Creative Capitalism

I admire Bill Gates. He has built a huge company from scratch and in so doing has produced hundreds of thousands of jobs and paid a fortune in taxes. He has revolutionised personal computing (and don’t tell me that Microsoft is an evil monopoly – every company aspires to be a monopoly) so that now almost anyone can afford access to the internet. Also, unlike many arch-capitalists, he is clearly concerned with bettering the lot of the world’s poor.

So it was with great disappointment that i read his speech last week to the World Economic Forum assembled at Davos (in my previous life as an Emerging Markets bond trader, i’ve been to one of these and they are the ultimate taxpayer-funded boondoggle), outlining his vision for ‘creative capitalism’.

“We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well. I like to call this idea creative capitalism.”

He gave an interview to the WSJ expanding his thoughts in further detail,

Mr. Gates said that he has grown impatient with the shortcomings of capitalism. He said he has seen those failings first-hand on trips for Microsoft to places like the South African slum of Soweto.

“The rate of improvement for the third that is better off is pretty rapid, the part that’s unsatisfactory is for the bottom third — two billion of six billion.”

Among the fixes he plans to call for: Companies should create businesses that focus on building products and services for the poor. “Such a system would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives for those who don’t fully benefit from market forces,” he plans to say.

With today’s speech, Mr. Gates adds his high-profile name to the ranks of those who argue that unfettered capitalism can’t solve broad social problems. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work providing small loans to the poor, is traversing the U.S. this month promoting a new book that calls capitalism “half developed” because it focuses only on the profit-oriented side of human nature, not on the satisfaction derived from helping others.

That such an intelligent man can utter such drivel is surprising and sad. He is hugely influential and many free-market agnostics will read his words and conclude that capitalism is a rich man’s plaything. They would be so wrong.

What is needed is not ‘creative’ capitalism but ‘more’ capitalism. The Soweto slums he identifies are poor because the free market is not being allowed to work. China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Eastern Europe to name but a few have pulled hundreds of millions of people off the bread line simply by abandoning socialism and embracing capitalism.

A paper published by William Nordhaus in 2004 clearly demonstrated that capitalism benefits the poor not the rich as only a ‘miniscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers’.

Writing for the Globalisation Institute, Tim Worstall remarks that although Gates cites Adam Smith’s, ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments‘ as one of the great influences of his vision, he would do well to remember this passage from the follow up to that book, ‘Wealth of Nations‘,

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from a regard to their interest.”

Gates should read the Index of Economic Freedom’s latest report underlining the link between economic and business freedom and living standards.

A great man but with little vision.

385 thoughts on “Creative Capitalism

  1. When Microsoft were looking at mouses and windows, they denied that they were doing any such thing, so it came as a complete surprise to the market when they came up with Windows. Could this be a cunning ploy by Gates to amass more money? Should we be looking elsewhere? Perhaps he intends to start up low-interset banks that give him high rates of return, or something. Maybe he’ll simply give computers to the poor, and they’ll go out and buy programs like Windows to run on them!

  2. The economic theories of Bill Gates have always been something of a disappointment. He is called a capitalist because he has amassed a lot of capital. Not because he has some specific philosophical insight into the merits of capitalism.

    If you want to know how to make money talk to a businessman not an economist. Likewise if you want to understand economics then talk with an economist not a businessman.

  3. I’ve heard his wife say stupid stuff before.

    Adam Smith justifies the ethics of capitalism by altruistic arguments. ie: benefits others the most. As opposed to an egoist argument that disregards the indefinable collective and starts at the individual level, arguing that capitalism benefits me the most for my survival and as a secondary consequence, benefits others too (which owing to the logical consistency of the theory is also a benefit for me).
    Bill Gates has always had this altruistic streak, with his massive amount of charity work, and this is just the next, unsurprising step in his thinking if you ask me.

    I would also like to say that it’s a pity Gates doesn’t recognise our world is a mixed economy, not truly capitalist. “Unfettered” capitalism – if only.

    Also, Gates should have publicly condemned the way Microsoft was treated by the EU and other governments who fined Microsoft simply for providing a free web browser with their operating system.
    Gates is a great man. But we need people like Gates who benefitted from what was a new and therefore largely unregulated industry (computers and software) to realise the benefit of the market freedom he initially experienced, and to strongly condemn attempts at regulation and control.

  4. We do, Tim, but the trend is not our friend.

    The boys at Google are rolling out their philanthropic vehicle, – corporate charity on a huge scale.

    the one upside of all this is that the likes of Gates, Buffett et al are making business more popular with the man on the street – this is no bad thing. if business is not hated by your average voter, there will be less votes in regulating it.

  5. I’ve never met a computer nerd who knows much about capitalism. They are a bit like proctologists – major tunnel vision.

    Bill Gates was lucky he had good people around him who knew how to run a business while he knew how to write software. And, it must be said, inspire others to write good software.

    The only reason anyone pays attention to Gates is because he is so rich. But it’s like asking a Nobel prize winner in molecular genetics to negotiate peace in the middle east. The Peter Principle applies.

  6. While Bill Gates’ recent comments are disappointing, there are some shining examples of libertarian thinking businessmen. eg/ Peter Thiel, founder of facebook and paypal, a silicon valley multi-millionaire. Or, one of the co-founders of wikipedia is apparently an objectivist, Jimmy Wales.

    Personally, I would like to see business men with the attitude of Ezra Levent. Combine this guy with the LDP promo theme music, “We’re not going to take it” by Twisted Sister and then you’re talking my language.

    I should make it clear that although I’m anti altruistic ethics, I’m not anti charity.

    But when influential businessmen are publicly pro-regulation and pro-socialism, then I get disappointed.

    We know that these days people accept a bit of capitalism as a “necessary evil” that must be controlled. But to me it’s like saying, a little bit of murder is OK. Some things aren’t incremental, they’re two sided, or binary (on or off). It’s not a healthy compromise when you allow regulation, you’re effectively denying the principles of capitalism. And the more logically consistent approach will eventually win out -capitalism will become less and less as we’ve seen over the 20th century.
    eg/ Look at Huckabee in the US preaching as if he’s a democrat. He won’t win, but the possibility of a fundamentalist Christian and socialist US president is becoming more and more real.

    Sure, people like Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Regan can delay the inevitable, but growing regulation and socialism is still inevitable until you address the underlying fault and educate the masses that capitalism is good, it’s all good.

  7. actually David I think you have got it the wrong way round. Many actual geeks think that Gates programming is nothing extraoerdinary (by their standards) but the marketing/business genius was him and Microsoft is the way it is today because of his business talents rather than his programming talents.

    Gates used to donate to Cato Institute and may still do but that doesn’t mean he is consistent.

  8. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work providing small loans to the poor, is traversing the U.S. this month promoting a new book that calls capitalism “half developed” because it focuses only on the profit-oriented side of human nature, not on the satisfaction derived from helping others.

    Obviously while the guy is noble in his own right he has no knowledge of the subject matter. Capitalism is not charitable nor altruistic, it does however create the means for people to be charitable or altruistic should they so desire.

  9. This might get denounced as heresy, but a great deal of Microsoft’s success can be ascribed to luck. Its partnership with IBM put it in the right place at the right time. The fact that other companies could manufacture “IBM PC compatible” computers ensured a large market for Microsoft’s MS-DOS, while only IBM was actually exposed to the pain of the competition which was driving the market in this architecture. Microsoft got to have its cake and eat it too. None of Microsoft’s products have ever been particularly good. Their marketing has certainly been good at points, but mostly what they did was luck their way into a dominant position and then leverage that to make life difficult for computers.

    Markets for a standards-based product will always tend towards monopoly a little, so I think it’s a mistake to look at a dominant company and conclude that they must have done something right. Somebody has to end up dominant.

  10. Er,

    That should read “leverage that to make life difficult for competitors”. I’m drinking wine 🙂

  11. I think ChrisV gets it right. We shouldn’t confuse “big” or “dominant” with “best” and “most efficient.” I don’t think there is anyone in the software trade that thinks Microsoft has produced much software that is well designed, secure, or particularly effective. What they have done quite brilliantly (if you measure brilliant in terms of market share) is marketing.

    Muhammad Yunus is worth studying. He’s both economist and businessman. The Grameen family of business he founded are a mix of for-profits and non-profits. As of 2007 the Grameen Bank had provided nearly 7 billion USD in micro-loans to the poor, nearly all of them to women, with a 98% payback rate. That sounds like good business and good economics. There’s certainly nothing innately wrong with creating a business that places improving the lives of the poor (and therefore the poors contribution to the economy) above ROI.

    Listening to him in interviews I get the impression of a man who has nothing bad to say about profit making, but rather that there is more to life that just that. You can make a profit and address social ills at the same time. What’s wrong with that?

  12. Microsoft got lucky but Bill Gates did a lot to position it for such luck and to take advantage of the luck when it came along. He elected to write operating system software because he saw the market potential. Before MS-DOS his crew was making BASIC for a number of vendors. BASIC was the native language and defacto OS for a lot of early PCs.

    Microsoft has been brilliant at marketing. But not in the narrow sense of advertising or self promotion that many people think of when they think of marketing. They have had a good eye for product positioning and development as well as making many smart acquisitions.

    In many ways I think Microsoft parallels the success of Disney. In both cases what started as an innovative but modest software shop but then via some bold initatives (MS-DOS and Snow White) successfully transformed into a dominant brand that acquired innovators, sucking in smart people and integrating the offering.

    Of course lots of people do bold things and fail. Luck is relevant.

  13. “Many actual geeks think that Gates programming is nothing extraoerdinary”

    Many actual geeks haven’t written an interpreter in assembler in under 4K of main memory either. Just saying. It wasn’t all just he and Allen having the foresight to pick winners when they saw the Altair and the IBM PC.

  14. I’ve written in assembly with similar memory constraints and I don’t regard myself as an exceptional programmer. In fact I’ve written in machine code with such constraints. I’ll grant you that I have not written an interpreter in either (I did write one in BASIC once) but then I don’t profess to be a better programmer than Bill Gates. Given how much the software profession has changed both in terms of the tools used and the techniques employed it would not surprise me if Bill Gates has fallen behind a little.

    I think Bill Gates is a really smart guy who has been able to adapt his wits to many different difficult tasks. However like his mate Warren he is a second rate economist.

  15. Trinifar

    I agree, which is why i admire the man. the problem is that Gates just can’t grasp that ‘more of the same’ is the best way to enrich the world’s poor. If google and microsoft just focused on making profit, the world’s poor would be a lot happier.

    the poor need not

  16. Gates is simply doing what the previous great American “captains of industry,” like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Mellon, have done: Make oodles of money early in life, only to find out that making products people want to use makes those same people hate you and push their governments to bring lawsuits against you. The only way to get them off your back, and thus reduce the chance of getting sued by the government for things you haven’t done, is to apologize for making things they would want and were willing to pay for. Instead, you create big, shiny, conspicuous things they can’t use but think they want, and hope to appease them that way.

  17. This might be semantics. I don’t really disagree with much that Gates or Yunus say above.

    There is nothing inconsistent in saying that free-markets are better than government intervention, and still lamenting elements of society that could be better.

    Muhammad Yunus believes in free-markets and small government and after reading his book I concluded that he is a libertarian. He simply would like to see more people invest their time & energy to advancing the non-profit sector of society. I agree. This is not a call for bigger government. Indeed, I believe bigger government generally undermines civil society.

    In short-hand austrian-economics talk, Yunnus is simply pointing out that Praxeology (human interaction) is made up of more than simply Catallaxy (trade for profit). It is very legitimate to study, promote and participate in the non-profit sector of society.

    After all, we are not profit-maximises, but utility-maximisers. This is an area where mainstream economics needs to be improved. Economists correctly note that consumers are utility-maximisers. But standard theory incorrectly assumes that producers are profit-maximisers, and so some economists ignore non-profit elements of utility-maximising production. I think economics would benefit from a better understanding of the dynamics of the non-profit part of praxeology (human interaction).

  18. I don’t understand why posters here see socialism and libertarianism as opposed. I consider myself both socialist (a progressive taxation system is needed to better distribute wealth) and libertarian (the government should stay out of the affairs of individuals and businesses, and not run monopolies, unless there is a very compelling reason to do so).

    In this sense both Gates and Yunus seem to be taking an entirely reasonable position. Gates is acting both as a capitalist, by creating considerable wealth, and a socialist by voluntarily handing part of his wealth over to those who need it more. If all enterpreneurs were like Gates we wouldn’t need centrally-administrated socialism, but the reality is that relatively few are.

  19. Wealth redistribution is contrary to libertarian principles. You may call yourself both a libertarian and a socialist but it makes little sense.

  20. Wealth distribution is essential in order to have meaningful liberties at all. If it applies automatically, with the same rules for all, then it is no genuine impingement on individual freedom, any more than the laws of thermodynamics are. Further, libertarian socialism actually has a much longer history than modern understandings of libertarianism and socialism.

  21. I can see an argument for “libertarian socialist” as a form of small-government socialism. If you can believe that the government should only control a small amount of GDP (say 10-20%) but most of that amount should be spent on wealth redistribution (rather than middle class welfare, war, other programs) then I’d argue that is something of a “libertarian socialist”. It’s important to at least make a distinction between big-government socialists and small-government socialists.

  22. See, Bob, I told you that some socialists were using the term libertarian! They would think of themselves as true libertarians, no doubt. That’s why we need a better description for Pro-Capitalists. We need liberation FROM government, not BY Government!

  23. If you think in terms of absolutes where libertarianism is 100% anarchism and socialism is 100% state control then there is no way to be a “libertarian socialist”. But if you believe in a state that controls 10-20% of GDP and provides wealth redistribution to the most needy then what is that classified as? It’s hardly a socialist in the true sense of the word.

  24. Libertarian Socialist, you imply we need centrally administered socialism?! comment 23. This is not libertarian.

    You don’t explain what you mean by wealth distribution. comment 25.
    And I don’t see how a long/short history of a theory has got anything to do with it being a good/bad theory.

    Socialist communities can be set up in truly capitalist and libertarian societies if that’s what certain groups want to do. This is the only moral way I can see for setting up a “libertarian socialism”.

    Marxists thought communist states would gradually reduce state control becoming utopias of freedom. How wrong they were.

  25. If the government ran about 20% of the economy that would be less than half what it currently controls and would involve significant cuts in government spending, including some welfare spending. I would call that position “moderate libertarian” or “classical liberal”.

    People can say “libertarian socialist” if they like, but it seems like a term designed to confuse. Socialist means signficiant government control of the factors of production. If a socialist disagrees with such a policy, then they’re not a socialist! And if they insist that they are, then we need a new word to describe what everybody currently calls “socialism”. Pointless semantics games.

    The term “libertarian socialist” has been used previously by anarchists in the anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist mould. Such people, if intellegent enough to understand their philosophy, are natural allies of libertarians… though we use a different approach and very different rhetoric. I note that such a philosophy would never accept the government controlling 20% of our lives. They want zero government, but they think (hope) that many people will naturally coordinate themselves in a communitarian manner. I think that some will. That’s how we coordinated our share house in Brisbane.

    For libertarian socialists who insist on using their confusing rhetoric — whenever you see “socialist” on this website, please replace it in your mind for whatever word you use that means “significant government control of economy”.

  26. I don’t think simple wealth redistribution is socialist exactly. I suppose it technically is, but to me socialism involves government control over, or interference in, the means of production, as well as interference in the labour market, at a minimum.

    The explicit policy of the LDP is redistribution of wealth (via the negative income tax)…. so is the LDP socialist?
    I would suggest this devalues the word.

  27. Socialism has eventually led to a complete breakdown of the state. I’m thinking Ethiopia, Kampuchea (Cambodia), Laos. Even the national socialist state of Germany went without an effective government in the last days of WWII.

    Voluntary collectivism and shared ownership are compatible with libertarianism, state socialism is not.

    Progressive taxation is also incompatible with the concept of equality before the law. If I am equal before the law to you, then the next dollar I earn should be trested equally by the tax system to the next dollar you earn.

  28. I’d hardly call him a great man. He was just in the right place at the right time.

    I care not a jot about the anti trust malarchy but his business practices suck. He is constantly cannibalizing his partners business to the point where no one feels safe dealing with microsoft as they expect them to become a competitor at any time.

    Software Vendors cannot wait until we don’t rely on Windows anymore.

  29. I don’t think simple wealth redistribution is socialist exactly. I suppose it technically is, but to me socialism involves government control over, or interference in, the means of production, as well as interference in the labour market, at a minimum.

    Socialism was defined by Karl Marx as social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Logically, the less social ownership of these there is, the less socialism there must be.

    I don’t see how redistribution of wealth by the government, or indeed any non-voluntary socially-based method, can be anything but socialist. The means of exchange is, after all, money.

  30. I suppose my take is that the sort of social democracy we have now functions reasonably well, and there’s little justification for radically overthrowing it, but plenty of room for gradually reducing the amount of regulation and control that the state has over individuals in particular, and in many cases private enterprises as well.

    Socialism on its own most definitely does not imply government control over the means of production, at least in my book.

  31. Perhaps socialism does not imply government control over the means of production, but surely it means public ownership or control over the means of production. And then the question is, if people are not compelled by force or threats to surrender their private property to public ownership, then how is it going to happen, since if people are allowed to do what they want, it will be capitalism.

    Marx of course theorised that it was goiing to happen by an inexorable law of history, it would just develop spontaneously out of the conditions of late capitalism, without anyone in particular consciously having to do anything about it. The socialists also theorised that the socialist society would be one of equal or greater prosperity and abundance to the capitalist society, only with *greater* individual freedom. None of them turned their mind to how goods and services were going to be produced in the absence of capital markets and therefore monetary calculation.

    How anyone can still abide by this destructive delusion is beyond me. It turns my stomach to see people quietly contemplating the enslavement of their fellow human beings, because that is what is necessarily entailed in it.

  32. LibertarianSocialist, what you are saying displays a failure to understand the issues.

    ‘ I consider myself both socialist (a progressive taxation system is needed to better distribute wealth) and libertarian (the government should stay out of the affairs of individuals and businesses, and not run monopolies, unless there is a very compelling reason to do so).’

    If government is running a ‘progressive’ taxation system, it is not staying out of the affairs of individual and businesses, and is running a monopoly, namely the monopoly of the progressive taxation system. (Or are we going to have open competition in taking money from other people without their consent?) So you are contradicting yourself.

    You are merely running the amalgam of fallacies and errors that socialists have been running since the time of Karl Marx, and that have been refuted over and over and over again.

  33. Justin, you missed my “unless there is a very compelling reason to do so”.

    And, I’m sorry, who on earth has ever refuted the idea that wealth redistribution is necessary in order to maintain a peaceful and functioning society and economy? As another poster above pointed out, the LDP’s policy, and indeed that of almost all libertarian economists that I’m aware of, is that some system of wealth redistribution is necessary.

    It is necessary because it is the only way of ensuring that all employment agreements are entered into freely and voluntarily. Without, there are inevitably large sections of the population with no personal wealth, who are therefore not in the position to become employers themselves, and are hence forced into becoming the employees of others. This isn’t just conjecture – it’s historical reality.

  34. Justin

    Go easy on the lib-socialist. From my experience, left-libertarians are ex-socialists (probably no longer naive and idealistic) who have realised thru bitter experience that socialism is a useless system but aren’t quite prepared to embrace capitalism and free markets. A gentle nudge here, a push there..

  35. I think taking the term “libertarian” to mean only libertarian capitalism is mere hubris when not the result of simply being uninformed. Both libertarian-socialists annd -capitalists think they have the “best” conception freedom.

    The Wikipedia article on libertarian socialism is quite good (meaning it provides informed, unbiased coverage of the topic).

    A couple excerpts:

    For libertarian socialists, “[t]o demonise state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst.”

    Libertarian socialists typically oppose rigid and stratified structures of authority, be they political, economic, or social.

  36. pommygranate, I embrace the principle of capitalism and the market economy, nor was I ever a Marxist-type socialist. My position on the degree to which markets can meaningful be “free” is too complex to describe here, however my general position is that government regulation should act to assist consumers in freely making informed decisions, to ensure businesses are accountable to consumer choice.

    I consider myself “socialist” purely in the sense that the public elect a government to represent its interests, and the reality of the matter is that the bulk of the public will always be workers and consumers. OTOH, businesses are not only perfectly capable of operating without government assistance, but in the long run do far better without such assistance.

  37. Lib-socialist

    Under your definition, i’d classify myself as socialist too. But i don’t think it’s the correct definition of socialist.

    This is the Wikipedia definition,

    “Socialism refers to a broad array of ideologies and political movements with the goal of a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community… As an economic system, socialism is often characterized by state, worker, or community ownership of the means of production,”

    In contrast, a libertarian believes that property is subject to control by the individual and individual ownership of the means of production.

  38. And it is the “distribution of wealth” part of socialism that I am particularly focused on. I consider “land” a critical component of wealth (in order to have the individual liberty to own means of production yourself, you need access to both capital and land), so government regulation over ownership of land is also key.

    However, I would be happy to redefine myself as Libertarian Social Democrat if that causes less confusion.

  39. If taking on the other two power structures entails expansion of the political power structure then I don’t really want anything to do with it. I’m happy enough with reform that achieves multiple ends (eg reducing corporate welfare).

    I would agree that the LDP fails the libertarian purity test. The LDP policy set moves us towards a more libertarian nation but it does not advocate or represent a pure libertarian end point. The nature of political power is that it entails coalitions. The LDP in my view should be a home for everybody that aspires towards smaller government and greater individual freedom from government control. Naturally some will want to go further than others and will stay the course further than others. If you wish to stop voting for the LDP when the state reaches 20% of GDP then we are still on a long journey together. I’ll probably stop voting LDP before we hit 0% but assuming it is true to the cause I expect to be still voting LDP even if we did get below 20%.

    So much evil was done under the banner of socialism during the 20th century. In PR terms you may as well call yourself a NAZI. Unless of course your audience was all born after 1980 and hasn’t bothered to read any history. Perhaps the term can be reinvented and resurrected but out of respect for the dead can we wait a century or two before we try.

  40. Terje, China, USSR, Vietnam and others came under the banner of Communism. Despite Marx’s definitions in common usage it was the “commies” that caused most of the death in the 20th century, the Western propaganda wasn’t against socialism.

    Nazis were socialists, but they weren’t Socialists. The term socialist is broad, but Socialism is something that has never really referred to a country, at least as far as my historical studies go. Nazi Germany wasn’t commonly referred to as a Socialist country, nor were (are) communist nations referred to as Socialist.

    But it’s just semantics, really….

    Libertarian-socialist a compound word, like ice-cream. Ice-cream isn’t ice and it isn’t cream, but it has properties shared with both ice and cream. Similarly a libertarian socialist isn’t libertarian and isn’t socialist, but shares common features with both libertarianism and socialism.

  41. Terje, I have zero interest in “libertarian purity”. Ultimately, I want the system of government that produces sustainable psychological well-being for all its citizens. On the evidence so far, social democracy has come to the closest to that. My biggest concern about is that too much power is concentrated in single organisations, whether they be governments or corporations.

  42. Shem – was it Ayn Rand who said that if you mix dog shit with ice cream, you get dog shit?

    Recovering Socialist – I have zero interest in “libertarian purity”.

    Amen to that 🙂

  43. Guys if libertariansocialist wants to call himself libertariansocialist let him be. Do you want to alienate him from the cause because he believes in progressive taxation? Who did more for economic freedom in the end – the self-declared socialist Peter Walsh who was Finance Minister in the Hawke government or John Howard? He’ll eventually evolve – just wait and see.

  44. Further on the flat tax – one of the best ideas I’ve seen is to have a fixed “basic living expenses” amount, say $10000 a year, below which the tax rate is negative, so that no-one ever needs to live on less than that amount. Every dollar earned above this amount is taxed at a fixed rate, e.g. 20%.
    This is still quite progressive, as someone earning $15000 is only being taxed at <7% of their income, whereas someone earning $150000 is being taxed at nearly 19% of their income.
    I would also combine this with a “future cost tax” that applies to goods and services. This is an extension of a ‘carbon tax’, intended to limit activities for which the costs are not generally felt by the current generation.

    But that would be it – no exemptions, no rebates, no special treatment for particular industries etc.

  45. Well that’s even more progessive than my proposal!

    BTW, just to stir the pot, the only party I realistically think has a chance of coming close to bring libertarian ideals into our government is the Greens. Sure, there are a few old-style socialists among them, but many in the Greens are perfecly comfortable with a small role for government (often greater in terms of environmental protection, but smaller overall). Either way, the major parties are a lost cause, and the LDP realistically is never going to breakthrough into the mainstream on its own.

  46. Lib.Soc, I take it you are a “Georgist”?

    I reckon I might be half successful in bringing you around our way.

    Land taxes might be very efficient, but would you put retirees out of their home so some young people or high income earners can buy their property and be more free? Hey it doesn’t matter, they can sell out for more than what they paid for!

    Now try selling that to the retirees themselves.

    We should try to firstly rationalise our current system and then systematically change it to ween society off the Government tit. There is a justification for it as the economy grows more, we “need” less welfare. Another policy tool is to gift back state run Govenrment business enterprises to their theoretical owners and auction off fixed assets and gift back the cash proceeds.

    Rationalising Government functions and taxation and setting a fixed, incrementally falling tax/GDP ratio with spending limits is a way to do it. The first step, like current LDP policy creates immediate benefits for the least well off in a freer labour market in terms of taxes and direct and indirect regulation. Upward mobility becomes easier when you can save more and you aren’t hit with as many punitive sin taxes.

    Surely this would appeal to your life chances type of concern?

  47. I definitely have sympathies with the Georgist point of view, but I’m not well-read enough to say with any certainty what I think the best solution regarding land distribution/ownership/taxation is.

    Rationalising the current system is a no-brainer. But I don’t find language such as “weening society of the Government tit” helpful – what does it even mean? Government is elected by society to represent our interests. Part of that is ensuring that inequalities in wealth distribution are not allowed to become extreme.

    Whether a tax is punitive or not is something for the people to judge. I personally would be quite happy paying more tax, *if* it produced a better outcome as far as social wellbeing went. But I do want more say over how my taxes are spent: does the LDP have a policy on direct voting on the federal budget?

  48. Literally, weening people off the Government. Unless someone is unable to generate their own income, this is just a general principle of rationalisation. Churning billions of dollars makes no sense if we are better off without the churn.

    Government is supposed to represent our interests – why does that necessarily mean the Government is duty bound to mitigate relative poverty? Relative poverty will always exist and increases as a society, even at it’s lowest levels becomes more well off. There is no good reason to make this a policy goal.

    Taxes aren’t punitive? A minority group that cops a certain type of taxation (like smokers who contribute far more than what they get out of the public health system), drinkers or the young working poor who pay to go to work would find it puzzling that such arbitrary treatment by the tax system isn’t punishing. It makes them worse off simply because of their situation or lifestyle choice. You cannot rely on the public to make an informed choice about how 20 million other citizens are being treated individually by the Government. How many people who vote in favour of sion taxes for the “good of” the smokers, themselves and the health system actually know that smokers pay way more than what they receive in benefits out of the health system through taxes? The median voter model and electorate and political-economic cycle considerations infer that you won’t get a very compassionate response on the issue.

    How do taxes increase social wellbeing? This is just a loose motherhood term to avoid justifying spending. We spend well above any level of Government where Government services (largely in the form of law and order) gives a net benefit. Each dollar spent by Government costs about $1.40 in lost production (and has been estimated as high as $1.69 in lost production).

    Mate, this seems really arse backwards to me (but with some merit). You want to vote in how your taxes are spent?

    Two thoughts emerge:

    1. Cut taxes and and spend it on what you wish. Each dollar of revenue spent costs society $1.40 in lost production. You would be over 28% better off and actually control the money you wish to spend, not subject to majority rule.

    2. Why not just volunatarily donate to say landcare, or as Kerry Packer did, to the NSW Ambulance service?

    That said, it’s not such a bad idea when the first two considerations are made.

  49. I’m not excessively concerned about relative poverty itself, just the “minimum” level of poverty. As society gets richer, the base amount of wealth you need to be able to succeed in it tends to rise too. The cost of rent and labour in particular have risen considerably relative to incomes in the last several decades, making it more expensive to start your own business.

    I would like to see your evidence that no government service gives a net benefit. There is a big burden of proof, for instance, in demonstrating that Australia’s healthcare could be provided less expensively if it was entirely privately funded.

    I agree that there is no need for specific taxes on activities such a smoking – but we do need some way of pricing externalities into goods and services. Smoking does cause a significant drain on the public health system, and while you may be right that smokers are taxed over and above what is necessary to reflect this cost, I’m not convinced that this makes us any worse off as a society.

    Voting on how taxes are spent appeals to me as individuals can then choose, to a certain extent, what public services are valuable to them. I wouldn’t advocate that the budget be entirely in control of the voters, as obviously most voters don’t have the expertise or experience necessary to make many necessary federal budgeting decisions, but I would like to see the ability to set limits on how the budget is allocated into broad categories, including the total size.

  50. It’s good to see that you recognise the relative level of poverty leads to poor measurement and poor policy.

    As society gets richer, the amount you need to succeed gets smaller, actually. Resources are more abundant and there are more workers who are more productive who are willing to buy your services or products.

    The cost of rent is both a specific microeconomic problem, relating to prohibitions on subdivisions and development, land release and excessive taxation of development fees. The buildings themselves are then double-taxed in the form of GST on top of income which has been taxed by payroll and income taxes and then vendor duties and capital gains tax. On top of that, loose and discretionary monetary policy makes incomes worth less through inflation. The first home buyers grant merely bidded up ancillary services like conveyancing.

    Less, not more Government intervention would make houses cheaper.

    The cost of labour has some Government imposed on costs such as payroll taxes (which actually drive Asutralian firms offshore). Increasing wages are just a function of increasing productivity. One way to ensure that labour costs are not prohibitive but people get paid high wages (though productivity) is to allow independent contracting, comission schemes and to relax labour laws as much as possible. A high wage rate really means a high contribution to firm output. If the wage is madnated to be too high, then we should be concerned for the firm which can’t operate and the worker who was put out of work.

    When you break down these problems, the causes don’t suggest some kind of assistance scheme for renters and small business. They infer that regulation and taxes made things worse off to begin with.

    No one said that no Government service provides a net benefit. The fact is, that taxation costs at least $1.20 for each dollar spent. We shouldn’t waste the resources. The burden of proof is on the party insisting for more Government action. My argument was that we need a “nightwatchman state” and that does deliver net benefits. We spend many times over this level.

    The burden of proof that healthcare would be better provided privately isn’t big at all. Private healthcare has better outcomes by a long way. The problem then is the price. We can take a more rationalised approach to providing care to the less well off through direct cash transfers than socialising production, or through a voucher style system of healthcare.

    The medical system suffers in many, many ways from Government and Government backed interference.

    1. Doctors are given a legally backed cartel staus internationally on practice and training.

    2. We have a subsidy scheme for some pharamceuticals, but to keep the pharmaceutical comapanies appeased after the Government buys their drugs at a low price through legal abuse of market power, the firms need to be subsidised to keep production and sales in Australia.

    3. It is highly questionable if many drugs and prescriptions need to be handled by doctors and pharmacists.

    4. Pharmacists hold a degree of protection from competition from integrated supermarkets etc.

    5. Health insurance in Australia is protected from foreign competition and the 30% rebate is an implicit subsidy, since it does not directly go to consumers but firms (since the money must first be spent, the choices made by consumers don’t reflect a competitive market).

    6. Australian healthcare doesn’t subsidise insurance for low income earners but subsidises losses for everyone.

    7. There are three levels of Government bureacracy required to administer the system.

    The US system actually sees private health insurance 2.44 times cheaper than in the public system.

    How is society not worse off when an externality is taxed or subsidised over and beond the level required to correct the externality?

  51. Where on earth do you get your 2.44 times cheaper figure from? It contradicts almost every other study I’ve read.

    I certainly agree that there’s plenty of room for simplification of the public healthcare system, but everything I’ve read about the U.S. healthcare system indicates that a system of purely private health insurance would be a mistake.

    I also agree that government legislation has been at least partly responsible for rising land/rent prices, though more through the structure of the taxation system that makes unproductive land/property speculation attractive to investors. However fundamentally land is a non-increasing resource, so as we get wealthier (and more numerous), all things being equal, one would expect it to be become more expensive.

    There are various other factors that contribute towards the increasing cost of succeeding, though I certainly accept there are mitigating factors working the other way.

    If nothing else though, I don’t believe a society deserves to consider itself wealthy if there is significant percentage of its population involuntarily living in conditions that would be widely considered to be poverty.

  52. LS,

    I find much of your core philosophy reasonable (although perhaps not agreeable). I object to your choise of title and some of the details regarding your positions (eg health) however I think you will make a useful contribution to discussion here so do stick around.

    I would like to take issue with the suggestion that the Australian Greens have an agenda towards smaller government. At the last election they ran on the position that the top tax rate is too low. If they merely wanted a more progressive system (and not a larger role for government) then they should have campaigned on tax cuts for low income earners. In doing preference deals for the LDP I certainly spoke with the Greens and found common ground on issues such as homosexual rights, euthanasia, the anti-terror laws and other areas relating to civil liberties (with firearm rights being a big exception). I even met some Greens that indicated as you have done that many Greens regard themselves as libertarian. Saddly there is way too much about the Greens policy position in the economic rhelm that is merely old fashion socialism. They have no real commitment to free trade, lower taxation, privatisation or any of the important pro-liberty economic reforms that libertarians aspire to. They would have to abandon large slabs of the agenda they have pushed over the last couple of decades to make themselves worthy of my vote or the vote of most libertarians that I know.

    I don’t personally believe that equal opportunity should be an objective of government. However opportunity is critically important to the health of any society.

    I can live with progressive taxation if it is also low taxation although I’m quite strongly opposed to income tax. I don’t personally object overly to churn but I do object to churn that creates high EMTRs. I could back reform toward a basic income (which includes churn) as Mark Hill advocates if we also abolished other welfare, progressive income tax and the minimum wage. Although it is still a political compromise.

    Have you tried the LDP political quiz?


  53. A flat tax with a tax free threshold is effectively a progressive income tax. It would only not be progressive f there wasn’t a tax free threshold. I don’t think libertarians need to get too fired up about the issue of progressivity. The priority is to starve the beast.

  54. All politics is compromise Terje. Which is one reason I think that the LDP and Greens could benefit from each other. Many Greens supporters are very open to well-argued and evidence-based reasoning, and if you were able to present a firm argument that by lessening the role of government in the economy, this would benefit the environment and help with social justice concerns, there would room for modification of some of their economic policies, which is, after all, their weak spot.

    On the LDP quiz I score 5.5 for economic freedom and 8.5 for social freedom. I would be willing to move further to the right on economic freedom once a significant number of other pre-conditions are in place.

  55. In the US medicare costs $6600 per paitient per year whereas the private system costs $2700 per paitient per year, with better outcomes.

    The CATO institute have shown that US medical care costs too much because technicians can’t do menial work that nurses do here, like take blood samples, only doctors may do some work like that. 7% of US health costs are tied up in these pointless regulations.

    How would privatising and deregulating the healthcare system be “disasterous”?

    One third of our land is under lock and key, and we cannot subdivide or build space saving high rises without bureacratic rigmarole and high fiscal costs. These directly affect how much “land” is actually useable. Keating and Hawke got rid of CGT exemption provisions and had to backpeddle as land prices rose, since this lead to less investment. Taxation has not increased land specualtion, but cut all investment. How do speculators inflate land prices over several years anyway? If demand has risen and will continue to rise, this inevtiable as people keep on making more babies and earning more real wages. The Government is entirely responsible for disabling the supply side response.

    Why should the Government have a policy of enabling people to “succeed”? Success is highly objective and any such policy is open to begging by a inummerate list of special interests that leads to the regulatory and subsidiy morass that exists now.

    Strangely enough, you seem to be contradicting your previous rejection of relativistic welfare measures. What if some people want no more than to survive and live a simple life? What is someone doiwnshifts? Do we then legislate against that and help them rejoin the rat race through subsidies?

    Do the quiz:

  56. I never said privatising the healthcare system would be “disastrous”, just that a system of “purely private healthcare would be a mistake”. I’m quite willing to change my mind if someone can demonstrate that it was capable of working better, but the closest example we have, for whatever reason, is not something I would wish to see repeated here.

    I fully agree there is little justification for regulation over how individuals should be allowed to subdivide their land. Even building height restrictions are probably better managed at a largely voluntary level through neighbourhood community groups (even if this means developers who insist on constructing buildings that block light/views to surrounding properties should forgo police protection of their property).

    Speculators can and do inflate land prices by simply holding on to land as infrastructure is built around it. They are not creating any wealth, but simply increasing their bargaining power with others that have created wealth. However this is not particularly relevant to the discussion.

    As far as the government policy objectives go, as I said before, the government’s job is to act in the interests of those that elect it. It is our interests to live in a society with a sustained, universal, high level of psychological wellbeing. For those who voluntarily choose to live a simpler life, obviously this is not an issue, but for the majority who wish to enjoy the material benefits of a modern industrial society, they need the ability to become productive citizens. If voting citizens, through whatever set of circumstances, find themselves in a situation where they realistically have no liberty to get ahead financially, then the government they elected is bound to represent their interests, by whatever means is judged to be most effective.

  57. BTW, regarding this quote:

    “The difference between libertarianism and socialism is that libertarians will tolerate the existence of a socialist community, but socialists can’t tolerate a libertarian community.”

    Even if I thought Australia would be a better place were it to become a big socialist state a la Sweden or Norway, I would perfectly happy to cordon off a section of it for a libertarian community to exist in. They would be treated exactly like we treat citizens of other countries.
    If there were actually enough interested in attempting such an experiment I would actually love to see it done.

  58. The closest example of privatised healthcare is often called the United States. I agree. The 7% of healthcare costs is directly attributed to the licensing of simple procedures that nurses and orderlies would do elsewhere in the 1st world. It is not necessarily desireable, for the reasons I outlined above. More general problems are caused by similar caused to what we have in Australia – e.g Government backed cartels and manipulation of IP rights.

    Virtually all of the flaws can be attributed to Government intervention. Clearly complete privatisation would hands down be a vast improvement. Equity and welfare issues are best addressed through the welfare system, not by nationalising production.

    Rights over property can be administered through community title provisions and contract law. There is no need to get the Government involved at all.

    If a speculator holds onto land now, when supply is restrained by taxes and regulation, would they do so to problematic levels otherwise if they could a) subdivide anyway or b) the supply constraints did not exist?

    The interests of the electorate involve incompatible preferences. There is no way to act in the interest of every citizen other than to provide the “rules of the game” and allow upward mobility. Anything else only redistributes wealth, arbitrarily and in an unpredictable manner. The Government cannot enusre there is a universal and high level of psychological well being. It just cannot do this no matter the amount of resources at its command.

    The inability to get ahead financially is caused by taxes and regulation.

    Take for example a young man that wants a job as a furniture removalist. If he is unskilled, he is virtually barred by regulation (HR vehicle and forklift license) from doing that work. Let’s say he takes on a job with less justifiable licensing requirments as a bartender. He has to pay to get licenses for the most puerile of certification. In both jobs he will probably see similar workers put out of work because of payroll taxes and other compulsury on costs. His take home pay is taxed directly and indirectly at every stage of production.

    Let’s say he wants to own his own bar at one stage or another. The onerous tax and dubiously justifiable regulatory commitments become many times more inhibitive.

    If he was to work for 10 years, he couldn’t use his nest egg to buy a burger franchise because by law, you cannot touch your superannuation until retirement.

    The inability to get ahead financially is caused by taxation and regulation. The Government should not be bound to deliver counterproductive outcomes.

  59. Claiming that everything is the fault of the government doesn’t make it so. I’m afraid that is one reason why I have serious issues with the hardline libertarian position you appear to take.

    I will happily allow that governments often make foolish and counterproductive decisions, but that in itself is not proof that it would be better if governments made no decisions at all.

    I’m a little confused as to what you mean when you suggest contract law negates the need for government involvement. Who is supposed to step in when parties break the contract?

  60. I am only claiming those things on evidence. Please tell me where I have not backed up my assertions. There is nothing “hardline” with letting people largely do as they please as long as they do not hurt others.

    I am not saying the Govenrment shouldn’t make any decisions at all. I am saying the Government should make a very limited set of decisions.

    Your confusion actually gets explained by what I said above – a limited set of decisions, and as I said previously, enforcing the rules of the game. If there are welfare or equity issues, these are better handled by the welfare system through direct cash trasnfers rather than nationalisation of industry. This has been basically proven by two economists, Arrow and Debreu.

    So yes I am saying society benefits the most when the role of Government is merely to enforce contract law and protect property rights. If there is any redistribution, it should be done through lump sum, direct trasnfers and a consumption tax. There is strong empirical evidence that favours this point of view.

    Sure Governments might make some good decisions – but why not leave the process to private individuals, firms and organisations? What inherent advantages does the Government have when there are 10-20 layers between the sharholder (you and I) and the CEO (Kev or Mozza)? What do we do when we find out that every single “shareholder” in “Australia Inc” wants something different to everyone else?

  61. If you want to me a flat-out, unqualified claim like “The ability to get ahead financially is caused by taxes and regulation”, you have a lot of work to do to back it up.

    You would have to prove me to that someone born into a poor household where neither parent made an effort to encourage their personal development, where they had a lower-than-average IQ and no particular other genetic advantages, would benefit simply from less tax and regulation, in a way that allowed them to compete reasonably against those born into wealthy/loving/caring/stable families, with above average IQ and ambition etc.

    How can decisions that affect the “commons” (air, water, etc.) be usefully made by private individuals? If I determine, after years of research, that the substances emitted into the air by my next door neighbour are seriously damaging to my health, what am I supposed to decide – that I should move?

  62. Why was the household poor in the first place?

    The guys parents are poor. They never had to be. Look at the above argument at what isn’t disputed as to what might cause poverty – planning regulation, wage regulation, limited land release, prohibitive on costs to wages, professional licensing for the most menial of tasks, pure economic profit on prices of services provided by cartels, direct and indirect taxes on every strucutre of production. A legal compulsion to save but a prohibition on personally using these savings before retirement for commercial purposes. Monetary policy that erodes fixed incomes. Tariffs that are highly inequitable.

    If we got rid of these, how many people of his generation would have become poor? Why can’t the young man become upwardly mobile, and why doesn’t he maximise his chance of this when taxes are low and regulation is minimal?

    It is pretty hard to compete with someone with more ambition than you. You can’t change human nature.

    Externalities on land and water can be solved with property rights. Air is probelmatic, but those who suffer also benefit from the cause of the externality – try assiging costs to air pollution in Australian urban areas.

    Common pool problems should be treated preferentially.

    1. Property rights assignment.

    2. Tradeable permits.

    3. Pigouvian taxes, offset against consumption or income taxes.

    Since realistic costing of action (a reasonable cost of capital) precludes Kyoto and the Stern report, we needn’t worry about air. Air can also be managed with land property rights, options and caveats.

    You should see John Humphrey’s discussion paper on global warming with regards to a situation where it is advisable to take action with global warming:

    John advocates a revenue neutral, GDP positive approach to a “carbon tax”, offset against income taxes.

  63. There’s any number of reasons why the household might be poor in the first place, whether it’s because of a past history of ineffectual government regulation, or because they chose to be that way. At any rate, “poor” is not entirely absolute. Someone born into a family that grants him a million dollars upon reaching maturity has a great opportunity to start their own business and become even more wealthy. Someone born into a family that is modestly well-off with only a few hundred dollars to grant them has far less opportunity, even if he may have more ambition.

    I fully support the revenue neutral carbon tax position too, as does Al Gore. But this is exactly an example of a decision made by the government. According to you, we should “leave the process to private individuals, firms or organisations”.

  64. So what? Now you are completely rejecting your previous dismissal of realtivistic welfare measurements?

    You are also rejecting the role of market interaction. A is a wealthy cad, and B is a entreprenuerial mover and shaker.

    There is an endless list as to how A and B can both profit as partners or as businesses and customers of each other.

    Equality of opportunity stifles the entrepreneurial spirit. Incentives are totally altered. Savings (like that $1 000 000) fuel the economy, but entrpreneurial talent drives the vehicle.

    If every generation needed to be made equal, there would be far less innovation & reinvestment of profits and we’d all be far worse off.

    Does Al Gore support a revenue neutral, GDP positive carbon tax?

    Kyoto and even Stern have been dismissed by most economists, because they have not valued the costs of giving up the creation of new wealth and technologies highly enough. It is highly doubtful we need such action. Many environmentalists can support revenue neutrality, but how many support a GDP positive plan?

  65. Hey, LibertarianSocialist, you are relying a lot on the government being accountable, but its’ accountability is to the mass of the people, not the individuals. Where could an individual protect his rights? Were the American States which allowed lynchings right, since this reflected the will and the interests of the majority of voters?
    At this site, we do NOT believe in pure democracy, because majority rule turns into Communism, or Statist variants. I favour doubly-small governments- small-sized counties, with a small arsenal of powers.

  66. Mark, where did I say I completely rejected relative wealth measurements? All I said was “I’m not excessively concerned about relative poverty itself”. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about some of the side-effects of increasing wealth inequalities.

    As for your claim that “equality of opportunity stifles the entrepreneurial spirit”, I don’t believe you can even construct half a rational argument to support that other than a position of faith. It is certainly in direct contradiction with my own position which is that equality of opportunity increases the chances of the enterpreneurial spirit being able to succeed.

    I’m not defending Kyoto or Stern here – Kyoto was always “the best that could be agreed upon”, i.e. not very good, and made worse because the most significant player didn’t even agree to that.

    If a plan to lower greenhouse emissions can be GDP positive, why wouldn’t anyone support it over one that is GDP negative?

    Nicholas, I don’t believe in pure democracy either, but we already have examples of much more direct and involved democracies that Australia (e.g. Switzerland) that function quite well. I agree that small-sized (<pop 25M) countries are preferable.

  67. I didn’t argue for “equalising” every generation, just ensuring that the worst excesses of circumstantial inequalities are ameliorated by minimal, targeted wealth redistribution.

    However, even if every generation was indeed equalised so that every mature adult had the same wealth to start with, I don’t see a reason to assume it would have a net effect of stifling innovation and reinvestment. Most truly innovative people would innovate with or without a strong motive to improve their financial status in life (witness most of the software that the Internet runs on). Reinvestment is more complex, but it may not be such a bad thing if large-scale reinvestment (as opposed to small investments into new ideas) were reduced.

  68. Going back to something said earlier:

    and the LDP realistically is never going to breakthrough into the mainstream on its own.

    Why not? The Greens started off in 1990 with only 2% of the vote and they were already well known because of Bob Brown’s popularity over the Franklin Dam and their association with the Nuclear Disarmament Party.

    In 1996 the Democrats and Greens combined vote was around 14%. In 2007 it was around 10% There indicates there’s around 4% of the population that once voted for a progressive minor party that now votes for a major. The LDP could get elected off of that 4% who are likely “classical liberal” or centrist types to whom our policies would appeal. We also have the potential to catch federalist and populist votes from One Nation/ Pauline and the Nationals.

    It will take time to build, but don’t count us out yet. I’ve dealt with people in the Greens and I don’t agree that they have the potential to become libertarian. They are too willing to impose their “educated elite” philosophy onto others (eg smoking ban). They engage in social engineering as much as the Christian conservatives in the Liberal Party do- only I agree with the Greens more because they have similar morals to me. Still doesn’t make it right to impose those morals onto others who disagree, though…

  69. I’ve never met a Greens supporter who supports an outright ban on smoking – most would rather see existing bans on other drugs reduced.

    Personally, while I love that restaurants are clubs are now smoke-free, I can’t see any justification for a situation where an individual private establishment cannot legally choose to offer an indoor area for smoking, even if it means obtaining some sort of license (similar to a liquor license).

    Look at the history of the Libertarian party in the US and tell me with a straight face that the people will ever freely choose such a party.

  70. The US democratic system (at least federally) is much more closed to third parties. I think we have a better chance in Australias federal system. Partly because of preferencial voting but mostly because of the way senate voting works.

  71. LibertarianSocialist:
    What do you think will happen if government doesn’t engage in wealth-redistributing activities?

    If you look at a graph of population, it kind of curves gently upward in the centuries before capitalism, and then rises steeply with capitalism, especially in the last two centuries. What we now call ‘poverty’ was pretty much the universal human condition during all of pre-history, and all of history until only a short time ago. Capitalism has enabled a far greater of people to live who under any other system would have died – and which under socialism did die in their tens of millions. Not only that, the standard of living of those people who would otherwise be dead, including that of the poorest of the poor, is also much higher, so that it is commonplace for them to enjoy benefits which even the wealthiest in the world could never dream of before capitalism. An example would be use of a car. However the process by which the lives of the poor are made better off, and more equal, is not an equal process: it is a process of initiative, innovation, competition, profit *and* loss, none of which are equally undertaken.

    Ironically while this process of beneficence has been going on, the majority of people have never stopped moaning about how terrible capitalism is, and doing everything in their power to sabotage it. Socialists are so keen to redistribute the wealth that comes from capitalism, firm in the mistaken conviction that ‘unfettered capitalism’ will be the death of the poor if left to run its course. But it’s the other way around. This dogmatic economic ignorance merely serves to retard the process of capital accumulation that is the reason for the existence of the benefits they want to re-distribute. You are not doing the poor any favours by restricting capitalism: on the contrary.

    Mises said that there is no difference economically between socialism and communism.

    a) are hostile to capitalism
    b) favour public ownership of the means of production
    c) believed (before the disproofs started pouring in) that socialism/communism would usher in a society of greater general prosperity *and* greater equality and social justice *and* greater individual freedom
    d) are completely unable to offer a plausible explanation of by what means this end will be achieved under socialism.

    Yet it seems that no matter how many theoretical and practical disproofs wash over this ideology, the economic ignorance of its adherents is proof against them all, and it just keeps popping up like one of those punching clowns, and they endlessly reciting the same amalgam of fallacies and errors. The basal belief is the superstition that we can create real wealth by passing laws, that scarcity is a historical category, a social construct, which the general will can overcome through its embodiment in the all-wise, all-just, all-capable super-man, the state. All we need to have our wishes granted is to submit to just a bit more unlimited arbitrary political power, legal theft of private property, and destruction of the process that produces the wealth the socialists are trying to re-distribute in the first place!

    As Mises noted, the socialist/communist theorists like Marx and Saint-Simon spent a lot of time talking about the road to socialism. But none of them actually turned their minds to how goods and services are going to be produced in the absence of a market for capital goods. How would people calculate whether a particular use of resources was worthwhile or wasteful? In the absence of monetary calculation, how do you figure out whether something yields a net benefit (profit), or instead consumes the previously saved means of production (capital)?

    The answer is, you can’t. That’s why the Soviets took raw materials, added capital, time, organisation and labour, and ended up with products that were worth less than the original raw materials!

    That is why Mises said that socialism is not an alternative economic system, it is the abolition of rational economising. What you will get is a system that causes general impoverishment, capital consumption *and* political totalitarianism and abuse of human rights. Remember, Mises showed this in 1921, *before* the grand experiments of the socialists/communists that cost the lives of tens of millions of people.

  72. LibertarianSocialist, have you read “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek?

    It’s a great start to understanding the consequences of socialism (even in a moderate form).

    Your visions are noble, as are everyone elses here. We all believe we have the best path for mankind.

  73. Look at the history of the Libertarian party in the US and tell me with a straight face that the people will ever freely choose such a party.

    I’d rather look at the ACT in New Zealand or List Dedecker in Belgium. Or at one of the other classical liberal parties internationally.

    Why look at the one country with one of the most broken electoral systems? The Greens in America are hardly a model for the Greens in Australia, after all.

    The LDP will do fine, regardless of how other libertarian parties internationally are doing. It will take some time to find our market and properly target our message, but 2007 was just the beginning and a learning experience for a lot of our members. We went from having about 3 members with electoral experience to having over 50. We’ve elected a new executive recently and there is a definite void in the political spectrum that we will be able to fill. Have a little faith.

  74. Yes, I have read (or at least skimmed, and read summaries of) Hayek. As far as I’m concerned, while I’ve strong no desire to live in a big-government state a la the Nordic countries, they do tend to prove that he was mistaken in believing that any leaning towards socialism would inevitably lead to something akin to “serfdom”. Finland in particular, despite having high taxes and significant wealth redistribution, is frequently ranked as one of the most open and competitive places to do business in the world. Capitalism not only co-exists with modern socialism quite nicely, but in fact benefits from it considerably.

    I don’t believe I have the best path for mankind. I simply look at the countries around the world observe that those that I would most like to live in are those that embarce liberal social democracy. The ones with stronger libertarian leanings (e.g. The Netherlands) especially so.

    I wish the LDP well, but I think it would be folly to ignore the possibility of forming a “libertarian wing” within the Greens. Many Greens supporters have an unfounded confidence that government intervention and regulation is the best way to solve any environmental issue, despite the litany of examples of where such attempts at intervention and regulation has actually caused further damage to the environment (e.g. biofuel subsidies being the most blatant example). The Greens would also be greatly strengthed by a far better understanding of modern economic theory, though of course there will always be those with a (not entirely unhealthy) skepticism that much of modern economic theory exists primarily to serve the wealthy.

    I would also suggest you consider why polls demonstrate that so few Americans would freely prefer to have Ron Paul as the Republican candidate. For whatever reason, libertarianism on its own doesn’t sell – it needs to attach itself to a movement that does have popularity. Environmentalism strikes me as a movement to which libertarians could usefully attach themselves – in a way which would benefit the movement AND the environment.

  75. LibertarianSocialist
    What do you think would happen if government did not engage in wealth re-distribution activities?

  76. The most likely scenario is something similar to the situation in the US, developing nations, and pre-20th century industrial economies without effective welfare distribution, with a working poor that have no realistic opportunity for financial success. Allowed to get bad enough, this would ultimately lead to civil unrest.

    But it’s not a question of what I think would happen, rather, what sort of society I would personally prefer to live in. My own personal value system places social wellbeing at an equivalent level to individual liberties (indeed, I believe you can’t meaningfully have either without the other). Obviously many hardline libertarians don’t share this value system, and that’s entirely their prerogative.

  77. What is amazing is you scorn the most upwardly mobile society in the world but out of hand, without any evidence, dismiss the role of regulation and taxes in keeping people poor, and the role of incentives in human activity.

    There is no need to ameliorate differences. In your example, there are an infinite amount of ways A, the rich cadly son can cooperate or trade with B, the poor entrepreneur without Government interference. Why will the Government make them better off?

    What is “social wellbeing”?

  78. Where is your evidence that the US is the most upwardly mobile society in the world? I’ve read a number of studies quite compelling demonstrating that while it used to be true ~50 years ago, it now lags far behind many other developed nations in terms of social mobility.

    If you need to ask what social wellbeing is, I’m not sure I could define it in a way that would indicate its value to me. But ultimately I accept human beings are a social species, and thrive only when social relationships are strong and effective. This becomes difficult if not possible with very wide disparities in power and wealth.

  79. America – the largest pre 20th century industrial society – which you’ve said has no chance for upward mobility.

    But you just credited America pre 1960s (before the Great Society programmes) as being one of the most upwardly mobile nations on earth.

    I am a little confused as to what you are actually arguing.

    That aside, why you don’t you think taxes and regulation affect upward mobility and wealth redistribution doesn’t affect saving and innovation incentives?

    Why do social relationships get stronger when the Government gets involved?

  80. My own personal value system places social wellbeing at an equivalent level to individual liberties.

    I think your values are pretty much shared with my own. Indeed I was referring to myself as a “libertarian socialist” for a while.

    In the end I decided that charity is often a better enabler than state social engineering. I think most of the changes required to make Australia a better, more equal place are social rather than legislative.

    I grew up in a single parent family and I look at the attitude towards single mothers. If there was less of a social stigma attached to single mothers (especially teen mothers- as mine was) then I think you’d see more feeling self-worth and wanting to engage with society. My mum, thankfully, was able to overcome the stigma and worked part-time through my whole childhood, providing both proper parenting and a decent standard of living. Some single mothers lack the proper education, others lack the self-confidence but very few just want to bludge off the government and buy plasma TVs. I know even now she’s working full time with my brother in year 12 mum still doesn’t have one…..

    So often the groups in society that need help need social help, motivation, encouragement, a sense of community and relationships they can rely on. Handouts of money and services can never really solve that. Except education, I think quality education is the great enabler. Everyone should have access to education. Whether privately or publically run education is essential to ensure that upward mobility can exist. The only reason I was able to get from a single parent family to Melbourne Uni is education.

  81. LibertarianSocialist

    Yes Hayek said that continued socialism would lead to serfdom. And Mises said that continued inflation would lead to a ‘crack-up boom’. And I have often thought that we aren’t living in a state of serfdom and we haven’t had a crack-up boom. But of course that is still no argument in favour of socialism, which must stand or fall on its own merits.

    Are we living in a state of serfdom? What would it mean?

    Governments in Australia now take over 50 percent of what Australians produce every day, and it is going up all the time. A serf doesn’t have 100 percent of what he produces taken under coercion. He also has the benefits of being a dependant: free housing, food, clothes and certain benefits.

    I know two men who have worked and paid taxes all their lives and have saved up and bought farms, intending to use them to support themselves into their old age. The green laws have now deprived them of the use of their properties, without compensation. They can apply to be dependent on government. Are they serfs, and if not, why not? It is reminiscent of the middle ages, when the serfs couldn’t hunt on the king’s domains. He liked the noble scene of undisturbed nature, and if people had to be poor, what was that to him? Here it’s worse, because the Crown has actually seized their property rights, not just banned them from hunting on Crown land.

    The serfs of the middle ages went about their daily lives, never thinking to question the poverty, sickness and death around them as anything but inevitable. It never occurred to them that it might be an avoidable consequence of a social order, nor that a better social order could be based on freedom and consent instead of force and threats. They thought of course the lord had the right to beat them into submission, and forcibly take the fruits of their labour.

    Similarly people today have never been taught, and it doesn’t occur to them to question, whether there might be some connection between poverty and socio-economic disadvantage on the one hand, and government policies of
    a) inflation thieving from everyone especially the poor, constant spreading economic disorder, and causing booms and recessions
    b) taxation destroying people’s marginal livelihoods and making them dependent on the state, and
    c) occupational licensing prohibiting most kinds of employment without the government’s gracious permission and
    d) government restriction of every kind of productive activity.

    We see people die from conditions for which medicines are available on the market, but never question the right of government to prevent them from voluntarily buying medicines that would save them – for ‘consumer protection’ of course. We see people die from neglect in large bureaucratised hospitals, but it never occurs to do anything but cry for government to pour more money down the bureaucracies, thus making them bigger.

    We talk about homelessness but never question the right of government to prohibit people from building houses, or renting houses on terms acceptable to the renter, or the right of government to confiscate income from renting houses. Yet what effect do people think this will have on the availability of housing?

    All this attitude of acceptance of big government intervention in so many aspects of life is to accept that the social order is rightly built on the right of a privileged minority of overlords to beat people into submission for disobedience. It was enough for the serfs of the middle ages that it had the sanction of God, and it is enough for people today that it has the sanction of the state.

    If you were a serf in the middle ages, and accepted the orthodoxy, would you be aware of your serfdom? Today, if you accept the right of government to do the things that cause poverty, sickness and death, would it occur to you to recognise the state of subjection to arbitrary power if you saw it? Or were you waiting to see if people wore those funny tunics and hoods that serfs wore in the middle ages before you made your call?

    Hasn’t it occurred to you that a population of ‘working poor without realistic opportunity for financial success’ describes the entire world before capitalism? The whole idea that ordinary people can aspire to financial success comes from capitalism, and it depends on being free to enter into contracts, instead of having one’s conditions of life decided by someone else.

  82. Handouts of money don’t solve the need for social help, motivation, and encouragement, no, but without any money at all, all the encouragement in the world isn’t likely to help much either.

    FWIW, I think that the LDP’s tax plan is more than adequate as far as wealth redistribution goes.

  83. Justin, the Government doesn’t just “take over 50% of what Australians produce every day” – it is also a producer itself, and more importantly, an enabler of production.

    I agree that there is little justification for this amount to keep rising, however as long as we are democratically electing governments, I don’t see it as an inexorable slide towards totatilarian socialism. Democracy has helped pull several “big government” states in Northern Europe back from that direction, and will do so here.

    Absolutely, capitalism is necessary to ensure there is no “working poor without realistic opportunity for financial success”. But it’s not enough on its own.

  84. Mark, the US became the most socially mobile after the New Deal reforms. Perhaps they were overkill, and perhaps they weren’t even directly responsible, but that’s the history we have to deal with.

    The US is still reasonably socially mobile, but decreasingly so.

  85. The Government takes more than half, if you measure lost production due to taxes and regulation, not the actual tax paid. The two are different but related concepts.

    A reasonable figure is between $1.30-$1.40 lost in taxes, where and up to 25% of GDP is lost in regulation.

    The Govenrment does enable production through enforcement of contracts. Agreed. Do they necessarily need to own and run the entire court system though?

    As for being a producer itself, the minimal estimate for deadweight loss is about $1.19 in lost production for every dollar of Government revenue spent. This means Government projects need a 19% return on investment just to break even on conservative estimates of the losses and inefficiencies caused by taxation.

    This doesn’t factor in the opportunity cost of not taxing the production and investing earnings at a modest rate of the cost of capital. Ideally Government projects without a positive ROI should be scrapped.

    As another fact regarding the Government as a producer, the ECB has pointed out that Government growth is correlated 1: -0.13 with economic growth. This is because on aggregate, Government in its current form is wasteful and lowers productivity – actually leading to lower wages and less upward mobility, which would seem a great concern to you.

    Are you sugesting that we need Government based education – I would err on only providing financial assistance, see the Cato articles on the weblink I posted.

  86. I can’t prove that we “need” Government-based education, but all in all it’s a system that seems to function quite well, whereas the alternatives have yet to prove themselves.

  87. BTW, I don’t see how anybody could not agree with the principle that “Government projects without a positive ROI should be scrapped”. But how do you accurately measure the ROI of state-provided education, or government projects to restore environmental damage, or maintain law and order?

  88. The New Deal reforms lead to worsening the economic crisis. See here:

    Great Myths About the Great Depression
    by Thomas Sowell

    “In “FDR’s Folly,” author Jim Powell spells out just what the Roosevelt administration did and what consequences followed. It tried to raise farm prices by destroying vast amounts of produce — at a time when hunger was a serious problem in the United States. It imposed minimum wage rates that priced unskilled labor out of jobs, at a time of massive unemployment. ”

    That helped upward mobility, how?

  89. Read the Cato articles. The results squarely back non State run education. The alternatives have proven themselves over and over again.

    You can value those things, it is just difficult to do so. Cost benefit analysis is a specialised field.

    Google law and economics and you will see how economists judge the merits of various laws and disincentives like three strikes laws and sentencing lengths.

  90. I’ve read plenty of studies analysing the pros and cons of the New Deal. In the end, I suspect its direct economic effect was largely neutral, but the psychological effect it had on the nation was immense.

    As far as the cost/benefit analysis of non-state-run education, so what – where’s the working example of a successful modern nation with completely privately provided education? Where’s one that even comes close?

  91. Are you seriously suggesting that the Government can talk up the economy? Why didn’t it work for Hoover or George Bush I?

    Why would destroying an agricultural crop when people were starving have a massive, positive psychological effect?

    Are Americans really that crazy?

    Why do I need to show you an entire nation state with totally private education to show it is more successful (various studies point out better outcomes) when all this exercise seems to do is to ppoint out the prevailing popularity of State run education – which might be an issue people have never really been forced to think about and is the status quo.

    Do you mean it won’t work because the current system is notionally more popular? How did the abolitionists ever win debate in America with this kind of standard of proof?

  92. Of course there were aspects of the New Deal that were obviously mistakes in hindsight. But absolutely the government can “talk up” the economy – if you don’t believe this I’d suggest you can a rather naive view of human nature. I can’t speak for why it didn’t work for Hoover or Bush I – perhaps they lacked the credibility and broad appeal of FDR, or perhaps it was combined with economic policies that were counterproductive.

    When considering something as complex as the provision of education to an entire population, studies that rely on statistics and hypotheses simply are not enough – there are two many variables. I don’t think it’s asking much to demand some concrete proof it would actually work better in practice. I’m completely amenable to the idea of it, I’m just skeptical that it’s a road worth pursuing.

  93. The Governemnt cannot talk up the economy. Ever.

    I’m sorry mate, but I think it is you who is naive. I don’t say this without qualification.

    This is why:

    Essentially you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Yes most of the criticisms are valid. They don’t invalidate the idea, but alter it. Complications such as wage and contract rigidities further reduce the ability of the Govenrment to “talk things up”.

    FDR had counterproductive economic policies as well. The US great depression (a series of rolling depressions) did not end until 1941. You haven’t explained why the New Deal helped upward mobility however, since it made people worse off (i.e destroying harvests to help farm prices even though people are starving).

    There is plenty of concrete proof. The scientific method isn’t flawed. On the other hand, you reject such an approach and want to fund unlimited liabilities like “social wellbeing” and “Government facilitation” without any proof.

    You still haven’t told us why Govenrments strengthen private relationships. I can’t imagine the Government making my friends and family more numerous or personally closer to me.

  94. ‘but without any money at all’

    This is the fictional class of people starving to death that socialists constantly conjure to justify policies. Okay, but let’s say we accept the need for governmental wealth re-distribution to help people ‘without any money at all’. That provides no justification for large slabs of modern government, does it? Re-distribution to able-bodied people who are unemployed is not justified to the extent that it is government that is causing the unemployment. Yet by far the main causes of long-term unemployment are government policies motivated by socialist beliefs mistakenly blaming capitalism for problems caused by governmental intervention.

    As usual, the socialist belief system has the economics back-to-front and inside-out: it is capitalism that has led us to a state of affairs where we expect, as a matter of course, that people will not be starving to death, and will enjoy an expectation of rising standards of living. The result is no argument for anti-capitalist measures whatsoever.

  95. It’s nothing to do with “fooling” people. Why on earth do you think we have such things as “consumer confidence indexes” if the level of confidence that citizens have in the economy doesn’t matter? And if you accept it does matter, then why on earth shouldn’t a believeable authority figure be able to boost it.

    I completely accept that the Depression could have been ended sooner with better policies. But something changed after 1930 that allowed the rise of the middle class. The New Deal might not have been it, but it didn’t stop it either.

    I don’t believe wealth redistribution well done is “anti-capitalist” at all – indeed, I think it’s fundamental towards capitalism functioning effectively (unless you think capitalism by its nature should only benefit capitalists).

  96. LS — you’re simply not a socialist. You might be a social democrat or a moderate libertarian. By calling yourself socialist you simply mis-use the word, confuse everybody, and allienate anybody who uses the word correctly. Consequentialist libertarian might be true too… but so are most people here so it doesn’t differentiate you. I think “moderate” is a more useful adjective, with a left-leaning (ie you think social freedom is more important than economic freedom).

    Others — LS seems like exactly the sort of person who will end up supporting the LDP. If he came here saying he agreed with the LDP tax & welfare policy and wanted more social freedoms and would consider further liberalisation, then we would normally be very positive. It is only because he mis-uses the word “socialism” that he is getting a less-than-positive response.

    When I first started changing my views, I became a moderate libertarian and thought that the hardcore libertarians were nuts. It takes a long time to re-think each issue seriously. Give him a break.

    America has always had more social mobility than pretty much every country on earth. The new deal was a disaster. Education should be private provided, unless you hate the poor people and want to keep them down. The biggest problem in healthcare is over-regulation.

  97. Do you think the Government talking things up helps the consumer confidence index when taxes inflation and unemployment are rising?

    A belieiveable authorty figure might be able to boost it. But as I said, rational expectations can be summarised as “people act on the best information they currently have” or “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. There is no way the New Deal fooled America into unforseen upward mobility whilst they had harvest destruction and imposed monetary contractions which lead to more starvation and recession.

    Free enterprise benefits everyone. The rise of the middle class is only possible by such market processes, as real wages rose. During 1800-1900, British real wages rose 400%. This was at the time unprecedented growth.

    Labour’s national share of income has been greater than capital’s since around the beginning of the 20th century. Why do we then need to redistribute from capitalists and high wages earners to low wage earners?

    How does free enterprise cease to function without redistribution?

  98. The capitalists themselves probably get the least benefit from capitalism. This is because, after a new product or service has been brought to market, the profits start to disappear. For example, the first ball-point pen cost about $130 in today’s money, but within 2 years, it had dropped to about 30c. The benefits spread throughout the whole of society. The only way the capitalists can build big business and profits, is by a continue series of successful services to the consumers.

    LibertarianSocialist, I don’t mean to give you a hard time. I just think that the more you question the ideas that government intervention is necessary or desirable, the less you will find they withstand critical scrutiny.

  99. John, I already proposed changing my screenname, but it’s been amusing to observe the reactions.

    You, like others here, seem to think I’ve reached my position from being a full-blown socialist. That’s simply not the case: I’ve moved around on the economic liberalisation axis quite a bit throughout my life (though never particularly far to the left), and am gradually settling in on position that means I would personally like to see slightly less government involvement in the economy than we have currently (though I’m more concerned with the quality of the involvement, rather than the quantity), but that the optimal level is probably best decided by democracy, because it depends to an extent on a subjective
    judgement of what your goals are.

    Mark, I fully agree that free enterprise benefits everyone, and that market processes were responsible for the rise of the middle class. But the rules that defined how the market operated before 1930 were poor. There were gradually improved to something workable at a point after this.

    I never said free enterprise ceases to function without redistribution, just that capitalism without wealth redistribution does not lead to best result for society as a whole. But what that ‘best result’ is is ultimately a subjective judgement. Mine is different to many here.

  100. I didn’t think you were a full-blown socialist. By your use of the term “libertarian socialist” I originally assumed you shared the philosophy of other people who call themselves libertarian socialists (like Noam Chomsky), but it now apparent that you had another definition in mind also.

  101. I have some sympathy with Chomsky, but significant points of disagreement. No one figure has a monopoly on the “libertarian socialist” ideal that I know of, any more than anyone has a monopoly on the libertarian ideal in its entirety.

    The basis of libertarianism is that there is some ideal minimum of government involvement in the affairs of private individuals, including businesses they may choose to run. For me, the ideal is somewhere to the “left” of probably most posters here, which what makes me a socialist among libertarians.

    But if I had to set up my own personal utopia, I would opt for a democracy that allowed the people to choose between parties that offered slightly less and slightly more government involvement, ideally with three or four parties that would mostly fall within the bottom-right quadrant of the political compass, with perhaps one just to the bottom-left (roughly where I would place the Greens). Such a system would allow effectively testing out different levels of involvement, but all the time ensuring that voters were reasonably happy with the result.

    Unfortunately none of the realistic choices we have currently are in the bottom-right quadrant at all.

  102. I never suggest the government had a role to play in strengthening existing social relationships, if that’s what you’re implying.

  103. LS — you are missing the point and would really benefit from some linguistic and philosophgical clarity. Words have meanings. You can call yourself a frog if you like, but in all normal conversations you’re still referred to as “human”.

    Please understand that it is a fact that you are not a libertarian socialist. First, the very phrase is an oxy-moron because a libertarian can’t be a socialist and vis-versa. However, the oxy-moronic phrase has been used consistently to describe another philosophy, better described as “anarcho-communism”.

    If you don’t like the way language has developed, you could always try another language. But while speaking English, your conversations will go a lot smoother and make much more sense if you use the proper meanings of words.

    If you insist on using random meanings to random words, at least put them in inverted commas so that we know you are using a different language.

    You ideal you mention about having different competing jurisdictions can happen freely in a libertarian world. Nothing is stopping people forming “voluntary governments”. We generally refer to these as clubs, groups, organisations etc, and are collectively referred to as “civil society”. No libertarian, capitalist or anarchist would be opposed to people setting up a socialist experiment on their own property. If it worked, other people would go there and/or immitate it. Fine.

  104. Yes, see your comment @ # 91. You say that social relationships get weaker, even in the face of relative wealth differences. You have previously said that the Govenrment should reduce some degree of relative wealth disparity.

    How would they do this, how would it work and just what would the point be? Isn’t this something incredibly subjective no Government could ever administer?

    You also said earlier it would be a good thing if large investments were lessened (reducing the incentive to reinvest) through higher taxes on higher incomes.

    Why would this be good? Large scale investment doesn’t crowd out small scale investment, both can service and engender each other.

    I still have a problem with your idea that increasing equality of opportunity doesn’t decrease the entrepreneurial incentive. Maybe not on an individual level or for some people, but for the general case or in aggregate, they simply don’t have to try as hard or know that there will not be an intergenerational wealth trasnfer and so if they try too hard, it is essentially time spent for the taxman. In Soviet Russia, when Stalin abondoned the NEP, farmers destroyed livestock rather than hand them over to collectives. Personal profit motives are powerful incentives.

    In a more realsitic, not a representative agent model, generations do not follow dates on a calendar. There is a fairly even spread for each year of age and each year, new families and children are created, at different ages to each other. There is no way to support your plan to ameliorate relative differences without unfortunately creating communal profits and all of the baggage that entails.

    You’ve said the LDP policy is satisfactory. However, the idea there is not to increase welfare. As GDP grows, the need for welfare declines. The NIT was set up to ameliorate absolute, not relative welfare.

    It seems as though about the right kind of policy mix now. I disgaree we need more welfare as the more prosperous society gets.

  105. John, I’ve already accepted the term is not perhaps the best. But I’ve enjoyed the controversy it’s provoked so I’m sticking with it. If I get bored with it I’ll change to “HumanFrog” 😉

    It sounds like you are “pure libertarian” who would like to see no universally-recognised government at all, if you are suggesting that people are free to form “voluntary governments”. FWIW, I don’t personally believe this is a meaningful use of the word “government” – we can all argue linguistics!

    Mark, my position isn’t that the government “should” reduce some degree of wealth disparity, only that if citizens elect a government to represent their interests, then that will include a certain amount of wealth redistribution. Of course, if citizens freely chose to elect a government that did not redistribute wealth, that would be a perfectly acceptable outcome in my book (even though it’s not my personal preference).

    I don’t necessarily believe that it is necessary to increase welfare as a percentage of total wealth, but I can see reasons why it may need increasing relative to median income. The policy as it stands now, with the specific thresholds it has makes reasonable sense given current wage conditions, but will obviously need adjusting with time.

    Lastly, I never said it would be a good thing if large investments were lessened, only that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many (if not most) large investments don’t crowd out small ones, to be sure, but to claim that individuals in control of large amounts of wealth are not capable of suppressing the success of those with smaller amounts is to ignore plenty of evidence to the contrary.

  106. John

    When I first started changing my views, I became a moderate libertarian and thought that the hardcore libertarians were nuts

    maybe i’m still in transition 😉

  107. Even if you were to have some equity scheme through vouchers, there is no need to nationalise education to make it affordable.


    I think public control of education stifles it immensely. But education overall, even for those that can’t afford it, benefits society.

    Look at the skills shortage- I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of economists seem to think that investment by government in certain areas will help the GDP in the long-term.

    Or health- publicly funded health means people living longer, more productive lives, again pushing up GDP.

    You’re not really that different to a lot of us, LS. There’s a few hardcore anarcho-capitalists in the party, but there’s a lot of moderates that believe in wealth distribution, too.

    Notice even Mark never rejects the possibility of government funded education or a minimum guaranteed income. He’s supportive of 30-30 and although he might have an overall goal of less government than you or I. But we’re roughly on the same page and working towards the same direction.

    The LDP is a party in the bottom right, the Democrats are bottom centre (tending left). I seriously think you should back the LDP, even if you don’t see us as overly viable at this stage. You agree with us on most issues and with preferential voting even if we don’t get anything done it’s still not wasted. We’re a broad church, we encompass an entire quarter of the political spectrum, you’d be most welcome.

  108. Thanks Shem – if most posters here were like you I’m sure I would feel quite welcome. I’m mainly sticking around because I like having my ideas challenged.

  109. What I think you are ignoring is that when a large firm denies access to a technology or process it holds, there is an incnetive for others to produce it, or a better, cheaper alternative themselves. Laser discs were not cheap and were not open source so we eventually got chepaer and more replicable (but not OS) DVDs.

    On the contrary let’s look at Bill Gates (again). He denied some malarial treatment and outdoor good distribution producers a profit when he provided the aid to Africa. On the other hand, the funds of these companies can be put to a higher use.

    The only sustainable way you can reduce the success of smaller firms is to tax or regulate them out of competition or growth. Liquor licensing and the very high marginal total (all taxes) tax rates on moderate household incomes are testament to this. The solution is to get rid of them.

    The other way is to buy them out. This is a positive sum (win-win) result.

  110. Of course the frog would be more than welcome on this forum or within the ALS or LDP more generally. I’ve already hit him up to join the LDP. 😉

  111. Who said anything about firms denying access to a technology they hold? There are literally dozens of ways that large firms can make it very difficult for small ones to compete. But I also agree that much regulation unfairly disadvantages small businesses.

  112. Good on you LS.

    ‘I think public control of education stifles it immensely. But education overall, even for those that can’t afford it, benefits society.’

    I think so too. But try this thought experiment. Say government compulsion in education were abolished: no compulsory contributions, curriculum, attendance or teacher qualifications. It is a safe bet that most people would choose to have their child learn how to read, write and do arithmetic: the basic primary school education (or what should be the basic primary school education if they weren’t so busy teaching that the world is giong to end soon unless we give more power to government.)

    As to higher education, many would choose to follow the academic path. But many would concentrate on working skills, such as trades and professions. But some people might decide to buy their teenager a truck, or a lawn-mowing franchise instead. They would presumably do this especially if they thought that the returns to such skills would be greater than the returns to the skills learnt in school. And does not driving trucks and mowing lawns also ‘benefit society’? What consensual and productive activity does not?

  113. How can they do it without creating incentives for others to compete against them in large numbers or without offering a better deal to consumers or downstream businesses?

  114. Going on Justin’s idea – more people learning trades and vocational skills might see them pay for distance or postgraduate courses in science, engineering or commerce at an older age. There would be more tacit knowledge and we might end up with more inventors.

  115. Personally: I’m totally against government welfare, public medicine, public education, government owned transport systems, water utilities etc etc ad naseum. I would expect the vast majority of libertarians to agree with this.
    I firstly see these programs as a violation of property rights. And they don’t achieve the overall best outcomes. Ultimately more people die than necessary.
    I am sickened by today’s culture of subjectivism, belief in compromise as opposed to principle/science, and populism.

    Although I thought Bob was overly agressive, I think he was right to point out Rothbard’s statements that ideology is the main force in political change. eg/ the marxism/socialist movements, you can even see this at work with Kevin Rudd vs John Howard.

  116. Whereas there’s very little I’m “totally” against. I prefer to weigh all alternatives on their relative merits.
    For instance, where is the evidence that “more people die than necessary” from public medicine? All the statistics I’m aware of point to single-payer systems being the most effective at bringing about lower mortality and higher life-expectancy etc.

    As far as subjectivism, compromise and populism goes – hey, welcome to the human race.

  117. LS,

    I posted this before (somehow) on an older blog post on this site.

    Yes indeed, more people do die than necessary.

    This is courtesy of the Adam Smith blog of the UK:

    “What do waiting lists measure?

    The newspaper headlines which tell us there are now a million people on NHS waiting lists are rightly shocking. The figure means that one in sixty of us are now waiting for medical treatment. And by no means all of us are even ill. Of those who actually need the NHS to do something for them, it is more like one in six who are condemned to wait.

    Waiting lists are the inevitable consequence of a politically-driven, tax-funded, centrally-run health service. Users have no customer power over the system. Since the amount which people pay (through taxation) is unrelated to the volume of services they use, they have every incentive to demand as much service they can get, however marginal or even unnecessary. And because – unlike almost all other goods and services – there is no price mechanism to inhibit the over-demand, the central authorities have to resort to the only other strategy open to them, that of rationing.

    Waiting lists are merely the symptom of this. They represent unmet demand. They are rationing by queuing.

    Undoubtedly, this strategy has some success. Some people do not bother to see the doctor because they cannot face a long wait, while others fail to turn up to consultants’ appointments because they have simply got fed up waiting. A growing number choose to dip into their own savings and pay directly for their treatment in the private sector. A quarter of cardiac patients actually d*e before it is their turn to be called in, which reduces the burden of demand even more.

    But the headline figure for waiting lists conceals a great deal too. There are wide variations in waiting times in different areas, between different doctors and hospitals, or for different kinds of illness. So what is the real story behind the headline figures?

    How long are the waiting lists?

    What patients are concerned with is not so much the number of other people who are on the waiting list, but the length of time which they themselves will have to wait. Obviously, in principle it is possible for the waiting list to be small, but for each person to have a long wait; or for the waiting lists to be large, but for each person to be seen very quickly.

    The National Plan for the NHS published in 2000 states that by 2005 “no one will wait more than 13 weeks for an appointment and 6 months for admission”.

    That was two years ago, but in fact the position has worsened slightly since then. The slide in performance suggests that, however determined the policy objectives might be, today’s centralized control structure cannot in fact deliver even these modest goals.

    In-patient waiting lists. Most urgent cases, however, are actually seen quite quickly. Consider in-patient waiting times – the period between a consultation with a senior doctor and admission for treatment. There are roughly ten million admissions for in-patient treatment each year. Just under half (4.3 million, in England) are emergencies and as such are treated quickly. Just over half (5.7 million) are for other sorts of treatment

    Taking only the figures for England, the one million people on this waiting list at any moment, it is estimated that: 155,000 are seen within 4 weeks.

    However, non-urgent cases can have very long waits indeed. Of the remaining 845,000 who are seen after 4 weeks:
    345,000 are seen before 13 weeks, but
    500,000 are not seen until after 13 weeks, and of those:
    250,000 are not seen until after 26 weeks.
    Out-patient attendance. There are around 44 million outpatient attendances each year. These are people waiting to see a consultant. The biggest delays are in getting to see the consultant in the first place: once you have had a first consultation, subsequent attendances tend to follow more quickly.

    But of the (roughly) 11 million first attendances with a consultant:
    8.4 milllion (78%) are seen within 13 weeks, of whom:
    3.8 million (35%) are seen within 4 weeks; but
    2.4 million (22%) are not seen until after 13 weeks.
    How much time do we waste in waiting?

    Of course, we can probably never entirely get rid of waiting time in any service – either in health care or even at the supermarket check-out. But for the population as a whole, today’s NHS waiting lists add up to a very long wait indeed. As Professor Richard Feachem showed in the British Medical Journal of 19 January 2002, they compare very unfavourably with waiting times in Kaiser Permanente, a California health plan whose spending per patient is remarkably close to that of the NHS. In Kaiser, though, 90% of in-patients are treated within 13 weeks, and 80% of out-patients are seen within two weeks.

    But let us set a more modest target for the NHS and say merely that a wait of over 4 weeks is unsatisfactory – and given the pain and anxiety that people may suffer, it clearly must be. So how much time do NHS patients spend in this ‘clearly unsatisfactory’ state of waiting more than 4 weeks?

    Let us also assume that people reach the top of the waiting lists at a fairly regular rate as indicated by our raw statistics, so that all out-patients are seen within 20 weeks and all in-patients are treated within 36 weeks. (Though as a number of hip-replacement patients will testify, this is perhaps an over-generous assumption.) We can then calculate that, in rough terms:
    the in-patients on the NHS waiting list will spend 235,000 years waiting in excess of 4 weeks for their treatments; and
    NHS out-patients will wait 830,000 years waiting beyond 4 weeks to be seen.
    That is, a total of 1,065,000 years of unsatisfactorily long waiting.

    What are the knock-on costs?

    Of course, this is not the whole story. Waiting lists cost people a lot more than just time. Dudley Lusted, chief economist at PPP Healthcare, undertook a major exercise on the economic cost of waiting lists. His starting point was to estimate the cost to employers of working days lost – counting the period after the first 4 weeks’ absence – where the individual remained too incapacitated to return to work and was awaiting medical treatment.

    Averaged across the workforce, Lusted estimated two days being lost per employee per year. With a workforce of about 22 million that suggests 44 million work days lost due to delays in medical treatment. With a weighted average pay of £15,000 the cost is therefore £660,000,000. As a rule of thumb, the consequential cost of lost work time or covering for absence will be the same again, to give a total cost close to £1.5 billion for employers. This does not include the productivity losses of below-par workers or the management costs of dealing with absence.

    The cost of anxiety and limitations on activity for the patients themselves has been estimated by Professor Carole Propper of Bristol University. Taking this at £5 a day (the mid-point of her estimated range) then the unseen cost of the 1,065,000 years that people spend waiting beyond 4 weeks is approximately £19.4 billion.

    There are, of course, other costs too. A MEDIX survey identified the extra burdens on GPs and their patients. Among the key results were:
    Worsening conditions – 66% of GPs had patients waiting as outpatients admitted as emergency because their condition worsened
    Increased burden – 90% of GPs had patient consultations arising out of waiting list delays and 70% of GPs dealt with problems arising from that – an estimated 1.5 million extra consultations.
    What should be done?

    Although all these costs are necessarily estimates, it is clear that the cost of NHS waiting lists – in terms of anxiety, incapacity, time off work, the cost of absence to employers, the extra costs to the NHS whose condition worsens and the cost to GPs of seeing patients who are waiting for treatment – is well over £20 billion.

    But rough as they are, these calculations do tell us something about the real human scale of the waiting lists and the costs to individuals and economy. Unfortunately, fewer people are being put on the waiting list, fewer of those are being treated in good time, and the total queue is not getting any shorter. Clearly, productivity is falling, despite a real increase in funding of about £5,000 million in the past two years. The inescapable conclusion is that the current structure simply cannot make the improvements that we all want, and that radical reform is inevitable.

    Pumping more money into a failing structure will not deliver the benefits. Importing clinicians or exporting patients is a marginal stop-gap. We need to change the system.

    Most healthcare can be delivered locally, and there is a strong case for managing that delivery locally too. More local management, greater diversity of provision, and methods to make the financial rewards come upward from the patient, rather than downwards from Whitehall and through the health bureaucracy, could all produce a more patient-centred system where there was a real downward pressure on waiting times both from patients and providers.”

    On top of that, the quality of care is much poorer.

  118. The NHS still does better in overall stats than the US system of privately-funded healthcare (e.g. infant mortality, life expectancy).

    So you have to find a very good argument to convince me that privatising the NHS would *improve* its results.

  119. I think you are conflating several issues.

    1. Healthcare

    2. Immigration

    3. Diet and income

    The US has an annual immigration intake of 1.5-1.8 million skilled and unskilled workers per year. Infant mortality may have absolutely nothing to do with the healthcare system in some cases.

    From the CIA factbook:


    Infant mortality rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total: 6.37 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 7.02 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 5.68 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
    Life expectancy at birth:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total population: 78 years
    male: 75.15 years
    female: 80.97 years (2007 est.)


    Infant mortality rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total: 5.01 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 5.58 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 4.4 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
    Life expectancy at birth:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total population: 78.7 years
    male: 76.23 years
    female: 81.3 years (2007 est.)

    The difference is very marginal, even with other considerations such as military service deaths, immigration, incomes and lifestyle choices.

    More on quality and outcomes:,1480,1036970,00.html

    “Patients who have major surgery in Britain are four times more likely to d*e than those in America, according to a major new study.
    The comparison of care, which reveals a sevenfold difference in mortality rates in one set of patients, concludes that hospital waiting lists, a shortage of specialists and competition for intensive care beds are to blame.

    Fresh evidence of a stark contrast between the fate of patients on either side of the Atlantic will re-open the debate over whether NHS reforms are having any impact on survival rates.

    Mounting evidence suggests that patients who are most at risk of complications after an operation are not being seen by specialists, and are not reaching intensive care units in time to save them.
    This week health Ministers will present the latest figures showing another yearly rise in the number of intensive care beds for those who are critically ill. But Britain lags far behind America and most European countries in its critical care facilities. An authoritative study to be published later this year will demonstrate that the chances of survival after undergoing a major operation are far greater in an American hospital.

    The authors conclude that NHS waiting lists, the lack of specialist-led care and the fact that many patients do not go routinely to intensive care contribute largely to the difference.

    A team from University College London (UCL) and a team from Columbia University in New York jointly studied the medical fortunes of more than 1,000 patients at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and compared them with nearly 1,100 patients who had undergone the same sort of major surgery at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.

    The results, which surprised even the researchers, showed that 2.5 per cent of the American patients died in hospital after major surgery, compared with just under 10 per cent of British patients. They found that there was a sevenfold difference in mortality rates when a subgroup of patients – the most seriously ill – were compared.

    Professor Monty Mythen, head of anaesthesia at UCL who oversees the critical care facilities at Great Ormond Street Hospital, led the British side of the research, which will be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal later this year.

    ‘The main difference seems to be in the quality of post-operative care, and who is likely to care for patients in the US, compared with the UK,’ Mythen said.

    ‘In America, in the Manhattan hospital, the care [after surgery] is delivered largely by a consultant surgeon and an anaesthetist. We know from other research that more than one third of those who die after a major operation in Britain are not seen by a similar consultant.’

    He also believes that the queue for treatment in the NHS would inevitably mean that British patients were more at risk. ‘We would be suspicious that the diseases would be more advanced in the UK, simply because the waiting lists are longer.’

    The New York patients had paid through private insurance to go to hospital and were therefore likely to be of a higher social class and healthier, whereas the NHS patients were from all social classes. The researchers attempted to level out social differences by rating each patient according to clinical status.

    Each patient was then placed in a mortality-risk category. Those at greatest risk were calculated to have a 36 per cent of dying after surgery, whereas the lowest risk patients had between zero and five per cent chance of dying.

    Mythen added: ‘We looked at a number of hypotheses, but it does seem to show a difference in the systems of care, rather than a reflection of some other factor. The provision of intensive-care beds is obviously one of the differences. In America, everyone would go into a critical care bed – they go into a highly monitored environment. That doesn’t happen routinely in the UK.’

    Each year, more than three million operations are carried out on the NHS. Around 350,000 of these are emergencies, which carry a higher risk of complications, but there is no routine triage system in Britain for picking out patients before surgery, to determine who is most at risk.

    Previous reports looking at deaths that occur within 28 days of surgery have shown that 36 per cent occurred in patients who went directly into ICU after surgery. But a higher mortality rate – 42 per cent – is seen among patients who had first been sent to a ward, got into difficulties and then had to be transferred to intensive care.

    Professor David Bennett, head of intensive care at St George’s, after looking at survival rates, said: ‘There are substantial number of patients each year who die, who might otherwise have survived had they got the appropriate kind of care after surgery.

    ‘There’s a crucial six- to eight-hour period when some people need their cardiac output [the amount of blood the heart pumps out each minute] boosted. Even 80-year-olds undergoing heart surgery are far more likely to survive when they receive that care, so why are we not, as a matter of routine, picking out the people most at risk?’”

  120. I’ll agree that the NHS is definitely one of the less shining examples of publicly provided healthcare.

    Re the infant mortality stats, how can you call a 27% difference marginal?

    I don’t dispute that a certain amount of the difference can be attributed to factors outside the method of funding healthcare, but if more 27% infants are dying in the first year of their life in the U.S. vs the U.K., then it’s not unreasonably to largely attribute that to the difference in post-natal education/care between the two countries.

  121. Yes, but 2/1000 is 100% worse than 1/1000.

    If Britain’s post op paitients are four more times likely to die, then why would they have better post natal services?

    They might. In the long run, mortality rates are nearly equal(78.7 & 78), even considering the two or three different variables that need to be controlled for. Or maybe more migrant infants die.

  122. This is pretty damning, as are the linked/related articles:;jsessionid=EM2HA1AQVTQVTQFIQMFCFGGAVCBQYIV0?xml=/news/2008/01/25/nhs125.xml

    “A shortage of midwives means mothers and babies are often sent home before they are ready and do not receive the help they need to start breastfeeding, said the Healthcare Commission.

    Most hospitals do not provide the latest Down’s syndrome screening while only half carry out all the mental health checks required to detect post-natal depression.”

    Other headlines:

    “Hospital boss to get pay-out after 90 deaths

    Rose Gibb was chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust when at least 90 patients died after contracting clostridium difficile.

    Regulators said the bug probably contributed to the deaths of dozens of others over two years at the hospital where staff shortages meant patients were left to lie in their own excrement because managers were too focused on targets.

    Miss Gibb left the trust shortly before the Healthcare Commission revealed the extent of the scandal and was rumoured to have been in line for a £250,000 pay-off.”

    Please tell me of such lacking post natal care and gross incompetence in the US private system.

  123. But what percentage of US citizens don’t even get to the stage of having post op surgery when they need it?

  124. Mark, any system that serves so many people is going have its share of problems. What’s the percentage of women in the U.S. that receive no prenatal or postnatal care at all, relative to the U.K.? (I’ve seen numbers floating about, but nothing fully verifiable).

  125. I want you to answer me as to why you think the Government can strengthen private relationships. Anyway:

    The issue of underinsurance:

    “Part of the reasoning behind the recommendations is that in 2002, 43.6 million people lacked health insurance at some point. That simple figure, however, conceals a much more complicated truth. “At some point,” for instance, means that not all of those millions were uninsured at the same time, and many were only uninsured for short periods. What really matters is those who are chronically underinsured, and that figure is much smaller — between 9 and 13 million, depending on whose figures you believe. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.”

    “A recent study by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis found that from 1993 to 2002, the number of uninsured people in households with annual incomes above $75,000 increased by 114 percent, while the number of uninsured people in households with incomes under $25,000 fell by 17 percent. The poor are getting more coverage while the comfortably off are choosing to buy less. If rich, young, male software developers working on a contract basis are choosing not to be insured because they reckon the likelihood of them needing insurance is small, then that is an example of labor-market flexibility, not a medical crisis.”

    But now, look at what the US CDC outlines as the risk factors and how to mitigate infant mortality:

    ” What can Communities and Individuals do to Help Reduce Infant Mortality Rates?
    Communities can play an important role in this effort by encouraging pregnant women to seek prenatal care in the first trimester and educating communities, providers, pregnant women and family members on factors that effect infant mortality such as smoking, substance abuse, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, medical problems, chronic illness, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents and caregivers should become familiar with the risk factors and always place sleeping infants on their backs. Research has demonstrated that babies who slept on their stomachs or sides were at a higher risk for SIDS. A separate but proximate sleeping environment is recommended such as a separate crib in the parents’ bedroom.”

    How can this be the fault of the insurance or healthcare system?

  126. Private relationships are based on trust. In small communities, such as the tribes we evolved in, that comes from regular contact, and reasonable equality of power, allowing those that abuse trust to be punished (in whatever manner). In large modern nation-states, it’s simply not possible to have regular contact and dealing with all individuals that you form private relationships, and when you come across individuals with vastly more power and wealth than you, and they abuse your trust, you have nowhere to turn to. Governments can help ameliorate that situation by a) redistribution of wealth (and consequently power) and b) providing a powerful body capable of acting as a check and balance against individuals (or small groups of individuals) that violate the trust of others.

    Regarding the CDC advice on infant mortality – all that advice applies equally in the rest of the developed world. But in the rest of the developed world, anyone who needs pre- or post-natal medical care can obtain it, regardless of their financial status.

    BTW, re: your above statement that “equality of opportunity stifles the enterpreneurial spirit”. I’m still walking around a little gobsmacked that anyone could make such a comment, so I have to ask, do you seriously mean that it’s better to live in a society with vast inequalities of opportunity, but where those who happen to be lucky enough to have the most opportunity are perfectly placed to exercise their “entrepreneurial spirit”, as opposed to one with only minor inequalities of opportunity, where those lucky enough to have the most opportunity have to work harder to get as much benefit from their “enterpreneurial spirit”?

  127. BTW, one other question, regardless of your own concern in the merits of the type of society you would like to live in, do you genuinely believe that the vast majority of the population are ready for such society?

    For instance, I fully support the decriminalisation of all drugs – BUT I don’t think most people are ready for it yet, and it will take some decades before they are. Sudden decriminalisation now would potentially be just as disastrous as allowing the current “war on drugs” to continue.

    In, say, 50 years time, as people have had time to adapt to a more libertarian society, I may well be ready to accept even further moves towards a “pure” libertarian society, whatever that may be (I would support reducing gun regulations only once I was confident that people had less reason to use guns).

  128. How does amelieoration of relative poverty help you make more regular, meaningful contact with others?

    The Govenrment can’t stop people lying or cheating. The Government cannot punish those who violate the trust of others. It is such a broad category of behaviour that encompasses legal, illegal and borderline behaviour.

    Without the choice to violate trust (mostly legal examples), we simply wouldn’t be free. Not having free will (philosophical questions aside) makes relationships artifical. People do not get more out of life by being compelled more than what we are now.

    No they can’t. The NHS has waiting lists that simply kills people. It’s free, if you can stay alive until a bed becomes available. Medical insurance in America is cheaper than State run Medicare (part A only) and here, even for high levels of coverage. See the wiki on Medicare and FICA, remember that Australian Medicare spending is at least 8% of GDp and find some insurance sales websites from the US if you want to find out more.

    It doesn’t matter if people don’t have equality of opportnity. Those with brains can trade with those with capital. Or they can become partners. There is no need to redistribute capital. The market cost of capital is virtually always going to be lower than the deadweight and administrative costs of taxation and redistribution.

    You have to think about the incentives that people would act under if we had a widespread death duties tax and a large redistributive programme. More resources would be wasted on tax evasion. People would rather not earn income to leave possessions in their will. It would make the trasnfer of assets between people who normally love and trust each other artificial and possibly illegal.

    That’s just the capital side.

    You are forgetting the life experiences that people have that lead to entrpreneurial ideas. Some people are born into wealthy entrepreneurial families. Others create their own. The incentive to continue on or begin such a family dystany would be greatly reduced.

    Ending the drug war is something you strongly advocate. How many people need to die needlessly before society is “ready”? Where is your proof that sudden decriminalisation would be a disaster – this is a chicken little argument with NO evidence. We didn’t have a drug problem before each narcotic was made illegal and the costs outweigh any potential benefits.

    But then there is the selling point. The LDP has gone for the “low hanging fruit” of marijuana. it is a good strategy I believe.

    Why do we need a dispensation from you to own a firearm – the academic advocates of the 1997 NFA now doubt its efficacy and in 2003 after new gun laws were passed, there was a spike in gun realted crime and violent crime. Since Federation, gun ownership is totally uncorrelated with the murder rate and gun crime is simply correlated (or more accurately, cointegrated) with the overall crime rate.

    You should support the deregulation on consequentialist utilitarian grounds.

  129. LibertarianSocialist
    “regardless of your own concern in the merits of the type of society you would like to live in’

    You seem to think that you can mould, or hammer, people into whatever configuration you would like them to be in, for no other reason than that you would like it.

    The reason why you can’t, is (quite apart fromt the ethics) because it doesn’t work. The reason why it doesn’t work was discovered by economists, which is why libertarians always refer to the lessons from economics.

    The main achievement of the economists was in understanding that there are regularities in human action of very high predictive power – so-called economic ‘laws’ – which you just can’t wave away with a decree. They are not social constructs in the sense that you are free to adjust them at will with statute laws, because they come from natural scarcity, and are embedded in the very logic of human action, which you can’t just conjure away. Just as with the emperor in the fable, you can’t create real wealth, or make something out of nothing by merely passing a law.

    How this insight came about is instructive. It had happened over and over in history that during a famine, the price of grain went up. Kings and governments, not understanding the laws of supply and demand, and under political pressure to ‘do something’, wrongly accused the greed of grain merchants as the source of the problem. The kings and governments responded by making it a crime to sell grain above the ‘fair’ or ‘normal’ price. The result was that people starved en masse: an unintended consequence worse than the original problem.

    Similarly the ignorance of modern socialists has persisted in repeating this pattern of behaviour over and over again in history. In the twentieth century they killed over 100 million people, and here’s you still barracking for the socialists. Maybe it’ll work if we just keep on trying? The pattern is the same: accuse the greed of traders engagedin peaceful consensual activity as the cause of poverty (when it is really the casue of wealth), pass laws intended to substitute a better society by decree, and persist in not understanding the economic chaos, poverty and disadvantage that they keep on causing.

    Government cannot make wealth out of thin air. At best, all it can do is transfer wealth by robbing Peter to pay Paul. But the costs of the governmental action are greater than the benefit, and nothing you have said has addressed the issue of the costs of the actions you are proposing, as if government had a magic wand.

    Did you know that 25 percent of male prisoners in NSW are raped while in prison? Underlying all law is the threat of imprisonment. The idea that you can bring about ‘optimum psychological well-being’ and ‘more trusting’ relationships in society by threatening people with being locked in a cage and fucked up the arse for engaging in consensual and peaceable activities that you don’t approve of, is not just misguided. You need to understand that not only is it not virtuous and productive behaviour it is violent and vicious behaviour.

    Who appointed you to decide what values other people should live by? The religious wars of the seventeenth century should have taught us the value of tolerance, but modern day socialists must think they are on a mission, and speak from a position of moral superiority, in dictating other people’s values.

    The other day I brought in a mob of sheep for shearing. One of them had a broken lower jaw: it was like a bag of marbles. It could not eat or drink, and was in acute pain. I had to put it down, but I don’t have a gun, because it is a criminal offence for me to just go and buy one. The process of doing it legally takes many months. I couldn’t shoot the sheep, so I had to cut its throat. Great. So here’s the sheep struggling away, and me trying to cut its fucken throat. When I finished, I got up, thinking he would die. But he didn’t. He got up, gave me a look of reproach, and tottered off. ‘Oh great’ I thought. I so I had to go after him, catch him, struggle to put him down, bend his neck back and cut his throat good and proper. Do you know that was distressing for the poor bloody sheep and me?

    Are you happy now? Because I didn’t want to break the law and be imprisoned and raped, that happened. This is part of your utopia in which the state is presumed to know and be capable of everything, and you don’t know and don’t care about the unintended consequences of your ignorant, stupid, violent collectivist opinions.

  130. If you were a true farmer you’d have a gun in the woolshed and bugger the consequences Justin. A lot do.

    That’s the other aspect of the unintended consequences – stupid fucking laws that are next to impossible to enforce and with which you only get caught because some bureaucratic snotnose happens to be on the place counting white ants in case they become endangered.

  131. Yeah that’s true, but what do you do, for example, with laws that provide for a 1.1 million dollar fine for cutting down a tree on your own property? We are hedged in with these laws all around.

  132. We didn’t have a gun on the farm where I grew up because Dad doesn’t like guns very much (something to do with Nazis checkpoints during his childhood). However he would borrowed one from the neighbour if an animal needed putting down.

  133. Justin, you say: “You seem to think that you can mould, or hammer, people into whatever configuration you would like them to be in, for no other reason than that you would like it.”


    Your statements about governments not messing with the laws of supply and demand I fully agree with. But the solution is not to restrict democracy, but to better inform the people.

    I am fully against locking up people for consensual activities that don’t affect others.

    But otherwise, yes, surprisingly, you can support social cohesion and trust in relationships by the threat to lock people up when they do things that encroach on the rights and freedom of others.

    I accept that rural communities should have the autonomous right to opt out of federal gun control laws, probably at the local shire level. I’d even be happy with a law that allows anyone owning a rural property to own a gun. Just remember though, there are negative consequences to that too. It’s all a question of balancing out the costs and benefits.

  134. I noticed something Romney said in the debate the other night re health care. He said that universal healthcare doesn’t mean forcing insurance on people that don’t want it- if people want to pay upfront for hospital expenses that is their choice. What is means, though, is ensuring everyone has the means to pay for their medical expenses either through insurance or cash. No-one should have to be turned away from a hospital, but everyone should be able have their health situation worked out.

    BTW, one other question, regardless of your own concern in the merits of the type of society you would like to live in, do you genuinely believe that the vast majority of the population are ready for such society?

    For instance, I fully support the decriminalisation of all drugs – BUT I don’t think most people are ready for it yet, and it will take some decades before they are. Sudden decriminalisation now would potentially be just as disastrous as allowing the current “war on drugs” to continue.

    Reason your way through it- I used to take think the same way, but really, what would happen if all drugs WERE legalised? I honestly am not sure that it would even change society so much.

    I mean, the government implementing such a policy might not be returned- but just because the public doesn’t support such an initiative that doesn’t mean it’d actually be a disastrous one (except for the party that initiated it). It’s not like you’d suddenly see kids running around playgrounds stabbing each other with syringes and getting high in classrooms…

  135. I’m not suggesting it means kids running around playgrounds with syringes, I’m suggesting it means that powerful groups with a vested interest in the status quo – mainly criminal gangs – will do their best to maintain their power.

    If you don’t ensure that there is an alternative for those criminal gangs to turn to first, then they may well end up engaged in far more harmful activities than they are now.

  136. Shem, one thing re Romney’s statement re universal healthcare: even in an “opt-out” single-payer scheme, if there are not enough funds from those who remain the scheme to cover the costs, the shortfall will come from the general taxpayer funds. So those people that have opted out are still paying for the healthcare of others. Is it then reasonable to refuse them care if they end up in situation down the line where they can’t afford any healthcare not covered by the insurance? And if not, what’s the point of allowing them to opt out in the first place?

  137. For my money, Canada’s system seems by far the best -compulsory single-payer that funds the privately-provided basic care that we can agree that if all citizens don’t get, the results are bad for everyone.

    As it happens, polls have generally shown Canada’s citizens are the most happiest with their results, and Canada’s stats (life expectancy, mortality etc.) are excellent.

    I’m not how waiting times compare with the situation in Australia.

  138. I think the best way to have it work is that if you are tended to by a hospital and you are uninsured the hospital basically signs you up to an insurance company for a given contract based on your treatment…

    Yeah it means some people might abuse the system. But some people currently abuse health insurance by signing up for 1 year, getting major surgery done, using all allowable extras (orthodontics, psychologists, massages, cool new glasses, etc) and then leaving. When considering getting private health insurance I asked about that and they just said “yeah, that’s allowed, most people decide to stay in, it still works out to be profitable for us”.

    I think most people that were uninsured who had something major happen to them would want the peace of mind to stay insured afterwards. The option to sign up at the hospital is a good one, imo.

  139. what do you do, for example, with laws that provide for a 1.1 million dollar fine for cutting down a tree on your own property?

    I haven’t checked recently, but I understand it’s not illegal to remove a tree that’s diseased. You wouldn’t believe how many trees are diseased and how hard it is to prove they aren’t.

    In the city, a cordless drill and container of glyphosate are fairly popular for restoring views impeded by trees. Might not be practical on an entire paddock though.

  140. In the city, a cordless drill and container of glyphosate are fairly popular for restoring views impeded by trees

    Please explain. glyphosate?

  141. For Godsakes, even in America, where all medical costs are overly expensive with even more cartel like market protectionisms and inefficiencies in general health care, their lightly regulated health insurance market provides, for the same price, cheaper care of higher quality than their own Govenrment health insurance programmes, Australia, Canada and the UK.

    Look up FICA, Medicare in the US on wikipedia and find an online US insurance sales site to find out more. (FICA is actually a regressive tax on wages and employment). I say look it up because it is more concise than posting links in several responses (thanks spam filter!).

    Even the poorest, most drug addled dole bludger can afford a decent level of coverage. Please stop bringing up this straw man idea.

    People can afford it. They just don’t want it.

  142. Glyphosate = Roundup

    “and for those who can’t afford to sign up”

    Direct cash trasnfers, perhaps a voucher system, but definitely not nationalisation of health services or insurance.

  143. Right Mark, I’ve leave it to you to convince the people of the U.S. that that’s the problem.

  144. A voucher system means that all taxpayers are funding it.
    So why shouldn’t be it be available to everyone?

    Whatever the merits of your solution, I’ve never seen anyone put together even half an argument that Canada’s system is worse than the U.S.’s. Given Canada’s system is proven and popular, that’s a helluva sight better than some pie-in-the-sky ideal that might just work some libertarian utopia without all the baggage of a 100 years of social democracy, but has zero chance of ever being sold to the the American public.

  145. Bloody hell, give up this “the majority are always right” schtick. How about making a comment on the article by Murray and the data showing there really is no “insurance crisis”?

    We accept democracy because it is orderly and non violent.

    50 years ago, the US had Jim Crow laws. We had anti-sodomy laws.

    Who am I to judge – forget relativism. Not fully informed majority opinion can decide what is efficient and what is ethically correct.

    Libertarians suggest people should be able to decide for themselves what is best for them.

  146. Most of the US problems stem from over-regulation of the healthcare market. 7% of US medical costs arise from licensing restrictions on what kind of paitient care can be done by doctors and the rest of the healthcare professionals.

    I am sure if you tell Americans the AMA is stiffing them of 7% of their healthcare costs, they’d at least get concerned.

  147. Mark: “people should able to decide for themselves what is best for them”.

    Couldn’t agree more, and except in a world were no individual interacts with another individual, democracy is the most workable way of having the people decide for themselves what is best for them.

    Which is why it’s called the Liberty and Democracy Party, no?

  148. So you reckon if you ask a woman on a date, it needs to be televised live with SMS voting to determine what happens next?

    “Majority rule is the best way of deciding what is best for individuals”


    What you’re saying is people are better off making their own decisions for themselves as individuals, but being in a minority opinion on an issue which affects people individually even should still make everyone else overrule your own decisions.

    I think your ideas/belief set is very muddled up. It doesn’t make sense.

  149. Mark, are you being deliberately thick about it?

    If your actions don’t have any impact on people, then they should have no say in the matter.

    If a few others are reasonably affected, a contract is the best way to ensure a good outcome for all parties involved.

    If a lot of others are reasonably affected, then the best way of giving them a say is some kind of democratic process.

    It may not be in line with anarcho-capitalist philosophy, but from a utilitarian perspective it works. To put it in terms you can more easily understand the locals are all shareholders in the local community. Shareholders all get a say in the running of the company (or in this case, community).

  150. Of course when you you can neatly separate out what affects individuals from what affects others, there’s no need for majority rule.

    But it DOES affect me if my neighbour doesn’t maintain his health.

  151. Shem, spot on. And healthcare is an area where everyone is affected. There’s no way I can choose to neglect my health without putting everyone else at significant risk.

  152. BTW, not saying I disagree with you entirely, Mark, especially about say, healthcare…

    A voucher system means that all taxpayers are funding it.
    So why shouldn’t be it be available to everyone?

    Because that’ll increase the cost to them overall due to government inefficiencies and churn?

    If you are paying tax, you shouldn’t be receiving welfare or vouchers, in my opinion. If you are getting welfare and paying tax either the tax-free threshold needs to be higher, or you shouldn’t be getting welfare.

    If the purpose of tax is wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor surely we should take from the rich and give to the poor, not take from the middle-class and give it back to them.

    Public education is never free, parents are just having to pay $10,000/ year of their taxes towards their kids’ education. Give them a $10k/ year tax break and let them send their kids to private schools…

  153. Ok, but if the system involves nothing but automated electronic transfers, why should there be any government inefficiences and churn?

  154. BTW, rational as it may be, a system where there is a class of people that pay tax and a class of people that only take benefits is likely to be highly socially divisive.

  155. Unlike the current class divisiveness around Centrelink recipients and plasma-TV buying single mothers?

    If it scaled properly as 30-30 did when it was first written then it’d benefit the working poor the most and reduce unemployment so that hopefully it’d actually reduce the number of “dole bludgers” and hence the stigmas associated with welfare in Australia.

  156. Shem’s basicially right about welfare, education and health.

    There’s no churn in the Health Insurance Commission? Sure, and I’ll get Kevin Rudd to personally answer every email I send his office…

    However, LS isn’t talking about a contract. He’s saying we should accept majority rule as the best way to run our lives even though he says we should (i.e we are better off) making our own, individual decisions.

    Also, a party to a contract cannot be voted into making a contract or executing one (mkaing a volutnary trade).

  157. You can never get rid of churn completely, but I don’t see why you can’t get it down to a level that it’s not significantly worse than whatever would exist in any other system. We all agree tax is far too complicated, and there’s far too many individual subsidies and reimbursements for this, that and the other.

    Shem, I don’t like the current system either. But social democracy works on the principle that everyone puts in and everyone gets out. Your system is that there is one group of people that put in, and another that get out. I don’t see how that’s an improvement.

  158. Well Mark, being a citizen of Australia is voluntary, being a part of a local government is voluntary, living in a certain state is voluntary.

    You may be born into a certain community and be subject to its contract until you are a certain age, but you can revoke your participation in that community at any stage, too.

    Accepting majority rule is a part of being in a larger community. A contract is sufficient on a smaller basis, but once you start to organise larger groups, I think democratic decisions are the best of way of deciding when an outcome will reasonably affect everyone in the community. The pollution case is the best example- I agree that a democratic decision by the local community is the best in this case. The same with gun laws. The same with publicly owned land (parks, etc).

  159. But social democracy works on the principle that everyone puts in and everyone gets out.

    We already have tax-free thresholds. Not everyone puts in, unless you include GST.

    I just don’t see the point in taking someone’s money and giving it back to them. That very process is going to have administrative costs and result in unnecessary churn.

    Yes some churn is necessary- even businesses have admin costs. But taking money from someone and giving it back to them is inefficient. I don’t see McDonalds charging $5 for burgers and then giving an annual rebate of $1.50 per burger eaten….

  160. Shem, if you were in charge of writing LDP policy, you could seriously start to pull in some Greens voters.

    Or you could put Mark in charge of it, and have maybe 100 supporters in the entire country 🙂

    A moderate “socially and economically liberal” party has a real chance at electoral success, and is a gaping hole in the current political scene.

  161. Shem, very very few people get through their whole lives paying no tax at all.

    Taking people’s money and giving it back to them, providing the effect is minimised, is a small price to pay for ensuring the cohesiveness assured by the social democratic contract.

  162. SHEM- we have nowhere else to go! It’s not like we have a libertarian country to which we can move into. Your talk about ‘accepting’ majority rule would only be valid if we had real choices!
    LS- your neighbours health would only affect you if your neighbour had an infectious disease! You might choose to help your neighbour, but you should not be able to compel me to help your neighbour.

  163. Shem,

    LS is not talking about decisions that affect everyone. He thinks we’re better off both making individal decisions but letting the majority decide for us. He’s confused.

  164. It’s not just infectious diseases, though that’s certainly a big part of it.

    If my neighbour choose to neglect his health to the point of death, something has to be done about his body and the land that he owns.

    But even in many other subtle ways, if people neglect their health, it affects my ability to interact with them in useful ways.

  165. If I’m confused then so is Shem. His post re individaul decisions, contracts and democracy described my sentiments exactly.

  166. Nicholas, then make it LDP policy to allow a self-enclosed community to decide that they wish to live by autonomous rules. It would be treated effectively like a separate country.

  167. 183 – what are you talking about – you can buy it cheap.

    184 – then you can’t articulate your ideas well enough. I think your idea about unchecked democracy and individual sovereignty is contradictiary.

  168. Also, you’ve never defined social cohesion and did not respond to my following questions about how you say amelioration of relative poverty can strengthen interpersonal realtionships.

  169. Shem, LS — LS clearly said that democracy is the most “workable way of letting people decide for themselves”. That is clearly bullshit. Having 1 vote in 10 million, and having to bundle all the alternatives between only two viable options, is most clearly not letting people decide for themselves. Letting people decide for themselves means… (wait for it) … letting people decide for themselves. Without Kevin Rudd or 5 million strangers having to approve your action.

    This is a hugely important point and it’s worthwhile understanding it properly before you say that Mark is being thick about something.

    LS goes on to say that his neighbours health policy is effectding him. This is an extremely loose version of “effecting people”. By the same rationale, any gay person is negatively effecting my parents because they are fundamentalist christians. Fat chicks are negatively effecting me when I have to see them on the streets. But contrary to LS’s suggestion, your healthcare, sexual preferences or body shape should not be determined by a national vote or by politicians & bureaucrats.

  170. Mark I’m sorry but your glib answers tend to indicate to me you have no real interest in developing policy that is actually likely to make this a better country to live in.

    And again, if I need to define social cohesion to you, then I doubt there’s any way I could explain it that actually convinced you it was something of value.

    If you really are doing a Ph.D. in economics, your attitude seems to suggest something fundamentally wrong with the way that economics is taught today. Except that almost no other economist that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) has the same problem.

  171. @41. ContradictioninTerms says: And, I’m sorry, who on earth has ever refuted the idea that wealth redistribution is necessary in order to maintain a peaceful and functioning society and economy?

    Um. Me.

  172. John, I can choose to look away from fat people and say away from those that I know are gay.

    I can’t choose to stay away from those that are more likely to infect me with a disease, unless the disease happens to be obviously disfiguring or dehabilitating.

    Personally I don’t think you need to go to such an extreme length to justify a single-payer healthcare system, but if you insist on being a libertarian puritan, I’m happy to argue that way.

  173. LS,

    Could you please just answer my questions? I assure you I am very polite in person. AS I am trying to be here.

    You wouldn’t accept of me the argument that “if I need to explain it to you, ye are unworthy, I cast thee out”

    Come on, let’s have some definitions. Social cohesion might be great, but if you can’t quanitify it, how on earth are you going to make a policy to maximise or improve it?

    Just curious.

    BTW, who are these much vaunted economists you are reading? I can also tell you a lot about the flaws in economic pedagogy these days. But it is actually not that bad overall.

  174. So, LS, who are you? Who proved that we need redistributive justice to keep capitalism running smoothly?

    Guess what, people can be totally negligent in their own care if they have triple the per capita spending on healthcare of that of Canada. What are you going to do have an army of community nurses ensuring people are fit and well enough to “meaningfully interact” with you?

    1. What happens if someone becomes a vegetable or mentally ill?

    2. What if someone becomes terminally ill?

    Then how can they meaningfully interact with you.

    A subsidy or voucher scheme is a goof policy alternative. A single payer system both crowds out private insurance and leads to moral hazard.

  175. Mark, what on earth are you talking about now? Nobody chooses to become a vegetable.

    Yes I’m aware of moral hazard. It’s one reason I oppose bicycle helment laws. However there’s no evidence I’m aware of that it has a measurable effect in the case of healthcare.

    As the economists that I read, I never claimed they were “vaunted”, but I read a variety of better known economists from all across the political spectrum, both Australian and international, modern and historical.

  176. Come on. What is social cohesion? Can you quanitify it? Why is it the policy prioprity? What can be done to optimise it?

    Ah huh. I have one definition.

    “In ongoing revisions, the department settled on a definition of social cohesion as “the ongoing process of developing a community of shared values, shared challenges and equal opportunity within Canada (Australia), based on a sense of trust, hope and reciprocity among all Canadians (Australians).”

    However, the book goes on to say that this was incomplete as it did not incluide equality, social justice or diversity.

    Do you share this definition? Can you tell me if it is a robust enough definition or concept to satisfy quantification and priority status. If then, what do you actually do to improve it? I’m very sceptical of a concept that is built on hope as being a useful policy goal.

    Actually John, I’d quite like to be a “hoseman”. Pays better than working in mines.

  177. Oh no LS… my parents are offended by the idea of homosexuality. As are many other strongly religious people, and a good number of non-religious people. Also… people being gay undermines my parent’s ability to socially interact with them.

    Do you really think you have some sort of god-given right to socially interact with whoever you like? The word “stalker” comes to mind.

    And you can’t look away from a fat person unless you know they are there… and to know they are there, you have probably already seen them! And you certainly can’t avoid a fat person if they sit next to you on a bus or plane.

    Stop calling me a libertarian purist. I build up my ideas from logic, not by starting at my conclusion.

    It seems clear to me that you are confused in this conversation because you refuse to use words in any meaningful way. When Mark asks you define your words, you refuse. But you define “individual choice” as meaning “everybody gets to vote on your behaviour” which is absurd.

    If you refuse to debate using consistent and meaningful language and logic, please just tell us now.

  178. That definition sounds good to me.

    It may be quantifiable. Most people can certainly distinguish between a country with high social cohesion (Australia), low social cohesion (Sudan). I’d suggest most people would probably also agree that the U.S. had lower social cohesion than Australia.

    What do you do to improve it? Good question. In a broad sense, maintaining a liberal social democracy has proven the most successful method of improving it. Figuring out specific policies that may work to improve it, without having negative side-effects elsewhere, is just one of the many reasons that policy formulation is a difficult job.

  179. John, sure, so then it’s question of weighing up who loses out the most, those who are offended by the idea of homosexual behaviour, and those would choose to engage in it. Further, in some cases it’s simply not possible for government policy to have much measurable effect on people’s behaviour. There’s no policy that will stop people having gay sex. There ARE policies that will help people get over their aversion to it (as society has gradually been doing with time).

    When did I define “individual choice” as meaning “everybody gets to vote on your behaviour”?

  180. So rather than letting people do and believe as they like with other consenting adults, we need to either:

    a) Mitigate gays

    b) Mitigate anti-gay attitudes

    Depending on what the median voter (not actually a majority in the complexities of the electoral system) decides?

    Why not just let people do and think as they like? Who is the median voter and why does their opinion matter to your holy grail of “cohesion”?

    See 166 for your own contradictiary view on individual sovereignty and unchecked democracy.

  181. I’m not agreeing at all. How can you have more of it if it is a process?

    If you can’t either you want unrealisable policy or the definition is crap, and you largely agreed to it. If so, please provide us with another definition.

  182. We mitigate anti-gay attitudes because it’s proven to be a successful strategy. If there was a proven and successful strategy for mitigating gay behaviour, and it made everybody better off, then I would support it. Again…I’m a consequentialist libertarian.

    There’s no possible way to let everyone do and think as they like. Even if it were possible within the laws of physics, it’s not possible within the laws that govern social interactions. No-one can’t simultaneously allow you to fire a gun randomly in a crowded street, and allow everybody else to walk about in such streets safely.

    Why do you think it’s policy to improve social cohesion is unrealisable? Whatever we’ve been doing over the centuries so far has worked pretty well among liberal democracies.

  183. We can certainly let everyone THINK whatever they like, LS. I agree that actions are another thing entirely. And thanks- you’ve given me an idea for a plot- what will happen if the govmint develops mind-reading machines, as handy as cell phones? The next step would be mind-writing technology- Can’t have people thinking what they want, can we? Let’s make sure they have the right ideas!

  184. A proven strategy? Who came to this conclusion?

    What about strongly anti-gay people – for example most Western nations have such anti-discrimination provisions but discriminate against gays before the law. How bizzare.

    There is no consequentiality…nor is it libertarian to socially engineer people’s attitudes.

    Laws against murder etc stop people walking around whaling on people with crowbars. In the context of property rights and minimising coercion, people should be able to do as they please if they are capable of informed consent.

    That is just a wordly preamble, and mostly unecessary. More or less, people should be able to do and choose whaterver they please.

    For civil order, you don’t need people happy clapping or being lectured to by some old schoolmarm about blue eyes and brown eyes.

    If social cohesion is a process, we can’t have more of it. We need to improve it.

    Begs the question, why did you agree to the definition? Is it such a wishy washy idea you can define it any way you like? What kind of basis is this as policy?

    You haven’t even justified why we want it. “Common goals and views”. Why on earth is this desireable?

  185. As for social cohesion, you can advance that with a volunteer economy. I briefly mentioned time-share government, and I meant that the major functions of government would also be part-time jobs for anyone who volunteered to be a citizen. If you think of Civil Defence, and apply it to fire-fighting, rescue, road patrols, etc, you’ll see what I want. I think that this would promote social cohesion, because friends are made when doing things together. If, for example, a muslim came here, and was encouraged to participate in these types of community activities, I think that muslim would feel a part of the community.

  186. How can we let everyone to think whatever they want? If a guy starts shooting a gun randomly in the street, it doesn’t allow me much choice over what I think.

    Education has absolutely been a proven strategy for mitigating anti-gay attitudes. The correlation is about as strong as you could hope for.

    I agree many of our laws regarding gays (or any other number of minority groups) are contradictory and silly. I’m all for consistency.

    Yes social cohesion is a slightly wishy-washy concept. So what? It’s not a black and white world. We can get enough agreement to gain value out of a shared, if imprecise, concept.

  187. Please stop confusing thoughts and deeds! The man who fires a gun is worse than a man who only thinks about firing a gun. And if you are being fired at, you should think about what to do- NOT thinking, being paralysed with shock, will not help you!

  188. Being free to think whatever you like doesn’t give you, or anyone else to start randomly shooting on someone else’s property.

    Correlation? What statistical evidence? Can you show me any other group that has simelatanous preferential and discriminatory treatment and is better off?

    If it is a wishy washy concept, you can’t have it as the basis for policy. Other wishy washy concepts include Iraqi WMDs and untried “true” communism.

  189. LibertarianSocialist, As your nom de plume suggests, you are utterly confused.

    “There’s no possible way to let everyone do and think as they like. Even if it were possible within the laws of physics, it’s not possible within the laws that govern social interactions.”

    It’s a simple rule and it’s been expressed in many ways:
    The neo-pagans put it well in the Wiccan Rede: Do what you will as long as it harms no one.

    The US Bill of Rights tells us that people have a right to Free Speech and a Right to Privacy.

    All this adds up to one thing. As long as I don’t physically harm you, rob from you or force you to do my bidding under threat of physical harm then what I do with my time is absolutely none of your business.

    The very best way I have seen this concept put forward is by Aleister Crowley. If you see a contradiction in the below then you haven’t thought it out properly:

    1. Man has the right to live by his own law–

    to live in the way that he wills to do:
    to work as he will:
    to play as he will:
    to rest as he will:
    to die when and how he will.

    2. Man has the right to eat what he will:

    to drink what he will:
    to dwell where he will:
    to move as he will on the face of the earth.

    3. Man has the right to think what he will:

    to speak what he will:
    to write what he will:
    to draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build as he will:
    to dress as he will.

    4. Man has the right to love as he will:–

    “take your fill and will of love as ye will,
    when, where, and with whom ye will.” –AL. I. 51

    5. Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.

  190. After posting my last I saw this pearl of anti-liberty from LS: How can we let everyone to(sic)think whatever they want?

    You cannot seriously think you are a Libertarian in any way if that sentence ever comes out of your mouth/keyboard without at first saying something like “..and then the statist bastard said…”

    Well social cohesion this LS: I find your pseudonym offensive to my personal beliefs. Whatever shall we do about it? Is it me or you that needs to go off to re-education camp?

  191. It is interesting that LS only defends gay rights on the basis that it’s too difficult to prevent homosexuality. It doesn’t seem like he gives any value at all to the concept of individual liberty.

    He also seems to believe in thought-crime. Not just his strange comment about not letting people think what they like… but also his desire to have government programs against “wrong-thought”.

    Given he has admitted social cohesion has no fixed meaning, I say we re-define it to mean “social interaction which is voluntary and peaceful” and then agree with him absolutely that it is a good thing!

  192. LS; We mitigate anti-gay attitudes because it’s proven to be a successful strategy. If there was a proven and successful strategy for mitigating gay behaviour, and it made everybody better off, then I would support it. Again…I’m a consequentialist libertarian.

    There’s no possible way to let everyone do and think as they like. Even if it were possible within the laws of physics, it’s not possible within the laws that govern social interactions.

    Do you actually believe this stuff, or are you just trying to get us going?

  193. Ben, it might be anti-liberty, but it’s reality. It’s simply not physically possible for everyone to be able to think whatever they want. Try a few basic texts on our modern scientific understanding of neurobiology.

    John, I wouldn’t say I only defend gay rights on that basis. The principle of informed consent applies – a principle that seems to work to reasonably well for the most part given the vagaries of the way of human mind works. If we were different beasts, it might not work so well.

    Many complex concepts have no “fixed meaning”. Yet there’s enough shared understanding for the vast majority of the population to usefully discuss such concept.

  194. How can they want it without thinking it?

    I wouldn’t say that is a basis at all to defend anyone’s rights.

    If something doesn’t have a fixed meaning, it is due to lingual evolution or the fact the term is a weseal word with no meaning other than a catchall to be some sort of unassailable alternative (it is difficult to challenge something that isn’t really there) to an ideal or paradigm the opposition or alternatives put forward.

  195. It’s simply not physically possible for everyone to be able to think whatever they want.

    Huh? I must confess my ignorance of neurobiology. Could you elaborate a little on why it would be impossible for me to think what I like and how fiat will save me from the perils of physics?

  196. LS — you’re not making sense. You said that we (presumably “society”, ie government) should not “let everybody think what they want”. You have clearly made it an issue of permission.

    Now you are pretending that we’re talking about neuro-biology. That is entirely irrelevant to a political discussion.

    I don’t really care if you consider yourself a utilitarian, socialist, astronaught or Lady McBeth… there are some simple facts that you need to learn.

    1. libertarianism means the preference for voluntary peaceful interaction between humans

    2. the government (whether democracy or otherwise) is neither voluntary nor peaceful

    3. there are two reasons for prefering peace & voluntary behaviour: (a) peace is inherently better than violence (deontelogical argument); and (b) peace generally leads a better outcome (consequentialist argument)

    4. sometimes it may be necessary for the government to act… but for libertarians this is the exception to the rule and is unfortunate because we understand the virtue of freedom

    Now you can promote the tyranny of the majority, government control, war, welfare, anti-gay laws, nationalisation, thought-crimes, victimless-crimes, social engineering, persecution of minorities, govt control of property, discrimination against jews and anything else that strikes your fancy… but if you want to be taken seriously at all you need to explain why your government program is worth the infringement of liberty and how it is different to all the other failed experiments in violence.

    And all useful concepts have a fixed meaning. The whole purpose of language is to communicate meaning. If two people are using different meanings then that is a problem and needs to be addressed. If you are hiding your ideas behind ambiguities and fluff words, that’s probably because your ideas aren’t good. Good ideas can be explained, bad ideas can only be hidden.

  197. John, I never used the word “should” and said nothing about granting permission.

    Obviously there’s no benefit in making up some law that says “you are not allowed to think X”. But there is a point in a law that says “you are not allowed to DO X, because it prevents other people from being able to think what they like”. Just one simple example – smoking an hallucinogenic drug in a crowded area.

    If “Libertarianism means the preference for voluntary peaceful interaction between humans” then I would suggest 99% of Australians would classify themselves as such.

    Governments may not entirely voluntary or peaceful, but we recognise that without them, there would be almost no voluntary peaceful interaction possible at all.

    Freedom is undoubtedly a virtue and a worthy goal, but it’s not always what people value the most.

    If you think “all useful concepts have a fixed meaning”, then how can come even libertarians can’t fully agree over the definition of liberatianism? Or Christians can’t agree over what it means to be a “true Christian”? Usually, at best, we can agree on some basic principles, allowing it to be a useful concept. But with any sufficiently complex concept, there will always be variation in individual understanding, and variation with time.

  198. BTW, thinking about it some more, from a policy point of view, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to define social cohesion as “the degree to which every person trusts every other person”.

    In a society where nobody trusts anybody else, people isolate themselves and resort to violence and desperation.
    In a society where trust is widespread, people naturally form groups, and prefer peaceful, productive interactions.

    So if you can demonstrate, for instance, that significant differences in purchasing power (income, wealth) lead to lower levels of trust, then you can conclude that large inequalities in wealth lead to a lower social cohesion.

    Given it’s perfectly reasonable not to trust people when either a) they’re so despearate for money they’ll do anything or b) they have so much money they can buy whatever results they want, then I think it’s perfectly justifiable to claim that significant inequalities in wealth lead to a breakdown in trust, which leads to less peaceful and productive interactions.

  199. There are various definitions of libertarianism. Mostly it is semantics but the menaing is fixed in each cse and different meanings are agreeable to a certain extent.

    “Smoking a hallucinogenic drug in a crowded area”

    The only place you would do that would be somewhere where everyone else would be stoned or drunk anyway. Otherwise general property rights and liability laws would see some kind of control on smoking.

    Just because we need a system of law and order, doesn’t mean we need to regulate every aspect of life.

    As for your definition of social cohesion – it sounds good. But how are you going to make policy based on that? Measure trust? You could have 3rd world poverty and trust people. Economic indicators are a good poxy for welfare.

    “If you can demonstrate vertical inequity creates mistrust”…you can’t prove how much people trust other people…ever.

    I am more worried about middle class people who want everyone to have the “correct” level of income. I don’t trust the bastards!

  200. I don’t want everyone to have the “correct” level of income either. I just want to be sure no-one is so desperate for money that their incentives to get it become so strong they override societal norms on ethical behaviour, and that no-one is in control of such much of it, that they can get away with not observing societal norms without fear of retribution.

    Both exist today. I’m actually reasonably confident that LDP policy “in toto” would prevent it, though I’d like to see some sort of “fall back” policy principle to deal with extremes.

    More seriously, LDP policy can’t be realistically enacted in toto – it has to be phased in. Sometimes bringing in just one good policy is a bad idea, because of how it interacts with existing policies and the historical reality created by them.

  201. People act unethically no matter how much or little they have. Some people are just rotten, some are just chumps who keep on making bad decisions and stay in toxic groups of associates.

    Earning an “honest” amount of income doesn’t stop people making unethical decisions.

    Why must LDP policy be phased in – even the phase in stuff?

  202. Earning an income that is more than enough to keep you fed and comfortable, but not so much that you can easily bribe others, most definitely leads towards more ethical behaviour.

    I don’t think that’s a particularly contentious claim, and is pretty well borne out by common experience.

    LDP policy must be phased in because that’s the reality of living in a democracy. Even if you were able to attract necessary electoral support in time for the next election, can you imagine the mess created by constantly swinging backwards and forth between, say, the LDP policy platform, and that of the ALP?

  203. Well, you previously denied you didn’t want people earning a “proper” income, but now you imply that you do want people earning a proper income. Make up your mind.

    No. There won’t be a “mess”. Especially when you are simply lifting restrictions and allowing people to pay less tax and eliminate red tape and other problems like poverty traps and disincentives to work. Every incoming Government must deal with this transition period.

    But maybe you’re right. For continuity’s sake, why not crown Rudd “Kevo the First” and do away with elections?

    If you’re so worried about continutity, then why are you also so worried about the need to have plebiscites to decide for everyone else what they can and cannot do?

  204. “Proper” is a loaded term that implies someone can sit down and decree what every person’s individual income should be. My only real concern is reducing extreme cases.
    E.g. out of two hypothetical situations:

    a) 99 people earn $50000 a year, one earns 100 million a year


    b) 50 people earn $30000-$40000 a year, 30 earn 40000-100000, 20 earn 100000-1 million, 5 earn between 1 million and 100 million, 5 earn between 100 and 200 million a year

    then b) is better for social cohesion, even though the ratio from the highest income to the lowest is greater than a). It’s surely also better for the economy.

    Of course extreme cases are simply to demonstrate the point. The degree to which it matters in real life I’m happy to discuss further.

    There is high continuity between Labor and Liberal policies, and always has been – in fact in most areas that really matter, there’s not a lot of difference. All democracy does at the moment is to act as a check on corruption and truly bad government.

    I’d like to think it’s capable of achieving more than that.

  205. The hypothetical situations never exist. You also never posit how they came into existence, and what the earnings capacity of the very wealthy may represent to society, or how such a price signal on profits is an incentive to others to find alternatives and produce a much needed good. The market, of all things, is a process, not an institution, but it is operated through them. This is important because it is dynamic. You’re making static analysis and forgetting about dynamism. This is the real life stuff you need to discuss further.

    How do you even know b) is better for social cohesion? Did you survey the hypotethetical residents and make sure they answered honestly and free from coercion? Also having two economies with different, hypothetical per capita GDP levels and saying “aha, the per capita GDP here is higher, it is better for the economy” is dopey because it is hypothetical and it isn’t what you set out to achieve.

    There is high continuity between Liberal and Labor because they are so alike. it is part of the reason why the LDP exists and some other people have tried to start other libertarian parties now (The Libertarian Party of Australia) and in the apst (The Workers Party). It isn’t because it is good policy to have continuity of bad policies (and all our politicains are smart and know this).

    You want more out of the democratic process but are opposed to change for reasons of continutity. This doesn’t make sense.

  206. But unhealthy extremes do happen. A lot of economists are concerned about the situation in the U.S. today, especially the long term trend. And economists still debate to this day the degree to which poor income/wealth distribution lead to the 1929 stock market crash.

    Unless you can prove it would be impossible for situations like this to occur without government interference in the market, then it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about such extremes occuring with much less deliberate wealth redistribution.

    When on earth did I say I was opposed to change?
    Hey if I had my way I’d put a temporary hold on democracy and start with a clean slate. But everybody thinks they know best.

  207. What long term trend in America? America is a very different place, State to State. There are historical and economic clustering reasons for this. Ultimately each State must choose their own destiny, Georgia and Florida have become boom States. Northern States like Michigan and Pnnsylvania have suffered as US external trade policies have engendered low growth, inwardly orientated industrial policy.

    But what trend are economists apparently worried about?

    “wealth distribution lead to the 1929 stock market crash”. Okay. Who the ^%$# told you that. They need to have their backside kicked from here to kingdom come. Vertical inequity causes capital market corrections. How? Who are these charlatans leading you astray?

    No it it is not “impossible”. But it is so unlikely we are more hopeful to see Penrith win the NRL Premiership this year. What is fanciful is that if such a situation was real, that you knew which situation had more social cohesion given the definition you made.

    If you’re not opposed to change, why make a big deal about continutity? Imagine the Australians for a COnstitutional Monarchy: “Keep the Status Quo – We’re not Opposed to Change!”


  208. LS your idea of a proper income leads to horrendous outcomes. If I’m earning mega millions per year and decide I want to decree a pleasure palace in Xanadu I have to employ Architects, Builders, Painters, Interior Designers and many, many other people to make that happen.

    Even if I’m a miser who just likes to see my bank statement getting fatter and fatter that money sits in a bank and is used to invest in businesses that will in turn employ people.

    If you go ahead with your Huey Long approach and start capping peoples income then none of that happens. You end up with people not doing as much as they could because there is no incentive for it.

    And before you say they should continue to output at the same rate for free for the common good you have to realize that many, many people don’t care about the good of the weal. Capitalism is moral because it gives people incentives to benefit all.

    As Adam Smith said “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages.”

    That system works. There are plenty of 20th century examples of why Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” does not. About 100 Million dead reasons in fact.

  209. Do I really need to provide a list of every economist that has expressed concerned about growing inequality in America?
    And you really prepared to rebut every single one of them and convince me they’re all wrong?

    Further, there are about as many opinions on what caused the 1929 stock market crash as there are economists. On that basis, if you don’t agree that wealth inequalities had anything to do with it, I won’t pursue it. FWIW, I give most time to those that predicted the crash, including Hayek and Mises.

    Change occurs much more peacefully and successfully when it occurs with continuity. That’s hardly a contentious position. Where’s a single example of a country peacefully and successfully switching to a radically different policy model?

  210. Ben where did I say anything about capping incomes?

    I’m reasonably satisfied the LDP tax policy as it stands now is enough to ensure income inequalities do not get out of hand.

    Obviously all tax policy is open to revision, so if it’s wrong it’s wrong.

    The only thing I would emphatically reject is getting rid of ALL possible forms of coordinated wealth redistribution.
    But so would 95% of the population.

  211. Yes.

    I’d probably have to point out they have some genuine concerns that need to be addressed and I wholeheartedly agree with but I doubt any of them blame any economic downturn on income inequality.

    Hayek and Mises never said income inequality was a detemrinant. The same policies than engender a recession might cause low wages for some, but income inequality is not an issue for the Austrian school. There kight be a cause and two effects, but you’re labelling one effect as the cause of the other effect and the actual cause. Show me just one economist who says that “income inequality caused the 1929 stock amrket crash”.

    1933. The US ends alcohol prohibition peacefully and also halves the murder rate at the same time.

    At what time do income inequalities get “out of hand”? Relative poverty simply doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what relative poverty is – growth will see all become better off and it doesn’t matter how the losses or gains are distributed. I do’t care either way they go between wages and capital. If wages increases, there will be more workers. If profits increase, more people will become business owners.

  212. LibSoc, some anarcho-capitalist libertarians think that ending ALL patents and copyrights would enable ALL people a similar standard of living. The SF book, ‘The Probability Broach’, claimed that very argument, though I suppose the author would have sued if someone had breached his copyright! The argument was that without monopolies, wealth differences are harder to maintain, since other people would have no legal impediment to copying your work at a cheaper rate. As a would-be inventor, I support copyrights and patents, but you might want to think about that argument.

  213. Ok, well there’s the obvious left-leaning ones like Krugmann, Edward Wolff, Brad DeLong, Alan Blinder etc., some more Chigago-school type economists such as Goolsbee and the Mises institute’s Jeff Tucker (who has written papers both supporting and questioning wealth inequality), ex-neocons like Fukuyama, plus a number of academic papers noting how the most successfull economies of the C20th century have been those where inequality was the least (which doesn’t prove causation, but the relationship is there). At any rate, a quick Google search of “economists inequality” will quickly show up 1000’s of articles about how economists are concerned about inequality, and maybe a dozen about how the Cato insitute isn’t.

    Where did I say income equality caused the 1929 stock market crash?

  214. Gray, I actually don’t care how the end is achieved. But there does some seem to be a correlation between good IP protection and economic growth, so I’m not convinced scrapping IP protection would be a good idea.

    OTOH, look at the rise of open source software. That has thrived exactly because developers are very willing to share everything.

  215. At 232 you said economists to this day debate whether or not income inequlity caused the 1929 crash. They don’t. It didn’t.

    Income inequality can be a problem. It is a concern. Can you summarise the economists you say are concerned?

    Do they say:

    1. Inequlity is partly caused by X and X must go . X also causes bigger problems. These might reinforce income equality. (sounds reasonable)

    2. Inequality is worrying and we must stamp out relative poverty (this is questionable and it is ignorant of the increase in welfare that society sees, dependent on growth, but unrelated to income equality).

    3. Inequality is a serious problem and it leads to other problems…like capital market corrections and recessions.

    The econometric evidence suggests at the very least, IP protection needs to be shorter.

  216. I said they debate the *degree* to which wealth inequality lead to the 1929 crash. However I will confess that at this point I’m unable find an article online from a *reputable* economist claiming that income inequality had much to do with it. Seeing as I can’t back my claim up at this point, I will retract it.

    However…I spent far too much time on this blog as it is. There’s no way I can provide a summary of every argument I’ve read from an economist that increasing inequality is a concern. All the options you proposed I’ve seen variations of. Plus the biggie: let income inequality grow too high and you face political backlash, and counterproductive policies (protectionism etc.) to try to fix it.

  217. Well, I never said it wasn’t a concern. Continuing economic growth and distributive efficiency is what really helps low income earners.

    No one debates the “degree” that income inequality causes capital market corrections. It is just a bizzare theory. The above doesn’t in any way suggest that income inequality should be a primary concern of Governemnt economic policy.

    Protectionism stops competition from foreign competition and thereby raises income inequality, wheras trade normally leads to wage rate equalisation. Since Federation, we have seen increasing income inequality, rising real wages for the lowest paid workers and a slow move away from protectionism. Real wages for low income workers and relative poverty are both hogher than in 1890…but Australia has led the world in mnay ways in being free trader.

    I’m not convinced that income inequality leads to protectionism and inefficient microeconomic policies.

  218. Ok, but almost every prominent American liberal economist I’ve read is suggesting reversing tax-cuts for the rich and increasing the welfare net to reverse the problem. Those are typically the economists that are advising the Democrats, who have a good chance of winning this years’ presidential election, on top of controlling both houses of Congress. Polls fairly consistently show that the economic woes afflicting everybody except the top 5% are one of the main drivers.

    This doesn’t concern you?

  219. LS,

    Ben where did I say anything about capping incomes?

    Here: Earning an income that is more than enough to keep you fed and comfortable, but not so much that you can easily bribe others, most definitely leads towards more ethical behaviour.

    How is that not talking about capping an income? And semantics aside, explain why my refutation in my last post doesn’t hold water against the above comment?

  220. I’m sorry, but the thought of capping incomes never entered my head. I honestly can’t see how you got that from that sentence.

    Yes we know “pure” socialism doesn’t work. It’s true we’ve never really had “pure” capitalism. Maybe it might work.
    But what we do have is capitalism within a social democracy, which has proven an extremely effective formula.
    Not one to mess with lightly.

  221. Can you explain how you would prevent someone from earning more than a certain amount without capping? Or at least strangulating with tax to the point where it is in effect a cap?

  222. Well the main thing I’m concerned about is allowing any private individual or firm becoming more powerful than the government itself.
    At some point (not specifically defined), a government may well need to step in to prevent that happening, by whatever means. Hopefully it never does.

  223. “The problem”

    Err, what problem?

    The problem they are talking about is over whether tax cuts work best to stimulate demand (Keynesian) or to stimulate supply (Arthur Laffer, supply siders). There is a political prediliction to take the side of tax cuts for the poor or more transfer payments. The truth of the matter is that all tax cuts lead to a degree of savings and some immediate increase in comsumer demand.

    At least that’s what I thought the problem was. The issue debated has been a possible recession, not rising income inequlity. No one has said income inequality causes recessions. Income inequality decreases during recessions.

    Like I said earlier, the US needs to balance it budget, exercise monetary austerity and to end explicit and implicit guarantees to the financial sector.

  224. Trinifar waaaay back at 14

    I don’t think there is anyone in the software trade that thinks Microsoft has produced much software that is well designed, secure, or particularly effective

    I tend to disagree. MS Office, particularly Excel was streaks ahead of anything else, The Basic interpreter they started with was top notch and nothing out there comes near Direct X.

    They employ the best and brightest programmers and keep them happy. Where I see the problem for them is where their goals differ from their customers and where they stomp on Vendors toes by continually entering market spaces where they should not be.

    If I was a software vendor I’d be yearning for the day when Microsoft stops being ubiquitous and I don’t have to worry about being a partner with someone who is likely to enter my market space any day. That’s a scary prospect to deal with as vendors need to share quite a bit of their IP with Microsoft at the moment.

  225. Mark, I’m talking about economists proposing solutions to reverse the growing income inequality trend.

    Those same economists also seem to propose reversing tax-cuts for high income earners to help balance the US budget and stave off recession.

    Personally, I doubt it will do any significant harm (and should at least help balance the budget), but when there are so many myriad ways in which governments interfere with normal market behaviour, it’s virtually impossible to tell with any degree of certainty.

  226. The only way to reverse income inequality is to increase the rate of low income wages growth or decrease high wages and profit growth. I suggest the former is the only desireable choice and cutting taxes for the well off only helps the latter. If they are concerned about the latter then they don’t care about the welfare of the less well off but envy. I doubt too that the tax cuts are significant enough to actually redress or top up welfare dependents or low income earners enough to ameliorate any absolute or relative poverty.

    Dropping the tax cuts won’t balance the budget because they are so small and they won’t stop a recession if it is going to really happen (Bernanke predicts mere low growth) due to policy lags and because the implicit tax rate is dependent on total spending, not the tax rate.

  227. How does cutting taxes for the well-off “help the latter” if the latter is to “decrease high wages and profit growth”?

  228. BTW, interesting discussion that touches on causes of the Great Depression, potential problems with income inequality, and effective ways to fight it, here:

    Unfortunately I don’t feel qualified to judge the economic literacy of most of the posters, so while many of the arguments sound reasonable enough to me, I’m well aware that many economic arguments “sound reasonable” only because they fail to properly account for any number of alternative hypotheses.

    If it is true that Bill Clinton’s economic advisers actually did a pretty good job coming up with policies to assist the least fortunate, then perhaps Hillary mightn’t be so bad as next Prez.

  229. LS,

    You are making a bad choice by concentrating on equity instead of absolute welfare.

    The result is equity is improved but everyone is worse off.

    Or you can have unknown equity consequences but a net welfare gain.

    As for Krugman: ultimately, a nuanced, non-populist view of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory explains a lot. It has seen support in recent orthodox macroeconomics literature (see Frenkel and Mehrez, 2000). Ultimately it depends on explanations like rational, adaptive expectations and marginalist theories of endowments and derived demand to explain what happens, so it is fairly robust.

    The real lesson is you shouldn’t trust Krugman. Hi best work on international trade was full of highly unrealistic assumptions (strategic trade theory).

  230. “Worse off” is a value judgement. Personally, I’m perfect happy with policies that discourage excessive inequality even at the expense of my own take-home pay – up to a point of course. As long as the policies are those implemented by a democratically chosen government, they fact that some percentage of the population will have more taxes taken away than they would otherwise choose doesn’t seem worth getting worked up over.

    I wasn’t so concerned about Krugman’s opinion on that page, rather the debate that followed.

  231. I think I’ve missed the mark in trying to get my point across. Now there are two points:

    1. You’d be more satisfied in a situation where everyone is worse off but you are more equal, than a situation where there isn’t as much equity but everyone is better off?

    There isn’t a choice between two equally wealthy socities, one with a better distribution of income than the other. Redistributing income is a wealth destroying process. Where would you rather be? Think about the veil of ignorance and life chances.

    2. Few policies can increase equity and relieve poverty. These are good. Bad policy like “tax the rich” only serves to increase dependence on handouts or reducing reinvestment rates which in turn reduce the incentive to full time work or lessen the demand for labour, thereby reducing wages and employment.

  232. Intellectual honesty, please. We’re not talking about policies that ‘discourage’ ‘excessive’ inequalilty, we’re talking about policies that use force or threats to confiscate wealth above a certain arbitrary threshold.

    But my question is, what justification is provided by ‘democratically chosen’ government. If the taking of money for redistribution was done by government not democratically chose, would it be justified in your opinion, and if not, why not?

  233. #257 how is “everyone” worse off? Even if it true that “redistributing income is a wealth destroying process” (which I don’t buy), it simply isn’t the case that “everyone” is worse off – in fact, I don’t even think most of the top 10 or 20% of earners would consider themselves “worse off” – they’d have less money in their pockets, but not everyone values money above everything else.

    Justin, you might be talking about policies that use force to confiscate wealth about a certain arbitrary threshold, but I actually don’t care what the policy is, so long as it has the effect of reducing excessive inequalities.

    A government that is not democratically chosen doesn’t have “right” to do anything at all. The point is that if people are sufficiently unhappy about whatever schemes a government implements to redistribute wealth, they can vote it out.

  234. Well you can not buy that wealth redistribution isn’t a wealth destroying process but you are kidding yourself. All regulations have costs, even good ones and all taxes impart some kind of productive loss on society in excess of losses to consumers and producers.

    A tax on the wealthy may not affect their standard of living very much but it would reduce the demand for the labour of others.

    That is why we want to minimise taxation and make it as efficient and as broad based as possible.

    Unchecked democracy is dangerous. The best kind of democracy makes individuals, not groups powerful.

  235. Mark, fine, but by that arguments lots of things are wealth destroying. What matters is maximising opportunity.
    Money is like manure and all that (in piles it stinks, spread around it helps everything grow).

    Who’s talking about unchecked democracy?

  236. Regulatory burdens and deadweight losses from production create opportunity how?

    Remember, in answering that you want to eliminate vertical inequity, not just ameliorate absolute poverty.

    Too many and poorly designed taxes and regulations create more poverty but can also, but no necessarily, create more vertical inequity.

  237. Well no disagreement from me there. I never specified which policy would achieve the best outcome.

  238. BTW, John Humphreys’ project in Cambodia (I think) is a great example of “spreading money around” to create more wealth. He could almost certainly make more money elsewhere, so if his only concern was maximising his own profit, projects like this wouldn’t happen.
    Simply incentives to encourage this sort of project would surely be better than automatic redistribution through income taxes.

  239. Also, the subsidy would have at least a three fold effect:

    1. Subsidies to those who can afford it.

    2. Increased welfare of this kind.

    3. Crowding out other ideas which can help the poor in other ways.

    You are right about tackling poverty. Developmental economists always stress free trade and capital flows, along with private charity will help make the 3rd world better off.

  240. Well we’re not talking about the 3rd world here. Just what can be done to “incentivise” people with spare cash to put it towards programs that genuinely help the less fortunate, even if they could make far more elsewhere.

    I don’t think there’s much point making it an explicit financial incentive, but most people do have an inherent desire to get “something” out of a project they put in towards.

    In the case of social democracy, you put in your tax contributions, and get out public services and infrastructure, plus the knowledge that no-one (including yourself) ever really need starve, go homeless, or without medical care etc. etc.. That’s a pretty effective strategy, except that it doesn’t do a very good job of assisting those who get stuck in a situation where the benefits of breaking free from welfare dependency aren’t good enough to be worth it.

  241. I don’t know why you are suddenly excluding the 3rd world when you brought it up.

    People in Australia don’t need subsidies etc. They have opportunity without the need for foreign aid or foreign investment (but that helps).

    Public services have 10-20 layers of bureacracy between the stakeholder and the agent. Public trasnport is roughly ten times the cost of the explicit price paid for it. No one starved in America before the welfare state besides pioneers or during the revolutionary war. Abuse, neglect and starvation still exist today in Australia. Plenty of people go without medical services in socialised medicine systems because they die before the queue is short enough.

    It isn’t effective at all.

  242. No-one starved in America before the welfare state?
    Have you read nothing about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl crisis?

    Or are you going to conveniently blame that entirely on poor government policy (which will *always* exist, no matter what sort of policy platform you have)?

    I suggest you also read the history of why welfare nets were introduced in Britain in the 19th century, largely by economically conservative governents.

  243. Q. What caused the great depression?

    A. Poor Government policy.

    That might give you the shits, but it is the truth. See the history of the credit boom and bust in the 1920s and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

    How many people starved during the dust bowls (1930-1936)? Remember, FDR was destroying surplus agricultural crops at the time to raise food prices for struggling farmers. People might have been able to buy enough food to eat if Smoot-Hawley hadn’t doubled agricultural tariffs. There might have been some left over if FDR wasn’t ploughing potatoes into the ground ala Stalin in the Ukrainian wheat fields.

    The welfare acts were an improvement on the poor acts etc. It doesn’t mean they are an optimal policy.

    Or maybe you can enlighten me. Why were they introduced?

  244. So if the LDP got into power, and there was another major stockmarket crash and small recession, there’s no possibility at all that a depression or crop failure could follow?

  245. Oh, and on the question of welfare nets in Britain, it was partly to ensure that the significant population of “working poor” in large industrial cities did not rebel against “capitalism”, as they saw themselves as gaining so little benefit from it (compared to factory owners etc.)

  246. I am not sure if this has been linked or looked at, at all. There is too much stuff here to read quickly!

    “Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.” [7] – Chairman of the Federal Reserve

    I particularly like that part.

  247. I guarantee you we wouldn’t jack up tariffs on food, or plough food into ground to support agricultural prices like Hoover and Roosevelt did. We wouldn’t turn a small recession into a prolonged series of rolling recessions because we’d let the labour and money markets clear.

    Calamities like droughts are all the more reason to have rationalist policies, cut taxes and charge market prices for resources by allocating property rights. Water, for example is scarce.

    You are pretty much admitting that the welfare nets arose as a kind of electoral bribe, despite a 400% increase in real wages for that century – which had never happened before. It was a bad policy and a cynical move to the centre. The tories were not like free market conservatives, such as Reagan. They wanted to maintain the class structure and many despised laissez faire economics and “new” money.

    It was big of Greenspan to admit institutional failure. There was no such crisis before the US FRS existed.

  248. I wish people would stop responding to LS – he’s such an obvious troll, and it only encourages him. If this was Usenet, I’d have killfiled him already…

    Two things would improve wordpress blogs immensely:

    1) Threaded comments (with ability to close/ignore subthreads)
    2) killfiles for logged in readers so that can auto-ignore trolls

  249. Fleeced, what makes you say that? I take it you think I’m some Green party member trying to convince Libertarians that they need to embrace “socialism”. Fine – I can’t prove or disprove that. But for the most part I’ve found the discussions here very educational, if occasionally frustrating.

  250. Mark, not just an electoral bribe – those promoting the idea believed in capitalism and didn’t want to see it brought down by workers that felt short-changed.
    At least, that’s my approximate understanding.

  251. The workers weren’t getting short changed. It was the greatest increase in living standards ever seen at that point of time.

    The correct thing to do was to tell them to shut their yaps.

  252. Mark, so you can put yourself in the shoes of someone like Benjamin Disraeli from the comfort of 21st century conditions and say you know what the best thing for him to do was?

    Honestly, though, if the welfare net is such a mistake, why on earth has it been adopted by every successful economy in the world?

  253. Yes. Obviously. I have the benefit of hindsight.

    Probably a couple of reasons. Firstly it has been introduced and added to in an incremental fashion and each step is difficult to argue against on emotional grounds. Secondly, it has been supported by a wave of fallacious economic reasoning. Unfortunately this is endemic – tariffs, demand management, the military draft, social credit etc.

  254. But you don’t really. There’s no way you can realistically judge whether England mightn’t have faced its own Russian Revolution if a state assistance for the poor hadn’t been boosted.

  255. The Russians had a revolution because they were promised freedom, radicals demanded more, there was conflict and as a massive overreaction, what they were promised was taken away from them. Russian agriculture was not far removed from serfdom.

    Besides that, Nicholas II was utterly incompetent (viz bloody Nicholas) and economically they could not fight WWI. There were also obviously Bolshevisks and Menshevisks urging the first revolution to occur. They also had terrible social policy like 25 year stints in the army, often as a punishment.

    Britain was nothing like Russia. The British workers were already better off.

  256. Some 19th British factories were not far removed from serfdom either, from what I’ve read.

  257. Russians only abolished serfdom decades before the struggle between the liberals, conservatives and Marxists began in Russia. Western Europe was forced to abandon this after the black plague (much earlier).

    Factories had poor working conditions, but so did virtually every other job back then – a water carrier did back breaking labour but did not work in a factory. They conditions got better as more poeple had the opportunity to open up their own factories and set better working conditions. More capital meant more labour saving and the end of pulverising physical labour like that of the water carrier.

  258. Well that’s true – but it’s also true that lot of improvements in working conditions only came via union insistence and government mandate.

  259. I would credit the unions with keeping standards up and being able to liase with management and have their own experts.

    I actually reckon most safety and condtiions get better at the insistence of workers, who have the information. Ministers and union reps don’t. A lot of firms use this internal, tacit knowledge in so far as makiing employees responsible for OH&S and even reorganising the firm into self managing teams, this use of knowledge has totally changed the organiation structure and span of control of many firms.

    However, for your improvements to come about, they would act like the minimum wage as they are a cost that must be imposed.

    As employees could earn more and were more skilled, there is a greater incentive to protect them. There has also been a requirement to look after the health and safety of employees through contract and negligence.

    If Government mandate has improved conditions, has it been worth the cost – plenty of jobs still offer compensation for doing dangerous or unpleasant jobs. Would those workers or society be better off if thise jobs could nbot be done at all?

  260. I’m talking about things like the Coal Act that prevented 6-yo children from being sent down mines stark naked, chained to coal carts.

    How do you put an economic value on that?

  261. It is difficult to judge these things. Such a work pracice is brutal and careless.

    Today, anyone who did that to their children would be negligent, at common law, as would the company. It is clearly child endangerment and they should be prosecuted, no questions asked. 18th century industry was not holy. Take colonialism and pseudo science in racial justification for that activity for example.

    However, ask a developmental economist about child labour. Yes it is great if children do not have to endure this, but the daily grind means often they need to do the same type of work as their parents. often this involves work far worse than any Western adult would now put up with. The choice is stark – work or starve. The people in these countries put an economic value on each child. These are the kind of places that need more capitalism, so Mum and Dad can earn enough so the kids can go to school and not be put in danger.

    I’d say that law had an obvious net benefit (but the opinion from those in developing nations may be quite different), but it doesn’t justify a myriad of other regulations.

  262. No, and I wouldn’t claim it did.

    And yes, I agree that poorer developing countries are those that need capitalism the most – but I don’t accept that allowing practices we would consider brutal here is necessary or desirable. We have the technology now to prevent the need for brutal labour.

  263. I quote in part Walter Block, in his book “Defending the Undefendable,” The Employer of Child Labour: –

    High on the list of the enemies of society, one can always find the employer of child labour, cruel, cold hearted, exploitative, cunning, and evil. In the public mind, child labour is almost equivalent to slave labour, and the children’s employer is no better than the slave owner.

    It is important to correct this view. Simple justice demands it for the majority opinion on this question is completely fallacious. The archetypical child labour employer is as kindly, benevolent, and filled with the milk of human kindness as anyone else. Moreover, the institution of child labour is an honourable one, with a long and glorious history of good works.

    And the villains of the piece are not the employers, but rather those who prohibit the free market in child labour. These do-gooders are responsible for the untold immiseration of those who are thus forced out of employment. Although the harm done was greater in the past, when great poverty made widespread child labour necessary, there are still people in dire straits today. Present prohibitions of child labour are thus an
    unconscionable interference with their lives.

    The first plank in the defense is that the employer of child labour has not forced anyone to join his employ. Any and all labour agreements are completely voluntary. As such, unless they were thought to be mutually beneficial, they would not be agreed to in the first place.

    The fact is that capitalism caused the end of child labour, by the increased wealth generated by the industrial revolution creating the situation where parents no longer needed their children to work down the coal mines to help support their families.

    Without capitalism children would still be doing these jobs, and all the nanny state wet liberal legislation would not make any difference other than to make life harder for these people. If it were not for the benevolence of the mine owners in providing employment for these poor unfortunates, I shudder to think what their fates would have been, probably something quite Dickensian.

  264. I don’t know about sending six year olds down the mines but I sure wish that there was scope for some young teenagers that have been booted from the education system to go and do something that puts money in their pocket and tells them they are not worthless. Being paid for your labour can help build self esteem and connect you with your community in ways that sitting at home watching videos endlessly doesn’t.

  265. “Two things would improve wordpress blogs immensely:

    1) Threaded comments (with ability to close/ignore subthreads)
    2) killfiles for logged in readers so that can auto-ignore trolls”

    Bravo Fleeced, you’ve really said it. It’s amazing how a worse technology, like these all-in-one blog threads, can replace the far superior nested hierarchy threads on newsgroups. It makes it so hard to follow a particular conversation, when you’ve got several of them going on at the same time. They should introduce that kind of nested hierarchy threads in all these blogs, god they are primitive by comparison.

    What happened to usenet newsgroups by the way? Did Google swallow them up and turn them into web-based blogs?

  266. Fryar, do you *really* believe that children have the wisdom and intellectual maturity to make sensible informed choices about their mode of employment?

    Or that sending 6 year olds down the mines was the only possible way that England could have become a modern prosperous society?

    How is education not a better option for children that hard, dangerous, manual, barely-paid labor?

  267. “What happened to usenet newsgroups by the way? Did Google swallow them up and turn them into web-based blogs?”

    No, they’re still around – depends on your ISP. If your ISP has an NNTP server, then you most email cliant have built in newsreaders (eg, Outlook).

    Of course, many of these groups are overrun with trolls, spammers and off-topic posts, but it’s much easier to follow conversation threads. Even most web forums have abandoned threads now as well.

    The killfile option would work well for blogs too… rather than the admin censoring users they don’t like, it would let individual readers blacklist people they want to ignore (see? even with blogs a decentralised approach works better). I’m surprised we haven’t seen this idea taken up.

  268. LibertarianSocialist
    You are trying to conjure something out of nothing. The problem is the scarcity of resources, including time and human knowledge. All human societies before the development of capitalism, dealt with this problem of scarcity by a large number and proportion of people dying, usually in childhood. Now that people have learnt that it is property rights, capital accumulation and individual freedom that enables everyone to live at a higher standard of living, we think we can just, with a wave of our hand, cause scarcity to disappear. But it was not like that then, and the only thing that has stopped it being like that is the knowledge of how to reduce scarcity – capitalism.

    Not only did they not know then how to solve the problem of scarcity without resorting to capitalism – we don’t know now.

    Imposing restrictions on private property would have had the result of prolonging the poverty and starvation. The idea that people could have had the wealth without having to deal with the scarcity – which is essentially what you are contending – is conjuring, magical tricks, not reality-based, irrational, superstition. That is why tens of millions died in the twentieth century when socialists tried to deal with the problem of scarcity by attacking the basic human rights of property.

    In general, the laws imposing minimum standards ratified what the market had already generally achieved. A classic example is the minimum wage, which followed, not led, the general rise of wages in the market.

    But why did web forums abandon threads? It’s such an obviously superior way of conducting a forum? What could possible be against it?

  269. The ‘factory system’ was bitterly opposed by many, varied and influential critics. The climate of ideas against it was so hostile for so long, that is probably why it didn’t appear centuries earlier. It was the achievement of the economists in the eighteenth century, in exploding the fallacies underlying the criticisms of the hated factory system – that the factories grind the faces of the poor, etc. – that persuaded people to remove the restrictions on private property which former wisdom had thought to be necessary for the public good, that finally ed to the breakthrough in human abundance which has culminated in you sitting in comfort in your electrically-lit home, complaining about the over-abundance of material wealth in your life, and typing anticapitalist nonsense into your globally-networked computer !

  270. “But why did web forums abandon threads?”

    No idea… I know in the early days, discussion forums were mostly threaded. For whatever reason, the unthreaded apps seemed more popular – maybe because they looked nicer without all that indentation, or maybe forcing people to read everything encouraged more discussion. I’m not really sure.

    Slashdot has threaded conversations and seems to work ok… and instead of killfiles they have a user rating system, and allow users to set the threshold at which they see comments. It also allows users to accrue karma points. It’s a clever idea in principle but I think it could be made better (ie, instead of having the one rating from moderators, they need a method of rating comments by like-minded people – similar to how Amazon does with books – combined with individual killfiles for greater control)

  271. Fleeced, you’d seriously prefer to only discuss things with like-minded people? Oddly, I get much more out of discussing things with those that I strongly disagree with!
    He who knows only his side of the case and all that.

  272. Better that kids work than die.
    Child labour’s common in socialist and fascist countries where ever you have poverty.

  273. LS… once again you succeed in either deliberately twisting what is said, or you totally missed the point.

    No, I don’t want to read opinions of only like-minded people. I would, however respect their ratings (eg, if two or more users consistently rate the same comments as a troll, then it’s reasonable to assume that when one of them does, it should reduce the rating of the comment for the other). My preference was for this method of control as opposed to slashdot’s, where minority opinion would never get a look-in (which I think would be bad)

    If someone posted something I disagreed with, but was nonetheless interesting, I would mod it accordingly (in slashdot terms, +1 interesting).

  274. Tim R, false dichotomy. I don’t beleive we were ever in a position where they were the only two choices. Universal compulsory education could have been introduced far sooner, for instance.

    Fleeced, not deliberately twisting, just misunderstanding you.

  275. How would have society paid for the education?

    I accept now we are living in a golden age where people can afford an education. Two thoughts about affordability arise:

    1. Someone else might pay for it if you can’t afford it (taxes, philantrhopy).

    2. If you go to school, the family doesn’t starve.

    I think 2. is more important than 1. since a lot of education was done voluntarily by the churches, who were at the time, historically more literate and educated than most of society.

  276. Enormous amounts of money were wasted on all sorts of spurious empire-building and self-aggrandizing activities by rulers and kings. There was never any shortage of money to pay for education.

  277. No, I don’t disagree about this. Arguably, it was a public good at the time – but the story of private education at the time isn’t known that well. It is worth reading into.

    The point is, until society was wealthy enough, forcing kids to be sent off to school may have required an income subsidy. You can argue for and against the merits of it but I don’t know if it would have been possible given the attitudes of the Lords and well to do Commons at the time.

    No subsidy: potential violence with commoners. Subsidy: stonewalling by Lords etc.

    The term “dismal science” has similar roots, when Thomas Carlyle MP said that economics, in espousing free trade and potentially a way out of poverty for the coloured people of the world, was a “dismal science” that reduced whites to the level of coloureds.

    At the time to introduce compulsury education, you faced i) income constraints of the poor and ii) superior social attitudes of those who would have to make up the wage subsidy.

  278. Fact: Today, countries with socialist and facist type governments have poverty to the point where kids have to work. This is less common in more capitalist countries. Simple.

    Avoiding death is what life is all about. There’s no dichotomy. Everything important that you do is for your survival.
    What good is education if you’re starving, especially public education – that in my opinion is of a fairly low standard anyway. In addition, people can run a business without official education, they learn on the job.

    My family is originally from Africa and many countries have tried the public education experiment there and it has been one of the reasons for economic collapse. Zimbabwe for example increased education expenditure from 4% to 21% (from memory) of GDP around 1980.

    It’s like when I went to Sth Africa recnetly and saw all the slums had power connected by the government (no sewage though). Not surprisingly there are now big problems with power supply. Black outs are common now and most businesses and wealthy people have bought diesel generators to cope. Businesses have lost millions and the country has suffered unecessarily. Why? so a few politicians can pat themselves on the back, feel important and drink themselves stupid in fancy hotels?

    Basically people forget that public services are not free. Society as a whole pays more for them and you turn good hardworking people into slaves by use of force.
    It’s definitely not libertarian, “libertarian” socialist.

  279. Is it politically correct to talk about ‘black-outs’ in a black country? Shouldn’t you use the euphonism ‘power shortage’, or something? You gotta deliberatively use bland words, so noone gets offended, you $%^&**^%$& south australian. What if a starving, freezing-to-death, Zimbabwean read your words? He/she would n’t join ALS, would it?

  280. Tim R, who’s comparing socialist and capitalist countries?
    I’m merely suggesting that dangerous and cruel child labour is not a necessary component of the capitalist path out of poverty.

    And I never said it had to be “public” education, though I would maintain it’s very difficult to have universal compulsory education without taxpayer funding.

  281. Well you are basically correct. The issue with child labour is if it is cruel or excessively dangerous, not that it exists.

    Why have compulsury education? Parents are probably the best people for children to learn how to read and write from.

    There are different ideas on child development too. I once had a teacher who believed you should have early childhood and puberty as time off but the two peiods of education until tertiary or vocational education should be extremely intense.

    I think this idea has some merit. Why force everyone to make the same educational choices?

  282. Education is hardly just reading and writing.

    I consider myself pretty well-educated, but I certainly don’t think I’m qualified to give my son the sort of education he will need to make the most of his potential in this day and age. I’m a lousy teacher anyway.

    Education needs to be compulsory because children aren’t capable of informed consent. I agree most parents would do the right thing anyway and ensure their children were well-educated, but for those children whose parents wouldn’t, it’s not fair on them to put them at the mercy of their parents’ ignorance or apathy.

  283. That’s a good reason I would be prepared to agree with, but what if the parents do not agree with various aspects of the system (testing, methods, beliefs, cirriculum) or the children are simply disruptive to others? It gets tricky there. At what age or educational level do we then make education optional if it is based on informed consent?

    Furthermore, I don’t think the education system can save you from apathetic parents.

  284. Well sure, I think there’s definitely room for parents questioning aspects of the system. But I think that room exists now – the requirements for home-schooling seem quite lax from what I understand.

    Most of the loudest noises objecting to the education system however come from those with fundamentalist religious backgounds, who wish to reject mainstream scientific thought. On that basis, it would be grave mistake to allow parents full control over their kids’ education.

  285. A world where there is no such thing as a government school is very hard for us to understand or imagine in Australia.
    But this is definitely my position based on moral and utilitarian grounds.
    And I’m encouraged by the number of parents that choose private school education even though most wouldn’t share my opinion.
    I’d say the idea that public education is wrong, is more common in the US where it is more common for parents to home school their children.

  286. I disagree LS, I think when it comes to education parents should have the say even if that means teaching creationism, fundamentalism etc.
    I think people should have religious freedom.
    Children should be protected from physical and sexual harm from their parents, but not protected from any incorrect ideas their parents may hold. Enforcing this would be impossible and would technically require omnipotence by the state – and once a child reaches adulthood, they are then responsible for their own choices. eg/ I was brought up a devout Christian and now I’m an atheist.

    I should say that Religious freedom does not mean that Islamic people have the right to stop non-Islamic people drawing the face of Mohammed, and does not mean Christians should be able to stop non-Christians having abortions.

  287. LS,

    It seems odd that you would discount all of the legitimate criticism of public intervention in schooling because of a few scientifically illiterate people who are statistically insignificant in Australia.

  288. Tim, well there you go. I personally think incorrect ideas (especially fundamentalist Christain) ones are just as dangerous, if not MORE dangerous than physical and sexual harm. Read Dawkins.

    Religious freedom is fine among informed adults. But religious ideas are just plain dangerous on children.
    Have you read about Hell Houses?

    Mark, I don’t discount it all, and it’s irrelevant if they are statistically insignificant – no child’s mind should be poisoned with religious fundamentalism.

  289. I don’t think religious ideas are necessarily dangerous with children. Millions of Australians owe their moral foundation in organised religion, and can seperate scientific fact from ancient Israeli allegory, even at a young age. By the end of primary school, most children are familiar with some powerful scientific ideas and even in religious schools, are aware that most people view some parts of the bible as literal and others as non-literal. Most parents aren’t paticularly religious but find that religion is a positive influence on their children.

    Education alone would not stop the ill effects of fundamentalist indoctrination. If the parents are fanatically fundamentalist, they will indoctrinate their children anyway.

  290. Mark, then read the testimonies of some adults that still have nightmares about their childhoold religious upbringing.
    It’s just as much abuse as is, say, caning or inappropriate genital touching (both of which are very commmon, and only rarely leave permanent scars).

    A comprehensive, liberal, scientifically-based education is the only effective weapon against religious fundamentalism I know of.

  291. LS, what do you think the internet will do for home schooling? Please don’t change the subject to the internet, but do tell us if you think the internet could be THE major educational system of the future. Will we need vouchers at all?

  292. Nicholas, I don’t know – I’m not an education expert.
    It certainly has significant potential. But personally I wouldn’t home-school my children, even via an internet course. To me, the chance to interact socially and physically with other children is just as important as the educational material.

  293. Ideas are dangerous yes – very dangerous. But the state attempting controlling our ideas is infinitely more dangerous.

    I’ve read Dawkins, Carl Sagan and others. Like them I am also a scientist and I value empiricism (although it is not explicitly my philosophy as it is for the “level 6” Dawkins who, is actually agnostic if you ask me).
    Anyway, like them I think that if state schools have to exist, creationism should not be taught.
    But unlike Dawkins, I am against state schools altogether and I think creationism should be allowed into private schools.

    I’m not saying ideas are not dangerous. I think the philosophy of Kant for example is dangerous. But if a school wants to teach it, so be it. If you study philosophy at Adelaide uni, Kant is pretty much all you’ll learn. (judging by my conversations with students).
    But, I think it’s more dangerous for a government with the power of force to decide what ideas we can and can’t be taught. Controlling education ultimately discourages people to think for themselves and stifles the introduction of new, controversial ideas. For humans, the ability to think is everything.
    Also, where does the intervention stop? Government is not omnipotent. eg/ Think Galileo with his gravity theories. It seems ridiculous to us that these were banned no? A ban on creationism would start a slippery slope. The same as how regulation has increased throughout this century eg/ look at how anti-smoking laws have progressed recently.

    What you are effectively implementing when you start to violate people’s rights for the sake of a greater good is populism. This is not the most effective system, it’s not infallible and is much more damaging than people realise. And that’s why government power should be severely limited. Time and time again, a majority of people have been proven to be wrong on certain ideas (eg/ witches, communism, flat earth, Milli Vanillis singing ability, whatever). Populism is also effectively saying that politics should not be based on rights principles (like US bill of rights), but on emotion and culture.
    I use the example of how women are treated in fundamentalist Islamic countries. ie: Their treatment is wrong in reality, even in that country where everyone
    thinks it’s OK to make them cover up and mutilate their genitals.

    If you say a majority of people are correct, you are effectively negating the validity of reason in the same way that teaching creationism does. You’re pretending to put the two on the same level but are really destroying one. But there’s a difference – populist legislation, however minor is forced. If you don’t pay the fine, the police eventually knock on your door, if you resist arrest, you will go to jail or be shot.

    The government already attempts to restrict us in regards to what art we can watch or listen to (censorship), what food we can eat (fat tax and regulatory system), what medications we can take (TGA). The last thing we need is for them to attempt to control our minds through what we can and cannot learn by banning subjects.

  294. Having said that, the research that exists tends to suggest that homeschool children have, if anything, less social issues than those educated in traditional schools.

  295. Tim, I don’t have any problem with teaching what creationism is – it’s when you dress it up as science, and then pretend that mainstream science is all just “theory” (in the common usage sense of the word) that I take issue.

    Personally I think allowing parents to teach their children that the bible is literally correct and that science is just “theory” is violating one of the most fundamental rights of the children concerned. In this case, the child (and society’s) welfare must win over any “right” you grant to parents to teach their children however they see fit.

    After all, as you say, we would hardly allow parents to sexually abuse their kids. Why allow them to mentally abuse them, which is potentially worse? If we can make a judgement that sexual abuse is bad, we can make one that mental abuse is just as bad.

  296. Fryar, do you *really* believe that children have the wisdom and intellectual maturity to make sensible informed choices about their mode of employment?

    Or that sending 6 year olds down the mines was the only possible way that England could have become a modern prosperous society?

    How is education not a better option for children that hard, dangerous, manual, barely-paid labor?

    LS, It was never a matter of intellectual maturity, it was never a matter of becoming a prosperous society, it was never a matter of an option of education. What it was, was a matter of extreme poverty where for survival the only option was to take whatever work was available, at whatever age it could be done.

    What I was saying related to the way things were at that time, not your idealistic nonsense about how you would have liked it to have been.

  297. LibertarianSocialist

    “I personally think incorrect ideas (especially fundamentalist Christain) ones are just as dangerous, if not MORE dangerous than physical and sexual harm. Read Dawkins.

    Religious freedom is fine among informed adults. But religious ideas are just plain dangerous on children.”

    Yes I agree. As Dawkins said, it’s the people who are well-intentioned that you’ve got to worry about. If people are being destructive of other people for merely selfish reasons, they’ll stop as soon as it becomes clear that it’s not working. Not so with those who are on a morally superior mission to improve their fellow creatures. They’ll keep going even when it’s not working. In fact, they are more likely to regard the problem as a need to re-double their efforts.

    It was the dreadfulness of the religious wars of the seventeenth centuries that gave rise to the notion of toleration, No one should be forced to contribute to wards the upkeep of other people’s places of worship or religious learning.

    However in all this, the socialist belief system represents a throw-back to the age of violence and intolerance. The religious wars were bad, but the socialists killed over 100 million souls in the last century! The pious religious bigots had nothing on our well-intentioned socialists. Although their belief system was utterly refuted in 1922 – before Stalin – still they just went right ahead and killed people in their millions: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim, Mengistu, Saddam, Assad – socialists every one of them.

    Yet the teaching of socialism is positively rife in public schools and universities, and it is far more dangerous – literally – than religion. So obviously it should not be allowed either.

    Compulsory schooling necessarily entails a right of the state to possession of the body of the child. The very fact of compulsory schooling teaches the child the socialist precept that he does not own his own body, that the state has a right to physically detain him for whatever purpose it sees fit. As Benjamin Marks says, state schools are essentially like prisons, only you can go home at night, and you’re not guilty of any crime except being young. And then the teachings are full of the lie that the state ‘represents’ ‘society’, when it would be far more accurate, historically, factually and theoretically, to describe the state as the continuation of violent means for living off the output of others. Public schools legitimate the state’s depredations against society, and it takes people decades to unlearn the socialist crap they learn at school mixed in with all the useless boring shit that is foisted on them during their detention.

    There is no policy solution for these problems, except to abolish compulsory payment for compulsory schooling, which cannot ever be free of objectionable value judgments, and indoctrination unfairly favourable to government.

    And if the parent does not have the right to teach their child according to their own lights, it is difficult to see how the state is in any better position.

  298. “The teaching of socialism is positively rife in public schools”

    Is it? I certainly learned *about* socialism in high school history classes, but I never once remember being taught that it was somehow a “good” system that we should aim towards. Indeed, my impression of it based on high school history was wholly negative until I actually sat down later in life and did some reading of my own.

    Why is your policy solution of abolishing compulsory schooling any better than a policy solution of continually revisiting the best available scientific evidence of what consistutes “good” education?

    Nearly every parent in Australia today sends their kids to school (or homeschools them) because they know that it’s good for their kids. A minority do it “because they have to”. But the kids of those parents have just as much a right to a decent eduction. So the only solution is for the state to override the parents, just as it is when parents are clearly physically abusing or neglecting their children etc. If we agree that the state needs the ability to assess when parents are mistreating their kids, then how it is any different to agreeing that the state needs to ability to assess what a “good” education is?

  299. LibertarianSocialist, I am a student at a private college. Even though my school is incredibly different from the other private and government schools around, I still have to suffer through some spanner at the front of my class room preaching about the trendy left. As well intentioned as most of it might be, it is utterly misguided.

    The fact is that alot of teachers around are socialists, especially the ones in public schools. Why is this? Because generally they support large government and taxes, so that they can have lots of resources to teach their children. There is nothing wrong with that, they are merely looking out for their best interests, however like most people who have sat in a classroom for pretty much all of their lives they dont take feedback or new ideas that well. Especially in English departments, those places are breeding grounds for bleeding heart left of center types! :p

  300. Perry, sure, I don’t dispute most teachers are “left-leaning”. But that’s true in private schools just as much as public-schools too, from what I’ve read.

    And by the way I’m proudly “bleeding heart left of center”, for the most part. And I think such a position is perfectly compatible with wanting a reduction in government spending and regulation, as do many others of a similar persuasion.

  301. BTW, the one obviously “right-wing” teacher I had was Kevin Donnelly. I’ve never seen much to suggest he’s pro-smaller government either: he looks to Finland as a model of “good education”.

  302. The most important lessons taught about socialism are not in the text-books. Compulsory schooling teaches:
    – that the state has more of an interest and a right in the child’s education than the parents
    – that the state has the right to physically detain the child
    – that the state is justified in its activities generally
    – uniforms teach that the children are all ‘units’ in the eyes of the state
    – compulsory contributions teaches that the state has the right to grab the fruits of other people’s labour without their consent
    – attendance at fixed times schools the child in the ways of bureaucracy, teaching him that his individuality and values are strictly secondary in importance to the grand importance of the state’s schemes
    – uniform curriculum teaches that the state’s administrative convenience is more important than that each child should learn to fulfil his individual potential as best he can
    – compulsory teacher qualifications teach that the state knows what’s better for children than their own parents.

    In short, compulsory schooling teaches the kind of uncritical and irrational fetish of an all-knowing and all-powerful state that underlies the assumptions in favour of it.

    What constitutes a “good” education is a matter of opinion, though it’s ture opinion tends to be most in agreement about the early years. Scientific evidence cannot and does not supply the value judgments necessary for decisions on policy. If schooling is to be provided by the state, what a ‘good’ education is can only ever be a matter of political contention.

    ‘Nearly every parent in Australia today sends their kids to school (or homeschools them) because they know that it’s good for their kids.’

    That is true. Parents in general have always set a high value on their children receiving a decent education, wherever possible. So we can agree that, in general, there is no need for the state to take any action. Parents do and will take on this charge, and it is entirely appropriate for the parents to pay for the education of their children, and with modern technology, a tailor-made education of a high standard that suits the individual child is very affordable.

    There is simply no need for the dull and the bright children to be bored to tears, while the state grinds through its program of mediocrity for all.

    The issue is with the majority who can’t or won’t have their children educated. Do you have any figures on this? I suspect it is a small minority. I suspect it is the same minority as those whose parenting capacity is incompetent to provide the basic level of care and protection, in which the same issues keep re-appearing: drug and alcohol use, mental health, and the mentally retarded. Certainly there may be an issue with this group, but that is not a reason to put the whole population in a straitjacket.

    It is different with education than with harm and neglect because opinion is much more variable about what constitutes a good education than what constitutes harm and neglect.

    As with all that you have said about the state, you simply assume that it is fit for whatever purpose you want to acheive, without critically examining the assumption to see if it’s true or not. For example, religions have killed their millions, but governments have killed their hundreds of millions. Illiteracy and innumeracy in people coming out of government schools is at a high level. There is currently an epidemic of medical abuse by psychotropic drugs: Ritalin and so on. Schools get more funding the more of their children they can have classified as disabled: a classic unintended negative consequence of the welfare state’s mentality that victimhood equals entitlement. In one school recently, there were 217 suspensions in one week.

    There is simply no reason to think that the advantages of government intervention are going to outweigh the disadvantages of the original problem in the first place.

    By the way, just as there is no such thing as a ‘right’ to enslave people, so there is not such thing as a ‘right’ to human effort taken under coercion. Trying to provide services by casting them as rights makes the end result worse not better.

  303. ‘The issue is with the majority who can’t or won’t have their children educated.’

    (That should be ‘the minority’. And it’s probably a small minority.)

  304. Home-schooling still requires compulsory compliance with the state’s curriculum, and also compulsory contributions towards the state’s compulsory education, or indoctrination of the population. So I am forced to pay for an education that I’m not getting.

    Apart from the minority who wouldn’t educate their own children, why not just make people free to educate their own children? Society has an enormous interest in education and can be trusted to get on with it, but certainly if it can’t, then neither can the state. Why is the state’s compulsory intervention necessary at all?

  305. Show me an example of a prosperous country in the world where parents are free to educate their own children however they wish.

    At any rate, I already explained why I think it would be highly dangerous: too many parents would choose to educate their children purely by filling their heads with fundamentalist religious indoctrination.

    Once that indoctrination is successful, children lose all freedom to think rationally and make informed choices.

    Why not just make people free to treat their own children however they like, even it means starving them, neglecting them, or raising them to be the next Hitler?

  306. ‘BTW, the one obviously “right-wing” teacher I had was Kevin Donnelly. I’ve never seen much to suggest he’s pro-smaller government either: he looks to Finland as a model of “good education”.’

    LOL that just says it all doesn’t it? The most right-wing teacher you had thought Finland was a model of good education.

  307. Yes, but he’s far more rabidly “anti-left” than any self-described libertarian I’ve come across.

  308. I don’t care who it was inspired by. As long as it is constantly informed by the best available expertise and scientific evidence, it will be better than most parents could reasonably achieve on their own.

  309. “best available expertise” etc are a matter of opinion. You are not going to convince a creationist they are right and unless you are proposing an illiberal “stolen generation” type of policy, you cannot possibly get your own way about this.

    “We need an education system designed by an evil dictator to save us from another potential evil dictator”.

    Funny that, because Hitler was a product of state education and Government backed militarism.

    Most parents could do better know simply by switching to the International Bacculaureate and having private tutoring.

  310. Then you might as well claim that the general theory of relativity is “a matter of opinion”.

    Science works. It should be the basis for ALL government policy, including educational curricula.

  311. Mark, I suppose your second sentence should have been, ‘You are not going to convince creationists they are WRONG’?
    I think the internet will free up education enormously! Maybe schools will become internet cafes for kids, with tables and screens adjusted for size and age! We already have a home-schooling course for outback children, the School of the Air, so it should be easy to widen the system.
    And as for socialising little tykes, let them join the scouts or the guides! Or have the county offer some other means of meeting people. As a libertarian, I do feel that parents should have the right to educate their children as they choose, not as the state wants to dictate. The USSR was famous for trying to force atheism on all people. let’s not go down that path!

  312. People must have freedom to be able to make their own decisions and think their own thoughts. This entails allowing parents to teach their children stupid stuff.

  313. Well I’m sorry, but the rights of the kids are more important. You’re not going to budge me on that one.

    There’s no need to “force atheism on all people”.
    Just teach science.

  314. Claiming something is a slippery slope doesn’t make it so.
    We’ve have compulsory government-defined educational curricula for long enough now to see that the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives.

    You seriously believe that kids would get *less* exposure to creationism if we didn’t have state-defined educational curricula? It’s completely unconstitutional anyway.

  315. (BTW, to clarify – exposure to creationism isn’t bad. Lack of exposure to science is the real problem).

  316. It is a slippery slope. You’re just lucky science and reason have won people over – such fortunes come and go.

    As long as you have a state enforced cirriculum and it can be changed, the anti-science lobbyists you oppose will fight to control it.

    Mandating that we teach people evolution is no less a breach of the seperation of church and state than a mandate that we teach creationism. Creationists would argue that mandating we teach evolution is doctrinal.

  317. It’s not just luck. Science and reason win people over because they work. There’s every “reason” to be hopeful they will gradually continue to do so. Especially with government policy to encourage it.

    Mandating the teaching of evolution is absolutely not a breach of the separation of church and state. AIUI, multipel court cases have decided that, but I can argue it out from first principles if you really need.

    Teaching evolution need not say anything about religion. You are simply presenting current mainstream scientific knowledge. It’s no different to geology, physics, chemistry etc. etc. (all of which, BTW, are wrong if the Bible genesis story is literally true).

  318. Science wins people over based on results. However, can you show me any idea that became more popular because the Government liked it? It almost inevitably causes backlash.

    Ask a creationist if they think teaching evolution is doctrinal. You cannot argue this from first principles without making a value judegment on someone’s religion. It comes down to your view that children are better off being taught something their parents disagree with. Again, you’re just lucky your side controls the rules of the game. The creationists will always fight to control any State run cirriculum as long as it exists.

    On the other hand, they don’t oppose chemistry etc (results again).

    Creationism is such a small worry it isn’t worth meddling in education over it. Society has become non-religious without the influence of Government – e.g Palriament House still says the Lord’s prayer, but about 11% of the population still goes to church.

  319. Actually, true biblical literalists do oppose many critical important aspects of modern chemistry, as well as physics etc.

    I’m not arguing whether creationists think evolution is “doctrinal”, it’s whether it violates the separation of church and state that matters. Evolution, like all science, simply has nothing to say about the “church” at all.

    Creationism may not a major worry in Australia overall, but I do not wish to be living in a country where parents are allowed to brainwash their kids with fundamentalist claptrap. The kids’ freedom to form their own ideas and get a decent useful education is too valuable.

    They are free to tell their kids that they literally believe the Bible is true, but as long as the kids are also exposed to mainstream scientific thinking, they at least have half a chance.

  320. As long as people are free, they will be free to be brainwashed as children or as they choose to as adults. Most people wake up to themselves.

    Society has enough technology and embedded cultural gadgetry to expose people to science.

    The benefits of mandating education do not exceed the losses. There would be nothing but losses if the creationist lobby controlled State cirricula. You cannot risk this if you value science and reason so highly.

  321. “Most people wake up to themselves”. I used to think this too. Then *I* woke up to myself when I spent a few years online “debating” with creationists. They were brainwashed, pure and simple. Nothing would ever change their minds.

    I don’t believe the creationist lobby will ever be able to control state curricula, and will happily take part in any fight necessary to prevent it. But if there was no state curricula, they would successful brainwash millions of children with no balancing exposure to science and reason.

  322. A state controlled cirricula is simply too risky for me. I’d rather people contain their own ignorances to their own children than any I have.

    Don’t let anecdotes get in the way of a general trend. That’s unscientific! You should ignore those indoctrinated types.

  323. BTW, the rise in compulsory education is very closely aligned with economic growth and the rise in prosperity.

    If for no other reason at all, unless a carefully controlled experiment can demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that leaving all education in the hands of parents is capable of producing a skilled, productive workforce in today’s technology-dominated world, the risk of attempting to impose this on an entire nation is simply not justified.

  324. And I have to ask…why is a state-controlled education curriculum too risky, but not a state-controlled police force, or army?

  325. Compulsury education was consequential of economic growth. We’ve been though this before.

    No one has proven that State enforced education has better results. On the other hand, people are leaving public schools in droves for better results towards private schools and private tutoring.

    What you are saying is that parents can’t make the best decisions for their own children, and this will result in economic calamity.

    Whereas a functioning market economy is actually based entirely on people making utilitarian, subjective decisions for themselves.

    Parents will make good decisions.

  326. Public vs private schools is another matter entirely. We’re talking about the state-mandated curriculum.

    And yes, I am saying that many parents will not make the best decisions for their children. Why should we assume that they would?

    There are no shortage of examples in the real world where individuals all making decisions purely in their own self-interest produces a result where everybody is worse off.
    It’s not a general rule by any means, but it certainly happens.

    A state-controlled police or defence force is just as potentially dangerous as a state-mandated educational curriculum.
    Indeed, history would suggest that it’s far more dangerous.

  327. No one group gets to control the military after elections. Its use is under executive authority. Ideally, it should be only used after Parliamentary approval. Similarly, some counties in the US elect judges, but their election does not diminish due process.

    A State run cirricula on the other hand is simply policy with no checks or balances. It is great when the lunatics don’t run the asylum.

  328. But you yourself see a police and defence force as a necessary precondition for freedom. We can have checks and balances and private competition in some circumstances. Where these don’t exist they have been more dangerous.

    A Government mandate cirriculum may not be of the same type of risk as the damage a military can cause, but there simply are no checks or balances.

    People make bad decisions but the solution is not to make decisions for them. You are just conditioning them not to think for themselves.

    There is no example where self interest within civility or where property rights are expidited which makes people worse off. Sure, a cartel is worse off when the members cheat, but there is a net welfare gain to society, especially consumers. Sure, overgrazing is a problem too, but it is minimsed when land isn’t made a public good.

    There is no way you can apply a game theoretic model like this to education. Some people are still going to have whacky beliefs and brainwash their children if we have a compulsury cirricula. It can’t be eliminated, and these people have an insignificatn influence on technological innovation and economic growth. Let’s minimsie brainwashing and the risk of systematic ignorance by doing away with compulsury cirricula.

  329. I went to a state school and never got taught the most important thing – how to evaluate logically and how to think critically. So I don’t think state education is that great.

    Children don’t have a full set of rights like adults because they are not capable of being independent or fully rational. They are rightly under the control of their parents.
    I agree that children should be protected from violence (including sexual abuse), but not ideas. Because like idea behind the principle of free speech, ideas are never forced on someone. A person is always responsible for evaluating their own ideas once they reach adulthood.

    Also, consider the rights of the parents. If I want to teach my child something controversial, eg/ creationism, why can’t I do that? They’re my kids afterall and I live with them and love them the most. And I might even be right. (I know creationism is totally wrong, I’m generalising here).

    But if you want to continue this discussion, I need your response to these points that I’ve already stated:
    1) the state is not omnipotent
    2) state control of education at best would reduce to populism and this is historically unreliable and philosophically subjective (ie: anti-science)
    3) A government forced monopoly on what is taught is dangerous because it will stifle new ideas.
    4) Parents will usually be the main influence on the child’s ideas anyway. ie: kids taught evolutionary theory that come from a creationist family, will probably turn out to be creationists anyway, so the ban on creationism wouldn’t work.
    5) State education vioaltes libertarian principles ie: rights theory (like all government services).

    And I’ll finish with two questions:
    1) Do you think the Armish in the US should be illegal? They not only refuse high school education to their kids, they also deny them advanced medical treatment.
    2) How do you expect to set up a socialist libertarian community if the outside world has control over it?

  330. I also see mandatory education as a necessary precondition for freedom through informed choice, which is the only useful type of freedom.

    I agree there should be checks and balances on how governments can control educational agendas.

    Compulsory curricula cannot prevent some parents from dangerously brainwashing their kids. But at least it can act as an antidote.

    BTW, you agreed with me previously that compulsory education was necessary as a protection against apathetic or ignorant parents. Now what’s changed?

    If we are to trust government with judging when children are being physically harmed by parental abuse or neglect, then why can’t we trust it with judging when they are being mentally harmed by parental abuse or neglect?

  331. I quite explicitly said parents should be able to teach creationism to their kids. As long as the kids are also exposed to mainstream science and reason, it’s relatively safe.

    Do I think the Amish should be legal? Dawkins has a good debate about that. I think the way they bring up their kids is unethical and dangerous, so if they wish to be considered part of the USA, then the government of the USA has an ethical obligation to prevent them for withholding important education and medical treatment from children who are unable to make an informed choice about it.
    The question then becomes, is doing this by force actually going to be helpful?

    The same sort of rule applies to any community – it depends whether it wishes to be considered part of the same nation.

  332. No you must have misinterpreted me. I never said education should be mandatory. I did agree that ideas are dangerous, very dangerous in some cases.

    I think you’d be insane not to send your kids to school, but I don’t think the education of someone else’s kids is my responsibility. And conversely, I don’t think my education as a child should have been societies’ burden. What right do I have to take other people’s money simply because I was born?

    How can you even prove I’d be better off? What about those that would definitely be worse off? What about the principles of freedom? What about the bureacracy creation and economic burden to all? What about the problem that the state is not omnipotent and will definitely get things wrong from time to time? And how do you draw the line?

    We need a rights protector. ie: the government, police, courts. This is for physical violence and shouldn’t enter the realm of thoughts, ideas, and education for children. Because none of us have the right to correct ideas, child or adult. And because education choice, is the responsibility of the parents.

    There are cases where parental abuse of a mental kind should be stopped by the state. But they are far removed from school education debates. eg/ If a child is removed from contact with other humans (kept in a dark room and neglected) during years 0-5 or so, his brain will not develop eg/ this person even when fully grown will not be able to learn language more than a few basic words – ie: it will basically turn out like a chimpanzee. This abuse (arguably physical abuse) should be banned because the parent has severely hampered the child’s brain and it’s ability to be human.

    Your stance is that you think parents should be allowed to teach creationism to their kids, but you think those kids should also be forced to go to a school that teaches evolutionary theory.
    You are attempting a pragmatist argument (something I disagree with because I think it violates an underlying ethical principle) without any proof that this system will even be effective.

    I therefore disagree with Dawkins and think the Armish should be allowed to deny their kids high school education. Same with medical treatment, no one, child or adult is born with the right to receive free products or services – and no child or adult should have products or services forced on them. In the case of kids, you have to let parents have control over what their kids wear, what they eat, where they play, what they learn, etc. It’s unavoidable and perfectly correct.
    To make myself more clear. In the realm of medicine. I can see some arguments for something like compulsory vaccination in the very rare instance where you would be forcefully spreading disease onto others if you didn’t vaccinate. But I don’t think the child itself has the right to the vaccination if only he would get sick. If the parents don’t want to use certain goods and services of any kind, including medical, they should have that right – they’d have to be insane (or Armish) and if they are truly insane, they shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.
    But vaccinations are a good example. There are some people that belive some vaccinations do more harm than good (eg/ due to residual mercury levels or chance of bad reaction). These parents should have the right to weigh up the pros and cons.
    Incidentally, the Armish do give their kids the opportunity to leave the community when they come of age. There’s a good documentary about it called “Devil’s playground”.

    To an Armish person, getting into heaven would be everything. In their mind, blood transfusions would stop this. They are not hurting us, so let them do it. You can’t force them to send their kids to hell.
    Live and let live is the libertarian way. And you’ll find that only a tiny percentage of people remain stupid enough to live in backward ways such as the Armish. In a free society, there’d be even less of these stupid types because people would realise the importance of evaluating their own choices and would become less authority dependant.

    And you are also saying that to have your libertarian socialist society you’d have to start a whole new nation state?
    Wouldn’t it be easier to set up a truly free nation, and then copy Armish or hippie-commune type models within that nation.

  333. It was Mark that agreed there was a good case for mandatory education. I’ll repeat: to me, informed consent is everything. Freedom is meaningless if you do aren’t sufficiently informed to know what you’re freely choosing.
    You become capable of informed consent with education.
    Hence education needs to mandatory.
    And the state can be trusted with a mandate over curriculum just as well as it can be trusted with control over the police, defence force, or courts of law.

    As far as a libertarian socialist society goes – that’s essentially what I believe we have now, though it’s nowhere near as libertarian as I’d like, and there’s significant room for minimising the role of government.

  334. I agreed, but not on informed consent – but that children cannot make choices for themselves (although this might seem like a variation of informed consent). I believe in the real world this toy model gets trashed, even if it is a strong argument for the case. Ultimately children decide what to study at school which determines their work, vocational or tertiary education. They begin these often before they obtain majority. The choices children make aren’t meaningless.

    Then there is the role of the parent to consider.

  335. Re 350#, It was Neil L. Smith, in the sequel to ‘The Probability Broach’ (The American Zone), who had a character point out that the last line of the defence of an intrusive piece of legislation was usually that it was ‘For the kiddies!’ Politicians will ALWAYS claim that their laws are beneficial, LibertarianSocialist! If you leave them the ‘Do it for the children!’ excuse, everything will become something that improves the lives of children! let’s not fall for rhetoric!

  336. You can ensure people are informed without force.

    It’s common to many fields apart from education. We have a division of labour society where in most cases you are highly likely to believe the opinions of experts.
    But you shouldn’t be forced to do what they say.
    Just like you shouldn’t be forced to stay at school all your life if all you need is to learn to read and write.

    “Informed consent” is apparently everything to you. That’s obviously not true because you want to use force to provide information. – presumably dodgy state information too. Thus consent is not your aim or your principle, and you will find many reasons for using force for the non-existent “greater good”.

  337. How else can you provide information to children, if their parents deny it to them?

    Again…do you agree that governments should use force if parents are physically abusing or neglecting their children?

    If so, why not when mentally abusing or neglecting their children?

  338. Yes, but there’s a difference between initiating force and self defense / retaliation force.

    If the parents initiate physical force on their kids then the only option is to use force to stop them.
    The parents have demonstrated they can’t be trusted in this case.

    There is a large difference between home schooling and genuine “mental abuse”.
    And the realm of ideas/concepts/religion/education is totally removed from physical force and should not be under state control.

    It’s the same with censorship and freedom of speech. An idea may be dangerous or even totally wrong, doesn’t mean you should ban someone from saying it.

  339. Well then I think you grossly underestimate the damage that is caused by mental abuse. OTOH, most physical force parents use against their children is reasonable enough and not only not damaging, but necessary for the safety of the children. Determining when they are stepping over the line requires skill and expertise, and access to the latest available research.

    I’m not talking about banning ideas – it’s the combination of presenting a dangerous and demonstrably false idea as fact (abuse), and failing to provide the necessarily skills needed to determine that the ideas are false (neglect). I think it is a serious hole in our public education curricula that little room is made for teaching critical thinking and logical debating fallacies, for example.

  340. Libsoc, that’s why I think the Internet will liberate minds! There’s clearly more than one opinion out there! Perhaps just providing Internet access is all it would take! That’s an idea for a novel- net-peddlers giving away computers in the hope of reaching young minds, and parents or governments trying to stop them!!! Not that far from reality, really….

  341. LS can you demonstrate an example of where presenting a dangerous and demonstrably false idea as a fact could be considered abuse?

  342. Ben – the idea that you will burn in hell forever if you don’t worship a particular god would be a good start.

  343. LS
    Please give us your estimate of the numbers killed by governments since public schooling began.

    I agree with you that teaching religion is abusive; but clearly if it is, then teaching socialism,or interventionism, or anything but the philosophy of liberty is also and should be banned for the same reason.

  344. The idea that you will burn forever in Hell is not a demonstrably false idea- how can you prove it wrong? An all-powerful God would have the power to do this, though we could hope that an all-powerful being is also all-wise, and would choose better methods. Interestingly, Judahism never subscribed to the idea that law-breakers would burn forever- their rabbies believed in temporary punishments of un-known duration before we all ended up in God’s feasthall (My source is “Everyman’s Talmud”). Forever is also not used in the Greek of the New Testament- the word used is aionion, meaning ages and ages, but not meaning never-ending.
    Re, ‘Science’. The Nazies took over the classroom, and insisted that people be taught Darwinian evolution, with German genes being Top, and they called that ‘Science’. How could you stop Statolatry if the state controls the minds of the kids?

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