13 July 2009

The Elitist Core of State Socialism

Over at the Tax Research Blog, having pretty much argued that the only way to make the world better is to increase government debt in order to increase the size of the state and been unable to effectively refute the opposing arguments, Richard Murphy has resorted to accusing people who don't want a massive state of being “socially violent” [1].

It’s an interesting piece, because it highlights what a nasty, arrogant and pessimistic creed state socialism is, particularly the version promoted by Richard Murphy. There is an unspoken belief that people are inherently evil and without the state controlling our behaviour, we’d have no consideration for each other. The unlegislated convention of queuing must be incomprehensible to the big state mentality and the existence of an institution such as the RNLI, entirely voluntarily funded, must be absolutely inconceivable.

Another aspect of state socialism, which seems to be particularly prevalent in the British approach, is the paternalism which assumes that, if the state is redistributing wealth, it must spend it too, rather than giving the recipient a choice. Contrast the approach with the education system in Sweden, a country often held up as a model social democracy. Education is state funded, but the system allows parents, if they wish, to obtain a voucher equal to the amount spent on a state school place and use it to pay for a place at a privately operated school. The desire to ensure a certain level of provision isn’t used as an excuse to centralise decision making in the same way it is in the UK; the public are treated, at least in this area, as intelligent individuals who are capable of making their own decisions.

The state socialist approach is built on a foundation of elitism. It assumes that, as an ordinary person, you are so selfish and callous that the only circumstance in which you will help your fellow human being is if you are forced to by those more caring than you. It also assumes that you are too stupid to make your own lifestyle choices and need the state to buy a whole range of goods and services on your behalf to protect you from the effects of the stupid purchases you would make if left to your own devices.

The implicit assumption is that the state socialists who will be doing the forcing and choosing don't suffer from the same flaws as us mere mortals. They have declared themselves morally and intellectually superior and therefore fit to rule over the rest of us with a rod of iron. Quite frankly, anybody with that level of arrogance is the kind of person I least want in a position of power.

1. http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2009/07/13/naming-libertarians-for-what-they-are/


Martin said...

People who follow a political creed with non-agression as one of its core teachings are violent?

But the state, an organization based on the use of coercive force, isn't?

Oh, to be this Murphy man's shrink for a day!

DBC Reed said...

Murphy's outburst was occasioned by losing patience with Libertarians who call anything done by the Government: statist.They are incredibly destructive and reductionist basically believing that the rich should be allowed to stay rich even if they have got that way by capitalising public effort as is the case with land values.
As they do not recognise the concept of the common good and indeed laugh at it they should expect to be excluded from political arguments which are all predicated on that principle.
In the recent Samizdata "debate" on LVt which both you and I participated in (you with exemplary courtesy though it was headed "There's no such thing as a good tax" which kinda showed we were n't going to win),they dealt with an LVT supporter, Roy Langston, by invoking the rights of private property and throwing him out/blocking his comments .
As Murphy has now barred them, there is a kind of justice in that:
not state socialist but libertarian,(in the modern distortion of the word)privileging
his private property over the commons of the Net.
I would have thought the logic of the situation is that if you believe people have free access to the Net ,you might alsdo be inclined to believe in free access to land.
The libertarians appear to believe in enclosure of both land and blogosphere.

Robin Smith said...

Is this a classic case where principles have been overwhelmed by politics?

An enquiry has commenced from a point of uncertainty and proceeded to yet more confusion.

There is nothing wrong with socialism per se. In fact it is a natural state in an advancing society. Likewise for the free market. Avoid either and disaster will follow. To dispute this is working against natural law.

I had a similar offline spat with RM recently. My conclusion was he did not understand wealth, due to his inability to seperate what has been earned from what has not.

Therefore his great efforts have led him to deeper confusion around tax and justice. Yet he believes his ideas are true.

His politics strangles him because he discounts the principles.

Physiocrat said...

"There is an unspoken belief that people are inherently evil and without the state controlling our behaviour, we’d have no consideration for each other."

There is an interesting conclusion to be drawn (though not very rigorously) from this...
People are evil.
States are run by people.
Therefore the state is evil.

More rigorously we get...
Some people are evil.
All states are run by people.
Therefore the state may be evil.

Paul Lockett said...


I agree with the point you make. It's something that's come up in the past when I've discussed Hobbes' version of social contract theory. My reading of the position he put forward in Leviathan is:

(1) If there are no agreements between individuals to constrain their behaviour, there is a danger of continual "war of all against all" which worsens the condition of everybody.
(2) Therefore, people create social arrangements, such as agreeing not to kill each other, because they are mutually beneficial.
(3) However, for each individual, their advantage is best served by entering into agreements, but not keeping their side of the bargain.
(4) Therefore, Leviathan, an omnipotent totalitarian government, is needed to ensure that all agreements are adhered to.

I have serious misgivings about point 3, because, if you don't respect agreements you've entered into, you risk being in a position where others won't enter into agreements with you in future, so your immediate gain could be outweighed by long term loss.

However, I think it is point 4 which is most seriously flawed, because, if you accept that people will break their agreements in order to further their own advantage, I don't see why they would change that fundamental behaviour just because they are in government, which would make Leviathan an all-powerful body which will tend to use its powers to further the self-interest of those controlling it, rather than for the agreed purpose.

That sounds to me like it would make the situation worse rather than better.