Sunday, February 12, 2006

Liberalism - Does it have to apply to everything?

Just been reading Femme de Resistance's post, and the reaction it has attracted,
in particular the comment:
It is all about priorities. If you support both economic and personal liberalism, think that free markets are best for the whole society, but also think, that the state shouldn't have a say to what consenting adults may do in the bedroom,then you have to choose which is the most important to you.
To me, this sticks out as somewhat incongruous, as do LibertyCat's assertions that
Liberals are not socialists

Socialists reject economic liberalism. They believe that economic competition inevitably leads to the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Socialist ideas of equality tend to deal with equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity, and with equality between groups rather than between individuals. Most socialists reject political liberalism, believing that a strong centralised state is needed to counteract the economic power of the capitalist class.
To read this, I would probably get the impression that I was a socialist if I didn't (think I) know better.

I agree that socialists tend to focus on equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity. I think they're wrong in that. But I don't think that they're wrong about unfettered economic competition bringing with it the likelihood of simply creating self-reinforcing inequalities, of opportunity as much as of outcome.

I also agree that the centralised state is the wrong tool to solve such problems, in the shape of the traditional Labour vision of government. But I do see a role for strong regulation and limits on competition, in order to ensure a level playing field. Ultimately, it comes down to the same point that MPH and Oxfam and all that lot make about free trade: It's not the same thing as fair trade.

When you're formulating an ideology, it's important to know who you want to benefit from your actions. I want people to have the opportunity to live better lives, the lives they want to, with as little interference from outside as possible. Note the word outside there. I didn't say government. The way I see it, with the world going in the direction it's going, we're simply going to replace the 20th century's spectre of limits on freedoms (the state/socialism) with the 21st's (corporate force of will expressed through financial power).

To me as a Lib Dem, the word Democrat is at least as important to my reasons for joining the party as the word Liberal. If we're in this to protect people's freedoms and uphold democratic principles of representation, as locally as possible, then that takes in opposition to corporate power just as much as it does state power. People with more money being able to have more say than people who don't, and the oft-made argument that people are in some way excercising a "democratic right" by not buying the goods of a company they dislike, say, overlook the fact that this is a vision of democracy with the idea that people's sway in a vote goes in direct proportion to their wealth.

To subscribe to unreconstructed economic liberalism is in my view a very unhealthy move, and it perturbs me to see quite so many people seemingly making this argument that Lib Dems are people who believe in liberalism both personally and economically, but see the personal bit as more important. In my case, it is precisely because I believe in personal liberties that I oppose economic liberalism in its uglier forms.

If that makes me more of a New Socialist in some sense, and not a Liberal, then that's fair enough. But what I am also is a Liberal Democrat, and I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks along these lines.

So am I in the wrong party? I certainly don't see myself as a Tory, since I am opposed to both personal illiberalism and economic liberalism (in its purest form - I of course recognise the invisible hand of the free market as a powerful organisational tool). The Tories are pretty much the opposite of all I believe, in their traditional form. Now? Cameron, if he actually believed what he projects, would probably be closer to my views than some of the people I see calling themselves Liberals in our party.

And I'm not really a socialist, since I still don't believe that the way around my reservations with the free market is to take it all into the hands of the state. What is needed is simply a greater willingness of the state to set a few ground rules and enforce them in the private sector, not more public sector (But there is of course still a big role for the state in health, education and social security that simply has to be funded if not run from as high a level as possible (to protect it from the vagaries of the economy as much as possible)). Labour ideas are closer to my own, I suppose, in terms of the outcomes they want, but not in how they think we can achieve them.

Many see the Lib Dems as the expression of some sort of messy compromise of SDP and Liberal ideals. To me, what the Lib Dems represent is a surprisingly consistent manifestation of the views set out above: that ultimately this is all about people and their lives. There is no conflict between Liberalism, as I see it, and opposition to economic liberalism.

16 comments:

panakea said...

Let's look at your title "Liberalism - Does it have to apply to verything?" Actually you admit already here, that free market is liberalism applied in economy.

To answer your question - No, you don't have to apply it to everything. But that means, that you are liberal only in those fields of life in which you apply liberalism. As you admit, that free market is liberalism applied to economy, if you don't apply liberalism to economy, it is just that - liberalism applied in other fields of life but not in economy.

I can't understand this kind of artifical separation of different fields of life. If anything is incongruous, that is allowing people to decide about their own body, but not their own purse. It is just as coercive to tell what you can do in your own bed with another consenting adult and what you can't than it is to take your money and buy with that money certain kind of goods instead of others.

But of course you have the right to pick only those parts of liberalism which please you as liberalism would be some kind of buffet. Just don't tell then, that those bits which didn't do for you, aren't liberalism, or that other bits, which you picked from elsewhere, would be liberalism.

And don't make that elementary mistake that you would assume that liberalism is whatever the Lib Dems do. You probably don't assume, that socialism is whatever the Labour does.

Joe Otten said...

Re: equality of outcomes and opportunities.

Interesting points made here:
http://www.meetingthechallenge.net/?p=71

In a sense the two are tied together good outcomes give rise to good opportunities. We should be careful to celebrate this, not bemoan it. And therefore to seek to generate good opportunities for everyone, taking inequality of opportunity as a guide, by all means, but not imagining that we will end that inequality.

Andy said...

No, you don't have to apply it to everything. But that means, that you are liberal only in those fields of life in which you apply liberalism.

But what I'm arguing is that my primary concern for liberalism on a personal level trumps the idea that people must be absolutely free financially.

I can't understand this kind of artifical separation of different fields of life. If anything is incongruous, that is allowing people to decide about their own body, but not their own purse.

That's a slightly warped way of expressing my views, though. I'm quite happy for people to spend their money broadly how they wish, what I'm arguing about is whether that is enough to foster the democratic freedoms we would like to see.

Just don't tell then, that those bits which didn't do for you, aren't liberalism, or that other bits, which you picked from elsewhere, would be liberalism.

What I'm saying is that just because I have arrived at conclusions superficially more normally associated with other systems of belief doesn't mean that, to me, they aren't entirely consistent with my liberal views. To me, liberalism is an absolute, but that's an absolute on a personal level. Very important to me is the idea that I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't harm other people. As long as one never loses sight of this important qualification, I don't see that the free market has a particularly strong claim to be the only liberal formulation of an economic view.

And don't make that elementary mistake that you would assume that liberalism is whatever the Lib Dems do.

I don't assume that at all. I agree with many people on the point that trying to ban smacking or smoking completely is wholly inconsistent with liberalism. I was merely saying that, actually, I am pleasantly surprised to find that most of Lib Dem policy and tone does seem to reflect my interpretation of Liberalism.

Just because what you happen to have ended up with as a set of beliefs extrapolated from the basics of liberalism doesn't match my set of beliefs, don't tell me they don't all come from the basics of liberalism too. If it was that easy, would there be any point in having debates within parties? Surely socialism, conservatism and liberalism would simply be a set of rules, and party policy made by a panel of experts in those rules.

And yes, my title is perhaps misleading on that score, so I apologise for that, it was partly designed to grab the attention. But the serious point behind it was that I do feel people come at this the wrong way. People are starting from a point of view of 'everyone should be free to do as they wish in all walks of life' when actually, I see a contradiction between the free market and personal freedom. When one actually has an effect of opposing the other, I don't see this as an artificial separation at all.

You probably don't assume, that socialism is whatever the Labour does. Indeed not ;)

Chris Black said...

If that makes me more of a New Socialist in some sense, and not a Liberal, then that's fair enough. But what I am also is a Liberal Democrat, and I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks along these lines.

Andy, excellent post. I'm one of those who thinks along the same lines, except, I couldn't have written so eloquently!

panakea said...

But what I'm arguing is that my primary concern for liberalism on a personal level trumps the idea that people must be absolutely free financially.

That is against about everything liberalism is about. Liberalism on a personal level isn't in any kind of contradiction with the idea that people must be absolutely free financially.

I will give you an example. If you are prevented to build a church or a mosque or a synagogue or a temple, you are prevented of practising your religion, thus your freedom of religion is suppressed.

This could be done simply by forbidding you to build a religious building. If you would gather a bunch of voluntary workers from your congregation to build the religious building, and when it would be finished the state would nationalise it and turn it to a cinema or a grain storage (as happened in the Soviet Union), that would also prevent you practising your religion.If you would raise funds to build a religious building, and then state would confiscate those funds for some other purpose, the effect would be exactly the same.

As you see, economical liberty is not separated from the personal liberty. The state can control you just as effectively by controlling your purse than by controlling your body.

To be controlled in our economic pursuits means to be always controlled unless we declare our specific purpose. Or, since when we declare our specific purpose we shall also have to get it approved, we should really be controlled in everything.
― F.A. Hayek


Then I suppose that behind your claim there is the assumption, that to be free people need to have certain resources. That thought is one of the cornerstones of socialism. Liberal concept of freedom is different. I'm hoping that more Lib Dems would read Isaiah Berlin's essay Two Concepts of Liberty. Here's the liberal definition of freedom:

I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read because I am blind, or cannot understand the darker pages of Hegel, it would be eccentric to say that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings. Mere incapacity to attain a goal is not lack of political freedom.

As I said before, you have the right to differ from liberalism in some points even if you agree with it in others. Just don't call "liberal" something that is not.

panakea said...

What I'm saying is that just because I have arrived at conclusions superficially more normally associated with other systems of belief doesn't mean that, to me, they aren't entirely consistent with my liberal views. To me, liberalism is an absolute, but that's an absolute on a personal level. Very important to me is the idea that I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't harm other people. As long as one never loses sight of this important qualification, ...

I agree with that definition, but what you fail to see is that limiting people's right to decide on their own money harms them. You might say, that it isn't that important, or that it doesn't matter as long as they aren't fysically harmed or that it does more good than harm, but in doing so you are accepting the violation of that principle in many ways even if it is only a mild violation or if it serves a greater good. So actually you have some other principle, which trumps the principle you quoted in bold.

"...I don't see that the free market has a particularly strong claim to be the only liberal formulation of an economic view."

Free market is by definition the only liberal economic system, as it is the only economic system that is entirely based on the free choices of individuals. It doesn't exclude even the so called "third" or "voluntary sector", as if that is what people choose, it is totally in harmony with free market economy, as long as the public sector doesn't make the choice on their behalf.

Rob said...

Interesting post. I agree with some of it, though not with all.

I started to write a response here, but it got a bit too long, so I posted it on my blog.

Andy said...

That is against about everything liberalism is about. Liberalism on a personal level isn't in any kind of contradiction with the idea that people must be absolutely free financially.

I will give you an example...


And a good example it is too. Counter example: Why does our criminal justice system seem to favour those who can afford better lawyers? Surely in a free and democratic state, such a system is not "fair". Surely the absolute practice of liberalism in all areas actually in some ways harms our freedoms?

Then I suppose that behind your claim there is the assumption, that to be free people need to have certain resources. That thought is one of the cornerstones of socialism.

Just because one ideology originally came up with something doesn't mean it's not relevant to others, does it? What socialism builds from this idea may not be liberal; the idea in itself is neither socialist nor liberal, surely?

To be honest, all you are convincing me of here is that like all ideologies, following the principles of liberalism to their absolute conclusion every step of the way is not the way to the best society.

Andy said...

I agree with that definition, but what you fail to see is that limiting people's right to decide on their own money harms them. You might say, that it isn't that important, or that it doesn't matter as long as they aren't fysically harmed or that it does more good than harm, but in doing so you are accepting the violation of that principle in many ways even if it is only a mild violation or if it serves a greater good. So actually you have some other principle, which trumps the principle you quoted in bold.

But to uphold the bit in bold you are always going to have to curtail people's freedom in some way. To stop someone doing something they want to do because it would harm someone else is quite in line with liberalism, as far as I can see, yet to stop them will probably harm them in some minor way, if only in that it frustrates them and causes them unnecesary stress.

So yes, if you want to maintain liberalism as some sort of absolute ideal, you're probably right. I, on the other hand, think it could actually provide a sensible way to run a country.

Free market is by definition the only liberal economic system, as it is the only economic system that is entirely based on the free choices of individuals. It doesn't exclude even the so called "third" or "voluntary sector", as if that is what people choose, it is totally in harmony with free market economy, as long as the public sector doesn't make the choice on their behalf.

It is only "by definition" the only choice if you don't accept that the economic free market can violate people's personal rights. If you do, there is presumably a whole spectrum of positions you might take: Communism, Socialism, capitalism of the form we broadly have now, and absolute free markets, to name a few broad categories.

So yes, my position involves shying away from applying liberal principles to the market fully. But that's only because I have arrived at the conclusion that there are certain circumstances where to do so is a greater violation of liberalism on another level.

The free market creates conformity and monopolies more often than not as far as I can see. It is financially in the interests of companies to spread disinformation about their product, their actions in the world, and so on. They need to spend money to do so. But I would maintain that spending advertising money to deliberately mislead people should be illegal, and yes, that's an imposition on the principles of the free market, but as far as I'm concerned, not on my vision of Liberalism, because on a personal level people need to be free to make informed choices.

Environmentalism plays a big part in this, I guess. My wish to hand on the planet to my descendents in as good a condition as I found it is perfectly in line with doing whatever I want as long as it doesn't harm others. The free market clearly shows a trend of reckless disregard for this principle, encouraging as it does whoever can exploit whatever resources they can for as much money as they can to do the best. As far as environmental concerns go, the free market, unregulated, stamps all over the freedoms of future generations.

So yeah, in some minor ways, stopping people spending their money how they want harms them. Are you going to stop me if try and stop someone using their money to burn down the Amazon rainforest?

As I said, maybe this is contradictory to absolute liberalism. But I don't think it's fair to say I'm not fundamentally a liberal, it's just that there are conflicts between freedoms, and deciding where those lines are is the big challenge for liberals.

panakea said...

As for your counter example, I admit that it is a problem, but I think that it is a smaller problem than the alternatives, especially as it is tempered by voluntary legal aid. For instance in the United States there are several voluntary organisations to help those in need.

Actually, against the common misconception the monopolies aren't usually caused by the free market but because the lack of it. There exists different kinds of government control which prevent new competitors of entering the market, and the companies which already are in the market exploit this.

"It is only "by definition" the only choice if you don't accept that the economic free market can violate people's personal rights." ...

... "So yeah, in some minor ways, stopping people spending their money how they want harms them. Are you going to stop me if try and stop someone using their money to burn down the Amazon rainforest?

As I said, maybe this is contradictory to absolute liberalism. But I don't think it's fair to say I'm not fundamentally a liberal, it's just that there are conflicts between freedoms, and deciding where those lines are is the big challenge for liberals."


The principle which lays behind liberalism has been cristallised by Immanuel Kant in this maxim: No‐one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of others to pursue a similar end which can be reconciled with the freedom of everyone else within a workable general law i.e. he must accord to others the same right as he enjoys himself.

This principle can be applied to the economy as well as any field of life. If everyone have their own "territory" of rights, to which no-one else can invade without his or her permission, basically there shouldn't be conflict between people's right, because these rights do not contain the freedom to violate other people's rights, just to do what you want with your body and your own property.

I'm feeling, that you are confusing economic liberalism with some kind of economic anarchism. Economic liberalism only allows you to do what you want with your own property, it doesn't allow you to do what you want with other people's property.

You could compare this to an example from another field of life. It should be all right to me to use drugs if I chose so, but that wouldn't give me the right to intoxicate other people who don't consent, not even if this happens only as a side effect (for instance if I would put drugs into the tap water).

Destroying the Amazon rainforest (as whole) would violate the rights of people living there, and also elsewhere, so you wouldn't have the right to destroy it more than you would have a right to detonate a nuclear bomb in your own house, because the effects wouldn't be limited to your body and property.

I think that the problem here isn't actually that economic liberalism would somehow violate other people's rights more than liberalism applied to other fields of rights, the problem is that you undestand economic liberalism in a way which doesn't include the restrictions you associate with liberalism applied to other fields of life. And thus when you are discussing the problems of economic liberalism you are actually discussing the problems of some sort of anarchism.

Andy said...

As for your counter example, I admit that it is a problem, but I think that it is a smaller problem than the alternatives, especially as it is tempered by voluntary legal aid. For instance in the United States there are several voluntary organisations to help those in need.

Because of course we all know that the US is a model of fairness with these solutions in place...

Actually, against the common misconception the monopolies aren't usually caused by the free market but because the lack of it.

I'm sorry, I really don't see that. Allowing companies to grow in size and economic power indefinately, as presumably the free market would do, since to do anything else would be an imposition, is fairly obviously going to result in a sort of 'birdtable effect' - the smaller new businesses may as well not bother, because it is in the interests of any established monopoly to do all it can to put it out of business. Look at Murdoch's price wars with his newspaper competitors. He's got such deep pockets, he can afford to do this. And he has every right to, presumably, in the free market. But it's not something I want to see as the model for how business operates.

If everyone have their own "territory" of rights, to which no-one else can invade without his or her permission, basically there shouldn't be conflict between people's right, because these rights do not contain the freedom to violate other people's rights, just to do what you want with your body and your own property.

Lovely. You honestly believe that do you? As far as I can see, the only such world where no conflicts arose would be one where there was very little interaction between people at all.

I'm feeling, that you are confusing economic liberalism with some kind of economic anarchism.

Can you blame me when you seem to be arguing that the urge to legislate in the economic sector is illiberal?

You could compare this to an example from another field of life. It should be all right to me to use drugs if I chose so, but that wouldn't give me the right to intoxicate other people who don't consent, not even if this happens only as a side effect (for instance if I would put drugs into the tap water).

Indeed not. But such is the nature of the modern system that with sufficient money, it is quite possible for people and companies to, for lack of a better word, propagandise people. Something I would argue comes very much under the same sort of category as intoxicating other people with a drug.

Destroying the Amazon rainforest (as whole) would violate the rights of people living there

OK, so I pay them all a sufficient amount to go elsewhere and not complain.

and also elsewhere

OK, here we start to get to the point. How exactly are we to protect the rights of some nebulous group of people elsewhere? Surely, the answer is that the only really practicable way is to interfere to some (limited) extent in what people are able to do?

I think that the problem here isn't actually that economic liberalism would somehow violate other people's rights more than liberalism applied to other fields of rights, the problem is that you undestand economic liberalism in a way which doesn't include the restrictions you associate with liberalism applied to other fields of life. And thus when you are discussing the problems of economic liberalism you are actually discussing the problems of some sort of anarchism.

Well, as has become apparent from discussion with others, you are probably right here. But I think that's not exclusively my problem. The world in general sees "economic liberalism", rightly or wrongly, as any number of things, from our brand of liberalism, to the "neo-liberalism" of the US which essentially seems to say "I can do what I like because I have the money to do so, and screw the rest of you."

Now of course, such an attitude does harm other people in a very real sense, and can't really be said to be liberal. But the effect of the free market, in the form many of its proponents would have it, is to allow these costs to be broken down into such tiny individual pieces that to any one person they mean very little, and hence they go unchallenged. Just as the format of a publically owned company can act as one massive responsibility-devolving apparatus, so the whole free market allows many freedoms, subtle and unsubtle, to be violated with no clear perpetrator.

I may well be guilty of misusing the term economic liberalism as too wide an umbrella than is technically justified, but this is only because the people who make the arguments for it are often so caught up in stressing how much they aren't a socialist that they don't state explicitly enough the sort of qualifications that it would appear we all believe in after all.

panakea said...

"Allowing companies to grow in size and economic power indefinately, as presumably the free market would do, since to do anything else would be an imposition, is fairly obviously going to result in a sort of 'birdtable effect'"

I take that as you aren't very familiar with economics? When companies grow, they of course can make some savings and rationalising, but they will in many ways become more and more bureaucratic and inefficient. At some point this inefficiency will outdo the benefits the company gets from size, which usually shows in its prising or the quality of its services, and this will allow new, more efficient companies to enter the market.

That is if they aren't prevented by some legislation, which for instance imposes regulations, which the new companies in practise can't meet. This is very common especially in certaing developing countries, where the politicians and officers are even paied for by the big companies to introduce such regulations, of course in the name of some more innocent-looking purpose. But sometimes even in less corrupted countries there exists legislation, which limits competition, even though the original purpose of the legislation was for instance to protect the consumers.

If, on the other hand, in a free market a company somehowe manages to keep itself efficient enough despite growing, it might be able to keep new companies out of the market by keeping the prices low and/or by keeping the quality of the services so high, that the consumers don't have a reason to turn to another company. But where is the harm done? If the consumers are happy, they won't change the company anyway.

But you shouldn't forget, that monopolies aren't evil per se, but they are evil if they exploit their position. And if they do that, in a free market there will raise new competitors. Competition is needed if the consumers aren't satisfied, for instance if a company is trying to exploit its monopoly by increasing its prices. If the consumers are satisfied, why do you want to change things?

"Lovely. You honestly believe that do you? As far as I can see, the only such world where no conflicts arose would be one where there was very little interaction between people at all."

It seems that you are confusing conflicts of interests or personal conflicts with the conflicts of rights. They are something totally different. Right and interest aren't the same thing.

I don't know whether you are doing it for purpose or not, but please get it right. And I'm not taking that mocking tone from somebody who is young enough to be my child, especially as I haven't mocked you althoug you have given me so many chances.

"OK, so I pay them all a sufficient amount to go elsewhere and not complain."

You never could buy them all out. First, there are million of them, and it is unlikely that all of them would sell, and second, when the rest would know that you are ready to pay anything, the price would go up so much, that you never could buy the whole Amazon. Propably you couldn't even with the current prices.

"Surely, the answer is that the only really practicable way is to interfere to some (limited) extent in what people are able to do?"

Only with the same precondition as with in other fields of life, that is if it violates the rights of other people. But there isn't any qualitative difference whether this is applied in economy or in other cases, as you assume.

"But I think that's not exclusively my problem. The world in general sees "economic liberalism", rightly or wrongly, as any number of things, from our brand of liberalism, to the "neo-liberalism" of the US which essentially seems to say "I can do what I like because I have the money to do so, and screw the rest of you.""

"Neo-liberalism" is a term used mostly in Europe. In the US they generally use the term "neo-conservatism" in the same meaning you are using the term "neo-liberalism".

There are many misconceptions about liberalism, which aren't only limited to the economic liberalism. As I'm sure you know, liberalism is often criticised using similar arguments that you are using against economic liberalism. For instance, it might be claimed that liberalism allows pedophiles to rape children.

It is your responsibility as much as every other liberal's to try to correct this misunderstanding, otherwise you are allowing the opponents of liberalism to define what liberalism stands for.

Andy said...

I take that as you aren't very familiar with economics?

This seems to be a common theme in your responses to both me and over on Forecful and Moderate. In fact, as you later admit, companies do benefit up to a point from being larger. Getting overly bureacratic is a problem connected with trying to do too many things or sell too many products in too many places, not with having too much money and therefore influence per se.

That is if they aren't prevented by some legislation, which for instance imposes regulations, which the new companies in practise can't meet.

Now you're trying to tell me what sort of legislation I'm advocating.

If, on the other hand, in a free market a company somehow manages to keep itself efficient enough despite growing, it might be able to keep new companies out of the market by keeping the prices low and/or by keeping the quality of the services so high, that the consumers don't have a reason to turn to another company. But where is the harm done?

So suddenly we are conceding that there are such things as economies of scale. OK. The problem comes with the fact that people can be falsely convinced by a sufficiently large company with enough money that actually a competitor is in some way not as good. The enlightened self-interest of the many is all very well, but it depends on a certain level of enlightenment.

But you shouldn't forget, that monopolies aren't evil per se, but they are evil if they exploit their position.

And in the market as it is today, a comany is under an obligation to its shareholders to make profits. Of course it will try to exploit its position.

It seems that you are confusing conflicts of interests or personal conflicts with the conflicts of rights. They are something totally different. Right and interest aren't the same thing.

I'm aware they are different, but there are conflicts in both created in trying to apply liberalism universally.

And I'm not taking that mocking tone from somebody who is young enough to be my child, especially as I haven't mocked you althoug you have given me so many chances.

My age has nothing to do with it, if you feel you're holding back in some way then by all means, go for it. At the moment you're really not convincing me. And believe me, I'd love to be convinced.

You never could buy them all out. First, there are million of them, and it is unlikely that all of them would sell, and second, when the rest would know that you are ready to pay anything, the price would go up so much, that you never could buy the whole Amazon. Propably you couldn't even with the current prices.

It was a hypothetical. Of course it was a silly one. My point remains, just because I have more money, I don't see that I should be allowed to wield more influence in the world's decisions. It strikes me that in a capitalist economy, some quite robust structuring of the law is required to achieve that separation.

Only with the same precondition as with in other fields of life, that is if it violates the rights of other people. But there isn't any qualitative difference whether this is applied in economy or in other cases, as you assume.

I assume no such thing. All I have ever been arguing is that where there is a choice between violating financial rights and personal ones, I would err on the side of having to violate financial ones.

"Neo-liberalism" is a term used mostly in Europe. In the US they generally use the term "neo-conservatism" in the same meaning you are using the term "neo-liberalism".

Again needlessly belittling. I am quite aware that the term neo-conservative is the accpeted one in the US, but since that is an even more ludicrous term than neo-liberal, I didn't bother to mention it.

There are many misconceptions about liberalism, which aren't only limited to the economic liberalism. As I'm sure you know, liberalism is often criticised using similar arguments that you are using against economic liberalism. For instance, it might be claimed that liberalism allows pedophiles to rape children.

My point is that the free market can have the effect of disguising violations behind a complex web of economics, so that although nothing so emotive as raping children is taking place, nonetheless serious problems are arising.

It is your responsibility as much as every other liberal's to try to correct this misunderstanding, otherwise you are allowing the opponents of liberalism to define what liberalism stands for.

Quite. But in order to do that I need to work out exactly what our take on liberalism is. And I still don't agree, as this seems to suggest, that there is one "correct" version of liberalism that I need to correct everyone else on. If we all understood exactly the same thing from our liberal leanings, as I said, why would we ever have to debate policy?

panakea said...

"Can you blame me when you seem to be arguing that the urge to legislate in the economic sector is illiberal?"

That's putting to my mouth things that I haven't ever said. I have showed several times, that I'm not an anarchist,and that I support the kind of legislation, which protects the equal freedom of others. Yes, I'm blaming you, because you are accusing me of thing which I've never said.

"as you later admit, companies do benefit up to a point from being larger."

This and the fact that they also suffer from the growing bureaucracy aren't mutually exclusive. There are some synergy benefits and such which the big companies might have, but at some point the disadvantages of the bureaucracy will become more significant.

"Getting overly bureacratic is a problem connected with trying to do too many things or sell too many products in too many places, not with having too much money and therefore influence per se.

Actually companies which have split their units to semi-independent daughter companies can control the disadvantages of the size better than the companies that haven't. And simply "having too much money" isn't the problem which the monopolies might cause.

Now you're trying to tell me what sort of legislation I'm advocating.

I didn't. You are trying to tell that I said something that I didn't. Don't try too much to read between the lines.

So suddenly we are conceding that there are such things as economies of scale.

I've never denied it. If monopolies are considered a problem, you should first explain what's the problem. Surely opposing monopolies as such can't be an inherent value? The companies with a monopoly are opposed because of something they do, abuse their power to get the monopoly ans/or when they have become a monopoly.

In that case you should first prove that the abuse is happening. If there isn't any abuse, if the company has become a monopoly without doing anything reprehensible, and doesn't do anything reprehensible when it has become a monopoly, then what's the problem?

If this isn't the case, how then to solve the problem? To introduce legislation which forbids the monopolies? Maybe, but there is a chance, that the monopolies are caused by the existing legislation, which I'm trying to show to you. In that case wouldn't it be more sensible to remove the legislation that causes the monopolies than to introduce more legislation, to patch the old one?

"I assume no such thing. All I have ever been arguing is that where there is a choice between violating financial rights and personal ones, I would err on the side of having to violate financial ones."

Usually they are inseparable. See my example about religious freedom.

Now, I'm sorry but I don't have more time for you. I hope you good luck in disentangling your thoughts.

Andy said...

That's putting to my mouth things that I haven't ever said.

I would argue not, since I only said you *seem* to be arguing this.

This and the fact that they also suffer from the growing bureaucracy aren't mutually exclusive. There are some synergy benefits and such which the big companies might have, but at some point the disadvantages of the bureaucracy will become more significant.

Nothing forces the company to push itself past that point, though. If it's quite happy to just rest in its own position, suppress competition and make profit, then it has a potentially almost immovable monopoly.

Actually companies which have split their units to semi-independent daughter companies can control the disadvantages of the size better than the companies that haven't.

I don't quite understand your point here, surely this is actually an argument for why large companies won't necessarily suffer, and hence supports my side?

I've never denied it. If monopolies are considered a problem, you should first explain what's the problem. Surely opposing monopolies as such can't be an inherent value? The companies with a monopoly are opposed because of something they do, abuse their power to get the monopoly ans/or when they have become a monopoly.

Indeed.

In that case you should first prove that the abuse is happening. If there isn't any abuse, if the company has become a monopoly without doing anything reprehensible, and doesn't do anything reprehensible when it has become a monopoly, then what's the problem?

Well, in that sense, there is no problem, though this doesn't sound like a world I especially like the sound of. The Lib Dem preamble specifically notes "conformity" as one of the things that we should be free from.

If this isn't the case, how then to solve the problem? To introduce legislation which forbids the monopolies? Maybe, but there is a chance, that the monopolies are caused by the existing legislation, which I'm trying to show to you. In that case wouldn't it be more sensible to remove the legislation that causes the monopolies than to introduce more legislation, to patch the old one? I would contend that, were there no legislation on the market whatsoever, there would still be monopolies. Because companies have no lifespan, they are free to go on dominating as long as they can. This isn't like actual people where their wealth will always ultimately get moved on (if only to a member of the family).

In conclusion, then:

1. I am not arguing for no changes to be made to existing legislation. But I am arguing that stronger, genuinely stronger, legislation is needed. Of course where there is inequitable and flabby law it should be revised also.

2. I accept the arguments that several people have put to me that they are not putting forward some sort of Thatcherite view. And sure, as someone who would sooner be a socialist than a conservative, I'm likely to react badly to my initial impressions that perhaps they were. BUT, I also maintain that many have such impressions, and economic liberals need to make very much stronger noises to correct such views. With America's current model for the world making a very bad name for the free market (even if it genuinely is or isn't a free market), economic liberals can't simply glibly respond that there are no problems with monopolies.

MatGB said...

Andy, I meant to post awhileback. Ithink the fundamental problem here is the confusion between State Socialism and other types of socialism (note the small 's').

There's nothing wrong with socialism existing within a market economy. Indeed, many socialist businesses operate, very succesfully, within the market in Britain today; John Lewis/Waitrose being the most obvious example, numerous co-operatives similarly, etc.

I'm quite happy to describe myself as both a liberal and a socialist, but I tend to make sure I make my rejection of state control clear first. MArkets are a system of distribution and exchange; competition is good for business.

Capitalism and socialism are systems of ownership, not distribution; Hitler's Germany is an example of non-competetive state capitalism after all.