DK misses the point

I really don’t want this debate between me and DK to go on and on ad infinitum, so I’ll keep this short. DK has responded to my post yesterday. He says I’m missing the point. But I fear it is infact DK who is missing the point. But I’ll go through his points in the order he wrote them.

…[O]ne might also say that, to bring the greatest economic prosperity, one might desire a certain type of person to move into this country. Are the people that Martin Kelly constantly highlights in his Foreign Criminal Of The Day series (a great many of whom carry previous convictions in their own countries) economically or socially beneficial to this country? I would say that they are not.

DK is right. But British-born criminals aren’t economically or socially beneficial to this country either. Would you send all British-born criminals on to a desert island because of this?

I am being facetious there. Of course it would be prudent not to allow foreign criminals into this country. But that is distinct from letting immigrants in as a whole. I am aware that most libertarians are as keen on stopping crime as anybody else. That’s why I said in my previous post, “There is probably not a single (sane) person on the planet who thinks that there should be no government.” Most recognise the need to uphold laws, so there is no hypocrisy involved when a libertarian says he would like fewer foreign criminals coming in to the country.

But this is the thing. Once you accept that some government intervention can be a force for good, you have voided your ability to use “small government” as a mantra, a panacea for all economic ills.

Oh, good god. No, you haven’t; you have simply asked the government to act in the interests of the people but only within that competence.

Missing the point alert.

I will ask the question again. Why is asking the government to act in the interests of the people so good in situation x, yet so so baaad in situation y? How can that be? You still have not explained this.

If the people of this country have asked their government, their servants, to restrict, in some small ways, immigration then they are hardly asking their government to curtail their freedom (to emigrate if they want).

You may as well say, “If the people of this country have asked their government to implement socialist policies then they are hardly asking their government to curtail their freedom.” This is why some free-market enthusiasts often deride European governments — even though the citizens of those countries usually quite like the socialist policies. By bringing in this get-out clause — “the people asked them to, so it’s okay” — DK has once again made the “small government” argument redundant.

DK then mentions the cultural issues again.

…but you have admitted the cultural problems so I almost need not continue…

Remember my first post on this subject? I cited Adam Smith for a reason. As I said in my first post, Smith is talking about goods and capital, but I don’t see any reason why it can’t apply to labour. DK does say in his post: “A plastic toy frog from China is not going to suddenly jump up and rape and kill your daughter.” I’ve dealt with crime already. So given that (ideally) criminals would not be let in, let’s assume that people coming into the country are not more likely to become criminals than British-born citizens.

There are lots of relevant bits that I can cite, but I said I’ll keep it short so here we go.

First, every individual endeavours to employ his capital as near home as he can, and consequently as much as he can in the support of domestic industry; provided always that he can thereby obtain the ordinary, or not a great deal less than the ordinary profits of stock.

Thus, upon equal or nearly equal profits, every wholesale merchant naturally prefers the home trade to the foreign trade of consumption, and the foreign trade of consumption to the carrying trade. In the home trade his capital is never so long out of his sight as it frequently is in the foreign trade of consumption. He can know better the character and situation of the persons whom he trusts, and if he should happen to be deceived, he knows better the laws of the country from which he must seek redress…

…To give the monopoly of the home market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is in some measure to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, and must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be brought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful. It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.

This is probably a gross simplification, but what I think Smith was saying that is extremely advantageous for people to stay at home to do their business. (In the case of labour, this is so obvious. Family ties, friends, history, culture — these are all things that encourage us to stay at home.) So if somebody wants to do their business away from home, the benefits of doing so must be so high that any government intervention will either be useless or harmful.

DK continues:

I call for small government because big government is not only economically bad, but also socially damaging: hence my little exegesis above. I do not call for small government because I am a libertarian (indeed, I was barely aware of the concept before I started blogging: I am no trained economic or political commenter, a fact which must be painfully obvious to those that are. I merely extrapolate from information delivered): it is because I have come to the conclusion that the smaller you can make the government the better it is for everyone that I call myself a libertarian…

This is just chicken and egg. Whether you believe that small government is good because you’re a libertarian or whether you call yourself libertarian because you believe that small government is good is neither here nor there. The point is that, whichever came first, you call yourself a libertarian and you believe in small government. Apart from in that one policy area.

Here is the next missing the point alert.

To say that I have become a “a utilitarian like the rest of us” is completely fucking stupid; Neil Harding also believes that government can be a force for good: are you saying that he and I are the same because we are both utilitarians? I don’t fucking think so. Neil is a socialist: I am very far from being so.

As far as I can tell, DK seems to think that by calling him a utilitarian I am somehow trying to paint him as a socialist in denial, or make him “the same” as a Labour supporter, or something. Let me get this one clear. What I meant by describing DK as a “utilitarian” was merely that he doesn’t always believe that small government is beneficial.

The possibility that government can be a force for good has come in to play. That is all I meant by saying “utilitarian”. So, yet again, this means that using “small government” as an argument to back up your position is not enough. If you believe that government can be a force for good, how can you then justify something else because it involves making the government smaller?

As I have said, it is not necessarily inconsistent to want more restrictions on immigration but to want fewer restrictions on other parts of the economy. But when you have conceded that government intervention can be a good thing, opposing something simply because it involves government intervention is hypocritical. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have other perfectly valid arguments in favour of your position. This is what I have been trying to get at.

I am aware that DK has often put forward alternative justifications for his opinions. Infact, he has started to do this in his post today:

However, to bring it back to what started this debate, I do share UKIP’s premise that it is wrong that it is the EU which controls our policy: whatever we decide to do about immigration, it should be the people—or, even, the elected government—of this country that make it, not the unelected bureaucrats of the EU. Call it a point of principle, if you will.

At the moment, we have seen a vast increase in means-tested benefits which lead to massive marginal tax rates, often of over 90%. This is clearly a disincentive for people to get off their fat, fucking arses and work (and thus take responsibility for their own lives).

Of course, you could say that by controlling immigration you are stilting competition in the labour market which is clearly a disincentive for people to work harder. But I digress. There is nothing particularly wrong with either of the justifications that DK has made there. These arguments are worth paying attention to. But if he ever justifies his position by saying that it reduces the size of government I will ignore it because I know that he doesn’t genuinely believe in it.

The point is that calling for more government intervention in any area of the economy is not consistent with “libertarian”, “small government” or “free market” principles.

One last missing the point moment.

That’s how the free market supposedly works you see.

Fair enough. Though note the word “supposedly”…

Indeed. But I’m not the one who’s supposed to be defending the free market.

5 comments

  1. As a “libertarian” (or something like it, anyway) myself, I’m not getting this whole UKIP tie-in thing. So far as I can tell it’s a case of some people getting excited about one issue fitting in marginally with their proposed scheme of things (and, incidentally, most of it not with my own).

    The whole idea that UKIP are “libertarian” in any real way is laughable. They’re fairly economically right-wing. That’s basically it. That’s just not enough, really. This whole thing is kinda embarassing.

  2. I feel sort of like I replied to the wrong entry there, nice. But still.

    The reason that the government needs to control immigration is that the country could easily become economically unstable without that control. End of. It’s similar to the reason we need police. That doesn’t mean we should shut our borders though, we should allow as much migration as is possible without leading to that instability. But until all countries are in some better state of equilibrium, there’s gonna need to be control there.

    Am I saying anything that makes sense? I have no idea.

  3. I think an awful lot of this depends on how you define “libertarian”. A bit like the word “liberal” it means different things to different people in different contexts. I mean, there is left-libertarianism, but people on the right see that as inherently illiberal. And you could go round in circles.

    Update: That was in reply to #1 by the way.

  4. Well, yeah. The thing is that “libertarian” was a term which has always struck me as attempting to disambiguate the term “liberal”, which in a classical sense kinda means what libertarian is taken to mean now.

    Hmm…