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Decline and fall in easy-to-follow steps

Fabian Tassano, who has recently written a rather fine book, links to this rather darkly amusing outline of how a country goes down the U-bend.

The interesting question is whether there is an equivalent series of steps showing how things get better. An issue that occasionally comes up in the comment threads is how do we get from the current god-awful statist mess A to sunlit uplands of liberal society B? What should happen first, second, third, fourth, etc? For instance, what would be the sequence of changes? Should we start with the little stuff (abolish the Arts Council, confine Polly Toynbee) or the Big Stuff (slash the Welfare State, abolish state education departments, repeal most taxes)?

48 comments to Decline and fall in easy-to-follow steps

  • The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

  • Lee Moore

    Should we start with the little stuff (abolish the Arts Council, confine Polly Toynbee) or the Big Stuff (slash the Welfare State, abolish state eduction departments, repeal most taxes)?

    The answer is surely to do both. But as this is is not a libertarian country, you want big headlines for little populist things like abolishing the Arts Council, and little inside paragraphs for things like sorting out education, which you have to do insidiously. So you have to start by funding all schools directly, and allowing schools to set their own selection and expulsion policies. Since this isn’t “privatisation” it’s less likely to make a political stink (with the masses) than big bold gestures. Obviously in time you do have to abolish the LEAs, because all of these institutions, plus the quangos like the Equality Commission and the Helf’n Safety Executive, serve as publicly funded bases from which progressives can mount new initiatives, and send press releases to the BBC. The institutional infrastructure of socialist/progressive government has to be demolished. But you have to kill the unpopular ones first, and just geld the others for the time being. Cameron’s plan to divert some funds from the BBC is a cleverer idea than simply planning to scrap it altogether. Softly softly put stakee through heart of socilaist monster.

  • One suspects much of the provision of the welfare state should be the last to go and be done in gradual stages, or you may end up with many of the sort of problems Russia seemed to suffer from after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    First things to go should be much of the statist crap and nannying social control where people end up loosing their jobs because they smacked an stroppy teenage son for swearing at them, or a criminal record for having so much rubbish in their bin (probably because collections had been halved) that the lid didn’t close.

    Health and safety, regional councils, quangos…

    The suggestion relating to lawyers has merit but maybe VAT should go next…

  • Jenny S-T

    Simplifying taxes would be a good thing to do early. Fixing the railways and education would also be good. Do those well and people won’t be very inclined to object to anything else.

  • Gregory

    Good heavens, as if any and all of these are easy to fix. And doesn’t it necessarily imply that the government needs to be involved, since it is the government that does all this crap in the first place?

    No, no, the thing that is needed most is self-discipline. Proper education (a military draft works wonders, and things have to get worse before they get better) and societal/community stuff needs to be fixed first, THEN you can go after government.

    This is a multi-generation effort, so it’s not easy either.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No, no, the thing that is needed most is self-discipline. Proper education (a military draft works wonders, and things have to get worse before they get better) and societal/community stuff needs to be fixed first, THEN you can go after government.

    That is unbelievably dotty logic. Yes, to roll back the state, we need to introduce military conscription!!


  • Jacob

    Read this exellent article by Fabian Tassano about the sorry state of our academia which produces offensive nonsense and gobbledygook.

    Maybe it’s the first thing that needs to get fixed….

    (thanks Johnathan for the link…)

  • Gabriel

    I think you should form a party stuffed full of conspiracy theorist cranks and then spend years hysterically telling conservatives that they are all, not only stupid, but actually Nazis whilst endorsing candidates who actually fraternise with Nazis. Then you should all sit around for ages discussing the ever-expanding list of things you designate “collectivist” until it includes people who think there is some sort of moral obligation to help old ladies across the road.


  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gabriel, what’s the matter? Not able to handle a bit of debate on a blog thread? Dearie me.

  • Are you Gabriel, or are you George.

    Either way, you are being a tosser.

  • John K

    Considering the howls of protest you will get from the luvvies if you try and abolish the Arts Council, you might as well go totus porcus and get rid of the lot in one fell swoop. Revolution!

  • Get rid of the invisible and unpopular first,re-orientate the police towards their original function.
    Leave the Arts Council and the BBC until the last,bribe them first to keep their mouths shut.

  • RRS

    These comments are offered from a student (not a “scholar”):

    In looking for a sociological equivalent to Lenin’s “What is to be Done!” Consider the analogy to dealing with an epidemic.

    No amount of messing around and trying to deal with the wide varieties of symptoms, or trying pallative measures, should be expected to have much effect.
    However, there does have to be a broad recognition by enough people that there is an epidemic, and that it’s destructive effects can overtake them and their successors as well. That cognition has not yet developed.

    The classic London example of removing the pump handle is simply the recognition of cause. Elimination of the cause came after.

    For most of us joining here, the “epidemic” would fall under the rubric of collectivism – and how that has arisen amongst otherwise free people who have previously valued individual liberty, is the question of cause (for which we discuss cures).

    Perhaps we should more closely examine how the function of representation and delegation has evolved, and what that process has produced in most western societies – a political class.

    In this sense, the political class is that body of activities (and its personnel) within the society that exists and operates for the sole function of exercising power and influence. In the western tradition its derives that function from delegation or “assignment” of roles (even in the feudal structures).

    If we examine how the processes of providing for delegation, representation and assignments of power functions have come to produce something like the needs London had for dealing with basic sanitation, we will likely focus on how to deal with the phenomenon of the present and evolving form of the political class in western societies.

    Historically, other classes, the military, the landed, the commercial, have held and exercised the powers now aggregating in the political class.
    Those were classes in which political powers were an adjunct, generally balanced by reliance upon other classes for certain of their needs. The political class of today seems to be developing an independence from any such reliance.

    So, if that view has any merit, where should efforts begin to deal with the “cause” or “causes?”
    It would seem we should begin with understanding the nature of the political class, just as we would Cholera, first how its establishes a place in the organism of society, how it spreads; and, then begin to back into what needs be done. Stop the spread, stop the sources, kill the bacterium.

    Each of those steps requires much the same acceptance of learning by the populace as was necessary to stop Cholera. Removing the pump handle requires replacing the source of water as well. That is not happening; optimistically, we could add “yet.” But, can we?

  • Alsadius

    The most obvious question to me is “What did Thatcher do?”. She’s the only one who has really attempted to roll back the state in the last 40-50 years in the UK, and thus it’d be relatively instructive to see, among other things, which of her reforms are still in place after 11 years of Labour, which of her reforms actually did anything worth doing, and how she and Major managed to keep the Tories in power for 18 years while doing all this. I’m not familiar enough with British politics to answer those questions definitively, but they’re the ones that need to be answered here.

  • “The interesting question is whether there is an equivalent series of steps showing how things get better.”

    No. There is not.

    That’s a list of symptoms. RRS is right about that. When he wrote this…

    “However, there does have to be a broad recognition by enough people…”

    …he was talking about abstraction of principles: the very thing most anathema on almost all sides now.

    Politics is only mysterious to people who’ve lost them, and that’s where the thing stands right now, worldwide, excepting only all variants of collectivists. They hold their principles and they stand on them. That’s why they’re winning.

  • M4-10

    I think the place to start is for citizens to acquire the legal right to opt out of specific government services, a la carte (and the right to seek them in the private sector). If a tax rebate is given it will soon become clear which services are worth the government doing (i.e. very few).

  • renminbi

    There is first the problem that most of the public wants something for nothing,and that takes priority over liberty.The public is generally not a friend of liberty, and once you have a political class that is entrenched,getting rid of it is about as easy as getting rid of Mugabe. Remember, outside the US the airwaves are controlled by the gov’t,for the most part and the media are often bribed or subsidized by the political class. It is not that they really have to be; a lot of them would spread their legs for free.
    There is an interesting book by Mancur Olson,”The Rise and Decline of Nations” which describes the process of rent seeking, but he offers no solutions.
    One solution: The Pinochet. He was unusual-he solved the problem and he stepped down.The problem with such a solution is the next Pinochets are not likely to be Pinochets-after all,the public doesn’t get to pick the Pinochet,do they?-they don’t step down-they are more likely to be Putins or Ne Wins.

    So is there anything constructive to suggest? Yes. If you work for the gov’t you are a public servant on the public teat-you don’t vote. If you are you are living off the teat in other ways-no vote.
    Term limits for one.Our Supreme Court made a very bad decision in outlawing them for Congress,but the longer people hang around the detached from reality they become.
    No one may hold higher elective office without having been employed productively,having earned money in the private sector.Here in NYC most of our City Council Members,and they are members,all, have never had a useful job in their lives and it shows in the way they behave and legislate.Our “representatives”up in Albany (state capital) are just as vile. Turn on C-Span and see our Congress-Senate critters – it will turn your stomach.Let these people pass laws,but allow juries of the civically responsible to veto them. Allow them to remove the Norman Minettas of this world.Allow them end agricultural subsidies and other scams.
    The reason our representative systems metastatise into bureaucratic tyrannies is because of rational ignorance. The way to fix this is to allow those who would act responsibly to have direct control of their gov’t.by being empaneled. What we have now is a busted flush.Any other ideas?

  • It’s pointless tinkering with specific policies. These changes can all be reversed by the next government anyway.

    We only need to do one thing. Abolish universal suffrage. Perhaps only those in work, or only property owners, or only non-government employees should be allowed to vote.

    Impossible to bring about, but everything else would fall into line if my fantasy was achievable.

  • permanentexpat

    That is unbelievably dotty logic. Yes, to roll back the state, we need to introduce military conscription!!


    I think you know what Gregory was implying, Johnathan.
    I am not only against state interference but against the state itself in its present form.
    I am guessing (only) that you would have no objections to the institution of ‘boot-camp’ as a means of convincing errant & recalcitrant ‘yoof’ of the error of its ways.
    Should that be the case, I can see no better way than using the Armed Forces for that purpose.

    The broader brush:
    Over the years, we have been enslaved, emasculated & spayed by state stealth…and our own appalling, suicidal apathy. And there’s the rub; the most difficult step is to get rid of the apathy…
    The current economic meltdown may yet further degenerate to produce the necessary shock to bring The Septic Isle to its senses. I sincerely wish that simple clear thinking were able to achieve that…alas, I think that highly unlikely. Pity, the pain will be exquisite.

  • Sam Duncan

    Peter, I’m not sure that would be very helpful. When you’re accused of a crime – and there would be plenty of crimes to be accused of even in the most liberal state – a lawyer’s a pretty handy chap to have around.

    What should be done is to prohibit lawyers from standing for elected office. Government of the lawyers for the lawyers by the lawyers is a big part of the problem.

  • “Any other ideas?”

    You bet.

    Stop voting for it (stop submitting your rights to the opinions of herds, and do it explicitly on moral principle and say why you’re doing it) and stop paying for it. Right now.

    Look: there will never be collectivist solutions to the problem of individual liberty. Do you understand? This is a basic contradiction that cannot be resolved.

    I am not a liar or utopian: none of it will ever be easy. It would be the hardest thing that many of us have done or will ever do.

    “Our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.”

    It’s going to be a lot easier than the consequences if we don’t.

    I’m telling you: the time for the very last appeals to the Western moral conscience is just about at hand. You’re going to have to take it in hand, stand up straight, and make your own move.


  • Hugo


    Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back
    by Sean Gabb

    We just have to get elected and then do it quickly. How do we get elected? Pretend to be Cameron. Maybe that’s what he’s doing. (Of course not.)

  • DavidNcl

    (Link)As a program for england you could do worse than read Sean Gabb’s “Cultural Revolution, Culture War” [PDF]

    This starts from the point of having been elected to govern in england and answers the question to some extent, “what now”.

    Gabb has written before from this perspective before but this is a good summary of work spread across other sources.

    My view differs somewhat from Gabb (among other points, I favour throwing the gates wide open and letting presure from the huddled masses destroy the welfare state and hence the current political settlement).

  • Hugo

    Oh, and Instant Runoff Voting would help. This, I think, in the mean time, is a reason to support the Lib Dems if they have a chance of winning in your constituency. A balanced parliament would give the Lib Dems power to form a coalition, and they could demand a voting system which doesn’t disincentivise voting for who we really want.

  • DavidNcl

    I’ve just seen hugo’s post above mine. Make’s me look like such a knob. It wasn’t there when I began writing, honest!

    Anyhoo. Hugo and I think you should go and read Dr. Gabb’s little book.

    A fulller account of how english libery came to be according to Gabb is available here (as part of the LA historical notes) How English Liberty Was Created by Accident and Custom – and Then Destroyed by Liberals(Link)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am guessing (only) that you would have no objections to the institution of ‘boot-camp’ as a means of convincing errant & recalcitrant ‘yoof’ of the error of its ways.
    Should that be the case, I can see no better way than using the Armed Forces for that purpose


    Then I am afraid you guessed incorrectly, but I can understand perhaps why some people look at things like compulsory “service”, either military or something else, to tackle problems of crime. But I object to this on various grounds:

    The armed forces are not branches of the penal system or some sort of “silver bullet” to solve society’s ills. Experienced soldiers, airmen and sailors frankly do not want troubled kids forced to join the ranks; in today’s increasingly high-tech military, such youngsters are more likely to be a hindrance. The case for volunteer armed forces is not merely on grounds of ethical principle but also good military sense.

    As for incarcerating errant youths or forcing them to join organisations of some kind, I only support depriving people of their liberty if they have been convicted of certain crimes and where the only viable punishment is to to do so. Restitution is often better: put yobs to work to pay off their damage.

    I also doubt the idea that somehow, we’ll get to unravel the state by things like compulsory service.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that we had the draft during the 1950s, when the size of government continued to grow. Socialism was at its height.

    We need to encourage self-responsibility and self reliance. Encouraging kids to work and earn a wage is the way to go, which is one reason why I am strongly opposed to raising the school-leaving age yet further and in fact would favour cutting it and encouraging apprenticeships.

  • RRS

    The legal systems and “killing” lawyers: (see, disclosure)

    The functions of lawyers in Hotspur’s day were obstructions to “absolute” rule.

    To some extent those functions continue, but as often, perhaps, they foster “absolute” rule.

    “Lawyers” are products of, not generators of, the legal systems. Their actions affect the operations of, but do not determine the functions of the systems.

    There is no general outcry to “kill all the teachers and all the academics” because of the defects in the educational systems. There seems to be some recognition that the systems are at the core of disatisfactions.

    With lawyers, this effect of the systems and the changes in them that have taken place have not been given adequate consideration.

    The legal systems in most of the “western” world are shaped and formed by the needs and desires of the populace which uses them. Thus, we have seen extensive changes over the past 100 years in what the “public” seeks from use of the institutions of its legal systems.

    There has been the growing use of the legal systems and their institutions to achieve a variety of objectives; departing from limited functions of resolution of conflicts, enforcement of obligations and social “order.” Those limited functions produced “lawyers” of a particular demeanor adapted to those limits. Amongst those changes have been the public acceptance (and expansion) of uses of those institutions to achieve personal, political and “social” objectives. The systems are becoming (in many cases have become) modes of “getting things done.”

    To become effective at “getting things done,” the systems have had to produce or attract personnel to operate the systems for those objectives. The functions of these personnel differ from those of the historic, but remembered past.

    This, of course, infects the Judiciary as well, as case law history readily shows.

    There seems to be a propensity of humankind to “befoul” the institutions that evolve (are established) as Adam Ferguson noted, from human actions, but without conscious human design, by loading onto to them functions which distort or pervert their parameters.

    Where this will lead with our legal systems remains to be seen, but we are observing the effects on the composition of those who “operate” the systems.

    Disclosure: Over 55 years at the bar, in more than one jurisdiction of the U.S., mostly in transactional law, and latterly in international matters; all without ever having intended to do any of that at the beginning.

  • Laird

    Johnathan is absolutely correct.

  • ian

    Tim Harford in his book ‘The Undercover Economist’ describes how China made the transition from a Communist planned economy to its present condition of massive economic growth. Essentially they did it by freezing the plans and allowing businesses to dispose of any surplus above plan requirements as they saw fit. They didn’t do it by a free for all as in the former Soviet Union, where what is emerging is an Oligarchy that would not be out of place in Jack London’s ‘Iron Heel’.

    The resultant rapid expansion very quickly made the state planning process irrelevant and all plans were abandoned I think within a decade.

    It seems to me that we could take a similar line by freezing all government budgets, all tax income and then increasing the threshold at which tax is paid over a few years. This economic process ignores of course all the other insidious ways in which the state is taking over our lives but it would be a start.

    I’m working on a more detailed analysis of how this might pan out and will post a draft soon.

  • Flash Gordon

    How about this: Look for a battle you can win. Do that. Get the win, and go to the next one. That’s a start.

    Some bloggers are doing that in Canada by taking on the so-called”Human Rights Commissions” which are little more than brown shirts against free speech. It’s looking like they will be successful in exposing these Nazis for what they are.

    The problem in Canada and the U.K. is that the people don’t really care much for freedom unless it has to do with drugs and sex. Don’t know what can be done about that except wait around for a hundred years and hope for a better generation.

  • Personally I would go with a big bang rather than trying to wear things down. Revolutionised society the same way that Margret Thatcher revolutionised the economy, by setting it free in one big blast. Yes there will be problems and plenty of squeals from the usual direction but I think that only by getting everything over and done with quickly is anything ever going to actually change.

    Simply giving things over to the state to sort out sounds seductively easy, even if it does not work. It would take a very strong politician to constantly resist the siren song of this easy answer for long enough for the salami slicing approach to work. Even Thatcher would have fallen to it eventually had she gone for the slow approach.

    There will be howls of protest (until we privatise the BBC and it actually has to produce stuff that most people want to watch) but by the time that anybody is in a position to do anything society will have adapted to living without an overbearing state producing solutions of its own that are in the main obviously better than what the state could do. These would therefore have a chance of being left alone reducing the scope of any regrowth of the big state, which would itself be temmed by the tax rises needed.

    P.S. I am too old now to fall into its grasp but really conscription is just wrong and not part of any solution. There are plenty of people in society that have been too mollycoddled by the state to have any self discipline but (even if conscription wasn’t fundimentally wrong) by the time the army would get at them it would be too late. That is the job for schools. Teaching them a bit of respect there would also have the added benefit of letting the ones that wanted to learn to learn without being constantly interupted.

  • wait around for a hundred years and hope for a better generation.

    As the new generation is educated in the universities – strongholds of leftist dogma and nonsense, the next generations will be worse, not better.

  • Gregory

    We are talking about people here, you know. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of ‘the unwashed masses’, but the average Joe is not really interested in a whole lot except to do his work, support his family, and relax on the weekend.

    I might as well say (as is obvious by now) that although I lean libertarian in some ways, I am not one. That is to say, I believe that there is a place for the coercive power of government to be wielded beyond national defence, and law enforcement (of property rights, if nothing else). Where I differ from other non-libertarians is only a matter of degree.

    There is no silver bullet. Even Christianity took 300 years to spread across the Roman Empire. You will never get a majority of people to care about much beyond their narrow scope of life experience, so to speak. All you can do is provide them the opportunity to do so, and this is what socialists in all their forms wish to eliminate.

    I don’t have many illusions, but I put it to you that whether you agree with their techniques or not, Singapore’s autocratic, almost dictatorial system of governance (and let’s forget the illusion of democracy they have, since they gerrymander to death over there) and universal military draft does exist, and there is a highly successful and fairly well-functioning society there.

    Whether this is ‘because of’, or ‘in spite of’, well, there’s room for argument. And that’s good. I argue that based on (admittedly few and anecdotally at that) my experience, it does work as a unifying force for Singaporean men – first thing they ask each other is where they served (and who was their hardass drill sergeant), and then the next thing you know they’re swapping barracks stories.

    So, Johnathan, you and I will probably have to agree to disagree on this matter. While I myself would not want to join my armed forces (I’m unfit, lethargic and love my food too much, and that’s just personal reasons), I might consider joining the US armed forces.

    True enough, military service is not necessarily for everyone, and you probably don’t want a deranged soldier with a loaded weapon running around. However, the discipline and ethos of the military cannot surely be worse than the current craziness and sense of entitlement being taught in government education systems all over the world.

    In that sense, and maybe in that sense only (I don’t have a clear position on this yet), it might not be so bad an idea to instill some of these values in our descendants.

    Besides, can you really force someone to do something he would do anyway? I mean, most boys are army-mad that way, aren’t they? Weapons-mad, at least.

  • DavidNcl

    Try googling for “singapore dictatorship” and exploring the results.

    Singapore may be wealthy and its people may be happy buti f that’s your model of a successful society, you can keep it.

    There may in extremis be case for the draft but short of real national emergency I equate the
    draft with a slave army and free peoples should have nothing to with slaves.

    Both the US and British Army are much better armys (from an effectiveness point of view) for not having the draft anymore.

  • mike

    Sadly, I do not hope to see a libertarian culture in Britain in my lifetime – even should I live to be a hundred years old (I am twenty eight).

    In the three years since I left England, I have come to this conclusion – all talk of reversal, of revolution, of abolishing this that or the other – all of it is delusion.

    Why just the other day, the European Commission signalled its’ intent to begin implementing its’ new constitution – quite in utter disregard for the fact that this historic document has yet to be ratified by member states, let alone receive a collective ‘oui’ from a even a single referendum!

    Yet some people continue to dance around beneath the moon under delusions of gradually and democratically rolling back the state!

    Consider this: the collectivist game is so far ahead of us, it’s chief actors could stand still for twenty years and we would still be struggling to merely undo the damage they have wrought.

    Although it may not be possible to roll back the state from across the country, it certainly is possible to gradually reduce its’ influence over the minds of individuals. The first of those individuals of course, ought to be ourselves.

  • Brock

    To roll back the State you have to start with cutting taxes. If you abolish an Arts Council or two and don’t cut back the funding the government will surely find a new way to spend it. If you cut back on the taxes the Arts Council will abolish itself when they stop getting paid.

    That being said, I’d be happy if they just froze the entitlements at today’s level of spending (or at least tied spending and retirement age to the rate of inflation and average life expectancy increases) and let econominc growth pull away from it. It won’t be marginalized as quickly as it was in China, but it would happen eventually.

    Depending on how much political support there was, and if the local Constitution allowed, there are a couple other things:

    1. Align the franchise with the burdens. If you pay taxes, you vote; if you don’t, you don’t. No one wholly dependent on the state (meaning children and pensioners, mostly) gets to vote. You simply can’t give people the right to take other people’s money by collective force. The only government employees who get to vote are police, military and judiciary. None of the others are necessary functions.

    2. Establish in the consciousness of the people that the right to own (and dispose of) property must be held on the same footing as the rights of speech, bearing arms, and democratic participation. Get the law to reflect that, by Constituional means if necessary.

    3. Once entitlements have worked their way out of the sytem, hard-code the total tax burden (counting all levels of government) to a maximum rate (say 12%) and also non-military spending to an absolute maximum % of GDP (you should never need more than 10%).

    I wouldn’t worry about establishing a sense of personal responsibility. People will develop that on their own pretty quick once the government stops cutting checks. Likewise, a lot of other wasteful luxuries of collectivism (like teachers unions) will be cut out pretty quick if the hard-coded tax limits force voters to choose between pampering to their demands and actually having books in classrooms.

  • The Libertarian party is, as of today, the party of reducto ad absurdum and seems unlikely to change in the immediate future.

    Government is all too similar to a living organism in that it must either grow at about 6% per year, or else think itself to be dying.

    Attacking the government in small stages looks too much like trying to kill a tiger with a pair of nail clippers. As soon as you begin to make real progress, it’s going to take notice, to your sorrow.

    The other problem with reversing the course of government bloat is finding intelligent, capable people who genuinely detest the nanny state, and convincing them to join it by running for office. Most of them would rather be out making money, and relocation is easier than mounting a siege.

    Meantime, I would suggest lobbying for independent charter schools, outside the regulation of government, as much as possible, and the establishment of “economic zones” free of regulation, again in so far as that’s possible.
    It may prove that the left will use them much as Stalin did the Kulaks, but in the shorter term they should prove to be good examples as to what the rest of the country could do if turned loose.

    Lastly, one should give up on the notion of “reasoned discourse” with the left. If you make the smallest point against them, they will accuse you of everything from capitalism to racism, so be prepared to respond with verbal artillery of, at minimum, the same caliber, and make sure the autocratic commie slackers get properly labeled, although this may not be easy in the autocratic commie slacker press, eh?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    In Singapore, we don’t really have a choice. The threat from our neighbors is very real, and while there are options for a few of us, like getting out and going to some other country, for the vast majority this is home. Not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to.

    A volunteer army would be too small. A mercenary army is simply unreliable. And mobilizing the population when an emergency does occur is just too late. We’re not the US, Russia, or China with huge hinterlands to absorb blows, mobilize, and regroup for another round. We’re a tiny red dot with only about 600 square kilometers. One strike to our collective glass chin and it’s over. The only way to protect that glass chin is to keep one hand on the gun in the holster and one eye on our neighbors. It’s a reality that has to be faced. Our pragmatism takes precedence over starry eyed idealism.

    So, conscription it is. And a good thing too, because it does drum some amount of responsibility into the minds of young adult males. Also, there are beneficial effects in keeping the rates of disease low(via reservist requirement of keeping fit), and social integration between all levels between the fighting men.

    In a way, it forces every male to BE a citizen from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers… the biggest difference being that we have to pay for our citizenship with two years of our lives. Well, it’s a fair trade. Guys who don’t want to serve can jolly well leave for greener pastures. There’s no force keeping them here to get conscripted, if you know what I mean.

    To be a citizen of any country carries with it several obligations, like acquiescing to the local laws, the unwritten cultural mores, a degree of loyalty to the state, etc. Being a Singaporean simply carries that extra condition of requiring military service.

    Rolling back government is pretty simple. You need to convince people of the crucial link between state welfare/charity and taxes. Once that’s done, cut the state out, and this will bring about a decrease in the tax rate. Use the momentum gained to bring about further tax cuts. Privatize the education and energy sectors. The resulting smaller government, by definition, would be less intrusive.

  • RRS

    Not meaning to drag this thread on, but there is so much emphasis in cutting back taxes (presumably as revenues for the governments) and little is noted about the “borrowing,” how much of the expenditures (provisions of benefits) is provided via borrowing (public debt increases) proportionatley to current taxxation intake.

    The real issue lies in The Functions of Governments., which in the U S and U K to some extent are at both local and federal or central levels. Example: Is it a function of your county, or local council to provide “affordable” housing? If so why, and how?

    Milton Friedman pointed our the importance of observing not how much is taxed, but how much is spent – and how.

  • The problem with attempting to act through the political system is that the system works, in large part, on patronage(Link): using unnecessary (from the point of view of society) government functions as a mechanism for rewarding supporters. We cannot win that game without becoming like the others.

    Any method of gaining power would fail for the same reason. A military coup would need to reward its supporters with spoils at least as much as a democratic party does.

    That does not mean we cannot make marginal improvements. Nor does it mean we cannot attempt to spread our way of thinking, though even there we are at a disadvantage because of the close links between the public debate and the political system.

  • Laird

    There are some good ideas in this thread, but RRS is correct: there is too much emphasis on cutting taxes. It simply won’t work. We (in the US) tried that once, in the early Reagan years. Taxes were cut substantially, with a promise from the Democratically-controlled Congress that spending cuts would follow. Most of us thought the tax cuts would “starve” Congress into submission, whether they wanted to or not, but we were naive and it was not to be: they simply reneged on their promises (what a surprise!) and financed their spending binge with borrowing. Mirable dictu, it worked!

    Later, at the beginning of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America”, when the newly-dominant Republicans in Congress tried to rein in spending it was they, and not President Clinton, who were excoriated for “shutting down the government.” The lesson was not lost on them. Now, Republicans have added their own twist to the formula the Democrats have followed for decades: “tax and tax, borrow and borrow, spend and spend, elect and elect.” No one but inconsequential policy wonks gives a rat’s behind about the national debt; it’s such a huge number that it’s meaningless.

    The best we could hope for would be to enact a Constitutional amendment (a simple statute wouldn’t be powerful enough) limiting government spending to some specified percentage of GDP (as Brock has suggested). In theory, this would force our representatives to do their job, make the hard choices, and fund only the most worthwhile programs. Unfortunately, the problems with this approach are legion: it takes a very long time to adopt a constitutional amendment; it is highly unlikely that Congress would ever pass such an amendment (as they would be limiting their own power) and there is no precedent for (or, apparently, any interest in) having the states call a Constitutional Convention; any such amendment which could be passed would undoubtedly set the spending limit far too high to have any meaningful effect at reducing the size of the federal government; and the politicized Supreme Court would undoubtedly twist the language to vitiate the intent. So while I really like the idea (I’ve proposed it myself in the past) I don’t think it could be made to work.

    Unfortunately, by this time nearly everyone has been co-opted by the system. The socialists have won; we all have a vested interested in keeping at least some portion of the current system intact, and we have all been conditioned to believe that we are entitled to continue receiving some benefit or other now provided by the government. Those of us over about 45 want our Social Security benefits (and we don’t give a damn if it bankrupts the country or puts an unbearable burden of our descendants); those receiving some form of welfare or other social services feel entitled to continue receiving them; big business (not so much the actual shareholders, who don’t really count, but the professional managerial class) wants its tax benefits and subsidies, its lucrative government contracts and a regulatory scheme which inhibits competition; the elitists can’t imagine a country without Public TV and radio, and the multitude of subsidies to the arts; and of course academia makes a wonderful living conducting governmentally-funded studies of meaningless subjects of interest only to those engaged in performing them. And of course we mustn’t forget the hordes of government employees whose livlihood depends upon a massive and ever-growing state. Simply stated, there is no almost one left with any interest in materially reducing the size of government, when such reduction would mean having our own personal ox gored.

    So I’m extremely pessimistic about our chances of having anything more than marginal success at shrinking the government. (I like Billll’s analogy of killing a tiger with nail clippers!) There will be no revolution; we’re all too fat and happy with the status quo. There will be no meaningful improvement until the whole house of cards collapses under its own weight, and the entire system breaks down. That won’t be a happy time. I hope I’m not still around then.

  • Sunfish

    Should we start with the little stuff (abolish the Arts Council, confine Polly Toynbee) or the Big Stuff (slash the Welfare State, abolish state eduction departments, repeal most taxes)?

    It might help to re-asset control over one’s own diet.
    US out of my lunch!

  • Gregory

    TWG: yeah, what he said!

    DavidNcl: see, that’s the point. There are ways of creating workable societies that are not necessarily democratic, nor libertarian. I point out that any form of government has not been proven to work consistently and continually for more than 200 years (not even empires last that long without a civil war or two every two centuries on average). In Singapore, exigiencies were taken in order to assure survival. It is likely that in Malaysia, the same regimented system would only lead to male conscripts trying to sneak into the dorms of the female conscripts. Can we not agree that like organisms, different political systems have to optimise themselves in different ways? Some systems, such as socialism and communism, need to go the way of the dodo, of course. But others might well survive.

    Sunfish: Yeah! Leave my food alone!

  • Paul Marks

    RSS is correct.

    If a politician has no record of opposing government SPENDING (not just opposing higher taxes) then he is a waste of space.

    In the United States the minimum that should be asked is that a politician has a record of opposing obvious political scams – such as the eth subsidies and government “insuance” plans as well as “earmarks”. And they must have a record of supporting entitlment program reform.

    They must NOT be people who have added new government programs such as “no-child-left-behind”.

    All the above is why (whatever one thinks of the wars) that President Bush is useless.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    So, Johnathan, you and I will probably have to agree to disagree on this matter. While I myself would not want to join my armed forces (I’m unfit, lethargic and love my food too much, and that’s just personal reasons), I might consider joining the US armed forces.

    I don’t follow your logic. You don’t want to join the services, but you might.

    True enough, military service is not necessarily for everyone,


    “and you probably don’t want a deranged soldier with a loaded weapon running around.”


    However, the discipline and ethos of the military cannot surely be worse than the current craziness and sense of entitlement being taught in government education systems all over the world.

    So we need to solve those systems, not enlarge other ones.

    Conscripting people into the services, where they have to undergo all such rigours, including the risk of death or serious injury, is something for rather more serious things than yobs on the streets or as a tactical move towards a different type of society.

    I am also unconvinced that forcing people to serve their country in some military or other way is likely to encourage that healthy skepticism towards big government which is at the core of the main issue of my posting. About the only “good” that could come from conscription is unwittingly encouraging hostility towards authority among those who loathe the whole idea.

  • Sunfish

    As an aside about the “value” of conscription:

    It thoroughly destroyed the US army in the Vietnam/post-Vietnam era. Slavery destroys the morale of the slaves, which means that they do nothing useful. As a result, our army was a rotted-out hulk from the end of Vietnam up until Reagan’s presidency.

    Had the Soviets decided that in 1977 they wanted Germany and France, the US would not have been much help.

    You can usually force people to show up. You can’t force them to train or to be competent. And that’ll leave you with people who might be barely functional in one job but completely worthless at everything else. Unfortunately, armies need more than a few million cooks and janitors, but you can’t wave a magic wand and turn a high school pothead into an artillery forward observer or a medic or a military policeman.

    To say nothing about the actual right or wrong of this. Most readers already know how I feel about slavery.

    One thing that usually gets left out of these discussions: the US military hates the idea. Having 1-2 million somewhat hand-picked people is one thing. If they have to take everyone who turned 18 that year, they can’t be selective and they end up with the people who get turned away or thrown out right now in the middle of a war.

  • Laird

    I enlisted in the US Army in 1970, at the height of the Viet Nam war when the draft was in full swing. I emerged (unscathed) in 1973, after the draft had been abolished and we had transitioned into an all-volunteer army. Thus I was well positioned to see the results of both policies, and can tell you that an all-voluneer army is far superior. Yes, with the draft we had a much higher percentage of people with college degrees (their deferrments had run out and they couldn’t escape any longer). However, they were angry, cynical, unmotivated soldiers and I’m sure they were very difficult to manage (not being an officer, that wasn’t my problem so I can’t speak from experience on that score). In contrast, the volunteers actually wanted to be there, and it showed. On average they were younger and had less formal education, but that’s not necessarily a liability; they were motivated and trainable.

    So, leaving aside the morality of a draft (and I do have strong views on such involuntary servitude; has anyone bothered to read the 13th Amendment?), experience has shown that as a simple matter of effectiveness it’s a failure. The only people who argue for a draft are doing so for reasons of a political agenda totally unrelated to fairness, morality, or even military effectiveness.

  • Gregory

    Dear Johnathan;
    To resolve my logic, simply add as a premise that I am not a US citizen, but Malaysian, and that the Malaysian Armed Forces are a different animal compared to, say, the US Marine Corps. So while I do not want to eat Granny Smiths, I might eat Fujis. Which analogy is actually true too.

    I’m sure there is plenty of room for disagreement on this matter, even on a blog such as this. I do take your point about encouraging healthy skepticism; and point out that several f*ups at the political level resulting in a degardation of military effectiveness and potential loss of life would help tremendously at the ground-pounding level.

    And while I don’t think the Spartan society is anything we want to emulate in any sense, it did work out for them in the short to medium term (arguably long term, but I won’t want to make that argument).

    I guess the value of conscription would depend on the attitude of people to the whole thing, and devolve into a catch-22. But just think about the amount of crap our schools force students to do already – sports clubs, academic clubs, library time, for us here Moral lessons, extracurricular activities galore. It won’t exactly be difficult to consolidate into some kind of ROTC or Boot Camp scenario.

    And once the ‘right values’ have been inculcated, THEN a great deal of government can be dismantled. At least in some parallel universe.