Fascinating stuff

Support for the Courageous State seems to be falling away:

Earlier this year, the polling company Ipsos MORI began to publish the fruits of its work on 17 years\’ worth of polling results, spread across four generations, starting with those born in 1945 or before, and ending with Generation Y. Among the most striking examples of a yawning gap between the generations was their respective responses to the claim that \”the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes\” – a signifier for the principle of redistribution, support for which has fallen among all generations over the past 20 or so years. Here, though, is the remarkable thing: whereas around 40% of those born in 1945 or before still agree, the numbers tumble as you move down the age range, reaching around half that figure among those aged 33 and under. Similarly, among Gen Y, the claim that \”the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain\’s proudest achievements\” is now supported by around 20% of people; when it comes to the prewar cohort, the figure always hovered at around 70%.

And given that democracy is the highest value (or so we\’re told) therefore that Courageous State should be dismantled.

But snark aside:

A large share of Generation Y seems to build its opinions around a liberalism that is both social and, crucially, economic.

Well, yes. If people should indeed have the freedom to fuck whoever they want then they should have the freedom to buy and sell what, with whom, ever they want.

I assume that this is some blindness on my part, some inability to empathise perhaps, but I really cannot ever understand those who argue in favour of social freedoms but not economic, nor economic freedoms but not social. I do understand those who insist that people are not worthy of either set: there are anal retentive authoritarians with us always. I disagree with them but I understand them. But I really do not get some of the more red blooded conservatives who argue for, say, free markets and capitalism but shudder at the thought of Teh Gays being allowed to not frighten the horses behind closed doors. Nor those who insist that the horses be damned and public parks should have free extra strong condoms everywhere but that allowing people to exchange goods, services and money without regulation is the beginning of the very fall into damnation.

Like everyone else I assume that it is they, not me, that is blind: why cannot they see that the two sets of freedoms are in fact the same set? What consenting adults get up to is up to consenting adults as long as they\’re not, in doing so, restricting the freedoms of other consenting adults to do the same?

22 thoughts on “Fascinating stuff”

  1. They’re wrong, but it’s because they do indeed believe that teh evil gays / teh evil capitalists do harm others.

  2. As a Generation Yer, I can’t really say that I’ve seen much liberalism from people of my generation. Those at university were almost exclusively raging socialists (except the Tarquins, who were raging conservatives), and others tend to be apathetic.

    I suspect the real reason why support for the welfare state is declining in those figures, indeed why the figures all seem to be closer to 0% amonger Gen Y, is that most of us just don’t give a shite about anything.

  3. Oxonymous; being generally non-raging about stuff would meet at least a flippant definition of classical liberalism.

  4. Well unfortunately there are very few people who really grasp liberalism, it seems to me. There are many who really think there is a hard, definable division between spheres- particularly between “the economy” (the economic sphere) and Everything Else.

    It’s fascinating to me for instance the number of nominal libertarians who passionately believe that economic values are subjective (correct) but not social values, utterly failing to recognise that the subjectivity of value knows no such boundaries. We rank morals and ethics precisely the same way as we rank prices, mentally, because they are the same thing.

    All very strange.

  5. James:

    Indeed. If everyone didn’t give a shit and didn’t vote, I’d be happy. But my contemporaries’ apathy does lead us to have governments chosen by the baby boomers, wrinklies and commie kids.

  6. It seems that most people need to be raving authoritarians about something.

    Its just a shame that politics couldn’t be organised into an interfering bastards party and a live and let live party. Both sides of the aisle have honourable members that would have made Mussolini proud.

  7. I really cannot ever understand those who argue in favour of social freedoms but not economic, nor economic freedoms but not social

    I’m sure that many of the people who do this are authoritarians who favour economic or social freedoms for non-freedom reasons; most people seem to choose which people they are on the side of, and then derive their opinions from that.

    So, for instance, if you decide you’re on the side of scruffy hippies, then favouring gay people (which then leads to favouring the political causes they espouse, like gay marriage) comes with. That’s why it took the arrival of well-dressed middle-class gay people to shift moderate conservatives onside.

    If you like businessmen, then you’re likely to favour pro-businessmen policies, which are mostly economic freedom policies, but sometimes are corporate subsidies, bailouts and so on – you oppose regulations, not because they’re a restriction on the freedom of people to trade with whom they choose, but because they’re a restriction on people you like.

    … and then there is the left-liberal; someone who has a problem with the capacity of some people (“rich and powerful”) to use private means to oppress. Conrad Russell characterised liberalism (by which he meant left-liberalism) as being about minimum oppression, not minimum government. You can argue that some things, for instance education, are liberating, and that the oppression of paying taxes to fund them is less than the liberation (the anti-oppression) gained by the educated. It gives a caution to the restriction of economic freedom, while still permitting it where necessary to obtain greater freedom.

  8. Richard G nails it I think. “Red blooded conservatives” are not in favour of low taxes/light regulation because of a principled belief in free markets and the crowding out effect of taxes. They want to be able to do what *they* want, and to hell with what Teh Gays want (until one of their own children turns out to be gay). And they don’t like paying taxes, partly out of normal selfishness, partly out of a belief that taxes are spent on “others” (immigrants/chavs/the metropolitan elite in the UK, blacks in the US).

    And while Hampstead liberals may have some the of benevolent reasons that Richard outlines, they could also have their own selfish reasons for a regulated/taxed society – public sector job adverts pay Guardian journalists wages.

  9. As someone who used to be rather less pro-market than I am now, my concerns about “too much” economic freedom were about negative externalities. In truth, I still have those concerns, but they’re now tempered by a skepticism of governments to be able to regulate appropriately and effectively, especially in a globalised market.

    Another objection might be that espoused by Michael Sandel in “What Money Can’t Buy”.

  10. Another thought – are young people less likely to believe in re-distribution because they still believe they’re going to be rich, whereas 90% of older people know they’re never going to be rich?

  11. “And they don’t like paying taxes, partly out of normal selfishness, partly out of a belief that taxes are spent on “others” (immigrants/chavs/the metropolitan elite in the UK, blacks in the US).”
    Maybe they don’t like paying taxes because so much of the money is just pissed up the wall.

  12. The attitude towards the welfare state has a deeper underlying problem.

    Generation Baby Boomer has been constantly reminded that we owe a huge to generation war. This has made it easier to tax and provide a large welfare state to look after generation war as they become pensioners. Generation baby boomer understood and largely paid with pleasure.

    Now generation war is dying off and it is generation baby boomer that will need a large tax take from generation Y. When generation Y looks at what generation baby boomer sacrificed they are going to start wondering why they owe them so much money. At which point they are likely to conclude they don’t have a debt to pay and that generation baby boomer can look after itself thank you very much.

  13. There was an amusing moment on ‘Question Time’ last night. A young audience member opined that the problem in society is that the government thinks it can do and control everything, and that this is bad. We should scale back this influence and put individual freedoms at the centre of society.

    Cue generous (if not rapturous) applause from the rest of the audience (who were residents of that well-known bastion of small-stale liberalism, Newcastle).

    Said audience, of course, spent the rest of the show calling for *more* government spending (and, by definition, more government).

    There is no consistency of thought among most people. They respond to individual soundbites, usually on an emotional level.

    It requires a bit of cold and difficult reasoning to follow the uncomfortable threads and make peace with where they end. And I think it probably goes against human nature (though please don’t put that idea in the heads of any Guardianistas, because they’ll soon have those of us who do think like that pinned on the ‘autistic spectrum’ and pumped full of drugs.)

    If one takes the view that the human race is doing quite well in spite of the emotion-led cohort being far more numerous than the logic-led, then it could, perhaps, be rightly classed as a feature, not a bug.

  14. TTG-

    Well, the basic problem is that most people think the government should get out of their way, and into the way of someone else. And should spend less, except on the services they use, and so on.

  15. “As someone who used to be rather less pro-market than I am now, my concerns about “too much” economic freedom were about negative externalities. In truth, I still have those concerns, but they’re now tempered by a skepticism of governments to be able to regulate appropriately and effectively, especially in a globalised market.”

    This is the breakthrough moment for all sensible people.

    Yes, yes, yes, it would be fantastic, wonderful, if ‘the Government’ could make all our lives nirvanic… but can it?

    It can’t even fill the potholes in the roads.

  16. @ Ian B

    True indeed. And everyone richer than them should pay more tax, whilst benefits should be withdrawn from everyone poorer.

    Sometimes (often) people just have an incredible blindness to any circumstance/experience different to their own.

  17. Interested –

    Yes, absolutely. The problem with so much political debate is that people talk only about what government should do, or what they would like it to do in an ideal world.

    But government is not a magic wand. It cannot work miracles. It is a tool made by human beings to serve human needs. The starting point for any serious debate about the role of government should be to ask what it is actually capable of doing well, because if we do not understand the limitations of this tool we cannot use it effectively. It is possible to have good government but not government that’s good at everything.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B

    It’s fascinating to me for instance the number of nominal libertarians who passionately believe that economic values are subjective (correct) but not social values, utterly failing to recognise that the subjectivity of value knows no such boundaries. We rank morals and ethics precisely the same way as we rank prices, mentally, because they are the same thing.

    Prices and ethics are hardly the same thing. But I do not understand this. Economic values are not subjective. As much as Ritchie wants to believe his nonsense, in the real world, believing in somrething, like really really hard, does not make it come true.

    You mean prices are subjective? Well perhaps so.

    However that does not mean moral values are subjective. Perhaps in theory they are. But just as with economics, when practiced in the real world, they have consequences and their own logic. You cannot pick and choose what you like and expect everything to be fine in the real world. It does not work that way. Decisions have consequences.

    Take Gay marriage. The more we devalue marriage the less that people take it seriously. Everywhere that Gay marriage has been introduced normal marriage has collapsed – although causation is hard to work out. The Northern European societies work in part because people do the responsible thing – they have put off marriage and hence children until they can afford it. That was not true of Southern Europe, nor is it true of much of the Third World. If marriage and children are not important, why bother? Why bother studying hard? It just means less sex in your prime years. Why not become, say, a bar tender or a drug dealer? How do you explain to a young man that perhaps going to school and becoming a doctor so you can marry a girl who will treat you disrespectfully and then take half your money and your house is a much better idea?

    We have seen what happens when we undermine long standing institutions like marriage. Because we have done this experiment before. Black America is there already. So is Jamaica. In fact most of the Caribbean. And Africa has never left it. We are well on our way to becoming like them as well.

    Freedom works nicely in economics. It do not work well in people’s private lives or in morality. De Tocquville pointed out that America’s economic freedom depended on the Americans social conservatism. We have decided to get rid of the latter and so the former cannot long survive either.

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    Luke

    And they don’t like paying taxes, partly out of normal selfishness, partly out of a belief that taxes are spent on “others” (immigrants/chavs/the metropolitan elite in the UK, blacks in the US).

    Taxes are spent on others. Most people do not like their money going to people who do not share their values. For instance, I am still appalled that the BBC’s Children in Need charity gave about a hundred thousand pounds to the 7-7 bombers.

    Now perhaps it is my natural selfishness or innate racism or something of that ilk, but could you please tell me why I should be happy that the BBC gave away so much money to such people? Ta, it would be appreciated.

  20. SMFS-

    Economic values are not subjective.

    Yes they are, and economists (except Marxists) have understood this since the so-called “Marginal Revolution”. It’s one of those “if you don’t understand this, you don’t understand anything” things in the economic sphere.

    Regarding your point about moral values; you’re missing the point.

    You make a very good case for why some particular value (e.g. the Western marriage model) is conducive to certain particular goals, such as social stability and economic prosperity. I have myself on multiple occasions asserted the same thing, and have even ventured to derive that model’s origins from Europe’s particular ancient agricultural and social structure. But that’s not the point.

    It comes back to one of the most fundamental results in philosophy; Hume’s is and ought. In the example you offer, (if we presume that your general contention as to the virtues of marriage are correct, we’ll take that as given), it is still dependent on the subjective preference for maximising economic output.

    To slightly cartoonify it; consider two men. One of them works very hard and becomes wealthy.

    The other does miminal work has lots of leisure time. He remains relatively poor.

    There is no way to prove which of these choices is the better; each is pursuing a different subjective preference. As such, each is likely to prefer different moral codes to guide their behaviour towards those goals.

    This is why morals vary so much across time and places and cultures; because people have in those different environments different subjective goals. There is no universal standard.

  21. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B

    Yes they are, and economists (except Marxists) have understood this since the so-called “Marginal Revolution”. It’s one of those “if you don’t understand this, you don’t understand anything” things in the economic sphere.

    You will have to explain what you mean by an economic value then. As I said, if you mean prices, sure. If you mean the fundamentals of economics, basic economic laws, no they are not. It does not matter how much an entire society believes in, say, collective agriculture. Your yields will not rise once you shoot all the competent farmers. That is a basic economic fact.

    It comes back to one of the most fundamental results in philosophy; Hume’s is and ought.

    No it does not. It comes back to the idea that some things work well in the classroom. Some things are fun thought experiments. But they have real, and usually unpredicted, consequences in the real world. So we have a working model that has produced a functioning society. If we want it to go on functioning – and perhaps we don’t – then we should avoid undermining that system.

    There is no way to prove which of these choices is the better; each is pursuing a different subjective preference. As such, each is likely to prefer different moral codes to guide their behaviour towards those goals.

    No way for the individuals concerned. But it is trivial to prove which is better for society as a whole. It is easy to show in most cases which is better for the families of these two men. And their neighbours. And all too often, which is better for these two men themselves in the long run. People who work hard and make a success of their lives rarely end up in a public park shooting up heroin, or robbing passers by or sleeping rough while drinking wood alcohol.

    This is why morals vary so much across time and places and cultures; because people have in those different environments different subjective goals. There is no universal standard.

    That is true. However that is also why 99 out of a 100 societies end up being dysfunctional sh!tholes while only one so far (with the possible exception of East Asia) has managed to produce a well fed, well educated (more or less) free, modern, industrialised functioning democratic populations. Now perhaps the Yanomamo have lots of lovely poetry or something. But their lives are almost a textbook case of brutal nasty and short. To the point that it would be child abuse to raise a child in such conditions. Or anything like them.

    And it would take a particularly stupid Leftist from an especially third rate red brick to argue that in fact those two societies were of equal value.

  22. @ SFMS

    “Everywhere that Gay marriage has been introduced normal marriage has collapsed.”

    I’ve been unable to trace any evidence for this statement and would be grateful if you could provide the relevant data.

    Tim adds: I think I would run it the other way around. A society in which marriage is less important will be willing to open access to that now less important marriage to formerly excluded groups.

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