General Plea from a Libertarian

Some truly crazy ideas have been bouncing around various Whitehall policy departments. Taken together they give a sense of a general trend.

Back in December we had the welfare card proposal, so that unemployed people couldn’t spend their benefits on cigarettes and alcohol. This week: an idea that fat unemployed people should be ordered to exercise or else lose benefits.

Many people will approve of these ideas, because they would make life difficult for people on benefits. The rationale is ‘You are dependent on the state for your income, so we have a right to dictate how you spend it.’ But there is no way that the government will stop with welfare claimants. Plain packaging, minimum pricing, proposals for legal limits on sugar and fat content will affect working people too. If unemployed people should have a welfare card, why shouldn’t working people get paid in food vouchers? After all, otherwise we would just waste our salaries on Camel Lights, pizzas and red wine. And we are all dependent on the state to some extent. Even Jeremy Clarkson drives on publicly maintained roads.

Under a Tory led austerity government you would at least expect negative freedom. They won’t empower you, or help you out in hard times. You could at least expect them to leave you the fuck alone. But they won’t leave you alone. The Fabian authoritarianism that New Labour brought into public life has not been abandoned: quite the reverse.

So they cut essential services – sickness benefits, debt advice, legal representation, you know, things that people use, stuff that matters – while grasping for more and more control over what people do in their free time.

It is a kind of government by brainstorm or thought camp, where bizarre and silly ideas are implemented with seemingly no thought for the science, the economics or the practical reality of people’s lives.

Of course sometimes we need to be protected from ourselves.

But people also need the freedom to make their own mistakes.

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4 Responses to “General Plea from a Libertarian”

  1. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Marx again.
    How you gonna get a lumpen proletariat to play their part if starvation or the workhouse isn’t the alternative? Free markets, real free markets, prosper when labour’s role is a race to the bottom. It’s all in there…the history of Manchester; local history for you, no?

    There’s a brilliant site somewhere with highlights from the Blue Books Engels used…back to the future. Can’t find it.

    Nice piece btw. One quibble…or possible quibble. Your mention of Fabianism…I had a suspicion, perhaps unfounded, that your rightful dismissal of that strain of Puritan, gradualist, bourgeois redemptionism might have intended a wider arc of fire. If your target was socialism in general, then citing the attrocities of middle-class liberals off on a pragmatic /tough-love /muscular-Christian crusade means you’re condemning the goats cos the sheep chewed your cabbage.

    Maybe I read it all wrong

    • maxdunbar Says:

      Or maybe I wasn’t clear enough.

      I support democratic socialism – by which I mean strong trade unions, redistribution of wealth, strong welfare state, progressive taxation. I’m also a libertarian on social issues like gay marriage, smoking, drinking. Most people I know think the same. It’s only in the political class that people feel they have to be either a libertarian capitalist or authoritarian socialist. What we’ve got now is the worst of both worlds.

      Thanks for commenting here. Have missed you.

  2. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Erm…yeah. Forgot about is one. Had been out on the piss. Didn’t get out much over Xmas/ new year…bereavement. Decided to get wasted and I went out only the pubs were empty…literally. Ended up, just me and the Guardian Review…some of which set my anti-bourgeois-lifestyle-pap teeth on edge.

    A weird thing happened, mind. Was half watching a football match on the telly in Czech or Moldovan or something and at half time there was an advert which featured a guy on his own in a bar reading a paper looking a bit miserable when a Mariachi band burst in showering the place in whatever’s the Czech or Moldovan for Doritos. Next thing, I looked up and a guy walked in wearing a sombrero, looked around, said hello and walked out.

    I’m sure there’s a branch of probability or combinatorics which would inform me that such an event was bound to be happening somewhere that night, but…

    • maxdunbar Says:

      Sorry to hear this. I don’t like how the city shuts down over the Christmas lull either.

      A duck walked into my local pizza place once if that helps?

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