Friday, 6 May 2011

My 2007 essay for the Chris Tame Memorial Prize which should have won but didn't because Sean Gabb disagreed with my conclusion


Essay Title: Does Britain need a Libertarian Party?

The answer is YES, if only to give voters a choice between having a succession of tax and spend governments (whatever their official party ideology) and the option of having, at the very least, a party that consistently promises lower taxes and smaller government. It is also important to give the impression to the rest of the world that the British are still governed by a political system called democracy, even if it is in fact an oligarchy. Like a cartel, Labour and Conservative have carved up the market in policies between themselves and successfully excluded the competition by claiming that anyone who wants anything other than the policies they offer, (eg withdrawal from the European Union, lower taxes, the death penalty etc) are mad, bad and sad. This is common to all declining Western nations whose party system allows this state of affairs to continue.

Now that the Cowardly Cameronian “Conservatives” have unilaterally withdrawn the option of lower taxes from those who had been under the impression that being a Conservative meant supporting a political party that at least offers the option of voting for taxes lower than a sitting Labour government, there is now a gaping Democratic Deficit that must be bridged in the name of the choice that is meant to exist within a democracy. The impression now that Conservatism as practised by Cameron is merely a knee-jerk reaction of maintaining the status quo, whatever that is, must be corrected. Conservatism is not, after all, about displaying the Cameronian characteristic of a cushion that bears the imprint of the person who last sat on it.

What, though, is a Libertarian?

Chambers defines this as “a believer in free will: one who believes in the maximum amount of freedom of thought, behaviour etc.” This is best exemplified in John Stuart Mill on Liberty: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” Or, more graphically: “Your right to swing your arms ends where my nose begins.”

But what does this mean in practice?

It can only mean fewer laws and lower taxes. Not only would a Libertarian be in favour of Small Government, he would actually want a Minimum State. What this means is of course a question as apparently as unanswerable as:

“What is good?”

“Where does commercial lending end and usury begin?”

“What is Justice? (or indeed “social” justice?)

“What is a ‘just society’?” When do we know we have it? When no one complains that life is unfair?

How are we to measure the “greatest happiness of the greatest number”? Leaving this concept practically indefinable, even with a Felicific Calculus in place, was fatal to the now discredited concept of Utilitarianism. If the happiness that was to have been generated by Utilitarianism cannot be measured or quantified, then it is unlikely to gain adherents as widely as did Communism, Liberalism, Socialism – ideologies which wisely avoided being hoist by their own petard by assuming that the greatest happiness of the greatest number would be generated if World Communism/Liberalism/Socialism were imposed!


Mill’s Lacuna is one to which there certainly exists a solution. Happiness can in fact be measured, but negatively, in terms of the absence of evil or unhappiness – through Negative Utiliatarianism, which requires us to prevent the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number.

Even if it is generally accepted that Evil is the unnecessary infliction of suffering and Good the necessary enjoyment of something that makes a moral life possible (eg food, water, shelter, beauty, justice, peace etc), there will inevitably be disagreement about what is in fact “necessary” or “possible” or “moral”.

In the face of this disagreement, objective criteria of measurement must be used and it is proposed that violent crime is to be an indication of unhappiness with murder as its strongest conclusive indicator. Statistics on divorce, abortion, war casualties, criminal damage, suicide and civil litigation will also provide a good indication of unhappiness which can be used over time to make comparisons as to the relative success and failure of policies formulated negatively to prevent unhappiness (the raison d’etre of a Minimum State) rather than to promote happiness (the operating policy of our Nanny State that has been failing for some time). The Minimum State is more rational simply because we can all agree on what we don’t want (eg crime, war etc) while we are more likely to disagree on what we do want (eg whether the state should continue to sponsor illegitimacy and crime by giving unmarried mothers housing and child benefit when it is already known that single parents will have children who are more likely to grow up into under-achieving single-parenting adults who will be a burden and blight to society, or whether to give all pregnant women as much as £200 to eat healthily).

The apparently indefinable Minimum State could be defined thus: a flourishing nation that runs on the fewest possible laws and the lowest possible taxes, with Liberty, Efficiency and Economy as the new Holy Trinity.

Get this right, and Mill’s Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number would subsist. Keep getting it right and Heaven might even prevail on Earth.

In 1787, about the time the original 13 American states adopted their new constitution, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, made the following statements about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2000 years earlier:

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.”

“A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.”

“From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”

Machiavelli observed in The History of Florence: “Countries generally go from order to disorder and then from disorder move back to order … because ability brings forth quiet; quiet laziness; laziness disorder; disorder ruin; and likewise from ruin comes order; from order ability; from the last glory and good fortune.”

In this way does human society lurch: from bondage to courage, courage to liberty, liberty to abundance, abundance to complacency, complacency to apathy, apathy to dependence, dependence to bondage again.

Instead of the traditional Bill of Rights proposed by those who want a written constitution, it is proposed that following two rules are always observed:

“No law proposed shall be passed or any act of war committed which cannot be proven to be necessary to prevent an evil that is clear and present rather than imaginary and exaggerated.” (eg passive smoking, environmental disaster, the late Saddam Hussein’s non-existent WMDs)

“No law proposed shall be passed if the evil it wishes to address calls for a disproportionate deprivation of the citizen of his Liberty and property.”

The Law of the Jungle is of course no law at all, and it is probably necessary to point out that a Minimum State must at the very least protect its citizens from offences against the person (eg murder, assault, rape) and crimes against the property (eg embezzlement, fraud, theft, criminal damage).

Apart from protecting its citizens from the harm they might do to each other as well as foreign aggression and invasion, the next right that must be protected is their right to property, without which we might as well all be Communists.

A tramp may in theory have the freedom to say what he wants, be with whom he pleases and do business with anyone, but in practice none of this will be within his reach if he does not possess any property with which to make transactions with him worth while. State confiscation of property through punitive and oppressive taxation needs to be prevented to protect a citizen’s liberty and it is proposed that no tax rate shall exceed 25%. This ought to be the motto of HM Revenue & Customs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Any shortfall will have to be made up by efficiency and ingenuity or individual contributions from altruistic citizens as and when required.

Liberty is a nebulous concept that requires a concrete and legal definition. Once this is in place, the sacred cow of the Nanny State can then be slain and a new goddess of Liberty put in its place.

The 3 essential ingredients of Human Liberty are:

(1) Freedom of Expression

(2) Freedom of Association

(3) Freedom of Contract

It is revealing how little Liberty we really have now that it has been broken down into its constituent parts. Patrick Mercer could not even suggest that it may not be necessarily racist to call someone a “black bastard” during army training even if other “bastards” were being similarly insulted by being called “fat” or “ginger” without being sacked from the Front Bench.

Freedom of association plainly does not exist if gentlemen’s and working men’s clubs are now compelled to admit women and make them equal members against the wishes of the majority male members.

Freedom of contract is non-existent if we are not allowed to discriminate against potential employees on grounds of sex, age, race, disability and most recently, on grounds of sexual orientation. (Catholic Adoption Agencies that refuse to serve same-sex couples are now to be closed down under the Sexual Orientation Regulations.)

It can be seen that we are now the Mature and Declining (or Over-ripe and Decaying) Phase of Democracy. Voters “have discovered that they can vote themselves great gifts from the public treasury” and are “appeased by candidates who know they must promise the most generous benefits from the public treasury” (Cameron’s refusal to promise lower taxes is conclusive evidence that we have reached this stage) and the state is about to “finally collapse from loose fiscal policy to be followed by a dictatorship”.

What can be done to prevent this collapse and the dictatorship that is to follow in its wake?

The answer is to narrow the franchise from indiscriminate universal suffrage to a more accountable type of democracy where, to turn on its head the idea of “no taxation without representation”, there will be the converse of “no representation without taxation”, which no one can justifiably claim to be actually unfair.

Added to this would the refinement that there will be greater representation with greater taxation by which it is meant that those who pay more tax will receive proportionately more votes, as if they were a shareholder of a company with votes allocated according to the number of shares held.

This proposal is intended to serve as a Manifesto for the Taxpaying Classes, from the professional to the plumber to the prostitute, without distinction.

There appears to be no reason why this idea should not catch on amongst those who wish to do better for themselves and who have the confidence to believe in the viability of a state that has low taxes, an excellent and free education system and compulsory health insurance.

The technology is already there to support this system, as can be seen from – an opinion-polling direct democracy website that visually demonstrates how it would work. It uses no unworkable Felicific Calculus, believing that the collective opinion as to what should be done should always be seen as the objective indicator of the current perception of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. If the majority of members are in favour of departing from the status quo, then it can be inferred that maintaining it is perceived to generate more suffering than departing from it. Should the departure from the status quo prove to be a case of going from the frying pan into the fire, then voting by a majority to return to the previous position remains an option, from which we can infer that returning to the previous position is perceived to generate less suffering than remaining in the current position.

As can be seen, there is always a time-lag in the calculation of the actual amount of unhappiness a policy under this proposed system prevents. The amount of unhappiness prevented can be inferred from the length its implementation under a Libertarian administration. The longer the length of implementation, the less unhappiness it is deemed to have generated.

These objective criteria are necessary since we can never agree on what is (a) necessary to prevent (b) an evil and (c) whether it is clear and present or imaginary and exaggerated, until we have the historical perspective to do so.

Those who fear that the country would be ruled by a plutocracy need not fear too much, since no individual, however wealthy, can prevent the mass of taxpayers voting for tax rises for individuals earning over a certain amount, if there is perceived to be a shortfall. These super wealthy individuals would have to buy more votes by paying more tax to defeat the proposal for a tax increase amongst ordinary taxpayers, and this act alone would make up for the shortfall that caused ordinary taxpayers to agitate for the increased taxation of those wealthier than they, in the first place, and the shortfall made up and the problem resolve itself under this system of voting. The system is foolproof in theory and beautifully transparent, fair and simple.

Will these ideas gain support if a political party promoting these principles were formed? Quite possibly, if all that is proposed is that any policy is allowed, without fear or favour, and that the entire membership is allowed to decide on policy.

All policy is to be presented in the form of a promise to conduct a referendum on a particular question, should the Libertarian Party be elected into office.

Any proposal will become official party policy provided (a) over 50% of its membership has voted on it and (b) of those who voted on it over 50% are in favour.

It cannot be stressed enough that Direct Democracy must be seen to be above ideology to attract popular participation. Its manifesto must therefore be a completely blank sheet to be filled up and changed by its membership from time to time.

The Acting Leader in a caretaker role will in due course hand over to an elected leader when sufficient talent emerges amongst its membership to make a leadership contest a worthwhile exercise and a national event.

If nothing else, it will encourage ambitious and talented thinkers and speakers to participate in politics.

Why is Direct Democracy here equated with Libertarianism? Because any enthusiasm for voting under such a system, which makes such great demands on the voter, will in time be worn away by the inevitable apathy that would eventually overtake him. This would therefore tend to decrease or even completely prevent unnecessary legislation, since not enough people would trouble themselves to vote or agitate for any change unless and until it causes enough distress to warrant action. In this way would state interference be discouraged: by the apathy, laziness or the attitude that there is no need to fix something that ain’t broke.`

The crowning glory of Direct Democracy is that it would herald in an age of Minimum Government with the minimum of political parties: just one good one, instead of many big and small ones that do not do what they say on the tin.

No comments: