The trouble with liberty

The traditional political compass for most people follows a main sequence in which the more right wing you become, the more authoritarian you are likely to be. And the more to the left you are, the more in favour of personal freedoms you are likely to be. This is something of a generalisation, as there are exceptions. Libertarians for example, tend to be to the right, but also fairly liberal in terms of both economics and personal freedoms.

More recently a lot of those on the right, often cynical of conventional party politics, have been jumping on the band wagon and declaring themselves to be Libertarians, or anarcho-capitalism or words to that effect. This is particularly true of those in the US Tea party or UKIP (the UK tea party).

However, as I will explore in this article, lots of what Libertarians believe isn’t terribly palatable to most on the political right. And if you genuinely are a libertarian, the worst thing you could possibly do is vote for the Tea Party or UKIP. For as we will see, if anything, UKIP and the Tea Party are actually the ideological enemies of libertarianism.

Let me illustrate this point by looking at the issue of immigration. UKIP campaigned in the last election principally on the immigration issue, claiming that the EU want’s “unlimited immigration” into the UK, while UKIP plan to cap this. Firstly, this is not true, the EU is in favour of “softer” options to contain immigration (both internally or from outside the EU), as recent court rulings make clear.

But more importantly if you are a libertarian your political philosophy DOES endorse unlimited migration with even the restrictions we already have in place being scrapped. Think about it, what UKIP propose is to have a guy at the border in a uniform checking people’s ID’s and asking them their business and going through their things. That what someone on the political right would call “authoritarianism“. Meanwhile we have a bunch of faceless bureaucrats sitting in an office in London deciding who can come in and where they can live and what jobs they can get…or as Sarah Palin would put it “central planning“.

And of course all of these border guards and bureaucrats will need to be paid. One of my criticisms of the Tory policy on immigration is that they seem to want a harsh immigration policy, but not pay for the staff to enforce it. With the result that the UK border is as leaky as a sieve. Obviously UKIP’s policy would need a small army to enforce, and that would presumably mean a rise in taxes to pay for it.

And the libertarian position on migration is backed up by the Austrian school of Economics. This would take the view that restricting immigration represents the imposition of a trade barrier. Inevitably, proponents of this theory will argue, markets will simply find a way around such a trade barrier. Either by companies outside of the U,K with the power to recruit more freely, simply out-competing UK companies (who go bust). Or UK companies, tired of not being able to hire the staff they’d like, will move operations overseas.

In essence its not “foreigners coming over here and stealing our jobs” we need to worry about but “foreigners staying at home and stealing our jobs”. Far more of the UK’s jobs have gone to Asian manufacturing centres than have been lost to migrants coming into the UK. And most of the job losses to migrants have been low-paid, unskilled jobs, while the manufacturing and engineering jobs lost to foreign industry have tended to be higher quality and better paid positions.

This is why UKIP’s original founder, economics professor Alan Sked (yes really!), was very careful when founding the party to include clauses in its manifesto making clear that UKIP would not be anti-immigrant…of course once Farage (who was once paling around with Enoch Powell) came along, those clauses all went. Hence why Prof Sked dismisses Farage as “a dim witted racist” and UKIP as a party of “fruitcakes and bigots”.

I would idly note that I am not arguing for unlimited immigration, nor is the EU (as noted). Indeed those on the left would point out that the best way of protecting UK jobs is by making people in other parts of Europe (and beyond) wealthier, as that pushes up salaries abroad, makes people less willing to move and increases the competitiveness of British business. And it also succeeds in creating lots of new customers to shift our wares onto. Hence the importance of projects such as the EU.

After all, Ireland’s principle export a few decades ago was people, mostly to Britain. While we still have some migration abroad, its but a trickle of what it used to be back in the bad old days and Ireland is now a net receiver of migrants.

Those on the left would also point out that it was the destabilising nature of laissez-faire economics that caused the economic crisis in the first place (and thus created problems with mass immigration) and a return to a more regulated form of capitalism would probably prevent such crises in the future.

But I digress. The point is clear however, if you are truly Libertarian your position on migration cannot be more different than those of UKIP or the Tea Party. Voting for UKIP and endorsing their core position on migration is a bit like a devout Catholic complaining about how some guy in Rome is head of the church, and voting for Ian Paisley!

Not you’re Granny’s form of socialism
UKIP also wants to stop migrants, even those who have been here for years and paying taxes, from using the NHS or claiming benefits. Or to put that another way, they want to allow some lazy thieving chav to live on benefits, purely because his mother chose to drop him on British soil, while some hard working, tax paying migrant is denied the right to services his taxes pay for.

It is for these reasons that I argue that a more correct interpretation of UKIP (or the Tea Party) is not that of a liberal free market party, but it would be better to describe them as a party of “national socialists” or “third positionism”, as its sometimes called.

The term “National socialist” tends to be provocative, as those on the right get angry when they realise that you’ve successfully outed them, while those on the left point out that the sort of “socialism” we’re talking about isn’t exactly the sort you’re Granny (or Barbara Castle!) would recognise. I would point out that the term was coined by those on the centre right who tend regard any form of state intervention as “socialism”.

And UKIP’s recent advertising campaign in which Farage implores people to join his “people’s army” hardly helps. He seems to be unaware that the term “people’s army” has been applied to many other forces in history. Notably the German Volkstrum (a force of fanatical old men and Hitler youth members who committed various atrocities defending an already beaten Germany in the dying days of WWII, as portrayed in the recent film “Fury”), the East German People’s army, or hastily organised units of the Red Army who were sent off to attack the nazi’s in mass infantry attacks, often unarmed, by Stalin’s police state (incidentally, while these tactics are accurately portrayed in the film “enemy at the gates” the Russian’s rarely used these tactics by 1942). The result is something of an unfortunate metaphor with UKIP encouraging the public to become the equivalent of political cannon fodder for a pointless and ill-conceived cause.

Either way, the fact is that UKIP and the Tea party are anything but libertarian, they are in fact the opposite of this. As we will see they are in truth a party of authoritarian big government, central planning and more than a hint of nationalistic xenophobia.

The EU
Of course UKIP’s core policy is to withdraw from the EU because they “make up lots of laws”. However this is but one of many right wing myths about Europe. Actually, a more correct interpretation of the EU is that its job has been to harmonise laws and break down trade barriers. This is hardly surprising when you realise that for most of its history the people in the driving seat in the EU have tended to be centre-right (or occasionally centrists) politicians of the neo-liberal persuasion.

This is also why historically most of the opposition to the EU has, until relatively recently, come from the political left. The last time the UK voted on the EU it was darling of the Left Tony Benn who led the No campaign and Margaret Thatcher campaigning in favour of a Yes vote.

Certainly in a Libertarian world, the EU would be a very different beast. Some interesting articles by UK libertarians on this matter here and here weight the matter up from a truly libertarian perspective. They would in all probability prefer something more akin to the old EEC, before its democratic reforms. However libertarians would not be in favour of throwing the baby out with the bath water. As the reality is no organisation in the history of economics has done more to liberalise trade than the EU.

Grand theft Jesus
And as we go through the right wing play book of policies we see a similar trend. Take religion. Quite a few on the right in the US want to end the traditional break between church and state, arguing that the founding fathers didn’t really mean it when they put freedom of religion in the constitution. Well in a libertarian world there would be no link whatsoever between church and state, as this would constitute a trade barrier and a restriction on personal freedoms. More importantly, if the church is allowed to interfere with the state, then as history shows us that the state will interfere with the church.

In a Libertarian world, even the links we currently have between church and state would vanish. Links we have? Yes, I’m referring to the 52 days off a year for the Christian holy day and another 52 for the Jewish Sabbath, otherwise known as “the weekend”, plus a couple more off at Christmas and Easter. This represents a significant cost and inconvenience to businesses (just ask any shop owner!) as well as anyone who isn’t a Christian (you should see the look on some of my foreign student’s faces when they learn the uni will be closed and locked up and I’ll be on holiday for two weeks prior to the January exams!). So like I said in a libertarian world, such an arrangement could not survive.

Not so pro-life
To take another favourite of the US right wing, the death penalty. I always find it odd how they can be pro-life for the unborn, yet pro-death penalty for the already born. You cannot get any more authoritarian than allowing the state to legally kill its own citizens. And history tells us that authoritarian regimes have abused such laws to cling onto power (just look at recent events in Egypt). Hence why so many politicians in Europe, be they of the right or left wing, are all opposed to the death penalty, as they understand that this is the greasy edge of a very slippery slope.

Drug wars
And many on the right also favour harsh penalties for drug pushers. Again many want to put drug dealers to death. Unfortunately this is the polar opposite of libertarianism. They would argue that what you chose to put in your body is your decision, and the state “authorities” have no right to tell you otherwise. In a libertarian world ALL drugs would be legal.

And as I discussed in a prior post, the libertarians may have a point here, for the war on drugs is a war we are losing. Not because penalties aren’t harsh enough, or we’re not spending enough money. But because the drug laws and classifications don’t make any sense (which means they get ignored by many users) and anti-drug policies ignore market capitalist principles of supply and demand (you make drugs harder to come by, they become more valuable, so valuable that someone will take the risk of trying to import it in order to profit from the trade).

I would note that I’m not arguing in favour of an end to drug prohibition. I’d instead point to the success of countries such as the Netherlands and Portugal where decriminalisation of drugs and treating drug abuse as a medical condition has led to a drop in users and a drop in crime related to drugs. But again, if you are truly Libertarian you have no choice, you have to favour drug legalisation. This is an integral part of such a political philosophy.

Power…to the government!
And we could play this game all day, but suffice to say go through the Tea Party or UKIP manifesto line by line and you’re going to be throwing out policy after policy as incompatible with traditional libertarian thinking, or indeed traditional centre right ideology. Take for example UKIP’s policy on energy. UKIP want to swap to nuclear power while tearing down wind farms.

However, as I discussed in a prior post, the fact is that the power industry favours wind energy over nuclear, as far as low carbon energy options are concerned. This is despite the fact that the subsidies for wind power aren’t as generous as anything offered for nuclear. Indeed their reasoning has little to do with subsidies. As the power companies see it, the financial risks of nuclear are too great. Hence they prefer a mix of natural gas with as much wind, solar and other renewables as possible squeezed on around this.

So the only way Farage could have his way would be more “central planning”, i.e. forcing his policy through by effectively nationalising the entire energy industry. This is something the pro-nuclear Tories have resisted for what should be obvious ideological reasons and represent a far more interventionist approach than even those proposed by Miliband and labour.

The UK lacks the capability to actually build a modern reactor, hence the involvement of French and Chinese (state owned) companies down in Somerset. So UKIP would have to found some sort of nationalised industrial corporation to design and build the reactors, much like France’s Areva (a state owned French company who built the French nuclear reactors). And all this would have to be funded by public money. Keeping in mind the rate of building UKIP talk about would amount to tens of billions of expenditure on nuclear per year for several decades! So we’re not talking small change here.

And shale gas, another Tory/UKIP favourite, would require some sort of government support to fully exploit, particularly given recent price fluctuations and uncertainties. Coal too, as I discussed recently on my energy blog, wouldn’t be much better. Again in both cases more “central planning”, not least because both industries would struggle to compete against cheap imported gas and coal from overseas.

So the fact is that UKIP’s energy policy is anything but Libertarian friendly. It is in fact to the left of the labour party.

Falling Flat
About the only vaguely Libertarian policy you will find in the UKIP manifesto is a commitment to a flat tax, no doubt an entity left over from the Kilroy-Silk days.

However, a flat tax would only really work in a state where the government is reasonably small. This is why the only countries with a flat tax tend to be small tax havens with a relatively low rate of government spending (as they don’t have to maintain the large public sectors or expensive assets that states like the UK have to operate).

As we have discussed, a UKIP or Tea Party government would be anything but small. Hence a flat tax would mean a massive tax hike for the majority and a huge tax cut for the well off. Hardly a policy anyone, other than the very wealthy (a number of whom fund the Tea Party and UKIP), would want to see implemented.

Breaking the code
So all in all we have to conclude that UKIP and the Tea Party are not libertarian, not by any stretch of the imagination. Those on the right who go around calling themselves libertarians need to understand what they are signing up for, because it’s not perhaps the sort of polices most of them want anything to do with. And actual libertarians need to realise they’ve made some strange bed fellows.

It should also be remembering that racists and neo-nazi’s have a habit of talking in code. As they are all too aware how politically incorrect (if not illegal!) their views can be if aired in public. So keep in mind that it’s possible when some call themselves “libertarian” or a “right wing anarchist” on their blog, this is just code word for something else, which those who read certain blogs and take such stuff seriously will understand and decode. Of course it has to be hugely frustrating to those who actually ARE libertarians as they find themselves with some not entirely nice bed fellows.

But needless to say if you do believe in libertarianism then the one party you shouldn’t vote in the UK is UKIP. You need to find another party (such as the New Deal party founded recently by UKIP founder Alan Sked) who genuinely believes in libertarian ideals….or perhaps re-evaluate your politic views.


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