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Ooh, can I be poor too?

The gullible Metro freesheet claims that 14,300,000 people in Britain are living in poverty, quoting something called the Social Metrics Commission.

The current population of the UK is 66.87 million. According to the Office for National Statistics Labour market overview for July 2019, 32.75 million people aged 16 years and over are in employment, 354,000 more than for a year earlier. The unemployment rate is lower than at any time since 1974. I have no doubt that poverty still exists but this claim is not credible.

52 comments to Ooh, can I be poor too?

  • pete

    You have to be incredibly naive and trusting of the state if you believe the government propaganda about unemployment being lower than at any time since 1974.

    The figure has been fiddled downwards countless times since then by Labour and Conservative governments and today’s figure bears no relation to that of 40 years ago.

    A similar trick has been paid with tax where the headline rate of income tax has fallen considerably since the 70s while NI, VAT and various duties have risen, and completely new taxes such as Insurance Premium Tax have been invented.

  • Eric

    If poverty is defined relative to median income, a country can become wealthier and have a higher poverty rate at the same time.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    A quote from a friend’s father, reflecting on life:
    “There are poor people. And then there are people who do not have much money.”

  • Phil B

    It depends on how you define “poverty”.

    As Eric pointed out, poverty in the UK is officially defined as having an income of below 60% of the MEDIAN wage. It takes no account of what that figure actually is and the costs and expenses that must be paid out of that figure.

    It made me smile when in 2008, lots of people lost their jobs so the median wage fell, causing 300,000 children to come OUT of poverty.

    Besides, the various charities and NGO’s put another slant on “poverty”. If the majority of children in a class have £300 trainers and some children have trainers from Tesco costing £25 then those children are disadvantaged and are in “poverty” compared to their peers. Similarly for the latest mobile phone, exotic foreign holidays etc.

    If you ask “is that child adequately fed, adequately clothed and housed” then a different answer might be apparent (absent the parents spending their money on drugs, drink or other non essentials).

  • Mr Ed

    The wisdom attributed to Sir John Cowperthwaite, (former Hong Kong Financial Secretary) in his reported advice to abolish any Office of National Statistics would shine through here.

    Without statistics, whole areas of agitprop and worse for the Left fall away, support for this or that ‘community’, disparate impact in indirect discrimination claims, screams for more spending based on relative falls in living standards, bans on adverts, bans on foods, bans on drinks etc.

    The best thing to say back is: we need to abolish VAT, making a tenner do what £12 did before, that’s the way to help the poor.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed,

    “Abolish VAT.” Meanwhile, there are those not on the left who are going, So what’s wrong with VAT?

    SNARL.

    Statistics. You got a point there, Judge! (Echoing the Kingston Trio’s line in their comedy song “The Bad Man’s Blunder.” Sigh … them was the days….)

    Great list of excuses for abuses.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    As I keep telling my Australian friends, everything is relative. British people have no need of sunhats or suntan oils, or sunglasses or surfboards. They quite happily do without things that most Australians consider essential! Are they poor?

  • Tim Worstall

    The Social Metrics Commission is a self appointed grouping of likely ones. Who have invented their own measure of poverty.

    Yes, it’s a relative measure, compared to what other people can do/have. As such it’s a measure of inequality, not poverty.

  • Nemesis

    @Mr. Ed

    Agree. And I often wonder about the wisdom of introducing ‘targets’ – NHS wait lists, crime detection rates etc. These are easily manipulated, not nuanced to to take account of other criteria and people lose focus on what their actual job is for.

  • neonsnake

    As such it’s a measure of inequality, not poverty.

    I’d love to know exactly what’s wrong with inequality, per se.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Inequality offended those who subscribe to a zero-sum meta context. For those who don’t, like me, it’s largely irrelevant

  • staghounds

    English “poor people” die from the diseases only rich people died from a hundred years ago.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’d love to know exactly what’s wrong with inequality, per se.”

    Wage inequality is a indication of a shortage of a skill in high demand. Prices rise when demand exceeds supply, so some people getting high wages means society desperately needs more people with that skill, can’t get enough, and so offers more to both allocate the scarce resource to those applications where it’s most productive, and motivates people to acquire the skill and move jobs in pursuit of the higher wages, or to develop the technology to automate it. If things are working right, high wages should only be a temporary thing. Persistent high wages indicates a block, preventing the market fixing the shortage. Either nobody can invent the technology, or nobody can acquire the skill, or there’s protectionism getting in the way – somebody’s declared you can only do that job if you’re a member of the right guild/union/nationality/professional body or have the right certificates, and access is rationed to keep prices/wages high.

    We ought to agree that inequality is bad. We disagree on the solution. One side thinks you need to move money from the skilled producers to the non-producers, negating the resource allocation and motivation functions of the market, because people *need* money even when they can’t learn the skills to earn it. The other side thinks you need to improve training or technology, and enable the unskilled to do the work in demand and so earn higher wages.

    Or to put it another way, if you have a classroom with a few really bright students earning all the homework points and exam grades, and lots of slower students who don’t. One viewpoint is that you should improve the teaching, to make all the kids bright. The other school of thought is that you should take away some of the points/grades from the brighter students and give them to the slow ones, because they need good qualifications to get a well-paid job and a nice life, too.

  • neonsnake

    For those who don’t, like me, it’s largely irrelevant

    With some caveats, I’d actually go further – I’d say that inequality is a sign of a properly functioning “free” society. Absence of inequality would, actually, worry me.

  • neonsnake

    We ought to agree that inequality is bad. We disagree on the solution.

    I disagree. Hear me out…

    I think we should agree that poverty is bad. I think we should agree that inequality is ok.

    I think that Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates having enormous sums of money is fine, as long as I can feed me and mine, and as long as equality of opportunity exists.

    (if I can’t feed me and mine, that’s a different conversation)

    But what if I don’t want the stress that comes with the responsibility of earning that much money?

    Not everyone will want to earn millions, or billions. Some of us are comfortable with an amount that allows to eat, rent a flat, service our hobbies, aren’t particularly materialistic, and so on (think – Walden, right?).

    But we also accept that some people genuinely do want all of that – Bezos, Gates, Jobs. It’s not me, but I’m not going to judge them for wanting more, right?

    In an ideal world, we have inequality – but everyone can survive. Inequality isn’t, to my mind, the problem.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “I think we should agree that inequality is ok.”

    Reality forces us to agree that inequality is … real. Whether it is ok or not does not matter – the inequality is there. Some people are born handsome, intelligent, musical, athletic — and then there are the rest of us. There is no point in wasting our lives wishing we had done a better job of choosing our parents.

    Poverty is bad, of course; although the definition of poverty is a moving target. The part that poverty advocates do not usually want to discuss is that, at least in developed countries, poverty is mostly a function of bad individual choices. The standard advice for young women was — stay in school, avoid drugs, eat sensibly, get any kind of job that you can, don’t get pregnant outside marriage … and you will never live in poverty.

    How, then, should we address the majority of poverty, the self-inflicted poverty? Is the San Francisco solution of handing out taxpayer-provided needles to junkies and letting them defecate on the sidewalks the only possible solution?

  • neonsnake

    poverty is mostly a function of bad individual choices.

    What if I don’t believe that?

    What if I believe that it’s a little more complicated than that?

    What if I think it’s a matter of class or of opportunity?

    What if I believe that if we instituted Libertarianism tomorrow, that an enormous amount of people would die in poverty?

    😉

    Talk to me about Mary the Crack Whore and how all of her decisions were her own, right?

    😉

  • bobby b

    “What if I believe that if we instituted Libertarianism tomorrow, that an enormous amount of people would die in poverty?”

    There’s nothing contradictory between libertarianism and charity. Churches, private organizations, and families all supported people in need long before we institutionalized involuntary tithing.

    In fact, there’s a very good argument that it was the takeover of these roles by government – with its entitlement view – that grew the entitled, needy, unable-to-support-oneself proportion of society.

    If society owes you a living, why work for one?

  • neonsnake

    Bobby b, I don’t disagree.

    Personally, it’s entirely irrelevant which philosophy I believe in. I’m old enough, and lucky enough, that it will take significant revolution before I’m not able to take care of me and mine.

    Realistically, I have all the privileges that exist. I’m white, male, 40-something, more-or-less six foot tall, in good shape etc.

    Sure, I’m queer. But I’m currently dating a woman, so that’s irrelevant, really. I “pass”, as it were.

    I guess I’m a “bleeding heart libertarian”, maybe?

    I honestly believe that our philosophy is the best way to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

    (I also don’t see any point in it, if that’s not the reason)

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “What if I believe that it [poverty] is a little more complicated than that?”

    OK, I will bite. No disagreement that poverty might not solely be due to poor individual choices, but can you please expand on what some of those little complications might be?

    We all make bad decisions from time to time, and have to suffer the consequences. But that does not excuse us from bearing the responsibility for the bad decisions we made (and that includes Mary the Crack Whore). And even when we make good decisions, bad things can happen – lightning strikes, random disease outbreaks, stumbles on stairs, etc. As bobby b points out, there was a long tradition (in almost all cultures) of individual human beings choosing to help the unfortunates among us — the hand-up, which acknowledged humanity and preserved dignity. Government intervention turned it from an individual hand-up to an anonymous hand-out. It would be hard to argue that has made the world a better place.

  • neonsnake

    No disagreement that poverty might not solely be due to poor individual choices, but can you please expand on what some of those little complications might be?

    Please do ask. I’ll respond in a day or so.

    For today, because I’ve had that kind of day, I’m gonna thank you and Julie for being who you are. For bobby b, for “well as long as it’s not socialist cock”, whicj is basically the the funniest thing I’ve heard, as well as actually one of the kindest (genuinely brilliant)

    And for NiV. Because reasons.

  • neonsnake

    No disagreement that poverty might not solely be due to poor individual choices, but can you please expand on what some of those little complications might be?

    Apologies, Gavin, I’d had a very bad day, and topped it off by ending on a website which is far less welcoming than this one, which left me in a foul mood, so I thought it wise to step away until my state of mind improved 🙂

    So, the complications, as I see them, are things like poverty is primarily predicted by poor education, and also by the status of your parents (other factors as well, but those are two examples which are largely out of an individual’s control).

    There are, of course, examples of people beating the system. There are also many examples where poverty is a result of poor decisions, either whilst poor (preventing one from climbing out of poverty), or prior to being poor (inducing a drop into poverty). But I believe that a majority is a result of external factors, rather than bad decisions. I wouldn’t like to venture a guess as to exact percentages, as getting trustworthy numbers is very difficult – it’s in everyone’s interests to obscure the truth in this case!

    As to what can be done…I don’t have many answers. I’m uncertain that charity would be enough – whilst it has worked in the past, apparently, I feel that we’ve taught ourselves to rely on the government so much, that going back is now a near-impossibility.

    I can see a plausible world where the welfare system is shaken up and made more efficient, thus reducing the cost to us (taxpayers), and doing a better job of incentivising people to work, whilst not damning them if they can’t find jobs (or, just as an example, someone who is disabled to a point of really not being able to work).

    Although it’s not ideal, and it still falls foul of taxing one group to help another, I honestly don’t think we’ll see welfare systems removed in our lifetimes, so if it really came to it, I’d hold my nose and vote for a welfare system (including the implicit point that it’s my taxes paying for it) if it did a better job of getting people out of poverty and back into work where possible.

    There’s lots of other factors around equality of opportunity which factor in as well, but they’re enormous questions with no easy answers!

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Sorry to hear about your very bad day yesterday, Neonsnake. To quote a gentleman I used to work with — “Some days it sucks to be me. Some days it sucks to be you”. Hopefully, today is a much brighter day. 🙂

    Back to poverty — I agree there are enormous questions, difficult questions; although the evidence that most genuine poverty in developed countries is largely self-inflicted is hard to overlook. The best answer is probably personal responsibility (keep myself & my dependents out of poverty) including a sense of community obligation (a willingness to give a hand-up to those who need it).

    But that triggers a lot of other enormous questions. For example, if a man has a stroke and can no longer work, should those of us who can work contribute to him to keep him out of poverty? I would say — Yes! But if that man lives in Kazakhstan, do I still have a responsibility to pay for him? If not, why not? This brings us face to face with the meaning of citizenship, and the responsibilities which citizens have to each other — that they do not necessarily have to say, refugees entering illegally from another country.

    This is where I find typical “Libertarianism” seems to be rather one-dimensional. There is more to life than free trade and the gold standard. There seems to be a lack of a coherent political philosophy which balances individual autonomy with community responsibility.

  • neonsnake

    Today was much better, Gavin. Thank you for your kind words.

    he best answer is probably personal responsibility (keep myself & my dependents out of poverty) including a sense of community obligation (a willingness to give a hand-up to those who need it).

    Agreed. Ever the optimist, I believe that in small groups, most people would give that hand-up.

    The difficulty comes when asked to give a hand-up to those outside the group – even if outside means just removed by a few degrees. Your example of the man in Kazakhstan is a good one. Mine of Mary the Crack Whore is another, albeit more difficult to get your head round, because at first glance she appears undeserving.

    There seems to be a lack of a coherent political philosophy which balances individual autonomy with community responsibility.

    Go on? I suspect I agree, but could you expand on “political” philosophy? I guess, as opposed to a “moral” philosophy, if that makes sense?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    ‘Coherent political philosophy’ may have been the wrong phrase — but I am not sure what the correct descriptor would be. I am naïve enough to believe that there ought to be a congruence between political philosophy and moral philosophy (both terms used in an approximate sense), but realistic enough to know that I am hopelessly naïve.

    As far as Libertarianism is concerned, a lot of what I hear seems to be variations around ‘I would like to get these authoritarian bastards off my back’. Some of it seems to focus on the theme ‘Hurry up, take a drag and pass the spliff around’. There even seem to be a few outliers who are effectively saying “I want to be the authoritarian bastard telling those idiots to get off my lawn’. But nothing very coherent or satisfying. Maybe I have been looking in the wrong places.

    The difficult part is the balance between maximizing individual autonomy while still recognizing our inter-dependence within a community. Very few of us would want to live in a world in which each individual would be free to decide every morning which side of the road he was going to drive on that particular day. I have not found much useful Libertarian commentary on how to set that balance.

    To bring it back to poverty, it is great to have maximum autonomy for individuals where people are free to make their own decisions. But what do we do as a community (or as individuals) when people make bad decisions which affect other human beings? Mary the Crack Whore is a danger to others as well as herself. Do we intervene? Or do we follow the lead of wealthy San Francisco Lefties and simply step carefully while walking past the junkies who are defecating in the street?

  • bobby b

    First, thanks!

    Second:

    “Mine of Mary the Crack Whore is another, albeit more difficult to get your head round, because at first glance she appears undeserving.”

    Anyone who knows anything about addiction – about the pure heaven-on-earth pull of some drugs, and how hard it is to turn away from that – isn’t going to label Mary as undeserving simply on her crack-whore status. Heck, if she’s a whore, she’s at least doing something for self-support.

    It’s those who accept the dole without some feeling of shame – without some internal pressure to overcome their problems and become at least partially more self-sufficient – that I’d call undeserving.

    We’ve created a system in which people have no reason to overcome obstacles. We reward people’s choices that cement them into welfare, and we can only do this by denigrating how important and valuable effort and work really are.

    That’s the true cost of entitlement welfare. The money we spend on it is minuscule. The culture it spawns – that working hard for betterment is for chumps – is what harms society. And it allows politicians to drive a wedge between the chumps and the woke when the woke ought to be thanking the chumps.

  • bobby b

    “The difficult part is the balance between maximizing individual autonomy while still recognizing our inter-dependence within a community.”

    But, Gavin, libertarianism isn’t one set of positions and beliefs. It’s a trend on the authoritarian-anarchist continuum. If I believe in near-perfect social control, and you believe in perfect social control, I’m more libertarian than you.

    That’s why, I think, efforts to create a Libertarian Party have been so lame. As we discussed earlier, in America it has devolved into legal drugs and a few other outlier positions, which have made that party into a joke amongst people who want society to become more libertarian. (Note the difference between the small-l and the capital-L words.)

    Keep in mind that a libertarian isn’t necessarily an anarchist. One can strive for a more libertarian society and acknowledge the need for rules and structure. But there’s a difference between the rules which keep us on the agreed-upon side of the road and the rules that the natural hall monitors want to impose on us for their own benefit or empowerment or entertainment.

    Those who discuss libertarianism as a goal typically fall closer to the anarchist side of the continuum than to the authoritarian side – those are the people for whom the topic is most interesting – but the simple idea that we all need more individual liberty and autonomy is what drives libertarian thought, not specific points of aim along the continuum.

  • neonsnake

    First, thanks!

    I mean it, too. It might have been a small thing for you, but for me it felt like a warm welcome and a (forgive me for Englishness) sense of “mate, come here. This is not a place where you need to worry about that. We’ll take the piss out of you, a little, because you’re one of us.”

    It’s rarer than it should be.

    Having got to know (in a sense) you, Julie, NiV, Niall, Gavin and others since then, I feel that you should all be commended for the culture here.

    I knew a “Mary”. She was a good kid, good prospects. At 17, she was raped by her uncle and became pregnant. She kept the baby, but dropped out of school. After a series of typically horrible circumstances, she ended up an addict and a prostitute. I don’t know all the details.

    My point is merely that everyone has their own story.

    I’ve been on the dole, myself. The company I was contracting with went bust in the whole 2008 thing, and I was out of work for seven months.

    I didn’t sign on for a few months, because I didn’t need to, until my Dad pointed out that I needed to to keep my NI contributions up to date (a UK thing). I’d exited that company with about £25k, so I didn’t feel the need.

    It was ridiculous, I didn’t need to financially, but was compelled to go every couple weeks and go through the whole “Are you actively looking for a job?” thing. Yeah, sure I am.

    I then did so, and yes, I felt an amount of shame. They gave me £80 a week that I didn’t need nor really want, in exchange for me turning up and being embarrassed every couple of weeks.

    It was an informative few months. I saw both ends of the spectrum – the people who really wanted a job, and those who were using every excuse to avoid getting one. My overriding impression was that more people really wanted to get back into work than not. I also saw people who really couldn’t work (Gavin’s stroke victim example) being pressured horribly. I spoke up, but for what use? None.

    It’s a crap system, and I’d tear it down in a second if I could.

  • neonsnake

    libertarianism isn’t one set of positions and beliefs

    Quote of the day, surely?

    That’s it’s strength, surely?

    It allows for the “pursuit of happiness”, in whatever form it takes for individuals.

    Trivially, bobby b and I are both petrol-heads. It’s part of our life path, our Dao. Might not be yours, which is also great! Libertarianism encourages both.

    Our strength is that we listen to yours, while you talk about your garage band, and say “Ok? Go on, I’m listening?”

    No?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    bobby b: “It’s a trend on the authoritarian-anarchist continuum.”

    That is a good way of looking at it — although I wish there was more of a continuum. When we think about Conservative/Labour or Republican/Democrat, it seems rather to be a case of which set of authoritarians one wishes to be abused by. The rational answer would be ‘Limited Government’ — He governs best who governs least. But our universal suffrage democratic systems seem to select mainly politicians with authoritarian tendencies.

    On Mary the Crack Whore — the teenage daughter of some friends went off the rails. She was the perfect California girl — blonde, beautiful, truly intelligent; brought up in a loving intact family with every advantage. But she got into drugs. Long story, but despite Herculean efforts to help the young woman, she willingly jumped back into drugs after each effort to pull her out. A succession of babies followed, all damaged by her drug use during pregnancy. Really, really sad — the tragic waste of her human potential, along with the damage she inflicted on her family and on the unfortunate children she birthed. Easy to understand why the Chinese so hated Queen Victoria. And leaves me wondering if the later Chinese policy of simply executing drug users might in fact have been the least-bad alternative for dealing with a really horrible situation. Does that make me a closet authoritarian?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin, at 7:58 pm:

    “The difficult part is the balance between maximizing individual autonomy while still recognizing our inter-dependence within a community.”

    And not just interdependence in a physical sense, as in coöperation in projects and in the need or wish for products supplied by others. Sympathy, and often some degree of empathy, motivate us to “care about” other people, whether they are part of our immediate social circle, “arsisiety,” and even people as human persons around the globe. So does personal bonding with various other people. This I think of as the “social side of our nature.”

    The other side of our nature is our need to keep and protect our selves: Our bodies and our ability to act in accordance with our own thoughts, emotions, wishes, objectives. This is the side of us that values ourselves and that requires the right of self-determination, whether we know it or not.

    Both of these sides can operate as a team in furthering our self-interest: Honoring ourselves; honoring others.

    But these two very important sides of our human nature, like most human traits, vary as to the relative strength of each among our species. (Of course there are always people at the extremes of either end of the spectrum of relative strengths of the two sides. The most devout live-only-to-help-others or anti-harm fanatic vs. the all-bit-complete sociopath.)

    And the tension between the two can be quite great, both within an individual and also in the sensibilities, on the whole, of a society.

    I think I would say that the impulse to libertarianism lies along the spectrum, but that in most societies the social (I do NOT mean “socialist”) side of our nature looks as if the social side is dominant. (I do note, however, that appearances can be deceiving, and going along to get along is a pretty good tact not just for physical survival under a truly horrible regime like Saddam’s or the ChiComs’, but also for simply being able to act on your own most important thoughts, wishes, needs. Criminals and Joe Blow both see the advantages to blending in.)

    But libertarianism itself, as in an understanding of the extreme importance of insisting upon the right of self-determination (I just deleted three paragraphs on some of the caveats) and in the value of acting in accordance with that belief, I think exists along a smallish subset of that spectrum.

    The self-described “bleeding-heart libertarians” are clearly quite ready to force others to comply with their particular demands — for instance, the demand for enforced “charity” in which they call for B.I.G., i.e. the Basic Guaranteed Income. They thus show themselves to be truly libertarians in only a rudimentary sense. (Some conservatives, by the way, also seem to think this might be a good idea. Personally I think it’s nuts purely on the economics and arithmetic of it.) To have an impulse to libertarianism is not the same as to be a libertarian, even if one does hold and even act upon a lot of libertarian beliefs.

    [Aside: This is virtually the same issue as the one surrounding the topic of What Is a Christian?. *g*]

    The committer of fraud is not a libertarian. Even when he has a fairly strong impulse to libertarianism, which I daresay some do.

    The sociopath is as a far as you can get from being a libertarian.

    Upsetting the home folks, whether your parents or your society, to show how independent and enlightened you are, isn’t libertarian. It’s adolescent.

    As far as I can tell, John Allison, former head of BB&T, is the closest example of a libertarian that I can see.

    “Enlightened self-interest” should be a watchword of libertarians as well as of Classical Liberals.

    Here endeth today’s ruminations.

    . . . .

    So the Bot Detector is back on the job. (The sound version of these, by the way, is never any good.) It showed me a grid in which the middle three cells in the top row of the grid were the only ones not blank. How many traffic lights do I see? One, that’s how many. The one in the center. (All three of the bulbs are lit up and are green)The two flanking it are the outsides of the boxes that hold the traffic light.

    Guys, how about going to the letters in nearly unreadable script version of bot-detection. Pleeze? (Of course, I luvs yer anyway.)

    Ah well. I’ll try again.

    .

    –It asked me how many cars. One pic has vehicles parked so far away you can’t tell whether it contains any cars. Another has a photo that might be of a car, an SUV, or a van. Apparently I guessed correctly in both cases. Goody.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Yes, Gavin, it seems like it would. Here in Australia we had a contributor called Graham Bird, and he kept arguing against factional reserves, not seeing that his measures would end up destroying liberty in the pursuit of sound money.
    You are right about current forms of Democracy- winning politicians are those who promise to solve problems, and the solutions are usually more laws that are never pruned.
    As for Queen Victoria, let’s not forget that opium was legal in her time, and plenty of Londoners were addicted, even fictional ones like Sherlock Holmes!
    I have found a philosophy that combines ethics and economics. I call it Aurarchy (Gold-Rule). I apply the Golden rule to ethical problems, and advocate gold backing for currencies. (We could use other metals, but, historically, gold was the preferred medium.)

  • neonsnake

    The self-described “bleeding-heart libertarians” are clearly quite ready to force others to comply with their particular demands — for instance, the demand for enforced “charity” in which they call for B.I.G., i.e. the Basic Guaranteed Income. They thus show themselves to be truly libertarians in only a rudimentary sense.

    It is possible that I’m libertarian in only a rudimentary sense, indeed.

    I’m not, personally, sure that BIG or Negative Income Tax are the right things. Research into controlled experiments has been inconclusive, and there’s some reports that people are less likely to feel motivated to get a job than under current systems.

    I don’t necessarily support them per se, as much as I think that something like them might be better than the Kafka-esque current system.

    For many reasons (primarily to do with unintended consequences, but also to do with practical feasibility), I’m in favour of a simpler welfare system (which actually does its job) as the next step, rather than no welfare system. I’m very much thinking “one step at a time”!

    I recognise that it’s still forcing others compliance, but hopefully it’s forcing less of others, and can lead to further progress down the road.

  • neonsnake

    I am naïve enough to believe that there ought to be a congruence between political philosophy and moral philosophy

    Would “Don’t hurt other people and don’t steal their stuff” count as a good starting point, do you think?

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake: “Would “Don’t hurt other people and don’t steal their stuff” count as a good starting point, do you think?”

    Definitely! As Nicholas the Unlicensed Joker says, the Golden Rule. It is an excellent personal philosophy.

    The issue that we all have to face in the real world is — what do we do when we come into contact with people who do NOT follow the Golden Rule? Jesus said turn the other cheek; and if someone steals your coat, give him your cloak too. But that is a high standard of selflessness that most of us cannot, and would not want to, reach.

    At an individual level, we can simply avoid people who do not follow the Golden Rule. But on a societal level, what should we do about habitual criminals? Not to mention politicians & lawyers? We need to have some way as a community to enforce rules of conduct — but before we know where we are, the Political Class is inflating those rules to the point of imposing a Green New Deal. There are simple answers to that kind of problem, but not easy answers.

  • neonsnake

    It is an excellent personal philosophy.

    Well, all I’ve done is restate the Non-aggression Principle and respect for property rights in very (over) simplistic terms 😉

    As to turning the other cheek…see, I’m not Christian, so I wouldn’t. Nor would I give someone my cloak, nor would I carry someone two miles who asked me to carry them one.

    But – and I cannot stress this enough – as a libertarian and also a Daoist – if you are a Christian, I absolutely support you if that is your choice.

    Not to mention politicians & lawyers?

    Lawyers, right?

    😉 at bobby b

    I have two answers, and one is sheer practicality – self-reliance. The other is caring for others to the very best of my ability to do so.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Self-reliance is good — nay, essential! But self-reliance does not address the question of which side of the road you are going to drive on today. Nor does it address the question of what to do about people who chose to drive on the wrong side of the road. Nor does it address the issue of how to get the road built in the first place.

    As the mathematicians would say, self-reliance is a necessary but insufficient condition for a properly-functioning society. We know what we need to do as individuals (and your two answers are ideal). The tough part is what do we need to do as a community? And how do we stop Authoritarians from taking charge of that community and planting their boots on our faces?

  • neonsnake

    But self-reliance does not address the question of which side of the road you are going to drive on today.

    That, I would say, would fall under the time-honoured principle of (forgive my language) not being a bell-end.
    Julie described it earlier as not being adolescent.

    Nor does it address the issue of how to get the road built in the first place.

    This is where I depart from purity and into practicality.

    In the society that we live in, it’s the government. It’s that simple. We can move towards a society where it’s not, but we’re so far away that I see no value in pretending otherwise at the moment.

    The difficult part is bridging the Gap between here and there.

  • bobby b

    A good short (3:30) Dinesh D’Souza video re: charity versus entitlement:

    https://twitter.com/i/status/1154881581007482881

  • neonsnake

    And how do we stop Authoritarians from taking charge of that community and planting their boots on our faces?

    In what way do you feel that is that the case at the moment?

    I feel that describing that might help formulate an answer, if that makes sense?

  • Julie near Chicago

    neon,

    I most certainly did not intend to lump you in with the sort of people who are all-in with BIG, etc. These are people like Matt Zwolinski, Jason Brennan, Roderick Long, and other movers & shakers who call themselves “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians” — when it suits them. They have their own weblog, at

    https://bleedingheartlibertarians.com

    The three aforenamed are all profs. of Philosophy. Zwolinski is or was at the U. of San Diego, and Long at Auburn U. in Auburn, Ga. Brennan’s at Georgetown.

    Cato sometimes publishes pieces from Z. & B. I have a bunch of stuff by one or more of them that was published by Cato, or Cato Unbound. Another of that bunch is Prof. John Tomasi.

    For the stuff from Cato, consult Cato.org and another Cato site,

    https://cato-unbound.org/

    None of this is to imply that only what I will call pseudo-libertarians read the BHL website or comment there. One can make out a brief that Cato is more libertarian than it seems, on the ground that it wants to “look at all sides.” Same thing with Reason magazine.

    Personally, I’m not a great fan of either of them.

    [As a side note, has anyone noticed the reports that Charles Koch — cofounder of the Cato Institute and one of the infamous, dreadful, criminals the Koch Brothers — has gotten together with one George Soros to promote something-or-other? Golly!]

    I’d love to send a list of the titles of pieces I’ve saved from Zwolinski et al. Also some resounding refutations of some of the weirder ideas from this crew.

    .

    It seems to me that most people, including conservatives libertarian-leaning or not, are in favor of a “social safety net,” or at least say they are. SO AM I! I just don’t believe that it should be a program run by a government. In the first place, it’s supported by taxes, which to me is an illegitimate use of taxpayers’ money. In the second place, it’s dishonest: It masquerades as “charity,” when, as many have pointed out, it’s no such thing, as its funds come from coercion by the government. In the third place, it tamps down private charity, which truly is charity.

    Quite a few historians and economists believe that before government got into the charity racket, private charity was far stronger and more active than it now is. And that, further, if anything fewer of the destitute or disabled “fell through the cracks” than is now the case.

    .

    Please excuse me, I’m writing stuff you already know. Anyway, in our case (meaning more-or-less libertarians, which is the only kind there is — IMO, of course), there are two schools of thought as to how to achieve a more libertarian society. One is to proceed through gradualism; the other is to uproot everything, or at least everything to do with a given issue, root and branch, and start afresh.

    This difference of opinion exists in most reasonably serious movements for Change, I think. But for one thing, it seems to me that the Uproot Now! method only works when the timing is just right. (There are examples purporting to show this, but they escape me at the moment.)

    The communists and their ilk, on the other hand, have been pretty successful with the gradualist or incrementalist approach.

    So it seems to me that as a practical matter, “better” is often better than “total.” Of course, there’s the difficulty that once people are used to “better,” it can be quite difficult to get them to actually support “even better,” let alone outright “who needs it!”

    In short, neon, you gots a string of pretty good comments there. 9:19 above rings my bell too. :>)

    . . .

    Gavin,

    “Don’t hurt other people and don’t take their stuff.” (Quoting neon.)

    Excellent rule of thumb. Or as Richard (Epstein) condenses it even further, “Keep your hands to yourself.”

    Whether that’s a version of the Golden Rule is debatable, just as both the intended meaning of the Rule and its real-world practicality are also debatable (and have been debated for some 2000 years).

    Rabbi Hillel is often credited with preferring the opposite way of stating it: “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto yourself.”

    But it does depend on just exactly what you mean by each of the maxims.

    A side note. An atheist/agnostic speaks: I have to believe that Jesus was a practical man at least in some respects. Some say that the “turn the other cheek” advice was simply to remind his followers not to talk back to Roman authorities, nor yet to punch them back when punched. The same sort of reasoning might also apply to the stolen-cloak remark. Or not, of course.

    Then again, some people say that Jesus’s overturning of the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple show that Jesus was not a pacifist by any means, and was actually an activist.

    Contrary to a good deal of opinion, figuring out what is meant by what is said is often fraught.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The issue that we all have to face in the real world is — what do we do when we come into contact with people who do NOT follow the Golden Rule? Jesus said turn the other cheek; and if someone steals your coat, give him your cloak too. But that is a high standard of selflessness that most of us cannot, and would not want to, reach.”

    The Golden Rule was invented precisely to deal with the people who don’t follow it. The goal, I think, is not ‘selflessness’, but to circumvent the barrier stopping you reaching the goal of cooperation. People sometimes get locked into a tit-for-tat cycle of revenge and retribution. Both sides suffer. But people respond to reciprocity. So if you’re good to them, they will – eventually – start being good to you. People can only treat you badly if they can dehumanise you – consider you contemtible or evil and deserving of mistreatment. Confound their expectations, make friends despite everything, and they find it harder. Conversely, revenge and retribution only makes it easier for them to maintain the dehumanisation. The aim is not to defeat an enemy, but to convert them to become a friend. It’s a tactical bit of game theory, and psychology.

    That’s not to say it always works, in all circumstances. But there’s more logic to it than pure and simple martyrdom.

    “I have two answers, and one is sheer practicality – self-reliance.”

    It’s probably not what you mean by the term, but ‘self-reliance’ sounds a bit like the subsistence farming lifestyle, or worse. The trick is to achieve voluntary mutual reliance for mutual benefit.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Neonsnake “In the society that we live in, it’s the government.”

    It is always going to be government of some kind. Even when independent-minded self-reliant Vikings washed up on the empty shores of Iceland and started with a clean sheet (analogous to Julie’s ‘uproot everything and start afresh’), they quickly created a form of government to settle disputes and perform certain other functions. Government of some form is even more required in a modern society which requires immensely complicated interactions and interdependencies to keep the lights on and the water flowing. The problem is with government (meaning the human beings who comprise it) wanting to go beyond the essentials. Before we know it, they are banning plastic straws.

    The practical answer is Limited Government — but that is very difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maintain, as the example of the US shows (despite the explicit unambiguous language of the 10th Amendment). The pure Libertarian ideal may work on the Planet Zork, but what we need for Planet Earth is an effective way of limiting the scope of the Political Class and keeping their activities within reasonable bounds.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Gavin,

    Very well said. As far as I can tell, almost every society of more than a very few people will develop some sort of government — people who make the Rules, people who decide what anti-rule-breaking measures there will be, and people who decide how and by whom the Rules will be enforced.

    In a family with kids and parents, one or both of the parents are usually the Government, although I can imagine cases where for one reason or another the parents aren’t able to serve this function and a relative or relatives take over … grandparents, aunts and uncles, even a big brother or sister sometimes.

    Tribes and clans generally have something that is functionally some sort of government. So do offices and clubs and gangs….

    We’re like wolves, after all, in some ways at least. We travel in packs, and we have members who become leaders. Yet there are loners, wolves and people who follow the pack or stay on its fringes, or go off on their own altogether.

    [ The Wolf is my totem. OTOH, the Panther is my totem. How confusing is that! Still, saith the Foot of all Knowledge:

    A totem (Ojibwe doodem) is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.

    The Wolf is my totem because I’m a Dog Person. And the Panther, because I like its looks: black, sleek, self-sufficient. And because I’m also a Cat Person. ;>) ]

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Dear Gavin and Julie,
    I keep advocating time-share government as the solution to rising levels of government. In this plan, if someone wanted to become a citizen, that one would apply to the local level of government, and would be offered the chance to give the next 11 months of some sort of volunteer part-time work (fire-fighting, road patrols, rescue services, community services, etc.), in exchange for one month of being the government, along with all the other citizens who had joined up in the same month as one, in this year and previous years. Since it would be automatic, no politicking would be used- no promises to the electorate, no claim to have a mandate. You would be a local citizen, and your government could send representatives to meet with other local representatives. These governments would be democracies, with the local level as the strongest. Since any public service would be something that you would be doing, you would be adverse to unnecessarily increasing the workload for yourself and others. This would be a safeguard on proliferating laws. I haven’t gone into fine detail, but this form of direct democracy is better than representative.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    As for practical examples, the most libertarian country I know about is Switzerland. The Cantons are very strong, and the Federal Government is very limited in what it can do.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Nicholas — that is an interesting idea. My thoughts on a better outcome from a future Constitutional Convention would include:

    – Individuals can be taxed only by their local government (county, city, whatever).
    – Higher levels of government can get their revenues only by taxing the level of government immediately below them (State can tax City; Federal can tax State).
    – No automatic citizenship. Citizenship has to be earned through a variety of means.
    – Democratic representation is by a process of random selection from the list of citizens, similar to jury service.
    – Individuals with law degrees are explicitly prohibited from ever being selected as representatives.
    – Passing a law requires a 60% vote; repealing that same law requires only a 40% vote.
    – No citizen can be compelled to do anything by a regulation — only by the explicit terms of a democratically-passed law.
    – Capital punishment for any judge who legislates from the bench.
    – No pension for any government service, including military service.
    – Government is prohibited from borrowing or printing money.

    Of course, none of this would ever be acceptable to our current Political Classes. But maybe after they have collapsed our current societies, there might be a chance for something better.

  • neonsnake

    These are people like Matt Zwolinski, Jason Brennan, Roderick Long, and other movers & shakers who call themselves “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians”

    How very curious! I can only imagine that I must have come across the term at some point, and subconsciously retained it. To the best of my memory, I can’t recall having visited their website, and the names aren’t familiar to me.

    in favor of a “social safety net,” or at least say they are. SO AM I!

    Me too – and I’m stealing “social safety net” and will attempt to remember to use it in place of “welfare system” – it feels much less loaded!

    I’m absolutely, unquestionably, Gradualist. An “Uproot!” or “Libertarianism Now!” approach would strike me firstly as far too dangerous – there’s a lot to unravel first, from which regulations are appropriate all the way through to the other end of the spectrum and being closer to equality of opportunity (and of course, we’ll all disagree on the details and extent needed of both of those things!), and I’d be worried for the most vulnerable. Then, while some revolutions have (I’m sure) succeeded, I wonder how many of them actually achieved their stated goal? Did the Cuban’s fighting with and for Che and Castro really get what they wanted or expected? I don’t know.

    Some say that the “turn the other cheek” advice was simply to remind his followers not to talk back to Roman authorities, nor yet to punch them back when punched.

    I turned up something interesting on this while refreshing my memory on the context – there’s an interpretation that “turning the other cheek” is actually an insult, an act of “non-violent resistance”. Which puts a different spin on it to the view I previously held, if true!

    ‘self-reliance’ sounds a bit like the subsistence farming lifestyle, or worse. The trick is to achieve voluntary mutual reliance for mutual benefit.

    To an extent, I may not mean “subsistence farming”, but you’re right to wonder if I was heading in roughly the same direction – not a solitary life, though, as we all rely on a vast amount of connections, and being purely self-sustaining is unreasonably difficult. At some point, I’m actually tempted to try to push it as far as I can in terms of “subsistance living” – but far in the future, and I suspect it will be a one year experiment which is fun, but fails.

    It may not surprise that I was influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau at an early age, if you’re familiar with them or their writing? Thoreau especially.

    When I talk about this kind of stuff, I’m only talking about my own personal way of life, which works for me, but not necessarily for others, as a way of avoiding feeling “coerced” in a softer sense (eg. by a horrible boss, or worrying about needing to stockpile TV meals pre-Brexit because I can’t cook, or so on).

    So, I’m very keen on ensuring that I can look after myself to a reasonable degree. In your pizza-eating coder example, I’d fret that if I could no longer afford pizza, I wouldn’t be able to eat, so to ease that anxiety I make sure I can cook good, cheap meals. I apply the same to most things, I’m rather minimalist/essentialist, and have worked hard to ensure that I’m not overly specialised.

    Of course, that’s not for everyone, and I wouldn’t judge someone (morally, I can’t!) for living a very different life. In fact, to repeat something I said earlier, I would actually approve of them for it, as long it was their true desire (I really don’t want to imply that I feel that everyone should live like this!!)

    It’s why I feel inequality can be a sign of a properly functioning society (with some caveats) – it means that people are free to live however they choose, without being pressured into a conformist, non-diverse lifestyle.

  • I keep advocating time-share government (Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray, August 2, 2019 at 6:55 am)

    The Darien scheme – Scotland’s attempt to show England it could do ’empire’ better – had a limited form of this. Each of the council was in charge for one week, then gave way to the next, in rotation.

    History reports that each of them spent most of their first 3 days undoing what their predecessor had done and most of their last 3 trying to make it hard for their successor to reverse what they had done.

    The Darien scheme bankrupted Scotland and was the precursor to the 1707 union with England, under which England paid a large sum to sort out the situation.

    Explanations by nationalist-minded Scots that the Darien scheme’s failure was all the fault of the jealous English struggle vainly with the historical analysis of other Scots who report how the very many poor decisions made at every step of the scheme – including the decision on how to govern the colony – meant that the English never needed to do anything (and in fact did almost nothing against it).

  • neonsnake

    the names aren’t familiar to me.

    Julie, I must humbly confess: I was wrong. Turns out that I’m passingly familiar with Roderick Long. He once wrote an article stating that the Confucianists, not the Daoists, were the true libertarian thinkers of ancient China.

    Given my beliefs, including that Confucianist thought (big government) has as much influence on modern China and North Korea as Marx, you can imagine my reaction.

    At the time, I was unsure which one of us had so badly misinterpreted either Confucianism or Libertarianism, but clearly someone was wrong, enormously.

    Obviously, I swallowed my pride and concluded that it was him and not me…

    😆 😆 😆

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Niall K.: “The Darien scheme – Scotland’s attempt to show England it could do ’empire’ better …”

    That seems like a rather parochial view. In those years, the tidal wave of evil European colonialism was crashing on shores around the world. The Danes were doing it, the Dutch were doing it, the Portugese had done it, the Spanish were there, even the Belgians, and the French were apparently well ahead of the English in extracting value from their colonies. The Scots were far behind most of the other Europeans in looking to grab an empire.

    Part of the problem with the Darien scheme was that the promoters were too late — all the best real estate had already been gobbled up by other European colonialists. Another part of the problem was that, by that late stage, there were generally reasons why sites had not already been seized by other earlier Europeans — such as the endemic insect-borne diseases in the Darien area. The fact that none of the other Europeans moved to colonize Darien after the Scots died off tends to speak for itself.

    A better example of the problems with time-share government might be the Roman experiment to have their Consuls take day-about leading the legions.

  • Gavin Longmuir (August 3, 2019 at 1:07 am), I think often one consul commanded an army while the other consul did stuff elsewhere, not day-about command. At home, the two consuls were a very simple and ill-designed form of separation of powers – the hope was each consul would check any tendency to tyranny in the other – but on campaign I think it was more common for a single consul to command a given force. In Sparta, they similary had two kings, but it was typically only one king who commanded a given Spartan army.

    The Duke of Marlborough (Churchill’s ancestor) craftily agreed to alternate daily command with his incompetent ally during the Blenheim campaign IIRC, confident he could arrange for the battles to be fought on days he commanded. The campaign was a great success – because the Duke was skilled and persuasive, and the ally was a weak personality.

    The diseases were one reason the Darien scheme was ill-sited. A second was the fact that it rained a lot, even by Scots standards. A third was the north-facing harbour’s tidal and weather gate. It was easy to sail into and snug to lie up in, but you could wait weeks or literally months for the rare occasions when a sailing ship could beat the tide and prevailing winds to leave it. The whole area was also recognised (by the English parliament and the joint King of England and Scotland, as well as by other governments) to be the property of Spain, who sent one military probe the Scots had to fight off (soldiers fresh from the Glencoe incident were prominent in that) and were preparing a more vigorous attempt when the Scots finally abandoned the area.

    A similar litany could be given for each other aspect of the project. Indeed, my point that they used time-share government and failed is somewhat weakened by their having many other causes of failure. 🙂

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