Monday, November 05, 2007

Bloggertarianism redux

I was thinking about Mr Eugenides post about Conservativism v Libertarianism (of which, more later) when I saw Chris Dillow's response to Devil's Kitchen who says...

"I have a problem with this whole "liberal-Left" issue: to me, the terms are near incompatible. Many of us have long argued that the terms Left and Right are effectively meaningless, and that the actual fight is between those who are statist...and those who are free-market libertarians."

I fear that Chris is too patient in his defence of the term liberal left. He could, far more easily, gone on the offensive against the notion of a liberal right.

You can see the problem with it by revisiting Mr Eugenedes' point. Bloggertarians, as he points out, will always gravitate towards something pragmatic, right-wing and populist like the Conservative Party or possibly UKIP, because they don't have any positions of their own that could be sold to a sceptical public. They have a critique, of course - and the bloggertarian position is absolutely stupendous as a standpoint from which to oppose something.

But if you ask a right-wing libertarian to explain what they would actually do on any given subject (with an audience consisting of some members of the general public, as opposed to wonks from the Adam Smith Institute) ... well, don't hold your breath waiting for anything coherent.

Here's what I mean. Have a quick look around a few bloggertarian sites. It's easy enough to find out what they are against. In the example of 'law and order', generally it's...
  • CCTV
  • ID Cards
  • DNA databases
  • Police powers in general (though the distinction between bloggertarians and libertarians is that they only oppose police powers where they are endorsed by a Labour PM).
Yet, if any of the bloggertarians were to break the habit of a lifetime and provide us with a libertarian - or right-liberal - prescription, you can bet your arse that it would not increase the liberty that we enjoy in any way.

For example, let's look at what a more libertarian alternative to a publicly funded and accountable police force would look like. How will it be funded, in whose interests will it operate as a consequence? What powers will this atomised entity be provided with? How would the end of socially-funded policing impact upon the environment that we live in? Would there be less CCTV? Less by way of gated communities and general obstructions in the way of the free individual walking about where they please?

I don't think so.

Would commercial risk aversion demand that we have more robust means of proving our identity? Will well-heeled lawyers be able to demand access to any information held by organisations that verify our identity, should such organisations exist? Will we wish to provide these atomised entities that we pay to look after our personal security some kind of legal leeway to make mistakes? Or will every standard of the law apply to them even though we expect them to constantly place themselves in situations that demand the use of force or coercion in our interests?

Will we be a more, or less regulated society? Will we be more or less intruded upon? Will life generally be fairer? Will our initial choice of womb be any less of a future-defining decision than it is now?

In this case, I'm pretty sure that market liberalism would result in less of what most people would call liberty.

In the meantime, any examples of bloggertarians not simply being negativists would be greatly appreciated.


Anthony said...

I wouldn't say that it's always pure negativity, although it often is. Sometimes it's mad half-thought-through policy prescriptions, such as "why don't they just send them all back/privatise the NHS/leave the EU and hang Peter Mandelson. They can get away with that at least in part because there's no thread of accountability - they neither need to be consistent between one opinion and another, nor defend the practicability of what they're suggesting. A bit like the media, really.

Tom said...


So, am I worried about Liberal Conspiracy? No, for I don't believe that they have anything particularly original to say.

How's that for self-awareness?

donpaskini said...

'Devil's Kitchen' is not merely a negativist. He has, for example, an 'economic policy' (it's linked to from the front page and is in four parts). It's a demented version of flat tax and citizen's income, spoiled only (well, not only, but primarily, by his inability to do basic arithmetic). You really do have to read it for yourself, but here's a taste of it:

"For instance, there are now roughly 850,000 more people working for the government than there were in 1997 (and let's assume that they are all extraneous). Let's assume an average salary of £30,000: that comes to £25.5 billion; if you sack 'em, that's a saving of £490 million a week."

(In case you are wondering, the phrase 'let's assume' is one which he uses quite a lot, along with 'I'm not an economist but').

urko said...

As a blogger opposed to ID cards (and in particular the daft database fiasco behind 'em) I reject the negativity tag - often chucked my way by people who think it's a good idea for the state to be holding my fingerprints.

On ID cards, this a solution looking for a problem. If you need any proof of that, just look at the various reasons put forward by the government. Why do the reasons keep shifting about? WHy won't they come clean about costs and gateway reviews?

Why do I need a better way to prove who I am? In my experience there aren't increasing numbers of people asking me to prove who I am, but even if there were - why?

I'm not being negative at all, actually, it's a positive thing to try and stop such a huge and pointless waste of our money.

The campaign against ID cards is possibly unique in that it unites extremes of right and left and loads of people in between.

stephen said...

So are we to take it that every opponent of this corporatist government is a right wing libertarian? I am neiher right-wing nor a libertarian but I can see little merit in the ID Card scheme as proposed by this government. And those who would compel everyone's DNA profile to be registered have a long way to go in making the case that this would be an effective and proportionate response.

Would commercial risk aversion demand that we have more robust means of proving our identity? Will well-heeled lawyers be able to demand access to any information held by organisations that verify our identity, should such organisations exist?

Or why not let commercial organisations develop appropriate means of user authentication and the apply legislation to regulate it. If the government had proposed a voluntary minimalist ID Card, based on the Scaninavian model, then probably it would only be the right wing libertarians objecting. But it hasn't. It has gone for a solution which is absurdly over-engineered for its purported function, the establishment of identity. It wants an audit trail in the NIR and sees the NIR as being a master index to every state and financial record a person possesses. It is not difficult to see why the government has struggled to make the case for the ID Card as the scope is so wide. I wait to see the card justified as a way to beat global warming! And when pushed into a corner the scheme's defenders usually fall back on the negative jibe 'if you have nothing to hide ...'.

As for the universal DNA register, I am more equivocal. The proponents of universality would have to show that the risk of false positives was very low by ensuring that a sufficient number of loci are captured and I would want to se some solid evidence that forensic techniques cannot be fooled by the salting of a crime scene with another's DNA. For there will be a very strong incentive to do so, were the register universal. As for it being proportionate, one would like to know the number of crimes from which usable DNA is recovered but cannot be matched because the record is not present on the database. We need to have a grown up discussion about it rather than having some Labourite shill bleating about how 'unfair' is is that everyone isn't on the NDNAD.