Thursday, October 20, 2005

Votes and Individual Choices

A report by Sheila Potter, “The Incumbents” in a local newpaper, Saanich News, Saanich, British Columbia, Canada ( is an analysis in terms of individuals in a local council and their political leanings (Left to Right). It includes this description of Jackie Ngai, which caught my attention:

“Although Jackie Ngai describes herself as a centrist, and for a brief period in 2004 wanted to run as a federal Liberal, current Saanich Counc. Jackie Ngai is the most right wing voice on council. Schooled in economics at the University of Victoria, she's been known to invoke the invisible hand of Adam Smith during her arguments. Most often, she votes in step with Mayor Frank Leonard, if not one step further right. For example, she had the strongest free-market views on council about restricting private liquor stores, saying no restrictions at all were necessary. On development issues, she falls in line with the rest of council in her approach to shaping development around urban nodes. She does sometimes irk community associations for not negotiating as hard as they would like with developers.”

It is not reported by Sheila Potter in what context Jackie Ngai invokes “the invisible hand of Adam Smith during her arguments”. I cannot see what is particularly rightwing about the metaphor of the invisible hand, nor rightwing about the issue of “restricting private liquor stores” or for “saying no restrictions are necessary”. Rightwing is a term invoked across a wide range of issues. Exponents of rightwing agendas run the full range from the libertarian (left and right!) through to the authoritarian (left and right!).

The overlap is so strong that it mocks the very terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, allegedly a designation to whether the French revolutionary assembly sat to the right of the podium or the left (echoes of the ‘right hand’ of God , ‘right hand man’, etc.,?).
In northern Europe (mainly in Scandinavia) there is no sense to be got from the political spectrum on liquor or alcohol. The Establishment (predominantly leftwing until recently) has traditionally been against it and has imposed state monopolies on alcohol production and sales (reaping the taxes) and has also imposed draconian fines (more taxes) on offenders of the many restrictive laws and bye-laws to do with the purchase, transport and consumption of alcohol. Is it the same in Canada, a northern country geographically?

Where Adam Smith could contribute to such debates in such circumstances is not clear. His, or rather Shakespeare’s (Macbeth 3:2), invisible hand would not seem appropriate to the hours of opening of particular stores. These are determined by a political agenda, of which I have nothing to say. If such hours are a local matter then the local people will decide; Smith’s liberty was always liberty under law and justice.

Prohibition, religious fatwa’s and personal taste apart, restrictions on alcohol consumption, like those on pig meat, fois gras, meat generally, fur coats, leather goods, ivory, rare birds’ eggs, endangered species and drugs, are, or ought to be (one does not follow the other), decided by votes in separable communities and, in the absence of votes, by individual preferences.


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