Compare and contrast


Now I have nothing against participatory democracy. Or localisation. Or patient involvement. All can be of benefit. But this is a speech by a man who yearns for power and who thinks it is all that matters in life. And he’s wrong. My own experience tells me that most people are more than willing to forego decision making on many issues to others, most of whom they will consider to be experts on issues where they need advice. And others – very many others – simply don’t want power. …….It’s not just that not everyone wants power, but that some are wise enough to realise it is not for them to have. They don’t want to, and maybe can’t, make the decisions that power demands of them. Which is absolutely fine. They can manages the consequences of power, implement the decisions taken with considerable ability and prepare information that informs the decision making process. But to pretend all want power is absurd. Some (in fact, I’ll be candid, experience suggests that this is many) don’t want to be in charge on a whole wide range of issues. I think none the less of them for that. I just think it’s absurd to pretend they have a quality they don’t possess when they have plenty of others to celebrate instead.

Deirdre McCloskey:

One suspects that the conservatives of left and right don’t much like the “mass” and its badly informed preferences. Let us take care of you, they cry. Let tradition celebrated by wise elders, or planning implemented by wise experts, guide you, oh you sadly misled mass. (The ruling lords and the monopolists view the clerisy’s conservative theorizing with delight, resting assured that the elders and the planners will inadvertently shield their rents.)

So, which form of liberalism would you prefer?

25 thoughts on “Compare and contrast”

  1. I agree with Richie that some don’t want power – I don’t want to tell others what to do, so that includes me.

    More importantly, I don’t want other people (including, maybe especially Richie) telling me what to do.

    People obsessed with authority, control & power generally just want to take freedom away from others, always in the guise of ‘doing good’.

  2. I think I’m with Deirdre.

    Generally though, being a liberal (or libertarian, whatever) to me means wanting nobody, including myself, to have power. Or at least to have as little as possible. I’ve never yearned for it myself, and am suspicious of anyone who does, even if they look as if they intend to do something notionally good with it.

  3. Guys, you’re maybe missing the true horror of Ritchie’s world view here:

    “It’s not just that not everyone wants power, but that some are wise enough to realise it is not for them to have”

    “They don’t want to, and maybe can’t, make the decisions that power demands of them”

    “…most people are more than willing to forego decision making on many issues to others, most of whom they will consider to be experts on issues where they need advice”

    We are not talking about people relinquishing the power-taking, the decision-making that is actually their right; that would be one thing. No, it is Ritchie deciding that they shouldn’t have the very right itself because it is just not for them. The structures and apparatus of the Courageous State follow naturally.

  4. @ Ironman, I read it differently from you. He is saying that some/many/most *choose to forego* power and the decision making that entails.

    Which is kinda OK by me: you can ask me to choose for you, and we can enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    In fact it’s such a good idea, we should come up with a name for the mechanism whereby people voluntarily choose to enter into transaction of mutual benefit. What say we call it a ‘Market’?

  5. I’m going to go 100% in favour of Richie on this one.
    There are indeed things that i’m either incapable or can’t be bothered about making decisions on. There’s people much more competent to do this on my behalf. I give it to them & let them get on with it.
    If they get it wrong I take out my displeasure on their hide with something hard & heavy. As long as Richie is happy to go along with this principal, he’s my entire support.

  6. BiS

    “I give it to them & let them get on with it.
    If they get it wrong I take out my displeasure on their hide with something hard & heavy”

    But that’s just the point: YOU don’t get to make that decision under the Courageous State. Ritchie, not you, has decided that there are some things you just can’t handle and so the structures should reflect that. Participatory Democracy & Localism, these are not axiomatically good in his world. The Courageous State decides whether it should be left permanently to experts and then THE STRUCTURES FOLLOW.

  7. For example, this comment from Mr Andrew Dickie on Ritchie’s blog:

    “REAL choice in most areas of life is a function of trust – the chooser’s ability to trust the provider.

    As a school governor and local politician, I always said the ONLY choice the parent really neede was that of knowing that their LOCAL school could meet the particular needs of their particular child(ren), and as Vice-chair of the School Organisation Committee, got that principle written into the School Organization Plan”

    The only choice they NEEDED – and I decide what they need!

    By all means cede particular powers if you wish. Don’t, however, forget that they are YOUR rights and don’t FFS give them to people like this.

  8. Oh i do so wholeheartedly agree with you, ironman. But Richie obviously doesn’t. Just pointing out, I’m entirely in favour of giving his way a try as long as he & his cronies are equally in favour of them suffering severe retribution if they get it wrong.
    it’s all about incentives, isn’t it?

  9. For instance, I’m sure, if our school governor there was introduced to the educational benefits of a baseball bat in the nads,, he’d prove an extremely effective & diligent governor not liable to make unconsidered decisions. Almost positive on the matter.

  10. Ironman, he reckons the personalisation agenda (ie letting the elderly etc decide what they want, where they want to live) is some kind of neoliberal plot.

    Here is a little conversation I had with him a couple of years ago.

    it’s really stunning how little he respects the ability of others to make decisions for themselves. He’s be a laughing stock if put in charge of adult social services anywhere in the country.

  11. Adrian,

    That was a fascinating exchange (in the link).

    To your credit, I suspect even he recognised that he had probably wandered off, in that he didn’t then insist on having the last word.

  12. Adrian

    Thank you for this.

    I really do hope that for once Murphy just chose to cut and run. If not, if he left it where it was because he thought his point was self-evident, then we really can see what a little fascist he is.

    Can I just ask anyone reading this, anyone, is it me? Am I completely off my rocker in thinking that letting people choose where they wish to live is so obvious it shouldn’t need a discussion?

  13. @ Ironman

    Obviously anecdotal, but I can’t imagine that a single person I know – left or right, libertarian or (even very) authoritarian – could agree with Richard Murphy on that..

    I think he might have bowled himself a curve ball on that one..!!

  14. @john77
    ” But Chris Smith did not get the treatment suggested when he went to Somerset.”
    It comes under my party’s plans for caring, sharing government. Look for it in our forthcoming manifesto.

  15. look Ritchie is simply a democrat in the Aristotelian sense. If one reads Aristotle’s “the politics” you can see that he is arguing for a democratic regime where only the wealthy elites can take decisions. Aristotle argues that the poor are too busy ekeing out a living to be all that interested in making decisions about running the city. The rich have the time and more importantly the education and knowledge to do the job properly. Aristotle also argues that as the rich are already rich they won’t use political power to further line their pockets (Perhaps ancient Greeks were different, maybe they believe all that virtue crap that Aristotle goes on about etc etc).

    The point that Ritchie fails to understand is that in many ways representative democracy (as opposed to direct democracy) achieves Aristotle ideal. For the most part people who are elected to government (while not rich) are educated and have the time to do the job of governing.

    Ritchie, being educated – perhaps beyond his intellectual capacity to deal with that knowledge- and wealthy, no doubt considers himself part of the natural ruling class, what once were called Aristocrats.

    Of course where it all falls down is that humans being what they are, once they are in power they make every decision to (a) get re-elected and (b) secure a lucrative role when they get kicked out by helping out their mates and lining their pockets.

    Unfortunately the incentives are all wrong. I think Douglas Adams was right when he said something about people who want power are usually the worst people to have it and government should be by lottery amongst those who want nothing to do with it

  16. I think the thing is, this comes down to the fact that people cleave to particular philosophies due to a few basic assumptions about reality. One fundamental difference between authoritarians and libertarians is an assumption about competence. Libertarians believe that people in general are competent (to run their own lives). Authoritarians believe that people are generally incompetent.

    That doesn’t mean a libertarian believes that everyone is competent, but starts from the assumption that a person is, and requires good reason to believe otherwise. For an authoritarian, the inverse is true; this is why for instance they always expand credentialisation into ever more areas of life, on the assumption that persons are incompetent at [any particular thing] until having been proved otherwise by a credential.

    Hence, authoritarians always seek control structures to manage the incompetent. Libertarians prefer self government by the competent. It is hard for these two points of view to find a common ground, for obvious reasons.

  17. Would you then, ian, accept there could be such a thing as an anti-libertarian who believes that people are incapable of managing even their own lives with any competence? Which certainly makes them totally incompetent of running anyone else’s. You only have to look at the personal affairs of our political see this demonstrated in glorious technicolor.
    For today’s triumph of inadequacy over common sense i give you the immigration minister who employed the illegal immigrant. Would you trust these people not to saw off the branch they were sitting on?.

  18. BIS-

    Hmm, possibly. I think the Libertarian position is that people are competent to run their own lives, but that does not confer competence to run other peoples’ lives.

    I think we must draw a distinction between competence and expertise. Competence is mere capability. It is not a claim that they will make the best “possible” decisions, because this implies that what is the best decision in any situation can be objectively determined. Which if you accept that value is subjective, is a meaningless standard.

    It is by measuring real decisions against this imaginary gold standard of decision making that authoritarians prove to themselves that others are incompetent. The problem is that the supposed objectively correct decision is no such thing; it is merely what the authoritarian thinks should have been the correct decision; by his own, subjective standards.

    And this is the basic libertarian argument then I think; it’s not whether or not the immigration minister is a buffoon, or makes mistakes. Everyone is some level of buffoon, and everyone makes mistakes.It is that everyone else has to endure his value system- for which he is only competent to decide for himself.

  19. Ian B ad BiS, authoritarians always end up surprised when the incompetent proles act in thier own self interest and get on with making decisions that are right for them. This is why over the long term authoritarian countries always end up collapsing

  20. ian. maybe I’m drawn to my “anti-libertarian” (as in anti-hydrogen, sign change but still the stuff you can put in balloons) because my experience of libertarians is the crowd over at Sammys. Levels of competence in rational thinking there you wouldn’t trust to feed the cat.

  21. So Much For Subtlety

    Offshore Observer – “authoritarians always end up surprised when the incompetent proles act in thier own self interest and get on with making decisions that are right for them. This is why over the long term authoritarian countries always end up collapsing”

    Democracy has survived in the US for about 200 years. An average Chinese dynasty, and they were all autocratic as could be, could expect at least 250 years. The US has done very well for a democracy as well. Look at France. Their present Constitution is actually one of their longest lasting. It dates back fifty odd years

  22. I’m with BiS, who is channelling CS Lewis: why argue over whether some people are fit only to be slaves, when there is no-one who is fit to be master?

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