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Strange Bedfellows… (Again!)

January 7th, 2010 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Policy, UK Politics by

Thanks to the marvelous Michael Meadowcroft this delightful article found its way into my inbox [click to enlarge]:

This article was written by Arthur Seldon, a member of the Liberal Party and Co-founder of the IEA,  in 1949. It completely corroborates the ideas I floated October last year and in the November 2009 Issue of The Liberator. That, in essence, is “why the f*ck is the Co-operative Party in a coalition with the Labour Party???!!!”

Now, to all the bright young things in Nick Clegg office (who I know read this blog) please wake up to the fact that if Clegg isn’t at least trying to provoke a serious discussion of mutual solutions then he’s not doing his job. He is also not a proponent of economic liberalism and our party is a sorry Labour-lite. And that’s before the desolate state of Cowely St. and the ludicrous way we make policy is factored into the equation.

Complete economic liberalism is the answer. The free market in all its manifestations helps the poor.  The reason the Conservative Party is so objectionable is not because state socialism is right (because it is, in fact, very wrong and very bad) but because Tories pick and choose the bits of the free market they like according to unacceptable prejudices and vested interests. The freer the market the freer the people.

I am aware that Co-op hacks do largely consider themselves Labour first and Co-ops on the side. However, that attitude could be defeated with strong and clear national proponents of the mutualist cause who recognise that it is a cause that can only exist in a climate of economic liberalism. The fact that this man is considered to be on the fringes of our party rather than an example of a typical member is a travesty. If we as Libdems ever seize this issue as our own, I think the results would truly surprise us all.

13 Responses to “Strange Bedfellows… (Again!)”

  1. Ed Joyce Says:

    Yes – Jock has not been fully appreciated thats for sure. As a fellow geo-mutualist it would be great to see the party head in this direction. If we had a Georgist strategy concentrating on raising the tax threshold to the average income of the UK then we would have a consistent and credible policy. Although we do not quite have this our Site Valuation and £10,000 minimum tax threshold are the best on offer in the UK. Its a clear policy that is easy to explain on the doorsteps and truly separates us from Labour and the Conservatives.

  2. Jock Says:

    Ooh! I am flattered!

    I do hope that this great snippet from our history can be used, though, to introduce liberals to that other great work of Seldon, the IEA.

    For my own part, Ed, the “Mutualism” is eclipsing the “Geoism” a bit for me nowadays. I am beginning to align more with Tucker, for example, in thinking that if all the state protection and intervention in markets, and especially land in this context, were removed, the actual imposition that land rent would then be (and the corresponding freeloading on an untaxed artificial resource that the remaining landlords would get) would be less than the effort and illiberality potentially involved in creating mechanisms to collect it.

    That’s not to say that LVT cannot be part of the armoury for transitional arrangements, but that eventually market mechanisms could replace even that.

    I sense that there is a growing interest in (capital “M”) Mutualism though. It was to a large extent eclipsed in the twentieth century by what has largely been known as “right wing” (wrongly I think even as I read the mainstream Austrians who would agree with the epithet to a large extent) libertarianism which was probably a correct response to the sudden emergence of the statist collectivist “left” (also a wrong term of course!) in the early part of the century.

    The contemporary work of the likes of Kevin Carson is promoting Mutualism once again as a genuine synthesis between human scale “Socialist” in its proper meaning of society over state before corrupted by statist collectivists and the “Free Market” in its proper meaning before corrupted by the modern post-Fascist politics of state capitalism.

    The great thing about Mutualism though is that unlike most other otherwise very good theories, it seems to offer powerful, consensual and ostensibly at least peaceful mechanisms for achieving such a society without the pain of revolution or the likely disappointment of gradualism. By creating alternative institutions with which even the maddest of the mad statists in our party could probably agree without even realising that in doing so they are demonstrating how things could be better without their beloved coercive intervention and also ways that those who never want to see another penny of state spending taken from them can support as essentially self-sufficient voluntary mechanisms.

    That is the real work we have to do – to develop the myriad ideas for such institutions, even at a local scale to start with from which they can spread virally before the statists have noticed their state has gone from underneath them!

  3. Mark Mills Says:

  4. Geoff Payne Says:

    I wonder if you can identify a free market economy which has been good for the poor?
    I guess I am expecting 2 answers to the question. Either someone will point to SE Asia and say there, albeit in these countries there remains extreme poverty, or someone will say there are no “truly” free market economies, in which case we have to accept it on faith. The book “The Spirit Level” does identify Japan as a more equal society whilst at the same time it has a small state. Conversely highly taxed countries such as Sweden and Denmark are also more equal societies. However noone is proposing we follow the Japanese model – I am sure there are good reasons for that – and of course Libertarians would not accept the levels of taxation from Sweden.

    On a different matter, my guess is the Michael Meadowcroft has an affection for Liberal free marketeers as he probably remembers them in the early 1960s. No doubt some kept the party alive in difficult times. Even so, the pamphlets he wrote in 1980-4 had a huge influence on the Young Liberals at the time but did not turn us into Libertarians, who more or less existed only in the Tory party. He had a strong critque of the state back then, but he wanted to decentralise it rather than privatise it.
    A great idea for a fringe meeting at Lib Dem conference would be for you to organise a debate with him on Libertarianism. I would imagine you would fill the largest room.

  5. Jock Coats Says:

    I wonder if you can identify a a free market economy, period.

  6. Niklas Smith Says:

    Sara, thanks so much for putting this on the net – and the old Liberal Party’s preamble (if that’s what the picture at the bottom of the post is!). A pithy but punchy summary of liberalism.

    @Geoff Payne: it depends how you define “good for the poor”. If “good” means that the poor get a larger share of national income, some of the SE Asian countries fit the bill (though equally other fast-growing developing countries have seen increasing income inequality).

    If “good” means a large and sustained increase in absolute living standards (not just income but also life expectancy), then any globalised market economy would fit the bill. In his book In Defense of Global Capitalism, Johan Norberg summarised that economies that open up to trade and the market tend to see redistribution of income from the rich to the middle class. The poor are no better (or worse) off relative to their compatriots but are absolutely much better off than in closed economies. In Rawlsian (“minimax”) terms this is an improvement.

  7. Niklas Smith Says:

    P.S. An indication that markets and globalisation open up more and better opportunities for the poor is UNICEF’s data on child labour:

    The top ten countries in the share of 5-14 year olds working between 1999-2004 are Niger (over 65%!), Togo, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Chad (all over 50%), Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Uganda and Somalia. None of these countries can be described as well-connected with global markets.

    About 70% of child labour is in agriculture, and countries with large “sweatshop” export sectors like Bangladesh and Indonesia have low rates of child labour (both under 10%).

    (I hope the link works but it may be subscribers only.)

  8. Niklas Smith Says:

    P.P.S. Registering with the website gives you a free pass for 14 days. It’s a striking graph, well worth seeing.

  9. Geoff Payne Says:

    Jock, a lot of people identify as supporting the free market do not follow your definition. They are what you call capitalists.
    Well I do not assume that everyone shares your definition.

  10. Geoff Payne Says:

    Niklas, the countries you identify as not being globalised are also countries where the state has little control either.
    I consider for now my question is unanswered.

  11. Geoff Payne Says:

    Apologies Niklas, I missed your other post.
    I will come back to the previous points you make when I have more time to do so.

  12. Jock Says:

    Geoff, I think you’d be surprised. Few, if any, that I know who identify as “libertarian” or “market anarchist” would associate what Carson carefully distinguishes as “actually existing capitalism” with the “free market”. Certainly the modern state skewed capitalism and so called market economy is a very far cry from what the Austrian School economists would be aiming for.

    I speak of “thinking” libertarians or market anarchists – the ones that write the books and work on the theory rather than the Clarksons of this world. Indeed, I am finding myself quite in demand at the moment to speak to various such groups of libertarians and anarchists about Carson’s type of Mutualism, as I hinted at in my first comment on here.

  13. Matthew Huntbach Says:

    Although we do not quite have this our Site Valuation and £10,000 minimum tax threshold are the best on offer in the UK. Its a clear policy that is easy to explain on the doorsteps and truly separates us from Labour and the Conservatives.

    I myself am a supporter of LVT, and would certainly agree with the idea of shifting taxation from income, particularly at the lower levels, to land values.

    I would not, however, fool myself into thinking it is “easy to explain on the doorsteps”. Any shift of taxation away from income tends to be met with “but income tax is the fairest tax – it’s based on ability to pay”. Not helped by the fact that our party went big on that argument when it (very wrongly in my view) went for local income tax to replace the community charge (which for all its faults had faint vestiges of the idea of paying tax on land value).

    The “little old lady in the big house” is a very tough one to face, I’ve been there and I bear the scars (letters reading “How dare you – I used to vote for your party, but never again after I saw what you wrote”). While I know the answers to it in theory, they are hard to get across, particularly as we have had heavily pushed on us the idea that owning untaxed property and leaving it to your children is what life should be all about. Even though a direct result of that policy is adult children unable to get housing of their own when they actually need it most.