Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

Unfortunately, I have to get a bus to work everyday. Generally speaking, buses are pretty awful. They are usually one (or a combination of) the following; late, smelly, relatively expensive, overcrowded, uncomfortable, indirect.

But why should this be so? Horse drawn buses were used in the early 1800s so you would think that 200 years of innovation and technological progress would have produced something far more adequate than our present day reality. I mean think about it, the first commercially available mobile phones were introduced in 1983 and just look what has happened a mere 20 years later! Phones that are not just mobile but maps, music players, computers, diaries, Internet equipped… you get the idea. What is even more amazing is that this technology is increasingly available to almost everyone in society.

Back in 1983 a mobile phone have cost you $3,995 (almost $10,000 in today’s terms if you factor for inflation!!). For your money you would get a 790g block with err…  30 minutes talk time. Today I can walk into any mobile phone shop and walk straight back out with a product vastly superior to it’s 1983 forebearer for a fraction of the cost. How is this so?

Well it’s certainly not due to government intervention. Rather predictably, it’s our old friends – capitalism, competition and (relatively) free markets. A combination of these factors ensured that the quality of mobile phones went up and the price went down, making this product ubiquitously available across society. Government intervention in the form of taxes and regulation has no doubt had some negative effect on this sector but has not been significant enough to have seriously dampened the productive force of capitalism.

Let’s return to the example of the bus. The bus network (in Britain at least) is prone to a plethora of state interventions. Much like the rail network, most routes are awarded by a regional QUANGO to private operators. Other bus companies are then not permitted to compete on the same route. The obvious result of which is that there is little/no competition for a bus company once it has won the right to a route. This type of privatization is better than direct state ownership of the industry, but only marginally.

Without allowing truly free competition between different operators service, quality and affordability will never improve. No doubt the bus companies like it this way and likely lobbied hard to achieve this status quo, which would exemplify the unholy alliance between big business and government.

In the meantime, my mobile phone contract is up for renewal and I have an veritable bounty of cutting edge devices to choose from. Coincidentally my bus pass is also up for renewal. Sadly, my choices in that respect are rather more limited.

I’m becoming more and more interested in the idea of anarcho-capitalism.

We are conditioned to view the world through the paradigm of the nation state, international borders and sovereign power. But just what is the state? Is it relevant? Is it even legitimate?

The more I think about it the more I realize just how arbitrary the state actually is. I certainly don’t think that the state was created to benefit all mankind. More likely it was a cynical power grab by a plutocratic elite who realized that the state could be used to legitimize their use of force to consolidate their privileged position. Some may argue that the state is a means of performing collective action which would not be possible through voluntary interactions between free individuals, such as war. This may be true but how do we actually know? Who is to say that private individuals couldn’t arrange their own defence satisfactorily through private means? If that puts a stop to aggressive war mongering all the better. The record of the state in this regard is well documented, with centuries of war, aggression and killing to stand as testament.

Strike down the state with all of your hatred and your journey towards the anarcho-capitalist side will be complete

The problem I have is this – how can I advocate liberty but at the same time support any kind of state, regardless of how small? How can I decide what the proper remit of the state should be without imposing my own preferences on the rest of society? Nobody can opt out from what the state imposes because it is not a voluntary relationship. I can stop eating at McDonalds, choose to shop at Tesco instead of Asda and wear Nike trainers instead of Adidas. I have no such discretion in matters which involve the state.  The chimera of democracy is offered as a piecemeal sedative to the masses, an illusion that the masses possess some sort of influence over their beneficent masters. But no matter who you vote for, the government always wins. This is the danger when we decide what we think it is appropriate for the state to do – we are forcing others to conform to a way of living which we find desirable but which others do not. Can this ever be justified? Is it not hypocritical to think that state intervention and coercion is morally illegitimate yet only go as far as promoting a “smaller” state?