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John Gray on Hayek

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Mon, August 24, 2015 20:40:09

On 30 July 2015 in The New Statesman John Gray wrote about “The Friedrich Hayek I knew and what he got right.” He has written many books since he publically announced that he was no longer a libertarian when he got to rather like New Labour in the 1990s. He has since become an admirer of James Lovelock, and so become keen on Green ideas. None of the books he has so far seem to be first rate. Many of them even seem incoherent and rather like rushed hack writing, but the author seemed to find his changes of mind rather productive.

Below, I criticise a recent New Statesman article of his where he, once more, has attempted to assess the liberal idea and why it was so inadequate. What seems to be truly inadequate is the account that Gray has given in his articles and books on pristine or classical liberalism. His latest account reviewed below is no better than what he said on the topic in his many books but seems, nevertheless, to be worthy of comment, as do Gray’s books.

Gray sees Hayek to be of the “New Right” of the 1980s but he called it classical liberalism at the time of his enthusiasm and that was the historic old left. Gray had been a Labourite earlier, which sprung from a tradition that owed a lot to the statist sea-change that began to emerge in the Liberal Party in the 1860s and had almost totally taken over by 1900, before which we might refer to that Party as still largely classical liberal as opposed to statist modern liberalism that was dominant amongst the leadership, as well as amongst the younger members, by the great free trade election victory in 1906, making it something of a swan-song for free trade; though the actual leader, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was still mainly a pristine liberal. What revived in the 1970s was the pristine classical liberalism.

Gray says that many of those libertarians, called such to distinguish themselves from the statist modern liberals, said that Hayek only valued the state for three things: national defence, law and order and opera. So Hayek was an economist and philosopher that stood for a freer market, if not quite complete free; where freedom was simply freedom from the state. But he was not an anarchist, so Hayek did not see the state as an unnecessary evil. Like the early Tom Paine, Hayek saw it as a necessary evil. Most classical liberals were like that. With Locke, they realised that we could have civil society without the state but they thought that because of crime, the state could be a boon. So reluctantly, they thought that the state was a good thing but only owing to the problem of criminal activity being almost certain to emerge. Since the liberl revival that Gray joined, many have thought that the state is not so good at countering crime. The anarchist contingent is a significant part of the revival.

Gray feels that this pristine liberal paradigm came to power in 1979 but the reality is that it was the Conservative Party that came to power at that time and about half in that organisation did not like pristine liberalism one bit, and the people who liked it, like Mrs Thatcher and her mentor, Keith Joseph, they were flirting with it rather than seeing it as the main thing; but many both in the Conservative Party as well as in the mass media and the rival political parties rather feared they did take it as the main thing. However, pristine liberalism was a factor. It has remained one since.

Gray feels it is important that Hayek was an Austrian, despite him becoming a naturalised British subject. Hayek was born in Vienna, where opera was all-important, in 1899. His father was a medical doctor and his mother came from a wealthy family. Gray seems not to know that liberalism was in decline from about 1860, and that, thereafter, statism was the new fashion. The inter-war years would become nationalistic as a result, for, in practice, socialism was mere statism thus usually more nationalistic. Socialists do not always agree and protest quite the contrary but in 1914 quite a few such socialists, including Prince Peter Kropotkin, largely shed socialism to support the nation state they denied they had owed loyalty to for decades. This was a big shock to those who remained anti-nationalist but they were a minority.

Gray says that Hayek saw the civilisation he grew up in collapse, but it was the war that removed the form of state, and liberalism had been ebbing for over fifty years before 1918. Hayek’s homeland was on the losing side of the war but that is a bit different from a collapse, as Gray imagines, or at least says, as it was not owing to the sort of imaginary perennial fragility that he refers to; which is a major Tory idea and one that looks clearly false to me. I think the Whigs were right that society is far sturdier than the Tory meme has it, such that a great war, like the 1914 war, could cause it to collapse. War does change society but it is not likely to end it.

John Locke was right to hold that civil society was almost perennial being in place long before the rise of the state even if he errs, as David Hume made clear, on social contract theory. The usual respect we show others in society, that we peacefully pass them in the street, do not bother them if they do not bother us, form what the sociologist might call the norms of civil society, and those basic norms are not far off the liberal norms as well as being those of civil society. As Adam Smith said, there is a lot of ruining in a great society. It is not fragile.

Gray says he first became interested in Hayek in the early 1970s. It was owing to his interest in pre-1914 Vienna as much as in the rising paradigm of pristine liberalism in the 1970s UK, he says. He met Hayek at the end of the 1970s and asked him if he knew Karl Kraus, a famous journalist of Vienna before 1914. He was told that Hayek had seen him but that he did not really know Kraus.

Gray says that Hayek had independence of mind and this allowed him to face up to a lot of opposition and criticism including big changes of fashion. Gray feels the paradigm of Woodrow Wilson’s national self-determination imposed by the USA after the war on Europe was one that posed problems for Hayek for the rest of his life. He died in 1992. But he never could see how liberal values got on with tribalism, says Gray.

On the fall of Wilson, the USA, wisely, went back to political isolationism [with free trade, the liberal meme on international relations].

Hayek’s ideas on evolution and on the ideal liberal constitution were not germane to that main problem, Gray says. Hayek had dropped his early socialist ideas owing to the economic calculation argument [eca] put to him by Mises. This seemed to Hayek and many others to be an effective refutation of socialism so he ceased to be a socialist. He afterwards adopted liberalism, and Gray said he made it into a sort of scientism; this is most ironic as Hayek was a major critic of scientism, Gray openly admits. It was held by Hayek to be the inept attempt to apply science to the human world. It was an example of Hayek often called a mere pretence of knowledge when he was looking at the socialists. However, Gray’s account looks weak there, as it so often does elsewhere.

In what sense did Hayek lose the debate with Keynes? Did Keynes win it? Keynes rejected equilibrium but, as he was a coward, he did it by picking on Say’s Law, which few had heard of, and he gave an inadequate account of it, and Keynes also gave an inadequate account of the orthodox economists in general, calling them “the classsics”.

Ironically, John Hicks, who thought he was going over from Hayek to Keynes and who won the debate by a de facto rejection of both of them, had found fault with the fact that Hayek scotched the meme of a self-adjusting economy by ignoring it with an hypothetical lag owing to malinvestment that Hicks held was unrealistic. The Hicks version of Keynes, adopted by all the textbooks, had the meme that Keynes was out to dump at its heart viz. equilibrium. The equilibrium so obvious to Hicks that he never seems to have realised that Keynes was out to reject it, was, of course, just an account of self-adjustment by the market.

All this is lost on John Gray. It was enough for him that Keynes rather than Hayek or Hicks was the nominal victor. Gray has most likely not read Keynes’ 1936 book anyway. More oddly, it would seem that Hicks never did either.

Hayek was rejected as an economist after leaving the LSE [owing to irrelevant personal reasons, rather than to economics] as a result. At Chicago, he was allowed in only as a moral philosopher. A version of Keynesianism had won, Hicks version, but it was not anywhere near what Keynes had wanted. He wanted to reject market adjustment but Hicks largely retained that. Keynes had wanted it to be the rule that the market did not clear, as had Malthus tries to defend against Ricardo in the first decade of the nineteenth century but Hicks innovated a version that suggested that Keynes should have called his book The Special or Particular Theory rather than his actual title of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).

I see no sign that Hayek ever believed that he had lost a debate, intellectually, to either Keynes or to Hicks. Hayek saw the LSE go over to what was called Keynesianism, of course.

Hayek did go somewhat statist owing to emotional pressure, I suppose, but not ever did he become Hicksian or, still less, Keynesian. Keynes truly remained out on a limb as regards his hated equilibrium, that remained as strong as ever, even if a version of Keynes was adopted, and what was called Keynesianism was granted lots of rather incoherent lip service based on supposed rejection of the still largely unknown Say’s Law. Indeed, Keynes caricature of that was accepted completely by the 1950s.

But Hayek did recommend a safety net and it was the state’s safety net that alone caused the mass unemployment of the 1930s, not the supposed lag that malinvestment caused that somehow suspended Keynes hated equilibrium, as Hayek had held. The unemployed adjusted to the dole rather than to the market. We might say they joined the sinecure section of the state sector, only they did not, as in the late USSR, pretend to work. Indeed, the few who took a black market job pretended they were not working.

Hayek took the economic calculation argument [eca] from Mises but later found it in a few nineteenth century authors like Baggage, so Hayek made no pretensions to being “most original” in the knowledge finding function of the price system, as Gray has it. But Gray knows the eca, if not all its implications. However, he nevertheless is still silly enough to say it also applies to the free market.

Gray incoherently says:

“The trouble is that it also applies to unfettered market capitalism. No doubt markets transmit information in the way that Hayek claimed. But what reason is there to believe that – unlike any other social institution – they have a built-in capacity to correct their mistakes?”

The eca applies to unfettered market, says Gray, yet they do find viable prices as Hayek said too. That is “no” yet also “yes” too; or P&-P too. Gray is being quite absurd here.

Gray then asks how can the market self-adjust, unlike any other institution [is there a tacit “except the state” assumption there?] overlooking that the answer is by the ever adjusting price system. The market is dynamic as it is always adjusting by the price system.

History itself supports no supposition or thesis.

Panic obfuscates prices? How? Gray has adopted mere bluff from backward Keynes. There never was any irrational exuberance but there has been exuberance but it has not stopped the market from clearing. Why should it?

Yet Gray is content to say, to the backward readers of The New Statesman, founded by backward Keynes himself, that:

“History hardly supports the supposition. Moods of irrational exuberance and panic can, and often do, swamp the price-discovery functions of markets.

When considering how to overcome the Great Depression, Hayek opposed Keynes-style fiscal stimulus for the same reason he opposed monetary expansion of the sort later advocated by his friend the American economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006). In attempting to generate recovery by macroeconomic engineering, both monetarism and Keynesianism required a knowledge of the economy that no one could possess. Unlike monetarism – with which it has sometimes been confused – the Austrian school of economics that Hayek promoted insists that the quantity of money cannot be measured precisely, and that expanding the money supply cannot reflate the economy in a sustainable way.”

Friedman did adopt aspects of Keynes, as did Hicks, but they did not reject what Keynes detested: equilibrium. Gray continues:

“For Hayek, the causes of the Depression lay in earlier central bank policies of cheap money, which resulted in large-scale misallocation of capital. Because no central authority could grasp the shifting pattern of relative scarcities and prices, only the market could determine the right allocation. Accordingly, believing that misguided investments had to be liquidated, Hayek argued in the 1930s for policies that were more contractionary than those that were actually pursued. The task of government was to get out of the way and let the process of adjustment run its course.”

Quite, Hayek was right there but he thought a lag might be created but he erred there as the market is a non-stop process of adjustment; Gray says it yet he also wants to deny it too; again P&-P too.

Gray seems to see how the market adjusts but he still perversely wants, or he writes as if he wants, the state to stop it. Then he, rather stupidly, denies that the market even can adjust.

But he continues:

“If they had been adopted while the crash was under way, Hayek’s prescriptions would have made the Depression even worse than it proved to be – a fact he later admitted.”

He did not admit anything like that, which I can recall. New buyers would have come in and the readjustment would have been fairly rapid.

If Hayek thought the depression would have been worse, if not for the state, why did not Keynes win him over? Anyway, it seems that the state prevents rather than aids market readjustment and that stagnation is alien to it. As Gray says of Hayek:

“But he never accepted Keynes’s core insight that large-scale economic discoordination could be the result of the workings of the market itself. For him it was always government intervention that accounted for market disequilibrium. More sceptical as well as more radical in his turn of mind, Keynes questioned the self-regulating powers of the market. His work on the theory of probability disclosed insuperable gaps in our knowledge of the future; all investment was a gamble, and markets could not be relied on to allocate capital rightly.”

Questioning the market is fine but the price system is clear enough there as a self-adjustment process to fresh conditions, so any serious questioning might have led Keynes to realise that. It might also lead Gray to do so too. He continues:

“There were booms and busts long before the emergence of modern central banking. Left to its own devices, the free market can easily end up in a dead end like that of the 1930s.”

No, the market does not stagnate. The dole was needed for mass unemployment to muster in the mass urban economy, and it is true that Hayek did go statist enough to agree that the masses would need a safety net, the very thing that stops the market from clearing. Freedom or liberty means we all need to be responsible and for us all to have savings, that Keynes repeatedly made a very poor case against, for some savings are vital to tolerate the intrinsic self-adjustment of the market.

But Gray feels that Keynes knew more about markets than did Hayek, as Keynes was a practical and successful investor for his college. Indeed, he claims that Keynes was one of the most successful investors in the twentieth century! So he knew about the uncertainty of markets in a way that Hayek did not, says Gray. He was aware of how the misguided economic policies might upset society in a way that Hayek did not, for Hayek ignored all those hazards. Here Gray seems to have lapsed into imagining that it is Hayek advocating state control by political policy rather than Keynes.

Gray says that Hayek’s blindness on politics was all too clear when he advised Margaret Thatcher to cut the state sector, that Gray calls public services, and to cut inflation so that the state budget might be balanced. This was exactly as he had advised in the 1930s, says Gray. He told Gray, in private conversation, that Trade Union power might be broken if the state made cuts. Gray thought Hayek was indifferent to mass unemployment that then, in the 1980s, stood at over three million. Gray does not realise that cuts might get rid of mass unemployment, as he never seems to have seriously thought much about such problems. Instead, Gray said that cuts would increase unemployment. But it is only the dole, paid for by the state from taxation, which can do that.

Gray says:

“Fortunately Hayek never had any influence on Thatcher’s policies. (Her chief economic adviser in these years was Alan Walters, a Friedman-style monetarist.) Equally, and perhaps also happily, Thatcher had no understanding of Hayek’s ideas.”

Gray says she haply never read the stint at the end of The Constitution of Liberty (1960), where Hayek explains “Why I am not a Conservative” for he rejects because conservativism rejects progress, says Gray. “Unlike Hayek, Thatcher understood and accepted the political limits of market economics” Gray says, but Gray and Margaret Thatcher never saw how damaging the state was to society. The main fault with Hayek is that he too had too much tolerance for backward politics. Politics is perverse wastage that needs rolling back, or cutting out completely, by tax cuts and privatisation.

Liberalism went out of fashion around 1860 but Gray imagines it actually collapsed, a very Romantic idea that is utterly unrealistic, given the nature of civil society. War would not have set liberalism back so much had liberalism remained the fashion, but socialism/collectivism was, by then, the fashion. War did end the empire that Hayek grew up in but nor was that particularly liberal in itself: no empire ever, quite, can be. Civil society, that is the basis of liberty, is not one whit fragile and it is very stupid indeed to imagine that it is fragile. No wonder they called the Tory Party “the stupid party”. This idea that society is fragile is about as unrealistic as one can get about civil society. But Gray simply does not see the pounding the backward state hands over to society every single day, thus showing it to be very durable.

But Gray is right that Hayek badly over-rated the law. It never could be the basis of civil society as so many, with Hayek, imagine. Like the state itself, law is at the periphery of society. Nor can it really protect liberty from the state. Gray is right there. Indeed, statutory law is a tool of despotism and privilege. Liberalism is about repealing illiberal laws rather than establishing new statutory laws.

But liberal values, if fostered amongst the public, can see off war. Private property is a problem solver. The state, by contrast, is a trouble maker. So the less we have of the state, the better.

Why Gray imagines the political entity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire kept politics at bay is not one iota clear. Gray is right that the European Union is not going to aid liberalism as it is a warmongering pact, despite the pretense it has of being for peace. The EU is out to be top dog superstate, but it is taking its time. It is almost as slow as the progress towards full liberalism itself. But all societies, even the backward late USSR, had the liberal civil society in their practical everyday life. In any society most members respect the liberty of others. But also all allow the state to scotch liberty at will; that privilege granted to the backward wasteful state by the people is the main problem. They give up this liberty to form state privilege by suspending normal moral values in its favour. As Edmund Burke said: “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” The delusion here is that the state is a boon. Even John Locke thought so.

Gray fails to reproduce Popper’s attack on Hayek and Michael Oakeshott saying that Hayek’s spontaneous order as “rubbish” is no explanation of its faults whatsoever but Gray says it is exact!

However, Gray witnesses civil society every day in which strangers in the mass urban society freely pass him in the street, which is done as part of what Hayek would say is a spontaneous order. My guess is that Gray has no case against civil society; nor any good case against liberalism.

The change of fashion away from liberalism towards socialism after 1860 seems to have been flimsy, though it was aided by some haziness amongst the liberals as well as some youthful charismatic dash as well as sheer ignorance amongst the rising statist liberals, like Joseph Chamberlain and Charles Dilke in the UK’s Liberal Party. The pristine liberals were aging and pragmatic anyway. That there was a generational difference greatly aided the change of fashion. Gray makes the quip that there is nothing liberal about the mafia, and that is quite right but that is also true of the state too, but despite Chamberlain’s talk of public service it was more like rule than service that the new man management and more state control of the new fashion was to embrace.

Gray has the idea that a mafia would arise spontaneously, even though he also wants to be sceptical about that meme from Hayek, to say it was exactly rubbish in fact. . However, the culture developed over a long process of real full privatisation, designed to shed government and all government policy rather than as a mere new way to further state policy by political use of the market, as that called privatisation has been since the 1980s, would result in security services that would have had lots of time to crowd out the mafia problem.

Herbert Spencer was right that there was a social movement towards liberalism before 1860 but he also saw the fashion change towards socialism later on too. He argued against socialism. But he ironically had a holistic meme that the socialists used to even a greater extent than they used Marx. Just look at almost any Jack London novel to see a socialist in love with Spencer. William Hurrell Mallock saw such faults in Spencer, who later admitted to Mallock that he was too collectivist, though he never met Mallock. But pristine liberalism lost out to the new fashion of statist liberalism; and to socialism generally. It revived a bit in the 1970s when Gray joined it. But Gray always did love pessimism.

Gray simply errs left right and centre in his rather silly ideas about alternative economic systems and choice. The USSR never was non-capitalist, for example. An increase of the state ownership is not an alternative economic system but the enlargement of a sort of quasi-dole or semi-dole; the rise of where, in the late USSR, they said the workers in the state sector pretended to work and the state pretended to pay them. Many thought that in the UK this was “mixed economy” but in reality it was just an over-taxed market economy that supplied some job security. The mixed economy is a mixed up idea. There is only the market economy. The state sector just means higher taxation.

Communism is a myth, not a real rival to the price system, and the late USSR did not even claim to be communist but rather it claimed to be socialist, that Lenin said, a few times, was state capitalism. It would be clearer to just call it capitalism. But it was anti-liberal. Gorbachev tried to reform it but Yeltsin got rid of it. No collapse in sight.

The idea that the Afghan war brought it down is an example of Gray’s inability to judge actual events. There is no choice of economic systems. It is either capitalism or capitalism. But we can always have a bit more of the wasteful state.

Of course, Hayek and Spencer had a lot in common as Gray said. They were both liberals.

Again, China was capitalist, if statist too, under Mao. Deng Xiaoping simply freed it up a bit. Pristine liberalism will free it up yet more.

Letting the banks go under would not have been all that bad from liberal point of view. The fresh banks that would have emerged to replace them would have most likely be in better shape today had the state allowed that to happen back in 2007, as Hayek might well have recommended.

Hayek erred on the fairness of the market. He thought it was wise to say it is unfair, but few people in the larger society have ever thought that. Most people think it is fair enough, but no end of fools in colleges think they know better; so do schoolteachers but not most students in the colleges or most pupils in the schools, even though they may be usually a silent majority. Hayek thought that the idea that the market was unfair had something to it, but it looks to be merely a perverse idea.

Gray, for all his silly cynicism and pessimism still has not realised how unpopular the college/mass media sacred cow or ideal of democracy has always been, and always will be. The “anarchic energies of global markets” clearly serve the public way better than democracy ever will.

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Lots of PC controvery

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Mon, June 22, 2015 18:04:47

A weekend of Politically Correct [PC] controversy

What PC controversy the weekend of the third week of June 2015.

We have the continuing reaction of some scientists to the PC anti-sexism against Tim Hunt, for they seem to be attempting to have tolerance instead of strict Politically Correct [PC] equality rules in science, the pro-PC report in the top science journal, Science, on no hiatus in global warming, as they say that, all along the eighteen or so years, there has been a lot of error in the way the data was collected, and this report is just in time to aid the new Green campaign of the current Pope.

Then we have the asking of whether Rachel Dolezal has the right to call herself black, then, later in the week, the very odd question of whether the terrorist who shot the nine people in a church in an attempt to start a race hate war in Charleston USA was truly a terrorist, or not.

Then there is the BBC licence fee coming up for the “left” leaning BBC, though the free access, or price free, London Evening Standard makes it look moderate, but then it could be catering to London, where the Labourites actually won in last May’s General Election, together with the supposed voices appearing in the head of Jeremy Clarkson on being offered his job back, though the BBC aired advertisements all week for his due grand new series, despite its claims never to ever advertise. Tony Hall, the Chief Executive Officer or Director General of the BBC said on Sunday, 21 June 2015 on The Andrew Marr Show that he had not changed his mind since he regretfully parted with Clarkson, but he confessed that he did not know that others might have reopened the offer, and he said nothing about those advertisements, or programme trailers, nor did Marr.

David Cameron’s speech on extremism, that Muslims feel is the position of The Daily Mail but against them, the week-long repeated media of press articles, TV and radio programmes enquiry as to why so many Muslims liked jihad, and why they often liked ISIS too.

Thousands were said to be marching in London, against what they call “austerity”, where Jeremy Corbyn MP, the new star, or so some Labour MPs imagine, says he is due to tell them that austerity obfuscates inequality. Corbyn is said by many to have emerged as a star in the staged Labour Leadership campaign that began earlier this week at Nuneaton, shown on BBC2 at 7pm on Wednesday 17 June and discussed at 10:30pm and in the press the next day. It was the first of many meetings in constituencies that Labour needed and were expected to win in May 2015. On Saturday, the meeting was held in Stevenage, where the Tories increased their share of the vote instead of falling to Labour. At the first meeting, all the reporters credited Liz Kendall as replying to Andy Burnham, who had said that the Party matters most of all, that the country mattered far more than the party. But most of the applause was for Jeremy Corbyn at that, and also at subsequent meetings, like that of the following Saturday in Stevenage, so he has, now, emerged as a star, with younger Labour MPs thinking he might even be the next leader and saying so on The Sunday Politics, such as Clive Lewis, as well as older ones like Diane Abbott.

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Is this the end of the Labour Party?

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Fri, May 15, 2015 21:12:24

Are the prospects of the Labour Party to ever rule again now dead?

In Spike, Mick Hume says the election destroyed Labour! Hyperbole? Yes, for it still is the second largest party in the House of Commons. But can it ever win power again? The loss of Scotland makes this question way more pertinent than at any time in the Labour Party’s history. It now looks as if Labour has locked itself out of Scotland and if that is the case then it truly might mean that Labour never wins a UK election again.

It is the way that Labour got thrown out of Scotland that makes a comeback difficult. But in any case, as so many others have said, Scotland was encouraged by Labour in the past to go in for an unrealistic amount of welfare, as Greece did in milking Germany but it was to a much lesser extent milking England by the Barnet formula, that Joel Barnet himself has repudiated, but the SNP under a clear pretence of independence, held the EU gave it Germany as a much better cow to milk if ever it got free of England. But the Greeks, who, despite the wonderful Scottish Enlightenment, courted a fondness in Germany with a far greater cultural heritage of 2500 years back, nevertheless Greece queered the pitch with the Germans not only for themselves but for the Scotch too, in the future, for they ensured the Germans were bitten hard enough to make them more than merely twice shy. But the SNP tend to overlook that.

Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867) held that the largely tacit, or unwritten, constitution had its ornamental and functional parts. There are two sorts of politics, ideological and practical. The major parties are largely concerned to be practical, but ideology itself has some practical or functional parts. If we go back to the UK of the 1960s and 1970s, the two major parties had their ideologues as well as their parties, the Labour Party had Tony Benn as an ideologue as well as a practical Minister for Technology where and when he took advice from the civil servants of the time, that had little bearing on his ideological aspect, though it would need to be roughly compatible with it, if both were to flourish.

Dr Johnson set out to gauge the difference between the Whigs and the Tories in the eighteenth century whilst Sir Robert Walpole was, what historians today agree was the first Prime Minister, up to 1742. When others took over, Dr Johnson was rather surprised that they adopted many of the same positions, apart from opposition to war, as Walpole had taken. There was then, as since, a practical continuity between supposedly distinct ideological administrations that tended to share the same experts in the civil service that may not have been somewhat immune to fashion or to ideology as they were supposed to be, but whom certainly saw themselves as mainly practical or functional. Ideology or fashion was, for the most part, if ever quite completely, ornamental rather than functional.

So we might see that quite a bit of this ideological clash that usually takes place between the two major parties, if not all of it, is ornamental rather than functional. However, it can become rather unrealistically tribal with some politicians and it has tended to do so with the Labourites a bit more than with the Tories. In Scotland it emerged that the Labourites demonised the Tories quite successfully, especially after the rise of Mrs Thatcher, whom many in Scotland detested. They successfully ran the Tories out of Scotland by such demonization. But when Blair, later, adopted many of the Tories policies, as so many parties do in the UK’s two party system, this allowed the SNP to say that the Labourites were quasi-Tories, so they were as bad as they themselves had earlier said that the Tories were. This allowed them to see off the Labourites on their own anti-Tory demonization culture. But it is not going to be an easy culture for future Labourites to counter, as the SNP have no need to adopt any earlier policy changes from the Tories. So it looks like Labour have lost Scotland and that some new opposition might rise there against the SNP rather than ever again either Labour or the Tories. Will Scottish Labour do it? It failed to do so this time, and it might never do it. It does not look easy. It is not impossible but nor is it an ordinary setback.

The Economist holds that the Labourites have a threefold task against the SNP in Scotland, the UKIP in the north of England and the Tories in the south [Friday, 15 May 2015 (p30)] but though the three clash the real problem is in Scotland with SNP. Labour has never won without Scotland before and maybe they cannot do it.

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Privilege and under-privilege

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Wed, April 08, 2015 17:42:29

It is the state that is illiberal and the state is the sole source of privilege and, thereby, of under-privilege too.

Statist Political Correctness [PC; the ideologues who push it are PCers] is maybe the chief ideology against liberty today as it is for totalitarian government and for general intolerance. However, if the said current totalitarian ideologues, the PCers, ever gave up their use of the state for protection of their pet groups, if they never sought to privilege them in law and so thereby under-privilege everyone else, then PC would be reduced to mere free speech. Mere mores may set up quasi-privilege but it is the law and actual privilege that is illiberal. So without the use of the state and the law, PC would be not one whit illiberal.

Similarly with the various religions, they are free only, if they are not protected by the state, or if they do not go into politics to dominate others then they will not be against the social liberty of all others, but if ever they do resort to the state then they will be against social liberty.

This is because active politics never can quite be neutral. It always abuses others by using gratuitous coercion against them. As it is today, free speech is the about main thing the PC ideologues want to outlaw. Oddly, they often say they stand for free speech but then they clearly contradict themselves by explicitly listing a long list of exceptions.

The Economist, 28 March 2015, (p35) carried an article on “The right to be rude” on religion and free speech.

This magazine that calls itself a newspaper is mainly concerned nowadays with crass politics, but it began as a liberal journal backing up the Anti-Corn Law League, the great nineteenth century propaganda and pressure group for free trade, that was soon led by Richard Cobden and John Bright. This pressure group aided the Corn Laws to get repealed in 1846 and then it disbanded but the journal continued, largely on economics in those days but since 1945 it seems, at least to this reader of it, to be way keener on politics and it might be clearer if it changed its name to The Politician.

It reports that an “offensive preacher” has acquired some unlikely allies. A Christian street propagandist, Michael Overd, 47, had repeatedly told two male homosexuals displaying their affection in public that they were sinners who would burn in hell. He also said that Islam was sinful in the main High Street of Taunton, Somerset.

Michael Overd had repeatedly told Craig Manning and Craig Nichol that they would burn in hell on seeing them boldly walk around hand in hand on the main High Street where Overd regularly went to peach to all and sundry. They took offence at this, but they nevertheless seemed to repeatedly return to the High Street to get more readings from the Bible on how very sinful they were from Overd.

The BBC news reported from what looks like an earlier court appearance by Overd, and his two “victims”. The case seems to have been in court a number of times, two times or even more, before the session that The Economist reported in March. The BBC on-line news site reports that in his earlier evidence for the court against Overd, Craig Nichols said:

“He said 'I have already told these two sinners over here that they are going to burn in hell'.

He looked at us and pointed at us when he said it. His voice was quite loud and very clear.

I felt angry, embarrassed and ashamed. It was a really busy day and I felt that everyone was looking at us when he was saying these things to us.

I asked him who he was to judge me and he said 'It's God's words, it is in the Bible'. He said I should repent and ask God for forgiveness.”

A Muslim judge, Shamim Qureshi, ordered Overd to pay damages for using threatening and abusive language from the Bible of £250 but the more serious charge of a religiously aggravated offence was rejected. When Overd protested at paying a sodomite such a sum the judge threated him with 45 days in prison otherwise.

Afterwards Overd said: “ If I heard someone preaching the things I am accused of preaching I would talk to them about it.” But, as George Bernard Shaw rightly said, the golden rule of doing onto others exactly as we would have them do onto us can, often, fail to show other people proper personal consideration, as a boxer might have a different idea of that from hairdresser thus either might have starkly inept rules. What is fine for an enthusiastic propagandist, like Overd, need not be apt for Nichols, or vice versa, but, given that the High Street in Taunton normally allows public speaking by tradition then Nichols seems to have had plenty of space to dodge ever being offended by Overd. On the face of it, it seems to have been silly of Nichols to take offence, let alone to repeatedly go back for more. Those who do take offence all too often, thereby, seem to earn it.

Peter Tatchell, a well-known gay-rights propagandist has offered to speak in favour of free speech in court for Overd. He does not agree with the Bible on gay-rights but he feels it should be tolerated as part of traditional civil liberty and free speech. Being spared offence is not a human right. To criminalise traditional religion is a step too far, he says.

What seems yet even more unacceptable to many organisations concerned with civil liberties and free speech is the Politically Correct courts and current totalitarian PC law in the UK. The National Secular Society [NSS] seems to hold that free speech is in danger, and they too have aided Overd in support of the general cause of free speech as a result. They say the PC legislation is too sloppy. Overd was prosecuted under the Public Order Act and it can lead to up to seven years in gaol if the threatening, insulting or abusive language that the law outlaws is deemed to be racially or religiously motivated.

The NSS, and other civil liberty groups, have recently got the law amended such that it is not only up to the police to judge if what is said potentially offensive. It needs, now, to be shown that the language was aimed at a particular person or group and that offence was taken by the targeted person or group. But many want further reform of the law to remove the privilege that religion still has in law, despite the abolition of the common law against blasphemy since 8 March 2008. They hold that the idea of religious aggravation revives this abolished blasphemy law to protect religion from criticism, according to the executive director of the NSS: Keith Porteous Wood.

Prior to this abolition, the law had long been allowed to fall into abeyance, or neglect, until Mrs Mary Whitehouse attempted to revive it in the 1970s, actually being successful in 1977; in the case of Whitehouse versus Lemon.

During the Rushdie affair, many Muslims sought also to revive the blasphemy laws, so that they could be used to imprison Salmon Rushdie, and any others who might write similar books to his Satanic Verses (1988), that seemed to them to set out to deliberately mock Islam.

But they overlooked, in this entire rumpus that the Rushdie affair gave rise to, that the British common law blasphemy laws were quite indifferent to Rushdie’s books but not at all to the Koran, that did indeed flout them in the way it basically rejects the Christian creed. So the Muslims, ironically, sought to revive a law that would effectively outlaw their own religion rather than protect it. When some of them realised that, they sought to change the old common law so it would protect Islam as well as Christianity.

On 5 March 2008, an amendment was passed to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales. The Act received royal assent on 8 May 2008, and the relevant section came into force on 8 July 2008. It was haply thought by the establishment that it would be better to abolish this law altogether rather than to too openly privilege Islam in the UK. The resulting need of the natives to kow-tow to Islam might have been too clearly an under-privilege to impose on the population, even for the increasingly eager UK totalitarian establishment of today.

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Is it folly to ignore art?

PoliticsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 29, 2015 12:43:45

Is it folly to ignore art?

In Sean Gabb’s latest talk to the LA he seemed to have embraced a completely bogus thesis viz. that art aids society in general, especially the morale of the ruling class.

Sean also feels that the progress of the LA has been very disappointing and he expressed the rather odd idea that this was because there is not enough libertarian art. Some libertarians on Sean’s LA blog agreed with Sean on both art and on the more realistic looking idea of a lack of liberal progress since 1979, especially on the futility of LA activity, but, despite appearance on that latter idea if we have different ideas from the LA on the progress rate of the spread of ideas, if the LA was right in 1981 then that is a similarly unrealistic outlook on expectations of progress from libertarian propaganda and some of those who agreed with Sean even expressed that it was not clear to them of whom the enemy of liberalism is, or of what progress of the pristine liberal idea would amount to.

I will begin with a short re-statement of what I take to be the main content of the 1981 purpose and strategy of the LA.

The main idea is that ideas change slowly. We cannot realistically ever expect rapid progress. We can witness instant conversion, of course, in the odd individual case, but customs change way more slowly, for most people are conservative with a small “c” and so tradition is often against change, but customs do change nevertheless. It simply takes time. It takes decades, or even centuries, rather than days or weeks.

There is short run propaganda and long run propaganda that manifests in society in two forms of politics, that we might call 1) practical politics and 2) theoretical politics. Harold Wilson, a career politician, rightly said that “a week is a long time in politics” and this was, and is still, clearly true for his sort of politics.

Theoretical politics, or ideological politics, would haply be better off with the statement that a decade is not very long in the aim of changing society. But slow change does take place.

The LA was never thought to be a pressure group to get practical politicians to do just one thing, such as the Anti-Corn Law League, or recently, the UKIP [though they decided to go into a party before their pristine aim of getting out of the slowly emerging super-state was achieved] but rather it was a long run ideology group. The aim of the LA was to muster propagandists or “intellectuals” or extraverts who habitually tend to foster or change public opinion. They may not be bright people but they are usually outspoken.

It usually takes about fifty years to make noticeable headway in this quest to change fundamental ideas. Such propagandists will be few in number yet they matter way more that the general public in this quest to change fundamental customs, here the aim is to roll back the state.

The foremost violator of social liberty is the state; so our enemy is the state. Getting that rolled back, or reduced to zero, is the aim of the LA, and recruiting the propagandists is the peaceful means to that long run aim; but tax cuts are fine in the short run. But no results can be soon attained and facile pessimism and disappointment in the LA needs to be carefully dodged. Pessimism is not realism. A rise in membership to a thousand or two thousand in five to ten years would be success for the LA. That is what we thought in 1981.

How do things stand now? We had a bad upset in 1982, of course. Before then we seemed to be growing quite well.

The Internet shows support for ideological groups and below is the statistics for meet-up groups.

50 Socialism meetups:

5,377 members

238 Feminism meetups:

42,389 members

442 Conservative meetups:

73,728 members

487 Libertarian meetups:

74,410 members

Now I will give an account of Sean’s talk then criticise it, as well as a few comments made by others on the blog. Sean, more or less, said the following: that at the end of the 1980s many thought that libertarianism was doing well. We had seen off socialism. Most were optimistic but one young man was not: Sean Gabb.

What have we achieved in 25 years? One LA puts on monthly meetings. My LA collects money but apart from keeping the movement in being, it seems not much has been done.

It might be different in the USA, but I doubt it.

Since the 1980s it has been stagnation or decline for libertarianism. We are all intellectuals and that is the problem.

I always thought it was stupid to get people talking at bus-stops but nowadays we do not even seem to be doing that but only talking to ourselves. This is not the way to win debates or to influence the world.

How did the left come to dominate things? They were not concerned with mere ideas. They won because they focused on culture.

Films made by John Ford starring Henry Fonda spread leftist ideas by a narrative and a world view that rendered them acceptable. J.B. Priestley in the play, later a film An Inspector Calls (1954) with Alastair Sim delegitimises the past. We all have duties, not just rights. I read the play at school.

It is the likes of J.B. Priestley and George Orwell that count, and even G.B. Shaw, though I always thought he was a bit of a windbag, but they all three won the day, but not Laski. Laski and Marx are not all that important.

All this culture established Political Correctness [PC] but The New Statesman and The New Society, Marcuse, and the like, are not so important but art succeeds brilliantly.

The LA go on about von Mises and so not surprisingly we are ignored. We ought to produce novels and plays or ballet rather than books on economics. No one reads books by Eamonn Butler.

The left have took over as they focus on what is important. We need a counter narrative in the UK. It is a bit better in the USA, as there is more of a culture for libertarianism there. They have novels, music, film-makers there and similar are needed here.

We need libertarian poetry, ballet, novels for we need to give up going on and on about the economic calculation argument [eca] and defence problems. We have had 40 years but there are no libertarian film-makers yet.

Hayek’s Road To Serfdom (1944) had no particular influence but Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Darkness At Noon (1940) Arthur Koestler did influence have a great impact and those books destroyed communism in the UK. I was converted by 1984 but I was not much affected by The Road to Serfdom.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks won out owing to art. Eisenstein, Shostakovich and general Socialist Realism culture made the late USSR look glamorous. On recent visits, I look up at the tops of the buildings of the tower blocks and I see excellent art. It was not Marx or the theory of the Bolsheviks that maintained the USSR for so long but the art.

Do you associate art and libertarianism? I don’t.

There Sean handed it over for discussion.

I think that art plays no part at all in politics. That we have zero allows us to be exact about its actual role.

Sean has his own theories about the ruling class but my own view on class can be prefaced by what Marx said on class for he said we can classify people as we wish but objective economic interests is what matters and I would say that Marx got nowhere near discovering such objective class interests, for there never were any to be found. In fact, there are none. So, far from history being full of class struggle there are no classes like the ones Marx imagined, none at all, in history. The Marxist meme of class is pure Romance. There is a ruling class [i.e. a group in government and in the administration of the various states] but no objective economic class interests.

Sean seems to have overlooked how bleak establishment thought it was in 1944, when Hayek wrote that book. One man it did influence was Orwell, who wrote a review of it. He had thought, beforehand, that capitalism was doomed. The Times in the 1940s was full of the over confident E.H. Carr editorials stating that the market might not last even another week. It all looks silly today and the cited book was a factor. Hayek was a way bigger factor in ending all that gloom than Orwell or Koestler ever was.

As for ballet, has even Sean ever been to a performance of that? Girls seem to love it but I am surprised to see a man even mention it, and Sean seems to be about the only male that I have known to do so, but then I do not know a female who does not claim to have wanted to be a ballet dancer and actively aimed at it by dancing when young. Until Sean’s talk, I thought only females ever cared about it. It clearly does not influence politics very much, if at all.

I read 1984 in 1968 but I saw it as anti- Bolshevik rather than anti-socialist. It did not affect my, then, enthusiastic socialism one bit.

As I said, the media is not dominated by the left today. They feel that it is, instead, the right wing that dominates the BBC, but I would agree that that is not very realistic of them and I think they are even less realistic than Sean is, in that respect. I think the BBC is more statist than market biased, as it is state owned [though it began as a private company], but they do try to be fair.

The enemy is the state. Some socialists imagine that they, too, are against the state. Orwell was one. I used to be another.

The liberal idea is the top idea today but few see they need to get rid of illiberal ideas to be coherent on it, at least not outside the LA. So the majority of people today do not see the state, especially democracy, as illiberal. But the LA does.

Culture itself [culture qua culture] never matters much, as it is too vague and nebulous anyway, but the things that do matter will often be cultural; like the nation, love, justice to cite but three items out of many that are important for people.

One chap said that the state might decide all our entertainment. But what entertainment thrives depends on what sells, not on the rulers. Politicians often pretend they like that, but whether they do, or not, hardly matters much to the masses. When Gordon Brown pretended to like Cold Play he haply alienated more people than he successfully pandered to. In any case, the ruling class cannot determine successful entertainment.

What the LA opposes is cultural but it is also illiberal; it is the state. Liberty uses private ownership as a means but no one who thinks clearly defines liberty as mere private ownership. I do not need to own things to be free. To think so is to be confused.

Of course the shorter word, liberal is more apt than libertarian, as many on the blog rightly said, and one chap said those who are against liberty should be called puritans, but many puritans can be liberal. So statist is clearly the proper name for those who want to restrict liberty, not puritan.


Sean replied:

“I’ll begin the comments by thanking David for an accurate and fair summary of what I said last week. Beyond that, I’ll only repeat myself that we do seem to have been barking up the wrong tree – forty years devoid of measurable success.

The Great Schism of 1982 may not have helped. On the other hand, two fairly vibrant Libertarian Alliances emerged from that. The truth is that we had no impact on British politics when we were a unified movement, and none when we were spitting venom at each other, and none when we came to our senses and became friends again.

Look at it this way. Christ was crucified in 33AD. Within thirty years, there were enough Christians to be worth blaming for the Great Fire of Rome. In 1983, Peter Tatchell lost a safe Labour seat because he was outed as a poofter. Thirty years later, we had gay marriage. In the early 1960s, South African apartheid seemed unshakeable. Thirty years later, it had fallen apart. In 1985, we were talking to each other and hardly anyone else. Today, we are talking to each other and hardly anyone else.

Oh – thirty years ago, some of us were predicting a police state. Today, we live in one.

You don’t get a paradigm shift in five years. But we’ve been in this game longer than the average life expectancy of 1900. We ought by now to have some indication of success. We are so marginal, I don’t believe we are being watched even passively by the security services.”


Thank you for your reply and criticism, Sean, and for making my reply into an independent blog article.

I think we are barking up the right tree but we need to be way more active. However, even if we were as active as I wish we were and there had been no upset in 1982, so there had been a more robust LA all along, as well as a better one today, things would haply look much as they do today. It is not so easy to see the results of long run liberal propaganda in the short run but it is clear how silly the1940s The Times columns of E.H. Carr look today. I think Hayek was the main factor there but it is not at all easy to exactly measure progress.

I do not think that two active LAs emerged from the 1982 upset but rather that an active base in London was cut off from the national LA network. Things never were quite the same again. Both groups were weakened compared to the pristine LA.

It never was the aim of the LA to directly affect British politics. We were out to capture the extraverts, or propagandists, and to bias them against politics and more action by the state.

Christianity has a nominal success but a “Christian” is as ignorant of the creed as an Irishman of actual Irish history or a Marxist of the ideas of Karl Marx. But the main fact here is that versions of the creed were going a lot longer than only a few years between when Paul converted and the persecution of the creed by the Romans and Paul converted to a network that not even his energy created in the short time that you think. There never was a pristine Jesus Christ, of course, the word never was made flesh, but we pitch his death just before Paul converted to the creed, but I think the network was being built up a long time prior to then. G.A. Wells once said he thought it was around about three hundred years prior to Paul.

Do you feel that if Peter Tatchell had a heart attack on failing to win that safe Labour seat then daft David Cameron would be any the less keen on gay marriage, such that we would not have it today? You seem to be the complete Romantic, Sean!

Ever since 1962, Christianity has seemed utterly perverse to me. It is phenomenal that it ever caught on, even with brilliant and hard-working propagandists like St Paul spreading it. But so is a Conservative Prime Minister pressing for a gay marriage law that must alienate most of his natural supporters, and the fact that a Conservative party ever wants to modernise is also phenomenal. The majority are always going to be conservative. Even New Labour upset many people by modernising. Those examples certainly show the power of ideas, or of fashion, or of both. But the long march of what we now call Political Correctness [PC] was going long prior to 1900. It is, basically, the very perverse ideal of Equality.

South Africa did not look solid in 1960 to many, certainly not to me, but it had the USA on its side at that point for there was, back then, about as much apartheid in the cities of USA as there was in South Africa.

PC need not be statist, of course. Many liberals, maybe most liberals, have been exceedingly fond of the crass idea of equality. It has never been the very top idea. Liberalism is! It was in 1800. Maybe it was very much before then too. As I said above, in the now blog article, few people want to vie or mesh their ideas together for coherence. They simply do not see democracy, or even the state, as illiberal. But the LA is right that it clearly is such. But it is not obvious today. It will be in the future. This is because people are not often interested in those things, just as they are not often interested in art. If the public do not look, then they will not see even the clearest things.

That you were about the only one who looked up at the top of the buildings on your visits to the lands of the late USSR should have told you about the little effect on others was of the excellent art that you enjoyed, Sean.

Statist PC is not only illiberal but totalitarian thus the emerging police state you cite, Sean. But the ideal of PC, which is equality, the market, has served way better than the state ever can, and the free market would serve even faster and better but it would be free of totalitarian coercion.

Adam Smith saw that fact back in 1776. He felt that the workings of supply and demand tended towards price equality and he was quite right.

Now the economists have developed the theory of the price system, it is way easier today to see that he was right. There has been a long run societal movement towards equality beginning long before 1776 and it continues to happen to this day, off-set only by short run new inequalities introduced by innovation, invention, amongst other things, like new fashion, that tends to make the whole process a levelling up one. The luxuries of one generation that had to be in short supply to begin with have often become the everyday goods of the next, and this the statists call “trickle down” just as they call competition “cut throat” but both are social boons. Nothing needs to fall from a table and no throats need to be cut. That is merely the hyperbole of statist propaganda.

Indeed, profit is the hallmark of social service just as taxation is the sign of abuse towards others. The market is largely colour blind, indifferent to homosexuality, but it does not privilege groups by coercive law, as statist PC does, but then such privilege flouts the PC ideal of equality, as politics cannot be even or just, to one and all.

Politics has to oppose some group as the enemy, a Romantic ideal that is anti-liberal to its core but it is anti-equality too. So PC ought to go free. Liberalism has an institution as an enemy rather than any class of people, including the ignorant ruling class. De jure statist equality law is always de facto privilege.

When Enoch Powell said in 1968 that a constituent told him that in ten years’ time the black man would have the whip hand over the white men he might have replied that they already had the metaphorical whip hand since 1963, as the whites were under-privileged in relation to the blacks privilege owing to the racial discrimination laws of that year.

Sean, the plain fact is that we have only just begun to talk to each other theoretically. I do hope we continue a little before we decide break off. I have no idea what your ideas of class amount to. But I am an ex-smoker so not the best chap to champion the liberal right to smoke, and similarly, as an ex-Marxist, I tend to think class is sheer bosh rather as I tend to think that Christianity is, as an ex-Catholic.

But I ought to confess that I do not mind being marginal, or unnoticed, by my enemy the state. As people, I wish state employees, at any level, no harm at all. The Enlightenment outlook, which I champion against the Romantic reaction that reacted against it, has no enemies. That politics intrinsically gratuitously uses proactive coercion against at least some people is the major fault of the state and it is why politics can never be fair.

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Adam Smith

EconomicsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, March 01, 2015 21:47:31

The Wealth of Nations (1776) discussed.

On Thursday, 19 February 2015, Melvyn Bragg and his guests, Richard Whatmore, Donald Winch and Helen Paul, on In Our Time, radio 4, discussed Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations (1776). I will say what each speaker approximately said then add a few comments of my own. This method hardly reproduces the programme as it was but it does report the substance of it.

Bragg said that Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory, whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Scotland was way ahead of London intellectually for this was the time of the Scottish Enlightenment and Smith was one of the major thinkers of that phenomenon.

As a boy, Adam Smith was a scholar who did well at Grammar school then later at the University of Glasgow but he found the University of Oxford way below par. However, he used his time there to do a lot of reading. He went to France and met Voltaire, amongst many others. His 1776 book was based on his careful consideration of the transformation that was wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and it looked at how the result contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in nations around the world, so the book outlined a theory of wealth, and how it is accumulated, that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other book so far. Bragg said he rather liked the fact that Adam Smith was willing to let the seat of the British Empire move from London to Philadelphia to preserve it.

Richard Whatmore, the Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews said the book was basically against the state regulation of markets. The Wealth of Nations (1776) came out of the Enlightenment in general and the Scottish Enlightenment in particular. Adam Smith was born in 1723into a Scotland full of problems, not least the divide between the Highlands and Lowlands. David Hume saw that commerce needed to be taken seriously by the state, but owing to early losses the rulers in Scotland agreed to the Act of Union with England in 1707 on the promise of compensation, or full replacement of the losses, so many thought that “Scotland was bought and sold for English gold”. But despite those fears that it might be bad for Scotland, the free trade zone that 1707 introduced seemed soon to be a success. But there was the upset of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, so all was not harmony.

Commerce was seen as the basis of society so the state needed to be concerned with it. As the basis of society commerce was new, though commerce itself was old. The new society needed to be justified. In the past commercial cities had been defeated by agricultural or shepherd states, as Rome had beaten Carthage for example.

Commerce was not so good at war, so commercial societies did not tend to last long. But in Europe, by the eighteen century, commerce had become more stable. Why? This needed to be both explained and justified and this is what Smith set out to do in his book.

Smith found that part of the explanation was that ordinary men saw that, if they saved a bit, they could soon make conditions for themselves and their families a bit better by working on the market system in some specialised job.

Adam Smith was a very historical writer and he held that an economist would need to be an historian too. He held an account was needed from the fall of Rome up to modern times and he planned a big book to show the rule of law was needed but he burnt the notes for this third book on not getting round writing them up, but he revised his two main books repeatedly till the end of his life. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was not just an early stage that he later abandoned but rather central to his life’s aims.

The invisible hand metaphor is used in The Wealth of Nations (1776) once but in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) a few times. Adam Smith saw himself as a moderate between mercantilists on the one hand and the physiocrats, or complete free traders, on the other.

Adam Smith did not expect this book to have much influence. One of his major ideas was unintended consequences. Tom Paine loved book III and IV of the 1776 book. But Edmund Burke also loved The Wealth of Nations too. But his major book on law was not begun but rather he burnt the notes for it.

Donald Winch, the Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex said that Adam Smith’s father had died early and his mother became very close to her son, who soon attended the local Grammar School, in Kirkcaldy. At the age of 14, the boy went on to the University of Glasgow and he was good at both the school and the college. At the college he had Francis Hutcheson as his teacher. Hutcheson was one of the first not to lecture in Latin but rather in English. All the teachers he had at the college were full professors.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was revised till Adam Smith’s last days. He burnt his notes and plan for his big third book. He was against the egoism of Thomas Hobbes. He favoured social rather than selfish activity.

By Smith’s time, England no longer had a peasantry, though other nations still did and they also retained other aspects of feudalism too. But in England all had become partly merchants, as Smith noted. His 1776 book was in five books. “Greed is good” but Adam Smith did not say so. But he held that each can make things somewhat better by saving for the future.

Mercantilism was the very opposite of what Adam Smith wanted, as it was the inverse of liberalism.

Smith delayed publishing The Wealth of Nations for three years to see what happened in America. He lived in London away from his beloved Kirkcaldy home owing to his concern about the fate of British Empire. He held that mercantilism was no good so the colonists were right to reject that aspect of the British Empire.

Smith was against corporatism. Beware of businessmen when gathered together as they might well be in a conspiracy against the public, he warned.

Helen Paul, a Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton said that Adam Smith was against both the mercantilists and the physiocrats. Mercantilism was old but the politicians in Smith’s still largely held to it. This old paradigm held that trade was zero-sum.

Adam Smith used the example of the pin factory where one man could not even make a single pin a day on his own but with about eighteen others with distinct tasks on the division of labour then thousands of pins might be produced.

He did work that led to the current knowledge we of the price system but he worked before that was completely achieved.

As he thought that shipping should be protected as it aided the problem of defence he was not quite fully in favour of free trade.

COMMENTS: The three experts did not do too badly. They might have said that Joseph Butler was the big influence in David Hume to get him to reject Thomas Hobbes on egoism and Butler also said there is not enough self-love too. Hume adopted both in his ethical writings and later Adam Smith did too in the 1759 book.

Clearly, Smith’s main idea of the division of labour gears all who join it to serve others as a by-product whilst doing their best for themselves and thus the metaphor of the hidden hand, as it is usually interpreted, is quite superfluous.

Richard Whatmore was right to note that trade rarely fits well with war for trade is aimed at service rather than with abusing people but the state sets out to rule the people, rather than to serve them, and its coercive governing can soon spill over into war, especially when state meets state.

Richard Cobden saw that free trade crowds out war, a thesis he found in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

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Why the progress of liberty has been slow

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47

What is liberalism?
And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more rapid progress?

Whether pristine liberals are conservatives depends only on how much liberty there is in the current status quo. Presumably, the T.H. Green-like neo-liberals from the 1870s, and the Labourites too, are conservatives today. As liberty has been ebbing since 1860, today’s liberals will look radical, or maybe reactionary as they want to revive liberty that many might feel is to try to revive the past but the aim is liberty not trying to revive the past which is never likely to be an aim of anyone and would be futile if ever it was. Liberals today simply want more social liberty, not only the liberty lost since 1860 but much more still. Indeed, many liberals want to get rid of the state altogether. Whenever they do, then they will become conservatives. Whether we are conservatives depends on what we want to conserve.

Liberalism is clearly part, some even think the whole, of basic morality, so there is a sense that nearly everyone the last 3000 years, or more, were partly pristine liberal, and had the basic idea that they should not impose on others without consent, but they do not vie this idea with many other ideas that rival it, or even see that many of those ideas are in competition, if not logically clash, so most people do not see a need to vie our ideas for overall coherence, that many people today might even think is an odd, or an extreme thing to do, if we are not philosophers, and in this case, where we would have an extreme result of suggested anarcho-liberalism, or, at least, that we cut back the state about as much as we can, for many of the rival values held in current common sense today are not compatible with social liberty, or even with basic morals, but indeed they clash with morals. They are allowed only by tacit or unwitting licence or even with quite explicit privilege. This privilege is often thought to be realistic if not quite ideal.

The LA members basically do vie their ideas, and they throw out statism as a result, as it is based on this special licence and privilege e.g. to kill and plunder in war. The LA wants to get all people to do likewise.

Pristine liberalism is just the quest for social liberty, which is just the ideally civilised respect we all ought to have for the liberty of all rather than just our own individual liberty, that we tend to have naturally. This is basically just respect for all persons. I think we do know the basic rules best here whenever boy meets girl, for that is where the proper way we should treat others has received most attention in literature and song over the last few thousand years.

We all like our own liberty, to be free to do what we want to, and we all, more or less, tacitly know this, so being too bossy when boy meets girl will rarely be used by either side during courtship. Savage individual liberty is doing what you want regardless, but social liberty additionally incorporates a civilised respect for the liberty of all others.

If ever bossiness emerges, from one side or the other, when boy meets girl, later on, well after the honeymoon period in marriage, say, then it will usually be seen as a fault, though the side at fault might not openly admit to it, even when it is realised. We are often reluctant to admit that we are at fault. The husband who attempts to dominate too much may well admit it as a fault as may well the wife who nags too much after a time. Tolerance is needed and this tolerance of others, especially of their liberty, is pristine liberalism; tolerance is a candidate for the top liberal idea. But an important liberty is that for either side to reject the other person when we no longer want to tolerate that person, or to never to begin a relationship at all in the first place. All this is social liberty, both sides being free.

So as we all accept the liberal idea as part of our basic universal morals then a pristine liberal movement should be like going downhill, as the people are all partly liberal already. It is in our basic morals. Moreover the liberal idea is not only part of basic morality but is haply the leading, or top, value in morality. Social liberalism is merely showing consideration for the liberty or persons of others. Why, then, have the liberals not, long since, won out? And then why did it decline after 1860, [oddly, by evolving into almost its opposite of statist neo-liberalism by extending the political power of the state] instead of continuing with the steady progress with increasing social liberty up till that time? Those are two interesting questions. I will attempt to give the core answers to both below; but I suppose a whole book might be written on either or both.

The answers to both have two aspects, first of desirability and second of practicality. On desirability, liberalism may be the top idea, but is it all that we want we want? Today, most people would say not but the liberals tend to say it is.

The main answer to the first of the lack of speedy progress has already been given: most people do seriously not vie or mesh their ideas explicitly for consistency and coherence; they are rarely energetic philosophers, but they do tacitly and naturally indulge in such thought a bit. But the reason this explicit vying of ideas needs to be done is because, despite the liberal idea being the top moral idea and the fact that aware moral ideas normally trump rival non-moral value memes, or ideas, liberalism has many rivals: indeed he whole political outlook is full of them. As already said, vying for consistently is seen as extreme and current common sense holds any extreme to be error. But that is a clear fetish, as many extremes are welcome by all e.g. extreme good health is just one example.

Most of the rivals to liberalism are old, as is the state and politics. Tradition and conservativism are strong in any society as they represent what has survived trial and error. So this gives most people to settle for a common sense mix of ideas rather than rejecting the ideas that clash with the liberal idea as the LAers do.

Standing as traditional is almost on par to successful standing up to reason, as it is often thought to contain quite a bit of actual testing by reason. This will be the tacit natural thought that most people will have given whilst being mainly interested in other things that they are doing. What ideally would be the case would be for most people to look at the main enemy of social liberty, the state, with their undivided attention to see if it is beneficial, as current common sense holds or whether it is anti-social as the doctrinaire or ideological liberals hold to be the case. The liberals say that main result of vying our ideas explicitly will be to reach liberalism, will be an anti-statist stance that clashes with the state, which has a long tradition that stands as a defence. This anti-state conclusion is a bit too radical for most people, at least at first. They are interested in doing other things.

But even the statists, or politicians, also feel there is too much apathy in society, or rather people are keen to do other things rather than look on the whole, that they tend to think neglect being keen on the good things they suppose the state can do. The local vicar thinks most are not keen enough on religion too. Why is this? One major reason is that society has long since been based on the division of labour that tends to train us to mind our own business and we tend to do this in terms of play as well as work. Only philosophers tend to look at the wood for even in science they are usually looking at mere trees. This means that most people are not often interested in other things.

But few people do vie their ideas anyway. Philosophers do tend to do so, but philosophy has ever been popular, though we all indulge in doing a bit of it; even if it is not realised to be such.

So most people settle for not being extreme liberals; but they, nevertheless, do retain the liberal idea as their top moral value. Such people accept the common sense idea that the state is basically good, so the fact that, in politics, or overall state administration, the state employees can not only do immoral things but that it might even be, given current common sense realism, their duty to do such things, as they are due to do so as part of their work for the state, and the state is accepted as needed and good, is widely accepted as merely being realistic. That politics clashes with liberalism is seen to be just the practical limits of liberalism.

Common sense therefore allows different standards for the state; the state is given license or privilege. Few think it odd that the fictional spy, James Bond, is licensed to kill, for example, despite holding that murder for the ordinary person is about the most immoral act that could be done. The ideological liberal, who does vie his ideas, will think this distinction very silly, as well as downright immoral. Why privilege the state or politics? The pristine liberal sees no reason as to why. But most people today do. They feel it is only practical to do so. It is practical politics but is it morally right? Is politics itself right? Pristine liberals tend to think not.

There are many other ideas that liberals oppose that current common sense, whilst agreeing that the liberal idea is at the top, or at least very nearly so, nevertheless, thinks the doctrinaire liberal ideology of the LA is being way too extreme to use this top idea to negate as being actually immoral. That, it is commonly thought, is to be so extreme that it is almost descending into being mad.

This is the sort of thinking, that most people hold today, is what helps to keep the pristine liberal movement at bay as being wildly extreme and so slows its progress; or even fosters opposition to it. The state is thought to be highly desirable, as tradition suggests it is so. Why? Because the state is still here; we still have the state. That is enough to get tradition on side for why did they not get rid of the state before if it is as bad as the liberals say it is. It was thought to be desirable in the past so maybe it is, on the whole, today. But only a few philosophers, or quasi-philosophers, are willing to look at the whole and to also explicitly vie their ideas.

Then there is the problem of practicality. Even the LA itself is not completely an extreme anarcho-liberal group but rather it is an alliance between anarchists and limited statists. The latter doubt if we even can dispense with the state. Most liberals in the past have been like that, indeed they have held that the state is basically good, but that the market can do some things, maybe most things, better. Many LA members are still like that, as well as nearly all the pioneers of modern liberalism since about 1500. But since about 1700, actual anti-statist liberalism first emerged that saw the state as evil rather than good, but still thought it a necessary evil. Tom Paine said it was a necessary evil in Common Sense (1776), as it was needed to deter and punish crime from those who do not respect other people. Ideally the evil of punishment would never arise but as some criminals are highly likely to offend, then this necessary evil will be needed to deter them.

In the nineteenth century, some anarchist-liberals, like Josiah Warren, emerged who greatly influenced J.S. Mill, who was a candidate at being top economist and the top philosopher, not only in the UK but even in the world, as well as being the top liberal in his heyday.

The LA has all three types of liberals but not the statist neo-liberals who emerged after 1860, though the enlightenment paradigm propagandists often welcome them still calling themselves liberals as they are critical of pristine liberalism, laissez faire but, oddly, not so often of free trade; though both terms mean the same thing, i.e. liberty from the state, but some authors, especially academic historians, have attempted to say there is a difference, as they say that free trade is between nations whereas laissez faire is liberty within the nations; they feel that means two distinct types of liberty! The neo-liberals do often think they retain the liberal idea in their democracy, and they explicitly do in their moral criticisms of others [indeed, in their basic morals] in being against rape, and the like, but their rampant statism even within their democratic ideal, shows up that they also have many delusions and inconsistencies in their statist “liberal” creed.

Anyway, the pure liberal idea is rejected by most people on the idea that its practicality is severely limited, especially in its main opposition to the state.

Despite such common sense objections, liberalism made steady progress up till the 1860s, but then, within liberalism itself, there was a reaction. The Liberal Party never had accepted the anti-statist meme within liberalism and when it formed a government, or an administration, that aspect of liberalism not only seemed extreme but also quite perverse to almost any member of the House of Commons [MP].

Many novelists and historians had earlier felt there was more to the top Tory authors like Thomas Carlyle, his epigone Charles Dickens, and his disciple John Ruskin who wrote against the commercial society and the idea of free market or its utilitarian bourgeois outlook, especially the chief utilitarian propagandist, Jeremy Bentham. This Tory outlook was part of a wider Romantic reaction was against the very idea of Enlightenment, that is associated with the liberal idea. J.J. Rousseau began this Romantic reaction against the French Philosophes but soon Edmund Burke made this movement more substantial with his attack on Richard Price and Burke soon converted many of the 54 authors that wrote against him, like the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, to Romance. One result of all this was a lot of diverse propaganda that was always effectively, if never quite explicitly, against liberty. Many in the Liberal Party tended to agree with the MPs that more politics was needed to counter this heartless laissez faire. As the pristine liberal MPs got older, or died off, the switch from classical liberalism to statist neo-liberalism was all but complete by 1900, with, maybe, the sole exception of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

A factor in this was the rise of the Fabian Society from the mid-1880s onwards, that made the idea popular that socialism was to the left of liberalism, to exploit the sense of progress that the early pristine liberals like James Mill and Francis Place won from about 1800 on for the liberal idea, and the Fabian had success with this idea to the extent that, today, the modern mass media call pristine liberal free market ideas right wing! Why? Because they oppose statism! This very successful propaganda group, the Fabian, followed up Joseph Chamberlain in his generational case against Gladstone to replace pristine liberal ideas with the newer statist ones. This was yet another clever emotional move to suggest that the future lay with statism and imperialism.

However, in 1886 Chamberlain left the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland, but, by then, nearly all the younger MPs that he left behind were statists. Joseph Chamberlain’s innovation of statist neo-liberalism was home and dry. The pristine liberal idea was in abeyance till its slow revival beginning in the 1950s, but this time mainly as a moral movement to get the public to think seriously about anti-social politics.

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BBC radio on Democracy day.

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Tue, January 27, 2015 14:52:49

At the House of Commons with Democracy Day due 20 January, the BBC yesterday got the moral and political philosopher, Professor Michael Sandel, to spur an audience to apply some critical thinking to democracy that was broadcast at 8:30am on Tuesday 20 January 2015. Michael Sandel presented this special BBC Democracy Day edition of The Public Philosopher, recorded in the Palace of Westminster with an audience of MPs, peers and the public the day before.

Sandel lead on a few issues, beginning with J.S. Mill’s rather futile idea of giving many votes to the educated, as if even a hundred votes could have anything like a hundred times the affect, or even any effect at all of note, on the result in a very large electorate.

Few people want to think about democracy. 1) The audience wanted, on principle, an equal vote, so there was a mass rejection of Mill on more votes for the educated. Each vote should count the same. Yet the consistency arrangement tended to rule that out. Many, as thoughtless as Mill, thought that some system of PR might rescue the affect that a vote might but clearly a vote or many votes in a large electorate is bound to be insignificant. This seemed not to be noticed at Westminster. 2) They also wanted accountability to the public, as if that could be had in Representative Democracy [or in Delegative Democracy either] where the experts make up long diverse manifestos that few can find time to read and where any single issue, or topic, is basically well obfuscated. It might as well not be there. 3) They wanted to do what is right [suggested by Sandel to be what is Politically Correct {PC} but soon adopted by the audience of MPs and others as obvious too] even if against the majority [they do not even notice that this PC meme is not one whit democratic, but rather sees it as a duty to go against it on capital punishment; and indeed on any PC issue, if ever it is rejected by a majority] so they reject referenda too, as it will not do the right thing i.e. be PC. They all like the PC privileges on race and sex.

Students do not like to be blamed for not registering to vote. Blame itself is nasty and against PC. PC is against judgement. Indeed, they were all far more PC than democratic. So when democracy clashes with PC it is held to be wrong but they still want to say they are not ruling in favour of PC as they feel PC is part of democracy in a way.

They conflate the two but not only does democracy clash with PC, but with liberty too. But as democracy is always an attempt at proactive coercion against others, so it is always somewhat illiberal. It is intrinsically against liberty but, again, the audience conflated democracy with liberty too; as do many in the mass media and even in political philosophy departments in the colleges.

Many in the audience held to Mill’s idea that voters needed to be educated, even if they rejected his more-vote solution. They hinted at a solution of being paid to spend time finding out instead, and many of the audience suggested special days off to be educated before each pending General Election, an getting paid for educating themselves about it from general taxation.

Some MPs feel that marginal seats are tails that wag the dog in claiming all the attention of all the political parties and that some form of PR might solve that imbalance, they said.

Democracy can be used by liberals to negate the negation, to vote for rolling back the state or for full privatisation and that is like reactive or defensive voting rather than a proactive attack on others.

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