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British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

What is “Social Reform”? Social Reform is the idea that increasing government spending and/or regulations reduces poverty or other “social ills” (sickness and so on) and it is the idea that has dominated British thinking since the late 19th century. Liberal Party “Radical Joe” Chamberlain of Birmingham (so beloved by Prime Minister May) outlined his program of using government to improve life (the central idea of “Social Reform”) in 1865 – but Liberal Party Manchester had already taken over such things as the provision of water and gas and undertaken various other “Social Reforms” in the years after the Act of 1835 set up modern local government in the cities and towns, replacing the old “Closed Corporations” – apart from in the one-square-mile City of London that has kept its Closed Corporation to this day.

Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli made it compulsory for local government to do about 40 Social Reforms (i.e. perpetual government spending functions) in 1875 – whether local tax payers wanted this or not. And J.S. Mill stated in 1848 (in his “Principles of Political Economy”) that “everyone agreed” (by which Mr Mill meant that he and his friends agreed – no opponent counted as part of “everyone”) that local government should do X,Y, Z, to help the people. Liberal Party Prime Minister Gladstone agreed in 1870 that School Boards be set up in most of the country (some towns, such as the one I am sitting in, refused to have one – but were forced to have one some 20 years later) to build state schools on the Prussian model – although denying they would be like the Prussian schools. And Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli put unions above the Common Law in 1875 – by allowing “picketing” (obstruction) and giving the unions immunity from some claims of civil damage. This was part of the theory that wages and conditions of work should not be determined by the market (by supply and demand) but by “collective bargaining” – basically (as W.H. Hutt explained in the “Strike Threat System”) of “give us what we want – or we will not allow people to go in or our of your place of business, at least we will make it very difficult for them to do so”. Conservative Party Disraeli was a Social Reformer – he had no love for “capitalists” believing (or half believing) that they “exploited” people, and Liberal Party Mr J. S. Mill had much the same opinion (indeed a more radical one) – longing for the day when workers co-ops would replace the “capitalists”.

Since about 1870 the British state has grown – not just spending more money, but spending more money even as a proportion of the economy (leading to a rise in taxes over time). In the early 19th century the state, at least as a proportion of the economy shrank – since the 1870s it has grown. Also the early 19th century witnessed deregulation – the repeal of various restrictions and edicts. From the 1870s onwards there has been a massive increase in regulation – with the state seeking to control every aspect of life, much the like the last years of Queen Elizabeth the First when there was an orgy of statute passing, often quite demented statutes such as the “Statute of Artificers” which tried to make everyone follow the occupation of their parents, there were also attempts to tie people to the parish of their birth and other throwbacks to the late Roman Empire (the Emperor Diocletian and all that).

However in the Tudor Age passing “laws” (based on the idea that the government “makes law” like a carpenter makes furniture) was largely symbolic, at least for people in much of the country, as the Tudor state (unlike the states of Continental Europe) did not really have the professional Civil Service to actually enforce its “laws”. Some people claim that Thomas Cromwell wanted to build such a professional Civil Service, but in reality his “Revolution” in government (the old claim of Professor Eldon and others) was still born – as Thomas Cromwell was executed largely at the instigation of the Duke of Norfolk (whom he had insulted by having the family tombs of the Howard family destroyed with the monastic house they were in – rather than allowing the Duke to turn the monastic chapel into a church in order to save the family tombs). The late Victorian state had a professional Civil Service (on the Chinese or Prussian model) selected by examinations and highly effective in putting regulations into practice. And the time was gone when the gentry or aristocracy could have administrators who insulted their families (or the ordinary people the great families represented in various parts of the country) executed. Certainly the industrial revolution could not have occurred if all the Tudor regulations had actually been enforced (hat tip to the late T.S. Ashton “The Industrial Revolution” for this point) – but up in places such as Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire most people had never heard of the various ravings that came out of London in the 16th century, as the only government in these areas was unpaid Justices of the Peace (mostly local landowners) who had no time for or interest in “planning society” or trying to recreate the semi totalitarian nightmare of the post Diocletian Roman Empire, although they did enforce the Poor Law (and its tax did great harm – especially under the “Speenhamland” system of wage subsidies that grow up from the 1790s till it was repealed in 1834). In the late 19th century someone like Prime Minister Disraeli could have Parliament pass a “law” and rather than everyone then forgetting about it (even people “south of the river” – just over the Thames from the City of London tended to ignore a lot Tudor stuff) the regulation would be enforced all over the country – by dedicated (and paid) “public servants” whom one could not threaten or bribe to just go away.

The difference is a basic one. The old state could come in, destroy things (such as monastic houses) and murder people it did not like (for theological or other reasons) – but then it would go away, and the landowning families (having bent to whatever theological or other ravings were coming out of London) would get back to running things – improving their farming estates (in order to make more money) and, from the 18th century onwards, investing in local industry. For the idea that industrial revolution was financed by “slavery” or “the Empire” (two different things) is a myth – it was mostly financed at first by domestic farming and then by reinvested profits made by satisfying domestic demands. The new state, from the late 19th century onwards, did not go away – it had statistics (for example the census every ten years starting in 1801 and the Births, Marriages and Deaths Registration Act of 1836) and a professional Civil Service selected by examination who were actually interested in enforcing the ravings of the state (its new “laws” from Parliament and the regulations derived from them) rather than just in getting as much as they could for themselves and then spending it on whores (like 17th or 18th century “public servants” in London). Thus “Social Reform” became a reality. People such as the Liberal Party J.S. Mill (who followed the ideas of family mentor Jeremy Bentham – with his 13 Departments of State staffed by dedicated public servants out to help people be happy) or the Conservative Party Disraeli were not speaking to empty space (like 16th century thinkers such as Thomas “Utopia” Moore or John Hales)- their words could be put into effect. Both local and central government were now professional and full time (at least in their staff – politicians come and go, but the Civil Service and Local Government Officers, the dream of Jeremy Bentham and the “Westminster Review” Radicals, are for ever, and dedicated to Social Reform). Britain now had an administrative structure like that of Spain under Philip II or France under Louis XIV and people (Liberals and Conservatives) bewitched by the supposed success of professional government under Frederick the Great of Prussia – generally agreed that it was a Good Thing (T.M.).

That it was not the countries with “enlightened” professional governments that had agricultural and industrial revolutions – but silly old Britain with its “mixture of feudalism and anarchy” (as Mr Jeremy Bentham sneered at 18th century British government) did not seem to occur to most of the “intellectuals”. Bewitched as they were by the idea of “Social Reform”.

There is a basic problem with “Social Reform” – one which goes to its very core. Increasing government spending and regulations does NOT improve things – not in relation to what they otherwise would have been, in fact it makes things WORSE than they otherwise would have been.

French economists in the 19th century (the Say family, Frederick Bastiat and others) explained this very well – working from first principles to show that government spending and regulations did not make most people better off than they otherwise would be, but (in fact) made most people worse off than otherwise would be. Even if the “public servants” were totally honest and selected on merit (as with the desire of J.S. Mill and the rest of the Westminster Review people). ECONOMIC LAW showed that Social Reform (i.e. the increase of government spending and regulations) did not help the poor – it, compared to what would otherwise happen over time, made the poor worse off than they otherwise would be.

In France the arguments of the economists were so strong that the government had to create a new subject “Public Administration” to get pet “intellectuals” who (from the late 19th century onwards) argue that France should imitate Prussia-Germany (as the success of Prussia-Germany in the War of 1870 showed, as far as the pet intellectuals were concerned that Prussia must be right about everything) in endless “Social Reform”.

In the United States such economists as A.L. Perry (a follower of the French economist Bastiat) were by passed by a new breed of economist (led by Richard Ely – the mentor of both President Teddy Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson) who were versed in “Pragmatist” philosophy (denying laws of objective truth – including in economics) and German “Historical School” economics (also denying laws of objective truth – including in economics) and dedicated to Progressive Social Reform.

But in Britain things were a bit different – one can not really point to a revolution against laissez faire (please note this is a French language term, not an English language one) economics – as British economists (or at least most of them) do not seem to have really believed in it in the first place. Certainly economists such as J.S. Mill paid lip service to it from time to time (most certainly he paid lip service to laissez faire) – but they kept coming up with proposals for the state to do more rather than less. They were committed to the idea of Social Reform and they never really questioned its basic assumptions – or allowed for the possibility that even if public servants were entirely honest and professional they COULD NOT make the population better off than they otherwise would be – indeed that their efforts to help would do more harm and good. Increasingly “laissez faire” became redefined to mean “free trade” (meaning international trade) not “get the government out of the way at home”. Although YES, as already stated, in the early 19th century there was a reduction the size of the state (as a proportion of the economy) and the formal repeal of old Tudor “laws” – which the unpaid Justices of the Peace had often ignored anyway.

Sometimes this expansion of government was partly out of fear of socialists and others – for example Walter Bagehot says (in “The English Constitution” 1868) that “we should concede whatever it is safe it safe to concede” – and at this point mainstream British liberalism (not just Radicalism) stops having any connection with making the state smaller and becomes about making the state bigger, but in a civilised and orderly way – see any issue of the “Economist” publication (of which Mr Bagehot was the third editor) today – it pays lip service to “free enterprise” and so on, whilst nearly always supporting more benefits and “public services” – the heart of “Social Reform” from the 1870s onwards. But it was mainly a real commitment to Social Reform – a commitment to the idea that the state, if in honest and professional hands, (not nasty landowners and corrupt officials out to line their own pockets) could “do good” and make the lives of “the people” better than they would otherwise be.

This central idea of Social Reform is (as stated above) is contradicted by basic economic law – which shows that increasing government spending and regulations makes things worse (not better) than they otherwise would be. But even in 1883 when Herbert Spencer published “The Man Versus The State” a British thinker who pointed this out was considered a bit of freak – Social Reform (“Public Services” and so on) was, and is, the religion of the age. Heretics who question it, in Britain or most anywhere else, are either ignored or treated as monsters who want to harm the poor.

It is quite true that there is a dissenting faction of the Republican Party (a minority faction actually) in the United States that really does have fundamental doubts about Social Reform – about the idea that government can make the lives of people better, rather than worse. But the last Republican President who really acted on the basis of a principled opposition to the central idea of Social Reform was not Ronald Reagan (who actually tended to agree to increased spending and regulations – if they were strongly pushed by others), but Calvin Coolidge. At the very time that Conservative Party Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was boasting that for the first time in history the British government was spending more on Social Reform than on national defence, President Calvin Coolidge did not believe in Federal benefits or public services for the masses at all (a massive ideological gulf between two men that the history books describe as “conservatives”). But most American Republicans tend to go-with-the-flow (witness the increase in the Sales Tax in Republican South Dakota – the money raised is to be thrown at teacher pay, in the hope that the education of the people will magically improve), and people who believe the government should be SMALLER, such as Senator Ted Cruz, are outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. President Donald Trump with his belief that government can make things “great” or “terrific” for the people is very much the spirit-of-the-age – indeed the media and education system denounce President Trump for not believing in Social Reform (i.e. ever bigger government) enough. And they denounce President Trump for the incredible heresy of thinking that government programs, such as Obamacare, can sometimes actually FAIL and if they fail should be REPEALED. The Economist publication can hardly contain its hatred and scorn for such heretics. Of course no government benefit or “public service” should ever be repealed – only an evil reactionary could entertain such an idea. Government benefits and public services are sacred, their expansion is Social Reform – to which all decent people (of whatever political party in the world) are, or should be, committed. Otherwise a person is outside the enlightened establishment elite – they are a heretic to be destroyed.

In fact, of course, President Trump is not really in favour of smaller government (only a handful of Republicans really want smaller government) – he has just noticed that Obamacare has failed and thinks that government should deliver its impossible promises in some other way. The fact that impossible promises can-not be delivered (because they are impossible) does not occur to him. But the very fact that he commits the heresy of pointing out that a particular government welfare scheme has failed (has made things worse not better) makes him a beast to be destroyed. Government benefits and public services can not make things worse – it is blasphemy to even suggest that they make things worse. The state is God! At least the only God the establishment elite really believe in – and not just in Britain, just about everywhere. And economic law (reason) is not going to be allowed to stand in the way of Social Reform.

21 comments to British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

  • bobby b


    Still reading and digesting, but one question pops up:

    You’ve focused before on the South Dakota sales tax funding of education. You clearly think poorly of it.

    I’m wondering why? What brought your focus on this? I have some knowledge of it, and nothing about it seems excessive or unfair or unwarranted. SD was paying its teachers between 20% and 40% less than its neighboring surrounding states, and was losing experienced teachers to those states at an alarming rate. (An average teacher in SD in 2013 made about $39k compared to $58k in Wyoming, $50k in Montana, and $48k in North Dakota.)

  • Chester Draws

    My issue is that you are treating “making people better off” in terms of social reform and economics as if they were the same thing.

    People can be better off collectively without most being better off individually. A heavily skewed income distribution might have a high mean income yet a very low median one, such as we see in Saudi Arabia today. The average Saudi person would be better off if the mean was lower and the median higher. This means the economy is “worse”, if you focus on the level of abstract economy rather than actual people.

    Compulsory third party insurance for cars is another case. We are all slightly less well off, because we have to pay for a service. But individuals will less often have their expensive cars written off with no hope of getting the money back from someone with no assets. We all lose very slightly so that no-one takes all the losses on the chin.

  • bobby b


    Still reading and digesting, but another question pops up:

    The Mandarin class grows and becomes important not only in how it runs the Deep State, but in its raw numbers – in its votes. In some states in the USA, the state itself (fed, state, and local gov) is one of the largest employers.

    What would be your visceral reaction to depriving certain classes of people of the vote?

    Specifically the Mandarin class?

    This is somewhat related to the issue of, should government employees be able to unionize, and thus bargain with themselves at the citizens’ expense? I suspect I know your answer to that question, but would you extend it as far as the prime democratic imperative that everyone should be able to vote?

    I know that I would.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b.

    I was really shaken by the South Dakota tax increase – partly because it is (or was) the lowest government spending State in the United States and has been Republican dominated all my adult life.

    Think about it – a Republican Governor and a Republican State Legislature decided to increase the Sales Tax (which in South Dakota applies to everything even food – this was literally increasing the tax on the food of the poor and forcing them to turn to government “Food Stamps”) and for what purpose? To throw money at teacher pay – i.e. the pay of people who (mostly) openly DESPISE Republicans, who would never vote for Republicans and who do their “best” to make children hate and despise everything conservative.

    Why? Why? Why?

    The power of ideology – a ideological hegemony of the left that means that even their enemies throw taxpayer money at the left (in this case the government teachers) because to do so is “good”. As long as Republicans (and British Conservatives and so on) believe it is “good” to throw tax money at their sworn enemies……. well things will get worse and worse.

    The Mandarin Class.

    I have a theory that Jeremy Bentham and James Mill and John Stuart Mill were not nearly as important in the early 19th century as we are taught they were.

    Think about it – who controls the modern education system? The “Mandarin Class” – people who think that Mr Bentham’s idea of 13 Departments of State covering just about everything is wonderful (although they might not think the number of departments should be 13 – they might have some other number in mind).

    But why should a small group of people in the early 19th century be important in their own culture and society? After all none of these people had any academic position or was even well qualified – so why should anyone listen to them? Also they were atheists (the state was their God) in an overwhelmingly religious society – they (Bentham and the Mills and so on) denied the very existence of the soul (even in a NON religious sense – the “I”).

    Even J.S. Mill (the one of the group who seems to have had doubts) refers to “the light of Hume” in relation to the human mind – the “light of Hume” was actually the darkness of Hume his “explaining” (as in “explaining away”) of the human mind, and the denial that the “I” (the human moral agent) even existed – with various sophistry such as a-thought-does-not-imply-a-thinker, of course a thought means a thinker and if thinkers do not exist (if there are no persons) does this not apply to Mr Hume himself? How is he a person and other people not persons? And if Mr Hume is not “really” an “I” (because there are no moral agents – there is no “I”) then why not feed him to a pack of dogs or use his body to make soap?

    Very few people in the early 19th century really thought that David Hume won the argument against Thomas Reid and others in the 18th century – but the Westminister Review crowd (Bentham and the Mills – and hangers on) clearly thought so. Just as they thought that Thomas Hobbes was correct in the 17th century – indeed they had the complete works of Thomas Hobbes put in every library in the United Kingdom, NOT the opponents of Hobbes (they did not pay any money to put the complete works of Ralph Cudworth and co in every library in the United Kingdom) – just Hobbes.

    Think about it – these people (the Westminster Review crowd – who used the words “freedom” and “liberty” in every other sentence) were paying to push the works of a man (Thomas Hobbes) who believed that “people” were just flesh robots and that the state should have unlimited and absolute power.

    Why did they become important?

    Was it “literary style”? I do not know anything about literary style (“that is obvious Paul”) – but I think I can write sort-of this way.

    “Freedom, freedom, freedom, liberty, liberty, liberty – therefore the state should spend more money and give me a job in a newly created department”.

    Does that make me a “great writer”? Why not? I am just boiling down their message.

    How did they become important?

    They MADE THEMSELVES important – they pushed and pushed and pushed for a professional bureaucracy (first in India and then in Britain itself) and made sure they were the ones who had influence upon it – and, eventually, that meant influence over the universities as well (although they were dead by the time the universities finally fell).

    Yes they were NOT socialists – but they led to them.

    They created the “Mandarin Class” and the next logical step after this form of “liberalism” is Fabian socialism.

    Mr Bentham and co eventually lead to Mr and Mrs Webb and the rest of the Fabians.

    One can not get to the Bill of Rights (limiting government) from the philosophy of the Westminster Review crowd (for all their endless talk of “freedom” and “liberty”) and that is not a bug – it is a feature. One is not MEANT to get to the Bill of Rights by these people.

    James McCosh (1811 to 1894) the great defender of the philosophy that is the foundation of the American Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, concentrated on J.S. Mill in his examination of the group (the above group) – because J.S. Mill was the one who really does seem to have had doubts. With J.S. Mill the use of the words “liberty” and “freedom” is NOT a scam (as it very much was with Hobbes or Bentham) – John Stuart Mill really did care about the freedom of individual human persons (i.e. he believed they existed), and was very much a man in torment. In torment because he never really freed himself from philosophical influences that lead to the conclusion that human persons (and therefore the freedom of human persons) do-not-exit.

  • Paul Marks

    Chester Draws – I could go on about the basic principles of economics (which as Richard Whately pointed out in the 1820s are logical – do not depend on experience) but you would just dismiss what I was saying as too abstract – and perhaps you would be correct.

    So simply look at the United States.

    Do you really think that New York and California (the two principle Big Government “Social Justice” places in the United States) are egalitarian?

    These places have done the things Progressives suggest – sky high tax rates on “the rich”, vast government spending (and not on the military), endless regulations……

    And if anyone thinks they are more (not less) equal places than most of the United States (the less “enlightened” areas) then I have a nice bridge to sell to such a person.

    Of course the left play tricks, such as presenting poverty figures without taking the cost-of-living into account (who is that supposed to fool?) – but everyone knows these Progressive “liberal” places are Hell holes for poor people.

    And they did NOT use to be – in fact California and New York State (within living memory) were the best places on Earth (in the whole world) for ordinary people to go and start a new life. What changed? Progressive policies arrived – that is what changed.

    The left love the poor – that is why they try and make more and more people poor, and dependent on the government. The government the left control.

    A hundred years ago it was called the “Curley Effect” – drive many business enterprises out of Boston and make people dependent on the city government, the city government controlled by Mayor Curley.

  • Mr Ed

    Wouldn’t this post make a splendid opening speech at this year’s Conservative Party Conference? However, there is more chance that Hillary would be invited to do a speech than the Sage of Kettering.

  • Paul Marks

    On economics.

    Where did the economics of the Social Reformers first come from?

    David Ricardo – yes I know, “laissez faire”, but was it?

    Yes they used the term – but what about their actual doctrines.

    David Ricardo did indeed push free trade and so on – jolly good. But that is not all he pushed.

    The two principle doctrines that James Mill and John Stuart Mill took from family friend David Ricardo were the Labour Theory of Value and his theory LAND and RENT.

    The late Murray Rothbard was wrong about a lot of things – but he was right about the history of economics, including what the two Mills took from Ricardo.

    They did not need to take free trade arguments from Ricardo (one can find those in many thinkers – for example Tucker Dean of Gloucester in the 18th century or Sir Dudley North as far back as the 17th century, and many others), they got the Labour Theory of Value from Ricardo and they got the theory of LAND and RENT from Ricardo.

    Adam Smith got confused as he got older (that happens to a lot of us – including me), the Germans politely call this the “Adam Smith problem. For example the young Adam Smith had no problem with any “paradox of value”, he knew that we do not (for example) value ALL diamonds against ALL water – we value a specific diamond against a specific amount of water in specific circumstances.

    So there is no “paradox of value” and (also) no need for a Labour Theory of Value. But as he got older Adam Smith started to get confused about value – and this led (to some extent) to the Labour Theory of Value – that the value of something was dependent on the amount of work put into producing it.

    David Ricardo took the Labour Theory of Value and turned it from hints and confusion to a fully grown “scientific” theory.

    It is totally wrong – absolute rubbish, but it is IMPORTANT rubbish.

    It is important rubbish because it leads to the “exploitation” theory – David Ricardo did not produce this, but others did (on the basis of his work).

    The theory that “capitalists” “exploit” “the workers” by “extracting some of the value” that the workers produce.

    That is not just Karl Marx – it is also present in the thought of J.S. Mill and leads him to the love of workers coops.

    How did Mr J.S. Mill reply to the refutation of the Labour Theory of Value by Richard Whately, Samuel Bailey, and other economists of his time?

    He did not – essentially he pretended they had never attacked the Labour Theory of Value and that the “theory of value is settled”, that was what he had been taught to do (both in the Westminster Review group – and by the memory of the “Bowood Circle” of Bentham and others many years before).

    When an opponent is giving you serious trouble (when you can not refute what they are saying) PRETEND THEY DO NOT EXIST OR HAVE NOT SAID ANYTHING.

    Not exactly the approach suggested in “On Liberty” – but a very effective method, we call it today “shoving things [and people] down the Memory Hole” (from Mr Orwell’s “1984”).

    Richard Whately was Professor of Political Economy at Oxford – but Mr Mill controlled what text book future students would be taught (his own “Principles of Political Economy” 1848) so students did not know that the Labour Theory of Value had been refuted (not just by Whately but my many economists – both British and Continental) – so the farce goes on till the 1870s – when Carl Menger has to refute this stuff all-over-again.

    And the theory of LAND and RENT?

    For centuries the bed rock of resistance to over mighty government in this land were the landowners – mainly the gentry and the aristocracy.

    What does Ricardo’s theory of land and rent do to their moral legitimacy?

    It pours acid on it.

    It turns the bed rock of the British Whigs for centuries into the bad guys (the targets) of the Westminster Review “liberals”.

    For, of course, the “Free Trade in land” movement was not really about ending entails and so on – it was really a front for LAND NATIONALISATION – and that became obvious later in the 19th century.

    Yes the Ricardian theory of land and rent was refuted later by the American economist Frank Fetter – but the damage had been done.

    The landowning gentry and aristocracy, the traditional limitation on government, was morally undermined – and on purpose.

  • Paul Marks

    Lastly there is the phony “debate” – constructed by taking awful thinkers and presenting them as “the alternatives”.

    For example taking the National Socialists who had a rally in Virginia (Charlottesville – although I keep thinking it was Alexandra) and the Marxists who opposed them as “the alternatives” – saying (in effect) “pick one”.

    Perhaps the worst example of this was a little essay I was given to read at University College London (many years ago).

    Now that college is Bentham land (he was still there – stuffed in a case, the form of “immortality” he believed in)- but this essay was by J.S. Mill.

    It was on liberals and conservatives.

    Who did Mr Mill pick as a leading “liberal”?

    Jeremy Bentham – he of 13 Departments of State and rights are “nonsense” and natural rights are “nonsense on stilts”.

    If Bentham is a typical liberal – then liberalism is vile, it is nothing to do with defending “freedom” and “liberty”, not philosophically and not politically either. Indeed liberalism, IF Mr Bentham is a representative “liberal” then “liberalism” is about DESTROYING liberty. It is about “Social Reform”.

    And who does Mr Mill pick as the conservative spokesman?

    The obvious person would have been Edmund Burke – whose works were coming out in a complete edition in the 1820s (the Rivington edition of the complete works) and who was cited by conservatives more than anyone else.

    But Mr Mill does not pick the “Old Whig” Edmund Burke (no, Burke is for the “Memory Hole”) – he picks the poet Colderidge.

    A classic “straw man” – a drug abusing poet with demented views on economics, that is who Mr Mill picks as a representative conservative for his essay.

    When Mr John Stuart Mill is in this mood (not when he is in more honest moods – for he was a very complicated man) he would be suitable for a job with CNN or the BBC or the rest of the “mainstream” media.

    A classic FAKE choice – Big Government (and human person denying) Jeremy Bentham as the representative “liberal” and a poet with no political experience or political knowledge presented as the representative “conservative”.

    That is the “choice” we are offered.

    “Social Reform” either way.

  • H Storey

    Thanks Paul. Your literacy style may not be up to Shakespeare (who I suspect might have held closet libertarian views) but I always get something from what you write. Don’t always agree.

    Chester D. Focusing on abstract economy seems a reasonable way of measuring potential good for an individual, not the only one. The compulsory third party thing I think is a distraction. And it goes beyond the common good issue. There is freedom, or none.

  • EdMJ

    Very interesting Paul. Have you considered writing a book on all this? “An Economic History of Britain from a Classical Liberal Perspective” or something. Or is there something you’d recommend in its place instead?

    Also, are you planning to go into more depth on the Fabians? I came across this the other day (via The Milner-Fabian Conspiracy) the other day, would be interested to hear what you thought about it.

  • jamesg

    Having recently built an extension in a protected area I experienced the insanity of numerous regulations first hand. Some lessons:

    – Employing someone who was high up in the planning dept. but now gone private made everything much more likely to get the nod.

    – You will be expected to do two impossibly contradictory things if that’s what the rules say.

    – If a regulation creates an unsolvable problem then no one will help until you find a way to cheat that they are happy to overlook.


    – There are lots of things you can ignore if they don’t really have a mechanism to force you to do them.

    – The bureaucrats are often easily persuadable with the right approach. If you’re an attractive female dealing with largely middle-aged men doing a repetitive task you can get special treatment for sure.

    It was the arbitrary and unknowable mix of completely rigid rules and malleable rules that was so crazy.

  • David Roberts

    Paul I accept your outline of the fell hand of statist thought and action. Look though at the world we inhabit. Health, longevity and prosperity as never before. See any presentations by the late Hans Rosling. Certainly without the handicaps you describe, the world could be even better, but in comparison to the progress, the handicaps are small.

  • Thailover

    You get more of what you subsidize. Subsidize poverty and you get MORE poverty, not less. Subsidize “social ills” and you get more social ills. As I’ve said before, poverty is not lack of wealth/money. That’s merely a symptom of poverty, and it surely isn’t a lack of other people’s money. Poverty is not knowing how to create and keep one’s own wealth.

    And “Public Service” is forcing people to pay for things they don’t want. Things that people want are capable of being commercial successes.

  • Paul Marks

    David – I agree that living standards are higher, but that is inspite of the massive expansion of the state, not because of it. And we are also riding-for-a-fall.

    The present Credit Bubble financial economy, and the vast government spending it sustains (the governments did not bail out the banks out of kindness – they are joined at the hip, of the Credit Bubble banks fall so does Big Government) can not be sustained.

    Governments can not, for ever, provide all the basic needs of life for most people – it is just unsustainable. One ends up with a situation such as CHICAGO where the government spending commitments (even to their own staff – pensions and so on) can not be afforded.

    Generations of school children are brought up on “The Jungle” about how evil Chicago was under capitalism – even though Upton Sinclair admitted that he MADE UP many of the incidents in that book (workers falling into the machines and being used for meat – and the rest of the stuff that is pushed at the gullible young), bu they are not told that hundreds of people are mudered in Chicago right now (every year) and that the city is heading for bankruptcy.

    If capitalism was so evil why did people travel hundreds (indeed thousands) of miles to go to Chicago in capitalist times?

    And if post capitalism is so good (with the “evil” factories shut down by noble government taxes and regulations) why are people fleeing Chicago?

    And a lot more will flee this (and many other parts of the post capitalist world) when the Credit Bubble sustained Welfare States finally collapse.

  • Paul Marks


    People find it hard to read my stuff – so a book is out of the question. Even the short book (doctoral thesis) that I wrote on Edmund Burke did not go down well, although I doubt that the people in charge of judging it ever actually read it (they never quoted from it – or disputed any of the evidence or argument within it), indeed their real problem with it was the name “Paul Marks” as the writer.

    The Fabians – they just take the arguments of Jeremy Bentham (and his Westminster Review fans) to their “logical” conclusion. The state should set up departments to cover not just a lot of things (as with Bentham), but EVERYTHING (as with Mr and Mrs Webb).

    They also take the economics of David Ricardo to its “logical” conclusion (which Ricardo himself did NOT) – private land ownership and rent are evil, and capitalist employment is “exploitation” (due to the Labour Theory of Value).

    The late Bertrand Russell regarded his socialism as the logical development of 19th century liberalism – and IF by “liberalism” one means Mr Bentham and his followers, it is hard to disagree with the late Bertrand Russell.

    There is also the Mandarin Class – set up under the influence of Bentham and the Mills.

    What at they for? And what are all the statistics they demand for?

    Why bother demanding things like a census (Britain did not have census for centuries and got on very well thank you) or the 1836 Births, Marriages and Deaths (Registration) Act if you are not going to do anything with all this information?

    Walter Bagehot (third editor of the Economist magazine that I so despise) mocked an “old woman” for saying that the Census was socialism (for if the government could demand to know who lived in your house – what could it not demand to know?) but the “old woman” had a point. And real liberals (there were some real liberals in the 19th century – indeed many people in the Old Whig tradition) opposed such things as the INCOME TAX because it meant that the government had to know everything about one’s life – the income tax destroys the very idea of a private sphere, the government can not allow it to be private (it has to know all about your “doings” so that it can tax them).

    And the “Old Woman” had even more of a point with the endless information that the Civil Service state (which we got on without before the Victorian Age) demands.

    The late Financial Secretary of Hong Kong (Cowperthwaite) is often cited as saying, when asked the population of Hong Kong, “population figures – what would need them FOR?”

    He has a good point – and, as usual, Walter Bagehot and co (with their “concede whatever is safe to concede” “liberalism”) do NOT answer it.

    A “liberalism” that is about not reducing the size and scope of government, but is about increasing the size and scope of government (as long as it is done in a civilised and orderly way), must end in Fabianism.

    Which is why the support of the Economist magazine for Barack Obama (in both 2008 and 2012 – against the most moderate Republican candidates one could think of) should have surprised no one.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the “liberal” rich (such as the people who own the publication I have mentioned) think that if they play nice with the left (those nice civilised people they went to university with – so unlike the “vulgar” Donald Trump) the left will leave them in peace to enjoy their wealth.

    I think the “liberal” rich are mistaken – indeed that their “friends” plan to rob and murder them. Not today, and not tomorrow – but eventually.

  • David Roberts

    Paul here in 2010 is Jordan Peterson on “What the State is For”. You and I may not think the state is the best way of achieving the ends he describes, but I admire his approach.
    It is eight minutes in time.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Nice article and an interesting read, thank you.

    People in government are still people, they are just as stupid as the rest of us, they don’t acquire magical powers or an increase in intelligence by accepting pay from a particular source or being given a certain title. The concept of Social Reform is based on an ordinary person (in the government) taking money from one person and giving it to another, supposedly in the most efficient and optimal way, but without responsibility or accountability this is a recipe for disaster that many ordinary people will soon descend to.

    The principals of Social Reform are rotten in their conception, and they are only admired when you bring some artificial entity such “the state” into play, such that “people” can be removed from the equation and it all looks fine and dandy, and then it just becomes a religion with a god, just hell bent on controlling everyone.

    None of the practitioners of Social Reform actually really want people to be better off, they just want to control them (hence the ctrl-left as opposed to the alt-right), and they wont stop until they do, there is no appeasement.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I hate to disagree with the author of this posting, but I’m afraid I must.

    He says that people find his stuff hard to read.

    Yet I am a “people,” and I don’t see the difficulty. Furthermore, I notice several complimentary comments above in this very discussion. Therefore his assertion is disproven. 😈

    Paul, this is among other things an informative piece of history, to go with the several other very good pieces you’ve provided for us over the last 15 years. I still re-read the Blogapotamus (among others) every once in awhile (I have it stored here & there about the hovel); it remains interesting.

    Thanks for the OP and for your additional comments as well.


    Do we know the name of the “old woman” who disapproved of the Census? Out of sheer curiosity.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Runice Balspune – yes.

    Thank you Julie.

    No we do not know the name of the “old woman” mocked in the “English Constitution” (1868) for pointing out that the census of 1801 (the first one since WILLIAM THE BASTARD and his “Domesday Book”) was a violation of privacy and would be used to increase state power and intervention (to the “educated” the word “state” was already a “holy word” – they got that view from German language thinkers).

    The Liberals of the early 20th century claimed that only an “old woman” would say that their proposals (to take over the provision of old age, sickness, unemployment, and so on) were socialism – of course it is freedom for people to be totally dependent on the state for everything in their lives, only the “old women” could possibly see something irrational or sinister in this.

    The “Old Woman” (unnamed – but referred to as someone they had actually met by the various Social Reformers – so it was not just a generic insult like “silly woman”) must have been really old indeed if she objected to the census of 1801 and was still around to object to “National Insurance” (which is not insurance at all) in 1911.

    To balance things out – the Conservative Party Prime Minister Balfour claimed that Social Reform (i.e. ever bigger government) was the way to PREVENT socialism. He fully accepted the false theory that state intervention makes things better, rather than WORSE, than they otherwise would be. Of course if this theory is correct, if improvements in conditions of life are BECAUSE OF not INSPITE OF bigger government then socialism is correct.

    The “logical” end goal of the Social Reformers is a “Star Trek: New Generation” society – where the state provides everything (by magic) and money and large scale private enterprise are “things of the past”.

    This is the goal that Harvard and Hollywood share – and just about every other educational and cultural institution in the West. A demented and absurd goal.

    We are so bleeped.

  • Thailover

    “It is 8 minutes in time”

    10 actually.