you think that is smug misanthropic hatred, I look forward to you explaining why.”

    I’ll give it a try, then. The overwhelming conclusion of experts who have actually looked at this this problem is that aid is good for growth and good for measures of ‘human development’ like health and education. There’s a very recent survey of the economic literature here, for example. It says that while research in the 1990s reached mixed conclusions, in the last five years or so just about every analysis has found that aid in the past few decades has been effective, suggesting that academic methods and/or effectiveness have improved over time.

    Now, I’ve said this kind of thing on Samizdata before, but few here seem interested in testing their beliefs about aid against something so mundane as the facts. You yourself have indicated elsewhere that you simply don’t care what the academic evidence on the effectiveness of aid says, yet you keep claiming to just know that it is ineffective. That is at least smug, and it also suggests to me that you feel more attached to your ideological comfort-blanket than to the fates of people whose lives rely to a great extend on receiving some overseas aid, which for some would certainly qualify as misanthropic hatred.

  • John East

    Jim,
    Is that OECD report the best that you could find? The following quotes taken from the report do not give glowing support for existing aid distribution programmes:

    “The principal MDG target – reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty to half the 1990 level by 2015 – on current trends will not be achieved in sub-Saharan Africa. Even seemingly optimistic forecasts suggest that the MDG income poverty target will not be achieved in sub-Saharan Africa until 2147, some 132 years late. Prospects for the achievement of other MDG targets in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 are just as dismal. Cutting child mortality by two-thirds and achieving universal primary education will not be achieved until 2165 and 2129, respectively, according to recent forecasts (UNDP, 2003).”

    “This paper……reveals the overwhelming majority of recent, widely circulated empirical studies find that economic growth would be lower in the absence of aid.”

    “Aid now appears to work in the sense that per capita economic growth would have been lower in its absence, according to the findings of this research. This is the clear, unambiguous finding of practically all empirical studies conducted over the last seven or eight years, one that marks a remarkable turnaround in the literature on aid effectiveness, which for decades provided rather inconclusive, often contradictory findings.2 3

    “Why aid now appears to work in promoting growth, after decades of little or no clarity in research circles over its effectiveness, is a matter of speculation.”

    To summarise, the author appears to be saying that doling out aid to the third world was a waste of time up until 7 or 8 years ago. The best that he can say for the recent past is that per capita growth would have been lower in the absence of aid. Surprise, surprise, if you pump billions of dollars into a country, per capita growth is not as low as it would have been.
    I don’t think that anyone on this blog would dispute that foreign aid helps some people. What we do dispute is the way it is given. We would like see aid money going towards infrastructure and political changes to permit people to help themselves.

  • “What could possibly be considered generous about Bertram’s attitude ? Not giving unless others are forced to do the same is inherently selfish ….”

    I’m making no claims about the generosity of my attitudes, but I would like to correct the mistaken view of them contained in Sylvain G’s comment.

    My post argued that people should contribute at least their share of what is needed, whether or not there is compulsion. I also argued that it is legitimate for the state to compel people to comply with their duties (and I realised that isn’t a popular view on Samizdata!). But I emphatically did not say that people shouldn’t give unless others are forced to. That is not my view.

  • Jim, speaking of smug, I at least answered your questions (if not to your satisfaction then that is because I think your are wrong on almost every level) by pointing out that even if economic activity is higher with aid, just as it is higher if the state builds a sports stadium in a town, what you do not see if the distortion and the negative structural things aid creates (such as subsidising poor governence and often putting in infrastructure which is unsuitable for local needs).

    I know nothing about you but have you spend much time in Africa? Have you done business there? Have you dealt with the ruling classes who actually get to spend the aid money? I have done all those things so forgive me if I do not think *I* am not the one who is spouting views based on an ideology that does not have much to do with reality.

  • JEM

    Cutting child mortality by two-thirds and achieving universal primary education will not be achieved until 2165 and 2129, respectively, according to recent forecasts (UNDP, 2003).

    Quite. Meanwhile, another UN-driven ‘academic’ report, published bythe IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that provides the basic data that Kyoto is predicated upon, makes a country-by country economic forecast for the world that confidentally predicts that by 2100 the inhabitants of the poorest of sub-Saharan countries will have gross personal incomes that are up to twenty time higher that that of the citizens of the United States today.

    Yeh, right. My other leg has bells on it.

    But then you’ve got to remember that this rubbish is necessary to make the global warming industry’s doomladen climate forecasts work, so it must be true. (Always remember that all global warming forecasts are based on selecting the grimmest computer model of future climate from thousand of models available. And we all know that computer models are living examples of GIGO in any case.)

    Similary, if you’re in the aid industry it’s always handy to have at least one academic report out of thousands that claims some success for African aid. But on the other hand, if this Finnish report is the best that can be found, the evidence that it works must be slim indeed.

    Of course if the global warming industyry people are right, surely the first thing we should do is stop all aid to Africa immediately as economic growth there just increases CO2 production–and we are assured by none other than the Prime Minister that that is the most serious problem facing humanity.

    Memo to both above-mentioned industries: oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Especially when the person you are doing most to deceive is yourself.

    If you detect a note of cynicism here, you might just be right.

  • Verity

    To those who criticise us, you are missing the vigorous devotion to free trade on this blog. Many of us – indeed, perhaps most of us – have argued for the trade barriers against Africans to be dismantled.

    Many of us on this blog are dismissive of do-gooders who offer nothing except nice thoughts and lobby for ever-larger donations from the West. Many of us say, “Hell! Let them into the marketplace! Let’s make the pizza bigger and we’ll all get a bigger slice!”

  • Verity

    PS – Chris Bertram says: My post argued that people should contribute at least their share of what is needed

    I don’t have a “share”. I don’t owe anyone a bloody thing and I’m not “contributing” what someone else has decided is my “share”.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    It all boils down to individual choice. I trust that there would be sufficient concerned people with the ability to help who would do so. It does not matter if their aid is effective or not; it’s their money after all.

    So maybe I’m being slightly unrealistic and more than properly optimistic, but recent evidence does indicate that people are more generous and helpful than we give ourselves credit for. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be money. Blood donation, volunteering as a worker, etc, are all aspects of a healthy society that has come about despite the heavy demands already placed on our lives. If the onus of taxation is reduced, I’m quite confident such aid can only increase.

    If the protestors were urging more people to help those in need, then kudos to them, and indeed, it might be more effective than just donating their own money. But somehow, I don’t see them carrying out such acts in the true spirit of caring. Gandhi, they ain’t.

    What they’re advocating are their own private agendas that often have little to do with helping people and everything to do with vindicating their own deeply held convictions and ideals.

    But at the very heart of it, it’s their choice to take those actions. To say they are hypocrites isn’t very correct because actual hypocrites are aware of the repurcussions of their actions; these people aren’t aware. They truly believe themselves to be doing good with the best of intentions.

    Road to hell. Paved. Good intentions. Right.

    Verity, Toolkien-Yeah, you can already hear the whine.

    You meanies! Selfish #@*$&! You didn’t let me take your money! I won’t be your friend anymore!

    Yawn. The inherent aspect of coercive force, collectivism, and trampling of individual choice in

    My post argued that people should contribute at least their share of what is needed

    is spectacular.

  • JEM

    To say they are hypocrites isn’t very correct because actual hypocrites are aware of the repurcussions of their actions; these people aren’t aware.

    Does one have to be consciously hypocritical to be a hypocrite?

    I say not.

    “By their actions ye shall know them.”

    If you walk like a hypocrite and talk like a hypocrite, a hypocrite you are. A claim of ignorance is no excuse, in either a legal or moral sense.

  • Pete_London

    Chris Bertram:

    I also argued that it is legitimate for the state to compel people to comply with their duties …

    I can’t be bothered to be more polite: up yours, sunshine. My duty stops at my family and myself. Anything beyond that is voluntary. I do, by the way, give time and money to others on a voluntary basis. I’d give more money than I already do but for Gordon Brown.

  • Jim

    John,

    “Is that OECD report the best that you could find?”

    Is a report that says aid is good for growth and human development and that Africa should get more aid the best I could find? Er, well it does rather support my case, so yes I’m quite happy with it.

    “the author appears to be saying that doling out aid to the third world was a waste of time up until 7 or 8 years ago.”

    No, that’s not what he’s saying, although even if he was, that obviously would still mean that more aid would help, contrary to – for example – Perry’s insistence that it would “prolong poverty. He suggests two reasons: either “donors, following the demise of the Cold War, are paying more attention to developmental criteria in the design and application of aid activities”, or “recent studies employ better empirical methods and have access to better data”. The first reason suggests that the aid that wasn’t used to bribe Cold War allies was probably still beneficial.

    “I don’t think that anyone on this blog would dispute that foreign aid helps some people. What we do dispute is the way it is given. We would like see aid money going towards infrastructure and political changes to permit people to help themselves.”

    So would I, and I don’t think that’s inconsistent with aid for health and education and the kind of civil society and community projects that a lot of aid funds. But too many people on this site seem to want the apparent effectiveness of state to state aid simply because they don’t like the idea.

    Perry,

    “even if economic activity is higher with aid, just as it is higher if the state builds a sports stadium in a town”

    No, the point of the aid research I’m talking about is that they indicate sustained rather than one-off increases in growth.

    “what you do not see if the distortion and the negative structural things aid creates (such as subsidising poor governence and often putting in infrastructure which is unsuitable for local needs)”

    ‘Distortion’? Sorry, but I really don’t give a shit if providing sick people with medicines and children with an education ‘distorts’ the economy from some imaginary perfect free market. Some things are more important than market aesthetics.

    And while there are no doubt some instances of aid-financed infrastructure which is unsuitable, there are quite clearly instances of aid-financed infrastructure which are very suitable. The evidence – the “overwhelming” evidence, as that report I linked to points out – suggests that the good outweighs the bad.

    Listen, I realise you’ve got a problem with any government spending at all, and that’s your perogative. But if you’re going to oppose aid for that reason, say so – don’t claim to know that it will “prolong poverty” when you clearly know no such thing.

    “I know nothing about you but have you spend much time in Africa?”

    I wondered how long it would be before someone asked me that – I find it tends to come up when people run out of anything else to say. No, I haven’t, but then again I don’t believe that just because I’ve sipped some gin in hot countries I know the secret to their economic salvation. I have the humility to actually study what the experts have to say on the subject before sounding off on it. Also, I seem to remember a lot of people who I’m pretty sure had never been to Iraq were (and still are, in many cases) terribly keen to pontificate on what they thought was best for that country – I wonder does that apply to anyone here?

  • JEM

    I have the humility to actually study what the experts have to say on the subject before sounding off on it.

    If you really want to get it wrong, ask an academic expert. Their track record is lamentable, principally (I suspect) because they do not live in the real world. In any case, if this Finnish report is the best supporting evidence that can be found, the case for saying sub-Saharan aid works must be slim indeed.

    But in any case we already know what does work: it is the abolition of socialsm in favour of capitalism (even in the case of so-called Communist China) and the opening of export markets–which ties in so neatly with the present assault on the entirely socialst and French-inspired EU Common Agricultural Policy.

    If the economic and political environmental conditions are right there is no need for aid; private investment will do the job far, far better. Unless you ruin a nation’s creditworthyness by unconditional debt forgiveness, of course.

  • I can’t be bothered to be more polite: up yours, sunshine. My duty stops at my family and myself.

    Really? So if you could save a child from drowning at little or no cost to yourself, you’d be under no moral duty so to do?

    It is a view, I suppose, but not one that commands much support outside of Samizdata comments boxes.

  • “He is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote, by every means in his power, the welfare of his fellow-citizens.” – Adam Smith, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments.

    “The idea that we are our brother’s keepers has been used so flabbily, for so many destructive schemes, that one has a strong impulse to say, ‘The hell I am.’ But the Bible cannot be held responsible for its misuse by twentieth century politicians …. What becomes of those who are helpless, or luckless, or perhaps simply feckless, must deeply concern any human being worthy of the name.” – Charles Murray, What it Means to Be a Libertarian.

  • JEM

    What Chris Bertram & friends do not seem able to grasp is that compulsory virtue is an oxymoron.

    It is right and proper to promote the welfare of our fellow human beings. It is not right and proper to compel others to do so, as that prostitutes the whole process. It is also surprisingly ineffective.

    It is worth considering at this point that the United States is often accused of giving less aid to the underdeveloped world that other western nations. However this is a seriously distorting statement, as it refers only to government (that is, ‘compulsory’) and disregards the massive amount of privately donated (that is, ‘voluntary’) aid raised in America.

    Indeed, if both public and private aid are added together in both America and in other countries, the Americans turn out to be the most generous aid-givers of all–and the most virtuous, because they have the lowest proportion of oxymoronic compulsory aid.

    On top of that, it is clear that private (capitalist) aid is far more effective, $ for $, than compulsory (socialist) government-to-government aid

    The way ahead is through persuasion, not compulsion.

  • MQ

    The Finnish report is a literature review, hence it summarizes existing evidence from all over the world, many many studies.

    Libertarians are ideologically committed to ignoring the massive success of the state in improving human well-being over the past 200 years. Likewise, some other ideologies have been ideologically committed to ignoring the massive destructiveness of many modern states. Look deeply at ANY development since the industrial revolution, positive or negative, and you will find the state playing a central role for good or ill.

    In fact, the central role of the state tells us something about why foreign aid has failed when it has. Because simply sending money cannot substitute for a competent local state and competent local elites. And foreign aid generally cannot create such a state ex nihilio (nation building). There was some shift in the 90s toward aid that tried to deal with this problem by providing grass roots services directly without funnelling the money through the local state as much, I think that kind of aid can do a lot of good. But its unlikely that aid alone can ever rescue a state from poverty.

  • Jim

    JEM, I thought this was just beautiful:

    “Their track record is lamentable, principally (I suspect) because they do not live in the real world”.

    Followed by,

    “if this Finnish report is the best supporting evidence that can be found, the case for saying sub-Saharan aid works must be slim indeed”.

    That really was one of the funnier things I’ve read in a while. My god, why weren’t we told this report was Finnish???!!! (actually, it isn’t: ‘McGillivray’ isn’t a very Finnish name, and he works not just for the WIDER institute in Helsinki but also that other bastion of leftist propaganda, Harvard University).

    And then there’s the apparent belief that the more comprehensive an overview of existing research a report is (and this one is extremely comprehensive), the less convincing it is? Must be interesting to live in your upside-down world where furniture is on the ceiling and burgers eat people, but here in my real world what you’re saying makes no sense whatsoever.

    “Indeed, if both public and private aid are added together in both America and in other countries, the Americans turn out to be the most generous aid-givers of all”

    No, I don’t think that’s true. According to this, private citzens in the US are the 5th most generous in the OECD, which raises the US from 22nd most generous overall to, er, 19th. But if you know better, please tell me.

  • Really? So if you could save a child from drowning at little or no cost to yourself, you’d be under no moral duty so to do?

    Gifford’s Law: “Whoever invokes ‘what about the chiiildren’ as an argument … loses.”

    Because, after all, shoveling money to someone to (possibly) help their standard of living at some point in the future is pretty much the same as saving a cwute wittle baby from dwowning – especially if you are “donating” the money at the barrel of a gun.

    Interesting addition there, as well: little or no cost. Why does that matter? As long as the state is turning out everyone’s pockets, why not level the field? After all, the wealth of the west wasn’t produced, it was stolen from downtrodden indigenous peoples who would otherwise be living lives of abundance and luxury. Let’s force everyone to give over half of what they own, convert it into gold bars, and leave them on a beach in Nigeria or Angola. Hurray for leveling and “compulsory charity”!

  • Now Bombadil, please, focus, pay attention, try to follow the thread …

    Pete London asserted that he had no duties beyond care for his family and himself. I find that claim implausible. To show that it is implausible I deploy a counterexample. To clear the counterexample of irrelevant noise, I insert the a clause specifying that the action concerned can be carried out at no great cost.

    Either you think that my example does establish that there are more extensive duties than Pete asserted, or you don’t. How much more extensive those duties are remains up for grabs after I’ve established that narrow point (if I have).

  • What Chris Bertram & friends do not seem able to grasp is that compulsory virtue is an oxymoron.

    No, what Chris Bertram (and possibly some of his friends) grasp is that virtue is not all that matters.

  • JEM

           My god, why weren’t we told this report was Finnish???!!! (actually, it isn’t…

    Well, YOU didn’t tell us. But actually it is. I quote: “The author is a Senior Research Fellow and Project Director at World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University in Helsinki, Finland.”

           this [report] is extremely comprehensive

    Well no, actually. It’s just extremely convenient for those arguing from your own corner; and it does that by selectivity rather than comprehensiveness. And then after all, you had not one single other piece of ‘evidence’ to support your extremely tenuous argument. And you had to go all the way to Finland to find it. I’m temped to say, at least on this point, I rest my case.

    As for Steve Radelet’s PowerPoint presentation on US aid; well, it manages to miss the point. I think that when you look into it, you will find that his numbers only include private aid collected and distributed by federally-organized charities and agencies. But for every dollar donated federally, between two and three more are donated to state and other locally-organized charities and agencies. This is why the numbers so severely underestimate US giving. America is indeed the most generous.

    Sorry about this shattering of another illusion. (Well, not really.)

  • Pete_London

    Chris Bertram

    Your statement to which I replied (“up yours”) is:

    I also argued that it is legitimate for the state to compel people to comply with their duties

    (My emphasis)

    To which you replied with:

    Really? So if you could save a child from drowning at little or no cost to yourself, you’d be under no moral duty so to do?

    (My emphasis)

    So what are you talking about? A state-imposed duty or a moral obligation?

    I hope that I’d be brave enough to jump in and save the lickle ickle girl. Even if the state compelled me to jump in and save her I hope I’d be brave enough, but I damn well wouldn’t do so because the state told me to.

  • Pete, I think it is clear from the sentence before the one you quote that the duties in question are not there because of the state, but rather, independently. I also argued that the state is entitled to get people to do their duty (at least sometimes, anyway). But I never suggested that the state was the source of those duties.

    I also don’t think that the reason you should jump in and save the child is because the state tells you to. Rather, I think you should jump in because you have a duty to prevent great harm when you can do so at little cost to yourself (as in this case).

    I’m glad to see that despite your sarcastic use of language (” lickle ickle girl”) you agree with me about that and that therefore, by implication, you are retracting your earlier statement that “My duty stops at my family and myself.”

  • Pete_London

    Huh?

    Chris, the bullshitometer is buzzing at my end. You’re the type with whom it’s impossible to have a discussion with. Play your games with someone else.

  • JEM

           I also argued that the state is entitled to get people to do their duty

    I think Nelson put it so much better 200 years ago when he signalled, “England expects every man to do his duty.”

    “Expects” is proper and reasonable.

    “Is entitled to get” is not.

    “Is entitled to get” is the high road to socialism/communism/fascism — three aspects of the same delusional, dangerous fallacy.

  • Jim

    “But actually it is”

    Sigh. This is possibly the most trivial point of all time, and you’re can only be pursuing it with such maniacal intensity because (a) you’re nuts, or (b) you’d rather not talk about what’s actually in the document. But I’m not even sure what you mean when you say that “it’s Finnish”. How can a document be Finnish? Especially if it’s written in English by an Australian and published on the Internet?

    “Well no, actually.”

    Well yes, actually. If you’ve seen a literature review with a greater coverage, I’d like to see it. If not, it is by definition the most comprehensive you’ve ever seen.

    “It’s just extremely convenient for those arguing from your own corner; and it does that by selectivity rather than comprehensiveness.”

    Have you any actual reason to be saying this other than that it disagrees with your pre-existing beliefs? What is it missing, exactly?

    “And then after all, you had not one single other piece of ‘evidence’ to support your extremely tenuous argument.”

    Have you actually read what I linked to? It lists dozens of pieces of evidence to support my argument. It simply collects them all in one place. To most people this would be convenient – to you, it’s apparently a fatal flaw.

    “As for Steve Radelet’s PowerPoint presentation on US aid; well, it manages to miss the point. I think that when you look into it …”

    No, sorry. I don’t really believe anything you say because, well, read your own posts and you’ll see why. You’ll have to point me in the direction of something by anyone who doesn’t think McGillivray is a Finnish name if you want to have any credibility.

    “But for every dollar donated federally, between two and three more are donated to state and other locally-organized charities and agencies. This is why the numbers so severely underestimate US giving.”

    Again, for all I know you’re pulling this out of your ass. And I hope you realise that the same factor would underestimate private donations from other countries too.

  • JEM

          How can a document be Finnish?

    How about by being published by a Finnish university in Finland?

    I don’t think I can be bothered arguing the toss over your purile dross any more. It is increasingly obvious that you are not interested in reasoned discussion, especially when you have clearly lost the argument

  • Jim

    Yeah, I love it when I lose the argument by being the only one who’s actually bothered to support my argument, in this case by referring to the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion. I keep losing arguments like that on Samizdata.

  • Tim

    MQ…

    What is your evidence for the state improving human well-being for 200 years?

    Looking back over the last 100 years, the most successful country in the world has been the United States, the most libertated country. Has statist France done better than more free-market Britain in the past 20 years? Well, no. East Germany vs West Germany? Trabants vs VWs. Hong Kong vs Mainland China (pre-handover)?

    It’s very rare for centralising statists to deliver economic growth and prosperity. Mostly, they indulge in building of grand projets that deliver nothing.

  • JEM

         “What Chris Bertram & friends do not seem able
          to grasp is that compulsory virtue is an oxymoron.

         No, what Chris Bertram (and possibly some
           of his friends) grasp is that virtue is not all
           that matters.

    They grasp wrongly.

    Virtue: n (1) Behavious showing high moral standards. (2) A quality cnsidered morally good or desirable in a person. (3) A good or useful quality of a thing. (Origin: Latin ‘virtus’, meaning valour, merit, moral perfection.) [From OED]

    In the context of aid at least (although arguably in any context) virtue is all that can ever matter. And compulsory virtue remains an oxymoron; a moral black hole that you and others have fallen into so deeply you seem unable to see beyond the event horison to what is proper (that is to say, truly virtuous) any more.

    I pity you in your morally and intellectually bankrupt world of muddled thinking and unthinking herd-followers.

  • In the context of aid at least (although arguably in any context) virtue is all that can ever matter.

    Silly deluded me, then, thinking that, in the context of aid, aiding people might matter!

  • Aiding people and virtue matter. I think the circumstances where one must choose between them are fewer, and more short term, than most people think.

  • JEM

              In the context of aid at least (although arguably
              in any context) virtue is all that can ever matter.

              Silly deluded me, then, thinking that, in the
                 context of aid, aiding people might matter!

    Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…

    Virtue is ‘A good or useful quality of a thing’ (see earlier). If you supposes anything that does not posess this quality is going to aid people, then silly and deluded you are indeed.

    In your own perverted lights you may suppose yourself to be full of good intentions, but what you propose is the road to Hell none the less.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “in general terms most charities have bureaucracy that consumes about 20pc of their funding, so are far worse than governments.”

    Wow, Monjo.

    How much of the taxpayers’ money do you think the average government wastes in bureaucracy?

    Less than 20%? I think not…