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Nick Clegg’s liberal moments

By Simon Goldie
February 25th, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Comments Off on Nick Clegg’s liberal moments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

First Nick Clegg said you shouldn’t trust governments.  Next he forgets he is in charge.

His opponents were quick to criticise the latter comment, particularly as British citizens are struggling to leave Libya. Of course, there have been many politicians who are very clear about being in charge and still fail to deliver what the public, or they, want.

If we sidestep the day-to-day political arguments and look at what the deputy prime minister has been saying for quite a while now, it would seem that he would rather trust people than institutions, prefer individuals to control their lives and not have them guided centrally by a group of people who think they know better.


Time for a Nanny Unit

By Simon Goldie
February 15th, 2011 at 10:24 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in freedom, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

The question of what sort of nannying Alain De Botton would like, got me thinking about those who desire nannying and the people would rather run their own lives.

This led me to wander if it is possible to reconcile that liberal aspiration with a ‘Nanny State’?

It seems that many people believe nannying is a good thing. According to de Botton people need help with what to eat, smoke and drink.

For those who would rather control their own lives this is all a bit annoying as they get dragged into the nannying. Perhaps one could describe this as a ‘tragedy of the nanny’.

What if the ‘Nanny State’ gave way to a nanny unit?

Those who need nannying would pay into a fund for this service. The payment could be progressive or a flat rate. The charges might be based on the level of nannying you desire. For instance, if you would like someone to come and bring you your five a day mix of fruit and vegetables you would pay more than if you simply got sent a regular text message reminding you to eat your apples and broccoli.

The people who wish to control their own lives would not receive any nannying and would not pay into the fund.

An immediate problem is whether people would opt in or opt out of the nannying unit. For those who believe in nannying the opt out route would be most attractive.

The decision on opting in or out is probably best done on the basis of cost.  Is it cheaper to enrol everyone automatically or make them pay a large entrance fee when they opt in? Should one pay a substantial amount to opt out once in?

For those readers who think it is high time for me to remove my tongue from my cheek, the Republican Senator Ron Paul has recently suggested that Americans be given the option to pay a 10% tax for the rest of their lives and in return never ask anything from government bar some basic State provision such as protection by the military.

I should stress I came up with the nanny unit before reading about Paul’s proposals.


The consequences of unintended consequences

By Simon Goldie
January 31st, 2011 at 12:33 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, Liberal Philosophy, Policy

Policy makers often refer to the potential of unintended consequences when debating new legislation or regulation. Politicians from all political parties seem to realise that whatever you do something will then happen that is unexpected.

If we start to think about policy through the prism of the unintended, then our recent political history makes a lot more sense. Someone comes up with a brilliant solution to a problem, a majority back it, it is enacted and a little later a new problem pops up because of the solution to the first problem. A new solution then needs to be developed to deal with this unintended consequence.

There are different ways to respond to this.

Governments could try and gather together the best brains in order to ensure that every possible outcome is worked out. Arguably, this approach is already being done and yet we still seem to be unable to avoid problems coming from solutions.

Another option is to accept that this is simply part of political life. There will always be unintended consequences so one might as well be stoical about it and just find a new solution.

One of the issues is that policy changes can impact on a lot of people. If that impact is negative it will take a lot of resource to solve the problem. Not only that, but ethically one might ask what right do policy makers have to affect people’s lives in this way?

There is another path to take. If you step back and let people work out the solutions by relying on the wisdom of the crowd, you are likely to arrive at solutions that everyone thinks are workable. This is because ways of doing things emerge through co-operation and experimentation. Another way to describe this is spontaneous order.

The other advantage is that when lots of people try different things and one experiment has negative effects it is not going to impact on everyone, just the ones who are engaged with that particular solution.

The great thing about this approach is that policy makers don’t need to rush off and come up with a framework that enables this activity. We already have one: the free market. And where we think the market isn’t appropriate we can always disperse power to people.


A chance to wake up to liberalism

By Simon Goldie
January 12th, 2011 at 3:50 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Nick Clegg is worried about ‘alarm clock Britain‘: those people who get up early, worry about their standard of living and are on low to middle incomes. He has asked David Laws to look at a range of policy options that will address the needs of this group.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg faces many challenges. He has to keep the coalition going, keep his party onside, implement government policy and find the time to carve out a policy space for the party that is attractive enough to gain electoral support come 2015. Needless to say, Liberal Vision has a few ideas about what those policies might look like. But it is clear from Clegg’s speeches, and actions, that he is not pursuing a classical liberal path. He might be closer to classical liberalism than other recent leaders but the last few years have seen him weave a modern liberal narrative that combines classical, economic and social liberalism.

With Laws overseeing the policy development we are likely to see innovative and radical ideas emerge that focus on not only helping people but making sure they have more control over their lives.

One area that Clegg has flagged is renting accommodation in the private sector. We have seen a lot of attempts by government to improve the housing system. Clearly, there are many challenges in terms of affordability and availability of housing stock. If classical liberals aren’t going to get all their own way over the policy, it would be nice if Laws and Clegg pondered the suggestion by Jock Coats and applied some ‘rigorous liberalism‘. This involves stepping back and asking what government rules and regulations further complicate the problem and then removing them instead of sticking another set on top. The aim is to free people so that they can voluntarily work together and find solutions that sometimes are out of the reach of government.

Adopting this approach might mean that people find that when their alarm clock shakes them from their slumber, they wake up to liberalism.

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2015: the Oyster Card election

By Simon Goldie
December 22nd, 2010 at 11:59 am | 3 Comments | Posted in coalition

In 1918 Conservative and Liberal electoral candidates were given a signed letter from Lloyd George and Bonar Law stating that they were supported by both leaders.  Asquith famously called the letter a coupon and the campaign has been known as the ‘coupon election’ ever since.

The UK’s next general election isn’t scheduled until 2015. Despite that, there has been talk of some sort of informal pact between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats already.

At yesterday’s PM and DPM press conference, David Cameron said that it was likely that the coalition partners would fight the campaign separately.

Likely is not certain.

It is doubtful we would have a ‘coupon’ election. But we just might have an ‘Oyster card’ election.

What that means is that candidates from both parties would campaign on their manifestos but refer to the successes of the coalition.  More importantly, like an Oyster card, they might top-up their manifesto pledges with commitments that cut across both parties.

A lot can happen in the next four and a half years.

If we do have an ‘Oyster card’ election, remember you read it here first.

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