We can explain this

There is no appetite in this country for gung-ho libertarianism and never has been.

That’s because real libertarianism has never been tried. Well, at least, not since 1909 that is and the Lloyd George budget.

34 thoughts on “We can explain this”

  1. Theophrastus (2066)

    “That’s because real libertarianism has never been tried.”

    That’s the mirror image of what the socialists and commies claim. No true Scotsman fallacy.

  2. The government, despite having countless flacks and hacks whose job it is to communicate their message to the public, is completely failing to communicate its message to the public.

    So their enemies, including the many sitting on green benches behind Liz Truss, are getting to define them instead. The last decade of unsustainably loose money and weak growth has already been redefined as ‘stability’. Instead of crying about ‘austerity’ they’re now crying about ‘trickle down economics’. It’s completely dishonest, but effective because the government is failing to set the tone.

    Mrs Thatcher’s government was ready to meet critics head on and win the argument. Mrs Truss appears paralysed, possibly because she’s still surrounded by the same people who let Boris Johnson’s arse flap in the wind.

    It’s obvious that the Bank of England, the Civil Service, the BBC, the press, the European Union, the IMF, large parts of the Tory party and our pipeline bombing allies in America want a Labour government, so they’re working hard to make that happen. I don’t think Liz and Kwasi even understand what they’re up against yet.

    We could have had a centre right generation of domination, a historic opportunity to reshape Brexit Britain into the freest and more economically dynamic country in the west of Europe. Instead, the Tories have spent 12 years delivering us such beezers as HS2, gay weddings, dinghies, Greta, lockdowns, kneeling coppers and an economically disastrous war with Russia. Oh well!

  3. I’ve come to see libertarianism inn the same way I see communism. Nice theory, same about the practice. You cant get away from people will game anything for what they perceive as their own personal advantage. Some people weird perceptions what’s in their personal advantage & far to many conflict. Any truly libertarian society would end up like any communist society. A power hierarchy. It’s always worth reading the clowns at Samizdata. Indistinguishable from a bunch of Trots other than favouring C18th philosophers over C19th.

  4. @Steve

    A lot of those were effectively follow on policies to what Labour did. HS2 was a Labour policy. In my view the reason why that one is still going is that if you cancel it you are left with the problem of coming up with a new rail policy. Yes Minister has an episode where Jim Hacker is given the job of being head of transport and soon realises what a shit job it is and works with Sir Humphrey to get out it. Far easier to keep going with the policy that the other lot came up with.

  5. bloke in spain,

    Most of this isn’t libertarianism. It’s barely pushing the needle back past Gordon Brown.

    The thing that Liz Truss should do is just ignore all this nonsense and carry on. I’ve realised over time that you shouldn’t listen to what the public ask for, beyond the broadest sense. Most of them don’t have the inclination or the imagination to think through a policy like privatising the NHS. All they really care about is their hip being replaced quickly.

    And that’s what government gets measured on. You should not listen to polls because the public will not thank the government for following their instructions, leaving the NHS in place, and their hip takes 5 years to get fixed. And if you privatise it and it works, they’ll thank you, and within a decade of it not existing no-one will want to go back.

  6. salamander,

    “A lot of those were effectively follow on policies to what Labour did. HS2 was a Labour policy. In my view the reason why that one is still going is that if you cancel it you are left with the problem of coming up with a new rail policy.”

    The correct rail policy was to do nothing.

    Apart from Timmy pointing out that they’d missed things like the value of working on a train, the predictions about the growth of rail were wrong almost at the time they wrote them. After 2013, rail growth started flattening, so all the numbers were wrong. After about 2017, peak rail was going into reverse by about 3% per year. By the time Boris signed the piece of paper, we had rail in collapse and it was becoming more and more obvious that a lot of businesses had realised they didn’t need to do it. We didn’t know what the situation was, so the sensible thing would be to wait and see how much things bounced back. That’s at about 72% of pre-Covid right now.

    And really, HS2 just doesn’t make any sense, or HS3 or whatever. It’s still too short to make much difference and too long for a commuter journey (and long commuting is largely dead) and who cares if it’s 49 or 84 minutes when you’re going to see a client for a monthly meeting? You just get up a bit earlier that day. That doesn’t even take into account that lots of “London to Birmingham” trips aren’t really London to Birmingham, but someone leaving their house in Solihull to see a client in London, or someone going from their home in Watford to a factory in Tamworth, where the old train or the car will still be faster because you don’t have the connections issue.

  7. “bloke in spain
    October 2, 2022 at 12:55 pm
    I’ve come to see libertarianism inn the same way I see communism. Nice theory, same about the practice. You cant get away from people will game anything for what they perceive as their own personal advantage. ”

    That’s . . . that is a core concept of libertarianism – public choice theory. And we’re not *anarchists*. Libertarians are not ‘go live in the woods and be utterly self-reliant’ or ‘isolated ilands’.

    We’re simply ‘the government should be as small and weak as practical’.

    The reason this never works in practices is a) there are a ton of people who can’t imagine how things would get done if the government did them and, b) you can’t steal from Peter to buy Paul’s vote – and in the end, politics attacks horrible people who do it for the power ( the public choice bit).

  8. @Bloke on M4

    There are stated reasons for a policy existing and then there are the revealed reasons. With HS2 I suspect that the stated reasons are not the real ones. There are blocks of flats being built in Birmingham that will be close to the HS2 station. These were being sold off plan and the advertising blurb was “Close to the HS2 station”.

    I suspect that an intended use of HS2 was for people to commute to London from the centre of Birmingham. Flats in Birmingham are a fraction of the cost of a similar one in London. Why bother coming up with a plan to lower the cost of housing in London when you can “solve” the problem with high speed rail?

    HS2 is now an industry all to itself. I doubt it can be cancelled now.

  9. “Tories have spent 12 years delivering us such beezers as HS2, gay weddings, dinghies, Greta, lockdowns, kneeling coppers and an economically disastrous war with Russia. Oh well!”

    Pretty sure the Tories didn’t start invading countries in Eastern Europe then annexing their conquests in a medieval-style landgrab. We could allow Europe go back to the pre-WWI norm of countries marching armies into each other to reset the borders in their preferred position, but I don’t see how this would make Britain a wealthier country.

    Fwiw it wouldn’t even matter if we had Orban as PM in terms of gas prices, which is the major way that we have been affected by the Ukraine conflict. We don’t have a direct pipeline to Russia. So since we buy in the European market, and the European prices have shot up due to their sanctions regime, we would have got the price contagion too. Same for how global oil prices have gone up, another thing we could have done little about – aside from buying some discounted Russian oil shipments, which wouldn’t make a huge amount of difference, while hoping we didn’t get hit by EU/US sanctions for doing so.

  10. Agammamon,

    The one that’s always odd to me is that the evidence for markets being better is right in front of everyone’s eyes. Anyone over the age of 45 can see that phones, supermarkets, TV, maps, music delivery and flights all got better. Literally, when Open Skies came in, flight prices collapsed overnight when you could start going Easyjet or Ryanair to Brussels instead of the cosy cartel of BA and Sabena. You can see how Internet Explorer was a piece of garbage, with a disbanded team until Firefox came along and forced Microsoft to pull their socks up.

    On the other hand, trains are as shit as they were 30 years ago. Because well, who else can you go to when you want to get into London at 08:30?

  11. I’m firmly in favour of the government should be as small and weak as practical, Agammamon. In fact smaller & weaker to err on the cautious side.
    But I am extremely hostile to the idea of rights (except in very limited legal sense). Which seem to be a big libertarian thing. Personally I A) think they don’t exist & B) are very dangerous concept the promulgation of which is responsible for a great deal of current grief. There are only obligations. Which may be voluntary or compelled.
    You do not have a right to life. As the trigger on my weapon can demonstrate. And an obligation on me not to pull it cannot be compelled. I chose not to, of my own free will, in my observence of my obligation not to off my fellow citizens on a whim. You might say you have an obligation not to piss me off. The law doesn’t come into this. Any penalty I might chose to suffer is after the act.
    No rights were invoked in the writing of the above.

  12. BoM4 – Beats me what problem HS2 is supposed to solve that doesn’t include “how do we most efficiently set fire to a pile of money?”, but salamander’s suggestion is pleasing because it’s at least a rational reason.

    Anon – whatever you think of Britain’s slavish obeisance to American foreign policy and to what degree that deliberately formented the current conflict, it’s an unarguable fact that we made Ukraine Our Business, much to our current and future cost.

    Ukraine is not a neighbour, or a country we have close cultural or historical ties to, or a country we have important trade links to, or a natural ally, or the Lone Beacon of Hope In This Weary World, or any of that guff.

    Ukraine is a shithole.

    The kind of place where hospital staff steal medicines from cancer patients. The kind of place where unironically venerating WW2 war criminals is a source of national pride. The kind of place that currently has busloads of fake “refugees” regularly hopping across the border to Poland and Germany to collect benefits they aren’t entitled to on behalf of criminal gangs in Ukraine (one of the few things Ukraine excels at is racketeering). Ukraine is like if Liverpool was a country, it’s a Mad Max Borat Eyebrows On Their Cheeks Gypsy Nightmare. Those middle class twats with the little blue and yellow flags have no idea what they’re supporting.

    We should have no business in Ukraine, beyond normal civilian commerce (tho, as they were already the poorest and most corrupt country in Europe *before* the invasion, pickings are slim). We live on an island, there’s no good reason why we need to be involved in overseas wars all the time. Our business should be business.

    Yes, I’m aware of how the European energy market works (used to work, before the genius plan to sanction European energy imports). Excelsior! To poverty!

  13. The kind of place where hospital staff steal medicines from cancer patients.
    Steve. The UK NHS does this on a far vaster scale than the Ukrainians could dream of. What’s the NHS supposed to do with the umpteen billions it costs? Provide medicine for cancer patients. Yet the people who run it syphon so much off to pay the administrative classes (including themselves) in made up jobs that Brits can’t even get into a hospital to be diagnosed with cancer, let alone not get medicines for it.
    The UK is actually a very corrupt country. It’s just that corruption is so thoroughly institutionalised that it’s virtually invisible. You’re just used to it.

  14. @Steve

    Absolutely everything you wrote is irrelevant to my point except “Yes, I’m aware of how the European energy market works (used to work, before the genius plan to sanction European energy imports). Excelsior! To poverty!”

    It doesn’t matter what you think the UK’s foreign and defence orientation should be regarding Ukraine/Russia. Your original point that that the Tories had taken us into an ‘economically disastrous war with Russia’ is economicallyilliterate. Suppose the Tories had instead declared an alliance with Russia, or at least taken a pro-Russian position. Perhaps just implicitly pro-Russian, by quietly dropping our traditional (post-WW2) opposition to country’s annexing swathes of their neighbours. Suppose the UK imposed no sanctions. Supoose it instead pursued trade deals with Russia. None of those possibilities would count as the UK going to ‘economic war’ with Russia, though it would have caused significant friction with the EU and US. What would have been the benefit of that?

    Would we have gained from the Tories following the will of all that Russian London Laundromat funding from which they allegedly benefit, and adopting a pro-Putin position? Well no because our gas prices are set by the European market, which has shot up. And global oil prices, which have shot up. UK trade with Russia is tiny and their economy isn’t all that large either so it’s not like we would have made spectacular gains from trying to reorient ourselves towards Russia economically, while the economic losses from any trouble this stirs up with our larger trade partners (even if we didn’t suffer from secondary sanctions, it would make eg progress on trade deals far less likely) would massively outweigh it. Unlike Hungary or Serbia we can’t get sweetheart deals on Russian gas in return for acquiescing to their plans in Ukraine, because we don’t have a pipeline connection to Russia and quantities of LNG that Russia coukd supply us with are economically irrelevant.

    If you wanna blame the collective West for Russia’s actions in Ukraine or for the economic blowback, then be my guest – I know you won’t accept counter-arguments like the damage to peace, prosperity and trade from regressing to a world where invasions and land-grabs are A-OK but at least there’s some internal logic to your position. If you want to blame the Tories specifically then that’s nuts. Even you are well aware, judging from what you said, that no position that BoJo and friends took on Ukraine would have led to the UK avoiding the spike in energy costs. And I think even you would accept that a pro-Russian trade policy would carry more risks and costs to the UK than it would bring benefits. So blaming ‘the Tories’ for the energy price rise just doesn’t make any sense. Sure we took part in sanctions, as it happens, but if we hadn’t then do you honestly think the US and EU would have followed our lead? Even if the UK had the power to set a completely independent orientation to our current allies – which given our geographic and economic entanglements would be tricky, perhaps the kind of thing easier for a country with 120+ million population and a bit more international weight to throw around – I can’t see how the UK could have compelled the EU and US to do as we wanted and avoid upsetting the international energy markets. Only blaming the West collectively makes any sense on that front, and that goes well beyond the Tories.

  15. BiS – The UK NHS does this on a far vaster scale than the Ukrainians could dream of. What’s the NHS supposed to do with the umpteen billions it costs?

    No, I mean literally stealing their morphine and watching them die in agony. There’s a qualitative and quantitative difference between passive aggressive UK style crap officialdom and a post-Soviet kleptocracy where everyone is ripping each other off, all the time.

    We are still – still, mind – a high trust society, and there are plenty of horrible things in our society. Low trust societies are horrible in ways we can barely begin to imagine. At least if you have a heart attack in central London, you can be reasonably sure the ambulance driver won’t demand a bribe to take you to the hospital.

    Anon – Your original point that that the Tories had taken us into an ‘economically disastrous war with Russia’ is economicallyilliterate.

    No it isn’t, it’s what happened.

    Btw you don’t need to be a genius to have foreseen that sanctioning the world’s second largest hydrocarbons exporter and fighting a war against Europe’s energy supplier would be bad for Britain, given Britain’s exposure to both global energy prices and the EU economy. A blind squirrel could’ve told you that.

    Re: the rest of your comments, you’re making a faulty assumption that we just sort of “went along” with the suicide sanctions. We were – and still are – the prime cheerleader for applying an economic shotgun to Germany’s knees. Even though we know that’s also ruinous for us.

    We’ve also been up to no good in Ukraine since long before the violent coup in 2014. We’ve been part of the international tug of war over the place since 2008 at least, when NATO declared Ukraine would be joining the nuclear tipped alliance (why?). Even if you believe Ukraine is a big girl who can kiss who she wants, as long as it’s not that mean old drunk Russia, it’s simply factual to say that our policy towards the place for many years has not necessarily been oriented in a direction towards peace and harmony in that part of the world, no? A neutral Ukraine, call it a sop to Russia’s crazy paranoia, would’ve cost us nothing and bought Ukranians everything.

    But, no. Ukraine: Chewtoy of the Superpowers was the scheduled episode.

    So blaming ‘the Tories’ for the energy price rise just doesn’t make any sense.

    If we’re really unlucky, we’ll get to blame them for more than that. We’ll blame them for the power cuts too.

    As it is, we’re on the precipice because of one of their other ruinous obsessions: Greenshit.

    We didn’t need to become highly dependent on gas, and thus gas prices (and to some extent, foreign supply). The dash for CCG was a government choice, designed to make windfarms look like they’re contributing. Because we’ve got to carpet the country in windfarms, and thus snort up all those lovely rents, it’s Green, innit. Only windfarms have the small problem that, apart from the rent seeking bit they’re completely worthless – intermittent and unpredictable electricity is of no use to beast nor Person of Gender. Can’t run an advanced techological society on the basis of crossing your fingers when you press a light switch. So we’re hooked on gas – burning a non-renewable fossil fuel, because wind power is the future.

    How many years have these worthless frauds been in power, and how many new coal or nuclear power stations have been built in that time?

    Thanks, conservatives! At least they conserved food banks, I spose.

  16. Our gas prices are high because the people we buy gas from have the ability to sell their gas to other people, so we are in a bidding war with those other people. The way to reduce our gas prices is only buy gas from suppliers who cannot sell to other people.

    The gas we buy from Norway is sold at international market prices because they also have a pipeline to continential Europe. Destroy that pipeline (just kidding GCHQ!), and Norway’s only choice is to sell to us or sell nothing.

    This has actually been implemented in the past. Near me is a gas-powered electricity generating station. The gas wells they use were deliberately not connected to the gas grid to actively prevent the wells opting to make more money supplying the grid instead of the electricity station.

    This should be borne in mind with any development of fracking gas. Any of it put into the UK grid has the ability to be exported, so will become priced at whatever the maximum export price is. All our international gas pipelines should have one-way valves so the gas can only flow inwards.

  17. All our international gas pipelines should have one-way valves so the gas can only flow inwards.
    Sure – if you let me control the price you can charge for your products (including, say, export controls) or labours so I can use the expropriated surplus to distribute largess to favoured voting blocks (which won’t include you, tough luck).

  18. “All our international gas pipelines should have one-way valves so the gas can only flow inwards.”

    Yours, maybe. There may be pressing engineering considerations why they specifically do not have those. Doubly so for one-way valves.

  19. As one of those pricks who reads Samizdata, I’d like to defend libertarianism with this simple observation. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, that a government touches it will eventually fuck up. Surely the lesson to take from this is that the less we expect a government to do, the fewer opportunities they will have to fuck things up. That is why I’m a libertarian. It’s pure pragmatism.

  20. An illustration of how things get worse “by making them better”.

    Some years ago, my little local hospital was closed down and reopened as a clinic. One of the service it provides is blood tests.
    I used to walk, form in hand, take a number and watch Homes Under the Hammer on their telly until I was called. Often in and out in a few minutes, sometimes took half hour. But was a good system and I would take a paper in or use their free wifi while waiting.

    During Covid they switched to compulsory online or telephone booking of tests. The URL is rather complex and the wokflow is poorly thought out. They have retained this system and I had to book a test for the first time in 2 1/2 years. I now have to wait TWO WEEKS before being seen.

  21. “There is no appetite in this country for gung-ho libertarianism and never has been.”

    What prompted this outburst? Scrapping 45p tax? Lol

  22. “As one of those pricks who reads Samizdata, I’d like to defend libertarianism with this simple observation. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, that a government touches it will eventually fuck up. Surely the lesson to take from this is that the less we expect a government to do, the fewer opportunities they will have to fuck things up. That is why I’m a libertarian. It’s pure pragmatism.”

    I’ve strangely never heard of Samizdata, but will give it a read. Mises.org is too US centric.

  23. Steve,

    “BoM4 – Beats me what problem HS2 is supposed to solve that doesn’t include “how do we most efficiently set fire to a pile of money?”, but salamander’s suggestion is pleasing because it’s at least a rational reason.”

    It’s not entirely irrational, but the problem is that very few people do a 49 minute train journey to work. That tends to require another 10-15 minutes of connections at each end, so it’s something like 2’30 of travel every day. And then it’s going to cost you something like £30/day in rail fares. These were also the first journeys to get replaced by remote work years ago because there was a huge incentive if you had to spend 2’30/day travelling to find someone else to work for.

  24. Kaneda,

    “As one of those pricks who reads Samizdata, I’d like to defend libertarianism with this simple observation. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, that a government touches it will eventually fuck up. Surely the lesson to take from this is that the less we expect a government to do, the fewer opportunities they will have to fuck things up. That is why I’m a libertarian. It’s pure pragmatism.”

    I like to point out to people that I was quite a Labour supporter in the mid-90s. It was doing a government contract that made me see how bad government was, first hand, and at about the same time, stumbling across PJ O’Rourke.

    And the thing that finally shifted me to being full on libertarian was lockdown, where I saw how fast self-organising groups, what we might call civil society, dealt with the problem compared to the state. People getting together on Facebook and organising for food to be dropped off within 24 hours, while the state didn’t even respond to volunteers within a fortnight and then sent out stuff to watch about safeguarding. At that point, I realised that just scrapping the welfare state was a good idea.

  25. ” Beats me what problem HS2 is supposed to solve that doesn’t include “how do we most efficiently set fire to a pile of money?”,”

    Strike ‘set fire to’ and substitute ‘trouser’. Create a pile of money from government and plunder it. Cost overruns? Delays? All the better.

    And that’s why it should firstly have been offered to private enterprise to finance and build.
    And why it should be cancelled without regard to sunk costs, immediately. And if anybody complains they can take over the project, finance and all.

  26. rhoda,

    “And that’s why it should firstly have been offered to private enterprise to finance and build.”

    The A419 from Swindon past Cirencester was built that way. The government pays the owners for every vehicle that goes on it.

    That’s how HS2 should have been built. We know there are some external benefits, so, work out a fraction of a value of those and offer that as a subsidy to someone to build it in the form of a payment per ticket.

    It’s not far off how a lot of buses are run. The councils don’t run the buses (thank god) they give money to Stagecoach or Arriva to run a route so that kids can get to school, old Mrs Miggins can go to town sometimes.

    The problem is that I doubt anyone would have bitten with HS2. There just isn’t much benefit to reducing a train journey from 84 to 49 minutes. Leisure travellers don’t care that much – it’s still fast enough for a day out. Business travellers doing a monthly meeting with a client aren’t put off at 84 minutes. And 49 minutes is still too long for commuting.

    The only route that might makes sense is something like London to Newcastle, because 3’30 is the sort of time where people will have to pay for a hotel or fly, and taking that down below 2 hours would mean you wouldn’t need it. So, you save £100 on business costs. But everyone in government overrates the value of business travel. It’s something like 10% of all rail travel. Building a dual carriageway or two across Wales or through Wiltshire would do more for the economy than rail.

  27. I’d say one of you’re problems in your assessment of the situation is that you’re wedded to the propaganda that was dished out after Barbarossa that the USSR/Russia were on the same side in WW2. They weren’t. They weren’t in WW1 either. After the fall of France Germany was fighter a war against 2 enemies. Firstly the UK/Empire – later to become a UK/Empire/USA alliance (FTSOC the Allies). Secondly, with Barbarossa, the USSR/Russia. The fact that the Allies & the USSR had common cause against Germany did not mean that the UK & the USSR were on the same side. There were 3 sides in that war. The UK’s enmity with Russia goes back to the Crimean War & has continued off & on ever since. It’s not particularly an enmity that the UK has chosen. It’s a response the Russia’s expansionary ambitions in Eurasia. Into the failing Ottoman Empire with Crimea. Into an Independent Finland in the late 1930s. Then Poland. All of Eastern Europe at the end of WW2. It was Russian expansionary ambitions sparked off WW1. It’s been a perfectly reasonable position to take, shared by many other European nations over the period. Russian expansion isn’t good for European peace & prosperity. So Bunter’s cheerleading for Ukraine isn’t some Bunter on the hoof innovation. It’s a continuation of UK policy goes back getting on for 2 centuries. As was the UK being party to offers to Ukraine to join NATO.And Party to EU offers or EU membership.
    Now you’re welcome to disagree with the policy. But don’t try to pretend it commenced at the collapse of the USSR, or the seizure of Crimea in ’14 or Putin’s Ukraine excursion this year. There are generations have been born, lived & died at the FO pursing this policy since powdered wigs were in fashion for men.

  28. Every high speed rail connection of less than a couple of hundred km, between a dominant major city and a lesser one has resulted in the latter becoming a dormitory suburb of the former. I know people (and there were lots of them) who moved out of Paris to Le Mans when the TGV Atlantique opened.

  29. “bloke in spain”

    Fair enough there – it why we’ve had to clarify the difference between ‘negative rights’ and ‘positive rights’ – the former meaning ‘things you are not allowed to interfere with my access too’ and the latter meaning ‘things we will enslave someone to provide you’.

    The ‘right to housing’ just means to us that the government and others are not allowed to get in the way of voluntary transactions while to others it means the taxpayer must be yoked to provide it to you.

    But, in the end, I think ‘right’ as we define it and ‘obligation’ as you say, are pretty close to the same thing.

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