Accountability and the Realities of Modern Politics

By Kevin Smith

What kind of standards do we expect from the leaders who shape the way our businesses and social institutions function?

A little while ago my friend and colleague Sam Bright wrote an article for this site in the aftermath of erstwhile Barclays boss Bob Diamond’s resignation due to the unfolding LIBOR scandal. In it, Sam asked where the responsibility for such scandals should fall, and whether it’s appropriate in such instances to assign – or conversely, to restrict – blame to the shoulders of the “people at the top.”

Both the article and the issue itself raise challenging questions about accountability to the public. Ignoring for a moment the specificities of the Barclays scenario, there’s the broader question in any such instances of whether it is really reasonable to expect the resignation of an individual who might have had no idea about ongoing improprieties in his or her organisation. At the same time, holding accountable only the person or few people directly responsible for various misdeeds might see a handful of low-level “bad apples” out of their jobs, but is this enough to maintain or restore the public’s trust in the organisation as a whole? And what about, as Sam asks, the wider group of enablers – the legislators who created a legal framework where such scandals could take place, the regulators who turned a blind or even colluding eye, or the wilfully-ignorant shareholders who collectively had the power to demand better but failed to? Should any culpability rest with them?

It’s a question often asked in a political context, too. Every student of politics or constitutional law will be familiar with the convention of ministerial accountability. The principle in its purest form suggests that government ministers, as heads of their departments, are responsible for all the acts and omissions therein: as a result, they must resign if serious errors are committed either by individuals under their control or as a result of the system and policy framework they supervise, or if their policies and decisions prompt serious criticism or cause the government embarrassment. As Enoch Powell put it, “even if all considerations of policy could be eliminated, the responsibility for the administration of a department remains irrevocably with the minister in charge.”

The issue of whether and to what extent this convention applied gained prominence in the 1960s during the Crichel Down affair, which saw Sir Thomas Dugdale resign, and again in the 1980s when Lord Carrington and Richard Luce resigned over the Falklands crisis. These resignations were imbued with a kind of samurai-style sense of personal honour and desire to save face – a sense of “because it happened on my watch, I’ll save [my / my government’s / my company’s] reputation and fall on my sword.” As Dugdale told Parliament, “I, as minister, must accept full responsibility for any mistakes and inefficiency of officials in my department, just as, when my officials bring off any successes on my behalf, I take full credit for them.”

Jeremy Hunt

And now… for my next trick!

That sentiment – or at least the first half – certainly isn’t the prevailing attitude any more. Now, there’s a sense that it doesn’t matter whose head rolls in response to scandals, as long as someone gets the axe. Somewhere, a backroom calculation is presumably performed gauging how high-ranking a sacrificial staffer needs to be in order to satisfy the braying press pack or outraged opposition. Then, the coup de grace is struck, and a hapless flunky of the minimum required level is sent packing to deflect pressure from the higher-ups. Jeremy Hunt hung on at the expense of his aide Adam Smith. Liam Fox delayed his demise by distancing himself from one-time associate Adam Werritty. Seemingly impossible to get rid of, ministers nowadays cling to their positions with the tenacity of tapeworms—which of course fall under Jeremy Hunt’s remit, now that he’s Health Minister.

In the aftermath of the Crichel Down affair, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe distinguished four kinds of instances of error where accountability – whether by resignation or explanation to Parliament – could be expected:

  1. Civil servant carries out an explicit order of the Minister’s
  2. Civil servant acted in accordance with policy laid down by the Minister
  3. Official makes an error or causes some delay, but not on an important issue of policy and not where claims to individual rights are involved – Minister responsible as head of department
  4. Civil servant commits reprehensible conduct of which the Minister disapproves

The examples relate to government, but we can imagine them in any number of spheres, and could just as easily replace “civil servant” and “Minister” with “anonymous trader” and “senior executive,” “junior doctor” and “supervising consultant” or even “parish priest” and “archbishop.”

We can imagine the cases on a rough spectrum of culpability. In the first case, the Minister (or analogous equivalent) is directly linked to the wrongdoing – the action or omission is done on his or her say-so. In the second, there is “operational” but not “personal” responsibility – the subordinate made the decision, but under a general policy authorised by the Minister, with whom the “buck stops.” Under the third heading, the subordinate might not have been following a specific policy, but an error is committed nonetheless, on behalf of the department and thus technically in the name of the Minister. Finally, in the fourth example, the civil servant is guilty of serious, reprehensible personal conduct that the minister does not condone.

Once, wrongs spanning categories one through three, and possibly four if serious enough, could prompt a Minister to step down. However, post-World War II and particularly since the 1990s, resignations have increasingly come in response to personal culpability alone. When New Labour Immigration minister Beverley Hughes came under pressure following the illegal granting of visas, what finally drove her from office was not the initial alleged misconduct, but the fact that she personally misled Parliament in statements made in a television interview. Similarly, David Blunkett was alleged to have misused his power as Home Secretary to influence the outcome in an application by an employee of his then-partner for leave to remain in the UK. It was never conclusively proven whether Blunkett had acted improperly in his role as minister: like Hughes, he was ultimately forced out by the misleading statements he made regarding the matter.

Do we simply expect less from government ministers today? Is the honest self-appraisal and sense of principle of someone like Lord Carrington a relic of a bygone age? Alternatively, are we only now approaching fairness by holding simply the people directly responsible for wrongdoing to account? Indeed, what do we even mean by “accountability”? Does this imply being held personally to account, regardless of culpability, or rather, simply being expected to explain how the wrongdoing occurred, and what steps have been taken to prevent it happening again?

There’s a larger question here too: namely, why we demand resignations or seek to impose penalties at all. A few suggestions might be ventured:

1. To punish genuinely serious individual wrongdoing

Our sense of justice and fairness tells us that there ought to be a punitive element in response to wrongdoing, especially by people in positions of authority. One way of satisfying this is via retribution: someone who behaves in a way that fails to meet the standards expected of someone in that job should lose the job – the “Profumo” kind of resignation, if you like.

2. To respond to the fact that such wrongdoing could happen at all

If there’s a perception that fault lies with an institution itself, and not just one “rogue” individual, then we might reasonably expect that a superior is held to account. This desire strikes closer to the traditional understanding of ministerial responsibility. Bob Diamond’s resignation (although complicated by the involvement of the Governor of the Bank of England) roughly falls into this category: “It was in your power to detect and stop this, and you didn’t.”

3. To deter against allowing deleterious corporate or political cultures to persist and to prompt greater top-down awareness

Individual cogs in an institutional machine have little scope to change a culture that indulges or enables impropriety. With this in mind, demanding the resignation of the few high-level people who can set such a tone serves both to wipe the slate clean in the case at hand, as well as to send a message to others in similar positions that matters of institutional culture are their responsibility.

Equally, such punishments put power players on notice that wilful ignorance isn’t good enough. Perversely, limiting “accountability” to one’s own actions can actually disincentivise authorities seeking, of their own initiative, what is actually going on, or insisting that their subordinates keep them informed. This is the Murdochs’ legacy from the phone hacking scandal: their implicit acceptance that it was safer to be ignorant than to be aware of, and thus complicit in, any misdeeds.

4. To maintain or restore confidence in the system

Finally, a crucial aspect of the motivation behind holding powerful institutions to account must be that “the system” – political, financial, educational, religious, etc – has to be seen to be working. In addition to punishing individual and collective wrongdoing and deterring against future wrongdoing, public penalties have to maintain or restore public confidence in a system. We need to believe that justice has been done—indeed, that fairness has been done—because where this isn’t the case – slap-on-the-wrist responses to insider dealing, trivial fines for crooked corporations, and so on – trust is lost and everyday users of the system become cynical. The firing of somebody suitably important in the maligned institution helps ensure that this isn’t the case.

It’s also equally vital to articulate why we shouldn’t demand punishment. In today’s political climate, demands for resignations seem to follow every poorly phrased comment or minor error-in-judgment by political actors. There is an evident urge to “claim scalps,” and whether it is inspired by a hyper-partisan, tit-for-tat politics, or a 24-hour news cycle that thrives on the drama of sensationalised stories with overstated significance, it exists to the benefit of no one.

Where the calls for resignation are deemed to be excessively partisan or capricious, then the resistance by the people targeted becomes more deeply entrenched. It becomes a question of us-versus-them: “Forget the principle of the matter – because the opposition party have been calling for my resignation, if I give in now, it looks like they win!”

In such a climate, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish how serious an issue really is. If the “default” is to conduct our national discourse through yelling, how can we raise our voices when something really is important? We’ve fallen into the same trap as the boy who cried wolf. If every issue is claimed by one side to be a “resignation-level” issue, and the other side won’t risk giving in (save for instances of obvious personal wrongdoing on the part of the person in question) for fear that conceding a point will show weakness, then we’re stuck in a stalemate, with both sides perpetually outraged.

Restoring Accountability

What recent public events have taught us, from LIBOR to Leveson, is that in the current political climate it isn’t reasonable to expect people to voluntarily step aside as a point of principle. Equally, when resignations do occur, it is pressure, not principle, that prompts them. Events over the past few months illustrate that the most successful tactic to resist pressure to resign is to deny personal culpability and to make a show of sacrificing a scapegoat. This worked for Jeremy Hunt, and until Sir Mervyn King intervened, it was working for Bob Diamond too. Make no mistake: although Diamond made much of the principle of corporate accountability as a reason for his departure, had it been down to principle alone, he would still be in a job.

A system where the consequence of a mistake hinges on how much pressure can be ratcheted up to capitalise on it is clearly not a satisfactory state of affairs.

All too often, guidelines, ombudsmen, and regulatory bodies lack the teeth necessary to instil confidence in the systems they seek to uphold. Such was the case in the Hunt affair: although the Ministerial Code seeks to establish proper conduct for ministers, and provides some vague scope for sanctions to be imposed in the event of its breach, it is enforced by the Prime Minister, and thus is inherently partisan. In Hunt’s case, much was made of the fact that Sir Alex Allan, the “independent adviser on the Ministerial Code,” lacked the power to initiate investigations of his own volition without being directed to do so by David Cameron.

If we are to return to a principled system of public accountability, we need to create a system of genuinely independent, non-partisan ombudsmen and arbiters to establish objectively what those principles are. They must be given full scope to initiate and carry out investigations into alleged wrongdoing. Their investigations should be wide-ranging, looking at the individual, company (or ministry) and industry level. Such bodies should not be given the power to remove people directly, but their findings must be taken seriously: if culpability is established on an individual level, then the superiors of the people responsibility must act. If wrongdoing is shown to have occurred on a wider level, then the individuals in positions of collective authority must suffer the consequences. If the problem identified includes a loose or unclear regulatory framework, or ineffective self-regulation of an industry, then the report should recommend new legislation, and Parliament should act on this.

Where impropriety is of debatable severity, trying to leverage it into deep reforms can look like political gamesmanship by the untainted party. There are relatively few instances where conduct is so egregious that all sides involved accept that punishment and reform are deserved. Such conspicuous failures of the system inevitably provoke disillusionment, but universal condemnation also provides a rare opportunity for all sides to get behind serious, far-reaching changes. We’re at such a juncture now, and it is to be hoped that the decision-makers seize the moment.

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104 comments
  1. Richard said:

    Businesses already have hundreds/thousands/millions of regulators depending on their size, they are called customers. Businesses do not require additional regulation by government.

    “we need to create a system of genuinely independent, non-partisan ombudsmen and arbiters to establish objectively what those principles are.” – I personally do not want to pay for it, I am happy with customer control, should I be forced to foot the bill for government created ombudsmen/arbiters?

  2. Joshua Mellors said:

    Interesting consideration. Just to zoom in on one aspect: you seem to be implying that Bob Diamond wasn’t personally involved in LIBOR? Presumably his enormous salary must have been a reward for some kind of responsibility – so that if an enormous crime goes on in his institution he should first assume liability? Shouldn’t there be some kind of criminal trial for fraud rather than just him appearing in parliament to ‘discuss’ and then resigning with impunity? There are laws in place against fraud, they are just not being enforced. I find this idea that some crimes are responded to with inquiry rather than prosecution very bizarre indeed.

    I don’t think the contrast between this and the way the riots were handled can be brought up enough. None of the above kind of political considerations were involved – instead judges worked throughout the night to take down as many as possible as quickly as possible. Why does this not happen when trillions are stolen? Very bizarre indeed…

    • Richard said:

      Joshua – LIBOR is a complete non issue, no one will ever be prosecuted for manipulating it because the rate is based on opinion of the future. How are they going to say what opinion someone had at a certain time? Having said all that didn’t the Fraud Office take it on re your remark about prosecution?

    • Is misreporting LIBOR stealing trillions? Certainly not on my understanding. And there is a plausible argument that the mis-reporting of predicted LIBOR rates, as tacitly encouraged (allegedly) by the regulators, was actually good for the economy, as it kept broader interest rates down. Hard to make the same arguments about the rioters.

      He has not resigned with impunity. He has resigned, and if the SFO or anyone else thinks he has committed fraud, he can still be prosecuted. And, if he has committed fraud, should be.

      • Joshua Mellors said:

        But do you think he would actually be prosecuted whatever they decide, or that they will make an objective/reasonable decision? Or will anyone else involved be? Maybe some lowdown trader (probably black), but I doubt even that. I think you have too much confidence in social justice being realised :)

        The rioting itself obviously wasn’t good for the economy directly, but if we had responded to the evident dissatification of the unemployed youth, apparently with nothing to lose, with a comprehensive jobs programme – building needed infrastructure and revitalising deliberately stretched public services (maybe some modern green industry?) – that would have been. Instead, youth unemployment (ages 16-24) is left at 1.02 million (or 21.6%). And that’s only in officially reported statistics, which grossly downplay these things. Incidentally, you might not view it as coincidence that Tottenham has the highest unemployment rate in London and 4th highest in the UK.

        It is not good for the massively overindebted economy to keep it cheap for banks to borrow and create even more household debt (at much higher interest rates). In fact it’s a disaster. The funny thing is, raising the Bank of England rate now would probably bankrupt the lot of them. Essentially the choice is the banks or the economy. Conflating the two is the big mistake people make.

        I say stealing because LIBOR shows up in virtually every financial transaction, so by manipulating it people have made money where they wouldn’t otherwise have, and in even worse cases gambles could be made and won on cheap money which couldn’t have been made otherwise. So while my language might appear slightly inflammatory the effect is essentially the same; something in the realm of trillions will have been transferred from one party to another which would not have been if LIBOR had been accurately reported. ‘Stealing’ far more effectively describes this than the obfuscation we’ve seen in the mainstream coverage.

  3. Guy Anderson said:

    I think that resignation is often too easy an option, sometimes it might be better if the responsible person(s) had to stay on and help sort out an issue.

  4. Kevin Smith said:

    Thanks very much for your comments.

    Richard, I think it’s a bit pollyannaish to say that customers alone can adequately “regulate” businesses. On a mass level, customers simply aren’t informed enough – in the way that mandatory filings or submissions to a regulator provide – or organised enough to take action that will effectively hold public institutional actors (businesses, politicians, etc) accountable. A big business could have theoretically millions of shareholders. To expect those shareholders collectively to hold a company to account when it damages a random individual or class of consumer (e.g. mis-selling a financial product) is simply not plausible. That’s what a regulator is for.

    I agree with you that no one wants frivolous inquiries or task forces or committees set up to do nothing. I’m not arguing for *more* regulators necessarily, but rather, *effective* regulation. They need to have some real teeth. Their job must be to provide accountability, not apathy. As for regulators requiring tax dollars, why not insist that the businesses contribute to the cost of objectively regulating their profession. This already is the case in plenty of professions, but could certainly be expanded.

    And Joshua, I think you make a good point – resignation alone can’t be seen to be good enough where serious (or criminal) behaviour is proven. It shouldn’t be resignation OR prosecution: both options should be on the table where the evidence supports them, with (clearly) a higher burden of proof for the latter. The window for prosecution should (and does) remain open longer, to allow for new evidence to come to light down the road. I didn’t say one way or another whether I thought Bob Diamond was personally liable – but I don’t think there’s evidence to suggest he was complicit or responsible for giving the orders to manipulate the LIBOR rate, so I put his resignation in the category of “this happened on your watch, so you should step down.”

    I agree with you as well that the contrast between the handling of white-collar crime and cases like the rioters seems perverse. I suspect it’s just a question of what evidence exists – when there’s obvious proof (CCTV, credible eye witnesses, etc) that someone smashed a window and stole something, it’s an open and shut case. With crimes like fraud or market abuse, it’s notoriously difficult to prove.

    Thanks again for reading.

    KS.

    • Richard said:

      Kevin – pollyannaish – good word I had to look it up! I would say it was pollyannaish to expect the government to do a better job.

      “On a mass level, customers simply aren’t informed enough” – Sure they are, if they get a bad service compared to the competition they will protest by not buying. If they don’t like a company like Barclays, they can put their money elsewhere. If people were disgusted at the News of the World they would not buy the paper. etc etc. The customer has all the power.

      “or organised enough to take action that will effectively hold public institutional actors (businesses, politicians, etc) accountable” – see above for businesses, for politicians there are elections unless you think there is something rotten with the system and if so, then why would you want to give this system more power through regulations?

      “To expect those shareholders collectively to hold a company to account when it damages a random individual or class of consumer (e.g. mis-selling a financial product) is simply not plausible.” – Shareholders? Sorry but there is a legal system for damages, even for the least well off, no win no fee for example.

      “but rather, *effective* regulation.” – and who judges what is effective? The politicians? Politicians are less accountable than businesses.

      “As for regulators requiring tax dollars, why not insist that the businesses contribute to the cost of objectively regulating their profession” – Businesses have no money. The only money they have comes from customers. Tax business, tax me, its the same thing.

      “so I put his resignation in the category of “this happened on your watch, so you should step down.”” – What’s more effective at regulating bad behaviour? A bank run or a token resignation/incarceration? If I was a Barclays shareholder I know what would scare me more.

      “when there’s obvious proof (CCTV, credible eye witnesses, etc) that someone smashed a window and stole something, it’s an open and shut case.” – I’m sorry, this is not correct. It depends on the circumstances and if a jury convicts. Nothing is open and shut until the person has their day in court.

      “With crimes like fraud or market abuse, it’s notoriously difficult to prove. ” Difficult yes, expensive, certainly. Again, unless it is an issue of tax why would the government get involved? Private citizens and insurers have a legal system. Sure it may be satisfying to imprison someone but with finance I think compensation in the form of money is much better and cost effective not to mention you have the opportunity to send the person/party that robbed you into the poor house.

      • However desirable it might be to believe that consumers and shareholders can and should be capable of holding companies/banks etc to account, this simply has not been reflected in reality. Your argument makes sense in theory, but has not been borne out in practice. Which surely then means that we cannot rely on consumers and shareholders to hold companies to account, for the simple reason that despite (in your opinion, at least, ample opportunity to do so) they have not done so.

      • Richard said:

        Shareholders & customers are not the same thing. Shareholders own the business, customers buy from the business.

        “Your argument makes sense in theory, but has not been borne out in practice.” – Can you give an example?

      • Yes, thank you, I’m quite aware of the difference between a shareholder and a customer!

        I thought your argument was that there was no need for more regulation, because customers and shareholders are able to hold corporations to account. If in fact your argument is that customers by themselves are sufficient, and that there is no need even to rely on shareholders – well, my response still stands, and perhaps has even more force.

        An example. How about the fact that bankers have not acted in a way that many of us consider moral, and quite probably in many cases in a way that we would not consider legal? Customers don’t seem to have been able to stop that.

        Customers have also not been able to prevent gross human rights abuses by extracters of natural resources in countries such as Nigeria (in the oil-rich delta) and the Congo (in the case of mineral companies such as Glencore, or Vedanta in India).

        Just a couple of examples, but there are many more of varying degrees of severity.

        I’m not saying that customers have absolutely no power – clearly, insofar as they care, they are able to take there business elsewhere (generally).

        But oftentimes, customers don’t care about abuses happening somewhere further down the supply/manufacturing chain.

        Additionally, the customers may themselves be complicit in the ‘immorality’ or ‘illegality’ of certain practices – for example, tacitly or actively encouraging manufacturers to pay ridiculously low wages in their developing country factories; or purchasers of complex financial instruments encouraging investment bankers to bend the rules.

        Perhaps you could give some examples of how customer-power has brought about significant changes in illegal/immoral corporate practice, without the threat of external regulatory pressures or non-customer-instigated litigation? I don’t doubt there are some examples, but not many that I am aware of.

      • Richard said:

        Sam – “How about the fact that bankers have not acted in a way that many of us consider moral, and quite probably in many cases in a way that we would not consider legal? Customers don’t seem to have been able to stop that. ” – The customers of these banks would have shut down them down, the “regulators/government” used the customers money against their will to keep them in business. This makes the point for customer regulation.

        “Customers have also not been able to prevent gross human rights abuses by extracters of natural resources in countries such as Nigeria (in the oil-rich delta) and the Congo (in the case of mineral companies such as Glencore, or Vedanta in India).” – so your saying the government in these countries are corrupt by supporting by exploitative businesses, sounds like they have the same sort of problem as us no? The problem of exploitation in Nigeria is down to government not consumers. Again, another plus point for less government involvement.

        “for example, tacitly or actively encouraging manufacturers to pay ridiculously low wages in their developing country factories” – hold on a minute, you want to start telling people in the developing world they cant work where they want? If its forced labour then okay, the law needs to come in, if the people are working there because they think it improves their life then I am not going to tell them they cant work where they want. I haven’t heard issues of Nike factories for example forcing people to work in their factories against their will. People are working there because they are better off than they were before.

        About an example of an industry which is not regulated or very lightly regulated and the result. There are countless examples. TVs, PCs, software, internet, cars, airlines (open skies), most types of retail etc etc. Name one industry where increased regulation has increased the quality of the product, the service, the cost, the innovation, the ease of access etc etc. I would love to hear even a single example.

        “without the threat of external regulatory pressures or non-customer-instigated litigation?” Am I saying there are not businesses out there who want to exploit customers? Absolutely not, what I am saying is that they do not last long unless they are supported by regulation which puts up barriers to entry.and/or supported by government contracts. Again, I’m all ears for examples to the contrary.

      • One example where increased regulation has led to an improvement in a given industry? Easy. Seatbelts in cars: minor additional expense, many lives saved. The requirement that films get BBFC approval before they are broadcast, so we know roughly what level of content to expect. Anti-cartel regulation, which prevents supermarkets getting together and agreeing to charge consumers much higher prices. Seriously, the list is endless!

        You claim that customers of banks would have shut them down absent government intervention. Well, to take the case here discussed, I didn’t see many customers trying to shut Barclays down when LIBOR fixing came out, or HSBC when it was shown to be facilitating money laundering.

        Your counter-point re: Nigeria/Congo etc does not deal with the fundamental point that in response to such abuses, factually customers have not withdrawn their custom from the relevant businesses. Yes, the governments in those countries need to do a lot more: and that is largely by way of regulation that is now currently absent.

        And you did not provide an example (I don’t think) of an industry that has in a significant way been forced to change its immoral behaviour due to customers withdrawing their custom. I do believe there are a handful of examples (none immediately come to mind though) but these do not appear to be representative.

      • Richard said:

        Sam – Surely you are joking “And you did not provide an example (I don’t think) of an industry that has in a significant way been forced to change its immoral behaviour due to customers withdrawing their custom.” For the third time *banking*. Barclays for example, would have more than likely gone bankrupt (HBOS, Lloyds, Natwest definitely) before the LIBOR issue ever came to light. I am not sure what more you want than putting these people out of business. If something criminal occurred then the private sector ie those effected are more than able to pursue damages.

        Seatbelts? Sorry I don’t understand, are you saying people were deliberately acting in a way that was putting their lives in danger for no reason (personal or otherwise) or are you saying that people simply did not understand the consequences? If it is the latter, then education was the issue, or would you simply like the government to be passing laws that you do not understand/believe in but which the government thinks is best?

        “Your counter-point re: Nigeria/Congo etc does not deal with the fundamental point that in response to such abuses, factually customers have not withdrawn their custom from the relevant businesses.” – So let me see if I am understanding you correctly, are you saying that if people do not act in a way you think they should be acting, then they must be doing the wrong thing?

  5. Tim Hart said:

    I found Kevin’s article so impeccably even-handed as to present the kind of ‘balance’ that our great propagandist institution, the BBC, would have been proud to have called its own. Limp discursiveness and bland reasoned analysis seeking to misrepresent itself as incisive and challenging discourse. A kind of bloggers version of Question Time. A literary approach that perpetuates and reinforces the status quo rather than sseking to change it. Surely it is more straightforward than Kevin’s article implies. Most of the senior bankers – including Bob Diamond – should have been in prison long ago for their rampant criminality in gratuitously destroying the economies of the world and the livelihoods and lives of millions of people, along with the politicians who covered up these crimes and acted as apologists for the perpetrators. Similarly the regulators and other ‘public’ bodies, such as the Serious Fraud Office, should have been subject to legal sanction for their miscreant behaviour. The people heading such organisations were not simply negligent but complicit in this grand criminal enterprise. The idea that a remedy lies in better regulation is risible. What we need is to create a democracy capable of challenging the current system of corporate hegemony, which masquerades as representative government. This means breaking the power stranglehold that the elite corporate cabal exert on our government and over most aspects of our society. Then, distributing power widely in order to create a pluralist, democratic society. We should not look to regulators or politicians to do this. Why would they? They grow fat on perpetuating the current venal system. In order to create a democracy ordinary people must use the rule of law directly to hold the wrong-doers to account. Not rely on corrupt proxy organisations to do so. The rule of law is the only way to create a civilised society.

    • What does this mean? Without relying on any regulators, or the police/law enforcers (you decry the SFO), “ordinary people must use the rule of law directly to hold the wrong-doers to account”. I don’t get how you can use the rule of law, without recourse to the legally established institutions.

      I agree that we need a more pluralist democracy, and much greater accountability of those in power. But to suggest that this is possible without recourse to regulators and regulations that are grounded in law is potentially a bit naive. How else can this be done, except by mob-rule – which is a far cry from the rule of law you profess to support?

      It is clear that our regulatory and political systems are in need of a substantial overhaul. Exactly what that might entail in any detail, I am not quite sure.

      Please could you supply details of Bob Diamond’s rampant criminality that has gratuitously destroyed the economies of the world? A lot of bad stuff clearly happened on his watch, but you seem to be slightly over-stating the case. In trying to distinguish yourself from what you allege is Kevin’s “limp discursiveness”, you seem to be talking in a pretty vague, reactionary manner.

  6. Kevin Smith said:

    Richard, your argument in a nutshell seems to be “we don’t need regulators because consumers are more than capable of looking after their own interests. If they object to certain conduct, they’ll take their [business / votes / patronage] elsewhere.”

    If this is your view, then I think you’ve articulated the best possible scenario in the eyes of big corporations. No industry regulation save for customers deciding on an individual level where they’ll take their business? CEOs would be drooling down their three chins.

    The truth is, for most Barclays consumers, Bob Diamond could have come to their house, broken down their door, and smacked them in the face with their own cat and they still wouldn’t have switched banks. It’s too complicated, too much of a hassle, too unfamiliar, too [whatever]. And even if that customer did switch, the odds are even slimmer that his next door neighbour would. Forget arm’s length – if bad behaviour by any institutional actor is even a finger’s length away from most people, they’re happy to ignore it.

    That’s no criticism of the individuals. Most of the time we simply don’t know about what’s going on. In your world of “consumer regulation alone”, how do consumers find out what to be outraged about? Do you think businesses would disclose *anything* to the consumer without being required to by regulation? Half of what the FSA *does* is mandate disclosure – so the media, public, etc has a better chance of being aware of what’s affecting them.

    You’ve helpfully listed a bunch of industries which are “not” or “very lightly” regulated. This would be useful, if it were correct. Cars? How about controls on emissions, mandatory seatbelts in vehicles, or required pre-production safety tests — all the product of industry regulation. TVs? How about *all* the content on them, which has to pass regulatory muster. Airlines? Again, fuel standards, safety requirements (including best practice codes about number of staff, rest time between flights, etc). Come on.

    Some might argue – and I agree, in part – that statute can cover some of this. But there’s always going to be an area between “spelled out in legislation” and “conduct so morally egregious that consumers boycott en masse”. This vast grey area is why we need regulatory bodies: to articulate what conventions apply in a given industry, to demand evidence that individuals can’t access on their own, and above all to make public what would otherwise remain hidden. Regulatory bodies, like any institution based on subsidiarity principles, recognise that the government doesn’t know every industry inside and out, and some quasi-judicial decisions are made closer to a “ground” level – in this case, by people more familiar with a certain industry than legislators. Sometimes it’s best to use statute to endow these regulatory bodies with powers, and let the bodies themselves fill in the details. No one’s suggesting a regulator could kick out an MP ad hoc – rather, an independent arbiter would say “here’s what the Ministerial Code says, and here’s what happened” without the partisan fluff from all sides – and then the party head or the voters could decide.

    I agree we don’t necessarily need *more* regulators… just better ones.

    • Richard said:

      Kevin – “Bob Diamond could have come to their house, broken down their door, and smacked them in the face with their own cat and they still wouldn’t have switched banks.” – ill say again, the market wanted to put Barclays out of business 4 years ago.

      “It’s too complicated, too much of a hassle, too unfamiliar, too [whatever]. ” – I agree and your telling me it needs even more regulations.

      “so the media, public, etc has a better chance of being aware of what’s affecting them. ” – you think people have the slightest clue of what is going on in the financial markets? Do you think anyone has any idea of how secure their bank is? No, we’ve all got our heads under sand because we think the government is looking after us.

      About disclosure. If you want people to invest in your business, you have to disclose your financials.

      About the examples I gave. Emissions, why are we controlling emissions? There is zero evidence CO2 changes the climate. Also catalytic converters increased fuel consumption because they need to work at a 14.7:1 Air Fuel Ratio, (as an example).

      Seatbelts? They were in cars long before the were regulated. Safety tests? Whats wrong with Euroncap? That’s voluntary and gets massively more coverage than anything the government does.

      About TVs. The technology I was talking about, if you want content see YouTube.

      Basically your whole theme is that people in government are good and businesses are less good. But what are you basing your opinion on? Politicians have no skin in the game, its costs them nothing to regulate and they are not responsible in anything goes wrong.

      So again, I have to ask, why on earth do you think politicians (who get paid not matter what) care for our well being more than people who depend on us for their livelihoods?

      Like I said, of course there are unscrupulous businesses but regulations to the lowest common denominator costs a fortune, puts up barriers to entry, stiffles innovation and makes things less obtainable. The proof is all around you. Check this out for example, its been used on this blog before. Countries with the highest business regulations vs those with the lowest.

      http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

      There are always exceptions but by and large the evidence for deregulation being a good thing for the people is clear. I’m not sure how you can dispute that, generally deregulation makes everyone better off. Unfortunately the world is not perfect, there will always be things that should be improved but if you are spending money on something people would not ordinarily buy (eg government regulation) then you are making people worse off by definition.

  7. senex72 said:

    A lot of ink spilled here! As onlooker I suggest we stop treating people as if they were members of the cult of “gentleman” when they aren’t – those days are long past, as is clear from previous comments.

    Competence would seem an initial touchstone: A Bob Diamond telling a Parliamentary Inquiry that he was unaware of this or that practice should have signed his own death-warrant, and had his assets confiscated, and been driven into exile for good measure! Instead he almost got way with it, and did keep part of his loot. A test of what it is reasonable to expect from a competent administrator would, I suggest, clear out the lot of them – the LIBOR nodders and winkers, regulators with short-sight problems, pushers of criminal (they are not just “toxic”) assets CD’s,securitised mortgage bonds etc,; loan and insurance pushers, infinite re-hypothecators in the City… along with “Ministers” who think their obviously unfit for purpose department is really on the mend.

    Another move would be to end the primacy of creditor and shareholder interest in company affairs, and widen the remit of CEO’s to include employee, customer, tax-payer and social – impact liabilities (ie market externalities). Shareholders are supposed to be risk-takers and should be left to it, creditors should watch where they put their money, but present “bail out” practices remove the downside from foolish and fraudulent bank conduct anyway. Instead we have a reported £425 billion being thrown at the finance industry (mainly to support house prices as paper assets) which should have gone to small business and economic regeneration..

    Finally, let’s recognise here and in EU the basic economic law: debts which can’t be repaid won’t be. Stop wasting time “fiddling” LIBOR and whatnot and bite the bullet.

    • Richard said:

      senex – Amen for breath of fresh air. If I was going to pick holes I would say the CEOs already had the customer as top priority, at least they did before the government started back stopping their losses.

      • Joshua Mellors said:

        No, they had themselves as their top priority. Obviously. Which is why many of them were willing to accept massive shareholder and customer (taxpayer) losses while leaving their firms with hundred million dollar bonuses (I believe one of the highest was $313 million). Their interests were in many cases diametrically opposed to those of the firms and the customers.

        You can’t divorce ‘Government’ from ‘Government Sachs’ or you would just be left with Sachs. Its a partnership :)

        Of course politicians are corrupt, but remember there’s always a corruptor to any corruptee ;)

      • Richard said:

        Joshua – As I have said before, if the CEO does not have the customer at heart they would go out of business. Unfortunately the government stopped this regulation by the people. The government is the problem, the government has the power. Goldman Sachs cannot force the people to give them money if the government were not assisting them.

        You can say it takes two to tango etc etc but the fact is you have to blame the people with the power. If you want to hold CEOs to account for fraud then you have to hold government to account for complicity with the fraud. The party that ultimately has the power to allow the fraud to take place is the one responsible. You disagree?

      • Alex Green said:

        Quick thought: regardless of whether or not prioritising the marketability of the service is a guarantee that consumers will be treated fairly, is it only the latter point that matters? Surely we need regulatory bodies of some sort to guarantee that people other than customers are treated fairly? What about the environmental impact of project finance ventures for example? Voluntary standards can only take us so far. As to whether consumer conscience can act as an effective check on such things, surely we can all agree that there is such a thing as market inertia?

      • Richard said:

        Hello Alex – You raise some interesting points but they open up vast new subjects! About environmental impact, your moving into the area of socialised healthcare and how it removes the cost factor from environmental damage. if I can give a link for a brief summary of what I mean. http://independence4wales.com/2012/how-private-health-insurance-saves-the-environment-how-obamacare-the-nhs-damages-it

        “Voluntary standards can only take us so far” – I would say they will take us as far as we want them to, tell me what the limit would be for your personal regulation of businesses?

        “As to whether consumer conscience can act as an effective check on such things, surely we can all agree that there is such a thing as market inertia?” Inertia? If you get screwed by your local electrical store, maybe they sell your favourite mobile phone, does the inertia stop you from finding a different brand of mobile? I would say there is infinitely less inertia with individuals compared to government.

        About conscience. Who is to judge what is bad or good? You want other people making that judgement for you through regulations? Or would you prefer to have the power to make that judgment for yourself? I don’t think the answer is “government” imposing their “conscience” on you through regulation. We all think differently, we are all in different circumstances, what is bad for one is not necessarily bad for another, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, even if government tells us that there is.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard – I have to say that I am not sure this does change the debate that much: project finance is a major way in which national banks deal internationally. The entire point that I am raising is that the customers are not those affected by the action taken. Customers of bank X will not be even slight affected by the financing of a pipeline in another country. We are talking about the regulation of banking practices aren’t we? It is all part of the same problem.

        The notion of voluntary standards going as far as we want them to is totally ludicrous. Voluntary standards like the Equator Principles are adopted by banks. Their voluntary nature means that they go as far as the banks want them to.

        Of course I will change my telephone company if they screw me over. The point is that I am highly unlikely to change my bank for self-interested reasons if they screw other people over, especially if I cannot be screwed over in the same way. So I will have no selfish reason to drop my bank for financing environmentally or socially irresponsible projects abroad.

        In fact, the fact that capitalism treats people’s interests as contingent upon their market impact in itself leads to the courting of politics by corporate interest. Such a relationship is mutually beneficial, as you rightly point out. This in turn leads to the sort of bank bailouts such as those given to Barclay’s. The real problem is putting faith in self-interest in the first place; a mistake upon which your entire consumer-focused approach rests. Only by attempting to recreate business as an exercise of making profit within the bounds of social responsibility can any real headway be made. Falling back on profit as a motivational tool will only lead to a diversity of innovative ways to gain it. The link between politics and profit is a prime example. Such innovation need not be egalitarian, libertarian or socially responsible. The paradigm is all wrong. It cannot be solved by the state simply leaving well enough alone.

        Finally, the idea that as a consumer I make choices for myself and that if there is a regulatory body then I do not is a fallacy. Firstly, the presence of regulation does not prevent me from also making a choice as a consumer. Secondly, the idea that a free market promotes individual freedom is pure nonsense. Markets are by their nature majoritarian. I might boycott my bank but if no one else does then I have made a judgment but that judgment has not had any impact. If this is coupled with the fact that the natural goal of every business is to out compete to the point of monopoly, following which market inertia becomes all but insurmountable, a point could theoretically be reached whereby the consumer is screwed over without ever realising it, because the service they are being given is just accepted as ‘the norm’. Wanting to avoid this is one reason why cartels are illegal, why consumer protection laws are enacted, why the entire area of competition law exists and why, finally, we have regulatory bodies that make sure that business methods are both fair and visible.

      • Richard said:

        Hello Alex – Okay I think I see where you are going.

        “The point is that I am highly unlikely to change my bank for self-interested reasons if they screw other people over, especially if I cannot be screwed over in the same way. ” – The question you have to ask here is why the “other people” are not changing their bank?

        “So I will have no selfish reason to drop my bank for financing environmentally or socially irresponsible projects abroad.” – You could if you wanted to ie you knew what your bank was doing and you decided not to have anything to do with them. Its your choice if you want to stay or go. There is something you can do and if enough people agree with you it will have an effect.

        “In fact, the fact that capitalism treats people’s interests as contingent upon their market impact in itself leads to the courting of politics by corporate interest. ” – don’t we all try to have government work for our own interest? Getting regulation implemented for things we don’t like for example? The problem is the concentration of power. When you have concentration of power you are naturally creating a target which people will want to manipulate for their own ends.

        “This in turn leads to the sort of bank bailouts such as those given to Barclay’s. ” – The bailouts are anti-capitalism. Bank bailouts have absolutely nothing to do with capitalism and everything to do with socialism/fascism. Capitalism is putting the power in the hands of the people, socialism/fascism both stem from centralised government power. Which takes us back to the previous point about the dangers of giving government power rather than the people.

        “The real problem is putting faith in self-interest in the first place; a mistake upon which your entire consumer-focused approach rests.” – Sorry, what is wrong with mammals, fish, birds, basically every living creature acting in their own self interest?

        “Firstly, the presence of regulation does not prevent me from also making a choice as a consumer” – I don’t think anyone is claiming the contrary.

        “Secondly, the idea that a free market promotes individual freedom is pure nonsense. Markets are by their nature majoritarian.” – You have completely lost me here. Markets exist to fulfill needs and wants, majority or minority has nothing to do with it.

        “I might boycott my bank but if no one else does then I have made a judgment but that judgment has not had any impact. ” – Again you have lost me. You have boycotted your bank for a specific reason or reasons what difference does it make if other people don’t feel the same way? You have to do what is right for you, just because the majority is not with you does not make your opinion any less valid. If your lucky enough to find enough like minded people then the market will fulfill your needs through niche banks, the market even allows you to start your own business so you can fulfill your own needs and those with the same opinions as you. If others don’t leave then they are obviously happy with the state of play for whatever reason, why do you want to impose your beliefs on them with force, can’t you simply explain to them your thinking?

        “If this is coupled with the fact that the natural goal of every business is to out compete to the point of monopoly,” – Yes I agree and they can only do this if they offer what people want.

        “a point could theoretically be reached whereby the consumer is screwed over without ever realising it, because the service they are being given is just accepted as ‘the norm’” – you explain the problem of government monopoly and the resulting regulation and institutions *perfectly* – The only thing in your life that is a monopoly is the government. There are no free market monopolies, none.

        “Wanting to avoid this is one reason why cartels are illegal, why consumer protection laws are enacted, why the entire area of competition law exists and why, finally, we have regulatory bodies that make sure that business methods are both fair and visible.” – this is definitely the government line. I would refer you to empirical evidence ie countries with high regulation and low regulation and see which people are better off.

        The poorest and most oppressed people in the world live in highly government regulated environments where the government is acting for the good of everyone. N. Korea, USSR, DRC to name a couple of obvious examples. You disagree?

        Or do you think the people in N. Korea are somehow different from the people in S. Korea and this is why their governments are so different? Do you think the people in N. Korea are the problem or do you at least acknowledge the possibility that the regulations could be the problem?

        And please, good and bad regulation comes down to the people creating the regulation which takes us back to people in N. Korea being different from those in S. Korea.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard – I don’t think you quite understand what I am saying. This is no doubt my fault, so I shall attempt to restate it. But to answer your question, yes I do disagree that acting in the public interest necessarily results in fascism, which you seem to see as similar to socialism. To deal with this point first, I simply do not accept that the countries you cite as having governments that genuinely acted in the public interest. They were or are oligarchies or dictatorships. It would be woefully simplistic to claim that all big government must fall into either of these boxes on the conceptual level.

        To start with, I think I need to answer you about selfishness. There is a great deal wrong with acting out of pure self-interest. I would have thought this was rather obvious. If it would make me happier overall and in the long run to play loud music in the middle of the night (“Bugger the neighbours!”) then under a model of practical reason based entirely on self-interest I should just do so. The fact is that in addition to any self-interested reasons I might have for not doing so, I also have altruistic reasons for not doing so. It is altruistic reasons that I suggest profit be subject to. Now we could have an argument as to what these might be (protection of the environment, human rights, some form of distributive equality etc. might be good candidates) but we have to admit that such reasons for action/inaction exist. Humans are different from fish because we can contemplate such things. That is a very good thing.

        We do not all try to get governments to act for our own interest, at least not entirely and certainly not all the time. Several charities, pressure groups, public interest law firms and (dare I suggest it?) political parties lobby, sue, argue and promote for altruistic reasons alone. As a man it would hardly be in my immediate self-interest to argue for women’s rights although I have on a number of occasions done exactly that. Basing a theory of good governance on self-interest is therefore an incomplete picture of the human condition and woefully immoral. I hope this makes clearer why I think that business, which helps shape our societies, should be subject to similar principles.

        On the project finance point: because the victims of immoral profiteering are not customers of the companies involved, one cannot rely on pure self-interest to get us to the level of consumer regulation required to create an effective disincentive for financers avoiding harmful investments. Very often people do not know that their banks are financing environmentally dangerous projects abroad, or builds that destroy communities in foreign parts. Without non-capitalist collective action, such as radical journalism, protest and regulation, this information would not have been publicised and no first steps would have been taken. Even though certain scandals do come to light, people still do not leave their banks (mainly) because of two factors: market inertia and timidity. Regulation can solve problems faster and save people and environments from harm before consumers attitudes have changed. This is a purely practical point.

        On the consumer judgment point: my choice is of course always my choice. However, you agree, I suppose, that some choices are right and some are wrong. I hope you also agree that just because a belief is held by a minority of people that doesn’t make it wrong (the inverse being true as well). If you accept these two things you can see in what sense markets are majoritarian. Individual people make choices and business chooses how to respond to those choices, finding the most profitable root possible. This means that the choice promoting the most economic utility for that business will most often be where the majority of their demographic is going. So numbers count amongst customers. I think you actually argue this yourself. The problem is that sometimes people, especially in large numbers where comfort and denial can play a major role, make wrong choices. Even if I make a right choice, say by boycotting a bank, if no one else does the same then my choice has no impact on the utility equation. Now one a way to address this is to educate the consumers to not behave self-interestedly and to take their duty to respect others seriously. However, this will not help the victims of immoral investment here and now. Personally, I would rather both education and regulation occur together. They often support each other and reduce the need to rely exclusively on one as on the other. Large groups of people tend towards conservatism and tradition, even if that tradition is one of ignoring the suffering of others. It is not always enough to leave this to the chance that the entire market might change its opinion in time. Sometimes, waiting for this to occur causes suffering and death.

        On your comparison of my argument against monopoly and the facts of government: I have two points. My first is that to say that a free market is anathema to monopoly is just plain false. The ideal economic situation for any company is a monopoly. Copyright law is an example of this: we reward inventive behaviour by granting monopolies for a while. Monopoly is the promise that the free market offers because it offers the greatest capacity for profit. I accept that monopolies are made rare by competition. However, a great deal of that competition is artificially created by government regulation, especially in modern Europe. Regulation can be the ally of competition in that respect. There is nothing about the free market itself that renders competition inevitable; even Milton Friedman agreed with that.

        My second point is this: I agree. Certain modes of government are just accepted as good: democracy is the perfect example. However, denying that the free market can be one of those modalities is desperately and deliberately naive. I would be disposed to question both, not vilify one and deify the other. Just because I am for regulation for instrumental reasons does not mean that I am for big government as a moral necessity. This is a highly complex question of political theory however, and I don’t feel I have the space to do it justice here.

      • Richard said:

        Hello Alex – “If it would make me happier overall and in the long run to play loud music in the middle of the night (“Bugger the neighbours!”) then under a model of practical reason based entirely on self-interest I should just do so. ” – But that fact is that you don’t BECAUSE you are acting in your own self interest. Isn’t that so?

        About being altruistic, if you don’t think about other people it comes back on you one way or another which is why it is in your own self interest to act altruistically.

        “good governance on self-interest is therefore an incomplete picture of the human condition and woefully immoral.” – Please give me an example where governance based on your self interest has been immoral.

        “I think that business, which helps shape our societies, should be subject to similar principles. ” – Can you give an example where a local business has not acted altruistically and has gained an advantage?

        “On the project finance point: because the victims of immoral profiteering are not customers of the companies involved, one cannot rely on pure self-interest to get us to the level of consumer regulation required to create an effective disincentive for financers avoiding harmful investments.” Can you give an example? I mean who are the victims? And why do they not have recourse to a court of law?

        “Very often people do not know that their banks are financing environmentally dangerous projects abroad, or builds that destroy communities in foreign parts. ” – I agree and again I ask why do the people in these countries not have recourse to their legal system and/or why is the government in those countries allowing dangerous and damaging things to happen to their citizens? Only the government can facilitate dangerous behaviour, the legal system is ultimately judged by our peers who would arguably find in favour of the victims unless they were overruled by their government.

        “this information would not have been publicised and no first steps would have been taken. ” – Your implying that is not in the interest of a company to advertise the immoral or dangerous actions of a competitor. This is simply not the case.

        Having said all that I respect your right to want to regulate anything and everything you want on condition you respect my right not to have to pay for the enforcement and administration of the regulations you want. Do you give me that right?

        And more than that, I respect your right to buy products and services from anyone or any company you want regardless of my opinion of that party, on the condition that you respect my right to buy goods and services from people and businesses who do not have the government stamp of approval. Do you give me that right?

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, thank you for your reply.

        Please read what I said about altruism again. It sounds like you are selectively reading me. After the section you quote I say that: “The fact is that in addition to any self-interested reasons I might have for not doing so, I also have altruistic reasons for not doing so.” Certainly I have self-interested reasons for not pissing off my neighbors but if a person was to think that those are the only reasons I have for not doing so then that person would be at best shallow and selfish and at worst a truly reprehensible human being. There are altruistic reasons for doing things. These are also (for the most part) good, morally upright and appropriate reasons upon which to base both individual and collective action.

        Example 1: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/mar/03/olympic-brands-abuse-scandal

        Example 2: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/nigeria/120206/nigeria-news-chevron-fire-niger-delta-enters-week-four, although really any example of an international corporation impacting people other than those who form the majority of their market would suffice. The victims are those people who are not part of the target demographic but lose something as a result of investment. Villagers forced to relocate because of the construction of a dam financed by a foreign bank are another classic example. Recourse to law is not always technically possible for reasons of doctrinal stagnation or remoteness (read my article on financial suicide) and it is sometimes just too expensive for subsistence farmers or fishermen to afford.

        The idea that only a government can facilitate dangerous behavior is just silly. What about government makes it susceptible to dangerous behavior that cannot be so of any collective (or indeed any individual)? Power is power, whether it is labeled as public or private. Your comments on this point are beginning to smack of idolatry.

        Of course companies can sometimes gain an advantage from showing up a competitor. They can also gain an advantage from not doing it. If the benefit of shielding the competitor outweighs that of exposing them then it would be contrary to self-interest to do so. One example is obvious: if both competitors are engaged in the same immoral activity. Again, this is why cartels and other anti-competitive behavior have been made illegal. If capitalism alone prevented them from occurring then such laws would not exist.

        On right one: no I don’t. You pay for the police and I assume that you think the regulation of the criminal law is (at least in part) a good idea. Hyper-liberal cancel-out arguments lead to unworkable and harsh societies. The entire exercise of law is one in deciding what sort of collective action merits coercion. To say that I can regulate anything as long as you don’t have to pay for it totally misses the entire theoretical basis of tax law and collective action in a broader sense. There comes a point when people just need to suck it up and help out others, even if they don’t want to.

        On right two: yes I do, as long as your buying of those goods or services does no unnecessary harm. I would not want you paying for sex if the result was the facilitation of people trafficking. Once again, deciding what merits restriction is the point of debates about appropriate regulation. The answer simply cannot be to have no regulation at all.

        Your entire approach to this seems too black and white for my liking. It is based on a cynical and incomplete understanding of the moral condition and an unwarranted distinction between public and private power. Having said that, I am prepared to accept that there are plenty of people who agree(d) with your view, including a few reasonably good philosophers like Robert Nozick. I just haven’t heard any convincing arguments as to why I should look at the world in that way.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – Your taking us round in a circle now.

        Altruism and self interest are the same thing. Unless of course you are acting against your self interest when you are altruistic? I’m assuming conscience and self interest are in the same tent?

        About problems in other countries, see my previous comment about law and government. Your whole philosophy is based on the government acting in the greater good so why isn’t the Nigerian government suing Chevron?

        “They can also gain an advantage from not doing it. If the benefit of shielding the competitor outweighs that of exposing them then it would be contrary to self-interest to do so. One example is obvious: if both competitors are engaged in the same immoral activity. ” – but you acknowledge the possibility that they might not work together right?

        “On right one: no I don’t. You pay for the police and I assume that you think the regulation of the criminal law is (at least in part) a good idea” – We are not talking about the police, buts lets say I would happily have the choice of a private security firm. (Ill ignore the fact that you think it is morally correct for you to be able to force people to do something against their will)

        “The entire exercise of law is one in deciding what sort of collective action merits coercion” – Coercion has nothing to do with the law., unless of course the law involves government.

        “To say that I can regulate anything as long as you don’t have to pay for it totally misses the entire theoretical basis of tax law and collective action in a broader sense. There comes a point when people just need to suck it up and help out others, even if they don’t want to.” – You are a scary person.

        “On right two: yes I do, as long as your buying of those goods or services does no unnecessary harm” – That’s my whole point. I think threatening people with the physical force under any circumstances is harmful. I know, you disagree, people should suck it up.

        “The answer simply cannot be to have no regulation at all.” – Absolutely not, like I said, everyone should have whatever regulations they wish as long as the people who want it are the ones paying for it. People who dont want it should not be physically threatened to pay for something they do not want. I dont care what the consequences are, its simply not right. When they wanted to ban slavery some people were asking who was going to pick the cotton, but who cares, slavery is immoral and that is all that counts.

        “It is based on a cynical and incomplete understanding of the moral condition and an unwarranted distinction between public and private power.” – I think that is the difference in our opinions. I believe that the vast majority of people are basically good and fair whereas you don’t seem to.

        You are the one who appears, to me at least, to have no confidence in people, that people want to screw people over, that people are powerless, that people are unable to look after themselves and that people must hand power over to a smaller group of people who NEED the monopoly on force to make their system work.

        This to me displays a complete misunderstanding of the moral condition. It also displays to me the ignorance of the highest order if you cannot see the difference between a group of people who receive money through voluntary exchange and those that can only get money through the use of physical violence.

      • Alex Green said:

        Thanks Richard, that is a very clear position. However I must say that you have misunderstood me on a few points. I am also most flattered that you are afraid of me. I will not address the question regarding whether companies can both support and thwart their competitors, as believe you have answered that yourself.

        I do not assume that because governments can act in favor of the general good that they always do, just as I do not assume that all businesses act purely out of self interest. I simply do not know how good or bad the vast majority of people are. My arguments are rather based on the assumption that the vast majority of people are highly complex and can act for both selfish and non-selfish reasons. I also assume that sometimes people do not think that hard about why they do or do not do things. My examples of selfish behaviour were intended to show that people, in both public and private capacities, can act in these ways and how, given that fact, a reasonable society should respond. I think at some point we just have to face the fact that human responses to certain things are not predictable. Most importantly, we do not always do what is right.

        It is this unpredictability that links law to coercion. On the abstract level we decide that certain things simply must not occur. Murder is a good example. I think it would be hard to imagine a way to deal with murder that did not allow for coercion. Simply standing there and repeating arguments as to why murder is wrong is clearly not going to prevent it from occurring.

        Also, there is nothing about the idea of collective decision making geared towards altruism that requires representative government as it currently exists. Your criticism of me seems to assume that I am defending the status quo. I am not doing so. Instead I am trying to provide an argument for why it is necessary, given the world as it currently exists, that business be regulated to ensure that altruistic reasons play a part in decision making. That does not require me to defend representative democracy. If I gave you the impression that I was, I apologise. My argument is one of policy not constitution, governance and not government. Law, being a collective enterprise, must be linked to some form of governance (because by definition it governs a collective) but not necessarily government. It is governance I would say that necessitates coercion, not government. International law is a good example of this distinction: it governs without a government.

        The reason that tax can be justified is that people can cause harm by omission within a social context as, if not more, easily than by action. For example, a person could live their whole life without giving anything to help the poor and just watch them starve, resting on the fact that they weren’t a direct cause of it. They were just ensuring that they made profit for themselves. My point about people being made to help others is aimed at things analogous to that. No doubt you would give to the poor voluntarily. I simply do not wish to assume, in light of history, that enough people would follow your example without some sort of taxation and redistribution. The problem is (or in the domestic context perhaps was?) too pressing.

        Based on this, I am not sure that threatening people with physical force in all circumstances is harmful: “Stop threatening to harm that baby with that knife or I am going to force you to stop.” If the harm is bad enough then surely proportionate coercion is justified? Now I am no consequentialist, however I do believe that in order for something to be axiomatically wrong it must have a firm moral basis. I am not sure that private property can provide such a justification for the proposition that taking money away from somebody is always wrong, no matter what. In order to reach that conclusion I would need too see a strong conceptual link between owning any (as opposed to a sufficient) amount of money and being an autonomous individual worthy of respect. I think your example of slavery is good one, in that it shows how ownership can be illegitimate under certain circumstances. (In that case precisely because of individual freedom!) In respect of taxation my claim is that allowing one’s fellow human beings to languish in poverty cannot be justified under a good conception of private property. As to the regulation of business, it is a similar point: profiteering as an expression of freedom must be balanced against more altruistic concerns, such as ensuring that one does not destroy the lives or livelihoods of others.

        I hope you can forgive me my high ignorance if you still perceive me to hold it. Certainly there is a moral distinction between voluntary exchange and taxation. The world would be better if everyone volunteered to exchange resources until everyone had a fair share. My concern is that such a view of humanity does not seem to correspond precisely to fact.

        One interesting old chestnut that you raise is that altruism is equivalent to self interest. I take you to mean that one’s self interest in a fuller sense will always be served by being altruistic. Whilst I am not sure whether or not this is true (there is a distinction I think between a well lived life and a good life), I am prepared to accept it for the sake of the argument. However, I think that there is a difference between self interest in the sense of living a full and rewarding life and self interested actions that look to short term goals. It is the latter sort of self interest that concerns me. I might want to get rich at the expense of others for various selfish reasons only to realize that this was a deeply unfulfilling course upon my death. That does not establish a link between actions that were clearly selfish and altruism. There is a great deal of argument about this between Aristotelians and Kantians I believe, but I am not sure how it serves us to go into that within the context of this discussion. It is simple self interest that I am talking about.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – “In respect of taxation my claim is that allowing one’s fellow human beings to languish in poverty cannot be justified under a good conception of private property. ” – I do not believe I have met a single person that does not get a feeling of well being when they help someone that is less fortunate than themselves. I am positive you put yourself in this camp as well. In short your statement is a false premise.

        About laws and murder – Let me expand my point. Laws in the concept of a free society is to stop one person from restricting the freedom of another or by causing physical, mental or economic harm to another. If your definition of regulation falls under my definition of law then why do you require regulations? Government regulations are pre-crime enforcement.

        And about poverty. This argument is an utter non starter because even the poorest people in society don’t have the choice of opting out of receiving government assistance. If it is obviously such a good deal for them then why do they have to be forced to be part of it? Surely they would pay VAT etc voluntarily.

        You bring up businesses screwing the environment, screwing their customers, people leaving others to starve, people doing the wrong things, people doing before thinking of the consequences, people acting selfishly, people hoarding their wealth, people exploiting others etc etc. You are free to live in the world where all these things are looked after by government, nobody is stopping you but why on earth do you want to imprison people that want to live outside of this world? (Keep the rich in there if you need them to sustain it)

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, thank you once again. I am not disputing ‘the smile factor’ as a motivator, merely as an adequate motivator. I would have thought that the existence and persistence of poverty proves that the fuzzy feeling alone does not do enough to motivate people to help the poor in an effective or organized way.

        Your definition of just law leaves out quite a lot, for example dispute resolution, rules of democratic participation (if we are going down that route) and the infrastructure necessary to enforce the substantive law you endorse in a fair way. I will assume however that you are just taking those for granted. I am not sure what your distinction between law and regulation is because the sense in which you are using the word ‘law’ makes no references to constitutional structure. Certainly law regulates, or at least purports to regulate, behavior. To that extent I agree that ‘law’ is exhaustive of regulation. However in the context of our own society the distinction is purely one of where these provisions of governance come from. Regulations are generally assumed to come from certain regulatory bodies. I am more concerned with what is regulated in my arguments about business, rather than who regulates. I believe others have argued that with you already. It would be perfectly acceptable to me, for example, for a society to draw up a business constitution with limiting principles on profit that was enforced by some neutral arbitral body. All that I would require was that the regulation in question was at least to some approximation substantively just. In that sense the regulation I am talking about could indeed be called law. I am not sure what you mean by pre-crime enforcement, as that preempting and preventing crime is a major (if not the main) goal of criminal law.

        On my argument about poverty: I am afraid I do not understand your criticism. Firstly people most certainly can opt out of receiving state benefits. You have to apply for them in the first place (or go to an NHS doctor etc.). The only reason that people feel compelled to use redistributed resources is because they have no other means to secure their basic needs. I would have thought that this aids my criticism of libertarianism rather than disprove it. Secondly even if all poor persons were forced to receive state benefits, I do not see how that makes my argument a non-starter. My argument is that justice requires that resources be redistributed to meet basic needs. Just because resources are made available to you doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of them. If someone wants to starve to death or refuse medical treatment, be my guest. The point is that the safety net should be there for when it is needed.

        I believe that I have already sketched my view as to why coercion is necessary in order to ensure that redistributive justice takes place. Essentially, because history shows us that we cannot assume that people will act in accordance with their moral duties to aid the poor, we must (regrettably – I do not deny it) fall back on the coercive force of law to ensure that there are adequate resources available for redistribution. The extent to which this is done and exactly how this is carried out involves a debate over policies of taxation; however I believe that taxation of some sort is a must right now. I look forward to a time when humanity has evolved to the point where it is not.

      • Richard said:

        Hello Alex – I understand your thinking about regulation, how can you justify inflicting physical violence on your neighbour if they don’t agree with you? But I get it, you think the violence is worth it.

        About law, I think you have the cart before the horse. You don’t go to court unless something has already happened.

        Third paragraph, if people want to opt out why would you want their taxes? I refer you to the last paragraph of my previous comment re the rich if you need them

        “Just because resources are made available to you doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of them.” – Please tell the government

        “the point is that the safety net should be there for when it is needed.” – but you don’t think people should be able to chose which net

        Your last paragraph, I refer you to the last paragraph of my previous comment.

        Alex, it all comes down to the use of physical violence. You believe the end justify the means, I do not. This is the ONLY point we disagree on.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, in relation to coercion I would say two things: Firstly, there is more to coercion than physical violence. Social pressure, economic influence and judicial command are all forms of coercion. The salient point is that physical coercion (though not necessarily punitive violence) can be used to back up all these things when absolutely necessary. This brings me to my second point. Physical force can be both morally permissible and morally required. It is no way objectionable to hit someone in the face to defend myself from attack. This is legitimate coercion on my part. In the same way it is not objectionable to use proportionate force to save another, indeed we might be duty bound to do so in certain circumstances. Although the attacker would presumably disagree with my interference, this is also legitimate coercion. I assume that you would agree with these propositions. What I am claiming is that in a similar vein it is permissible to coerce the members of society to pay taxes. I don’t think that we are disagreeing about whether or not it is ever permissible to coerce but rather when it is permissible. Our disagreement is not as categorical as you indicated in your last post.

        I also would not say that the ends justify the means as a general rule. I am not a consequentialist and I do believe that certain things are never justified. However, I believe that proportionate coercion is sometimes justified and that redistributive justice is one such case. The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. This is because although people can be altruistic, they can also be selfish in the short sighted way I described. I think that you only need to look at the world around you to see that. Indeed, if people were entirely altruistic then taxation would be a non-issue because everyone would volunteer their resources freely to ensure that the least well off were as well off as they could be, taking into account people’s responsibility for their choices.

        Turning to the question of law, why is it putting the cart before the horse to assume that problems will arise? Your definition of just law might be fine but it is far too limited in that it fails to account for the complexities of human nature. Disputes happen. That is why we need dispute resolution, administration and the rest. I would rather have those things managed by law than not. I am not putting the cart before the horse because I agree that first order laws are the focus of a legal system. My point is that second order laws are necessary to govern their fair and just application. That is what the Rule of Law is all about.

      • Richard said:

        “The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. ” – It would make it impossible to redistribute to people in poverty who have opted out, yes. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to give people in poverty a choice.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, if you were to read my posts above, you would see that I am perfectly happy with people not using the resources available, for example if they want to refuse free medical treatment or not collect state benefits. I was referring, in the passage you cite, to people not paying taxes. There is of course no reason to force people to make use of alms and it is no attack upon my position to claim that such a move would be irrational. It is not part of my position. It is not even how the real world works. You have to sign on for benefits, they are not simply given to you when you become poor enough.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – Let me just repeat my last comment where incidentally I quoted a comment you made

        “The reason that I would not want people to opt-out is that I believe that having an opt-out for taxation would render effective redistribution of resources extremely difficult if not impossible. ” – It would make it impossible to redistribute to people in poverty who have opted out, yes. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to give people in poverty a choice.

        To clarify – The opt out option for those in poverty entails them not paying taxes in return for not receiving benefits on condition they can opt back in whenever they want.

        Would you want to give people in poverty the choice to opt out?

      • Alex Green said:

        Opt out of benefits, yes. Opt out of taxes, no. For the reasons I have already explained.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – “Opt out of benefits, yes. Opt out of taxes, no. For the reasons I have already explained.” – Sorry, you have not explained why those in poverty should be forced to pay taxes. You said something about redistribution which has nothing to do with those in poverty who have opted out.

      • Alex Green said:

        My reason for why all people need to contribute in taxes is that taxation only works effectively without an opt-out. This is a factual assumption on my part. If it is wrong then we can go about addressing it. None of this stops the poor paying less tax, or virtually none (or even none at all). There is a difference between a zero rate and no rate at all. The former implies that they are still part of the redistributive system.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – “My reason for why all people need to contribute in taxes is that taxation only works effectively without an opt-out. ” – What? Even people who are net receivers? If so, how?

        How do net receivers of benefits (who want to stop paying taxes and receiving benefits) make the tax system more effective if they are part of it?

      • Alex Green said:

        Your question answers itself. They are net receivers because redistributive justice requires that they be so. They have not lost out through participation. Not only are they contributing to a collective exercise of redistribution but they are also being supported by it. They do not need to be one or the other. They can be both.

        Everyone needs to be a part of the redistribution or the system itself will stop functioning fairly. The whole point of redistributive justice is that it is a collective redistribution that no one is outside of. People may choose not to take advantage of the resources they are given but they should not have the option to opt-out of their duty to contribute. If they are net beneficiaries at that moment in time it is evidence that the system is working. You must remember that this is a system in which resources will move over time. So just because someone is poor today does not mean that they will be tomorrow (and vice versa). Voluntary trade as well as bad and good luck still exists within this system after all.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – ” They are net receivers because redistributive justice requires that they be so. ” Its justified to force aid on people who dont want it and to force them to contribute if they are not in a position to? I think you need to accept & respect that someone in abject poverty may have a different idea of justice to you.

        “So just because someone is poor today does not mean that they will be tomorrow ” – So do you concede in a hypothetical situation, the day/hour/minute they are a beneficiary they should have the right to opt out and the moment they are in a position to be a net contributor they are forced back into the system.

        That way everyone is contributing and the only people giving and taking (but being net beneficiaries) are there out of choice. That is acceptable to you?

        Im not sure but I think your having difficulty getting around the possibility that some people who are beneficiaries might prefer to get out completely, no taxes no benefits.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, I am afraid that by quoting parts of what I say out of context you risk time and again misinterpreting my position. For the third time: I am happy with people not taking benefits but not with them refusing to pay taxes. Someone can pay no taxes at all and still be within the taxation system: there is a conceptual difference between a zero rate under a particular redistributive framework and no rate at all. If you are describing a zero rate then yes I would be fine with that. But a zero rate is not an opt out, which is to say the removal of rates from an individual. It is the difference between being within a collective and being treated a certain way and not being in that collective at all. This is a logical distinction because, as I have said, people’s resources fluctuate. At no stage have I argued that the poorest should pay taxes to a level that negates their capacity to collect benefits. That would be utterly pointless.

        On justice: A redistributive justice argument is geared towards supporting an interpretation of justice where redistribution is morally required. The whole point of backing it up with coercion is that people might not comply voluntarily. I fully accept that people might want to opt out and that people might disagree with my views on justice. These facts in themselves do not persuade me that we should allow opt outs or that my views on justice are wrong. I have given several reasons why opting out of taxation (not benefits, I stress for the fourth time) should not be allowed. Simply repeating that people might want to opt out is not an argument against me. If you want to convince me you must show me why my argument stems from an inconsistent interpretation of justice. Furthermore, how can I but advocate my own view of justice? To just accept other people’s views if I do not agree with them would be bad faith. The interesting question is under what circumstances I am prepared to coerce based on my own views. I believe that taxation is one such area in which we should be so prepared. I believe I have sketched my reasons for this already.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – Zero rate. Okay that is something, unfortunately it doesn’t exist but at least we have a goal to work towards….

        “The whole point of backing it up with coercion is that people might not comply voluntarily.” – I hope you are never confronted with a tax rate which you think is unjust or unfair or worse still unacceptable…..

        “To just accept other people’s views if I do not agree with them would be bad faith” – Its worse that bad faith, you want to put them in prison! I am positive you do not understand the consequences of what you are saying

        The interesting question is under what circumstances I am prepared to coerce based on my own views. I believe that taxation is one such area in which we should be so prepared. – Again, I hope you are never confronted with a tax rate which you “view” as unfair/unjust/immoral/oppressive etc etc…

        Actually I am interested to know. What would your reaction be if you were confronted with a personal tax burden which you viewed to be unjust/unfair/immoral?

      • Alex Green said:

        Thanks Richard. On zero rate, I am not sure that a totally zero rate would be justified in all but the most extreme circumstances (no job, totally homeless etc.) but yes, I think it is all a matter of what should be expected to contribute proportionate to their resources.

        On what happens when I face a tax I find unjust: you know already right? I suck it up and pay. ;)

        But seriously, I think it is all a matter of degree. Some taxes are more or less reasonable than others. We can have an argument about what taxes are appropriate and at what rates but that is not an argument against redistribution. If I was taxed 99% of my personal resources I would probably be in for some serious civil disobedience. I believe in the importance of certain types of private ownership. I think Rawls’ Theory of Justice is a good place to start but I haven’t really made up my mind what form of redistributive justice I support. If my objection to a tax is little more than mild annoyance then as a practical matter I am prepared to just get on with it. What concerns me far more is how tax money is used. Assuming that it all went into some form of welfare I would have little to complain about. Bailing out banks or financing illegal wars? Not so sure. Again: to the picket lines I might have to go.

        As for throwing people in prison, it needn’t come to that. Coercion for tax avoidance can take the form of incarceration of course, but it needn’t. Fines, community orders or some other form of coercion might work just as well, if not better (and have the advantage of not wholly limiting liberty). I am not sure that relying on coercive measures to enforce taxation ties me down to any particular theory of punishment. My scepticism about prison as an effective form of punishment is set out in another blog entry on this site (and tested very helpfully by senex72 in the comments): http://socialjusticefirst.com/2012/09/24/why-do-we-punish-war-criminals/

        However, in the present circumstances I accept that prison is a likely option. I also think that it is appropriate in some circumstances. My point about bad faith isn’t really about moral harm, at least not exclusively. It is rather based on an epistemological understanding of morality that assumes that moral truth can only be achieved if we approach the enquiry in good faith: I simply have to pursue the arguments that seem good to me. Once again, see the comments in the above cited post. Perhaps it extended our discussion too much to include the bad faith point in my reply. I will try to stay on topic.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – I would probably be in for some serious civil disobedience. – So your disobedience is triggered by the amount of taxation and not the principle of force, in other words it is a personal judgement call.

        Following on

        You think that it would be unjust for you to go to prison for your disobedience?

        Or do you think your imprisonment would be just?

        And would your views being in the minority/majority enter into your decisions?

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, I fail to see why holding that the use of force is illegitimate is any less of a judgement than the notion that certain levels of taxation are appropriate. They are both judgements; personal by virtue of the person making them. You seem to be denigrating my argument as subjective whilst upholding yours as objective. (If I have misunderstood I apologise.) My argument about taxation is a deontic one: Rawls famously argues for a similar position from principle rather than consequence. I am supposing that there is an interpretive concept of justice that we can examine in light of other moral concepts in order to determine what just redistribution requires. There is no subjectivism or relativism implied in my approach to appropriate levels of taxation. I differentiate between the 99% tax and the slight inconvenience because of my contemplated civil disobedience. I freely admit that all human beings can hold false moral beliefs. If I am going to engage in civil disobedience I want to be sure that the thing I am protesting about is wrong. I admit that sometimes my judgements are mistaken. However, I think that it is clear that a 99% tax on all resources would be far too extreme to justify in almost all situations. I would therefore be far more comfortable protesting against it or refusing to pay than I would against a more moderate tax. This is because I believe that more moderate taxation better corresponds to redistributive justice. This is the same sort of judgement as you make when you hold that you should not pay tax because it rests upon the employment of coercion: a practical moral judgement about how to respond to collective redistribution. They are both judgements about how to act based on prior conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of something. They both assume the objectivity of their conclusions. It would be wrong to dismiss complex distinctions as mere opinions purely by virtue of their complexity. True, your coercion distinction is a brighter line than the one I take. That fact alone does not give you a better claim to truth however.

        I can answer your majority/minority question quite easily, with a complex caveat (what a lawyer’s answer!). Numbers do not impact on the rightness or wrongness of my judgement. Where they might become relevant is the question of proof. In all modesty I might have cause to doubt a judgement I haven’t taken time to think through exhaustively if the vast majority of people disagree with me. However, I think that where I can make a better argument for my position than the majority, I will have discharged that burden and I would feel justified in working against them. This is very thorny territory I admit. How do we judge the quality of an argument? Certainly we have to try: this is just the predicament we find ourselves in. We can only make decisions based on what we think is right and wrong. However, we can check our beliefs for several kinds of inconsistency. I discuss this in the first section of my paper: http://www.ejls.eu/8/103UK.pdf. Despite the difficult nature of such decisions, I think we can reach a point where our beliefs are defensible enough to act on.

        The question you raise about whether I should be punished is a very interesting one. To be honest I haven’t really made up my mind about this. On the one hand it seems that if I am in the right I should not be punished. On the other hand there are important considerations of public safety and order that need to be considered before we just allow civil disobedience to be treated lightly in every situation. A lot depends upon the nature of my disobedience of course; it might be legitimate to protest about taxation in certain circumstances but not to refuse to pay. Sometimes it might be necessary to go further. I hope I would be brave enough to simply refuse to pay a 99% resource tax. If this results in going to prison, the question must be asked if that type of coercion is proportionate to the disobedience. In England there is something of a tradition of giving peaceful civil disobedience a light touch when it comes to sentencing (there are some particularly fine judgements by Lord Hoffman about this, but I can’t quite recall the name of the cases). If I had to give you answer right now, I would say that it would be unjust to send me to prison for refusing to pay the 99% tax. I think the judge should refuse to impose prison in virtue of the public spirited nature of civil disobedience to a clearly immoral tax. This judgement may very well be wrong but the point I want to emphasise is that by making it I am trying to reflect the complexities of the situation, rather than simply drawing a bright line between easy cases or moral paradigms. I am afraid I cannot give you a better answer to this point right now, as civil disobedience is an incredibly complex moral problem as a result of its practical nature.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – I am trying to understand your position, the mechanics behind it. Not intended to be a denigration of your opinion. Like I said before, its a bit scary but……..

        “This is the same sort of judgement as you make when you hold that you should not pay tax because it rests upon the employment of coercion:” – My problem is coercion I have no issue giving money to the government, voluntarily.

        “How do we judge the quality of an argument? Certainly we have to try: ” – I would say our opinion of ourselves is the only thing that should concern us, which takes us back to altruism and also your belief that no matter if the majority think 99% is right you do not.

        “I think we can reach a point where our beliefs are defensible enough to act on.” – you wont hear any argument from me on this, but whose belief system are you referring to? In all your comments so far I have understood the majority rules as far as your concerned but that does not make it right re your last comment. Again I agree. Its too complex.

        “If I had to give you answer right now, I would say that it would be unjust to send me to prison for refusing to pay the 99% tax. I think the judge should refuse to impose prison in virtue of the public spirited nature of civil disobedience to a clearly immoral tax. This judgement may very well be wrong but the point I want to emphasise is that by making it I am trying to reflect the complexities of the situation, rather than simply drawing a bright line between easy cases or moral paradigms. I am afraid I cannot give you a better answer to this point right now, as civil disobedience is an incredibly complex moral problem as a result of its practical nature.” – thank you for giving your time, in my opinion this is an awesome answer. A couple of points about it.

        Hopefully a jury of your peers will be deciding!

        If I can continue on the point, assuming the judge and the jury find you guilty, from what you wrote, I don’t think it would change your opinion?

        So where does that leave us?

        The government has imposed a tax you feel is immoral
        You have protested by not paying the full amount (lets assume you pay 70%, in the eyes of the government it makes no difference)
        Your peers have found you guilty and have sentenced you to prison
        You feel you were right in your decision and that you should not have been imprisoned even though the majority is against you.

        Ultimately it has come down to opinion/morals/beliefs/principles etc. Of the majority if you want, you say it makes no difference and I agree.

        My point is, when you give other people the monopoly on force, and fundamentally the use of force comes down to opinion/morals/ethics etc. Your only saviour from prison/punishment is if your parents have brought you up with the idea that 99% is right. Where does that take parenting? The best parents/public schools are the ones who instill the 99% “ethic”? Or the ones at 98% etc. (What incentive does this give government? But I digress).

        Is it not dangerous to put the monopoly of force in the hands of other people, other people who may have a different opinion/belief system to you. ESPECIALLY when we are talking about an * infinitely* complex environment/situation as you highlight in most if not all of your comments. And I again, I agree it is impossibly complex.

        The very fact it is so complex is the reason why I think the use of force is a bad idea. Why I am opposed to capital punishment? We could make a mistake.

        You have a high threshold at 99% and you think this is probably the line for you but what about the people whose line is at 98% or 98.5%. Are their opinions any less valid than yours?

        I would say no but you say you want oppose your will on them, by force if necessary, just because their internal belief system differs from yours, regardless of whether they are as passionate about 98 as you are about 99. Personally, I might not like it but I cant judge strangers can I? I know I do not want to.

        I am not sure if this comes across as hypothetical but I don’t think it is, there are plenty of people who have felt the wrath of government on the points we discuss.

        About your paper, I wont pretend that I read it all but if I can say this, inflicting force on people who have done something and inflicting force on people who have NOT done something is two completely different subjects.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, I don’t know where you got the idea that I was backing majority rule. I have explicitly said that it does not matter in terms of moral truth and only ever gives us a common sense reason to question our beliefs. At no stage have I said that what the majority agrees with is right by definition. That view is madness. If you are arguing with this, fine. But you are not arguing with me.

        Your point about systems of belief: I don’t believe we think in terms of systems of belief, if by that you mean in terms of applying pre-set rules, when we think morally. Sociologists tend to assume we do because their business is seeing society as a system. The best that can be said, I think, is that certain abstract traditions might have hard and fast rules (for example traditional cultures or religions). I do not believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality when we are trying to find the right answer abstract from such traditions however. Instead we are reflective and form moral beliefs through a system akin to interpretation. This is all in the first section of my article (it is largely taken from Dworkin’s moral theory) but I don’t expect you to read all that! All I am advocating is that trying to find the right answer to moral questions is a moral responsibility placed upon individuals. Such responsibility can however lead to the conclusion that collective decision making is necessary or that coercion must be used in certain circumstances. We must pursue good arguments wherever they lead. In my case, I am arguing that some redistributive system is morally required. Sometimes it is appropriate to put the good of the many before the good of the few. Sometimes the inverse is the case. It all depends on the complexities of the justificatory values and principles that form our process of moral reasoning. That is why I can be a deontologist without wanting or needing to adopt simple maxims and definitions of, for example, property. I know there is a lot of jargon in there but that is the best I can do in this little space!

        I don’t know what you mean when you link altruism to someone’s opinion of themselves. I also do not think that the only relevant moral consideration is what we think of ourselves. You seem to agree with me, in that I take you to be agreeing that we can sometimes coerce the harmful acts of others.

        On that point, the action/omission distinction is a popular one but again I think it is too simplistic. For a start, coercion can be used to require people to do certain things that do not fall easily into our intuitive distinctions between action and omission. I can, I think, be legitimately coerced not to be negligent in respect of the safety of others. This might take the form of forbidding me from throwing my Steinway from a third story window. However, such a rational might also require a factory owner to spend money in order to render a working environment safe. The justification for both of these duties stems from the same basis but one requires omission and the other requires action. Another famous example is the way we deontologist fret over the ticking bomb scenario. Intuitively the idea of killing one person to save a hundred feels right but it seems on first glance to be contrary to principle (treating the one as a means not an end). But consider this: In one variant of the trolley problem, Costa argues that by sending a train down a track where it will kill one person rather than the five it will kill if we do nothing, we are permitted to count numbers because what ever we do we will be allowing human(s) to die for the sake of other human(s). Contrast this with the killing of one person, who would not otherwise die, for the saving of a greater number. The distinction here is one of diverting, rather than creating, harm. The question of resource distribution is similar to Costa’s example because in a system that allows for certain individuals to suck up resources and others to have none, someone is always going to lose out. By understanding justice so as not to allow for such disparity we are avoiding or ameliorating the harm that would otherwise occur. Coercing people into redistributing their resources is therefore justified. Obviously this is only a sketched argument but it illustrates the way in which I think we ought to think. Action and omission is too simplistic a distinction upon which to base our moral duties and in turn those which merit coercion.

        Moving away from pure philosophy, I agree that the model I am proposing will result in illegitimate coercion being used some of the time. Collectives, just like individuals, make mistakes. What I would say is that any system of governance is open to this possibility. Certainly libertarianism would limit the illegitimate uses of coercion through the very simple mechanism of limiting coercion. I accept this as well. What I do not accept is that it is worth it. There are other wrongful and bad things out there aside from illegitimate coercion and the limitation of freedom. Poverty, inequality, starvation, death, ignorance and the like are all things we need to address and I believe that a system based on a less rigid, more redistributive understanding of justice is better disposed to deal with these problems. We might not get everything right and we will make mistakes. However, I believe that by not drawing hard lines, by not being afraid to put ourselves out there and make decisions about right and wrong, we will end up doing more good than ill. I’m sure we could go too far, like in the example of the 99% tax. We don’t have to do so though: nothing needs to be a matter of extremes.

        Based on what I have said above (about action/omission and morality as interpretation) I believe that it is just a fact of life that we will have to judge others in some sense. That does not mean being judgmental or intrusive. I firmly believe in the importance of autonomy and having a private life. I think where we disagree is once more a matter of extent. My belief is that justifications such as liberty only reach so far and in certain circumstances things that might be argued private, for example money: the subject of our own disagreement, do not always fall within this protected sphere. I would absolutely refute that this is just my opinion. It is my opinion to be sure but I would not have it as such if I did not also believe that it was the absolute and universal truth. Having said this, I am quite prepared to be proven wrong and indeed take pause before taking steps to coerce. I’m not advocating we be gung-ho but let us not be timid either. Whilst the rhetorical force of libertarianism is appealing, I think that it masks a great deal of complexity and as I have tried to show in my discussions with you, this over simplification can lead to injustice beyond that which it comprehends.

        Small sidebar: I don’t think that capital punishment is wrong because of our capacity for mistakes. I think it is axiomatically wrong because it creates harm in the way I described above. It uses an individual as a means to an end in the most inhuman way possible without cause to do so. I would be against it if there was a 0% chance of error in fact finding.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – Okay, majority is irrelevant, I agree ” I don’t know where you got the idea that I was backing majority rule. ”

        “At no stage have I said that what the majority agrees with is right by definition” – Okay

        “I do not believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality when we are trying to find the right answer abstract from such traditions however.” – I am not saying rules, things far too complex for rules. Fundamental principles on the other hand…

        “Instead we are reflective and form moral beliefs through a system akin to interpretation.” – Im with you

        “All I am advocating is that trying to find the right answer to moral questions is a moral responsibility placed upon individuals. ” – As long as you are only concerned with yourself of course. Like you say, things in out own life are complex enough. To judge people you don’t even know, would be foolish and dangerous in my opinion.

        “Such responsibility can however lead to the conclusion that collective decision making is necessary or that coercion must be used in certain circumstances.” – There is no responsibility, unless of course someone asks you. You then go back to majority, something which you say you don’t back. You agree everyone is different and you acknowledge the tyranny of the majority – So I don’t know on what basis you are using coercion?

        “I am arguing that some distributive system is morally required. ” – You also acknowledge that it is impossible to judge “morally” because no hard and fast rules exist. So again, I don’t know what you are basing your system on.

        “Sometimes it is appropriate to put the good of the many before the good of the few.” – 2 Things. 1. You just said you didn’t back majority rule and second you also say there are no hard and fast rules so again, how do you judge what is good? Because its the majority?

        “Sometimes the inverse is the case. ” – Your over thinking this massively in my opinion. Its not black or white, its not yes or no, people can have and do anything they want as long as they don’t stop other people doing the same. When you do this you no longer need to make judgments about other people or deal with impossible moral questions, it really is that simple.

        ” I also do not think that the only relevant moral consideration is what we think of ourselves. ” – I’m not saying relevant, I saying it is the only thing we can claim to have enough information about to be able to make a moral judgment. That is hard enough but judging for people we never meet…..

        “I can, I think, be legitimately coerced not to be negligent in respect of the safety of others.” – I’m afraid you cant, your only negligent if something happens. But feel free to give other examples

        “This might take the form of forbidding me from throwing my Steinway from a third story window. However, such a rational might also require a factory owner to spend money in order to render a working environment safe. The justification for both of these duties stems from the same basis but one requires omission and the other requires action. ” – Sorry, your interpretation is not correct. In both cases you want to coerce people not to do something. This “something” being to stop potential harm.

        “Costa argues that by sending a train down a track where it will kill one person rather than the five it will kill if we do nothing, we are permitted to count numbers because what ever we do we will be allowing human(s) to die for the sake of other human(s). Contrast this with the killing of one person, who would not otherwise die, for the saving of a greater number. The distinction here is one of diverting, rather than creating, harm” – You get to the core of the issue here. I am saying Costa has to do what he thinks is right, you (with your view of coercion being acceptable) want to tell Costa what to do even though you don’t have to live with the consequences.

        “because in a system that allows for certain individuals to suck up resources and others to have none, someone is always going to lose out.” – I’ve seen systems with government and ones without and the ones without share the resources much more evenly. You can also use the animal kingdom if you want for a system without government. In short I have seen zero evidence, zero, that supports the notion that a government distributes wealth more evenly than no government. Not even communism. In fact what I have read of the USSR the wealth distribution was even worse than in the UK.

        “By understanding justice so as not to allow for such disparity we are avoiding or ameliorating the harm that would otherwise occur. ” – Our goals are the same, our methods differ completely.

        ” Coercing people into redistributing their resources is therefore justified. ” – On what are you basing this decision? The levels, who gets it etc etc.

        “Action and omission is too simplistic a distinction upon which to base our moral duties and in turn those which merit coercion.” – Again, you massively over-thinking. You live on principles which are simple. And you use these principles to analyse situations as you come across them. As you said yourself, morals are far too complicated for rules. But I think this is your goal, to make rules to govern moral judgments hence why everything gets so complicated.

        “Collectives, just like individuals, make mistakes.” – Im not disputing that or saying it is wrong, as long as everyone is there voluntarily. Again, god forbid you send an innocent man to prison against you will.

        ” There are other wrongful and bad things out there aside from illegitimate coercion and the limitation of freedom. Poverty, inequality, starvation, death, ignorance and the like are all things we need to address ” – Again, I agree with you. My position is that coercion creates the very things you are seeking to stop. Again I have seen no evidence of a lack of coercion causing the things you highlight. What we have both seen is all of the points you highlight come to fruition when coercion is on the table. Please give an example of where lack of coercion has created what you describe.

        ” I believe that a system based on a less rigid, more redistributive understanding of justice is better disposed to deal with these problems” – it doesnt get less rigid than freedom. Again we are back to whose justice we are talking about, the person who want 100% taxation or the one that wants 98%?

        “We might not get everything right and we will make mistakes.” – Exactly my point for not having coercion

        “However, I believe that by not drawing hard lines, ” – But you don’t believe hard and fast rules have any place in morality which is correct.

        “by not being afraid to put ourselves out there and make decisions about right and wrong, we will end up doing more good than ill.” – Yeah on subjects you understand ie things in your life. And even then its not perfect. Why do you think you can make decision for people you will never meet (through your coercion)?

        “I’m sure we could go too far, like in the example of the 99% tax.” – But you know 99% is not enough for some people. And why would you want to tell them they are wrong as long as they are not coercing you. Let them get on with it.

        “We don’t have to do so though: nothing needs to be a matter of extremes. ” – Again we come back to judgments, morals and ethics where there are no hard and fast rules. 70% might be extreme for one 20 for another etc etc

        ” I believe that it is just a fact of life that we will have to judge others in some sense. ” – How can you judge someone you dont know? And you say yourself you are exposing yourself to judgment of other who may have different moral standards to you. Why would you want to do that? As I have said above. The evidence I see is that coercion leads to the world you want coercion to protect you from. Again, I’m open to examples of the contrary.

        “That does not mean being judgmental or intrusive. I firmly believe in the importance of autonomy and having a private life.” – When there is coercion in your life you do not have autonomy and your private life is altered in ways you cannot comprehend unless you have lived in a society without coercion. To give the UK for example, conservatively, at a minimum we pay a 50% tax rate, what effect do you think that has on your private life? All the extra hours you have to work for an example.

        “My belief is that justifications such as liberty only reach so far” – You cant get a little bit pregnant. Your either free or you are not. Little bit of freedom entails control of your life by the judgement of a stranger which is not freedom.

        “Whilst the rhetorical force of libertarianism is appealing, I think that it masks a great deal of complexity ” – it does the exact opposite. It acknowledges and embraces the infinite complexity of life and does not try to simplify it into rules and regulations and then enforce these rules and regulations with physical violence.

        “this over simplification can lead to injustice beyond that which it comprehends” – Again, I would love some examples

        “It uses an individual as a means to an end in the most inhuman way possible without cause to do so. I would be against it if there was a 0% chance of error in fact finding.” – There are stages, first stage is can we even be sure what we think happened, happened. If the answer is not 100% then I don’t take it further into the areas you rightly highlight. But I do find it slightly ironic that you don’t think a life should be taken but you do think it is right to take chunks of peoples lives away through coercion (in the form of forced labour).

        I think fundamentally our disagreement comes down to what can be achieved with an organisation that can use force and one that does not use force.

        Ill be honest though, for me it is a slightly absurd notion to believe that an organisation that has to use coercion and physical force to get what it wants is morally superior to *everything* else that does not.

        Ultimately if and when we can agree that coercion is not the future and that coercion can lead to the very things we are both trying to avoid, it takes us on to why governments exist in the form they do and specifically why they are so interested in becoming involved in social security/healthcare/pensions etc. The USA gives us very recent evidence of how the world can be pre and post government involvement and even the UK can give us a picture pre and post NHS for example.

        This page gives some interesting links http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=537494

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, your last post was very long but I think that most of your comments boil down to three main arguments. The first is that I can only judge what is moral for me and not what is moral for other people. You seem to think that anything other than this conclusion necessitates majority rule being dispositive of right and wrong. The second is that you seem to believe that a completely free market will give rise to a more just distribution of resources than a regulated market. The third is that freedom is indivisible and that to restrict someone’s freedom to act or not act in any respect is to remove their freedom altogether. I will try to address all of these beliefs in turn and show you why you are mistaken in all three. I emphasize that once more I can only sketch my arguments here due to the constraints of space and time, but that I am hoping to convince you that there is at least enough merit in them to make you pause and reconsider your own beliefs.

        On the first point, your position amounts to a denial of universal morality. If this is not what you mean I apologise but I am not sure how else to read arguments such as ‘we can only make moral judgments about ourselves and our own actions’. There is a very simple reason that this cannot be right: the argument that no one can legitimately coerce another person is a moral argument that purports to provide a restriction upon the actions of others. Therefore you are assuming that your belief that I should not coerce others into paying tax is binding on me even though I don’t hold it myself. This shows that you simply cannot argue against my position based on the idea that it is merely a belief that I hold about how I should act. Your argument is itself a belief about how people have to act and mine is exactly the same in that respect. If this is true and I think that it must be, then your argument is an exercise in judging other people in exactly the same way that mine is. Its logical conclusion is that if any person coerces any other person then that person has done wrong. This is anonymous judgment par excellence. My argument is essentially that if a person refuses to contribute to a just redistributive tax system then they have committed a moral wrong in the same way.

        Connected to this is your misunderstanding of the act/omission point I was making. Firstly, your opinion on negligence is wrong in law. This is not an important point but it stands correction. Under the English law of Tort I will have committed a wrong by risking those in the street below by throwing my Steinway out of the window but that wrong will not be actionable without harm arising. The negligence is one component of the tort of negligence but it is not the only component. My duty is not to be negligent and not, as you seem to think, not to negligently cause harm to others. This is a distinction as old as Roman law between what they called injuria and damnam. Secondly, your restatement of my examples of negligence as duties not to do something is purely semantic. I could correctly say that the duty to pay a welfare tax is a duty to refrain from allowing people to starve. This is a negative semantic proposition. In the same way I could say that you have a duty to actively refrain from punching someone in the face. This is positive semantic proposition. You are confusing the semantic form of ‘duties to’ and ‘duties not to’ with the substance of those duties: requiring action or inaction. It is simply the case that if an employer has to spend money to make his factory safer he is acting rather than a refraining from action. This is yet another reason why the action and omission distinction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

        I am also afraid that your belief that anyone lives by simple principles is just plain wrong. Once again, these complexities are explained in the paper I linked you to and also in another paper by me in the European Human Rights Law Review called “A Philosophical Taxonomy of European Human Rights Law” (sorry I couldn’t find a pdf to link you to). I am afraid that this is too complex a philosophical issue to canvass in the space I have but please give them a read if you are interested. The general theory is called ‘value holism’; perhaps a google search would help? The thesis refutes the notion that hard and fast rules are required to provide objective and universal moral answers.

        The conclusion that you seem to reach from your views on morality is that any system that does not allow people to decide what is right and wrong in a vacuum requires majority rule to be dispositive of what is morally right and wrong. For a start this is simply not so. Dictatorship does not employ majority rule but does require people to conform to collective moral standards. I do not take this to be the sort of distinction you would disagree with however.

        Rather, I understand you to be arguing that because majority opinion is not relevant to questions of right and wrong, it should not be employed to determine them. My problem with this is that it implicitly assumes that I am wrong when I argue that some form of collective redistribution should be enforced. The difficulty with such an assumption is that if I am correct then such a system needs to be both defined and implemented. To my mind the only way to do this fairly would be through some form of collective decision making. Decision making does not in itself make redistributive taxation morally right but it is required in order to ensure that all relevant considerations are taken into account when attempting to plan it out.

        For present purposes I will separate implementation from definition. Firstly, there is a distinction between whether some state of affairs is morally required and what steps should be taken to implement that state of affairs. It would be wrong to argue that because I do not believe that majority rule gives rise to what is right that I cannot also believe that majority rule is required as a procedural safeguard when organising the facilitation of what is right. This distinction is why I can believe that the procedure giving rise to the 99% tax was fair and still refuse to pay it because it is unjust. As to the question of definition, if it is clear that some form of enforceable redistribution is required but there is disagreement about the nature of that redistribution, we are collectively faced with a problem we must solve. In these circumstances we can use majority rule, not as a show of hands but rather as a discursive process, to determine the manner of redistribution that we are going to enforce. At this stage it is participation in the process that justifies using majority rule to draw a conclusion. I would stress that this is only ever a second best to everyone just accepting the rightness of something on their own. However, it is a practical necessity when communities reach a certain size and depend on each other for the implementation of the controversial details in common plans. This should also help explain why I am prepared to accept a tax that might be slightly disproportionate but not one that is clearly inappropriate. Perhaps the solution is not to have communities on that scale. However, at that stage we are arguing in terms of anarcho-communism or some similar theory of governance. This I take to be well outside the context of our present discussion.

        On the second point, I simply do not agree that a free market will give rise to a more just distribution of resources than a regulated one. Now I am part philosopher part lawyer and I think that an economist is better placed to argue the instrumental workings of an economy with you. Putatively, if your beliefs about a free market giving rise to a just distribution of resources correspond to fact then I would have no problem at all with a totally unregulated market. What I can say is that one need only compare the wealth gaps and access to healthcare in the US with the same in more socialist European countries, including the UK, to see that the former’s freer market does a poor job in ensuring an equal distribution by comparison.

        Your third point about the indivisibility of freedom is something that I feel I am better equipped to address. I read you as arguing that any restriction on freedom is a removal of freedom because freedom is a state of being. My first point is that you clearly do not believe this argument yourself, as you advocate coercing people to prevent them from coercing others. As I understand it, this is the role of law in a libertarian system of governance. Under such a system you would clearly not be free to murder. If your argument is to be believed then the conclusion would be that a society that forbids murder is not a free society. That is clearly nonsense and I wouldn’t suspect that you believed it for a second. Rather, I believe that your statement about the indivisibility of freedom is a rhetorical spin on a particular understanding of the limits of freedom, to emphasize that those limits cannot be infringed one way or the other. I think our disagreement is better characterized as one concerning exactly what limits on individual freedom are morally appropriate. You say less, I say more. What I am concerned with in the context of redistributive justice is liberty as opposed to freedom; liberty being the appropriate levels and modalities of freedom within the context of a just community. I am afraid your example of pregnancy is a terrible one. Freedom is a moral concept and pregnancy is a physical state. They are not analogous.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – “On the first point, your position amounts to a denial of universal morality.” Not in the slightest, not even a hint, not at all, no way. The whole foundation of what I have been saying is that there is in most things, hence no need for coercion. I’m not sure how you could understand the exact opposite but I apologise.

        On the other hand. Your position comes across to me as if you believe there is ONLY universal morality. If you don’t believe that then I’m at a loss of how you can justify coercion. Specifically coercion in getting people to do things they do not want to do.

        At this point I have to say you are suffering from a severe cognitive bias “If this is true and I think that it must be, then your argument is an exercise in judging other people in exactly the same way that mine is. Its logical conclusion is that if any person coerces any other person then that person has done wrong. This is anonymous judgment par excellence. ” – If I say I dont want to be coerced by you then I am coercing you into not coercing me? Your joking right?

        “My problem with this is that it implicitly assumes that I am wrong when I argue that some form of collective redistribution should be enforced. The difficulty with such an assumption is that if I am correct then such a system needs to be both defined and implemented.” – Alex, this keeps coming up. You acknowledge that morals are not universal re your first comment and you acknowledge that the majority is not the judge of morality – Given that how do you judge what is “correct” for other people as a population?

        I would say you cant which is why you shouldn’t do it!

        “This is a negative semantic proposition. In the same way I could say that you have a duty to actively refrain from punching someone in the face. ” – Again on what are you basing your judgment and what makes you think your opinion is more important than mine? Do you know the other person? Do you know what they did or are doing?

        ” You are confusing the semantic form of ‘duties to’ and ‘duties not to’ with the substance of those duties: requiring action or inaction. It is simply the case that if an employer has to spend money to make his factory safer he is acting rather than a refraining from action. This is yet another reason why the action and omission distinction doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.” – Alex your in too deep. The employer making the factory the safer is not the issue, in anyway whatsoever, none gives a stuff except those interested in policing pre-crime ie the regulators. The only issue is if people get harmed in any way, mentally or physically and if they do there are laws. The laws are the regulation for incorrect/dangerous/wrong behaviour, social exclusion and/or punishment is the deterrent, there is no need for a government bureaucracy, the legal system has it covered 100%. There are not enough resources on the planet to deal with the what ifs. Unless the possibility for what ifs are reduced which means poverty.

        “What I can say is that one need only compare the wealth gaps and access to healthcare in the US with the same in more socialist European countries, including the UK, to see that the former’s freer market does a poor job in ensuring an equal distribution by comparison. ” – the US system is in no way free market, not even close. it is worse than the UK i agree

        “As I understand it, this is the role of law in a libertarian system of governance. Under such a system you would clearly not be free to murder. If your argument is to be believed then the conclusion would be that a society that forbids murder is not a free society. ” – We have being going back and forth about how I think people being coerced into DOING something is bad. From that it crossed you mind that this position could condone murder in a “free” society. Let me repeat. This entire conversation, from my point of view at least, is about the immorality of forcing people to DO something against their will AND people not being permitted to restrict the freedom or cause harm to other people. Thats it, simples.

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, thank you for your reply but I am afraid that you are misinterpreting me once more. I do indeed believe that there is only universal morality, albeit an incredibly complex universal morality, because I do not believe that we can engage properly with moral questions unless we believe this. This is simply because we always need to ask questions about what arguments justify our beliefs. Criticism of my argument that assumes any relativism or skepticism on my part is therefore a misfire.

        You also seem to be assuming that I believe my opinion to be more important than yours. This is not so. It has nothing to do with it being my opinion, or indeed the opinion of anyone in particular. My claim is a universal one: that the justification, the argument I am making is better than yours. It would be just as good if my mother was making it, or Mitt Romney, or Jesus Christ. (Well…perhaps not Mitt Romney.)

        In addition, you have failed to address the salient point in my argument about the universal nature of libertarianism as a political ideology. Asking me if I am joking is not a counter argument I am afraid. My argument is this:

        1) Libertarianism is a theory of governance.
        2) Theories of governance are designed to order a society.
        3) Libertarianism (as you have defined it at least) proposes that the coercion of others for any reason be illegal.
        4) Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.
        5) Preventing the coercion of another by any means is therefore a limitation of the potential coercer’s freedom.
        THEREFORE: Libertarianism proposes certain limits on freedom.

        AND THEREFORE:

        1) In a libertarian society a person who tried to coerce another would need to prevented from and/or punished for doing so.
        2) Preventing and/or punishing someone from an action requires coercion of some sort.
        THEREFORE: Libertarianism endorses coercion for the prevention and/or punishment of coercion.

        So yes, requiring me not to coerce you under a libertarian framework requires coercion. No, I am not joking.

        Finally, you seem to have completely misunderstood my argument against the action/omission distinction you make. Either that or you have chosen to avoid it, which I assume is not the case. For the second time now, you have implied that I am over thinking things. I can only take this to be an assertion that I have not accepted your argument as axiomatically true. To that extent I agree with you. You have however not answered my counter-argument that duties can be either phrased positively or negatively in order to promote certain states of affairs. From this I conclude that it cannot be whether one is required to do something or refrain from something that is the issue but exactly what steps one is being asked to take. If you believe that the formation of the duty as positive or negative is at all important, please show me why. You have also not answered the challenge of Costa’s trolley problem by showing me why it is appropriate (or why it is not) to kill one to save five there but not in the case of the out and out sacrifice. The conclusion I derived from the important distinction between diverting and creating harm on this point was that redistributive taxation was an instance of diverting, and not of creating, harm when it deprives a person of wealth. These two arguments together are designed to show that your strict distinction between action and omission is not a sound justification of the proposition that classifying something as a duty not to do something is the only appropriate limitation of freedom. The challenge you have to answer is that one.

        Given this, I cannot see why you seem to believe that there is no moral duty on the factory owner to make his factory safe to work in. You claim such things only matter to regulators. Surely this cannot be so. I for one would not like to work in a factory where life and limb were at risk. It cannot be that punishment (of which I take social exclusion to be a form) can address such concerns as effectively as what you rather mystifyingly call ‘pre-crime regulation’. I would have thought that the justification for requiring the factory owner to spend money to make his factory safe was precisely that we want to avoid harm being caused. If you agree with this but still think that the distinction between action and omission holds, then you must address the two arguments I pose in the paragraph above.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – Come again? ” I do indeed believe that there is only universal morality, albeit an incredibly complex universal morality,” – what happened in court? You rebelled against the 99% tax and you peers sent you down. Where is the universal morality?

        I just want to quote something you said

        “incredibly complex universal morality, because I do not believe that we can engage properly with moral questions unless we believe this. ” see my first point

        ” Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.” – as long as there is not force I agree! And we are talking about punishing people for NOT doing something here. Nothing else. Like you said, our lives are finite.

        “You have also not answered the challenge of Costa’s trolley problem by showing me why it is appropriate (or why it is not) to kill one to save five there but not in the case of the out and out sacrifice.” – Like I said, it is Costa in the impossible position not me, its up to him to decide not us.

        About the factory. Let the law deal with it. I’m prepared to go on a case by case basis, you want blanket rules. Blanket rules for something you say it super complex. I don’t understand this position.

        “1) Libertarianism is a theory of governance.
        2) Theories of governance are designed to order a society.
        3) Libertarianism (as you have defined it at least) proposes that the coercion of others for any reason be illegal.
        4) Coercing another is an exercise of one’s freedom.
        5) Preventing the coercion of another by any means is therefore a limitation of the potential coercer’s freedom.
        THEREFORE: Libertarianism proposes certain limits on freedom.

        AND THEREFORE:

        1) In a libertarian society a person who tried to coerce another would need to prevented from and/or punished for doing so.
        2) Preventing and/or punishing someone from an action requires coercion of some sort.
        THEREFORE: Libertarianism endorses coercion for the prevention and/or punishment of coercion.

        So yes, requiring me not to coerce you under a libertarian framework requires coercion. No, I am not joking.” – As long as I am free to not submit to the coercion and that I can take you to court if I think you are harassing me, then sure.

        “Finally, you seem to have completely misunderstood my argument against the action/omission distinction you make.” – Yes I explained why, we are talking about initiating force on someone for not doing something you think they should be doing. Like we both said, time is finite

        “Given this, I cannot see why you seem to believe that there is no moral duty on the factory owner to make his factory safe to work in. ” – I said that, where? I know what I think he should be doing but I don’t think I have the right to imprison him for not doing it

        I think its a simple concept that I am outlying here. ie it is not “moral” in the universal sense of the word to punish someone for not doing something I think they should be doing from a moral point of view, . And that’s it. 2 sentences.

        If someone disagrees they are free to do so and they can take the guy to court if they want for emotional, physical or economic harm. I dont think it gets fairer than that.

        This is the point where we diverge ie first principles. We cant take it any further than this very simple idea if we are in disagreement.

        You’ve acknowledged and the rescinded your agreement that everyone has different moral judgments and that the majority is not always correct. For your position, if you don’t have the moral authority through universality or the majority where exactly does your authority come from? Give me something new

        And something sort of related http://youtu.be/hj8ZYvkbI2E?t=31m30s

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, the reason I can feel confident that my civil disobedience is right is because it is not just my opinion that the 99% tax is wrong, it is objectively wrong because it is based on an unsound conception of justice. Every moral opinion held by everyone is claim to universal truth. They all boil down to the formula that “when X is the case, Y should happen” and are universal by virtue of that. The fact that the content of X might alter drastically does not change that they are universal in character. Moral opinions are not expressions of taste. People who assert moral opinions do not assert mere opinions but truth claims. You are confusing moral disagreement with moral indeterminacy and incorrectly assuming that one proves the other.

        Perhaps it is best to just drop the particular arguments I used about the irrelevance of the distinction between action and omission, as you don’t seem to want to engage with them other than to say that you disagree because there is an action/omission distinction. You are stating your conclusion as its own justification. I will try another approach and do what I never usually do: quote your words, rather than try to understand the spirit of your argument:

        “…it is not “moral” in the universal sense of the word to punish someone for not doing something I think they should be doing from a moral point of view.”

        Firstly, do not forget that I am talking about coercion rather than punishment. Punishment is a type of coercion but coercion is broader than punishment and includes enforceable compensation, enforceable restitution and enforceable specific performance.

        With this in mind, let me ask you some questions. Would be immoral to coerce a parent as a result of them not feeding their child? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into give back property they were mistakenly given as a gift? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into paying the amount they owed under a contract? Would it be immoral to coerce a trustee into surrendering trust property to a beneficiary upon request when that person had come of age? Would it be immoral to coerce someone following a refusal to allow a black person into their school because they were black? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into offering a job to a woman after they had refused because that person was female? Would it be immoral to punish someone for not telling the truth in court? There are a million and one instances in which intuition and reason both indicate that it is justifiable to coerce someone into take a positive step.

        I think the contract example is a good one, as it shows that business would be very difficult to engage in without the coercive enforcement of positive obligations. As I have stated already, it is entirely possible to rephrase any obligation so that it reads either positively or negatively. Doing so is completely pointless however and proves nothing. The fact of the matter is that in order to comply with contractual duties one needs to take positive steps: one must actively do something, whether this is handing over money, an item of property or signing off on a land register. If one fails to do so, the coercion that would be employed would be that of forcing someone to take those steps or providing the other party with compensation or restitution. This would be done by a court order that could then be enforced by punitive measures if disobeyed. If there were no repercussions for failing to do such things then contracts would be unenforceable and it would be very difficult to organise any market, let alone the free market you desire. Saying that those who have breached contractual duties are in fact being coerced into refraining from breaching the contract is just playing with words: it a semantic reformulation of no real importance (and in any event gets civil procedure and the law of remedies all wrong). The enforceable positive obligations of contract law are different from the enforceable negative obligations of certain torts, which require you refrain from action, for example punching me in the face. They are both as well justified as each other however and the fact that one is an act and the other an omission does not and cannot impact upon the fact that they should be enforceable by resorting to coercion. If you agree with me in this conclusion then you cannot maintain your strict act/omission distinction. Simply restating that there is one will not do. If I am right and no strict act/omission distinction exists when it comes to when coercion should be applied then what we should be doing is working out which acts and omissions justify coercive enforcement. My position is that redistributive justice is one such instance.

        Thank you for the link by the way, I will listen to it later this evening.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – ” it is not just my opinion that the 99% tax is wrong, it is objectively wrong because it is based on an unsound conception of justice. ” – We keep coming back to this. On what basis is it an unsound concept of justice? You didn’t specify.

        “Would be immoral to coerce a parent as a result of them not feeding their child? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into give back property they were mistakenly given as a gift? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into paying the amount they owed under a contract? Would it be immoral to coerce a trustee into surrendering trust property to a beneficiary upon request when that person had come of age? Would it be immoral to coerce someone following a refusal to allow a black person into their school because they were black? Would it be immoral to coerce someone into offering a job to a woman after they had refused because that person was female? Would it be immoral to punish someone for not telling the truth in court? ” – I thought I answered this in my previous comment. There is a legal system to sort these out on a case by case basis.

        Contracts – I have absolutely no idea why you are talking about contracts where both parties agree to be bound by the terms.

        “The enforceable positive obligations of contract law are different from the enforceable negative obligations of certain torts,” – I’m no legal expert but it sounds your talking about something that happens in court re emotional, economic or physical harm. I have no beef with this.

        Like I said, things concerning physical, emotional and economic harm should be dealt with in court on a case by case basis.

        And if there is any dispute of whether an action or inaction is responsible or not for the economic,physical, emotional harm, again, there is a court of law to decide who is correct.

        In summary, why do you think it is right to use physical force without first going to court?

      • Alex Green said:

        I have answered you on moral objectivity already. What makes an unsound concept of justice is the lack or inadequacy of a justificatory moral reason supporting it. It is moral justification that makes a moral argument true or false. If that were not so then our entire discussion up to this point would be meaningless: neither of us could support the positions we believe in. My justification for why my account is correct and yours is not is the reasons I have advanced for why your arguments are not good ones. I am making a truth claim about what is moral by advancing the position I am advancing. I don’t see what could be confusing about that idea.

        What is it about going to court that you think makes the use of force morally permissible? Simply saying that there is a court system to deal with the questions I asked does not answer them. Courts have to make decisions based on what is right or wrong as a matter of law. They have to find the answers to such questions before ruling on them. No law applies itself. Even legal starting points like statutes are the products of collective moral conclusions about what should and should not be the case.

        What if the parties to the contract change their minds and no longer want to be bound by the contract? This happens all the time. Why should the fact that they promised to do something mean that they should be coerced into doing it? I thought that you believed that people should never be forced to take positive action just because others believe they should. Isn’t that exactly what court enforcement of contractual obligations amounts to? The law states that contracts must not be breached and can be enforced by a court when they are breached. Incidentally, if you disagree with this last couple of points then I have no idea what you mean when you use the words ‘court’, ‘contract’ and ‘law’ because any definitions that do not account for this role would just not correspond with reality.

        Incidentally, courts deal with taxation disputes all the time as well. The law imposes levels of taxation on individuals. Does that mean that the courts’ conclusions regarding taxation justify coercion in the same way that they do when considering contracts? If you agree with that then you agree with taxation.

        Finally, I don’t recall saying that contracts should be enforced without a court, however I am pleased that you seem to have abandoned your strict distinction between action or inaction in your penultimate paragraph. What I would say however is that in certain circumstances physical force without going to a court must be justified. Saving someone’s life by knocking out a murderer in the act or defending oneself from assault are two clear examples. I do not believe that tax should be enforced extra-judicially and have never said so. That is indeed a matter for court enforcement. Courts are not the only organs involved in making law however. That is why we make abstract arguments about things like contracts and taxation: to decide what laws the courts should enforcing.

      • Richard said:

        “Courts have to make decisions based on what is right or wrong as a matter of law. ” – That’s my point, you have your day in court.

        “I am making a truth claim about what is moral by advancing the position I am advancing” I’m saying it is up to our peers to judge on a case by basis. It is not up to a party with the monopoly on force to judge.

        “What is it about going to court that you think makes the use of force morally permissible? ” – because in a court people are judged by their peers on a case by case basis. We are talking about court so I presume you agree that everyone should have their day in court before force is initiated against them? If not, why are we talking about court?

        “Simply saying that there is a court system to deal with the questions I asked does not answer them. ” Sorry, you missed the point of my reply. I know it does not answer your questions, that was the point, it is not up to ME to judge. The whole case needs to be laid out and judged by our peers. You understand what I mean?

        “I thought that you believed that people should never be forced to take positive action just because others believe they should.” First of all a court should decide. What a court can do is an entirely different subject. If we are talking about court, then you agree that everyone should have their day in court before force is initiated against them?

        Can we agree here? That at the very least, before force is initiated then it should be first heard by a court on a case by case basis?

        “The law imposes levels of taxation on individuals.” – At no point have I said courts should deal with taxation. You say taxation is required because of the harm physical, emotional or economic caused if you don’t pay taxes. I’m saying a court should decide if harm is caused on a case by case basis.

        And then I think you contradict yourself, I’m sure you didn’t intentionally, if you can explain.

        “. What I would say however is that in certain circumstances physical force without going to a court must be justified. ” (I’m assuming your referring to the party with the monopoly on force being justified) And you think they should be held accountable after the fact if someone feels wronged?

        “I do not believe that tax should be enforced extra-judicially and have never said so. That is indeed a matter for court enforcement. ” (And a court judges and then enforces if required, nothing is a forgone conclusion).

        And your final comment

        “That is why we make abstract arguments about things like contracts and taxation: to decide what laws the courts should enforcing” – I don’t think this is correct. We decide on what *basis* they should be enforcing. And please tell me what laws are not judged and enforced by the courts?

      • senex72 said:

        I am miles out on this discussion, but perhaps the following is relevant:-

        Taxation and State Regulation is usually regarded as morally justified by its purposes, which would be (a) covering the costs of defence, law and order and administration – which must be compulsory to avoid the “free rider” tactic (b) to maintain social justice by sustaining overall demand and employment, protecting citizens from exploitation, fake goods (H & S etc) and taxing away contrived rents disguised as profits (monopoly banks, landlordism, commodity price manipulation etc) to redistribute the rent-income (c) taxing to correct for external diseconomies and so visit the costs on the perpetrators (dangerous fumes emission, endangering sea defences by gravel extraction, destroying businesses by unproductive financial activity in the derivatives market in the City, rate manipulation etc.).

        When it comes to force, the modern State normally claims a monopoly over the legitimate use if force; however under Magna Carta there is a right to bear arms and rebel against illegal executive judgements,and fines; and under the 1689 Settlement there should be no standing army (because it is an instrument of potential repression) so citizens bear arms in national defence – all of which seems contentious but may be updated by regarding citizens as having a duty to rebel if the social contract s broken.

        If we abandon the State’s claim to monopoly in the use of force then I suspect government would revert to a system if patronage, with the Great Lords or financial aristocracy stumping up to meet defence costs as in Medieval times or Early Republican Rome, while extracting rents from the plebs.
        This may of course be an entirely unhelpful contribution, if so I apologise..

      • Richard said:

        senex72 Bonjour! – “(a) covering the costs of defence, law and order and administration – which must be compulsory to avoid the “free rider” tactic ” – Your assuming people what to involve the legal system! Im not sure how people could ride freely. They pay to play, just like they do now through taxation.

        “(b) to maintain social justice by sustaining overall demand and employment, protecting citizens from exploitation, fake goods (H & S etc) and taxing away contrived rents disguised as profits (monopoly banks, landlordism, commodity price manipulation etc) to redistribute the rent-income ” – I would say this is taken care of by the law and consumers.

        “(c) taxing to correct for external diseconomies and so visit the costs on the perpetrators (dangerous fumes emission, endangering sea defences by gravel extraction, destroying businesses by unproductive financial activity in the derivatives market in the City, rate manipulation etc.).” – again, I would look to the courts. Class action suits and so on.

        ” If we abandon the State’s claim to monopoly in the use of force then I suspect government would revert to a system if patronage, with the Great Lords or financial aristocracy stumping up to meet defence costs as in Medieval times or Early Republican Rome, while extracting rents from the plebs.” – plebs paying by force? again the courts. Defence costs? Defence of what? The country? I would look to Switzerland’s model.

      • Alex Green said:

        Senex I think that you are more or less bang-on when you say that state use of force prevents people from using force against others. That is what I have been trying to get across for ages. I do not really agree with social contract theories of state but that is probably best left as an argument for another time. I would also generally agree that taxation is justified on the basis of securing some end, however I would say that a potential end could be just distribution of resources, which is a deontological proposition.

        Richard, have you considered how courts make decisions? If they are applying the law then they cannot be deciding purely on a case by case basis: they are applying standards that purport to be general. That is what law and morality are. If they are deciding on an ad hoc basis then it is simply an instance of one group of people arbitrarily deciding on how to use coercion against another person, which is what I thought you wanted to avoid. Courts have to judge moral questions because someone has to in order to get things done. The moral arguments I am making are abstract versions of the reasoning process a court will go through when it decides. As I said before, it is the argument that makes something right, not who makes it.

        If all you are saying is that I should not be the dictator of the world and that some participatory process is needed to ensure justice is appropriate then of course I agree. I do not see how that in any way touches upon the truth of my arguments about taxation.

        Of course I agree that when a court is deciding on an issue the effected parties should be able to present arguments. Who wouldn’t? But there are clearly instances where force must be used without a court: this is not a contradiction I’m afraid. We simply cannot have courts dealing with emergency uses of force, such as in the examples I provided. Courts cannot be used to sanction every use of force. That would quite simply not work. That is what I mean by the non-judicial use of force being legitimate in certain circumstances. As for how this relates to tax, coercion is only ever employed for tax evasion after a court hearing. Individual arbitration complements general policy in questions of redistributive justice.

        About taxation in general: let us assume for the sake of an argument that some redistributive tax is required because everyone has a moral duty to contribute some appropriate amount to support the collective. If that is so, how would we define and organize this? We cannot hold court cases in respect of each person. What we would do is make a collective decision on some taxation policy. (Just in case you mistake this statement for an endorsement of the Westminster system, let me state that it is not. We can imagine a direct democracy of, say one thousand people doing just this.) If particular individuals feel that it is unfair to them then they can question this in court. The presumption is that they should pay because this is what justice seems to require. Once again, individual arbitration complements collective decision making.

        If you want to argue against the notion that redistributive taxation is not morally required then you need to address my general arguments about why there should or should not be redistribution. You have not done so. Just to remind you, these are the argument that justice requires that people have a fair distribution of resources and that you cannot rule out taxation because it requires someone to actively do something.

        If you are simply going to repeat that taxation should not exist because it is a general policy, or that it is not our place to judge, then we really have nothing to discuss. By doing so you would be avoiding my arguments rather than disproving them. The fact of the matter is that the question of whether or not we should redistribute needs to be answered. Your strategy seems to be one of saying that we cannot discuss the question because only courts can make judgments about justice and that courts cannot deal with taxation issues because they are general policies. That is argumentative slight of hand and not an engagement with the issue: my argument is that redistribution of some kind is morally justified.

        You are asking me what law is not justiciable and I have no idea why (other than to score some kind of rhetorical point). Of course the courts decide matters of law. Law needs to come from somewhere though. That is why legislation exists and why moral arguments give us abstract principles of reason. Courts could not function without these things. I simply do no know what you mean by the ‘basis upon which courts should be deciding’. If you mean what counts as law then I think that courts are as involved in that process as legislatures. It seems to me as though you are imagining some non-existent legal system. Such a system might be a good system but you need to explain more clearly what it is.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – “Senex I think that you are more or less bang-on when you say that state use of force prevents people from using force against others. ” – I agree that is the rhetoric

        “Richard, have you considered how courts make decisions? ” – So again, you agree everyone should have access before they are acted upon? Lets agree a matter should go to court before force is exercised. if we cant get that far I don’t see the point in discussing courts if you don’t want to use them.

        ” If they are applying the law then they cannot be deciding purely on a case by case basis: they are applying standards that purport to be general. ” – From my understanding you contradicted yourself in one sentence. They apply general law/general standards on a case by case basis.

        “If all you are saying is that I should not be the dictator of the world and that some participatory process is needed to ensure justice is appropriate then of course I agree. ” – Hallelujah!

        “We simply cannot have courts dealing with emergency uses of force, such as in the examples I provided. Courts cannot be used to sanction every use of force. That would quite simply not work. ” Sanction, not all, but they can and do hold accountable parties to account after the fact. In short, they are involved always, at least they would be if some party was not granting themselves to be morally superior to another and therefore immunity and by “party” I mean The G.

        ” We cannot hold court cases in respect of each person.” – Why not? Please don’t tell me you believe courts are the way to go in an ideal world but the cost of doing so is prohibitive. This would mean you want to do what is right but the resources simply don’t exist to make sure you are correct. If your talking about physical violence I would say you need to be sure before you act. To simply say the resources don’t exist to enforce the policy fairly and that therefore there will have to be some collateral damage for the good of the majority, is, in my opinion, not acceptable, there has to be a better way and until we find it lets agree to not base any current/new concept on violence. I’m not saying it is realistic considering where we are today. What I am saying is that it is the road we should be going down, the goal we should be working towards. But to start on that road we should, as a individuals, start to acknowledge that the current system is not fair (at best) and brutal (at worst).

        “If you want to argue against the notion that redistributive taxation is not morally required then you need to address my general arguments about why there should or should not be redistribution. ” – I am saying *voluntary* redistribution is something that I think most of us believe is the right thing to do. Would you agree?

        ” The fact of the matter is that the question of whether or not we should redistribute needs to be answered. ” I’m up for redistribution just not at the business-end or trigger-end of a gun.

        “Your strategy seems to be one of saying that we cannot discuss the question because only courts can make judgments about justice” – I’m not saying courts are the be all and end all, just the fairest thing I can think of. If we are talking about force, fairness is my number one priority.

        “and that courts cannot deal with taxation issues because they are general policies. ” – You lost me a bit here. Courts can deal with taxation issues sure. But taxes dont exist for the sake of taxes. They have a purpose, I am using courts as the judge of whether taxes in individual cases serve the purpose they were designed for. You say I am simplifying things. I would say the exact opposite. I am trying to highlight how infinitely complex things are, or should be in a fair society and how blanket rules which effect everyone as a whole is a fundamentally unfair concept, especially when you are backing up this concept with physical violence if people disagree.

        “my argument is that redistribution of some kind is morally justified.” – If you didnt condone force to impose moral standards I would agree. Do you believe redistribution can only occur with force?

        Also, you mentioned something about not wanting to quote what other people wrote, I’m not sure why but I don’t mean to offend when I quote you.

      • Joshua Mellors said:

        Haha senex72 great comment!

        Like you say this is what the state is ‘supposed’ to do. But in fact (as I presume you well know) it taxes rents very little, very little indeed, preferring to punitively tax labour and business. And defence is of course in our case a euphemism for offense ;) The external economies taxation you speak of which would be desirable is also clearly lacking…

        Again Richard, this consumer fetishism of yours is beyond belief ridiculous. Are you claiming that ‘consumers’ have the power to tax away rents? Please can you just drop the dogma.

      • Richard said:

        Joshua – Its dogma to not support this? “And defence is of course in our case …… offense ;) ” – Guilty as charged

      • Richard said:

        Joshua – I have to revisit your comment, my response did not do it justice. “Like you say this is what the state is ‘supposed’ to do. But in fact (as I presume you well know) it taxes rents very little, very little indeed, preferring to punitively tax labour and business. And defence is of course in our case a euphemism for offense ”

        You acknowledge that the state is not acting in the way it is supposed to. That is basically your beef? The state as it exists now is a sound concept you just want it to behave slightly differently?

        About consumers, last time I checked they were also voters, voters supposedly put in people to look after their interests in a democratic way (and please don’t tell me the people they are voting in are qualified for their positions).

        So where exactly does the link between voters and consumers breakdown in your eyes?

        Voters are educated enough to vote for a system which has the monopoly on force and all its consequences but not educated enough to vote on the best shampoo, car or financial product.

        Voters are educated enough to vote for a system which at a minimum takes away 50% of their property & labour for their entire working life but they are not educated enough to buy something which costs them a fraction of that, a car for example.

        Voters are educated enough to vote for a military industrial complex that can kill millions of people but as consumers they are not able to judge what is healthy food or good medicine.

        Please tell me where the breakdown is or maybe I am looking at it in the wrong way?

      • Alex Green said:

        Richard, I think we are fast approaching the point where our disagreement is becoming intractable. The entire context of this argument is that I was proposing that taxation was justified. Not charity, taxation. Switching topics to voluntary redistribution is just dodging the issue. I have already set out above the reasons why I think enforceable redistribution is just and necessary. There is no point in me doing so again.

        I have never said that I should be the sole arbiter of anything. You have completely missed my point if you thought this and I can only suggest that you read what I wrote again with this in mind. I was making the point that moral arguments are either true or false and that if we are to implement them we need to do so and not shy away because some people disagree. That is not the same as making a claim about how this implementation should be conducted.

        I have told you that force should be used in emergency situations without resorting to courts. The examples I used were those such as intervening to prevent a murderer in the act. I did not extend my argument beyond that. I was merely trying to show that resort to courts is not always possible. You are trying to find something to disagree with for the sake of it.

        You also now seem to be agreeing that certain taxes are just and that courts can make rulings about them. I agree with you on this. I am confused as to how this fits in with your conclusion that it would be immoral to force someone to do something because a judgment has been made that they should do it. This is what happens when courts rule in favour of the tax. That you have a chance to participate in the hearing does not alter that aspect of the ruling. If you agree that some form of redistributive tax can be just then we aren’t actually disagreeing at all.

        That aside, an argument for access to the courts to review a tax is not an argument against the idea that a tax should exist. Such an argument would need to address the morality of taxation. Incidentally, it would be very difficult for a court to review a taxation policy if that policy did not exist in the first place.

        In connection to this, you have misunderstood my position on courts. The law consists of general standards. Courts apply the law. Courts therefore apply general standards to specific cases. What you cite as a contradiction is exactly the same as the apparently contrary position that you pose. To decide a case on an individual basis implies looking at it abstracted from general standards: that is to say without the law. There is a legal term for this called deciding ‘ex aequo et bono’. That is the sense in which I was speaking.

        You say that you are concerned primarily with procedural fairness. If this is so then you should be happy with an enforceable taxation policy adopted by a simple vote that could then be applied by the courts if disputes about it subsequently arose. This is a perfect instance participatory fairness. It is also an instance of a priori law making rather than simply waiting for a dispute to occur in relation to a non-existent tax policy. As a small side note I also don’t understand why you are placing so much faith in courts to decide things correctly. As a lawyer I can tell you that judges and juries routinely get things wrong, just like any other public decision making body. Jeremy Waldron has some very interesting books on this problem called: ‘The Dignity of Legislation’ and ‘Law and Disagreement’. I think they are worth considering before simply dismissing a priori law making in favour of ex posteriori review as you seem to be suggesting. I am not even sure how courts would apply the law without law making bodies to produce it.

        It would be impossible to have one decision making body decide if each person should pay tax by looking at their situation in turn. This might work in a society of ten people but at the scale we are talking about then the resources (not to mention the time) required would be insane. Litigation cost a lot in both resources and time. To say that resources are morally irrelevant clearly begs the question of redistributive justice doesn’t it? We wouldn’t be having this discussion if we had enough resources to do anything. Everyone would just take whatever they needed. That would be an ideal world. In an ideal world we wouldn’t dispute anything so courts, democracy and any other form of collective governance would be unnecessary anyway.

        By the way: you didn’t offend me, I just prefer to try to understand exactly what the other person is saying rather than just picking out phrases and commenting on them. I quoted from your post above, so was just explaining why I didn’t usually do that. No worries!

      • Richard said:

        Alex – I apologize, I thought you were talking about using taxation in order to benefit those who need assistance. “The entire context of this argument is that I was proposing that taxation was justified. Not charity, taxation.”

        Your view is that forcing people to do something can be justified even if you have no knowledge of a persons circumstances and their moral beliefs are irrelevant. And court for each individual case is unfeasible if desirable. I get it.

      • Alex Green said:

        You have misrepresented what I have said yet again. The one point I would agree on is that if a person’s moral beliefs are wrong then the fact that they hold them should have no direct impact upon a just taxation system. There are ways to take moral beliefs into account and give them voice. One way is democratic participation during the formulation of the policy. I said as much above. There is also the possibility that if they genuinely believe that the tax rate is wrong and they engage in some sort of meaningful civil disobedience rather than merely refusing to pay, then any coercion employed might stand to be lessened. That is a position that might be defensible; I would have to think about it more. As to the remainder of that very short response, I am not sure why you are choosing to respond to small sections of my argument rather than looking at everything that I have been saying in an attempt to genuinely understand my position. What do you think I have been talking about when discussing taxation as a means for redistributive justice? What do you think that judicial review of taxation and complex taxation policies are designed to do other than take account of variations in personal circumstances? Have you not heard of variable taxation rates? An individual hearing to determine how much each person in a large society should pay instead of a nuanced policy subject to review by individual legal complaints is indeed unfeasible. It is the former I am arguing against, not the latter. Seriously dude I know that winning an argument is satisfying but I am getting the impression that you are just trying to score points now. If so, well done, you have selectively quoted from my honest attempts to discuss this with you in an attempt mischaracterise me as a horrible person. You win and I am out.

  8. Joshua Mellors said:

    Richard what’s this about South Korea? South Korea developed after US funded land reform, primarily under a dictatorship (’61-’81), and through massive central planning in the form of things like targeted state subsidies and protection. Government planning has obviously similarly played a massive role in Japan and China – widely viewed as development successes. Congo is so screwed up not primarily because of its own governments but because of foreign exploitation of its minerals and support for local warlords. You can’t blame governments for everything, particularly in Third World countries where they’re not exactly calling the shots. The analysis of power is totally absent here.

    You’re making some interesting points but you are coming from this heavily ideological ‘free market capitalism’ perspective which I think is highly problematic, especially because it no way correlates to the real world. Capitalism free of states is an ideal and has never existed, and never could exist. Adam Smith never argued for such a thing – explaining that government was needed to prevent monopolies from occurring and ripping off everyone else. Monopolies are often ‘profitable’, but the excess above cost value that they are able to charge due to insufficient competition is unearned income, or ‘rent’; it should be best seen as extractive from buyers. Why is this any less illegitimate than taxes? The idea that a ‘free market’ with perfect competition can ever exist is ludicrous. Do we actually believe that perfect comp. is more prevalent that monopoly and oligopoly in any significant sector? Just look out the window!

    The best way to get rich today is not through capitalist production but through a free lunch: monopoly rent, land (including mineral) rent and financial charges. As you say Richard, this is the opposite of ‘capitalism’ (with all the ideals that this abstract concept connotes) – where profits are allegedly earned as some reward for risking physical capital in investment. But I actually believe that a pure capitalism is even more utopian than a pure socialism – it would require no power, no meaningful communication besides in the market place (just signs with prices), no cooperation (such as that which inevitably occurs and leads to the formation of oligopolistic cartels, for example), no history, no social change, etc. In short, it would look like an economics textbook!

    Of course regulation is needed. Regulation and laws create markets! Unless you’re talking about local markets at the side of the road, but I suspect this isn’t what is at issue here.

    I actually believe we should tax productive business much less and shift taxes onto monopoly rent, land rent and other parasitic, non-productive, activities. This is the real issue, not ‘excess regulation stifling entrepreneurs’ and all this other stuff we hear from various ideologues. Entrepreneurs of the type people like Smith, Schumpeter, or any other economic theorist talked about are nowhere to be seen in the financial sector because it does not produce anything! Its main ‘products’ are debt, systemic risk and political corruption – so regulation there has nothing to do with regulating actual ‘business.’ We must remember that most banks in the US and UK barely loan to business anymore. They speculate and make loans against existing assets, like land/property – causing massive asset inflation and a transfer of wealth from the real economy of industry and labour to themselves.

    Additionally, people would hardly ever need ‘unemployment benefits’ if we hadn’t impractically privatised so many essential services (essentially given away natural monopolies/free lunches to special interests like the train owners – massively increasing costs on users), the financial sector didn’t drive up the cost of living as much as it does through interest, asset inflation and other charges – so workers would actually have some savings to fall back on when unemployed rather than always being one paycheck away from bankruptcy – and if governments pursued full employment policies like a jobs programme. There is simply no good empirical argument against the latter, except the ideological one (that it ‘interferes with the market’), or because it would allow business to keep wages below productivity, as they have been in the US and UK since about the 1980s, and essentially keep the vast majority poor. The latter of course being a bad argument. Of course, the fact that workers would actually have bargaining power would make labour markets function more effectively by introducing real competition – which can never occur under compulsion and necessity. Argentina tried such a jobs guarantee programme following their default in 2001, employment very quickly transferred primarily to the resuscitated private sector, and for the last 10 years they have enjoyed growth rates such as 6 and 10%.

    On CEOs: they DO go out of business! Don’t you remember 2008 when all their firms failed while they left with massive payoffs? They got rich precisely by jeopardising the future sustainability of their businesses. Of course I hold governments accountable, in fact even more than these guys – do we blame the 6 year old kid who raids the candy shop or the parent who deliberately turns a blind eye while s/he does so (and gets a cut of the candy!)? – but both parties obviously must bear some responsibility for this.

    This idea of consumer regulation is also totally ridiculous. Even the banks themselves don’t fully understand everything they have on their balance sheets (including around $500 trillion of derivatives – about 10 times global GDP), nor could a regulator. How on earth could a consumer do so?! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a spare 50,000 years lying around to go through this stuff! And in fact, we are not really talking about consumer business here, but private gambling that has had an enormous impact on ‘consumers’.

    This free market libertarianism is fantastical just like another other extreme ideology. We have to start from the real world not from a textbook model. The real world can be, should be and in fact is much, much more than a happy market.

    • Alex Green said:

      This is kind of what I was driving at on the monopoly point. Political philosophers and lawyers DO need economists! The depth of shock I experience at this self-realisation can scarcely be described. ;)

      Thanks for elucidating this point for me Josh.

      • Richard said:

        Alex – A quick question, do you think economics is psychology or physics? (if you had to choose between the two)

      • Alex Green said:

        Neither. It’s economics. Do you think physics is epistemology or metaphysics? What are we doing here?

    • Richard said:

      Joshua – About “facts” I stated my sources. There is an extremely strong correlation between low regulations and high wealth. Please feel free to drop some sources which show no correlation.

      “Do we actually believe that perfect comp. is more prevalent that monopoly and oligopoly in any significant sector? Just look out the window! ” – Your joking right? Second paragraph http://marketinvoice.com/2011/05/04/bank-of-england-report-on-lending-to-small-medium-sized-enterprises/

      “no cooperation” – try running a business without cooperating with people.

      I agree the world can be a very bad place controlled by bad people hence my position on regulation. I’m not condoning consumer regulation so it is easier for people to get screwed. Maybe I didn’t make that clear?

      • Joshua Mellors said:

        Well it does seem that there’s a correlation between low regulation and high wealth – which is why so much wealth flows to the financial sector! More seriously, I don’t know what you mean exactly (which regulation and whose wealth?), and you haven’t given any sources to back up your quite vague claim, but in any case correlation should not be taken to denote explanation.

        Small businesses do not equal perfect competition. Perfect competition is only an idea, not something that could ever exist. When going to get some groceries I don’t survey the best prices worldwide and then choose, I choose largely on the basis of convenience. I mean please. Just the mere fact of transport costs destroys it as a meaningful model. At best it is a useful thought experiment, though I would argue it is far more damaging than useful inasmuch as it misleads people to take a fantastical and warped view of the world.

        I know there is cooperation in business, which is precisely why the idea of a ‘free market’ is nonsense. If you read my comment again more carefully you’ll understand that that is precisely what I was saying. The fact of cooperation means, in turn, no perfect competition.

        Sorry I didn’t understand your last two sentences. But I’ve given my position on regulation, again if you read the above comment. In some cases it might be is burdensome and arbitrary; in many cases it is obviously necessary.

      • Richard said:

        Joshua – its not cool to keep moving the goal posts. “Small businesses do not equal perfect competition. Perfect competition is only an idea, not something that could ever exist. ” You were talking about majority and now your talking about perfect.

        Im not sure where this is coming from but Ill have a crack “When going to get some groceries I don’t survey the best prices worldwide and then choose, I choose largely on the basis of convenience. I mean please. Just the mere fact of transport costs destroys it as a meaningful model.” it didn’t get more convenient without increased cost to the business

        You lost me here – “I know there is cooperation in business, which is precisely why the idea of a ‘free market’ is nonsense.” sorry if I employ a laundry service to do the sheets at my hypothetical hotel how is that not free market? The only competitors I know that regularly work with each other to the detriment of their customers are the banks that work with the central banks and they are in the most heavily regulated industry I can think of. If you don’t believe me try to set up a bank or an investment firm and see how difficult it is and how many people you have to involuntarily butter up to make it happen. Contrast this to building cars for example where arguably the customer investment is equal.

        About my last two sentences, I am not saying your view is wrong just extremely pessimistic. But even assuming it is as you say, my position is that I can do a better job of regulation for me than someone who does not know me.

    • Richard said:

      Joshua – ” Even the banks themselves don’t fully understand everything they have on their balance sheets (including around $500 trillion of derivatives – about 10 times global GDP), nor could a regulator. How on earth could a consumer do so?! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a spare 50,000 years lying around to go through this stuff! And in fact, we are not really talking about consumer business here, but private gambling that has had an enormous impact on ‘consumers’.” You are making the point for consumer regulation.

      One thing that strikes me about your comments in general is your apparent desire to get involved and control other peoples business.

      Maybe there is someone elsewhere with different views than you but believing in force and control of other people. What happens when you two meet, are you going to have a war?

      You’ll probably say negotiation but your mind is already made up, if you cant agree your going to bring the gun into the conversation.

      Why cant you force yourself to come to an agreement peacefully, why do you need to have violence and coercion as back up?

  9. senex72 said:

    Richard October 5th
    Wow!
    (a) Some services are indivisible: you can’t “pay to play” because you can’t buy little pieces of them! they are collective goods. If you are wiling to put up the cash to buy defence from invasion for your house, I am happy to opt out and let your money shoot down the missiles, repel the attackers etc while I get protected for nothing as a side effect next door- unless you imagine you can paint a cross on your doorpost and the attacks will pass you by! On the face of it your position is absurd. Public goods are indivisible – you can’t buy a part of a park. The State us needed to deal with external dis-economies by controlling the polluter, and external economies of location by planning control.
    .
    (b) “think so” won’t do! you need to know: and you can do that by looking at counterfeit goods, adulterated flour, poisonous vodka, unsafe vehicles, fake medicines ad infinitum. The whole structure of State regulation and supervision has come in precisely because the old ‘caveat emptor’ of Victorian times failed: the need is to develop it and prevent regulatory capture by crooks arises from experience and practice. Check your history I think. Because we have H & S and health inspectors we can move about, use machines at work and buy goods with a greater degree of certainty and safety than in the past.

    (c)Class actions? But we are in the midst of a financial crisis precisely because your suggestions do not work: Your David v Goliath ideas are mere fables. Grab a few hours to look at “The Best Democracy Money can Buy” by Greg Palast and “A Right to Roam” by Marion Shoard, both quite inexpensive.

    Human beings evolved by group survival – no-one has ever met a truly isolated man! Group membership involves a cost: sacrifices, altruism, duty, honour. “Individual survival first” involves cheating, lying, theft.Once the balance tips in favour of cheating, social commitment ceases to be worth its sacrifices, arts and commerce fail and life becomes nasty, brutish and short which I suggest would be the outcome of US neo-liberalism: slum dwellers without health insurance and meal tickets., bur if they are lucky a weapon. – the historic social failure of unbridled capitalism Why? Because an advantage once gained can always be enlarged – and classical economic rationalism sanctions and charts this by its marginal analysis approach , arguing that some gain,however small, us rationally acceptable, so encouraging the “race to the bottom” in work and living conditions and earnings and quality of products and life. Sociology of Economics shows why – but books are more expensive these days!..

    Economic individualism (homo economicus) where all social relations are reduced to the cash-nexus is an egregious error of the past you should be happy be rid of..

    • Richard said:

      Senex – Wow! Your last point which I think is connected to the others “all social relations are reduced to the cash-nexus” – But what is cash/money?

      • senex72 said:

        Richard asked what is cash money?

        Cash money is gold, silver, and the non-interest bearing circulating portion of the Government-issued National Debt.

        I would exclude joint-stock bank-debt, which is their fiat currency created by fractional reserve banking and by the credit multiplier, and by hyper-re-hypothecation of deposits that were originally made in good faith! Which is to say: not debts held by big international banks used as “bank currency”, since these banks possess virtually no real assets now.(even their premises can have been sold and rented back) and these days have overwhelming insolvency (not liquidity) problems.
        There is also available as cash other non-bank currency, safe to use because limited in production and outside City speculative grasp, the Britcoin.

      • Richard said:

        Senex – So all social relations are reduced to gold, silver, bitcoin. Okay. If we can go deeper. You also touch on the fact they are money because they are finite. But why is being finite important?

      • senex72 said:

        Richard

        Please forgive me if I misunderstand but either you have missed the point of the cash nexus comment or your economic reasoning is in a dreadful tangle..

        The phrase “reducing relations to the cash nexus” customarily refers to stripping your relationship with other people of all social, moral, friendship and cultural considerations. Another way of putting that is to say that the hypothetical pleasure-maximising rational homo economicus of classical economic discussion is a sociopath (cf Thatcher’s phrase ‘there is no such thing as society’): People and relations with them are treated as commodities within a pleasure/pain felicific calculus. Your sort of society is basically one for psychopaths.

        The phrase is not normally taken as a starting-point for a discussion of the nature of “cash”.. though I tried to oblige you by making a start. Social structure analysis suggests that “,money|” broadly defined is the formalisation of reciprocal altruism. In that sense banks are cheating when they offer as “money”.accounting-book entries for which they have given nothing in exchange. They are acquiring command over our lives and resources at zero real cost and charging economic rent for that (not profit)..As to gold etc it is not their abundance but the fact that a real sacrifice of alternatives (opportunity cost) is involved in the work needed to acquire them.

        As to whether or not it matters if something is in infinite supply, economic value is normally analysed as scarcity value per se (“dehumanised” in cultural terms), I might restate: not all value is economic e.g. sacred things or positions cannot be bought or sold without ceasing to be valued as sacred, – so marketing them involves some species of cheating (like importing and selling a young girl to a wealthy banker for his sexual amusement turns her into a commodity)….

      • Richard said:

        Senex – Cash Nexus “The phrase “reducing relations to the cash nexus” customarily refers to stripping your relationship with other people of all social, moral, friendship and cultural considerations” – Yes, this is what I am addressing.

        I am not sure if I understood your reply, with regards to why being finite is an essential quality of cash/money I think your reply was this? “As to gold etc it is not their abundance but the fact that a real sacrifice of alternatives (opportunity cost) is involved in the work needed to acquire them. ” I understand from this that you think abundance or lack thereof is irrelevant to something being used as cash/money.

        If so then this is completely incorrect otherwise we would be water as currency as it is far more useful than gold. Being finite is an essential quality in anything that is used as cash/money.

        And to take it a step further. Assuming there was a finite supply of paper money, the paper in itself would have ZERO value and yet we would still use it is cash/money (like now).

        and on the same theme

        If we imagine Gold was not used in jewelry or industry (ie it had no practical usage) and yet it is still finite it could still be used as cash/money even if it had ZERO value in itself.

        In summary, being finite is an essential quality of anything that is cash money, even if the finite object we are using has no value in itself.

        In summary

        1. Whatever object is used for money has to be finite

        2. That object does not need to have any intrinsic value in itself (although it certainly helps)

        So given people have no reason to acquire money in itself as it has it has no intrinsic value money must be a representation of something else.

        Question is what?

    • Alex Green said:

      What a pity there isn’t a like button for these comments. :P

      Consider your comment of 24 October 2012 ‘liked’ senex72!

      • senex72 said:

        Thanks Alex! You’re no slouch yourself as I discovered in debate!

      • senex72 said:

        Richard

        Of course endless abundance would make something useless as cash! My point was (as I suspect you know) that gold works as money not solely because it is or is not finite in supply but because acquisition, of increased amounts requires real cost. And water has exchange value in a desert however abundant globally – a man dying of extreme thirst might be willing to pledge his entire future income for a barrel or two of it. What';s the problem?

        If the supply can be extended indefinitely at will – as with bank debts used as money substitutes today – it does not work well as money as you say, just as the Birmingham manufacture of iron horse-shoes destroyed their use as money in African trade. That is why the $US has lost over 95% of its buying power since Nixon reneged on the restraining link with gold in 1971.

        Of course people want to hold money itself since a good money is a store of value as well as being a measure of value and a means of exchange, and it is held according to their preferences for liquidity.As to your metaphysics, I don';t think there is a sort of “pure” money quality or form somewhere which all existing moneys somehow reflect: money is the formalisation of reciprocal altruism, a follow-on from the swaps arranged by barter, The Maria Theresa silver thaler. was widely minted outside Austria after her death and used internationally as payment for decades – all subsequent coins bear the date of 1780 when the last of her reign was struck, whenever and wherever they were subsequently minted. The Owl (minted in silver in classical Athens) is an earlier example of international cash. Does that meet your queries?

      • Richard said:

        Hello Senex – If I can pick out the highlights of your response “Of course people want to hold money itself since a good money is a store of value” – Yes but what is the “value” that it is storing? What 2 fundamental things is money a store of?

        “I don';t think there is a sort of “pure” money quality or form somewhere which all existing moneys somehow reflect:” – there 100% definitely is a “pure” quality

        “formalisation of reciprocal altruism, a follow-on from the swaps arranged by barter,” – would you consider this a contradiction of your statement (assuming we are on a gold standard) “reducing relations to the cash nexus” customarily refers to stripping your relationship with other people of all social, moral, friendship and cultural considerations”

        My point is you state money strips relationships with other people while at the same time stating money simply makes altruistic barter easier.

        I got the impression when you said “reduced to the cash-nexus” you meant that as a negative thing. Apologies if I misunderstood.

      • senex72 said:

        Well I took it from your neo-liberal stance and anti tax remarks that you hold to a laissez-faire, market-centred doctrine – in which case you are denying the social., altruistic nature of money and playing tit-for-tat. If you are not of this view, perhaps you could modify your earlier remarks? It is monetarism and little Milt Friedman that reduce society to the cash nexus (“greed is good” etc) which I contrasted with the definitions I gave.- my stating the opposite view to yours is not contradicting myself but you. if I understand your view aright. It is not just money that strips relationships of social content, but the market-centred laissez-faire view of its use.

        Money is purchasing power so is used for transactions; it is stored for precautionary purposes against emergency or unforeseen expenditure needs The relative proportions depend on liquidity preference; .and beyond that any increases in the money supply are held in idle balances for speculative purposes – the relation between expenditure, price and money-quantity breaks down. We see this in the fact that CEO’s of large UK corporations are holding. banks deposits equal to half or more of UK GDP, while the Central Bank keeps pumping in more currency and reducing the interest rates in a failed attempt at “stimulus” and the Government bewails lack of funds!..
        For real investment to occur the State has to provide underlying real certainty and to direct resources accordingly – as was done to rebuild UK economy after the last war. So it is a vital question you ask: what are all these trillions of speculative balances and paper-money storing and achieving? I suggest nothing. – bankers are playing games with doubling-up their bets in virtual currency indefinitely expandable until their ponzi schemes collapse and drag the economy further down…
        Gold is money because it has always been obtainable but the supply can only be increased at substantial real cost – unlike bankers loans and the usury (including pay-day loans) we are inflicted with..

      • Richard said:

        Senex – You said this

        money is the “formalisation of reciprocal altruism, a follow-on from the swaps arranged by barter,”

        and this

        “reducing relations to the cash nexus” customarily refers to stripping your relationship with other people of all social, moral, friendship and cultural considerations”

        Do you think this is a contradiction?

        Or do you think “swaps arranged by barter,” strip “your relationship with other people of all social, moral, friendship and cultural considerations”?

      • senex72 said:

        Of course not.
        Since the 1990’s institutional and sociological considerations have re-entered mainstream economics with some force. Economic decisions are not adequately accounted for by a model of isolated rational individuals competing for maximum personal advantage. One has to consider institutions, externalities, indivisibilities and the nature of public goods and of the power relationships involved, (and that has been done for decades anyway)! I took it “barter” would be a primitive exchange between groups of roughly equal power operating to their mutual and fairly-judged benefit within their own norms (take the old example of ‘silent trading’); and maybe that usage of mine was too narrow. If you want to make more of it, do so – but . don’t pretend that it is the same as a mere cash nexus posited in an unreal pure hypothesis of a world made up of competing rational individuals, irregardless of the existence of social facts.. But if you do want to pretend that, fair enough -but then don;t use that pretence to dodge the issues raised by the unreality of your individualistic tax-dodging hypotheses,as that tactic (alas) does not carry the discussion forward in an intelligent way

      • Richard said:

        Senex – To confirm if I understand correctly, you think paying in cash and barter are fundamentally different activities?

  10. senex72 said:

    Hmmm. What difference does that make to the matter in hand? None.

    It would seem that historically forms of”cash” emerged from various trade goods. – cowrie shells, iron kissi pennies etc. In 1910 I could buy a Congolese woman for 15 yards or so of red calico; by the 1950’s second-hand clothes were a sort of currency in Central Africa and so on. The barter good preferred had to be scarce but not unobtainable – gold as I stated above emerged as dominant; whereas iron horseshoes collapsed once the market was flooded by Birmingham manufacturers. Same for beads, same for present bank debt creation, electronic entries etc..as shown by the collapse of USD purchasing power since 1971.. Insofar as banks create debts without backing (“fiat money”) and so count themselves richer the more in debt they are, they are free-riders on the system because they can extract goods and services with no counterbalancing real input on their part, it appears. They are like traders buying goods with cheap glass beads by trading on the simplicity of the population.

    • Richard said:

      Senex – “What difference does that make to the matter in hand? None.” And then you continue to bang on about barter and money even though you say it makes no difference to the matter in hand. While I not stating your position. Let me state my position. Money is a reflection of ones resources and as such it makes barter easier. Nothing more nothing less, money facilitates barter. Money makes it easier for us to exchange our resources. Central banks pervert the value of our resources through their monopoly on the production of the currency. The value of our resources should not be subject to the agenda of an organisation which has no competition and whose product we are compelled to use.

      • senex72 said:

        I think my comments on money and barter were an attempt to clarify your query on that topic.

        As to the rest your heart is in the right place at least!
        Money facilitates exchange as you say, but that is far from its only function though you deny it.It also acts as a MEASURE and a STORE of purchasing power.

        Money does not reflect the total of one’s resources because there is a great deal of unpaid and voluntary work done outside the monetary and employment system. For example a housewife’s work in the home (cooking, cleaning, decorating, child-care etc.) if purchased in commercially probably in many cases exceeds the money-income of her husband/partner.. If she is forced out into paid employment (ie taxable and profit yielding activity) by Government action to earn say £80 a week cleaning bank premises, this may well represent a net reduction in real output. The value of her activity and as a person are disvalued in a profit-seeking, capitalist system which only counts as work or resource paid activity that it can exploit. Measuring our resources, our GDP, only in these money terms grossly understates the value of a nation’s real output, our resources as you called them, which is why the UN recommended National Income calculations should include an additional imputed value for women’s unpaid work; and so stop treating women as if they somehow didn’t contribute.. So I suggest the wind is against you if you cling to the notion that money is a reflection of our total resources.

        I agree with your anti-bank stance of course. But the banks do not have a monopoly of currency, the State does, and without access to it through finance-driven electoral ;politics the major banks would long ago have collapsed. Nor are we forced to use their bank-debts as money, as you suggest:: we do develop local currencies such as the Bristol pound,the Brixton and the other local pound currencies through local action; and we have Britcoin. and gold and silver; local exchange trading (LETS), time-banks, and for payment transmission we should revive the State Girobank, nationalise the Bank of England, re-introduce exchange control on capital outflows. It is all a matter of local voluntary and political action? I agree with you on that.Indeed, even Bank of England officials are now accepting that the Occupy analysis is correct.

      • Richard said:

        Senex – An observation about this blog in general. People seem to have a lot of mental baggage into which they have put their notion of “capitalism” which has been fostered through years of government propaganda.

        With regards to your comment. I said something extremely simple but you then proceeded to bolt on all sorts of things which I did not say, did not imply and do not believe in and yet you seem to think the things you have bolted on are the position of real capitalists.

        Let me give some examples

        “It also acts as a MEASURE and a STORE of purchasing power.” – Capitalists 100% agree. Feel feel to “bolt” this on to my previous comment.

        “Money does not reflect the total of one’s resources” – Again, a 100% capitalist position and I agree.

        “For example a housewife’s work in the home (cooking, cleaning, decorating, child-care etc.) ” – One of the key things in true capitalism is allowing family members to spend time with the rest of their family, whether it be cooking cleaning etc to spending time in a recreational context. It is anti capitalism when, despite the massive increases in productivity, stay at home parents are becoming less common. This is an utter travesty and to repeat, this development is anti capitalism in the extreme.

        You talk about measuring GDP. Again, this is not a core measure of a successful capitalist society. The measures of a successful capitalist society is quality of life. ie less work, more free time. That is true progress. Relying on GDP numbers as thee benchmark for the success of a society is dangerous as it is used as a propaganda tool to disguise the loss of quality of life.

        “I agree with your anti-bank stance of course” – You misread my comment, the true capitalist position is not anti bank, it is anti monopoly which is why it is anti “central bank” NOT anti independent bank working in a free market without the ability to put the taxpayer on the hook for its mistakes.

        To correct you on some technicalities. The state at least not in the UK does not have the monopoly on the production of the currency, the Bank Of England does.

        “nationalise the Bank of England, re-introduce exchange control on capital outflows.” – I couldn’t disagree more. The Bank Of England needs to disappear, it is the source of all of your problems with your version of “capitalism”. Controls on capital outflows is totalitarian communism/fascism and gives a government carte blanche to act stupidly/unfairly/oppressively without consequences.

        The occupy movement is funded by the banking elite ie the bankers with direct links to the central banks. They Occupy movement is a farce, its message endangers personal freedom http://www.google.com/search?q=occupy+paying+protesters

        I am not sure if you are ready to truly listen to this but let me put it out there.

        Peter Schiff at Occupy Wall Street, “I am the 1%, let’s talk”

  11. senex72 said:

    Richard

    You can’t just make it up as you go along like this!

    You wrote “money is just a reflection of one’s resources” and I explained it isn’t
    , at least not “perfectly simply”..and you excluded the other functions of money in your definition, limiting it to a means of exchange. You seem to define “capitalism” as anything you agree with! If it means unregulated market economies relying on supply and demand it certainly does not favour family-friendly policies; and if you disagree that GDP is a measure of wealth etc why not agree that it should be extended to include unpaid personal service as the UN suggested? Supply and Demand works poorly the further you get away from simple trading in goods: for example it flounders in the idea of the labour market, or in land where the supply is fixed. Exchange Control of capital outflows were normal and were not the signs of fascism and tyranny you imagine – in fact they acted to prevent the rise of the tyranny of the 1% which deregulation has produced. You can retreat to a fantasy land of “true” capitalism, rapping out statements that this or that is capitalism or not as you have just done – but this blog is about the REALITIES of modern politics, is it not? And the way to understand reality is to look at its history, however much you retreat from that. with your schemes of eccentric definitions. Give yourself a break,eh?

    • Richard said:

      Senex – Your bolting things on again. Give yourself a break eh? Step away from the spanner.

      You wrote “money is just a reflection of one’s resources” and I explained it isn’t – no you did not, that is why we were in agreement. Read your comment again.

  12. senex72 said:

    Richard let me quote you:” Let me state my position. Money is a reflection of ones resources and as such it makes barter easier. Nothing more .” (Octr 31) and yet now you say not?

    The approach you seem to have of giving and starting with definitions and proofs .belongs to what used to be philosophy: Here is an example: “Defining God as that which, while itself being uncaused, can nevertheless give rise to causation, we can confidently state that ..etc” Or in your case “defining money as …..” or defining capitalism..” Defining value is the problem…”or “cash must be finite….” and so on.But the emergence of History as our basic way of apprehending has rendered that approach obsolete.

    If you want to know what cash is look at how it developed, same with money, value, any “concept”. That approach is a therapy you could use to disabuse yourself of this strange classical formalism of searching for “rational definitions” outside change and development.

    Today we are not *bolting things on” to some basic scheme, but exploring: exploring meanings of word and ideas in their various contexts. If you want to understand why you hold a view, work out the time-line it is part of: And allow for perspective too since how it looks may often depend on where you are looking from. This would make it far more efficient for exploring ideas sensibly, rather than getting stuck in thius sort of Euclidean Geometry of politics. as now. I recommend giving it a go.

    • Richard said:

      Senex – I’m not sure why you are proceeding to talk about Euclidean Geometry, philosophy & proofs when you cannot even acknowledge a simple statement that *you* made despite it being in writing. Again, please read your own comment.

      • senex72 said:

        OK Richard:: please quote my comment and date to which you refer..

      • senex72 said:

        Can you not locate that comment you say I made? I don’t think I wrote it anyway, Please advise.

        The point about Euclid is that you are using outdated define and deduction tactics and methods, simply word games in which the conclusion is embodied in the selected premise (capitalism is…, money is….. and therefore etc.). Try historical reality instead!

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