It\’s very strange to see this criticism coming from the British left

Respect to Steve Hilton, the mysterious genius behind David Cameron\’s \”big society\”: his widely ridiculed vision has already lasted a good year longer than any of its critics predicted. Few thought it would make it past the election campaign, during which the power of this phrase to send voters into a state of catatonic indifference was so resoundingly demonstrated that there was speculation among lifelong insomniacs that a cure might finally be in sight.

Yet to judge by the energy with which Cameron instantly began promulgating the new Hiltonia, you would think every one of the coalition\’s inadvertent supporters had spent the election campaign pleading for the right to take over libraries, post offices, buses and all the other services whose new, amateur-run status will, according to the big society\’s prophets, transform our blighted land into a place of universal philanthropy.

For all of these things which are so valued, the libraries, buses, yes, even the post offices, did in fact start out as things voluntarily done by private individuals. As did unemployment insurance, pensions, sickness insurance, building societies, schools and….well, the list goes on.

And so of course did armies, police forces and criminal law.

That we\’ve found out by trial and error that giving the State a monopoly of that latter set is a good idea is one thing. But to then go on to say that everything which the State does currently do/monopolise is thus also a good idea is another.

What actually is wrong with attempting to rerun a few of these decisions? On things which may or may not be better done by the little platoons and those which must be done with the coercive powers of taxation?

After all, if we find that people are not willing to do certain thing voluntarily, that they must be coerced into them, this is evidence that people do not value these things sufficiently to have them done. And if people do not value them suficiently to have them done then perhaps they shouldn\’t be done at all?

And yes, I would extend this to armies: if a State cannot convince, without coercion, enough of its people to fight for it then perhaps that State should indeed fall. Conscription being the evidence that not enough people will risk their lives for that way of life.

Perhaps the same should be true of libraries? If not enough people will voluntarily contribute to them, run them, then why should people be involuntarily taxed in order to provide them?

Both Boots and Andrew Carnegie showed that there are alternative and viable models.

8 thoughts on “It\’s very strange to see this criticism coming from the British left”

  1. That was the old left, where they thought that less hierarchy would produce better results.

    The modern left just wants more state provision and rationing to make sure that everybody is forced to make do with the same.

  2. The state can do some impressive things with access to easy credit and tax revenues. However, it’s generally pretty awful at deciding which impressive thing to do where, and it’s even worse at reacting to change. That’s why the state shouldn’t be in the business of running libraries; it might do reasonably well when more libraries is obviously a good thing, but it’s always going to be playing catch up to the ideas and institutions that emerge bottom up.

  3. This argument rests on the shaky foundation that the state can only pay for things ,like libraries, that people say they want by taxation. As all Greenshirts , Social Crediters ,Kibbo Kift cohorts know the state can create its credit the same same way the banks do :by dishing out cheques without the bother of having a lot of savings to back them up. (They could fund the libraries and everything else with quantitative easing cheques sent to them rather than, of all people, the banks as at present). As the interesting poet Ezra Pound said (more or less): why recycle money through taxation when you can make it brand new? Very wise words.

  4. So as there was conscription – very much so- for WW2 which you would do without – if you had you’re way would you be speaking german by now?

  5. If you can’t get a enough people to fight for a nation, then maybe that nation isn’t worth fighting for.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    john malpas – “So as there was conscription – very much so- for WW2 which you would do without – if you had you’re way would you be speaking german by now?”

    Australia refused to conscript during WW2. So did Ireland – which was neutral but that did not stop lots of Irish men fighting. In fact I don’t think conscription was applied in the North.

    All in all, I don’t think there is a lot of evidence conscription did much except protect those that did not want to fight.

    Agammamon – “If you can’t get a enough people to fight for a nation, then maybe that nation isn’t worth fighting for.”

    That may well be true, but Britain is worth fighting for. We just don’t have leaders worth fighting for, or capable of making a case for why we should fight. Nations rot from the head down. But for a short while the nation is worth saving even if they have been betrayed by their leaders. The rot will reach the middle class in the end.

  7. DBC Reed – a state can’t run a library with printed money. Running a library requires real resources – eg librarians’ time, paper and ink and writers and publishers’ time to produce the books (or the equivalent for the internet), a building to put the books in, electricity to light the building, etc, etc. When a state prints money and then uses this newly printed money to hire librarians and pay publishers and the electricity bill and so forth, this means that real resources are being consumed running a library and there are less real resources to spend on other things. So while the economy gains a library, it loses something somewhere else. This might be good if there’s a recession and a lot of unemployed people capable and willing to become librarians and publishers, but if we’re at full capacity then at best there’s no net gain.

    Furthermore, the money paid out to these librarians and publishers and etc gets spent by them. If there are not sufficient additional market goods being created by adding the libraries (perhaps through public good benefits), this means inflation – more money than market goods. While some inflation, perhaps 5% annually, might be good for the economy (I am not a macroeconomist), in general, this means that some real wealth is tranferred to the librarians and publishers and what not, and thus from the rest of society. Basically the spending power of librarians and other people involved in supplying libraries goes up, and the spending power of everyone else goes down to compensate. Which is also what taxation does.

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