Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

(24 June)
I was surprised by [Mark Littlewood’s , the Director-General of the IEA] piece in the Mail on Sunday this weekend. Mark proposes a public register of everyone claiming benefits of any kind – pensions, disability living allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, and so on. This strikes me as a very bad idea indeed.” …
“In my experience, most unemployed people are profoundly ashamed of being unemployed. Removing their privacy, exposing them to gossiping neighbours and their children to bullying classmates, will just make that even worse.” …
“These proposals would humiliate people on benefits and rob them of their privacy. They don’t deserve it. Many (probably most) of them are dependent on welfare because of the state itself, and it is senseless to make their lives even more difficult instead of tackling the real causes of their poverty.
“If you think that unemployment is largely caused by government mismanagement of the economy, it makes no sense to humiliate people for being out of work. If you think that government welfare has crowded out private charity, you shouldn’t blame people forced to rely on government disability benefits. If you blame planning regulations for the high cost of housing, you should focus on those regulations before you cut off the money that mitigates the problem for a few poor people.” …
“To me, this is one of the key messages that ‘bleeding heart’ libertarians need to get across to other free marketeers. Cutting back the state is a bit like a game of Jenga – if you blithely pull away the supports that people rely on before you take away the causes of that reliance, you’ll only end up making things worse.”
Follow the link and read the whole of Sam’s short post.
(Disclosure: I am a Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute).
I was pleased to read Sam’s post because it coincides with my own views as a moderate libertarian, a stance that is not popular with some libertarians of a more radical disposition (such as followers of Ayn Rand).
Political economy, at least as I understand it in the context of Adam Smith’s Works, is not about blaming the poor for being poor, or, indeed, admiring the rich for being rich.   There are feckless layabouts right across the income distribution who are fed by the work of others. Both wealth creators, who in Smith’s thoughts were productive, and some of their relatives who are prodigal layabouts in the consumption of the output of the productive, and at the other end of the spectrum, among the regular consumers of productive from their state-benefits, paid for from the taxation of the productive.  But both these ends of the spectrum in the main are minorities. Desirable as it may be, reducing the number of these minorities requires more complex solutions than moral crusades with simple solutions and slogans.  
The short-cuts advocated by some without considering the heavy social cost in human terms is not an element of a liberal libertarian.  The Bolsheviks tried the ‘short-cut’ strategy as did the Maoist communists and the Kymer Rouge, with appalling costs in human lives.  Human societies have never worked like that, though a few have ended that way, and the glaring examples of the surviving remnants of a few hunter-gatherer groups still functioning with the early technologies of the deep past that show human life as it never evolved socially like the ones we live in.  They are much admired by visiting scientists but very few choose to live their lives out with them and without modern technology, outside Tarzan fantisies.
Societies evolve gradually creating possibilities that are easily wasted in the all to easy options of ‘short-cut’ politics, which usually end in tyrannical personal gains of a few at the expense of the many, especially those few who are parasitic.  The stone detritus of the civilisations left after they self-destructed, created today’s archeological science and accompanying rich tourist trails.
Sam is right: if we want to eliminate poverty (and feckless super-consumption) we should address that problem and not punish the poor and their children as a short-term ‘fix’ under knee-jerk sloganising.  I expect nothing much from the extremes of left or right, but do from Libertarians.
Sam Bowman’s few paragraphs are a step in the direction I wish to go.
As a moderate libertarian, this is only my opinion and I have no intention of forcing it on anyone.
If this makes me a “bleeding heart Libertarian” – I think I can live with that label.


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