A blog by Patrick Crozier

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August 15, 2004

What about the losers?

I am a libertarian. I believe that freedom leads to a better world in the long run. But not necessarily in the short run. If the state were removed from the picture tommorow, it is not difficult to think of people who would be losers and often big losers.

So, what should be done? Should anything be done? After all, if anything is to be done it is to be done by the state. But we know that the state screws things up, so why should we think it is any less likely to screw up the transition? And then, if compensation is the order of the day, there is a good chance that the state would be unable to pay it.

A further problem is the length of time and hassle involved in creating a fair system. In a democratic system, you don't have much time to get results. And I don't want to get rid of democracy.

Are there, perhaps, some generic ways of disengaging the state and making that transition a smooth one; a set of principles that could be applied quickly and cheaply to all situations? Or do we just have to say "tough"?

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There is no propsect of the state, or even large parts of the state disappearing any time soon so this is a complete non problem. We should urge the most radical reductions in state functions because we are engaged in a very long run intellectual battle to win adherents for the ideology of freedom. There is not going to be a libertarian equivalent of anything like the Russian Revolution. Rather each step towards freedom will bring its own rewards and we should welcome whatever we can get on the way. We are not in the position of dictating any agenda.

As Rothbard said, we might call for radicalism in theory but we know that it will be slow and progressive in actuality but if we ask for slow progression in theory then it will be in perpetuity in actuality.

Stop fretting about fictional problems of transition and get radical.

Posted by Paul Coulam on August 19, 2004

I’m not quite sure what I object to. I’m fine on radicalism – can see the benefit of that. If you make the extreme case you have also made the moderate case. I can also see the importance of being intellectual – intellectuals matter.

But we live in a democracy. If there is not going to be a revolution then we must expect democracy to move towards freedom. And if it’s going to move towards freedom then those who make those moves have to get re-elected. And that (to me) sounds like their moves towards freedom have to be able to command popular support. And seeing as (I assume) most people will not number themselves amongst the intellectuals the only thing that is going to convince them is what they see.

I also know that when I advocate the radical stuff I am going to get asked about the losers. I could say: “Well, that’s tough – the ends justify the means”. Dunno, though. Doesn’t sound good.

I am also not sure we are that far off. Things can change very quickly.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on August 20, 2004

I'm not so sure that popular support is necessary for the advancement of freedom - at least not initially. If you take more of a sniper approach and target those points that are most crucial, if you go for the low-hanging fruit and do what you can to change what you can, then you can ratchet things almost without most people noticing it is being done. Then when the benefits of what has been done become obvious, it is quite difficult for anyone to try to ratchet them back the other way.

This will all take time. I am not optimistic about what I'll see of it in my lifetime - which is frankly too short to be spent trying to convince non-believers of anything. Converts like me are not persuaded through prosletysing or other efforts to make believers out of anyone. If people ask about the short-term losers, and cannot see the long-term benefits, then there's nothing much I can say to talk them round to a rational viewpoint.

Posted by Jackie D on August 22, 2004
Converts like me are not persuaded through prosletysing...

Out of interest, what did persuade you?

Posted by Andy Wood on August 23, 2004

Andy, I was "persuaded" back to ideals I had first verbalised as a child (first memory of doing so was at 5 years old, when my father explained to me that the government wouldn't let me just up sticks and move to London someday, and I came back at him with some stuff about people being born free and the government only having whatever power people let it have, whereas individual freedom was sacred...not in so many words, obviously) through just being exposed to things like Samizdata. No one on there is trying to recruit new individualists from the left-wing - in most cases they are basically preaching to the choir, but putting the ideas out there and letting the choir debate the fine details. It's not a recruitment drive, though.

Posted by Jackie D on August 23, 2004

Why not just push to allow people to opt out of state services like health, pensions, education etc.

The biggest dagger you could get into the government would be to get them to ringfence tax revenue with spending.

Posted by Rob Read on September 14, 2004