Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

The Western model of democratic government is broken. Successive body blows to individual liberty have left our political system with more than just a bloodied nose. Everywhere you look you see the slow creep of unchecked Executive power,  new restrictions on freedom of speech and all-powerful central planners and technocrats making decisions with absolutely no democratic mandate.

Long cherished and hard-fought for rights, such as freedom of the press are now under serious threat. Your  allegiance to a mainstream political party could exclude you from fostering a  child. The most powerful man in the world is able to send unmanned drones into another sovereign territory to perform ritual executions, without so much as  a whiff of due process. The expression of an opinion that is contrary to the mainstream groupthink will ensure you receive a swift visit from the state’s bully boys in blue. George Orwell move over. 1984? This is 2012.

The state has assumed so much power in part because it has been able to cushion people from the consequences of their own actions. Concentrated gains for some are paid for by dispersed costs for the many, thus ensuring the minimum of hissing from the goose as it is slowly plucked. Decisions are centralized and tax and regulation is harmonized. The pluralism and competition that was responsible for pre-World War II Europe’s staggering growth and innovation has now been stifled by the increasing erosion of national sovereignty by the EU. The state offers it’s citizens answers to many of life’s problems, hilariously unaware that many of these problems exist because of state intervention in the first place. Intervention upon intervention is called for to fix the side effects of previous interventions.

Cui bono? Do you ultimately believe in the maternal/paternal model of the state that runs society to the benefit of it’s incapable of children? Or do you see the modern state as the machinery of a ruling elite for extracting the maximum amount of wealth out of the productive portion of society?

Philip Bagus illustrates the true nature of the state in “The Tragedy of the Euro”  (if you have an e-reader you can download the e-book or PDF from mises.org for free!):

“The state is the monopolist of coercion and the ultimate decision maker in all conflicts in a given territory. It has the power to tax and make all manner of interventions.

The ruling class is exploitative, parasitic, unproductive, and has a strong class consciousness. It needs an ideology to justify its actions and prevent rebellion of the exploited class. The exploited class represents the majority, produces wealth, is indoctrinated into obedience to the ruling class, and has no special class consciousness”

The current ideology of the ruling class is a toxic mix of welfarism,  interventionism and mercantilism. They have cleverly narrowed the field of debate so that any opinions and ideas contrary to the service of their own vested interests are frowned upon as taboo, or even punished by imprisonment.

The elitist left display a staggering level of cognitive dissonance  when they talk about the danger of monopolistic corporations exploiting consumers whilst simultaneously providing hearty support to such paragons of consumer choice as the BBC and the NHS. The elitist right lavishly applaud the wealth generating (sic) financial industry with blind ignorance to it’s priveleged position to create money out of thin air, backstopped by the white-hot ink jets of an independent (sic!) central bank.

It’s enough to drive a man to drink… No wonder minimum alcohol pricing is on the cards.

A Healthy Attitude Towards Rights?

What is it about people and free health care? More specifically, what is it which leads people to believe they are entitled to free health care? This may seem a stupid question – people naturally prefer to be healthy as opposed to ill. People also prefer things to be free rather than have to pay for them. But this does not explain the sense of entitlement. Naturally, there is a lot of emotional rhetoric that accompanies this subject as most people will know someone who has or is struggling with an ailment. We tend to empathize with the plight of people who are struggling with serious health issues as it brings home the true reality of our own mortality.  But for some reason we seem to have reached a stage where many people believe that access to healthcare is a divine right and that it would be far too callous to leave such an important function to the speculative whims of a free market. To put it differently, healthcare has become synonymous with government intervention.

How did we get here?

Thanks to modern medicine the human race has never before been is so privileged a position as to be able to tackle many of the bacterial, viral and genetic blights that have afflicted every single previous generation. Life expectancy today is at a level which would of been unthinkable only 100 years ago. Diseases whose names used to be whispered in fear are know dispatched by treatments that are, for the most part, widely available to all of society. Even in preventative terms we now know more about the causes of disease than ever, allowing us to tailor our lifestyles in such a way that common ailments are thus avoided.  It may seem strange to say this but we have never had it so good. Of course, people still get ill and suffer from terrible, debilitating disease but that is part of human nature. No foreseeable advance in medical science or technology promises us life eternal – people will continue to get ill and people will continue to die. The real problem is that alongside the development of new medical science has grown the unerring belief in government intervention and statism. This is part of a wider trend that began in the 20th century that goes in hand in hand with the development of the modern welfare state. Many things that were previously considered as commodities obtained through productive endeavor have now been re-classified as entitlements, rights or handouts. Don’t want to work and be a productive member of society? Simples, sit on your derriere all day and let the state pick up the bill. Not interested in working and saving for your future? Easy, just allow the state to use it’s monopoly on the use of force to obtain the necessary funds from your fellow citizens to allow you to have a cosy retirement. Of all the things the state is now obligated to provide, healthcare is surely the most sacred cow of all. If you don’t want consider to consider the fact that, yes, you are human and your body will break? No problem, let the state pay for the inevitable consequences of your poor diet, addictions and mortality. The modern state has quite simply destroyed the link between actions and consequences.

It is true that disease, illness and disability are quite often not the fault of a person’s own actions (putting aside foolish lifestyle choices – the consequences of which should be borne by the individual). But this is no more a reason to consider that healthcare (or  any other commodity for that matter) is in any way a right. This misinterpretation of rights is a dangerous phenomenon, and was made possible only through the relentless creep of the collective mindset and it’s ultimate proxy – the state.

The belief that things such as food, shelter, healthcare and internet access (if the UN gets it’s way)  is a basic  human right has led to a horrible corruption. The corruption of the true definition of rights, the defilement of liberty and the castration of individual freedom.  Let me make this clear. NOBODY has any right to the product of any one else’s labour. Similarly, NOBODY has any right to the fruits of your own productive labour. Food, shelter, healthcare, internet access, coffee, haircuts, literature and yo-yos are all products of a person’s personal creativity, intellect and physical effort. To say you have a “right” to these products is to say that you have a right to the very things which created them. In effect, you are claiming dominion over your fellow man, enslaving those who would produce them and denying them the opportunity to better their own position using the products of their own mind and hands.

Let us imagine a simplified situation. Imagine that a small number of people are stranded on a desert island. For a short while the sun shines, the coconuts and fresh fish are bountiful and life is generally peachy. One person may be especially good at climbing trees to get coconuts, one may be an expert fisher and another may make a cracking grass skirt. When this is established it will be obvious to the group that rather than each person spend all of their time collecting their own coconuts, catching his own fish and making his own grass garments that it would make far more sense to trade with each other, each person focusing on his own area of expertise. The first stage in the division of labour is therefore accomplished. Each individual is still able to obtain the goods he desires by trading his own produce with that of others.  When these trades between the islanders occur WEALTH IS CREATED. Each person who voluntarily trades with another values the thing he attains more than the goods he sacrificed in order to attain it. This works both ways. Tom has 20 coconuts and is willing to trade 3 of these for one fresh fish which Dave has caught. Tom therefore values the one fish MORE highly than the 3 coconuts he has collected. Likewise, if Dave agrees to the trade then he values 3 coconuts more highly than the one fish he would trade to attain them. By this process both parties benefit, wealth is created and this small society’s resources are efficiently allocated based on people’s real desires. Notice that this whole process can only occur if it is clear who owns each resource (property rights) and if each party agrees not to attain goods by using force or coercion (rule of law). Property rights are especially important – they recognize that an individual’s own ability to perform his specialist task gives him the right to the produce of that task. For example, Dave’s keen eyesight, patience and reactions allow him to catch more fish. These skills are Dave’s and the produce he gains from employing them is therefore his also.  Another important aspect of this scenario is that because each trade is voluntary the value of goods is easily defined by the price each person is willing to pay for each good.  This may sound obvious, but in a society where with no property rights it would be impossible to distinguish how highly goods are desired (and therefore valued). Prices convey important information as to the preferences and desires of individuals. In this way they help ensure that resources are utilized efficiently in line with society’s wants. When someone is entitled to take the product of another’s labour by force then this information is  not apparent and the provision of goods and services will become out of kilter with real consumer preferences.

So, the islanders attain their food by a free market interaction (a voluntary trade between two property owners). They also attain their clothing in the same manner. Let us also presume that their need for shelter is also provided in this way. By doing this each islander recognizes that they have no right to take the produce of others and must voluntarily trade with one another in order to attain the objects they desire. But what of health care? Surely, everybody has a right to be healthy. After all, it won’t be anybody’s fault if they contract a tropical illness. It’s surely bad luck if Tom slips from the coconut tree and breaks his leg. And Dave certainly never asked for the shark to give him a nasty bight on the arm. Surely it is for the benefit of all parties that they remain healthy and able to keep on producing the goods that they themselves and others need. Well, no. At least I don’t think it is as simple as that.

Not many people would think that they have any right that entitles them to be fed, clothed and sheltered by others. That is not to say that charity shouldn’t provide these things to people in need but only on a voluntary basis. But a right to be fed? Try citing this right the next time you walk out of a supermarket with a  trolley full of food without paying. Demand your entitlement to shelter by forcing your way in to the nearest mansion and making yourself at home. We just don’t do things like this because we instinctively recognize that they are morally wrong. We know that the food in the shop belongs to the supermarket until we agree to pay for it. We know that it is wrong to take or use another person’s property via the use of force.

This is the central point. Nobody has the right to take by force (using their own power or the state as their proxy)  anything that has been produced by the productive endeavor of another. The tragedy is that because of the emotional connotations that surround healthcare the debate has become misinformed, distorted and politicized. Until people understand this a rational debate on the future of the NHS and the welfare state in general will be impossible. One thing however is for certain. The need for debate is urgent. There simply aren’t enough coconuts, fish and grass skirts left to pay for it all.