Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > Neo-liberal Libertarian holds up Victorian England as “model for success”

Neo-liberal Libertarian holds up Victorian England as “model for success”

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As the sun slowly sets on the political tragi-farce that was the rich man’s parliamentary vehicle – the ACT Party – it’s core supporters are desperate to find a new Party to call home.

Colin Craig’s  Party is most likely anathema to  socially-liberal and fiscally neo-liberal ACT-types and Libertarians – they would view the Conservatives as another ‘false god‘, to be studiously avoided.

Libertarians are of a strange species who hold ideological views diametrically opposed to socialists/marxists/social democrats – and even National Party policies.

For Libertrarians, the State is something to be cut back and allowed to wither away.

Which, strangely enough, is what Marxist/Leninists also propose in their vision of  a communistic society, where the State “withers away”.

The difference, of course, is that in a Libertarian world (which I shan’t call a “society” as societies do not exist in an individualistic, Libertarian model) property is individually owned and protected by all means, including use of deadly force.

In a communistic society, the same property is collectively managed, though again deadly force is used to prevent counter-revolution taking place…

It’s interesting to note that whilst marxist/socialist/communist regimes have existed in various forms, throughout the world – not one single modern nation has ever existed using  a Libertarian model.

In some ways, Somalia came close, with two out of three Libertarian tenets in play; minimal government and no taxation. The third tenet, a strict rule of law to protect private property rarely exist – though property rights were often enforced by force of private militias.

Indeed, the use of private militias to protect one’s own property is naked libertarianism at it’s  truest form. After all, if Libertarians argue that taxation is theft; that individuals should not contribute to  the education of everyone’s children – then it stands to reason that one should not have to pay for a Police Force to protect someone elses’ property.

When Richard McGrath was asked on TV3’s “The Nation”  about the implementation of libertarianism in any country, his response was eye-opening,

THE NATION: ‘Is there anywhere in the world that’s  a model for how you think?”

RICHARD McGRATH: “Well though it sounds strange, Victorian England actually had a lot of institutions that really looked after people in need, the friendly societies, and those sorts of voluntary organisations. And a lot of that’s gone now because the government’s moved in, muscled in, and taken it over.”

See: Is John Banks causing ACT’s demise?

Victorian England“?!

Is that the model of a Libertarian nation? A society that was class-ridden; poverty-stricken; poorly-educated; rampant with disease and crime; and where factories were free to dispense massive pollution into the air (causing the infamous London “fog”) and Thames River,  turning it into an open-air sewarage channel?

Is McGrath holding up, as the ideal Libertarian model, a society where mentally ill were incarcerated as criminals; ill treated; and poorly fed? Where children worked as slaves in vast factories? Where, if a husband deserted his wife and children, she’d be forced into prostitution to survive?

McGrath refers to the charity work of  “ friendly societies, and those sorts of voluntary organisations ” - which was indeed the case. There was no organised State social welfare, healthcare, or superannuation for pensioners.

Whilst factory owners made vast sums of profits on the backs of lowly-paid, over-worked, and mis-treated workers – those without work; the sick; the infirm; and other unfortunates survived on the meager handouts from charities that relied solely on the generosity of  some benefactors.

Oliver Twist‘ was not some fanciful tale of a dark Fantasy World. It was a slice of life from our nasty, brutish past.

A nasty, brutish past that Libertarians want to bring back?

To show how utterly mad these people are, and how disconnected they are from the real world, I refer the reader to another Libertarian, Peter Cresswell.

In the same programme, on Christchurch’s rebuild,  Peter Cresswell suggested,

” You could say, no taxes; get rid of the RMA;   so for 3 or 4 years or 5 years you’ve got complete freedom for people to do what they wish with what little they have left.”

See: Ibid

Complete freedom for people to do what they wish“?!

What – like rebuild on the same fault-lines where previous buildings crashed into piles of rubble on 22 February, last year? Or re-build using techniques , designs, and material that would be wholly inappropriate and dangerous to occupants?

Perhaps build a fifty story high-rise in the same manner as the ill-fated CTV Building?!

It is little wonder that in last year’s general election, the Libertarianz Party won only 1,595 votes (See: 2011 general election official results).

Very few people would want to live in a Libertarian nirvana that replicated Victorian England. It might be a fine thing if you’re a rich Estate holder, Industrialist, or Merchant.

But it’d be Hell to be working in one of their factories.

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= fs =

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  1. John B
    1 October 2012 at 1:15 am

    what a joke

  2. 1 October 2012 at 3:31 am

    ‘Oliver Twist‘ was not some fanciful tale of a dark Fantasy World. It was a slice of life from our nasty, brutish past.

    A nasty, brutish past that Libertarians want to bring back?

    I’ve had arguments with some libertarians about 19th century Britain. They’ve actually tried to tell me that there was no poverty at all at the time.

    Had one tell me that democracy was a farce and that other people should not have any say whatsoever in what he did. He got quite upset when I pointed out that that would be oppression as he’d be able to force his will upon others. They just don’t seem to understand that when an action is taken it affects everybody and so everybody should have a say in that action.

    • 1 October 2012 at 8:27 am

      Indeed, Draco, Libertarians often refer to Orwellian re-writing of history by the Left… but are quite happy to indulge in re-writing history themselves?

      No poverty in 19th century Britain? But then again, these are the same people who deny the existance of climate change, and human impact on the environment,

      At the most basic level, they forget that Humans, like our Gorilla, Chimpanzee, and Bonobo cuzzies, are social creatures. Humans don’t operate alone like polar bears or jaguars.

      Funny thing, when I watched the ‘Nation’ segment on Libertarians – they were socialising together, as a group.

  3. 1 October 2012 at 4:02 am

    Amusingly, it was the Conservative Party of yesteryear that put a stop to quite a few of the abuses you mention.

    The Conservatives. Party of the Factory Acts, the Weekend, ending Child Labour, and putting a human face on capitalism.

    Who would have thought.

    (but then, that’s One nation conservatism … quite the opposite of the beyond-neoliberal nightmare that’s being sketched out in these Libertarianz’ vision and your post)

  4. Kari
    1 October 2012 at 8:39 am

    Frank, an informative lesson in this article for some I am sure, but not for me. As for Richard McGrath, Peter Cresswell and the Libertarianz political party I say this, why don’t they move to the U.S.A. where libertarian ideas are more popular and find more ground with people in the political arena as they are more heavily ingrained into the minds and lives of people. I see libertarian values finding more ground over there because some people want to ignore and deny their own greed (especially those who are wealthy) and as a consequence gloss over the actual harm they cause to other people in their accumulation of wealth then want to perhaps some of them salve their consciences by philanthropy.

  5. Ralph
    1 October 2012 at 10:32 am

    There is a wonderful illustration to one of Dicken’s novels showing a character (name escapes me) who made his living by wandering the banks of the Thames in darkness and hoping that the next body given up by the river would be well clothed, well shod and have a few farthings in pocket or purse…so he could pillage and continue to survive. Under the retro Victorian vision of the future you describe Frank, there may again be a few job opportunities for such individuals.

  6. 1 October 2012 at 12:15 pm

    There’s damned good reason why no society has ever chosen a libertarian system. it’s wacko stuff from a bunch of middle class white people living a comfortable life in a country built by other peoples’ taxes. Bludgers. If they want to drop out and pay no tax, they should find a place to build from scratch.

  7. QF
    1 October 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I did think during that interview that at least the Libertarians are honest in their desire. However, the country is already halfway there as both previous and current economic and social policies are intent upon reimposing economic and social gaols and conditions that existed prior to 1935.

    • 1 October 2012 at 12:49 pm

      it scares me to think that those kinds people live amongst us, just goes to show you never know what goes on inside someone else’s head eh?

  8. 1 October 2012 at 1:31 pm

    The society that Dickens wrote about extensively. But It is not coming, because the political right here in NZ and later in the Uk, are going to get totally mangled. Probably put them out of office for a decade or two.

  9. 1 October 2012 at 3:55 pm

    And we’re back to politics again. This time, on two of my favourite subjects. The Death of the ACT Party, and why libertarian ideology should swiftly follow it to the pyre.

    I mean seriously. Nobody holds up Victorian England as a “model for success”. Not even quite a few Victorian English. As far as they were concerned these were days of iniquity and imperfection that might very well lead up to a collapse of their empire along Roman lines.

    That is, presumably, why their political system then produced the substantive change in vibe known as One nation conservatism.

    Because anyone who wants to live in a functioning society (or, for that matter, a “society”) recognizes that their system – whether communist, capitalist, or something else entirely – requires a Human Face if it is to cater to the human beings who dwell within its bounds.

    Anything else is governing the people for the system rather than the other way around. And Libertarians would seem to want to do an awful lot of that.

  10. Debbie Kendrick
    1 October 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Someone please bring back history, placed within context and as a progression, not just as isolated events, ‘periods’ names & dates, within our schools. because the huge gaps in general historical knowledge is starting to have some really serious consequences in national AND global politics. Victorian England? Good God.

  11. 8 October 2012 at 1:28 am

    Frank, you’re wrong in a number of ways:

    1. Libertarianz have never wanted the state to wither away, indeed Libz have always argued the state has a core role in protecting adults from each other and of course the country from foreign invasion. That means law and order, it means enforcing contracts, it means property rights, it means tort law. Somalia is oft cited as an example, which is absurd as it has never had a impartial state judging when rights have been infringed. It’s lazy to claim this.

    2. The notion that all adult interaction should be consensual, does not mean adults shouldn’t contribute to the welfare, health or education of others. Libertarianz has been completely ambivalent about this, simply saying this shouldn’t be undertaken by force, but people should feel free to help others. This simple point is completely ignored by the left, presumably because of a belief that human beings wouldn’t help others, or that those who choose not to are immoral, and should be forced to do so. The core difference between libertarians and socialists is that the former believe that human beings are inherently good and generous people who wouldn’t tolerate people starving in the streets, who wouldn’t want to see children growing up without an education. Socialists believe human beings are inherently predatory, and would ignore those in need or in fact try to take advantage of their situation for their gratification.

    3. Yes taxation is theft. Just because the government takes your money without consent doesn’t mean it is morally superior to your neighbour doing it. A libertarian state could survive on very low taxation, or be funded by other means, such as a lottery or voluntary donation, it could include a levy on contracts for the state to be the arbitration body of last resort. However, many libertarians will admit that they’d be pretty happy with a low flat income tax and nothing else, as the more income you have the greater likelihood you have to need the state’s services.

    4. Richard McGrath did not say Victorian England is a model, what he did say was that in that society, charities for housing, health, education, food etc emerged because people DO spontaneously care. Where do you find libertarians advocating locking up the mentally ill? Maybe reading Thomas Szasz might open your eyes to what some libertarians think of the term mentally ill (and governments have been abusing the mentally ill right through to the 1970s). Where do you find libertarians advocating unhindered pollution rather than treating air and water pollution as infringements upon property rights? Where do you find libertarians thinking fathers can get away with abandoning their children and their mother, instead of there being an implied contract of support that would follow him everywhere?

    It simply being disingenuous to take a comment about the existence of charities to imply that everything else applies. It is like someone talking about how glorious ancient Greece was for science, mathematics and art, and being told “oh you want slaves and women subjugated then”.

    5. I don’t know who would claim there was no poverty in Victorian England, but that is a ridiculous claim. However, the constant reflections on that time treat it as if it was an enormous leap backwards, which it would be, from now, but it wasn’t from what went beforehand, when most people lived as illiterate serfs on the land, with survival dependent on crops and the generosity of their “owners”. Mines were awful, child labour in factories was awful, but let’s not pretend children weren’t working before then. Childhood, in western Europe, didn’t even really exist outside the aristocracy until the 19th century, when the church started creating schools for the poor.

    6. No libertarians claim human beings aren’t social or that what people do affects one another sometimes. This is just some bizarre strawman thrown up by a few. The difference is that libertarians don’t think you need the state for people to be social. People share and interact voluntarily all the time, they give time to their family and friends, they help neighbours, they give time to help out at schools, clubs and other voluntary organisations. However, the idea the state, which has as its only distinguishing characteristic the ability to initiate force against others that it legitimises, is an embodiment of this, is fanciful. There is nothing social about a bunch of people saying “we’ve agreed to take part of your money and give it to people we think deserve it”.

    It’s instrumental that you haven’t cited the Libertarianz website or the leading libertarian blogger, Peter Cresswell, directly from his own word on his blog, rather than what a reporter says.

    Presumably in a libertarian society you think you wouldn’t bother helping others and you think most people wouldn’t. The “social” way you think people are is false, and you actually think people are not kind, not generous and indeed would be the nasty, mean and cruel caricature you think everyone who is financially successful is.

    So which is it? Are people caring, social and compassionate – in which case you wouldn’t fear a libertarian society?

    Or are they mean, cruel, atomistic and predatory, in which case you create a domineering state to keep them from doing so? (but then, who are the people who run the state if it isn’t to engage in the same rent-seeking they would do without it).

    Try again.

    • 8 October 2012 at 10:33 am

      Scott, thanks for your feedback on this issue from a contrary viewpoint…

      A few points…

      (2) “The core difference between libertarians and socialists is that the former believe that human beings are inherently good and generous people who wouldn’t tolerate people starving in the streets, who wouldn’t want to see children growing up without an education. Socialists believe human beings are inherently predatory, and would ignore those in need or in fact try to take advantage of their situation for their gratification. ”

      The reality, I suspect, is halfway between those two viewpoints.

      In fact, the Libertarian need for a police force indicates that Libertarians recognise that whilst there are “good” people out there – there are also “predatory” types.

      (3) “Yes taxation is theft. Just because the government takes your money without consent doesn’t mean it is morally superior to your neighbour doing it. A libertarian state could survive on very low taxation, or be funded by other means, such as a lottery or voluntary donation, it could include a levy on contracts for the state to be the arbitration body of last resort. However, many libertarians will admit that they’d be pretty happy with a low flat income tax and nothing else, as the more income you have the greater likelihood you have to need the state’s services.”

      If “taxation is theft”. then how can you have “very low taxation” which equates to “very low theft”. If the principle is unequivocally “taxation is theft”, then all taxation – whether set at 99% or a low 1% is theft, regardless.

      Otherwise it would be like a burgalar entering your home and instead of stealing all your property, takes only a small portion of it…

      (4) “Richard McGrath did not say Victorian England is a model, what he did say was that in that society, charities for housing, health, education, food etc emerged because people DO spontaneously care. ”

      Actually, he did, by responding directly to a specific question;

      ‘ THE NATION: ‘Is there anywhere in the world that’s a model for how you think?”

      RICHARD McGRATH: “Well though it sounds strange, Victorian England actually had a lot of institutions that really looked after people in need, the friendly societies, and those sorts of voluntary organisations. And a lot of that’s gone now because the government’s moved in, muscled in, and taken it over.” ‘

      It seems fairly clear; Question asked; Response given.

      (5) “I don’t know who would claim there was no poverty in Victorian England, but that is a ridiculous claim.

      I concur. (The bit about “who would claim there was no poverty in Victorian England”.)

      (6?) “It’s instrumental that you haven’t cited the Libertarianz website or the leading libertarian blogger, Peter Cresswell, directly from his own word on his blog, rather than what a reporter says.

      Actually, the quote from Peter Cresswell was taken verbatim from “The Nation” interview,

      ” You could say, no taxes; get rid of the RMA; so for 3 or 4 years or 5 years you’ve got complete freedom for people to do what they wish with what little they have left.”

      That statement was made by Mr Cresswell, and not by the journo.

      Last point;

      If Libertarians oppose the use of taxation to provide state services such as health, education, roading, pensions, etc, etc, then it’s curious that on the other hand they support the use of taxes to pay for a police force.

      State services such as health, education, roading, pensions, etc, are for the benefit of everyone, regardless of income, social status, wealth (or lack thereof). Our own Prime Minister is a classic rag-to-riches story; his family was supported by the State in every conceivable way – and today he is a multi-millionaire.

      So why is it acceptable to use taxes to pay for one state service (police) but not others (health, education, roading, pensions, etc) which also benefits everyone in a society? What is difference between one from the other?

      And why should taxes from say, a person with few possessions and little wealth go toward a Police force to pay to protect the wealth and possessions of someone such as our Prime Minister? It occurs to me that a user-pays system would fit the Libertarian model more closely? (Not that I’m advocating any such thing.)

  12. 9 October 2012 at 12:20 am

    Cheers Frank, I do like to get my ideas tested as well.

    On your first point, yes. There are people out there who would prefer to take from others and do violence to them, so yes indeed, libertarians agree that there are all sorts of people out there. We tend to view the vast majority as being benign, given that most people, most of the time are actually quite generous.

    Yes, taxation is theft and the ideal is the state funded voluntarily. I don’t recoil from that, the argument is the transition, both in means and time to get there. If we get to the point of arguing the means, then we have come a very long way towards the ideal – as I said there are a few ideas about that.

    The claim that Richard McGrath said Victorian England was a model, rather than what he actually said (which you quoted) is a stretch. He said that having all those charitable organisations was a good thing, but it did not mean he wanted the legal, let alone social structures of the time to be replicated.

    Fair point on quoting Cresswell, although I do think it is helpful to read him a bit more widely. It is easy to take what is said in the mainstream media as a completely fair representation of what someone means.

    On your final summary, the acceptance of taxes for law and order is because of a fundamental belief that all adult interaction should be on a voluntary basis, and the core role of the state is to protect that and everyone does benefit from that. Simply offering that level of order, where people can’t steal, assault, rape, murder or defraud with impunity is more critical than anything to civilisation, prosperity and happiness.

    However, I disagree with the claim about other “public goods”. I suspect we will always do so.

    Healthcare services benefit those who receive them. With the exception of emergency conditions of pandemics, where people can act in ways that initiate force against others (i.e. spreading infectious diseases recklessly), healthcare is a private good. If I look after myself, eat well, don’t become a drug addict or drink excessively or smoke, stay fit, odds are i will need little recourse to healthcare, yet under your system I must pay. Indeed the distortions are such that you make me pay onerous taxes on alcohol and tobacco if I use either occasionally, and justify criminalising me for ingesting banned substances. In fact it has gone so far to be an exercise in waging war against sugar and fat, and demonising those who sell foods that, if eaten in excess, are unhealthy. We have a growing army of people who want the state to tax or regulate what people eat, because the healthcare system doesn’t incentivise good behaviour or penalise bad behaviour.

    If people saw that they had to pay for an ever unhealthier lifestyle and vice versa, it would make a difference, instead there is the likes of Sue Kedgley who tried to be the nanny of the nation.

    Education likewise, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to help pay for or assist in the education of others. The single biggest recipient of benefit from education is the person receiving it, which becomes more apparent the higher up the education system one gets. In education it becomes even more apparent that diversity is the key, yet the state is simply incapable of responding to the diverse needs and demands of parents or students, and the rent seekers within the system seek to iron it flat and eliminate incentives for teachers to outperform each other or to remove those who underperform.

    Roads are far simpler, but I have expertise with this. Congestion is caused by the tragedy of the commons from underpricing. People who don’t drive and don’t own property derive value very indirectly from roads. Those who use the roads should pay for them. Roads are a scarce resource which gets underpriced (and overpriced) resulting in congestion and pollution, and underuse (and overuse) of other modes.

    Pensions are hardly for the benefit of everyone. Until recently around half of Maori men died before they reached 65. How did they benefit, other than being taxpayers into a system that didn’t reward them or their heirs? The people who benefit are those who live the most and pay the least. State pensions are a ponzi scheme that delivers appallingly poor value for most who “pay into” it. It’s notable the Hungarian government recently confiscated the entire state pension fund to pay for its own egregious overspending. A private fund holder who did that would be in prison, yet politicians can willfully engage in grand theft with little consequences. Currency debasement is another way they do this (Muldoon stole from a generation of schoolchildren with their 2% PO Savings Accounts whilst maintaining inflation in double digits).

    What you ignore is the egregious rent seeking by suppliers of all state services, which is to seek ever higher wages, complete protection from competition and less accountability for those they service. After all, if you don’t like the services you get, you can’t ask for your money back and go elsewhere.

    You can make the same arguments about food production, distribution and supply, but they work well without state provision, although universal access is currently guaranteed by the welfare state.

    Finally, yes I agree that someone on a very low income shouldn’t pay tax, at all. As you might note, one speaker at the past Libz conference suggested a $40k a year income tax free threshold, which would address that sort of issue.

    I know we are bound to agree to disagree, but at least I hope I have clarified things somewhat. Libertarians are the ogres seeking a predatory existence upon others who will happily drive around and watch poor people starve, but rather have an alternative view of the role of the state and what should be the core principle for adult interaction. Libertarians don’t think that the initiation of force is ever moral by one adult against other, and that the state should only exist to protect people from that.

    Everything else should be up to the conscious volition of human beings to decide. People should act directly and convince others of the merits of their action, not lobby the sole institution of legitimate violence to do violence on their behalf.

  13. 23 January 2013 at 12:41 am

    Libertarianz = political loonies.

  1. 29 April 2013 at 9:04 pm

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