Category Archives: Taxpayers Alliance

Libertarians and nostalgia

Libertarians. Don’t you find them ridiculous? For all their talk of freedom and liberty, they’re nothing more than wannabe feudal overlords. They’re fond of telling us how their idea of a minimal or ‘night watchman’ state will lead to a better world for all of us. Yet, whenever they open their mouths to speak, they inadvertently betray their true thoughts.

The other night I was listening to The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4. On the programme were two self-described libertarians discussing the floods. One of them was Telegraph columnist, Peter Oborne and I didn’t catch the other person’s name. The unnamed libertarian whined about the state and described it very much in the same terms as a teenage boy would describe his parents. “I hate my parents”, was more or less the what he was saying. “Why can’t they leave me alone to pull the legs off this fly”? Oborne told listeners that in the 19th century people would have dealt with the flooding themselves. This almost casual remark about 19th century Britain revealed the inner workings of the mind of the ‘libertarian’: they are not forward-looking, rather they are backward-looking romantics who are only capable of viewing history through the distorted lens of nostalgia.

In a libertarian world, the rich would be much richer than they are now and the rest would live as serfs. For the libertarian, the 19th century was a period of almost unparalleled ‘freedom’ when the bourgeoisie was more or less free to do as it pleased and the working classes knew their place in the hierarchy. It should come as no surprise that the term ‘social mobility’ does not appear in the lexicon of apparent libertarian freedoms.

So what is so great about the 19th century? True, there were scientific advances but there was a great deal of ignorance. Poverty and disease were rampant and most people were kept in the dark about their own body. Colonialism may have brought many riches to the aristocracy and the newly embourgeoisised middle classes alike, but the poor remained resolutely poor. Some libertarian once tried to tell me that the poor were “richer” at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning. The word “poor” means exactly that and the idea that the poor were somehow better off by 1900 is not only laughable, but fundamentally dishonest.

The libertarian right uses all the means it has at its disposal to hoodwink the gullible into signing away its rights for what it calls “freedom”. Yet in a libertarian world, only those who already possess material wealth and the privilege that comes with being members of the middle and upper classes will enjoy any kind of freedom. They’ll tell you that they hate war and that they stand for equality. But many of them would happily invade another country to ensure their bogus concept of ‘free trade’. This is why a good number of them have degrees in War Studies.

One of the favourite themes of the right libertarian is so-called ‘flat taxes’ which they claim are fair and that everyone – the low waged included – will benefit from them.  This is, of course, nothing more than a delusion.  If everyone pays the same rate of income tax, then those who are on meagre incomes will suffer, while the rich carry on as normal. The last time the UK had a flat tax was in the late 80s and early 90s, it was called The Poll Tax and it was seen as ‘fair’ by the Thatcher government. It cost millions to implement and cost even more to pursue the defaulters through the courts.

Right libertarians are accomplished liars who believe in the logic of their own lies. The very idea of social progress is anathema; it sounds too much like real fairness and being closeted social Darwinists, in their eyes, only the strong (in this case, the rich) should survive. If you don’t have the money to pay for the treatment of a chronic illness, then that’s too bad. You die.

Libertarians aren’t capable of looking forward. Their idea of the future – and they won’t admit to this – is to create a dystopian world from highly-selectivized memories of the 19th century. It may well be a technologically advanced world but it would have the feel of the Middle Ages to it, where knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite and, even then, only certain kinds of knowledge would be considered valid.

Right libertarians are fantasists who want you to share their dream of a ‘better’ world by signing over your human rights and accepting the marketization of all social relations. Remember, in the world of the right libertarian, the police exist solely to protect the rich and oppress anyone who disagrees or steps out of line. – just as it was in the 19th century.

In the 19th century, Britain was a police state in all but name. No wonder right libertarians view the epoch with such affection.

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Filed under Government & politics, right-wing libertarians, Taxpayers Alliance

Mediating freedom: the role of the libertarian think-tanks

Madsen Pirie: the architect  of Thatcher's privatization programme

Madsen Pirie: the architect of Thatcher’s privatization programme

How does one define the word “freedom”? There is a group of people who believe they know exactly what the word “freedom” means. “Freedom” and its cousin “liberty” are abstract nouns, there is no hard and fast definition for either of them and any attempt to give them some kind of single meaning or, indeed, a list of meanings is utterly futile and is most likely going to be dishonest. Moreover, it could take you a very long time to compile such a list.You can no more easily define “freedom” than you can words like “happiness” or “love”, because these words mean different things to different people at different times.

There are people who believe that they have knowledge of the true nature of freedom. They form themselves into ‘non-partisan’ think-tanks’ and discussion groups and refer to themselves collectively as “libertarians”. It’s as if as libertarians, they and only they have found the true meaning of freedom. It is as though they had heard the word of G*d Himself who spoke unto them and revealed the secret of liberty.  He said unto them, “It is not Communism”.

And lo, it became the everlasting Truth… until the collapse of the Wall of Berlin, when the disciples of The Truth believed unto themselves that freedom had triumphed over the tyranny of Communism, which they declared to be “unfreedom”.

After some soul-searching and not an inconsiderable amount of hand-wringing, they decided among themselves that unfreedom was to be represented by so-called radical Islam. They had found their antithesis! Lazy thinkers are attracted to binaries because they can only define themselves against their opposite. They are not Communists/Socialists/Lefties/Islamists, therefore they love freedom!

Those who call themselves “libertarians” deny that they are of a right-wing disposition and will gather at the feet of some economic guru or high priest, where they receive The Word directly from the master’s mouth. They may also deny that they are ideological and claim that they are “non-partisan” or “neither right nor left” but this is dishonest for when you press them on certain matters, they will produce a reply that contains the usual messages of “responsibility” and a “small state”. They speak in maths. Society is merely an afterthought.

Classical liberalism, as a term, has become both a touchstone for nostalgists and means by which to reorder language. Even neologisms are subjected to this transformation. The term “neoliberalism” is resented by the Right because they did not coin it. In its stead came “classical liberalism”, a term made seemingly older by the prefix “classical”. It is still neoliberalism in form and in substance. We cannot return to the past, no matter how hard the Tories try to recreate the past in the present. Therefore they revive old terminologies and long for the days before they were born.

The economic theories embraced by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), for example, are most definitely on political right and are therefore ideological. There’s no escaping it. In the 1980s, the ASI was very close to the Thatcher government. To whit, ASI’s president/high priest, Dr Madsen Pirie was  the architect of privatization. His freedom is that which steals food from the mouths of babes and condemns the poor to lives of never-ending serfdom.

Right libertarians believe themselves to be the arbiters of the freedom ideal. Their idea of freedom is a mediated one. That is to say, it comes from someone else or is produced by a body of people like ASI who make a deterministic argument of freedom, based more or less on the notion of economic liberty, which they assert is the fount of all freedoms. Such thinking is absurd when one considers the tyranny exerted on the poor and working poor by states that have operated this model.

For neoliberalism or classical liberalism to work, it must be imposed on the citizenry. These economic ideologies can only benefit the rich and any claim that they will “liberate” the poor is patently absurd and is not supported by the evidence. “Trickle-down” is a lie.

The ASI, like so many other libertarian think-tanks have convinced themselves that they know the True meaning of the words “liberty” and “freedom” but it doesn’t and to claim that it has a form of superior knowledge that leads them to a position where they can provide a definitive meaning for these words is arrogant, mendacious and self-delusional. Have a look at this pamphlet from the ASI, from which I shall quote a portion,

Liberty can be defined as not being interfered with, or not being
imposed on, by others (non-invasive liberty). Not being attacked
or robbed is part of liberty; attacking or robbing people is not part of liberty.

It follows that liberty means being able to do what you like with
your own body (the principle of self-ownership) and your own
property, as long as you are not thereby imposing on the body or
property of others. You are free to harm yourself, for example by
taking dangerous drugs, but if you harm someone else or damage
their property without their consent, you are violating their liberty.

This sense of liberty is what libertarians, or classical liberals,
mean when they advocate liberty. It is also the dominant idea of
liberty within Western history and it applies to any society that is
described as generally ‘liberal’.

This is a mainly Hobbesian formulation of liberty that has been infused with neoliberal discourse (Hobbes was a supporter of absolute monarchy). But to characterize liberty in purely Western terms is misleading and rather vague since it presumes that freedom does not exists outside Western ‘liberal’ discourse. It also suggests that “liberty” was conceived by Westerners, ergo they are the arbiters and owners of the “freedom” concept. Furthermore the essentialistic arguments on the nature of freedom put forward by the ASI is only one set of definitions and can never represent a totality of freedom, because there will always be limits or disagreements.

The Freedom Association (TFA) is a right-wing pressure group, whose idea of freedom is narrow. Indeed, its name is Orwellian. I can think of no group that calls itself The Love Association or UK Happiness League.  No one can tell you what constitutes  love or happiness. If I were to ask you to sum up what the word “love”  in a few words, you would tell me one thing. If I were  to come back to you in a couple of months and asked the same question, you may have a different answer for me. No one can tell you or I what love is; it is dependent upon one’s individual perception of that word at a particular moment in time.  You could say that love is not hate. But then, what is hate?

The idea of freedom put forward by ASI or TFA is a spectacular one, precisely because it has been mediated. These groups have set themselves up not only as arbiters of liberty but have hijacked the discourse on the subject. It stands to reason that those who accept the ASI’s and TFA’s definition of freedom as Truth, do so because it emphasizes their relationship to capital. If you do not accept their kind of freedom, then you are a supporter of unfreedom; a totalitarian. It’s as simple as that.

When the government announced it was going to “measure” the nation’s “happiness”, I was suspicious and rightly so, you cannot measure, let alone define, happiness. It was a government attempt to manipulate people’s emotions. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In George Orwell’s satire, 1984, he created a dystopian world in which ignorance was a virtue and in which the state created ministries with names like the Ministries of Truth and Love. He was onto something.

There was some  Situationist graffiti that once said, “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of that”. That is my motto.

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Filed under Cultism, economic illiteracy, Economics, laissez faire capitalism, Late capitalism, neoliberalism, Philosophical musings, robber baron capitalism, Spiv capitalism, Taxpayers Alliance, Think Tanks

The Taxpayers Alliance, union bashing and ‘non partisanship’

I’ve just been watching BBC Breakfast and there was a woman on from the Taxpayers Alliance talking about quangos. She was presented as ‘independent’ but the TPA is anything but. Isn’t it time the media began to question them more closely about their alleged ‘non-partisanship’ instead of giving them a free ride?

Its director, Alexander Heath, doesn’t even pay tax in this country.

“Mr Heath, a retired teacher, has lived in France since marrying his French wife in 1973,” said Elliott in a statement. “He is still a British citizen but he is a French taxpayer (where taxes are higher than in the UK!). He is passionate about the Taxpayers’ Alliance.” Elliott said Heath returned to the UK for about a fortnight each year and owned no property in Britain.

This Guardian story says that the TPA is ” subsidised by the taxpayer“.

The Conservative-linked Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns against the misuse of public funds, has set up a charity under a different name which can secure subsidies from the taxman worth up to 40% on individuals’ donations. In one example, Midlands businessmen said they channelled funds through the Politics and Economics Research Trust at the request of the Taxpayers’ Alliance after they asked the campaign group to undertake research into policies which stood to damage their business interests. The arrangement allowed the Taxpayers’ Alliance to benefit from Gift Aid on the donations, a spokesman for the donors said.

The TPA is vehemently anti-union, here they make the specious claim that union leaders are paid from ‘our’ taxes,

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It is small wonder that they aren’t worried about the tax burden or the national debt when they are so well-off, but it is ordinary, overstretched taxpayers who will suffer if they get their way.”

The Alliance is opposed to monies paid to the unions under the Union Modernisation Fund – a government-funded project to help support non-political, trade union activities.

What are “non-political, trade union activities” when they are at home? Union-bashing has become a sport among Tories and right wing libertarians and, as the above paragraph shows us, they aren’t beneath telling a few lies in order to propagate the myth that unions are ‘outdated’ and ‘out of touch’ and workers (the word is never used) would be better off ignoring them.

The TPA is quite literally doing the work of the government, spinning story after story about the ‘cost of trade union activity’,

Well firstly it is false to say that most of the country believes that even more “investment” in public services is needed rather than cuts. YouGov polling forDemos several months back revealed that the last government lost voters at the general election because the public recognise the need for cuts and more polling by YouGov for left foot forward showed that the general public opposes more influence for the trade unions. Presumably because the trade unions have got it wrong on the single most important issue facing Britain – that is the need to curb the growing national debt.

Ah ha, the national debt but does the TPA understand what the national debt is and where it comes from? Oddly enough, no; they continue to labour under the assumption that the national debt was created by public spending (i.e. social programs) rather by wars. The current national debt goes back to the First World War. But what is the relationship between trade unions and the national debt. The answer is: there is no relationship between them.

Left Futures says,

The employers group, the CBI, had suggested changes to trade union recognition law and a further limitation on our immunity when balloting for industrial action. From the lunatic fringe came the Taxpayers’ Alliance with its proposal to stop the “tax payer subsidy” of trade unions in the public sector, in other words to stop the right of union reps to carry out such trade union duties as representing employees on grievance and disciplinary issues.

I thought the TPA was supposed to speak out about taxation. Why is it getting involved in union bashing? Let’s remind ourselves who funds the TPA.

Tim Horton, research director of the left-leaning Fabian Society, who has investigated the TPA, claimed the group is “fundamental to the Conservatives’ political strategy”, which he said was to destroy public confidence in politicians’ ability to deliver public services, thereby paving the way for cuts.

Not just cuts but tighter anti-union legislation too. These Tories won’t be happy until they’ve transformed this country into a facsimile of Chile.

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