Friday, January 11, 2008

Adam Smith Institute - Common Errors (Pt 1)

Via el Diablo, I came across the Adam Smith Institute's series, by Dr Madsen Pirie on "Common Errors".

Each piece will look at a common error people make about free markets and the free societiy (sic), and explain why they are mistaken. We hope readers of this blog will be able to make use of these arguments themselves, and in doing so convince others of the overwhleming case for liberty - Ed.

The ASI don't tag their blog posts (bad, bad, people), so it can be time consuming finding stuff. So here are the current links and a few comments.

1. "Only the guilty have anything to fear from surveillance or police searches."

I would turn this around and say that only the perfect have nothing to fear - and, since the Fall, only Jesus Christ (or, if you are Catholic, Jesus and Mary) have been free of sin. For example, take a married person having an affair. It is very common and not illegal. Immoral, under some codes (but what if you are a Muslim or a traditionalist Mormon, where polygamy and / or concubines form part of the accepted moral framework). (Or just visiting a brothel - okay, that level of organisation in the sex trade is illegal in the UK but not everywhere - just why is this the only form of centralisation our statist masters are against?)

No, love, I'm just blogging. No, I'm not having an affair. It's just an example. When would I have time? Would you put that cleaver down and we can just talk about this? Please? Err ...

A wee while ago, I was involved with a case where a couple of (drunk and foolish) employees decided that they should get to know each other rather better and the deserted office was a good place to do so. They forgot about the CCTV. The security guard thought it was quite interesting and then tried some income re-distribution with menaces using the tape he had copied.

So, yes, many people do have something to hide (even if it is only the surprise birthday present you bought him / her a couple of weeks ago and have hidden at the back of your underwear drawer.) And most people have things they will quite happily admit to, or be unconcerned that are known by, friends and family, but not by total strangers - and other things they are desperate to hide form the family but are prepared to admin to total or relative strangers (doctors and nurses, for example.)

2. "When the state gives us rights, we have responsibilities to it in return."

The English common law tradition recognizes that people can do whatever the law does not specifically forbid, but in the continental Napoleonic Code tradition, people can only do what the law specifically allows. This leads people falsely to suppose that the state is giving them these rights, when it would be more accurate to say that the state is recognizing those rights. Our responsibility to behave fairly and decently is something we owe to other people, not to government.

I agree entirely with the above but I also disagree with the main thrust of this - I believe we have some, albeit very limited, responsibilities to the state. One is participation in the democratic process (even if it is just going in and writing "none of the above" on your ballot paper) and another is paying your taxes (avoidance is fine - poliscum and bureaucretins write the rules, if you wish to take advantage of their incompetence, rock on). Struggling to think of another, though.

3. "The industrial revolution brought poverty and misery for the masses."

Absolutely, it just bought the poverty and misery of the labouring classes to the attention of the merchant classes who had been, previously, able to completely ignore it as something that happened out in the country. Why did people flock to the appalling conditions in the new cities?

Because there was paying work there. Same argument applies to child labour in the third world - if you close the factory (or stop buying from it which, frankly, is then your intent rather than your action) because it offends your morals, where do you think the kids go? In a nice clean uniform to school 5 days a week and back to a loving and comfortable home in the evening? Nope. Another factory, begging on the streets or worse. Not so much "the law of unintended consequences" but simply failing to make the effort to think things through.

4. "Rich people should not be able to buy better healthcare and education"

The traditional whine of small children and socialists, "It's not fair". Although, admittedly, with the current British education system, the chances of either of those groups getting the apostrophe in the right place is slim.

It also allows the state to divert the money it would have spent on meeting their needs toward those less able to provide for themselves, and to give them access to better services.

The quote is a minimal justification but I hark back to the quote taken from Error 2. We should only allow the state to forbid things that are shown to have harm without corresponding benefit. But then I am not an interfering statist.

5. "Prices of essential goods should be controlled so that the poor can afford them."

See here.

6. "Nuclear power is uniquely dangerous and should be banned."

I used to spend large amounts of my time well within 100 metres of a live fission reactor. I still have one head and four limbs. My children appear to be reasonably healthy.

However, radioactive waste, not just from reactors but from other technical uses (especially within medicine) and from natural sources (including radioactive material separated from things we actually want or need in refining etc), needs appropriate, safe disposal. That doesn't make it "uniquely dangerous". See one of the ASI's other contributors here and here.

And, yes, if we can manage it, fusion is the future.

A damn good and thought provoking series. Long may it continue.

1 comment:

Tim Worstall said...

I'm told that there will be 50 of them.....and perhaps a book....

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