Thursday, 30 January 2014

The State is Slowly Destroying British Democracy

British democracy is becoming competitive

Britain is fast becoming a myriad of competing groups and factions. This is dangerous for democracy and reveals a foreboding vision of the future. In recent months there has been much talk of an economic recovery in the UK. Although an emergence out of the 2008 depression is most welcome. The experience of economic catastrophe has revealed a disturbing trend in modern British politics, that is slowly turning Britain into an arena for various warring factions used by politicians to divide society. Yet reducing the power of government to produce money, creating real rights for individuals and voting reform could remedy this worrying trend.

Of course it is true that politicians have to balance the demands of different sections in society. Yet it appears that of modern phenomena are beginning to intensify this trend. Traditionally the British voter is supposed to have a relatively easy choice come election time. In theory if you're poor, urban or northern you are supposed to vote Labour. Whereas if you're rich, rural or and southern you vote conservative. It is certainly true that psephology is far from an exact science. But aside from a few swing seats this trend has largely stood the test of time. This partly explains the current ideological mire that  plagues contemporary Britain. Yet new, factors are begging to intensify this pattern.

Firstly the rise of the internet has given a voice to millions of people that previously never had one. It is true that the rise of the internet itself does not change much without a significant mass of individuals being aware about a particular issues and possessing a framework of understanding about politics. But there is no doubting that more instant access to information certainly increases that sense of awareness. However it is fair to say that most people in modern Britain do not spend time publishing their political though online. Instead of a nation of dynamic and vocal bloggers, writers, tweeters etc. that would constitute a Socratic paradise. We have seen the rise of a sinister 'consensus culture'. This can be described as an obsession for politicians to appeal to all section of society mainly through various financial incentives. Essentially we are being bribed to vote a certain way. Arguably this really took of during the 1997 Labour campaign. A landslide victory for Labour that brought Tony Blair into Downing street.

This focus on consensus proved a relatively stable election strategy for Labour. Even after a deep depression, over ten years in power and the ascendancy of the highly unpopular Gordon Brown. Labour still gave the conservatives a run for their money in the 2010 election. In recent years David Cameron's premiership has seen similar focus on developing a consensus culture. With u-turns on almost every issue and a sharp divides over Europe, immigration and foreign policy that is slowly tearing his party apart. Blair's landslide victory in 1997 has given modern politicians the idea that with the right set of ideas, sound-bites and lots of funding you can win almost any voter. Yet this is starting to have some nasty consequences. Old ideas about social identity seem to be crumbling as attitudes surrounding identity have changed. Politicians often use catch all terms such as 'Alarm clock Britain', 'strives versus scroungers' or 'the squeezed middle'. As the UK abandons its attachment to class. New divisions are appearing. Young and old, private sector workers and public sector workers and NIMBYs versus those in favor of development to name a few. These differences existed previously, but are increasingly becoming bitter factions in the political bear pit.

On one hand some may welcome this change. Sure a government that is 'proactive' and 'listening to its people' can be construed as a positive change. However the more lasting legacy of the factionalism that is quickly becoming a feature of British society is that the state increasingly plays  groups off against each other. For example the current debate over immigration demonstrates how the political elite ( including the mainstream press among others) channel criticism away from the real issue at hand, in this case job security. And direct it towards migrants, a group that has little means of defending itself. A similar process has taken place with 'benefit cheats'. However both cases demonstrates how the primary responsibility of the state is to bestow or deny certain financial rewards on certain groups. This is sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

Yet there are certain steps that can be taken, albeit slowly to improve the situation. Firstly government should be reduced. The main reason that groups cry out for government support is because society has become essentially a subsidiary of the state. However 'rolling back the state' in the traditional financial sense will at first be insufficient and ultimately cruel on the poorest in society. By reducing state interference in a literal sense would mean enshrining in law principles that ultimately empower the individual. But this is unlikely for as history shows us, once the state has a taste for interfering in our lives, it becomes very hard for citizens to reclaim their rights. Secondly a proportional representation system of voting should be implemented to break up the monolithic political clans that dominate Westminster, thus bringing an end to forced consensus culture. Lastly an end to fiat currency would reduce the state's ability to print its own money. It is no coincidence that a state that has the ability to forge money out of thin air is rather generous with the handouts it gives to keep its population fighting among themselves. Yet these changes are long term and unfortunately highly unlikely, but as long people are kept fighting among themselves the more necessary these steps will become.  

Should We Still Listen To Marx?

Coming from a free-society perspective it would seem that issues surrounding class, the state and capitalism have been somehow resolved. Class is extinct, reducing the size of the state is an accepted doctrine no matter what the issue at hand and there appears to be a consensus that the more voracious the the particular brand of capitalism is, the better results it will yield. Yet this in my opinion; this sense of confidence is misplaced. Ultimately Marxism is not the correct answer to these questions. However to simply dismiss a debate on the virtue that is is 'Marxist' or 'Socialist' runs the very real risk of ideological dogmatism.  This is a relatively new phenomenon, almost 170 years after the communist manifesto has been punished in 1848, political thinkers are only just beginning to turn their attention away from Marx. Arguably no matter what your political affiliation, we should all still listen to Marx.

A significant reason for this change is historical. Since the downfall of the USSR, the capitalist transformation of China and the death of truly left-wing political parties in most of the Western world. There seems to be a notion of victory among anti- communist thinkers. A strong sense that for want of a better phrase 'we have won'. However this marks a stark contrast to 60 years ago during the immediate post- war era. Most of the philosophical architects that have built the modern political landscape ultimately had Marx to answer to. Not just in the realms of academia but in answering to the very real economic successes of the USSR and the wider communist world. Throughout 1950s-60s Britain, alleviating poverty, building adequate housing and dismantling empire (albeit reluctantly) were defining features of the period. This contrasts sharply with the current political issues Britain is dealing with. Most of the key ideologues of the past 100 years have been shaped by Marxism. Far from being relics of the past that are best forgotten. These 20th century thinkers still shape our thoughts today- weather in favour or opposition to Socialism. To forget that is to abandon a fundamental set of concepts that shape our modern thinking.

The biggest casualty of this collective amnesia of Marx is that many seem to believe that anything that can be described as anti-communism by definition works... on the basis that it isn't what happened in the USSR. This sense of overconfidence is misplaced. The issues that Marx addressed over 150 years ago are still very relevant today. Global inequality has never been higher. It is true that in the West it is commonplace to have lots of material possessions that older generations could have dreamed of. However this does not excuse the fact that more and more the top 1% of the worlds rich are forming an impregnable global elite class. Middle level wages have all but stagnated since the 1980s and low level wages have plummeted. As well as ever rising inequality, successive western ( and increasingly non-western) governments put faith in unproductive consumption and financial engineering as an engine of economic growth. In many places this has decimated any notion of a functioning productive economy. Furthermore countries such as Germany, South Korea and Sweden that pursue active protectionist trade policies are now the global leaders in industry.

So this begs the question. All this time, was Marx right? The answer is ultimately no. It is truly a sign of the times that a capitalist ( A Marxist term) economy that practices protectionism can be considered 'Socialist'. The relative success of Germany, South Korea and Sweden among others owes to the fact that those nations pursue pacifist foreign policies and do not rack up huge amounts of debt financing a ridiculous military. In the case of South Korea, it pays for almost non of its own army. Also the Scandinavian countries and Germany take civil liberties much more seriously than Britain and the USA, thus you are much less likely to be impeded by government intrusiveness over your lifetime. A socialist system ultimately lies in coercion. A fallacy that society can be governed through violence, which even Marx's contemporaries criticized him for. Therefore Marx is not important because he has all the right answers... But he certainly asked the best questions. These questions remain unanswered today. We ignore them at our peril. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Current Libertarian Movement Needs To Change

Why the current Libertarian movement needs to change

Definitions: Please note that in this article I use the word 'Libertarian' to mean 'Right-Libertarian'. Also I will not use the term 'Anarcho-Capitalist'. Although I am myself a supporter of the set of principles that being an 'Anarcho- Capitalist' entails, ultimately the controversy that the term brings up ensures I will not be using it in this article.

Over the past few years I have closely watched the current 'Libertarian' manifestation evolve into something resembling a genuine movement. However, in it's current form it shows many symptoms of an idea that is about to wither away. Yet this is not to discredit the excellent academic work done by many writers around the world. But serious issues must be addressed.

The first reason for this slow stagnation of ideas is the movements instability. Without a shadow of a doubt libertarianism is at first glance exclusively a North American affair. Ideas about freedom and personal liberty seem to be a much more significant part of American political thought than in Europe...or so it would seem. It appears that thousands of Americans have taken well to the fiscally conservative side of Libertarianism with gusto. Many prominent members of the current Libertarian movement carry this socially conservative message namely Ron Paul -the high priest of American freedom along with others. Upon further analysis it seems clear to this writer that part of this confusion over what Libertarianism means has deep historical roots. Like all other ideologies it is built from a myriad of thoughts, voices and ideas. Therefore the fact that people who claim to be from the same ideology disagree on certain issues can be forgiven; there is nothing wrong with people holding 'conservative' values. Yet the the willingness to ride a popular wave has left the current Libertarian movement on an unstable footing. It is no coincidence that being in the midst of deep economic depression and new revelations almost every day that reveal the rotten depths to which state corruption and control has reached,has spawned a powerful anti- state, anti- government spending front. However Libertarians should have to confidence to move away from the populist ramblings of a prominent few.

It is these prominent few that are the second reason why the Libertarian movement is failing. It fails to answer tough questions. Even a cursory venture into the endless realms of the internet show that libertarians are failing to answer tough questions, are wrought with scandal and internally divided. As someone who follows many free-market publications with a watchful eye, one could argue that despite being prolific, Libertarian writers prefer to stay on familiar territory. If you want to know anything about finance, economics, government spying or the war on drugs then these outlets are a treasure trove of information. Yet on the other hand if you are interested in race, gender, history, immigration, Labour relations or for that matter anything that is happening outside of North America then forget it. It seems like Libertarians just don't care about addressing issues outside their own comport zone. A recent interview on the Keiser report with Austrian economist Antal Fekete brought to light a significant point, the Movement has become somewhat dogmatic. The detrimental effects of this I will address later. Secondly The movement is becoming riven with scandal. Many of the bigger figures in the free-market thinkers in the 21st century fail to show a 'clean bill of health' in their private and public lives. This in itself is not an issue, and with the internet reformation giving people the ability to research the lives of academics ( private and public) in a matter of seconds. Prominent Libertarians need to address these concerns. The details of which I will not go into here. A large part of this problem is the bias of the popular media in the USA. Libertarians are easy pray for being denounced as racists, unsympathetic towards the poor and or worse. Yet very few libertarians seem ready to address issues concerned with these issues. Instead of shying away from criticism Libertarians should embrace and challenge it. Or forever try and build a movement of inherently usable foundations.

Lastly as I eluded to earlier, I would argue that the current Libertarian movement is decidedly becoming non- intellectual. Weather it's an aversion to dealing with unfamiliar issues, attempts of prominent Libertarians to address those difficult issues or the lack of good, constructive debate within the movement. Unfortunately all signs point to stagation. Free-market ideas have probably never been more popular than at any time in recent memory. But despite this, there is a dearth seriously influential libertarian thinkers in recent years. This is no to decry the amazing work achieved by many such as Walter Block, Lachman and Wendy Mcellroy to name a tiny handful. However I must conclude that overall there is no one uniting ideologue for modern Libertarianism. Part of the reason for this is the synthesis of the areas I have covered in this article. A lack of determination to address hard questions and preferences for popular short news clips or videos as opposed to academic journal articles and books. True easy to digest articles are extremely useful. And I am certainly not arguing that to be successful ideology there should be a closed off, cerebral cabal- shut away in an ivory tower. But a lack of solid academic material is seriously hampering the modern Libertarian movement.

Arguably this point proven by the very nature of the modern Libertarian Movement. I have previously discussed the over emphasis on economic issues within the Right- Libertarian Camp. This is because the Austrian Field of economics in essence, is the strongest card there is in Libertarian deck. Austrian economics has the closest thing to a uniting philosophy for all Libertarians. The major architects of modern Libertarianism are Austrian economists. Friedrich Von Hayek, Lugvig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard And Carl Menger are probably the most influential academics in Right-Libertarianism, and have made the largest contribution to its ideology. The Austrian school of economics has become the main framework of the Libertarian movement because it is academically rigorous, open to criticism and ruthlessly revised and revisited. As a result, there is a strong framework of academically accepted theory. It is work mentioning that other non-economists have made significant contributions to Libertarian ideology, Robert Nozick, Morris and Linda Tannehill, David Friedman, Ayn Rand not to mention countless academics that exist today and stretching back through the enlightenment.

In conclusion, one could argue that the current Libertarian movement has some severe weaknesses that need to be addressed in time. And I am confident that these issues will be addressed. But this will only be achieved with academic rigor and tackling difficult issues.